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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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Good Enough to Be Good Enough

April 2, 2017 7 comments

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There are two sides to every story. Either the story being told by those either employed or indebted to the Dodgers propaganda machine as well as the notion “it’s their time” or the alternative.

I’ve witnessed the Dodgers’ front office fumble and bumble┬átheir way since coming into power, doing very little, or worse, making boneheaded gaffs. The results some cheer about, but to others, myself included, they are the same, no better, than the results from the past.

The Dodgers can’t help but being in the thick of things. They have Clayton Kershaw, after all, and had Zack Greinke and other arms. They have Kenley Jansen. They have Corey Seager. You add up the parts and no matter who is running the show on and off the field, the Dodgers assemblage of talent is enough to be at or near the top of their division. They have been finished first or second 10 times in the past fifteen years. They have won 0 championships during this time, and 0 championships in almost three decades.

I have tried to say, much to the dislike of many, that this is all well and good but the steps forward are not great. If being at or around the top of the National League West is the goal, things are going fine. I don’t see how the current front office or ownership should be given credit, however, as the end results are no greater than usual. You can even point to the win/loss record, which shows a nominal decline in victories the past three seasons.

Dodgers fans are rabid and that is a wonderful thing for the Guggenheim Group and current Dodgers front office. The team, in some ways, is in poor shape if you consider availability to the large marketplace. The only way to see Dodgers games is if you attend them – at great cost – or if you happen to be in a portion of the greater Los Angeles area who gets the new-ish TV channel. The historic organization’s games are not readily available to most of the populace.

In 2016, the Dodgers won the West and advanced to the NLCS vs. the Chicago Cubs, the team who ultimately won the World Series in a thrilling 7-game series vs. Cleveland. While the Dodgers record of futility neared three decades, it was nowhere near that of either the Cubs or Indians. Thus, the baseball gods determined it was destiny, and the Dodgers never had a chance.

Still, supporters of this front office and ownership group would argue, they “could have won”. Well, in some world I suppose they could have. Teams with little starting pitching and little relief pitching seldom win championships. The Dodgers, in my opinion, were very lucky in 2016. I would credit the front office for patching together an eyesore and getting a lot out of the pieces they had. It does not appear to me a sustainable plan, if winning championships is your end goal.

It was painful to watch Kershaw pretty much go it alone, and Jansen doing the same from the backend of the bullpen. The other starters were hurt or gassed and could barely muster three innings at a time. The bullpen, overworked all season due to the shortcomings of the starting five, did the best they could on heart and whatever talent they had. The better team won, as usually is the case.

Knowing how Moneyball general managers operate, I did not expect changes in the off-season. In fact, because their high school chemistry experiment “worked” – to some degree – it no doubt would validate their hypothesis that they were on the right track.

It was interesting how they and their disciples continued to point to the Cubs as a “similar” team, although the construction was not at all alike. Theo Epstein, who has Moneyball roots, after all has changed quite a bit since moving to the big stage, first in Boston, then in Chicago. With deep pockets backing him, Epstein loads his rosters full of great professionals, as well as farm bred talent. Pitching depth, position depth, stars, great role players… he does not leave things to chance. As a result, his Boston teams have won and now his Chicago team.

The winter shopping season is one the Dodgers front office usually ignores, as is the mid-season trade deadline. They seem to look at these peak times as pedestrian. “Anyone can shop during these times; we’ll show them.” They sit idly by while starting pitchers move from team to team, as well as proven relief pitchers. Speedsters are never a consideration since the only reason to have any speed at all on a Moneyball team is perhaps moving from first to third – interestingly, a skillset rarely to be found in Los Angeles baseball these days.

I was not surprised that the 2017 team went to spring training not altogether different from the 2016 team that ended the year, losing in Chicago. A few guys left, a few came in, but the same issues that cost the team in 2016 are still those weaknesses as the new season gets underway.

