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For Too Trusting Dodgers Fans, it’s Time to Squint and Use Your Imagination

January 28, 2016 12 comments

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The off-season used to be my favorite time of the baseball year, which is odd since that’s when the teams aren’t playing. I think it was my constructive way of making the cold stretch between playoff baseball and spring training more bearable. Nowadays baseball is a 12 month sport. You can listen to MLB Network Radio or watch their TV channel and get year-round coverage. In the past, you listened on terrestrial radio and hoped some baseball mention occurred between the incessant NFL and NBA talk. We’ve come a long way, baby.

The off-season was a good time for a baseball geek because you could marinate in the months of talk, trade ideas, free-agent possibilities, non-roster invites, etc. Everyone is a winner as the next season approaches, until of course you take off your rose colored glasses and realize your team, possibly, isn’t that good. Being a large market team, one with much past success, a Dodgers fan generally has had reason to be optimistic. Even in lesser years, the downside wasn’t as bleak as those of other teams in smaller markets.

When Frank McCourt was allowed into town by corrupt commish Bud Selig, Dodgers fans were exposed to a reality fans in many of MLB’s markets had to cope with each year. For us, the spoiled and somewhat entitled, it was quite a rude awakening. A Dodgers team cash poor? A relatively dry farm? Bankruptcy? Bounced checks to stadium personnel, including beloved icon Vin Scully? Stadium beatings? What was going on?

McCourt was forced out and a slew of possible owners were trotted out. The group who bought the Dodgers were a global investment firm with deep pockets and selling their plans with the big smile of Los Angeles’ favorite son, Magic Johnson. Fans were so happy to be rid of McCourt and his pathetic reign as owner that they wanted to believe wholeheartedly in the Guggenheim Group who used loveable Magic as their mascot. Magic wouldn’t do us wrong! That’s what long-suffering, brutalized Dodgers fans wanted to believe. Magic played basketball, and pretty much only talks about basketball, but hey, he knew Tommy Lasorda and went to some games, so that’s close enough.

Well, after some immediate maneuvers to get butts (dollars) back in the seats, and after several different plans, different architects, it’s beginning to look a lot like the same old, same old, just in a different package. Instead of Frank McCourt and his now ex-wife using the team and fans as their own personal ATM, we have Guggenheim reaping huge profits from a large gate and even larger, record TV deal. $8B is a lot of money, and more obscene when the majority of fans in the LA area cannot watch the games, and are only “treated” to Vin Scully for three innings on radio (in these Scully’s last years behind the mic).

Each plan was foolproof, until it wasn’t. Now the Dodgers have doubled down on well-regarded executives, while ignoring most aspects of on the field talent. If the Dodgers faced off against other teams with executives, they might have a reasonable chance of winning. As it is, a portion of fans are still desperate to believe (and have to believe), while others, myself included, are tired of being played.

The plan is genius – turn the fans on themselves while Guggenheim and the executives all get rich. Let fans bicker and call one another names, while logically they should all be unified since they have the same common goal – a good, entertaining and championship quality Dodgers team. Like America itself, due to social media and brains warped by technology perhaps, the fans are angry and divided. Half are angry at those fans who are not “real fans” (i.e. have the exact same opinions as they do) and the rest are angry at the snow job they’ve endured for about 3 decades. If one knows anything about the Dodgers, they will realize that this drought is especially shameful for an organization that has championships and history on its side. The Dodgers of 2016 are not the Dodgers of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or even the past decade plus.

In all my years, I haven’t seen a situation like this as a Dodgers fan. Oh sure, McCourt’s era was worse on many levels, but the consistent drubbing we’ve been asked to endure since the end of the O’Malley era, through FOX, and even today, is beyond explainable. Fans should be mad as hell and bright enough to realize when you have the largest payroll in baseball you should have good enough a team to at least participate deep into Oct. Fans should understand that when you’re given a window of opportunity to win now, you need to seize it. When you’re given Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in their prime and “unlimited resources”, you have to keep that together and win a few titles. At least one.

What has happened the past few years especially is sad. That half the Dodgers fan base is more impressed by slick operating “suits” than talented players like Dee Gordon is mystifying. Throughout my years following the Dodgers, my friends and I, and fans we encountered along the way or at games never had more allegiance to executives than the players wearing the uniform. There were a few cases where some idiot disrespected the uniform and we wanted them gone, but those incidents were rare. When Al Campanis, a good longtime Dodgers face made indefensible remarks on “Nightline”, we understood that all his years of loyal service did not make him exempt. We did not root Campanis on, we wanted a winning ball club. We got one in 1988, and Campanis has seldom been thought about since.

