Feb 25

Curious times for Uribe and Ethier

Matt Kemp, photographed by BHSportsGuy today

Juan Uribe’s 2012 Spring Training is starting off on one good foot … and one wayward foot.

Uribe pronounced himself completely healed from his 2011 injuries, but he will miss a few days of Spring Training nonetheless because of the trial of a lawsuit filed by his 2010 San Francisco landlord. We’ll let Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com explain.

… He has to fly up to San Francisco on Monday, which is the tentative trial date for a lawsuit that has been filed against him by his former landlord stemming from alleged damage to the apartment he rented during the 2010 season while a member of the Giants. The Dodgers are scheduled for their first full-squad workout on Tuesday, meaning there is a strong likelihood Uribe will miss the first workout and possibly a few others while getting this matter resolved.

All of which begs the question of why this matter isn’t already resolved. The plaintiff is suing Uribe in the amount of $145,000. Uribe is in the second season of a three-year, $21 million contract and will receive an $8 million salary this year. That means $145,000 is less than 2 percent of his salary for this year, and an out-of-court settlement of this suit presumably would be in an amount less than the amount Uribe is being sued for. …

In a separate post, Jackson reminds us that Jerry Sands is not a candidate for third base. “He tried it,” Dodger manager Don Mattingly told Jackson. “Honestly, it looked rough to me. He is a lot better on the first-base side for me. He looked a lot better there, more comfortable, at first base and both corners of the outfield. Third is not one of those positions where you can just throw a guy over there and teach him to play third.”

Mattingly, obviously, was a contemporary of Pedro Guerrero.

Mattingly also said to Dylan Hernandez of the Times and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that his goal was to have Uribe play exclusively at third base, rather than move around the diamond, in the hopes of preserving his health.

That didn’t stop Mattingly from reminiscing about the time he strayed from first base to become what remains the last left-handed thrower to start at third base. Jackson and Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. have more.

And in other news, weather and sports …

Feb 23

Braun news threatens to overshadow Sands’ Carlos Perez story

Ryan Braun won the appeal of his drug suspension. I’ll let the reaction of Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra stand in for mine.

In almost all cases, the people who say that someone “got off on a technicality” or took advantage of a “loophole” really mean “I think the SOB was guilty and because of that I don’t care if the proper safeguards and protocols were followed!”  It’s a ridiculous stance.

Ridiculous because procedures such as chain of custody and the proper handling of samples — which were not followed in Braun’s case — exist for a reason. That reason is not, contrary to popular grunting, to make it harder for decent prosecutors or authorities to do their jobs. It’s to ensure the integrity of the system. And, in this case, the integrity of the sample. Every detail that is not adhered to presents another opportunity for a sample to be tainted, lost or otherwise compromised. When that happens the test itself is, by definition, unreliable and any reference to what it may or may not have shown is utterly beside the point. …

There’s more in Calcaterra’s post, one I urge you to read in its entirety. Between this chain-of-custody failure and the missing staple that was key to the McCourt divorce case, baseball appears to be ripping off Law and Order plot devices.

I’d like to think this will end the talk that there should be a re-vote of the National League Most Valuable Player award, but perhaps that’s still too optimistic.

* * *

Jerry Sands provided a lot of good copy for Dodger beat writers today, as these stories from Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A and Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com show.

The bulk of it consisted of fun anecdotes about Sands working as a substitute teacher over the winter, but my favorite part was this, from Stephen:

… Sands got married on November 19, then spent a month in the Dominican Republic, hitting .250/.325/.375 in 20 games with the Tigres de Licey in winter league ball, where he was teammates with 40-year old former Dodgers pitcher and water cooler destroyer Carlos Perez.

Sands said Perez was in something like his 20th year in the Dominican Winter League, and joked that management said of the pitcher, “We keep telling him not to come back, but every year he keeps showing up in the clubhouse.” …

* * *

The Dodgers had a few roster moves today.

They claimed 26-year-old outfielder Matt Angle off waivers from Baltimore. Angle had a .599 OPS in 95 plate appearances for the Orioles in 2011 and a .692 OPS in Triple-A, his skills mainly being incredible basestealing ability (38 for 42 at the two levels combined) and defense. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has more on Angle, who is on the 40-man roster but will begin the season in the minors.

Rubby De La Rosa was placed on the 60-day disabled list to make room for Angle.

Also, righty reliever Jose Ascanio failed his physical and won’t participate in Spring Training for the Dodgers. has left Dodger camp after failing his physical on Tuesday. From the Dodger Thoughts 2012 Spring Training Primer:

The 26-year-old allowed five runs on 12 baserunners in 6 1/3 innings for Pittsburgh last year and has a career 5.28 ERA in 46 MLB innings. However, he did strike out 50 in 44 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis in his first significant action since recovering from late-2009 shoulder surgery. So he sounds qualified for an Albuquerque stint.

* * *

  • Arizona offered Hiroki Kuroda $13 million for 2012, $3 million more than the contract he signed with the Yankees, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
  • Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven posted a bevy of vintage Dodger photos available at Legendary Auctions.
  • EAS Sports Nutrition has a contest that will provide the winner and a friend airfare to Phoenix, hotel, rental car and tickets for two Spring Training games over the March 16-18 weekend.
Jan 28

Expanded playoffs could lower bar for Dodgers in 2012

Can the seventh-best team in the National League in 2011 become the fifth-best team in 2012?

  • Nothing’s official yet, but Bud Selig thinks the expansion of MLB’s playoffs to 10 teams could come this year, reports The Associated Press. “Under the new format, whenever it begins, the non-division winners in each league with the two best records will be the wild cards, meaning a third-place team could for the first time win the World Series.”
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: A contemplative Vin Scully inside the Green Monster at Fenway, 2004. (And from a couple days ago, here’s Scully interviewing Tommy Lasorda at Busch Stadium in the 1980s.)
  • Hiroki Kuroda talked to Dylan Hernandez of the Times at some length about leaving the Dodgers for the Yankees.
  • Paul DePodesta talked to MLB Clubhouse Confidential’s Brian Kenny about “Moneyball,” the Dodgers and his current team, the Mets.
  • The Mets could have the largest single-season payroll cut in MLB history – more than $50 million, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com.
  • Speaking of money: Here’s a yearly progression of the highest-paid player in baseball dating back to Nap Lajoie’s $6,200 salary in 1902, provided by William Juliano at Bronx Banter.
  • Juan Pierre, 34, has signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies, joining Scott Podsednik in the competition for a spot on their roster.  Something tells me that a .279 hitter in 639 at-bats with 27 steals would have gotten a better contract if evaluation methods in baseball hadn’t changed to de-emphasize batting average. His OPS+ was .657 and he was caught stealing 17 times.
  • Another former Dodger, Brad Penny, might be headed for Japan, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. Penny, 34 in May, had a 5.30 ERA in 31 starts and 181 2/3 innings for Detroit in 2011.
  • Noted by Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports: If Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension is upheld, his first 2012 game would be May 31 at Dodger Stadium. It’s a weekday afternoon game.
  • This year, Stanford may well have first pair of classmates picked first in both the NFL and MLB drafts: quarterback Andrew Luck and pitcher Mark Appel, writes Jack Blanchat of the Stanford Daily.
  • Some of you might find this interesting: According to this MediaPost story by Mark Walsh, ESPN now feels that “instead of determining how to shoehorn its programming from traditional media to mobile platforms, the process is now reversed, with mobile becoming the starting point.”
  • Maybe the craziest collection of trick shots you’ll ever see is in this video, which is kicked off by Don Mattingly and his son Preston.
  • Even crazier … this IHOP commercial from 1969 (via Emma Span).
  • Farewell, Robert Hegyes. Hegyes wrote about his “Welcome Back, Kotter” experience at his website. Groucho Marx and Lucille Ball were fans.

* * *

The deadline is fast approaching, but there are still spots open to play in TheLFP.com Softball Tournament on February 11 at Big League Dreams in West Covina, where readers of Dodger blogs will play with and against each other. Sign up and be part of the fun.

Dec 10

Ryan Braun disputes PED violation

Major League Baseball doesn’t rewrite history, so there’s no changing the fact that Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun is the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player and not Matt Kemp. However, Braun’s trophy might be getting a little less gleamy.

Braun is currently challenging a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, report Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com.

If the finding is upheld, Braun won’t have to give back his trophy, but he will have to give away 50 games of the 2012 baseball season to a suspension.

