Friday, August 08, 2003
Guest Columnist (Unbekownst to Him)
Because he's written about both Eric Gagne and Dodger Stadium on the same day, I'm going to let Rob Neyer provide the Dodger Thoughts for today.
For more discussion of this article, head on over to Baseball Primer.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
How Big? So Big
From Steven Goldman, whose writing makes me feel like one of the schlubs waiting to be healed by Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, comes this great discussion of big ball vs. small ball. (Scroll down.)
"Bunting and base-stealing make a lot of sense in an environment where runners are unlikely to be advanced by other means or one in which forcing the infielders and the catchers to throw the ball might lead to some free bases," Goldman writes. "Neither condition describes major league baseball today."
However, this does describe major league baseball from the past, which is why some very wizened veterans may cling to the superiority of small ball. Goldman quotes Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus as saying:
"Big ball being better than "small ball" is not an absolute truth; game conditions determine how possible it is to achieve "big" or "small" results. Under past historical conditions, with inferior gloves and less developed and trained team defensive strategies, the sacrifice was a much better play (and still is, today, at lower levels of play).With the Dodgers having abandoned the sacrifice in recent weeks (although Adrian Beltre did square around to bunt with Robin Ventura on second base Wednesday night - before knocking a game-winning RBI single to right), I haven't pursued this topic as much as when this ripening season was 16 going on 17. But I do have one thought from April 5 that bears repeating.
Frankly, I’ve been wondering what makes mediocre offensive teams like the Dodgers think they would be any better at manufacturing runs than they are at buying them retail. If they’re not good enough build an above-average OPS, what makes them think that they can execute a fairly difficult play, the hit-and-run?
I know he didn't set the world afire after his two home runs, but I am disappointed at how little Rickey Henderson is playing.
Since going 2 for 4 against Atlanta on Saturday, Henderson has not made it into the past three games.
Dave Roberts - whom I also root for - has a couple of two-hit games this month and has reached base in seven of his past nine games. But he's still only 7 for 31 with three walks and one extra-base hit (.584 OPS) since returning from the disabled list July 26.
My guess is that Dodger manager Jim Tracy has decided that the team can't afford the defensive shortcomings of a Shawn Green-Jeromy Burnitz-Henderson outfield, a legitimate fear I raised when the team acquired Burnitz and Henderson. But still, to not see Rickey in a game at all is bumming me out, especially when he's not being outperformed offensively.
I Did My Worst, But My Worst Just Wasn't Good Enough
Todd Sullivan, in a letter to Thoughts from Diamond Mind published Wednesday, points out that the Dodgers could be holding the wild-card slot even with a league-worst offense.
He came to this conclusion through some heady usage of Bill James' Pythagorean theorem of baseball, which as we've discussed before, effectively calculates your expected record based on how many runs you have scored and allowed. (You can find the current Pythandings at the bottom of Rob Neyer's ESPN page.)
Sullivan notes the remarkable difference between the Dodgers and the 15th-place team in scoring, San Diego (as I write this today, the Dodgers are being outscored by the Padres, 4.08 runs per game to 3.45). Then, Sullivan writes:
To own the wild card lead at a modest .600 winning pct., they would need 434 runs; 434 runs would leave LA second to last in the majors (which is where they currently reside). Similarly, to be tied with Philly for the wild card at a .561 winning pct., LA would need 400 runs scored; again second to last in the majors.
The keeper of Diamond Mind, Tom Tippett, wraps up the comment by reminding us that the 2003 Dodger season continues to be truly historic:
In short, LA could be in prime playoff position with the worst offense in the NL and their current pitching/defense, if only they had a better NL worst offense.
LA is indeed in uncharted territory. Through the games of August 3rd, the Dodgers were allowing runs at 68% of the league average rate, the best mark in the history of the game. And they were scoring runs at 71% of the league average rate, a figure that is tied for third-worst of all time.
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
See Dan's hand.
See Dan's hand tied behind his back.
Dan has one hand tied behind his back.
Let's see if Dan can keep the second hand free.
Dodger 2004 Salary Commitments
*Buyout of 2004 option
|Shawn Green||$16.0 million|
|Kevin Brown||$15.0 million|
|Darren Dreifort||$11.0 million|
|Hideo Nomo||$8.0 million|
|Todd Hundley||$6.5 million|
|Paul Lo Duca||$3.9 million|
|Paul Shuey||$3.8 million|
|Paul Quantrill||$3.1 million|
|Kazuhisa Ishii||$2.6 million|
|Brian Jordan*||$2.5 million|
Source: MLB Contracts
That's $72.4 million that the Dodgers and general manager Dan Evans are paying for four starting pitchers, two relievers, a right fielder, two catchers, and Brian Jordan's going-away present.
