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The Slow Boat is Painted Dodger Blue

January 27, 2017 2 comments

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I hope everyone is doing well and surviving the election craziness with the post-election craziness. I decided, to lighten the mood, I would put together a few thoughts on the Dodgers recent moves and non-moves, for anyone who cares. If you disagree, hate me or are merely stupefied, feel free to move on to another blog. My feelings won’t be hurt. With that said, on with the show.

So Fangraphs came out with their usual prediction of Dodgers superiority. Gee, I wonder why geeks obsessed with Saber data would keep picking a team with a brain- (uggh) trust full of geeks obsessed with Saber data. Let me think about that for a moment. Ok, forget it.

The source is as suspect as you would think. If you agree with the obsession with data vs. reality, that’s all well and good. You are entitled to your opinion, and I mine. As hosts of one of the MLB Network Radio shows said the other day, Fangraphs has their opinions and they believe the Dodgers are the best team in baseball but unfortunately in reality games are not played on spreadsheets and real injuries and likely DL stints do matter. They said the Cubs don’t have these concerns, the Dodgers do. I’d also add, no matter what data you are looking at, you are either high or dumb to assume the Dodgers current pitching staff is championship quality.

I had a little back and forth with some folks recently who disagree and hold Fangraphs up as a Scientologist holds up L. Ron Hubbard’s work, and as you can imagine, that went nowhere. They insisted that “every analyst agrees” that the Dodgers are better than the Cubs and the favorite to win it all. I believe this was the same case made last year, but my main point of contention is that I listen to pretty much every show on MLB Network Radio, at some point during a week, and I have yet to hear anyone “agree” with Fangraphs assessment. In fact, I hear the opposite.

I hear a lot of questioning why Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi would deal the same blue chip they planned for “baseball’s best second baseman”, Brian Dozier, in a deal for Logan Forsythe. As I’ve pointed out, the Dodgers had Dee Gordon, then had Howie Kendrick, then had José Peraza, and then Howie again and still found a way to have no second baseman, necessitating moving José De León for one.

I guess one could argue they solved all their problems if they added Dozier or even Ian Kinsler. But is it the same marked improvement getting Forsythe, a 30-year-old journeyman with a .255 career average and some question about his glove?

This is not to bash Forsythe, who I can see being an upgrade over Chase Utley and that bum who hit .190 but has nude photos apparently of the front office and therefore keeps making the roster, but is it worth passing on three guys we had and dealing a prospect that could have come in handy at some point either for the rotation or another deal – to get Forsythe?

Someone I heard referred to Forsythe as a kid. Umm, 30 is not a kid. In fact this morning the GM show on MLB Network Radio mocked how genius Tampa’s GM was to turn a 30 year old second baseman into an elite pitching prospect, age 24.

I am of the opinion, and I’ve said it many times, prospects are currency. This discussion is not about holding onto prospects, De León or most any other. I understand that a farm should ideally cultivate future big leaguers for your roster, as well as be used to deal for parts you might need. Holding onto every prospect is not to be applauded, it’s foolish. So a problem I have with the Dodgers front office is taking the slow boat in everything they do. Keep what you want, deal what you don’t. Surely even the Dodgers front office understands not each prospect will be a superstar. But perhaps, just maybe, you could deal some of them for useful parts – before their value is gone.

I have no real problem with dealing De León for Forsythe and again, suspect it will be some improvement over the mess at second base last season. That said, I don’t know if one can say it’s improvement over Dee, Peraza or even Howie (and in Howie’s defense, I say that meaning the longtime second base fixture Howie, not the utility fielding occasional player Friedman created last year).

My issue, or better, comment is that as always, the Dodgers seem to take the long route to everything. A guy like Theo Epstein comes in, with many fewer resources than Friedman inherited, and gets to work fast. Within a few years the team is completely made over and winning a championship. It’s not the time only, it’s the approach. Problems are fixed. With the Dodgers, it’s always breaking down what’s unnecessary to break down and trying something new. Money that can be spent on proven big leaguers instead paid to Cuban prospects. Aces dealt. Injury marred pitchers or AAAA nobodies acquired. It all just seems so unnecessarily exhausting.

