Jan 23

My favorite films of 2011

The other day, Molly Knight and I were chatting on Twitter when we both realized how much each other loved the films of 2006. That happened to be my first fall working full-time at Variety, and it was a spectacular one for the movies, led by “Little Children,” “United 93″ and “The Last King of Scotland.”

All three of those films would rank ahead of my favorite film of 2011, using the system I designed long ago. It’s a system that is decidedly personal, because film is decidedly personal.  I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “best” film, but only a “favorite” film, because what we bring to a film and what we desire from it is so idiosyncratic.  Here’s how I explained the system back then:

Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges? For example, is it offering both a romantic story and social commentary at once? How difficult was the film to make technically? This allows one to distinguish between two equally well-made films when one is Casablanca and the other is Animal House. Ambition isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it allows some extra credit to be given where it is due.

Quality (1-10): This is essentially how most films are graded – simply, how good are they. As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?

Emotional resonance (1-13)
: How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it’s the most important – I’d rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.

Just to give you a quick idea of how this works, here are the scores of my favorite films of all time.

The Misfits: Ambition 5, Quality 9.5, Resonance 13, Total 27.5
Casablanca: Ambition 6, Quality 10, Resonance 11.5, Total 27.5

Both are great movies in my mind, with Casablanca being objectively better and The Misfits being the most powerful to me emotionally. Now, there probably aren’t 10 people in the world who would consider these films equals, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? This system helps us rank our favorites without trying to say that they’re definitively the best.

And, for comparison, down near the bottom of the scale …

The Bad News Bears Go To Japan: Ambition 1.5, Quality 2, Resonance 2, Total 5.5.

During my single days, I rated nearly 600 films using this system before it fell by the wayside. But I decided to hurriedly resurrect it to knock out the films I saw that were released in 2006. You’ll see that list below.

Two last quick points: I wouldn’t get caught up in single-point distinctions – those don’t amount to a significant difference between films. In fact, each time I look at the list, I feel like tinkering with some of the grades.

The other thing is that in the past, an average film totaled about 16 points, which means that I did pretty well in what I saw this year. I honestly didn’t feel that I saw a truly awful movie from 2006.

Now while I didn’t see a movie in 2011 that I would rank ahead of the best of 2006, I did see plenty of good ones in a year that matched up well with 2010 – along with one truly awful, despicable one. So here, the day before the Oscar nominations are revealed, is my list for the past year …

