Public Service Announcement

A few years back I started to have problems driving a car for any period of time of over twenty minutes. My ass would hurt and pain would start shooting down my right leg to the point where any car travel was looked upon with trepidation.  I didn’t commute to work anymore but travel to downtown for the Dodgers or Clippers or other forms of entertainment meant I’d be in pain for quite a while before reaching the destination. Forget about making the 650-mile trip to see my Dad which I had been doing several times a year ever since they moved to Ferndale in 2006.

I tried numerous seat cushions but none of them brought relief. Doctor visit was just as futile. This went on for over a year when eight months ago I was helping my wife clean out her schoolroom when I noticed a round disk and asked her if I could try this as a seat cushion.

fitbit910yhduf3zl._sl1500_

She said it wasn’t meant for sitting but for balance training but if I wanted to try it as a seat cushion, give it a shot,  so without any expectations, I used it on my office chair at home. An hour later I was feeling no pain in my ass or legs. Two hours later, no pain in my ass or legs. At home, I get up all the time but even so, this felt different. Trying to temper my excitement I took it to the truck and decided to go for a spin and see how it felt. Not sure how long I drove but at no point did my ass hurt, nor my legs.  I was starting to feel giddy but knew the big test would be the drive to Dodger Stadium in the Forerunner.  I picked a game and took off, and seventy-five minutes later I arrived at Dodger Stadium with a sore butt but no different than any butt would feel after seventy-five minutes.

There was no pain

I could once again drive without pain and so I made the plan to drive the 650 miles to see my Dad and family. I made it in the usual twelve hours and arrived in good shape. My life was back to normal. The funny part of this story is that when I told my brother about the disk, he said wait a minute and came back with the exact same product. He said he used it for balance. It is sold by Amazon as an Adult Sized Stability Wobble Cushion but I use it as a seat cushion and it has literally changed my life.

Some things stop working over time, but it has been eight months and as I make the plan to visit my Dad next week, I look forward to the drive instead of dreading it. This was a lucky find and I have no idea why this disk works for me but it does.

Woo Hoo

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My baseball cards are dying

As I look back at the major league players who died in 2018 I’m struck with the fact that most of these players are still players from when I collected baseball cards. I saw a handful of them, but mostly these were just players I knew from reading their baseball card information.

Some heavyweight players died in 2018 including my second favorite San Francisco Giant of all time (Willie McCovey), the man who made the moon shot famous long before we landed on the moon (Wally Moon), the player from the second greatest baseball trivia question (Tony Cloninger), the original Fro man (Oscar Gamble), the man who broke the Kids face (Jack Hamilton), the man who made the Expos Orange (Rusty Staub), and a host of others that I had a small emotional connection with.

Following this link is the full list, below are players I mentioned above.

Willie McCovey was not only a San Francisco Giant he was an actual giant even if  Baseball Reference says he was only 6’4.  Even at a mere 6’4 he still stands among the Giants of the baseball world. Below is the list of every MLB player who was at least 6’4 with a career bWAR > 50.  It is a small list dominated by 1st baseman which was also one of the unique things about Willie McCovey in that he played over 200 games in the outfield.  For whatever reason, I loved watching McCovey swing the bat even though I knew that usually meant destruction was coming for my Dodgers.

Player           WAR/pos Ht OPS+ From   To  HR       Pos
Mark McGwire        62.2 77  163 1986 2001 583   *3/HD59
Frank Thomas        73.9 77  156 1990 2008 521     *D3/H
Miguel Cabrera      69.4 76  151 2003 2018 465   3579/DH
Jim Thome           72.9 76  147 1991 2012 612      3D5H
Willie McCovey      64.5 76  147 1959 1980 521   *3H7/9D
Chipper Jones       85.2 76  141 1993 2012 468  *57/H6D9
Dave Winfield       64.2 78  130 1973 1995 465 *97D8H/35
John Olerud         58.2 77  129 1989 2005 255      *3DH
Joe Mauer           55.1 77  124 2004 2018 143    23D/H9
Scott Rolen         70.2 76  122 1996 2012 316      *5/H

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/15/2019.

Wally Moon hit Moon Shots over the short Coliseum porch and Vin Scully made them famous. Per wiki:

In baseball, a moonshot is referred to as a home run that travels a great distance vertically. The term “Moonshot” was coined by MLB Hall of Fame former Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, describing high home runs by Wally Moon[1] The term would later be referenced in newspapers as “Moon Shots”

I never saw Moon play except in old video’s but he was a key component of the Los Angeles Dodgers first World Championship in 1959 when he led the league in triples with eleven and came in fourth in MVP voting.  He was also a member of the team for the 1963 and 1965 World Championships.

Tony Cloninger is the answer to the trivia question “What player hit two grand slams in the same game?”.  Sabr has a great article about that day and is worth the read. I read about his feat on the back of his baseball card back when I was about nine and would never forget it. In case you didn’t know, Tony Cloninger was a pitcher.

Oscar Gamble wore an afro like no other major league player ever wore an afro.

oscar-gamble-2jpg-b9fc34a78c031a06

Besides the hair, he was also an excellent left-handed power hitter who had an above average career as a platoon player and put up a career OPS+ of 120 while slugging 200 home runs.  In over 5,000 plate appearances he was only allowed 717 against left-handed pitching even though his career OPS against them was .705.

Jack Hamilton’s career was forever intertwined with Tony Conigliaro when a pitch got away from Jack in 1967 and crushed the young sluggers face, basically ending the career of one of the great young hitters in baseball history.  Only four players in baseball history had hit 100 home runs before their age 23 seasons. Tony was one of them. The other three were allowed to have a career, and all three were considered the best of the best.

