Dodgers of the Decade: First Base

I have to say, I was surprised with the results of the catcher poll. Despite Paul LoDuca having put up the best overall season and slightly better overall stats, Russell Martin won the vote for best Dodger catcher of the 2000s by a score of 68% to 31%. I figured Martin would win, but not by that much. I suppose the steroid allegations carried more weight than I’d thought they would, or maybe Dodger fans just have short memories. Special thanks to Chad Kreuter’s wife and mom, who clearly must have been the two people behind his two votes.

Lets move on to first base. And what a motley crew this is; you’ve got a 1990s Dodger star in the twilight of his career, a star shortstop trying to make the position switch in his hometown, a top prospect still trying to take the next step, a portly pinch-hitting fan favorite, and possibly the most divisive Dodger (non-Pierre division) of the last ten years. Good luck choosing from among all that.

You may notice that there’s one eligible player missing here, and that’s Shawn Green. Yes, he did play more than 100 games at 1B as a Dodger, and that’s the threshold. But he only played first base regularly in his final season in Los Angeles, with the huge majority being played in right field, so that’s where we’re placing him. I was going to include defensive stats, but UZR doesn’t kick in until 2002, so I’m not sure how to account for the first two years. I’ve left it out for now.

Dodgers of the Decade team:
C: Russell Martin (68%)

First Base

James Loney (463 games, 2006-09)
Dodger stats: .295/.354/.451 .805 45 hr 265 rbi
WAR: 3.6

Eric Karros (418 games, 2000-02)
Dodger stats: .253/.317/.418 .735 59 hr 242 rbi
WAR: 0.6

Olmedo Saenz (381 games, 2004-07)
Dodger stats: .263/.334/.484 .818 38 hr 151 rbi
WAR: 1.7

Nomar Garciaparra (298 games, 2006-08)
Dodger stats: .289/.345/.445 .790 35 hr 180 rbi
WAR: 1.4

Hee-Seop Choi (164 games, 2004-05)
Dodger stats: .238/.328/.419 .747 15 hr 48 rbi
WAR: 0.6

Top three seasons
2.1 WAR Garciaparra, 2006
1.7 WAR Loney, 2009
1.5 WAR Loney, 2007

No one really stands out here to me. Karros was at the end of his career to start the decade, while Loney’s just at the beginning of his career and hasn’t fully realized his talent. While the best single season was probably Nomar’s 2006, it was also really the only season he was any good at all. Saenz was a bench player who was only nominally a first baseman, and I always felt that the biggest travesty of the Jim Tracy era was playing Jason Phillips at 1B down the stretch of the lost 2005 season rather than Choi mainly out of spite from the LoDuca deal. I assume Loney will win because he has the highest overall WAR and is the freshest in people’s minds, but how sad is it that two seasons which are subpar for a first baseman are probably going to be enough to make him the best first baseman of the entire decade?

Make your choice. Who’s your Dodger first baseman of the 00s?

[polldaddy poll=2437858]

Off to Chicago It Is…

“Why,” you might be asking, “did you use a picture of the famous Wrigley Field facade where the idiot who was taking the picture snapped it in mid-sentence rather than waiting for the change to complete?” That’s because I am that idiot, and I took this picture myself in July while on tour, although I’m sad to say that this is as far as I was able to get. I was worried about how much money I could afford to spend on a scalped ticket – well forget that, I couldn’t even find anyone looking to sell, and this was on a Friday afternoon. Never underestimate the fervor of the Cubs fan.

Now we’ve got two off-days in which to discuss the upcoming NLDS in more detail before Derek Lowe (career 3.25 ERA against the Cubs in 8 starts) faces off against Ryan Dempster (career 3.01 ERA against LA in 19 appearances/9 starts) on Wednesday. I don’t think, however, any stat is going to amaze you more than this one:

The Dodgers (1884) and Cubs (1876) have been around for 256 combined years… and have never once faced each other in the playoffs. How unbelievable is that? Sure, that nearly forty year break from the postseason the Cubs took between 1945-1984 is a large part of that, but still, these two teams have somehow never battled in October.

So here’s what we know while waiting for the playoff roster to come out:

*Hong-Chih Kuo, Jason Repko, Ramon Troncoso, Chin-Lung Hu, and Eric Stults are officially not going to make the playoff roster, and will head south to play in the Arizona Instructional League (except Stults, who is going to Mexico) to keep in shape if they’re needed later. No surprises here.

*In fact, I don’t think there’s really all that much drama left over the postseason roster now that Penny and Kuo are both out and Kent and Furcal are both almost certainly on. Seems like Maddux and Kershaw are each going to make it, and the only question really is whether the last man off the bench is going to be Mark Sweeney, Delwyn Young, or Pablo Ozuna.

