Friday, July 11, 2003
Ill-Winds on the Mondesi Front
Looks like the rejuvenation of Raul Mondesi has come up short, according to this New York Times article.
Please know that all my sincere best wishes go to Ron Coomer. According to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com:
Utilityman Ron Coomer will fly to Minneapolis Friday for further tests on the cause of blurred vision and pain in his jaw.
The fact that such conditions had to be ruled out is frightening - so frightening that I will resist the urge to joke that what Dan Evans told Gurnick was more frightening. I'll just say it's strange.
The belief is that Coomer is suffering from some problem involving his temporomandibular joint, or the jaw joint. According to trainer Stan Johnston, tests have ruled out other serious disorders such as tumors and glaucoma.
According to Gurnick:
General Manager Dan Evans said Coomer's uncertain availability impacts his approach in trade talks, but not as much as the official news that Jordan is done for the year.I'm really, really sorry, but could Coomer really have any impact on a single trade talk, trade whisper or trade scrawl on a napkin?
Anyway, best wishes, Ron.
The Clark Bar
I didn't expect such a big news day today, otherwise I would have held out on revisiting Jack Clark. But on Thursday, I got great feedback on the past, present and future of Dodger hitting coach Jack Clark, and I don't see any compelling reason to hold back on it. So let's get to it.
From Kent Whitaker of Newcastle, Maine (the only person in his county who wears a Dodger cap, he says):
...a quick thought about replacing Jack Clark. If the team doesn't significantly improve in the second half, I'm all for letting him go. I wonder if Rick Down would be available (hitting coach for NYY). He was with the Red Sox last year and seems to have a good track record. Did Ron Jackson leave the Las Vegas 51s to become the Red Sox hitting coach this year? The Sox are hitting close to .300 as a team right now. That isn't too shabby.Down is quite an interesting nomination, to say the least; he was the Dodger hitting coach in 1999-2000 under Davey Johnson and the runner-up to Jim Tracy to replace Johnson as manager. In those two seasons - admittedly with some different personnel, like Gary Sheffield - the Dodgers hit 187 and 211 home runs and had OPSeses of .759 and .772. I wonder how Tracy and Down would get along...
Here's letter No. 2, from Clay Landon of Los Angeles:
... Lots of rhetoric here, only a little research - so you might want to edit judiciously. (Editor's note: just touched up a word here and there.)
Clay makes convincing points to me everywhere but his last paragraph. Fun is a judgment call, but Garvey's resume offers little indication he could nurture some more on-base percentage out of the Dodgers. But that's a quibble - I thought it was a terrific letter.
The argument for Clark:
Hitters do not make sudden improvements like pitchers. That's why pitching coaches are more renowned than hitting coaches. I remember Bill James saying no one has ever learned how to hit in their twenties. His point was a bad hitter is almost always going to die a bad hitter. Good hitters who go bad can suddenly become good again (like Tim Wallach) but a guy who is bad with the bat, like Cora and Izturis, usually stays that way.
I don't know of a hitting coach in the league who can make the Dodgers a good offensive team. I don't think it can be done without changing the personnel on the field. Additionally, a player who has great success in the past (Shawn Green) is now slumping terribly. What can be done about this, right now? Again, not much. Green's problems are essentially inexplicable. Green's been a streaky hitter but this past losing streak was a little hard to take. I think Clark is doing the right thing by trying to get him to relax but beyond that, what else can you do?
There is also this: Clark was exactly the kind of player the Dodgers need today. A low-average guy who hits for power and draws walks. In his best season in St. Louis, Clark drew 136 walks. Along with Pedro Guerrero, Bill James described Clark as the best hitter of the 80's. James wrote that had Clark played in Wrigley, he would've hit .350 with 50 homers and 150 RBI's. In the 1980's! If the Dodgers are looking for a guy for younger hitters to model after, Clark is that guy. Overall, he was a much more effective hitter at his best than Steve Garvey ever was.
The argument against Clark:
Two words: Adrian Beltre.
You all know his story: Adrian was a player who at 21 years of age wasn't just a prospect, he was producing. A guy with Beltre's numbers at 21 almost always turns out to be a major league star. (John Sickels wrote these words in response to a letter I sent him.) We all know what happened: the botched surgery, sorry numbers since then, and Beltre is now the constant subject of trade rumors.
Wouldn't a guy like Adrian Beltre be the kind of challenge a hitting coach looks forward to? And wouldn't a guy like Jack Clark, a giant clubhouse presence when he played (ask Tony Gwynn) be the perfect complement to Beltre? Clark as a player was similar to Adrian: physically gifted, sometimes thought to be a little removed from his teammates, questionable work ethic but known as a hard worker in the minor leagues. That's a word-for-word description of Adrian Beltre. They seem well-matched but Beltre is deteriorating before our eyes.
