Thursday, October 23, 2003
Abercrombie & Switch?
Is the grass greener on the pitching mound - where this is no grass at all?
Ponder that as we discuss what David Cameron wrote on Baseball Prospectus today. Cameron broached the topic of minor league position players who salvage their careers by switching to pitching.
He notes that Dodger September phenom Edwin Jackson is one of the most remarkable by doing it by his 20th birthday, "having made the transition from high school outfielder to major league pitcher after the Dodgers selected him in the sixth round of the 2001 draft." Cameron took the discussion a step further than most would have, by interviewing player development personnel from various teams to determine the best candidates for a future switch.
One turned out to be 22-year-old Dodger outfielder Reggie Abercrombie, who batted .261 with 15 home runs and 28 steals for AA Jacksonville in 2003 but struck out an astonishing 10 times for every walk - 164 strikeouts, 16 walks. Cameron writes:
The Dodgers almost certainly won't give up on him due to his outstanding athletic ability, but his strike zone judgment is beyond repair, and several scouts suggested that his arm is the only one they have seen that compares to (Pittsburgh prospect Jeremy) Harts'. Barring a Jeff Pentland-inspired miracle, Abercrombie won't make it as a major league hitter, but it would be a shame to see his career end before we saw what he could do on the mound.
The Dodgers are obviously game for a switch - but I think the reason that might hold them back from a switch has less to do with Abercrombie's power and speed than the bare organizational outfield cupboard. If they add a strong major league outfielder, then perhaps they would consider it.
Dodger Thoughts will return in the first week of November. Thanks for reading and making this a great first full season for the site. Enjoy the waning moments of the baseball season, and be sure to come back here for more!
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
That's a Good Calzone
From Toronto comes this look at the Dodgers by Jurgen Maas, on one of the more imaginitively titled baseball blogs, Some Calzone for Derek.
Next Week, Darren Dreifort Ponders a Move to Third Base
Ken Gurnick at MLB.com writes, "According to Evans, decisions have not been made on position switches for Shawn Green and Paul Lo Duca, and he has not discussed the subject with either player."
Were we discussing switching Paul Lo Duca's position? Has Position Switch Fever struck an unimmunized team?
Lo Duca, of course, has shown that he can play first base and left field. He has also shown that his offensive performance tails off in the second half of a given season, the reason for this generally assumed to be the proverbial wear and tear of playing catcher. (Wear and tear being proverbial because really, who needs the tear when you've got the wear?)
But how much offensive value does Lo Duca have when he isn't playing catcher, relative to the rest of the league?
One of the most curious things I came across in researching Dodger win shares this week was that Cesar Izturis did not lead the team in fielding win shares. Rather, it was Lo Duca, who generated more defensive win shares (10) than offensive win shares (9) in compiling 19 total.
Win shares are not gospel, but they do help you realize how much a player's position affects his value. Lo Duca was fifth in the National League in offensive win shares for a catcher. As a first baseman, he would have been 13th.
Want to see it another way? According to Baseball Prospectus, Lo Duca, who posted a .257 EQA, tied for 12th among major league catchers with at least 250 plate appearances in 2003. Move Lo Duca to left field, and he falls to 29th. Move him to first base, and he falls to 30th.
So okay, Lo Duca's offense almost certainly will improve without shin guards on for half the game. Move Moises Alou behind the plate and see how well he does, right?
Fair enough. But how much? The Dodgers cannot afford a single-digit home run hitter in the outfield - they can't really afford one in the teens. If you're going to move Lo Duca to a power position, he had better regain the form that brought him 25 home runs in 2001. If not, you'd better get those home runs from Dave Ross and Todd Hundley.
It makes sense to rest Lo Duca more during the season, and activate the power potential of Ross and yes, even Hundley. And sure, one can see putting Lo Duca and Ross in the lineup together on some days. Make no mistake, Lo Duca's versatility is an asset, and the Dodgers' depth at catcher is an asset.
But Lo Duca as a full-time non-catcher? Not unless you've solved a mess of other lineup problems first. This sounds like the kind of conversation you ponder having (remember - Evans hasn't had it yet) while waiting for your big transactions to unfold. Or, while waiting to see if you get fired.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
The following is not science...
