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The Lost Season

March 21, 2018 Comments off

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Not a lot of followers left, but oh well, will push on. Happy 2018 baseball season to you. The game is great, even though there is a lot wrong with the current MLB version and the latest corrupt commissioner. Nonetheless, if you grew up on baseball as I did, or came upon it late, it’s still a wonderfully entertaining game.

The good news for MLB is talent is deep throughout the league, great teams still exist that play the game right, and there’s promise for quite a battle with teams like the Astros, Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Rockies and yes, the Dodgers, all looking to be part of the fun.

The not so good is money over fans, collusion and the illness of “data” overtaking the enjoyable parts of the game. Those three things, of course, are all tied together. In order for owners to profit, and MLB to profit, it became necessary to undergo a new round of collusion, which they can explain away with “data.” Show me the “data” that says this winter’s free-agent crop couldn’t improve a team that actually is attempting to compete – including the Dodgers. No need to actually do that, as none exists.

The Dodgers came within a game of winning the World Series and that was enough for most fans. We can dismiss how if the current ownership and front office was actually “all in”, how they would have won their first title since 1988. Just adding Justin Verlander alone would have made the difference, considering the Astros rode him to the trophy. However, no, that would have meant taking on a contract and the front office will have you believe that isn’t possible. Why? They will throw out salary caps and so forth but as any fan not wrapped up in Sabermetrics will tell you, a team’s window for winning is short and closes quickly, even for wealthy teams. Player age, some move on, some retire, etc. If you are in a window of opportunity, you either go “all in” or are out.

The fans have been told it’s vital to keep costs down, even though we all know much of the salary will be off the books following this season. What are they saving up for? Kershaw’s move to Texas? Apparently, the salary cap is the issue – but is it? Do we care if a rich investment firm pays a little more? After all, they have all that TV revenue (most of LA can’t even watch the Dodgers and haven’t for years, thus creating a long-term problem as children are growing up not able to watch the team on TV), not to mention the increased ticket prices – including charging additional if the game is expected to actually be good. I wonder if they will give refunds if the game turns out to be bad? Probably not.

So the game, especially in LA, a large market with a lot of prospective ticket sales where a Saber minded front office reigns, is now more about rooting on wealthy owners and smarty pants front office executives to a fan’s own self interests. Who cares if you work hard to scratch together money to attend a game with your family – your focus should not be on seeing the best possible players added to your roster in July and over the winter, but the best cost effectiveness for the owners. It’s like a Republican tax plan (sorry to any GOP followers who may be reading this) – as long as the top is doing well, that’s all that matters.

Again, like politics, it’s working. I follow baseball across the country and see other teams’ fans excited by the players they are adding. The great teams are getting greater, the young upstarts loading up, those in the middle generally retooling, but then there’s the Dodgers. The Dodgers are a team that many are penciling in for the World Series, dismissing the strong NL competition altogether. And considering the roster, mostly due to Dan Evans once upon a time hiring Logan White and Ned Colletti working with White in drafting a majority of the current young players, the Dodgers may very well be in the playoffs again.

I’d caution that the Diamondbacks are pretty good, as are the Rockies, and the Giants not only added talent but have a lot to prove – their track record and a healthy Madison Bumgarner alone should be reason enough to take them seriously. Is it possible the Dodgers can win the West again? Sure. Is it possible they can suffer setbacks and fall to the middle of the pack? Sure.

It is not so much whether the Dodgers were good enough to compete – clearly, they were. But it was the lack of conviction when it mattered that is my concern. Last winter and July the front office did little. This winter the front office has done little. Supporters (cultists) say it’s brilliant the Dodgers did nothing. They saved money! Since when should a fan be concerned with a wealthy investment firm saving money? I don’t get it.