Player             HR From   To   Age   PA  OPS
Mel Ott           115 1926 1931 17-22 2644 .975
Eddie Mathews     112 1952 1954 20-22 1874 .944
Alex Rodriguez    106 1994 1998 18-22 2271 .906
Tony Conigliaro   104 1964 1967 19-22 2046 .849

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/15/2019.

Rusty Staub was one of the players the Houston Astros traded away back when they must have felt their job was to enrich the rest of the league while they dabbled in mediocrity. This was the team that traded Joe Morgan just before his prime, and Rusty Staub was no different. Rusty would go onto greatness with the Expos and end up playing 23 years. Sabr has his bio.

Red Schoendienst was one of the first baseball players I ever read about. Back in Germany, I would spend time in the school’s library reading every single baseball biography I could find. It was littered with Cardinals like Red. This is the Sabr bio on him. The one thing that stood out for me in the Sabr bio was that he played minor league ball while WWII was going on.  Red was a name that Vin Scully would refer to all the time in the 1970s since he had become the Cardinal manager in 1965 and held that into mid-seventies.  1967 was the first World Series I was aware enough to understand and through the armed service’s radio, I listened to Red’s Cardinals defeat my Red Sox. I also listened to the Tigers defeat his Cardinals in 1968.

I don’t want to speak ill of the dead but Bob Bailey might have been the first Dodger I was really peeved at. The Dodgers acquired him in 1967 for Maury Wills and as 1967 was the season I became a 100% baseball aware I expected big things. His crime was to play in Dodger Stadium in the late 1960s when baseballs died in the outfield.  I never saw Bob Bailey play, but I did stare at the back of his baseball card and could never forget that he hit a measly .227 two years in a row. I didn’t understand park effects at that time. His 1968 season actually translated into a decent 104 OPS. The Dodgers bailed on him at the wrong time by selling him to the new Montreal franchise where Bailey would end up having a solid career including three seasons with an OPS over 130.  This is the Sabr bio on him.

Johnny Briggs was a platoon outfielder who finished his career with 4838 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 121.  I had numerous Johnny Briggs baseball cards and had forgotten until doing this research that he left MLB at the age of 31 to play in Japan. That did not work out and he never played baseball again.  Sabr has a bio on him.

John Kennedy played for the Dodgers in 1965 and 1966 after being acquired in the Frank Howard / Claude Osteen deal. He was the epitome of a 1960’s utility futility infielder. An infielder who played all over the diamond but was futile with the bat. His glove didn’t quite seem up to snuff either. In 2200 plate appearances he had a bWAR of negative 2.8. For context that placed him 58th out of 69 players who had at least 2200 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 70 or less. It seemed I would get 100 John Kennedy baseball cards to one Don Drysdale. Sabr has a bio on him. Even they couldn’t spin him out to be very good but I did remember from the bio that he had a part in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four:

John Kennedy flew into a rage at Emmett Ashford over a called strike and was tossed out of the game. Still raging, he kicked in the water cooler in the dugout, picked it up and threw it onto the field. Afterward, we asked him what had gotten into him. He really isn’t that type. And he said, “Just as I got called out on strikes, my greenie kicked in.

I was surprised to see Bruce Kison on this list. It doesn’t seem that long ago I was watching Bruce pitch for the Angels but it was long ago. When I saw his name on the deceased list of 2018 I only remembered two things. He had pitched for the Angels and he had a nasty sidearm delivery but once I read his Sabr bio it all came back to me. 1971 World Series.

When wild-eyed rookie right-handed pitcher Bruce Kison was thrust into relief with two outs in the first inning of Game Four of the 1971 World Series against the overwhelmingly favored Baltimore Orioles, the Pirates were in a three-run hole and in danger of losing their third game of the Series with just one victory. But with the largest crowd ever to watch a baseball game in Pittsburgh (51,378) crammed into Three Rivers Stadium to witness the first night game in World Series history, the calm and collected Kison tossed 6⅓ scoreless innings, yielding just one hit. He kept the Orioles off balance with inside fastballs and sliders from his whip-like side-arm delivery, but set a World Series record by hitting three batters.

Kison had been integral in defeating the Orioles in the 71 Series. A classic seven-game World Series that had the Orioles on the last legs of the brilliant run that started when they swept the Dodgers in 1966. The team still had Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and the vaunted pitching staff that boasted four twenty game winners.  Those four starters started 142 games and completed almost half of them (70). Going against the vaunted Orioles was Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver, and Steve Blass. It was back when the World Series captivated you because this might be the only time you got to see the stars play game after game.

Frank Quilici had one great offensive inning in a modest career but it came against the Dodgers in the first game of the 1965 World Series when he collected two hits in one against Don Drysdale. Not many players can say they got two hits in the same innings against Big D. This is the Sabr bio on Quilici.

Quilici and the Twins caught a break in Game One, on October 6, when Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax famously refused to pitch that day because it was Yom Kippur, the most solemn date in the Jewish religion. Instead, the Twins faced Don Drysdale, and Quilici made history by getting two hits in one inning in the World Series. Drysdale was off that day, and the Twins unloaded on him for six runs in the bottom of the third inning. Quilici led the inning off with a double and scored on a three-run homer by Zoilo Versalles. Then he singled and drove in Don Mincher for the frame’s sixth run. Dodgers manager Walter Alston lifted Drysdale after Quilici’s second hit.6 Those two safeties represented half of Quilici’s hit total for the Series; he had four hits in 20 at-bats, and played in every game as the Twins lost to the Dodgers in seven.

Lee Stange was on the Red Sox in 1967 and pitched in the 1967 World Series. I have numerous Lee Stange baseball cards but could not remember any real fact about him other than he was on the Red Sox when I was a die hard Red Sox fan. I turned to his Sabr bio for help and found it on the first paragraph.