I suspect if Theo had Dee, he would have kept him. If he felt Dee was a trade high candidate, and somehow he got Peraza, or wanted Howie, I think he would have done that. Friedman and his merry men had to go through 5-6 players to settle on Forsythe – the optimal word here is settle. They hoped to land Dozier, after all.

Again, no offense made to Forsythe, I suspect he will be a decent enough part, not spectacular, but decent. But it is terribly humorous (and sad) to see Friedman apologists spinning this as a genius move. They too wanted Dozier. Friedman made it seem like Dozier (he of the cold streaks that last a month) was the solution. The welcome mat was out, and then Forsythe is acquired. Not for less, mind you, but for the same prospect Dozier was targeted for.

The genius comedy comes from the spin then going to how De León wasn’t that good anyway. I have said many times that scouts have claimed De León was not the Pedro Martinez type many had crowed he was, but perhaps eventually a middle of the rotation starter. No one listened. Now when De León is dealt for Forsythe (why must it always be Tampa, by the way? And Oakland. They made a minor deal with Oakland this week as well – so embarrassing), the story is rewritten that Forsythe is one of the best players ever and De León was nothing special. Ho ho ho

So for whatever it’s worth, the Dodgers infield looks pretty much set. It’s a good infield – there, I said it. It’s got a superstar (Seager) and useful parts. The great depth falls off fast if anything happens to Turner or Forsythe but such is life. I would say the Dodgers infield is not an issue anymore, unless you start wondering about speed. The team’s foot speed and athleticism are still lacking, but then, Sabermetrics doesn’t care about that.

I am of the opinion the Dodgers are marginally better than they were in October, thanks to this trade. I was not impressed with the winter up until now, and I’m still not sure I can say I’m impressed. But, doing something more than retaining your own free-agents, is a start. I would temper anticipation by reminding loyalists that the division has improved and the cake walk the team enjoyed in the West last year might be harder to repeat. So, the question is – has enough been done to repeat as Western division champs, or go all the way, if such ideas are in your head.

I’d say the West is a dogfight with the Dodgers having a chance based mostly on the health of the rotation. The Giants, if I had to guess, look like frontrunners. The Rockies look interesting to. And at some point the Diamondbacks might get their act together.

I think the Dodgers lineup, depending what configuration they use in the outfield, is serviceable. If Yasiel Puig could ever get it together, or a real right-handed power bat in the outfielder were added via trade, I’d be a bigger believer. There are good parts, and some question marks. No one knows what the three outfield spots will look like, or how many outfielders Friedman will run out there to fill those three spots. Twelve?

I’m still a firm believer in things like speed (absent), health (absent) and a deep pitching staff (likely absent). I think you win series in October by lining up well with your competition and what we witnessed last October was hard to watch. I’m not used to seeing starters hoping to “gut their way” through three innings. I’m not used to a bullpen one deep (ok, two – but Blanton likely won’t come back, and his October performance sadly was his lowlight for the year).

I think when you put together a pitching staff you need to think foremost about innings. How many innings can I count on my starters for? If you have a bunch of injured pitchers and potential DL stints, it’s a huge problem. It means your day’s start is in question, as are the games after it, since you likely taxed your pen to make up for the innings your injured starter could not go. i.e. for every suspect member of your rotation, it costs 2-3 days afterward as well. So if you have 2-3 suspect starters, you likely will always be running on fumes. This was the case with the 2016 Dodgers and their spent bullpen that was asked to do too much in October.

You would think the lesson would be learned and a few horses were added to the rotation and a few stoppers to the back of the pen, but it’s virtually the same group we saw last season. Brandon Morrow was brought in on a minor league deal, but he’s just more proof to my point. It is only the end of January, so who knows, perhaps a trick is up Friedman’s sleeve. If so, I’d still say why does he always have to go the long way? Theo certainly wouldn’t.

That’s all I have for now. To summarize – Logan Forsythe may be a fine person and a decent second baseman. He certainly helps compared to what was at second most of last season. That said, as a Dodgers fan you had three answers already around and teased with a bigger fish and ended up with a 30 year old Tampa Ray and it cost you one of the top prospects in the organization. Was it worth it? Only time will tell. I will simply say the dancing around and shuffling of musical chairs was clearly unnecessary. A smarter front office wouldn’t have chosen this route.

I will also remind that this isn’t about holding onto prospects. Some of course you choose and hang onto for dear life – Seager is one, and Bellinger looks to be another. Every prospect a future superstar for your team? Only in some fantasy world. If you pick the guys you want and deal some others for needs, that’s ok. I’d argue that for all the credit he gets as someone holding onto prospects (mostly chosen and developed under Logan White and Ned Colletti), he did deal three to Oakland in July and another to Tampa this week. The net haul is the right to sign Rich Hill for a lot of money and Logan Forsythe. Not sure that’s exactly how you best use this important currency.

Another funny thing from the debate I had the other day. Someone was telling me how De León wasn’t that good anyway and luckily we have Grant Holmes, who will be much better. I had to break it to the guy that Holmes might be better, but he will be better in Oakland.

The final point of comedy I will share this Friday afternoon is a CBS Sports article I saw yesterday, again saying how the Dodgers are better than the Cubs. The article was very firm in that the Dodgers have everything the Cubs had and more and that Friedman and the front office are geniuses. Wow, something other than Fangraphs, saying the exact same thing.

As I am rather skeptical of such rhetoric, I did a quick Google search and found the author (Jonah Keri) of the CBS Sports article had written a book. The topic? What a genius Friedman is and how he transformed the Tampa Rays. Again, consider the source. I have not in all honesty heard such praise on the Dodgers winter or the Dodgers unseating the Cubs anywhere else. I listen to MLB Network Radio fairly regularly, read what the known baseball writers say, etc. but I am not hearing it.

Can the Dodgers win? Well, it’s been three decades and the team does have some good players, so sure, maybe. Would I say they are a favorite? Even in their own division? Would I say they are better than the Cubs? The Indians? The Red Sox? No, I couldn’t say that. They are the same team they were in October, with a new second baseman and a few hail marys added as “depth.” I’d say losing Blanton from the pen and not really replacing him makes it arguably a net negative.

Let’s see what else these guys do. It just shouldn’t take this long. Their route is very unnecessary, which tells me they are either extremely arrogant or clueless. You decide.

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.

MLB Doesn’t Care and Neither Do I

May 1, 2016 2 comments

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The Dee Gordon PED bust is both sad and eye opening. It also opens the door for questions about who else is using and who was but stopped after getting their big payday. A wise friend of mine (@TheDodgerOracle) and I were chatting about this the day we heard the Dee news. We joked (not really) that you have to give Dee credit – he got his $50M payday from the Marlins and still was using. In today’s day and age, that shows integrity. A weird word, we know, when discussing baseball cheats.

We went through a list of all the players who were monsters who suddenly, quickly, faded away – almost all after getting their payday. The list is pretty amazing. As fantasy baseball players know, there used to be a time when guys were first or second round picks, now you see those same names available late in drafts or on waivers. It also used to be that a player was good for a long period of time, reliable, to be counted on in real life or in fantasy, but suddenly their shelf life is only as long as their race for the payday.

You can go through a long list of players who got paid and then disappeared. You can also go through a list of young stars MLB banks on who got paid, but it’s not their last big payday, or they have an opt-out, so they continue to perform. I have my own theories too on the dirty business that is MLB, where generally the guys they catch and suspend are second or third tier, perhaps just to show fans they “do care” about the integrity of the sport.

Dee’s suspension seems like one where they wanted to throw a big name out there, and while a batting champ, a base stealer like Dee isn’t really that big a name to throw out. Well known, sure, but it wouldn’t hurt baseball’s marketing at all if Dee were given up. This is not to defend Dee but if we honestly believe a skinny guy who steals bases is the big cheat of MLB, we’re all in denial.

I wonder how frequently the new commissioner, Rob Manfred, tests more marketable stars such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, aged Big Papi, etc. and if they ever turn a blind eye to the results of those tests? Baseball has done a terrible thing in creating doubt in fans’ minds, so me wondering it isn’t nearly as bad as me being forced to wonder it.

It’s pretty easy to look at players in recent years and guess they might have been on something, and then went off once they were paid. That’s why Dee still using, or doubtfully, starting to use, after getting paid is intriguing. I mean, we’ve seen players get paid, fall off the productivity charts, then perhaps pick up again because their vanity forces them to. I’m talking about players who were great, got paid, sucked, were ridiculed, then got good again. Without saying anyone is guilty or ever used, there are players such as Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano, many others, who fit this bill. Then there are guys who got paid and obviously don’t care anymore, sucking up a team’s financial resources while hitting .220 with marginal power.

