Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Author: Jon Weisman (Page 1 of 370)

Gleyber Torres and the myth of Dodger passivity

Gleyber Torres has never played for the Dodgers, but he has come to have a peculiar place in Dodger lore. 

People keep saying that the Cubs’ July 25, 2016 trade of Torres, then a 19-year-old mega-prospect, with three other players to the Yankees for super reliever Aroldis Chapman is an example of what the Dodgers need to start doing in pursuit of an elusive 21st-century World Series title.

Supposedly, Torres is the canary in the Dodgers’ coalmine of caution.

“Their organizational philosophy prevents them from making the kind of the deal the Chicago Cubs did in their championship season in 2016, ending a 108-year drought,” wrote Dylan Hernandez in the Times this weekend, though he’s far from the only one to make such an argument. 

Here’s what this theory ignores: 

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The quicksand of misery

Sometime late in the afternoon, when I began to feel anticipatory stress for the winner-take-all National League Division Series Game 5 at Dodger Stadium, I thought back to the origins of my becoming a baseball fan. 

My earliest memories are hazy, but they were all painless. The Dodgers were 1974 World Series losers the first time I watched a Fall Classic, then also-rans the following two years. In 1977, I had my first feeling of disappointment, mostly inflicted by Reggie Jackson, but by then I was deeply, ferociously bound to the Dodgers.

Still, my roots were simply in feeling the game as a game. 

During tonight’s game, even before the Dodgers lost their 3-0 lead and ultimately their season, I started to question where my journey had taken me. I’ve suffered through more painful defeats as a fan, more than I care to recall here. But from the moment Walker Buelher walked Stephen Strasburg in the top of the third inning, my tension devolved into relentless misery, despite Los Angeles being ahead. In my life, I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much of a game that the Dodgers were winning so unhappy.

It’s one thing to fear that the Dodgers might lose their lead. It’s another to barely enjoy the lead at all. At first, I cheered as Buehler escaped a couple of jams, but later on, I was slumped on the couch even after the Nationals trailed in the fifth, the sixth, the seventh. 

And it’s not because I didn’t think the Dodgers would win. I really did. It’s that I was obsessing about how it would feel and how people would react (including total strangers on Twitter, for heaven’s sake) if the Dodgers didn’t win, rather than simply living the moment. It’s the worst way to spend a baseball game. It’s completely against my ethos. And yet I couldn’t break free. 

Now they’ve lost, and people are going to analyze it to death and point fingers and hurl insults and demand heads. I don’t want any part of it. I genuinely don’t care. 

During my afternoon recollections, and again now, I thought back to the 91-loss 2005 season, the Dodgers’ worst this century, when I came up with the Losers Dividend. It’s not that I’m looking to return to the days when the Dodgers were postseason outsiders. However, I do think I need to find some perspective again. Baseball is supposed to be fun. That doesn’t mean it can’t hurt. But if you’re not enjoying the happy parts, what’s the point?

I refuse to go any further in my life worrying about whether the Dodgers will win the World Series or not. I will always root for them, but I don’t ever want to have tonight’s experience again. I want baseball to be my Shangri-La, not my prison. 

The Ten Commandments
… of Baseball Managers

1) Good decisions can yield bad outcomes. Fans won’t care. 

2) Bad decisions can yield good outcomes. Fans won’t care. 

3) Many choices offer at best the lesser of two evils. Fans won’t care. 

4) You might choose surprisingly off of private information. Fans won’t care. 

5) Fans think their hindsight is true reality, dubious as that is. Fans won’t care. 

6) You don’t have the benefit of hindsight. Fans won’t care.

7) Your successes may have more value than your flubs cost. Fans won’t care. 

8) Sometimes, a team will beat you no matter what you do. Fans won’t care. 

9) If your team falls short, you might deserve another chance. Fans won’t care. 

10) You might, in fact, be a bad manager. Plenty of managers are. Some managers grow over time, some managers stagnate. Some never had enough to begin with. But ultimately, fans will judge you on the emotions you make them feel. Because fans care. 

The return of October’s great and terrible Clayton Kershaw

Click the chart below to enlarge. 


Please welcome back the Clayton Kershaw Postseason Chart, which I introduced a year ago to illustrate how Kershaw has been both great and terrible in the postseason.

Not only terrible. Great and terrible. 

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Best of the 2010s:
The All-Decade Dodgers

Raymond Gorospe/MLB.com

We have nearly reached the end of the ’10s, and though selections of the Dodgers’ all-decade team should probably wait until after the 2019 World Series, these few days of relative calm before the storm of the postseason seemed like a good time to reveal them. Nothing is likely to affect these choices between now and then (although I’m fascinated by the idea that something could). 

Most challenging was having to deal with five legitimate candidates for the four openings at outfield/first base. Catcher was nearly a toss-up, and second base yielded its own surprise. 

Here we go … 

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Adam Kolarek, first baseman — and the perception of risk

In 2019, Adam Kolarek has retired 86 of the 111 left-handed batters he has faced — 77 percent — and allowed only five extra-base hits. (Kelsey Grant/MLB.com)

It’s the seventh inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series … or maybe it’s the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series … or maybe it’s the 13th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

The Dodgers are down a run … or maybe the score is tied … or maybe they are protecting a one-run lead.

But in any of the above cases, it’s critical for Los Angeles (the team and its city) not to allow anyone to score.

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It’s not the stuff for Kenley Jansen — it’s the command

At the start of lunch today, I watched Kenley Jansen’s eighth-inning outing from Sunday’s Dodger game. It didn’t take long: only five minutes, because Jansen only needed 10 pitches. (Click the video above if you want to see.) The performance generated raves online and articles speculating whether this was a turning point for the somewhat beleaguered behemoth. 

I’ve been mostly quiet online about the Dodger bullpen in general and Jansen in particular over the past 3 1/2 weeks since expending a ton of energy on the subjects. It was just too exhausting to keep revisiting. The essence of my take was that whether or not Jansen was the closer didn’t matter, because inevitably, he would be pitching critical postseason innings for the Dodgers even if they weren’t critical postseason ninth innings. 

It didn’t mean Jansen hasn’t been struggling this year — he clearly has been, as I wrote in the first paragraph of that piece and repeated lower down. My main point was that the obsession with the “closer” tag was misplaced.

The focus needed to be less on Jansen’s role and more on his process. 

For all the fuss over how much velocity Jansen has or hasn’t lost on his pitches, the central issue for him is his command. When Jansen is living on the edges, whether that pitch is just inside the strike zone or just outside of it, batters can’t resist swinging. And when those pitches have any movement at all, he thrives. 

Things go wrong for Jansen not when a pitch is off by a mile or two per hour, but when the pitch is so far out of the zone that a batter can simply ignore it. That leads to walks, which in turn leave him little margin for error when the breaks don’t go his way, such as nights when his defense lets him down. Not to mention the fact that almost any baserunner is a threat to steal second against Jansen. 

So let’s take a look at Sunday’s game, which he entered with the score tied at 2.  Jansen retired the side in order on the aforementioned 10 pitches, but there were significant highs and lows within. 

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What does it actually mean
to demote a closer?

Kenley Jansen celebrates his most recent save, on August 6, with Will Smith.
(Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

If Kenley Jansen is no longer the most dominant pitcher in the Dodger bullpen, then it follows that Kenley Jansen should no longer be the Dodgers’ closer. 

Right?

Well, maybe. But the answer isn’t as simple as it would seem. 

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Clayton Kershaw is killing it
as the game goes on

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

How has Clayton Kershaw managed to complete at least six innings in all 22 of his starts this year? He has given Dave Roberts no reason to take him out early. 

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So, you want the Dodgers
to stop messing around …

Adam Hagy/MLB.com

Being open to new and risky ideas has brought the Dodgers to the top of the National League and the brink of two World Series titles, with eyes again on the promised land in 2019. 

If you’re going to make the argument that they would have already won the World Series this decade if they didn’t experiment so much, understand that they wouldn’t have reached the World Series if they had experimented any less. 

You don’t like some of the results? That comes with the territory. If there weren’t risk involved, it wouldn’t be an experiment. It would be adherence to the status quo, which gets you nowhere. 

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Home-field advantage in the World Series hardly matters

Mike Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

If there’s a World Series Game 7 this year, I’d like it to be at Dodger Stadium. 

But I’m much more interested in the Dodgers working on ways to make their team World Series champions without playing a Game 7. 

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Brothers in Arms excerpt: The underrated Claude Osteen

Today is the 80th birthday of Claude Osteen — a pitcher not nearly enough Dodger fans of today know about. To celebrate, here’s his chapter from Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition …

By the 1960s, Dodger pitching development was revving like a Mustang, and it wasn’t thanks only to Drysdale and Koufax. To illustrate: of the 1,610 games Los Angeles played during the decade, 83 percent were started by pitchers originally signed by the Dodgers. Of the eight Los Angeles pitchers to start at least 50 games in the ’60s, seven were homegrown.

Claude Osteen was the standout, in more ways than one.

Ambling in the shadow of three Hall of Fame teammates and not exactly a household name to 21st-century fans, Osteen has to be one of the more underrated pitchers in Dodger history. With 26.3 wins above replacement in nine seasons for Los Angeles, Osteen ranked 15th among the franchise’s great arms and eighth in Los Angeles. Osteen’s 100 complete games tie him for 12th on the all-time Dodger list, and as for shutouts, only his three Hall of Fame contemporaries plus Nap Rucker had more as a Dodger than Osteen’s 34.

“We took a lot of pride in finishing the job,” Osteen says. “I took a lot of pride in throwing shutouts—it’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Osteen played an enormous role in capturing the Dodgers’ final World Series title of the ’60s, provided a stabilizing bridge to the pennant-winning Dodger teams of the 1970s and extended the Dodger tradition to a later generation as pitching coach from 1999 to 2000. Though it all began for Osteen elsewhere, he nearly had roots as a Dodger as well.

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1981 World Series MVP Award Presentation: The wrong Steve

Mike Littwin/Los Angeles Times

It was weird enough, after the Dodgers won the 1981 title, when they split the World Series Most Valuable Player Award among three players.

It became weirder still when Bob Uecker and MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn included the wrong man, Steve Garvey, in the award presentation. It was Steve Yeager, not Garvey, who had been voted the winner alongside Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero.

Howard Rosenberg/Los Angeles Times

Garvey expressed heartfelt gratitude for the award that he wouldn’t get to keep. Yeager, hovering in the background at the outset, eventually got to the microphone, though he is never named as a tri-MVP winner. Guerrero got a big hug from Al Campanis, but no chance to speak at all. 

Enjoy the presentation above, in all its awkward glory.

Halfway to the beginning

It was August 11, 2018, according to my journal, that I made the decision to put aside the non-fiction book I started working on and dive into trying to write my first novel.

On Sunday — 51 weeks later — I reached the halfway point of the rough draft. 

Just to put that in perspective, my first book on the Dodgers, from conception to completion, took about six months. My second Dodger book, took about nine, mostly accomodating the interviews I wanted to do. 

Those books came with deadlines, and deadlines haunt you like shadows. You can hide, but you can’t outrun them. So there was no choice but to stay up late, wake up early and give over massive amounts of free time to getting those books done. 

But still – a year in, I’m only halfway through a draft that will need heavy rewrites. Why am I doing this to myself?

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The fundamentals

As long as enough people continue to prioritize hate and blame over love and equality, we won’t get anywhere.

As long as enough people continue to prioritize a will for power over a will for peace, we won’t get anywhere.

I feel like we won’t get anywhere.

We all have the ability to embrace the other. People need to choose to do it.

Our leaders need to set an example.

Our citizens need to stop nursing their grievances into blood feuds. 

Stop closing your fist and open your heart. 

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