Nowadays it’s all about the executives. The Dodgers main genius is Andrew Friedman, who did remarkable things in small market Tampa but has been churning his wheels here on the big stage. He spends like a demon, yet is frugal at other moments. He buys items one wouldn’t buy, and passes on obvious ones. His supporters point this out as brilliance and align with him to catch some of the moonbeams that run off, but so far there is nothing to show for all this expense and odd logic. I argue, and half of the fans agree, that the team is going backwards. I think many could understand taking steps back if it were necessary. For example, Houston cleaned house, rebuilt and became very good last year. Philadelphia is reloading after riding out the veterans for too many years. Colorado, perhaps, will get it and clear out some of the familiar names to acquire the pitching they desperately need. None of these cities are Los Angeles, however. The Dodgers are rebuilding while still riding the largest payroll. That could be a smart approach if the money being spent amounted to terrific players. You could then say “We have all these great players to win now, plus we’re setting ourselves up to win for years to come.” A dynasty, if you will.

There are talented kids on the current roster as well as in the farm, not so much thanks to Friedman and his group though. These players mostly came into the system via Ned Colletti and Logan White, who ironically were pushed aside and out. And mostly I go back to the money being spent – on payoffs for players to go elsewhere, Cuban players who never amount to anything, and overspending on marginal big leaguers that could have been had for much less. While this money is being wasted, corners are cut elsewhere, whether it’s letting Greinke go, not signing free-agent relief pitchers of note (they did sign Joe Blanton, who might turn out to be a decent pick up based on last season’s relief role, but there were other, more proven options), bats, etc. I am not sure what the Dodgers payroll will be when they open the season, and to me it’s just a number at this point – Guggenheim is loaded and should be paying a lot – but I do know I look at the roster and don’t see the value.

As I said at the top, the off-season is a fun time as any team still has a chance. Could the Dodgers and their large payroll win in 2016? Maybe. But in honesty I see a team with all the problems of last year’s unit with more weaknesses beside. The Dodgers fortunes rest on good luck happening, which is ok if you’re a fan in Tampa, Houston, Milwaukee, etc. but it shouldn’t be the case for fans with the largest attendance in the league and deepest pockets. When your owners ink an $8B TV contract, you shouldn’t be hoping they “save some money” and not re-sign Greinke, or not get a few solid relief pitchers, a big bat, etc. When Guggenheim collects all the money they have been since coming into town, as fan you should DEMAND the best talent possible and yes, a championship team. Whenever I hear Moneyball and geeks who made it work in small markets come in, the hairs on the back of my neck instantly ride up. Paul DePodesta’s worth in Oakland is a nice story, as is Friedman’s in Tampa, but Los Angeles is a big market and hello! the fans here deserve a winner after a nearly 30 year dry spell. i.e. there is urgency here in the City of Angels that there isn’t in Oakland or Tampa. That’s why I think they hired the wrong guys for the job – again. Guggenheim either ignored history or are stupid. The Sabermetrics first philosophy failed when DePodesta assembled the most laughable roster I’ve ever seen as a Dodgers fan, and now the mistake is happening again. I just wonder if the NEXT owner will learn from this latest turn.

If the Dodgers get freak like production from Corey Seager and electrifying stuff from Julio Urias, and get very lucky with health by known brittle players, and maybe the Giants and Diamondbacks suffer some setback, it’s quite possible the Dodgers can sneak in. Again, I’d say a lot has to break right for this to happen. If it does happen, it would be even luckier if it played in October. The true Moneyball philosophy Billy Beane has noted several times is using the analytics to fill out a statistical Bingo card so the team gets X number of hits, X number of runs, X number of wins, etc. out of their machine April-September. October, as Beane has said, is “luck” and the algorithm goes out the window.

Ironically the Dodgers already had a division winning team under Colletti, and were in a better position in October as well. Recall, Colletti’s Dodgers, even with McCourt pocketing money left and right, were very close to the World Series – twice. The team has gotten weaker since, in the bullpen especially, and with a lighter, more party-like atmosphere that I would argue winning teams generally don’t exhibit. On top of that, now the biggest October factor – Kershaw + Greinke – is gone. The half of the fan base that buys anything Friedman throws out there, argue the team is deeper now. I would argue, loading up on lesser pitchers with injury question marks is not depth, its quantity. Quantity over quality isn’t a selling point to me, and if it comes in handy, it might April-September, but not October. Going into short series, I would much prefer having Kershaw and Greinke (even with Kershaw’s October jitters of the past) to Kershaw and Scott Kazmir, or Kershaw and Kenta Maeda. So a team that had a formula for winning in the regular season but not in October addressed (“fixed”) the regular season part, not the post-season portion. That’s Moneyball, and why it hasn’t worked in Los Angeles.