* Nomar Garciaparra greatly overvalues speed. Just kidding, sort of. But in his one-day role as manager, he did let Juan Pierre lead off. Haven’t we learned how much that can kill an offense by now? On the other hand, he did let A.J. Ellis get his first career start and at-bat, which was nice.

*Very quietly, Hiroki Kuroda has been incredibly valuable. After he allowed just two hits over five scoreless innings today, that makes eleven straight starts in which he hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs. Over those eleven starts his ERA is just 2.58, and he’s LA’s third starter at best. How many teams would kill for a first starter with those numbers?

* Bill Plaschke hates sunshine and kittens. I’ve made a concious effort to not discuss offseason issues like Lowe’s free agency or going after CC Sabathia (who is an absolute beast, by the way) while this team is still in the hunt, and I intend to stick to that. There’s just something unseemly about coming out with negative articles about the future on the day a playoff team ends its regular season, isn’t it? But that’s Plaschke for you. In this article, he goes off about how the Dodgers shouldn’t invest a boatload of money into bringing Manny back, and while I may or may not agree with him, why is he coming out this with this kind of crap right now? Is he physically incapable of praising a team that’s just made the playoffs? Even though I could expend 2000 words on it, I’m not going to go through this entire thing, because I don’t want to sink to his level. That said, there’s one “point” he makes I simply cannot ignore.

Some members of the Dodgers, however, aren’t so sure.

They look at their record since acquiring Ramirez, 29-23, an average slate that proves one thing:

The guy is great, but the guy can’t pitch.

I’m not even sure I follow this point. Manny was acquired because the Dodgers had a lousy offense that wasn’t supporting their excellent pitching staff. Even when they went on that eight game losing streak, it wasn’t because the staff was falling apart - it was because the offense died. Remember back in June and July when all the Sabathia rumors were flying around and I was strongly against them because the Dodgers didn’t need more pitching, they needed an offensive force? That’s because the Dodgers have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball.

So why are you painting it as a bad thing that Manny’s a hitter and not a pitcher? Because let me tell you this in no uncertain terms: if the Dodgers had acquired Sabathia and not Manny, they’d have had one of the best pitching staffs ever – and they’d have missed the playoffs thanks to all the 1-0 and 2-1 games they’d have lost.

And again, the deal worked out great for this season. No one argues that, and I don’t neccessarily disagree that giving a huge amount of cash to late-30s Manny is a questionable decision. But on the verge of the playoffs, there’s plenty of time for that conversation another day.

Knock it off, Bill. I look forward to the Dodgers winning the World Series and your inevitably unreadable column full of one-paragraph-sentences saying, “yeah, but if they had done what I’d wanted, they’d have swept the series rather than won in six.”

* Fun Picture Update! At Joe Sports Fan via The Big Lead,  have this fantastic picture from the celebration the other night that I hadn’t seen before. No, don’t look at Manny – check out the scoreboard in the distance behind him. Oops!

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

All Your First Place Are Belong To Us

Well, half of it, anyway. Sometimes you sit down to write a blog post, and you stare at the blank page and wonder what you should write about. And then before you know it, you’re talking about 40 different topics – and right as you finish, the team finishes off an improbable comeback to snag a share of first place. Away we go…


* Thanks, beautiful!
Remember the other day when I wrote, regarding the debacle in San Francisco, that: 

This is going to be one of “those” games – the kind you look back upon with disdain when you miss the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season.

Yeah, well, tonight is one of “those” games too – the kind you look back on with glee when you make the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season. Really, is there any better feeling in baseball than a walkoff home run? By Certified Local Hero Nomar Garciaparra? That caps off the best comeback of the season after a terrible outing by Brad Penny? That puts you into a tie for first place? I think not.

* You think Jeff Kent likes hitting in front of Manny?
4-5 with a game-tying double. You may remember Kent, earlier this season, fighting to be the worst cleanup hitter of all time. Since he got bumped into the 3rd spot ahead of Manny? In 7 games, he’s hitting an even .500 (13-26). This is the ancillary brilliance of having a hitter like Manny Ramirez - sure, he’s great. But he has a ripple effect on your entire lineup. Now the guy hitting 3rd gets better pitches to hit than when Kent or Martin or anyone was the cleanup hitter. Now the guy hitting 5th gets to do so with men on more often because Manny gets on base so much, either through a hit or being walked. This is truly the dimension this team did not have before July 31st, and in just two weeks we’ve seen the offense transformed.

