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Dodgers State of the Union – 8/20/2015 Edition

August 20, 2015 Comments off

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Fans are still saying the bullpen will be fine and the Dodgers are doing great. I guess 15 or so games over .500 is pretty good, but it’s an interesting team that has that record and is in complete disarray at the same time. The curiosity makes you wonder what might be if management actually fielded better relief pitchers and addressed other needs. Well, the recent Dodgers have not been short on talent, just misguided by too many cooks in the kitchen – and cooks that couldn’t get their own show on the Food Network.

With this current collection of players, or maybe the ones they had before the winter shopping and suspect trades occurred, I daydream what a “real baseball guy” could have done. I see Dave Dombrowski going to reinvent the dismal Red Sox and think, “My, Dombrowski in charge of the Dodgers would have been nice.” I would prefer Dan Evans, or even accept Ned Colletti back – anyone not Friedman and Friends, essentially.

Facts are facts – the Dodgers relief pitching, which has been shaky at best for two years, is the worst in baseball since July 1st – pretty much across the board. Even Clayton Kershaw can’t help if he doesn’t go 9 – the pen can blow any game. This won’t play in October, but as it is now its no shoo in the Dodgers will be playing in October anyway.

The Giants, as they tend to be, are within striking distance with head to head games against the Dodgers still to be played (adding Marlon Byrd today, a nice pickup). If the Dodgers don’t win the West, they likely will not get a wild card berth unless the Cubs, who are surging, should collapse. The pathway to the post-season is winning the West – for both LA and SF.

With a porous bullpen, questionable 3-5 starting rotation, and anemic offense, Friedman decided the best thing to do was trade for aged UCLA alum Chase Utley. Utley, as always, is a fragile mess but has hit since coming off the DL. Can he, teamed with geriatric former teammate Jimmy Rollins provide the AARP boost that championship caliber middle infielders are known for? Perhaps his leadership and offensive upside will be an improvement but one has to wonder what the front office is thinking. Is Utley the key to turning around the .500 play the Dodgers have put forward for the past 3 months? Can he pitch? Will he increase the slow foot speed the team suffers from?

This week Farhan Zaidi said the team’s bad base running and slow team speed is troubling. Have to wonder if he had anything to do with trading Dee Gordon away if he feels this way. Dee is hitting .337 with 40 steals and Utley .217.

Abruptly the Dodgers “fired” Lorenzo Bundy (well, moved him out of his job – no one gets fired by the Dodgers; paychecks keep flowing) for no specified reason and brought in former MLB manager Ron Roenicke to coach 3rd and presumably be on hand for the inevitable termination of Donnie Baseball. I guess if Donnie is canned at season’s end he could reinvent himself as the hitting coach (something he’s better suited for anyway) or do odd jobs at Friedman’s mansion to pay off the debt. Anyway, with Zaidi’s comment and Bundy’s ouster, makes you wonder if there’s a split on base running philosophy between Friedman and Zaidi.

Some developments this season that are concerning…

  • Moving Dee Gordon due to the Moneyball philosophy base stealing isn’t important, even though it created a void atop the lineup. Again, whether you value base stealing or not, there’s something to be said for speed in your lineup, disruption of pitchers’ focus and defense, as well as a consistent presence at the top of your order. The Dodgers haven’t had that, meantime Dee is having a second straight great season, proving he is not a fluke at second base.
  • Moving team leader and defensive wizard Juan Uribe – along with solid relief pitcher Chris Withrow (hurt this year) for Alberto Callaspo, who was released yesterday. Uribe has been a shot in the arm for the Mets and could see October play in the Big Apple, while third base – and leadership/morale – have been issues for the Dodgers.
  • The Joc/Kike/Utley thing. So apparently the Utley trade was to get a stop gap second baseman into the fold while Kendrick mends from his hamstring issue, and it would free up Kike Hernandez to play CF and allow for Joc Pederson to either go back to AAA to figure out his swing (sure won’t happen here under Big Mac) or rot away on the bench. I don’t love the deal but its possible Utley can hit for a short time, before ultimately sitting behind Kendrick. And Kike should do more on the offensive side than Joc. I just wonder why Friedman acquired the Braves best prospect – Jose Peraza, who happens to play second – and decide to keep him at AAA and get Utley instead. Wouldn’t a top prospect with speed be an answer to several problems? Is Peraza only a Dodger because he allows a blue chip for winter dealing? After all, if Friedman didn’t love Dee, why would he love Peraza, who seems to be Dee light? I also wonder why Peraza doesn’t get a chance but other contenders call up and play their top kids. To me it would be more interesting to have kept the pitching prospect and Darnell Sweeney (nice power and speed guy) and play Peraza than turn the Dodgers double play combo into extras from the movie “Cocoon.”
  • Puig. Beloved by fans when he hits a homer, is he really the guy the Dodgers want to build around? Now he’s a trade-low candidate. One has to wonder what they might have gotten for Puig this off-season. Perhaps a less volatile outfielder, or an important pitcher? The former glut of Dodgers outfielders now has me wondering, “Just who should be in the Dodgers outfield in 2016?” Personally I might go with Andre Ethier and Joc (if he is able to figure out what’s gone terribly wrong with his hitting) and find a new outfielder, and move Puig and Crawford out. Should be interesting, since I don’t think you can say the outfield right now is a strength.
  • What is Friedman’s philosophy on pitching? Is he “too Tampa?” It seems evident he has the feeling pitching doesn’t matter and anyone can do the job. The neglect of the pen and odd approach to the rotation are the biggest flaws of the 2015 Dodgers. With Zack Greinke certain to test the market for a large extension, what happens next? You’ll have Kershaw plus…? And a pen that is in dire need of a facelift. One has to ask a) if it will be done and b) if Friedman even understands good teams have strong pitching staffs. So far both are debatable.
  • Vin Scully not sure if he’s going to come back. Personally, I feel very bad for Vin. He’s been treated poorly for quite some time – since McCourt owned the team and bounced his checks. Now a botched TV deal where fans can barely hear or see him. I think Vin should hang them up and enjoy his family. It would be interesting to see what he thinks of how the Dodgers have been run/misrun, but of course he’s too much a gentleman to ever vent. I love Vin but honestly, the “fans” nowadays don’t deserve him, nor do they care about him. They claim to love Vin but stand for everything Vin would be against. Loving executives over proven baseball traditions would not be something Vin would endorse. I think the nouveau fans would also appreciate a younger voice, perhaps someone with gauges, sleeves and a vape device. Vin, you’re the best, and always have been. It’s sad that the Dodgers have run aground and you’ve waited patiently for the blue ship to right itself. Go spend time with the grandchildren, we can suffer without you.