Film A Q ER Total Comment
1 Beginners 4 9.5 10.5 24 A wonderful grown-up multi-person love-and-loss story, perfect in tone.
2t The Artist 4.5 9 10 23.5 I know some don’t get the fascination with it, but I found it simply winning.
2t Moneyball 4 8.5 11 23.5 Some unnecessary missteps on the baseball side, but a really affecting story of a man at war with himself.
2t 50/50 4 9 10.5 23.5 Sincere and meaningful, with some genuinely brilliant touches
5 Martha Marcy May Marlene 4 9 10 23 They should have gotten her treatment sooner, but otherwise, really strong, intense movie.
6t Hugo 4 9 9 22 An involving, well-executed ride. Got kids interested in origins of film, which was very cool.
6t A Separation 4 9 9 22 “Carnage” for grownups. Serious themes and believable stakes.
8t The Descendants 4 8 9.5 21.5 Too much voiceover and lag early on, but hits home hard in second half.
8t The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 4 9 8.5 21.5 Pretty riveting, and enjoyed Mara and Craig greatly. Didn’t like the Villain Explains It All ending much.
10t Take Shelter 4 8 9 21 A sincere depiction of the confusion that comes with mental illness, with tremendous work by Michael Shannon
10t Win Win 3.5 8.5 9 21 Good entertainment, fun and unique story.
10t Warrior 4 8 9 21 Except for its detour into conventional ESPN sports movie midway, very well-done.
10t The Guard 3.5 8.5 9 21 Sharp and entertaining, a good companion with “In Bruges.”
14t Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 3.5 9 8 20.5 Well-executed (though as challenging as anything to follow) and Oldman is amazing.
14t A Better Life 4 7.5 9 20.5 Earnestness is mostly well-earned. Bechir is great. The gang stuff feels a little staged.
14t The Help 3.5 8 9 20.5 Solid storytelling that mostly feels familiar and not groundbreaking. Liked the performances.
17t A Dolphin’s Tale 4 7 9 20 After a somewhat rough start, I got swept up in the film despite (okay, maybe because of) its earnestness.
17t Midnight in Paris 4 8 8 20 Rachel McAdams’ disaster character harms an otherwise smart ride.
17t Rio 3.5 8.5 8 20 Fun. This and “Gnomeo” are underrated as far as this year’s animated movies.
20t Rango 3.5 8 8 19.5 Cool in its way but the story didn’t completely enthrall me.
20t Tyrannosaur 3 8.5 8 19.5 Searingly intense with great lead performances.
22t Higher Ground 4 7.5 7.5 19 Slow-starting but kicks into something kind of unique.
22t Crazy, Stupid, Love 3 7.5 8.5 19 Fun but not special. Feel-good movie.
22t Gnomeo and Juliet 3 8 8 19 See “Rio.”
22t Jane Eyre 3 8 8 19 Few complaints of this adaptation.
22t The Tree of Life 4 7 8 19 The ambition, care and commitment are evident, but I couldn’t make all the connections the movie wants me to.
22t Young Adult 4 7.5 7.5 19 On the edge of too unsympathetic, but overall it succeeded, and performances were great.
28 Hanna 3 8 7.5 18.5 A good exciting ride. Ronan is awesome. Cate Blachett’s Texas accent, not so much.
29 A Dangerous Method 4 7 7 18 Good elements, but didn’t come together as an impactful movie.
30t Carnage 3 7.5 7 17.5 Only partially successful adaptation of the play, with many of its strengths but more of its artificiality.
30t Shame 3 6.5 8 17.5 Didn’t dislike it, but we end up basically where we began.
32t The Muppets 3 6 8 17 You know, the plot wasn’t much, but I enjoyed it.
32t The Adventures of Tintin 3 7 7 17 A good adventure built around a bland, bland central character.
32t Cedar Rapids 3 7 7 17 Lightly fun, mostly unassuming comedy.
35t Cowboys & Aliens 3 6 7 16 Kind of a mess, but I didn’t mind all that much.
35t Kung Fu Panda 2 3 6 7 16 Movie didn’t hold me.
35t We Need To Talk About Kevin 3 6 7 16 Well-meaning, well-acted, but with serious flaws and lack of insight
35t The Iron Lady 3 7 6 16 More strange than entertaining.
39t J. Edgar 3.5 6 6 15.5 Not bad but not reveletory, kind of dull. Not once did I feel the actors disappeared into their roles.
39t Margaret 3 5.5 7 15.5 Promising start derailed by contrived shrillness. Needed much more nuance.
41t Albert Nobbs 4 5 6 15 Well-intentioned but with inexplicable plot and character choices.
41t Bridesmaids 3 6 6 15 Melissa McCarthy as good as advertised, but otherwise almost as overrated as I thought “The Hangover” was.
41t My Week With Marilyn 3 6 6 15 Other than watching Michelle Williams, who is convincing, not much there. Lead male is two-dimensional.
44 The Ides of March 3 5.5 5 13.5 Boy falls in love with politics and an hour later is jilted. That’s all there is?
45 Cars 2 3 5 5 13 Flat and uninvolving – a big drop from the original.
46 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 3.5 3 3 9.5 As phony and manipulative as anything you’ll ever see, to the point of being offensive. Garbage plotting.
Jan 22

Thirty-two years without Super Bowl fever

It still seems like such a significant period in my life, but it really was just so short.

