Too Many Problems, Whatcha Gonna Do

Full disclaimer: this isn’t going to be fun. Trust me when I say I do NOT enjoy writing such negativity about the team. I don’t. I’m a Dodgers fan first and foremost despite not even growing up in the Los Angeles area, and nothing would please me more than to see them realize their potential and win. It’s just that I have to call them as I see them, and in the last few hours, I’ve come across so many different things that are just blowing my mind – and that’s without even getting into the possible elbow injury Takashi Saito sustained last night. This might get all over the place, so strap yourself in for an unfortunate article of inane Joe Torre quotes, fun with on-base percentage, the possible return of the worst player in baseball, and incredibly depressing news about the other worst player in baseball.

Let’s start at the start, where Nomar Garciaparra batted leadoff last night for the first time in just about six years. He’s clearly nowhere near your prototypical leadoff hitter, but I didn’t even mind the decision by Torre. Clearly, the offense is sputtering, to put it nicely, so if you want to engage in a little “throw things at the wall and see what sticks”, that’s fine by me. That was your reasoning, right Joe? (All of these Torre quotes are via Diamond Leung unless otherwise noted).

On Nomar Garciaparra and not Matt Kemp leading off: “We’ll sacrifice the speed for someone that will give us a quality at-bat.”

First of all, way to take a nice backhanded swipe at Kemp, there. Look, I realize that my last few articles have sort of made this blog Matt Kemp’s tragic illness, but I can’t read something like this and let it pass. So tell me. Tell me, please, in what way at all does Nomar give you a more “quality at-bat” than Matt Kemp? Is it because Nomar’s got a better chance of doing something productive? No, it can’t be that – Kemp is better than Nomar across the board this year, .278/.331/.437 vs. .228/.313/.368. Okay, so it must be that Kemp is a bit of a free swinger and you want the leadoff guy to work a good at-bat and see some pitches, right? That’s a fair argument. Wait, no, can’t be that either- Kemp has shown more patience at the plate as well, averaging 3.72 pitches per plate appearance while Nomar only sees 3.30.

So, let me rewrite that quote the way it should have read:

On Nomar Garciaparra and not Matt Kemp leading off: “We’ll sacrifice the speed, average, on-base percentage, power, and plate patience for someone who will be inferior in every single one of these areas except for Highly-Concentrated Veteran Goodness.”

Well, when you see it that way, it makes total sense. Joe, why else do you like Nomar batting leadoff, according to Doug Padilla of the LA Daily News?

“He’s aggressive and he’s not your prototypical leadoff hitter because he doesn’t go up there thinking about walking, that’s for sure,” Torre said. “He does put that little extra pressure on the pitcher knowing that if he goes ahead and throws a strike he can hit it out of the ballpark.”

The first part doesn’t even make sense. First of all, for a leadoff hitter especially, getting on base is getting on base. The idea is to be on base to be driven in by the guys hitting behind you. A walk is as good as a hit to accomplish that. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if your leadoff hitter walked every single time up? How awesome would that be? But does that mean Torre thinks that Matt Kemp goes up there “looking to walk”? Even here, where we’re very pro-Kemp, we’ve gotten on him for the egregious amount of whiffs. I’m pretty sure he didn’t accomplish that by not being aggressive enough at the plate.

As for the second half of that, he likes that Nomar puts pressure on the pitcher because he knows that if he grooves one, Nomar can hit it out of the park. I’m not even sure where to start with that one. Is it the simple fact that Nomar really can’t hit it out of the park? He’s got all of nine homers over the last two years, which is hardly what I call a power hitter anymore. Or is it the fact that if you want a guy who can park one, Matt Kemp is undeniably a better choice? Kemp has nine homers in the first half of this season, in about 150 at-bats fewer than Nomar has gotten over the last two years – and Nomar’s on the decline, while Kemp is certainly still on the rise. Speaking of Kemp, Joe?

On Kemp: “He goes up there and sometimes has quality at-bats. Other times, he gets impatient.”

Which is true, because he’s young and inexperienced, but it just serves to confuse the issue further. In one breath, Torre is praising Nomar for being “aggressive”, and then he turns around and chastises Kemp for being “impatient”. Nomar is a notorious first-pitch swinger, has been his whole career. No, I can’t find the stat to back that up, but I’m pretty sure that’s such common knowledge that I don’t even need to. How is that in any way the example of patience?

I also couldn’t help but chuckle at this line from Padilla, discussing Kemp’s on-base percentage:

Kemp had been in the leadoff spot for the past 11 days, batting .255 there with a pedestrian .340 on-base percentage.

.340 is a “pedestrian” on-base percentage. Those are Doug Padilla’s words, not mine. So maybe, just maybe, this will help explain why we all hate Juan Pierre batting leadoff so much – because Pierre’s OBP batting leadoff is an abysmal .294, 46 points lower than the “pedestrian” Matt Kemp. I just don’t understand why Kemp is criticized while Pierre is praised so heartily for this, yet it’s clear in every way that the on-field performance just doesn’t support that.

Back to Joe Torre, I implore you to read this carefully, because it just might be the greatest thing ever uttered:

On Jeff Kent: “He’s the perfect example of a player. He’s struggling, but we know we’re going to get a professional at-bat every time he gets in the box.”

“He’s the perfect example of a player.” I love this sentence. I want to get it tattooed on my back. I want to take it out behind the middle school and get it pregnant. I want it to be prominently displayed on all forms of United States currency from now until the end of time. “He’s the perfect example of a player.” As opposed to, say, Russell Martin, who is the perfect example of a 1920s vaudeville singer, and Brad Penny, who is the perfect example of a hamster. And here we are again with these old-school statements that in reality, mean absolutely nothing: “we know we’re going to get a professional at-bat every time he gets in the box.” It’s not even that I want to get on Jeff Kent here, who’s been pretty decent over the last month (.289/.375/.434, though he is riding a brutal 1-16 stretch right now). It’s just, what do things like that even mean? A “professional at-bat”? Because amateurs like Andre Ethier will wander up with a hockey stick, or James Loney will interupt the at-bat to stroll back to the dugout to refill his Big League Chew? Look, I respect Joe Torre for all he’s done in this game, but when he consistently comes up with meaningless lines and logic that just don’t make any sense, well, let’s just say it’s not filling me with confidence that this team can get turned around. The Dodgers have enough problems right now without creating their own.

Speaking of creating their own problems, back to Padilla, whose article is just a goldmine today:

Pinch-hit specialist Mark Sweeney, on the DL since July 4 with a strained right hamstring, will have one more minor-league rehab game and is expected to return to the roster Friday for the start of the second half.

Oh, good! I don’t know what we’d do without that pinch-hitter who’s hitting .094 with 6 hits on the season, but that’ll definitely turn the team around. Here’s the question, though: if he really comes back, who’s going to be cut to make room for him? I assume it’s Luis Maza or Angel Berroa, who are somewhat redundant with Nomar playing short. But if it’s Andy LaRoche… well, I don’t know what I’ll do here, but trust me: it will not be pretty.

Finally, Andruw Jones and his quest for becoming the most hated man in LA. Before I saw what Torre had said, I was surfing Google Image Search for pictures of sombreros to Photoshop onto Jones after his unbelievable 5 strikeout performance last night. I was really holding out hope that the knee was really the cause of his problems, but since his return he’s been just as lousy as ever, hitting .172/.200/.172 with 13 strikeouts in 29 at-bats. You might think things couldn’t possibly get worse for him, but that would mean you haven’t read what Jayson Stark of ESPN.com had to say (bold is mine):

NL LVP of the half year: Andruw Jones, Dodgers
 
Sheez, what happened to this man? If Andruw Jones‘s second half resembles his first half, he’s potentially heading for (ready for this?) the Worst Offensive Season in Baseball History. At this rate, he’d finish with a .172 average, .261 slugging percentage, five homers, 21 RBIs, 125 strikeouts and only 64 hits. And you shouldn’t be flabbergasted to learn that the all-time list of players who have had numbers that gruesome consists of, well, nobody. Heck, only three other players in history have even had twice as many strikeouts as hits (in a season of 100 or more whiffs): Rob Deer (175-80 in 1991), Dave Nicholson (126-60 in 1964) and Mark McGwire (118-56 in 2001). But at least those fellows made a few home run trots, or finished over the Mendoza Line.

Great! So we’ve already seen Jeff Kent try to be the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years, now we’ve got a contender for Worst Offensive Season in Baseball History. Two terms you definitely want associated with two of your supposed power bats, right?

Things are looking pretty great right now. All-Star Break can’t come quickly enough.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

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