The best way for someone to apply data to their fantasy baseball game would be to create a spreadsheet of players and when they got paid, or when they are going to be free-agents and hope to get paid. With that chart, you could analyze who is hungry and playing for the payout and who is flush with cash and isn’t. That, I suspect, directly correlates into who is possibly using PEDs and who was and stopped.

Again, it’s not a perfect science as some guys don’t care about shrinking their balls because the limelight and caliber of groupies as they blow into town on a road trip are better for top players. Barry Bonds kept using (allegedly), Big Mac, Papi (perhaps), etc. You have to hand it to those guys who want the fame so much they will risk cancer and death for their egos.

MLB is a dirty game and one I’ve lost respect for. They obviously don’t care about longtime fans, like me, older fans. They want to appeal to young people and casual fans who just care enough to go to the park, take a few selfies, dance to the between innings music and spend a lot of money. The game used to market to “baseball fans” but it’s now anyone who will show up with a wallet ripe for the picking.

I guess that’s how it has to be to compete with the NFL and NBA, sports that offer a lot more attention span challenged excitement. The demographics of baseball fans is older and while the sport has never made more money, I guess it’s necessary to think long-term and about the next generations of fans.

Exciting players sell, and as long as fans throw out conspiracy theories on cheats, there will have to be a few people handed up here and there, selectively, to make baseball seem honest. I don’t defend Dee for cheating – it’s a terrible letdown – but to assume he’s public enemy #1 in this age of sleight of hand is more than a bit naive.

Even if baseball is honest and trying to catch all the cheats, guys like BALCO president Victor Conte have said that there are plenty of ways players can cheat and not get caught. It could be as simple as being tipped off a test will be coming, or taking quick acting drugs in the morning, which are undetectable by the time the guy goes to the ballpark. I suspect it works that the top guys, like Barry and A-Rod and all the current crop, get the best drug dealers and supply, and guys down the ladder are more on their own. I’m not sure where Dee falls, but his contract is nowhere near as great as the top stars in the game. Make of that what you will.

Since the game appears not to care, neither do I. I have been a baseball fan since childhood and am perfectly content going to college games in recent years and not the big league ones. In Los Angeles, where Moneyball rules and the games are not even televised, it’s very easy not to care very much. Baseball is a dirty business and they are focusing on a fan base that doesn’t care, while turning its back on the one that does. In turn, I’m turning my back on MLB. They don’t care and neither do I.

What is Wrong with Dodgers Fans?

January 1, 2016 12 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Andrew Friedman is on the Clock

November 13, 2015 2 comments

Capture

The hot stove season is here, heating up already for teams that actually have a plan and are going places. The Dodgers meantime are mulling the most manipulative managerial candidates to replace scapegoat Don Mattingly. Andrew Friedman (and his minions) manages from his luxury suite he has to decide between unqualified Gabe Kapler, collegiate manager Darin Erstad (also someone he could control), or Bud Black and Dave Roberts. The latter two could be forced to listen to Friedman’s superior metrics but might be a little less apt to bend over and hold their ankles for the dashing young GM/president du jour/emperor of Dodgerland.

It will be interesting to see what Friedman does after plan A flopped. For a guy with all the financial wherewithal in the world, his genius and sidekicks in all things Saber, it sure wasn’t pretty what happened in 2015. His cult-like supporters would argue “Hey, they won the West!”, to which I would laugh and chortle, “Gee, $300M+ in a shitty division and you’re happy about THAT?!” No, let’s not beat around the bush… the team Friedman crafted (if you want to insult the word) is exactly the team he thought would be cute and sly and steal the post-season. Umm, not so much.

It turns out in real baseball – not what’s played in a board room by giggling, taking-matters-into-their-own-hands fan boys – requires more than data. I don’t know personally what data would tell someone Brandon McCarthy should be your big pitching acquisition, or that AAAA pitchers dug up from unknown minor league towns could cobble together a championship bullpen, but hey, I’m not a mastermind like Friedman.