Five seasons. Five seasons between the moment, at an exhibition victory over Dallas at the Coliseum in August 1975, when I fell suddenly and deeply in love with the Rams (and sports in general), and their departure from the Coliseum for Anaheim following the 1979-80 campaign. Five seasons that I was a Los Angeles Rams fan hard and true.

I still have the Lawrence McCutcheon T-shirt to prove it.

Almost immediately after moving from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1950, my dad’s family had obtained season tickets to the Rams. He held them through ’80, giving the long Woodland Hills-to-Anaheim commute a short try before deciding enough was enough. We got season tickets to the Dodgers the next year.

The Rams were serious Super Bowl contenders every one of those five years – something that not even the True Blue Dodgers of that era could say – and every one of those five years ended in disappointment.  Bitter and bitterly cold in Minnesota. Rain-slogged against the Vikings in Los Angeles. Twin 37-7 and 28-0 pastings by the Cowboys, each in front of the Coliseum crowd. And of course, the so-close-and-yet-so-far lone Super Bowl appearance, with perhaps the weakest Rams team of them all taking a lead into the fourth quarter against might Pittsburgh, Jack Youngblood making Kirk Gibson look like small potatoes, only to let it slip away.

With their move to Anaheim, the Rams took my passion with them. I had dalliances with the Los Angeles Raiders and with the Bill Walsh-infused 49ers, dalliances that spackled the void but never meant nearly as much. The St. Louis Rams weren’t even an eyebrow-raiser. And so I realize now that Friday marked 32 years since I last really cared about who won an NFL championship.

The Rams gave birth to me becoming a sports fan, but like an absentee father, they long since left me to fend for myself.

Say what you will about the Dodgers’ downs and further-downs since 1988, but the passion (as much as I would almost want it to) has never fled. In some ways, it’s kind of a miracle.

Jan 22

Fielder-to-Dodgers momentum building?

I wrote in October that the Dodgers could and should sign Prince Fielder. More and more people appear to be coming around to the idea, as this post at Hardball Talk indicates. T.J. Simers of the Times also picked up the banner.

Here’s an excerpt from my piece, written almost exactly three months ago and before the Angels even signed Albert Pujols.

So guess what. The Dodgers should sign Prince Fielder.

Betcha didn’t see that coming.

Here are the reasons:

  • Fielder, who is only 4 1/2 months older than Kemp, might not play until he’s 40, but no one’s going to give him a 12-year contract. The big first baseman should be good for the next several years easily. For all the concerns about his physical condition, he has averaged 160 games per season since 2006.
  • He is truly awesome, not only supplying mammoth power (that admittedly would decline some playing regularly in Dodger Stadium) but also the mammoth on-base percentage that made Manny Ramirez so valuable during his Los Angeles heyday. Fielder’s lifetime OBP is .390, including .381 in road games (.386 in 70 plate appearances at AT&T Park, if that sort of thing interests you). That ability isn’t going to go away anytime soon. …
  • The Dodgers – even the bankrupt Dodgers – can afford him.

That last point is the one I’ve sort of put out of sight, out of mind, out of a belief that it wasn’t even worth thinking about. But then, I started to think about it. The Dodgers could always backload a Fielder contract so that the hefty portion (pun acknowledged but not admired) comes after the post-2013 local TV contract money can be accessed. However, the Dodgers should be able to afford Fielder even if they pay him the proper amount starting next year. …

Wasting money on a bad signing is one thing, but the idea that signing Fielder to a market-value contract would lower the value of the Dodgers in a sale has always been fiction. Having this bird in the hand gives the new owners a tremendous head start toward rejuvenating the franchise and generating value. If signing good players weren’t a value proposition, good teams wouldn’t do it.

Payroll is payroll, whether Fielder is on the team or not. It’s not as if the post-McCourt Dodgers are going to save money if Fielder isn’t on the roster – they’re just going to spend it on different players. Getting in the Fielder game now just means the Dodgers would know they’re getting a superb player instead of a gaggle of Juan Riveras. You can add Fielder to the team and save the money elsewhere, instead of being penny-wise but pound-foolish.

