Opinion of Kingman's Performance

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.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Baseball Bullets on a Monday Morning

  • So the Dodgers signed Eric Bedard only about 7 -8 years too late.  No biggie.  He's roster fodder and it's a non roster invitation.

  • Max Scherzer is a Washington National.  Details aren't official yet, but I'd guess that Scott Boras has influenced the Nationals to break the bank.  My guess: 7 years, $150 million.  I'm glad he's not a Giant.

  • Speaking of the Giants.  You'd think that a team that has won three World Series championships in six years would be an attractive landing spot.  Here they are, a few weeks from Spring training with only Nori Aoki and Casey McGehee added to the roster.  If Angel Pagan is not able to recover from injury, center field is a problem there.  For some reason, I don't think Bruce Bochy is too concerned though.

  • The Dodgers avoided arbitration with everyone, which is usually a good sign, leaving all parties happy and feelings spared.
The Dodgers and Kenley Jansen avoided arbitration by settling on a $7.425 million deal (Getty Images)
  • According to numbers supplied by Eric Stephen at TrueBlueLA.com,  The Dodgers have committed $43.5 million to "dead money," which is best described at salary paid to players to play elsewhere or nowhere.  It seems ugly, but that number should diminish substantially next year when the payroll is reeled in to somewhere manageable.

  • Few will argue that yesterday's NFC championship game was a barn burner, but as exciting as it was.  I had no team in the fight and its biggest significance to me was that we're one NFL game closer to the start of baseball season.  And for those of you that think baseball is boring due to all the stops and starts of action, take a look at these stats about a typical NFL game.

  • Many blogs have dedicated a substantial amount of time to Don Mattingly's comments in passing that he sent unanswered texts to out-going players Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez.  Why do we care?  It's time to recognize that Matt Kemp is a rival now.  When he returns to L.A. for the first time in April, he should be cheered in his first AB.  Recognize what he did for the franchise once.  After that, he's another player to get out.

  • What is comes down to is the statement that Jerry Seinfeld made on his sitcom years ago.  I'm paraphrasing but the gist of what he said was:  "Players move around from team to team so frequently now that we are essentially rooting for laundry."  Think about it.  There's truth in that statement.

  • For those seeking their daily Dodger news fixes, there are very interesting reads over at ThinkBlueLA.com where Ron and Harold are continually knocking it out of the park with their insightful daily posts, (and their fan forum section is rather interesting too).

  • It is 30 days until pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch.  76 days until opening day.  We are getting close.

  • Lastly, as little as I have been writing lately, it's gonna get worse.  I'm off on a work assignment to El Salvador for six weeks.  Enjoy fan fest, and the start of spring training folks 'cuz I'm not going to be around, (retirement can't come soon enough).

Sunday, January 4, 2015

What Team Are We to Expect in April?

This off-season has proved to be the most confusing I've ever experienced as a Dodger fan.  I think I understand what the new team administration is attempting to do, I simply don't know if it'll create as competitive a team in the short term as it will in the long.  A lot of offense has departed, and it's fairly safe to say that the return isn't quite as strong with the bats.

With the removal of Kemp, Haren, Gordon, Wilson, Ramirez and probably Arruebarrena, that's over $100 million being paid to players to provide their services in another city.  In the end, freeing up payroll in the future and giving the new regime some room to make significant moves in the coming years is important.   Also freeing themselves from paying significant amounts in luxury tax penalties should be a priority in order to not hamstring the organization financially.

 If I were a betting man, I'd probably wager that more guys will be moved before the team breaks camp and the 25 man roster is finalized in April.  Players like Ether, Guerrero and League simply may not be safe, regardless of how much money they are owed.

Newcomers Howie Kendrick, Brandon McCarthy and Jimmy Rollins (photos by Matt Brown/Getty Images)

The fact that Freidman and Zaidi are willing to rid the organization of horrid contracts is a step in the right direction.

We are seeing the organization move in the direction of acquiring players that are performing when analyzed in the Bill James centered "sabermetric" world.   Essentially these are acquisitions of players on the offensive end that take a lot of pitches and work counts.  They also get on base and will take their walks. On the defensive end,  they have acquired slick fielding infielders (Rollins/Kendrick) and a catcher (Grandal) that has an excellent reputation of framing pitches and stealing the occasional strike on borderline pitches.  Additionally, they have shored up the bullpen with players that have a reputation of giving serviceable setup innings (Peralta) and with high upsides (Hatcher, Nicasio, Weiland).

