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Wasted Movement

April 18, 2017 2 comments

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Happy post Easter hangover to you. I thought I’d write a short article since the whole 140 character thing doesn’t really work all the time. In general I seem to get a lot of followers who follow anything with the word “Dodger” in the name (“Tax Dodger”? Reserved for the Commander in Chief, I guess). Once I tweet a few cynical (honest) comments, they quickly unfollow. Such is life.

Anyway, I thought I’d comment on the topic everyone is talking about – Rich Hill’s 2nd DL stint in as many starts. How is this a surprise to anyone? Andrew Friedman, trying to save face, is making the rounds, saying he’s not worried. No, front offices love when their expensive new toys end up chronically injured. Who are you trying to fool, Andy? Sure, you might feel you have “depth” (I call ’em semi warm bodies), but it couldn’t have been in the plans to have your #2 behind Clayton Kershaw saying it would take a “medical miracle” to get him on the mound again. And now talk of his going to the pen to save the boo boo finger? Really, you signed a 37 year old pitcher to a $48M deal with the intention of him being just another bullpen guy, next to your AAAA retreads? Sorry, not buying that.

I know the beat writers and local radio guys won’t question the genius of the front office as they don’t dare lose access to the clubhouse – and the free meals. I on the other hand have nothing to lose. I write what is very apparent – hardly genius at all. It just so happens in today’s world, if you exhibit a decent amount of common sense, you look intelligent. Who woulda thunk?

As I have tweeted many times, all you have to do is go to this blog and comb through the old articles and see my take on everything Dodgers. All the injuries discussed in advance, all the bad deals commented on as they were made, the mediocre or worse players the Moneyball minded acquire, debunked early on. Again, it’s not being super smart, it’s using basic intelligence. And yes, just having seen a lot of baseball in my life. It’s the same thing Saber guys (I don’t think women are stupid enough to be Saber) dislike traditional minded scouting and managing for. It’s too simple. You watch, you gauge it on lots and lots of similar circumstances (100+ years of MLB, pretty much) and you can therefore make semi logical assumptions. One might call it “data”, but I hear that term has been trademarked.

Here we are 13 games into the 2017 season and the Dodgers are in third place, 1 game over .500. The fans, as always, are up and down like the temperature. If they beat the Padres, whose entire payroll is less than what Kershaw makes alone, they talk shit and boast, gearing up for the World Series appearance. If they lose to a better Western foe, they panic.

The season is long and I will go on a limb and say the type of front office work the Friedman/Zaidi and assorted Dream Team collection of overpaid executives are doing could work as well in 2017 as it did in 2016. I think I figured it out, though, like a bad detective show, my answer was right in front of me the whole time.

While I think the West should certainly be better than it was last year (Giants will wake up, Rox seem improved and only getting better, Arizona perhaps better under their new Moneyball-type front office), I can see the Dodgers making the playoffs. Before you get too excited, I can also see them missing the playoffs. Somewhere between winning the West, getting the wild card and losing out in the playoff round robin, is where they will be. I am not one to predict outcomes of divisions so much as a lot of things happen.

I will say that unless changes are made (and why would they be?), it’s unlikely the Dodgers, as constructed now, will advance to the World Series, should they get anywhere near. My reason is I look at tonight’s tragic lineup and I just don’t see where $230M was spent. Any given night the lineup, starter and/or bullpen participants might be aged journeymen or AAAA castoffs. Friedman calls it “depth” – Paul DePodesta didn’t even call it that, but maybe he should have. His roster was the same littering of nobodies and never weres.

