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]'s 2007 In Review: Bench

Hey… hooray! The bench! An ode to those other guys who just haven’t been touched upon yet. Bring us your tired.. old veterans. Bring us your poor.. young rookies. Bring us your huddled masses.. who can’t get off the trainer’s table.  

It’s a real motley crew here. And when you see who we’re dealing with, you might actually wish this was a discussion of Bret Michaels and Rikki Rockett. But we soldier on towards our sadistic goal of mentioning everyone who played in 2007. And then on to the Hot Stove League? I’m sure nothing’s really going to happen with that, anyway.

(All stats for these dudes are in Dodger blue only. Remember, less than 100 AB earns you an imcomplete.)

Olmedo Saenz (D-)
(.191/.295/.345 4hr 18rbi)

Hey, this is an easy one. We already went over the last death throes of Big Sexy in LA. But so much has changed since then! Oh wait, no, he was still terrible this year. We’ll miss ya, Sexy.

Ramon Martinez (D… ish?)
(.194/.248/.225 0hr 27rbi)ph_134002.jpg

Ah, the Wrong Ramon Martinez. How you did suck. I mean, look at those stats. Unreal. And even after a surprisingly decent 2006. With a 0.0% chance he’ll be back in 2008, let’s focus on what is really the only interesting thing that Martinez was able to accomplish this year: 25 hits, 27 RBI. How is that even possible?

Mark Sweeney (inc.) 
(.273/.294/.303 0hr 3rbi)ph_123040.jpg

Sweeney only had 33 at-bats for the Dodgers (totally worth giving up Travis Denker for, by the way). So it’s sort of hard to say anything meaningful about him. What’s 33 at-bats anyway? Not a long enough time to do anything worthwhile, that’s for sure. No, I put some thought into it, and absolutely nothing happened involving Mark Sweeney that had anything to do with the 2007 Dodgers season.

(three outs in an inning, jackass!!!)

Wilson Valdez (inc.)
(.216/.263/.270 0hr 7rbi)

Ah, yes. Mr. Valdez. If you’ve ever wondered how to make a baseball team, a good formula would be to have a incredibly hot spring training (.356/.373/.548 with 3hr) wildly out of line with your career norms, and have an out of control teammate (more on Mr. Repko later) take out the ph_407832.jpgstarter at your position before Opening Day. Actually, I’ve got to hand it to Valdez. In his short time in the bigs, he played 5 positions without committing an error, and was actually pretty flashy at SS and 2B. Sure, he couldn’t hit a lick. But he was an able defensive fill-in. That said, I like to think that Tony Abreu and/or Chin-Lung Hu has stolen that position for 2008, and that Valdez enjoys his time in Las Vegas, never to return except in case of massive food poisoning attacks in LA.

Chin-Lung Hu (inc.)
(.241/.241/.517 2hr 5rbi)

Huuuu….. are you?ph_464341.jpg
Hu hu? Hu Hu?

Okay, cheesy, but expect to hear plenty of it. And some really, really bad puns from Vin (the real one) about “Hu’s on first”.

Chin-Lung Hu coming into 2007: reputation as one of the best defensive SS in the minors, mediocre-at-best hitter. That’s what a .254/.328/.338 line (ugh) in double-A in 2006 will do for you. Being a great fielder is nice, but if you can’t hit, well that just makes you.. Wilson Valdez. And even Wilson Valdez doesn’t want to be Wilson Valdez.

Chin-Lung Hu coming into 2008: Well, now!! Let’s see. Hu kills the ball in big league spring training (.381/.409/.429!). Hu goes back to AA Jacksonville and not only improves his hitting (.329/.380/.508) but actually leads the entire league in hits and doubles at the time of his promotion. Hu moves on up to AAA Las Vegas and not only keeps on hitting (.318/.337/.505 with 8hr in only 45 games), but gets himself elected MVP of the Futures Game at All-Star Weekend, thanks to his 2-2, 2rbi, 1sb showing. Finally, he gets a late-season chance to play in the bigs, and slugs .517 with 2hr in a short 29 at-bat cup of coffee.

So what happened? Vitamin S? Deal with the devil?

He hit over .300 in his first three minor league seasons before slumping to .254 at Jacksonville last year, when a “tired eye” obscured his vision at the plate.

“I see the ball better now and I’m more comfortable because last year I couldn’t see,” Hu said. “Last year my eye was not healthy, but this year it’s working so it’s better.”