If the Detroit Tigers had only won their final game of the 1967 season, Lee Stange would have started the most important game in nearly 20 years for the Boston Red Sox.

After the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins on the last day of the magical season, manager Dick Williams told Stange to take it easy in the clubhouse. If the Tigers beat the California Angels in the second game of a doubleheader, Stange would start the one-game playoff against the Tigers the following day.

The Tigers went on to lose to the Angels in the second game of the doubleheader, which gave the American League pennant to the Sox and sparked a champagne- and shaving cream-filled party in the Sox clubhouse. Without a chance to start a playoff, Stange figured he would still start a World Series game, but that didn’t happen.

“I don’t understand why I was good enough to start a playoff game, but not a World Series game,” Stange said 40 years later.1

I had stopped collecting cards by the time Ken Howell showed up for the Dodgers in 1984. Ken never pitched as well as I thought his stuff was, but he had a solid bullpen career for the Dodgers from 1984 – 1988. Just long enough to earn that World Series ring. I don’t have any single memory of Ken, he started pitching well after my brain was already stuffed with too much stuff but here is a link to an obit by Cary Osborne.

Bob Bailey Las Vegas, Nevada 01-09-2018 1962 1978
Johnny Briggs Big Trees, California 12-25-2018 1956 1960
Ed Charles East Elmhurst, New York 03-15-2018 1962 1969
Tony Cloninger Denver, North Carolina 07-24-2018 1961 1972
Tito Francona New Brighton, Pennsylvania 02-13-2018 1956 1970
Oscar Gamble Birmingham, Alabama 01-31-2018 1969 1985
Jack Hamilton Branson, Missouri 02-22-2018 1962 1969
Ken Howell West Bloomfield, Michigan 11-09-2018 1984 1990
John Kennedy Peabody, Massachusetts 08-09-2018 1962 1974
Bruce Kison Bradenton, Florida 06-02-2018 1971 1985
Steve Kline Chelan, Washington 06-04-2018 1970 1977
Willie McCovey Palo Alto, California 10-31-2018 1959 1980
Wally Moon Bryan, Texas 02-09-2018 1954 1965
Dave Nelson Milwaukee, Wisconsin 04-22-2018 1968 1977
Rob Picciolo Los Angeles, California 01-03-2018 1977 1985
Frank Quilici Burnsville, Minnesota 05-14-2018 1965 1970
Jose Santiago Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico 10-09-2018 1954 1956
Red Schoendienst Town and Country, Missouri 06-06-2018 1945 1963
Lee Stange Riverview, Florida 09-21-2018 1961 1970
Rusty Staub West Palm Beach, Florida 03-29-2018 1963 1985
Moose Stubing Santa Ana, California 01-20-2018 1967 1967
Chuck Taylor Murfreesboro, Tennessee 06-05-2018 1969 1976
Bobby Trevino Nuevo Leon, Mexico 12-05-2018 1968 1968
Luis Valbuena Yaracuy, Venezuela 12-06-2018 2008 2018

Too much patience or too little?

Baseball writer Craig Minami made the following comment in a TrueBlueLa comment section last night.  It is the mantra of the common sense baseball fan who can look at a team from afar and realize that team building takes place over twelve months with no offseason.

The team you see in December is not the one you will see in Spring Training
The team you see in January is not the one you will see in Spring Training
The team you see when camp opens is not the one that will be here on Opening Day.
The team you see when camp opens is not the one that will be here on Opening Day.
The team you see on Opening Day is not the team you will see in July.
The team you see at the trade deadline is not the one you see in September.
The team you see in the November is not the team you will see in Spring Training.

Even when the team has completed the roster by Sept 1st, the postseason guggling keeps the guessing game going as management had to decide which of its many weapons are the correct ones to use for each postseason series. That is how Caleb Ferguson ended up watching the World Series instead of participating in it.

They say that patience was at one time considered a virtue, but Dodger fans might be done with patience if they ever had it at all. Thirty years isn’t that long of a time between Championships when thirty teams are trying to win it every year, but it is a very long time when you have the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the financial wherewithal of the current ownership. When you add in that the rival Giants have managed to win three World Championships in the last ten years the bit bites hard.

It is because of this drought that many Dodger fans are feeling impatient even though they have been to the World Series two years in a row. They see the Dodger roster and are underwhelmed considering that the Dodgers signed only one significant free agent while trading or losing multiple assets off their current roster.  Dodger fans don’t know the interworking of management but on the surface, it would appear none of the high marquee free agents were pursued, none of the mid-level free agents were pursued, and as stated earlier, only one free agent was even signed.  They aren’t keen on the fact that ownership has now decided to get in line and keep the payroll budget under the luxory tax.

Dustin Nosler has been blogging about the Dodgers for years and he has been patient. His patience ran out today when he declared

The fact that the Dodgers — the Los Angeles Dodgers — are treating it like a hard cap this winter is infuriating. I was OK with it last year — I even wrote a bit about it. But the stipulation in my mind was that they were resetting the tax so they could spend a little more freely. Not necessarily a $250-300 million payroll (which they could afford), but to at least not be scared of the defacto salary cap

Dustin thinks the Dodgers should spend. Most Dodger fans think the Dodgers should spend. Harper beckons, he beckons hard.

I understand the sentiment. My own tagline at TrueBlueLA says “Patience is for those who die waiting for something to happen” That, however, has never applied to baseball. I’m very patient if I believe in the management. I can’t say I believe in the current management because of the brain drain over the past two years. Andrew Friedman still sits on the top, but so many others have gone. One can only hope they have been replaced with top-notch talent but we won’t know until we see how their decision making works out.

The previous iterations of management under the new ownership tried winning with the largest payroll in baseball history. They won, but they didn’t win the Championship and none of those teams really seemed capable of winning a championship unless Kershaw made a Bumgarner run. He never did. The team never advanced into the World Series while carrying those $250 million dollar payrolls. It wasn’t until 2017 I felt the Dodgers had a team that I would have bet on, and they came oh so close. So close.

I’ve always enjoyed the idea of a hard cap not because I care about saving money for ownership but simply because I like the idea of winning because you are smarter than the other teams not because you can outspend them on a roster. Being smarter doesn’t happen overnight. That type of winning takes time because it involves upgrading your whole system. The best scouts, the best analysts, the best minor league coaches, the best international infrastructure. The best everywhere. To do this you simply pay them more because MLB has historically been cheap when it comes to these areas.  I think the Dodgers have tried to do this and we can see the results.

However

Boston is probably World Champions because when no one was bidding on JD Martinez last winter they said we can’t not sign him at this price and gobbled him up. The Dodgers meanwhile played peek a boo with the luxury tax by moving payroll to the Braves and taking back Matt Kemp.  Matt was interesting at first but by the end of the year, he was exactly the payroll anchor that we felt he was when he was acquired. JD meanwhile led the explosive Boston offense to the World Championship. The Dodgers celebrated by being under the luxury cap and saving millions of dollars for ownership. Woo Hoo

The Tiger are certainly World Champions because they added the contract of Justin Verlander in the summer of 2017. The Dodgers added Yu Darvish. A free agent to be, so no future costs. I was certainly on the get Yu bandwagon. I was wrong. I wish Dodger management had not been as wrong as I was. Houston management chose Verlander, the Dodger management chose Yu. Houston won the 2017 World Championship, the Dodgers did not. It is usually so much more complex than that, but in this case, probably not.

None of that is to say the Dodgers should be in on Harper or Machado. A year ago I would have drooled at the thought of adding Manny Machado for a decade to the Dodgers. Having watched him play, I don’t drool anymore, I spit. I have zero interest in watching Manny Machado play for the Dodgers.  Harper would seem like a perfect fit given we traded our right fielder. Given how many long term deals I’ve seen become albatrosses I’m not usually in favor of any deal over four years. If I knew the Dodgers would do everything in their power to sign Mike Trout when he becomes a free agent in two years I’d walk away, but not knowing that, I’d be in on Harper. Very in.

 

Look back at the Russell Martin Dodger career via TRUEBLUELA archives

The rise and fall of Russell Martin’s Dodger career came just as Dodger blog www.truebluela was beginning to ascend into relevancy.  Andrew Grant headed the blog when Russell Martin became the starting catcher in May of 2006 but the first article he wrote about Martin didn’t come until Aug 25th, 2006.

Andrew Grant – Aug 25th, 2006 – Will Russell Martin Pull A LoDuca?

Andrew was concerned with the workload being placed upon the rookie. It was a concern that would come up every season that Martin was the Dodgers starting catcher.

Eric Stephen – Jan 6th, 2009 -The Curious Case of Russell Martin

Eric took a look at what arbitration might hold for Russell Martin

The Dodgers have a wonderful dilemma.  Their quandary is to figure out just what to pay their most rare commodity:  a young, all-star catcher in Russell Martin.  Unlike the relatively straightforward cases of Andre Ethier and Jonathan Broxton — in which comparable players can be researched and a rough idea about salary can be deduced — Russell Martin is a very unique player.  His comparable players aren’t really comparable at all due to very different circumstances.

Eric Stephen – Feb 8th, 2009 – Martin Has a Little Captain in Him

Martin has set himself apart as a leader of this club.  He took over as the team’s union player representative — from Scott Proctor!!! — so he’s capable of handling extra responsibilities.  He’s got a new girlfriend.  He’s doing Yoga.  He’s one of the best catchers in baseball.

Phil Gurnee – May 1st, 2009 -Where in the World is Russell Martin?

I was wondering what had happened to the young catcher who by the all-star game of 2008 appeared headed for greatness.

During the spring of 2008 I mentioned that I thought Russell Martin could be a leading candidate for the MVP. My rational was that Martin was loved by the media, the best player on the Dodgers, and that the Dodgers might win the pennant. At the all-star game Martin was holding up his end of the bargain and I wrote this story about the great tradition of Dodger catchers after watching Martin display his all around skills in the all star game by catching 10 innings in the epic battle.

Meercatjohn – May 18th, 2009 – Russell Martin Home Run Contest

By May 18th, 2009 Russell Martin had yet to hit a home run so for fun I started a community contest. Shockingly he would not hit his first home run until June 20th.  None of the entrants picked June.

Eric Stephen – July 2nd, 2009 -The Lonesome Death Of Russell Martin’s Power

Russell Martin seemed prime to join the pantheon of great Dodger catchers.  In his first three seasons, he made two All-Star teams, won a Silver Slugger award, and even mixed in a Gold Glove for good measure.  Nobody has caught more innings than Martin since he made his debut in May 2006, and from 2006-2008 Martin had the fifth-highest OPS+ among all catchers in baseball.

David Young – March 31st, 2010 – 2010 Player Profile: Russell Martin, Backstop Bounceback?

Did you know that before the Dodgers drafted Russell Martin in the 17th round of the 2002 draftas an infielder, the Montreal Expos of his native Quebec also drafted him as an infielder in the 35th round of the 2000 draft?

Eric Stephen – May 20th, 2010 – Martin Sets Club Record for Leadoff Starts at Catcher

Russell Martin will set the LA Dodger record tonight for most starts batting leadoff by a catcher, with 34. Paul LoDuca is the only other Dodger catcher to bat leadoff in the last 52 years. Since 1952, only three catchers have started more games batting leadoff than Martin: Jason Kendall (453), Butch Wynegar (48), and Craig Biggio (35).

