Saturday, June 14, 2003
The Baseball Blender
Have you seen The Baseball Blender on ESPN.com? It mixes the rosters of any three teams that you pick and determines the best starting lineup, the best bench, and who gets cut - based on OPS and ERA.
Amuse yourself as you try for a combination that will get someone from the Dodgers besides Paul LoDuca in the batting order.
Friday, June 13, 2003
Environmental Oddities, Reconciled
Updating this post ...
Dodger Stadium is a pitchers' park. Yet as of May 2, the Dodgers were hitting better at Dodger Stadium than on the road, and Dodger pitchers were pitching better on the road than at home.
Since then, things have normalized somewhat:
Through June 12
.681...OPS of Dodger batters at home
.648...OPS of Dodger batters on road
.608...OPS allowed by Dodger pitchers at home
.637...OPS allowed by Dodger pitchers on road
On May 2, I had found that Dodger pitchers had been above-average in hitters' parks and below average in pitchers' parks - the opposite of how it should be. With further study, I concluded that if things reverted to form, the Dodgers' road record would improve considerably.
The reason for this was:
1) The Dodger margin of victory in road games in hitters' parks was high (4.2 runs per game), meaning that if the pitchers reverted to form, the Dodgers could still win.
2) The Dodger margin of defeat in road games in pitchers' parks was lower (2.6 runs per game), meaning that if the pitchers reverted to form, the Dodgers would start winning.
This has come to pass.
7-9.....Dodger road record before May 2
10-5...Dodger road record after May 2
Now, here is an update of my chart from May 2, with:
1) the cities the Dodgers have played in
2) the park factor of those cities from 2000-2002 (100 being neutral, below 100 favoring pitchers, above 100 favoring hitters)
3) Dodger runs per game in 2003
4) Dodger runs allowed per game in 2003
New York Mets..93.7...3.3...1.7
Obviously, the quality of the team in a given city affects the amount of runs scored and allowed in a given city. But since the Dodgers are in the unique position of having the worst batting and best pitching in the league, it sort of cancels out.
The Dodgers have played only 12 of their 65 games in hitters' parks this year. Except for an aberrant performance in Colorado, they have scored well in those parks. (To me, "well" for the Dodgers is above four runs per game.)
The Colorado aberration is countered by a poor pitching performance in San Diego. Otherwise, in their 53 pitchers' park games, the Dodgers have pitched well (below four runs per game).
So, the room for improvement that existed on May 2 has been filled, achieved, whatever. The strange pre-May 2 pitching stats hinted that the Dodgers were underperforming. That's no longer true. What you see now is basically what you get.
As the Dodgers head into Cleveland this weekend, playing in an above-average park and facing three left-handed starters, look for their offense to revitalize and look for their pitching to struggle, especially with Andy Ashby appearing in this series and Kevin Brown absent. But overall, look for the Dodgers to come out ahead. The fact that the Dodgers are outscoring and out OPSing opponents at home and on the road signifies that the Dodgers are a winning team (like the Giants, by the way).
The struggle between the Dodgers' bad hitting and their good pitching favors the pitching.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
Fire Jack Clark?
Jason Reid's idea of a "bold move" (in the Times) is for the Dodgers to move Brian Jordan to the No. 2 slot in the order so that Paul Lo Duca can drop down and gain more RBI opportunities.
Frankly, I'd rather Reid have low standards for boldness than see him advocate willy-nilly change, but a better adjective for this suggested move would be "inconsequential." The theory is that because Lo Duca is the Dodgers' hottest hitter and is batting a team-leading .361 with runners in scoring position, he needs to be batting with more runners on base. However, Reid himself writes that Jordan, who this week was elevated to the No. 3 slot in the order ahead of Shawn Green, is himself batting .321 with runners in scoring position. The difference between the Dodgers' No. 3 hitter batting .321 or .361 with RISP is four hits per 100 in those situations, or loosely translated, about one hit per month.
Reid's case would have been better made using RISP-OPS, because the difference is more strongly in Lo Duca's favor, 1.068 to .831, but it still doesn't matter.
No, a bold move would be something like firing batting coach Jack Clark.
Like vice-presidents, batting coaches aren't really expected by outsiders to deliver any magic. This is in distinct contrast to pitching coaches. I can name many who have worked wonders: Atlanta's Leo Mazzone, St. Louis' Dave Duncan, Oakland's Rick Peterson among others. Who's the last impact hitting coach? Charlie Lau, who died in 1984?
But within an organization, behind the scenes, vice-presidents actually have work to do and results to produce. And it's hard for me to understand why the Dodgers would be satisfied with the results produced by Clark.
Really, why was Clark was even hired? His experience, according to The Sporting News, was one season managing the independent Class A-level River City Rascals and one season as the Dodgers' Class A hitting instructor.
Said Clark in 2001:
"Yeah, it was a short journey. I was lucky," Clark said on the night he had his jersey retired by the Rascals earlier (that season). "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. You just got to catch a break. I think I sent a nice message by paying my dues here (with River City). I got some nice letters of recommendation from Jack McKeon and Whitey Herzog that helped me out, and it happened to be the right timing, the right place, with the right team."
We should all pay such dues.
Plus, he's a guy that no Dodger fan with memories of his 1985 home run off Tom Niedenfuer can rally behind. That homer shouldn't disqualify him for the job, but in the absence of other points in his favor, why go after him?
The Dodgers have had the worst hittting team in the majors this season, and nary a word has been said about Clark. Perhaps it's out of sympathy for his motorcycle injuries, perhaps out of an assumption that he isn't supposed to do anything. Shawn Green's slump is Shawn Green's fault; Adrian Beltre's slump is Adrian Beltre's fault. Maybe that's true.
If that's the case, cashier the position. Really. If Clark can't help where it counts, if his value is only in, say, getting Cesar Izturis to hit .240, than put him on unemployment. Or disability, if you're so inclined.
Otherwise, it's time to do something about the situation.
I said firing Clark would be a bold move. That doesn't mean I'm advocating it. Not first, anyway.
No, I'm going to stick with what I've said all season. I'm going to advocate something very, very simple - but very consequential as well.
The Dodgers must recognize that their primary problem is not that they are not getting enough two-out singles with guys on second base. Their primary problem is that they are the worst-hitting home run team in at least the past 10 years.
Once they recognize that, then they must determine whether Clark can help them solve that problem in any way. In other words, perhaps he has been led astray by Jim Tracy or some other higher-up telling him to focus on the wrong issues. If not, fire him. They cannot do any worse.
There is a real problem here. A tangible one. I don't know if the Dodgers can solve it, but it would nice if someone would at least acknowledge it.
Meanwhile, I'm reading rumors that the Dodgers would trade prospects for Roberto Alomar, who has two home runs this season.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
This Should Go Without Saying
If Ron Coomer can be the Dodgers' designated hitter with a .416 OPS against righties as he was Tuesday night - and bat sixth, not seventh, eighth, ninth or 50th - then I should be writing for The Sopranos.
On the other hand, Hideo Nomo, fourth in the National League in ERA and third in innings pitched, may join locks Kevin Brown and Eric Gagne on the All-Star team. Ross Porter last night had a good Nomonote that I am going to appropriate.
Nomo's last 14 starts, 2002:, 3.74 ERA, 7-0
Nomo's first 14 starts, 2003: 2.74 ERA, 6-6.
Meanwhile, Jim Baker of ESPN.com wrote of Tuesday's Dodger-Tiger game:
Is this what baseball in the Deadball Era looked like? With baseball's stingiest pitching staff visiting its most anemic offensive team in the toughest hitters' park in the American League, something was about to give and it wasn't going to be the scoreboard. The Dodgers and Tigers battled for 12 innings for a combined batting average of .138, slugging average of .150 (there was only one extra base hit - a double by Fred McGriff) and on-base percentage of .231.
Baker also highlighted an Ernie Harwell column in the Detroit Free Press in which the legendary broadcaster names Vin Scully the greatest broadcaster of all time. Harwell notes that "I had a minor role in Scully's ascent to fame. Two times in his career, he was my replacement."
A Star May Not Be Born
If you thought the combination of Paul Lo Duca's 18-game hitting streak, Mike Piazza's injury and expanded All-Star Game rosters guaranteed the Dodger catcher a spot in the Midsummer Classic after he was snubbed last year, you might be disappointed.
Here are the batting average, home runs, RBI and OPS for some National League catchers:
Javier Lopez, Atlanta .305 18 33 1.051
Mike Piazza, New York .333 7 15 1.034
Chad Moeller, Arizona .341 4 12 .910
Paul Lo Duca, Los Angeles .332 4 21 .854
Mike Lieberthal, Philadelphia .323 4 25 .852
Benito Santiago, San Francisco .300 9 36 .841
Ivan Rodriguez, Florida .251 7 29 .752
Jason Kendall, Pittsburgh .280 4 20 .746
Among the hurdles Lo Duca has to overcome: Lopez is the clear frontrunner, Rodriguez is the leading vote-getter, Santiago played for National League manager Dusty Baker last year, and Kendall may have to serve as the Pirates' lone representative if Brian Giles, who has a .999 OPS but missed 23 games with injuries, doesn't make it into the outield. Additionally, you can make a case for Lieberthal, whose statistics are almost identical to Lo Duca's. (Less so for Moeller, who has only 134 plate appearances.) And as far as tiebreakers go, Lo Duca's defensive reputation is mixed, and I don't think he'll get points for handling the Dodger pitching staff.
Isn't it amazing, though, that there could be so many catchers batting over .300, with OPS numbers higher than Shawn Green's? Right now, the catcher position is much stronger than third base, where only Scott Rolen, Mike Lowell, Aaron Boone and Chris Stynes (of Coors Field) have an OPS above .800.
A strong first half in 2002 (.842 OPS) didn't get Lo Duca into last year's game, so you have to hope he makes it this year. But right now, at best, he's competing with Lieberthal, Santiago and Kendall for the third catcher spot.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Slate has had some great stuff with Moneyball and Bill James over the past week. Rob Neyer and James Surowiecki, an extremely lucid writer from The New Yorker, have been the key participants. Really worth reading if you haven't already.
1. The Book Club - Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Check out all three days of entries.)
2. A Conversation with Bill James
The All-Time Los Angeles Dodger Team
Quick - I told myself - without doing any research, name your all-time Big Blue Wrecking Crew.
Then - I told myself - I can't do it. I need to look this stuff up. Catcher - Piazza, easy. First base - Garvey, easy. Second base - hmm, probably Lopes. Shortstop - Wills was overrated, but who could take his place? Third base - Cey. Outfield? Lots to choose from. Starting rotation? After Koufax, could be anyone. Bullpen - after the past 15 months, can anyone top Gagne?
The reason for this mental ping-pong? ESPN.com has excerpted bigtime from
Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups to offer us all-time teams for all 30 major-league franchises.
Aside from testing the all-time marketing question of whether giving you a free taste of the book will make you go out and buy the entire publication, this gives us a fodder-filled point for Dodger discussion.
This particular list picks a lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers only, although my understanding is that the book also includes a list for Brooklyn. For reference, here is the all-time Dodger lineup, year-by-year, so you can see who the candidates were.
I'm not gonna disagree too much with this list, because Neyer's a smart guy who's done a lot of work on this. But here are my alternative picks:
Sacrilege? Butler played 703 games in center field for the Dodgers, while Willie Davis played 1,901. But for most his tenure with the Dodgers, Butler was a stunningly effective player. Even adjusted for era, Butler comes out ahead. Davis' top EQA was .301; Butler topped that twice. (An average EQA is .260.) Butler's four top seasons, coming all in a row, are better than any four seasons you pick from Davis' career. If Gary Sheffield can be the left fielder over Dusty Baker (and he should be, I was surprised to find - Sheffield's EQAs with the Dodgers were .343, .316, .348 and .339), then I can pick Butler over Davis.
Another tough call. As a right-fielder with the Dodgers, Smith posted EQA marks of .297, .338, .328, .293 and .318. Working against him is that he rarely played an entire season: his game totals for those years were 65 (after his midseason acquisition from St. Louis), 148, 128, 68 and 92. Mondesi has lower EQAs: ..287, .290, .287, .305, .277, 280 but after the 1994 labor crisis season, never played fewer than 139 games. So I can certainly understand the case for Mondesi, but he can come off the bench on the all-time team.
That's it. I can't find a good argument against anyone else on the team. And although it's hard to imagine Eric Gagne won't be the all-time Los Angeles relief pitcher someday, I have to say I had never before really focused on the long-term excellence Jim Brewer brought to the team.
Just one more thing...
Problem? Uh, yeah. The Dodgers don't use a designated hitter. I don't even like the designated hitter. But when it comes to perhaps the greatest offensive force in Los Angeles Dodger history, I have to make a mention. I just don't know where to put him.
Offensively, Guerrero had the following EQAs with the Dodgers, starting in 1980: .306, .295, .323, .320, .298. .350, .283 (in 31 games), .332, .304. The guy simply mashed the ball. Guerrero ranks fourth all-time in OPS+ with the Dodgers at 149, behind Sheffield, Piazza and Smith. But Guerrero had 1,000 more plate appearances with the Dodgers than Piazza did, and 2,000 more than Sheffield and Smith. I think the difference between them is minor, but if I were ranking all-time Los Angeles Dodger hitters, I would probably go 1) Piazza, 2) Guerrero, 3) Sheffield, 4) Smith.
