Apr 11

Kershaw’s winless dominance

F-18s fly over Dodger Stadium prior to the home opener. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Some Tuesday postgame data, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information:

How Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw dominated the Pirates despite not picking up a win:
- Sixty-five of Kershaw’s 88 pitches (73.9 percent) went for strikes, the highest percentage of his career.
- Kershaw went to a three-ball count to the first hitter of the game, the only one he went to all game. The one three-ball count matches his career low in a start.
- Pirates hitters were 0 for 7 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with Kershaw’s slider.
- With two strikes, Pirates hitters were 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts.

Kershaw held the Pirates hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position on Tuesday, continuing his dominance of hitters when getting into a jam.

Lowest BA Allowed With RISP, Starting Pitchers, Since Start of 2011 Season

Ian Kennedy .142
Jeremy Hellickson .161
Ricky Romero .173
Jhoulys Chacin .173
Clayton Kershaw .185 (0-6 on Tuesday vs Pirates)

* * *

Matt Kemp went 0-4 on Tuesday, but drove in a run for the ninth straight game. The nine straight games with a RBI ties a Dodgers’ record.

Most Consecutive Games with RBI, Dodgers History
Matt Kemp 9 (2011-12)
Roy Campanella 9 (1955)
Augie Galan 9 (1944)

* * *
Andre Ethier, on his 30th birthday, hit a game-winning home run in the eighth inning in the Dodgers’ win over the Pirates. The last player to celebrate his 30th birthday by hitting a game-winning homer in the eighth inning or later was Jerry Mumphrey for the Yankees against Milwaukee on September 9, 1982. Mumphrey hit a 10th inning homer in that game. (Elias Sports Bureau)

* * *

  • In a story for Variety, I explore how much TV networks can justify bidding billions of dollars for the rights to broadcast baseball games. Nice to see Dee Gordon flying across the top of the paper …
  • In five games, Gordon has four steals in five tries, and replays showed he was safe on the time he was called out.
  • MIke Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness conveniently tackles a subject I was mulling myself: how Chad Billingsley does in his next start following a great outing. It might also be worth looking at how Billingsley does after a high pitch count in his most recent appearance.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: A photo gallery from the home opener.
  • Sons of Steve Garvey has its own nice photo recap of Tuesday.
  • His Dodger shortstop predecessor, Rafael Furcal, is 10 for 23 with three doubles, two walks and two steals to start 2012: 1.045 OPS.
  • Here’s an Associated Press story on security at Dodger Stadium for the first home opener since Bryan Stow was attacked.
  • Joe Torre conceded to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that at times, Matt Kemp was a difficult player for him to manage.
  • Jonah Keri of Grantland and Dave Cameron of Fangraphs discuss the need and desire to kill the save statistic and replace it with something more useful.
  • Don Mattingly and Peter O'Malley. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

    Another gem by Josh Wilker at Cardboard Gods, inspired by the hyphen.
  • A baseball card featuring Reggie Smith and Ryne Sandberg is the subject of a piece by Bruce Markusen for the Hardball Times.
  • Dixie Walker will be played by Ryan Merriman of ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars in the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic, 42, reports Justin Kroll of Variety.
  • Eleven contract extensions have been signed by pre-arbitration-eligible players since the end of last season; Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors looks at the trend.
  • Carlos Santana became one of those players, signing a five-year, $21 million extension. Mike Axisa of Fangraphs examines the deal.
  • At the bottom of this Fangraphs post, you are asked to rate Dodger radio announcers Charley Steiner and Rick Monday.
Feb 23

McCourt digs in heels on parking lots

Bad, bad news. From Bill Shaikin of the Times:

Rick Caruso and former Dodgers manager Joe Torre have withdrawn a joint bid to buy the Dodgers, three people familiar with the sale process said Thursday.

Caruso cited owner Frank McCourt’s refusal to include the Dodger Stadium parking lots in the sale, according to the people, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the sale process.

Caruso could reenter the bidding if McCourt were to agree to sell the parking lots, the people said. McCourt has told people he has at least one bid in which the buyer would let him retain ownership of the parking lots. …

It’s extremely disappointing, though perhaps to be expected, that someone is willing to make a deal with the figurative devil in this case. This is the strongest indication yet that Dodger fans will not be free of McCourt.

“The history of the L.A. Dodgers began with people who didn’t want to move out of the parking lots. And it continues,” comments Bob Timmermann.

Jan 04

Torre enters Dodger ownership fray

Once a Dodger (no matter how late), always a Dodger?

Joe Torre has resigned as MLB executive vice president of baseball operations to join a group pursuing ownership of the Dodgers. ESPNLosAngeles has more.