Last season, the Dodgers won 85 games. Let's say next season, you want them to more. How does that happen?
Win Shares, the player evaluation system developed by Bill James and now employed in depth by BaseballGraphs.com, assigns three win shares for each team victory. For example, a team that wins 85 games, like the Dodgers did in 2003, will have 255 win shares. For each additional win, the Dodgers need a net gain of three win shares.
What follows is a list of how the Dodgers got their 255 win shares, divided by roster slot.
If a player was on the active 25-man roster for all or almost all of the season, he gets a roster slot to himself, be he Eric Gagne (25 win shares) or Ron Coomer (0 win shares.).
(Parenthetically, win shares are broken down in three categories - pitching, batting and fielding - with a series of complex calculations performed to determine how much credit each player gets toward these win shares. So a player can actually perform in a significant number of games without getting any credit for a win share.)
When the roster slot was split because a player was disabled or discharged, I did my best to combine the players who shared the given slot. For example, Jeromy Burnitz essentially replaced Brian Jordan, so they share a roster slot.
Los Angeles Dodgers 2003 Win Shares by Roster Slot
25 Eric Gagne
20 Kevin Brown
20 Shawn Green
19 Paul Lo Duca
17 Hideo Nomo
15 Adrian Beltre
14 Guillermo Mota
13 Alex Cora
13 Wilson Alvarez 10, Darren Dreifort 3
11 Cesar Izturis
11 Paul Quantrill
10 Brian Jordan 7, Jeromy Burnitz 3
9 Fred McGriff 8, Robin Ventura 1
9 Dave Roberts 8, Wilkin Ruan 1
9 Jolbert Cabrera
8 Odalis Perez 6, Edwin Jackson 2
7 Kazuhisa Ishii 6, Masao Kida 1
7 Paul Shuey
6 David Ross 4, Todd Hundley 2, Koyie Hill 0
5 Tom Martin
3 Steve Colyer 2, Troy Brohawn 1, Andy Ashby 0
2 Mike Kinkade
1 Larry Barnes 1, Daryle Ward 0
1 Rickey Henderson 1, Jason Romano 0, Chad Hermansen 0, Bubba Crosby 0
0 Ron Coomer
Okay, so how do we generate a net gain of 45 win shares?
First of all, where might we lose win shares? There are six roster slots at significant risk of decline, because of age and/or because their 2003 performances were so extraordinary: Gagne, Brown, Nomo, Mota, Quantrill and Alvarez/Dreifort (mainly thanks to Alvarez).
No surprise that all six are pitchers, huh?
How do we quanitfy how many win shares they might lose? By comparing them to other players. For example, if the Gagne 2004 slot becomes like a Tim Worrell 2003 slot - decent but no longer overpowering - it would fall from 25 win shares to 12, a decline of 13.
After studying the league stats at BaseballGraphs.com, I've determined, ever-so-roughly, that:
So, here are some declines we might see:
- The difference between a bad player and a mediocre player is five win shares.
- The difference between a mediocre player and a decent player is five win shares.
- The difference between a decent player and a very good player is five win shares.
- The difference between a very good player and an All-Star is five win shares.
- The difference between an All-Star and Eric Gagne is five win shares.
- The difference between Eric Gagne and Barry Bonds is, oh ... call it five win shares. Actually, no - it's more like 15 win shares. But until someone on the Dodgers starts hitting like the greatest hitter of many generations, let's let that go for now.
Brown slot (-10)
Gagne slot (-10)
Nomo slot (-5)
Alvarez/Dreifort slot (-5)
Mota slot (-5)
Quantrill slot (-5)
Total decline: (-40)
It's not that all these declines will happen, but they are declines that I think the Dodgers must prepare to face. If it helps, remember that it's three win shares to a victory. Can't you forsee Kevin Brown losing three wins worth of value, or Eric Gagne, who led National League pitchers in Win Shares this season?
Okay, let's turn to the roster slots with upside potential. If the Dodgers kept their team intact, here are the safe predictions for slots that would improve.