I love pointing out the failures of guys like Friedman and Paul DePodesta because A) it’s easy and B) data be damned, facts are a pretty hard thing to ignore. For example, sending the team’s heart and spark, Dee Gordon, to Miami, paying his salary and acquiring some sort of potential setup man (who failed for 3/4 of the season) and a utility man who wears tight pants, didn’t seem like a bright idea then, nor does it now. Since, Dee’s proven Friedman’s “sell-high” plan was a foolish mistake, no matter what puppet GM Farhan Zaidi will tell you. Batting championship, stolen base leader, Gold Glove, Defense Player of the Year for 2b, Silver Slugger and enthusiastic energy bunny trumps the lackluster station-to-station approach and leadoff devoid lineup Friedman sold us. And now Friedman is desperately trying to figure out who can play 2b in 2016. Old Chase Utley? His best “action” in 2015 was a dirty slide that broke Ruben Tejada’s leg. Kike Hernandez? Jose Peraza? Or re-up with Howie Kendrick, who’s a very good player but has chronic hamstring concerns (as do most Dodgers). Personally, I would have kept the young, under team control Gordon, all the excitement he provides, speed, steals, driving the pitchers and defenses crazy, etc., but then as a Moneyball lover would say, “You don’t know the game.” Then they would laugh like teenager girls glimpsing Bieber’s “leaked” dick shot online.

No, I am completely aware that nowadays someone who thinks like me is a minority. Common sense has given way to mean-spirited idiocy and numbers that never quite add up. When some genius like Friedman comes in and I can forecast a year in advance how he will flop, and he does just that, something is flawed in the analytics. In the real world, the world I grew up in, and where great baseball was played up to the steroids era, things like pitching, defense, team chemistry, leadership, timely hitting, speed and character mattered. Now… just obscure stats that say traditional measures no longer apply. Yeah, right.

I keep seeing good play in Oct by teams not wearing “Dodgers” across their chests. The difference with these teams is they play the game it is supposed to be played. There is no magic formula. There are gamer pitchers, clutch hitters, terrific defensive plays, relief pitchers that have ice water in their veins and throw 100 mph, excitement, energy, team camaraderie, etc. In very few cases do I see career bench players starting, or partial rotations or no bullpens advancing. Friedman can go back to the drawing board this year, but until he is humbled and admits some of his cleverness was just youthful foolishness, the Dodgers will experience the same letdown in 2016. Remember – the team that stumbled against any team over .500 in 2015 was EXACTLY the team Andrew Friedman wanted.

We will see how much Friedman wants to retain his job. While the generous but dense ownership group has unlimited resources taken from insurance clients, at some point their faith will wane. If fans slow down coming through the gate and grumble about the mediocrity and 3 decade dry spell, Friedman and his groupies may be sent packing. I sincerely hope so. I saw DePodesta fuck up a perfectly good Dan Evans Dodgers team and now Friedman has sapped any fun out of being a fan of the blue. Only a young, narcissist could root for this, and I am neither.

It’s possible Friedman will have learned and acquire bullpen arms, somehow piece together a rotation that is now 2 men and get the most out of a tepid lineup of overpaid playboys. I wouldn’t imagine this will happen, given what “data” I have seen on Friedman, but you never know. I will tell you exactly what will happen in 2016 once his winter shopping is over. Like last year, if he doesn’t address real baseball concerns, his team will fail. Sorry, the Kansas City Royals do not play the brand of baseball Friedman is trying to sell. I would rather have a team in blue and white like that, than the mess shaking their asses at the Ravine these days. Agree or disagree; I could care less. If you like this type of approach, you don’t know anything about baseball.

The Perfect Dodgers Team for this Time and Place

July 17, 2015 Comments off

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.

Zack Greinke Isn’t Sold Either

February 1, 2015 Comments off

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The overhyped football game goes on today with needless analysis of cheats, deflated balls and over inflated balls on Katy Perry’s chest. It makes me realize as soon as this dumb game is over, baseball fans can completely focus on the start of spring training, which begins in just a few short weeks.