Eric Gagne will return - he made $550,000 this season, but is in line for a huge raise. With about four seasons of service time under his ample belt, I'm going to pencil him in for at least what Adrian Beltre made this year, rounding up for his fan appeal to put him at $4 million. I think that's conservative.
Though he's trade bait, it's hard to imagine that Odalis Perez won't begin the season with a team that has three fragile starters in Brown, Dreifort and Ishii, not to mention Hideo Nomo turning 35 this month. Perez made $3.4 million after a great 2002; I'm going to give him a baseball cost-of-living increase after his up-and-down 2003 and put him at $4 million.
The rest of the pitching staff can probably come in for about $4 million. Guillermo Mota ($675,000 in 2003) will probably approach the $1 million mark after his sharp 2003, and some combination of guys like Tom Martin, Steve Colyer, Wilson Alvarez, Victor Alvarez and Troy Brohawn to fill the final four spots on the 11-man staff should come to under $3 million total.
We're at $84.4 million. Since I'm estimating now, let's round it to an even (well, odd) $85 million.
From the existing Dodger talent pool, I forsee the following guys returning, though more likely as reserves than as starters: Dave Roberts, Dave Ross and Jolbert Cabrera. I also think the team is so sold on Cesar Izturis defensively that he will return as a starter. (Even if the Dodgers signed a big-time free-agent shortstop, they would then simply move that newcomer or Izturis to second base.) Combined, Roberts, Ross, Cabrera and Izturis made approximately $1.5 million in 2003. Let's bump them up to $2 million for 2004.
The Dodgers now have 18 players at a cost of $89 million.
Nothing's certain while team ownership remains uncertain, but let's round up the Dodgers' $117 million budget for 2003 to $120 million for 2004. That leaves $31 million to fill seven spots:
a first baseman
a middle infielder
a third baseman
a left fielder
a center fielder
Let's finish out the bench with a player at the minimum salary and a small extravagance for a reserve power hitter, since Hundley, Ross and Cabrera could use some pop. A combined $2 million for the two players-to-be-named later who bring the roster up to 20.
The Dodgers are now paying $91 million, and have this as a starting lineup:
Lo Duca, C
Let me restate this again for emphasis. The Dodgers are committed to spending $91 million toward 2004 without filling five starting positions.
The good news for the Dodgers is that in this post-dot-com economic downturn, the team might get two great players for what they're paying Green. Consider that the contract Jim Thome signed in the past several months will pay him $10.5 million in 2004, and that Scott Rolen signed an eight-year deal that pays him only $7.625 million next year.
Or, if a superstar is your demand, imagine how far $15 million will go.
The bad news is the massive uncertainty.
Here's one scenario for the team:
$4 million player
Lo Duca, C
$13 million player
$9 million player
$2 million player
$1 million player
$6 million player
Lo Duca, C
$9 million player
$5 million player
$5 million player
$4 million player
Look, either of those lineups could be plenty. If the Dodgers make some smart decisions, if these players perform at or above their salary level, if there's a clever trade, they have a contender again.
But Dan Evans faces a lot of uncertainty. Last offseason, the Dodgers were only trying to fill one hole in the lineup - first base - and it did not turn out well. Imagine the pitfalls that Evans faces trying to fill five holes.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Jack Clark: Another View
Praising other people's work is starting to take up too damn much of my time.
John Wiebe at John's Dodger Blog takes an even-handed look at Jack Clark, offering evidence for and against him. It's the most thoughtful look at Clark I've seen.
I do have to say, I think the most compelling information is the chart at the top of the entry, highlighting the decline in the Dodger offensive performance since Clark was hired. Losing 50 home runs and 50 OPS points a year - that can't all be written off as gone with Gary Sheffield.
Keep Your Priorities
Late last week, Robert Tagorda at Priorities and Frivolities wrote that because of time constraints, he would have to reduce the Dodger component of his Dodger-politics website.
It's a shame, because Robert has written some great stuff about the team. But a bigger shame would be to stop reading Robert's site because of it.
