Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Changes in the Game: Starting Pitching, A Change in Philosophy (Part One)

The next series of blog pieces will deal with notable changes in the game, particularly with the handling of pitchers.  Baseball isn't what it was three years ago and as players salaries rise and injuries are on the upswing as well, primarily to pitchers.  As this occurs we are seeing a change in philosophy with regard to their use and the protection of the pitching assets that teams possess.

If trends continue as they are, 2018 will be the first year that a Dodger pitcher will fail to tally a complete game.  Is this a result of bad performance?  Not likely. It is mainly a combination of several factors. 

1) Organizations are coddling arms, meaning that there is so much money spent on high level pitchers, they are to be protected.  Walker Buehler never sniffed a nine inning start in the minors.  In fact, his longest outing was 5 1/3 innings.  That my folks is protecting your assets.  Which is why when Buehler had a no hitter through six against the Padres back in May, there was nary a word said when he was removed in the 7th inning.

2) Managers such as Dave Roberts will not allow his starters to make it to the ninth inning, save that their pitch count is extraordinarily low.  By extraordinarily low, we are talking about less than 90 pitches, an extremely rare feat through eight innings of work.  Even with an established starter such as future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, Roberts will lift him out of concern for their overall health, very often in the 5th and 6th innings.  As a result, team hitting strategies are to remain  patient against top tier starters.  It is imperative to get their pitch count up to remove them from the game.

3) The latest trend in managerial strategy is to remove a pitcher before he faces a hitter for the third time.  The metrics show that player batting averages rise significantly the third time around.  This makes perfect sense.  A pitcher is tiring, a batter has had a couple of looks and notices patterns and recognizes pitches.  Now with bolstered bullpens, it is perfectly logical that teams will opt to throw a fresh arm out in the 5th inning to keep the opposition off balance.

4) Bullpens are deeper and roles of bullpen arms are more defined.   You've got your long guy, your sixth inning guy, 7th inning guy, 8th inning guy, closer, lefty on lefty guy, ground ball specialist, etc, etc... With these defined roles and relievers that can air it out because they are only facing three or four hitters, it is becoming less advantageous to allow a tiring starter to pitch deep into games when teams have stronger options out there.
"A quality start is shaking hands with the catcher at the end."  - Sandy Koufax

5) As time goes on, even the most experienced starters are accustomed to only pitching 7 innings at most.  Reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer only has one complete game, and that leads the league.  Clayton Kershaw, especially with his recent back problems, now is often out of gas by the 6th inning.  Stamina hasn't been built up on many starters, and the past mentality of finishing what you start is for players from a by-gone era.  This is shown in the numbers.

Last year there were 59 complete games in the major leagues. In 1979, the Milwaukee Brewers alone  had 61 complete games on the season.  Just to give you an idea how things have changed, six years earlier in 2011, the total of major league complete games pitched was 173.  That 2017 total is a decrease of almost 200%.   Last season the most CGs a team had was seven (7) by the Cleveland Indians.  Compare that to any Dodger team in the 70s.  See below:

Dodger team complete games:
1979 - 30
1978 - 46
1977 - 34
1976 - 47
1975 -51

Compare those numbers to more recent Dodger team totals:
2016 - 3
2017 - 2
2018 - 0 (so far)

With all these changes, a decrease in complete games pitched does not equate to poor performance on the field.  To the contrary, the Dodgers won an LA franchise record 104 games last year in the season with a team record number of pitchers used (26) and least amount of complete games (2).  Barring a miraculous finish, we won't see a repeat of 104 wins this year, but it still looks to be a Division winning ball club, despite the fact that their starting pitching metrics have changed to mirror those of the modern game.

What to look for in the upcoming blog pieces:

  • Radar gun infatuation and their ramifications
  • The end of the 200 IP pitcher
  • Decreases in spending for starting pitching
  • More position players will be taking the mound ( and the record number of them this season)
  • The inevitable change in the National League: The introduction of the designated hitter

Manny Machado smacked his first home run as a Dodger on July 26, 2018. (AP Photo)

The road trip from hell is almost over.  Through nine games, the Dodgers are 6-3 and remain in first place.  A trip that possibly could define this 2018 Dodger team.  This is a resilient group.   Alex Wood has been returning to the 2017 version we saw.  Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw are coming to form.  Their early season injuries may have been a blessing in disguise because those starting pitchers don't nearly have the wear and tare that they would normally have as August approaches.

The tough road isn't done yet with one remaining with the Braves in Atlanta and then a difficult home stand vs. Milwaukee and Houston.   Then they're back on the road against the two hottest teams in baseball, the Oakland A's and Colorado Rockies.  Watch for another key trade deadline deal as the Dodgers front office tries to pull the trigger on a deal to get them that one additional win in the post season.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

In Defense of Logan Forsythe

I have to be honest and say that the outline of this piece was written before Logan Forsythe's three hit game today.  The timing of Forsythe's best offensive game this season was appropriate, though it's not as if one day's performance that included a hit off a position player would change anyone's opinion on him.

Uniformly there seems to be one topic of discussion that Dodger fans have agreed upon and that is that Logan Forsythe has to go.  His offensive output has been pretty much that, offensive.  Social media, specifically twitter, Dodger message boards and blogs, have blasted him for at least two months now.  Trade deadline rumors have thrown him into virtually every deal imaginable, as if he was a caveat to any trade in which the Dodgers potentially gave up valuable prospects.  ("If we give you prospect A, B and C, you'll have to take Forsythe and his contract along with it." -Those types of deals).

(getty Images

So I'll be the voice of contrary opinion and say that Logan Forsythe can be a valuable member of this ball club.  Not only as a defensive rock in a Dodger infield that has its flaws, but as a veteran influence that will deliver and be a valuable piece in this post season run.

Dave Roberts plugs him into the lineup almost everyday and unnoticed by the masses is that Forsythe makes both the routine and difficult defensive plays day after day.  Defensive metrics tell the baseball world he has regressed this year with the glove.  I don't see it.   Metrics told us that Machado was a statue at shortstop, and then we saw unbelievable defense today.  

If there are flaws with sabermetric stats, it's on the defensive end of the spectrum.  My eyes see a hard hit ball in Forsythe's direction, and usually he comes up big.  Can the same be said about infield play by Muncy, Taylor and Hernandez?  Let's put it this way.  If a spectacular play needs to be made, which Dodger player do you want the ball hit to?  I'd put my money on Forsythe over just about any Dodger player outside of Bellinger.

Defensive metrics list his dWAR at 0.1, a significant regression over his career high dWAR in 2017 that was 1.2.  This statistical fall off is caused primarily by inconsistent play and 4 errors committed at third base.  As the season progresses and his innings in the field increase, these numbers are bound to improve.  

I'm not of the position that it is time to let the club's best defensive infielder loose.  There is a value to a steady glove down the stretch.  There have been players on championship clubs in in the past that served a purpose with steady defensive play, even if they brought little to the team with the bat.  Cesar Geronimo with the Big Red machine in the 70s Reds, (two championships and four pennants).  Mark Belanger served as a defensive strength around his teammates in Baltimore from the late 60s into the 80s.  (one Championship, four pennants).  Even the Dodgers of the 70s-80s rode out a long stretch with one dimensional Steve Yeager behind the plate.  He was hardly a threat with the bat, but arguably the best defensive catcher in the game during his prime.

With regard to Forsythe's offensive production.  He has struggled more than any season he has experienced thus far.  He has had reduced playing time, which is undoubtedly a factor.  His OBP has decreased due to his failure to keep up with the walks he drew last season.  There are those that are quick to criticize him for taking too many pitches.  This has probably resulted by his attempt to replicate lat season;s .351 OBP.  After todays' game, Logan's OBP is at .280, hardly acceptable but it is a number that is steadily rising in his three games since the break.  Perhaps we are starting to see a change in his fortunes.

