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.
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.