Feb 07

Super Bowl XLIV, Mattel football, Elroy Face and Jose Gonzalez chat

Please feel free to chat about the Super Bowl in this all-purpose thread. In honor of the occasion, my first and probably last game review:

LED Football for iPhone

A replica of the greatest game ever, Mattel Handheld Electronic Football.

Cons: Lack of true button sensibility, defense didn’t behave exactly as I remembered, one-quarter instead of four-quarter capability, team always takes over on its own 20 rather than where the other team left the ball.

Pros: It’s a replica of the greatest game ever, Mattel Handheld Electronic Football.

* * *

Pete Townshend is performing at halftime with Roger Daltrey, and it’s time to face the Face. Elroy Face, that other minor-leaguer the Dodgers let go the Pirates in the 1950s, was interviewed by David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus.  It’s a good read.

On the other hand, Dodger fans of my vintage will probably be disappointed by this documentary: The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of Jose Gonzalez.

Feb 07

Dodgers invite Brian Giles for some Camelback tea

Brian Giles was one of those guys the Dodgers always seemed interested in but never got until it was too late. Giles just received a minor-league contract and Camelback Ranch invitation, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Giles’ .854 OPS in 2008 for San Diego slid to .548 last season.

* * *

Andrew T. Fisher of Purple Row reviews the starting pitching in the National League West from 2009. It’s almost like he knew the Rockies would fare well before he began the assignment …

* * *

Vin Scully, Chick Magnet. The Left Field Pavilion comes through with some Scully pictures I had never seen before.

Feb 06

Time to stop believin’ in ‘Don’t Stop Believin” at Dodger Stadium

The betting here is that the playing of “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the middle of the eighth inning at Dodger Stadium will disappear, now that former Dodger exec Dr. Charles Steinberg is no longer around to champion it. Maybe it would have disappeared even if Steinberg had stayed. It wasn’t getting any fresher over time. (Sorry, Eric.)

If the Dodgers decide to replace the Journey anthem with another song, what would you like it to be?

My default answer on questions like these is Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to (Score a Game-Winning) Run” or Sam Cooke’s “Shake,” but I don’t think too hard about such things.  I’m really quite satisfied with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh.  But I am interested in your ideas …

* * *

Great find by the Sons of Steve Garvey: It’s their dad in the make-you-squirm early’-80s television series, Masquerade.

* * *

James McDonald wants to be in the Dodger starting rotation – for real, writes Ken Gurnick at MLB.com.

“I want to be a starter,” McDonald said. “Last year, I didn’t even know. This year I’m coming in with a different mindset, and starting is all I’m thinking about.” …

McDonald said he grew up as a pitcher with a stint this winter in the Dominican Republic.

“It was a great learning process,” he said. “You’re facing a lot of older Latin guys down there and they know how to hit so you have to learn how to pitch. I came out of it a way better pitcher.” …

* * *

Dan Evans gets due praise from at Dodgers Blog from Steve Dilbeck, who chats with him.

Evans was hired as the Dodgers’ general manager in 2001 at a time the team seemed mired in mediocrity and the farm system had lost its way.

Most publications ranked the team’s minor league system near the absolute bottom in baseball, but in three short years it was ranked in the top 10.

Evans rebuilt the front office and brought in good people like Kim Ng, vice president and assistant general manager, and Logan White, assistant general manager of scouting. And then they went to work.

They drafted Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton, players the team is now built around, as well as Jason Repko and James McDonald.

“I’m really proud of the fact that these guys panned out,” Evans said. “I was really lucky. I had a terrific staff. I feel good about what we did there.”

* * *

Phillies Nation took a look at the Dodgers using Wins Above Replacement.


Feb 05

Red flags on Dodger starting pitching health

Each year, Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll takes a look at the health of each team heading into the season. It’s not his personal opinion, but rather the results of a computerized system that, in a nutshell, is fed data and then comes to conclusions based on historical comparisons.

