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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.

The Perfect Dodgers Team for this Time and Place

July 17, 2015 Leave a comment

It’s a weird time to be a Dodgers fan, especially if you live in Los Angeles. This is an opinion I have and other longtime fans who are friends of mine share. I don’t think it’s unique, perhaps it’s even widespread, but it doesn’t seem to affect the crowds who still go to Chavez Ravine and cheer nightly. The not-so-new ownership group appears happy that the gate is still successful. Less interested, it seems, is how the brand has held up within Los Angeles and most likely nation and worldwide. The games, as anyone in Los Angeles knows, are not on television for most of the city for a second straight season. That should be appalling and big news considering how the Dodgers always billed themselves as affordable and family-friendly entertainment. Yet, due to apathy and other options, the fans have resided to the fact. I imagine those that want to see the Dodgers attend games live and those who are tired of the mistreatment that dates back to the end of the O’Malley era, have given up. I know for myself and most of my friends who have been Dodgers fans all of our lives, it’s the latter.

The current Dodgers are the perfect team for this time and place in our history. Years ago I started writing and then tweeting about the Dodgers. I began Dodger Therapy as a place where frustrated and abused fans could share like opinions on the constant tragedy surrounding being a Dodgers fan. Of course our pain is not quite what say a Chicago Cubs fan has endured, but nonetheless it’s been a painful journey. My therapy “business” thrived, especially during the comically awful and dangerous days under Frank McCourt’s ownership. Fans enjoyed my taking McCourt to task and took their spots on my virtual couch to vent. Eventually the team was sold to an investment group that used famous smiling local hero Magic Johnson to make the medicine go down more easily. The Guggenheim group won back fans who were frightened to go to games for fear of bodily injury and death and promised a return to Dodgers greatness. It all sounded very good and even the more cynical – like me and my friends – were excited by the possibilities of deep pockets, free-agent signings and a return to the “Dodgers way” of doing things.

My business on Dodger Therapy slowed as there were less “patients” who felt like venting. I wasn’t unhappy to lose them since perhaps the purpose of my endeavor was over and my “patients” got better and were happy. Along the way, I cheered with the rest of them but occasionally would point out what seemed like obvious truths to me but were less obvious to people probably with more well-rounded lives that spent far less time analyzing their local baseball team. My geek friends understood the points I was making and the on field moves management was making. Of course when Stan Kasten orchestrated a massive trade with the Boston Red Sox, infusing the withered Dodgers lineup with stars and large salaries, it was exciting and a statement maker. It told all of Major League Baseball that the Dodgers had arrived and the team in the country’s 2nd largest market was no longer the bankrupt, pathetic and crucified in the press punching bag it had become under previous ownership.

Fans flocked through the gates to watch the team again and pretty instantaneously things seemed more legitimate. The fans and the team got a swagger that was perhaps welcome after years of gloom and lawsuits but premature considering the team hadn’t won anything meaningful since 1988 and even that magical year was an anomaly. I always point to the rust beginning following the breakup of the great 70s team after the 1981 World Series victory. There were nondescript seasons with forgettable players and Peter O’Malley letting the farm rot a bit while he tried to get an NFL team onto the Dodger Stadium grounds. Then of course was the sad sale to corporate entity Fox, who admittedly didn’t care at all about baseball or the fans, they just wanted to leverage the team to launch a new all sports television network in the area. Under Fox’ reign a poorly chosen general manager, Kevin Malone, spent ineffectively on a roster of expensive, aging and ill-conceived players which quickly turned off Fox and the Dodgers payroll spigot. A smart general manager, Dan Evans (who most don’t realize was a data-driven “Moneyball” genius before anyone heard of the term), came in and cleaned up Malone’s mess, constructing a well-rounded roster of good chemistry players, strong pitching, great defense but was a little short on hitting. Fox was already over the baseball business; their TV network launched, and didn’t want to waste any more money on players. Evans’ teams were great fundamentally and fun to watch but always needed that extra bat or two that never came. Evans had to dumpster dive for players like Jeromy Burnitz or an aged Robin Ventura, instead of more prime cutlet.

In that synopsis I glossed over other events of crucial change, such as the nightmarish Mike Piazza trade Fox executives made, etc. Perhaps at another time I could go into things like that but my purpose is to focus on what happened to the Dodgers and their fans. Flash ahead once more to where we sit today. If you attend the games, it’s as exciting as any time in Dodgers history. But that’s only to the 40-50,000 fans at the stadium any given home game. I think beyond that, the brand has definitely been tarnished. Social media due to everything bad about it, allows for lots of bluster and bold commentary due to the availability of sending out one’s every thought conveniently as well as anonymity. I have shut down my therapy “business” as it became wearisome to argue what seemed obvious points about the current state of affairs with those likely too young to have much perception on things before 2015. Occasionally I will still blog and write out long-form takes on what’s wrong with the Dodgers. I get nice feedback and direct messages but it’s like screaming out in the forest with no one around to hear you.

