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Good Enough to Be Good Enough

April 2, 2017 7 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¬†their 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.

Three Decades and Counting

April 4, 2016 5 comments

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Happy Opening Day, everyone. Today the Dodgers have as good a chance as anyone of winning their division, the pennant and even the World Series. Enjoy it while you can; tomorrow’s another day.

The Dodgers open the season against the lowly, also Moneyball-inspired, San Diego Padres. Two dogs playing at Petco; apropos. It’s nice the Dodgers and ace Clayton Kershaw face off against the Friars, one of two teams in the West they should finish ahead of. Should.

Fans likely will be impressed by Kershaw’s mastery tonight and if you bet on sports, betting on a Kershaw start would seem money in the bank. Expect the Twitter-verse abuzz with boasts and trash talking in a classy manner becoming of Dodgers fans in recent years. Then the rest of the week there will be excuses, as there always are, for the losses, errors, left runners, injuries, and perhaps even that ownership doesn’t care enough to let 70% of fans in the Los Angeles marketplace see the team’s games on TV.

The other day I jokingly (sort of) remarked how in some ways the Guggenheim ownership group is as bad as the Frank McCourt reign of terror. Immediately simpletons attacked me for suggesting the smiling Magic Johnson fronted group could be anywhere near as bad as the tragedy of the Botox’d regime of old. Umm, that’s the problem – in the Dodgers fan world and America as a whole – stupidity is abundant.

I would say as a fan there is very little difference between a Boston parking lot heir ripping off the fans for his own personal gain and what’s happening now. Each side has left unspeakable scars in Dodgers fans consciousness. Whether it’s McCourt going cheap on stadium security and allowing fans to get hurt or Guggenheim pocketing money while fans are left to imagine what Vin Scully’s years might look and sound like, same bullshit, different day. Both owners also employed Moneyball nerds to dismantle rosters of professional baseball players and insert players no one knows who probably were driving a Sparkletts route a few months previous (no offense to Sparkletts drivers – I have more respect for you than I do sleazy executives and rich investment bankers).

The Dodgers new owners are repeating the sins of the previous – as in America, apparently no one learns from history. When Paul DePodesta destroyed a solid Dan Evans built roster for his own ego – only to appear clever¬†– it was criminal. Guggenheim came in and after quickly giving up on a new direction under Stan Kasten, went the same route McCourt did and hired cost-cutting Sabermetrics guys. The rosters, then and now are sprinkled with unknowns, while in this case, still maintaining a NL high payroll. It’s quite an achievement to have little talent on the field yet spend well over $200M. The 2016 Dodgers have a payroll about $100M higher than the World Champion Kansas City Royals, with a fraction of its talent or heart. One should award the two-headed snake called Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi executives of the year for this feat alone.

The Dodgers spring training was a series of injuries that left the front office dropping the D word (“depth”) every chance they could. They made it sound like it was good players were getting hurt as it tested them even sooner than they imagined. Fans meantime were left scratching their heads and surprised all this great talent Friedman/Zaidi added was hurt – and so fast. Well, when you sign mediocre, often-injured players they tend to be hurt. I’ve said it for years and each season some new bully on Twitter calls me out for being “negative.” Truth = negativity, if it’s not their truth.

It still amazes me that Dodgers fans – way too many of them – side with a front office and ownership team that obviously doesn’t give a rat’s ass about them. For Guggenheim, they gladly doubled the estimated $1B sale price many financial experts assumed they’d have to pay McCourt for the team since they knew full well the TV deal with Time Warner Cable would net $8B, or $6B in immediate profit after paying off McCourt. Add to that baseball’s best gate, merchandise, expensive beer and hot dogs, parking, etc. and it’s quite a nifty payday. Yet, like lemmings, the Dodgers fans cheer and plan their day at the park, angry at anyone who dares question why a team with a near 30 year championship drought would opt for marginal minor league utility players in starting roles. As Jerry Seinfeld famously said, “Fans root for laundry.”

These are not the Dodgers I grew up with, rooted for, and this includes even more recent Dodgers teams. I loved Dan Evans’ underfunded, huge hearted teams, and to a slightly lesser degree the teams Ned Colletti put together that featured smart big league players and were always a player short (since the owner needed daily hair styling at his mansion). But as I witnessed Paul DePodesta destroy a solid roster, I’ve seen it happen again. While I feel sorry for Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez, I feel sadder for the idiots who dedicate more than just their summers – perhaps every day of their lives – to a team that stopped being the Dodgers of old long ago.

Instead of smart, motivated players the fans are supposed to pay for (live, you can’t watch on TV) jokesters and career minor leaguers, or castoffs from other organizations. The saving grace is kids – the farm Logan White and Colletti cultivated, mostly. I have always been a big fan of the prospects, and still am, so I’m very excited to see how Corey Seager’s career goes, as well as some of the others, but I’m sorry, in a market as large as Los Angeles, with that aforementioned near three decade drought, to construct a team around kids is sad. With the always talked about wherewithal of Guggenheim, there has to be a bigger sense of urgency than to wait to see if the kid pitchers in the system pan out. As I’ve told people for years, prospects are currency – not each makes it, and as often as they bolster your big league roster directly, equally they are there to be used in case of need to acquire great big league players in trade. Anyone who covets prospects to the extent they assume each will be an impact player on the roster is fooling themselves. Their value means more in smaller markets anyway, where money isn’t plentiful. The fact that Plan A is the kids is telling. Guggenheim wants to extract far more than $6B out of fans in Los Angeles.

This isn’t meant to attack the kids – the Dodgers have good ones and they are probably the lone reason for excitement in 2016 and beyond. As good teams got better over the winter, the Dodgers famously did nothing. Then the spring injuries, with 10 players starting the season on the DL. Friedman/Zaidi apologists will have you believe this is a freak occurrence, but they’re not. Like last season, I called this in the winter. If you build your team like DePodesta or Friedman/Zaidi have, this is what you get. The only time this philosophy should be your go-to is if you are in that tiny market that financially has no other way to compete. Friedman has brought his Tampa mindset to Los Angeles, and don’t think that’s by coincidence. Just as McCourt brought in Oakland celebrity DePodesta in to cut costs, Guggenheim has with Friedman, and then Zaidi.

The fans will need to decide what they want to do. Will they continue to go along with this odd method of spending a lot of money on random pieces while cutting obvious good ones, or will they boycott? It took some time for fans to stand up to McCourt and maybe the same thing needs to happen again. Could the Dodgers win the West? I would say no, but I suppose it’s possible. But does it matter? The Dodgers won three Western titles in as many years and still can’t win in October. With a thin rotation and marginal pen, I can’t imagine October success even if the opportunity arose. The Moneyball faithful would say, well, this is by design – playoff baseball is too hard to predict from a data perspective. I would counter with that’s why good teams build teams like Dan Evans did, and even Colletti did – getting as many good or at least proven players as they can.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence you look at the top contending teams and see known names, talented players, and a lot of them, on the rosters. Then you look at the Dodgers roster and outside of a few names, you are left with unknowns, question marks, injury risks and the aged. The only way to celebrate this brand of Dodgers baseball is if you’re either delusional or brainwashed. Anyone who would take the Dodgers current roster over the Cubs, Cardinals, Royals, etc. is stupid or so in love with the cleverness of Moneyball they’re ripe for Scientology membership.

We will see how 2016 shapes up. I sense it will be a very painful season for Dodgers fans who honestly feel we deserve better. For the apologists, the possibly mentally ill, it will be a celebration of numbers and math that has no basis of fact. While the top teams move into October and play for a World Series ring, the Dodgers fans will be snapping at one another about what changes need to be made and how to get more very average minor league players from other organizations into the Dodgers lineup and rotation. Three decades and counting.