We have several weeks now before pitchers and catchers report and a month before spring games begin. The executive loving faithful remain dogged that Friedman will not disappoint, he will make a big trade, or trades, and the Dodgers will be right up there with MLB Network Radio’s mentioned top contenders for 2016 – Chicago, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington and Arizona. I’m not sure that trade or trades are going to happen, but I’d prefer a little less ego and brilliance and a lot more common sense. The top teams in MLB loaded up over the winter and improved themselves. You don’t need a PhD to see how either. Top teams in both leagues acquire talented players. You know the players, you know their production, and you can see how they fit into a rotation or lineup. You don’t need to turn your head like a confused dog and squint to see why they made a great pick up. With the Dodgers nowadays, everything is needlessly complex. A trade often includes several teams, then some players are flipped, salaries absorbed, etc. In the end, you’re told how intelligent the move was, but you just can’t see it. I can see how other teams are getting better, I can’t see it with the Dodgers. I can’t see how a punch and Judy lineup not being fortified is improvement, adding injury risks or sending an ace to a rival is progress. Half of you can, and those of you are like the people who can look at those weird dot pictures in the mall and see a sailboat. Good for you; I’ll just go to the museum and look at real art.

Don’t forget to watch the special video bonus…

Look, a Sailboat!

What is Wrong with Dodgers Fans?

January 1, 2016 12 comments

stupid

Happy New Year, everybody. Although under 12 hours old, 2016 is looking to be an active one for Dodgers commentary. This morning I awoke to a great exchange by the ever-wise Dodger Oracle (follow on Twitter @TheDodgerOracle) and several clueless Dodgers fans. One exchange include pearls of wisdom from someone who calls himself Utility Fan, perhaps because he idolizes utility men starting in the Dodgers infield. Here are a few of his brilliant thoughts…

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These nuggets are indicative of a brand of fan I can’t identify with. It’s beyond the Stockholm Syndrome I always chat about, wherein fans feel some obligation to rich executives and even richer owners, rather than fans who struggle all week at work to earn money to take their fans to a ballgame. I guess it’s why Donald Trump is so popular.

This mentality is an offshoot of earlier generations of fans who booed players who were once Dodgers and who come back in different uniforms, whether they left on their own or were traded away. Now don’t get me wrong, if a prickly character like Gary Sheffield comes back into town, boo at will, but someone like Mike Piazza, who came up in the system and was a star for many years? Or Shawn Green, who conducted himself with the utmost of class while in blue and fought Paul DePodesta as the geeky GM tried to ship him away? They’re booing a guy who did local charity work and after each home run gave his batting gloves to kids sitting in the stands. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t today.

It’s odd if you have a pro-Dodgers/anti-rich guy attitude you’re labeled a villain by these folks. Of course I wear that as a badge of honor since it means the very people I try to get thinking are upset (thought is hard for them). Today (Happy New Year!) I received an irate response to a recent article I wrote on this very blog. First of all, I know my ideas (reason, common sense) aren’t for everyone. I don’t expect folks who disagree with me to read my words and I don’t care to sway them. They, after all, have to look at themselves in the mirror every day and have people in their lives already who don’t like or respect them. I would say if my articles or tweets upset you, please do not read them. There are plenty of thoughtful, intelligent people out there who enjoy and share a like sensibility. The miserable and snarky are welcome to follow a Sabermetrics sycophant or other executive lover’s words.

I will finish this brief New Year’s edition of Dodger Therapy with the earlier mentioned retort on my recent article It’s indicative of this type of mental illness that proliferates baseball fans the country over, but especially the Dodgers fans now that pinheads are calling the shots in the front office. I will show both the words of this poster, grabarkewitz, and my responses. Enjoy, and have a great day with family and friends and a truly wonderful 2016.

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“You sure you are not Plaschke because I haven’t read such moronic dribble in my whole life. For all of things you blame this front office for, you seem to avoid the big thing – they have only been in charge for one year. First, they have to reverse the seven years of Ned Colletti’s regime and before that rebuild what was destroyed under the McCourts. As of today, we have the number one farm system and it didn’t take tanking like the Cubs or Astros, but using our financial might to rebuild what was broken.”