“The system I use (PIPP) uses an actuarial baseline,” Carroll says, “taking into account the actual injury risk of a player of a given age group (i.e., 24-26, 27-29, etc) and position. It then adds or subtracts based on several other factors, such as team injury history, player injury history, PECOTA attrition and several others. It then categorizes that risk into one of three bands, signified by a color – red, yellow, or green, like a stoplight.”

As a prelude to those Team Health Reports, the site is releasing a spreadsheet today that shows how the key players for each team fare: a green light, a yellow light and a red light. Here’s a snapshot of the Dodgers:

Green: Russell Martin, James Loney, Rafael Belliard, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill

Yellow: Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp

Red: Rafael Furcal, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, James McDonald

Carroll offered to talk about the rationale behind the Dodger results. His answers are in italics:

1) Well, let’s take it from the top.  Five Dodger starting pitchers, five bright red flares. Not even a yellow to spare? What are the reasons for each?  (And yes, perhaps we should bring the elephant in the room that is your history with Chad Billingsley out in the open.)

I know. I checked and double checked, but yes, all of them are in the red. Some more than others. I doubt anyone will quibble with Kuroda or Kershaw as risks. Kuroda’s a litle inflated in that he was out for something that’s unpredictable and then going out again makes it look worse than I think it really was. Kershaw is young, threw a lot of innings (not outrageous, but an increase) and is expected to have another increase this year. Risky, yes. Red, yes, but my god, the upside. McDonald is a case where if he’s the five starter on Day 1 and stays there all year, his innings increase will be insane. I doubt the Dodgers would ignore this, but I can’t project that forward.

As for Billingsley – who I don’t hate – he wore down in the latter stages of the season. He was pretty solid, but if I tell you that Dan Haren has a similar pattern, would it bother you? Risk is not reality, but the fact is that every single one of the Dodgers starters as we speak now is a demonstrable risk. All goes well, no worries and the Dodgers run away with the division. One thing goes bad? Meh, most teams can survive. Two or three … not so much, especially if they have to start rushing some of their good young arms.

2) Rafael Furcal’s a pretty easy red for a layman to understand, though he did look better at season’s end.  Is he just in a position where his back could flare up at any time?

That’s it. It’s an injury that sits there like one of those old WWII bombs they dig up now and again. Probably won’t go off, but it might. It’s a known injury and the Dodgers did very well with maintaining him last year.

3) Why does Matt Kemp not get a clean bill?

It’s goofy. It sees a big slugger and then a stat line that looks like a speed guy. The system sees Juan Pierre muscling up or a slugger who’s overrunning and comes up with risk. It’s mostly that it doesn’t know what to do with a guy like this. It’s not a huge risk, but add in that he’s been being a star all winter while Andre Ethier has been working out all winter in Arizona and that’s a concern.

4) Jonathan Broxton had some toe issues last year, and he’s obviously a big guy. Tell us why we shouldn’t be too worried.

Credit the medical staff and the pitching staff. They never let the toe affect his shoulder. If his mechanics change, that guy throws so hard that all sorts of bad things could happen in there. They shut him down, so the velocity measures and some other objective measures of consistent mechanics give some clarity on that. The toe should be healed now and those don’t tend to recur.

5) Any insight into how much Manny Ramirez needs to be rested?

No, not really. An intriguing thought is that this off-season is different in that he wasn’t juicing like we have to assume he was last year. (Well, at least I hope he wasn’t!) I have no idea how that will affect him or how he handled his off-season. Manny was another guy who was often at API, but I don’t know what he did this year. He’s not a young guy, he’s not a particularly mobile guy, and there’s no DH slot to use, so I’d say once a week, maybe make use of some schedule quirks to buy him an extra day here or there. His bat will tell Torre when he needs to rest.

Feb 05

More diverging views on Orlando Hudson

There seems to be little escaping the fact that Orlando Hudson, of all people, has become a polarizing player. Hudson is headed to Minnesota on a one-year contract worth a reported $5 million, and as Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com notes, observers are of two minds about him.

