Mar 03

Thirty-one quick bullet points about MLB’s expanded playoffs

Something close to everything you need to know about the new postseason system that Major League Baseball made official Friday …

The skinny:

  • Three division winners and two wild-card teams in each league make the postseason, scheduled to end on Wednesday, October 3.
  • There will be a 163rd regular season game if needed to break a tie for a division title, even if both teams make the playoffs, on Thursday, October 4.
  • The two wild-card teams will play each other in a one-game playoff on Friday, October 5.
  • Division series for the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each league will begin Saturday, October 6.
  • Division series for the No. 1 seed and the wild-card champion will begin Sunday, October 7.
  • For the first time, teams from the same division can meet in the division series.
  • For 2012 only, because of scheduling limitations, the lower seed in the division series will host the first two games of the best-of-five division series. Following a travel day, the higher seed would host the next three games, as needed.
  • The World Series begins on Wednesday, October 24.
  • Beginning in 2013, the higher seed in the division series will host the first two games and the fifth if necessary.

The pros:

  • There is more value to winning a division title. You get more rest before the division series starts and have a greater opportunity to set your starting rotation. Runners-up will have more reason to use their best pitcher in the wild-card playoff.
  • If two teams vying for a division title are playing head-to-head at the end of the regular season, they’ll give a full effort.
  • The odds of the best team in each league reaching the World Series have slightly increased.
  • In the absence of any hope that baseball would eliminate the wild-card, this arguably makes a second-choice playoff system better.
  • Hopes for teams that have been buried in baseball’s most challenging divisions don’t seem so dim.
  • The excitement of the occasional winner-take-all 163rd game is guaranteed to occur every year.
  • Everyone likes March Madness, so why not October Obsurdity?

The cons:

  • The regular season is devalued – there is now a greater chance for the fifth-best team in either league to win the World Series.
  • The changes move MLB farther in the wrong direction, away from eliminating the wild-card and increasing value to the regular season. Joe Sheehan makes this argument at length for SI.com.
  • Forcing the changes through in 2012, after the season schedule was already finalized, creates a chance of postseason chaos, if there is bad weather or if there are ties for the No. 5 spot in either league.
  • The system still doesn’t account for the unbalanced regular-season schedule, meaning that teams in the toughest divisions still face a tougher road to the playoffs than teams in weaker divisions.
  • The second-best team in either league might be eliminated before the division series starts.
  • In having to fight off the challenge of the second-best team in the league to win the division, the best team in the league might be in worse shape for the playoffs than the weaker champion of a weaker division.
  • The “just win your division” argument falls flat when an 81-win team in a weak division might have an easier path to the division series than the 100-win team in a stronger division.

You be the judge:

  • The extra wild-card is less likely to let more 81-win teams into the playoffs than it is to let in 89-win teams.
  • Major League Baseball will still have fewer playoff teams than the other four major sports, both in percentage (33 percent) and in total quantity (10).
  • Putting the No. 1 seed on the road for the first two games of the division series might seem unfair, although if the team can’t win a single road game and can’t protect its own home-field advantage, the end result is no different than it has ever been in baseball.
  • For better or worse, the extra wild-card will affect midseason trades and could encourage mediocre teams to go for broke rather than rebuild.
  • Alternatives were left on the table, including this one:

    Alternative #5: MLB will create a committee to weigh the intangibles of each team’s rosters. They’ll measure the story lines of each player to see if they have any players that America is really rooting for. They’ll also measure the stick-to-it-ness of all of these players. They will also measure their run-into-it-ness, in which video of the season will be reviewed to see if anyone on the roster has a propensity to run into things for no reason–be it dug outs, the stands, railing. Teams can gain bonus points throughout the season for making ordinary plays seem as though they require extraordinary effort, if they have a teammate that resembles Derek Jeter, or if they have ever completed a flip play.