Clark cannot be held responsible for the Dodger hitters who are bad and will probably stay that way (i.e.: Cora, Izturis). Nor can he be held entirely responsible for a star who is having an off-year (Green). But I think a hitting coach should be held accountable for young players who have a proven ability to hit the baseball. Today, Adrian Beltre is worthless offensively. I think Clark needs to be held accountable for that.
Verdict: We haven't reached the All-Star break. The Dodgers could catch a little offensive fire if Green and Beltre start to hit (last season, Beltre hit very well after the All-Star break). If Green and Beltre continue to deteriorate, then the Dodgers should go in another direction at the end of the season. I can't see that firing Clark now would make a helluva lot of difference. Additionally, it would seem callous to fire him now after his life-threatening accident.
Hitting coach nominee if Clark is fired: Steve Garvey. True, he didn't walk and was always a little overrated offensively but he got 175-200 hits a year like clockwork. Plus, it would be fun to see Garvey back in the clubhouse.
I also sought opinions about batting coaches at Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits. Here are some selected postings:
The Texas Ranger's Rudy Jaramillo also has stellar reputation, given his work with (currently) Hank Blalock, Michael Young, as well as Juan Gonzalez, A-Rod (with whom he spent 8 years working on his swing) Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa et al. (Hell, he got Gabe Kapler to hit in 28 straight games - and for that he is a genius.) That all of those players go out of their way to thank him is a pretty strong endorsement.
And from "Rally Monkey":
I'm surprised at the anti-Jack Clark sentiment. Given his high OBP, SLG, walks, and his absolute refusal to swing at outside pitches (take a look at how far away he stood from the plate), I thought he would be a favorite around here.
Also, Mitchell Page might deserve some mention as a good hitting coach, given the consistent hitting success of the Cardinals (e.g., Renteria's improved AVG, OBP, and Ks; Matheny and Marrero's general improvements; and - if you attribute any of his success to Page - Pujols).
Jack Clark the hitter:Jack Clark the hitting coach::Joe Morgan the player:Joe Morgan the broadcaster?What I am relieved to find in this discussion is that the question of who should be the Dodger hitting coach should not be dismissed. There are alternatives to consider.
To me, the most compelling reason to retain Clark is that the best candidate may not be available in midseason. I don't know that an interim hitting coach would be helpful to the Dodgers.
Part of me also thinks that perhaps Clark shouldn't be judged until the end of the season. But who else in baseball has that luxury? Do the players? Does the general manager? If the Dodgers were last in the league in wins, would Tracy's job be safe?
I sympathize that Clark was hurt badly this spring, but I also question his thought process in taking a motorcycle ride without a helmet just before Opening Day. The accident wasn't his fault, but he certainly could have mitigated the outcome.
The Dodgers scored some runs in St. Louis, and figure to score some more in Colorado. But let's see how they do when they get back to Dodger Stadium. If the Dodgers are serious about trying to win in 2003 - if they make a move toward that end - than I still don't think I see how you can justify having that offense managed by Jack Clark.
This question is not independent of ones like the Odalis Perez-Brian Giles question. All of the Dodgers' moves need to reflect a consistent direction.
Odalis on the Block
The Dodgers continue to test-offer Odalis Perez in trade for a slugger. Perez has been apparently been offered to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for star outfielder Brian Giles, the Times reports today.
The Pirates, who are only 6 1/2 games out of first place in the strangely weak National League Central Division, are holding out for the Dodgers to add two top pitching prospects, Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller.
The pros and cons of a trade like this are well-trod in this space - is the present so promising that the future should be plundered? Are you into deficit spending?
I will say this - Giles would be under contract at a reasonable value through 2005 - this is no rent-a-player boondoggle. And with Perez's injury history and somewhat inconsistent performance in 2003, there is reason to wonder whether he will perform as well as Giles over the next 2 1/2 years.
In the Long Beach Press Telegram, Bob Keisser takes an unusual position for a newspaper columnist covering the Dodgers in midseason. He actually says that it's time for the Dodgers to rebuild.
