Friday, August 01, 2003
Escaping the Wrath
You don't see many fingers pointed Dave Roberts' way, perhaps because only an alien would have enough fingers to point for the Dodgers' miserable condition today.
His leg injuries have been the excuse, and to an extent that's fair. But last I heard, the upper body had at least a little bit to do with one's batting ability.
On May 1, Roberts was batting .315, with an on-base percentage of .390, slugging of .416, and OPS of .806.
Since then, Roberts has gone 30 for 144 with two doubles, no triples and no home runs. His averages in that time: batting .208, on-base .278, slugging .222, That gives him an OPS of an even .500.
Right now, Cesar Izturis is a better hitter than Roberts.
The First Name in Trade Coverage
The Times wins the Robin Ventura Trade Headline Contest with "They Need Bat Man, Get Robin".
I'm giving the Times the edge in an interestingly close race with the Register, which left too much doubt in its headline, "Can Robin Be Batman?"
If you think the Dodgers did well with the Ventura trade, write me.
Thursday, July 31, 2003
The relevancy of this entry will self-destruct in four hours (as of 9 a.m.).
Dan Evans, in today's Orange County Register:
"We're definitely buyers right now, without any question whatsoever,'' Evans said from Los Angeles. "We're out there trying to improve our club and if the right thing is there, we'll do the deal. We're definitely out there. We're being aggressive."I don't disagree with anything Evans said except the first sentence.
Improve the club? Yes. Look for the right thing? Yes.
Definitely buyers, without any question?
Here's a question. Why?
The Dodgers are five games out of a playoff spot. Reason to buy.
The Dodgers have played .303 ball (10-23) since June 21. Reason to sell.
I don't know how you can be resolved to go only in one direction.
Is the issue simply that the Dodgers, with the best, deepest pitching in baseball, don't have anything to sell? No team is desparate enough to overpay the Dodgers for anything?
I don't believe that the answers to those questions can be unequivocally affirmative.
I'm all for making a commitment, having a vision. But I fear a commitment made out of desperation.
If there is a great buyer's deal to be made, make it. But the choices should not just be 1) shop for the present or 2) do nothing. When your team has a winning percentage of .509 with two months left in the season, everything should be on the table.
P.S.: Wednesday, I commented that the Dodgers should be in on the action if the Reds are going to give players away, as they did reliever Scott Williamson. But for God's sake, guys like Aaron Boone may have their upsides, but be damn careful about getting in a bidding war for guys like Aaron Boone with teams like the New York Yankees. Jay Jaffe at The Futility Infielder has the East Coast look at a potential Boonedoggle.
Nothing Ventura, Nothing Gained
A headline with the word "Freeway" in it seemed too obvious. In a way, you have to wish Robin Ventura was traded to San Diego.
For many reasons.
Anyway, here's a quick take on the Dodgers' acquisition of Ventura for Bubba Crosby and minor-league pitcher Scott Proctor.
Though the Dodgers gave up two marginal ballplayers in exchange, they will be spending about $1.5 million in salary, money that could be spent on the 2004 roster, for two months worth of playing time from a guy whose career may be over before Rickey Henderson's.
Ventura has an OPS more than 100 points less than last year's dubious July pickup, third baseman Tyler Houston.
Ventura's numbers are higher than Adrian Beltre's - but given Fred McGriff's non-return, you may see Ventura at first base more than at third base (with Jolbert Cabrera picking up more middle-infield time). And as a first baseman, Ventura offers you next to nothing.
Loyal reader Brian Greene writes, "Robin Ventura since June 1 (136 at-bats): .213, 1 hr, 19 rbi (OPS around .590)."
Robin Ventura has had a fine career. Past tense. He is better than Bubba Crosby, but does not improve the team enough to justify his acquisition.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
Win Shares Follow-Up
Got this e-mail from Pete Simpson of Baseball Graphs, whose site I raided Tuesday for Win Shares data to use for my look at Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora. I had e-mailed Pete to ask if he had any further comments, and he did:
It's great to see other people using our site. The whole point of win shares is for analysis like yours.
A couple of things to add on the Dodger offense:
1. It's not just Izturis and Cora, although they are the most prominent. Daryle Ward has 0 runs created in 114 plate appearances, which would mean negative win shares, if such a thing were possible. This is by far the worst in the league for any player with any significant playing time (Wilson Delgado of the Cardinals has 0 runs created in 82 PA). For comparison purposes, Lenny Harris, batting .173 with little power, has 6 runs created in 144 PA.
Kaz Ishii has made 34 outs in 34 PA (0/26, with 8 SH).
Ron Coomer has 0 offensive win shares in 90 PA.
Odalis Perez has made 40 outs in 40 PA (1/34, 6 SH, 1 GIDP).
2. Overall, if the season ended today, the Dodgers would be the third most extreme defensive (pitching and defense) team since at least 1920. 74.6% of their win shares come from pitching and defense.
3. Dodger Stadium, which depresses offense by about 14%, is NOT responsible for the Dodger offense's low win shares. Win Shares fully corrects for this. Typically, extreme offensive teams play in pitcher's parks, and vice versa.
The Lost Cause Marches On
Is there a more brittle, prideful or insecure baseball player in the world than Raul Mondesi? From the Associated Press:
NEW YORK -- Two days after angrily leaving the New York Yankees' clubhouse, Raul Mondesi was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night for outfielder David Dellucci and two minor leaguers.
Therapy, Raul. Please. Get some therapy.
Mondesi was furious when Yankees manager Joe Torre had Ruben Sierra pinch hit for him in the eighth inning of Sunday night's 6-4 loss at Boston. The right fielder was not on the team's charter flight to California, and traveled on his own.
Sale on Aisle 9
Speaking in a vacuum (And speaking of a vacuum, why is a vacuum insulated from noise when a vacuum cleaner is so loud? Does the vacuum cleaner suck the noise from the vacuum?)
What was I saying?
Oh yeah. Speaking in a vaccum about the Dodger chances for the postseason this year or any other, if the management-deprived Cincinnati Reds are going to start unloading players like cans of Doritos at the 99 Cent Store, the Dodgers should be on the phone. Whether it's for today or next year, if there's a bargain to be had, the Dodgers need to be shopping.
And as John Wiebe points out, you may think the Dodgers are approaching success as if it were Kryptonite, but they are not alone.
53 innings, 3 runs
L.A. ... 000 000 000 01 010 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 010 000 000 000 000 000-3
Opp ... 000 000 000 00 000 100 000 000 001 000 010 00x 000 000 000 020 000 00x-5
The Dodgers' current crawl through the Sahara matches their third-worst scoring streak of five games since 1900.
Here are the worst:
1) 1992, two runs in five games
8/26 PIT L 0-2
8/28 @STL L 0-1
8/29 @STL L 2-3
8/30 @STL L 0-3
8/31 @CHC L 0-2
2) 1984, two runs in five games (and three runs in six games)
7/26 ATL L 1-5
7/27 CIN L 0-4
7/28 CIN W 1-0
7/29 CIN W 1-0
7/30 @SDP L 0-12
7/31 @SDP L 0-1
3) 1961, three runs in five games (and three runs in six games)
8/14 STL L 0-5
8/15 CIN L 2-5
8/16 CIN L 0-6
8/16 CIN L 0-8
8/18 @SFG L 1-2
8/19 @SFG L 0-5
Check out Michael Blake's View from the 700 Level for a recap of Tuesday's game and some more truly offensive numbers related to the Dodgers (and the Phillies). (Michael did a plug for me Tuesday, but I had already been planning on relying on him for coverage this week!)
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Our Bob Hope Story
One of my earliest memories from childhood is the Weisman family's brush with Bob Hope, which took place when I was about four years old. My older brother, Greg, took the time Monday to write it up, and I hope you don't mind if I share it with you as well.
Scroll down to the July 28, 2:11 PM entry at "Ask Greg," the website where Greg answers questions about the television series he co-created, Gargoyles.
CBS Sportsline is using unnamed sources to report that the Glazer family will buy the Dodgers, though the transaction isn't intended to be made official until the end of the season.
Keeping in mind that speculation fills the article, while one might be relieved that the new owners will be more concerned with delivering a winner than new upper-middle-class housing, we do seem headed for a chaotic offseason. Just a sample:
A Glazer ownership is likely to bring sweeping changes to Dodger Stadium, including the possibility of a front-office shakeup and, likely, a replacement for manager Jim Tracy barring a dramatic on-field turnaround during the season's final two months.If the new owners can't see that the biggest villain of the 2003 Dodger season is the ghost of Kevin Malone, then we're up Sisyphus Creek again. However, we're a long way from knowing what true and what's crystal ball.
Update: ESPN.com's Darren Rovell has idenitified the many significant hurdles that a Glazer purchase still faces.
Shallow Hal Meets Alex and Cesar
This is the part of the blind date setup when you're forced to talk about the good personality.
On the field, Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis are beautiful to look at. But from a statistics standpoint, you need beer goggles to appreciate them.
Using the too-complicated-to-explain-but-trust-me-it-works Win Shares formula developed by Bill James, a website called Baseball Graphs has ranked every National League player, overall, by team and by position.