Jordan/Burnitz slot (+5)
Roberts/Ruan slot (+5)
Beltre slot (+5)
McGriff/Ventura slot (+5)
Green slot (+5)
Cora slot (+5)
Perez/Jackson slot (+5)
Izturis slot (+3)
Coomer slot (+3)
Henderson/Romano/etc. slot (+2)
Total gain: (+43)
I'm basing these numbers on these slots being young and still developing, or being able to rebound from disappointing seasons. If you combine the total gain above (43 win shares) with the total decline way above (-40 win shares), you come away with a net gain of three win shares, or one victory - pushing the Dodgers to 86 wins in 2004.
Now of course, this gets a little more complicated, because unless Frank McCourt replaces Dodger general manager Dan Evans with David Blaine, who then locks himself in a box above the Thames, the Dodgers will make changes to their roster.
Here's a sampling of the impact that some potential acquisitions might have. Keep in mind that Win Shares takes park effects into account, so we don't have to mentally adjust for players coming into the Dodger Stadium offensive graveyard.
Again, these are not recommendations - just examples:
One win isn't much, but from your 25th man, it's a lot.
- Richie Sexson, first baseman (26 win shares in 2003): If Sexson is acquired for minor leaguers, that's eight or nine wins right there, pushing the Dodgers to 95 wins in 2004. However, if someone like Paul LoDuca went in exchange, that mitigates the gain. You lose LoDuca's 19 win shares, but perhaps get five win shares more out of increased playing time for David Ross...
Scenario 1: 26 win shares (Sexson) - 9 win shares (McGriff/Ventura) = 17 win shares = 6 wins
Scenario 2: 26 win shares (Sexson) - 19 win shares (Lo Duca) - 9 win shares (McGriff/Ventura) + 5 win shares (Ross) = 3 win shares = 1 win
- Vladimir Guerrero, outfielder (18 win shares in 2003): Guerrero could potentially come as a free agent - no cost in major league talent - but note that the system puts his value below Sexson's, even though Guerrero plays a more valuable position. Anyway, Guerrero would bring 18 win shares at his 2003 value, but let's bet that he's still ascending and add another five win shares to his total, giving him 23. Guerrero would take the Jordan/Burnitz outfield slot.
Scenario 3: 23 win shares (Guerrero) - 10 win shares (Jordan/Burnitz) = 13 win shares = 4 wins
- Miguel Tejada, shortstop (25 win shares in 2003): Tejada would presumably take the Alex Cora roster slot, with either Tejada or Cesar Izturis moving to second base. I'm not going to bet on Tejada improving offensively in 2004.
Scenario 4: 25 win shares (Tejada) - 13 win shares (Cora) = 12 win shares = 4 wins
- Jeffrey Hammonds, outfielder (4 win shares in 2003): Hammonds, the scourge of BaseballPrimer.com, I include for two reasons - his Stanford affiliation, and the fact that while he was overvalued by some teams in his prime, guys like him may now be undervalued. Hammonds is the sample of a guy who could take the Henderson/Romano outfield detritus slot.
Scenario 5: 4 win shares (Hammonds) - 1 win share (Henderson, etc.) = 3 win shares - 1 win
As I said at the outset, this isn't science. But I think this Win Shares exercise is a useful guide to the offseason. It allows you to quantify the Dodgers' potential improvement and decline, to gauge what kind of moves they need to make.
One trade might bring the Dodgers a gain of 5 wins.
One major free agent signing might bring the Dodgers a gain of 4 wins.
One minor free agent signing might bring the Dodgers a gain of 1 win.
A conservative look at the remaining Dodgers likely performances in 2004 indicates a gain of 1 win.
That's 11 wins. That takes the Dodgers from 85 victories in 2003 to 96 wins in 2004.
It's not science, but it's interesting.
Monday, October 20, 2003
Green Moving to First - Pros and Cons
No, moving Shawn Green to first base may not be the answer. But what is the answer? Is there an answer?
As of Monday morning, comments on "The Shawn Green of Old Will Not Return" (thanks to Eric Enders for posting it on Baseball Primer) centered on the epilogue, which speculated about Green moving to first base.
