Saturday, July 05, 2003
That Was a Happy Fourth
Many, many thanks to Larry Stewart of the Times for his kind writeup of this site July 4:
A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here. One exception: No products will be endorsed.
Dodger fans, here's a Web site worth checking out. It's maintained by Jon Weisman, a die-hard Dodger fan who works as a writer-editor for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and is a former sportswriter.
Mostly what you get on his Web site, besides links to all kinds of good stuff, is clever insight. On Thursday, under "Dodger Thoughts," Weisman, recalling brighter days, revisited 1988, the Dodgers' last championship season. From May 11 to May 22, he pointed out, the Dodgers went 3-8. From June 6 to June 17, they went 4-8. From July 27 to Aug. 9, they went 3-9. But Weisman also noted that the Dodgers went 84-42 the rest of 1988.
On Tuesday, there were these pearls: Home runs by the Dodgers in 2003: 49. Home runs by the Angels in June: 42. Home runs by the Dodgers in June: 15. Home runs by Jim Edmonds for St. Louis in June: 14.
Weisman maintains the free site just for the fun of it so there usually are plenty of entertaining facts such as these.
Sometimes, There Just Isn't a Door to Close
J.A. Adande of the Times this morning became the latest person to ask why Dodger closer Eric Gagne is being brought in when the Dodgers are tied or trailing.
The answer is simple. If the ninth inning arrives at a Dodger home game without a save situation, then there will never be a save situation. There can never be a lead to protect in extra innings when you're the home team.
So, if you're not willing to pitch Gagne in a tie game, you've banned your best relief pitcher from appearing the rest of the night. That's not a good long-term strategy.
As a secondary point in discussing Friday night's Dodger loss to the Diamondbacks, Adande raises a more legitimate question - should Gagne have been saved for the 10th to face the heart of the Arizona order, rather than being used against the bottom third of the order in the ninth. Maybe so. But if you're going to use that logic to start timing Gagne's appearances, then you should be willing to use Gagne even more flexibly throughout the game.
Basically, until this week, the Dodgers set-up relief has been the best in baseball. Were that not the case, however, then the best time to use Gagne would not necessarily be in a ninth-inning save situation, but the most pressure-packed situation, whatever the inning.
Nevertheless, many people have apparently decided that because Gagne has pitched poorly in a few non-save situations, that he should never be used at such times. Hmm. Since the Dodgers' last save situation for Gagne came June 21, I guess they should have sent him to Maui for a couple of weeks.
Let's look at Gagne's pitching in the 11 games in which he hasn't gotten a save:
|4/6||at San Diego||2||1||0||0||1||3|
|4/13||at San Francisco||2||1||0||0||1||2|
|4/20||vs. San Francisco||1||1||0||0||0||3|
|6/3||vs. Kansas City||1||0||0||0||0||2|
|6/23||at San Francisco||1/3||1||1||1||1||1|
|7/2||vs. San Diego||1 2/3||2||2||1||1||2|
|Total||11 games||12 1/3||11||9||8||5||20|
Gagne's ERA in those games is 5.84 - not good. On the other hand, that one-third of an inning against Atlanta accounts for half the earned runs he has allowed. Remove that game, and Gagne's non-save ERA is 3.00. Gagne has pitched shutout ball in seven out of 11 non-save situations - hardly constituting a misuse of his abilities. The idea, as Adande writes, that Gagne "just seems out of his element in a non-save situation" is one I can understand Adande arriving at emotionally, but the numbers just don't support it. And even if Gagne were out of his element, he's still the best the Dodgers have.
As Vin Scully often points out, when Gagne allows runs to score, it's simply shocking because of how rare it is. But at some point, you need to snap out of it. One of the things that Dodger manager Jim Tracy has consistently done right this year has been his use of Gagne. I'm sure that Tracy would be all too glad to only use Gagne with a ninth-inning lead, but you can't wait forever for one to come.
Friday, July 04, 2003
Waxed On and Waxed Off
Flipping channels Thursday night during the first commercial after San Diego's Ryan Klesko hit his second big seventh-inning home run against the Dodgers this week, you might have come across Pat Morita attempting to catch a fly with chopsticks in The Karate Kid.
"Man who can catch fly with chopsticks can accomplish anything," Morita counsels Ralph Macchio. Of course, Morita's character, the old, wise Mr. Miyagi, had never reached this state of grace. And then Macchio's Daniel Russo, that little upstart, takes his own set of chopsticks and snatches a fly in about 10 seconds.