Conclusion:

  • In terms of the number of playoff teams, I generally think less is more, though it’s not as if I’m in favor of a single 30-team league with no playoffs.
  • Given that Major League Baseball doesn’t feel that way and will never feel that way again, I do think the 2012 system will be an improvement over the 2011 system.
  • If you’re a Dodger fan desperate to return to World Series glory, above all else, you should probably be a happy camper.
Mar 02

Family Friday

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Without further or farther ado …

  • From the Dodger press notes: “The Spring Training Baseball Show with Kevin Kennedy and David Vassegh on Dodger radio partner AM 570 Fox Sports L.A. rolls on tonight after the duo debuted yesterday. The show will air tonight from 9:00-10:00 p.m. PT, but the hour-long show will normally air six days a week (excluding Sunday) at 7:00 p.m. PT. “
  • A fun video of the Dodgers during 1967 Spring Training includes great shots of coach Jim Gilliam, manager Walter Alston and an earful of 21-year-old Don Sutton. Thanks to Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • The Dodgers signed two players from their tryout camp, Blake Johnson and Brandon Mims, and both have interesting backstories that Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness chronicles.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: My favorites are the smiling Clayton Kershaw with Sandy Koufax (and Rick Honeycutt), A.J. Ellis with Chad Billingsley and broadcaster Jaime Jarrin with his grandson, Dodger minor-leaguer Stefan Jarrin.
  • Ellis, devaluing his own on-base skills (and his minor-league track record), told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that batting eighth helped him draw walks and seemed not to want to feast on the fastballs that would come batting in front of Matt Kemp.

    … “I love hitting eighth. I take it as a challenge and embrace it. There’s a strong mental aspect to it and I feel privileged in that spot. Jamey Carroll hit eighth a lot for us and he taught me a lot.

    “Before my first game at Triple-A, Tim Wallach was manager and he called me in and told me I would hit eighth no matter what, because that’s where I would hit in the big leagues and it’s the most important position. After that, I took pride in it.”

  • Related: Chris St. John of The Platoon Advantage studied how minor-league walk and strikeout rates for batters correlated with major-league performance.
  • Why not? Mark Timmons of LADodgerTalk.com predicts 30 wins for Clayton Kershaw. A safer bet than 50-50 for Matt Kemp?
  • Former top MLB draft pick Brien Taylor, whose story I linked to recently on Dodger Thoughts, has been arrested for cocaine trafficking.
  • Jim McLennan of AZSnakepit looks back at Spring Training 2011 and writes about what the regular season would have been like if it had continued in the same fashion. Among other things, Arizona would have lost 109 games.
  • Kerris Dorsey, who played Billy Beane’s daughter so well in “Moneyball,” was cast in a Showtime pilot, “Ray Donovan,” starring voice of HBO Sports Liev Schreiber.
  • The title says it all: Eastbound and Downton.

Mar 02

Sea of Tranquility Ranch, 2062

Reading the stories of Sandy Koufax’s visit to Camelback Ranch today (written by Dylan Hernandez of the Times, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., Ken Gurnick of MLB.com and Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com), I find myself envisioning Clayton Kershaw, weeks shy of his 75th birthday, gathered before a crowd of reverent reporters and ballplayers at the Dodgers’ new Spring Training facility on the moon.

Yes, the moon — because by that time, the Dodgers will be owned by … well, I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.

Oh, and Koufax will be there as well, because he is forever young.

Mar 02

How the NL West starting rotations compare

For ESPNLosAngeles.com, I have a piece comparing the Dodger starting rotation to its rivals in the National League West.

Here’s how it begins …

Clayton Kershaw might have gone 4-0 against Tim Lincecum last year, but behind the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner comes doubt about whether the Dodgers’ starting rotation matches up with the top contenders in the NL West. …

Read the rest here …

Continue reading

Mar 01

Fangraphs fun and frolic

Fangraphs’ Carson Cistulli interviewed me for a podcast that is ostensibly and eventually about the Dodgers, but uses as its foundation my recent existential crisis post centered on my relationship with Phil Dunphy.

The conversation runs more lighthearted than that particular piece of writing did, and I found it very enjoyable, but if you can’t stomach any more first-world problems, you can give it a pass. Otherwise, dig in!