The group Torre is joining was not immediately named, though Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted that it was one led by real estate developer Rick Caruso. (Update: Torre and Caruso subsequently confirmed in a joint statement, and Bill Shaikin of the Times tweeted that the banker is Byron Trott of BDT Capital in Chicago, “called by Warren Buffett ‘the only banker he trusts.’”)

Former Dodger executive Kim Ng will be part of a trio splitting Torre’s MLB duties on an interim basis. If Torre’s group prevails in acquiring the Dodgers, it’s natural to wonder if Ng would be the team’s next general manager.

Feb 25

App-endicitis

Pennant Preview from Steve Varga on Vimeo.

While folks are talking about the arrival of the 2011 version of the MLB At Bat mobile application, which is fairly indispensable in my world, there are other new portable treats out there.

One is the historically oriented “Pennant” for the iPad, illustrated in the clip above. If you sit through the whole demonstration, you might find it more than a little bit cool.

In addition, the Bill James Baseball IQ App has just been introduced.

What other baseball apps have you guys used? Anyone have the Fangraphs app?

* * *

  • Andre Ethier and Ivan De Jesus Jr. are the main subjects of Tony Jackson’s notebook today for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Joe Torre is expected to be named Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations Saturday, reports The Associated Press.
  • Adrian Beltre’s Texas career is off to a sluggish start — he’ll miss a couple of weeks of Spring Training games with a calf strain, reports Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com.
  • John Kilma writes about “the new generation of pitching that is quickly accelerating college baseball’s role as fertile ground for professional pitching development “for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

* * *

The first Spring Training radio broadcast is Saturday at 12:05 p.m. Pacific on KABC 790 AM. The first Spring Training telecast is Sunday at 12:05 p.m. Pacific on Prime Ticket.

Dodger baseball is under 24 hours away …

Jan 14

Fried day

Thanks to everyone for their feedback Thursday ….

  • As I suggested a month ago, Tony Gwynn Jr. might end up being the best option for the current Dodger outfield. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com talked to Ned Colletti about it.
  • Joe Torre’s future employment with MLB could depend on his willingness to leave his newly adopted California home, writes Jackson. “Torre, who grew up in Brooklyn, moved his family to Los Angeles when he took over three years ago as manager of the Dodgers, and he seemed to hint to media members Wednesday that he would like to stay there even if he goes to work for the commissioner,” Jackson says. “But at least one source in the league office said earlier this week that the position of VP of operations probably can’t be done from outside the office.”
  • No expanded playoffs or instant replay will be coming in 2011, reports Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com (via Hardball Talk).
  • Kathryn Bertine writes at ESPNW about how Christina Taylor Green affected her.
  • Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports shares some chilling information about the gun culture among ballplayers in Latin America.
  • The Dodgers just released 47-year-old Pat Borders — who apparently has been on the team’s restricted list since 2006 — according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
  • In his discussion of the career accomplishments of Jamie Moyer, Rob Neyer of ESPN.com excerpts a piece of writing from Will Carroll talking about how legitimate it would be for the 47-year-old Moyer to use a banned substance to aid his recovery from Tommy John surgery:

    Moyer could, with a year out of baseball, take an intriguing step, one that seems out of character with his reputation on the one hand, but in line with his noted desire to return. What if Jamie Moyer started using HGH or other banned substances to return from his injury? At his age, getting prescriptions for HGH and testosterone would be easy. MLB had no problem allowing testosterone to be advertised during its playoffs last year, despite the fact that it was a substance that caused it no end of problems over the last two decades. There is a waiver policy that would allow for the use of banned substances, but as a free agent, Moyer would not need to have this waiver. Moyer is free to do anything his doctor prescribes. He might need a waiver when returning, if he’s taken any substance that would cause a positive test, but most of what is used medically has a fairly short detectable period.

    Would anyone begrudge Moyer if he decided to use a legal, effective substance to help in his return? Each week, some pitcher or another takes an injection of cortisone. The injection, usually mixed with a painkiller, is a quick fix, but a dangerous one. Corticosteroids can have an almost acidic effect on structures, doing long-term damage while allowing a player to come back in the short term. Many of these pitchers make a choice: take the spike and pitch, or don’t and don’t. Finding someone who declines takes quite the search; if someone does, they’ll often end up with a reputation or that tag of “bad teammate” or worse, “soft.” Moyer’s never been those things, so given a chance, would taking another kind of injection be wrong? Moyer fought through multiple surgeries prior to the 2010 season, including a nasty infection that could have been deadly, so he’s a fighter, a struggler … but could he go this far?

  • Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News profiles ESPNLosAngeles’ very own Brian and Andrew Kamenetzky. Nice story!
Sep 18

The future of remembering Joe Torre



Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Joe Torre conducted himself with a level of class and warmth that will probably be the standard future Dodger managers are measured by … until there’s a Dodger manager who succeeds in a different style.