Certainly, there are even more political blogs than baseball blogs out there in the Interwilderness, but Priorities really deserves special mention. Tagorda, a Truman scholar who just today was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, offers pointed, insightful news and commentary, all with a thoughtful, reasoned rationale. On some issues, he and I fall on different sides of the political spectrum; on others, we are close. In either case, I never fail to learn something from his material.
My lead to this morning's Dodger entry notwithstanding, political references has been deliberately kept from Dodger Thoughts. But if you have any interest in what's going on outside of the basepaths, read Robert. There are few writers out there who have their biases more firmly in check. I think that's pretty high praise.
Look Out, Vinny - You're Next
This is only tangentially related to the above post, but what kind of nonsense was it this morning for Jason Reid and the Times to try turning Dan Evans' firing of Jack Clark into a News Corp. sale-of-the-team issue?
The headline of the article was "Firing of Clark Raises Concerns," and the jumphead was "Evans' Change of Heart Concerns Officials."
In the entire article, this was the only reference to the aforementioned concerns:
Trying to allay concerns about job security with the Dodgers struggling in late June, General Manager Dan Evans assured Manager Jim Tracy and the coaching staff no in-season changes would be made.
That's it. Nothing more. Nothing to indicate why the firing of an objectively unsuccessful batting instructor should cause nightmares for the assistant marketing manager or Nancy Bea.
Late Sunday night, however, Evans and Tracy fired batting instructor Jack Clark after the team returned from a disappointing 2-7 trip. The Dodgers promoted triple-A batting instructor George Hendrick to serve as Clark's interim replacement.
Details about the closed-door meeting in June at Edison Field were revealed Monday by team officials concerned that Evans would backtrack on his strong comments, causing more uncertainty among employees already nervous about their standing as News Corp. attempts to sell the franchise.
Do you think anyone buying or selling the Los Angeles Dodgers cares one financial ledger about who the Dodger batting coach is?
If people are going to get fired in the aftermath of a Dodger sale, believe me, it won't have anything to do with Evans' guarantee or reversal of same - a guarantee, from all that the Times communicates to us - that was made to on-field personnel, not any "officials" of any kind.
This was a baseball issue. Jack Clark was fired because Jack Clark wasn't doing his job very well. Can anyone do the job? As I wrote on June 25 ...
There may be no solution - we don't know. What we do know is that [Clark's] current approach does not work. No need to prolong using it.... and as Jim Tracy said in the Times today, six weeks later ...
"With as much time as there is left in the season, and a chance to find out if a change of a different opinion, a different philosophy or a different voice will make a difference, that's what we're willing to try to find out. That's what we had to be willing to try and find out."... you said it, Jim. The time had come to find out.
Can we just get rid of the idea, for now and ever, that Clark is the fall guy, the guy unfairly blamed for the lack of talent on the Dodger roster? The players have gotten plenty of blame. Daryle Ward has been sent to the minors. Shawn Green has been ridiculed. Adrian Beltre, as Peter Gammons points out, may not "even get a big league, $500,000 contract next spring." The list goes on and on.
Clark is by no means the only guy that should be sent to the showers for the Dodger offensive failures in 2003, but that hardly means he should be exempt. A move - a baseball move - needed to be made.
Am I ranting? I'm sorry if I come across as ranting. I just feel that all season long, the coverage of Jack Clark in the papers has been simpleminded, and if nothing else, I'm hoping a lesson can be taken from it.
Talk to Floyd
Say President Bush makes a decision - bigtime taxcut or something - and the only analysis and quotes in the media regarding the decision came from the Bush Administration. Or even the Bush Administration and the Republican Party. No matter what side of the political fence your house sat on, I doubt you'd feel like you were getting the whole story.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are not the United States government - make of that what you will - but have you ever noticed how myopic it is that when the Dodgers make a move - be it a trade, a firing, or a call to the bullpen - the only commentary you usually get in a newspaper story is from members of the Dodger organization.
I've been mulling this over for a while, and the firing of Jack Clark is merely the latest opportunity for me to address this.
Clark is fired, and who do the papers turn to comment on this. Dodger players. Dodger management. Which is all well and good, but should that be all?
If something happened with George Bush, or Gray Davis, even a halfwit reporter would seek commentary by outsiders as well as insiders. You might go to one of them there think tanks, for example. Heck, if Sheriff Andy Taylor made an arrest, you wouldn't just talk to Andy and Barney Fife. Your story wouldn't be complete without a quote from Floyd the barber.