We went through this Vladimir Guerrero eight years ago. Is there anyone who thinks the Dodgers would have had less value with Guerrero in the fold?

Think about it – you’re a prospective Dodger owner. You’re bidding more than a billion bucks for the team even with the possibility that the Dodger Stadium parking lot land will cost extra. Are you really going to let the presence of Prince Fielder – on a contract that is spread out years into the future – be what prevents you from buying the franchise? It makes absolutely no sense.

Jan 20

Every other team’s Most Valuable Dodger


Getty ImagesReggie Smith

Reading Evan Bladh’s recent post on Mike Piazza at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance, I got to wondering about the Mike Piazzas of every team in baseball — which players were the most valuable to both the Dodgers and another team.

So I put together this chart of what I thought might be the best. Keep in mind that I tried as hard as possible to avoid technicalities — if the player wasn’t significant to both teams, I wasn’t interested. So no Duke Snider with the Giants, no Frank Robinson. And managing didn’t count, so there’s no place for Gil Hodges or Joe Torre.

Let me know what you think — some choices were tough, but with others I might simply have had a blind spot and forgotten about a better option. Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Arizona and Cincinnati were no picnic, to name a few. If you suggest someone in the comments below who is an improvement, I’ll make the change.

Update: Changes made below thanks to some great reader suggestions. I took several of them and deliberated others before deciding to stick with what I had.

 
Arizona Steve Finley
Atlanta Dusty Baker Rafael Furcal
Baltimore Eddie Murray
Boston Reggie Smith
Chicago Cubs Bill Buckner
Chicago White Sox Tommy John
Cincinnati Kal Daniels Jeff Shaw
Cleveland Brett Butler Orel Hershiser
Colorado Pedro Astacio
Detroit Kirk Gibson
Houston Jimmy Wynn
Kansas City Tim Belcher
Los Angeles Angels Andy Messersmith
Miami Gary Sheffield
Milwaukee Greg Brock
Minnesota Ron Perranoski
New York Mets Mike Piazza
New York Yankees Al Downing
Oakland Bob Welch
Philadelphia Jay Johnstone Dolph Camilli
Pittsburgh Burleigh Grimes
San Diego Steve Garvey
San Francisco Jeff Kent
Seattle Adrian Beltre
St. Louis Joe Medwick
Tampa Bay Wilson Alvarez
Texas Charlie Hough Frank Howard
Toronto Shawn Green
Washington Pedro Martinez Mike Marshall

Here’s how my initial selections shape up by position:

1B 2B SS 3B LF CF RF C SP RP
Murray Kent Furcal Beltre Medwick Wynn Smith Piazza Hershiser Marshall
Garvey       Gibson Finley Sheffield   Grimes Perranoski
Buckner       Howard Green   John Shaw
Camilli             Messersmith Welch
Brock               Downing Alvarez
                Astacio
                Belcher
Jan 19

Moyer better blues

This post is dedicated to a real ’49er …

  • Jamie Moyer, who turns 50 on November 18, signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies with an invitation to Spring Training. Not that my expectations would be sky high, but I would have been curious to see Moyer, recovered from Tommy John surgery, in a Dodger uniform in March.
  • Here, The Platoon Advantage needs only four degrees of separation to connect Moyer to Babe Ruth and makes the case for six degrees between Moyer and Cap Anson.
  • Want to know what potential Dodger bidder Mark Cuban is up to this week? Just trying to change the business model of TV distribution.
  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com spoke to Cuban this week about why he’s interested in the Dodgers. “It’s an iconic team,” Cuban said. “There’s only a few franchises like that. And it’s always better to buy a team like that when they’re down.”
  • Bill Shaikin of the Times does the most thorough look of anyone yet at the threat of Frank McCourt keeping possession of the parking-lot-infused land surrounding Dodger Stadium. Because McCourt’s agreement with MLB doesn’t require him to sell that land, he can use it as a bargaining chip to extract more purchase money, hang on to it and draw millions in lease revenue from it, or do the very thing we imagined he’d do when he first bought the Dodgers eight years ago, develop it.