As a batter, Cora is the 20th-best second baseman in a 16-team league. Now that's hard on the eyes. Until you get to Izturis, who is the 26th-best shortstop offensively.
You know who has contributed more offensively to Dodger victories this season than Izturis? Todd Hundley. Wilkin Ruan. Guillermo Mota. Troy Brohawn!
Obviously, some of those guys have only a couple of at-bats this season. So what does that tell you? That Izturis is a black hole, sucking the life out of the Dodger offense. That his few positive contributions at the plate are negated by his many outs. His .250ish batting average is like a bow tie on a pig. With on-base and slugging percentages both below .300, he has no attractive qualities. He is the date from hell.
Ah, but, Izturis sure can field. He can field real cute, even. Cora, too. That's gotta be worth something when I go home at night, right?
According to Win Shares, Izturis is the top-fielding shortstop in the NL. Cora is the top-fielding second baseman. For that matter, Adrian Beltre is No. 2 in the league in fielding.
In fact, Izturis has more defensive value than any player in the National League, at any position. He is the Barry Bonds of defense.
And because of that, Izturis is the, well ... 11th-best shortstop in the NL. Cora is the 10th-best second baseman, better than Roberto Alomar, a recently speculated Dodger trade target. Which I guess goes to show you that while looks (on the field) don't give you everything, they count for something.
But when you're looking for a life partner, personality matters. And when you're looking for a baseball player, even a shortstop, offense is more important than defense.
I knew this a while back, actually, but watching the brilliant fielding of Cora and Izturis began to suck me into thinking that they were so good, so beautiful, that those looks were enough.
Dodger management claims that the pitching staff benefits from the stability of Cora and Izturis.
The Dodgers would be better off with Brian Giles at shortstop than Izturis. They'd be better off with Edgar Martinez at shortstop. And it appears they might even be better off with Jolbert Cabrera at shorstop.
Look again at the Win Shares stats for shortstop. Even as the best fielder in the game, Izturis has much less value than Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and others, even if you gave those guys no points at all for fielding.
Of course, those aren't the Dodger alternatives today. Cabrera is the Dodger alternative. But with these numbers, you can still make a case that even Cabrera - a somewhat clumsy infielder - is a better option at shortstop than Izturis. And long-term, you can question whether Izturis would ever improve enough offensively to justify his starting role.
No player that has registered any offensive value, from my examination of these numbers, has a greater ratio of defense to offense than Izturis, and Cora is close behind. Say what you want about the Dodger pitching or the Dodger Stadium park factors, there is no bigger run-prevention force in the game than Cora and Izturis - offensively and defensively. And that's as much of a problem as you may have feared.
Monday, July 28, 2003
Interviewing Internetter Alex Belth has done it again, getting a Q & A with Moneyball author Michael Lewis. Alex may even have something of a scoop: the interview concludes with the news that Lewis is considering a sequel.
BB: There is still a lot of time left this season for things to turn your way. Will you write an additional chapter for the paperback edition?
As a roundabout way into discussing the book, the interview begins with a discussion of the chance that Moneyball could be movie material, and baseball movies in general. I was pleased to see them rate my favorite baseball movie, The Bad News Bears, as one of the best, and also agreed with their ranking of Bang the Drum Slowly as overrated (the only part of the movie that I really like is the playing of the song).
ML: I think there’s a chance that I’m going to write a response to the critics. It wouldn’t be exactly that. It would be a piece making observations about the reaction. It would include a discussion about sports writing and the state of sports writing. Baseball writing. It’s curious the way baseball writers are. It’s curious to me that Joe Morgan can write pieces saying that Billy Beane wrote the book, and nobody says anything. It’s just weird. In a way, the response to the book has explained why all these inefficiencies existed in the first place. I might do that, if I have the energy. But my inclination is to move on. The pleasure of the book is largely in doing it. It’s done. And now, I’m going to write a sequel to the book. Which is going to take me six years to do, and the sequel is going to be about what happens to the kids they drafted. I am following them through the minor leagues. Traveling on the buses with them and all that other stuff.
However, I was disappointed by their ambivalence toward Eight Men Out and at the way Lewis completely slammed The Natural. The biggest sin of The Natural is changing the ending of the novel, but evaluating the movie on its own merits, I think it is poetry - beautiful poetry. It isn't realistic in the common sense, but to me, it captures a very realistic sensation of the hopes that one places in the game, and of the mixing of reality and dreams.
Playing right-center field in a four-man outfield at my pickup softball game Sunday, I made 16 putouts in 13 innings. Isn't that remarkable? I'm not bragging about it - I just think it's amazing that so many people could hit the ball my way.
At the plate, things were shakier. I started out 0 for 4, robbed of a hit once but otherwise making very meek outs. I decided to change my approach, and told myself to go to the plate angry. Not desperate for a hit, but determined. I got solid hits the next three at-bats.
The day got hotter and tireder, and I finished only 3 for 9. What the hell, I'm still an amateur.
But the game really is a mental one, isn't it? It's not all about talent, but about how you use that talent. There are limits, but the limits shouldn't be players at their worst.
I cannot help but think that Dodger hitters have room for growth in their ability to produce.
I take these two concluding paragraphs from Mike DiGiovanna's Saturday game story in the Times as progress for the organization:
Batting instructor Jack Clark's job seems more and more tenuous in light of the Dodgers' offensive struggles — they rank last in the league in batting, runs, hits, home runs, walks, sacrifice hits, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
"We evaluate people all the time - I'm not going to categorize his job status," General Manager Dan Evans said of Clark. "We need to be better in that area. He knows it, and the players know it."
Update: Cincinnati edged Philadelphia in 10 innings Monday, 6-5. The Dodgers trail the Phillies in the wild card by three games. Pittsburgh shut out St. Louis, so the Dodgers are alone in fourth place.
The World Series? That's the Easy Part
It's the trickle-up theory at work. A team that passed them in the wild-card race has kept alive the Dodgers' wild-card hopes.
Despite scoring two runs in their past three games, the Dodgers gained a game on National League wild-card leader Philadelphia, which was swept by the charging Florida Marlins.
Florida is now tied for second with Arizona; the two teams open a series with each other tonight. Los Angeles heads to Philadelphia tied for fourth in the wild-card standings, but trailing by only 3 1/2 games. Now, only a sweep in the three-game series, beginning Tuesday, would knock the Dodgers out of realistic contention.
The Dodgers will actually arrive in Philadelphia before the Phillies, who today waste the top left-handed pitcher in the National League this season, Randy Wolf, against the Cincinnati Reds.
The probable pitching matchups for the Dodgers-Phillies series, the biggest of the year for the Dodgers since the June series with the Giants when first place in the NL West was a possibility:
Scary to think each matchup looks winnable.
- Tuesday: Kazuhisa Ishii (3.37) vs. Vicente Padilla (3.89)
- Wednesday: Kevin Brown (2.12) vs. Brett Myers (3.65)
- Thursday: Odalis Perez (4.43) vs. Brandon Duckworth (5.16)
The Phillies bring an offense that is vastly superior to the team the Dodger pitching just stifled, Arizona, but inferior to the team that battered the Dodgers the previous weekend, St. Louis. Philadelphia is 10th in the major leagues in EQA.
Face it - the Dodgers have lost only 11 percent of their games by four or more runs this season. For all their woes, they are in just about every game. And yet, they are almost a .500 team. They have every reason to think they can beat Philadelphia, and every reason to think that they won't.
With the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline three days away, perhaps the greatest complication that the Dodgers are facing is this: It will be for them to win the World Series as a wild-card team than it will be for them to become that wild-card team.
Think about it. In a short series, the Dodger pitching becomes even more difficult to contend with. A short series provides more rest for Brown, Hideo Nomo and Eric Gagne - a trio of pitchers that, right now, no team in the NL matches up with. The depth of the rotation - the Andy Ashby aspect - becomes a non-factor.
If the Dodgers made the playoffs, their first game will probably be against the team that they face this weekend, Atlanta - a team with the third-best EQA in the majors, but by one measure, only the 16th-best pitching. In other words, a team like St. Louis - only one that has arranged their scoring in a more efficient fashion.
The Dodgers would be underdogs, but just as they won four games out of six with the Cardinals this season, it is not impossible to imagine them riding their pitching to win one more game over Atlanta than they lose. And that's the thing - a playoff team can win the World Series by playing just one game over .500 per series.
No, the greater challenge for the Dodgers is making the playoffs. That requires the team to play much better than .500 ball. And it tests the Dodgers' non-existent depth.
I don't think the Dodgers can do it. With or without an improbable sweep of the Phillies this week, one that would pull the Dodgers within a half-game of the wild card, the Dodgers don't have playoff manpower on board or that they can acquire, given the state of the organization in 2003 and looking forward.
But the team won't be able to bring themselves to admit that. The wild card will seem within reach. And a World Series title will seem within reach - even more so. The temptation to make a move for a 2003 title run will be hard for anyone to suppress.
Once again, it will probably turn out badly. Once again, the Dodgers won't have been bad enough to become good.