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It’s a Wonderful Time to be a Suck Up

September 1, 2016 12 comments

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One month to go and the fans are getting anxious. I see the tweets. Some are realizing what morons Andrew Friedman and his pet gnome Farhan Zaidi are; while others are thrilled the Dodgers are clinging to the vapors of first place in the worst division in baseball, the NL West. Of course the majority of the latter group are typical LA fans – thrilled by beach balls, parking lot fights and selfies. Too young to know better, or so is their excuse.

 

The Dodgers ownership is beside themselves that over 3 million fans attended games this year – or as most understand, 3 million tickets were sold. That’s the important thing, after all. Win, lose or draw (do they have ties in baseball?), the greedy finance company known as the Guggenheim Group get their money. They have that sneaky TV deal with evil empire Time Warner Cable pouring money into the offshore accounts, TV partnerships with MLB, gate receipts, merchandise and expensive stadium food. The parking goes to former sleazy owner Frank McCourt, bless his heart.

 

Fans are still in-fighting, brainwashed by a steady dose of LA media sucking up to the Dodgers gang of geniuses in the front office. The reporters – print, radio or TV – want access to the locker room and the free food before games, after all. It’s hard to find any media person in LA say anything negative, or dare I say, truthful, about the way the front office has conducted business since the last change in direction that landed Friedman and Zaidi into power. LA Times beat reporters triumphantly point to the scoreboard – “First place!”, they declare – while it lasts. If you point out the team has mostly been in first place for many years, under previous general managers, and that payroll is the highest in sports, as well as playing 80 games vs. terrible NL West competition, they shrug their shoulders and head for the free eats.

 

Since the message is always sunny, the majority of fans boast of “the Azul” and liken the slugs on the field in 2016 to some of the greatest to ever wear the Dodgers uniform. I figured out some time back that besides mass hypnosis, a lot of this was because the fans are in their teens and twenties and even early thirties and just do not know better. In their lifetimes – think of that! – in their lifetimes they have never seen a truly great Dodgers team. Their parents – yes, parents – mention names like Garvey, Lopes, Baker, Smith, Sutton, Fernando, Cey, etc., etc. and they look starry eyed at their folks while wearing a Luis Cruz or Charlie Culberson jersey. i.e. their perspective is skewed. There is no saving them. They root the laundry Jerry Seinfeld used to mention fans cheering on. “Who is Jerry Seinfeld?”, they ask.

 

If you try to appeal to them with logic and commonsense you are wasting your time. They are loyal to the core, just like Guggenheim wants. They need these young ones to buy hats and shirts and jerseys and get fanatical so the money keeps rolling in. I will sometimes, for fun, make obvious comments on something that is screwed up and I get attacked or responded to with some confused remark. It’s like explaining the sequence of events in “Pulp Fiction” to a Dalmatian.

 

I can’t fault the young and blissfully ignorant – hell, if the media is so enthralled with mediocrity, why should a vaping kid with a black Dodgers lid be any different? The Dodgers are dead – long gone, a ghost. The final lap of Vin Scully’s career is superficially celebrated but the majority of fans either can’t wait for the old codger to disappear or have no idea why this “boring old guy” is famous anyway.

 

The Dodgers have one month to sail into the playoffs – helped by a final month full of weak West foes – or choke. The team is interesting – the pen holding its own for the most part, save for various shitheels Friedman tries here and there, but overworked. The rotation is crap on a stick – the worst I can remember in all my years of following the Dodgers. The lineup is a patchwork any given night since analytics maintain you can’t throw your “best” players out there, you must always be clever and innovative – keep them guessing, seems to be the Friedman/Zaidi mantra.

 

The Dodgers score 10 runs or 0. They hit homers that get the fans jumping up and down but have trouble hitting in the clutch, moving runners over, stealing bases, taking extra bases and basically all the staples that baseball run producing is supposed to entail. When I wonder how this will play in October, some wet behind the ears whelp thumps his chest mightily and like Bill Shaikin himself, says, “Scoreboard! First place!”

 

No one cares that with 80 games against doormats and a payroll double most other teams, one should expect a degree of success. Again, logic is lost on the clueless. And after all, who am I to rain on their parade? If they want to think the 2016 Dodgers are the team that will break the jinx and bring a parade, full of rioting and hospitalization, to LA, so be it. The game is their game, after all. The young have inherited the Earth – the VMAs, Instagram, Snapchat and Kylie Jenner have deemed it so.