The writers and announcers who cover the team and want access to the clubhouse are painting a rosy picture that this looks to be a world beater. Many have said the Dodgers will not only be in this season’s Fall Classic, but win it. I can only assume this is because they feel they are due, not because of big acquisitions made, unless you count Logan Forsythe as the difference maker.

Personally, I don’t see it. I do see a Dodgers team that will be around the top, as they always are, but not necessarily in first place. Last season, part of the Dodgers luck was the complete lack of fortune for the San Francisco Giants, whose second half was dismal. The Giants bullpen was a disaster and they acquired a closer this winter to rectify that. Still, being held to a budget the Dodgers are not, they still have some problems in their pen, though they have more reliable innings in the rotation. At any rate, however that comparison pans out, it seems unlikely the Dodgers can count on the Giants taking half of the year off again.

With the Giants therefore improved and the natural development, possibly, of the rest of the West – most particularly Colorado – the Dodgers must be a bit better in 2017 than in 2016. With 81 games against the West, just by virtue of the Giants adding a closer and the Rockies talented offense and young pitchers developing a bit more, that should be more of a challenge.

In a perfect world, the Dodgers get health they did not get in 2016. As I pointed out, it’s unrealistic to hope that all the many (often desperate) moves the front office employed is a repeatable formula. So, Kershaw being Kershaw for six months and Rich Hill, an older player who has no track record to illustrate he is a regular rotation piece, much less a #2 starter, is imperative. Kenta Maeda, who was wonderful for most 2016, needs to get stronger during his second season in the big leagues and be there at season’s end, which he was not at all last year.

The bottom of the rotation is the same collection of injured and suspect parts, mostly due to the front office wasting money on players such as Brandon McCarthy, who any honest person knew was a bad signing from day one, to Scott Kazmir – like Hill, a player who was out of MLB and toiling in the independent leagues. Both pitchers, like Hill, received $48M contracts. When you have so much money invested in players, you are hand tied to use them, thus additional arms were not added.

So, the Dodgers need Kershaw not to have a flare up of his back problems, Maeda to remain reliable (just stronger) and Hill to overcome the odds at age 37. Then between frequently injured Korean warrior Hyun-Jin Ryu, McCarthy, Kazmir and young Julio Urias, who has been pushed to develop quickly but is not ready for a full season workload, the front office hopes for two starter spots to be filled. It’s a lot to ask to go right, given reality and the health and circumstances of most of these pitchers.

There are also players such as Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart who supporters point to as the remarkable depth the front office has acquired but the truth is most of the players to be counted on were here before they arrived. I’d also add that depth is an interesting word that is bandied about by Dodgers writers and announcers as if it’s unique to the team. Every team has minor league rosters to call upon and additional players set aside as contingency plans. Perhaps the Dodgers depth is more in the spotlight since the health of the regulars is so poor.

In closing I will say that the Dodgers should be near the top once again – with such a large payroll and the Kershaw, Jansen and Seager alone, they have a chance based on that alone. I think the Giants will be very much a factor and at some point, the front office should admit their faults and add quality innings from somewhere. Perhaps they do get good fortune with some of the walking wounded the past couple years, as well as unexpected success from journeymen like Hill, McCarthy and Kazmir.

Personally, I’d put young Urias in the pen since innings are innings, after all, and why waste his down in the minors? I’d put those innings to better use, shoring up an average bullpen and then when the innings count made sense, stretch him out for the rotation, if needed. At any rate, the bullpen would be that much better while the MASH unit of pitchers gave their all once again.

I’m not sure what to make of the outfield, which is Joc Pederson in center, forever to be platooned, and similar platoons everyplace else. Yasiel Puig seems to forever be tainted by being tantalized by Hollywood too soon, Andre Ethier continues to have health issues and Andrew Toles, a player with exceptional athletic ability, has defensive limitations and is told not to steal bases – perhaps one of his biggest plusses.

