Oct 25

Don Mattingly, Trey Hillman, Sue Falsone and our ignorance

Well, folks, we sure got a humbling wakeup call about our understanding of the Dodgers this week.

For starters, all season long, everyone — and I mean everyone that wrote, commented, tweeted or otherwise published a word about the 2013 Dodgers — attributed in-game strategic decisions wholly to manager Don Mattingly. Then, this week, all of a sudden there was Trey Hillman.

Sure, the bench coach had been there all along, been there for three years, but he had walked the Dodger planet in almost complete anonymity, save for taking over after a rare Mattingly ejection. Hardly a word was uttered about his role with the team until Monday, when he was fired for whatever advice he did or didn’t give, day after day, to Mattingly. Even today, no one seems entirely clear what that counsel was or wasn’t.

Mattingly was the guy in the driver’s seat, of course. The in-game buck stopped with him. But now we’re told that the bench coach played a much more significant role with the Dodgers than anyone realized. There was this nearly invisible x factor that reminds all of us that as much as we think we know everything that’s going on with the team, we still operate in large pockets of complete ignorance.

On top of that, a new mystery about what exactly the Dodger clubhouse was like in 2013 emerged Monday, via the infamous Mattingly-Ned Colletti press conference. I made the point, on Twitter I believe, that this seemed to be the most peaceful Dodger clubhouse in my memory — certainly in my time doing Dodger Thoughts. Outside of roughly 24 hours worth of quickly defused tension between Mattingly and Andre Ethier and whatever wrassling might have been going on with Yasiel Puig, there was no hint of conflict reported by the media.

But on Monday, Mattingly opened a small window into what may actually be a large world of in-house second-guessing and authority-undermining, the extent of which still isn’t clear. Whatever it is, it was not a part of the published story of the 2013 Dodgers until after the 2013 Dodgers were history.

Part of what made Monday’s awkward press conference so shocking is that the organization has seemed so amazingly united this year. Even when Mattingly’s job was in jeopardy in May/June, the manager displayed a rather remarkable level of poise and understanding. Mattingly, in a fashion I’ve seen other managers make little use of, accepted the blame for the team’s last-place start and hardly hid behind the injuries. Even the incident with Ethier has always struck me as more about getting the team more focused than anything else, which is why I think the team moved on from it so quickly. From May 25:

… while I think Andre Ethier was clearly in mind as Mattingly spoke about what it takes to win and all that, I don’t think Mattingly was singling out Ethier.  I think he was making an example of Ethier, which is an entirely different thing.

Take note of this. The Dodgers put out their Wednesday lineup. Ethier isn’t in it. Reporters ask why. Mattingly doesn’t directly answer the question, instead delivering his rugged sermon about what he expects from every member of his squad. It’s clear that Ethier is falling short of this standard. But it’s also clear that Ethier is not the only one falling short of the standard (in Mattingly’s mind), and I don’t know why people didn’t see this. …

Ultimately, Mattingly seemed at peace with the responsibility of being the fall guy. But clearly, he was wrestling with other feelings that emerged this week, and even more clearly, not everyone was on the same page when Monday’s press conference was called. Perhaps rather than the epilogue of the 2013 season, what Monday brought us was the first page of the book on the 2014 Dodgers.

As for head trainer Sue Falsone’s departure (once more, the Variety term “ankling” seems useful here), it was celebrated by numerous fans who weren’t in thrall to her or her pioneering position in the guys’ club. But our ignorance about the impact of her presence or absence could hardly be higher.

Few inside the organization, and fewer still outside of it, have any idea how Falsone, Stan Conte or anyone on the Dodger medical staff improved or diminished the team’s overall health — that is, on the injuries they actually might have had any influence upon. There was undeniable inevitability of injuries to middle-age players like Chris Capuano, Carl Crawford or Mark Ellis, while putting mishaps like Zack Greinke’s broken collarbone on the staff’s plate is particularly ludicrous. Logically, the only question is not whether the 2013 medical staff wasn’t good, but whether anyone could do better. That’s a much different way of framing things than assuming they were actually contributing to the Dodger injury problems, which I’ve seen some fans posit.

Look, I’m not above questioning things that the Dodgers do, from player transactions to bunting decisions to the presence of in-stadium pregame hosts. Not only is that part of following the team, but sometimes, I think outsiders really do know better. But be wary of having too swollen a head about this stuff. There’s lots going on beneath the surface that we don’t know about until much, much later.

Nov 16

Kemp will be king, but there will be no Prince

Ned Colletti said Tuesday that it’s “unrealistic” that the Dodgers will sign Prince Fielder. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more.

Amid reports such as this from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com that Matt Kemp’s soon-to-be-official eight-year contract will pay him just over $10 million next season, it would appear that the Dodgers are in for one more spring of budget tightening as the ownership transition takes place. The contract for new second baseman Mark Ellis pays $2.5 million in 2012 and $5.25 million in 2013, plus incentives, Jackson reports.

