Thursday, October 16, 2003
Baseball America has published its season wrapup on the Dodgers.
Of the Top 10 Dodger prospects entering the season, only September callup Edwin Jackson and Southern League ERA champ Joel Hanrahan exceeded expectations. If you talk about only the second half of the year, you can add lefty Greg Miller to that group as well. And infielder James Loney had a solid season that leaves him as the team's best offensive prospect for the second year in a row.
However, while Chin Feng-Chen improved offensively, but his best position is still designated hitter. Joel Guzman and Reggie Abercrombie led a group of position players who performed well if you ignore their lack of strike zone mastery. Pitchers Jonathan Figueroa and Alfredo Gonzalez struggled with physical issues on their way to mediocre years.
Just Another Hotshot 20-Year-Old Third Baseman
You know how disappointed I am about the Cubs losing to the Marlins. I'm so disappointed that I can barely muster interest in seeing the other team of Job, the Red Sox, try to make their peace.
I do want to say that I have nothing against the players on Florida, who seem to be a likeable bunch from one end of the roster to another.
And from a Dodger perspective, you can't help but notice the contributions made by Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is a 20-year-old third baseman, the same thing that Adrian Beltre was in 1999.
In the 2003 playoffs, Cabrera has batted .318, based .375, slugged .568, OPSed .943, all while showing precocious versatility by playing four challenging positions: third base, shortstop, left field and right field.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Cabrera, who started the season in Double A, looks like a jewel.
Beltre, of course, hasn't had the opportunity to play in the playoffs. Let's compare the regular season statistics between both players at age 20. (Because the two players were closer in games played when Beltre was 19 - like Cabrera, Beltre was originally a midseason callup from AA ball - I'll put those stats in too.)
Beltre, 1998: 77 games, .215 BA, .278 OBP, .369 SLG, .647 OPS, .235 EQA
Cabrera, 2003: 87 games, .268 BA, .325 OBP, .468 SLG, .793 OPS, .270 EQA
Beltre, 1999: 152 games, .275 BA, .352 OBP, .428 SLG, .780 OPS, .274 EQA
As you can see, Cabrera was clearly the superior player in his first partial season. However, when you match them up at the same age, it's basically a split decision. Cabrera wins on OPS, but no doubt thanks to park factors, Beltre wins by a hair on EQA.
Beltre, of course, has gone on to have a mixed career, affected to some unquantifiable extent by the appendectomy that was apparently performed on him with a butter knife in 2000.
If you were looking at these two players, side by side, at age 20, there is a reason to think Cabrera was the one with the brighter future, even if Beltre had the Cal Ripken of appendices. Cabrera had more power at a young age.
However, Cabrera, like Beltre has, may face some hurdles as he approaches car rental age. This season, Cabrera walked 25 times (against 84 strikeouts) - a walk every 14 plate appearances. His walk rate is poorer than Beltre's was at age 20: Beltre walked 61 times (against 105 strikeouts), or one walk every 10 plate appearances.
Further, unlike Beltre, who walked more often than he struck out in his minor league career, Cabrera has never walked all that much. He did walk 56 times this year with Florida and AA Carolina, a rate of one per 11 plate appearances that just about places him on par with Beltre. But of course, Beltre did not spend half a season in the minors at age 20.
Next year, Cabrera may undergo the rite of passage in which major league pitchers work him outside the strike zone, to see if he has the judgment to take a walk or the recklessness to swing away.
Here are Beltre's stats at age 21:
Beltre, 2000: 138 G, .290 BA, .360 OBP, .475 SLG, .835 OPS, .286 EQA
That 2000 season remains Beltre's best. His stats improved in every area - for the last time. Beltre has not broken the .310 barrier in OBP since his appendix went. It's not that I think that the appendix could have affected Beltre's eyesight, but something has just been wrong with Beltre ever since. I'm still not convinced Beltre doesn't need a nice new pair of glasses at Christmas.
Even in 2003, even with his second-half power surge, Beltre ended the season by walking once every 16 plate apperances. That is not promising.
Cabrera may have some struggles ahead. But he may also have a bright future that will leave us wondering why South Florida did so well with its hotshot 20-year-old third baseman, and Southern California did not.
News Corpus Mentis
Ro'ee Levy wrote a letter relating to the impending ownership change. I'm going to intersperse my response within his letter. Ro'ee's words are in italics; mine aren't:
I wanted to write and ask about the new owner.
As far as I can tell, everyone agrees that News Corp. was terrible, but I don't understand why. As far as I can tell there have been two explanations so far:
1) Large media companies shouldn’t own baseball teams. I know this can be bad for baseball (mostly related to selling of TV rights) but is this really specifically bad for the Dodgers?
I don't think anyone's saying that by definition, a large media company can't operate the Dodgers to general satisfaction. However, it would take a very unique company to do so.
