Dodger Thoughts

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

Category: Dodgers (Page 1 of 64)

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.

Here are my feelings #Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

I’ve long since surrendered the notion that the way I feel about the Dodgers has any widespread resonance.

At my peak, I had a niche. There’s definitely a segment of readers who tend to relate to me. But if my writing about the team had been any more transcendent than that, I genuinely think I would still be writing about the Dodgers full time. Failing to crack the mainstream wasn’t the reason I shifted gears — it was more about my desire to prioritize other things — but being a more popular voice might have affected those priorities, or at least their timetable. 

That’s a long-winded preface for me to say that I wanted to write about my reaction to the absence of a blockbuster move at the trade deadline by the Dodgers, but without the expectation that most people would share my view. I’m not writing to convince you of anything. I’m just expressing myself.  If you like, read it as you would the work of an alien.

Here’s what I think. 

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Most obscure but memorable Opening Day starters for the Dodgers, 1989-2019


For no particular occasion …

In honor of Mike Ramsey (1987), here are the most memorable Opening Day starters for the Dodgers since they last won a World Series:

Trenidad Hubbard, CF (1998)
Blake DeWitt, 2B (2010)
Olmedo Saenz, 1B (2006)
Juan Rivera, LF (2012)
Jason Phillips, C (2005)
Juan Encarnacion, RF (2004)
Luis Cruz, 3B (2013)
Justin Sellers, SS (2013)
Vicente Padilla, P (2010)

The 2017 Dodgers built a championship bullpen.
They lost anyway.

Kenley Jansen on his way to saving Game 1 of the 2017 World Series
(Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Sometimes, you read things on Twitter … 

  • like the current Dodger front office refuses to relief pitching seriously
  • and is incapable of building a bullpen worthy of a World Series title. 

Then you go into your wayback machine, all the way back to … 2017. To a time of peak Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow, to the twin Tonys (Watson and Cingrani), to the strong supporting work by Pedro Baez, Josh Fields, Luis Avilan and Ross Stripling, and to Special Agent Kenta Maeda. 

I’m going to make a very narrow, precise point here. 

The Dodgers lost the 2017 World Series. But it wasn’t because the relief pitchers weren’t in place. They had everyone they needed coming out of the bullpen and more. 

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Visiting the Hall of Fame
Part 2: On to Los Angeles

As I mentioned a couple days ago, on July 14 I made my second visit to Cooperstown, and first as an adult. I took tons of pictures, and couldn’t help wanting to share some with you. Today, here is a set of shots focusing on the Dodgers, dating from their move to Los Angeles. 

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Some trade-deadline thoughts about the Dodger bullpen

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Via Chad Moriyama on Twitter: “Looking at high-leverage bullpen performance this year and I understand why almost every team thinks they need relievers.”

During their current run of playoff appearances dating back to 2013, the Dodgers haven’t been in position to focus first and foremost on the bullpen at the trade deadline. There have always been multiple pressing needs. 

The upside of the bullpen being the clear weak link of a team that has otherwise been the best in the National League, if not all of the major leagues, has been clarity of focus. It’s not that the 2019 Dodgers can’t improve on the margins in the other areas, but we know they don’t need to prioritize a Manny Machado or Yu Darvish. It’s bullpen or bust. 

That said, here are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Every team would welcome bullpen help  — even, for example, the Yankees. (See the chart at right of bullpen ERAs in high-leverage situations.) Even the MLB-leading 3.45 ERA (notably delivered by the Giants) wouldn’t soothe Dodger fans. There aren’t nearly enough high-quality relievers to go around.
  2. Even the highest quality relievers still give up runs. You can see this both in the overall stats or anecdotally, such as the night this week when Aroldis Chapman gave up Travis d’Arnaud’s third homer of the game for a blown save. 

Obviously, the two weeks leading up to the July 31 trade deadline will be significant if not critical to the Dodgers’ World Series hopes, especially now that MLB has eliminated the August 31 workaround. Just know that no team — not the Dodgers, and just as importantly, not anyone else — can make itself bulletproof. 

You make the best team you can. 

Visiting the Hall of Fame
Part 1: Brooklyn memories

It was a Cooperstown Surprise.

Last weekend brought me to the wilds of New York for family reasons, on a trip that had been planned for months but near the last minute unexpectedly left me with a free day. Staying only 90 minutes from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I rose at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, on four hours sleep after having traveled all Saturday from home, and made the drive to a little slice of baseball heaven. 

At age 51, this was my second trip to the Hall — my first came when I was 14. People have asked me if the Hall seemed different, but so much time has passed that the biggest compare and contrast I can make is doing the trip with my dad vs. doing it solo. 

That said, another major difference was having a cellphone, as opposed to only memories that would fade over time. I took more than 200 photos, and with this year’s annual induction ceremony only days away, there seems to be no better time for me to share some of them with you (with apologies for the quality). I’m going to divide them into multiple posts, starting with this one centered on the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

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The ones from longest ago

Looking back at some old birthdays on this Memorial Day …

  • The oldest Ram I saw play in person: Charlie Cowan (June 19, 1938)
  • The oldest MLB player I know I ever saw play in person: Vic Davalillo (July 31, 1936)
  • The oldest Laker I saw play on TV: Elgin Baylor (September 16, 1934)
  • The oldest MLB player I know I saw play on TV: Hank Aaron (February 5, 1934)
  • The oldest athlete I know I saw play on TV: George Blanda (September 17, 1927)
  • The oldest athlete I know I saw play in person: Marques Haynes (March 10, 1926)
  • The oldest athlete I might have seen play, but I can’t remember if I was at a game when he actually pitched: Hoyt Wilhelm (July 26, 1922)

Classic Kershaw

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I was 40 years old when Clayton Kershaw first pitched for the Dodgers. He was 20. Brand, spanking new. Back then, he was a perfect toy for my midlife Dodger fan crisis.

Now, there are newer, flashier cars, and he doesn’t run quite like he used to, but he’ll always be my favorite. Classic.

We’re a generation apart, but I feel like we’re growing old together. And I think there’s going to come a day when I look back and think of him as the greatest pitcher of my youth.

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