The infield is solid, though not spectacular. It does have the chance to be very good however if Adrian Gonzalez can somehow turn back Father Time and Forsythe continues to develop. The latter is in the right place as the mandate for a Dodgers offense is to swing for the fences and his 20-homerun power seems to be ideal for the Moneyball Dodgers. Justin Turner’s knees must hold up once more at third base. Seager is remarkable but had a spring with back issues, who like Kershaw, you have to wonder about. All in all, the offense of the Dodgers runs through the infield.

I am not a fan of Yasmani Grandal, though I know many are. Grandal, a former PED user, is also tailor made for this front office as his strength is trying to hit home runs. I prefer catchers who field first primarily and make contact. Maybe this player is Austin Barnes, who won a roster spot as all Andrew Friedman Miami acquisitions do. It will be interesting to see what happens at catcher if Grandal gets hurt, as he does. He’s being asked to play more than ever in 2017.

The Dodgers have enough talent on the roster and coming up through the minors to be near the top once again. It would be nice if they started to take real steps forward and understand they have the financial wherewithal, not to mention the prospects, to acquire players more guaranteed than what they tend to count on. The trademark of the front office seems to be trying to make it to the top by taking the harder route. Reliable innings in the starting rotation, strong setup men at the back of the bullpen, shortening games, is for chumps. Complex trades, working the disabled list like a traffic cop and platooning across the diamond seems immensely more satisfying to these smarties.

The method may be madness, but it has its fan club. Certainly, those on the Dodgers payroll, or who like access to the players and free pre-game meals. World Series winners in 2017? I don’t see it but anything is possible. It has been about thirty years and the payroll is the largest in organized sports. Maybe they are right, maybe they are due.

Something Old, Something New, Something Unseen, Something Blue

April 4, 2015 1 comment

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The 2015 Dodgers season is about to get underway and there’s a mixture of giddy optimism and disinterest among longtime Dodgers fans. The excitement breaks into two camps – those who love the fact Moneyball style “geniuses” are calling the shots for the team, and those who would cheer a Dodger themed diaper sitting on the side of the road. The disinterested fall flatly into one group – those who have been screwed over, lied to, ripped off and left for dead for the better part of 33 years. On with the show…

The Giddy:

If you watched the HBO Scientology show, “Going Clear,” that aired this past weekend, you will understand the mindset of this group. Watching that documentary, as a sane person, you thought – how is this happening? Why do they allow it to happen? Why are they so clueless and even stupid that they buy into this shit show? Why does this obvious charlatan (L. Ron Hubbard or his successor, David Miscavige) have such a hold over all of these people?

Whether they’re fans of data or just will root on anything blue, no matter what form it takes, it’s more a case of brainwashing, mass hypnosis, Stockholm Syndrome and perhaps a huge jolt of arrogance (calling Tom Cruise) that fuels these people. Like Scientology, there is no fact, evidence of any kind, or reason to firmly believe, yet they do. Like Scientology, the hold is powerful. If someone disputes the team or its resident “geniuses,” they attack and ostracize. Like Scientology, a person who criticizes the current Dodgers, cites history of questionable or plain crazy treatment, or heaven forbid, comment against the Svengali like leader – in this case, Andrew Friedman – they are labeled an SP, or Suppressive Person. They also cut ties with those SPs, since it doesn’t fall logically into their rosy view of life.

I find it funny when young fans that have little sense of history and are merely fueled by today’s need to be smarter than everyone and “right”, will question your thinking, dismissing you because you are not young and therefore relevant like they are. Baseball fans that understand the history of the game, and know no matter who plays, who comes, who goes, the game has largely remained the same since its inception. This kind of thinking, and the rules that govern how the game is played, basic concepts, etc., are outdated to the nouveau and being old, can’t possibly be right. Yet, somehow this mindset tries to lead us to believe they have a respect for Vin Scully, or perhaps Tommy Lasorda, both older than most anyone on the planet and certainly within the Dodgers universe. Newsflash – they do not like or respect Vin or Tommy – both are “old fools” and don’t get it. But they know that if they take that one extra step and condemn them, it will be going too far and likely get them torn to shreds by the masses. So, they nod, placate us with rhetoric that they love these guys and therefore try to justify their loyalty as true Dodgers fans.