Seems like the Dodgers have been trying to catch that fly for quite some time now. It's getting to the point where you wouldn't be surprised to see the fly itself take two baseball bats, squeeze them together and pinch the Feeling Blue Wrecking Crew.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the Padres' sweep of the Dodgers this week was the dominance of the San Diego bullpen. With Trevor Hoffman sidelined, the Padres entered the series with a bullpen ERA of 4.97 - more than twice as high as the Dodger bullpen ERA of 1.97. However, San Diego relievers pitched 9 1/3 innings of one-run ball, while their Dodger counterparts allowed five runs in 11 innings. These three losses were not a microcosm of the Dodger season - they were a mockery of it.
Padre relievers struck out only three in those 9 1/3 innings, indicating that the Dodgers were getting their chopsticks on the ball. Nevertheless, Los Angeles barely brushed the wings of the high-flying fifth-place Padres.
If Kevin Brown were to go on the disabled list, that would put two starting pitchers and two starting outfielders in storage, in an organization that has little depth to begin with. With the Dodgers clinging to playoff contention, the demand for a trade will resound like a sonic boom.
But it's a vicious cycle, man. The reason the Dodgers are always trying to crawl into the playoffs and not charging is because they have always sacrificed their future for their present. They have never felt bad enough about themselves to give up, and as inspiring as that is, it's also problematic.
I don't oppose a trade, but once more, I can't help wondering whether it wouldn't be better if the Dodgers, for once, were sellers at the trade deadline and not buyers. Don't you ever get tired of paying a mortgage, Daniel-san?
Thursday, July 03, 2003
Brian Jordan was placed on the DL Tuesday with his patellar tendon problems and he may never come off. While Jordan will make efforts to avoid surgery, privately he has told several people that surgery would mark the end of his career.
- Will Carroll, Baseball Prospectus.
The construction of the second sentence is a little awkward - the two thoughts within it wouldn't seem to require the word "while" - but the message is still a somber one.
Lowpoints of '88
At first glance, there were hardly any.
In all, the 1988 Dodgers had 10 losing streaks of three games, but nothing longer. They had five losing streaks of two games. That was it.
However, though happy memories of October prevail in our minds, there were stretches in '88 that vexed fans of the soon-to-be World Champions. Believe it or not, Franklin Stubbs, Jeff Hamilton and Alfredo Griffin didn't get the job done all the time.
From May 11 to May 22, the Dodgers went 3-8.
From June 6 to June 17, the Dodgers went 4-8.
From July 27 to August 9, the Dodgers went 3-9.
The rest of 1988, the Dodgers went 84-42 - .667 ball. I might add that they won the National League West despite, as a sign of things to come, a team OPS of .552 in September.
Having lost eight of their past nine games, the 2003 Dodgers are in their worst streak of the year. Tonight against the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers will field a lineup that will put the hallowed feebleness of the 1988 team to shame.
And yet somehow the 2003 team is one that has had winning streaks of 10 games and eight games.
This year's Dodgers are traffic-jam frustrating, but they sure are interesting. Count Rugen ("I'm sure you've discovered my deep and abiding interest in pain.") appears to have them on his Machine, draining one life away from them at a time.
All recent evidence to the contrary, I don't quite believe that Westley dies here.
Wednesday, July 02, 2003
Grimm Dodger Tales
Am I the last guy to figure out why managers kick dirt onto home plate? It wasn't until I saw home plate umpire Ted Barrett bend over to sweep away the dirt left behind by Jim Tracy's two swipes of the foot Tuesday night that I clued in. What a petulant if hoary baseball tradition that is...
Onto my typical schizophrenic recap ...
The Lumpy Bell Curve of Attendance: There are 48 seats in front of my row in the Loge Level of Dodger Stadium leading up to the Big Dropoff. Throughout the game, I charted the number of bodies filling them, to offer my faithful readers of when people arrive and depart.
7:03 - 05 (National Anthem)
7:11 - 07 (First pitch)
7:19 - 14 (Bottom 1)
7:24 - 12 (Top 2)
7:30 - 14 (Bottom 2)
7:36 - 22 (Top 3)
7:51 - 24 (Bottom 3)
8:07 - 32 (Top 4)
8:15 - 28 (Bottom 4)
8:23 - 30 (Top 5)
8:33 - 30 (Bottom 5)
8:40 - 32 (Top 6)
8:45 - 35 (Bottom 6)
8:53 - 35 (Top 7)
9:15 - 29 (Bottom 7)
9:24 - 30 (Top 8)
9:31 - 27 (Bottom 8)
9:38 - 16 (Top 9)
Given the six runs the Padres scored in the top of the seventh, this section held it together pretty well. (If you're wondering why I haven't charted the bottom of the ninth, although I did stay until the end, please see the rule about leaving early in my previous entry, "We Show Up.")