Mar 01

Pigs in a news blanket


Above: How the story of the Three Little Pigs would be covered in today’s world, as presented by the Guardian.

Below:

  • Vin Scully tops the broadcaster rankings of the national readership of Fangraphs.
  • Ramona Shelburne has a nice piece at ESPNLosAngeles.com about Francisco “Chico” Herrera, a Dodger bat boy who went to today’s open tryout.
  • James Loney ranked behind only Oakland’s Daric Barton defensively among first basemen in the statistical rankings provided by David Pinto at Baseball Musings.
  • Chad Moriyama presents his top-25 Dodger prospect rankings at his blog.
  • Eric Fisher of Sports Business Journal has an extensive article on a very real issue for many sports fans — the challenges in maintaining an effective wireless system at ballparks and stadiums.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN.com looks at baseball’s scheduling imbalance problems.
  • Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports gave a good interview to Jason McIntyre of Big Lead Sports.
Feb 29

When you walk through the garden …

Rarely have I been retweeted more than I was Tuesday when I passed along this link to The Wire wind-up toys.

Now, unwind with these notes …

  • Don Mattingly confirmed to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. that he has no plans to bat A.J. Ellis second, citing his lack of speed in front of Matt Kemp. Unfortunately, the alternative candidates’ lack of on-base percentage in front of Kemp seems not to have entered into Mattingly’s thinking.
  • Mattingly also hinted that Juan Rivera would start 2012 as the Dodgers’ regular left fielder with occasional days off. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com added that Jerry Sands is still in the mix to be a platoon partner for Andre Ethier and James Loney.
  • Dodger relief prospect Shawn Tolleson was interviewed by John Parker of MiLB.com.
  • The Dodgers have the National League’s second-easiest early season schedule, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Nine of their first 34 games are against teams with winning records in 2011.
  • Here’s the full list, 200-deep, of Dodger prospect rankings from Brandon Lennox at True Blue L.A. Henry Heredia, this is your moment.
  • Gold Glove or not, Andre Ethier’s ranking in David Pinto’s PMR list for right fielders at Baseball Musings probably won’t surprise you. Matt Kemp in center field? You tell me what you think.
  • Trayvon Robinson is trying to reestablish himself after his hot start with Seattle turned into a rough finish, writes Larry Stone of the Seattle Times.
  • Tuesday in Jon SooHoo: two pics that fostered polar opposite reactions for me, Jerry Sands bunting and Matt Kemp skywalking.
  • Not surprisingly, initial reaction to the new book from Dirk Hayhurst, Out of My League, is positive. Examples: Andrew T. Fisher of Purple Row and Keith Olbermann at Baseball Nerd.
  • The statement from Ryan Braun sample-taker Dino Laurenzi is eloquently written.
  • Coming March 15-17 is a SABR Analytics conference in Arizona. Not coming at the same time is the Notalytics Conference in South Dakota, but I sure wish it were.
  • Emmett Ashford, the majors’ first African-American umpire, was given an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Chapman College, according to Terry Cannon of the Baseball Reliquary.
  • Giancarlo Stanton: the slugger formerly known as Mike Stanton.
  • Harvard-Westlake’s Lucas Giolito hit 100 miles per hour while pitching a one-hitter for the Wolverines on Tuesday, writes Eric Sondhiemer of the Times.
  • Perfect for Leap Day: The Dodgers had the 29th-best offseason of all major-league teams, according to The Platoon Advantage.
  • KCRW’s Which Way L.A. now has its own blog.
  • Jonathan Abrams and Grantland published a vivid oral history of the 2004 Pacers-Pistons fight that spread into the stands.
  • Longtime Times columnist Steve Harvey is back writing “Only in L.A.,” host Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed announced. The first new edition is here.
  • Watch former Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob break a world-distance record for throwing a paper airplane at ESPN.com.
  • Farewell, Monkees and Brady Bunch star Davy Jones. I was a childhood fan of both. Here, from Variety, is the 1965 ad soliciting auditions for The Monkees
Feb 28

Coming soon: ‘The Hall of Very Good’


I’m proud to be one of the contributors to the upcoming ebook, The Hall of Very Good, edited by Sky Kalkman and Marc Normandin.

The Hall of Very Good is an ebook meant to celebrate the careers of those who are not celebrated. It’s not a book meant to reopen arguments about who does and does not deserve Hall of Fame enshrinement; rather, it’s meant to remember those who, failing entrance into Cooperstown, will unfairly be lost to history. It’s for the players we grew up rooting for, the ones whose best years led to flags and memories that will fly together forever. Players like Bret Saberhagen, Will Clark, Dwight Evans, Tim Salmon, Wilbur Wood, Orel Hershiser, and literally hundreds of others.

This is not a numbers-driven project (although our contributors lean analytical in their views). Our plan isn’t to be overbearing with numbers and spreadsheets to convince you that these players are worth remembering. What we want to do, instead, is accomplish that same task through stories. Think of your favorite players growing up: they have their moments, games, seasons, quirks, personalities, and legends worth remembering and sharing. Now, combine the best of everyone’s forgotten favorites, and you’ve got a Hall of Very Good. Ask the people who have those memories and love for these players to write essays about them, and you have a book on the same topic.

It takes a talented writer to give these players their due honors, and we’ve collected thirty of them to do just that (see below). These are All-Star writers, some of our favorite must-reads in today’s expansive baseball coverage landscape. They have diverse voices, diverse backgrounds and diverse interests, but they all love baseball and have a passion for the players they’re writing about. …

The subject of my contribution will be Reggie Smith. (For those who have asked, a Pedro Guerrero opus from me will come another time.) To learn more and to pledge support for this project, please follow this link.

Feb 27

The defensive potential of Mark Ellis

If the Dodgers replaced baseball’s 27th-best second baseman offensively with the ninth-best, a lot of us would be doing cartwheels. At least three cartwheels, maybe seven.

By that token, maybe we should be doing at least two cartwheels – and as many as 11 – over the fact that, according to David Pinto of Baseball Musings, the Dodgers are replacing baseball’s 27th-best second baseman defensively with the ninth best. He’s in the decline phase of his career, but Mark Ellis should still be a considerable improvement over Jamey Carroll (the aforementioned No. 27), and Aaron Miles, who combined to take 75 percent of the Dodgers’ innings at second base last year.

Wrote Ken Arneson, who has watched Ellis play with Oakland, on Twitter: “Good to make note of the numbers, because Ellis’s defense is as invisible as a mistake-free umpire.”

Elsewhere …

  • © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

    Today in Jon SooHoo: Dee Gordon is off to the races.
  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times chronicles the maturation of Matt Kemp.
  • Former Dodger reliever Danys Baez is retiring, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports (via MLB Trade Rumors). From 2006, the year the Dodgers acquired him and Lance Carter from Tampa Bay for Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany, Baez had a 5.16 ERA (85 ERA+) in 265 1/3 innings with 154 strikeouts and 396 baserunners allowed. And one balk. Jackson in that time has pitched 1,003 2/3 innings with a 4.38 ERA (99 ERA+), 753 strikeouts and 1,495 baserunners allowed. And five balks.
  • Here’s an interesting story from my Variety colleague Stuart Levine about how the move of “Downton Abbey” and “Luther” from the Emmy miniseries to the Emmy drama category could presage the Emmys nominating 10 programs for top drama in 2013.
  • Meanwhile, I bid farewell to the Oscars with a Variety On the Air blog post calling for Academy to understand, once and for all, that they’re making a TV show, rather than filming a stage show. And that starts with the selection of their next host.
Feb 27

Coffey’s gamble on himself

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com relates a great story about new Dodger reliever Todd Coffey:

… He didn’t look much like a major league ballplayer 14 years ago, either. That was when Coffey, then a 17-year-old who had just graduated from Forest City High School in North Carolina, was taken by the Cincinnati Reds in the 41st round of baseball’s amateur draft.

