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Wasted Movement

April 18, 2017 52 comments

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Happy post Easter hangover to you. I thought I’d write a short article since the whole 140 character thing doesn’t really work all the time. In general I seem to get a lot of followers who follow anything with the word “Dodger” in the name (“Tax Dodger”? Reserved for the Commander in Chief, I guess). Once I tweet a few cynical (honest) comments, they quickly unfollow. Such is life.

Anyway, I thought I’d comment on the topic everyone is talking about – Rich Hill’s 2nd DL stint in as many starts. How is this a surprise to anyone? Andrew Friedman, trying to save face, is making the rounds, saying he’s not worried. No, front offices love when their expensive new toys end up chronically injured. Who are you trying to fool, Andy? Sure, you might feel you have “depth” (I call ’em semi warm bodies), but it couldn’t have been in the plans to have your #2 behind Clayton Kershaw saying it would take a “medical miracle” to get him on the mound again. And now talk of his going to the pen to save the boo boo finger? Really, you signed a 37 year old pitcher to a $48M deal with the intention of him being just another bullpen guy, next to your AAAA retreads? Sorry, not buying that.

I know the beat writers and local radio guys won’t question the genius of the front office as they don’t dare lose access to the clubhouse – and the free meals. I on the other hand have nothing to lose. I write what is very apparent – hardly genius at all. It just so happens in today’s world, if you exhibit a decent amount of common sense, you look intelligent. Who woulda thunk?

As I have tweeted many times, all you have to do is go to this blog and comb through the old articles and see my take on everything Dodgers. All the injuries discussed in advance, all the bad deals commented on as they were made, the mediocre or worse players the Moneyball minded acquire, debunked early on. Again, it’s not being super smart, it’s using basic intelligence. And yes, just having seen a lot of baseball in my life. It’s the same thing Saber guys (I don’t think women are stupid enough to be Saber) dislike traditional minded scouting and managing for. It’s too simple. You watch, you gauge it on lots and lots of similar circumstances (100+ years of MLB, pretty much) and you can therefore make semi logical assumptions. One might call it “data”, but I hear that term has been trademarked.

Here we are 13 games into the 2017 season and the Dodgers are in third place, 1 game over .500. The fans, as always, are up and down like the temperature. If they beat the Padres, whose entire payroll is less than what Kershaw makes alone, they talk shit and boast, gearing up for the World Series appearance. If they lose to a better Western foe, they panic.

The season is long and I will go on a limb and say the type of front office work the Friedman/Zaidi and assorted Dream Team collection of overpaid executives are doing could work as well in 2017 as it did in 2016. I think I figured it out, though, like a bad detective show, my answer was right in front of me the whole time.

While I think the West should certainly be better than it was last year (Giants will wake up, Rox seem improved and only getting better, Arizona perhaps better under their new Moneyball-type front office), I can see the Dodgers making the playoffs. Before you get too excited, I can also see them missing the playoffs. Somewhere between winning the West, getting the wild card and losing out in the playoff round robin, is where they will be. I am not one to predict outcomes of divisions so much as a lot of things happen.

I will say that unless changes are made (and why would they be?), it’s unlikely the Dodgers, as constructed now, will advance to the World Series, should they get anywhere near. My reason is I look at tonight’s tragic lineup and I just don’t see where $230M was spent. Any given night the lineup, starter and/or bullpen participants might be aged journeymen or AAAA castoffs. Friedman calls it “depth” – Paul DePodesta didn’t even call it that, but maybe he should have. His roster was the same littering of nobodies and never weres.

With Hill having recurring blister problems, it makes me wonder why Friedman would take a chance on him again. Last July, Friedman waited till the 11th hour before the trade deadline to move three prospects for Hill and Josh Reddick, who apparently Friedman didn’t realize hadn’t done anything since May. Ok, I’ll make excuses and say Friedman thought he could wait everyone out and find lightning in a bottle – after all, Moneyball centerfold Billy Beane snatched Hill up during the off-season after seeing him throw a few good games in unimportant late season starts for Boston. If Hill was good enough for Beane…

Hill, of course, came over hurt, spent a long time on the DL and then made some useful starts in September and October for the Dodgers. But facts are facts and Hill was an aging player, not long out of independent league ball (like Scott Kazmir, who Friedman admitted was a poor signing just a year before as he shopped him this winter, with no takers). But with the free-agent and trade markets thin (the time to shop was the winter before when names like Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, J.A. Happ, etc. were available), Friedman doubled down on Hill. After all, he just dealt three prospects to get him, so to walk away empty handed, and still have a gaping hole in the rotation, seemed unacceptable, even to him. So as is his custom, an identical $48M deal went to Hill – like it had to Brandon McCarthy and then Kazmir. I guess that’s the cap where a Moneyballer feels comfortable “wasting” on starting pitching.