Defensively with the Dodgers, Guerrero played 373 games at third base, 239 games in right field, 199 games in left field, 108 games in center field, 104 games at first base, 12 games at second base, and was not very good at any of them. Which is why he's not on the official team.
I'm almost tempted to stick Guerrero in center ahead of Butler and Davis just to have him in there, but that seems more egregious than putting him in the position he was frankly born to play. We'll just wait for a game in an AL park to play him.
As for Neyer's question - who would be the all-time best Los Angeles pitcher if Buttercup had not been traded away, I've got to say, I have to vote for Pedro Martinez. His statistics adjusted for the current era make you think he would have surpassed Koufax or anyone else in a Dodger uniform.
At the time I voted in ESPN.com's poll, the votes were 87.1 percent in Koufax' favor.
Finally, here's my all-time Dodger batting order:
With Mondesi, Davis, Guerrero, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Bill Russell and Manny Mota on my bench, and Gagne, Ron Perranoski, Charlie Hough and Steve Howe filling out my bullpen.
That's a fun lineup.
Monday, June 09, 2003
Foul Ball Update
Apparently, this was Foul Ball Weekend. Just received from my brother:
I don't know about Saturday night, but on Friday night a ball came RIGHT to me. I stood up - banging my knee on the seat in front of me - and the ball came RIGHT into my right hand. And before I could grip it - it bounced up and to the right, landing at the foot of some Shlabotnik, who just picked it up and smiled goofily. My hand really stung, but that went away after a few minutes. My knee's been killing me ever since, and I was icing it all weekend.
And the game on Sunday was painful too. But for the normal Dodger offense sucks reasons.
Joe Shlabotnik, Your Life Is Calling
Could the eptless Dodger offense do worse than adding the noted slugger from the Green Grass League?
If Shlabotnik isn't the answer, the Dodgers should call up a third catcher to take the 25th spot on the roster. David Ross can hit better than Jason Romano, and probably as well as Bubba Crosby, but is forced to stay on the bench most nights in case Paul Lo Duca is hurt. A third catcher would allow more flexibilty. Koyie Hill, a switch-hitter, is batting .351 for Las Vegas. His major-league equivalent EQA, according to Baseball Prospectus, is .245. Calling up Hill, the organization's No. 4 catcher, would presumably leave the Dodger minor-league teams thin in this area - although so thin that the move shouldn't be made. Believe it or not, though, it does mean that the Dodgers miss Todd Hundley...
Romano, for his part, just has no role on the Dodgers. He cannot hit, and his value as a defensive replacement is mitigated by the fact that the Dodgers are rarely in a game where they can afford to remove an outfielder with a lead...
In fairness to Romano, it doesn't look like we're missing much right now in Luke Allen, whom the Dodgers traded for Romano. Allen is batting .290 for Colorado's AAA team. His MLEQA is .222...
In other trades, that Ruddy Lugo-Daryle Ward trade is looking like a gem. Ward is on the disabled list with a .361 OPS. Lugo is 0-8 with a 5.40 ERA for the Round Rock Express, Houston's AA team...
Ron Coomer is 5 for 15 with a double and two walks as a pinch hitter, 4 for 30 with three walks, an HBP and no doubles in other situations. He has an .804 OPS against lefties, .416 against righties. No homers in either case for the noted professional hitter...
Whenever I pick on McGriff's ability to hit lefties, he has a few good games against them. When I leave him alone, he withers. Well, McGriff now has a .561 OPS against lefties (.860 against righties). Mike Kinkade has a 1.287 OPS against lefties, .555 against righties. Kinkade's OPS against lefties is in only 23 plate appearances and includes four hit-by-pitches, but given the overwhelming evidence that McGriff can't hit lefties, Kinkade needs to be in there. (Be patient. Detroit's only lefty starter, Mike Maroth (1-11), pitched Saturday and will probably miss the Dodger series.) ...
Meanwhile, the Dodgers have announced that with McGriff now at 488 career home runs, they will place a "Countdown to 500" sign inside Dodger Stadium once he reaches 490. "That will add to the intensity and excitement and anticipation for the milestone, which the organization and his fans have been looking forward to since he was signed as a free agent," Dodger vice president of communications Derrick Hall was quoted as saying. Nope - it will just add more angst to an offense cornering the market in this commodity. Won't that countdown sign be a pleasure when McGriff ends the season at 498 and then leaves as a free agent...
