Dodgers of the Decade: Catcher

It’s been a hell of a decade, no? When the 2000 Dodgers took the field, Davey Johnson was the manager, with Kevin Malone still in the GM box. You want to know how long ago that was? The first Dodger game of the 2000s was played in a city that doesn’t even have a team any more (Montreal), with Devon White leading off. Devon White! Clayton Kershaw had just recently turned 12 years old that day.

This was a decade that saw 4 managers, 4 general managers, and 2 owners. We’re still batting .000 on the owners, aren’t we? It saw ups (9 seasons over .500, 4 playoff appearances and 2 series wins, after a 1990s that saw zero playoff wins) and downs (91 losses in 2005, more than their share of on- and off-the-field controversy). So it’s time to look back and build the all-decade team for the Dodgers. Should I have started this before December 27? Well, probably. Blame that pesky day job, I suppose. I’m also aware that this is somewhat of a hackneyed gimmick, but I’m also aware that there’s just not going to be much real Dodger news until spring training starts, so we might as well take advantage of the downtime while we can.

We’re going to include all candidates who played 100 games at a position during the decade. I’ll include traditional stats, but also WAR (Wins Above Replacement). We’re using the WAR from baseballprojection.com since FanGraphs doesn’t go back before 2002. I’ll include offense and defensive stats, but not for catcher since defensive stats are so unreliable there.

Let’s start off with catcher, where we have four eligible candidates but only really two with a shot. At first, this seems like a slam dunk, but…

Russell Martin (570 games, 2006-09)
Dodger stats: .276/.368/.407 .775 49 hr 274 rbi
WAR: 10.8

Paul LoDuca (546 games, 2000-04)
Dodger stats: .290/.344/.433 .777  54 hr 263 rbi
WAR: 11.4

Chad Kreuter (194 games, 2000-02)
Dodger stats: .245/.378/.392 .770 14 hr 57 rbi
WAR: 3.8
Pending lawsuits against former teammates: one
Fights against fans during games: one

Dave Ross (118 games, 2002-04)
Dodger stats: .207/.292/.411 .703 16 hr 35 rbi
WAR: 0.7

Top three seasons
5.0 WAR LoDuca, 2001
4.2 WAR Martin, 2007
3.6 WAR Martin, 2008

I have to say, I’m suprised at how close Martin and LoDuca are here. Their stats are nearly identical, and LoDuca has the slight edge in WAR. I suppose Martin’s stats are dragged down by the fact that even though he was great from mid-2006 to mid-2008, he’s been pretty awful ever since then. Clearly this doesn’t show up in the stats, but LoDuca also contributed value in another way – by being part of the deal that brought Brad Penny to LA, and Penny put up a few good seasons as a Dodger. LoDuca was one of the more beloved Dodgers at the time of his trade, though I think it’s safe to say that opinion of him has fallen somewhat since his naming in the Mitchell Report.

One other thing that stands out? Look at the years these catchers played in Dodger blue. You have the catcher for the first half of the decade, LoDuca, and his two primary backups. Then you have the man for the second half, Martin. There’s only one season in which none of these four guys were a Dodger, and that’s 2005.  What, no love in the stats for Jason Phillips, Paul Bako, and Mike Rose? God, that year was an abortion. Let’s never speak of it again.

It’s up to you, friends. Who’s your Dodger catcher of the 00s?

[polldaddy poll=2434347]

All I Want For Christmas…

…is a little honesty from the front office and ownership. And for once, I don’t mean Ned Colletti, since we all assume that his hands are completely tied by his overlords.

Come on, guys. We’re not stupid. We know that you’re cash-poor. So don’t tell us, as Dennis Mannion did to Bill Shaikin in today’s LA Times, that “baseball and business decisions have not been impacted by the proceedings”. Really? Then how is there enough content for an entire site to be populated entirely by the bullshit that’s coming out of this? Don’t tell me that you’re not in on the market because you’re so fantastically confident in Colletti’s ability to scout the bottom of the market. Don’t tell me that when you’re completely sitting out while Cliff Lee, Roy Hallday, and John Lackey land elsewhere. Not when you have to defer salary on the puny $3.85m contract Jamey Carroll just signed. Especially, don’t tell me that the decisions to not offer arbitration to Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson were “baseball choices” when we all know that you’re paying more than half a million dollars a month in legal fees. And for chrissakes, never talk about how much you want concession stands. Remember the shitstorm Jamie brewed up last year when she mentioned building fields for kids being more important than getting winning players? We like kids, and we still killed her on it.

Even before the divorce was official, you were already making ridiculous baseball decisions just to save a few bucks. Do we really have to go through the whole “trading Carlos Santana to save $2m in the Casey Blake deal” again? Giving up Josh Bell for George Sherrill just so Baltimore would eat salary (okay fine, not this one, I guess I got overzealous)? Or the same thing with Arizona on Tony Abreu for Jon Garland?

By all accounts, this is only going to get worse, as Jon astutely notes at Dodger Thoughts:

People are caught up in “all we got for 2010 is Jamey Carroll” talk. Folks, 2010 is not the problem.  The Dodgers will add a fourth starter that is the same mediocre fourth starter most teams have, play around in the No. 5 spot like most teams do, return nearly all of the top offense in the NL, and compete.  I’m telling you, 2010 is just a speed bump compared to what’s going to happen in future years if the Dodgers try to skate buy without investing in the farm system.

Look, everybody already hates you. Your poor management and personal disputes are driving this team into the ground, and some, like Rob at 6-4-2, even had the foresight to doubt your viability since as soon as you arrived.

So we get it. You’re screwed, and we’re the ones suffering for it. This isn’t news. If you were to be honest and admit that the divorce is having a huge impact here, it wouldn’t change what happens on the field. It wouldn’t change that every Dodger fan desperately wants you out. But it might, just might, buy you a tiny bit of respect back for at least being honest instead of blowing smoke up our asses.

Maybe Fenway Park Is Good For Something

This isn’t really Dodger-related, but other than the odd Aaron Harang rumor, very little is these days. So it’s the perfect time to share some of the coolest photos I’ve ever seen on a baseball field, thanks to a link from Dodger Thoughts. This is the ice rink they’re building in Fenway Park for the Flyers/Bruins game on New Year’s Day.

Far more important to me? The fact that I’ll be seeing this monstrosity live, in person, and probably frozen and drunk the following week to watch my alma mater Boston University (2009 national champs!) take on the overrated townies from Boston College.

Regardless of how you feel about hockey or Boston, these pictures are undeniably amazing. Here’s just a sampling; the entire gallery is worth your time.

Brad Ausmus Is No Longer the Smartest Dodger

Much was made of Ausmus and his fancy-pants Dartmouth degree, but if he returns to the Dodgers, he might have competition. Dylan Hernandez reports that the Dodgers have signed outfielder Brian Barton to a minor-league deal with a spring training invite, but that’s not what’s interesting. Check out the intro to this Baseball America Q&A from 2007:

Every club passed on Barton in 2004, figuring the brilliant student with an aerospace engineering degree wasn’t committed to the game and would eventually go to work for Boeing–a company he once interned for.

He’s going to be an aerospace engineer? Half the players in MLB can barely tie their own shoes, and this guy might be designing airplanes. On the other hand, a guy who’s that smart should probably know better than to fight for outfield time on a club like the Dodgers.

Still, I like the deal a lot. Barton’s an LA native with a nice track record of minor league success (.300/.398/.451 in 5 seasons). BA had him as the #5 prospect in the Indians system going into 2007, and named him “Best Athlete”. He was taken from the Indians by St. Louis in the Rule 5 draft for 2008 and more then held his own as a 26-year-old rookie, with a 97 OPS+ in 82 games. Clearly, small sample size warnings abound here, but UZR/150 loved his defense, ranking him at 20.6 runs above average that season.

Save for one pinch-running appearance in June, Barton spent 2009 in AAA for Atlanta, and was somewhat less successful, scoring just a .715 OPS. So most likely, you’re looking at a guy who’s going to tear up Albuquerque this season, but with Juan Pierre out of the picture, the Dodger backup outfield situation is more than unsettled. I won’t find it that hard to root for a hometown guy with a decent track record of getting on base in the minors to get a shot.

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Over at Dodger Thoughts, Jon answers this question from the Kamenetzky brothers’ Lakers Blog, and I figured that as I watch the snow begin to fall here in NYC, I’d contribute as well.

What is the best play you ever made in sports, whether at the little league, high school, college, or, if you happened to be that good, the pro level? And have you ever made a game-winning play?

For me, it was in the playoffs when I was about fifteen or so. I’d always been an infielder, but for whatever reason I was asked to pitch that year. I’d never pitched before, and I never had a big arm, but what I always had was very good control. At that age, that puts you far ahead of the curve.