* Remember when Brad Penny started the All-Star Game twice in a row? Geez, Brad – what the hell was that? 3 homers and 6 earned runs in 3 crappy innings, pushing his ERA all the way up to 6.05. With Arizona losing and Joe Blanton no great shakes tonight for Philly either, Penny did his best to ensure that the Dodgers wouldn’t capitalize on a golden opportunity to reclaim a share of first in the NL West. Fortunately, the offense let him off the hook (and when was the last time we could say that?) He was moderately effective in his first start back against San Francisco, although he didn’t look that great – and the lousy Giants offense certainly helped out with that. While his velocity was up a bit from the last start, you just cannot leave meatballs out over the plate when you’re facing guys like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. The question here is: what now? How long of a rope do you give him to work back into shape when every game is so important? Is this going to push the “Greg Maddux to LA” rumors into reality? Do we see James McDonald getting bumped up any time soon? As good as the pitching has been, there’s some real questions about the rotation. Kershaw’s been great, but he’s rapidly approaching his innings limit, and if you can’t count on Penny, and when you never really know if you’re getting Cy Young Hiroki Kuroda or Brett Tomko Hiroki Kuroda, well, maybe you need another starter. My opinion? Go get Maddux. This late in the season, he’s only owed a little less than $2 million, which shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, and he’s worth his weight in gold if only to have Kershaw sitting next to him on the bench every single night.

* Yet another reason to ditch a stiff like Pablo Ozuna: We’ve made no secret around here about our distaste for guys like Pablo Ozuna (and Angel Berroa) who can’t really hit.. or field.. or contribute. Well, you can add “run the bases” for Ozuna. In the 8th inning of tonight’s game with two outs and the score tied, Ozuna was inserted as a pinch runner for Jeff Kent after Kent’s double. James Loney grounds to the hole, and Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins has no play anywhere except to go to third, where Ozuna beats the throw, which would put men on the corners for Casey Blake. Except that Ozuna overslid the bag and was tagged out by Phillies 3B Greg Dobbs, ending the inning. Someone please explain to me what value it is that Ozuna brings, and how it’s in any way more useful than Chin-Lung Hu?

* I love this bullpen. After Penny acted like he had money on the Phillies for 3 innings, the bullpen came in and did what they’ve been doing all year: shut down the opposition. Jason Johnson, Joe Beimel, Chan Ho Park, and Jonathan Broxton combined for 6 shutout innings, giving up only one hit to the last 21 batters, against one of the better offenses in the league. I can already hear the war cry – “but you hate Jason Johnson!” Not true. Putting Jason Johnson in as a long man when you’re down by 5 runs is exactly what he should be doing – not putting him in above Broxton and Kuo in a tie game two days after throwing 87 pitches. And to Johnson’s credit, he was excellent tonight. You can’t credit the ‘pen enough here – they’ve been coming through all season, and you do not win this game without them.

* Hey, how about Russell Martin hitting 8th? It’s amazing how many things about this year just could not have been predicted, or even believed, at the start of the year. “Manny Ramirez will be a Dodger.” “Chan Ho Park will be one of the best pitchers on the team.” “Nomar and Angel Berroa will be the two main shortstops.” Well add to that: “Russell Martin will hit 8th in a playoff race.” And here’s the thing: I can’t even argue with Torre on this one. Sure, part of it is a lineup that didn’t have any total black holes like Pierre or Berroa in it tonight; but mostly, Martin’s just been awful lately, just 6-38 on the month coming into tonight. Maybe it agrees with him – Martin went 3-3 with a walk tonight out of the 8 hole.

* I can’t help but wonder…
about Ethier starting over Pierre. Don’t get me wrong – I love it, as I’m sure you all know. And Ethier’s certainly been playing so well that he’s earned it, especially with a game-winning RBI on Tuesday and a homer tonight. My question is this, though: did Torre suddenly see the light and realize that Ethier is flat-out a better player? Or was he just upset by Pierre’s comments to the LA Daily News? Think about it. The comments were printed on August 3rd. Pierre has started just 3 times in the ensuing 10 games; in the previous 8 games after he came off the DL, he’d started 7 times. Torre of course denies that the comments had anything to do with playing time, and obviously the addition of Manny had added another outfielder to the mix (although Jones has been taken completely out of the rotation lately), but there’s at least a chance that rather than going by good baseball sense, Torre punished Pierre and then watched Ethier get so hot that he simply couldn’t bench him, right?

