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Wasted Movement

April 18, 2017 52 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.

The Fans’ Loyalty Should Not be Greater than the Owners’ Loyalty to Us

February 15, 2017 8 comments

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Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Tomorrow, the Dodgers begin the spring training portion of the 2017 season. Lots has been said of the Dodgers improvement, some true, some not, and many expect the boys in blue to be among the top handful of teams in baseball this season – largely based on their high payroll and “depth.”

 

Before I get into that, I do want to say what I have tweeted several times this week – the lack of TV across the LA market for a 4th season is shameful. The Dodgers have been passed around from one bad owner to another since Peter O’Malley decided to sell the team to Fox. At the time, we fans knew it was quite a change – going from mom and pop ownership to a greedy Rupert Murdoch run corporation that only was interested in baseball in order to start a local sports network. Little did we realize, however, how bad it would get.

 

It’s debatable to some whether the skullduggery of Frank and Jamie McCourt is worse than the Guggenheim Partners time as owners, I would say different. When “Hall of Fame commissioner” Bud Selig handed the keys to the Dodgers kingdom to a cash poor Boston parking lot attendant, we knew it wasn’t good. As the McCourts rode high on the hog and drove the franchise into embarrassment, bouncing checks to staff, including Vin Scully, and cheaping out on security until people’s lives were in danger, we ultimately rebelled. Now, with Magic Johnson’s smiling (now absent) kisser conning us into believing everything was ok again, we sit staring at our blank TV screens, or MeTV re-runs of “Hogan’s Heroes” instead of our LA baseball team.

 

I would say from Fox to the McCourts to Guggenheim, LA Dodgers fans have been passed from one bad guardian to another, much like the Baudelaire children in the “Unfortunate Events” books and Netflix episodes. None of them have/had Dodgers tradition at the core of their belief system – all have been in it for profit motives purely. Yet, through generations now, Dodgers fans infight and quarrel and flaunt loyalty ownership doesn’t have to them. It’s quite amazing, the level of love and Stockholm Syndrome displayed since O’Malley sailed off into the sunset.

 

To me, it’s easy. Greed + no TV coverage = you lose my loyalty. You want it back? Focus on our needs, and that includes games on TV. Stealing Vin Scully’s final years was a heinous act. Lest anyone think Guggenheim is in no way like the McCourt era, think about that. Consider it when you get an overload of Charlie Steiner.

 

We will never get back what was taken from us, and considering the misdirection of the overly bloated narcissistic front office, it makes it hard to forgive. All of my life, and prior, the Dodgers were a team known for strong pitching. Over the years there were good offensive teams, and bad ones. The pitching was always key. Look through the Dodgers record books and recall the names. Behind the greats were many good ones, and those who held the fort, eating innings and supplying consistency that always kept the Dodgers in the thick of the National League race.

 

I don’t recall, prior to this administration, such a dismissal of pitching. The Fangraphs lovers among you will point to cobbled together stats and suggest this is the best pitching staff in baseball. I may not understand numbers like you pretend to (by reading some nerd’s analysis), all I have to base my opinion on is many decades of following baseball and end results. A team, especially a Dodgers team, should be built around pitching – starting and relief. It seems an afterthought or a “ho-hum” to the collective geniuses that run the Dodgers.

 

So, if you put together no TV, no Vin and very little pitching, it’s hard for me to get overly excited. There’s a reality that says the rotation is three guys, all of whom have concerns. Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher in baseball but after years of carrying the burden of the team on his back, his back gave out. Backs can flare up at any time, and while Kershaw may be healthy all of 2017, his sudden vulnerability at least merits a conversation.

 

Rich Hill has resurrected his career from independent league hurler (like his fellow well paid staff mate Scott Kazmir), but he’s also an older pitcher who has spent a lot of time on disabled lists across baseball. To assume his “Koufax-like curve” can be counted on for a full season is perhaps a stretch. Then comes Kenta Maeda.

 

I liked the signing of Maeda, but then I like the signing of most Asian players. Maeda is a gamer with good stuff, but he’s also Japanese and their seasons are shorter than those in the bigs, so his eventual tiring in 2016 should have been expected. He was gassed the last quarter of the season and of course in October, when we all closed our eyes and crossed our fingers as he went to the hill. He is slight of frame and while he could improve on his stamina and continue to evolve, he could also at least be considered someone who may have a solid first half and then vanish after that.

