Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Back to Winning...but Mattingly's Tendencies Remain the Same

As many predicted doom and gloom following the three game sweep in San Francisco, we are seeing that the globe is back securely on it's axis and normalcy returns.

(photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Frisco sweep in the grand scheme of things probably means nothing.  The Dodgers departed the Bay Area and proceeded to win again and hit again.  The Giants left and immediately lost to Colorado.  In September we probably won't even remember the April Frisco fiasco, except for the tendencies of our stubborn manager that doesn't believe in playing the hottest hitter in the game, until he inevitably cools off or the league figures out some of his weaknesses.  I truly believe that had Alex Guerrero started (AND FINISHED!) all three games, the Dodgers probably sweep the Giants.

Alex Guerrero is absolutely raking, but he continues to sit.  I've got to hand it to the guy.  He handles his benching with class and dignity.  He repeatedly continues to make a fool out of his manager by coming up big with the bat when given a chance.  I think we're all a bit bothered by the fact that he sits while Uribe and Rollins continue going out there and laying an egg.  That stick of Guerrero's would fit in nicely with the rest of the Dodger offense.  Heck, I'd even venture to test him out a shortstop too as Rollins' production deteriorates, probably due to the effects of playing baseball at age 36.

But Mattingly has this stubborn belief that he needs to show loyalty to veteran players that aren't performing.  He's refusing to ride the hot hand, while it is scalding hot.  That's a true shame too, because hot hitting spells usually don't stay with players for long periods of time.  The fact that Mattingly doesn't want to offend a veteran player speaks rather loudly...the guy fears his own players.  Rather than communicate with them (said to be his strong point), he keeps trotting the same faltering players out there day after day while the second coming of Rogers Hornsby sits.  What would have happened had Miller Huggins insisted on starting Wally Pipp over Gehrig, simply because he was a veteran?

So that's essentially my Mattingly rant for the day, but I guarantee you there will be many more as long as Freidman and Zaidi continue to put up with a manager that simply is set in his Torre-esque ways.

He'll continue:

  • Burning up his bullpen for one out at a time, pigeon-holing certain relievers into roles that they probably shouldn't be in.
  • Double-switching and taking out offensive threats in his lineup  (like Guerrero) in exchange for perceived defensive upgrades or to move the pitchers spot in the batting order.
  • Giving up outs with the call for the asinine sacrifice bunt, even with hot hitters at the plate.
  • Putting out a batting order with a .180 hitting Jimmy Rollins on top at lead off.


AP Photo

If you're a sabermetrician, it is easy to see that Mattingly hasn't changed his ways and he never will.  (The only exception to that are the defensive shifts the team has put in place that have saved the clubs a number of runs in this early season).  The Mattingly tendencies otherwise continue as always and I wonder if Zaidi and Freidman's patience is running thin.  This team would already have 3 more additional wins in this young season had Mattingly not been at the helm.  First place or not, Donnie needs to go.  Some may see that stance as paranoid, but the one missing ingredient of this team is a manager that will make decisions that maximize this ball clubs strengths.

You've got a guy like Paco Rodriguez that can get everyone out, but Mattingly uses him as a loogy.  Then you have a rookie centerfielder that has a history in the minors of leading off and nows how to work a walk, with an OBP hovering around .400, but our manager insists on putting him in the 8th spot of the lineup while a .250 OBP leads off, getting the most plate appearances on the team.

I could go on and on.  Here's the thing though.  Eventually this managerial weakness problem will really  be exposed, and we already saw it in post season play last year.  Are we really going to put up with that, have a winning season, only to falter in the playoffs when those vital decisions are magnified ten-fold?

I'll say it.  Pull the plug now and make a managerial change.  And while they're doing it, Andre Ether is red hot, time to trade him while he has value.  Yes, I know Puig is hurt, there there's a glut of outfielders that can fill in: Van Slyke, Schebler, Guerrero, Kike Hernandez to name a few.

Rant over...for now anyway.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Newest Name in Dodger/Giant Lore

In one night, Justin Maxwell, San Francisco's newest right fielder, has become one of those Giant players that have came out of no-where to kill the Dodgers.


Justin Maxwell scores during 4th inning action in last night's 6-2 Giant win at AT&T Park. (photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)



Obviously I could name such players as Mays, McCovey, and Barry Bonds as perennial Dodger killers, but those names are too obvious.  They were superstars and hall of fame caliber, (no matter how much you argue against Bonds, his talent was hall of fame caliber).  But those aren't the guys I'm thinking about when Justin Maxwell's performance is mentioned.

I think of a young Bobby Bonds who hit a grand slam as a rookie to destroy the Dodgers in 1968.  Or Brian Johnson, who homered in '97 in a late September series that tied the Giants in the division race with the Dodgers, one ultimately won by San Francisco.  Maxwell is a nobody.  A wandering baseball nomad who changes uniforms each year in search of employment.

Add his name to the list that includes such players as the aformentioned Johnson, and Bonds the first.  Then there are others such as Jimmy Ray Hart, Larry Herndon, Randy Winn, Rich Aurelia, and Will Clark.  Some killed them in clutch moments.  Others did it all the time and had respectable careers to boot.  They were Dodger killers over time, (e.g. Will Clark, Hart, Jack Clark).

Now there's Justin Maxwell.  I had no idea who this guy was, and maybe I should have, because he has toiled in the majors off and on since 2007.  A former top prospect in the Nationals organization, Maxwell has had an injury ridden career that kept him from achieving the lofty status so many predicted of him after his 4th round selection by the Nats in 2005.

Tommy John surgery, hip surgery, and a series of concussions have sidelined Maxwell over the years.  He showed signs of potential, (18 homers in Houston in 2012), but he has never reached that pinnacle that many expected of him.  Ironically, it is an injury to Hunter Pence that may finally give him his chance.

Maxwell's amazing catch, rally starting triple and late inning clutch homer caught our attention last might.  Was it a fluke? Yeah, probably, but for some reason I'm thinking that Giant fans will revere the guy for a long time.  He did, after all, crush the Dodgers.

Long live he rivalry. 


Friday, April 17, 2015

Nine Games In and 2015 is already Showing Some Changing Trends

With the season a mere week and a half old, it would be ridiculous to believe certain events will continue for the remaining 152 games or so.  But I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge a few interesting trends in the National League that could hold up.  Here are some observations from afar.

1) The San Francisco Giants (3-8)
Their offense is deplorable.  Yes, others are even performing worse, but these are the defending World Series champions.  When Gregor Blanco is batting fifth in your lineup, that's a team some serious offensive shortcomings.  They are battling injuries (Pence, Cain, Belt)  but even the most faithful Giant fan has to be concerned about their 7 games losing streak and winless home record.  Is this a team that will rebound?  There was a time in 2014 when we all thought they were lifeless and doomed (remember the Dan Uggla series?), how wrong we were.  It would be foolish to count them out, but Bruce Bochy has to be a bit concerned with their 3-8 start.

2) The Washington Nationals (4-6)
This is a good team playing very sloppy baseball.  I expect them to turn things around and win their division going away, but Harper, Zimmerman and Desmond are batting .237, .162 and .211.  Then you have Dan Uggla (.130)  logging in significant time at second base.  Add to that they aren't catching the ball with 11 errors committed including a few costly game deciding mental errors and it makes you wonder.  Nah, too much pitching and too many good players.  They'll overcome the problems.

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado makes a spectacular catch before diving into the stands against the Giants on Tuesday night. (photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
3) The Colorado Rockies (7-2)
Everyone's predicted cellar dwellers are sitting atop of the west, having beaten up on the Brewers, Cubs and Giants.  Is this a result of easy scheduling at the beginning of the season or are the Rocks really this good?  Time will tell as they are about to meet their match with Kershaw and Greinke the next two games.  I think the truth is that a lot of people overlooked this team in the off-season, and they probably end up at around .500, which is a significant improvement for a team that won just 66 games in 2014.  Any team with a healthy Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzski in the lineup needs to be reckoned with.  To many people's surprise  over their first 82 innings of play, the Rockies pitching staff is posting a 2.41 ERA, trailing only St. Louis for the National League lead.

4) The New York Mets (7-3)
A pitching staff with Jacob DeGrom and a healthy Matt Harvey at the top of the rotation is fairly formidable.  Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon aren't slouches either.  Suddenly you look at a Mets team that can compete if those four horses stay healthy.  New York's bullpen has a lot of question marks and offensively there are players that haven't arrived yet, (i.e. Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares), but if they get some decent offensive output that puts them in the middle of the pack in the N.L. offensively, the Mets just might surprise some people.