Cannons & Peashooters: Ryan Klesko's leadoff home run in the seventh was estimated to be 449 feet. Also throughout the game, I charted the distance of every ball the Dodgers hit over the infield. Here's how they ranked:
*denotes a hit. WHAP stands for Weisman Halfway Accurate Projection.
Basically, for an entire game, as I feared and yet sickly hoped might happen at the outset of this experiment, no Dodger reached the warning track, and only a handful hit balls that would have left your average city park softball field.
The Dodger Stadium scoreboard noted that Padres pitcher Brian Lawrence led the National League in groundball outs in 2002 - so this is even less of a surprise.
They're On To You: Jolbert Cabrera, he of the eight hit-by-pitches in 160 plate appearances, ran to first base holding his elbow after an 0-2 pitch came too far inside in the bottom of the fifth. However, Barrett called him back to the plate. Barrett did not rule that Cabrera hadn't tried to get out of the way; he said that the pitch missed Cabrera entirely and called it a ball. Cabrera argued (joined by Tracy), then struck out.
It Loomed Large Then: With one out in the top of the sixth, Xavier Nady of the Padres on second base and the Velcro peeling away from the Dodgers' 1-0 lead, Donaldo Mendez hit a routine grounder to second baseman Alex Cora. Immediately, everyone assumed the play would be at first and Nady would advance. But Cora threw a BB past Nady and nabbed him at third. Great play - smart and well-executed.
Today's "Green Means Stop" Observation: In the bottom of the sixth, Green hit a grounder to Mendez, who sent a no-respect, slow, high lob to first base to put out the now-lumbering Dodger outfielder by two steps.
Vestiges of Optimism? In the top of the seventh, with Klesko's tying home run in the books and runners on first and third, the Dodgers played the infield back for Gary Bennett, ready to concede the go-ahead run and ask themselves to score three to win. I'm sure some people might have questioned this, but the offensive depression hasn't gone so far to my head that I did.
The Uniform Changes Everything: Fans largely booed San Diego's Dave Hansen, Dodger career leader in pinch hits, when he came up to bat in the seventh. Makes no sense to me - this guy did everything the Dodgers ever asked of him except hit in his one full-time opportunity in 1992. I'm sure glad Manny Mota didn't finish his career with another team.
Falling Further Down the Organizational Ladder? Dodger coach Glenn Hoffman served as the warmup catcher for Tom Martin in the top of the ninth.
Fast and Furious: I scoreboard-watched the Angels' 7-5 victory over the Rangers, and was amazed at how fast the innings flew by. The teams finished their 12-run, 16-hit game in 2:16.
Better than Jose Gonzalez, 1991: My attendance at the game was rewarded with a Jason Romano plate appearance. Called strike. Called strike. Whiff.
The Dodgers' post-game radio guest was: No one.
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
First of All
Happy July ...
Home runs by the Dodgers in 2003: 49
Home runs by the Angels in June: 42
Home runs by the Dodgers in June: 15
Home runs by Jim Edmonds (St. Louis) in June: 14
Now that that's out of the way ...
The Dodgers are still a winning team.
Jim Tracy is right about that. No matter how you slice it, however exceptional you think the Dodger offense, the Dodger pitching has more characteristics of exception.
Can the Dodgers improve their team? Yes. We addressed that Monday. Improve, not save. The Dodgers don't need the sizzle of a Heather Locklear to boost their numbers. A solid talent like Phil Hartman, rest his soul, will do quite nicely. Or the unsung brilliance of a Brad Garrett, assuming Brad can hit right-handers. (Just make sure that the Dodgers don't acquire Ted McGinley.)
Today, let's remind ourselves that the three losses in a row and six out of seven are an aberration. There is an offense worse than the Dodgers, and it's that of Dodger opponents.
Dodger runs: 277
Dodger runs allowed: 242
Dodger OBP: .306
Dodger OBP allowed: .290
Dodger SLG: .359
Dodger SLG allowed: .336
Dodger batter strikeouts: 469
Dodger pitcher strikeouts: 661
Dodger pitchers whiff 2.3 extra batters per game - 8.3 per game total. That means that Dodger fielders only have to get about 18 outs per game, while the fielders of Dodger opponents have to get 20. Who wouldn't like to have two extra outs per game to work with?
Dodger ratio of ground balls allowed to fly balls allowed: 1.58
Dodger rank in this category among 30 teams: 1
When Dodger pitchers do allow bat to hit ball into fair category, more often than not it is going in the neighborhood of three quality fielders: Adrian Beltre, Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora. The Dodgers are pitching to the team's strengths - 1) the strikeout, 2) the ground ball. That is a winning formula. That is Gatorade, not GatorGum.
Here's where it's going wrong: the two categories where the Dodger offense trails even Dodger opponents:
Dodger home runs: 49
Dodger home runs allowed: 59
Dodger walks: 202
Dodger walks allowed: 251
The walks, of course, are mainly the fault of Kazuhisa Ishii and Hideo Nomo, who alone have freebied 110. Ishii has allowed 60 walks and 30 runs. I really want to research how many times that 2-1 ratio has been achieved in history. Ishii is the pitching equivalent of Eddie Gaedel. Imagine how many times Gaedel would have walked in a full-time career, and imagine how rarely he would have scored. Ishii may have an average personality off the field, but on the diamond he is truly a circus act.
How are these most negative of Dodger negatives this mitigated?
Dodger total bases via hits: 960
Dodger total bases via hits allowed: 883
Dodger HBP + walks + SB - CS: 268
Dodger HBP + walks + SB allowed - caught stealing: 297
Still, the total of these categories is closer to break-even than someone rooting for a division winner might hope:
Difference per game: 0.6
What does the above not include? Bases on errors, for one thing. Bases on sacrifices, extra bases on a hit and run, bases scored on a groundout. Those bases can make a difference. Something tells me that the Dodgers are less likely than their opponents to take an extra base on a single to the outfield to score a run, but more likely to get the strikeout they need to prevent a run.
If the Dodgers made no roster moves for the rest of the year, what would happen? Would the great pitching outlast the bad hitting? No one can answer conclusively. There is an explanation for both to continue, and there is an explanation for either to recede.
Change for the sake of change is the last thing the Dodgers need. Whatever new peg the Dodgers acquire should be a damn good fit. He needs to hit right-handed pitching. Period. Otherwise, don't even bother.
Because, believe it or not, the Dodgers are doing a lot of things right that you wouldn't want to mess up.
Monday, June 30, 2003
Whether Dodger manager Jim Tracy's hyperbolic and brittle comments about a possible trade (I doubt that any reporter had the optimism to suggest that the Dodgers could procure a "savior.") are meant to convince himself or his players, these facts remain:
No, the Dodgers do not need to tear their team apart.
No, the Dodgers should not empty out what's left of their farm system.
Yes, the Dodgers should make any trade that can improve the team, short-term and long-term.
I've identified the players whom I see as the most likely acquisition candidates. They come from contending teams that are poor in the Dodgers' No. 1 strength: relief pitching. (This includes a team like Minnesota, whose bullpen is decent, but might use another reliever to push Johan Santana into the starting rotation.)
In most of these cases, a Guillermo Mota and a prospect of decent promise might suffice in a trade. In the case of a team like the Yankees, they might actually want the more expensive, name reliever like Paul Shuey - and might ask that the Dodgers take a Jeff Weaver in return. And for the superstar players, the Dodgers would probably have to ask themselves if they could part with Odalis Perez.
The big guiding principle: the Dodgers must make sure they acquire a player who can rake right-handed pitching.
Here are the teams, with their bullpen ERA:
Kansas City, 5.04
St. Louis, 4.60
Chicago White Sox, 4.12
New York Yankees, 3.96
Here are the players, with their at-bats, home-run totals and OPS against righties:
These players aren't battle or media-tested, but might be useful:
Aaron Guiel, Kansas City, OF: 49, 2, .894
Howie Clark, Toronto, UT: 40, 0, .930
Flawed? Yeah. And yet every one could bat cleanup on the Dodgers.
Aaron Boone, Cincinnati, 2B: 236, 12, .847
Frank Catalanotto, Toronto, UT: 248, 6, .877
J.D. Drew, St. Louis, OF: 124, 8, .984
Jose Guillen, Cincinnati, OF: 150, 13, 1.095
Jacque Jones, Minnesota, OF: 212, 9, .860
Kevin Millar, Boston, 1B/OF: 174, 8, .969
Doug Mientkiewicz, Minnesota, moveable 1B: 164, 3, .872
Trot Nixon, Boston, OF: 179, 8, .993
Hard to imagine that teams in the playoff hunt would give these guys up, unless they are really stupid or really forward-thinking:
Carlos Beltran, Kansas City, OF: 156, 9, .932
Brian Giles, Pittsburgh, OF: 151, 6, .945
Mike Lowell, Florida, 3B: 236, 16, .922
1) No one from the Yankees or White Sox seems like a viable target for the Dodgers.
2) With Brian Jordan and Dave Roberts gimpy, it would seem to make more sense to acquire an outfielder now, rather than worry about benching Adrian Beltre.
3) With 10 legitimate candidates on the table plus three superstars, it's hard to believe that there isn't one trade out there that could help both teams, and therefore be made.