I would say $48M is an ok figure, if you got something out of it. So far, the amount is cursed for Friedman and his little troll Zaidi – all three of the guys acquired have trouble staying healthy. In case you wondered, 3 x 48M = $144M, which is a lot of money and should mean something more capable for your rotation than what Friedman’s guys have shown – at least so far (this being written on April 17, 2017, for historical purposes).

My biggest problem with Friedman and his building of a roster isn’t necessarily the players he selects – ok, it’s a large part about that – but what the ultimate toll it takes on the team in general. As I’ve said before, a rotation is not just the quality of your 5 starters (not 16 starters, as Friedman would have you believe), though that should be top of mind, but it’s the innings. I understand the game is changing and either change with it or die but I can’t believe it’s optimal to have 16 guys tossing 3-5 innings commonly, as opposed to 5-6 guys capable of going 6-8 more frequently.

I know it’s ancient history, but I vividly remember Dodger teams with an ace, 2 or 3 very good pitchers and then 1-2 either called “innings eaters” or perhaps 1 of those and a kid, hoping to stick in the rotation. It wasn’t long ago that Friedman so hated this that he chased Dan Haren out of town, paying his salary to go to Miami. Really, how is Haren at any point much different than Hill, McCarthy or Kazmir? I guess you could argue, he was healthier.

Innings are important because it’s something you can hang your hat on. You can assume your starting pitcher is not only capable of going deeper into games, but taking the ball every 5th day without drama. You don’t need to call a collection of junk, and terrible contracts, “depth”. Your depth is your minor league system, as it always has been and is for every team in the major leagues. If you have 4-5 credible starters who are likely to stay healthy, you can make a phone call should someone get hurt. That “data” is based on 100+ years of the game’s history. Trite, boring, but honest and true.

I think like DePodesta, the Moneyball way Friedman and Zaidi play is merely about looking more clever and smarter than your average baseball guy – folks like myself included. Naive? Giggle inducing ideas such as going with known commodities, staying away from continually injured players – absurd! It’s far more fun to tinker like a very bored fantasy baseball general manager and make things happen. Oh, in the end it could work but all the “wasted movement” isn’t beneficial to anyone. When your new $48M contract is already looking vomit-inducing and you are talking about putting this #2 starter into your bullpen, it’s not good. Not on this Earth, not on any world.

Like I said, it’s possible the Dodgers can win the West – who knows if the Giants, Rox and Diamondbacks might stumble? Plus, the Dodgers have spent a lot more than anyone else, not only in the West, or the National League, or MLB, but in professional sports. That “depth” allows you at least a chance to win, even if your front office is run by overzealous micro-managers with too much time on their hands.

On the other hand, this Moneyball style always proves to address the regular season. Remember, before these guys arrived, the Dodgers were doing well in that respect. More often than not the Dodgers are near the top of the division, even when mere mortals are calling the shots. Moneyball is usually employed when a team does not have the financial wherewithal to compete any other way. It’s odd when it’s employed with deep pockets and a monster payroll.

The team tinkers and scratches to get to the post-season, celebrates this accomplishment but doesn’t win. Don’t feel too bad for Friedman, no Moneyball team ever wins. Or hasn’t yet. It’s because, in the paraphrased words of Billy Beane, the post-season is too unpredictable, the “data” doesn’t work there. Luck is involved, he says. No, I don’t think that’s quite true.

While maybe “data” can predict X number of runs an ever-changing lineup should produce, and how many runs an ever-changing rotation should allow, it doesn’t account for quality. Quantity, oh sure, plenty of that. Proudly Friedman sycophants will point to how quantity is as important as quality. This is said to praise the “depth” – which is actually just less talented players than what otherwise could be assembled. More means more, to them. But in the post-season, Billy Beane might say it’s harder to predict and luck, whereas I would say it’s quality. Here the quantity means less, and that’s why Freidman’s subpar independent league and career minor league players have problems.