Whether these moves are enough to allow the club to win it's third straight division title and advance in post-season is up in the air.  I think it's safe to say though that the changes advance the organization's cause substantially into the future.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chin-hui Tsao Should Have to Be Vetted by MLB Before Reinstatement

There was interesting news reported yesterday that the Dodgers are attempting to reach an agreement with right handed reliever Chin-hui Tsao, who has been out of MLB for over five years.  Reports are that Tsao is throwing his fastball in the mid-90s, at the ripe old age of 34.  Those excited about the proposed signing should probably hold back their enthusiasm.

Tsao was suspended for life from the Taiwan Baseball League (CPBL) for match fixing and accepting bribes from gamblers.  Never convicted, nonetheless, Tsao received the permanent ban in Kennisaw Landis fashion from the CPBL.  He has languished outside of organized baseball ever since.
Chin-hui Tsao attempted to pitch in the Australian Baseball League with Adelaide a few weeks ago, but his past transgressions didn't allow him to participate in the ABL (photo source:  LINKED HERE )
Suspended after the CPBL Championship Series, in which he was the losing pitcher of the 7th game of the series.  Allegations claim he was engaged in accepting unsuitable benefits from gamblers in August of that very season.  Later after being suspended by the CPBL, Tsao ran into hot water in 2013 in an embezzlement scheme with his restaurant, an allegation made public by his estranged girlfriend in litigation that has not yet been resolved.

Tsao attempted to make a comeback in the Australian Baseball League last year, but the ABL decided to suspend him as well after meeting with CPBL officials who presented their evidence for the lifetime ban.  All the facts of the case have not been made public, but they must be rather severe for such harsh decisions to be made.

If Tsao is reinstated and allowed to play Major League Baseball, the decision would be rather unprecedented.  First, because MLB would risk it's friendly relationship with the CPBL, which is something MLB has been cultivating for years.  Second, because MLB has NEVER tolerated even the hint of players associated with gambling.

If by some miracle Tsao is allowed in, watch for Pete Rose to speak openly about it.  Reality is that Rose will probably be Tsao's greatest fan for reinstatement as it would most likely open the door for him as well.  

I honestly don't see this happening, but who knows?  Maybe Bud Selig's replacement, Ron Manfred, will opine on the side of leniency.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Now as the Dust Settles, More Outfielder(s) Will Have to Be Moved

In this topsy turvy world of following the Dodgers, it's almost as if we are watching a soap opera with the dynamic turns of events.  Kemp is gone, then maybe not.  Then the teams are working out another package due to his arthritic hips.  Oops!  No, the original deal is back on again.  This is crazy.

Rather than update things, I'm finding that it is simply best to wait until the teams make the formal announcements of the trades, which should be happening as soon as Friday.  

What we know is this:

Sources from the L.A. Times, ESPN, and MLB network are saying that Kemp and Fedex are now Padres and Grandal and Weiland are now Dodgers.

This means that Rollins will be a Dodger and Eflin will be a Phillie.

There are more names probably, but as I said, it'll be best to wait until the dust clears and the announcements are made.

What continues to be unsettled is the glut of Dodger outfielders that remain on the roster.  They include Chris Heisey, Scott Van Slyke, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Scott Pederson, and Yasiel Puig.  Watch for two of those six to be moved before spring training.  The organization's willingness to part with players owed huge sums of money leads many to believe that a player like Andre Ether could be on his way out with the Dodgers paying the majority of the $73.5 million he is owed over the next four years.

It is probably safe to say that the Dodgers would have to agree to pick up about $45 to 50 million of that contract, as Ethier's depleting numbers make him a hard sell.  An American League team with a short right field porch might be an attractive landing spot for him.  Perhaps New York or Texas could be a fit, but it would be shocking to see the Dodgers obtain anything of value in return.

Carl Crawford is owed $62.2 million through 2017 and he's another practically immovable piece that probably remains in blue due to that contract.  Perhaps that's good though, as Crawford appears to be one of the lone Dodger pieces remaining that has speed.  He swept 23 bags in only 105 games last year, and it is expected that he, along with 36 year old Jimmy Rollins, will be the only real stolen base threats on the club now that Dee Gordon is a Marlin.

So that leaves Van Slyke, Pederson, Puig and Heisey.  Of the quartet, I'm thinking that Van Slyke may be the player that is moved.  That's unfortunate, as Scott has shown signs of brilliance and has never been given a full time shot.  Unfortunately, the numbers game has caught up to him.  Heisey was acquired because of his versatile defense and pinch hitting skills.  Pederson is the new centerfielder and Puig continues to be, in my opinion, a player with the ability to be the next Roberto Clemente.

Scott Van Slyke and Andre Ethier - Two Dodger outfielders that could be moved in the coming weeks. (photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

A good match for Van Slyke may be in the A.L. East where he could be seen as a valuable asset to face Wade Miley in Boston.  His stat line of .444,  8 for 18, with 5 homers, should be of interest to Baltimore, Toronto or New York.  It's rather silly to use that small sample size against a lone pitcher as a selling point, but ownage is ownage, and Scott certainly has it against the new Boston starter.

Van Slyke was solid in his 98 games last season, hitting .297 with a .387 OBP and .524 slugging percentage.  He smacked 11 homers over 212 at bats and showed that he could handle all three outfield slots and an additional first base assignment.  This is a valuable player to have on a ball club, and added to that his salary comes in at the major league minimum.  Scott will be 28 years old this season, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him really emerge this season.  I hate to see him go, as he could be the one guy that someone could really steal from the Dodgers this off-season.  

Sabermetrically speaking, Van Slyke is the type of player that guys like Friedman and Zaidi like to acquire.  There's simply no room for him, unless the Dodgers magically are able to rid themselves of both Ethier and Crawford.  That Looks unlikely, but perhaps the new front office, affectionately monikered the "geek squad," has something up their sleeves.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Everything He Told Us Was Misleading...But That's OK

We just experienced the nuttiest 14 hours in Dodger history and it's not over yet.  Everything I wrote about Zaidi and Friedman in the previous post is completely to the window.  One thing we now know, if Farhan moves his lips, he's probably lying.

Less than 24 hours after dispelling rumors of a Dee Gordon trade by saying that he is their "cost controlled" second baseman, he was traded.

Less than five days after telling the world that right handed power bats are hard to come by and that Matt Kemp was the best hitter in the league in the second half of the season, he was traded.
Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon were both traded within 12 hours of each other.

The M.O. of the Dodger administration has emerged.  It's peddle off a player when his perception in the league is high.  Gordon, coming off an All Star season and Kemp, after recovering from injuries in the second half.  It's probably a wise way to run a club.  Fans with strong emotional ties to the players won't be happy, but it's important to remember that the Kemp contract was inherited, and that isn't Zaidi and Freidman's fault.

There are so many names that were involved in trades, I hope I have them right.

The Dodgers traded Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, and Mel Rojas, (additionally agreeing to pay their 2015 salaries, $13 million) to the Miami Marlins for LHP starter Andrew Heaney, Right handed deliver Chris Hatcher, infielder Enrique Hernandez and C/IF Austin Barnes.

Then they traded Heaney, a highly touted starter who was the number 9 overall pick in the 2012 draft to the Angels for their all star second baseman, Howie Kendrick.

Earlier in the day it was reported that the Dodgers had acquired Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies for two pitchers, who are yet to be un-named.  The Phillies are reported to have included cash in the deal.  Quantity unknown at this time.  

Lastly, Dodger fans woke this morning to the news that Matt Kemp, Tim Federowicz and $31 million have been traded to the Padres for Catcher Yasmani Grandal, and pitchers Joe Weiland and Zach Elfin.

Is that it?  Apparently not.

Reports this morning are that the Dodgers are close to a 4-year /$48 million deal with RHP Brandon McCarthy.
Brandon McCarthy finished 2014 as a Yankee. (photo by Bill Streicher/USA Today)

With the 40 man roster now sitting at over 43 players, (I've lost count) it is assumed that another trade is in the works.  Now with prospects stocked in the organization and money freed up, speculation is that the Dodgers can pull the trigger on a Cole Hamels deal.

It has been a stunning day and the Dodgers are being completely revamped.  Stay tuned, but be sure to fasten your seat belt.  Craziest day ever.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ignore the MLB Network. Zaidi Already Told Us What Direction the Club is Headed

A few years back when the MLB network debuted, I was giddy with excitement.  What can be better than baseball 24/7/365?  

Now three years into the channel I am beginning to feel otherwise.  With Plesac, Reynolds, MaGrane, DeRosa, Byrnes and others constantly feeding us information, it's enough to make your head explode.  A good portion of those mentioned have said Matt Kemp is on his way to one of these destinations: Texas, Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, and San Diego.  It's enough to drive you mad.  Those guys are simply speculating and spreading rumors coming usually from no-where.

For those concerned about many Dodger rumors, especially that Matt Kemp is about to head to another location, it is highly suggested that these quotes from Dodger G.M. Farhan Zaidi made on air at AM 570 from last Friday be read and reread.  

(photo by Jon Soo-Hoo, L.A. Dodgers)
Zaidi could be an excellent poker player, and maybe he's playing us all, but his level headed comments seemed convincing.  The Dodgers are being run by a competent group that isn't going to gut the franchise into a non-contender.  In a previous piece I said that I thought they might be in payroll reduction mode, but after listening to Zaidi, I'm starting to believe that the front office is simply smarter than ever before and will do all they can to put a winner on the field now.  Zaidi's quotes follow.  

On Andre Ether and his trade wishes:

"We have a surplus of outfielders and there's some demand out there from other teams.  Offense is pretty scarce in Major League baseball, certainly in the last couple of years.  So a guy like Andre (Ether) could be a fit for a number of teams.  including our own.  So we're just continuing to look at those opportunities as they come across the table for us.  If there's something that makes sense for the Dodgers, we'll pursue it."

On Matt Kemp and the endless rumors of him being traded:

"Matt Kemp was the best player in the National League in the second half.  If anyone wants to challenge me on that, I have all of the numbers to back it up.  It's the hot stove.  People need something to write about everyday.  We're aware that there's a desperate desire for content out there, and frankly it's not just the desire for content, but some of the stuff you read about free agents, I'm telling you, going from Oakland to L.A., I've never been more popular with agents in my life..."

Read between the lines here.  It seems that Kemp isn't going anywhere, unless the Dodgers are overwhelmed with an amazing offer:

"Matt (Kemp) is a terrific player.  We are well aware of how important he is to the team, but we were brought in with some specific goals in mind and with very high expectations.  And part of our responsibility is to just look at everything..."

Zaidi explains that the G.M. position with a large market team with resources is much more difficult than being with a club without resources, here's why:

"We have financial resources at our disposal.  I was asked earlier, 'who are you going to pursue?' and my answer was 'everybody.'  To me that's part of the difference between being in Oakland and being in L.A.  I could sleep well at night in Oakland knowing that I wouldn't have to wonder if a certain player was worth $100-150 million dollars.  Now there's some sleepless nights because those are all decisions that we have to look at.  It's kind of like the answer that I gave when I was asked about Matt (Kemp).  It's that you have to look at everything, and particularly when you are looking at a guy that is at an elite level, that every team could use. " 

About the starting rotation:

"We have a little problem with our starting pitching depth and we've started to adjust with some smaller moves.  It's always a good idea if you're a baseball team to add pitchers at the front of your rotation than at the back..."

More on the differences between running a small market club vs. one with resources:

"At Oakland...there was just a whole group of players you didn't have to think about.  The more resources you have at your disposal, the more complicated the cost benefits analysis gets on every move.  We're in a position where we have to think about the luxury tax in baseball, the competitive balance tax implications that that has for us.  So I actually think it's more complicated.  The more money you have at your disposal, the bigger chance mistakes will be made.  We understand the challenge ahead and we are in a position where the expectations are great, the challenges are great and we hope that the reward is also great.  So that's our perspective."

On the topic of shortstop, (it's best to get used to Arruebarrena at short until Seager is ready): 

"Right handed power is a scarcity at this time, and that's what Hanley brought to this team last year.  That's what Matt Kemp continues to bring to this team, and that's probably the most difficult thing to replace.  I do think that as we look to fill the shortstop position, we're maybe able to reorient that position to being a more defensive position.  Looking to some guys that really contribute defensively at short...  This gives us a chance to get a really plus defender at short, that will really help our pitching staff.  We're viewing it as an opportunity to upgrade defensively and we believe that will compensate for the loss of offense."

                              ---------------end of Zaidi quotes-------------------

We all know it's difficult to slow down and gawk at the car accident ahead of you as you drive by, but that is what the MLB network is at the moment, (and twitter rumors as well).  Look if you must, but you probably won't like what you see.  Zaidi has spelled out the Dodger front offices direction in a short 15 minute segment.  It's best to listen to his words, because the wonks at MLB network are running with stories that often don't have any legs.