5) The Los Angeles Dodgers (6-3)
Even skeptical me is liking things as they stand right now.  This team was built to get on base.  With an OBP of .357, they dominate the league with the second best team in base percentage (Colorado) a full 26 points behind the Dodgers.  Clayton Kershaw hasn't even pitched well yet.  Hyun-Jin Ryu hasn't faced a batter and Yasiel Puig has slumped, yet to make significant impact.  Still the Dodgers keep winning, just coming off a 3 game sweep of a very good Seattle Mariners team.  With four comeback wins, and some after the 8th inning, the Dodgers in week one have surpassed their late inning comeback totals from last season's division winning club.  

I predicted a .500 Dodger club due to the starting pitching question marks, but I'm slowly beginning to realize that this club's offense will overcome those issues.  Friedman and Zaidi have constructed a ball club that gets on base and has a strong defensive foundation up the middle.  Though they have committed 9 errors in 9 games, some stellar defensive play has saved this team some games.  Rollins, Kendrick, Pederson, Gonzalez and Puig have all flashed outstanding leather a times.   Watch for the defense to improve and the Dodgers to be recognized as one of the best fielding teams in the league by mid-season.

Yimi Garcia has 10 strikeouts in his first 6 IP this young season.  (AP photo)
One last thing.  The bullpen may have arrived.  Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, Paco Rodriguez, Joel Peralta, and Juan Nicasio have all stepped it up.  Hatcher and Howell have had their struggles, but have also shined at times too.  When Kenley Jansen returns to the fold, we will look at this Dodger bullpen with confidence.  Now if only we could get Mattingly to manage the bullpen with some intelligence and stop relying on these pigeon-holed roles that had has deeply engrained in his mind. You can't take the Torre trained managerial tendencies out of him easily.  Dodger fans will have to live with Donnie and his decision making, that is sure to cost the club a half a dozen games this year.

Did anyone notice in the comeback win the other night, how Mattingly had Rollins bunting against Fernando Rodney?  The same Rodney that Rollins had pounded in the past with a 1.000 batting average.  Thank goodness he failed on the bunt attempt because JRoll's gapper would have never happened had he executed the sacrifice.  These are the maddening managerial decisions that Dodger fans will have to put up with until Friedman and Zaidi have seen enough and decide to give Mattingly the axe.  A nice guy...but a very questionable strategic manager.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Starting Pitching Questions Marks Linger as Season Begins

I'm back stateside just in time for the home opener, and after a lackluster three game set against the Angels, it's finally time.  So with that said I'll just say that I think this might be the most uneasy I've been regarding the upcoming Dodger season for many years.

That uncertainty comes from:

Injuries in the starting rotation

Greinke isn't ready and his barking elbow is the cause.  The Dodger brass, commonly known to me as the lying medical staff, misled us again and said that his lubricating injection was not a big deal, but it was.  Five weeks later he's still not ready and now it's time to be ready.  Is the elbow issue a harbinger of things to come?

Ryu's shoulder issues last season should have warned us.  He was shut down twice last year.  Now a few weeks into spring, it's the same thing over again.  If Ryu pitches 100 innings, it will probably be a surprise.  I hope he makes a liar out of me, but that's the way I see it.

(Photos by Jon SooHoo/L.A. Dodgers)

And speaking of small work loads, Brett Anderson hasn't ever been able to provide a season's worth of starting pitcher innings.  Well at least not since his rookie year in 2009 (175 innings).  His left arm has sustained innings pitched workloads of 112, 83, 35, 44 and 43 in the following five seasons.  Now he's the number 4 or 5 guy, (depending on how you rank Brandon McCarthy and him).  After last night's game against Anaheim, confidence isn't a strong point.  It was one game, but the Angels were fooled by nothing as they were spanking the ball all over the place from the get-go.  He lacked command and they were hitting balls hard up in the zone.

McCarthy suddenly has become the number two guy on the staff, and that's a scary thought. He has lacked consistency and his spring training has not been anything impressive.  Yes, it's only spring training and let's just hope that he was working on stuff for the most part, as he did nothing to spark the confidence of the Dodger following faithful.

Look for significant starting pitcher innings this year out of Joe Weiland, Zach Lee, David Huff, Carlos Frias, and maybe even Juan Nicasio.  I just don't see the Dodger starting five as having enough  gas in the tank to make it through September.

So as we embark on following our guys for 162 games, I am hoping my concerns are those of an uninformed fan that really doesn't know things that are going on inside the organization.  I have watched from afar.  I missed spring training in person and for the most part I was out of the country and far removed from the team.  My observations are based strictly on MLB.com video streams and the occasional game I had time to see.  I see a lot of bloggers speaking very positively about this group, and there are many of them including: defense, young up and coming kids, Rollins/Kendrick DP combo, a catcher with power to name a few.

Prove me wrong Dodgers.  Please prove me wrong because right now I see an 81-81 team with struggling starting pitching.  Don't fret though.  I usually allow my emotional ties to the club to pick them to win it all, and look where that has got us over the last 26 seasons.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Come on Charlie, Do a Little Homework for your Broadcasts

I'm not sure how this post will come out as I'm pounding it out on my cellphone from Reagan National Airport in Washington DC.  Here's my rant.

I watched Steiner and Monday broadcast the Dodger/Rockie game yesterday.  It was a 6-4 Colorado win in a split squad contest played by many Dodger minor leaguers.  These are the games I love because it gives us a chance to watch some guys that play on the back lots at CBR and don't get into games.  There are some interesting prospects and tons of stories to tell about them.  That is if you have a broadcast team that does their homework or a little bit of research on the farm system of the TEAM THAT THEY COVER!

Case in point.  Adam Law made his Dodger big club debut yesterday.  Grandson of former  Pirate Cy Young winner Vernon "Deacon" Law, and son of former White Sox Vance Law.  Don't you think that information could be passed along?  Or what about the interesting tidbit this Law's grandpa who is in his mid-80s still throws him batting practice in the off season, still sporting a nasty curve according to critics.

Come on Charlie and Rick.   There are hundreds of stories like that to make your broadcast interesting.

Rant over.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Back in Action...At Least Temporarily

After an 8 week sabbatical in Central America on work assignment in El Salvador and Guatemala, I find myself back stateside so disconnected from Dodger baseball...probably more than I ever have been since beginning this love affair with the team in blue back in he 60's.

With that said, there isn't much noteworthy that I can say other than a big "thank you" to the likes of Ron Cervenka and Harold Uhlman at ThinkBlueLA.com and Mark Timmons at LADodgertalk.com, two sites that I find to be "must reads."  Yes there are other sites and they are fantastic, but for some reason I tend to gravitate towards those two more than any other.

Speaking to graduating students at ILEA, San Salvador
On a personal side, my assignment at the International Law Enforcement Academy in San Salvador proved to be one of the most rewarding of my career.  One that is winding down towards retirement.  Amongst the 40 students I had in my class were 9 from the Dominican Republic and another 6 from Mexico.  it's safe to say that we had a LOT of conversations about baseball.  The Dominicans are so passionate about the game.  The Mexicans, favorites of mine because their hearts are with the Dodgers due to the Valenzuela influence of over 30 years ago, and the AGON/Urias connection today.
Visiting Mayan ruins in El Salvador with colleagues from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

Back to Dodger baseball

Such a series of dilemmas the team brass faces in roster decisions.

Absent of a deal or two, there's going to be some unhappy campers.  Darwin Barney, Alex Guerrero and Andre Ether, all in flux.   Dare I say Carl Crawford and Brandon League too? There are few that don't believe that Schebler and Van Slyke would serve well as a LF platoon.  

The bullpen?  It's wide open.  Paco, Aardsma, Bedard, Gaudin, Weiland, Bollinger, Yimi Garcia, Hatcher, Liberatore, Coulombe,  Huff, Baez, Tsao, Zach Lee, and Santos have all performed well so far.  Then there are the likes of Peralta, Nicosia, Howell, Guadin, and Mike Adams.  What it comes down to is there are a few guys that will be very unhappy when roster cuts are made and the competition for the final spots are gaining to be fierce.
Alexander Guerrero, regardless of what his contract says, he has earned a spot on the 25-man roster (photo by Gary A. Vazquez/USA Today Sports)

And those kids, what a spectacle!  Seager, Pederson and Sweeney.  Jensen, Dickson and Schebler.  The kids can all hit and are close if not already Major League ready.  We're going to have an exciting couple of years as the transition takes place.  It may be safe to says that the years of transition will not be "down years."  There's enough vets to stabilize the franchise while the kids learn their way to the highest level.

If you haven't noticed, Andre Ethier is beginning to hit.  That's a good thing because maybe, just maybe there will be a taker out there that is in need of outfield help.

Anyway, that's my return to blogging...but don't count on the daily article again.  As I write these words, I'm packing my bags for Queretaro, Mexico where I'll be teaching a class for a week.  No rest for the weary.  I'll be rocking the ball cap with the interlocking LA though.  Gotta represent...worldwide.  I should be back a few days before opening day.

Be safe everybody.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sabermetrics and Mattingly - "Buy In" Will Require Drastic Changes on His Part

As the 2015 MLB season is on the cusp of beginning, this Dodger 40-man roster has had a 40% turnover.   That's significant and I think it's safe to say that had Ned Colleti remained in charge, the likes of Kemp, Wilson, Federowicz, Butera, Gordon, Wright and others might still be around.

As two time defending division champions, the turnover in Los Angeles may seem by many to be an over-reaction.  It certainly is unprecedented, but with the Giants as reigning World Series Champions again, it's tough for the Dodgers to even view 2014 as a success.  The mind set in the front office is changing.  It's a "WS of bust" mentality.


All indications seem to aim towards Don Mattingly buying in to the new management's vision with a heavy emphasis in sabermetrics.    He certainly has said all the right things about the off-season changes.  The true question that needs to be asked  is: will his management style buy into that vision?  Mattingly has managed in old school style, straight out of the Joe Torre handbook.  His usage of the sacrifice bunt was about as asinine as that of any manager in the game.  More than once he took the bat out of his best hitter's hands only to leave a weak hitting player such as Andre Ether or worse yet, Drew Butera, to try to get  a key hit with two outs.

On several occasions he'd use up two players in double switches in inopportune times, or he'd burn up three pitchers in his bullpen to get three outs in the seventh or eighth inning.  It's fairly safe to say that Mattingly's bullpen management was not helpful to his lackluster middle relief and as a result, his decisions in that area cost the Dodgers in the NLDS.  

It's also quite clear that his decision to bench Yasiel Puig in the NLDS and utilize him up as a pinch runner (and not as a hitter) in their final loss was about as controversial a move as could be made.

It is this writer's opinion that Mattingly must change his style and make managerial adjustments in step with sabermetric analysis, or he's toast.  Gone needs to be the bunting.  Outs need to be valued at all costs. Mattingly has relied on the bunt all too often without looking at the game beyond one or two batters in his lineup.  Additionally, he needs a bench coach that is able to point out those particular facts to him and be influential enough to put a stop to it.  I haven't a clue if Wallach is doing this but all signs seem to point that is is not happening.

Mattingly's decisions in high pressure post season games have left a lot to be desired.  It has led many Dodger fans to wonder if he can't handle the high pressure situations.  Let this serve as a few painful reminders:

His failure to recognize that Kershaw was spent after six innings in game one and game four of the NLDS cost the Dodgers the series.  And it wasn't as if those moves (or lack of them) were unprecedented.  The same can be said for 2013 too as Kershaw coughed up an eight inning lead against Atlanta (in a game eventually won by Juan Uribe---who succeeded because he homered after failing to execute Mattingly's call for a BUNT!).  Even when the Cards had obviously figured out each Kershaw pitch that was coming in game one of the 2014 NLDS (7th inning), Mattingly left him out there to die.

Mattingly failed to think outside of the box, with his tunnel vision showing him that in his mind his only option was that uncomfortable middle relief corps.  I think it's safe to say that he never even considered stuffing out the rally with his closer, i.e. Jansen.  It's fairly obvious that Mattingly's mistrust of his middle relief forced his hand to leave his ace out on the mound to die.  

My apologies for diverting from the original points being made in this piece, (which are that Mattingly needs to adjust his managing style and decisions to analytics or perish), but it's tough to not start venting when thinking of the terrible on field decisions that were made the past two Dodger post seasons.

The Freidman/Zaidi team has removed some decisions from Mattingly by putting a vastly improved defensive team in his hands,  The losses of Kemp and Hanley Ramirez will be felt, but It can be argued that offensively the ballclub may be improved as well as the on base percentage will up-tick in the positive direction.  The new F/Z administrative team has agreed to give Donnie Ballgame a shot, but behind the scenes, one has to wonder if lengthy discussions have occurred discussing what in game strategy is acceptable and what is not.  It'll be interesting if Mattingly will adjust and has bought in to the changes.

The saying is "a leopard doesn't change his spots."  Hopefully Mattingly is able to prove that wrong.  For his sake, he better be willing to do so.  Based on this administration's willingness to cut bait with players they view as unproductive, regardless of how much money they are owed, I wouldn't doubt them doing the same with Mattingly if there isn't a meeting of the minds on baseball philosophy early on this year.  If that doesn't happen it would be no shock to see Mattingly packing his bags and returning home to Evansville, IN before the 2015 season is over.