It’s interesting the Dodgers TV deal is not resolved – not surprising, just interesting. So it’s hard for me, and many Dodgers fans I know, to get overly excited about Andrew Friedman and company’s non-descript team. If we can’t see it, who cares? Guggenheim, Stan Kasten and the many levels of executives (and perhaps soon a Korean interest?) don’t seem to get that in their de-scumming of the organization post-Frank McCourt, they’ve made the team very user unfriendly and perhaps more bleh than the Grey Poupon poster boy did. Hell, at least we could watch the empty seats at the stadium from the comfort of our living rooms. Now – nothing. Vin Scully’s precious last days speaking into a microphone have been squandered. Stars, for better or worse, pushed out while AAAA guys and injury projects fill the roster. Zack Greinke had the audacity to echo (in Bill Shaikin’s LA Times article) – “Is the team better now than it was last year?” Want to bet he may be the next veteran sent bye-bye? If one thing is certain, Friedman and team don’t like veteran players questioning them. It’s an ego-fest, friends, pure and simple. You question the geniuses, you’re gone. It would be wonderful if Greinke’s last year in the Dodgers rotation was instead pitching for another team, with the Dodgers boldly eating much – or all – of the contract. As far as I can determine, that is the Dodgers way nowadays. Pay for players to play elsewhere while the executives rub their hands together from a job well done.

I am more looking forward to the start of the college baseball season than MLB spring training, truth be told. A lifetime Dodgers fan, I am so confused over what is happening, what may happen, that I don’t even know what team to follow this year. I’m leaning to the Miami Marlins, which I dislike on principle, but am fascinated by the exciting roster they’re putting together down there. Giancarlo Stanton will have a lot of guys to knock in, especially Dee Gordon, former Dodgers second baseman and All-Star. I imagine Dee will run wild in Florida and I will take glee in it as a fan of the player, but also as a fuck you to the Sabermetrics brain trust who stupidly lumped Dee in with the guys they viewed as problem children. Oh, the Fish won’t pay a penny for all of Dee’s bunts, steals and thrills either – the Dodgers will. Yes, this was a crazy winter all right.

I can’t imagine what the Dodgers rotation will ultimately look like, or more, the pen. If they ship Greinke out, would they sign James Shields or deal for Cole Hamels? If not, that’s a lot of potentially injured pitchers in one rotation. MLB Network said the Dodgers rotation is second overall, but I have reservations about that. From where I sit, its two guys and about four injury suspects, and now one of the two healthy ones dared to pop off about management’s wheeling and dealing frenzy. Imagine a rotation that included Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Erik Bedard? Eek!

I also find it humorous how the Dodgers have mostly addressed last year’s bullpen issues by compiling other teams’ garbage. A large collection of AAAA players have been brought in to address the deficiency. I would hope last year’s whipping boy Paco Rodriguez would immediately be inserted into his old role as valuable MLB bullpen arm, but you never know. Paul DePodesta loved to show that his assembly of trash was better than what was laying around before, mostly because it was his idea. What transpired under DePodesta was one of the most embarrassing Dodger teams ever assembled. The new brains might be smarter – or not – but they’re really showing the same trend – if we thought of it, it’s brilliant. If it was here before, it was shit.

The optimist in me says that by copying the Giants’ blueprint of fewer stars and a couple smart veterans, the team should be better. That said, Don Mattingly is no Bruce Bochy. It’s hard to fathom that dim bulb Donnie could manage even the best collection of players very far. While the plan was to remove some problems and spread the offense around, while adding defense, it’s hard to say definitively the team is better now than it was. Zack Greinke said as much, and he’s right. No one knows. I can’t point to one spot and say, “There, that’s definitely a big upgrade!” Time will tell how good the Dodgers of 2015 are. They will either need to win more than 94 regular season games (I doubt that’s possible, guessing more about 88 or so) or better, advance deeper into the post-season. Ironically, the Moneyball magic is made for the regular season – Billy Beane has repeatedly stated that. He says he can guarantee his odd mix of players will win X amount of games and therefore have a chance to compete in Oct, after that, it’s a crap shoot with the hottest teams usually going to the Fall Classic. Friedman and team’s data plan is to hopefully achieve the post-season part of the equation – even Billy Beane isn’t that big a brain.

I would say I’ll see how it goes, but since most of LA won’t be seeing anything when it comes to Dodgers baseball, I won’t. I’ll follow the best I can, especially if Joc Pederson gets a real chance in center field, and if Corey Seager pushes the issue and shows up in LA sometime this summer, but mostly I will check in to see if a train wreck ensues. All I know is none of this is very fun to loyal fans, and it would appear not so fun for players who chose to come here. Ask Dan Haran and Brian Wilson.