Thank you for your kind words. I would say first off that do we know the Dodgers have the #1 farm system right now? It was #3 during last season and that included Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Scott Schebler, Chris Reed and Hector Olivera, who are all in the big leagues, the last three with other teams. Of what’s left, most were in the system before Andrew Friedman and his little gremlin Farhan Zaidi came to power.

I keep hearing fans touching themselves over all the draft picks the Dodgers are accumulating or could get which is nice, except for the reality that many times draft picks amount to nothing and if last June’s draft is any indication of the talent evaluating might of Friedman, Zaidi and gym rat minor league talent evaluator Gabe Kapler, I’m a bit leery.

You’re right the Dodgers have been using Guggenheim’s financial might to acquire picks and young players, but is this the best use of money when you had a finite window with the world beating pair of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and now are left with three years of Kershaw before that window also closes? For example, is it wise to celebrate $60M being paid to Hector Olivera in essence to get Jose Peraza, who was then spun for a potentially interesting White Sox arm and two older prospects? Or, was it wise to pay $80M for major league players to play against the Dodgers last year? Perhaps if it amounted to October success, but it did not. Which leads me to your obvious Ned Colletti bashing.

Personally, I would take Ned back in a minute if we could. Since he’s currently on the payroll, perhaps the same influence in ownership that nixed Kapler as manager and chose Dave Roberts, will eventually grow weary of the brainy arrogance of Friedman and his henchmen and put Ned back into the driver’s seat. This isn’t to say I love Ned, I don’t. I did however always think his criticism was unfair. Outside of a very manly mustache, Ned put together good fundamental teams that always gave the Dodgers a chance to compete. In July, he made straightforward trades that addressed weaknesses. There were no needlessly complicated moves such as Friedman’s three-team thriller with Atlanta and Miami last July that didn’t really help the team at all.

I also find it intriguing that fans slam Ned as if it’s a sport, yet his Dodgers teams did exactly what Friedman’s did – win the West. In fact, Ned’s teams, as you point out, under great financial limitations by Frank McCourt, were playing for the league championship. Until Friedman’s teams do better in October, and the way he’s been building the teams (Moneyball style), that seems unlikely, it would be unfair to say this regime is markedly better than Ned’s. Also, what of Stan Kasten? While Ned is often blamed for shortcomings in the end of his time as GM, you and I both know uber genius Kasten was brought in and had final say over everything player personnel wise. Worth mentioning as it shows that since taking over ownership from McCourt, Guggenheim has changed plans multiple times and all fans have to show for it is a TV deal that keeps 70% of the Los Angeles area from watching Vin Scully’s last days behind the microphone.

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“The fact that you cannot see the plan is mystifying to me because is quite obvious. Getting younger while also bridging the gap to the farm system. Kendrick fit that role as did Rollins. Trading Gordon filled three big holes – catching depth (which we didn’t have), depth on the ML roster and a set up guy. In my opinion, it was a great trade for us. The plan this year is very easy to spot – get younger, be less beholden to the overpaid (no matter how you slice it, Greinke is overpaid and I, for one, am glad we are not on the hook for that contract) and improve our depth. I can even see the Utley signing for what it is, improving depth at a marginal cost.”

Thanks for allowing me insight into your superior intellect. I would counter, I suppose, by saying the fact that you SEE the plan is even more mystifying than me missing it. If the idea is to “get younger while also bridging the gap to the farm system” I’m not sure we’ve seen that much of that happening. Chase Utley for $7M to replace 32-year-old Howie Kendrick or 27-year-old Dee Gordon is getting younger? I would say in reality Utley is older than Howie and Howie was older than Dee. The truth of the matter is Moneyball connoisseurs do not value the running game, so they decided to “trade high” on Dee. Zaidi himself this past season admitted they underestimated what that high was as Dee surpassed his 2014 season by quite a bit.

Allowing second ace Zack Greinke to leave and fans (Stockholm Syndrome) citing his age (32) as a good reason for his departure would be more meaningful if Friedman didn’t then sign Scott Kazmir (32) to replace him as the #2 (assuming, of course, if they don’t package prospects for a better #2 – after all, “it’s still early”). There is definite risk in signing ANY pitcher long-term, but one could argue with a decent track record of durability, monster numbers and an athletic body, Greinke might be worth banking on. Especially, I would say, if you had that incredible 1-2 punch of Kershaw/Greinke that few teams (none?) could match. I would say that’s where that “financial might” you noted would be useful – moreso than Olivera’s rich signing bonus and eating $80M to make players hit home runs against the Dodgers.