Keisser expands on a longtime belief of mine: not only that the Dodgers need to rebuild at some point, but that Dodger fans will accept a rebuilding plan if it's laid out for them. They will accept any direction as long as there's some direction - it's the annual misdirection that is so frustrating. Writes Keisser:
Dodgers fans get blasted for a variety of things, but they're not stupid. They're booing because they know a team with postseason ability when they see one, and they don't see one. In a way, management is almost mocking Dodger fans with this charade. A fan will tolerate a lineup featuring names like Kinkade, Coomer, Ward and Cabrera if they know it's a step on the road back, but not when someone is selling it as a contender for October. The Dodgers need to get their timing together. Can they envision replacing the youth and reasonable salary of Perez in the starting rotation, or will they be simply be exchanging one problem for another, creating a big hole in an aging rotation that they don't have the prospects to fill?
My sense is that the Dodgers will not become a World Series team unless, at least one time, they make decisions that prioritize "next season" over "this season." Brian Giles is a great player, but with the current talent level on this team, I don't know that he can put the Dodgers over the top. And though he may continue to be productive in coming years, he's going to need a supporting cast.
If you subtract Perez from the Dodger starting rotation, it has no current member whom you can project contributing in 2005. Ashby and Alvarez - no way. Brown - dubious with his age and recent injuries. Nomo - great now, but as great as he's ever going to be; all downhill from here. That means you might need to come up with as many as five new starting pitchers in the next 20 months. And you're talking about trading away three candidates in Perez, Jackson and Miller.
I'm not sure it's worth it. I'd like to get Giles, but I think I'd need to hold out for a lower price.
If ever there was a day I've produced too much content, this is it. Hope I didn't sacrifice quality for quantity (assuming there was sacrificable quality to begin with).
Although real estate magnate Alan Casden is not the leading candidate to purchase the Dodgers, if you care at all - one way or another - about where the Dodgers play their home games, then you need to read Roger Vincent's A-section story on Casden in today's Times.
Dodger Bidder Would Raze Stadium, Put One Downtown
Even those who love Dodger Stadium as much as I do would admit that there are flaws to the Dodger Stadium experience. But do these flaws, cited by Casden to Vincent in this article ...
...add up to the need to bulldoze the stadium?
- parking difficulties
- seating plan oddities
- difficult accessibility for fans
- trauma for local residents
- declining Dodger dogs
- absence of Kosher food stands
- bad pizza
- dreary restrooms
- lack of cupholders in most seats
A downtown stadium could help solve some of these problems. As Vincent writes, "Dodger fans don't necessarily arrive late and leave early because they want to, [Casden said]; it's because nearly all of them arrive by car and must fight their way in and out of a few stadium entrances." Even if you have the experience using side routes into Dodger Stadium that I have, this is true (as I've written before).
However, any connection between other elements on the list and a stadium demolition are ridiculous. If the food is bad, you don't tear down the stadium - you reassign the catering contract. You don't tear down a stadium to fix a bathroom.
I don't want to be guilty of ignoring the weaknesses of Dodger Stadium. But the principal problem with the stadium is getting people to and from it efficiently. Whoever buys the Dodgers from News Corp. would be better served investing in solutions for these transportation issues than turning the Dodgers' home upside down.
The capital chaos that tearing down Dodger Stadium and building a new stadium elsewhere would bring is neither smart nor necessary.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Love and Kisses from Fresno
Gregg Rosenthal caught the Dodgers' AAA team, the Las Vegas 51s, in Fresno Wednesday night in the first game of his baseball-punctuated cross-country drive. Read about his fun day - including his star turn on the Fresno Stadium "Kiss Cam" at Gregg's Baseball, Etc.
While I'm at it, I'd like to throw some attention Aaron Gleeman's way. If bloggers were measured in OPS, Aaron would be up there with Albert Pujols. In particular, I'd check out the July 8 entry about Mike Cameron on Aaron's Baseball Blog.
All-Star MVP Outfielder Comes to Dodgers?
The odds that the Dodgers will acquire a ballplayer born in the 1950s continue to increase.
ESPN Insider led me to this article in the Newark Star-Ledger by Akilah Nelson, in which Dodger spokesman John Olguin is quoted as saying, "At this point, we have not committed a scout to watching (Rickey Henderson), but we may be looking at that option not too far down the road."
Nelson writes that the Dodgers would be the first team to show serious interest in Henderson, who was the MVP of Wednesday night's Atlantic League All-Star Game.
"The Dodgers are a respectable organization," Henderson told Nelson. "If they are interested in me, I am interested in them."
Note that Henderson used the first person in speaking about himself.
Meanwhile, one of the players that I identified on June 30 as a logical target for the Dodgers, Boston outfielder Trot Nixon, was nearly acquired by the Dodgers in a deal that would have sent Odalis Perez to the Red Sox, according to the Times. Nixon has hit four home runs in his past eight games. Did Kevin Brown's injury and/or Perez' near-no-hitter scuttle the deal? Or just a realization that trading your youngest starting pitcher was too scary.
