Jun 24

June 24 game chat

Dodgers at Angels, 12:35 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Bobby Abreu, DH
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Matt Treanor, C
(Aaron Harang, P)

Travis Jones, a 23-year-old minor-league catcher released by Kansas City, has signed with the Dodgers, who are converting him to pitching. Jones pitched a shutout inning for the Rookie-level Arizona League Dodgers on Friday.

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Daron Sutton, the son of Hall-of-Famer Don Sutton, has been removed from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ broadcast booth indefinitely, according to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com.

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Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano, duelin’ and dealin’ lefties …

Jun 23

Dodger Defcon ratings

Starting today, I’m making periodic contributions to the CityThink blog at Los Angeles Magazine. My first piece looks at the state of the Dodgers from a War Games perspective. Check it out …

Good teams have bad weeks, and one bad week like the Dodgers are having (with four losses in a row, including Friday’s 8-5 come-from-ahead defeat against the Angels) doesn’t ruin a season. At the same time, people have feared all along that the Dodgers are a team living on the brink of destruction in a dangerous baseball world.

In the spirit of War Games, here’s a snapshot of which Dodger problems are tic-tac-toe and which are global thermonuclear war …

Read the rest at CityThink …

Jun 22

On ‘The Newsroom,’ ‘Louie’ and ‘Hit & Miss’


Debate over HBO’s The Newsroom which premieres Sunday, has unfortunately splintered in some pockets online into a referendum on the show’s creator Aaron Sorkin — as if you must have problems with Sorkin himself if you have problems with the show.

My audience relationship with Sorkin dates back to seeing A Few Good Men performed on stage with Michael O’Keefe in Los Angeles two decades ago, a memorable night. I was a diehard fan of Sports Night and an admirer of The West Wing, The Social Network and Moneyball. On the other hand, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a mess, highlighted by its completely unconvincing portrayal of what it kept assuring us was the greatest latenight show in the history of man. (The genius of the other latenight-themed program that premiered at the same time, 30 Rock, was that it took the opposite tack of making its show-within-a-show an embarrassing near-failure.) But you can’t win ‘em all — I certainly didn’t lose respect for Sorkin because he couldn’t pull this one off.

In the first episode of The Newsroom, there are two traits that stick out. One is that there is dialogue, even by Sorkin standards, that is just preposterous. I’m not talking about the style of speech — I’m talking about the substance. Just as an example, right in the main opening scene, Jeff Daniels’ anchorman character, Will McAvoy paints a picture of America that would seem to deny that Sorkin ever heard of Joe McCarthy.  Turns out, there’s a McCarthy reference later in the episode, so there goes that theory. Straw men are not in short supply on this show.

Secondly, while the characters in Sorkin’s best work, however confident or even arrogant they might be, feel truly human, McAvoy just feels plain arrogant. Unlike some of my work colleagues, I’ve only seen the premiere, so I can’t speak to what future episodes hold. But the first episode makes McAvoy into someone whom we’re supposed to root for despite his personality flaws. That would be all well and good if he truly seemed heroic, but since the deck is stacked so heavily in his favor (and I say this as someone sympathetic to the cause), it doesn’t feel like real heroism.

All that being said, I didn’t think the premiere of The Newsroom was bad. It moves quickly despite its 75-minute length, and its aims are certainly honorable. But I thought it was flawed, and not only that, the nature of the flaws made me pretty nervous about future episodes. That’s not a referendum on Sorkin, just on the show.

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You might say that Louie, in contrast to The Newsroom, is a show that works even when it’s not working. The parts that meander have their own particular fascination because of how honest they feel. The rest of the show, which premieres its third season Thursday, will blow you away.

In particular, the second episode of the upcoming season, featuring guest star Melissa Leo, will be one of the most memorable half-hours of the year — amazing to the level of last year’s “Palestinian Chicken” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The funny thing is that my favorite part of the episode isn’t the provocative second half, but rather a joke by his daughter that Louis CK shares early on.  Nevertheless, I can’t wait for people to see the whole thing.

Episodes four and five form a two-parter that is also spellbinding. The mind of Louis CK simply astounds me. The guy is flat-out funny, but he’s also, in my book, one of the deepest thinkers around.

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Finally, for those of you with DirecTV, keep an eye out for Hit & Miss, which will premiere on DirecTV’s audience network July 11. The premise is ordinary enough: Chloe Sevigny plays a transgender hit person. But rather than sensationalize it, the drama does the opposite — it’s brooding, and although slowly paced, engrossing. (The teaser above jazzes things up a bit and doesn’t quite convey the show’s mood.)