There is a reasonable assumption that any media company decision regarding its baseball team will serve the needs of the media company first and the baseball team second. Sometimes the two have the same needs, but when there's a conflict, the media company's needs will win out. This potentially affects everything from the type of ballplayer that you sign, to the atmosphere of the ballpark.
2) The whole Kevin Malone environment - overpay every semi-star and sign him to a long-term contract. We all agree Kevin Malone was horrible, but I think he should get the blame for his failure (and that's why he's been replaced), not the owners. Sure, the owners set the high payroll but that was one of the advantages of Murdoch, it gave us more options – the fact is that the Dodgers wasted it.
The fundamental reason for everyone's hostility toward News Corp. ownership was its decision - before Malone was hired - to trade Mike Piazza to Florida. The ill will this created in Los Angeles can hardly be overemphasized.
Following that, Kevin Malone certainly earned plenty of blame for his tenure. However, I think that just as Malone bears responsibility for the performance of the players he acquired, News Corp. bears responsibility for the general manager that it hired and how long it let him run amok.
Scary that Malone might still be general manager if it weren't for T.J. Simers making a big deal out of the skirmish between Malone and the fan in San Diego.
In addition to the high payroll, ticket prices weren't expensive.
I don't have the data that would compare Dodger ticket prices to those of other baseball teams, or to other events in Los Angeles, but I think it's safe to say that there are many people in Southern California who would flat-out disagree with your statement.
Anyway, I'm not very involved in local L.A. news, and I didn't follow the Dodgers closely a few years ago, so there's probably something I'm missing. My question is: What? Why does everyone hate the current owner?
Summing up, News Corp. traded Mike Piazza and failed to generate a playoff team.
Since I don't have much against Fox/Murdoch, I must say I'm not thrilled with the selling of the team.
Well, as you may know, I do worry about the unknown with the new owner. The elimination of one poor regime does not guarantee that its replacement is worth celebrating.
I don't have anything against Frank McCourt either (don't know a thing about him), I just don't want Evans and/or Tracy fired. As I see it Tracy is a very good manager. Hey, even mainstream baseball writers (in the manager of the year voting) and Baseball Primer writers agreed on that. I also agree with you that the organization seems to be heading in the right direction, and I don't want the whole process stopped.
I don't know that there's widespread agreement about how good a manager Tracy is, but certainly I believe that both he and Evans deserve at least another season. However, I would entertain a Billy Beane discussion.
Furthermore, I read that there have been concerns in the past about McCourt's financial backing. Now that might mean lowering the payroll.
A valid concern at this point.
An advantage cited to McCourt it that he says he’ll be an "hands-on" owner. In my opinion as long as the owner sets a reasonable payroll and has a good GM, being "hands-on" isn’t that important.
If anything, a hands-on owner scares me much, much more than it excites me.
Basically, Ro'ee, I share your skepticism toward the mainstream analysis of the ownership change. While News Corp. torched its relationship with the city with its trade of Piazza, there's no guarantee whatsoever that McCourt will be an improvement. But as they say, there is upside potential with McCourt.
I think we all need to be patient and see what develops before passing judgment on McCourt. However, it's never too soon for people to advocate what they think the new management should do. I welcome any discussion on this point.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
The Human Being Who Made a Stupid Mistake
The Chicago Sun-Times has identified the fan as Steve Bartman.
"... he is not coming to work today because of the incident," Suzanne Zagata-Meraz, a spokeswoman ... said this morning. "That was a decision that Steve and [Human Resources] made together. We have been in contact with Steve."
The paper also writes:
A man who answered the door at the Northbrook home where friends and a neighbor said Bartman grew up defended him, saying he only did what came naturally when a foul ball came his way.
"He's a huge Cubs fan," said the man, who responded to "Mr. Bartman." "I'm sure I taught him well. I taught him to catch foul balls when they come near him."
The home where Bartman grew up backs up to a baseball field where his dad would hit pop-ups for him and his friends to catch, said Ron Cohen's son, Gary Cohen, 34. He said Bartman's favorite player growing up was Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg.
I almost feel like I'm passing along the name of Kobe Bryant's accuser here, but that's silly, right? Not the same thing.
And, I know that my audience knows how to handle this information responsibly and understands why I'm presenting it - to show that this fan, whatever mistake he made, is a person.
Lore'd, Have Mercy
Enough lore. Enough color. The Cubs need a win today.
If you're rooting for the Baby Bears' penance to end, like I am, cling to a loved one. For this is starting to feel like the final charge up the hill in Glory.
I called my Dad, who attended the Cubs last World Series appearance as a 10-year-old in 1945, after the game. I don't believe I've ever heard him sound so quiet.
* * *
The Game 6 loss is not about the fan who may have prevented Moises Alou from catching the foul ball, but you can't not talk about him.
First of all, he was not the only one going for the foul ball. Hands were reaching in the cookie jar from all sides, but only one guy actually got, if you'll excuse the expression, caught.
