In Defense of Ned Colletti Regarding Lost Youth

After the 2008 season, I was calling for Ned to be fired. Once Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre, Nomar and other atrocities left, it was easier to stomach him as GM. Now that this whole McCourt divorce business has manifested itself, it seems Ned doesn’t have much to do really. The team can scout all they want but we all know we couldn’t get Cliff Lee, we aren’t getting Roy Oswalt and were all afraid what little movable and marketable talent the Dodgers have will be used for the next marginal veteran that won’t work.

The Dodgers got Casey Blake after the team needed a third baseman with Nomar being perpetually injured and Blake DeWitt too young to be relied upon for the remainder of the season. So off goes Jonathan Meloan and Carlos Santana. We saw Meloan but we weren’t aware we had a guitarist of his caliber in the organization. He goes to the Indians and, what do you know, he can play catcher! He was their top prospect immediately and seems to be a building block of the Tribe’s future. Last season, Ned desired some bullpen help and lefty Orioles closer George Sherrill came on to provide a late-inning shut-down set-up guy. So off goes Josh Bell and Steve Johnson. 
Casey Blake has been a solid third baseman and decent mid-to-late order batter, good for 20 homers and solid defensive play. George Sherrill did well to end last season but wasn’t great in the playoffs and has been horrendous this season. Two veterans who we still have (unless GS gets picked up off of waivers) and no World Series title. In exchange, we gave up two guys who would be #1 and #2 prospects in the system now. 
So what am I defending Ned against? I would say that these guys weren’t exactly top prospects at the time. They were high potential but low in the system at the time and high risk. They were also the kind of deals that were made to win a World Series and then you forget what it took to get there. It always looks bad when you use up the entire wooden body of a wood-fired plane and don’t make it but if you did make it, you would walk off the plane cold but a winner. 
It’s funny how Russell Martin probably was blocking any attempt Carlos Santana would have made to make the team and the next year Casey Blake was blocking Josh Bell. This year, the system is dry enough that anymore emigration and Ned would be going for broke. An ace pitcher, shutdown reliever or a second baseman with an expiring contract might just make the Dodgers an October contender. I am an idealist and would like the Dodgers to win the WS and keep our shallow stock of youth.  There will be some choices to be made and help may cost a hefty price. With the future ownership of the team in jeopardy, Joe Torre on his way out and the youthful core about to get expensive, time is running out. At whatever cost, if the Dodgers win it, though, no one would care. 

Trading Jamey Carroll and Waving George Sherrill

When Jamey Carroll was signed by the Dodgers early in the off-season, I thought the club had found it’s utility infielder and possibly it’s RH 2B platoon. Then the Ronnie Belliard signing happened. Suddenly Blake DeWitt was competing with two right-handed second baseman. It was only when Rafael Furcal went down that Jamey Carroll showed just how valuable he can be. The team brought up Nick Green but he was really never needed as Carroll started every game in Furcal’s absence. Not only was he serviceable in the field, he went on quite a hitting streak. To date, he is hitting .291/.391/.330 with 7 doubles. 

It has been made known recently that Jamey Carroll is captivating the interest of other teams. He is mostly likely being pursued by contenders who need a utility infielder or need to supplement an infield position. He by no means is a world-beater but he will get on base and he can play 2B, 3B in addition to SS. It is no secret the Dodgers could use some bullpen help in exchange. Cleveland and Baltimore were able to snatch Carlos Santana and Josh Bell respectively from the Dodgers and a contending team loaded with talent may give a fine prospect in return for Carroll’s services. 
I had remarked earlier on in the season that Ned Colletti had made a good decision by picking him up over the off-season, though it did not become evident until at least May. If the Dodgers were able to get a promising prospect for Carroll, that would be great too but if the Dodgers were to get a reliever that would fill a hole in their bullpen, the Dodgers would have second and third covered and would use Chin-lung Hu to fill the SS gap if necessary and the acquisition of Carroll will have truly paid off. 
George Sherrill, the former closer and once-prized reliever has been placed on waivers by the Dodgers today. I don’t think there is a team out there that will pick up his $4.5 million salary that he is owed for this year and probably an option for next year with his atrocious 7.32 ERA in 2010. He has fallen far from his 0.65 ERA in a Dodger uniform in 2009. Once he entered the playoffs, he has been on a downward spiral. It’s to the point where I don’t even have faith that he will strike out a bottom-of-the-order lefty, making him less than a LOOGY. Presumably, when he comes back, he will be able to get as much mop-up duty as he wants and he can hopefully catch flight and help propel the Dodgers into and through October. 
Bullpens can be so crazy in the way that a strong bullpen can collapse and weak ones can catch fire. But, that’s baseball. 
Also, if you have some time, here is a good article on the McCourt divorce and pretty much the state of things in Chavez Ravine. 

Ethier starting in CF for the NL in the All-Star Game!

Ryan Braun can barely play left field so he is out. With 20 year old rookie Jason Heyward on the DL, NL Manager Charlie Manuel chose Corey Hart as Heyward’s replacement and put Corey Hart in right. Corey Hart has a -11.6 career Ultimate Zone Rating and -3.4 UZR/150. Andre Ethier’s career UZR is -29.6 and his career UZR/150 is -11.5. Corey Hart is a better right fielder and he has played center field before. Charlie, what the hell? 

Michael Bourn and Chris Young are actual center fielders and could have stood in for Corey Hart and played center. Granted, Hart is swinging the bat better than these two but it shows that this game is a bit of a joke and it doesn’t really value fielding ability. There isn’t a way to cop out and say that the people have spoken because Heyward not playing gives Charlie Manuel an out to put somebody with a glove out there. Instead, he chooses a right fielder and puts the worst NL right fielder in center field for the All Star Game The game is being played in Angel Stadium which means Charlie  even had the opportunity to DH Ethier and put Hart and a competent center fielder in the outfield! I am a huge fan of Ethier but I know putting him in center field is obscene! 
What is good for the NL but dumb in general is that it is just one game but an important one for a contending team like the Dodgers where an error or two could cost the NL home-field advantage in the World Series. The tiny likelihoods of Andre Ethier being the primary cause of an NL loss in the ASG and the Dodgers getting to the World Series aren’t large enough to lose sleep over but if the former happens, I am sure that the NL pennant winners won’t be happy about having to play the first two games of the World Series on the road because a right fielder that is a left fielder played center field in a not-so-popular exhibition star showcase game that counts for some reason. 
Considering the National League hasn’t won the ASG since 1996, the NL is used to it. You would think Charlie Manuel would be invested in winning the game since the Phillies have went to the World Series the last two years. It shows that the game should be nothing more than it is: a fun exhibition game. Use records to determine which team should have home field advantage. That is much better than making a game that baseball personnel doesn’t care about count and better than alternating home-field advantage from year to year. 
Update 1: Dylan Hernandez, Dodgers beat writer for the LA TImes tweets “I asked Manuel why he decided to start Ethier in center field. Manuel mumbled a response, but I have absolutely no idea what he said.” 

About Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier

First, let’s discuss Kemp. With his all his struggles on the
base paths, his relative slump, his squabbles with GM Ned Colletti and manager
Joe Torre, Kemp seems to be running into a lot of roadblocks on his meteoric
trajectory to superstardom. Is he at the point where he should be traded? NO NO
NO NO NO NO NO and NO!!!! Good lord, people, don’t be so fickle! Yes, he has
had his troubles and he may perhaps have some diva qualities. Also, while a
trade should never be ruled out because a trade package can be made for any
player, a rightful package for Kemp would probably not be assembled. Matt Kemp
still has many cheap years left as a Dodger and a couple months of
lackadaisical play is not enough reason to abandon such a talented player.


That is not to say that we should anoint Kemp as the
potential best centerfielder in the game for the next decade. Yes, Kemp won a
Gold Glove but he should not be considered for another one. His arm was one of
the best in the majors last year (4.0 ARM, 14 assists) but the rest of his
fielding game was less than average. This year, by Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR),
he is far and away the worst centerfielder in the game (-16, FanGraphs) and he
has yet to throw somebody out! While fielding ability and production normalizes
quicker than batting ability and production, he is still doing some oscillating
which means there is hope that he can do better than this year but he isn’t a
top-line fielding CF despite his reputation for being one.


Let’s give 25 year old Matt a chance to improve. If one is
so inclined to trade him, now is not the time because he has performed so
terribly. Let’s save that talk for the winter and, even then, let’s give it
some more thought.


Speaking of poor fielding, we have another talented athlete
who may have his glove on wrong. Andre Ethier should rightfully not be playing
RF. Now, it should be said that he will play RF for the rest of the season.
This isn’t going to change but it is worth discussing future shifts in the
Dodgers outfield. Andre Ethier’s UZR is -12.9, which is only better than Carlos
Quentin and Kemp. Ethier’s UZR/150 (an attempt on a full season projection) is
the worst at -36. He is prevented from moving to LF because Manny Ramirez must
play there. Ramirez, by reputation, is a bad left fielder but has not been
nearly as notably bad as Kemp or Ethier.


After Manny’s contract is over at the end of this season,
Manny will most assuredly go elsewhere. There is no question that Andre
Ethier’s bat can make him a star but he should be moved to left in 2011. This
may be considered a slight or an insult to be relegated to left but I hope that
Ethier will understand and Dodgers management will have the vision to make that
change. If the Dodgers do not get a right fielder in the free agent market (it
GETTING A DIVORCE A DIVORCE), they will have the option of going with Xavier
Paul, who has an exceptional arm and appears to have the potential to hit at a
Major league level. Andrew Lambo may be an option but he may be bad enough in
the field to keep ‘Dre in right. Scary.


With Manny on the DL with hamstring troubles, there is an
opportunity to try Ethier in left and put Paul in right but we know that isn’t
how it works. I have learned as a Dodgers fan to not ask for so much and just
keep it simple. While there is an opportunity, how about keeping Garret
Anderson and his ugly .188/.203/.289 slash line on the bench and at least have
Paul playing left against all right-handers. Maybe when Manny gets back,
consider getting rid of this year’s Mark Sweeney. 

About the Dodgers Opening Road Trip

In six games, the Dodgers have scored 37 runs. At that pace, that would win the AL East. The bullpen is the problem and TrueBlueLA says Joe Torre is a big part of that. He misused Brox and Jeff Weaver was the wrong guy to bring in. George Sherrill looks like crap so far. Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo are sorely missed and we await their return. 

Can Blake DeWitt play second? He hasn’t looked that good so far but as a proponent of DeWitt, I think we should give him more time. Ronnie Belliard has done well at the plate. If he keeps it up and Blake DeWitt is still playing sub-par second, it may be DeWitt coming off of the bench. 

Andre Ethier is alright healthwise as he has pinch-hit the past couple of games. It just isn’t fun seeing a lineup without Manny and Dre. 

That Matt Kemp dropped fly play was disappointing. Yes, the man got a Gold Glove last year but you don’t get another if you make enough of those plays. I understand that these guys are professionals but, if you don’t put your non-glove hand on that ball and reel that in, you should and will catch a lot of hell. 

As for the opposition so far, the Pirates have a good thing in Garrett Jones. I hope he does that to other NL pitchers. I think the Pirates will be better than they were last year and better than the Astros this year but that is about it. It seems they will have a phantom good start and then normalize near the cellar. The Marlins will be pretty decent. They have a solid 3-4-5 in HRam, Cantu and Uggla. I see guys like Cameron Maybin and Gaby Sanchez and they are pretty decent but what will the Marlins be when Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison start hitting the hell out of the ball? 

Congrats to Charlie Haeger for striking out 12 guys today. That was quite a start. Padilla doesn’t look that good but CBillz does and Kersh put it together after the first three batters he faced touched home plate. Kuroda went 7 innings which is a good sign. We have more starts to see out of these guys but this bullpen has to do better than this. Don’t panic, Dodger fans – there’s a lot of baseball yet.

Final Dodgers Roster Remarks

First of all, it seems both Ramon and Russ Ortiz will make the Dodger roster. Ramon Ortiz is no surprise but Russ is, though I like the decision to not bring on Nick Green. As I said in my Dodger Preview, I think that Jamey Carroll will do just fine spot-starting at short. Two washed-up Ortizes seems like too much but with Ronald Belisario not ready and Hong-Chih Kuo and Cory Wade on the DL, they might be more place-holders than key relievers. Carlos Monasterios is a Rule 5 pick that stuck who may be as good as Belisario and that would be more than acceptable. Jeff Weaver returns as well. 

Blake DeWitt won the second base job but behind him are Ronnie Belliard and Carroll. I am glad that they are giving him the chance to start as I think he showed enough in 2008 to get a chance. Russell Martin hurt his groin about a month ago but will be at Pittsburgh for Opening Day. The hope is that he and James Loney will play much better than last year. I think there is a better chance that Loney will make a large improvement but Martin should be better. If those guys are good, a declining Casey Blake won’t matter as much. I think next season might be bad for Casey but he might have one more decent season in him. One reason Blake DeWitt might be getting the nod at second is that he will get some at-bats and be ready to step in if Casey has problems. 

Charlie Haeger will be the Dodgers fifth starter for now. Weaver could get some starts as could one of the Ortizes if they are still around. The thing about fifth starters is that they don’t matter that much and most teams don’t have a permanent one. Vicente Padilla makes the Opening Day start and I could care less. The Dodgers not having an ace is a problem but most teams don’t have a true ace. Some teams have a pitcher that is the best on the staff. Wolf was the Dodgers last season but he wasn’t an ace. There are only a handful of aces in baseball and the Dodgers don’t have one. I just want the Dodgers team pitching to be as good or even better than last year. As the league leader in team ERA last year, the Dodgers did well but Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley must improve and they must be a factor down the stretch. We have a better idea of what will come from Padilla and HIroki Kuroda but the young players must keep the K’s coming and cut the walks. 

As it goes in baseball, we won’t know what the Dodgers or the rest of the leagues are made of until at least mid-May. Until then, we just have to take it in game by game. Until then, I won’t give you division predictions but I will give you random 2010 Dodgers predictions: 

Manny’s HR: 33 

Chad Billingsley’s strikeouts: 205 

Blake DeWitt’s OPS: .750 

James Loney’s HR: 16 

Charlie Haeger’s starts: 9 

Matt Kemp’s MVP voting rank: 5th 

Russell Martin’s games played: 130 

Play ball already! 

Baseball fans, the DH belongs in the NL

With no real baseball happening yet, let’s talk about a real issue: the lack of the DH in the NL!

I write this every year it seems and it becomes more and more apparent to me that the DH must bat for the pitcher in the NL. This is all wasted words even though someday we will get it. It may take the NL Commissioner stepping down and that may take decades but this will happen. Why not now?

If for no other reason, the NL deserves the DH because watching a pitcher bat is painful. Watching a pitcher walk a pitcher is painful. That is embarrassing for both parties and just uncalled for. Watching a rally crushed by a pitcher’s at-bat is painful, especially when hitters 1-8 are capable. How is all this good for baseball? It doesn’t happen in the AL and it works for them. Relief pitchers rarely get to bat but when they do, oh is it terrible. I still remember Jonathan Broxton at bat in the playoffs.

I can name a decent-hitting pitcher and he is Carlos Zambrano. He has hit 20 career homers and has batted a career .236 but he has hurt himself multiple times in batting practice. I understand that this is tradition but the AL got the DH in 1970. Baseball goes back much farther than that and I don’t hear anyone clamoring for DH-less baseball after 40 years. I think if fans were able to handle roided players in the league, they can handle seeing a player besides the pitcher bat.

What may be prohibitive is that the DH position has had some really good players. Maybe those against a DH in the NL believe it will alter the league too much. However, the last couple of years, the DH pool has been thin. This may be a result of steroids testing but the DH position does not send out many stars these days. Most teams don’t have a full-time DH anymore. I believe that it helps develop talent. If you can push away a slow veteran, you can let a prospect gets some experience. In the NL, you have to keep a guy on the bench to do the same thing. It is another position and it takes away at-bats from the pitchers and allows them to do what they do best.

Pitching might be better off. OK, so they won’t like being denied the easy outs but they are not distracted by batting. Pitchers stop batting once they are drafted or once they enter college. Those skills are gone when they enter the big leagues with an NL team. The pitcher gets placed 9th in the order every time and is the almost always the worst hitter in a lineup. If this were an advantage, you would see a pitcher here and there batting ahead of a fielder. There is no advantage there. Sure, there is Tony LaRussa and his batting pitchers 8th but he does so because having a non-pitcher bat 9th increases the chances of their being a runner on-base when the heart of the lineup comes to the plate by getting the pitcher out of the way. The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball runs the numbers on this tactic and it adds up to fractions of a win. It does nothing for the efficacy of the pitcher-batter.

I believe that I read in Baseball Between the Numbers that catchers hit like pitchers. It was a bit of an exaggeration and there are some transcendent exceptions (Joe Mauer) and a handful of decent hitters. However, for the league average, is true, why not get rid of a redundancy. It might actually allow for a team to get a light-hitting middle infielder if they can bat them night. That makes fielding better. You still probably get a better hitter and that light-hitting SS adds to the game with better fielding than if a team has to pay that free agent for average hitting at the SS position.  

Something unrelated to the previous paragraph, I ask you to consider the Jim Thome situation. The Dodgers got a full-time DH from the Chicago White Sox. He had an expiring contract and the White Sox were fading from the division race. Ned Colletti was preparing for a World Series matchup. It wasn’t a bad move on paper and it was enticing to me at the time. What can a DH do for an NL team in a pennant race? Not too much in this case. Thome’s physical condition was deteriorating as he needed a PR when he got on base. The television gave his pinch-hitting numbers previous to playing for the Dodgers and they weren’t that good. It’s because the DH is a full-time position. You have to do things consistently in the game of repetition that is baseball.

Conversely, pinch-hitting is terrible. NL teams have room for an exclusive PH but not the budget. It is not worth paying for because you never get much. Mark Sweeney, now a coach for the Dodgers, finished among the highest in terms of PH plate appearances and he was awful. Late in games, it would be advantageous to have a guy who could pinch-hit really well. Since, those guys exist, how is that an advantage for the NL? It is not.  

What would the DH ultimately do to pitching? It would raise the quality. If an NL team is allowed to have the DH, they will have an extra hitter and less pitchers like the AL. That won’t take away a starter but it will take away some of the worst baseball players: relief pitchers. Taking away the worst pitcher from a team forces the other pitchers to do what they should be doing and that is pitching more. It just makes the game better.

I get way more people disagreeing with me on this issue than I think is healthy. I at least want you to agree with me that watching pitchers bat is bad – really, really bad. It is a skill that pitchers give up honing in high school and one they don’t retain once they enter the big leagues. Maybe you don’t want the game to change but the game already has changed in this manner halfway. There really isn’t an advantage to having the NL pitchers bat and having an extra hitter instead of a marginal caliber pitcher improves the game. In the end, it is up to the NL commissioner and the commissioner of baseball, Butt Selig, to make this change. I don’t think that it would alter the game all that much. If anything it evens it out and parity in terms of league makeup and talent is not a bad thing. If you aren’t convinced, enjoy watching your pitchers bat.