There’s also the blind faithful I alluded to, which are less douchey than the first chunk of the giddy, but in their own way enabling and part of the greater problem. Being a fan, good or bad, is certainly not a terrible thing. It’s admirable, as any Cubs fan will tell you, to root, root, root, no matter what the final numbers say in the standings at the end of the season. That said, its one thing to be a fan and love the team – history, memories, and geographic allegiance – yet another to suggest everything is ok, when clearly it is not.

These people are either pedestrian fans who watch X number of games per year, just don’t care that deeply, are naive, or want desperately to assume no matter who owns or runs the team, that it is the very same Dodgers team they grew up enjoying. This has proven NOT to be the case when Fox owned the club, and of course NOT the case when Frank McCourt was its figurehead. Now there is the much beloved Guggenheim Group, who have largely disappeared once ink was put to the lucrative Time Warner Cable TV deal. There are no more Dream Team partners, no more smiling Magic, and we all know, no TV deal. The Dodgers twitter feed and sycophants laud the 24/7 new all Dodgers TV channel, and the radio guys have been gotten to and smile and not, positively (like Scientologists), and make like everything is great. Why would anyone criticize the team/ownership/leaders when all this good is happening? It would be un-American to think this way, and positively anti-Dodgers. So the two factions of the giddy are in alignment, and anyone not on their side, even with evidence to the contrary that perhaps all is NOT well, are labeled the baseball fan equivalents to the dreaded SP.

The Disinterested:

This group is based on people weary of being beaten and occasionally snap back. Many, too tired to snap, merely have checked out and engage in other activities – perhaps other teams, or have abandoned the sport entirely. Baseball lost fans after all their work stoppages; lost others after various cheating scandals; and now are losing fans of one of their flagship franchises due to horrible mismanagement that has lingered in some form or other since the final days of the O’Malley family’s tenure.

The Guggenheim team came in with bold promises to win the fans back. It took years of neglect and physical abuse at the hands of the McCourt era for many to finally tune out. People stopped going to the games and the Dodgers were no longer LA’s darlings. There was a time in the city when the whole town was blue – and the Lakers games were relegated to tape delay airings late at night. It took quite a lot of mediocrity and bad leadership for the tumble to happen, but it did. Now, beginning the 2015 season, there is the euphoric delight of the aforementioned giddy, and the disgust of the disinterested.

While the data crowd will crow loudly for its Moneyball heroes, and the mindlessly happy loyalists will cheer anything at all, there’s reason, certainly, to question another re-org, as it were, of the Dodgers. A new plan was brought in – the old one scrapped after just a few seasons – and a new leader came aboard to replace the old leader, also touted as a “genius.” The new “genius” brought in more “geniuses” because as any fan of corporate America knows, you can never have too many levels of highly paid management around. Of course it remains to be seen what 2015 will bring, or for that matter, 2016, 2017, etc. I think it is safe though to point out a few things, much to the chagrin of the giddy factions, purely based on educated hunches.

One thing worth noting is – the games are unavailable on TV for the majority of the city. This is the second year in a row that the second largest market in the nation cannot watch its home town baseball team. If you lived in Milwaukee, you could see the Brewers. If you lived in Cleveland, you could see the Indians. If you lived in Tampa, you could see the Rays. If you live in LA, you can see the Angels. Hmm. The checks are being cashed and there’s every reason to suspect Guggenheim doesn’t give a shit what happens – well, perhaps they would if they experienced a McCourt era style boycott, but right now? There’s no reason to panic as the giddy will fill seats and give the appearance that all is right in LA – even though many have checked out, are about to check out and don’t know who the hell the players are anyway, after Friedman’s rash of crazy player personnel moves and mad spending.

Another thing to note is likely at best this year’s Dodgers – if that’s what you want to call them – are yet another transitional group that aren’t worth that much interest anyway. Before you invest in expensive pro jerseys of many of these players, remember that a good many will not be here in 2016. Ask yourself, do you really want to be that guy wearing a Rollins jersey when no one remembers he ever played in LA? If the Dodgers do well and win the West and go to the playoffs, it will satisfy the giddy, and perhaps pique the interest of the disinterested, but ultimately this year’s team will drift into the dusty corners of Dodgers lore along with teams populated with the likes of Tito Landrum, Pat Perry, Enos Cabell and others.

To the disinterested, this act has played before. Lots of promises, lots of pomp and circumstance, but ultimately a con job. Frank McCourt brought in “his Theo” in ego maniac Paul DePodesta, and the fans were treated to one of the most comically bad lineups in Dodgers history. The supporters of DePo cried, if only he had been given more time. More time? To do what, sell us a monorail? When Stan Kasten came in, Guggenheim told us things would be different and the architect of all those wonderful Braves teams would turn the Dodgers around. I could argue how great the Braves teams were – 14 division titles with just 1 World Series trophy, while boasting perhaps the most star-studded pitching staffs in baseball history? The plan was to spend a lot of money, under Kasten, win the fans back with flashy names they all heard of, and eventually move out these placeholders in favor of cheap kids. Well, that plan was quickly scrapped and the next group of “geniuses” came in. A whirlwind of trades and acquisitions, lots of money spent, and much of it foolishly, with players sent packing in all directions while the team continued to pay their salaries. We are where we are today, like it or not.

From where I stand, I know this all feels familiar; there is no reason to be that loyal since I can’t even watch the games; I barely know who’s on the roster due to all the change; and very much I know that pitching is key in baseball and the 2015 Dodgers are a shoddy bunch in that area. Several of the guys Friedman brought in, and his giddy disciples swore would be great, have already failed, gotten hurt or are just gone. It is possible the team does well in 2015, but how much should I care when I can’t watch them play? And how can they do this with a massive payroll and perhaps as many, or more, holes as they had the past couple of years? It’s concerning to me that with a payroll pushing $300M (I don’t care about payroll per se as I am not a guardian of wealthy owners’ wallets, but it is worth noting since all of this spending still amounts to a team with many obvious deficiencies), we still have to worry about a suspect rotation and flimsy bullpen.

The Dodgers – Guggenheim – have continued me being pushed to the sidelines, not to watch baseball games (I can’t), but to scrutinize the larger game happening behind the scenes. Rather than listening and watching Vin Scully, perhaps in his final season in the booth, I have to be reminded – like in Scientology – that all is well and if I can’t watch the game, I can just wave a foam finger and dance to bubbles and blaring music. The sport of baseball in LA is not the action on the field, but the action in offices deep within the stadium. The figures we’re to watch aren’t Joc Pederson or mangled elbow import Hector Olivera, but guys in suits and polo shirts that are slicker than any fielder could ever hope to be.

It’s a less than satisfying feeling to have to debate/argue with the giddy who love all this “real life fantasy baseball” excitement and hopefully predict greatness that never really comes. You would think – much like America – that we should be united as one common group, but rather are infighting like members of Congress. The smarmy young fans who were slurping on their baa-baa’s while I was watching games for decades, will tell me how little I know and how it’s idiotic to question the data. The data, they will remind you, never lies. Well, unless it does. Ask Paul DePodesta.