With Hill having recurring blister problems, it makes me wonder why Friedman would take a chance on him again. Last July, Friedman waited till the 11th hour before the trade deadline to move three prospects for Hill and Josh Reddick, who apparently Friedman didn’t realize hadn’t done anything since May. Ok, I’ll make excuses and say Friedman thought he could wait everyone out and find lightning in a bottle – after all, Moneyball centerfold Billy Beane snatched Hill up during the off-season after seeing him throw a few good games in unimportant late season starts for Boston. If Hill was good enough for Beane…

Hill, of course, came over hurt, spent a long time on the DL and then made some useful starts in September and October for the Dodgers. But facts are facts and Hill was an aging player, not long out of independent league ball (like Scott Kazmir, who Friedman admitted was a poor signing just a year before as he shopped him this winter, with no takers). But with the free-agent and trade markets thin (the time to shop was the winter before when names like Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, J.A. Happ, etc. were available), Friedman doubled down on Hill. After all, he just dealt three prospects to get him, so to walk away empty handed, and still have a gaping hole in the rotation, seemed unacceptable, even to him. So as is his custom, an identical $48M deal went to Hill – like it had to Brandon McCarthy and then Kazmir. I guess that’s the cap where a Moneyballer feels comfortable “wasting” on starting pitching.

I would say $48M is an ok figure, if you got something out of it. So far, the amount is cursed for Friedman and his little troll Zaidi – all three of the guys acquired have trouble staying healthy. In case you wondered, 3 x 48M = $144M, which is a lot of money and should mean something more capable for your rotation than what Friedman’s guys have shown – at least so far (this being written on April 17, 2017, for historical purposes).

My biggest problem with Friedman and his building of a roster isn’t necessarily the players he selects – ok, it’s a large part about that – but what the ultimate toll it takes on the team in general. As I’ve said before, a rotation is not just the quality of your 5 starters (not 16 starters, as Friedman would have you believe), though that should be top of mind, but it’s the innings. I understand the game is changing and either change with it or die but I can’t believe it’s optimal to have 16 guys tossing 3-5 innings commonly, as opposed to 5-6 guys capable of going 6-8 more frequently.

I know it’s ancient history, but I vividly remember Dodger teams with an ace, 2 or 3 very good pitchers and then 1-2 either called “innings eaters” or perhaps 1 of those and a kid, hoping to stick in the rotation. It wasn’t long ago that Friedman so hated this that he chased Dan Haren out of town, paying his salary to go to Miami. Really, how is Haren at any point much different than Hill, McCarthy or Kazmir? I guess you could argue, he was healthier.

Innings are important because it’s something you can hang your hat on. You can assume your starting pitcher is not only capable of going deeper into games, but taking the ball every 5th day without drama. You don’t need to call a collection of junk, and terrible contracts, “depth”. Your depth is your minor league system, as it always has been and is for every team in the major leagues. If you have 4-5 credible starters who are likely to stay healthy, you can make a phone call should someone get hurt. That “data” is based on 100+ years of the game’s history. Trite, boring, but honest and true.

I think like DePodesta, the Moneyball way Friedman and Zaidi play is merely about looking more clever and smarter than your average baseball guy – folks like myself included. Naive? Giggle inducing ideas such as going with known commodities, staying away from continually injured players – absurd! It’s far more fun to tinker like a very bored fantasy baseball general manager and make things happen. Oh, in the end it could work but all the “wasted movement” isn’t beneficial to anyone. When your new $48M contract is already looking vomit-inducing and you are talking about putting this #2 starter into your bullpen, it’s not good. Not on this Earth, not on any world.

Like I said, it’s possible the Dodgers can win the West – who knows if the Giants, Rox and Diamondbacks might stumble? Plus, the Dodgers have spent a lot more than anyone else, not only in the West, or the National League, or MLB, but in professional sports. That “depth” allows you at least a chance to win, even if your front office is run by overzealous micro-managers with too much time on their hands.

On the other hand, this Moneyball style always proves to address the regular season. Remember, before these guys arrived, the Dodgers were doing well in that respect. More often than not the Dodgers are near the top of the division, even when mere mortals are calling the shots. Moneyball is usually employed when a team does not have the financial wherewithal to compete any other way. It’s odd when it’s employed with deep pockets and a monster payroll.

The team tinkers and scratches to get to the post-season, celebrates this accomplishment but doesn’t win. Don’t feel too bad for Friedman, no Moneyball team ever wins. Or hasn’t yet. It’s because, in the paraphrased words of Billy Beane, the post-season is too unpredictable, the “data” doesn’t work there. Luck is involved, he says. No, I don’t think that’s quite true.

While maybe “data” can predict X number of runs an ever-changing lineup should produce, and how many runs an ever-changing rotation should allow, it doesn’t account for quality. Quantity, oh sure, plenty of that. Proudly Friedman sycophants will point to how quantity is as important as quality. This is said to praise the “depth” – which is actually just less talented players than what otherwise could be assembled. More means more, to them. But in the post-season, Billy Beane might say it’s harder to predict and luck, whereas I would say it’s quality. Here the quantity means less, and that’s why Freidman’s subpar independent league and career minor league players have problems.

It’s not genius to discover independent league and career minor leaguers – why, they’re right there in independent leagues and minor leagues all across the country. It’s not genius to pluck them from obscurity and then sign them to contracts of their dreams. It’s curious, weird even and clogs your roster full of guys that more than likely are not going to hold up and win in October.

It’s early – just the middle of April – but we are seeing the “depth” put to use as the players were never capable in the first place. While anyone can get hurt at any time and certainly bad breaks happen, it is not dumb luck when it happens to players who have a track record (data!) of this happening to them. Only Friedman and his people didn’t understand Hill would be hurt. As his players fall like dominoes, Friedman and his followers say, “Who could have known?” Well, we all knew and continue to scratch our heads in astonishment.

I think the appeal here is painting themselves into a corner and trying to get out. Houdini did it to show his superiority and fantasy baseball managers do it when they are bored out of their minds. Make dumb moves, drop better players, constantly swap our anyone with a pulse and hope it works. If it does, you can puff out your chest and claim superiority. Again, it’s “wasted movement” and unnecessary.

It’s an outdated way of thinking, sure, but would it be so terrible to have a rotation with at least 3-4 very solid guys you had a pretty safe expectation for making it through the season unscathed? Would it be ludicrous to assume your bullpen could be 3-4 men deep? Even 2 deep? Would it be insane to think if you had a payroll larger than anyone else’s your roster would likely have more great players than other teams?

All out of touch, old school ways of thinking, I realize. What do I know? I’m just a guy who has watched a lot of baseball for a lot of years. I sometimes write baseball articles, all archived here, with dates, and I seem to somehow do a remarkable job calling a lot of the “unforeseen events” that befall Friedman and his think tank, before they happen. I don’t call it “data” – just common sense and reasonable intelligence. Enjoy the ride and remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Have the Pepto-Bismol and Prilosec at your side; nothing is easy in a Friedman universe.

Wasted movement.

Good Enough to Be Good Enough

April 2, 2017 5 comments

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There are two sides to every story. Either the story being told by those either employed or indebted to the Dodgers propaganda machine as well as the notion “it’s their time” or the alternative.

I’ve witnessed the Dodgers’ front office fumble and bumble┬átheir way since coming into power, doing very little, or worse, making boneheaded gaffs. The results some cheer about, but to others, myself included, they are the same, no better, than the results from the past.

The Dodgers can’t help but being in the thick of things. They have Clayton Kershaw, after all, and had Zack Greinke and other arms. They have Kenley Jansen. They have Corey Seager. You add up the parts and no matter who is running the show on and off the field, the Dodgers assemblage of talent is enough to be at or near the top of their division. They have been finished first or second 10 times in the past fifteen years. They have won 0 championships during this time, and 0 championships in almost three decades.

I have tried to say, much to the dislike of many, that this is all well and good but the steps forward are not great. If being at or around the top of the National League West is the goal, things are going fine. I don’t see how the current front office or ownership should be given credit, however, as the end results are no greater than usual. You can even point to the win/loss record, which shows a nominal decline in victories the past three seasons.

Dodgers fans are rabid and that is a wonderful thing for the Guggenheim Group and current Dodgers front office. The team, in some ways, is in poor shape if you consider availability to the large marketplace. The only way to see Dodgers games is if you attend them – at great cost – or if you happen to be in a portion of the greater Los Angeles area who gets the new-ish TV channel. The historic organization’s games are not readily available to most of the populace.

In 2016, the Dodgers won the West and advanced to the NLCS vs. the Chicago Cubs, the team who ultimately won the World Series in a thrilling 7-game series vs. Cleveland. While the Dodgers record of futility neared three decades, it was nowhere near that of either the Cubs or Indians. Thus, the baseball gods determined it was destiny, and the Dodgers never had a chance.

Still, supporters of this front office and ownership group would argue, they “could have won”. Well, in some world I suppose they could have. Teams with little starting pitching and little relief pitching seldom win championships. The Dodgers, in my opinion, were very lucky in 2016. I would credit the front office for patching together an eyesore and getting a lot out of the pieces they had. It does not appear to me a sustainable plan, if winning championships is your end goal.

It was painful to watch Kershaw pretty much go it alone, and Jansen doing the same from the backend of the bullpen. The other starters were hurt or gassed and could barely muster three innings at a time. The bullpen, overworked all season due to the shortcomings of the starting five, did the best they could on heart and whatever talent they had. The better team won, as usually is the case.

Knowing how Moneyball general managers operate, I did not expect changes in the off-season. In fact, because their high school chemistry experiment “worked” – to some degree – it no doubt would validate their hypothesis that they were on the right track.

It was interesting how they and their disciples continued to point to the Cubs as a “similar” team, although the construction was not at all alike. Theo Epstein, who has Moneyball roots, after all has changed quite a bit since moving to the big stage, first in Boston, then in Chicago. With deep pockets backing him, Epstein loads his rosters full of great professionals, as well as farm bred talent. Pitching depth, position depth, stars, great role players… he does not leave things to chance. As a result, his Boston teams have won and now his Chicago team.

The winter shopping season is one the Dodgers front office usually ignores, as is the mid-season trade deadline. They seem to look at these peak times as pedestrian. “Anyone can shop during these times; we’ll show them.” They sit idly by while starting pitchers move from team to team, as well as proven relief pitchers. Speedsters are never a consideration since the only reason to have any speed at all on a Moneyball team is perhaps moving from first to third – interestingly, a skillset rarely to be found in Los Angeles baseball these days.

I was not surprised that the 2017 team went to spring training not altogether different from the 2016 team that ended the year, losing in Chicago. A few guys left, a few came in, but the same issues that cost the team in 2016 are still those weaknesses as the new season gets underway.

The writers and announcers who cover the team and want access to the clubhouse are painting a rosy picture that this looks to be a world beater. Many have said the Dodgers will not only be in this season’s Fall Classic, but win it. I can only assume this is because they feel they are due, not because of big acquisitions made, unless you count Logan Forsythe as the difference maker.

Personally, I don’t see it. I do see a Dodgers team that will be around the top, as they always are, but not necessarily in first place. Last season, part of the Dodgers luck was the complete lack of fortune for the San Francisco Giants, whose second half was dismal. The Giants bullpen was a disaster and they acquired a closer this winter to rectify that. Still, being held to a budget the Dodgers are not, they still have some problems in their pen, though they have more reliable innings in the rotation. At any rate, however that comparison pans out, it seems unlikely the Dodgers can count on the Giants taking half of the year off again.

With the Giants therefore improved and the natural development, possibly, of the rest of the West – most particularly Colorado – the Dodgers must be a bit better in 2017 than in 2016. With 81 games against the West, just by virtue of the Giants adding a closer and the Rockies talented offense and young pitchers developing a bit more, that should be more of a challenge.

In a perfect world, the Dodgers get health they did not get in 2016. As I pointed out, it’s unrealistic to hope that all the many (often desperate) moves the front office employed is a repeatable formula. So, Kershaw being Kershaw for six months and Rich Hill, an older player who has no track record to illustrate he is a regular rotation piece, much less a #2 starter, is imperative. Kenta Maeda, who was wonderful for most 2016, needs to get stronger during his second season in the big leagues and be there at season’s end, which he was not at all last year.