The first episode has the feel of a good U.K. independent film, only rather than wrapping up the story tidily, it’s just getting started.

Jun 21

At least Kershaw pitched well

Clayton Kershaw threw eight innings of one-run, seven-strikeout ball, allowing five baserunners, but the Dodgers managed only four baserunners of their own and lost their third straight game to Oakland, 4-1, on a walkoff home run by Yoenis Cespedes off Josh Lindblom.

Juan Rivera had two of the Dodgers’ three hits, driving in Elian Herrera (who doubled) with the only Dodger run.

Jun 21

Slump

In five games over the past seven days, the Dodgers a .201 batting average, .273 on-base percentage and .252 slugging percentage.  No Dodger starter has an OPS above .700. No Dodger has hit a home run.

The Dodgers’ best hitters in this period have probably been Elian Herrera (5 for 20 with two doubles and two walks) and Juan Uribe, who has a single and three doubles in 17 at-bats. The remaining Dodger hitters have one extra-base hit in 141 at-bats.

They have five home runs in June, none since Juan Rivera’s three-run shot off the Angels June 12.

And yet, as Baseball Prospectus writes, “The Dodgers’ winning percentage without Matt Kemp is better than any National League team’s winning percentage.”

Not that we don’t want Kemp back …

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  • Josh Lindblom’s efforts to help the people of Skid Row are chronicled in detail by Tim Brown at Yahoo! Sports.
  • Here’s a great four-minute video piece on Bill Murray and baseball by Amy K. Nelson of SB Nation.

 

Jun 20

R.A. Dickey and Colorado: Climbing the mountain, falling off a cliff


All this and Mt. Kilimanjaro too? Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is everything Dodger fans wanted Charlie Haeger to be and more.

You might have thought climbing the big mountain or publishing a book might be Dickey’s biggest accomplishments of the year, but perhaps not.

Dickey, as David Schoenfield of ESPN.com notes, has not only thrown consecutive one-hitters, but in his past six starts, “Dickey is 6-0 with a 0.18 ERA (one earned run in 48 2/3 innings), 63 strikeouts, five walks and a .131 average allowed.”

Venerable New Yorker writer Roger Angell offered this:

… Dickey, whose full beard and peaceable appearance suggest a retired up-country hunting dog, is thirty-seven years old, with ten years and three prior big-league teams behind him, and hard work has brought him to this Shangri-La, perhaps only briefly. He’ll hope for another visit on Sunday, against the Yankees. Watching him, if you’ve ever played ball, you may find yourself remembering the exact moment in your early teens when you were first able to see a fraction of movement in a ball you’d flung, and sensed a magical kinship with the ball and what you’d just done together. This is where Dickey is right now, and for him the horrendous din of the game and its perpetual, distracting flow of replay and statistics and expertise and P.R. and money and expectation and fatigue have perhaps dimmed, leaving him still in touch with the elegant and, for now, perfectly recallable and repeatable movements of his body and shoulders and the feel of the thing on his fingertips.

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Pitching is easy to predict – and hard too!

“Colorado’s rotation has undergone the most turnover and is the hardest to peg in the division, though you could say it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence,” I wrote in March for ESPNLosAngeles.com. “A look at Colorado makes one appreciate the apparent stability of the Dodgers’ starting rotation.”

Basically, while there were several grim preseason forecasts about how the Dodgers would do this season, the one thing I was most sure of was that they wouldn’t finish behind the Rockies, whose pitching seemed to be in disarray.

Vindication of that position has come throughout 2012, with the Rockies’ starting pitchers combining for an ERA of more than 6.00. That has brought one Jim Tracy to the brink of … something: a four-man starting rotation with pitch-count limits of 75 per game.

Here’s Rob Neyer’s take at Baseball Nation:

… Tracy’s just guessing, of course. And there’s another, perhaps larger issue. If Tracy sticks to that 75-pitch limit, he’ll routinely be turning to his bullpen in the fifth and sixth innings. Now, if managers are crying for relief help with starting pitchers on 100-pitch limits — as they do, routinely — what’s going to happen with 75-pitch limits?

Theoretically, it could work. Tracy’s starters have been terrible, so he’s been going to his bullpen early in most games, anyway. The hope, I suppose, is that Tracy keeps going to his bullpen early, but with his starting pitchers allowing fewer runs than they have been. It’s a lot better to call the bullpen when you’re ahead 4-3 than when you’re losing 6-4.

So this should be interesting. For a week or two. Which, if history’s any guide, is how long this experiment will last.

Said Jorge Arangure Jr. of ESPN the Magazine:

… Tracy seemed almost stunned when talking to reporters about the plan. Obviously, this is not what he expected prior to the season when the Rockies were a trendy pick to win the NL West. Instead, just minutes before taking the field for batting practice Tuesday, Tracy gathered his pitching staff and told the players the surprising news.

The asterisk in the plan is that nothing is definite. Tracy conceded that anything could be modified should one of his starters excel during a particular start. The 75-pitch limit could be ignored. Heck, if Guthrie pitches well in relief, it’s not inconceivable to think that he would be placed back in the rotation.

For the past several weeks, Colorado reportedly has been looking to trade Guthrie — who is making $8.2 million this season, the highest salary on the pitching staff, excluding the injured Jorge De La Rosa. A demotion to the bullpen won’t help his trade market. But the only way for Guthrie to reclaim any trade value is to pitch well, and maybe pitching out of the bullpen is the solution.

“We don’t know what’s going to come out of this,” Tracy said.

Hey, credit Tracy — at least it wasn’t bland and boring.

And finally, this from Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post:

… The defining moment, with the beaker fizzing, will arrive when a starter actually performs well. But Tracy insisted that even if a starter is working a shutout, he will be removed at roughly 75 pitches.

“He has got to come out, because he has to pitch four days later,” Tracy said. “But if he goes five innings, he has pitched you to the point where you can go to a bullpen with some very significant people.”

But as easy as Colorado’s woes might have been to predict, you might not be able to say the same about Atlanta’s – at least, that’s what Michael Barr of Fangraphs argues.

And Tim Lincecum’s struggles are another thing unto themselves, becoming fodder for a discussion of luck and pitching by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.

… Saying that Tim Lincecum has been unlucky is probably not true. He’s struggling with his command, falling behind in counts more often, and throwing pitches that are rightfully getting crushed based on movement and location. If Wells had fouled off that fastball on Saturday, that would have been luck, so maybe you could argue that Lincecum is suffering from a lack of good luck (in that it’s quite possible that hitters aren’t missing his mistakes as often as they used to), but that’s not the same thing as suffering from bad luck.

And that’s why we should probably try to reduce our usage of the word luck to begin with. Yes, there are bloopers that fall in, broken bat squibs that find holes, or times when a defender just falls down and the pitcher gets blamed for his defensive miscue. There are definitely instances of luck in baseball, and they do effect the results that a pitcher is credited with. I’m not arguing against DIPS theory – I’m just saying that perhaps we should try to do a better job of talking about it when a guys results aren’t lining up with his process because he’s throwing bad pitches that hitters aren’t missing.

What Voros McCracken and the others who followed his research really showed us wasn’t that pitchers have no control over batted ball outcomes, but that the things that cause those gaps don’t hold up over time. Lincecum can be doing things that are causing him to give up a lot of runs now but history suggests that he won’t keep doing those things in the future. He’s either going to figure out how to fix his command or he’s going to change his approach to pitching, and he’s not going to keep locating 91 MPH fastballs middle-in at the belt with regularity. Maybe hitters will start missing his mistakes more often. Maybe he’ll start making fewer mistakes. Whatever the cause is, the effect is likely to be that Lincecum is going to get better results in the future than he has in the first two months of the season.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned his poor results to date. The word luck absolves him of blame for the outcome, which shouldn’t be what we’re trying to do. Blame Tim Lincecum for throwing terrible pitches – just realize that it doesn’t mean that he’s going to keep throwing terrible pitches in the future.

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Elsewhere around the small white stitched globe …

Jun 19

Harang walks eight, and it ain’t so great


Aaron Harang, who struck out nine batters in a row two months ago, had another distinctive outing tonight.

Harang walked eight batters in 3 2/3 innings at Oakland. According to Baseball-Reference.com:

Oddly, only one of the eight walkees scored. Harang, who threw 105 pitches to get 11 outs (striking out six), left with the Dodgers down, 3-0 – all three runs coming in the first inning.

Jun 19

Dodger Stadium’s ongoing wireless problems

Realizing that if I were a good soul, I wouldn’t even enter Dodger Stadium with my iPhone, much less try to use it … the fact is, I do. And yet, I don’t know why I bother, given that my phone almost never works there because of the poor wireless reception (or, as someone on Twitter specified to me, data service).

I’ve been curious to see how widespread this problem was, so today I asked people on Twitter to describe their Dodger Stadium wireless experiences. Here are the initial replies (grouped under the hashtag #DSwireless) …