In 2008 and 2009, he reestablished the World Series as a legitimate possibility for the Dodgers, guiding the team to the brink of the Fall Classic … unless it wasn’t so much him as the confluence of talent that had coalesced around him.

In 2010, that team fell apart, with Torre himself conceding that perhaps he was no longer the best man for this particular job … except maybe that it wasn’t the manager who blew it for the team, but the team that blew it for the manager.

If three years are long enough for an era, I suspect that the Joe Torre Era will be remembered fondly overall, even with the bad taste of this year’s team, which needs to go 9-5 for a .500 finish and at least 6-8 to avoid, as Eric Stephen points out at SB Nation Los Angeles’ The Red Carpet, saddling Torre with his 2000th career loss. If the Dodgers continue their downward trend, Torre’s Time might even be remembered as the good ol’ days. And if the Dodgers reverse their cursed ways of 2010, well then, no real harm done in this final year.

But it would be incomplete not to acknowledge that over his three seasons in Los Angeles – including even the winning years – that Torre exasperated a healthy segment of Dodger followers, whose interest in his gravitas was run over by his debatable baseball decisions on a number of fronts. Whether pro-Donnie Baseball or con, more than a few people were waiting fervently for Friday’s official announcement in a way that the Torre hagiography doesn’t quite recognize.

Torre came to Los Angeles with questions about whether the New York Yankees succeeded because of him or whether he succeeded because of the Yankees, and he leaves Los Angeles (at least as its skipper) with those same questions lingering. And so the fuzzy answer to defining Torre’s legacy in a larger sense, in and beyond Los Angeles, is a compromise: It was part him, and part everything else. How much of each? Who knows?

The practice in baseball of hiring and firing managers – the same guy who won you a title then is somehow responsible for your downfall now – dates back more than a century, and not even Torre was even able to change it. In fact, given his comments Friday about feeling young, wanting to continue to feel young and never saying never to what might come next, Torre did nothing less than extend that practice to himself. (Even if he resigned as Dodger manager for no other reason than to get away from the McCourts, it would somehow reflect his own opinion of the limits of his ability.)

For me, there will always be the Torre I liked and the Torre I didn’t. I think the Torre I liked probably stands out more, because there was more success than failure, and because I did feel warmth toward him. Others will feel differently, no doubt. Both Torres are there, and neither can be denied.

Sep 17

Dodgers take leap of faith with Don Mattingly


Dustin Bradford/Icon SMIDon Mattingly will be the Dodgers’ seventh manager since 1996.

The Tim Wallach bandwagon seemed to be gaining steam in recent weeks, but in the end it was as everyone foretold: The Dodgers have officially announced that Don Mattingly will manage the team in 2011, succeeding Joe Torre.

With any first-time manager, you don’t really know how it’s going to go until it goes (that’s my poor imitation of Joni Mitchell). Wallach was something of a sweetheart candidate, partly with his echoes of Mike Scioscia (even though Wallach mainly spent his career in Montreal), but more because he just seemed to have earned the job more than Mattingly had. Player reports were glowing. But unless you’ve been hanging with the Isotopes, you didn’t really see how he managed a team, and even if you were in Albuquerque, you don’t know how his strategy might change with winning a priority over player development.

Of course, Mattingly is an even bigger mystery. The Dodgers are betting that his understanding of the game and Torre’s tutelage trumps any need for having done this before, and that managing in the Arizona Fall League will seal the deal.  I wasn’t convinced all year that this was a good bet, and I’m not convinced now. I poured my thoughts out on this in June, and my take on this remains what it was:

… I don’t know of anyone, even his stanuchest supporters, who touts Torre as a brilliant tactical manager. He has had moments of strategic inspiration, but they seem more than undermined by his justifiably maligned use of his pitching staff and other odd lineup and bench moves. Some of the criticism of Torre is overblown, but there’s a layer of truth to it that dates back to his Yankee days.  …

Obviously, Mattingly’s baseball knowledge is not limited to his time by Torre’s side, but surely his tactics are going to be heavily influenced by Torre. And that, while not being the worst thing in the world, is not anything to be excited about.

Then you have to ask yourself, is Mattingly the type of person who can nurture a clubhouse, who can make a team better when the game isn’t going on?

I don’t know Mattingly at all, so I’m not qualified to answer that question. But my concern is that Mattingly is being handed this job not because of any actual qualifications, but because he’s perceived (hoped) to be Torre II. He’ll continue Torre’s winning ways just by having soaked up his innate Torreness.

If it were that simple, I don’t think Lakers fans would be concerned about Phil Jackson leaving.