* “The worst season in the history of major league baseball.”
So says CBS Sportsline’s Gregg Doyel about Andruw Jones. The sad part? I can’t even pretend to argue with him. As Vin said yesterday, we all know that the DL stint isn’t about his knee. It’s about getting his fat useless ass off the team. One day, I hope we find out the real reason behind this. It’s simply incomprehensible that a certain Hall-of-Famer could drop off the cliff as hard as Jones. But kudos to the front office for biting the PR bullet and getting him the hell out of here during a pennant race.

* Manny being 4channy! A few months ago, I linked to a great strip from the criminally underrated The Dugout, in which they take famous athletes and and create what life might be like if they only conversed in internet chat rooms. Manny’s always been a popular figure there, for obvious reasons, and they focus on him again today. Some of the jokes won’t make sense if you’re not a regular reader of their site, but it’s still worth a look – and keep an eye out for a shout-out to a fan we’ve featured here before, who happens to greatly support a certain lefty Dodgers reliever.

*
Speaking of Manny… you can only gush about a man so much, right? But with another homer tonight, he’s now got 5 in just 12 games in Blue – and he’s still hitting nearly .500 (21-45). I’m really starting to run out of superlatives about him. No, I haven’t turned a blind eye to how badly he acted to get out of Boston, which might have destroyed the season of a lesser team. We’ll certainly take that into account in the offseason, when his contract is up. But right now? I have never seen a player energize a team like this. And it’s not unreasonable to say that the Dodgers have never had a hitter as productive as he’s been so far. Let the Diamondbacks have their Adam Dunn (for the record, I’m a Dunn fan and think that was a good move by Arizona) – as good as Dunn is, he’s never been the player that Manny is.

* Hooray! Brian Falkenborg claimed by the Padres. Nothing personal against Falkenborg; I’m sure he’s a wonderful person. We just never were able to warm up to him around here, partially because of the way Torre used him, and partially because he’s just not very good. Oddly enough, this is the second time in his career he’s been DFA’d by LA and subsequently claimed by San Diego. I suppose this means we’ll be seeing him again in 2012.

*
I’m no doctor but… at Dodgers.com, Ken Gurnick has an update on injured closer Takashi Saito:

Saito is with the club, trying to rehabilitate a torn right elbow ligament that usually requires Tommy John surgery to repair. He said he is playing catch from about 50 feet two days for every one day off.

“I feel no pain, and that’s really encouraging,” said Saito, but he offered no guess on a return date.

Granted, I was away for three weeks, so I may have missed this; but was it already known that Saito had a torn ligament? It’s the first I’ve heard of it, and if so, how he is throwing with no pain? I don’t think I can ever remember a pitcher bulling through an injury that usually requires Tommy John to repair.

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

Nomar To The DL To Make Room For Manny

Per Gurnick:

LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers made room on the active roster for Manny Ramirez by placing his former Boston teammate, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left knee.

Garciaparra, who felt he was nearly healthy enough to return to action, wasn’t happy about it.

“You’ll have to ask Joe about it,” he said, referring to manager Joe Torre. “I’m feeling good, improving a lot faster than they anticipated. We’ll see what happens.”

Welcome Back, Angel Berroa!… err, or not.

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

I Know, It’s Only Three Games… But I Like It, Like It, Yes I Do…

So, what happened to those Dodgers that I once knew?  The one’s who would lay down, not score, and just downright break our hearts?

Well, they got kidnapped!  We seemed to have gotten this new team, and they even have some fight in them.  This new team has also been pretty fun to watch, coming out of the gates and taking 2 out of 3 from their divisional rivals.  Really, this is just what the doctor ordered.  We all know the Dodgers badly needed to take at least two out of three from Arizona, instead of risking falling even further, and they came pretty damn close to doing the latter.  Yet this team showed for the first time this year some fight in them.  Anyone who’s watched the Dodgers this year knows that once they get down by a couple of runs, it’s over.

But on Friday, they came back to erase a 6-3 deficit and win 8-7 after a James Loney HR in the 11th inning, and almost came back on Saturday, turning a 3-0 game into a 3-2 game in the 9th.  While they lost, it was encouraging to watch them put up some kind of rally.  Then, of course, there is today.  After getting utterly dominated by Brandon Webb for 8 innings, the Dodgers went into the 9th trailing 4-1.  Up until the time Matt Kemp came up again with 2 outs, the game seemed like a carbon copy of the previous game.