Could Florida third baseman Mike Lowell reappear in the radar screen? Think about this - the worse he performs, the harder it will be for the Marlins to stay in the wild-card race and the less teams will have to offer in exchange. It's not the end of the world, but Lowell is hitless in his past 19 at-bats and 7 for his past 44 (.159 average) with six walks and two home runs. (His OPS in that stretch still cracks the .700 barrier, which is more than most Dodgers can say.)
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
You Might Want to Close Your Eyes, Ma'am
Last night I was out driving
Coming home at the end of the working day
I was riding alone through the drizzling rain
On a deserted stretch of a county two-lane
When I came upon a wreck on the highway
As we wait for the last hubcap from this crash to spin silent, we may witness more historic catastrophe tonight.
No Los Angeles Dodger team has ever lost 14 out of 16 games, but on national cable television this evening in St. Louis, the 2003 edition can become the first.
Brooklyn had done that badly and worse, including a 16-game losing streak shortly after D-Day. But Los Angeles, though it has lost 13 out of 16 many times, has never gone 2-14.
In the midseason collapse that essentially cost the Dodgers a playoff berth in 2002, the Dodgers lost 12 out of 15 in July before rallying to finish 3 1/2 games out of the wild card. The Dodgers today sit the same 3 1/2 games out of the wild card, meaning any kind of rally at all will necessarily get them closer, but it takes a brave mind to look at this accident scene and conclude that their season hasn't been totaled.
And as such, I greet the new day.
Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
And I watch my baby as she sleeps
Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight
I just lay there awake in the middle of the night
Thinking 'bout the wreck on the highway
(Data by Baseball-Reference.com, lyrics by Bruce Springsteen, performed by Bruce Springsteen and Nancy Bea. Next up ... Badlands.)
Reader Participation Time!
I am soliciting thoughts on what the Dodgers should do regarding their batting coach position.
Should Jack Clark be replaced or not?
If so, who should replace him and why?
Special points for those who can identify replacement candidates with real credentials. Find the Dodgers someone with a proven track record as a batting coach. Whenever teams need a new pitching coach or front office help, they hire Dave Wallace away from the Dodgers. (Seems like it happens every year.) So, who is the hitting equivalent of Dave Wallace that the Dodgers can grab?
At the same time, I will also be eager to see those who can make the case for keeping Clark.
Send your responses to ShiftyJ@aol.com. I hope to share the results on this site soon.
Don't be shy - the more responses I get, the better a dialogue we can have on this site. Thanks!
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Dan Evans, to Ken Gurnick on MLB.com:
"Part of our problem is that we've got limited ability to make moves in the off-season because of emotional decisions of the past, so the decisions we make now won't be emotional."For more about "emotional problems," I urge you to consult this public service announcement, brought to you by the Kids in the Hall.
No. No One Is This Bad
The worst offensive team in baseball through June 30 has actually, truly, unbelievably, managed to find a way to slump in July.
|Player||2003 OPS||July 2003 OPS|
|Paul Lo Duca||.816||.670|
The pitchers of four major league teams have an OPS in 2003 higher than .504.
The Dodgers will score more runs. The Dodgers will start to more games. How much more, I don't know. But seriously, what we're seeing simply is not real.
Invest in Rickey
Recent tumult in the markets has put Dodger stock (NLWEST: LAD) in jeopardy of being delisted from the divisional exchange, but the bears are holding out hope for a third-quarter rally.
On May 29, this headhunter suggested that the Dodgers consider bringing in some new blood: a seasoned white knight by the name of Rickey Henderson.
Today, with Dave Roberts and Brian Jordan out and Wilkin Ruan struggling (not that Ruan has been given enough time to succeed or fail), the Times reports that the Dodgers "are keeping an eye" on Henderson. The 44-year-old outfielder would sign for the major-league minimum.
Henderson's statistics with the independent Newark Bears - .349 average, .498 on-base percentage, .608 slugging percentage, 1.106 OPS - translate to a major-league equivalent average of .288. That is higher than any Dodger player except for Dave Ross. (Henderson's batting average is exactly the same as it was when I wrote about him six weeks ago.)
Shawn Green leads the Dodgers with 28 walks. Henderson could join the team tomorrow and probably end up as the team leader by season's end.
Henderson could lead off some games, threaten havoc of the bench in others. I'm all for testing out the youngbloods like Ruan, but with an offense that makes the prisoners in The Bridge on the River Kwai look fat and sassy, are you telling me that Henderson couldn't help?
Would signing Rickey smack of desperation? Yes.