Now, newspapers do have columnists like Ross Newhan and Kevin Modesti, and television networks have commentators like Bobby Valentine and Kevin Kennedy. And that's good - whatever you think of these guys, they bring added perspective.
But I think it's high time for other people to be consulted for perspective. And that's where the places including but not limited to Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Primer come in.
Essentially, these websites cut out the middleman that is the mainstream media, performing a tremendous service by expanding the dialogue about a subject we care deeply about. None of us agree with everything they say, but their research-based commentary - the antihesis of the mind-numbing talk radio - makes us all better informed.
What I want to suggest today is that the middleman needs to get involved, get in the game. If the Dodgers fire Jack Clark, and I'm the beat writer for a major newspaper, I wouldn't just talk to Shawn Green about what a great guy Clark was. I'd also be trying to get ahold of Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus and ask him if he can identify the tangible effects that hitting coaches have had. If Kazuhisa Ishii goes on the disabled list, I wouldn't only want to talk to Baseball Prospectus' health expert Will Carroll about the prognosis, but you can be sure he'd be high on my list.
Baseball has its own thinktanks, just like politics, and the people in them are not just drunken guys playing Rotisserie Baseball. (Well, they might be, but they're also much more.) They are scholars of the game, they have something to say, and the media needs to exploit them to stay relevant.
Monday, August 04, 2003
Daryle Ward's statistics through eight games with Las Vegas:
31 plate appearances
12 hits (11 singles, one double, no home runs)
1 sacrifice fly
.480 batting average
.548 on-base percentage
.520 slugging percentage
The Sultans of Saywhat?
Three things I'd write about at length if I had more time at the start of this new week:
Jack Clark is fired.
What I can say quickly: This was just too easy of a call, especially with Clark essentially saying to the press in recent days that he had done all he could do for the offense. Say all you want about the Dodgers not having the talent at the plate, but Clark did as little with that talent as anyone possibly could.
What I'd explore if I had more time: Clark's interim replacement, George Hendrick, and what comes after the interim.
Scott Mullen gets the Sunday start for the Dodgers.
What I can say quickly: This is the most embarrassing on-field decision by the Dodgers in my memory, and the fact that the Dodgers got away with it just goes to show you, baseball is quite the entertaining game.
Let's put aside for the moment this pitching-rich team getting caught with its pants down when, after Hideo Nomo's Friday start was cut short by rain and Kazuhisa Ishii went on the disabled list Saturday, it did not have one of its better pitching prospects ready to make the emergency start.
The Dodgers bring up Mullen, a castoff (acquired in exchange for the Castoff Prom King, Gookie Dawkins) from the pitching-poor Kansas City Royals. He has an ERA of over 16, and they decide to start him against the offensive onslaught that is the Atlanta Braves.
The very real possibility, which Mullen nearly fulfilled, was that he wouldn't make it past the first inning. If that had happened, the Dodgers would have been ripping through its bullpen in a blowout loss, redefining the word "demoralizing." By the end of the game, it would have been even money on Jolbert Cabrera finishing the game on the mound.
Why wouldn't you start Guillermo Mota - or any of the Dodgers' talented relievers, for that matter - and see how far you get with the best? With five relievers, including a rested Eric Gagne, the Dodgers should have been able to go most (if not all) of the game - picking the best spot for Mullen to enter if necessary. If the Dodgers fell behind, only then it would make sense to bring in Mullen, by definition the worst pitcher on the team.
What I'd explore if I had more time: Whether Mullen posed any particular matchup problems for the Braves that I'm not aware of.
Dan Evans defends himself to the Times.
What I can say quickly: If only people were more thoughtful.
On Sunday, T.J. Simers unleashed his most intense criticism of the Dodger general manager to date. If Simers were more interested more than just getting a reaction, he might have made a convincing argument. Instead, he cited every bad move made by Evans without giving him any credit for the good ones - Hideo Nomo, Paul Quantrill just for starters. Simers really was made for talk radio.
Today, Evans responded in an interview with Jason Reid of the Times that laid out the all-too-true limitations he's been faced with. Unfortunately, moves like acquiring over-the-hill (and through-the-woods) Robin Ventura for the leadership he brings to the clubhouse - on a team with more old-school ballplayers than ESPN Classic can show in a day - undermines the faith one might have in Evans. Dan, think about it - it doesn't help a talent-deficient team to bring in even one talent-deficient player.
What I'd explore if I had more time: More analysis of Evans' performance, along the lines of this entry.