As a counter-example, Tim Wallach has both coached on the major league level and managed on the minor league level for the Dodgers. He was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2009. This season, he has been doing a barefoot walk across the coals, because the Dodgers’ pitching problems have absolutely burned their top affiliate in Albuquerque. In this season alone, Wallach has had to use 17 starting pitchers this season in 74 games. He has very little in the way of top-rated Triple-A prospects right now. He has had to work without the safety net of a Joe Torre and then some.

This resume doesn’t prove that Wallach will be a successful major league manager. But I can’t see how it isn’t a better resume than Mattingly’s, whose entire managerial C.V. consists of, “He’s Don Mattingly, Yankees legend and student of Joe Torre.”

As the Dodgers prepare to bid farewell to Torre, this year, next year or whenever, they have some responsibilities, some explicit, some implicit. For one thing, Major League Baseball requires the Dodgers to interview at least one minority candidate for the position. Whether you believe in this rule or not, I’d argue that the Dodgers should not make this interview a token activity, but rather at least one of a number of serious interviews, a wider exploration into whether anyone is better than Mattingly for the job. Clearly, Mattingly has impressed people in the organization, but has he done so in ways that really matter? If they pause and step back, are there not potential managers out there who would be more compelling?

By writing this piece, I risk giving this decision more importance than it deserves. The talent on the field is still more important than the talent in the dugout, and a hire of Mattingly isn’t going to ruin the Dodgers. Mattingly is not Torre, and given what happened Sunday, some might say that’s a good thing. But the Dodgers should ask themselves whether a Mattingly hire would bring continuity in all the wrong places.

I really do think the Dodgers or MLB need to answer why the minority interview requirement for the Dodgers is being bypassed for the second time in a row.

In the end, Mattingly may turn out to be the real deal as a manager, just as he was as a player. Just like Torre, in fact. Keep in mind, though, that Torre (who took over the Mets as a novice manager while still on the active playing roster) didn’t have a winning season until his seventh season.

So maybe the way to look at this is you’re giving a young prospect with great potential a quick route to the big leagues, just like, say, Clayton Kershaw. Or Matt Kemp.  Or Joel Guzman. You know, one of those.

Sep 16

The Big Blue Wrecked Crew: 2010-11 Dodger offseason primer


Kirby Lee/US PresswireRussell Martin: Just one of the many questions the Dodgers face this winter.

The Dodger roster heading into the 2010-11 offseason, and I don’t say this lightly, is a mess.

It’s not a hopeless mess. But it is a mess, and it’s going to take some skill from the crew in charge to clean up. It’s a goop of oil and water, an unsightly combination of having to fill holes while also figuring out which rising salaries to jettison and which to risk holding onto.

Oh, and when the 2010 season ends, the No. 5 starter on the 40-man roster, at least by major-league experience, will be someone who hasn’t pitched in a professional game in four months: Scott Elbert.

The Dodgers have one absolute jewel on the team: Clayton Kershaw. The team’s top player won’t be arbitration eligible for one more year and only figures to earn approximately $500,000 in 2011.

Then, there are a few players whose higher salaries the Dodgers won’t mind paying. Chad Billingsley, who will command somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million, knocked down many of the questions others had about him with a resurgent 2010 season. Hong-Chih Kuo will draw low seven figures, and after the way he has persevered and performed, no one should begrudge him. Kenley Jansen will make people swoon, and only receive the major-league minimum pay and meal money in return.

So much for the good news. Now, the concerns:

  • Rafael Furcal surely remains talented, but the Dodgers have $12 million going to a player who has averaged fewer than 100 games per year since 2008.
  • Slumping reliever Jonathan Broxton’s final season before free agency is tagged with a $7 million salary.
  • Coming off an injury that ended his second straight disappointing year, arbitration-eligible Russell Martin would also get as much as $7 million if the Dodgers don’t non-tender him.
  • Andre Ethier looked like an MVP at the start of the year; by the end, his $9.25 million 2011 salary for an outfielder who struggles against lefties didn’t seem like quite as much of a bargain.
  • Lightning Rod Award-winning outfielder Matt Kemp has $6.95 million coming next year.
  • Casey Blake, game but aging, gets $5.25 million in the final chapter of his three-year deal.
  • By now, James Loney should have developed enough that the $4.5 million he is projected to earn next year should have seemed closer to a bargain than a burden, but his second-half disappearance hasn’t helped matters.
  • Incumbent second baseman Ryan Theriot and his sub-.700 OPS will bring home about $3.5 million if the Dodgers hang onto him.

In sum, that’s about $55 million committed to a series of question marks, some small, some large. In addition, Los Angeles owes approximately $17 million of its 2011 budget to (swallow hard) Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt — the price for turning past mistakes into the playoff teams of the previous two years.

Overall, the Dodgers on paper have close to $100 million – a figure that might well be at or above their budget limit – committed before they make a single offseason move.