My opinion: A positive drug test doesn’t make Braun’s 2011 season less valuable.  He still did what he did. It does call into question how he achieved that value and open the door for you and me to judge him how we will. But my view of history is that it chronicles what happened, for better or worse. History isn’t what we’d like things to be – it’s what was, like it or not.

Whenever I consider baseball’s long, plentiful history of misbehavior, I’ve never been in favor of bringing an eraser to the record books, and I’m not going to start now. If Braun is guilty, his punishment will be his suspension and his tainted reputation. I’m not excusing his behavior. I’m just not pretending that he didn’t deliver on the field, illicitly or not.

The fact that my MVP vote would have been for Kemp regardless is a separate issue.

Sep 29

Is award a case of brains vs. Braun?

When I read the news release that Dee Gordon had been named National League Rookie of the Month, I didn’t get far before I realized that maybe he shouldn’t have won the award. Not that I wasn’t pleased for Gordon or happy with his performance, but the first player under “others receiving votes,” Washington catcher Wilson Ramos, had a higher on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Now, Ramos didn’t play as many games, and he didn’t have Gordon’s steals or his NL-high 42 hits, but it’s not as if I can’t see the case for the non-Dodger.

So when I see that Ryan Braun has been named NL Player of the Month for September, when Braun’s on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, RBI and runs created were lower than those of Matt Kemp (and other players), I feel I’m entitled to raise an eyebrow or three.

Note, by the way, that the confusing word “valuable” does not appear in the award.

It’s funny – I don’t really have my heart in this post (and I certainly don’t have any anger), because I happen to think Braun is a great player. That division-clinching home run he hit, boosting Milwaukee to its first title since the 1980s, is something Brewer fans will cherish for a long, long time. I know this because I still cherish the division-clinching home run Steve Finley hit in 2004, boosting the Dodgers to their first title since the 1990s.

But every time I told myself not to bother with this post, there was something else that told me that it was worth noting that Matt Kemp had a better September than the NL Player of the Month for September. And so that’s what I’m doing. (Also, I kind of liked the headline, whether or not it makes perfect sense.)

Sep 24

The myth and reality of ‘valuable’

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2. Number of games played.

3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4. Former winners are eligible.

5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Baseball Writers Association of America official site

* * *

The idea that an MVP must come from a contending team is completely invented. It is not part of the rules of the award nor its roots. Nor is it part of baseball history, unless you’d like to go back and take Ernie Banks’ MVP awards away from him.

Nevertheless, the idea persists among many that an MVP must come from a team that, at a minimum, is in the thick of a pennant race. It comes from people who believe, apparently, that if a tree falls in the woods, it does not make a sound.

Guess what.  It makes a sound.

* * *

If, instead of voting for the player with the best performance, you vote for only the player with the best performance on a potential champion, you’re arguing that anything that takes place outside the spotlight doesn’t matter.

Think of the implications of that.

I have three kids.  Sometimes I watch them play. Right now they’re playing downstairs while I type this. If one of my children does something nice for another, that is a good thing, whether I’m in the room or not.  The value is equal. To think otherwise is to send a message that your actions only matter when people are watching.

Baseball asks you to run out a ground ball even when you’re sure you’re going to be out.  It asks you to put your best effort even if you’re team is 50 games out of first place. The sport asks this, for one, because fans and TV networks have been promised this in exchange for their hard-earned money. And because it’s a belief that virtually all of us share. Do your best.

To then turn around and say that “Oh, by the way, we aren’t paying attention to you anymore, so your effort doesn’t matter,” is nonsensical.

And it’s not a matter of degree. Even though you have an adjusted OPS+ of xxx, playing on a contending team doesn’t mean you add three points, or 10 points or 24.6 points.  The value of the same performance is the same regardless of where it took place.

Sending my kids to college is so much more important to me than buying my kids the Webkinz stuffed animals they love.  Nevertheless, $10 I put away for my kids’ education is not more valuable than $20 I spend on the toy. No, $20 is more than $10.

* * *

All that being said, the idea that the Dodgers’ games have been meaningless this season is a complete fiction.

They were clearly meaningful in April and May, before anyone had broken free in the National League West.

They were also meaningful later in the season, even after the losing began. If not for Arizona’s remarkable breakthrough this season, something that no one could have guaranteed, the Dodgers’ second-half rally would have put them in the thick of the race. With five games to go in the season, the Dodgers have 79 victories, which means they still have the chance of matching their division-winning total of 2008 and surpassing the Padres’ division-winning total of 2005.

When, exactly, were the Dodgers supposed to stop trying?

But even if you concede that this team was not going to go to the playoffs, the indispensable point is this: The Dodgers have had meaning all season as an opponent.

From April through September, the Dodgers played games that mattered because winning or losing had a direct effect on the pennant races. In addition to their own postseason dreams, there were also postseason dreams for their opponents. On Tuesday, San Francisco came to Los Angeles, having won eight games in a row in making a late run for the playoffs. With two out in the first inning, Matt Kemp singled and then scored a run off Tim Lincecum in what became a 2-1 victory that severely damaged their hopes.

Then, a day after the Giants beat the Dodgers to keep their hopes alive and a day before San Francisco had a showdown series with Arizona, Kemp went 4 for 4 with three doubles and a home run in a Dodger victory that was crushing for the Giants.

You want to tell San Francisco’s fans that that didn’t count?

The Dodgers were not eliminated from postseason contention until September 17. Every game they played to that point counted for themselves. In their entire 2011 season, they will have played eight games – two against Pittsburgh, three in their current series against San Diego and three to finish the season against NL West champion Arizona – that had no bearing on the postseason (though keeping in mind they still mean something to the fans who watch).

Ryan Braun’s Milwaukee Brewers, who like the Diamondbacks clinched their division title Friday, will play five games this season that have no bearing on the postseason.

That’s a three-game difference out of 162. Three games in which Kemp’s performance mattered less to the playoff race than Braun’s.

* * *

Pressure of the pennant chase? I don’t even need to bother with this one, because Joe Posnanski already destroyed this argument:

… This line — that it’s easier to put up numbers without pennant pressure — is a lot like that. Nobody can possibly believe this. First of all, there’s the obvious flaw: If it were easier to put up numbers in non-pressure situations, then players would consistently and obviously have better years on lousy teams than they do on good ones. Does this ring even the slightest bell of truth? Does anyone believe that Derek Jeter would have put up better numbers had he played for Kansas City? Does anyone believe that Albert Pujols would be so much better if he had spent his career playing in the carefree world of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Roy Halladay was great for mediocre Blue Jays teams and is great for outstanding Phillies teams. Hank Aaron was the same great player with the same great numbers when Milwaukee won, when Milwaukee almost won, and when Milwaukee wasn’t very good at all. …

If you’ve read this blog at all you know: I’ve covered a lot of bad teams in my life. I’ve been around some good ones, too. And as far as “pressure” goes, well, from my observation, it’s not even close. There is infinitely more pressure on players on lousy teams than on good ones. Obviously, this depends on how you define pressure, but if the textbook definition of pressure is “the feeling of stressful urgency cause by the necessity of achieving something,” well, absolutely, there’s way more pressure on the lousy teams.

… Think about it: What pressure is there on players in pennant races? The pressure to win? Sure. But players come to the ballpark energized. Everyone on the team is into it. The crowd is alive and hopeful. The afternoon crackles. Anticipation. Excitement. There’s nothing in sports quite like the energy in a baseball clubhouse during a pennant race. Players arrive early to prepare. Teammates help each other. Everyone’s in a good mood. There’s a feeling swirling around: This is exactly the childhood dream. The added importance of the moment could, in theory I suppose, create extra stress. But the reality I’ve seen is precisely the opposite. The importance sharpens the senses, feeds the enthusiasm, makes the day brighter. Baseball is a long season. Anything to give a day a little gravity, to separate it from yesterday, to make it all more interesting — anything like that, I think, is much more likely to make it EASIER to play closer to one’s peak.

A losing clubhouse? Exactly the opposite. The downward pressure is enormous and overwhelming — after all, who cares? The town has moved on. A Hawaiian vacation awaits. Teammates are fighting to keep their jobs or fighting to impress someone on another team or just plain fighting. The manager might be worried about his job. The reporters are few, and they’re negative. Smaller crowds make it easier to hear the drunken critics. Support is much harder to come by, and there is constant, intense force demanding that you just stop trying so hard. After all: Why take that extra BP? You’ve got the swing down. Why study a few extra minutes of film? You’ve faced that hitter before. Why take that extra base? Why challenge him on that 3-1 pitch? Why? You’re down 9-3 anyway.

