Apr 05

So why not a designated free-throw shooter?

If you’re in favor of the designated hitter in baseball, are you also in favor of a designated free-throw shooter in basketball?

At ESPN.com, the estimable Christina Kahrl revived the arguments for placing the DH in the National League, arguments that have as little effect on me as I’m sure mine against the DH would have on her.

Concidentally, there was a front-page story in the Times sports section today on the free-throw woes of Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, indicating that – like Lakers center Dwight Howard and many other big men before them – Jordan is so poor at shooting free throws that it is limiting his playing time and generally causing headaches.

My first thought was wondering how, with so many years in which you’re paid to do nothing but play basketball, players can still be so poor at free-throw shooting. But I realized, look, some skills are just never going to materialize for some players.

And then it hit me: I’ve just described hitting for many major-league pitchers.

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers (April 1)

Some pitchers can learn to hit, but most won’t. Because of that, many people think that no pitchers should hit at all. That has never made sense to me, because I don’t think the pitchers who can hit should lose that advantage. And I still think it’s a worthwhile goal to strive for. Look at our friends old and new, from Rick Rhoden and Terry Forster to Clayton Kershaw, who over the years has improved at the plate while still developing on the mound.

Having the pitcher’s spot in the lineup enhances baseball strategy, and stories of pitchers getting hurt while playing offense are overblown. Pitchers deliver far more memorable moments at the plate than injure themselves.

But let’s put all that aside and ask yourself this – if you’re pro-DH, shouldn’t you also be pro-DFTS?

Bad free-throw shooters are almost never going to get better. They are painful to watch. They are otherwise key players who aren’t able to play as often.

Most of all, unlike in baseball, where so many of us enjoy trying to think ahead like a manager, bad free-throw shooting brings out the worst in basketball strategy. No one fantasizes about instructing their imaginary team to foul other players; no one salivates over the last two minutes of an NBA game taking 20.

Other than the exceedingly rare injury for pitchers while on offense, there’s little argument for the DH that doesn’t make more sense for the DFTS. The DFTS would discourage fouling, keep the best players on the floor and make the end of a basketball game more entertaining.

I’m against the DH and the DFTS. But whether you’re pro or con, they go together — and yet the world is silent on the latter.

Apr 03

Does loud equal fun?

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers (March 29, 2013)

“Boy, the music is loud,” said Vin Scully with some apparent irritation as the Dodger broadcast came back from commercial tonight, before following with his usual geniality, “Let’s get back to this one.”

It was the top of the sixth inning – typical storytelling time for Scully – but one of two things happened. Either the telecast came back too late to capture the bulk of a story for which “Boy, the music is loud” was the punchline, or the music was just so loud that no one could think straight.

It doesn’t really matter, because this much we know: The music at Dodger Stadium is loud.

And here’s the thing. One assumes the music is loud because loud equals fun in the modern-day math. But what I don’t understand is whom they’re making it loud for.

In general, older people a) don’t want loud music and b) have more trouble hearing than younger people. So if the music was a touch softer, it would still be plenty loud for the hipsters, and the old folk would be just as happy.

This is before we even address how rarely Nancy Bea Hefley gets to play anymore.  Am I wrong? Millennials, give me the straight scoop. I know how writing this makes me sound, but would anyone care if there were fewer decibels at the diamond?

Apr 03

How’s your early season frustration meter?

It hasn’t taken long for Dodger fan patience to be tested.

San Francisco 5, Los Angeles 3. The Dodgers have lost two games in a row and allowed two unearned runs in each. Luis Cruz is 0 for 10. Matt Kemp is 0 for 10.

Tim Lincecum issued seven walks and allowed no earned runs. Carl Crawford is 5 for 9 – and still the team is 1-2.

Tell yourselves something nice as you go to sleep tonight. You deserve it.

Apr 02

Giants turn tables on Dodgers with shutout

Do you like good pitching? Then you saw it tonight, from Madison Bumgarner.

Do you like double plays? Then you saw four of them tonight, from the Dodger defense.

Do you like it when your defense-first shortstop makes two throwing errors in the seventh inning of a one-run game? Then this was your nirvana, thanks to Justin Sellers, who was tasked with making two plays on the run and converted neither.

Those two errors matched the two hits the Dodgers got against Madison Bumgarner over eight innings of a 3-0 San Francisco victory.

Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched out of trouble numerous times, allowing 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings but no walks and only one earned run. As was the case with Matt Cain on Monday, Ryu needed to be more nearly perfect. Bumgarner walked none as well, throwing 101 pitches in retiring 24 of 26 batters.

Apr 01

Happy New Year

Welcome to 2013!

I’m in the press box today, taking a day off work to freelance a piece for Sports on Earth that you’ll see tonight. In the meantime, here are some notes from Don Mattingly’s pregame session:

• Everyone seems at ease with Chris Capuano in the bullpen for now, but neither Aaron Harang nor Don Mattingly seem sold on Harang’s presence there.