The irony of the data-minded is that Billy Beane himself, their Hubbard, says the data is only good to fill in the circles to get X amount of production at position Y or position Z, therefore, hopefully, “guaranteeing” an overall amount of productivity that should, could, win a specific amount of games. As Beane has said, this all goes out the window come October, when the best and/or hottest teams win, not generic figures who were assembled to perform called upon tasks. This is all well and good, and worked for Beane, often, but not all the way, who was strapped to a small budget by miserly owners. Just getting to the dance, Beane figured, was enough. He did his job. He put together a rag-tag team that got a chance at baseball’s lottery. Of course, oftentimes his teams were quickly brushed aside, but it did not deter him – he accomplished what he wanted to do, and on such a budget, perhaps rightfully earned his “genius” label.

With the Dodgers, however, money flows like wine, and it’s a strange concoction of Moneyball where a $270M+ payroll is still playing fast and loose with the rules and has so many question marks. One would think that for this type of payroll, there would be NO (or very few) stones left unturned. Why are there 3 suspect pitchers in the rotation (counting Ryu’s shoulder damage I noted repeatedly throughout the off-season) and as shaky a pen as there was the past 2 seasons? Maybe because so much money is invested in players being paid NOT to play in LA, and some on teams within the Dodgers division. At any rate, a large amount of money is being thrown around and there are many areas a bright fan would not feel confident about. And if Beane’s Moneyball was to assemble a data-driven group that could get so many home runs, so many hits, so many walks, etc., etc. in order to get a chance to play in October, what is Friedman’s Moneyball about? Spending more than any team in baseball history to not necessarily have any guarantee of regular season success, but maybe overpower teams come October? A reverse Beane Moneyball?

To me the approach is curious because it’s pretty evident that in October weaknesses are exposed even more, and relying on less-than-stellar pitching may be that much more obvious in the post-season. If the Dodgers got to the post-season, which they might not.

To me, a disinterested, put upon fan who has been sold many tall tales, 2015 to me is about the kids. The ONLY interest is seeing how kids perform, which make it, which don’t, who gets promoted, etc. In effect, what will the future look like? I KNOW Rollins, Kendrick, Ethier, CC, AJ, Uribe, likely Greinke, Grandal even, and others, don’t factor in for long. So without TV to see the games anyway, why would I be blindly loyal to a team that won’t be a team for long? If Guggenheim has taken the money and run, why should I care? If I can’t sit down, turn on the TV and watch the Dodgers play throughout the summer, why bicker and fight with others who claim they like the same thing I do? It’s ludicrous.

To me, the two groups are at war – one is blissfully ignorant of anything awry, and will disown you like Hubbard, err, Friedman, wants. The other is just exhausted from all the bullshit and wishes (probably unrealistically) that the team they loved all their lives were still around to be enjoyed. Maybe someday, maybe not, but it would be hard to say it will happen in 2015.

All this said, no matter what side of the equation you fall into, be kind to others, like what you like, dislike what you dislike, but understand we all have a right to our own opinion. Being young, loving data, doesn’t make you a genius. Very few cases of this amounting to anything substantial in baseball terms exist. We can agree to disagree. But the facts are the facts – Fox made a lot of money while owning the Dodgers. McCourt made billions while owning the Dodgers. And now the Guggenheim Group is making even more billions while owning the Dodgers. At least the first two greedy entities allowed us to watch the team play on TV. Now, the data is against them. Better tune in to Netflix instead or peruse social media for Kylie Jenner’s latest selfie. It’s all we can do in 2015.

When it Comes to Pete, MLB’s “Integrity of the Game” Argument is Bullshit

March 19, 2015 1 comment

Pete_Rose_Kiana_Kim_family_photo

Once again the Pete Rose Hall of Fame topic has raised its dirty face. I drive along, tuned into MLB Network Radio, and listen to the hosts – usually company men, shills for the organization – and callers, rant about how Pete knew what he was doing, committed the Cardinal Sin of baseball and therefore should not ever be allowed into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Sometimes I feel compelled to call in, but think better of it. What’s the use? Argue with a host that already has pat answers, refer to calls from raving mental patients? There’s better ways to spend one’s time; so I flip the station to something else and continue on my merry way.