 

I am from a long past generation. Antiquated ideas that flawed data has determined is passé. In my twisted world a general manager would start with pitching – build a strong bullpen that is several power arms deep, shortening games and work back to the rotation. The rotation would consist of three very good starters – healthy, reliable, and capable of going deep into games. The four spot would be someone who could also reliably take the ball and pitch competitively. The fifth spot could be a veteran or a tryout for a top pitching prospect. The farm would have several other pitching prospects and a few veterans capable of stepping in in a pinch. I know this sounds like madness to the young, but it was the way baseball pitching staffs were considered and put together for many years. I know, the data has shown that it’s better to use a jumble of minor league lifers and reclamation projects, and that a rotation can consist of anyone with a pulse. Or who once had a pulse.

 

Again, I recall Dodgers rotations that were amazing, and some that were passable. I don’t recall a time when day to day, every month, no one could say who the day’s starting pitcher was going to be. I don’t recall such a cavalier attitude being given to pitching. This is, was, the LA Dodgers, after all. The team’s pitching has been legendary. Or at least that old man behind the mic has claimed.

 

I am at a loss how a front office full of geniuses – more cooks in the kitchen than Nobu – can spend so much money and have so little to show for it on the field. I mean, a payroll over $200 million while half the lineup, the starting pitcher and several members of the bullpen were just recently UPS drivers is quite an amazing achievement. How do you spend that much and get this little? It’s an art, I tell you.

 

The fans, guardians of finance companies’ wallets, will support any move the front office makes. Pay Zack Greinke until he’s nearing 40? Bah! Give the money to a few untried Cubans instead and overpay some guys coming off major injuries. Spread that green around. Any moron could look at the winter free-agent market and sign a few solid arms, but it takes brains to wait until all of those players are gone and then pull something out of your ass. Remember, it’s poker. Wait it out. Wait till every possible move that makes sense has happened, then pounce. Cleverness is more important than commonsense.

 

I also like how when trouble is evident, the brain trust waits longer still, and lets word leak that something huge is coming. Then the fans get all excited, chattering to themselves about this team’s ace or that team’s best bat and lo and behold, without fail, Friedman and Zaidi hit speed dial in the 11th hour and call on their buddies in Tampa and Oakland to bail them out. Hoarding prospects like nuggets during the California Gold Rush, the duo then foists over kids for anything their old friends want to give them. Rich Hill, old, a walk free-agent – on the disabled list! – and a walk free-agent Josh Reddick who was on the DL himself and has about as much pop as Tim Tebow, assuming the ball is an announced batting practice fastball, heralded as a genius move.

 

A good one was when Friedman had to move clubhouse hero AJ Ellis to get more offense from that all important backup catcher position. Granted, AJ can no longer hit, but if you look through baseball history, or most big league rosters, how many backup catchers do? AJ is a smart player, beloved by his teammates – most especially the guy who wears #22 and is compared to Sandy Koufax – and is essentially another coach or manager in the clubhouse and on the field. Yes, with a rotation in tatters, Friedman felt the need to risk clubhouse chemistry and momentum by moving AJ for another backup catcher. I guess he figured that his new acquisition could pinch hit in the 3rd inning, when one of his horrific starters was lifted, even though it would mean Kike Hernandez or Andrew Toles catching if something happened to passed ball king Yasmani Grandal. Another old guy baseball mindset – who gives a fuck what your backup catcher is hitting? Is he a good catcher? Is he a good game caller? Is he intelligent? AJ is all of these things, Friedman none of them.

 

There is one month left and I would assume the Dodgers should make the playoffs. The Giants have shown no fight in them in the second half and while the Dodgers’ shortcomings have been noted, I can’t say for certain the Giants have a run left in them. I sense they do, but who knows? So that means the Dodgers could win the West or get the wildcard, thrilling the legion of Southland fans to no end. They will point to progress – how the team made it to the playoffs, forgetting they have for years. If they make the wildcard, it will be heralded as an amazing achievement, especially due to all the injuries. No mention will be made that the geniuses acquired known injury cases – and a July 31st deadline arm already on the DL.

 

If the Dodgers don’t do well in October, or miss the playoffs altogether, the suck ups in the media and on social media will cite the amazing year in spite of difficulties. Again, no mention will be made that the difficult road wasn’t one that had to be traveled – how an easier road, with a real baseball man (just one, or two – not a consultancy), using both the financial resources available and prospects to shop with, could have been taken.

 

Kudos will be given to the progress the farm system made, neglecting the fact that almost all of the prospects were inherited from the previous regime. Corey Seager will win Rookie of the Year and get consideration for MVP, but was drafted and cultivated before Friedman and Zaidi slithered into town. Same for Julio Urias. Ditto for Jose De Leon. And others.

