Feb 16

The Andre Ethier conundrum

There’s been much discussion, initiated by this post by Steve Dilbeck at Dodgers Now, about whether the Dodgers should offer Andre Ethier a contract extension before the season starts.

Dilbeck frames things properly: “If the Dodgers believe in Andre Ethier, if they are confident he will rebound and have a successful 2012 season, they need to sign him to a long-term contract. Like soon.”

In other words, if you think he’s your guy, there’s no better time to extend Ethier than coming off a relatively poor season.

One problem, though, is that even if the Dodgers believe in Ethier, the two parties might disagree considerably about his value and simply be unable to come to terms in March. At Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, Mike Petriello illustrates in detail the difficulty of pegging Ethier’s future value.

The other problem, as Chad Moriyama writes, is maybe you shouldn’t believe in Ethier.

“While I’ve always liked Ethier, as he felt a part of the young core, the timing is all wrong for me,” Moriyama says. “Locking up a corner outfielder with a four year declining trend in wOBA, mediocre defense (despite the joke of a Gold Glove), the inability to hit lefties, and questionable athleticism just isn’t a risk I’d feel comfortable with. Sorry, but when I look at the type of player Ethier is, I can’t help but envision Brad Hawpe and his precipitous decline at age 31.”

One thing I just happened to notice in passing that I hadn’t realized before: Did you know Ethier finished 12th in the National League in on-base percentage last season? If you adjusted for park effects, he would rank even higher.

And off we go …

  • Bill Shaikin of the Times notes that the second cut of Dodger ownership contestants is looming. Shaikin also wrote recently about how Frank McCourt’s shenanigans have made things difficult for the San Diego Padres.
  • The 2012 Dodgers project iffily, concludes Eric Stephen at SB Nation Los Angeles.
  • Dustin Nosler of Feelin’ Kinda Blue wants the Dodgers to bid on 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler. (Nosler, by the way, interviewed me for his site and posted it here.)
  • You might think you know Dodger Stadium, but you don’t know it better than Kevin Waters. Who’s Kevin Waters? Let Jon SooHoo explain …
  • More from SooHoo – a fan’s attempt to catch a foul ball, a reunion of Henry Rodriguez with Raul Mondesi and Ramon Martinez from 1998 and a Father’s Day photo of the Tony Gwynns.
  • Lots to choose from at Baseball Prospectus today, but we’ll start with this appreciation by Steven Goldman for Fernando Valenzuela’s rookie season.
  • A day ago, the piece de resistance at Baseball Prospectus was this: Sam Miller’s recap of “the worst game of 2011.”
  • Ramon Ortiz, still kicking, signed a minor-league deal with the Giants.
  • Fox’s Saturday broadcasts will start at 4 p.m. Pacific for eight consecutive weeks from May to July. I have more details in this Variety piece, where you’ll see a highly veiled reference to Jonathan Broxton’s Waterloo weekend against the Yankees.
  • Lucas Giolito and Max Fried, the two Harvard-Westlake pitchers who are expected to be top picks in the 2012 MLB amateur draft – with Giloito potentially becoming the first righthanded prep pitcher to go at No. 1 – are profiled by Eric Sondheimer of the Times.
  • An idea I floated Wednesday on Twitter: New York can have Linsanity, Dodger Thoughts might be stuck with Jonsanity, but with its new starting shortstop, Los Angeles should start hoping for Deerangement.
Feb 15

Changes in MLB come too fast for long-term predictions

What does the future hold for the Dodgers? I’d almost suggest you not even try to answer.

ESPN.com is running a three-day series called “Future Power Rankings,” which attempts “to measure how well each team is set up for sustained success over the next five years.” With respect, a closer look at the ratings underscores the folly of the effort.

The Dodgers have come in at No. 19, too low for an organization that had the 13th-best record in MLB last year and is poised to put years of front-office nonsense in the past. No one needs to detail to me the Dodgers’ current weaknesses, but the fact is that the franchise arguably has the best position player and the best pitcher in the National League, a farm system full of pitching potential, few contract commitments beyond 2013 and a volcano of TV money about to pour in — money that can be used to improve not only the on-field talent but the folks wearing the suits and sport coats.

The 2012 season, though not a lost cause, isn’t one to be optimistic about as a Dodger fan. But after that, do you really think there are going to be 18 other teams better positioned than the Dodgers for success?

ESPN’s biggest misgivings are in the category of “management” — defined as “value and stability of ownership, front office and coaching staff” — in which the Dodgers were given six points, the fewest of any team except for the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles. But it’s sort of absurd to look at the Dodger management of February 2012 and extrapolate that it will tread such shallow water over the next five years. Though there are no guarantees, to say that there can be a quick turnaround in this category is an understatement.

Similarly, rankings of talent at both the major-league and minor-league level fluctuate like crazy year-to-year.  If you want any evidence, consider how highly the Dodgers would have ranked three years ago, at the midpoint between back-to-back National League Championship Series appearances.

In terms of the Dodgers’ NL rivals, ESPN ranks the Padres 20th, Giants 17th, Rockies 15th and Diamondbacks in the top 10. There’s a methodology to it, but I think that methodology is the product of a glorified guessing game.

The Future Rankings are definitely a conversation starter — they got me started this morning — but that’s about as far as I would take them.

Feb 14

Save the date?

Believe it or not, the 10th anniversary of Dodger Thoughts comes Saturday, July 21, which seems like as good an occasion as any to have a gathering of the site’s readers and friends. (Above is a photo by Rob McMillin from the first Dodger Thoughts gathering in 2006.)

The Dodgers will be on the road July 21, playing a day game in New York with a 10:10 a.m. Pacific starting time. If you have any interest in getting together, would you be more interested in assembling

a) Saturday morning and playing ball at a park with the game on the radio?
b) Saturday afternoon or evening at a park for a barbecue or some such?
c) on a different day at Dodger Stadium and catching a game together, perhaps July 28 against the Giants (6:05 p.m. start).

Just curious about your thoughts – thanks.

Feb 14

St. Bobby

On this Valentine’s Day, Josh Wilker makes Bobby Valentine the subject of his Cardboard Gods offering, linking to a 1971 Spokane Daily Chronicle story in which Valentine declares, “I intend to be the Dodger shortstop for many years.” But Valentine, the 1970 Pacific Coast League MVP, had already suffered the injury that derailed his playing career.

But wait, there’s more …

  • In the second part of Bronx Banter’s series on Hiroki Kuroda, William Juliano runs a statistical analysis on the former Dodger righty.
  • Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Now celebrates, for good reason, getting a phone call at home from Vin Scully.
  • Dodger Stadium will once again host a college baseball doubleheader, this time on March 13. UC Irvine will play Pepperdine at 2 p.m., followed by UCLA-USC at 6:30. Advanced tickets are $7 ($5 for students). Gates open at 1 p.m., parking is free and concessions are discounted. Details here.
  • Tony Gwynn (Sr.) is having more cancer surgery, reports The Associated Press.
  • From Chad Moriyama: “The article I didn’t want to write: Jeremy Lin and racism.”
  • Hey, it’s not as if I’m immune to the charms of Kate Upton, but thanks to Big League Stew for finding the link from Upton’s MLB 2K12 ad to George Plimpton’s Mattel Intellivision spot.
  • Update: Adding this last bit from Mike Newman at Fangraphs

    … Before scouting Dodgers Rubby De La Rosa in person, a running joke with scouting contacts was that my radar gun must be broken because it had never registered a velocity above 96 MPH in a season and a half of lugging it around. I headed to Chattanooga knowing De La Rosa threw hard enough to surpass 96 MPH, but was not prepared for just how much harder he threw. Seeing a “seven” on the gun was impressive, but when he popped the mitt at “eight” and “nine” in succession, it became obvious De La Rosa’s fastball was in a different league than any I’d seen previously. (For those who are wondering, when a pitcher throws in the 90+ MPH range, scouts will drop the nine and refer to the pitch by its second digit.) And while I generally ignore stadium guns at all cost, seeing 101 MPH flash on the scoreboard was a first, and left onlookers buzzing in the stands.

    And while De La Rosa lacked command in the upper registers, the one 98 MPH fastball he located belt high on the inner half is seared into my scouting mind as it bored down and in on a right handed hitter to devastating effect. It was the single most dominant pitch I’ve seen live …

Feb 13

The Emerald City prepares for Hong-Chih Kuo


On the heels of Alex Belth’s feature on Hiroki Kuroda came this piece by Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times (via Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.) on new Mariner lefty Hong-Chih Kuo. In the picture that runs with Baker’s article, I can’t say Kuo doesn’t look smart in that Seattle uniform, but maybe I just miss him.

… Kuo had battled a yips problem in 2009, then became arguably the game’s top reliever in 2010 with the Dodgers. In the interim, he’d worked with famed sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman to curtail his throwing issues.

But Dorfman passed away last February at age 75. By April, the yips troubles were once agan starting to overwhelm Kuo. He returned after the first DL stint, struggled again, then went back on the DL in May. I asked Kuo whether Dorfman’s death made it tougher for him to bounce back, since he could no longer phone him up for instant advice.

“Yes, it was hard,” he told me. “But you still have to fix it. It can’t come from somebody else.”

Then, he looked at me and pumped his chest with his fist.

“It has to come from inside here,” he said. “It has to come from inside me.” …

Elsewhere …

  • Ken Gurnick produced a status report on the Dodgers heading into Spring Training for MLB.com.
  • In its latest behind-the-scenes offseason video, ESPN.com checks in on Clayton Kershaw.
  • Dodger Thoughts softball teamer Matt Worland blogged at length about Saturday’s tournament. Here is part one and part two.
  • James Loney doesn’t look so bad, or as bad, now that the quality of National League first basemen has declined, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Twice-baked Dodger pitcher Jon Garland (remembered by Dodger Thoughts here) has signed a minor-league deal with Cleveland. He earned a $5 million base salary from the Dodgers in 2011.
  • Bob Timmermann posted a great historical piece on the Sports Arena at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence. I’d call it a must-read for any local sports fan.
  • More history: Mary Mallory of the Daily Mirror looks back at Eaton’s Rancho, which one sat at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard, currently home to a McDonald’s.
  • A soundtrack for season two of Treme goes on sale April 17 (and has just been added to my wish list). Here’s a link to the season-one soundtrack.
Feb 11

A good day had by all


Though there was no stopping the bats of top-seeded LFP 2 in its 31-7 semifinal victory over Dodger Thoughts, the day was nothing but a success. I couldn’t have gotten a better bunch of teammates if I tried – just a lot of fun to spend the day with. Thanks to Mike at LFP and Big League Dreams for putting on a great event.

Feb 11

Into the semis


Greg Zakwin connects in Dodger Thoughts’ 27-2 triumph in a rematch against Vin Scully Is My Homeboy II. A semifinal game awaited in the semis against LFP 2, the one team to beat DT today.

Feb 11

Twenty minutes to gametime

Initial warmups are done. Realizing just how sore my arm will be Sunday. Hong-Chih, I feel you.

But right now, most worried about reaction time in the field. Thats something you cant practice while jogging on a random weekday morning.

In an 8 a.m. game, True Blue L.A. burst to a 4-0 lead over Dodger Bobble but now trails, 6-4.

Feb 08

Interview: De Jon Watson looks at Dodger prospects

Though the Dodger farm system certainly has its less fallow spots, it also certainly has its fertile areas, which were enough for ESPN.com’s Keith Law to rank it 12th in the majors, higher than I’ve seen elsewhere.

For a closer look at some of the Dodger developing prospects, I interviewed Dodger assistant general manager in charge of player development De Jon Watson recently for a piece that is running in full at ESPNLosAngeles.com. Here’s how it begins …

The patchwork roster surrounding established Los Angeles Dodgers stars like Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw this year would hint at a dearth of minor league chips to play with, but De Jon Watson would encourage you to ante up.

The Dodgers’ assistant general manager in charge of player development has more than a poker hand’s worth of serious starting pitcher candidates rising through the system, and would even argue for a few wild cards among the position players.

“It’s been good stuff, man,” Watson said of the franchise’s depth at starting pitcher. “Our kids are coming. It’s great to have that type of competition. … If you have a hiccup or someone goes down for a little bit, you have a legitimate option waiting in the wings. The key is being as sharp as they can possibly be when that opportunity arises so you really don’t miss a beat.”