It’s not genius to discover independent league and career minor leaguers – why, they’re right there in independent leagues and minor leagues all across the country. It’s not genius to pluck them from obscurity and then sign them to contracts of their dreams. It’s curious, weird even and clogs your roster full of guys that more than likely are not going to hold up and win in October.

It’s early – just the middle of April – but we are seeing the “depth” put to use as the players were never capable in the first place. While anyone can get hurt at any time and certainly bad breaks happen, it is not dumb luck when it happens to players who have a track record (data!) of this happening to them. Only Friedman and his people didn’t understand Hill would be hurt. As his players fall like dominoes, Friedman and his followers say, “Who could have known?” Well, we all knew and continue to scratch our heads in astonishment.

I think the appeal here is painting themselves into a corner and trying to get out. Houdini did it to show his superiority and fantasy baseball managers do it when they are bored out of their minds. Make dumb moves, drop better players, constantly swap our anyone with a pulse and hope it works. If it does, you can puff out your chest and claim superiority. Again, it’s “wasted movement” and unnecessary.

It’s an outdated way of thinking, sure, but would it be so terrible to have a rotation with at least 3-4 very solid guys you had a pretty safe expectation for making it through the season unscathed? Would it be ludicrous to assume your bullpen could be 3-4 men deep? Even 2 deep? Would it be insane to think if you had a payroll larger than anyone else’s your roster would likely have more great players than other teams?

All out of touch, old school ways of thinking, I realize. What do I know? I’m just a guy who has watched a lot of baseball for a lot of years. I sometimes write baseball articles, all archived here, with dates, and I seem to somehow do a remarkable job calling a lot of the “unforeseen events” that befall Friedman and his think tank, before they happen. I don’t call it “data” – just common sense and reasonable intelligence. Enjoy the ride and remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Have the Pepto-Bismol and Prilosec at your side; nothing is easy in a Friedman universe.

Wasted movement.

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In Baseball, Like Everything Else, Common Sense is Right More Often than Wrong

July 2, 2015 2 comments

keep-calm-but-i-told-you-so

It’s been a nice summer, not having to deal with anonymous and therefore brave Internet trolls proclaiming to be Dodgers fans. I still get the occasional “drive by” trash talk, which is funny since I don’t tweet anymore. It’s a huge compliment that even those who don’t follow me take the time to say something completely devoid of fact, chock full of venom, toward me. Thank you for those who obviously have such a crush on me.

As those of you who followed my posts and long-form blog entries know, most of what I have said comes true. It’s a gift and a curse, as Adrian Monk famously said, but it’s a “super power” I’ve had for as long as I’ve followed the Dodgers. I recall a day when I called into Dodger Talk and spoke with Geoff Witcher – one of the big voice radio guys whose presentation was greater than his knowledge. I asked about a prospect named Pedro Guerrero, who was tearing up the minors. I told Geoff I thought he would be a great hitter for the Dodgers. In typical polished radio guy parlance, he told me he might be ok, perhaps a 15 homer guy and part of the bench someday. I told Geoff he’d be more than that. Not long after, he was a co-MVP for the Dodgers World Series team and a fixture in the center of the offense – although he couldn’t slide worth shit – until he and Kirk Gibson butted heads in 1988.

In recent years I’ve “called” the thin Dodgers bullpen, who needed to be dealt, who shouldn’t be dealt, etc. I’ve astutely pointed out you need a strong bullpen – working from the back out, and a pitching staff that included less spectacular innings eaters (thus sparing the pen). I pointed out how vital team chemistry is and called out pretty boy Matt Kemp, much to the disdain of his female and male admirers, and Hanley’s lazy approach. I said – look it up if you want, it’s in the tweets and in the blog editions – how calling up Joc Pederson would mean more to the team than the superstar party boys the Dodgers put together. I said not only would Joc provide offensive firepower, but he’d be a pure centerfielder and good teams – any sport – have a strong defense. I was mocked for having the audacity to question Kemp and Hanley, but also the foolishness to think Joc was anything more than a product of Albuquerque’s altitude. Again, look it up, it’s all written down as proof.