I’ll be devil’s advocate and say Friedman WILL still tinker and perhaps try to add a more legitimate #2 to slot behind Kershaw, but for now the reality is many optimistic fans are trying to suggest Kazmir makes the Greinke exit more palatable and I’d say it really doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Kazmir and yesterday’s addition of Kenta Maeda (who I like) definitely adds more quality innings to the lower part of the 2016 rotation than what Friedman foisted on us in 2015, but neither is Zack Greinke. Why is this important? Well, Moneyball loves to use a jumble of numbers to predict how many individual stats can be mixed together to win X numbers of games. That’s a nice theory and has success during a 162 game season (witness last year’s tepid West title). On the other hand, as Billy Beane himself has said, the algorithm goes out the window in Oct. That explains why the Dodgers folded rather quickly, even with “superior intellect” in charge of decision making (Friedman and Zaidi geniuses are better than Stan Kasten as solo genius, I guess, though result was no different).

Your comment about the Dee Gordon trade being “great” is even more glowing than Zaidi’s comment, which I noted earlier. You’re also wrong in the package the Dodgers received in return for the award-winning second baseman. Essentially what the Dodgers got was Howie Kendrick, who is now suddenly deemed “too old”, Chris Hatcher, who was horrendous until the end of 2015 and Austin Barnes. Yasmani Grandal, the catcher you credit the Gordon trade for acquiring, actually came from San Diego in the Matt Kemp move that also cost $35M in cash. So if you think Grandal’s .282 first half, .162 second half, and .000 in October was a sensational haul for Kemp, plus $35M, you have every right to that opinion. But no, trading a young(ish) All-Star/Gold Glove/Defensive Player of the Year in Gordon may not be a complete slam dunk, as it turns out.

Oh, and you note Utley came at marginal cost. $7M is a lot for an old player with a history of injury concerns. I’m not a fan by any means, but the Nationals just signed Stephen Drew for $3M (that’s less than half) and Drew had more home runs, more RBI and a higher OPS in 2015. So if you want to be concerned with the owners’ wallet, be fair and admit the Utley deal wasn’t a youth movement and didn’t come at a great price.

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“Lastly, you lost all credibility the moment you made the claim that keeping Gordon would’ve translated into more wins. How many more wins in ’15 from ’14 did the Fish get with Gordon in their lineup? Don’t bother looking it up – they won six less games, in a weaker division with less injury issues than the Dodgers. You can have your asterisks on the back of baseball cards, I will take what I am seeing for the 2016 Dodgers, another division title and in the playoff crapshot, maybe a ring. I like our odds a whole lot better with this front office than that under Ned Colletti.”

Well, as I said in the opening, you are entitled to your opinion and by no means should you read my tweets or articles if they offend you (I would not read yours). We discussed all of this but I guess I will leave it as we shall see. I don’t personally believe the Dodgers (Fangraphs would disagree) can expect to win the West with both San Francisco (3 titles in 5 seasons) and Arizona (they won much more recently than the Dodgers) greatly improved. It would take an addition like Sonny Gray, another arm or two in the bullpen and a bat or the complete maturity of Yasiel Puig to honestly convince me the Dodgers could cruise to a West crown (cruise too strong a word, even with a pitcher like Gray, the Dodgers have their work cut out for them).

Blaming Dee Gordon’s amazing season on the Marlins losing games has no basis in reality, so I’ll let that go. If you honestly believe having the batting champion and Gold Glove at second over Utley and/or .27o minor league career hitter, utility man Kike Hernandez at second will equate to more wins, much less more excitement, I don’t know what to say.

I am happy you are enthralled with the math geeks in the front office. I personally like a more traditional approach, such as Dan Evans, or straightforward, like Ned, or if it includes lots of analytics (they are important, don’t get me wrong, just need to be used in conjunction with actual baseball IQ and common sense), Theo Epstein. Theo, for example, uses numbers but when given resources, such as he was in Boston and now Chicago, acquires good players. You don’t see a lot of confusing, multi-team deals that you have to squint at, look sideways, and then argue throughout the year and winter if the team improved. It’s pretty evident, given his track record with Boston and Chicago, Theo’s teams improved immensely. With Friedman and Zaidi and whatever dorks they have tied up in back, it’s harder to say.

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Have a very Happy New Year, everyone. I think we all have the same goal, but some of us just prefer to sniff the rarefied air of executives’ asses. I prefer freshly mowed grass, a little old fashioned organ music and a bag of peanuts.