That’s pretty much it. Since I got lambasted for my last honest opinion, I’m sure the malcontents will heckle this article as well. That’s ok. While we claim we’re all Dodgers fans, clearly there is a divide between those who truly understand the rich tradition dating back to Brooklyn, and the young and uninformed riff raff who rose to prominence via social media bullying and fantasy baseball brainwashing.

The reality is that the Dodgers have not gotten better under the “geniuses” – Stan Kasten or Friedman. The team is not built for post-season success and unless a miracle happens, 2015 should be a repeat of the past 2 seasons. Whenever you have Kershaw and Greinke you have the “slugger’s chance” for a knockout, but as I said last time, I look around and I see problems in most every possible area of the team and don’t see any reason to believe Friedman and Friends know how to fix it. I’ll happily admit I was wrong if things should change the last handful of weeks of the season, and I hope the “haters” can do the same if they do not. As I’ve said many times, I’ve called these things well in advance, so I’m not in the least bit surprised how things have unfolded. As a lifelong fan of the Dodgers, it’s been very frustrating and quite sad.

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Dodgers Fans Are Surprised and I Find That Surprising

August 11, 2015 6 comments

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It’s interesting to me that fans are finally seeing what I noted over the winter, throughout the spring and this season. I find it surprising that the things I noted would happen and have happened surprise people, yet I was always being attacked for saying as much.

To me it’s pretty obvious how you build a good baseball team and things you can do to almost guarantee struggles. While spending $300M, the Dodgers brain trust – in my opinion – has done a pretty shoddy job assembling this 2015 team. And I use the term “team” loosely, as it’s not so much a team as a collection of players that obviously don’t play that well together.

The troubles are everywhere – throw a dart in any direction. Here are things I think are wrong, and again, my opinion only (though evidence would seem to support my take).

– The decision to go with Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson when Hyun-jin Ryu already had shoulder issues, and then back them up with a string of other injured and AAAA arms was a big mistake. Acquiring pitchers with less injury risk and more guarantee to be on the hill every five days would have made a big difference. Rushing Dan Haren out of town, not opting for more stable free-agents set the stage for what happened – a rotation that is now basically two guys or 2.5 if you count Anderson when he isn’t getting hammered as he was last night by the Nationals. At any rate – basic rule of thumb, innings count. Health counts. Guys who can come out for the bell are hugely valuable when assembling your pitching rotation. The “surprise” McCarthy and Ryu both were injured is only surprising if you have a low IQ or know nothing about baseball. I called it, and I’m just a fan, not an insider or expert. It was obvious and a huge blunder by the brain trust.

– The cavalier approach to the bullpen – again! – doomed the 2015 season from the get-go. If I were a general manager and given any amount of money to spend on players, let alone an endless well of cash, I would start at the back of the bullpen and work my way back. To have suspect arms and AAAA retreads counted on for a supposed playoff frontrunner was foolish. The Dodgers pen, like the rotation, is essentially two guys, and one is JP Howell, who doesn’t throw particularly hard and should be a lefty specialist. How the Dodgers can’t put together a good bullpen is beyond me. The teams that play deep into Oct have solid bullpens and the Dodgers haven’t had one in a while. When the pen is torched almost nightly, I still read fools tweeting how Fangraphs say the Dodgers have one of the best bullpens in baseball. If you have eyes and a modicum of intelligence, you know this isn’t the case. Moneyball’s arrogance that things like bullpen and speed don’t matter is one reason the 2015 team is mediocre and sinking like a stone. Strong bullpens matter – don’t let a smarty-pants data nerd tell you otherwise.

– The offense, for a variety of reasons, isn’t good. The early decision to undervalue speed was a bad move. Trading Dee Gordon was a poor move as it left a gaping hole atop the lineup. Stealing bases or no, having a presence that gets on base and sets the table is very important. The lack of foot speed throughout the lineup is concerning as station to station running and praying for a homerun isn’t optimal. The Dodgers offense, on most nights, is unimpressive and predictable. I’ve said recently there are only three/four consistent players a pitcher might have to worry about – Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal and maybe Andre Ethier. Everyone else poses no threat, and Howie is now hurt.

The approach set by Big Mac is embarrassing. It’s no surprise a powerful home run hitter would keep hitters swinging for the fences, but when Andrew Friedman sent Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez packing, I assumed “small ball” might be part of the Dodgers plans. The worst thing that could happen to the Dodgers was the hot spring and April the team had. All the power the team displayed fooled them into believing they were a power team, when really they should have been more concerned with hitting fundamentals – which Mac might not be the best coach to teach such principles.

I don’t see how this Dodgers team – even if the pitching somehow righted itself – could compete vs. good teams and good pitching in important games come Oct. And please, someone tell me how Juan Uribe was sent packing and later Hector Olivera ($30M richer) and now the Dodgers trot Alberto Callaspo out there. Callaspo isn’t superior to Uribe with the bat or the glove. Just one of many bad moves. And now the Dodgers will have to either move Corey Seager to third for 2016 or find a third baseman. So much for the excess at third base the pundits talked about earlier in the season.

– Coaching. Fans blame Don Mattingly for everything, and he’s certainly an uninspiring manager. He isn’t someone who can match wits with Bruce Bochy or most anyone come Oct, and his coaching staff took a major step backward (Mac already noted). Friedman retained the staff no doubt for consistency, but it’s obvious the staff needs a shakeup this off-season. Don isn’t bright and clearly has issues with the front office and his own players. Yasiel Puig, who is having a below average season, clearly rubs Don the wrong way, as well as teammates, coaches, etc. Why would they keep Puig at the deadline and then bench him less than two weeks later? If you keep Puig, you may need a manager more willing to work with him, though I’m not sure Puig is savable at this point. He seems like a bad fit personality wise and probably should have followed Kemp and Hanley out of town.

One last thing on Don – although a poor manager, he isn’t the one who dismissed rotation and bullpen, nixed the running game and set up a roster to fail. Just saying.

– Executives. There are too many of them and given the generosity exhibited by Guggenheim in letting Friedman and friends do anything they want, the 2015 season has been a major disappointment. All the reasons have been listed above, but I honestly don’t see evidence that this front office understands assembling a good baseball team any more than Stan Kasten did before. Ironically Ned Colletti is always laughed at and slammed for mistakes, but under Colletti, even with a terrible owner spending all the money on himself, put together a better fundamental unit than the supposed higher intelligence folks who have followed him. And this isn’t a huge endorsement of Ned – I’m a Dan Evans fan – but the fact is the ship’s had more leaks under Kasten and Friedman/Zaidi than Ned. One wonders if allowed the resources the later guys have had, what Ned might have done. Or heaven forbid what Evans could do with a big payroll.

I seriously doubt Friedman will be booted out as Paul DePodesta was when he messed things up, but it would be encouraging to see Friedman make some moves that sent a message he understands what a good team is about. The best I can say for Friedman is the defense is markedly improved and that he believes in the kids. Those are two huge plusses. But on the flipside, he has made poor choices on pitching – rotation and bullpen. His trade deadline pickups could pan out – Alex Wood, he of the violent delivery that lends itself to injury – is intriguing, but the plugs don’t appear a huge upgrade so far. And plugs wouldn’t have been so necessary if better pitchers were added this winter – or Haren not sent to Miami in an ego move by Friedman.

Overall it is what it is. It’s possible the team can get hot and make a run, but all season long it’s been noted the Dodgers do well against poor teams but struggle against better teams. They have a losing record against teams they likely will face in Oct and are 40-40 in the past 80 games overall – not good.

I think the problems are too great for the Dodgers to do anything in Oct. It’s not a surprise to me, and is only surprising as it might be a surprise to someone reading this. Wanting a sound, fundamental team based on strong pitching, good defense, timely hitting and some speed doesn’t make me a Dodgers hater. I guess a person supporting well paid executives who don’t value those things might interpret that I am.

The best part of baseball is the connection to the past. You can peruse box scores from 50 years ago and appreciate them and relive the games if you understand baseball. It’s no secret recipe – try to find good players with reasonable egos who can pitch, field, hit and run and you could have a chance to do well. If you miss some of those crucial ingredients or assume they’re not important, you have a problem. The Dodgers have a problem. A lot of them. Thankfully, for most of us in Los Angeles, we can’t watch the games anyway.