Eric Stephen – Jan 11th, 2010 – TBLA Rewind: Dodgers in The Bush Years: 2005-2008

This was Eric looking back on Jan 11, 2010 at the Bush Years. Martin was a predominant piece of those teams and he gets more than a few sentences.

 Martin had a fine season, establishing himself as one of the best catchers in the game, hitting .293/.374/.469, a 113 OPS+.  He fell one HR shy of becoming only the second catcher ever with a 20/20 season (Ivan Rodriguez, 1999).  Martin’s 21 SB were the most ever by a Dodger catcher.

 

Trouble with the curve

Wasn’t much of a baseball movie but it could be the title of Russell Martin’s 2018 season.

 of a http://www.propsectslive reviewed the trade last week that brought Russell Martin back to Los Angeles in exchange for Ronny Brito and Andrew Sopko.  Eddy broke down the Martin 2018 season and found that the reason for such a horrible season was that Martin had trouble with the curve.

While his defense is still passable, it’s the bat that really drags down Martin’s profile. He slashed .194/.338/.325 last year over 352 plate appearances. He was much more passive, swinging less inside and outside of the zone. The biggest culprit, however, became Martin’s complete inability to hit a breaking ball. He had a .076 AVG and .114 SLG against breaking pitches, which were 31 percent of the pitches he saw . While he wasn’t a darling against fastballs, either, it was a more respectable .249 AVG and .438 SLG. Martin’s saving grace remains his 12 percent walk rate which bumped up to 15 percent last season thanks to his increased passivity.

Well, to be honest, it wasn’t just the curve, it was every type of breaking ball.

I have no idea how Martin will perform in 2019, but Jeff Sullivan points out that Martin wasn’t nearly as bad as his offensive line suggests which is good because in a vacuum that triple stat line is repugnant (194/.338/.325). Catchers were an offensive drag on baseball last year so compared to his peers, Martin is still an average catcher.

Offensively, Martin has ranked 17th out of 44. Defensively, he’s ranked 15th out of 44. Martin has been one of eight catchers to rank in the upper half in each statistic. He can still hit a little bit, and he can still receive a little bit. Everything’s getting worse, but he’s declining from a very high bar.

Even an average offensive catcher is still a huge downgrade at the position when you consider that Grandal had been one of the top five offensive catchers in baseball since becoming the Dodgers everyday catcher.

The Dodger now have two catchers who do two things very well. They can both take a walk which allows their OBA to make up for their extremely low batting averages. Barnes and Martin are also still considered good framers, but again, Grandal was one of the best framers in baseball. As noted in the links above, Martin has not caught more than eighty games in the past two years so I’d expect that Martin/Barnes will be more of a tandem than either being asked to catch 100 plus games.  In 2017, Austin Barnes was what Russell Martin had been when he was a Dodger, an athletic fleet-footed catcher with good power, great on-base skills, and a solid reputation as a catcher. In 2018 they converged to be the same catcher but that wasn’t a good thing.

Without a trade for Realmuto or Cervelli, this is the stop-gap move that will need to be the bridge to either Will Smith or Keibert Ruiz. It won’t make the Dodgers better in 2019 unless Austin Barnes finds his 2017 mojo and turns back into one of the bright young catchers which earn him the starting job and puts the arrival of the prospects on hold. If Barnes shows he is more 2018 Barnes instead of 2017 Barnes it doesn’t clog up the position for when either or both of the prospects are ready.

Dodgers 2015/2016 IFA class has been trade fodder

Working off this tweet from @futuredodgers

None of those players have seen any major league time yet, and only Omar Estevez looks like someone who might see time with the Dodgers but I’d bet on him also being traded by this time next year.

Let’s take a look at that class in detail.

Yadier Alvarez – still in the organization, has gone from the number one pitching prospect to a relief pitcher with control issues with the ball in his hand, and in the dugout. Still, his stuff alone keeps him in the prospect world, and MLB Pipeline has him at 11 now.

Yusniel Diaz – the major piece in the Machado deal. Manny had a fractured time with the Dodgers and ultimately failed bigly in the postseason. Diaz is now ranked as the 52nd top prospect in baseball for the Orioles.

Omar Estevez – one of the few minor league players who has played two full season of A+ ball before the age of 21. He’s not climbing the ladder but at least he’s not falling down the ladder either. His repeat season was good, not great, but he was actually still young for the league even though he was a repeater. Might have a major league career, not very high on prospect lists.

Starling Heredia – the man with all the tools but evidently can’t hit. Looking more like James Baldwin than anything close to a major league baseball player.

Yordan Alvarez – traded for Josh Fields before he ever played for the Dodgers. Was moving up the Houston prospect list and is currently ranked as the 42nd best prospect in baseball.

Ronny Brito – just traded for Russell Martin. He was ranked as the Dodgers 23rd top prospect by MLB Pipeline.

Oneil Cruz – traded to the Pirates in 2017 for Tony Watson. Cruz made huge strides last year and is now the Pirates 4th best prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

Christopher Arias – oops, he was released.

Carlos Rincon – still in the Dodger organization. Carlos may simply hate cold weather or love California. He struggled mightily for the Great Lake Loons, but once he was promoted to Rancho, he exploded with a 1.245 OPS in 110 at-bats.

 

June 20th is the date to remember

I can’t get hung up on Austin Barnes as the starting catcher. Barnes will either grow into the role and be more than adequate, or the Dodgers replace him externally or internally. I’m betting on internally.

HOF Pudge Rodriguez was twenty years old on June 20th, 1991 when he started his major league career.  It just so happens that Pudge was playing minor league ball in AA for Tulsa when he was brought up by the Rangers to be their starting catcher for the next twelve seasons.  Does Tulsa sound familiar? It should because that is where Keibert Ruiz played last summer as a 19-year-old.

As you can see from the minor league history of Pudge, he never hit much in the minors. His receiving skills were so prodigious that his defense got him to the major leagues before his bat was ready.  When Pudge was in AA in 1991 he was 5 years younger than the average AA player.

Year    Age AgeDif            Tm   Lg Lev Aff    PA  BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1989     17   -4.4      Gastonia SALL   A TEX   418  21   58 .238 .278 .355 .633
1990     18   -4.6 PortCharlotte FLOR  A+ TEX   432  12   50 .287 .316 .377 .693
1991     19   -9.5           TEX   AL MLB TEX   288   5   42 .264 .276 .354 .630
1991     19   -5.0         Tulsa   TL  AA TEX   188   6   27 .274 .294 .389 .683
MLB     MLB    MLB                MLB     MLB 10270 513 1474 .296 .334 .464 .798
Mino   Mino   Mino               Mino  Minors  1063  40  140 .265 .296 .372 .668
AA (   AA (   AA (               AA (  Minors   198   7   28 .272 .294 .386 .680
A+ (   A+ (   A+ (               A+ (  Minors   447  12   54 .286 .314 .381 .695

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2019.

Keibert Ruiz is the Dodgers number one prospect. Keibert Ruiz is the number one catching prospect in baseball. He’s a switch hitter who makes constant contact. When Ruiz was in AA last summer he was 4.9 years younger than the average AA player. The Dodgers didn’t have to be so aggressive in promoting Keibert up the minor league ladder but they were. Don’t be surprised if Keibert is the Dodgers starting catcher by August of 2019.

Year    Age AgeDif              Tm    Lg    Lev   PA BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
2015     16   -2.3         Dodgers  DOSL    FRk  159  8  15 .300 .340 .387  .726
2016            17         2 Teams 2 Lgs     Rk  245 15  27 .374 .412 .527  .939
2016     17   -3.6           Ogden  PION     Rk  206 12  23 .354 .393 .503  .896
2016     17   -2.8         Dodgers  ARIZ     Rk   39  3   4 .485 .513 .667 1.179
2017            18         2 Teams 2 Lgs   A-A+  411 25  53 .316 .361 .452  .813
2017     18   -4.7 RanchoCucamonga  CALL     A+  160  7  23 .315 .344 .497  .840
2017     18   -3.3      GreatLakes  MIDW      A  251 18  30 .317 .372 .423  .795
2018     19   -4.9           Tulsa    TL     AA  415 26  33 .268 .328 .401  .728
2018     19   -3.4        Glendale  AZFL    Fal   56  6   2 .286 .357 .306  .663
Mino   Mino   Mino                  Mino Minors 1230 74 128 .309 .357 .441  .798
All     All    All                          All 1286 80 130 .308 .357 .435  .792

Rk ( Rk ( Rk ( Rk ( Minors 245 15 27 .374 .412 .527 .939

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2019.

No Harper, Kluber, Realmuto, Grandal, Wood, Puig, or Kemp

Which means that right now, Alex Verdugo is your starting right fielder, and Austin Barnes is your starting catcher. I don’t think Dodger fans were expecting that when news broke that the Dodgers had traded solid rotation piece Alex Wood, fan favorite Yasiel Puig and prodigal son Matt Kemp for prospects and flexibility but a month later time is running out for deals and this is the Dodger positional roster.

Against RHP POS Against LHP POS
Joc Pederson Left Field Chris Taylor Left Field
Alex Verdugo Right Field Corey Seager SS
Justin Turner 3rd Base Justin Turner 3rd Base
Corey Seager Shortstop David Freeze 1st Base
Cody Bellinger Center Field Kiké Hernandez 2nd Base
Max Muncy !st Base Cody Bellinger Center Field
Kike Hernandez 2nd Base Alex Verdugo Right Field
Austin Barnes Catcher Austin Barnes Catcher
Walker Buehler Pitcher Walker Buehler Pitcher
Andrew Toles Joc Pederson
Chris Taylor Andrew Toles
David Freeze Backup Catcher
Backup Catcher Max Muncy

At first blush,  for a team who has represented the NL in the last two World Series, this iteration as it stands has so many question marks in a much-improved NL that it is hard for me to imagine this team going to the 2019 World Series.  Alex Verdugo would have to win the 2019 ROY award to match what Puig has done in RF. The only player without any questions would seem to be Justin Turner.

Can Joc sustain the skill gains of 2018 or will 2017 rear its ugly head again?

Can Bellinger bounce back and crush (or even hit ) hit left-handers once again?

Muncy was one of a kind in 2018, now he has to prove that everything before 2018 was just getting him ready for 2018 and that he’s the real deal.

Will surgery rob Corey Seager of his MVP skills? Without Corey Seager putting up a top ten MVP season, this team just doesn’t seem right. So much of the Dodger success hinges on a player who only played twenty-six crappy games in 2018.

Hernandez was just starting to look like a productive everyday player when Oct came by and crapped all over his season.  Can his glove work make up for his offensive deficiencies when facing RHP, or should Chris Taylor be the everyday 2nd baseman?

Austin Barnes starting catcher. That scares most Dodger fans. It doesn’t scare me, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have lots of his own questions. Can he hit like 2017? Can he even physically handle catching 100 plus games?

Does David Freeze have at least one year left of smacking around left-hand pitchers?

