Dodger Thoughts

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

Category: Dodgers (Page 2 of 64)

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.

Cody Bellinger has not been lucky

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon Weisman/Dodger Thoughts

Cody Bellinger’s absolutely incredible 2019 start has been covered from many different angles, and I don’t intend to repeat any of it here. I just want to add one thread to the tapestry.

It’s been years since I’ve cared about batting average, except when someone is batting .400. That number will always have magic for me. I’m more impressed, just as one example, by Bellinger’s .500 on-base percentage, which takes us beyond magic into Narnia territory.

Nevertheless, it’s Bellinger’s .420 batting average through the Dodgers’ first 30 games that I’m addressing today.

Normally, when someone is batting .400 or better, you assume he’s been lucky. That’s something you would suspect intuitively even before the analytical revolution began earlier this century. When Rod Carew, George Brett or Tony Gwynn chased .400 in my younger days, it reflected their greatness, of course, but also the understanding that they were catching a certain amount of breaks at the right time.

Right now, Cody Bellinger is earning every bit of his .420 batting average. According to Statcast, his expected batting average (xBA), which measures the likelihood that a batted ball will become a hit, is .428. His .420 is arguably underselling his performance this season.

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Come Back to the Five and Dime, Eugenio Vélez, Eugenio Vélez

You might be aware that Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is closing in on the record for most consecutive hitless at-bats in the majors. If you’re a Dodger fan, you might be even more aware of who holds that record: Eugenio Vélez, whose 0-for-37 2011 season with Los Angeles enabled him to set an MLB record with 46 straight hitless at-bats.

But what you might not realize is that Vélez’s streak never ended. It is still active. In fact, so is Vélez. This past winter, he came to the plate 19 times for Aguilas de Mexicali, capping his seventh straight year in professional baseball since he last took a major-league at-bat.

On top of everything else, Vélez is still only 36 years old, turning 37 on May 16. He is a mere three years older than Davis. There’s still life in him yet.

So Davis may break this record. But as far as I’m concerned, this duel ain’t over.

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Brothers in Arms now available as an audiobook!

Exciting news, everyone! Today is Clayton Kershaw’s birthday … which is the perfect release date for the audiobook version of Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition. The talented James Patrick Cronin reads my words out loud.

Order the audiobook today at Audible.com using the link tinyurl.com/dodgerpitchers-audible! Or order through Amazon, where you can continue to purchase print or digital copies as well!

For more information on the audiobook, go to Blackstone Library — and also visit the Brothers in Arms category here at Dodger Thoughts.

If you enjoy or enjoyed Brothers in Arms in any format, please leave a review at Amazon. Thank you.

The possibility of a comeback by Austin Barnes

In 2018, Austin Barnes had a .409 OBP through May 21, but .278 thereafter.
(Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

All along, 2019 was supposed to be the season of Austin Barnes. The year that Yasmani Grandal would leave the Dodgers as a free agent was perfectly timed for Barnes to complete his journey from the minors to the major-league bench and finally the starting lineup of a title contender.

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One last look at Bryce Harper before moving on

Funnily enough, it was just about 13 years ago.

When the Dodgers signed 29-year-old speedy singles hitter Juan Pierre to a five-year, $44 million contract in November 2006, I was upset. Pierre couldn’t have been a nicer human being, and down the road, in the wake of Manny Ramirez’s 2009 suspension, he became a redeemed folk hero not entirely unlike Juan Uribe.

From the day Pierre signed, however, the contract seemed like a waste of Dodger payroll at a time that Dodger payroll was precious. Given that he didn’t walk, throw, hit for power or succeed on enough on his stolen-base attempts, Pierre did not bring the Dodgers closer to ending their two-decade World Series drought.

Over time, especially since the end of the McCourt era, less and less has angered me since. I’ve changed, and the Dodgers have changed. This front office’s thinking aligns much better with mine, plus there is more money to spend. I also have realized that most things in baseball just aren’t worth getting that riled up about.

So when the news came Thursday that the Dodgers’ final interest in Bryce Harper had fallen short of a deal, I was pretty deeply disappointed, but I wasn’t angry. I’m willing to see what happens. It puts much more pressure on players like A.J. Pollock, Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo, but I’m hopeful. I’m curious.

Still, though signing Harper might have turned badly for the Dodgers, I believe it was worth the risk.

Let’s address three common misconceptions about Harper and long-term contracts.

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The Grover Cleveland Dodger All-Stars: Let’s play two terms

With Russell Martin heading back to Los Angeles for a return engagement, this seemed like as good a time as any to update the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Grover Cleveland All-Star squad, honoring those, in the spirit of the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, who have served two separate terms on the Dodgers’ major-league roster.

Matt Kemp became the latest addition in 2018, and once he plays in his first game of 2019, Martin should unseat Todd Hundley as the backup catcher.

Note: There are 26 players on the main roster (starters plus reserves) because you can carry 26 men when you play an unscheduled doubleheader and of course these players, though they wouldn’t have predicted it, will play two games with a break in the middle.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a Dodger cap

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Hi ho, it’s February. Dodger pitchers and catchers and other eager beavers are scheduled to report to Camelback Ranch in eight days. The first full squad workout comes two weeks from Tuesday.

Vibe: unsettled.

Forecast: angsty.

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Jackie Robinson, 100

By Jon Weisman

Below, to celebrate the 100th birthday of Jackie Robinson, please enjoy this reprint of Chapter 1 of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:

Jackie
From beginning to end, we root for greatness.

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Life as a Lost Angeles Rams fan

For all my devotion to the Dodgers, my sports fandom was ignited by the Rams.

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