 

The rest of the rotation is more worrisome than the top three. Julio Urias is a talent touted as another Pedro Martinez. He sure can look good, but he’s also 20 and his young arm is not ready for a full season’s workload. In fact, I’d say given the way he was pushed in 2016, due to Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi not considering reliable innings out of the rotation last year, he could even be a candidate for an injury due to overuse. I am not worried about Urias at the start of the season, but like Maeda, I am worried what happens as the year progresses. A baby pitcher should have his innings built up through the minors; Urias’ success and the front office’s desperation has rushed that timeline. Watching how they use him in 2017 should be interesting.

 

With Urias as the 4th starter (he should ideally be the 5th), it means a gaggle of curiosities will compete for the last spot. At this point most fans realize the signings of Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy were foolish ones by Friedman/Zaidi. They will compete with Hyun-Jin Ryu, former warrior with a shot shoulder, and assorted guys Friedman devotees will tell you are superstars in the making. No, they are just guys. The league is full of guys who fill roster spots, go up and down from the minors to the bigs and are not stars. Newsflash – not everyone who comes up through the Dodgers system will be a star. And another newsflash – every team has “depth” – it’s called a 40-man roster and minor league system. Living, breathing humans do not “depth” make.

 

For these reasons, the Dodgers rotation does not impress me. It’s possible they will have a decent first half, enabling Friedman/Zaidi to make a July deal for the 2nd half, but I’d argue, given what we see from most of their deals, and the fact the beef in the rotation should already have been added, who cares? As of today, the rotation is not ready for Oct play, which begs the question: “What have Friedman/Zaidi fixed since taking over?” I’d argue the deficiency the team had was the Oct part of the equation – that one more piece or two that could get the Dodgers over the hump. They already were making the playoffs for years. That isn’t enough. Friedman/Zaidi tinker, like mad scientists, but with the April through September part of the team, which, like I said, was in good enough shape before.

 

Friedman/Zaidi and their disciples would tell you it’s all about the regular season; the playoffs are all luck and a total crapshoot. That’s what Billy Beane has said, and the Moneyball record of World Series titles would bear that out. Small market executives, like Beane, like Friedman, like Zaidi, think like this because they must. They are traditionally hampered by lack of resources, financial most specifically, and need to assume getting to the dance is good enough. Perhaps, once in the post-season, they get lucky – it happens. Just not to Moneyball teams.

 

Guggenheim must have had their reasons for hiring Moneyball types to run the Dodgers – either hoping to save some money they could put into their own pockets (that’s not working, Friedman and Zaidi spend like gold-diggers out on the town), or because they were tipped off that the game has gone data and whiz kids who are all Ivy League are the ones you want in charge. I’m not dismissing data, it’s important (I recall loving Ross Porter’s constant stats that drove fans insane), but it doesn’t seem to apply to the work being done by Friedman, Zaidi and their crowded front office team.

 

Friedman inherited a windfall. He got a playoff team with a new rich ownership group and ripe farm system. A smarter man would have added the missing parts – perhaps a 3rd starter better than Brett Anderson – in order to go deeper into Oct. Instead, much like Paul DePodesta before them, a lot of tinkering, convoluted, needlessly complicated trades, signings of Cubans, reliance on unimpressive and often injured pitchers (overpaid), and other factors have led the team to no more Oct ready than before. I’d add, taking the long way around the mountain, creating needless busywork to get there.

 

At some point, perhaps luck will roll the Dodgers way and they will win. There IS talent on the roster. Some of the prospects in particular, holdovers from Ned Colletti and Logan White, look like this generation’s great Dodgers – Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias and Cody Bellinger, to name a few.

 

I just have no idea why fans continue to believe in a front office that shuffles pieces around, wastes money, skimps on money (hard to do both at the same time) and is rebuilding the regular season part of the team that was already a playoff contender, rather than the post-season part, which was the obvious weakness.

 

I chock it up to youth – easy to say, as I am old. I think baseball fans are not as diehard as they used to be, and youth comes with lack of perspective. As you get older, not only do you have to sometimes wake up in the night to pee, but you gain wisdom. As Louis C.K. famously mused in one of his routines, just by virtue of being on the planet longer than a young person, you generally come to know more. A young fan has the right idea – love their team, no matter what, but without a frame of reference, it’s easy to not really know what the fuck you are talking about. I have been young, and now I am old. Believe me, I know more now than I did when I was young.

 

I won’t even go into depth about the bullpen that was not improved at all over 2016, or the 2 guys for every position approach in the lineup that could work – if rosters are expanded to 35. A new season is upon is, so don’t let me burst your bubble. I will say, perhaps don’t be gullible. Keep your eyes open and your head up. Call “bullshit” when you see it. And yes, you should be very angry that for a 4th season, games are not on TV across all of Los Angeles. I would suggest you don’t pay for games, or McCourt’s expensive parking. If they won’t televise the games, listen on the radio, or just read the box scores the next day. If they don’t care enough about you, you shouldn’t care so much about them. Guggenheim is in it for the money, just as Fox and the McCourts were. The team has not been to the World Series since 1988, and that was a fluke. The rot had set in after the 1981 championship and the greats from the 70s teams moved on.