 

It would take an epic collapse for the greedy stiffs at Guggenheim to consider a change so likely Friedman, Zaidi and their merry men are here to stay. This will encourage reporters to write and say nice things about the smart guys in the front office and get fans enthusiastic for 2017. The Dodgers will of course start advertising season tickets for the coming season while many of the young fans throw their blue foam fingers aside and grab Rams and Kings gear.

 

As most of us longtime Angelenos know, life in LA is about all the diversions. You can get In N Out Burger, see a Kardashian at the Calabasas Commons, hit the beach, believe the Lakers have a shot, sit in traffic on the 405 and smoke your weed out in public in Van Nuys. The City of Angels, the dream factory, a fantasy world where Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are baseball royalty. It’s not necessarily a great time to be a baseball fan in LA, but it’s a wonderful time to be a suck up.

Let’s Pull the Plug on the Andrew Friedman Experiment

June 1, 2016 12 comments

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The believers are still out there but at this point they are truly delusional or just grossly ill-informed. Unless Clayton Kershaw wins 25-30 games with his current stellar ERA, it would be hard to imagine the Dodgers, as constructed by dueling dingbats Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, making the post-season. The Giants are a better team, as are many other teams around the National League.

The injuries keep mounting and Friedman’s so-called “depth” is all but depleted. In fairness, it never really existed anyway – merely a battle cry for Sabermetrics fans and the truly hopeful. As mediocre pitchers hit the disabled list, their supposed replacements either fail or never make the bell. A few weeks ago amateur pundits (Moneyball fans) were boasting of great arms like Mike Bolsinger, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Urias, Brandon McCarthy, etc. ready to step in and lead the little Dodgers ($236M little) to the promised land. Well, Bolsinger is what he is, Ryu’s shoulder looks like a career ender, Urias is 19 and has 60 innings left in his arm before being shut down (we hope he gets shut down, or else he’ll be lost for 1.5-2 years), and McCarthy is off wherever JD Drew, Andruw Jones, Darren Dreifort and other non-performers disappeared to when getting fat paydays before pulling up with an ache or pain.

The Dodgers are what I and many of you always assumed they would be – mediocre. If you are being honest (a hard feat for many who bleed blue and want so badly to think front office geeks know more than people with actual baseball experience – and common sense), the Dodgers have Kershaw, Kenta Maeda who currently has a hand concern, as well as shoulder and elbow concerns, and nothing else of note in the rotation. The pen is worse, believe it or not, with Kenley Jansen and a cast of gasoline cans. No matter what spreadsheet you look at, no one has ever won anything with 2.5 pitchers out of 11-12. Depth would really need to step up to help Friedman/Zaidi’s Dodgers.

I tune in to 570 radio, the Dodgers flagship station in Los Angeles, and listen to the sports guy buffoons making excuses all the time. Today they were suggesting Urias isn’t really being forced into action out of desperation, but merely a test to see if he can respond to major league beat downs. A moment later they asked resident apologist David Vassegh who else could come up from the minors to help – since Urias is being asked to face the Cubs tomorrow in place of Maeda, rather than his scheduled start (replacing herky jerky and disabled Alex Wood on Saturday vs. the lowly Braves). There was a pause, or two, and some muttering, before saying pretty much no one was around who could help the big team.

I want to remind you all that injuries are part of baseball and they can happen to many teams at any time. That said, this was all predicted well in advance by me, and some of you. If you spend winters acquiring garbage and using tea leaves to figure out your rotation and bullpen, this is exactly what will happen. Many of you defended Friedman and Zaidi, saying those in disagreement didn’t know anything, were out of touch and didn’t understand the genius of the depth being acquired. Way too much confidence was put into the returns of either average at best arms or seriously damaged ones. To assume the likes of Brandon Beachy, McCarthy, Bolsinger and Ryu were going to suddenly become large market saviors was absurd. I love Ryu, but as I said last year, all winter and this March through now, to think he was going to come right back and perform, or even make the bell, was unrealistic. Shoulders, sadly for him, are career enders. If he makes some starts this year, consider Friedman lucky. More than likely he will not and certainly not be very consistent. That is my guess, I wish I were wrong.

The Dodgers, if you want to call them that, are a team in turmoil. It will be interesting to see how loyal the Guggenheim collective is with Paul DePodesta II. Friedman has seemed overmatched from the get-go. He has made a plethora of moves, bet on longshots and only occasionally does anything pan out. I’d say Trayce Thompson, so far, has worked out, but not much else. Big bets such as Chris Hatcher and the rest of his bullpen finds would be in the minors for most good teams. To think this is the end result of a $236M payroll makes it all quite criminal.

Say what you want about Ned Colletti, the guy turned around an abysmal (very similar to this team, as a matter of fact) DePodesta roster in one year and made it a fairly representative contending team. Ned made a few mistakes, but I’d argue they were nowhere near the number or level of Friedman/Zaidi. In the end, you could watch the teams Ned put together without having a puke bucket at hand. They felt like Dodgers teams – or at least as much as they could given the owner was fleecing the brand and the fans for every cent he could.

Friedman/Zaidi are betting on 2018, which to me is merely a way to ask for pardon for several more years of incompetence. If you project down the line, you can imagine Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Urias in the mix, and if lucky, a couple of the kid pitchers we always hear about. But to assume all, or most, of the kid pitchers will deliver, or even stay healthy, is a bit far-fetched. What Sabermetrics lovers forget is that every prospect doesn’t make it and those who do often become average or below starters or relievers. They become backups and depth. To think Friedman’s bet that his Cubans and holdovers from Ned and Logan White will all be stars and the team can have a low payroll (apparently paramount to Guggenheim’s end plan) and be composed of young kids is not only false but should be unacceptable.

Teams comprised of kids should be left for cities where financially that is the only option. A contending team, and of course a large market team, should have a mix of stars, veterans and kids. If you look at the rosters of teams most likely to be around in Oct, the Dodgers do not stack up. If you look toward Friedman’s go-year of 2018, anything resembling a star likely will be gone from LA, and this might include Kershaw. So a plan to wait two more years and hope all the kids are ready to perform is a bad plan for sure.

The only way out of this hinges on what Guggenheim baseball folks think of Friedman’s handiwork. If they like the idea of trimming down payroll and collecting TV money for games no one can see, as well as gate, merchandise, etc., then perhaps Dodgers fans will be subjected to this product for a generation. If Guggenheim, perhaps, sees the brand tarnishing, the gate slowing, and/or need a scapegoat (as Frank McCourt did when he hired, then fired, Depodesta), maybe Friedman and Zaidi are shit canned as they should be. Let’s hope Mark Walter, who seemed to steer Dave Roberts into the manager’s seat over Friedman insider Gabe Kapler, is getting as fed up as most of us are.

It would take Friedman/Zaidi to be fired to turn this around, not that it would be easy for anyone. It would be a ground-up rebuild, likely jettisoning the roster filler acquired by the geeky duo. The new architect (let’s assume they are competent and bright like Dan Evans or Ned or some other experienced baseball man or woman) could cut ties with those Friedman is clearly too sentimental about. AAAA players he favors, bullpen torches and the walking wounded and/or incompetent can be sent away. Some of the veterans or stars could be flipped to bring in younger players perhaps, not necessarily blue chips but major league qualified younger players. The Yasiel Puig experiment could mercifully end (deal him to Texas for Jurickson Profar – the Rangers would likely be intrigued, Profar is blocked at short and second anyway). I would feel more confident because we would still have the prospects Ned and Logan White acquired and a smarter person shopping this off-season. But what about 2016? Sorry, this year is a pipe dream most any way you look at it. Kershaw will have to carry the team on his back in a 1988 Orel Hershiser manner, but even Orel had Tim Belcher, Tim Leary and a bullpen.

My hope is that fans continue to speak up and stop buying expensive tickets to games that ultimately don’t matter anyway. If the owners don’t want to televise the games, stay home and find something else to do. I won’t cave and give Guggenheim money until they show a concern for the fans and the historical brand and replace the morons who have created a roster so convoluted only a snarky geek could like it. Andrew Friedman is overmatched or just a stubborn idiot. His skeevy looking sidekick Farhan Zaidi is a poor man’s Peter Lorre . The two have taken the fun out of Dodgers baseball and when I tune in to 570 or see fans chatting blue online, I can’t believe the nonsense going on. The team was poorly created and not prepared. If the goal was to field an inferior product, they’re doing a wonderful job. When mediocre or poor players don’t do well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. When often injured (and barely passable) players don’t find an elixir for all that ails them and come charging to the rescue, it’s not “bad luck.” Under Friedman and Zaidi, the incompetence has reached new levels – which is saying a lot considering this team was owned by McCourt at one time and designed by DePodesta.

If you like what is happening, or are just there for the 35 Kershaw starts, good for you. I wish you all the happiness. The truth can be painful. As a lifetime Dodgers fan, I call it as I see it. The fans have been fucked over for three decades in one way or another and 2018 will not be any different unless the front office is swept clean. Save your money, read a book, see a summer blockbuster, but don’t count on Friedman and Zaidi’s Dodgers for summer enjoyment unless you like torturing yourself.