However, this time, instead of flying out on the first pitch, Kemp put up easily his best at-bat this season.  Hell, maybe the best at-bat of his career.  Instead of going up there, aggressive, trying to hit the ball out of the park, he just went up there and showed great patience and wasn’t trying to do much.  It paid off, with a shot to the gap to tie the game.  Then, of course, the monstrous triple by Ethier to put the Dodgers on top.  Best inning by far this season and primarily done by the kids.  In Kemp’s case, I really hope that at-bat can be a turning point with him and that is also plays a hand in his development.  Perhaps we’re already seeing The Mattingly Effect, but, in any event, well done, Mattie.  And by the way, the person he drove in on that double?  Why, newest Dodger, Pablo Ozuna! In order to get him, the Dodgers had to DFA Luis Maza.  Not much to say on that, except, why does Ned continue to sign the same no-hit infielders thinking that something will eventually stick?  On a team that needs offense?

But back to the game.  The kids played a huge role in the 9th, but despite our kiddie love here at MSTI (in the non-Michael Jackson way, of course), there was some contributions from a certain veteran.

How about Nomar?  After being MIA (Hamm?) for the past two years, he is hitting the ball better than he has in two years.  Of course we know what he did on Friday with the 2 HR game, but he has been on an utter terror.  Since being back, Nomar is hitting .316/.366/.632 with a .998 OPS and 3 HR’s.  What I particularly like is the .632 SLG%.  Even during the rare moments he did hit last year, he was nothing more than a singles hitter, however, his stroke seems to be returning.  He’s hitting doubles and showing a power stroke that, again, we haven’t seen in two years.  All botched rundowns aside, I no longer want to jam icepicks in my ears whenever he comes up to the plate.  So, welcome back, Nomar!

And even better…  We can listen to “Low Rider” again… and LIKE IT!!

Another good moment today was watching Andy LaRoche get a pinch hit single in the 9th to keep the inning going and make the game 4-3.  And speaking of LaRoche, Joe Torre spoke about the whole DeWitt/LaRoche thing, this morning.

Courtesy Diamond Leung:

“It’s not affecting his defense. And he’s going to give you an honest at-bat.”

An “honest” at-bat?  What the hell does that mean?  What’s a dishonest at-bat?  And, O.K., maybe it’s not affecting his defense, but the team’s greatest need is offense.  We need that; he hasn’t provided that in two months.

Torre said he was going by “feel” in choosing DeWitt to play the majority of the time.

Hear that, folks?  That guy that the Dodgers pay $4 million dollars a year to make wise baseball decisions?  He makes them based on feel and other subjective measures.  This is how our manager makes roster decisions.  Our starting third baseman is starting because Joe Torre has a feeling, a feeling deep inside, oh yeah, while praising Mark Sweeney and his sub-.100 average because of “swing paths” and “body language.”

Really, I’m waiting for the next article to come out something like this:

Torre said he was going by his magic 8 ball in choosing DeWitt to play the majority of the time, while telephone calls to Miss Cleo suggested that he should always start Andruw Jones.

Back to real quotes:

“It probably worked against LaRoche that I’ve seen so much of DeWitt,” Torre said. “It’s not anything against LaRoche. Blake is filling the bill, so to speak.”

Let me get this straight…  a guy with a 79 OPS+ is “filling the bill” because he’s able to do only half of his job well?  By the logic, Andruw Jones hasn’t been terrible at center field, this year.  Yet does anyone think he’s earned his playing time?  Nooooo.  I’d be most curious how DeWitt’s atrocious offense over the past two months has been filling the bill on a team that, oh, I don’t know… desperately NEEDS offense?!

Utter stupid and he gets more Grady by the minute.  I’m sure Torre has plenty of baseball wisdom, but the game is passing him by.  And, again, when we covered the entire DeWitt/LaRoche thing last week, we do like DeWitt.  We’re fans.  But you’d swear the media thinks he’s 40 with some of the undeserved praise he’s been getting, lately.  Well deserved in April and May… not so much in June and July.

Now on to Andruw Jones.  Here was some information regarding why he was pulled out in the 5th inning of Friday’s game and why he didn’t play Saturday.  Despite my initial hopes of him finally getting benched (I was going to throw a party!), turns out, it was just “flu-like” symptoms.  Despite me thinking he was getting benched, Andruw was still gracious to talk to the media about his crapulence:

Andruw Jones was out of the lineup because of stomach problems that forced him out of Friday night’s game in the fifth inning. “I’ve had to go to the bathroom quite a few times,” Jones said.

Thank you, Andruw, for confirming our thoughts: you truly are stinking up the joint.

So, now it’s on to Colorado while the Diamondbacks go to Chicago.  Hopefully we can get out of it alive and also bury the Rockies, who seem to be playing a little better lately.  So, how about we finally take sole possession of 1st place?  Sound good?  Perhaps third time’s a charm?

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg