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Friday, February 13, 2004

Thanks, Jay -- Now I've Gotta Respond

Jay Jaffe gives a long look at the DePo Dodgers today, and he asked for comments... well, here they are. Buckle up, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

First off, as I mentioned yesterday, three years ago, Evans was a if not the top candidate to break out and become a GM. Landing in a bad situation does not diminish that. Evans in fact has a better record over his service time than Billy Beane, Supergenius, but he's history, tra la. Sure, McCourt is issuing press releases to the contrary, but unless he's found a crowbar long enough to dislodge Billy Beane, we have a new GM and DePoDodger is his name, oh.

Let's tackle the first point, about Cashman Field:

If any team needs to be hit by the sabermetric 2" x 4", it's the one in Chavez Ravine.

First and perhaps foremost, the Dodgers need to develop a thorough understanding of park effects and the way they distort performance. Dayn Perry of Baseball Prospectus did a thoughtful piece last summer which shed some light on the team's inability to develop hitters:

Well, while I'm more than a little cheesed off at the tenuous grasp of the facts Dayn showed in yesterday's column regarding the Dodgers sale, I'm feeling generous and will admit that while reading the newspaper is not his forté, perhaps sabermetrics is. (Or, perhaps the fact that his byline comes under a Fox Sports mast biases his opinion. It's spelled S-H-I-L-L, Dayn. But enough bitter, wounded anger.) Certainly, he has a valid point about the delta between Dodger Stadium and Cashman Field. I've wondered why the Dodgers continue to use such a hitter-happy park for their AAA club myself for some time, but suspect it has more to do with proximity than concerns about elevation; most of the PCL is at altitude, and that's a fact of life.

But, altitude isn't the only problem afflicting Dodger hitters. Poor pitch selection and weak strike zone knowledge permeate the Dodger minor leagues up and down. Here's some comments from Baseball America about some of the top ten prospects in the Dodger system (!!):

PlayerPosComment
Franklin GutierrezOFHis swing gets long, creating holes, especially up and in. Improving his pitch recognition would help...
Koyie HillCHis walk rate plummeted last year, though his strikeout rate did as well.
Reggie AbercrombieOFAbercrombie’s plate discipline has been downright awful....

These guys are just not doing it right, and these are their top prospects! Once you get to guys like Thurston (more suspect than prospect at this point) and Chen (ditto), the fault with the Dodgers hitting becomes quite obvious: everything all along the path to the majors.

Moving right along to the overall problems with the Dodgers' draft, I see a dangerous conflation of issues here. Granted the Dodgers screwed up their 90's drafts big time, but shall we bag on the A's for a moment? Here's Oakland's first round picks in each year since Beane got the GM job:

YearPlayerYearPlayer
1997Chris Enochs2001John Rheinecker
1997Chris Dubose2002Nick Swisher
1997Nathan Haynes2002Joe Blanton
1997Denny Wagner2002John McCurdy
1998Mark Mulder2002Ben Fritz
1999Barry Zito2002Jeremy Brown
2000no first round pick2002Stephen Obenchain
2001Bobby Crosby2002Mark Teahen
2001Jeremy Bonderman

While it's tempting to say, "haw haw, only one Cy Young award winner in there?", it's pretty clear that (a) the A's had a mess of first-round picks, and (b) of the ones we should know about now (i.e., the classes of 2001 and before), most of them have gone on to do... well, not much so far. Aside from their aces Mulder and Zito, Jeremy Bonderman is with the Tigers, but that's about it. My point is, yeah, the Dodgers have screwed things up since 1990, but during that time Tommy Lasorda and Kevin Malone were GMs. Of them, we may honestly say Tommy is in a great job for him now, and Malone likewise.

And as I mentioned in my postlet trailing Jay's article, the Dodgers might actually benefit -- at least, so far as their area of expertise, pitching, goes -- by staying the course on prep pitchers. If everyone and his brother starts mining the same collegiate veins, the ore only goes so deep. This is why the Dodgers operate a Dominican academy. (It's also why hiring Jackie Robinson and depleting the Negro Leagues of their top talent wasn't just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.) It also stands to reason that great pitchers -- the guys you can stake a #1 slot to without blinking -- may not go through college. College is a stamp and a preview that lets you make more informed bets, but college stats aren't the alpha and omega of player analysis, nor are they absolutely necessary. Atlanta's killer rotations of the 90's, arguably the greatest in history, anchored by Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux, were populated by three guys who didn't attend college. Neither did Pedro Martinez, or last year's World Series ace Josh Beckett.

Jay lambastes the Dodgers paying Adrian "Mr. Potential" Beltre $5 million, but even notorious LA Times Dodger critic T.J. Simers chided the team for not signing Beltre to more years. The fact that the Yanks are interested in him (or are reported to be so) tells you everything you need to know about the across-the-board shortage of third basemen driving this transaction. You will notice third base is one area Oakland has spent relatively freely. Eric Chavez will earn -- and I do emphasize that verb, here -- $5.2 million this year. Beltre, because of the position he plays, does not qualify as "replaceable talent". Who would you have had the Dodgers get for the hot corner, Jay, even if they weren't handcuffed?

I don't know whether DePodesta will make a good GM. Maybe he's got the brains to do the job, but what about the negotiating? What about the sweet-talking? Will creepos like Bowden insist on having a totem like Tommy Lasorda in the room? And will T.J. Simers make fun of his wardrobe? I'm sure half those things, at least, won't matter much once he gets under way. 2004 is lost. Dodger fans watching the offseason know that. Ironically, it may come to pass that Fox and McCourt collectively may destroy the reputations of two good men for no good reason. Evans we know about. But DePodesta has nothing to trade for a big bat -- unless he means to uncork the farm. And even then, there's little available elsewhere to trade for. Under the gun to save the unsaveable, DePodesta might take a bullet for McCourt.


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