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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

MSTI On The Simers Vs. Colletti Cage Death Match

A number of years ago, I was out walking our dogs when I encountered a scruffy, bad-tempered little cur of a dog that I tried to befriend. He was wandering in front of the school behind our house when I found him, his white fur all filthy and one big mat; around his neck was a choke chain, with no identifying tag at all. Covered in fleas, we took him to the vet to get cleaned up. Eventually my parents ill-advisedly decided to adopt him. He rewarded them by snarling at them constantly, at times snapping at them even when offered food. His disposition has subsequently improved, they keep assuring me, but I know better; he's still a mean sumbitch.

I think of that dog when I imagine what Ned Colletti has to go through every time Times columnist T.J. Simers enters his office, but that doesn't mean that Simers is necessarily wrong; it's just that he's so wrong, so much of the time. (Hey, T.J., remember "Google Boy"? Jeez.) Anyway, I highly commend to you the horribly torn officiating job that Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness does on today's Simers column, presenting it as a heavyweight smackdown. It's more like a cage match between two small, annoying, yappy dogs, but what's a metaphor among friends?

As for my own metaphors, Colletti's tenure reminds me of Samuel Johnson's quote about an inferior writer: "That which is good is not original, and that which is original is not good." So with the Dodgers: his free agent signings have all but uniformly ended up on the DL, or have been underwhelming to bad, the sole exception to the latter being Rafael Furcal (and he on the DL at present).

Update: From today's DT comments, by Eric Enders:

The following is long and rambling and may not have much of a point.

One thing about the Simers column is that it aptly illustrates the two main problems with the Colletti-era Dodgers.

  1. They refuse to acknowledge -- and often refuse to repair -- even the most obvious mistakes.
    "You're looking in hindsight, so your vision is perfect," says Colletti, who apparently works with blinders on, the only logical explanation for some of these deals. "Who has come back to haunt us?"

    A better question, I said, "is who did you acquire who really improved the team?"

    "Ethier helped us," he says. "Maddux helped us, Lugo gave us some support, Anderson certainly helped us in September of '06, and Hendrickson pitched. You do have to have players who pitch and play in the games."

    First of all, when you're asked what good deals you've made and the third one that comes to mind is Julio Lugo, that's bad. What's worse is that Colletti insists that the trade helped the team. This is a guy who was allowed to bat 164 times and posted a 41 OPS+. This is a guy whose acquisition was an unmitigated disaster.

    This is a guy who was almost completely redundant in terms of the Dodgers' needs: He started two games at his natural position of shortstop, 13 at his secondary position of second base, and every other game he played was at a position where he was in over his head offense-wise (3B, LF, RF).

    Even allowing for the fact that Colletti was being harassed by a buffoon of a columnist, the fact that he could make such a quote is pretty damning of his qualifications to be a general manager. It indicates that either (1) He is clueless beyond the pale where player evaluation is concerned, or (2) He resolutely refuses to acknowledge even the most egregious and obvious mistakes.

    You could say that he's trying to avoid becoming a Ricciardi, trying to avoid running down a player in public. But he's the one who brought up the subject of Lugo. He could have simply said nothing. He has no reason to want to placate Lugo. This is not a player who's under contract to the Dodgers, or who conceivably could be in the future. This is a guy who is in the process of playing his way out of the majors, and whose defining moment in the major leagues was the time he smashed his wife's head into the hood of her car. The point is, there's no reason for Colletti to avoid the truth just to spare Lugo's feelings.

    One could reasonably argue that the Lugo trade benefited the Dodgers not because of Lugo himself, but because of the draft picks they reaped when he departed. I myself would make this argument, actually. But Colletti specifically avoids this interpretation, and given the indifference he's shown toward the draft with both the Dodgers and Giants, it's not plausible that Withrow and Adkins were the reasons he made the trade, or the reasons he thinks it's successful.

    On to the next problem raised by the Simers column....

  2. The Dodgers' player evaluation is so incompetent that they have shown a near-complete inability to distinguish the players who help them win from those who don't.

    If you give the Dodgers a choice between two baseball players, a good one and a bad one, there's at least a 50/50 chance they'll pick the bad one.

    Moreover, the things management says publicly are often provably false, even comically false. The main failing of the Dodgers' beat writers, who I think generally do a good job, is their complete refusal to question the hokum the Dodgers spew forth. Even when the Dodgers say something about player performance that's provably false, the writers will unquestioningly regurgitate it as fact. Perhaps this is because they are in awe of Torre, or afraid of incurring his wrath. But then again, it was the same way under Grady Little.

    "Torre says he likes the approach Juan Pierre and Jeff Kent take, and Russell Martin does well at times, but the rest of the Dodgers' lineup is too impatient and swings at too many bad pitches."

    Perhaps Torre is engaging in motivational psychology here that's specifically directed toward Matt Kemp, in which case you can ignore the following. But if we take the statement at face value, it's hard to believe a person who's been around baseball for 50 years could actually believe it's true. Perhaps it's simply a case of being too close to the situation -- not being able to see the forest for the trees.

    Here are the players on the current roster, ranked by pitches per plate appearance (50 or more ABs):

    1. Andre Ethier
    2. Russell Martin
    3. Delwyn Young
    4. James Loney
    5. Blake DeWitt
    6. Mark Sweeney
    7. Juan Pierre
    8. Matt Kemp
    9. Jeff Kent

    So the five most disciplined hitters on the team are young players. Moreover, the guys whose approach Torre goes out of his way to praise are two of the worst three hitters on the team in terms of plate discipline. Torre's comment, with all due respect to his experience, is completely, laughably false. It shows either (a) a complete disregard for whether the things he says are actually true, or (b) a fundamental inability to analyze the game of baseball. Neither option reflects well on him.

    This inability to accurately evaluate players is the main thing that's plagued the Dodgers under Torre. I'm not saying this would be a great team if Torre had deployed his players in a manner that made sense. But it would be somewhat better, and I think it's reasonable of fans to expect the team to field the best lineup at its disposal.

    Instead, Torre seems to have picked his favorites and not wavered from those favorites, even when the player is a washed-up relic hitting .100.

    We're less than halfway through the season, but Torre and Colletti have already, at various points during the year, made the following misallocations of playing time:

    • Sweeney over Young
    • Proctor over Kuo
    • Proctor over Wade
    • Loaiza over Kuo
    • Pierre over Kemp
    • Pierre over Ethier
    • Pierre over Young
    • Bennett over LaRoche
    • Maza over Hu
    • Maza over Young/DeWitt
    • Tiffee over LaRoche
    • Garciaparra over LaRoche
    • Garciaparra over DeWitt
    It's hard to win when you don't know who your best players are.


Thanks for the linkage, Rob. You're right, though - these two are featherweights at best.

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