… Hudson remains an asset in the opinions of most scouts and executives.

(Joe) Torre obviously felt differently in September, and some evaluators believe that Hudson no longer is the hitter or defender that he was before undergoing surgery on his left wrist in August 2008.

That, however, might be too simple a view.

Opponents adjusted to Hudson last season by pounding him inside. Perhaps Hudson, a switch-hitter, was unable to counter because of lingering soreness in his wrist. But one rival executive notes that Hudson was vulnerable on the inner third even before his injury.

Defensively, Hudson remains outstanding on popups and above average to his glove side. He is weaker to his backhand, but again his wrist might not be the only explanation. A second executive says that even before Hudson suffered his injury, his defense was in decline.

“He used to be a difference-maker,” the exec says. “Now he’s a tick above average.”

Still, from the Twins’ perspective, the package looks pretty good. …

Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes the following:

… No doubt Hudson is a better player than (Luis) Castillo and, thus, would have helped the Mets more. But Dodgers officials were actually disappointed in Hudson’s overall game and, remember, Joe Torre benched Hudson in favor of Ronnie Belliard late in the year. They were quickly surprised that Hudson was not faster with a few inside the organization derisively turning his nickname from O-Dog to Slow-Dog. They also came to believe that his defensive reputation was overinflated; that he was fantastic on pop-ups, but very ordinary on grounders. …

Meanwhile, ESPN.com researcher Mark Simon offers this:

The Twins will like Hudson’s baserunning instincts. A couple of examples in combing through the numbers on Baseball-Reference.com – Hudson has scored from first base on a double 16 times in 24 opportunities over the last three seasons (the other eight times, he held at third). That’s a 67 percent success rate, significantly better than the MLB rate, which typically hovers from 40-44 percent.

- In that same span, he’s gone first to third on a single 37 times in 84 attempts (he’s stopped at second on all but one of the other occasions). The 44 percent success rate is better than the MLB rate, which ranges from 30 to 33 percent

- He’s scored from second on singles 33 times in 49 chances since 2007 (stopping at third on all but one of the other occasions). That’s 67 percent- slightly better than the MLB average, which is around 60-64 percent, depending on the year.

- Hudson is 20-for-21 in stolen base attempts of second base over the last three seasons.

There’s got to be a middle ground in there with Hudson somewhere. Given the doubts about him and the price for which he signed, which was about $3-5 million less than what he might have won in a salary arbitration case with the Dodgers, maybe there’s more justification for the team not offering him salary arbitration than I originally allowed for. Thoughts are still in flux.

Feb 04

New Dodger annual headed to print

I’m pleased to announce that the first Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual, edited by yours truly and featuring many writers familiar to Dodger Thoughts readers, will be shipping this month and is available for pre-order.

The annual, which will also be available on local newsstands at the start of March, offers 128 ad-free pages devoted to the Dodgers, including a review of the 2009 season, a thorough series of player profiles and articles previewing the coming year, a 25-page section on the farm system and another 25 pages of historical features.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Amid Turmoil, Hope (2010 season preview), by Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone
  • So Close, Again (2009 season in review), by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • Manny Be Good? (What to expect from Ramirez in 2010), by Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus
  • Disorder In McCourt (an analysis of the impact of the McCourts’ divorce) by Joshua Fisher of Dodger Divorce
  • State Of The Stadium, by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • One Out Away (Jonathan Broxton looks to recover from another disappointing finish), by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness
  • Critical Campaigns (James Loney and Russell Martin), by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness
  • The Collected Colletti (a Q&A), by Josh Suchon of KABC AM 790
  • Aces Are Wild Cards (The last word on No. 1 starters), by Eric Enders, baseball historian
  • Prospect Park (Top 20 prospects in the Dodger farm system), by Dodger prospect expert Richard Bostan
  • Individually Packaged (how the Dodgers develop young arms), by Josh Suchon of KABC AM 790
  • No Minor Hopes (life in AAA), by Albuquerque Isotopes play-by-play announcer Robert Portnoy
  • One In A Trillion (a Vin Scully retrospective), by Dodger team historian Mark Langill
  • Unsung Heroes (key contributions from unexpected sources), by Bob Timmermann of The Griddle and One Through Forty-Two or Forty-Three
  • Sweep And Low (the end of the 1980 season), by Dodger Thoughts commenter BHSportsGuy
  • The Great Dividers (the 20 most controversial Dodgers of the 2000s), by Jon Weisman
Petriello also wrote the bulk of the player profiles, along with BHSportsGuy and another Dodger Thoughts commenter, CraigUnderdog.
If you enjoy this site (and maybe even if you don’t), you won’t want to be without this annual.
* * *
A great wrapup of the Dodgers’ caravan stop at my go-to fried chicken place, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, can be found at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
Feb 04

El Camino Real alum gets minor-league shot with Dodgers

Three quick notes:

  • Will Savage, a 25-year-old El Camino Real High grad who had a 2.94 ERA in 125 1/3 innings (but only 3.5 strikeouts per nine innings) last season for Wichita in the independent American Association, signed a contract with the Dodgers and will get an opportunity to pitch in the minors for the organization, according to Our Sports Central. Savage, who was in the Phillies’ organization through 2008 after going to College of the Canyons and Oklahoma, pitched a no-hitter in June.
  • Jamie McCourt got $1.4 million in temporary spousal support, reports Bill Shaikin of The Times. Joshua Fisher discusses it at Dodger Divorce.
  • Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Blog passes along a great Jackie Robinson story.
Feb 04

What Justin Verlander’s new contract could mean for Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers

Justin Verlander signed a contract extension with the Tigers on Wednesday that amounts to $80 million over five years.

Verlander is 17 months older than Chad Billingsley and made his major-league debut 49 weeks before the Dodger righty (though Verlander pitched only 11 1/3 innings that year). A comparison of the two since they became full-fledged major-leaguers:

Verlander Billingsley
Year IP K/9 ERA+ IP K/9 ERA+
2006 186 6.0 126 90 5.9 118
2007 201 2/3 8.2 125 147 8.6 134
2008 201 7.3 93 200 2/3 9 133
2009 240 10.1 133 196 1/3 8.2 98

Verlander had an off year in 2008, but came back with his best season ever. His off year was arguably worse or at least little better than Billingsley’s off year in 2009. Billingsley outperformed Verlander two years running in adjusted ERA, though he didn’t pitch as many innings. The best season either pitcher had before last year was Billingsley’s 2008. And again, Billingsley is more than a year younger.

Before the 2009 season, it’s hard to see how anyone would have valued Verlander much more than Billingsley. It’s not as if Verlander had any postseason success to make up for his 2008 problems.

Billingsley obviously needs to show this year that he can bounce back from his disappointing second half (interestingly, both he and Verlander had first-half ERAs of 3.38 last season, though Verlander’s 3.38 was worth a little more because of league and park adjustments). But it’s hardly far-fetched that Billingsley will. And if he does, he will set himself up for a mighty nice deal – if not before he becomes a free agent in November 2012, then certainly after.

For more on the Verlander signing, check out Rob Neyer of ESPN.com and Matthew Carruth of Fangraphs.

* * *

The Dodgers’ policy to compel players to donate money when they signed a new contract – which they were apparently not alone in implementing – has been reduced, but only somewhat. There was an immediate objection from the players’ union, and now a settlement has been reached, reports Bill Shaikin of the Times.

The union filed a grievance soon thereafter, alleging the Dodgers, Angels and 20 other teams had improperly mandated donations to club charities in the contracts of at least 109 players.

Under the settlement agreement, which resolves the grievance, clubs can demand such donations from players signing as free agents or signing long-term contracts that buy out one or more years of free agency, according to a management official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been officially announced.

Those players have the option to sign elsewhere. Players not yet eligible for free agency cannot be compelled to donate, the management official said.

* * *

  • Fox is offering two Saturday night regular-season telecasts this season – their first since 2004 – and the Dodgers are featured both nights, on May 22 against the Tigers and June 26 against the Yankees. Both games are in Los Angeles.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. talked about the Dodgers with the guys at HotStove.com Wednesday.
  • Via Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods, I found this story of a ball hit by Joe Wallis that went up but never came down.
  • Ticketmaster makes the bargain tickets for the Dodgertown Classic college baseball doubleheader a lot less of a bargain, writes Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
Feb 03

Case study of a 5-year-old athlete

When I last wrote about my oldest son, he was a 4-year-old with barely enough interest to keep him upright on a T-ball team that I was coaching.

He was more interested in playing with the dirt in the infield than the ball running along it past him. He was sold on the idea that he’d get to have fun with his friends, but because you can’t have nine shortstops, he was constantly told to move away from his friends. He found fun where he could, but he never really seemed to grasp the overall purpose of his being out there.

For this, I faulted him not at all, but rather questioned the decision my wife and I made to have him be on the team at that age. There was reason enough to fear that the experience might kill any interest he had in sports. And I wasn’t at all sure that my being his coach was a positive thing. I didn’t doubt that on some level he loved having me there, but I also wondered if my presence was stunting his development.

By the end of the season, I sort of came around to the idea that the good outweighed the bad. He did have some fun, though it had nothing to do with fundamentals. He improved slightly, although even as late as the final game, we still weren’t sure if he should bat righty or lefty. His attention still wandered off, but not quite as long. On some level, I think he felt some sense of pride from being on the team. So even if this wasn’t his thing, the experience was probably a good one. I still wouldn’t say it was necessary for someone his age, but I don’t think it was harmful.

* * *

Summer came, along with his fifth birthday. He had another round of day camp and swimming lessons, and man, he loves being in the pool. All the ambivalence you saw in T-ball was a faint memory when you saw how eagerly and joyously he went into the water. He would go every day if he could.

Fall came. My wife took me by surprise one day by suggesting we take the training wheels off his bike. Amid my skepticism, I started limbering up. Teaching my daughter (now 7) to ride on two wheels had been fairly backbreaking, as I was constantly hunched over, running alongside her with a hand on the handlebars until she was ready for me to let go … then bending over to pick her up after she teetered over. After a few weeks, I got a tip from another dad at the park to lower her seat way down. This made an immediate difference. Still, I had no illusion two-wheeling would be easy for child No. 2.

But within just a few seconds of his starting to pedal, my son called out, “Let go, Daddy! Let go!” And he was off. The kid who needs a court order before he’ll play catch with you was an utter natural on that racing-striped bike. After a quick reminder that he get a foot down when he wanted to stop, the instruction was all over. It was amazing.

Winter came. Thanks to the generosity of my parents, we made it to the snow, where daughter got her third week of ski lessons and eldest son got his second. Learning to ski involves a lot of moving parts. Getting the rhythm and mechanics of it can be a painstaking quest, and that’s when the weather’s nice. But my kids didn’t mind. They get it. They like it. They look forward to it. And they can now making their way down green runs with considerable ease and also have done several intermediate slopes.

And my son is fast. He’s got that little-kid, no-fear gene activated on the slopes. It’s a little scary, but it’s also pretty dang cool.

* * *

Immediately after coming home, we began my son’s first basketball season, which I greeted with much the same misgivings I had for T-ball, minus two: I wasn’t coaching, and I thought the pace of the game would engage my son’s interest more. And I have to say, he is always smiling. But many of those smiles have absolutely nothing to do with the game going on around him … or 30 feet away from him, given his intermittent reactions to what’s happening.