 

We are owed more than this. The fans’ loyalty should not be greater than the owners’ loyalty to us. Bickering on Twitter can be amusing, but it does not hold the owners accountable. Demand more and if they don’t give it, consider what else you want from life. Maybe it’s going to the beach, catching the latest superhero movie in the theater or just spending more time with family and friends. For me, if a group of smarties can’t figure out your rotation needs reliable innings and your bullpen should be several guys deep at the back, you don’t deserve my respect. If the games aren’t even available to watch, why should I care?

 

Here’s to another season of Dodgers baseball. Let’s see what happens. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.

Told Ya So. Now What?

October 27, 2016 6 comments

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As the playoffs approached I started to feel bad for long-suffering Dodgers fans, and even some of the young, naive and snarky ones. Maybe especially them. Anyone, really, who believed that this ownership group, this front office, and many of the players on this year’s roster, would undo nearly three decades of pain and suffering. I tried to warn them – anyone who reads my tweets or articles here knows this to be true. I did my best, but sometimes, well… a fan is short for fanatic, and the definition of is a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.

I saw the fervor building and deep hopes that this year it would be different. Admittedly, as a person who has spent wayyyy too much time analyzing Dodgers minutia over the past several decades, I knew it would not be. Again, feel free to look up my points of view from articles past to tweets long ago – it’s all there for the record. Andrew Friedman, and his boy troll Farhan Zaidi, were never going to do the impossible – not now, not with what they put together. When your front office is boasting never before has the disabled list been used so intensely, you know as a fan you are in deep doo doo.

I’ve chatted with friends and friends of friends who had one foot on the bandwagon themselves – these, people who should know better. Sort of like Trump Mania, they got swept away with the less experienced, believing a cake walk through a listless NL West meant things were different. I tried using reason – but they have no rotation! When would a team with no rotation – the only top tier pitcher coming off a serious back ailment and October yips – be enough to go to or win a World Series? But what of that tired, generic looking bullpen that logged wayyyy too many innings, covering for said lack of starting pitching? What of the team that also set another record – lowest batting average ever of a post season team vs. left-handed pitching? Last of 30 teams vs. left-handed pitching. No speed. Relying too heavily on a 22-year-old rookie, especially curious given the highest payroll in organized sports. No, you don’t understand, the chemistry – this year will be different! Ok. You can only argue so much, and who am I to piss on everyone’s shoes?

The Dodgers did as well as could be expected – not buoyed by greatness from the ownership group and front office, but more the soft Western division (the only other good team was the worst in baseball after the All-Star break) and bloat of payroll. Kids finally ripe, or nearly ripe, helped out immensely. The fans cheered the kids that the owners and front office executives provided, ignoring completely, or rewriting history, that the previous regimes did all the heavy lifting – scouting, drafting, signing almost anyone on the roster who had a good season, this includes Justin Turner and Clayton Kershaw. In fact, it’d be hard to find plus players the current group of geniuses found. Andrew Toles is the one that comes to mind, but like Kike Hernandez the previous year, too small a sample size, may still be exposed.

The fact of the matter is a lot of money was saved not signing Zack Greinke, not going after the free-agent arms like Johnny Cueto, David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, trade options like Cole Hamels, etc. but any savings were offset by overspending (again) on the walking wounded and never weres – Scott Kazmir, Brent Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, and so many “toolsy” Cubans we have not seen and likely never will. As I’ve stated before – an interesting high wire act of being cheap and being irresponsible with the wallet at the same time.

In reality, as I said last winter and this spring and many, many times (too many for most) during the year, the Dodgers could have fixed their 2015 playoff problems by addressing the issue that haunted them. The issue was starting pitching – rather than go it again with the lefty/righty ace combo of Kershaw and Greinke, and add more behind that, they instead subtracted. The sycophants wallet watching and saying how Greinke’s years 6-8 would bankrupt the team are the same types who don’t get how after trading top minor league talent for Andrew Miller, the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series. The illness that has taken over baseball fans where they feel compelled to be guardians of billionaire owners’ bottom line, as opposed to fans who deserve a title in their town, is impossible to argue with – believe me, I have tried. Whatever Greinke’s cost might be when he is older and less amazing means nothing if along the way you win a title, or perhaps more. The Indians understand this, and they are still playing today.