The reason, however, I think Pete deserves to be in the Hall is pretty basic. The argument for anyone saying he shouldn’t be in is that he bet on baseball, so the integrity of the games – the most sacred of sacreds – is on the line. After all, if the outcome might be affected – such as the Black Sox scandal of yore – who gives a crap about baseball?

I would facetiously argue that “reality TV” is drawing pretty well, as does professional wrestling, and perhaps other fixed sports such as boxing, the NBA and NFL (no proof on the latter, but it’s always fishy the way things go down, especially when the games matter). This is my light, cynical reasoning, but the biggest reason I would argue on Pete’s behalf is what integrity of the game?

Pete’s gambling occurred as a manager, so his playing days might be considered separate altogether. Apparently they’re not, so lumped together, Pete is seen as a gambler who while there’s no proof he affected games at all, may have had some hand in outcomes. Anyone who understands Pete knows he is such a competitor it’s completely unreasonable to assume he threw games. That leaves potentially damaging pitchers’ arms to ensure winning them. Well, there’s no proof of that, and in a country that maintains proof to convict, it’s a bit sketchy at best.

The only thing that matters to me though is that assuming Pete affected games’ outcomes, or not, and just placed bets on his team to win, is that more of an affront to the integrity of the game than Bud Selig either incompetently allowing big leaguers to rewrite the (just as sacred) big league record book by not knowing their “too good to be true” numbers were chemically enhanced, or perhaps more obvious – happy it was going on?

Either way the “integrity” aspect was and continues to be shot to hell to me. Baseball – from Bud on to broadcasters, managers, players and fans, were and are involved in deception. The numbers were heavily padded for an entire era, and continue to be padded. PED cheats still pop up, many are allowed to cash in on the next large contract, and younger stars are passed off as the next Mantle, Mays and Aaron. Until they’re caught – if they’re caught.

Players bulking up to the size of NFL linebackers and being judged not on baseball skills but “tools” – earning contracts through football-style combines where they pull or push cars, lift weights, drag cement blocks, etc., as opposed to traditional baseball skills.

Bud is gone, but it’s yet to be determined how different the new commish, Rob Manfred, is. After all, MLB wants viewers, wants asses in the seats and knows it must compete with the NBA and NFL for those who require superhuman achievements and action – action – and more action! The modern fan is deficient of mental skills required to appreciate what makes baseball the best game, and what put it atop all other sports and called the National Pastime. The time of a game was never in question as fans understood the nuances of the “game”, not necessarily the “sport.”

Today we are supposed to buy massive bodybuilder type players gaining weight over the few month off-season and when an older player improves in his advanced years, hitting everything in sight in a red hot post-season run, we’re supposed to assume it’s legit. We know in the very recent past the players were all doped up and cheating, but now – well, it’s different. It is, it really is!

Then some busts happen or someone is outed and we’re told it’s an isolated incident, not to worry. The commish will handle it. Whatever – it’s an insult to fans’ intelligence and speaks volumes to me that there is very little “integrity” left in the game. If the 100+ year record book is peppered with trickery, why do we draw a line in the sand where baseball’s all-time hit king can’t cross?

All I know is Pete played the game like all of us would want any player on our town’s team to play the game. When Steve Sax came up from AA ball to play second for the Dodgers, it was like watching our own blue Pete Rose. He ran to first base when he walked, he hustled non-stop – it was fun, it was energy. Pete played that way every game of a very long career. He amassed, legitimately, more hits than anyone who ever played the game. If sportswriters mull over whether Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, Palmiero, Big Mac, Piazza, Sosa, etc. – even nice guy Andy Pettitte – deserve to be in the Hall – eventually – then Pete should get that level of respect. More. Pete didn’t do anything unethical as a player – unless you count overly enthusiastically bowling over a catcher in the All-Star game.

Yet I see many baseball writers in my Twitter feed saying they voted for PED-era users or suspects and feel they should be in. I will say Bud and MLB created a very messy problem for the writers to figure out. In reality, if Pete is not allowed to be in the Hall, none of the PED users should either. And I would argue perhaps even if Pete is allowed in, the PED users shouldn’t (plenty of old-timers they could allow in first – Gil Hodges, for one). What the dopers did was affect outcomes of games and took away a large part of the mystique of baseball’s record book. No other sport considers its record book as gospel as much as baseball – a game built on its past and its statistics. Pete gambled, but he didn’t do it as a player, and there’s no proof his gambling affected games. We KNOW all those extra home runs, RBI and pitching accomplishments did.

I don’t get the dislike of Pete. I see him in interviews and he seems very genuine in his lifelong love of baseball and regrets what he did. Some punishments cannot be lifted – this I get – but it seems once Bud touted “Chicks Love the Long Ball” as MLB’s post-strike mantra and advertising campaign, all bets were off the table. There has been no “integrity” so to speak in over 20 years. No one can look at Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Papi, Yasiel Puig, etc., etc. and know for sure that what they’re doing, that seems so incredible, is in fact all-natural. That is the legacy of Bud and why the game’s morals are damaged.

I don’t see the talking heads on MLB Network Radio or the TV side, MLB Network, or during games, on the radio, in columns, etc., saying this. Baseball writers, ex-jocks and pundits don’t want to be the one caught calling out the game or the commish. They don’t want to be blackballed – like that reporter in San Francisco was when he went after Melky Cabrera – and they certainly don’t want to lose access to the locker room, or free food. So they talk up the incredible achievements happening on the field and never do their duty as reporters and ask – “Do we know for sure that this is real?”

I am suspicious immediately when anything looks too good to be true. The old adage is that if it looks too good to be true, it usually is. We certainly learned Bud’s heralded home run chase of Roger Maris by pumped up buddies Big Mac and Sammy Sosa was. The aging Roger Clemens pitching as good as he did when he was a young man, etc., etc. Baseball has a past steeped in dirty behavior – racists, drunks, abusers, drug addicts, etc. In that way, unfortunately, it is like any walk of American life. The Hall is full of bad eggs, but as MLB Network Radio hosts says, what Pete did goes beyond being a bad boy – he made us call into question the scores themselves. Ok, if that’s true (again, no proof that it is), how are Bonds fantastic accomplishments at age 40, Clemens, and all those hits, homers and RBI by the rest of them any less? You’re going to tell me that in those record-breaking stats, no achievement directly affected the outcome of a game? There was no walk-off homer, no 15 K pitching win, no 4-5 RBI night that helped a team win? Please… it’s offensive to anyone with a brain in their head.

Baseball and the writers not having the balls to bring any of this up are sickening. Listening to them continue to paint Pete as something akin to a Nazi because he bet on games as a manager is pathetic. I don’t know how the old or new commish sleep at night, nor the guys who know more than they’ll ever tell. Managers, former and current players, announcers, beat reporters, etc.

There is no baseball Hall of Fame without the all-time hit leader in it. And if you’re going to ban him from having a plaque next to violent racists and other offenders, fine, just don’t ever cast a vote – or even put on the ballot – a whole generation of players we know either did performance enhancing drugs, or whose numbers suggest they likely did. They do not belong as they hurt the “integrity” of the game. As a fan, I find this inexcusable – but more than just blame the players, who wanted accolades and tens of millions of dollars – I point the finger at those who allowed, and even promoted, their offenses.

In the end, Pete deserves to be a Hall of Famer – with a comment or two on his plaque how after he retired, he admitted to gambling on baseball when he managed. I am not sure it will ever happen, or most certainly not sure it will happen in his life – which is just sad. On a bright note, Pete won on the field and continues to win in life. Kiana Kim? Once more – please – the man is a genius. And certainly the textbook description of how a person is supposed to play the game of baseball.