The Dodgers are headed to American League parks this week and will need a DH. Instead of Shlabotnik, Kinkade and Jolbert Cabrera will get the call most of the time, either in the DH slot or in the field to allow a Dodger regular to DH...
In its three years of existence, Detroit's Comerica Park has had a park factor for batters of 97, 99 and 93 - almost as low as Dodger Stadium. The two teams that will be playing there Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday have the 26th and 30th best offenses in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus. Let's get ready to rumble!!!
With Tuesday's game against the Tigers not on television, I'm going to assume that this is the Knotts starting for Detroit...
The Darren Dreifort situation has been covered sufficiently enough that I don't have much that is profound to add. About all I can say is that his performance under his current contract looks just dandy next to the Rangers' signing of Chan Ho Park, who is back on the disabled list. Park is 10-11 with a 6.06 ERA for Texas...
It hasn't made sense to me that Andy Ashby can't hack it as a starting pitcher, because my recollection is that he had a good season last year. However, he did finish with an 0-3, 7.91 September in which he lasted 11 1/3 innings in three starts. He's 36 years old in an injury-plagued career. So maybe there's a reason that a guy like Wilson Alvarez looks promising in comparison...
To me, the Dodger decision to call up Alvarez before Ashby had made his first start struck me as giving up on Ashby before he had begun. After all, the Dodgers had no qualms about plugging Giovanni Carrara in for a five-inning stint last year when they felt the need. Tracy claims that Ashby will be given four starts before he is reevaluated, but it just rings hollow to me somehow. Ashby is like the anti-Adrian Beltre: no leash...
I'm trying not to worry about Odalis Perez because in a fine 2002, he did have one bad month: He went 1-3, 7.59 in July...
Here is a list showing the difference between 2003 OPS and 2002 OPS for the main eight Dodger position players:
+.132 Paul Lo Duca
+.036 Eric Karros/Fred McGriff
+.028 Cesar Izturis
-.010 Brian Jordan
-.035 Mark Grudzielanek/Alex Cora
-.050 Dave Roberts
-.111 Adrian Beltre
-.186 Shawn Green
I wonder what Jordan thinks of the year he's having. He has only 11 extra-base hits all season - yet has almost broken even because his singles and walks are up.
That figure for Green is atrocious.
Lo Duca these days is a pleasure to watch though, isn't he? He's striking out more than ever before, but he is really stroking some nice hits. And I guarantee you, despite their different reptuations for speed, Green does not get an inside-the-park home run off the ball LoDuca hit Sunday...
I saw Tony Gwynn hit a most memorable inside-the-park grand slam on June 26, 1997 at Dodger Stadium. Brett Butler, playing left field, dove for the ball but couldn't catch it, and lay writhing on the ground in pain as Gwynn circled the bases...
As you can imagine, with this site, my interest in baseball has been more Dodger-centered than it had been in some time. But I tuned in for the Roger Clemens-Kerry Wood duel Saturday with anticipation, and though no milestones were achieved (imagine seeing a 300th win and a 4,000th strikeout in the same game), I was not disappointed at all. You could feel the buzz of the crowd. Believe it or not, I saw every at-bat of the game except Eric Karros' home run. I made a diaper change during the pitching change and didn't get back in time...
No, not my diaper - the baby's...
Many were shocked to see an ambulance come onto the field for Hee Seop Choi, but Dodger fans will recall two such events last season, for Kazuhisa Ishii and for Alex Cora...
The Cubs-Yankees game Sunday got 346 comments on Baseball Primer Game Chatter. The Dodgers-White Sox game got zero...
As far as the Dodgers tying the Giants and then falling five games behind, it recalls what I wrote April 22 when the Dodgers fell behind by 8 1/2 games early this season, but pledged they could make up the difference. It's not enough to merely be able to make up the difference. The problem with making up such a deficit is that all it gets you to is square one. That said, the Dodgers remain only 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot right now...
As it happens, Only Baseball Matters, my highly respected counterpart to the north, has basically counted the Dodgers out of the NL West race...
The Dodgers selected a Mike Piazza relative in last week's draft, but it wasn't Tony Piazza, who hit a grand slam Sunday to help send Southwest Missouri State into the College World Series. It was Thomas Piazza of Palm Beach Atlantic College...
I was unable to attend any of the White Sox games, leaving my .636 home winning percentage this season intact. But at what cost? Reports from the field indicate that a foul ball was caught in the Weisman seats Saturday night...
With Dave Wallace leaving for the Red Sox, it's hard to imagine the Dodgers won't miss him terribly. He's been a great baseball mind and a class act all the way...