Kershaw and Greinke are a lot better than the alternatives, especially those brought in by Friedman, Zaidi and their gang of numbers crunching simpletons. What the Dodgers needed was to keep Greinke and add another arm of quality besides. Or – part with Greinke and sign two arms of quality. The problem last Oct was Anderson and the rest, not Kershaw and Greinke. The irony now that Greinke might be on the Dodgers radar as a winter trade target (the free-agent crop last winter was so vital as this year’s is non-existent) is humorous. Friedman lovers will hail a reunion as genius, even after saying how brilliant it was to let Greinke go. When you subtract your #2 starter and fill the void with a slew of question marks and DL cases, you’re just not bright. Innings, quality, healthy innings, are very key to constructing your pitching staff. The Dodgers had a big problem there from winter through spring into summer and fall. Micro-managing, using 7 pitchers per night since the starter could only go 2-4 innings, worked in the short term vs. very bad competition, but there is a massive difference between facing San Diego pitching and the Chicago Cubs.

I am curious to see if the administration learned this, or if they are going to go back to the same type of ineffectiveness that got them where they ended up. Part of the problem is the logjam of contracts and possible slots players like Kazmir and McCarthy take up. Not to mention Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was a warrior – until injuries made him unable to make the bell. The only way out of the situation is sucking up more salary, padding offers with desirable prospects and going for impact starting pitching via trade such as Greinke, Chris Sale or perhaps Justin Verlander, etc. Counting on sudden health and greatness from the guys Friedman did this year no doubt means the same problems in 2017 as 2016. And remember, Kershaw’s injury I warned you about in the past – occurred and could flare up again. Would you feel comfortable with Kenta Maeda as your ace and a group of young pitchers who are nowhere near ready for a 200-innings workload?

The rosy prospects of 2017 rely on one of two things happening – the Guggenheim ownership throwing out the current group or the current group suddenly learning from reality and making adjustments. I assume the second is more realistic as while I’d love for the Moneyball experiment to end in Los Angeles (again), more than likely it will be spun – we got to the championship series! Of course, when Ned Colletti did that two years in a row under Botox loving, penny pinching Frank McCourt, it was argued as not enough.

I guess it’s possible even a math crunching geek like Friedman could understand that his pitch and ditch fantasy approach to getting innings out of his overachieving and no name bullpen wasn’t ideal. But even if that happens, the market is pretty dry. It would indeed mean eating more bad contracts and trading parts many don’t want the team to trade. Them’s the breaks, as they say. Conventional baseball guys know that winter shopping is the easiest and most tried and true time to acquire assets. The July trading deadline is the other. Last winter, seemingly either out of Guggenheim trying not to spend or the executives’ need to look brighter than old school baseball guys, the Dodgers waited the shopping frenzy out. Only after almost every name was taken off the board, did Friedman move. In July, top teams loaded up, Friedman waited till the last hours and traded three prospects for two walk free-agents. It seems the pattern is Friedman always waits, and ultimately is left out in the cold.

His supporters will deny this and argue but the fact is that teams who want to win get the parts they require and do so aggressively. You don’t watch the Red Sox, for example, sit on their hands as the best players are looking for homes. The Cubs loaded up as soon as Theo arrived and are playing in the World Series because of it. For the Dodgers, there’s always an excuse why this player or that didn’t come to LA. Too expensive, a risk, or just plain not interested. The fans, sadly, in a large part have come to not only accept these excuses, but parrot them back as a sort of gang standing behind the bully’s back in support. Stockholm Syndrome – the fans oftentimes are more in support of geeks than they are their own self-interest. Shouldn’t fans of a baseball team be looking after themselves? A team like the Dodgers has gone through multiple ownership changes over the past three decades and so much money has come in via record attendance, increased parking, concessions and merchandise fees, massive TV deals that don’t allow the games to be televised to the majority of the market and any savings planned by playing inexpensive prospects (from previous regimes). As a fan, when I yell out the window like that guy in the movie Network, that I’m as mad as hell… I believe it’s my right as a fan. I would never consider, for example, screaming how awesome a polo shirt wearing dork from Tampa or Oakland is. Yet, the game has changed, and many do just that.

Again, it’s not just the uninformed, there are some real fans swept up in this. Longtime fans – fans over 40 years old – fans who actually witnessed Dodgers greatness in their lifetime and know all too much about the roots dating back to Flatbush. Fans by their very nature, I guess, want to believe. You can’t fault them for that. I do fault them for supporting sleazy executives however over their own best interests.