51s hitting coach Mike Easler was Jacksonville’s batting instructor last year and confirmed that the eye problem hampered Hu, who underwent an MRI exam after the season, rested and recovered.

Oh. You mean it’s a lot easier to hit when you can see the ball? No kidding!

So now in the space of one season, Hu has gone from “great glove/might not hit enough to stick” to “great glove/may be one of the better hitting SS around”. So much so that I wouldn’t mind seeing Furcal get dealt for something good and letting Hu get a crack at SS. Not a bad year at all.

Delwyn Young (inc.)
(.382/.417/.647 2hr 3rbi)

Explain something to me. You have a team that’s pretty good, but is flawed in one major area: power. You could use some power. Now, you’ve got a young player in the minors who’s done nothing but hit. Double-digit home runs in every season, and improving every year. Yet ph_434704.jpgsomehow he keeps getting stuck in AAA. So he goes back to Vegas for the 3rd time last year and has his best season yet – including a PCL record for doubles (54) and an awesome stat-line of .337/.384/.571 (dig that .955 OPS!). He gets a shot in the bigs and continues to hit in his small opportunity: 1.064 OPS and 2hr in only 32 at-bats. He even goes 4-4 in his second start. He’s a mediocre fielder, sure, but there’s no question he can hit, and he’s even a local boy.

So tell me: why is Delwyn Young never mentioned when it comes to the Dodgers young players? Why does it seem he’s never even considered for a decent shot with the big club? Why does Juan Pierre get $44 million while Delwyn Young – obviously a much superior hitter – can’t even get a chance?

No sir, I don’t get it.

Brady Clark (inc.)
(.224/.308/.293 0hr 5rbi)bradyclark.jpg

Remember Brady Clark? He was about to get cut by Milwaukee in spring training, just like we were about to cut Elmer Dessens. They had one too many outfielders, LA had one too many pitchers. Plus, Jason Repko had just hurt himself – again – so we actually needed a backup OF. Sounds peachy, right? So Clark rots on the bench, does little but play decent defense and.. ah, hell. Kemp and Ethier were better, and Gonzo and Pierre weren’t going anywhere. Brady got cut, went to San Diego, we barely remember him, who cares.

Marlon Anderson (inc.)
(.231/.310/.231 ohr 2rbi)

Let’s not even bother talking about Marlon Anderson’s 2007 – he didn’t do anyhl7iio3h.jpgthing in LA, and frankly I remember him more this year for the Mets’ laughable attempts to play him in center field while Beltran was hurt. I can remember at least three diving attempts in which he didn’t come close to catching the ball, but did almost rip his own arm off. So let’s just pour one out on the curb in one last rememberance of Marlon’s ridiculous, insane 1.243 OPS in Sept ’06, including being part of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back HR game. Thank you, Marlon – thank you. Now let us never speak of you again.

Jason Repko (inc.)
Oh, right. That guy. The guy who missed the whole season. repkohurt.jpgBecause he got hurt. Again. Except this time, he didn’t just fuck up his own ankle/hamstring/knee/ finger/back/kidney/duodenum. This time, he had to go take out All-Star SS Rafael Furcal. And since Furcal is a warrior, he played the whole season on a bum ankle, and was generally ineffective the entire season. So with a 1-2 of injured Furcal and crappy Pierre, the entire Dodgers offensive season was torpedoed. Thanks Jason! No really, thanks for showing up. I like the guy, but I hope he’s not back next season for fear he runs over Russell Martin with a golf cart or actually slams a car door on Takashi Saito’s fingers. 

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

Farewell, Big Sexy

saenzsmall.jpgWe interrupt your regularly scheduled year-in-review to bring you some sad but completely expected news:

Olmedo Saenz has cleared waivers and refused outright assignment, and will almost certainly not be returning to the Dodgers in 2008.

Now if you’re a casual fan, or just started following the team, you might say, “Big deal. He’s a washed-up fat old man who hit .191 with a 64 OPS+ this year and was strictly a pinch-hitter, good riddance.”

But I reject your reality and subsitute my own.

Forget his mediocre 2007 season. You don’t even need to go by the crappy stats; all you needed to see was the fact that his bat speed had slowed to the point where he couldn’t really catch up to fastballs anymore, and as soon as that happened, he was done. I’m not saying it’s not time for him to leave; it is.