The bottom of the rotation is the same collection of injured and suspect parts, mostly due to the front office wasting money on players such as Brandon McCarthy, who any honest person knew was a bad signing from day one, to Scott Kazmir – like Hill, a player who was out of MLB and toiling in the independent leagues. Both pitchers, like Hill, received $48M contracts. When you have so much money invested in players, you are hand tied to use them, thus additional arms were not added.

So, the Dodgers need Kershaw not to have a flare up of his back problems, Maeda to remain reliable (just stronger) and Hill to overcome the odds at age 37. Then between frequently injured Korean warrior Hyun-Jin Ryu, McCarthy, Kazmir and young Julio Urias, who has been pushed to develop quickly but is not ready for a full season workload, the front office hopes for two starter spots to be filled. It’s a lot to ask to go right, given reality and the health and circumstances of most of these pitchers.

There are also players such as Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart who supporters point to as the remarkable depth the front office has acquired but the truth is most of the players to be counted on were here before they arrived. I’d also add that depth is an interesting word that is bandied about by Dodgers writers and announcers as if it’s unique to the team. Every team has minor league rosters to call upon and additional players set aside as contingency plans. Perhaps the Dodgers depth is more in the spotlight since the health of the regulars is so poor.

In closing I will say that the Dodgers should be near the top once again – with such a large payroll and the Kershaw, Jansen and Seager alone, they have a chance based on that alone. I think the Giants will be very much a factor and at some point, the front office should admit their faults and add quality innings from somewhere. Perhaps they do get good fortune with some of the walking wounded the past couple years, as well as unexpected success from journeymen like Hill, McCarthy and Kazmir.

Personally, I’d put young Urias in the pen since innings are innings, after all, and why waste his down in the minors? I’d put those innings to better use, shoring up an average bullpen and then when the innings count made sense, stretch him out for the rotation, if needed. At any rate, the bullpen would be that much better while the MASH unit of pitchers gave their all once again.

I’m not sure what to make of the outfield, which is Joc Pederson in center, forever to be platooned, and similar platoons everyplace else. Yasiel Puig seems to forever be tainted by being tantalized by Hollywood too soon, Andre Ethier continues to have health issues and Andrew Toles, a player with exceptional athletic ability, has defensive limitations and is told not to steal bases – perhaps one of his biggest plusses.

The infield is solid, though not spectacular. It does have the chance to be very good however if Adrian Gonzalez can somehow turn back Father Time and Forsythe continues to develop. The latter is in the right place as the mandate for a Dodgers offense is to swing for the fences and his 20-homerun power seems to be ideal for the Moneyball Dodgers. Justin Turner’s knees must hold up once more at third base. Seager is remarkable but had a spring with back issues, who like Kershaw, you have to wonder about. All in all, the offense of the Dodgers runs through the infield.

I am not a fan of Yasmani Grandal, though I know many are. Grandal, a former PED user, is also tailor made for this front office as his strength is trying to hit home runs. I prefer catchers who field first primarily and make contact. Maybe this player is Austin Barnes, who won a roster spot as all Andrew Friedman Miami acquisitions do. It will be interesting to see what happens at catcher if Grandal gets hurt, as he does. He’s being asked to play more than ever in 2017.

The Dodgers have enough talent on the roster and coming up through the minors to be near the top once again. It would be nice if they started to take real steps forward and understand they have the financial wherewithal, not to mention the prospects, to acquire players more guaranteed than what they tend to count on. The trademark of the front office seems to be trying to make it to the top by taking the harder route. Reliable innings in the starting rotation, strong setup men at the back of the bullpen, shortening games, is for chumps. Complex trades, working the disabled list like a traffic cop and platooning across the diamond seems immensely more satisfying to these smarties.

The method may be madness, but it has its fan club. Certainly, those on the Dodgers payroll, or who like access to the players and free pre-game meals. World Series winners in 2017? I don’t see it but anything is possible. It has been about thirty years and the payroll is the largest in organized sports. Maybe they are right, maybe they are due.