The Dodgers’ main mystery right now is starting pitching, considering that the back end of their rotation is made up of Nathan Eovaldi and Dana Eveland and there’s no guarantee yet that Hiroki Kuroda will return.

  • Though as a Dodger fan you might find it moot, David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com explores how much the Kemp deal will affect Fielder’s next contract.
  • New stats-oriented director of contracts, research and operations Alex Tamin influenced the Ellis signing, general manager Ned Colletti told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Ellis signing gets a mixed review from Chad Moriyama.

    … For the money, Ellis should be a passable option considering the alternatives were not exactly appealing, nor were there strong internal candidates. However, while Ellis should be better going forward than he was in 2011, he still figures to be below the league average threshold, making him a fringy or mediocre starter. Additionally, there’s the real risk that he goes through a collapse in skill before the contract is up. So while the finances might pan out okay, this has to rate as an average deal at best.

  • Here’s a January 2008 ode to Ellis from my former Baseball Toaster compadre Ken Arneson.
  • New Dodger trainer Sue Falsone, interviewed by the Huffington Post, says the song that reminds her most of Los Angeles is “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but we’ll hold out hope for her success here anyway (link via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy).
  • Former Dodger outfielder Xavier Paul unknowingly got caught up in an Australian Baseball League scam, reports Alexis Brudnicki of Baseball America and Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
  • MLB.com also offered up its choices for top Dodger minor leaguers in 2011 by position. Compare them to the Dodger Thoughts Grain of Salt Midseason Minor-League All-Stars.
  • River Ave. Blues passes along a piece that shows that the value of the batting average statistic was being questioned 96 years ago.
  • In Tuesday’s mail, I received to my surprise (as a Los Angeles-based Hall of Fame non-voter) a 12-page full-color campaign brochure for Juan “Igor” Gonzalez’s Cooperstown candidacy. Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk rebuts the effort.
  • I was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles’ move in the 1990s to an ornithologically correct bird on its caps, in part because of the repeated use by sportswriters of the word “ornithologically.” I also thought it looked cool, so I’m a little disappointed to see them go back to the cartoon bird.
  • For your amusement/slash/horror: Life (the magazine, not the cereal) has chosen its 20 worst ever covers.
Oct 28

Sue Falsone to take larger training role with Dodgers

Sue Falsone became the first Major League Baseball female physical therapist in 2007 with the Dodgers, then shifted to a consultant role in February. Now, Stephania Bell of ESPN.com reports, the Dodgers have hired Falsone as their new head physical therapist/athletic trainer and will announce it next week. The move, Bell writes, will make Falsone “the first woman to serve as head athletic trainer or head physical therapist of a team in any of the four major professional sports leagues.”

Stan Conte, who has been the Dodgers’ director of medical services and head trainer for five seasons, is expected to remain with the Dodgers, though it’s not entirely clear what the delegation of responsibilities between him and Falsone will be. Assistant trainer Todd Tomczyk recently left the Dodgers for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Update: Bell sent me the following in an e-mail … “As far as her role with the Dodgers, I confirmed that she has always been a consultant since 2007, although between 2008-10 she did have an increased role and traveled with the team, which she did not do this year. But she has always been a consultant to them … until now where she will be formally hired.”

* * *

  • Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series had the Fall Classic’s best-ever single-game WPA (win probability added, a stat that measures how much a player’s performance contributes to a team’s victory, taking into account the situations in which a player bats)  – until Thursday, when David Freese topped him, according to Baseball-Reference Blog.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo’s “tale of perseverance” is recapped by Eno Sarris of Fangraphs.
  • Jim Mills writes at MLB.com about an exchange of letters in 1956 between Don Newcombe and Mills’ father, who defended Newcombe against racist name-callers in the stands in Philadelphia.
  • This might be the blog post of the year, from Sam Miller of the Orange County Register for The Score. Confession: My family ate Taco Bell last night.
Feb 27

Dodgers look sharp against Angels


Harry How/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp and Marcus Thames feel fine in the sunshine.

Spring Training, Day 2

Highlights:

  • Looking to return to form and function, John Ely faced eight batters and allowed one hit, striking out three and walking none.
  • The Dodger bullpen followed with seven shutout innings from Mike MacDougal, Blake Hawksworth, Kenley Jansen, Ramon Troncoso and Jon Link.
  • Two hits from Rafael Furcal in his Spring Training debut.
  • Jamie(Jamey)’s got a glove: Diving defensive plays from Jamey Carroll at short and Jamie Hoffmann in left field.
  • Rod Barajas hit the Dodgers first homer of the spring.

Lowlights:

  • I didn’t see the play, so I don’t know how bad it was, but after hitting a two-run single in the first inning, Matt Kemp was picked off. Something for him and Davey Lopes to talk about?
  • Andre Ethier struck out in both his at-bats.

Sidelights: