Dodgers Fans Are Surprised and I Find That Surprising
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.