In those days, when a team maintained exclusive signing rights to all of its draft picks for 11 months, a common practice in the lower rounds was to take players as “draft-and-follows.” That meant drafting a player with no intention of signing him immediately and continuing to scout him as he played junior-college ball the following spring, then making a decision whether to sign him. If the team did sign him, it usually meant he was an “organizational” guy, there to fill out the roster of one minor league affiliate or another, with little to no chance of ever playing in the majors.

That was the way DeJon Watson, the Reds scouting director at the time, viewed Coffey.

“We liked his arm and his size,” said Watson, now the Dodgers’ assistant general manager in charge of player development. “He had some projection to play. But in our mind’s eye, he was a draft-and-follow. We wanted him to go to a juco.”

But there also was another draft rule in place then: you had to make at least a nominal, if half-hearted, offer to every player you drafted. So Watson authorized Steve Kring, the Reds’ area scout who had recommended Coffey, to offer Coffey something he was certain the big right-hander would turn down, a $1,000 bonus and an $850 monthly salary in the low minors.

But Coffey accepted it. …

* * *

  • Clip and save: Top 2014 MLB Free Agents, compiled by Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors. (If you can’t wait that long, here are some earlier posts related to 2013.)
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus looks at what contracts top youngsters Mike Trout, Matt Moore and Bryce Harper would get if they were free agents.
  • Rafael Furcal was a top-five defensive shortstop last year, according to David Pinto of Baseball Musings and his probabilistic model of range (PMR) stats.
  • Charles P. Pierce of Grantland on steroids and baseball:

    … From its very beginnings, the “war” on performance-enhancing drugs in sports, and especially in baseball, has been legally questionable, morally incoherent, and recklessly dependent on collateral damage to make its point. Long ago, I went over to the purely libertarian position on this question simply because any other solution seemed to me to be incompatible with civil liberties and an equitable sharing of power in the workplace — and because every other “war” on drugs that I’d seen had been an enormous waste of time, money, and manpower.

    There always have seemed to me to be two main arguments against this position. The first is the question of the player’s health. This is not one to be dismissed lightly, even though, in almost every other context in professional sports, it is always secondary to profits in the mind of management. And the second, more hazy argument is that it is somehow unethical to ingest a substance that will make you play better. Too often, it seems, the former consideration is used to camouflage arguments based primarily on the latter.

    The health consideration is doomed to failure in the long run because, well, Science Marches On. Sooner or later, someone’s going to invent a substance that enhances performance without any risk to the athlete involved. The reason this will happen is because whoever invents the stuff is going to get wealthy beyond Warren Buffett’s wildest dreams. Eliminate the health-of-the-athlete fig leaf and all you’re left with is the moral and ethical argument and, on its own, that falls apart with the slightest nudge.

    Can someone seriously argue that it is ethical to take a drug to make a performance possible, but unethical to take a drug that makes that performance better? Isn’t making a performance possible at all the ultimate performance enhancement? If there had been a drug that would have given us five more seasons of Sandy Koufax at the top of his game, how would that have been a bad thing, everything else being equal? Sports are rife with drugs. Without drugs of one sort or another, the NFL season would never begin, and the baseball season would end sometime in June owing to a lack of participating teams. …

  • Learn how a 1955 San Bernardino gang fight sparked the creation of “West Side Story,” from the Press-Enterprise and the Times.
Feb 26

A night at the Neds

Second photo courtesy of BHSportsGuy

Nope, your eyes didn’t deceive you. That was Dodger general manager Ned Colletti at tonight’s Oscars.

I asked Colletti via text message what brought him to the Oscars.

“Once in a lifetime,” he replied. “Tom Sherak (president of the Academy) is a good friend of mine, and I came as his guest.”

As far as the results, I had few complaints. The Artist was my favorite of the nominated films, and Christopher Plummer’s supporting actor victory filled as best as possible my desire for Ewan MacGregor and Beginners to be recognized. I was a bit surprised that Meryl Streep edged Viola Davis in lead actress, but perhaps voters felt Streep’s 2-14 record in Oscar noms entering the evening was getting a little too Anthony Young-like.

