June 30, 2005
As a recent transplant to Los Angeles, I have been surprised by Dodgers' fans. On one hand, they adhere perfectly to their "arrive late, leave early" reputation. (I still remember the tail lights of the car leaving the stadium lots as the camera pans up to follow Kirk Gibson's World Series HR ball in 1988).
But they are very knowledgeable on average -- and more enthusiastic than I would have expected. In a town of LA's size, its sometimes easy to be blase' about your team. Just look at Lakers' fans. Or Mets' fans.
Still, if you sit in the upper deck, you'll see some rough -- less sports-appropriate -- stuff.
Take note of this blog posting by a new Angeleno. Anyone agree with his take?
June 29, 2005
Monday night, the Dodgers handed out Sandy Koufax statues to all the fans at the ballpark. The ceramic figurines show the great lefthander in his long stride toward the plate, ready to fire a fastball past another hitter.
The Dodger pitcher on Monday – rookie DJ Houlton – looked nothing like Koufax during the first two innings of the game. He gave up two solo home runs and had fallen behind 4-0 when he walked a batter to put two men on with two outs in the 2nd inning. And then something amazing happened.
Houlton turned into a righthanded Sandy Koufax. He retired 16 of the next 18 batters he faced. Eleven were flies or pop-ups. Five were strikeouts. That means Houlton was throwing a good fastball to the right spots. He mixed in some off-speed pitches to keep the hitters off-balance, and he rarely fell behind in the count. He got the win to go 4-1 in June … the first five starts of his big league career.
The Dodgers have had a lot of tough-guy pitchers in the past … sturdy throwers who didn’t lose their cool when trouble came. Koufax was like that. Despite his tremendous skills, Sandy sometimes struggled early in games. Maybe he wasn’t comfortable with the mound, or maybe he couldn’t get his curveball over the plate. On those nights, he reduced the game to its basics, and threw his fastball over and over again … and the outs would pile up.
That’s what DJ Houlton did Monday night. He pitched like Koufax … not the Dandy Sandy who dazzled hitters, but the tough guy who worked out of jams and got better as the game went on. It took Koufax six years to learn how to do that. DJ Houlton has been a starter for four weeks.
It’s too early for a statue. But if he goes 4-1 next month …
June 28, 2005
My husband calls him "Stupidesta." What the fans call him can't be broadcast on the air. But this month, I finally had the opportunity to talk to the man who traded away Adrian Beltre and Jose Lima and Paul Lo Duca.
It was a gathering around the pool at the Figueroa Hotel -- a kitschy, fake-moorish bar that was far too cool for a man wearing a suit. DePodesta is polite, quiet, exactly the kind of guy you'd imagine would feel more comfortable behind a keyboard instead of in front of an audience.
He talked about injuries, about a possible trade for another starting pitcher. But I wanted to talk about heart. It may not show up in computer statistics, but no matter what Billy Beane says, heart is a vital part of baseball. Certainly Jose Lima's cheerleading last year was an important part of what got the team into the playoffs. And here's the shock: DePodesta agreed with me. Not about Jose Lima -- he insisted said there are others on the team taking over the leadership role, passing it back and forth like a baton. But De Podesta didn't dismiss the importance of heart when he calculates the value of a player. Exactly how he computes that in his excell program, I don't know. I should have asked. But at least meeting the man face to face made him less of a machine and more of a flawed human being.
Now if he could only find us a pitcher who can stay off the disabled list.
June 24, 2005
Some Numbers to Start
As the Dodgers move into a weekend with Angels followed by three days vs. the Padres, here are some numbers to think about ... :
You know what a quality start is ... : The starter goes at least six innings, and gives up no more than three earned runs. If you compare the Dodgers and the Angels, you'll find that both teams win about two-thirds of their quality starts. But the Angels get a lot more quality starts – 43 so far this season, compared to only 33 for the Dodgers. The Angels are 29-14 when they get a quality start, while the Dodgers are 21-12. That’s an eight-victory difference … and so far this season, the Angels have seven more wins than the Dodgers.
If you compare the Dodgers and the Padres, you'll find something different. Even though San Diego has a reputation for excellent starting pitchers, the Dodgers and Padres actually have gotten about the same number of quality starts this season – 33 to 37.
But San Diego wins a far greater percentage of its quality starts - 76% for the Padres, compared to 64% for the Dodgers. So far this season, that works out to seven extra wins for the Padres … and overall, San Diego overall has five more wins than LA.
Are the numbers swimming in your head? Just remember this … : The Angels are doing better than the Dodgers this season because they’re far more likely to GET a quality start ... while the Padres are doing better than the Dodgers because they’re far more likely to WIN a quality start.
It all comes down to starting pitching … and so far, the numbers for the Dodger starters don’t add up.
June 23, 2005
Dodgers Should Keep Chin Up
This season, Dodger outfielders Repko and Grabowski – the Jasons - have hit a collective .190 with only 20 RBI’s. They have all of 35 hits between them, and 49 strikeouts. Repko hasn’t has an extra-base hit since mid-May. Grabowski hasn’t had two hits in the same game this season. Their failures have been especially damaging to the Dodgers because with Milton Bradley out, one of the hitless Jasons is always in the starting lineup.
While Jason and Jason flail away at big league pitching, Dodger minor leaguer Chin-Feng Chen keeps chipping away at whatever it is that’s kept him a minor leaguer. Chen – the first Taiwanese-born player to make a major league roster – was once thought to be a top prospect.
But he’s now in his seventh pro season, and fourth at AAA Las Vegas. Chen is the all-time home run king in Las Vegas history, but can’t get a call-up … even as the Jasons struggle to hit.
There’s talk that Chen strikes out too much, and that he’s a poor outfielder. But it’s hard to tell if that’s true. The Dodgers have given him only 14 at-bats in the major leagues over the past three seasons.
Until he gets a chance, no one will know for sure if Chin-Feng Chen can hit major league pitching. But right now, it’s pretty clear that the Jasons - Repko and Grabowski – sure can’t.
June 21, 2005
Passing the Mantle
And the numbers are worthy of Mickey. Vladimir Guerrero has a 25-game hitting streak versus the Texas Rangers. In only 25 games. I fully expect Chan Ho Park, Texas' starting pitcher for Tuesday night's game and a man with a bit of a history against the Angels, to buzz Vlad the Great at some point in the game. Then I expect Vlad to step in and launch one onto the rocks. The details of Guerrero versus Texas are as follows: 10 home runs, 20 RBI, 23 runs, .353 average with an OPS over 1.200.
In truth, Guerrero is only carrying on a tradition of sorts. The previous long-time tenant in right field for the Angels, Tim Salmon, also made it a habit to feast on Rangers pitching. In 150 games, Salmon put up these numbers against Texas: 32 home runs, 114 RBI, 116 runs, .348 with an OPS of 1.054. Just in case you were wondering why the Rangers are not pitching around these guys, here are some of Garret Anderson's career marks when facing Texas: 20 home runs, 109 RBI, with a .309 average in 145 games.
And finally, Bartolo Colon has a record of 7-0 versus the Rangers in his first two seasons with the Angels, and he'll be opposing Park on Tuesday evening.
June 20, 2005
On Saturday, as I was stuck in traffic on the 101, I flipped my radio tuner to a non-public radio station for the first time in weeks.
And what do I hear, but the funniest name for the new Angels yet -- the DJ called the team the L Triple A, as in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
I had never neard them referred to as that, and I think its a good little moniker. Heard any other good ones?
June 17, 2005
The Boss' legacy
A few days ago I read in the LA Times that the Yankees will soon begin construction on their new stadium with plans to begin play there at the start of the 2009 season. The price tag of the new stadium will probably be in excess of $800 million dollars, however, it is important to note that it will be financed entirely by the Yankees. While the final cost will eclipse the 1 billion dollar mark, the $205 million put forth by the city of New York will go towards the development of parks, recreation facilities and parking structures in 28 acres surrounding the new stadium and as New York Mayor Bloomberg states "will drive the incredible renaissance in the South Bronx." What a novel idea, a stadium being built entirely with private funding and no threats or excessive demands to the host city. A poll on espn.com listed possible names for the new stadium with one of them being "Yankee Stadium at Steinbrenner Field". While I'm not a fan of the Yankees, I do admire George Steinbrenner and what he has meant to the Yankee organization, it's fans and the city of New York. In this age of corporate owned sports franchises with an eye fixated on the bottom line, Steinbrenner represents a dying breed as that of a private owner with an insatiable desire to win... whatever the cost. That said, it would be a fitting salute to his legacy that the new ballpark's name honor him in some way.
June 16, 2005
A Trip Around The Bases
There's a lot going on around Southern California baseball right now, maybe the most important of which, Nick talks about below.
But Mr. Gagne's injury isn't the only thing of importance, no matter how many starting pitchers the Dodgers trade for now. (And don't think as a sports fan I've forgotten about Phil's return to the Lake show. Seriously, though, it's nice to know I'm not the only one who thinks about the Lakers' new (old?) coach through the prism of the baseball diamond.
The first non-Gagne related news still pertains to the Dodgers. And a former starter -- now Royal -- who singlehandedly energized Dodgers Stadium during last year's playoff series.
Dan's Man Brazoban
With star closer Eric Gagne suffering what could be a season-ending elbow injury, you’ll hear a lot of talk about what sort of player move Dodger “Moneyball” GM Paul DePodesta might make to save the Dodgers’ pennant hopes.
But the move most likely to bring the Dodgers’ another Western Division title isn’t the one DePodesta makes next. It was the one previous GM Dan Evans made back in December of 2003. The Dodgers sent surly pitcher Kevin Brown to the New York Yankees, and got the talented but inconsistent thrower Jeff Weaver in return … plus two young minor league pitchers.
One of those pitchers – Brandon Weeden – is a big righthander who’s struggling with his control in the minor leagues.
The other was Yhency Brazoban, who was brought to the big club to serve as closer Eric Gagne’s set-up man after Darren Dreifort hurt his knee and was lost for the rest of 2004. And now that Gagne is hurt and could be gone for the rest of 2005, Brazoban moves up to closer … a role he handled well in April when Gagne was rehabbing a bad knee.
Brazoban’s talent for throwing a fastball is obvious now, but you have to wonder what Dan Evans saw in him back in 2003. That was Brazoban’s sixth pro season but only his second as a pitcher. He’d been moved from the outfield to the mound in 2002, and still hadn’t made it out of Class A ball. In 2003, he had one hot month as a closer, got moved up to the Yankees’ Class AA team in Trenton … and got hit hard.
There was nothing in Yhency Brazoban’s minor league pitching stats to indicate he was a gem. The strikeout-to-walk ratio was OK, but not fantastic. He gave up about one hit an inning ... nothing impressive. In fact, the most startling stats are the ones that show how batters teed off on Brazoban in Class AA ball.
The “Moneyball” approach to acquiring players puts a premium on statistics. But Dan Evans wasn’t a “Moneyball” guy. He liked prospects, and there was enough in the scouting reports to hint at what the hard-throwing Brazoban MIGHT be someday. Someday, he might be the Dodgers’ closer. Today, he is.
June 14, 2005
The Future is Tonight
Angel rookie righthander Ervin Santana gets his third start of the season tonight in Anaheim against the Nationals. In his last start on May 23rd, Santana was brilliant ... a 4-0 shutout of the Chicago White Sox, the team with the best record in baseball. It was the only time this season the White Sox have been shut out.
Santana might not stay with the big club, no matter how well he pitches. But some day, he'll be part of the Angel rotation. If he's as good as he was last month against the White Sox ... and if John Lackey continues to improve (he's having the best season of his career so far) ... and if newly-signed draft pick Jered Weaver can scrape away the rust of a year-long holdout and move quickly through the minors ... the Angels will have three young aces in their pitching rotation.
It won't be this year, and that's fine. But within two or three seasons, the Angels will have built the foundation for a decade of pennant races ... if Santana, Lackey and Weaver are what they appear to be.
Let me get the details of the game out of the way. That was a shellacking. The Angels dismantled the Montreal Expos, er, Washington Nationals 11-1, and it was never really close. Good-bye, 10-game win streak. Hello, Vladimir Guerrero. I'd swear that on his first hit, where Guerrero got jammed on a pitch up around his throat, he was smiling as fought the pitch off into right field, almost as if to say, "No, I can hit it if you put it there too." Guerrero's second hit was smashed so hard to the outfield that Angels announcer Rory Markus immediately knew that Adam Kennedy would be a dead duck at the plate as he tried to score from second.
June 8, 2005
I did the cross-country baseball stadium drive in 2000, where I got to see the roof retract at SkyDome, watch Mark McGwire hit a home run at Busch Stadium, and pay $9.50 for a Dixie cup of beer at Comerica Park the year it opened.
A Few Thoughts
Uuugggghhhh. It's Interleague time again. Call me a traditionalist, but I believe the only time an American League team should play a National League team is in the World Series. Wow!!! Did you happen to see the hit that Darin Erstad of the Angels put on Johnny Estrada of the Braves the other night at home plate? I know Erstad was a punter for the '94 Nebraska Cornhusker National Championship Team, but that was a hit an NFL defensive back would be proud of. The Braves need to quit griping, the hit was clean and any of their players would have done the same. OK, what's with baseball players suffering the freakiest of injuries? The latest to join the list is Colorado Rockies shortstop Clint Barmes, a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the year, who broke his collarbone while carrying groceries to his apartment. With apologies to my friend Craig, I smile when I see the Yankees 2 games below 500 and 7 games out of first in the AL East. You might want to keep an eye on New York City because Mt. George (Steinbrenner) is going to erupt any day now. Rumor has it that GM Brian Cashman was seen upoading his resume to Monster.com while Manager Joe Torre was seen at a local U-Haul scoring some boxes to help clean out his office.
June 4, 2005
Just when you thought that Duaner Sanchez's playground move would be the strangest play you'd see in the first half of the season-- and I really think he deserves a lifetime supply of mitts from Rawlings or Mizuno for actually hitting the ball when he tossed his glove at it-- well, then comes last night's truly bizarre play wherein Jason Phillips got conked in the noggin by a throw to home plate from 2nd baseman Bill Hall of Milwaukee.
June 3, 2005
Jim Tracy On The Hotseat?
I promised myself that I would start writing about the Angels, or the Padres, or fantasy baseball or something else....
But living 10 minutes from Chavez Ravine, and having attended my eighth Dodger game of the season last night, I think I just am thinking too much blue.
Let's just say it wasn't too exciting watching a 9-5 drubbing by Derrek Lee, the Cubbies, and a rookie pitcher. Still, the team is hurt by injuries and platoons and a bunch of young'uns struggling through slumps. And there was some noise in the Stadium when Saenz went yard.
And so, as those being valid excuses in my eyes, I do not agree with the increasing feeling on the major Dodger blogs that Jim Tracy has got to go.
June 1, 2005
As much of a fan of the game as I am, I have only one autographed baseball and one autographed picture, both by Greg Maddux. I was ecstatic when the Braves signed him in 1993 and I was sad to see him leave the Braves in 2004. So it was bittersweet to turn on the Dodger game on Memorial Day to see "Doggie" standing on the mound in a Cubs uniform. Of course it was a vintage Maddux performance; 6IP, 5H, 2R, 1ER & 3Ks, he kept the hitters off-balance with a fastball that never topped 90-mph, he hit the black on both sides of the plate, and his 3 Ks all came on his changeup. He did commit an error on a throw to first base, however, when this season is complete, odds are he'll receive his 15th Gold Glove Award, which will put him one behind Jim Kaat for Gold Gloves won by a pitcher. I mentioned that it was bittersweet only because I would have liked for him to finish his Hall of Fame career with the only team he won a World Series (1995).