Head over heels for the 2009 Dodgers…
I’ll say it – I loved the 2009 Dodgers.
The shortcomings you mention are absolutely right on, but for people who pass through here thinking all we do is whine and we’re not real Dodger fans, that’s entirely incorrect.
Watching a game this year, one of our one hundred announcers (another thing to complain about at another time), I think Steve Lyons, was saying that unlike in past years, there wasn’t one bad guy on the team. He said all the players got along, were cool, didn’t give him or other announcers/reporters problems when approached, and were all respected by their teammates. I think it showed. The chemistry naysayers bring up “winning breeds chemistry”, and inevitably cite Charlie Finley’s Athletics as their example (find some other examples, I’d argue).
Well, in some cases that could be true – these are highly paid professional athletes, so to be professional, produce, even while having some personality conflicts with a few teammates, sure is possible. I do think though that these guys are human, just like you and I, and if we prefer going to work more where we like people and get along with co-workers, they probably do too. So I think while chemistry in the clubhouse won’t necessarily rack up wins, it sure can affect you from winning more games.
I was chatting with Bitter once during the year and asked who he thought the dumbest player on the team was. In the past, we discussed “Baseball IQ” as a measuring stick for players’ worth, more than just their stats. We always had some dummies around, but now? In 2009, our bench players were smart veterans who got it, actually improved the quality of play, at times, when asked to fill in, etc. Juan Castro? Mark Loretta? Brad Ausmus? Juan Pierre? Doug Mientiewicz? Not a dummy among them.
We came to the assessment that our dumbest player was Manny, but he could be forgiven since his bat was so far and above mere mortals. It’s ok to have a somewhat dumb guy on your roster – and by dumb, we’re not talking about SAT scores, but by baseball smarts and all around play… knowing when and how to hit the cutoff man, when not to be acting like a clown, etc. Manny is Manny, and that’s part of his charm. At least we didn’t have any pariahs, or curmudgeons – the DePodesta era was filled with strange chemistry guys, uncaring folks and powderkegs.
The development of Matt Kemp in 2009 was impressive, as he was certainly someone on the Baseball IQ fence in the past. Very talented, relatively new playing organized baseball, Kemp often made mental errors, especially on the basepaths. It seems he sat down over last winter and decided he wanted to be a superstar, and it showed. Kemp was fantastic, as his Gold Glove and Silver Bat show.
There were guys who really stepped up, and some who stepped back. Chad Billingsley was moving up quickly as the ace we desperately needed, but then for whatever reason, he tumbled back. I think coming off a broken leg, which wasn’t talked about enough this season, probably was a major reason for his mid-season decline. The guy has legs like tree trunks, and most great power pitchers use their legs, so the fact that he pushed his progress after breaking his, is a good reason, perhaps, for his fall.
I’d also cast a bit of blame at Rick Honeycutt for not being able to quicker diagnose Billingsley’s problems (by the time his real swoon got going, a lot of it was mental too – Hello? Pitching coach?). We saw Billingsley flounder, then flounder more, then flounder still more. How this wasn’t addressed sooner is somewhat amazing. Maybe it was, but Billingsley was just too far gone, which explains his time out of the rotation, and his post-season blackballing. Still – when you say the kid is your ace, now and in the future, you owe it to yourself, and him, to get it right.
The stumble of Russell Martin is interesting. He came into camp very thin and slight, saying “off-season yoga” was his thing, as he felt too bulky in 2008. Just throwing it out there – could it be he dropped weight, and subsequently hitting, and even baserunning skills, due to getting off PEDs? Remember Pudge Rodriguez coming back after an off-season, 40 lbs lighter, saying he had dieted over the break?
Martin went from arguably the best catcher in baseball not named Joe Mauer to a souped up Jason Kendall. Martin and his agent were dreaming of a big FA payday with the Yanks or BoSox, both of whom could use a franchise catcher to replace aging stats, but now he’ll be lucky to keep his job – unless he picks it up.
Luckily Martin still was tough and managed to call a great game, something catchers should still be greatly judged on. I think though he has dropped from being the absolute leader of the team to a supporting character. I hope this off-season’s yoga is mixed in with a lot of hitting practice and some weight training, so some of those fly balls find their way over the fence, or at least as doubles into the gap.
A remarkable aspect of 2009 was the fans finally seeing Juan Pierre’s worth. The Stockholm Syndrome Moneyball contingent have long disliked Pierre since he doesn’t walk that much, and doesn’t hit homeruns. They blame him for his fairly generous contract, and don’t recall at the time of his signing that we really had NO outfield at all. The mentality, as Bitter pointed out in his opening entry, is somehow that Pierre’s (and other well paid players) salary is being paid by them. They take it personally, too personally, and get pissy about it.
In point of fact, Pierre was (and is) a durable speedster who could man an outfield position for years and hopefully Ethier and Kemp would develop into the players they are now. At the time though, we had pretty much nothing, and that doesn’t bode well for a contender, or even a wannabe.
Pierre’s work ethic and patience are to be admired, and fans finally got it (though I still read “fan” posts and hear dummies occasionally call in on talk shows and disparage the guy – such is life). Pierre regularly gets ovations now after saving us when Manny had his suspension. He did the same thing the previous year when fatty Andruw Jones let us down. If we didn’t have Pierre around, big contract or no, what would our 2008 and 2009 have looked like?
Obviously my praise of Pierre isn’t as important as him winning this year’s Roy Campanella award, voted on by his teammates. The guy’s a stud.
Well, time’s running out and I have to go. I will say 2009 was also impressive to me for the following: our great manager and coaching staff, who with just a few wobbles, did a great job this regular season. Andre Ethier was simply amazing, he continues to improve and make me look good to folks I’ve bragged to about him for a few years. Our bench, as noted, simply the best. When you have Doug Mientiewicz who can’t even make your post-season roster, you know you have a super bench. Not to mention poor Blake Dewitt, who really should be starting someplace.
Good pitching and development from Hong-Chih Kuo, Clayton Kershaw of course, and most of our pen. I wonder what Jonathan Broxton’s future is, perhaps he’s the guy we use to get our ace? I like big Jon a lot, but think we could afford to move him if we got back outstanding quality in return. He’s a bit soft between the ears, it would seem.
Thanks for bringing up this topic, Bitter – lots to discuss, for sure.