So for most of the first half of the season, I was flailing away on the mound, trying to figure out a repeatable windup, how not to balk, and the pitching mindset. Slowly I got better at at it, and in the final game of the season it finally “clicked”. I had that moment where I knew that the next game I pitched, it was going to be a no-hitter at worst.

The playoffs were two rounds (four teams) and single-elimination, scheduled for Friday and Sunday. The league’s rules stated that no pitcher was allowed to pitch more than 10 innings in a week or at all on back-to-back days. The coach decided to save me for the championship game, putting me at shortstop for the first game and saying he’d bring me in for the last 2-3 innings if needed.

But it rained that Friday, hard enough to force a postponement until Saturday. This meant if I pitched in the semifinal, I couldn’t pitch in the final. When we got off to a hot start and had a seven run lead going into the last inning, it didn’t seem to matter. Until our #2 starter, who’d pitched so well, went into a complete meltdown on the mound. There was a walk. And then another. More and more, until our seven-run lead was now a tie game with the bases loaded and two outs. It remains to this day one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to watch, this poor kid dousing himself in gasoline on the mound.

Out comes the coach to the mound. “Mike, I’ve got to put you in,” he said.

“But if you do, I won’t be able to pitch tomorrow,” I protested.

“If you don’t take care of this right now, there won’t be a tomorrow,” he replied. He was of course completely right, but to a fifteen-year-old looking forward to pitching a perfect game in the championship, losing that opportunity just to get a single out overcame the usual “team first” instinct.

So I stamped my feet, grabbed the ball, and strode to the mound with a huge scowl on my face. The umpire told me to take my warm-up pitches; I refused, demanding we just get on with it.

Three pitches later, I’d struck out the batter and walked off to one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever had the pleasure of receiving. Still, the game wasn’t over; we were now tied heading into the bottom of the inning, and wouldn’t you know it – I was leading off.

Still upset about losing my chance to pitch in the finals, I angrily walked to the plate and bashed a single up the middle. Once at first base, I decided I wasn’t going to leave this up to anyone else. I made it my entire baseball career without hitting a homer, but if there was one thing I could do, it was run (one year I kept my own stats, and I believe I ended up with 84 SB in 20 games). So I stole second. And then third. And then home, winning the game and sending us to the finals.

The next day, the fat kid – our emergency starter – threw a gem, and we won the championship. In retrospect, I probably came off as a bit of a brat, but I think I realized that this was going to be the pinnacle of my limited pitching career. Saving the game with that K and then stealing three bases for the win – still one of my favorite sports memories.

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Friend of MSTI Donny Baarns has started a blog about the history of baseball in Visalia. I won’t pretend I know anything about Visalia, but I do know that I absolutely dig the old school black-and-white baseball photos from decades gone by.

Proof That There Is No God

Diamond Leung is intent on ruining my day:

Dodgers are inviting Justin Miller, John Lindsey, Prentice Redman, Francisco Felix, Juan Perez, Josh Towers, Doug Mientkiewicz, Luis Ayala and Angel Berroa to spring training

Okay, we knew about Miller, Redman, Perez, Towers, and Ayala already. Mientkiewicz is no surprise at all, and he might actually have a shot to win a job, seeing how unsettled the bench is. Felix and Lindsey were Dodger minor leaguers last season, so no issue there.

If that was it, then fine. A basically unimportant bit of off-season housekeeping. But there it is, that name on the end, stalking me. It’s staring at me, and sending shivers down my spine.

Angel Berroa.

I’m well aware, of course, that it’s just a minor-league deal with a spring training invite. It’s just that we’ve seen this movie before. What exactly about his 2008 line of .230/.304/.310 and -9.3 UZR/150 makes us want to re-live that again?

Even if he just ends up in AAA, he’s hardly harmless. We all know about Rafael Furcal’s injury history, Jamey Carroll isn’t much of a shortstop option other than emergencies, and Chin-Lung Hu’s name is being brought up in possible trade scenarios. He could be back in Los Angeles quicker than you think, and while I don’t want to overstate this, it’s pretty much a fate worse than death. I say that, of course, because Angel Berroa is pretty high on the list of my least favorite Dodgers of all time.

Let me leave you with a sampling of how we felt during his time in Blue, shall we?

June 7, 2008:

Angel Berroa is incredibly bad at the game of baseball. There’s about forty different ways I could go about this, but this one stands out for me the most. This morning, I was reading Baseball Prospectus’ daily game previews, and in the Royals discussion, they pointed out just how historically horrible current SS Tony Pena Jr. has been. I won’t copy and paste their entire statistical argument here, but this is the take-home point:

There have been a mere handful of hitters over the last 30-plus seasons who performed as poorly as Tony Pena Jr. has this year. Since 1970, Pena has the third lowest EqA among players with a minimum of 164 plate appearances,

Remember that – current Royals SS Tony Pena Jr. is on pace to set records for horribleness. Just keep that in mind, read this, and try not to jam your thumbs into your eyes:

The defense for Pena last year, when he hit .267/.284/.356, was that his defense made up for his bat to the degree that he was a better option than the recently ousted Angel Berroa, who could neither hit (.248/.271/.356 with a .209 EqA) nor field (-6 FRAA) in 2006. Pena was able to field, with +13 FRAA last year, which helped make up for his -25 BRAA to a degree—sadly 12 runs below average was an improvement over Berroa’s -23 from the year before—but this year he’s having difficulty fielding as well.

“Sadly, 12 runs below average was an improvement over Berroa’s -23 from the year before.”  He’s clearly a brutal fielder. In 2006, his last full season as the Royals’ starter, he put up an almost unbelievable line of .234/.259/.333, for a 52 OPS+. That made him just about half as effective at the plate as your completely average player – and he was a butcher at the most important defensive position. So right now we’ve got a SS who’s a great fielder and can’t hit, and a SS who’s a good hitter but not much of a fielder. Replacing them with a guy who can’t hit or field (and will cost that $500,000 buyout) is a better option how?

July 14, 2008:

Angel Berroa (.192/.253/.219 0hr 0rbi) (F)
I have to say, of all the stats I looked up for this article, Berroa surprised me more than anybody. He really has zero RBI? Not even one? Despite starting 21 games? That would be incredible, if it weren’t so depressing. Look at it this way, Berroa’s had 72 at-bats without an RBI. That’s the most in MLB by a large margin, nearly double the 40 at-bats by Washington’s Roger Bernadina. Yikes! Actually, now that I think about it, maybe Berroa doesn’t deserve an F here. Maybe he should be getting a C. I mean, it’s not like we didn’t all know he was going to suck from day one. And to the surprise of no one except perhaps Ned Colletti, he has. He’s been exactly as bad as we thought, not that it was possible to be any worse, so in that sense he’s been the average Angel Berroa.

Nah, forget it. Big. Fat. F.

August 7, 2008:

it’s time for Angel Berroa to hit the road to, well, anywhere that’s not Los Angeles. And it’s time to get Chin-Lung Hu back to the bigs.

Sure, there was a time where you could maybe, sort of, kind of make an argument for Berroa – back when Nomar and Furcal were both DL’d and the slim possibility of Berroa’s resurgence was preferable to Hu’s .159 struggles in the bigs. Maybe.

But to no one’s surprise, Berroa’s been terrible, despite his 2-4 performance tonight. Even in the emergent circumstances that have allowed him to play, a .206/.267/.243 line (coming into tonight) in a pennant race just isn’t going to cut it. Of the 72 men who’ve played shortstop in the big leagues this year, Berroa is 67th in VORP.

August 17, 2008:

There’s something unbelievable in there, so in case you glossed over it, I’ll present it again.

“I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney,” Torre said.

This. This, friends, is what will drive a man to insanity. I didn’t see Torre say this, of course, but I wish there was video of it. Was he able to say this with a straight face? Isn’t a quote like that grounds for immediate firing?

November 20, 2008:

Look, I know the team was in a bad situation at shortstop, but come on. Angel Berroa? We were aghast at the move from the second it came down, and Berroa – despite the inane protestations of the local media – was predictably awful. I don’t care how bad things were at shortstop; there’s always a better option than Angel Berroa. Always.

November 30, 2009:

No, no, no. No. Just no. $3.8 million for Angel Berroa? I wouldn’t take him at the major league minimum, even if someone else was paying it. I’m not even going to link to our previous articles about him, because you know it all by now. He’s a complete black hole at the plate and despite Rosenthal’s assertion of him as a “capable” fielder, is average at best. As we’ve said before, if we’re going to have to play a shortstop who can’t hit, it might as well be Hu, the superior fielder who’s at least got a prayer of offensive improvement.

Please, please don’t make us live through this again.