What I’m saying is, farewell to a man who is inexplicably one of my favorite Dodgers of the last decade (and, does that say more about what I think about Saenz, or a commentary on the Dodgers of the last decade? That’s a discussion for another time, I think). Farewell to a man who was always smiling, always entertaining, and unbelievably, the longest-tenured Dodger – he joined up in April 2004, a few months before the Penny deal. This is a man of whom Brett Tomko said earlier this year, “Saenz calls me “Mike” and I’m not sure what that means. He started laughing, so I guess I’ll go along with it.”

I don’t think you can truly appreciate Big Sexy without having watched a huge amount of Dodgers baseball over the last few years. And let’s ignore 2007, which was a pretty terrible year for him, though with the caveat that with both Nomar and Loney in front of him he got to play about once a month. This was a man who killed lefties like nobody’s business (04-06 vs. lefties: .564 SLG, .928 OPS) and had a particular love for hitting against the Pirates, for some reason. (04-06 vs. PIT: .435/.527/.891 for a 1.418 OPS. 6hr and 20rbi in just 46 at-bats. That’s just not right.)

So I say, today is a sad day in Dodgerville. Goodbye, Big Sexy. You will be missed. But.. not missed so much that I actually want you back next year.

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

Welcome, Mark Sweeney. Goodbye, Big Sexy?

sweeney1.jpgFor the first time since 1985′s legendary Candy Maldonado/Alex Trevino swap, the Dodgers have made a swap with their hated rivals, the Giants. Coming in to save the season is… 37-year-old Mark Sweeney. Okay, it’s not quite Mark Teixeira, but at least it’s something. Cash or a player to be named going the other way.

You may or may not remember Sweeney as the guy B*rry B*nds accused of supplying him with amphetamenes last year. So, hey, at least he’s got that going for him.

 But there’s something so familiar about Mark Sweeney. What is it? Hmm.. outstanding pinch hitter? (2nd all-time in pinch hits behind Lenny Harris). Check. Supposedly can play first base? Check.  Ohhhhh… uh-oh.

Is this the end for Big Sexy, who’s massively underperformed this season? Sweeney is basically coming to fill the same role – a role I already wanted Nomar put into with LaRoche starting at 3B. Will Saenz be kept around for a few weeks until rosters expand, with another move made in the meantime? Will this rash ever go away? Answers to come… hopefully.

First Base Just Got A Little Sexier

When you look at the Dodgers’ first base contingent, who warms your heart? There’s the young hotshot, smooth-swinging, great-fielding James Loney. There’s 2006 All-Star, former Boston idol, one-half of a SoCal power couple with soccer star Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra. In recent years – though not so much this year – there’s even been appearances by future Hall of Famer Jeff Kent and his ridiculous 1980s porn ‘stache.But for the first time since June 1 in Pittsburgh, you won’t be seeing any of them manning the bag tonight.

With the Rockies using left-hander Jeff Francis on Saturday, Little said he would give Olmedo Saenz a start at first base.  

That’s right – it’s Big Sexy time. (Quick background on this nickname: a few years ago, he was on the DL with some pulled fat, and when he came off, a reporter asked him how he was feeling. He replied, “I feel good. I feel.. sexy.”)You can have your young Loneys; broken-down Nomars; out-of-position Kents. Me? I’ll enjoy watching 230 pounds of Panamanian terror in Coors Field against unfortunate Rockies lefty Jeff Francis tonight. Because even though Big Sexy has slowed down a bit this year (only a .704 OPS), he’s been deadly against lefties the last few years.Between 2004-06, the longest tenured Dodger (I know!) put up this line against southpaws:BA: .315OBP: .393SLG: .618OPS: 1.011HR: 19RBI: 61 And when you look at those HR/RBI #s, remember that this came in only 238 at-bats. If he could play against lefties every day, he’d be an all-time great. It does look like he might be nearing the end of the line in Blue, with his bat slowing and Loney clamping down on the position; so I’ll watch tonight, hope he can still beat up on Francis, and say, “Here’s to you, Big Sexy. Here’s to you.”Oh, and that picture at the right? It’s from 2003 when he was still in Oakland, but I couldn’t help myself – is he diving into the bag, or was he launched like a cruise missle? I’m pretty sure that when he hit the ground there, the residents of the Bay Area looked at their walls shaking and said, “ugh. not again.”