    As I’ve said in the past, though there’s a risk that some group will buy the Dodgers without the land, no one with the sense of a bullfrog should be willing to take the risk of remaining beholden to McCourt after the sale. Pay the man up front and get him out of Dodge.
  • The Miami Marlins appear to be the choice to succeed the San Francisco Giants as the featured team on Showtime’s baseball documentary series, “The Franchise,” Jon Weisman of Variety reports.
  • Still more from the TV front: John Ourand of Sports Business Journal explores how long MLB Advanced Media will keep its digital operations separate from TV rights sales. Stakes are high.
  • Renowned baseball historian Robert Creamer gave a lengthy interview with Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present. His biography of Babe Ruth was one of the first serious baseball books I ever read. Here’s a small Dodger-related tidbit from the interview:

    … I first became intensely aware of big league baseball in the summer of 1931, when I was nine. My big brother, who was six years older than I, took me to my first major league game, or games — it was a doubleheader between the old New York Giants and the old Brooklyn Dodgers in the old Polo Grounds on the banks of the Harlem River in New York, below the steep hillside known as Coogan’s Bluff. John McGraw was still managing the Giants and Wilbert Robinson the Dodgers, who were generally known as the Robins. Headlines would sometimes refer to the Robins as “the Flock, as in flock of birds. I’m not sure if team nicknames were technically formal at that time. If not they soon were. Both McGraw and Robinson ended their managerial careers in 1932, and the Robins nickname soon disappeared as “Dodgers” returned. The new manager was Max Carey, whose real name was, I believe, “Canarius.” One sportswriter, Tom Meany, bowing to Max, suggested the team’s new nickname be the Canaries, but it didn’t take. …

  • “Moneyball” won approval across the pond, nabbing nominations for Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and the screenplay by Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin from the British Academy.
  • Our good friend Bob Timmermann wrote a terrific piece at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence about “L.A.’s Hall of Fame basketball coach who faded from memory,” Alex Hannum.
  • Timmermann also passes along this note: “RIP Patsy Tombaugh, wife of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. … She was also the great-aunt of one Clayton Kershaw.” Tombaugh was 99.
  • Dioner Navarro, who got a guaranteed $1 million from the Dodgers after finishing 2010 with a .528 OPS and an awkward departure from Tampa Bay, will go to Spring Training this year on a minor-league contract with the Reds after finishing 2011 with a .600 OPS and an awkward departure from Los Angeles. (Remembering 2011: Dioner Navarro.)
  • Vagabond former Dodger draft pick Preston Mattingly has hooked a minor-league contract with his dad’s former team, the Yankees. Mattingly, 24, reached base 50 times in Single-A last year.
  • Vicente Padilla signed a minor-league contract with Boston. He will compete for a spot in the starting rotation but could end up in the bullpen – health permitting, of course. (Remembering 2011: Vicente Padilla.)
  • Diamond Leung, former Dodger beat reporter for the Press-Enterprise, has been blogging on college basketball for ESPN.com but now will cover Michigan State hoops for MLive.com.
Jan 17

Kershaw requests $10 million in arbitration

Clayton Kershaw has requested a $10 million salary for 2012 via arbitration, while the Dodgers have submitted a figure of $6.5 million. That puts the midpoint between the two at $8.25 million, which is in line with expectations for his 2012 paycheck.

In the absence of a multiyear deal (that is unlikely to come with the team so close to being sold), I have speculated that Kershaw would end up at $9 million. So I tend to believe Kershaw would win an arbitration hearing, but I also tend to believe that he and the Dodgers will settle in the mid-$8 million area.

Tim Lincecum, by the way, has put in for $21.5 million and been offered $17 million by the Giants.