It’s too early to say what will happen in 2017. It depends, as I noted, whether the front office is sent packing (won’t happen) or they learned from the past. If neither of those things happen, 2017 will be less successful than 2016 just based on the unlikelihood of the entire division phoning it in again. If the Giants add Kenley Jansen, or if the Boston exec who is taking over the Diamondbacks does anything, that alone would make it harder to repeat the success of this year. I have hinted what should have been done and what needs to be done – innings need to be added to the rotation. Reliable, solid innings. It will require bold moves and trades, since signing good pitchers to free-agent contracts apparently escaped the draft pick hoarding dummies the Dodgers employ. It will require finally getting that Ryan Braun for Yasiel Puig (and of course more, Puig has proven he needs to be gone) deal or something like it, so a big right handed presence is added to the lefty heavy lineup. It will mean adding some youth and speed to the top of the order, probably at second base (oh for Dee Gordon or Jose Peraza, huh?). It will mean lopping off frequent DL guys who almost never are healthy and on the active roster.

The Dodgers, we are told, have all the financial wherewithal in the world and want to win. I see cheapness, I see intensely stupid spending. I would like to see that turn into smarter spending, healthier bodies, more positive results and less of the magic potion Friedman and Zaidi and Josh Byrnes and Gabe Kapler and all the rest of them giggle feverishly and try to concoct in their nerd lab. There’s a reason the game was largely unchanged for more than a century, the formula is pretty simple. The tinkering, looking sideways, squinting and trying to be overly clever was devised for teams with no other possible option. A team, going through a near 30-year drought without a championship, with the highest payroll in sports, and more money in the kitty than anyone, should not be building this way. The experiment in Los Angeles is frustrating and ugly. Let’s use some smarts. “Moneyballer” Theo Epstein was wise enough to understand this – turning impossible situations in Boston and now in Chicago around. I guess the question is, how smart (stubborn) are Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi? Or the Guggenheim Group, for that matter.

The Cavalry is Coming?

May 10, 2016 3 comments

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A friend of mine shared one of the well-known Dodgers pundits on social media slamming fans for getting too high over Dodgers wins and too low over their losses. I agree with that; it’s something I have commented on for years. Baseball is a slow moving game, a 6-month marathon, in the midst of a culture of quick-fix personalities. Football is 16 games and hyped to the max, so fans feel a need to live and die for their team every Sunday. They bring that mentality to baseball, which lends itself to sitting in the sun, chewing sunflower seeds and talking about everything in the world but the game. Social media has easily exacerbated the problem.

 

Where this beloved pundit and I disagree is his next line that the Dodgers will be fine because they have all this great help coming. He points out to the rehab of guys like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Mike Bolsinger and the bullpen arm of Frankie Montas. To assume all of these guys will come back, without a hitch, and buoy the Dodgers sagging pitching rotation and bullpen is wishful thinking at best. Just to believe they will all make it back and contribute in any meaningful way is fairly ridiculous.

 

Of the four, Ryu is the best but let’s face it; damaged shoulders (as I’ve told you countless times in previous articles) are career killers. That his year off has been pushed to May or June is not a good sign. I love Ryu and would love to see him defeat the odds, but believing the current pitching woes of the Dodgers will be fixed immediately by Ryu isn’t likely.

 

McCarthy wasn’t very good when he was healthy, and if the other Brandon’s (Beachy) rehab is any yardstick, the Dodgers will be lucky to get anything serviceable out of McCarthy in 2016.

 

Bolsinger? A nice story last year (his upside apparently was a .500 record and ERA pushing 4) but he’s a career 7-12 with 4.23 ERA. Maybe an improvement over Alex Wood and Ross Stripling, perhaps even “#2 starter” Scott Kazmir and his near 6 ERA, but none of this is saying a lot.

 

That leaves Montas – a big hard thrower that of course could be intriguing, but he’s done nothing in the bigs and has trouble throwing strikes. Coming off an injury doesn’t help. To think a $236M Dodgers team is pinning its hopes on an unproven like Montas and the aforementioned injured starters is just sad.

 

Could some of these guys surprise and improve the team’s sorry pitching? I guess so. I love Ryu, like I said, so if anyone could, perhaps he might. But to think a badly damaged shoulder will just miraculously be healed and he will step in without question and dominate, well, that’s not likely. I wouldn’t bet on McCarthy being worth the $48M braindead Andrew Friedman gave him either and well, Bolsinger is just a guy.

 

It’s time to be honest and admit the Dodgers are not a very good team. I agree with this pundit – you shouldn’t get overly excited when they win and pull your hair out when they lose. Baseball runs from spring training in mid-February to the post-season in October. That is a long time. In a time of social media instant gratification and having access to ways to get your every thought out doesn’t help. Patience, grasshopper, patience.

 

The Dodgers will excite one night, look miserable the next and that bullpen will drive you to drink. The games are not on TV for most of the city and Vin Scully’s swan song is going unheard. If you are over the moon excited about this and the prospect that Brandon McCarthy will beat the odds Brandon Beachy did not, all the more power to you. I’d say you would be better off focusing on finals, getting ready for summer barbecues and beach outings, Marvel superhero movies and perhaps picking up a good book. This Dodgers team is mediocre. The brain trust, and I use that term ironically, concocted a roster full of garbage and extra pieces. The cavalry isn’t going to ride in and save the day. Rather than waiting for that to happen, pray for a mid-season trade, or, wait out this regime’s dying breaths. As Richard Crenna said in the first Rambo movie, “It’s over, Johnny. It’s over!”

2015 – Our Longshots are Better than Yours

December 31, 2014 2 comments

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Happy New Year’s to Dodgers fans. I hope 2015 is brighter than 2014, which to me at least was another unsatisfactory year. No TV while all the advertising was of every game, from spring training on, available + loads of extras by the crack new TV team. In my world, the advertising and hype was like a kick in the nuts. Vin Scully forced to shill for this new product, knowing no one was watching, even in his own home. Then lots of promises from the Guggenheim group and Stan Kasten and another quick ouster from the playoffs, perhaps more humiliating than the year before. No adjustments in season, no attention to defense, or chemistry. Now a new dawn. Geniuses from all corners will right the ship that the last genius (Kasten) couldn’t, and perhaps made worse.

2015 has to be better – unless it’s not. There are pro’s and con’s to what’s happened so far, and we’re still months away from knowing fully what the new year’s edition of the blue will be. Right now, I understand – in principle – what they’re doing, but then again, like the latest Paul Thomas Anderson movie, I’m don’t. The Sabergeeks are wetting themselves because naturally any move one of their kind makes is infinitely smarter than any move a hero of ours could make. What was there had to have been shit, in order to accept the changes made by the new suits. Dee Gordon stunk! Forget that he reinvented his game, made Billy Hamilton eat his dust and was not only the bigs’ base stealing champ but also an All-Star in his first year at a new position. He stunk because speed isn’t loved by Moneyballers and because Andrew Friedman and friends said so. Of course a year of Howie Kendrick for almost $10M is better than 4 more low-cost, controllable years of Dee running wild. What about after 2015, when Kendrick can leave if he wants to? Who cares? Anyone is better than Dee! Or so they’d have us believe.

Dan Haren was useless! Useless, Friedman says! And so, an expensive, oft-injured Brandon McCarthy and even more fragile Brett Anderson are a vast improvement. Never mind Hyun-Jin Ryu threw less innings in 2014 than he did in 2013 and had injuries that put him on the DL twice and Haren’s brittle body was of less value than McCarthy and Anderson’s upside. Oh, wait – Haren wasn’t brittle? Never mind. It’s all above our IQ pay grade – Friedman and team know potential and looking sideways at a stats sheet is the real currency baseball geniuses deal with. What happens if Ryu, McCarthy and Anderson all get hurt? Well, mediocre journeymen have been acquired for just that purpose. Anyone could have signed James Shields, Jon Lester or Max Scherzer – that’s the cowardly way to go. Better to work on guys whose “counting stats” aren’t that great but have the ability to beat the odds. These kinds of guys are ringers that real baseball minds know can be counted on. Unless they’re guys who already were in-house and therefore need to be jettisoned. You know – Haren, Brian Wilson, Brandon League, Erisbel Arruebarrena, etc. are all iffy, but Juan Nicasio, game-fixer Chin-hui Tsao, Sergio Santos and Enrique “Kike” (?) Hernandez are untapped potential.

On the surface of it, a rotation that includes Ryu with a shoulder concern, 4 years of McCarthy and Anderson may not seem secure, but what is? A bullpen that might be Kenley Jansen, JP Howell, Chris Hatcher, Joel Peralta, Nicasio and Tsao may not seem World Series caliber, but who can say? Ours is not to reason why…

The Dodgers so far have addressed some things that on the greater scope need not have been addressed. Normally when a rebuild like this is made it’s to get the team competitive and to win regular season games. Moneyball’s concept is to get the team to the dance and once there, hopefully have a chance. Any mathematician knows once in the playoffs anything can happen, and it’s too hard to predict. i.e. Wild Card teams have commonly went deep into the post-season. The 2014 Dodgers, with all their bulk and bloat and massive egos did win 94 games (losing 68). The problem, one could argue broadly wasn’t the regular season, but the post-season – you know, the part that is hard to predict. It’s unlikely the team Friedman and members assembled will win 94+ games. On the face of it, the team is worse in several areas, not better. That said, they are apparently putting a spin on the traditional rebuild and building for the harder to predict Oct games. And here, I guess, is where you can look at what’s been done and say the team may be improved over what was trotted out this past Oct.

Addition by subtraction – without big bats and big egos like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp, the Dodgers have jettisoned two guys Don Mattingly probably couldn’t get through to, and certainly not manage effectively. Replacing those guys essentially with veterans like Jimmy Rollins and Kendrick, and a young, hungry Joc Pederson, the team may be not only better balanced, but less volatile. Donnie may be able to get through to these guys, who shouldn’t have any reason to push back on him. i.e. Joc will be happy to be there and not throw a hissy fit if asked to move to left field for some reason. Likewise, Rollins and Kendrick, while not spectacular, are professionals who won’t make demands like Hanley probably did. So this alone helps Oct play – a bit – IF the 2015 team, with the rotation so far assembled, and the pen so far mixed together, can win enough regular season games to get there. That remains to be seen.

Some of the fans of big brains running teams are in love with most every move the new regime has made. They don’t see any problem paying for many different players to leave because they were just “that bad.” I would argue that a responsible executive would try to get the most in return for players and pay the least to make it happen. If it takes eating salary, that should mean getting more back in players. To me this isn’t old math or new math, its common sense. While I said forever that a team feasibly built on pitching should also have a strong defensive presence, as well as a good mix of veterans and kids and therefore chemistry, and I am not complaining about Kemp being moved, I will say the return seems slight and sending him within the division is unfortunate. If the idea was to move Kemp within the West, I would have chosen Arizona, where Miguel Montero could have been had, vs. a PED using catcher like Yasmani Grandal, whose numbers haven’t been nearly as impressive as Montero’s.

I don’t want to go through each deal again, but outside of perhaps the Kendrick for Dee deal (essentially), I don’t see one that the Dodgers can honestly say they “won.” And like I noted, there’s a lot of reason to argue the Dee deal was terrible. Time will tell. I just wonder how this new team can win 94+ games – the number it would take to improve on the 2014 regular season. I guess that number is less important than making the playoffs and advancing due to more balance of offense and defense, less egos and a better blend of veterans and kids. If, however, we get through 2015 and the Dodgers don’t win the West, or even make the playoffs, or get there and are immediately sent packing as they have the past two years, it would be safe to assume the smarter pedigree suits failed both in terms of improving the product on the field, but also financially (I don’t see payroll going down in any of this).

Maybe it’s all a moot point, as most of us have no reason to assume there will be any more TV for fans of the Dodgers than in 2014. It’s odd that as a Steelers fan living in Los Angeles I saw probably half the team’s games this year – without an NFL package – but got to watch just a few Dodgers games. Again, living in Los Angeles, and a team that plays and televises close to 200 games – pre, regular and post season – vs. a team that plays under 20 and plays on the other side of the country. To me, no matter what all the new geniuses bring to the table, it’s hugely embarrassing this can happen. And NOT a way to treat fans who have been consistently abused for much of the past 30 years, and certainly NO WAY to treat Vin Scully in what may be his final year of calling the Dodgers. I’ve been very patient, as have many fans, but it’s time to show us something. Let’s start with games on TV we can all watch.

Happy New Year, friends and fans. May 2015 be less sucky than the past years have been.

Save Yourself a Headache, Don’t Try to Figure Out the Dodgers Moves Just Yet

December 11, 2014 Comments off

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Wheeling and dealing, left and right. A fun time of the baseball year.

I’ll start this edition by saying trying to make sense of today’s Dodgers moves is futile since they’re part of a bigger makeover. So analyzing the specifics right now isn’t worth it. Wait, wait and see what happens next and more, what the thing looks like when the smoke clears.

On the face of it, here are some random comments about deals and rumors of deals we’ve heard today…

Losing Dee Gordon is a big loss in terms of a catalyst, a kid who finally got it under Maury Wills’ watchful eye, and a fun player to watch. He will wreak havoc atop a fun Miami Marlins lineup – good for him, going to a good home. Those who say trading high on Dee was smart and he tired in the second half, or got lucky, well, you’re entitled to your opinion and you’re partially right. Trading high, like the Dodgers may next on Matt Kemp, is always a smart move. Not sure about the haul they got back, but regardless of who “won” the trade, Dee was the Dodgers position player MVP last season imo, all due respect to A-Gone and half-season Matty. Speed kills. Speed changes games. Speed makes pitchers nervous. Speed makes fielders nervous. Speed makes #2 hitters better as they get fastballs – something that was evident last year as the Dodgers #2 hitters thrived. Dee played a very solid defense, even though lazy pundits tonight have said he didn’t. I suspect they only know his defense from his shortstop days. I’ve heard Andrew Friedman said Dee was poor defensively. If this is true, Friedman didn’t watch Dee either and is wrong. Dee’s a good player and I hope he runs wild in Miami. I hope the Fish are a surprise NL power as they’ve certainly collected a nice group of players over there. Dee will be missed, because unlike many of the players on the team, Dee loved being here and was a joy to see each day.

Not sure how Brandon McCarthy for four years is better than Dan Haren for one. I guess I’m not a big brain like the Moneyball gang the Dodgers have assembled. McCarthy will be the 5 starter, or perhaps 4, depending on whether they add Cole Hamels and/or trade Zack Greinke.

If they add Hamels, they have Greinke insurance – two dominant lefties at the top of the rotation. Hyun-Jin Ryu had shoulder injuries twice last year and it’s reasonable to think he will be hurt in 2015, at least spend some time on the DL. So maybe you have Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Hamels, with McCarthy, Andrew Heaney and others behind that if Ryu is hurt, or they move Greinke rather than wait for him to probably opt out after 2015. So then your rotation is Kershaw, Hamels, Ryu, McCarthy and the rest. As you can see, a lot depends on Ryu’s health and whether Greinke is around. i.e. big names, but still a little confusing to me.

I am not a fan necessarily of what I’m seeing but given the Dodgers were embarrassed two straight Octobers, I don’t mind any changes. I hope they don’t deal Joc Pederson or Corey Seager, but almost anyone else is ok with me. The folks enamored with celebrity hottie Matt Kemp moving to San Diego, likely in a three-team deal with Philadelphia, need to realize the Dodgers weren’t winning with him. If you could trade high on a young, cheap All-Star like Dee, you can trade high on an expensive, sometimes pouty, injury-marred Kemp. The fact of the matter is Kemp could bring back Hamels and maybe a catcher, and there are a lot of outfielders around beside him. He’s a luxury item that can be parlayed into another luxury item and clear space in the crowded outfield. My only thing is dealing Kemp within the division will no doubt come back to haunt the Dodgers as Kemp, if he stays healthy, is the kind of guy who will rise to the occasion vs. the blue. But, San Diego has to find a way to attract a big bat to spacious Petco and Philadelphia needs to move Hamels and get younger – so…

I know Yasmani Grandal’s name is bandied about as the next Dodgers catcher and I understand his value, especially as a power bat, but I wish Friedman instead got Miguel Montero. Better catcher, better hitter, not a proven PED cheat. I do like the idea of replacing Kemp and Hanley’s “big bats” (and big egos!) by spreading the offense around more evenly (KC style!) – some at catcher, some at shortstop, some probably at second (if/when Dodgers add Chase Utley). So assuming the dust clears and Kemp and Hanley are gone but Grandal, Jimmy Rollins and Utley are added, also allowing Joc to play, you might have a more balanced attack looking something like…

Rollins SS
Crawford LF (SVS vs. lefties)
Utley 2B Kendrick 2B***
A-Gone 1B
Puig RF
Uribe 3B
Joc CF
Grandal C

As you can see it’s more evenly distributed, with no need for those two “big bats”. Plus, decent defensively.

Anyway, these are some of my initial thoughts. I don’t like the pen and hope they fix that, and probably some of the long men they’ve added and other arms acquired as second parts of recent deals may address that. Teams need bullpens, and the Dodgers is not good. The rotation is a work in progress and I’m not as confident with all those big names as some are because I don’t know which will be there, and which might be hurt.

I do appreciate the interest in tweaking something that wasn’t working. Dodger fans are creatures of habit, so they don’t understand what is happening. They like to wave the foam fingers and talk about how hot Kemp is. The Dodgers have not been a serious contender and have been soft. Not sure if all this change will help – it could create new chaos – but it’s at least interesting to watch.

Unless you hear tomorrow the Dodgers have acquired Cole Hamels and perhaps Chase Utley in a three-team deal with San Diego, sending Matt Kemp to the Padres, don’t try to wrap your head around what’s happened so far. There are months until spring training, and nothing right now is as it appears.

*** Moments after posting this, the Dodgers apparently have flipped Andrew Heaney to Anaheim for Howie Kendrick. I told you not to try to figure any of it out. 🙂