Every team has questions but this just seems like a lot of uncertainty for a team in the Dodgers position.  A year from now Alex Verdugo could be considered one of the best RF in the game, and Gavin Lux along with Keibert Ruiz might the starting 2nd baseman and catcher but until they are ready, Dodgers look to be leaning heavily on players who have failed more often than they have succeeded in Hernandez and Barnes.

On the plus side, the rotation still looks loaded, and Kenley was given some help with Joe Kelly.

I did have confidence in the front office but they have had an immense brain drain in the past two years so the new group centered around President Andrew Friedman will have to prove they can build another World Series capable team. Trading Puig one year early to open a spot for Verdugo was a bold move but that doesn’t mean it was the right move. Puig is young enough and skilled enough that he might have a top ten MVP season in his Adonis body.  If he puts it together while Verdugo struggles, that won’t look good to a fan base that has really taken to Puig. Signing Harper would have quieted the skeptics but who wants to give anyone a ten-year deal? Not the Dodger front office. If you aren’t going to give Harper or Machado a ten-year deal, the odds are high you will never give anyone a ten-year deal.  The asking price for the best catcher in the NL was evidently too high for the Dodgers to match. They are in a tough spot with the best catching prospect in baseball just a year away. Maybe they don’t think Keibert is really that far away? Maybe just maybe they expect Keibert to be ready by August of 2019. There had to be a reason they were so aggressive in their promotions of the kid who only turned 20 this past summer. More on that next.

 

The day Willie Ellison ran wild

The different iterations of the Rams have had their share of fantastic running backs, but the guy who still holds the single-game record for rushing is probably an unknown to anyone under the age of 50. Only one Ram running back has ever rushed for more than 240 yards from scrimmage and his name is not Todd Gurley, Steven Jackson, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis, Greg Bell, Charles White, or Lawrence McCutcheon. His name is Willie Ellison and he did it on December 5th, 1971.

Jon Weisman recently wrote an outstanding article about life as a Rams fan and other than the fact his fandom started six years after mine, and that our family never had season tickets, it was very close to the same feeling.

I’m not trying to take anything away from the present-day Los Angeles Rams or their fans, whom I wish every thrilling and victorious moment they can get. But my Ramdom fandom is frozen in time. The Rams could end up with a season for the ages, and I will forever feel like an outsider. They left, and I let them go.

I don’t want to copy what Jon wrote but I have three main memories of the Rams that have stayed with me all these years.  I think most Ram fans of our era would point to the Vince Ferragamo to Billy Waddy touchdown pass to finally beat the Cowboys as the biggest play of the Ram franchise before they left for Saint Louis. It is the one play that stands out in my memory. The second would be when Joe Kapp hurdled Richie Petitbon in the 1969 NFL Division Championship game between the Rams and Vikings. The Rams had a 17 – 7 half time lead and look destined to appear in the 4th Super Bowl but Joe Kapp would quell that by leading the Vikings to a 23 – 20 victory. I’m sure there were many key plays but the only one that I can remember is Joe running for a key first down by hurdling over strong safety Richie Petitbon.  The third though is a game that hardly anyone remembers anymore. That is the game that Willie Ellison ran wild.

One of the big differences between Jon and myself is that my frozen in time Ram teams were the 1969 – 72 teams.  Those teams had a backfield of Roman Gabriel, Les Josephson, Larry Smith and Willie Ellison. The wide receiver group of Jack Snow, Lance Rentzel. The punt returner Alvin Hammond who never saw a punt that he felt he couldn’t return. The punter/receiver, Pat Studstill. The perennial All-Pro Tom Mack along with Charlie Cowan. The fearsome line of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Cory Bacon. Jack Youngblood was just getting started. The linebackers were led by Marlin McKeever (Jack Reynolds was around the corner) and rookie Isiah Robertson.

Anyway, the Rams were my team and they weren’t on TV if they were playing locally because it was hard to sell out the Coliseum. So on Dec 5th, 1971 I curled up with my radio, Dick Enberg, and my Los Angeles Times. There was no scorebook for football, so I had taken to writing each gain by the running backs in the margin next to the John Hall column which appeared on the 3rd page of the Los Angeles Times sports section.  I’ll be honest, I don’t remember what he did to aggregate 247 yards, I just remember that he had some monster runs and that I ran of out space on the left margin, and had to move my scorekeeping notes up to the top margin. Looking back, I see he had runs of eighty yards and forty-eight yards. Dick Enberg might have been the best play by play NFL announcer I ever heard and with each run being called by Dick, I could envision Willie creating havoc breaking off big run after big run.  A little context here. The Rams had a boring coach in George Allen and he preferred his slow but steady backfield of Josephson and Lary Smith, but I had always been a Willie Ellison fan because I loved speeeeeeeeeeeeeeed. Ellison had plenty of speed and for one game he did what no other Ram running back or any NFL had ever done.  At the time record was 243 yeards set in 1963.  It still stands as the best rushing yardage game for any iteration of the Rams. I was thirteen, and I can’t describe the palpable excitement as Willie closed in on the record but it was there.

                                         Rush Rush  Rush Rush
Player                  Date  Tm  Result  Att  Yds   Y/A   TD
Willie Ellison    1971-12-05 RAM W 45-28   26  247  9.50    1
Tommy Wilson      1956-12-16 RAM W 49-21   23  223  9.70    0
Greg Bell         1989-09-24 RAM W 41-38   28  221  7.89    2
Marshall Faulk*   2000-12-24 STL W 26-21   32  220  6.88    2
Eric Dickerson*   1984-12-09 RAM W 27-16   27  215  7.96    2
Charles White     1987-11-15 RAM W 27-24   34  213  6.26    1
Jerome Bettis*    1993-12-12 RAM W 23-20   28  212  7.57    1
Greg Bell         1989-12-24 RAM W 24-20   26  210  8.08    1
Todd Gurley       2018-10-14 LAR W 23-20   28  208  7.43    2
Marshall Faulk*   2000-10-15 STL W 45-29   25  208  8.32    1
Eric Dickerson*   1984-11-04 RAM W 16-13   21  208  9.90    0
Eric Dickerson*   1986-10-05 RAM W 26-20   30  207  6.90    2
Dan Towler        1953-11-22 RAM W 21-13   14  205 14.64    1
Marshall Faulk*   2001-12-23 STL W 38-32   30  202  6.73    2

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2019.
Even though it was the NFL record on 12/5/1971 it is now only the 13th best.

                                              Rush Rush  Rush Rush
Player                       Date  Tm  Result  Att  Yds   Y/A   TD
Adrian Peterson        2007-11-04 MIN W 35-17   30  296  9.87    3
Jamal Lewis            2003-09-14 BAL W 33-13   30  295  9.83    2
Jerome Harrison        2009-12-20 CLE W 41-34   34  286  8.41    3
Corey Dillon           2000-10-22 CIN W 31-21   22  278 12.64    2
Walter Payton*         1977-11-20 CHI  W 10-7   40  275  6.88    1
O.J. Simpson*          1976-11-25 BUF L 14-27   29  273  9.41    2
Shaun Alexander        2001-11-11 SEA W 34-27   35  266  7.60    3
Jamaal Charles         2010-01-03 KAN W 44-24   25  259 10.36    2
DeMarco Murray         2011-10-23 DAL  W 34-7   25  253 10.12    1
Doug Martin            2012-11-04 TAM W 42-32   25  251 10.04    4
Mike Anderson          2000-12-03 DEN W 38-23   37  251  6.78    4
O.J. Simpson*          1973-09-16 BUF W 31-13   29  250  8.62    2
Willie Ellison         1971-12-05 RAM W 45-28   26  247  9.50    1
Corey Dillon           1997-12-04 CIN W 41-14   39  246  6.31    4
LaDainian Tomlinson*   2003-12-28 SDG W 21-14   31  243  7.84    2
Cookie Gilchrist       1963-12-08 BUF W 45-14   36  243  6.75    5

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2019.

Why does Joc get so little love?

I didn’t expect much from Joc when he came up in 2015 but he surprised me with how he played CF, and of course, his first few months were Puig like which may have set the expectations at an unreasonable level. By May 1st, 2015, Joc had an OPS of 1.096 while playing some of the best CF I had seen from a Dodger CF in many a year. Even by June 1st, the OPS was still at an elite level of .933.  Joc would hit four home run in four games in Colorado and spike his OPS to .998.  It was pretty much a free fall from there to an OPS of .800 and eventually the season-ending .760.  Joc stopped playing an electric CF and became a drag on the outfield defense until he was moved to left field this past season. His bat has never hit the highs of his first two months but he has certainly had his runs over the next three years, including an outstanding World Series in 2017.  It might be the most recent World Series why he has lost some luster. Joc had one hit in the World Series, had zero walks, and looked lost. Yet, all the Dodgers looked lost in the 2018 World Series.

The one thing about Joc that I’ve always loved was his power swing. I stopped covering the Dodgers by the time he showed up so I never got to witness his batting practice up close but I bet it was worth watching.

The chart below from the Fangraphs Multi-Year selection process includes all NL outfielders who have had at least 1500 PA since 2015.  Joc is the last of these outfielders to have earned at least 10 fWAR since 2015.  Joc is not elite, but he is good.

Name WAR wOBA wRC+ BB% K% ISO
Bryce Harper 20.6 0.398 149 17.40% 20.90% 0.259
Christian Yelich 20 0.371 135 10.60% 20.20% 0.185
Charlie Blackmon 16.5 0.38 123 7.80% 17.60% 0.219
Andrew McCutchen 12.6 0.352 122 12.10% 20.00% 0.185
Starling Marte 12.1 0.336 112 5.00% 18.90% 0.153
A.J. Pollock 12 0.351 116 7.50% 16.30% 0.2
Marcell Ozuna 11.7 0.34 114 7.30% 19.90% 0.179
Ender Inciarte 11.4 0.32 96 6.70% 12.20% 0.105
Odubel Herrera 11.4 0.329 104 6.80% 21.70% 0.148
Curtis Granderson 11.1 0.344 119 13.10% 21.80% 0.22
Michael Conforto 10.3 0.351 124 12.00% 24.70% 0.225
Joc Pederson 10.1 0.344 119 12.80% 24.80% 0.232

Joc had the off year in 2017, otherwise he’d be right smack in the middle of that group above us. You are looking at a player who has earned between 2.7  – 3.6 fWAR in three of his four major league seasons.  He has some positive trends working in his favor. The biggest trend has been the drop in his K rate from 29% to 19% while putting up his best ISO.  The walk rate has now dropped below 10% after three straight years over 12%. I have no idea what impact the new Dodger hitting coach can have on Joc but if he can get Joc back over a 10% walk rate, keep the K rate below 20%, and the ISO above .250 we just might have a 4 fWAR player.  We know his Achilles heel is left-handed pitching but it was the same for Andre Ethier who ended up being a valuable Dodger until he signed his extension.

I should appreciate Joc more.

Season PA HR BB% K% ISO OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
2015 585 26 15.70% 29.10% 0.21 0.35 0.42 0.34 116 3.1
2016 476 25 13.20% 27.30% 0.25 0.35 0.5 0.36 128 3.6
2017 323 11 12.10% 21.10% 0.19 0.33 0.41 0.32 100 0.6
2018 443 25 9.00% 19.20% 0.27 0.32 0.52 0.35 126 2.7