Would it be a smart as hell? Yes.
Would it be fun as all get out? Yes.
A lot more fun than watching Fred McGriff not attain 500 home runs? Yes.
Good players, cheap. That's the stuff.
Monday, July 07, 2003
Nomo Should - and Will? - Be an All-Star
Hideo Nomo's omission from the All-Star team is glaring, and could easily have been avoided. Outfielder Brian Giles should have been Pittsburgh's representative instead of reliever Mike Williams, thus making room for Nomo. Preston Wilson of Colorado could have been dropped to make room for Giles.
Nomo, I suspect, will still make the team - in injured teammate Kevin Brown's spot. (Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus on Brown: "It's hard to gauge how his amazing pain tolerance will affect his comeback, but abdominal injuries are notoriously slow healers and there's no way to work around them.") There will be a huge movement to include Florida's Dontrelle Willis, who along with Nomo has been both a phenomenon and a success, but I expect the rosters to shuffle enough between now and July 15 to include both.
But we'll see. As my cousin James would say, "Weisman - you're always wrong."
In passing, I want to voice my support for including a representative from each team in the All-Star Game. It is my firm opinion that many people - especially younger fans - tune into the game first and foremost to see their team colors represented. With rosters of 32 per team, there's no reason this desire can't be accomodated. It's simply a matter of choosing the right guy.
Shawn Green got slammed for not diving for a ball hit to right field, and Glenn Hoffman got slammed for not waving Green home to score.
The slammers missed the point connecting the two events, and it's the same one I've been making since Game 2 this season: Green's speed is nothing but a memory.
If it still existed, Green would have been close enough to make a dive to save Odalis Perez's no-hitter, and Green would have been fast enough for Hoffman to send home without reservation.
Green still has an arm, and who knows, he may still have a bat, but his legs are going ... going ...
Rocking the Baseball World
Actually, Evans did make a trade, although it measures 1.1 on the Richter Scale.
Sunday, the Dodgers sent that inexplicable March pickup, Gookie Dawkins, to Kansas City for two minor leaguers: shortstop Victor Rodriguez and left-handed pitcher Scott Mullen.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Rodriguez has a higher Major League Equivalent Average than Dawkins, .225 to .216. However, Rodriguez is 2 1/2 years older. Mullen has a 4.41 ERA in 32 2/3 innings for AAA Omaha.
This Is Not Dan Evans' Mess
With emotions raw over the state of the Dodgers, let's remember that their problems are no overnight occurence.
When Dan Evans arrived in Los Angeles:
- ... the Dodgers were overextended financially, thanks largely to Kevin Malone. Evans has faced real and legitimate spending limitations.
- ... the Dodgers had not had a good draft since the Cold War era. While they have signed some talented players internationally, catchers Paul Lo Duca and Dave Ross and outfielder Bubba Crosby are the only original Dodger draftees that have played for the team in 2003.
There is a dichotomy in the current era of major league baseball. Certain teams, such as the Yankees and Braves, make the playoffs every year. Other teams, such as the Diamondbacks and Twins, go from abysmal to accomplished in nothing flat.
The Dodgers are in the middle - and yes, it has all the feel of a treadmill. The team's makeup has evolved under Evans, to the point where its pitching is incredible and its hitting is indigestible, but the overall talent of the team remains roughly the same.
Though Evans does have the responsibility of improving that overall talent, it's simply unfair to deny the history working against him.
Is Evans alone among general managers in facing hurdles? Of course not. But are other GMs doing much better than he is in 2003? Not really.
The Chicago White Sox acquire Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett. Arizona acquires Shea Hillenbrand; the Red Sox acquire Byung-Hyun Kim. The mighty Yankees acquire ... Ruben Sierra and Karim Garcia? None of those moves will put a team into the playoffs.
The only way for the Dodgers to truly get better is to get good players cheap - primarily through smart drafting and smart signings. Kind of a difficult task in July. The trade market is sludge right now, and if Evans, who has made poor midseason trades in the past, doesn't see a deal that will help the overall talent level of the Dodgers, he is right to hold off - until the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, or until the offseason if need be.
No one thought the Dodgers entered 2003 with the most talent in baseball; not many more thought they would make the playoffs. Just because the talent that the Dodgers do have is distributed in an easily identifiable way doesn't change the lack of overall quality in the organization. This has been true since March: Any postseason success for the Dodgers in 2003 will be a premature gift. And that was the truth before the fragility of Dave Roberts, Fred McGriff, Brian Jordan, Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort asserted itself.
If there is a good trade to make, Evans should make it. But don't assume that there is one. This team has had problems to solve that go back years and years.