Are we so quick to forget last year's post season?  Forsythe's .425 on base percentage over 14 games was second best on the club (of those with regular playing time).  He was amongst the team leaders in several offensive categories.  When it was time to shine, Forsythe delivered much more consistently than other Dodger starters.  His value in post season play is something that should not be overlooked.

It will be interesting to see if the recently concluded Milwaukee series serves as a catalyst to Forsythe's season.  Sitting under the Mendoza line for most of the year, Logan has emerged from the All Star break raising his average to .219.  That five day break may have been what the doctor ordered,  It certainly will be interesting to see if he's able to go on that offensive run that has been missing all season.  

Friday, July 20, 2018

It's Not "Make or Break" Time, But it's Close

The next 17 days the Dodgers play out a brutal schedule without a day off.  They start off today with ten consecutive days on the road, only to return home and play another seven without a break.  All this added to the fact that their NL West rivals all have at least one day off.  Some having as many as three rest days during this same stretch.  

We can complain that this is not really fair, but we all know that the schedule evens out over the 162 game marathon they each play.  It's a tough road ahead, but at least they’ll face some weak opponents, right?  Au contraire my friend.  Here goes:

This afternoon, in Manny Machado's Dodger debut, the Blue Crew faces the Brew Crew.  That will be three games at Milwaukee, a resurgent team with a 55-43 record.  Add to that they're a hungry team for a victory after being swept in five games at Pittsburgh prior to the break.
Phillie manager Gabe Kapler (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

This initial series will be followed by three games at East Division leading Philadelphia, where former Dodger Director of Player Development, Gabe Kapler, has the young Phils playing their best baseball in years. And just when you think the Dodgers would catch a break, they Dodgers fly into Atlanta for four games against a Braves club that is 1/2 game behind the Phillies.  They don't call it Hotlanta for nothing too.  Humidity in Georgia is expected to be aroung 80%. 

The team returns home for a short stretch against the Brewers again for three and then the 2017 World Series rematch against the Astros, another three game series.  The Houston series is bound to receive a nationally televised game and inevitable national attention as well.

That’s seventeen games against first and second place clubs with a combined .623 winning percentage.  Not ideally what we wanted coming out of the All Star break, but there are two ways to look at this.

1) There is the potential of  being buried.  
2) There is the opportunity to make a statement. 

Let’s hope for the latter.

Manny Machados arrival couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

...and then there were twenty

The end of an amazing era is approaching.  According to my count, only twenty players that wore the Brooklyn Dodger uniform in a major league game remain alive.  The youngest of the bunch is Bob Aspromonte at age 80.  Sadly, father time is telling us that within the next 10-12 years, there may not  be any living Brooklyn Dodger players.  I can imagine that as the survivors dwindle down to the last few, there will be some publicity surrounding them, as morbid and unsettling as that seems.

Amongst the remaining of the beloved Brooklyn Bums are Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Tom Lasorda.  Additionally former MVP and Cy Young winner Don Newcombe and notable All Star Carl Erskine are still with us.  In the past couple of years, some beloved stars have passed.  They include Don Zimmer, Ralph Branca and Ed Roebuck. 

The remaining players (and their corresponding dates of birth) are:

Eddie Basinski 11/4/1922 
At age 95, Eddie Basinski is the oldest living former Brooklyn Dodger.  A shortstop and second baseman. Basinski payed the 1944 and 1945 season with the Dodgers as a 21 and 22 year old.  He was traded to Pittsburgh in 1946 and only played one more major league season, the 1947 season with the Pirates.  A player that wouldn't give up the dream, Basinski continued to play in the minor leagues until age 36 in 1959.  He played the last eleven years  of his career in the Pacific Coast League, primarily with the Portland Beavers, where his settled and worked in the trucking business until retirement.  The PCL was a very competitive league in the 50s and many players made a living in that minor league outpost.  Basinski was one of them.

Tim Thompson 3/1/1924 
Tim Thompson was signed by the Dodgers in 1947, but he didn't see action with the big club until 1954, and it was a 10 day stint at the beginning of the season.  He was used in mainly pinch hitting appearances.  There wasn't a lot of room on the roster for catchers during the Campanella years.  Thompson was dealt to the Kansas City A's in 1955 where he saw more major league action for an additional two years. Tim was a scout for the Dodgers, Cardinals and Orioles.  He coached the Cardinals in the 1981 season under manager Whitey Herzog.

Wayne Terwilliger 6/27/1925 
A veteran of 11 major league seasons, Wayne Terwilliger spent only the second half of the 1951 season as a Brooklyn Dodger after being acquired in a multi-player trade with the Cubs.   Wayne saw action in only 25 games as a Dodger, and started only 8 of them.  He went on to have a legnthy career, mainly as a utility infielder with the Washington Senators, New York Giants and Kansas City Athletics. 

Chris Haughey 10/3/1925 
Pitcher Chris Haughey may be the "Moonlight Graham" of the Dodgers.  On the final game of the 1943 season, Manager Leo Durocher handed the ball on this 18th birthday to Chris Haughey in Cincinnati against Johnny Vandermeer and the Reds.  The kid held his own, taking the loss while giving up 3 earned runs over 7 innings in a 6-1 Dodger loss.  As expected, this teenager in the bigs had his jitters.  Haughey walked ten in his seven innings of work.  Interestingly, Al Campanis was his second baseman and Gil Hodges played third.  Haughey went off to war and didn't return to organized ball until 1946.  He never returned to the majors, playing in four minor league seasons before leaving the game after the 1950 season.
Randy Jackson and Jackie Robinson, 2 former college football stars are with the Dodgers in 1956 (AP Wire Photo)
Randy Jackson 2/10/1926 
Randy Jackson was acquired by the Dodgers from the Chicago Cubs organization in 1956.  This third baseman played the final two seasons in Brooklyn and the inaugural L.A. Dodger season in 1958 before finisihing his career with the Cleveland Indians.  A 2-time All Star with the Cubs, Jackson was acquired via trade with the idea that he would take over third base for an aging Jackie Robinson.  Jackson injured his knee in 1957 and never played more than 64 games in a season the rest of his career.  He hit the final Brooklyn Dodger home run on September 28, 1957, an 8-4 win over the Phillies.  Jackson was a college football star, starting as half back for TCU and then the University of Texas in consecutive Cotton Bowl appearances (1945 and 46).  A teammate of NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Bobby Lane.
2010 photo, Barack Obama and Don Newcombe
Don Newcombe 6/14/1926 
Don Newcombe was on his way to a Hall of Fame career before alcoholism derailed it.  A great Dodger from 1949 to 1958 (with two years away from the game due to Military Service), Don won the Cy Young Award and MVP in 1956.  A career .271 hitter, when Newcombe finished his playing days in Japan, it was as a position player in the outfield and first base, not on the mound.  A key contributor in the Dodger front office in Los Angeles, Newcombe is beloved by the organization and has been instrumental in assisting the organization as the team's Director of Community Affairs and later Special Advisor to the Chairman on the Team.  The respect he has gained has reached even Presidential levels. In 2010, President Obama told a national audience that because of pioneers like Don and Jackie Robinson, he was able to accomplish the feats he had reached in life. 

Bobby Morgan, 1953 (AP Photo)
Bobby Morgan 6/29/1926 
Bobby Morgan was a utility infielder for the Dodgers in 1950, 1952 and 1953.  Groomed in the Dodger system, he didn't ever really get the opportunity to play full time with them due to the log jam in the infield with Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Billy Cox/Junior Gilliam and Gil Hodges.  Traded to the Phillies before the '54 season, Bobby got his chance and became their full-time shortstop while hitting .262.  Morgan said the following about his Dodger debut: "We were playing in Philadelphia and I was the starting third baseman.  I kind of stood on third base during the national anthem and looked around and said 'Good Lord, look at this.  What a dream come true.'" A witness to world history, Morgan as a young soldier was stationed in Nuremberg, Germany where as a G.I. he was tasked with overseeing the Nuremberg war trials.

Carl and Jimmy Erskine with Tom Lasorda (Source: Dodger Insider, linked HERE)
Carl Erskine 12/13/1926 
A beloved Brooklyn Dodger through and through.  "Oisk" pitched for Brooklyn from 1948 until their departure in '57.  His feats included two no-hitters, a 20 win season and a World Series performance for the ages in '53 where he struck out 14 Yankees in a game three 3-2 victory.  It was a World Series record at the time.  An Anderson, Indiana naive,. Carl has lived a productive life in the insurance industry in his local community.  The author of two books on his Brooklyn days, Carl forged a deep connection the the Brooklyn community.  He also founded the "Jimmy Foundation," after his son Jimmy Erskine, helping Down's Syndrome children and adults.  As a philanthropist, a book could be written about Carl's amazing life.  From school donations, the Jimmy Foundation,  to the Baseball Assistance League Board of Directors.  In 1953, Erskine started the first Dodger game ever played at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach.  He also closed out the Dodgers final appearance there in 2008 by playing the National Anthem on his harmonica.

Tommy Lasorda 9/22/1927 
Tom Lasorda meandered through the Dodger minor league systems for most of his career, starring for the Montreal Royals in 1953-55.  He had two call-ups, one in 1954 and another in 1955 with Brooklyn.  In the only game Lasorda ever started as a Dodger, he walked 3, gave up a hit and had 3 wild pitches, ( a major league record).  He left the game after gutting out the first inning.  He suffering a gash on his leg as he was spiked covering the plate following the final wild pitch that he uncorked and he had to leave the game to get stitched up. Lasorda pitched with grit, soft tossing 80 MPH stuff and a curveball, but he couldn't get past the AAA level.  The Dodgers sold him to Kansas City in 1956  where he appeared in 18 major league games without much success.  Eventually Lasorda returned to the Dodger organization in 1957, where he remains to this day.  

Tommy Brown at 17 years old was the youngest Dodger to appear in a major league game
Tommy Brown 12/6/1927
Tommy Brown served as a vital utility player for the Dodgers from 1944 to 1951 when he was traded to the Phillies.  He holds a major league record that will probably never be broken as the youngest player to homer in the majors as a 17 year old in 1945 during years when the majors were depleted of a lot of talent due to World War II.  Brown was a home grown player born in the borough of Brooklyn.

Joe Landrum 12/13/1928 
Joe Landrum pitched in 16 games for the Brooklynites in 1950 and 1952 between stints in the minors.  Joe's son Bill also pitched in the major leagues from 86 to 93 primarilly with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

Joe Pignatano 8/4/1929 
Joe Pignatano is the only remaining Brooklynite of the group, that continues to live there to this day.  A backup catcher that was with the Dodgers from '57 to '61, Joe finished his career with the lackluster Mets in '64.  He was a close friend of Gil Hodges who hired him as bullpen coach with the Washington Senators and eventually the Mets, where in 1969 he earned a World Series ring.  Pignatano caught the last four innings at Ebbets Field in 1957 when he entered the game for Roy Campanella.  Joe is the cousin of former Dodger/Red and Met John Franco.

Roger Craig 2/17/1930 
As much as Roger Craig is remembered by many as the arch enemy Giants manager of the mid to late 1980s, he was a great Dodger.  A World Champ with the '55 Dodgers in his rookie year.  He was a key component to that championship club.  By 1959 he was arguably the staff ace, again winning a World Series ring in Los Angeles' 2nd year at the coliseum.  Craig was picked up by the '62 Mets in the expansion draft and was repeatedely a hard luck loser of 24 games with the worst team in baseball history.  In '63 he lost 22 games, despite having an ERA of 3.78. Truth is, you have to be quite a talented pitcher to lose twenty games.  Craig was that.

Ron Negray 2/26/1930 
Ron Negray pitched in four games for the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers.  Another player buried in the Dodger farm system, he got his chance in the majors after the Dodgers traded him to the Phillies in 1955.  Negray returned to the organization in the Dodger's inaugural season in L.A. in 1958.  Negray carries the distinction of being the first Los Angeles Dodger to start an exhibition game, on March 8, 1958, vs. the Phillies in Miami, Florida.  In a 2016 interview Ron spoke of his reverence for Jackie robinson.  When Negray was overlooked when pennant winning watches were awarded to players on the 1952 roster.  Three years later, Negray was a Phillie and Jackie approached him and gave him his.

Glenn Mickens 7/26/1930 
Glen Mickens had four pitching appearances in July 1953 before being scuttled back to the minors, never to return again to a major league mound.  Stuck in a stacked Dodger minor league system, Mickens played the final 5 years of his career in Japan with the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1959 to 1963 with much success.

Fred Kipp 10/1/1931 
As a Brooklyn Dodger, Fred Kipp only pitched in one game vs. the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  He never took the mound in Ebbets Field.  As a L.A. Dodger in 1958 he saw action in 40 games before his career fizzled to an end with scarce Major league appearances in 1959 and 60.  Kipp is the last living person to play for Brooklyn and the NY Yankees.  He wrote a book on his experiences titled "The Last Yankee Dodger," and is doing the book tour circuit as well.

Jim Gentile 6/3/1934 
Six time All Star Jim Gentile played only 4 games in Brooklyn and a 12 games in the L.A. inaugural season before being traded off to the Orioles in 1959.  He excelled as a fine first baseman in Baltimore where in 1961 he hit 46 homers and drove in  a whopping 141 runs.

Don Demeter 6/25/1935 
Don Demeter played just three games as a Brooklyn Dodger in 1956 before having a stellar 10 year career from 1958 to 1967, earning a World Series ring with the '59 Dodgers as a frequent outfield fixture.  His 18 homers in '59 played a key role in the Dodgers World Series Championship run.  After his career ended, Don entered the Ministry where he is currently a Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, OK.  
Rookie Sandy Koufax in 1955 (photo by George Brace)
Sandy Koufax 12/30/1935 
A bonus baby signing out of the University of Cincinnati where he was primarily a basketball player.  This Brooklyn native and fireballing lefty was signed after a December, 1954 tryout to a $20,000 contract that required him to remain with the big club for two full years.  This hindered the young man's career, as he obviously could have used some minor league seasoning.  Koufax pitched for Brooklyn from 1955 to 57, showing glimpses of his future greatness, this included two consecutive shutouts in his rookie year, (the first with 14 strikeouts) as a 19 year old.  Now known as the greatest pitcher in Dodger history, Sandy has the distinction of winning a World Series ring in Brooklyn though he never sniffed the mound on either Brooklyn team he was a part of that played in the fall classic.  Of the remaining Brooklyn Dodgers still alive, Sandy is the lone Hall of Fame player remaining, (with Lasorda earning the honor as the L.A. Dodger manager).

Bob Aspromonte 6/19/1938

With a long and distinguished major league career, Bob Aspromonte had 4,799 plate appearances over 13 major league seasons.  Only one was as a Brooklyn Dodger, and it was in the 8th inning of a 17-2 Dodger blow out over the St; Louis Cardinals on September 19, 1956.  Bob struck out.  Aspromonte eventually made it to the majors by 1960, and in '61 he was left unprotected in the expansion draft, selected by the Houston Colt 45s.  Bob led off for Houston in their 1962 debut, being the first batter in their franchise history.  He spent the remaining years in the majors with Houston, Atlanta and eventually closed out his career in 1971 was a New York Met.  He is the last Brooklyn Dodger to play in the majors, having faced Hall of Famer Steve Carlton in his final game, on September 28, 1971 at Shea Stadium.  

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Trade Deadline Run...That Time of Year

Here come the asinine trade deadline proposals.  Some enjoy this time of year.  I, on the other hand, cringe as I follow twitter feeds in the final hours of the trade deadline season.  It is a time to fear the type of acquisitions that often are regretted for years to come.

So we approach the final weeks before the trade deadline.  That annual event when cellar dwellers attempt to strip the Dodger farm system cupboard bare.  As always, it's a sellers market and often times, teams tempted to go for the brass ring at all costs show a willingness to peddle off two or three times the talent they would get in a typical off-season deal.  

The latest lackluster franchise trying to rip off the Dodgers this go-around is the Baltimore Orioles.  With shortstop Manny Machado out there for the taking.  Teams know he is is a two month rental before he enters the free agent ranks with Dan Lozano as his representative.

We can argue until the wee hours about Machado’s value to the Dodgers, but short of bringing them a World Series championship, it may be unwise for L.A. to give up Alex Verdugo, Yadier Alvarez and more for this guy.   A name like Rancho Cucamonga starter Dustin May comes to mind.  Manny Machado's offensive prowess is unsurpassed, but do the Dodgers really need to trade away the farm for a guy that won’t be a Dodger after 2018?  Or do they risk allowing him to sign with Arizona and possibly losing their 5 year reign on the Division Title?
Alex Verdugo, possible trade bait at the deadline (photo by Jon SooHoo/L.A. Dodgers)

If you recall last season, the Dodgers were apparently a player in the J.D. Martinez sweepstakes before the Diamondbacks landed him.  He then absolutely raked in the N.L. West.  As good as that move was, it still didn’t get Arizona the Division, nor a deep entrance into post season.  This is the conundrum that the Dodger brass must face.  They can pay big for a chance at the brass ring or ride the ponies that are already in place.
Yadier Alvarez has been rehabbing at Camelback Ranch this year.  This fireballer is rumored to be dealt at the deadline (photo by Jason Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

It can be argued that the Dodgers already have enough to win it all.  Muncy has shown he’s the real thing.   Kemp is comeback player of the year.  Pederson and Enrique Hernandez are proving to be extremely valuable pieces.  Bellinger, Turner, Puig, Taylor, Barnes and (dare I say it?) Forsythe have yet to hit their stride.  Some are severely underperforming and all are most likely to improve in the second half.  Those in-house improvements in individual performance might be enough to get them over the top.  The key word there being “might.”

There is little doubt that an addition of a premium bat in that lineup will really help, and infuse enthusiasm in the entire ball club.  This could be the type of impetus that puts them over the top.  This Dodger team is made up of professionals, veterans that have now experienced that taste of an N.L. championship, and they were within an eyelash of winning the whole thing.  They shouldn’t require that emotional lift, but they’re human too.  We’ve all seen what an offensive addition at the deadline can do.  Remember 2008 and Manny Ramirez?

With the starting pitching beginning to come around, and some bullpen guys such as Alexander and Hudson hitting their stride, the starting pitching arms look to be lined up for the stretch run. Perhaps the injuries were a blessing in disguise as hurlers like Kershaw, Hill, Maeda and Beuhler should not be fatigued with heavy inning loads by September.  

We all saw that some of the pitching was on fumes in the 2017 post season.  Aside from the aforementioned starters, L.A. is looking at the possible return of Ryu and Urias as well. Emergent and surprising ace Ross Stripling will likely be fatigued, but hopefully others picking up the slack will allow him to not be pressed into as many high stress innings as he has this first half.  He is a pitcher that has matures and come into his own in 2018.

Zaidi and Friedman have utilized the ten day DL to grant relievers some rest.  Guys like Fields, Cingrani, Alexander, Liberatore, Goeddel and Paredes have had their share of rest and bounces back to the minor leagues.  Another key bullpen acquisition may be in the cards, but it may have already occurred with the acquisition of Dylan Floro from Cincinnati.

The coming weeks will also play a part in the Dodgers midseason trade activity.  If the ball club continues to excel as it has for the past six weeks, the urgency for change may not be as apparent.  Undoubtedly this all plays a role in the psyche of the front office as the deadline looms but this Dodger club continues to be on the cusp of another pennant and potential World Series Championship.  There are those that argue that the Dodgers would have the World Series ring had they not made the deadline deal for Yu Darvish.  It is interesting argument, that's for sure.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Love Him or Hate Him, Puig is Unique

"Until we walk a mile in another man's shoes, we don't really have any clue to say anything about him."    Terry Mark
Yasiel Puig celebrates after scoring in the 8th inning of today's 6-4 win over Colorado.  (source: photocapture from SportsnetLA)
Back in 2012 when I initially wrote about a young Dodger signee out of Cuba named Yasiel Puig, I knew they had found a great talent.  While most of the baseball world coveted a power hitting outfielder eventually signed by the Cubs named Jorge Soler.  Puig flew under the radar of many scouts for a number of reasons.  Primarily because of his inactivity from baseball due to his banishment from the Cuban League caused by attempted defections.  His signing to a 40 million dollar contract in 2012 was scoffed at by most of baseball's establishment.

"We think he's actually better than Soler," said then Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti at an appearance before Dodger bloggers in July of 2012.  "Our guys see a lot of potential in the young man," he added, "he just needs some minor league seasoning."   (July 14, 2012 piece LINKED HERE)

Looking at grainy footage from Cuba of an unpolished outfielder with a rocket arm showed signs of promise.  My visit to Camelback Ranch in 2013 chronicled the young man's potential.  Though maybe my initial assessment was too optimistic, facts are his talent was seen immediately. (2013 Spring Training article)

Vin Scully saw it early as well, dubbing him the "wild horse"  in his first week of play.  He was essentially a wild mustang full of potential that needed to be tamed and shown the ropes.  Looking back at Puig's start, it is really unfair that the Dodgers moved him almost immediately to the highest level of play.  Yasiel Puig became a major leaguer with 14 games experience at High A in 2012 and 40 games at the Double A level at the start of the 2013 season.  His immediate impact on the league was of historic measures, drawing comparisons to hall of famers such as Roberto Clemente.  Inevitably the league scouted him with intensity and then started exploiting his weaknesses.

Love him or hate him, Puig is unique.  And the hatred is out there.  Detractors have criticized him from the beginning.  Some will never come around and accept his talent.  Some will always look at his antics as showboating instead of attempting to understand where he comes from.

Who gets the rounds of boos in opposing ball parks the most?  Who rankles the emotions of opposing rivals and pitchers such as Madison Bumgarner and former Giant 3rd base coach Tim Flannery?  Who is the Dodger player that has been the center of mini brawls and verbal jawing over the years?  Who raised the ire of teammates and even both Don Mattingly and Dave Roberts?

Yes, it is Puig.

Call him immature if you will, but the truth is, Yasiel is misunderstood.  And as the quote about walking in a man's shoes states, none of us and I repeat NONE OF US can even come close to experiencing the horrors that Yasiel Puig faced in his trek to the United States.  Few big leaguers were fast tracked as quickly as Puig was to the Major Leagues.  Add that he had to learn a new culture, and language.  He went from having virtually nothing in earthly possessions, having his life threatened, held hostage by smugglers, being kidnapped, threatened.  Experiencing the dregs of human traffickers to being a multi-millionaire over night with very little seasoning and instruction.  None of us can even come close to understanding Yasiel Puig's thought process.  Perhaps one day we'll know his whole story.   It would be fascinating.

There is one thing that we can understand.  The man plays with passion.  He cares about his performance.  He wants to win.  He has a love for the game.  Some may view his antics in a negative light, but perhaps they are the ones that should learn something about the man's background.  If you haven't walked in his shoes, how could you possibly understand?

An exuberant Puig, July 1, 2018 (photo capture form SportsnetLA)

So though today's antics after stealing a run on the base paths with the celebratory flailing of his arms will probably have repercussions when he plays the Rockies in the future.  The truth is, Puig doesn't care.  He is is exciting, excitable and an amazing talent.  As his baseball IQ rises, so will his impact on the game.

Yes, he's a wild horse and he always will be, but he's "our" wild horse, and for that reason, he's either loved or hated.  I'll choose the former.