I pointed to Joc’s several seasons in a row – different towns, different leagues – of being the complete package. The always on point Dodger Oracle noted how not only was Joc successful in the minors, but his output statistically was greater than Paul Konerko, who outside of Mike Piazza, in my opinion was the best offensive Dodger prospect in several generations. No, I was a fool, wrong as usual, the anonymous trolls said. They would loop in those on mutual block lists like Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Prostate and other pundits who naturally would laugh at such things. Dee Gordon… a spark? A catalyst that threw off managers’ games and brought havoc to pitchers and catchers and defenders league wide? What a fool! I was told that years of defending Dee, only to see him become an All-Star last season, was a fluke. Andrew Friedman, the smartest man in the world, knew best to trade high on Dee. He was useless. Well, he’s lead the National League in hitting all season and was the steal of the winter per many national journalists and baseball people. And the Dodgers have had lead-off issues as a result. Oh, and Dan Haren! How dare I say he was a valuable part of the pitching staff; a former ace who gobbled up innings and save for a month or so slump in 2014, held the bottom of the rotation firm. Who needs him?! Better to pay 2nd half of 2014 surprise Brandon McCarthy for four years – plus Haren’s 2015 salary! – for a better pitcher. Well, I warned, McCarthy has always been hurt, and Friedman already added Brett Anderson, plus – so important! – Hyun-Jin Ryu and that bad shoulder. Wouldn’t it have been smart to add some less questionable guys and keep healthy Haren? No!!! You fool!!! You know NOTHING about baseball. cc all the Moneyball lovers to validate such takes, but of course.

Those who have read my opinions (and that’s all they are, I don’t proclaim to be a sage) also recall my many, many, many comments about Yasiel Puig. I have suggested that his presence likely was as big a part of the chemistry concern in the Dodgers’ clubhouse as star fucker Kemp and party hearty Hanley. Unlike the other two, I understood why keeping Puig made sense, though I suggested many times that if they could find value back in a trade, it might be wise to move the new edition of Raul Mondesi (also citing it would be a challenge for Puig to ever reach Mondesi’s “underachieving” career tally of 271 homers and 229 stolen bases). I was told Puig was leagues beyond Mondesi – not true – and that he would be an MVP in short time. Also, his fun and games, tardiness, bickering with teammates and obvious Kardashian/Jenner-like ego was just Puig being Puig and part of the fun. I was an idiot to suggest dealing him for Mike Stanton or good pitching (this was pre Stanton’s complete breakthrough and massive contract extension). Well, now we hear from journalist and Dodger follower Molly Knight, in her new book (“The Best Team Money Can Buy”), that Puig has indeed been a concern, a cancer, upsetting many of his teammates, even beloved guys like Justin Turner and Zack Greinke. His antics, his entourage, engaging in a relationship with a minor league coach’s daughter, his constant tardiness, his diva-like persona have become an open topic of disdain in the Dodgers locker room. Perhaps it’s no coincidence than when he was shelved for a good part of this season with his hamstring problem, the team rather excelled (except for that inconsistent/inept bullpen and bottom of the rotation) with Andre Ethier stepping up.

During the absence, with regular playing time, Ethier, much more of a good soldier and professional than Puig, put up numbers as good as almost any outfielder in the league, and certainly on par with his glory days in blue. With Scott Van Slyke and Alex Guerrero around (I won’t mention Carl Crawford, he’ll limp around till October, assuming the Dodgers get to play in October), and even Scott Schebler a phone call away, is it really necessary to have this combustible piece on the roster anymore? Imagine if the Dodgers traded Puig… maybe they could turn him into some of that much-needed pitching that’s missing. While his value can only get lower due to the finally public clubhouse cancer comments, he’s still viewed as an amazing athlete and ticket seller. Plus, the Dodgers have offensive potential coming out of their ass with Hector Olivera and Corey Seager soon to be in the lineup.

Would the team be any worse for the wear without Puig, and instead Ethier and SVS playing more, with Olivera and Seager up as well? Would turning Puig into a very good young pitcher or even veteran with several parts for the bullpen be bad? Cole Hamels? A blue chipper? Relief pitchers that have a proven track record as opposed to reclamation projects holding back a team whose payroll tops $300M? I’m going to say something once more that I’ve said many times – and been attacked for by people (young and dumb, it’s not their fault) who don’t know better… balance is the key. An offensive-heavy team usually doesn’t win in any sport; you need the pitching and defense too. The Dodgers, to Friedman’s credit, have done a lot of the things I have advocated for years – addition by subtraction, losing those bloated egos and marginal all-around talents, shoring up the defense, and playing the kids. Those are things I think Friedman and his large team of executives have done well. Bravo! But skimping, or choosing the wrong guys, for the rotation and bullpen, taking risks on a team with endless financial resources, is just foolish. Use some of the chips on hand to address the weaknesses.

Earlier this year, I spoke with friends who follow the team. None of us actually watch the games since the Guggenheim group is much like the Fox group, worse in some ways, and doesn’t give a shit about the fans. The games are not televised to most, so why would we care? Contrary to popular opinion, out of sight really is out of mind. Lifelong fans I know are very disinterested, more chatting with friends about the foibles rather than the games themselves, which is albeit very tragic. During our discussions, we suggested how the Dodgers could use parts such as Alex Guerrero or Scott Van Slyke, or maybe (gasp!) even Julio Urias, whose ego reportedly is also not in check, to obtain the pitching the team obviously needed. No way, of course, should Friedman deal Corey Seager. So we groused how Guerrero could easily slot into some team’s everyday lineup, especially as a DH in the American League, or wouldn’t SVS be a 20+ homer guy given 400+ at bats? Well, all that remains true. The Dodgers bench is bustling with bodies, especially once Olivera and Seager arrive. Even everyone’s favorite, Justin Turner, might fetch something good for the pitching staff. But now, lo and behold, Puig possibly could be a trade piece. Again, would the Dodgers offense be worse if Ethier were allowed to play every day, and when he wasn’t, perhaps SVS was, or Guerrero, and Oliver and Seager were soon to be in the mix. I’d say, not at all. And with the chemistry fix of not having Puig’s ego and entourage trying to crash team travel, probably much improved. Remember, the team did well while he was out – if only they had the pitching in place to not lose some of those games.

Anyway, it all remains to be seen how it plays out. I don’t imagine Puig will be traded, but you never know. I just chuckle as this latest development is just another “I told you so” moment. The bullpen woes for the first half of the last several years, the iffy additions this winter, the Kemp and Hanley issues, Joc, and now Puig. It’s all documented, yet doesn’t resonate with “smarter fans.” Most of these bright fans weren’t even born when the Dodgers were last actually a force – that era ended in 1981, when the famed 70s team was scattered to the wind. 1988, as most know, was beautiful and magical and also an anomaly. Before and after were a lot of listless teams that drifted without direction and a broken infrastructure as O’Malley abandoned ship, Fox razzle dazzled us, then a Botox’d dandy ran the thing aground, and finally global financial gurus took away the joy of watching games on television.

I’ll go on record again as saying the Dodgers need several solid relievers from Kenley Jansen backward, plus stability in the rotation and moving out any piece that causes clubhouse disrupt if they want to beat the Cardinals and more in October. A collection of bats, lots of exciting Cubans, and brainwashed broadcasting guys chiming like Scientologists how great the pitching is isn’t going to work. The data heads who take glee being bullies online know nothing about actual baseball and while they have fanboy wet dreams over what Friedman is doing, the old adage of pitching, defense and timely hitting is what wins baseball games in real life.

Oh, and huge kudos to former Dodger great Mike Scioscia for refusing to listen to dimwitted GM Jerry Dipoto’s “advice” on using data to win baseball games. Mike knows baseball as much as any person alive and for a suit to tell him what to do is beyond insulting. Dipoto – another thing I have mentioned endlessly over the years (again, feel free to look it up!) – was a mediocre GM who squandered away money on the wrong star players. The organization blaming Josh Hamilton, a drug addict, for having a relapse and not Dipoto for signing a junkie to an ill-advised long-term contract is beyond ludicrous. Not to mention inking older in body and mind Albert Pujols to a 10 year deal. His 2015 has been outstanding, well, his June sure was, but before and likely after was a colossal waste of money and fans who blame Pujols at any point should instead point the finger to smarty pants Dipoto. A fan with any intelligence would have known better – I know I did. Mike Scioscia, the Dodger who never should have gotten away, should take his victory lap and make Dipoto scrub his toilet.

It was nice touching base – ignore the trolls, they secretly have crushes on executives because they look so cute in their fitted suits. The rest of us know better.