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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.

Just a Super Bowl Away…

February 5, 2016 5 comments

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Super Bowl is almost here and that’s great because it puts to bed the NFL and opens the door on MLB spring training.

The Dodgers fans are hopeful because Andrew Friedman keeps adding to his All-Star executive staff. The fans who root for this are the same folks who believe in trickle-down economics and tax breaks for the uber rich. I don’t get this line of thinking at all, but if I say anything, I’m called out as an idiot and someone who just doesn’t grasp the genius of fat cats getting fatter at thin cats expense.

The additions of Greg Maddux and Raul Ibanez are nice, but it would be better if they were as pitching coach and hitting coach. I love both of the former players so have no problem with their being added – just wondering how many geniuses it takes to consider things like leadoff hitter, bullpen and healthy starting pitchers. I also wonder if you have Maddux and Ibanez, two smart former players and stars, why you need Gabe Kapler? Perhaps his job is to flex his rock hard body to keep Friedman and Farhan Zaidi happy, and hey, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Don’t forget Ned the often maligned and bald eagle Stan Kasten are still on the payroll. And Alex A, the genius of last year’s Toronto Blue Jays. What a staff! In all honesty, the executive suite is deeper and better than the starting rotation, bullpen and everyday lineup. However did Fred Claire win a title in 1988 by himself, with input from scouts about Eck’s backdoor slider? Or how did “stupid Ned” get the team to back to back championship series? Boggles the mind.

The re-signing of Howie Kendrick was a welcome one and transformed a mediocre lineup into something halfway respectable. His reappearance solidified an infield that was going to be a black hole at second, a rookie at short and a utility man with bum knees at third. Now realistically all the lineup needs is a leadoff man – calling Dexter Fowler, please report to the Dodgers leadoff spot immediately. Don’t like that? A brilliant (I thought) observation by the Dodger Oracle (@TheDodgerOracle) was that perhaps the gang of suits in the front office ship “born again” Yasiel Puig to the Yankees for Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. Of course it might take a good prospect to do so, but it would be worthwhile. A leadoff man the Moneyballers could embrace (Gardner hits homers, arguably more than Puig could anyway) and they add a bullpen stud to set up Kenley Jansen, replace him if he’s hurt, or when he walks as a free-agent this winter. The point is, if they added a lead-off presence, the lineup would be pretty set.

The improvement of the lineup has gotten all the talk recently and taken away focus from the so-so rotation and pen. I think it’s optimistic to think the Dodgers can do well in the National League with what they have now. The only chance they will win the West is if the improved Giants and Diamondbacks hand it to them, or if rookies like Julio Urias and Corey Seager step up in ways one shouldn’t count on from baby players. i.e. it’s possible, but unlikely the Dodgers will repeat as Western Division champs or even make the playoffs.

Two weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting, and a bloated Super Bowl spectacle standing in the way. Enjoy your pre-spring training and think happy thoughts. Don’t be mad if fans have other ideas than you; it’s healthy. And rooting on the top isn’t good unless you actually benefit from doing so. I have not seen anything from the Dodgers front office to believe they are capable of turning a 30-year drought into a Kansas City type situation. Maybe a few more big names to the think tank will change all that.

2015 – Our Longshots are Better than Yours

December 31, 2014 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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