The game itself has no purpose for him. He knows the rules – get the ball and try to score – but he just doesn’t see a point in it. Whenever possible, he and one of his best buddies goof around. And then … snacks.

One time I told him (calmly, I promise) that it was great he was having fun but that he did have a responsibility to make his best effort out on the court. Otherwise, I’ve mostly let all this go. If a 5-year-old boy doesn’t see a purpose in the back and forth of basketball, well, is he wrong?

Meanwhile, his sister just had her first rock-climbing class (indoors, but otherwise the real deal) – for which the minimum age is 6. And I already know, exactly six months from today, my oldest son will be ready for his.

* * *

T-ball season is coming. Signups are this month, practices starting next month. I know that my son will survive, and heck, maybe he’ll even thrive.  It’ll be interesting to see how he does as a proven T-ball veteran as opposed to a mere T-ball prospect.

But here I have a boy who’s interested in at least four sports – swimming, biking, skiing and rock climbing – that he can do for the rest of his life. Who takes piano lessons and loves to read. Who concocts wild adventures for his stuffed animals. Who likes going to school and, in a 180-degree switch from his father, actually likes going to religious school. And so I do ask myself, “Why T-ball?”

I’m not worried that he’s overscheduled, not yet, because all this stuff is relatively spread out throughout the week, throughout the year. I’m still of a mind that playing T-ball will do him good, not harm – though I have very modest expectations about that good. I’m of a mind that even though baseball and basketball and soccer (the first one he tried) didn’t do it for him, team sports might still click for him at some point. Or, they won’t.

Right now, the value for him in playing baseball is twofold: the team camaraderie, and the possibility that the experience now will help him down the road, should he ever fall in like or love with the sport. There’s the possibility he’d someday regret him not playing T-ball. Whether those are reasons enough to have him out there, I’m not entirely sure. It might be just as possible that baseball will click for him when he’s not playing it.

I love baseball, but I don’t need my son to love it. He might even be better off not loving it.  A boy who loves swimming, biking and climbing is, as far as I’m concerned, just fine.

Feb 03

Sneak peek at the pitching staff

Tony Jackson has his Dodger pitching preview up, leading off with the question of whether Vicente Padilla will be that much of a dropoff from Randy Wolf. The danger is to place too much stock in Padilla’s short 2009 stint with the Dodgers.

I think Padilla might compare well to 2010 Wolf, but not quite so well to 2009 Wolf. Basically, both pitchers did better in a Dodger uniform last year than fans had a right to expect.

Feb 02

Rust never sleeps: Dodgers make late-night run for Ramon Ortiz

There will be two we can rebuild him Ortizes at Camelback Ranch this year. The Dodgers have signed former Angel Ramon Ortiz, who last pitched in the majors in 2007, to a minor-league contract, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Ramon Ortiz, not to be confused with Russ Ortiz, pitched for the Giants’ AAA team last year, putting up decent numbers (3.05 ERA, 114 strikeouts against 158 baserunners in 129 2/3 innings) but never getting a callup.

Update: Tony Jackson has more on the signing of Ortiz and Alfredo Amezaga.

Feb 02

Joe Torre talks 2010 at Dodger dreamfield dedication

Joe Torre talked about a number of aspects of the upcoming season at the dedication of the Dodgers’ ninth Dreamfield, at the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has details.

  • Torre plans to rest Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake more in 2010, and sees Reed Johnson also getting spot starts for Andre Ethier.
  • Torre spoke to Ramirez by phone last week. Ramirez is “anxious to get started.”
  • Scott Elbert might relieve, James McDonald might start.
  • Blake DeWitt will get a fair shot to win the second-base job. Torre said he isn’t very familiar with Jamey Carroll, but that hitting coach Don Mattingly and scouts “like him a lot.”

* * *

The Dodgers are mourning the passing of ticket operations manager Desiree Sanchez from breast cancer, Gurnick writes.  My sincere condolences to her family and friends.