“Aaron is a little bit for me someone who we’ll have to learn (about) as we go,” Mattingly said. “He’ll be a bit more of a challenge, in terms of how long it takes him to get going, how long it takes him to get loose. … I’m a little more concerned with Aaron than I am with Cap to be honest.

It didn’t sound as if Harang had really even bought into the program at this point.

“Maybe he hadn’t quite accepted it,” Mattingly said. “Now reality has hit, and we need to get down to brass tacks.”

• Mattingly likes Paco Rodriguez, the young reliever who last year became the first from the 2012 draft class to reach the majors, and he likes him not only as a guy to focus on left-handed batters.

“This guy can get righties out, too,” Mattingly said. “He’s a strike-thrower. … All our lefties for me can get lefties and righties out.”

• There is no medical watch on Carl Crawford beyond simple common sense.

“At this point, I think Carl is off the (medical) list,” Mattingly said. “That being said, we know he’s coming off major elbow surgery, and we have to pay attention.”

Mattingly also made the case that concern over Crawford’s throwing arm – never a strength of his game, the manager acknowledged – is a bit overblown.

“He’s more of a speed guy,” Mattingly said. “He gets to it quick and gets rid of it quick.  … (But) it ain’t like he can’t throw. We think he’s going to continue to get better.”

Mattingly added that Skip Schumacher “throws as good as anybody (the Dodgers have) in the outfield” and he would be the primary defensive replacement should the team feel it needs a better arm in the late innings.

• Dylan Hernandez of the Times asked Mattingly, “How did Ted Lilly react when you told him he was injured.” Mattingly smiled somewhat sheepishly for several seconds, then said, “Ned (Colletti) took care of the DL, so I’ll leave that there.”

•  “Voila,” Mattingly said at one point in the pregame. On principle, I’m not providing the context, allowing you to imagine him as a magician.

Giants at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Kershaw CL: Kershawn the Waterfront

Dodgers starting lineup
Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

Mar 31

The Giants’ 2012 title: Dealmaking trumps chemistry

San Francisco had the highest Opening Day payroll in the National League West in 2012, then won the World Series with a starting eight that was 50 percent new guys. Two of the players had to integrate themselves into the team with the season two-third complete, after the Giants showed the willingness to take on additional salary.

• Gregor Blanco, acquired November 2011
• Angel Pagan, acquired December 2011
• Hunter Pence, acquired July 2012
• Marco Scutaro, acquired July 2012

It’s true that much of San Francisco’s pitching staff, particularly its starting rotation, had been in place for more than a year. Still, isn’t it a little strange that the Giants are considered a triumph of chemistry over payroll?  Wouldn’t the more sensible storyline be about a team being bold enough to make the right moves?

Mar 30

Marching toward April

Feeling Opening Day excitement and the writing bug late on a Saturday …

• I’m reasonably excited about this year’s Dodger team, but part of that is a perverse excitement about just how bad on offense that left side of the infield might be, at least while Hanley Ramirez is out. That makes the decision to go with Justin Sellers fun for kicks, however dubious. Still, I have always liked the idea of emphasizing defense where offense isn’t an option.

• It only just now occurred to me that I was in the stands last year at the game in which Sellers was hurt and the one in which Dee Gordon was hurt.

• Do you realize this will no doubt be the fourth consecutive year that Kenley Jansen isn’t the Opening Day closer but eventually moves into that role?

• One thing I don’t miss about baseball season is the whining whenever a save gets blown, as if it should never happen. Heaven knows, though, it will happen.

• Carl Crawford has me excited. Truly didn’t think he’d be ready this fast, but this is the one case where I’m allowing myself to be swept away by past success and heady Spring Training numbers.

• I think lingering effects of his labrum injury will keep Matt Kemp below 25 home runs this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive.

• At first, I thought that with no true right-handed outfielder in reserve, the Dodgers would need to keep Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier spaced out in their lineup, or lefty relievers will just crush the team. But Gonzalez has had success against left-handers, so that helps. It’s still not necessarily a bad idea to insert a right-hander between them, though – as long as it’s a decent one.

• My initial plan for any free writing time that emerged this spring was that I would spend it offline on a long-term project. I did begin work on that project early this month, but with baseball season starting, I’m wavering. What might happen is a mix, where I post on Dodger Thoughts not infrequently, but not comprehensively. The risk is feeling like I’m doing both things halfway.

• Another intervening factor in my life is that Youngest Master Weisman, now 5, is six days away from his first T-ball season, and he is raring to go. (His team: the Tigers.) After playing with a pretend ball inside the house several times, we made it out to the park for the first time, and he was knocking balls through the infield and reaching the grass. Also in the past day, I’ve begun trying to teach him how to scoop balls on defense. It’s crazy.

• Older brother Young Master Weisman, now 8 1/2, took a few swings, but piano is his game. He’s composing his own material for his May recital performance. Young Miss Weisman, a whopping 10 1/2, is also wonderful on the keys.

Mar 28

Reasons to watch

The times of the year in spring and fall when first-run TV and Major League Baseball intersect the most are tough for me. (I do love my shows.) I almost never watch nighttime exhibition baseball as a result, particularly when my DVR is bubbling.

But I checked on the Dodger game after dinner tonight, almost for no other reason other than to acknowledge the team was back in Southern California, and not only was it scoreless in the fifth, which was kind of interesting, but the Dodgers hadn’t allowed a baserunner, which was very interesting.

It whetted my appetite for baseball. My curiosity.

In the seventh inning, I paused to pay attention to a Juan Uribe at-bat, which is like pausing to pay attention to a fallen leaf. Uribe has had … not the worst spring, and I entertained myself with the thought that I would spot something different about him.  I didn’t, but I did get to see him get his second hit in three at-bats tonight, a broken-bat single off Mark Lowe, that pitcher the Dodgers released earlier this week.

Later in the inning, there was a mini-version of one of those just-when-you-think-you’ve-seen-everything moments, something Vin Scully might remark upon if the stakes were higher. Uribe was on second base with two out, and Tim Federowicz hit a soft single into left field. In a 0-0 exhibition game, I figured Uribe would be waved home to try to score and hardly minded, but given that he was rounding third as the left fielder was reaching the ball, I also figured he would be thrown out easily – and that’s without factoring in that the left fielder was superman Mike Trout.

But Uribe was safe. Easily. He was running in mud, but he was safe.  Maybe he was saving himself for the regular season, but Trout just put nothing on his throw. Welcome back, unpredictability.

And then in the next inning, Matt Kemp hit an opposite-field RBI triple. Giddy.

I like having reasons to watch. I like being reminded that I have reasons to watch. I admit, there are moments that I think this game has nothing left to offer me, at least relative to what the rest of the world can. But baseball keeps putting up a fight. It’s relentless.

Mar 28

Praising Burt Hooton

… (Chan Ho) Park made one more appearance before the Dodgers shipped him to Double-A San Antonio. There he met Burt Hooton, a pitching instructor and former Dodgers starter.

“Burt Hooton was my best friend my first two years,” said Park, who spent most of the 1995 season at Triple-A Albuquerque before breaking through with the Dodgers in ’96. “He was like an uncle to me. He cared about me, my emotions, while he was helping me learn techniques.

“One thing I told Ryu was that meeting good people is very important. I told him to try to make his pitching coach his best friend. When I got my first Major League win, I called Burt Hooton before I even called my parents. That’s how important he was to me.” …

— Ken Gurnick, MLB.com

When I ranked the top 50 Dodgers of all time a year ago for ESPNLosAngeles, Burt Hooton was 29th. But generally, you don’t hear much about him when the pantheon of great Dodgers is discussed.  Nice to see his name brought back to life, particularly in this extra, nurturing dimension.

Hooton gave the Dodgers 10 years of a 3.14 ERA and though he’s often thought of as a postseason goat thanks to one outing in Philadelphia, recovered to have a 2.79 ERA in his 10 other Dodger playoff games, including a remarkable 0.82 ERA over five 1981 postseason starts. (He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1981 National League Championship Series, pitching 14 2/3 shutout innings.) That’s some big stuff that no one ever talks about.

He managed to do this despite averaging five strikeouts per nine innings, a rate that would almost assuredly signify failure in this era. Opponents had a .659 OPS against Hooton over his 15-year career. Since 1972, Hooton has the eighth-best opponent OPS+ among all Dodger pitchers (minimum 600 innings).

Footnote: Hooton is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame and was named the No. 4 college baseball player of the 20th century by Baseball America. Here is his induction speech …

Mar 27

Dodger pitching: Safety in numbers

‘Twas interesting, in the space of 24 hours, for relief pitcher Mark Lowe to go from Dodger camp to pitching against the Dodgers in the Freeway Series.

That the Dodgers would cut loose the 29-year-old Lowe, who was nothing extraordinary but fits the profile of the Jamey Wright types that annually make the Opening Day roster, was the latest indication of how overflowing the Dodger pitching staff is, five days shy of the 2013 season.

That depth is a key weapon for the team this season, because there is so much uncertainty over how healthy and effective so many of the pitchers will be, whether it’s concerns over Zach Greinke’s elbow, Chad Billingsley’s health and consistency or the legitimacy of Brandon League’s late-2012 revamp.

While roster decisions in general should be made based on talent and capability, I won’t mind if the Dodgers stash such relievers as Paco Rodriguez or Josh Wall in the minors (as they have with Javy Guerra and Shawn Tolleson) in order to test the 2013 mettle of those without minor-league options.

The last thing the Dodgers should do is rush into a low-value trade of one of their excess starting pitchers – Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang or Ted Lilly – just so they can make room for a Wall or Kevin Gregg in the back of their bullpen. If they can make a good deal, super – Los Angeles certainly has weak spots among the position players to address, namely in the infield and on that shaky bench. But the end of March is not time to give away starting pitchers for nothing, especially when the existing Dodger starting rotation has its own set of interrogative punctuation (or as they are popularly known, question marks).

It might mean you don’t have the most exquisite 25-man roster for Opening Day. You need to think about the long haul, and the 2013 season, like every other, will absolutely be a long haul.