The show itself was predictably ragged, incorporating numerous elements that almost seemed designed to turn off both film and television audiences, but the “In Memoriam” approach was the best in recent memory, and the Best Picture montage incorporated one of my favorite soundtrack elements of the year, from Moneyball.

My favorite part of the evening, though, was my 9-year-old’s sudden interest in watching the show and seeing her reactions as she took all this in – for better or worse – for the first time. Of the nominated movies, she had only seen Hugo – but that meant she still got to be excited about multiple awards. And she was happy, as was I, that “Man or Muppet” won for best song (out of the ridiculously low two nominees).

Feb 26

Tinker tailor pitcher spy

I had hoped to do a big pre-Spring Training piece on Chad Billingsley, but that got lost in the ongoing shuffle of my life. But Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a good lidlifter on Billingsley, whose mechanics continue to be a work in progress.

… After throwing his second bullpen session of spring training last week, Billingsley spent several minutes talking with Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who at one point could be observed manually adjusting Billingsley’s front foot in midair while Billingsley stood frozen at the apex of his delivery.

This is what spring training is for, obviously, to iron out little things. But this is a fairly big change for Billingsley, who is trying to stop kicking his front leg out during his delivery — which often results in his body getting ahead of his arm and sometimes allows gravity and momentum to affect his motion — and start keeping that leg underneath his body.

“I don’t know if it’s major,” Billingsley said. “I’m just working hard at smoothing out my leg kick. When my foot gets out away from my body like that, my timing has to be just right. If it’s not, then I start drifting toward the third-base side and stepping across my body when I deliver the pitch.”

And that results in the pitch being off line, maybe no more than an inch or so — but in the big leagues, that can be the difference in a game. Billingsley is hoping this adjustment will allow him to stay on line more often, giving him a little more margin for error with the rest of his delivery because his timing will be right and his momentum won’t cause him to fall off to one side of the mound.

“You can’t be perfect all the time, even though that is what you strive for,” Billingsley said. “There are going to be times when I’m still going to be too quick (with his body). But this should allow me to be more consistent.”  …

  • One of the more positive assessments of the 2012 Dodgers you’ll see comes from Ben Reiter of SI.com.
  • Steve Soboroff regrets getting on Team McCourt last year, he tells T.J. Simers of the Times, and advises McCourt to sell the Dodger Stadium parking lots with the team.
  • Not surprisingly, the Dodger Sims lineup simulator and Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness find it best – for the Dodgers to bat A.J. Ellis leadoff and Dee Gordon eighth – but not so much better that we need to stew over it. (My post about the Dodger batting order came last week.)
  • The Dodgers’ annual open tryout at Camelback Ranch is March 1. Potential prospects can call (323) 224-1512 for details and instructions.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. ran down a typical day at Spring Training the other day.
  • Stephen also passes along Don Mattingly’s initial thoughts from Camelback about Dee Gordon: “It’s a time issue with Dee. I don’t think we can say, ‘We want you to walk.’ I think we want to let him hit, let him be himself, and let him progress into the role.”
  • Jacob Peterson of Beyond the Box Score has an interesting post about extremes involving the ages of baseball Hall of Famers.
  • The departure of Tony LaRussa as Cardinals manager is the only thing that paved the way for Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith to rekindle his relationship with the team, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  • Sportsthodoxy offers “Your Handy Ryan Braun Conspiracy Theory Guide” (via Rob McMillin at 6-4-2).
  • If you know in advance that you’re going to limit an ace pitcher to 160 innings in a season, as the Nationals plan to with Stephen Strasburg, how would you do it? David Pinto of Baseball Musings and Tom Tango (in a blog post and the comments below) contemplate the question.
  • An excellent story of how sabermetrics – not to mention FireJoeMorgan.com turned around the career of A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy is told by Eddie Matz of ESPN the Magazine.