Jan 17

Late-season run spurs payday for Loney

Sometimes, it sure helps to finish strong.

James Loney has signed a 2012 contract for $6.375 million plus incentives, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. That’s an increase of $1.5 million (31 percent) from his 2011 salary of $4.875 million, compared with the $1.7 million (18 percent) increase that Andre Ethier received earlier today.

(In September, I predicted Loney would end up with $6.5 million.)

One shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Ethier is still getting nearly $5 million more than Loney will for 2012, but it’s still a pretty impressive haul for Loney, who had a .612 OPS as late as August 6 last season.  But he OPSed 1.082 in his final 47 games, a late-season run that was worth millions, given the probability that he would have been non-tendered without having done so.

And so, the spotlight now turns to Clayton Kershaw’s 2012 contract …

Jan 17

Ethier signs surprisingly modest 2012 deal

Andre Ethier has avoided a salary arbitration hearing by signing a one-year deal for $10.95 million plus minimal incentives – a deal so modest, given what he could have potentially earned, that it’s almost as if Ethier has taken a Dale Carnegie approach to 2012.

Tip of the hat, no muss, no fuss, let’s play ball.

Based on the history of raises for arbitration-eligible players of his caliber, I had projected in September that Ethier (who made $9.25 million last year) could pull $13 million in salary for 2012. On this, I wasn’t alone: Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. reached the same conclusion, while Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness was close behind at $12 million. By my estimation, $10.95 million (plus $25,000 for reaching 600 plate appearances and again for 625 plate appearances, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Tony Jackson) is roughly the minimum Ethier would have gotten in salary arbitration – the figure he would have ended up with had he lost.

If you’re wondering why Ethier would be guaranteed a raise even after a decline in performance last year, you have a lot to learn about Major League Baseball’s salary structure. By way of comparison, James Loney got a 57 percent salary bump after the 2010 season despite falling to a .723 OPS that year. Ethier just pulled an 18 percent increase.

Perhaps all of us overestimated what Ethier could get this year, but it would appear that he simply wanted to just take care of business and have no part of a protracted conflict.

Now the path is clear for Ethier to pursue a healthy rebound from his career-low 11-homer, .789 OPS season, not to mention a reversal of his decline against left-handed pitching. Ethier obviously won’t end up in the poorhouse should he fall short, but all in all, a comfortable peace between the Dodgers and Ethier would seem to be a good thing.

Jan 16

Trying to get that ’09 feeling again …


I’m feelin’ mighty Mani-low.

Two seasons ago, when the Dodgers were the best team in the National League for much of the season and reached Major League Baseball’s Final Four, they had …

  • a below-average season for a first baseman by James Loney (.756 OPS).
  • nothing special offensively from their shortstop, Rafael Furcal (.711) or their catcher, Russell Martin (.680 OPS).
  • a strong but not superhuman season from their center fielder, Matt Kemp (.842).
  • 11 home runs all year from their bench.
  • an up-and-down campaign from Chad Billingsley (4.03 ERA).
  • an injury-hampered season from Hiroki Kuroda (3.76 ERA in 20 starts).
  • 10 starts by Eric Stults, seven by Jeff Weaver, five by Eric Milton, four by Jason Schmidt and three by Charlie Haeger before the late-season acquisitions of Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland stabilized matters.

The keys to that team, in retrospect, were Andre Ethier having his best year with an .869 OPS, matched with precision by the left-field duo of Manny Ramirez and Juan Pierre (.869 OPS), and a strong season by Casey Blake at third base (.832 OPS). It didn’t hurt that the team caught lightning in a sippy cup with Ronald Belisario (2.04 ERA), Ramon Troncoso (2.72 ERA) and midseason pickup George Sherrill (0.65 ERA). And Orlando Hudson made some nice contributions before giving way to Ronnie Belliard down the stretch.

Randy Wolf (3.23 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (2.79 ERA) were the Dodgers’ only two starting pitchers in 2009 who were above-average for a full season.

As the 2012 Dodgers near the horizon of the coming baseball season, you can  weaknesses similar to their division-winning forerunners from 2009. The problem is not that the ’09 team was perfect. The problem, for now, is that the ’12 weaknesses don’t really stop there – in particular, third base and left field are exceptional worry spots.

Jerry Sands and Juan Rivera really need to meet the best of expectations – which could happen, but I hope you’ve trained in the pool to hold your breath.  As for third baseman Juan Uribe … the hopes dim, though either of the two seasons he had in San Francisco (.824 OPS with 16 homers, .749 OPS with 24 homers) would be a welcome start.

In order to make the playoffs, the 2012 Dodgers will need some help from some very unexpected sources, either within the organization or from the outside. The possibility should keep things interesting for a while, but that’s about all you can guarantee.

Jan 16

Unsigned Dodger draftees poised to be top picks in 2012

Today, I happened across a list that Baseball America put out a few weeks ago of the top 100 college players for the 2012 draft. Four of the top 15, it turns out, were previously drafted by the Dodgers:

5) Kevin Gausman, RHP, Louisiana State — 2010 round six
6) Brian Johnson, LHP/1B, Florida — 2009 round 27
13) Richie Shaffer, 1B, Clemson — 2009 round 25
14) Stephen Piscotty, 3B, Stanford — 2009 round 45

Gausman, the highest-rated of the four, was taken five rounds after the Dodgers picked Zach Lee, whom they stole away from the same school, LSU. (Third-round draft pick Leon Landry was also an LSU player.)

From Gausman’s LSU bio:

Regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in the country … has a tall, slender build and is very athletic for his size … smooth and easy delivery with a fastball that usually sits in the low to mid 90s range; his fastball has been clocked up to 100 mph …

Freshman season (2011)
Started 14 games, posting a 5-6 mark and a 3.51 ERA in 89.2 innings with 23 walks and 86 strikeouts … 3-1 record with a 1.17 ERA in his final four starts of the year, recording five walks and 32 strikeouts in 30.2 innings …

As for the others in 2011, Johnson struck out 72 in 79 2/3 innings with a 3.62 ERA and had an .845 OPS at the plate, Shaffer had a 1.015 OPS and Piscotty had an .894 OPS.

Not aiming for anything profound with this post — I have no idea whether these guys turned down the Dodgers because of money or because they had no intention of skipping college, nor do I have any idea how they will do as pros.  All I can say is that it would be fun to have them in the Dodger farm system now.

Lee, Baseball America notes in the same issue, remains the Dodgers’ top prospect. He could get a first callup before the 2012 season ends, and with Rubby De La Rosa and Clayton Kershaw could give the Dodgers three exciting starting pitchers age 25-or-under in 2013.

Jan 15

Shots at Kuroda undeserved

Some online have criticized Hiroki Kuroda for joining an East Coast team this winter after refusing to approve a trade to an East Coast team last summer. Those criticisms are way off the mark.

There’s a big difference between making your own decision to go east after months of deliberations, as opposed to being forced to do so at a moment’s notice, against your will.

In November 2010, Kuroda signed a contract in good faith to pitch in Los Angeles in 2011 and made clear his intention of how important it was to him to be in Los Angeles by negotiating a no-trade clause. Now, some would fault him for not volunteering to leave the team he signed with – not to mention his family – behind.

This is a pretty bizarre loyalty test, where you’re required to make a sacrifice for a team that, the minute you make the sacrifice, is no longer your team. I don’t know where the idea that he owed the Dodgers something comes from.

Trading Kuroda for prospects would have helped the Dodgers. So would Kuroda and all his teammates playing for free. It doesn’t mean they’re lesser people for choosing not to do so. It doesn’t mean that Kuroda didn’t have valid reasons for staying.

Those of you who are employed – would you accept a sudden and immediate transfer to a completely different company, across the country, even when you didn’t want to go, only because it would help the company you were previously working for?