Now, all is not lost. The Dodgers can and probably will gain roughly $12 million in breathing room if and when they bid farewell to George Sherrill, Octavio Dotel, Scott Podsednik and Brad Ausmus (who has said he will retire). Meanwhile, free agents Jay Gibbons and Rod Barajas should start to help shore up the bench for under $2 million combined. And it should be noted that not all of the above question marks will have negative answers.

Nevertheless, that still leaves the Dodgers at about $90 million in payroll, with John Ely as their No. 3 starter and serious questions about most of their offense. As shaky as their lineup now looks, and however aggressive the Dodgers might want to be with the latest crop of prospects, the Dodgers absolutely have to add at least two more starters, whether through free agency or trade, whether Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda or outsiders.

It’s for this reason that unless the team salary budget goes up, the Dodgers almost certainly will trade or non-tender a 2011 contract to at least one from the group of Broxton, Kemp, Ethier, Loney and Martin. Loney, because he has the lowest salary, might be most likely to stay – he’s finishing the year as a disappointment at first base, but he’s not finishing the year alone as a disappointment. In any case, all of them have something to offer other teams that might be, as hard as it is for some to digest, more willing to spend than the Dodgers are.

An Ethier trade would be a shock, for example, much more than a Kemp trade, but who can say it’s out of the question now?

However this plays out, the Dodgers may well bring back many of the same players next year who boosted them to National League Championship Series appearances in 2008-09 and sunk them in 2010. In one respect, nothing will have changed: You’re always hoping players move forward, like Kershaw and Billingsley, and not backward, like Kemp and Loney and Broxton and Martin and so on. Good does sometimes follow bad, after all. But still, it’s going to be a nervous offseason for a lot of us.

Sure, BP had it tougher. But as cleanup goes, this is as thick a goop as Chavez Ravine has seen in quite some time.

Sep 02

Unthinkable or thinkable: A Joe Torre-Derek Jeter reunion in Los Angeles?

This is not a rumor I’m starting.  There is no evidence that this is being discussed or will ever happen. Everything I’ve heard is that the Yankee will finish his career as a Yankee.

But that sort of talk has been wrong in the past. And so I submit to you that there are far more outlandish possibilities than Joe Torre returning as Dodger manager next season and successfully recommending that the team sign free agent infielder Derek Jeter.

Sep 02

The 2010 Dodgers and the reinvention of lying

White lies, little and giant, have always been part of baseball — even the creation of the game is rooted in myth. But I can’t remember a year since I’ve been following the Dodgers that seems as defined by misinformation as 2010.

The tone was set last fall by Frank and Jamie McCourt as they prepared to do battle for ownership of the franchise, with the he said/she said battle positions flowering during numerous public revelations this year, leaving us with the bouquet of stinkweed at the trial that began this week. I’m not saying that someone’s been trying to pull a lot of wool over someone’s eyes, but lambs across the country are shivering in 90-degree heat.

It hasn’t only been the McCourts. Matt Kemp is held out of the starting lineup for days at a time, and the explanations richochet like bumper cars. He’s tired, he needs to get his head together, he’s in a battle with a coach, he needs to go talk to Joe Torre, Joe Torre needs to talk to him.

Manny Ramirez is finally ready to play after a painfully long absence, and yet he’s not playing. It’s matchups against the pitcher, it’s the square footage of the opposing outfield, it’s Torre playing a hunch, it’s to protect Ramirez for his waiver sendoff to the American League, it’s Ramirez’s own pigheadedness.

And then there are the media columnists who will bend and even break the truth to suit the stories they are determined to write, heedless of the facts.

This all comes on top of the game’s typical lies, such as a player hiding an injury (often to the detriment of the team), that are so familiar and yet so tedious.

It has bred a cynicism so rampant in many of us that even when a Dodger executive of unimpugned integrity like Logan White said in June with complete honesty that he drafted Zach Lee with the full intention of trying to sign him, few believed him – and most of the few who did simply believed he was lying to himself.

Baseball in general, and the Dodgers in particular, don’t necessarily owe us the truth, and I understand little white lies will always be part of the game. Baseball is a business, a culture and a family, and in all three fib to protect themselves. But this year, the cumulative effect of the lying has had a punishing effect. Last week, when Ramirez missed his final four chances to start after reaching base in his final four plate appearances as a starter, I rolled my eyes so much that they bowled a 270. It would be a bit much to pull the “have you no decency” card, but surely there doesn’t need to be such contempt for the truth to operate a baseball team in Los Angeles.

The grievances of Dodger fans are many, perhaps too many and perhaps sometimes too petty. But the feeling is almost unshakable that the Dodger organization has gone too far in insulting the intelligence of the fans. If our expectations are sometimes too high, that doesn’t mean the Dodger players, coaches, manager, executives and ownership don’t need to aim higher. In the end, winning is all that matters, but integrity goes a long way toward soothing the spirit when you’re losing.