That doesn’t change the Dodgers’ pattern of leaning toward veterans at the start of the season. With Hiroki Kuroda leaving as a free agent and the team’s 2010 minor league pitcher of the year, Rubby De La Rosa, recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers signed Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano rather than hand a starting rotation slot to Nathan Eovaldi, who had a 3.09 ERA in six starts at age 21 late last summer.

Shortstop Dee Gordon is the only 2011 Dodgers rookie who has the inside track on a starting spot with the team this season. Gordon, who had 24 stolen bases in 56 games and a .325 on-base percentage (.398 in September), will look to capitalize on his hot finish.

“The biggest thing to look for from him is going to be his on-base percentage,” Watson said, “because his speed is going to change how they pitch to the guy that’s behind him. He’s going to apply pressure both from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint for the opponent. So he has to get on base. For us, his key is understanding what type of hitter he is, understanding the strike zone.” …

In addition to Eovaldi, De La Rosa and Gordon, Watson also provides a status report on Jerry Sands, Zach Lee, Garret Gould, Allen Webster, Chris Withrow, Shawn Tolleson, Steven Ames, Scott Van Slyke, Alex Castellanos, Chris Reed and Pedro Baez.

Hope you enjoy reading the full story

Continue reading

Feb 08

Scully wants to keep working


Above: Vin Scully talks in 2008 about meeting John Wooden.

Vin Scully has an interview in the March issue of Golf Digest (for now, I believe, it’s available only in print). Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed links and excerpts:

Some people die twice: once when they retire, and again when they actually pass away. Fear of the first one is a big incentive for me to keep working. Players, writers, people who work at the ballpark and front office, when I quit I know I’ll never see them again. I’ve never been the type to come to the ballpark and hang out; I’ve gone to one game in the last 60 years that I wasn’t working. I keep working because I don’t want to lose my friends.

It’s an interesting passage, particularly for “when I quit I know I’ll never see them again,” since this would be up to Scully to a large extent. One could easily envision the kind of pilgrimages that John Wooden was the centerpiece of.

Roderick also notes this Scully quip about having bad teeth through the years: “if I were to write my autobiography — which I will never do, by the way — I would title it, ‘My Life in Dentistry.’”

Scully’s first Spring Training broadcast appearance will be March 17. Eric Stephen of breaks down the Dodger exhibition broadcast schedule at True Blue L.A.

Elsewhere …

  • TMZ has posted audio of a 911 call reporting James Loney’s freeway crash in November. No matter the legal disposition of the case, if you were there, it sounds like it must have been utterly frightening.
  • The Dodgers signed 37-year-old Jamey Wright to a minor-league deal. Wright hasn’t been a starting pticher since 2007, but his past season-and-a-half out of the Seattle bullpen was passable in a Mike MacDougal sense. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com tweeted that Wright can opt out of his contract in late March.
  • Former Dodger shortstop Bill Russell can be seen with former Yankee counterpart Bucky Dent in this commercial (posted by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy), airing at 1981 World Series time, for Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. Dent sounds a little like a grown-up Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
  • Baly had a pleasant surprise when he went to the Dodger caravan Tuesday — he was there to see Clayton Kershaw as Kershaw’s new contract with the Dodgers was being announced.
  • Daily News writer Tom Hoffarth is auctioning an autographed copy of Kershaw’s book, “Arise,” at eBay, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to support Friends of St. Lawrence – Watts Youth Center, which empowers the children and families of Watts through educational, advocacy, and enrichment programs.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN’s Sweet Spot looks at historical comparables for Kershaw. It starts on a downbeat note but gets more whammo after that. Schoenfield also invites you to an over-under game on Kershaw’s 2012 ERA here.
  • Evan Bladh passes along the story of Brooklyn Dodger batboy Charlie DiGiovanna at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • “What happened to the spitball?” Jonah Keri asks (and answers) at Grantland.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: Mike Scioscia and Gary Carter together at Spring Training, February 1991.
  • Aaron Miles, who waited until this time last year to sign with the Dodgers, is waiting even longer for a 2012 contract this time around.
  • Not every baseball parking story has Frank McCourt’s name attached. “Fans of the New York Yankees may soon have to pay as much as $55 to park at Yankee Stadium thanks to the poor planning by New York City, the Yankees and a private firm that is running low on cash,” writes Rob Iracane at Big League Stew.