Jan 13

Kershawing

Orel Hershiser probably took the most famous thanks-be-to-God knee in Dodger history, and in the aftermath of the 1988 season, religion became a small component of the Hershiser story. It did not bother me, though I could not relate to it at all.

On Tim Tebow, I have no opinion of significance. I’ve seen him play most infrequently, though I did catch a glimpse of his game-winning throw Sunday against Pittsburgh, a play of beauty. I gather that is more talented than your average bear but filled with heaps of inconsistency.  I also gather he is pious and sincerely so, though perhaps at times holier-than-thou. His politics might not be my politics, something that’s probably true of many athletes. He’s so far off my radar that I’ve never actually seen him perform the act of Tebowing. 

Someone I do have an opinion of is Clayton Kershaw, whom I would say is supremely talented, remarkably consistent and whom I’m led to believe is similarly devoted to his religious life as Tebow. In 2011, Kershaw earned his greatest national accolades with a Cy Young-winning season, yet relative to Tebow, I imagine Kershaw is still a largely undiscovered property. Tebow is a national phenomenon; while Kershaw is merely a superstar. There’s no catchphrase known as Kershawing.
 

It’s funny to be in the position of wondering whether I would be bothered or enthralled by Tebow if I were only paying more attention, instead of simply regarding him as a far-off curiosity. All I do know is that, as a person whose religious fervor is confined to the Great Dodger in the sky, I feel blessed to have the guy we have. 
 

Update: As it happens, about an hour after I drafted this post, the Dodgers announced that Kershaw and his wife Ellen will meet with the media at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday “to discuss their new book, titled ‘Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself,’ their latest trip to Africa and the upcoming 2012 Dodger season.”

Jan 11

In left field for the Dodgers, Ted Williams …

Funny one-line intro …

  • Here’s video of John Candelaria no-hitting the Dodgers in 1976. Check out how excited color commentator Bob Gibson is alongside play-by-play man Al Michaels for the final out.
  • Manny Ramirez talked at length with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez about events of the past year and his desire to play again. It’s self-serving but take it for what you will.
  • Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner looks at how different this year’s Triple-A Isotopes will be. An excerpt:

    A total of 19 additional players who spent time in Albuquerque in 2011 became free agents after the season.

    Left-handed starter Alberto Bastardo (4-3, 5.38 ERA) has signed with the Marlins organization, which puts him in contention for a rotation spot with New Orleans.

    Closer Jon Link (2-2, 4.24, 11 saves) inked a deal with the Orioles, enabling him to potentially pitch closer to his Virginia home with Norfolk, another Triple-A team run by Isotopes owner Ken Young.

    Right-handed reliever Travis Schlichting (5-3, 7.10, four saves) will join the wide-open competition for a roster spot in cash-strapped Oakland.

    Corner infielder Corey Smith (.239, 7 HR) joined the White Sox, while utility player Eugenio Velez (.339, 31 RBI) will take his 0-for-37 skid in the Majors to the Cardinals organization.

    The free agents still looking for work include pitchers Roman Colon, Roy Corcoran and Randy Keisler, plus catcher Damaso Espino, first baseman John Lindsey and outfielders Brad Coon and Jay Gibbons.

  • For Variety, I took a look at the state of NFL, MLB and NBA sports broadcasts on mobile and digital platforms.
  • World Series MVP David Freese will risk killing all his postseason good vibes with a guest appearance on maligned ABC sitcom “Work It” on January 24, if the show isn’t canceled first.
  • Vin Scully talked to Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News about his upcoming bobblehead night. “Since I won’t be here for the 100th anniversary (of Dodger Stadium), I agreed to do the 50th,” Scully said. “Otherwise, I would be open to questions as to why I didn’t do it. It’s far easier this way.”
  • Ted Williams, 1940: “If I were a free agent and each major league club offered me identical contracts, I’d sign with the Dodgers. … I know I’d be a hero in Brooklyn.” (Link via Larry Granillo and Baseball Prospectus.)