It’s absolutely AMAZING to me when a player puts up a fantastic year even when the team around him stinks. …

The Dodgers, frankly, deserve a special recognition in this category. If there were a Downward Pressure World Series, they surely would have won. With unsurpassed nightmares in the owners’ suite and a fan base in outward revolt, with numerous devotees boycotting games, with expectations for success absolutely disappearing, late summer in Los Angeles should have been the most soul-sapping time for a player in the franchise’s 54 seasons here, even more so than the 99-loss 1992 season played in the aftermath of the city’s riots.

Instead, Kemp, not to mention Clayton Kershaw and some others, bore down and did the only thing anyone can ask – be the best they can be. They were better than anyone had a right to expect.

It is, in terms of environment, easily as impressive an achievement as what the same performance would have been on a season-long contender.

* * *

I’m not saying it’s a stupid question to wonder if a player on a non-contender should get voted MVP? Even Vin Scully asked the question aloud during Friday’s Dodger broadcast.

The problem is not with the question. The problem has been with the answer.

If the answer is, “The goal is to win a championship, and any performance that does not come with a championship isn’t the most valuable,” you’re saying that Matt Kemp wasn’t valuable because Juan Uribe was terrible. Does that make any sense? “Because my next-door neighbor is a bad guy, it doesn’t matter how good I am.”

Value, clearly and cleanly, comes down to this. What would you rather have?  If you knew everything there was to know about the 2011 regular season in advance, which player would have been your first pick before Opening Day?

If you think Ryan Braun was a better player than Matt Kemp this year, vote for him.

If you think Braun was absolutely, indivisibly, incontrovertibly equal to Kemp this year, and you want to use the fact that Braun is going to the postseason as the only thing that can break the deadlock, vote for him.

But if you think Kemp was better than Braun, by a mile or a millimeter, and you vote for Braun, you’re making a mistake. You’re not upholding the values of this game or our society – you’re subverting them.

Sep 19

NL MVP race down to two: Kemp and Braun


Reed Saxon/APWith nine games to play, the Bison is leading or in the top three in the NL in batting average, home runs, RBIs, total bases, steals, slugging percentage, OPS and Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs.

The National League Most Valuable Player race, as far as I’m concerned, is down to two finalists: Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp.

Braun has seized the high ground among players from contending teams, pushing aside his Brewers teammate Prince Fielder and Arizona’s Justin Upton. Kemp is the preeminent player from the also-rans.

Kemp and Braun are in something close to a dead heat statistically — Kemp leads in some categories, Braun in others — which, of course, might not be good enough for Kemp, who will be battling the belief by some voters that the MVP has to come from a contender.

On the other hand, despite the Brewers’ run to a division title, I’m not sure Braun has had the nationwide publicity that Kemp has had — I do get the sense that some think Kemp has simply been the best player in the NL this year, and that might be good enough for them.

Kemp also retains an outside shot at the Triple Crown (he trails Braun by .016 in batting average, Albert Pujols by two in home runs and is tied with Ryan Howard for the NL lead in RBI), and if he can do something that hasn’t been done in the NL since 1937, then forget about it. A 40-40 season (he needs six homers in his last nine games) wouldn’t hurt, either.

But Kemp, who singled, doubled and hit his 34th home run in the Dodgers’ 15-1 pasting of Pittsburgh on Sunday, can’t relax until the finish line. He might be No. 1A at this point, but there’s no award unless you’re No. 1.

Top National League MVP candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

PA OPS OPS+ Sept. OPS HR RBI TAV (BP) WAR (B-R) WAR (Fangraphs)
Ryan Braun 595 .997 168 .974 31 103 .342 7.6 7.1
Prince Fielder 654 .960 160 1.064 34 112 .321 4.7 4.8
Matt Kemp 648 .963 166 .945 34 113 .343 9.1 7.6
Albert Pujols 604 .921 154 1.113 36 95 .317 5.3 5.2
Troy Tulowitzki 599 .924 134 .965 30 105 .305 5.9 6.6
Justin Upton 649 .911 145 .932 30 86 .308 5.0 6.8
Shane Victorino 543 .875 135 .617 17 60 .312 5.4 6.2
Joey Votto 675 .971 162 .855 28 98 .332 6.7 7.1