Today’s fans are as bold and cocky as they initially became under Guggenheim. To read Dodgers fans tweets and comments during and after games, one would think they were the team that has won 3 recent championships, and not the hated San Francisco Giants. They strut and talk trash as if they’re St. Louis Cardinals or Boston Red Sox fans. It’s nice to be passionate about your team but when your team’s last World Series win was before most of the current fans were even born, perhaps a little humility and dare I say class is in order. It made me happy to see the long-suffering Kansas City Royals fans – a better blue and white colored team than the Dodgers – finally get over the hump. Ironically, the exciting and well-rounded Royals played winning ball in the manner Dan Evans earlier Dodgers teams used to. The strong rotation, the incredible and deep bullpen, the timely hitting and wonderful defense. I watched through a time machine prism and recalled those fun days of Evans’ incredible middle infield glove work of Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora. The Royals are a great team with terrific chemistry, deserving and classy fans and the story of 2014 was a great one for anyone who claims to be a baseball fan.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, and their fans, thrilled in pre-game musical concerts, dancing players, general merriment and bubble machines. It was like watching Rocky III where Rocky Balboa had gotten comfortable and lazy and mugged for the camera with adoring fans cheering, while hungry and street wise Clubber Lang went about business in a very serious and determined manner. I say the current Dodgers are the perfect team for this time and place because their superficiality serves to feed the younger and less history bound fans. Dancing and mugging players are easily identifiable because they fit in nicely with the fans’ day to day interests, which includes an overabundance of time spent on social media, taking selfies and pseudo celebrities such as the Kardashian/Jenners, Miley, Bieber, Ariana Grande and so forth. “Hot” Matt Kemp dancing and flexing his biceps, dating a pop star and posting photos of himself in GQ clothing made him the perfect sports celebrity – forget the fact he hadn’t done much on the field in years. Yasiel Puig showboating and ignoring veteran players and coaches comments to settle down while acting like one of Bieber’s posse was great. Hanley Ramirez phoning it in and taking 20 minutes to walk to the plate while music played thrilled everybody. To older and fans weary of years of bullshit, it was merely annoying.

The Guggenheim gang obviously must have agreed in some way as they pushed bald and formerly dubbed “genius” Stan Kasten aside, as well as thickly mustached 2nd fiddle Ned Colletti and brought in young Tampa Bay Rays Andrew Friedman to take over. Friedman, a data-driven sort to say the least, hired a group of like-minded young whiz kids to help remake the Dodgers. There were more executives hired over the winter than new players. The Dodgers front office became as bloated with needless levels of executive control as the fattest corporations in the country. One wonders what each of these hires do since obviously Friedman runs the show. And if Kasten was not the answer, why is he still on the payroll? Why is Colletti? It would seem Guggenheim has money to burn and prefers to not admit having made a mistake by hiring Kasten to run their new and exciting baseball team.

Over the winter I was suspicious since I had already seen the newish ownership group promise the moon and deliver a bubble wafting dance party instead. I was impressed though when Friedman, like me, obviously saw that Kemp and Hanley were part of the team’s on field problem, as well as likely off field. Those two were sent packing – I think a year too late – but Puig remained. His incredible athletic talent, and perhaps without the enabling shenanigans of more senior stars Kemp and Hanley, should fall in line. Of course one could have argued (I did) that Puig’s trade value while his statistics were high would have meant a great opportunity to deal him. To think, at one time Puig probably could have netted Giancarlo Stanton straight up in a trade. Puig has had a challenging season so far with injuries and the admission by players (buy Molly Knight’s new book, “The Best Team Money Can Buy”) that his antics are not well-received in the clubhouse. On a team that smartly doesn’t want to deal its star minor leaguers, Puig offers a huge trade chip that could help fill holes in Friedman’s pitching rotation and bullpen. Oh, about that…

Friedman’s reign has been a mixed bag so far. I commend him for initially doing exactly what I suggested hundreds of times in my blog posts and tweets. He pushed out a couple of the obvious clubhouse rotten eggs and played the kids. I suggested as much all of 2014 and was mocked by the new brand of Dodgers “fans” who liked their bubble dancing and cocky stars. After all, they were perfect examples of Los Angeles celebrities and such behavior, where once embarrassing on a baseball field, was now social media gold. So for me to suggest Kemp and his model looks and Hanley with his lack of interest in hustle and defense should be gone, made me a villain to many. I argued any decent shortstop and Joc Pederson replacing Kemp in the outfield would make for a much better defensive team that would save runs and therefore be more valuable than the offensive-minded and often not so productive stars the team currently had. Friedman came in and said he valued defense and thought saving runs was as valuable as scoring runs, plus the chemistry boost of adding young Joc and old man Jimmy Rollins would boost the chemistry of the team that had been suffering. Hmm, sounded vaguely familiar. I also argued all of last year that rather than aging and ineffective relief pitchers, the Dodgers should call up some of the lively young arms in their farm system. When Friedman went with Yimi Garcia, Paco Rodriguez, Pedro Baez, etc., he was deemed a genius. Another one that sort of smarted for a non-Moneyball old “therapist” who just uses common sense to guide his baseball opinions.

Where Friedman lost me however was in his approach to the pitching staff as well as his return in many of his off-season moves. Quickly, Dee Gordon was a young All-Star second baseman who led the league in steals and exciting moments on the base paths. He also was a good defender at second base and surprisingly suddenly a fan favorite to the nouveau fans who made it seem like they discovered him sitting at the counter of Schwab’s Drugstore (an old reference the vaping, selfie taking young fans won’t understand). I was very happy for Dee, who I rallied behind before he was called up originally, all through his various shortstop experiments that never took off and during the winter prior to 2014 when he was reinventing himself diligently as a second baseman. His winter regiment was impressive, his spring training amazing, and it carried over through the majority of 2014 where the bandwagon got full of supporters. Of course the minute by minute Dodgers fans who don’t understand baseball is a 162 game journey and shouldn’t be scrutinized daily as say a Sunday NFL game is, got on Dee when he had some bumps. Ultimately, he was clearly the best thing about the 2014 Dodgers not named Clayton Kershaw. He excited the fans, the team, and the city and made one see a connection between the great Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers way of the past.

Friedman, like all Moneyball types, doesn’t value the running game and probably also believed Dee was a great sell high candidate. Dee’s 2015 so far has proven he was not a flash in the pan at all but a great young second baseman who has the most hits in baseball at the break and is on pace for a huge year in stolen bases. I have minor problem with Friedman moving the team’s leadoff hitter who wreaked havoc with opposing pitchers, catchers and managers, but if Friedman felt he could get something great for Dee and honestly believed he would come back to Earth, I can see the argument for trading him. But the Florida deal that also threw in reliable bottom of the rotation starter Dan Haren, plus about $13M in salary, did not net nearly what Dee and Haren are worth. Supporters of the trade point to veteran Howie Kendrick, who has been very good for the Dodgers. Kendrick obviously was more of a middle of the order run producer that Friedman valued and you can also argue has certainly done more than an adequate job so far in 2015. The problem is he is a walk free-agent and Dee is young and controlled so for that reason alone, not to mention the hole at leadoff for the Dodgers, the deal wasn’t great. I would think you could do more if you wanted to move a young All-Star second baseman than Friedman did.

The acquisition in the deal of relief pitcher Chris Hatcher was supposedly what really would make the deal great. Hatcher was seen as a Kansas City Royals type flamethrower who could come out of the pen and set up for closer Kenley Jansen. He’s been a major disappointment and stayed on the roster longer than he should have to save face for Friedman. He throws hard, but he’s erratic and his fastball straight. Older Dodgers fans will recall straight throwing guys like Antonio Osuna as basically pitching machines. Note to Friedman – big league hitters can hit fastballs that don’t move well. No matter how hard they are thrown.

Losing Dan Haren – and paying his $10M salary to boot – has proved to be a blunder. Friedman obviously did not respect the numbers of Haren’s and treated him as if he were a piece of trash. Ironically, the Dodgers would love to have a Haren type in their shaky bottom of the rotation, just not Haren. Perhaps if Haren changed his name, Friedman could take a victory lap if he acquired him. But no, better to try out a string of AAAA guys in the rotation and bullpen, costing the Dodgers games. Haren was replaced with always injured Brandon McCarthy and also gimpy Brett Anderson. Anderson has been very solid but McCarthy, predictably, was not. He is out for 2015 and won’t factor in much in 2016, rehabbing a Tommy John surgery. McCarthy was a player to avoid anyway, but Friedman generously signed him to a 4-year contract based on a successful second half last year in New York. The numbers, unlike Haren’s, must have appealed to Friedman.

Friedman’s risk of signing two mostly injured starting pitchers was a gamble, but more ludicrous given the fact #3 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was clearly not long for the mound. His 2014 included several serious shoulder concerns that lo and behold sent him to the DL for the season. Shoulders, for those who don’t know much about pitching injuries, are notoriously bad. Ask Jason Schmidt, whose career was cut short due to shoulder problems. Ryu never was going to stay healthy for 2015, which I wrote about endlessly during the off-season. When he got hurt, and McCarthy went out, fans and Dodgers management played it that it was a surprising thing no one could have expected. Again, read my blog posts and tweets – all of this was called well in advance like Babe Ruth’s famous shot.

Unlike Dan Evans who could look beyond the numbers, Friedman clearly believes some statistical blip he sees makes pitchers more valuable than they actually are. To me, someone who isn’t a mathematical genius but who has closely followed baseball too much for too long, being healthy and taking the mound are sorely undervalued traits. Dan Haren had value because he took the ball and mostly gave you a chance to win ballgames. Wins in today’s atmosphere of fans and fantasy baseball devotees, is a term that means nothing. If you mention a pitcher’s wins or even say “gives you a chance to win”, you are immediately pounced on like the new boy in prison. In reality, winning a game and giving your team a chance to win a game by throwing a quality start are hugely important. Not to mention health. I would rather have a healthy pitcher than an unhealthy one, almost regardless of some mathematical equation. Haren staying healthy in 2015, winning games for a less than spectacular Miami Marlins team, and giving them the chance to win in others, has proved to be a valuable commodity. The Marlins are talking about trading Haren – who again, the Dodgers are paying for in full – and getting prospects in return. So it could work out that Friedman paid $22M this year for Haren and McCarthy, neither having an impact for the Dodgers, while the Marlins get players in return. And Friedman has to find someone like Haren to fill out the bottom of the rotation for the summer, just not Haren. And of course to acquire this not-Haren pitcher, it will cost the Dodgers talent – likely younger players they’d like to keep.

As it is now, the Dodgers are in first in the West and often mentioned as one of the likely World Series contenders coming out of the National League. The record supports this. But a fan that is more honest can see the Dodgers have not done well in 2015 against good baseball teams. They have fattened up on bad teams, which is nice, but done poorly against the rest. Their division, where they are sitting on top, is very weak. The Giants have one of their lesser performing teams in recent years and unless they make deals this month to change that, are the closest thing to a challenge the Dodgers have. As usual, the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres are not contenders. One has to wonder if the Dodgers were in the National League Central, where they might sit.

Fans took their victory laps when a group of Dodgers were selected to the All-Star game. To many, this is their World Series. Winning the West or putting their heroes into the All-Star festivities are enough. Like more disciplined teams, I prefer what happens in October, which for recent Dodgers teams hasn’t been much to crow about. Though – oddly – the fans have. They have rewritten history that Clayton Kershaw did not collapse twice in a row vs. the Cardinals and they took glee that Scott Van Slyke won a standing in place contest against former Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly. To me, the October series against the Cardinals the past couple of years were supremely embarrassing and no reason to boast on social media. That fans would like this is troubling, but that the Dodgers themselves camped it up on the cusp of being eliminated from the post-season, is deeply concerning and indicative of everything wrong with the Dodgers. i.e. fans like things they should be mad about and players laugh it up when a better team – in this case, the Cardinals – just went out and won important games.

Again, it’s hard to be a Dodgers fan in a city where you can’t even turn on your television and watch a game. It’s hard to express an opinion and get attacked for it because it’s not about GQ photo shoots and bubble machines. I think the Dodgers have their work cut out for them and we will see pretty quickly as their post All-Star break schedule is chock full of top National League opponents. It’s quite possible they will rise to the occasion and continue to stay atop the National League West. If that happens, I was not wrong. They will still need to do better in October, and that includes Clayton Kershaw who is one of the best pitchers alive but so far has not done what great aces in recent years have done – put the team on their back and won important October games. Earlier this year it was said how Kershaw had surpassed former Dodger great and current Dodgers broadcaster (who few can see or hear due to the incompetence of Guggenheim’s TV pact with Time-Warner Cable) Orel Hershiser in Los Angeles strikeouts. It seemed the note was to suggest Kershaw is better than even beloved Orel Hershiser was. Until Kershaw mans up and guts out October contests and wins a title for the Dodgers, Hershiser is still the better pitcher in my opinion. Yes, there’s something to be said for winning. One could say, no matter the sport, ultimately that’s all that matters. Data be damned.

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.