The fact of the matter is the Dodgers didn’t win the World Series and lost (at home, no less) to the Astros. The Yankees also lost a game 7 to the Astros but added talent over the winter, including homerun champ Giancarlo Stanton, who is a Southern California native and said he preferred to play in LA. Whether you think Stanton’s monster season is an outlier or not, you have to admit the idea that winners go all in and also rans do not. For a team with a 30 year void of championships, all the money and prospects in the world, not to operate with a sense of urgency is off-putting.

The Dodgers added another junk pile reliever, Tom Koehler, to replace their last one, but that one turned out to be pretty good – Brandon Morrow – who will now close, at least for a while, for the Cubs. Morrow of course replaced Joe Blanton. While there is a pattern here of the front office finding ringers, we can point to the current bullpen and recent ones where the ringers didn’t pan out. Many times, they haven’t. So assuming that the Koehler, already injured, can replace Morrow and offer the security needed to get the ball to Kenley Jansen is a bit of a stretch.

I look at other top teams and they may not only have signed Morrow, but added something additional. Nowadays a good team has 2-3 closer options, though I’d argue it’s not an all new idea. I’ve been saying for years baseball is beautiful due to its simplicity. To win, generally, you need a strong rotation – guys who can log innings and have a track record of success. 4 starters are needed, feel free to try a kid in the 5th slot.

You need a reliable closer and several setup men. The idea is on the front end to log innings – hopefully 6-7 – and have the ability to lock down games on the backend with your closer and setup men. The middle relievers that nowadays are seen far too much to be effective come October, are just guys. Interestingly, apologists of Sabermetrics assume any guy wearing a uniform and cap is great – so they will argue that all of these bodies are “depth” and therefore unique from what any other team’s roster has. Sorry, every team in baseball has a roster of people who eat meals, sleep and shit – as well as a minor league system of similar human beings. Having your roster full does not put you in a position of obvious success.

A team that wants to compete and win – generally we start with the Yankees and Red Sox and fan out – does their best to fill needs. If there is a weakness, they look to improve upon it. They do this with money; they do it with prospects via trade. A good team does not sit idly by while other teams get better. The Dodgers had a remarkable run in 2017 but the likelihood the Giants will be as terrible and that the division overall isn’t one of the more competitive in the sport, is just silly.

Anyway, who am I to tell you what to think? If you really feel it’s great not to add talent and wonderful owners have bean counters from small markets to make sure every possible cent in your pocket ends up in their vault, kudos to you. I’m of the opinion that as a customer, we have rights. We have the right to expect the best possible talent on the field if they expect us to focus and spend. It’s very weird to quarrel with one another and try to act superior for the end-result of wanting the rich to get richer.

MLB has become that, due to what I said earlier – money over fans, collusion and using “data” as an excuse to justify this greed. I don’t want to disparage anyone’s intelligence, but hopefully logic prevails and you understand my only goal is to explain a fan should deserve the best of its team every single year. If you expect less, you should dedicate your time and money to other things.

The Dodgers may do well in 2018 but I see this being a lost season. Not addressing the rotation, not addressing the bullpen, not addressing the need for another bat (unless you count Matt Kemp’s return, which was just a way to “salary dump” the front office’s horrible signings of injured pitchers) and doing this while knowing Kershaw might leave, Seager has a serious elbow problem, etc., is criminal. I say that as a lifetime Dodgers fan and a lifetime baseball fan. If you disagree, it is your right, but you would be wrong.

I’ll be keeping an eye from the wings but as I have for several years now, since the bean counters crawled into town, will focus on the game where it is played well, by teams that actually want to be all in. I love baseball – it can be MLB, minors, college, high school or little league. My attention – and might I add, my money – are not going to the Dodgers’ wealthy owners as they do not respect me. No TV, no money from me. Raising ticket prices, especially for “good games”, no money from me. Business should work like that. Fans should be the ones put on a pedestal and respected, not corporations, not finance companies, not executives who keep costs down for their bosses.

Have a great 2018 baseball season – it should be a good one.

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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.