The comments mainly were:
1) Green's injury is to his non-throwing shoulder, so why move him out of right field? Playing first base could exacerbate the injury just as much.
2) If Green's offensive performance is declining, moving him to first base, where the offensive expectations are highter, may not make sense.
I agree with the premise of both these comments. Moving Green to first base may be as sound as reducing the California car tax while trying to balance the budget. However, there is this to consider:
1) For the Dodgers, their biggest offseason priority was already bringing in a left fielder, beacuse the Dodgers were even poorer offensively at left field in 2003, relative to the rest of the league, than at shortstop. Basically, much depends on whether the Dodgers can find two outfielders, or as John Wiebe of John's Dodger Blog advocates, a first baseman like Richie Sexson.
2) The Dodgers began talking about moving Green to first base a year ago, before the injury manifested, when they came close to signing Cliff Floyd. They continued to talk about it toward the end of the 2003 season, so there may already be momentum for the move whether or not the team reads Will Carroll.
3) I still maintain that Green's defense in right field has declined to the point of worry.
But like I said, this is all a footnote. The big issue at hand, regardless of where Green plays, is that his best power days may well be gone. Which is not to say that it's all over for Green. He still had a better-than-average season as far as being a major-league ballplayer goes.
But the glory days? They do pass you by - and perhaps sooner than we expect.
Green took a cortisone shot toward the end of the summer that seemed to help his power production on the short term. Is that going to continue? Can it continue? If not, the Dodgers may be staring at another bloated contract.
Sunday, October 19, 2003
The Shawn Green of Old Will Not Return
"Successful" was the term given to the press to describe Dodger outfielder Shawn Green's shoulder surgery last week. This comes as no surprise. Not too many athletes wake up from the operating table to read in the paper that they've had "unsuccessful" surgery, the "first, do no harm" medical ethic providing some assurance of that.
Therefore, for most media outlets, the news of Green's surgery to clean up the labrum in the back of his right shoulder was little more than a footnote in the Dodger offseason. The Dodger press reported 1) the surgery occured, and 2) that Green is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
For baseball medical expert and dogged reporter Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus.com, however, there was more news to convey - and it wasn't all that successy.
On Friday, Carroll wrote:
... instead of repairing the labrum, the damaged cartilage was removed. This is significantly more likely to cause future issues, and raises doubts that Green will recover to the level many expected from this great player.
I read this and went, "Whoa." And then I went, "Why?" It sounded like an either-or choice was made, and not a very good one at that.
I asked Carroll: "Can you give any insight as to why this decision would have been made? Would the doctors or the Dodgers dispute that it is more likely to cause future issues? Or is the type of surgery Green had less intense? Bottom line: what was the incentive for removing the damaged cartilage and not repairing the labrum?"
When Carroll replied, the first thing he did was clarify that the issue wasn't about doctors making a bad choice:
Man, I knew I was gonna end up having to explain that one more.
Honestly, when they went in, I'm reasonably sure the thought was repair (the labrum, instead of removing the damaged cartilage), but the tear was too big to suitably repair.
Okay, so the doctors did what they could. Still, this surgery doesn't sound like something so successful after all - at least in the eyes of any Dodger fans looking for 40-plus home runs from Green in right field again.
Doctors would say they did what was necessary and that [Green] should return to function, but doctors don't analyze baseball. I can't say for sure that he won't, but since he'll have bone on bone in at least part of the glenoid fossa now, there's a significantly raised chance of pain, and pain is never good for function.
Sure, he could feel loose and come back and play fine, but as one surgeon I know says, "Surgery isn't a fix; it's buying time until I have to do it again."
Surgery or not, Shawn Green still has a shoulder problem.
In the spirit of "teach a man to fish," Carroll gave me a couple of links to medical sites so that I could do further research. As someone who understands neither science nor fishing, this was problematic, but I waded in. After all, I did write an ER spec script once.
From Johns Hopkins, we learn:
1) "The labrum is a type of cartilage found in the shoulder joint." (This is apparently beginner's stuff, so you can see the level of expertise I bring to the pond.)
2) "The labrum has basically two functions. The first is to deepen the socket so that the ball (of the shoulder - the humerus) stays in place. ... The second function of the labrum is as an attachment of other structures or tissues around the joint."
3) "A labrum tear can take several forms, and it is very easy to confuse these types."
4) "Because this cartilage is deep in the shoulder, it is very difficult to make the diagnosis of a torn labrum upon physical examination." (Just speculating here, but I find this significant in terms of the secrecy surrounding Green's injury throughout most of 2003.)
5) "If the labrum is frayed, usually no treatment is necessary since it doesn’t usually cause symptoms. However, if there is a large tear of the labrum, the torn part should either be cut out and trimmed, or it should be repaired. Which treatment is used depends upon where the tear is located and how big it is."
There was even more information from Carroll's second link, the Orthopaedic Research Institute, but for now, I'm compelled to give you one item in place of all others:
6) "Do not attempt any procedures described on this website unless you are fully trained. Otherwise, serious injury may occur."
Anyway, having digested as much of this as I could, I went back to Carroll for some follow-up. Since time's getting short and this entry's getting long, I'll try to cut to the chase.
Carroll said that in 2004, Green will have some reprieve from the 2003 pain, but:
...you can imagine that the bone on bone will eventually become a problem - bone spurs or chips are inevitable. It won't be perfect, but it should be better.
Tear and fraying is degrees of the same problem. Green had a complete tear in the posterior aspect of his labrum. Bone on bone is NOT okay, but it's better than a torn labrum.
The Orthopaedic Research Institute also details the suture anchors that are often used to reattach the labrum. Carroll commented that many pitchers pitch with those anchors - however, as Green did not have a repair, he did not end up with one:
They merely excised the torn portion. Picture a tent. One corner of the tent comes up and flaps in the wind. You put in a peg and the tent is fine. That's what you do with a frayed labrum. If the tear is so bad that you have to cut off a section of the tent and hope that what's left keeps you dry, well, that's more like what they did with Green.
But eventually, it's gonna rain, right? Carroll says yes, although there's a limit to how wet Green will get. (When I'm not trying to be cute, this means that the next surgery will not necessarily be any more invasive than the last surgery was.)
Honestly, [Green] will probably have to have it cleaned up with a scope. They'll go in and catch some fraying, shave down the bone. Very similar to a "scrape and tape" on the knee that many get. He could also, were he not a baseball player, make it through his normal life with no problems.
Bottom line: This is why, as Carroll said at the outset, that while Shawn Green's operation leaves him better off today than he was during the 2003 season, the operation was not a cure. Green is likely to need more shoulder surgery in his career, and even more likely to have to contend with pain in the shoulder. If playing with pain is the reason for his performance decline in 2003, then the home run hitter of previous years is probably gone for good.
One final thing. I asked Carroll, "Is this as good a reason as any to move Green to first base? (And believe me, with the lack of gusto with which he has come to play right field, there are reasons to move him already.)"
Carroll said, "Yes."
Friendly postscript: If, after reading this article, you have come away with either of the following conclusions, I humbly recommend that you go back and read the article again.
In retrospect, I'd have been better omitting discussion of position switching from the article entirely. The article is not meant to address what position Green should or will play next year. The article is not meant to indicate that Green is done. The article says that Green has a shoulder problem that is not resolved, and that shoulder problem could very well affect him in the future in ways similar to how it affected him in 2003.
- Shawn Green's career is over. No. The article says that Green will have a recurring problem with his shoulder, a problem that is worth knowing about for people who have read that surgery was successful and are expecting Green to return to peak performance - 40-plus homers per year. The article does not say anywhere that Green will perform worse than he did in 2003 - in fact, with proper pain management, he could perform better.
- Shawn Green's injury will require him to move to first base. No. There are reasons for Shawn Green to move to first base. They are reasons of debatable importance (read more about them here), and they are reasons that existed independent of this injury, which affects Green's non-throwing shoulder. I see now that some people interpreted the closing question of the article, "Is this as good a reason as any to move Green to first base?" as a recommendation or a sentencing, but I really meant the question literally. Is the injury as good a reason as any? Yes is the reply, meaning that the injury is as good a reason as any - however, none of the reasons necessarily require the move.