Let’s put it this way: If you as an organization choose to espouse the heart and hustle and grit and gristle of players like Scott Podsednik and Jamey Carroll, then maybe you need to apply those values to your own, you know, values. Character in a baseball team is defined by more than how fast you run down the line. You’re telling me character matters, yet you’re not acting like it.

Aug 11

Someone needs to grow up

If Matt Kemp has done something that justifies his benching for the second day in a row — something more than striking out four times Sunday — he needs to get his act together.

But if Joe Torre really thinks that the reason his team scored 15 runs Tuesday was because Kemp didn’t start, and that the Dodgers are better tonight with Kemp on the bench, Torre needs to get his act together.

The Dodgers began 2010 with eight regular position players. Other than Blake DeWitt, who was platooned for much of the year, Kemp is the only one of the eight who has been held out of the lineup on consecutive days while healthy.

News flash: Kemp is not the only problem with this team. Casey Blake, for example, has had an unequivocally worse season than Kemp, yet he’s never been given three days to get his head together.

If Kemp truly merits this scapegoating, then by all means, he needs to shape up. But if he’s being held to a standard that other aren’t — a standard that Blake, James Loney, Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez all escaped even when they slumped at the plate at different times this year — it’s time to question whether the Dodgers have made Kemp into a much bigger target than he deserves to be.

Like it or not, Kemp is one of the Dodgers’ best players. Have the Dodgers gotten to the point where they can only see where he fails and are blind to where he succeeds?

Update: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com filed this report …

… Torre likened the situation to last season, when the Dodgers acquired veteran utility man Ronnie Belliard late in the season and Belliard got so hot at the end that three-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman Orlando Hudson, who would eventually win his fourth, was benched during the playoffs in favor of Belliard.

However, Torre said he was a long way from relegating Kemp — who is hitting .260 with 18 homers and 63 RBIs but has struck out 120 times in 435 at-bats — to a reserve role for the rest of the season.

“I’m not going that far down that road,” Torre said. “I’m just looking to play it a day at a time right now. You don’t just play with the same people all the time. If you want to win, everybody needs to contribute. Matty knocked in two runs [Tuesday] night. I just don’t want to go too far down the road right now.”

I still can’t believe there even is a road.

Aug 11

Joe Torre’s fate a baseball story, not a Los Angeles story


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJoe Torre will soon announce his decision about his future with the Dodgers.

As the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2010 season lurches between dramatic recovery and drab disappointment, time will soon run out for Joe Torre to make the decision on his managerial future — or, to announce the decision he has already made in his heart.

If Torre, whose contract with the Dodgers expires this year, chooses retirement, the national media will stir into a hurricane of coverage. And in that hurricane, Los Angeles will be the eye, the shrug amid the storm. The local press will certainly cover the story, but Dodgers fans will be looking ahead (perhaps with fear) at what’s to come, and not back at the man who has left.

Nearly three seasons into his post-Yankees tenure on the West Coast, Torre remains more a baseball manager than a Dodgers manager, more an ambassador and icon than an integral part of the City of Angels.

This is reflective of two things, neither of them particularly damning toward Torre. In certain respects, Torre has been a welcome relief in Los Angeles, steering the Dodgers to the most success since the Tommy Lasorda days, leading with a combination of class, calm and clarity not witnessed since Walter Alston. More than two decades since the team’s last World Series title, more than one decade since the organization was last thought of as noble, these are not qualities to be taken for granted.

But presuming the Dodgers don’t rally from third place in the National League West today into the World Series two months from now, the aftershocks of a Torre departure will be felt in Los Angeles far more modestly than in the baseball community at large.

For one thing, Torre, unsurprisingly, proved human. He has given plenty of ammunition to anyone inclined to second-guess the manager — a big group of people, to say the least — no matter what they believe to be the right move. His lineups, his in-game strategy and above all his bullpen management have found criticism on a daily basis. Jaded Yankees fans warned Los Angeles about Torre throughout the winter after he was hired (in a mild precursor of the intensity with which jaded Red Sox fans warned the city about Manny Ramirez the next summer). Torre is no less immune to this second-guessing than the average manager, but up close, the halo grew a little hazy.

“To me,” one Dodger Thoughts commenter said, “a manager or head coach puts players in positions to succeed, helping them grow as athletes and becoming better so they can help the team. I don’t see that with Torre. Be it bringing [Jonathan] Broxton in non-save situations only to need him the next game after he threw 20 to 25 pitches the night before, making [Chad] Billingsley go out for a seventh inning after throwing 115 pitches one day after pulling [Clayton] Kershaw after eight when he only threw 95 pitches, I can go on and on with this.”

On a grander scale, if you leave Los Angeles without winning a championship, it means you leave without a parade, literally or figuratively. Anything but the passive bunch they are made out to be, most sports fans in Los Angeles are harsh on those who fall short of the ultimate prize. Lakers coach Phil Jackson sets the local standard for excellence today, and even he must constantly prove himself — to the point that until the final moments of Game 7 in his latest NBA Finals, it was not clear whether he would be welcomed back for one more season.

This, after all, is a city that just mourned the passing of its greatest coach, John Wooden. Compared to that, a Torre departure following a disappointing season figures to raise barely a ripple.

There’s also the fact that Torre has always felt like something of a visiting professor here. There was a ticking clock –partly self-imposed by Torre — from the moment he hastily replaced Grady Little in the fall of 2007. Torre has been liked by many and loved by some — but he hasn’t penetrated the hearts of Los Angeles’ baseball community in a meaningful way. His ties to New York’s string of World Series titles can’t be broken by a couple of NLCS runs. It took Jackson several NBA crowns before Lakers fans could begin to feel that the former Chicago Bulls coaching legend was really theirs. Torre is never going to reach that level in Los Angeles, and the people here intuitively know this. It’s noteworthy that the single act Torre might be most remembered for as Dodgers manager could be coaxing the greatest Los Angeles Dodger of them all, Sandy Koufax, into a rare public conversation earlier this year.

Lasorda, who hasn’t managed the Dodgers in nearly 15 years, who barely won half his games and no pennants in his final 7 1/2 seasons, who is more than a figurehead with the organization today but not much more, and who remains a more complicated, polarizing figure than his “Baseball Bunch” persona would suggest, will be an exponentially bigger story in Los Angeles when he bids farewell to the Dodgers organization (or when they pry the organization from his tightly gripped hands). Lasorda, for all his faults, won his two World Series and bled the blue. And then there’s Vin Scully, too overwhelming to even talk about. Today, legendary KTLA TV reporter Stan Chambers bids farewell to the station after 63 years on the air. By that measure, Torre is agate, type locally.

Things might have been different if the Dodgers had been able to take advantage of their chances to even the 2008 and 2009 NLCS at two games apiece. But Torre’s magic couldn’t save Los Angeles those years, and now the odds are against him doing any more.

“My feeling is that Torre won in New York because of an unlimited payroll, though he couldn’t do it every year,” another Dodger Thoughts commenter said. “That’s not necessarily to say he’s bad under a more financially constrained regime, but I consider him replaceable in every aspect except his celebrity (which he owes to his time in New York City). I would not miss him, but I’d like to see him go out with a World Series championship – which, however, would probably bring a clamor for him to stay.”

Anything can happen over the final eight weeks of the 2010 regular season. But if Torre retires, something tells me that while the national baseball media is spending time reflecting on the void Torre leaves behind, Los Angeles will be much more preoccupied about who’s filling it.

Jul 24

Torre concedes error in 6-1 loss

Joe Torre told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that he made a mistake Friday having Ronnie Beliiard pinch-hit with two out in the bottom of the seventh for Vicente Padilla, who had allowed one run on 77 pitches through seven innings.

If the Dodgers had been scoring more, Torre wouldn’t have been faced with that choice. But with rare exceptions like Bizarro Tim Lincecum night, the Dodger offense hasn’t been doing much lately, and facing the Mets’ Johan Santana didn’t help.

Jeff Weaver compounded Torre’s ill-fated decision. Weaver, who had walked seven batters in his first 28 games this season (through the end of June) and never more than one in a game, walked the first two batters he faced in the eighth – giving him eight walks in 7 2/3 innings in July.

It all went downhill from there.

* * *

Andre Ethier is in a 1-for-24 slump, though he has walked seven times and homered. His batting average (.302), on-base percentage (.367) are at their lowest marks since the second game of the season.

* * *

John Ely had his Friday start for Albuquerque was postponed. Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner said Ely was struck by a batting practice ball.

* * *

Here’s a preview of my brother’s latest producing effort, “Young Justice,” which will premiere on Cartoon Network next year with 26 episodes. I have written two and will be writing two more.

Jul 21

Suspensions come for Kershaw, Torre, Schaefer

Clayton Kershaw has been suspended for five games, and Dodger manager Joe Torre and coach Bob Schaefer for one game. Here are the details.

Kershaw is appealing his suspension, but Torre will serve his tonight and Schaefer on Thursday.

* * *

A Major League official told Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle that had the Dodgers protested the mistaken removal of Jonathan Broxton in Tuesday’s ninth inning, the protest might have been upheld. But the Dodgers didn’t protest.

Had Schaefer not been ejected from the game, I’m guessing he would have picked up on it.

Jun 28

Joe Torre and the future of Dodger managing


Jeff Chiu/AP
Don Mattingly and Joe Torre

Joe Torre’s primary skill set is at most one thing: He nurtures the clubhouse.

I don’t know of anyone, even his stanuchest supporters, who touts Torre as a brilliant tactical manager. He has had moments of strategic inspiration, but they seem more than undermined by his justifiably maligned use of his pitching staff and other odd lineup and bench moves. Some of the criticism of Torre is overblown, but there’s a layer of truth to it that dates back to his Yankee days.

When Torre finally lost his temper on Wednesday after the Dodgers’ ninth-inning baserunner follies and criticized some of the players for their decision-making, I understood, but I also felt it was the pot calling out the kettle. So much of Torre’s job is decision-making, and so often it goes wrong. Sometimes he makes a good choice that goes bad, but other times his choices are simply indefensible. How many times has Torre not seemed mentally prepared for the game at hand? Does a collapse like Sunday’s not lay in large part at Torre’s feet, most notably in his overuse of Jonathan Broxton? It’s not as simple as “his players didn’t do their jobs.”

And I say all this with no particular axe to grind. This is not a “Fire Joe Torre” post. I generally like Torre as a person. I don’t happen to think that Torre is much worse at game strategy than your garden-variety manager. But let’s face it: With Torre, you’re betting that the force of his even-keeled personality outweighs his flaws. He ‘s a bright man, but you’re not thinking he’s going to take you to the top because he’s a grandmaster chess player.

Torre’s contract ends after this season. This past weekend, he told reporters that he would decide in September whether he wants to come back for more with the Dodgers, although even then, there’s a question of how much the McCourt ownership will want to pay him for the privilege — or whether anyone up top will even be able to focus on the question. The McCourt divorce trial is currently scheduled to begin August 30. What kind of negotiations are there going to be with Torre during that time? If the Dodgers are in fourth place, will there be any negotiations at all? Or is it all in general manager Ned Colletti’s hands?

It’s possible that the Dodgers will take decide that, with all their other concerns heading into 2011, they’d like stability in the managerial chair and will quickly give Torre what he wants to stay. If the Dodgers bounce back to the top of the division, I’d almost be willing to bet on it.

The only other possibility on the horizon is that Don Mattingly will be the Dodger manager next season. It has been spelled out in no uncertain terms that Mattingly is the heir apparent, and if the Dodgers fall out of the race, Mattingly could be named the 2011 Dodger manager before the 2010 season ends.

This, my friends, gives me the willies.

Mattingly is Joe Torre without Joe Torre’s personality or experience. Mattingly has never managed a regular season baseball game and has never coached for anyone except Torre. Obviously, Mattingly’s baseball knowledge is not limited to his time by Torre’s side, but surely his tactics are going to be heavily influenced by Torre. And that, while not being the worst thing in the world, is not anything to be excited about.

Then you have to ask yourself, is Mattingly the type of person who can nurture a clubhouse, who can make a team better when the game isn’t going on?

I don’t know Mattingly at all, so I’m not qualified to answer that question. But my concern is that Mattingly is being handed this job not because of any actual qualifications, but because he’s perceived (hoped) to be Torre II. He’ll continue Torre’s winning ways just by having soaked up his innate Torreness.

If it were that simple, I don’t think Laker fans would be concerned about Phil Jackson leaving.

As a counter-example, Tim Wallach has both coached on the major-league level and managed on the minor-league level for the Dodgers. He was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2009. This season, he has been doing a barefoot walk across the coals, because the Dodgers’ pitching problems have absolutely burned their top affiliate in Albuquerque. In this season alone, Wallach has had to use 17 starting pitchers this season in 74 games. He has very little in the way of top-rated AAA prospects right now. He has had to work without the safety net of a Joe Torre and then some.

This resume doesn’t prove that Wallach will be a successful major-league manager. But I can’t see how it isn’t a better resume than Mattingly’s, whose entire managerial C.V. consists of, “He’s Don Mattingly, Yankee legend and student of Joe Torre.”

As the Dodgers prepare to bid farewell to Torre, this year, next year or whenever, they have some responsibilities, some explicit, some implicit. For one thing, Major League Baseball requires the Dodgers to interview at least one minority candidate for the position. Whether you believe in this rule or not, I’d argue that the Dodgers should not make this interview a token activity, but rather at least one of a number of serious interviews, a wider exploration into whether anyone is better than Mattingly for the job. Clearly, Mattingly has impressed people in the organization, but has he done so in ways that really matter? If they pause and step back, are there not potential managers out there who would be more compelling?

By writing this piece, I risk giving this decision more importance than it deserves. The talent on the field is still more important than the talent in the dugout, and a hire of Mattingly isn’t going to ruin the Dodgers. Mattingly is not Torre, and given what happened Sunday, some might say that’s a good thing. But the Dodgers should ask themselves whether a Mattingly hire would bring continuity in all the wrong places.