So let's dial back the hyperbole about this man being the villain of the century. In particular, people like this (in Bill Plaschke's column in the Times today) shouldn't be quoted for color. They need to be set straight.
Jim Cuthbert, a longtime fan from the suburbs, was outside because he had been ejected after he dashed down 20 rows to the fan and confronted him.
"After that play, I had enough," Cuthbert said. "Ninety-five years and this idiot gets in the way? I yelled, 'What's wrong with you!' He was smirking, high-fiving his buddy.
Do you believe this story? That by the time Cuthbert made his way 20 rows to the fan, the fan was high-fiving, when his transgression was immediately apparent? That Cuthbert got close enough to see a smirk?
Or do you believe this account in the Chicago Sun-Times?
Matt Gries, 26, of Los Angeles was sitting nearby and said the man who interfered "was sad and nervous. He just looked like he wanted to bury himself in the dirt.''
It seems much more likely that Cuthbert, with or without malice aforethought, is trying to make a bad situation worse, drawing a black mustache on the Wanted poster. Villain or not, that's shooting the guy in the back.
The punishment for this fan has already begun and will continue. Let's not be ridiculous about it.
Now, let's also dial back the hyperbole saying any fan in the same position would have done the same thing.
Yes, it a natural instinct to go for a foul ball when you're in the stands. Except when you are seated in the front row. Except in a game with obvious implications. Except with the left fielder coming right at you. I don't think it takes a conscious decision for you to let the baseball player - especially the one on the team whose hat you are wearing - have the first shot at the ball. There's a common sense instinct in us as well.
In that situation, you don't go after anything. You cower. You put your hands up to protect your head and let it smash your knuckles before you try to catch it.
* * *
My sport is baseball. For a Cubs-Red Sox World Series to slip away and be replaced by Yankees-Marlins, that's joyless.
Fear and hope, my comrades on either shoulder for another day.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
New Blogs (Including an L.A. Sports Blog)
After three days off (yes, I work at a place that gives you the Columbus Day holiday), I'm reading too much good stuff on the Internet.
A new site, Insider's TV Info, gives you a cool look from a seven-year ESPN employee at how things work at ESPN and in the sports broadcasting world in general.
Bigger news for this audience is that a rookie has entered the world of Dodger blogging. (Well, we're all rookies, but strangely, we are not eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award.) Rick Todd, a reader of this site, wrote to tell me:
Instead of bugging you non-stop like some sociopath who writes to the editor of his local podunk newspaper over the garbage trucks making too much noise all the time, I've decided to waste mine and other people's time with a new blog I've started. It's at DodgerKid.blogspot.com.
Peruse it, if you like it, comment about it, if you don't, ignore it completely. It will focus mainly on the Dodgers, but a little bit on the Lakers as well. I didn't go to USC or UCLA, I went to Boston University, so I doubt I'll be able to write (or care) about those teams. It's a little more vulgar than yours (well, actually a lot), so if you put up a warning about that, I understand completely.
Rick has hit the ground running with some serious entries on what makes a Dodger playoff team, the pending ownership change, and "What would Billy (Beane) do?" Looks like Rick means business, so give him a read.
The Anathema Anthem
Sean Forman at Baseball Primer points us to a great story in the Detroit Free Press about a watershed moment in national anthem history - courtesy of Jose Felciano - that took place 25 years ago at Tiger Stadium.
Did people make fun of Jose with "Oh say can you see" jokes?" I hope not.
That Feeling of Grrrrgh
The events in and around Saturday's Yankees-Red Sox playoff game have sparked a discussion among the baseball blog world about fans becoming too emotionally invested in their teams.
Edmund Cossette at Bambino's Curse started the discussion, and David Pinto followed up at Baseball Musings. Now, Alex Belth has put in his thoughts and invited all to comment on the collective postings.
I particularly like this comment from David:
I would suggest what is really bothering people like Edward is that there was a shift of virtue from the Red Sox to the Yankees Saturday. It's been going on for a while, but Saturday the fault line moved. When it was Nettles and Jackson and Rivers against Lynn and Fisk and Lee, it was easy to see the Yankees as the evil team that deserved to be vanquished by the Red Sox. But on Saturday, it was Pedro and Manny who caused the trouble. Here they were in game the Red Sox had to win, and their antics came close to having them thrown out. Up until Zimmer charged Pedro, the Yankees did nothing wrong. Someone watching a baseball game for the first time would come away from Saturday thinking the Red Sox are a bunch of evil jerks and the Yankees were just defending themselves.
External perception of one's team can really affect one's self-esteem (although, as my wife told me last night, self-esteem is something that is hopefully formed for you in childhood, in such a manner that independent events in your adulthood don't affect it).
As for me, I wrote about this topic back in March. That entry really explains why I've been writing this site in the first place, so if you haven't read it already, I'd love for you to. As I say in a comment at Bronx Banter, there's a reason for the adverb in the message at the top of my site, "Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball."