Clipped again

Kawhi Leonard was supposed to make sure this didn’t happen but even the postseason savant couldn’t keep the Clippers from once again breaking the hearts of their long suffering fans. For whatever reason, the Lakers and Clippers just can’t get it together so that they play each other in the postseason. This one seemed primed but it won’t happen this summer.

Any long time Clipper fan will tell you that this failure wasn’t new. With Lob City, a team led by a player every bit the equal of Kawhi Leonard in Chris Paul the Clippers blew a similar 3 – 1 game lead in the Western Semifinals to Houston in 2015. The difference this time though was that the Clippers had a 3 – 1 game lead and a 20 point lead in game five and they couldn’t close it out. By the time the seven games were in the bank, the Nuggets clearly looked like the better team.

My own personal series defeat was in 2006, when the Clippers were supposed to meet the Lakers in the Western Semifnals, but the Lakers blew a 3 – 1 game series lead to the Suns. The Clippers played the Suns instead and that series is the series I’ll always regret. That team was my favorite team, led by Sam Cassel and they lost because Vinny Del Negro made one of the worst late in game decisions any coach has every made.

I feel bad for other Clipper fans, as instead of quieting the cacophony of noise that Clipper fans have to endure from entitled Laker fans, it will be a long summer and no answer can be made until next summer. Bubble basketball was fun but the Clippers never played in the bubble like they played before Covid-19. 6th man of the year Montrezl Harrell lost his Grandmother to COVID and simply wasn’t the same player. That may have been because he was played different, or it may have been a hangover from losing the woman who raised him. I don’t know, but the man who created havoc when he entered the game was a negative in just about every game he played in the postseason. Lou Williams didn’t hit any big shots and was never a factor in any of the fourth quarters. Paul George is considered one of the top 10 players in the NBA, we rarely saw that player. If the short Clipper window with Kawhi/PG13 end up with nothing, not even a Western Conference Title, that paring of Kawhi/PG13 for immediate success instead of building with SGA and the bazillion number one picks, and all of Ballmers money may look bad at this time next summer. If Kawhi leaves next summer after testing the waters for two years and saying no thanks, it could get really ugly since they mortgaged the future for those two years.

This tweet probably says it all:

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The fact is, this Clipper team wasn’t much fun to root for compared to the team that gave the Warriors all they could handle last summer. That team had zero expectations and leapfrogged them all. This team had title expectations, and not only couldn’t finish the second lap, they looked like someone had taken the heart right of them. If they were playing harder than the Nuggets, it didn’t look like it. Pat Beverly the voice/noise/heart of the 2018/2019 Clippers was MIA. Bluster doesn’t wear so well when you aren’t playing well.

I don’t know what next year will bring us, but right now the Clippers are in Dodger territory. Whatever you do during the regular season won’t mean much until we see what you can do in the postseason.

The Clippers were the Title favorites entering the season and are already out of the playoffs. The Dodgers entered 2020 as the title favorites and in a short 13 days, will need to show that the best team in the regular season can make a long run in Sept/Oct. There will be no trash banging in their way, just baseball.

Dodgers – Unstoppable Force – Hitters

Thirty games into the abbreviated regular season and the Dodger record is very much what everyone expected. The best in baseball. How they got there however is not quite what I expected.

Mookie Betts is everything he’s always been. He is simply one of the best players in baseball because he does everything exceptionally well. Mookie has a very good chance to be the next Frank Robinson, the last/only player to win an MVP in both leagues. He currently leads the NL in fWAR but he does have a competitor in the young beast down South, Tatis Junior. For those unfamiliar with Frank Robinson, he was traded in the winter of 1965 from the Cincinati Reds to the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of his HOF career. The GM of the Reds famously said that Robinson was an old 30. Frank would win the 1966 Triple Crown and MVP and lead the Orioles to the 1966 World Championship defeating the Dodgers in four straight games. Baseball likes to repeat itself just never in the exact same way, but Mookie was traded to the Dodgers in the winter of 2019 because the Red Sox wouldn’t pay him what he was worth, and it is very possible that Mookie will deliver for the Dodgers as Frank Robinson delivered for the Orioles.

Just a quick heads up on the fWAR NL Leaderboard:

The stats below were provided by www.fangraphs.com. I’m a member, every baseball fan should be. Support the writers.

NameWARwRC+OffDef
Mike Yastrzemski2.218416.11.5
Fernando Tatis Jr.2.118315.31.6
Mookie Betts1.817412.42
Trent Grisham1.41405.73.8
Bryce Harper1.419112.2-0.7
Ian Happ1.41619.3-0.1
Trevor Story1.31377.91.1
Charlie Blackmon1.21569.6-2.1
J.T. Realmuto1.11526.22.6
Jesse Winker1.11819-1.9
Starling Marte1.11295.21.3

Corey Seager was off to his own MVP start before he was injured and has yet to regain the same stroke. It isn’t like he dropped off a cliff but on Aug 7th he had an OPS .989 and in the games since he returned his OPS is at .851 for a combined OPS of .925. Corey only missed a week but a week in a 60 game season is a substantial number of games missed. I know his hard hit rate was one of the highest before he got hurt but you didn’t need a stat sheet to see that, you simply had to watch the games and see line drive after line drive.

While MVP candidates Betts and Seager were driving the offense the other MVP cylinder was missing more than sparking. Current MVP Cody Bellinger just couldn’t get it going until last week and it is a testament to the offense that they still clicked while Cody was figuring things out. Has he figured it out? As recently as Aug 18th, Cody had an OPS of only .565 and an article was written saying his performance in 2020 was worst season of any MVP coming off an MVP season. That seemed like a very shortsighted story given he had played in only 24 games or basically one month of a normal season. Of course as soon as that article was published Cody started hitting and now that writer has to live with a story that was going to be dead in the water as soon as his publisher agreed to publish it. In his last five games Cody has bombed four home runs and moved his OPS from .565 to .739. I expect him to have an OPS over .900 by the end of the year but he might get there in just another week.

The Dodgers have three legit MVP candidates. Two have already won an MVP and are both still 27 and under. The 3rd was Corey Seager who showed his bat is MVP quality when he’s completely healthy. The fourth might be the most underrated hitter in baseball. Justin Turner. Since 2014 Justin Turner has the 11th highest bWAR in baseball, but it is even more impressive than that. He did that with an average of about almost 900 less plate appearances and since bWAR is a cumulative stat you could make a case that Justin Turner has been one of the top 10 players in baseball since he showed up with the Dodgers and yet he has never had one single top five MVP vote in any single season. Everyone else above him on this list has had at least one top five MVP season.

                                                   
Player               HR OPS+ WAR/pos From   To   PA
Mike Trout          233  179    53.4 2014 2020 3901
Mookie Betts        150  135    44.2 2014 2020 3751
Nolan Arenado       224  126    35.5 2014 2020 3959
Paul Goldschmidt    182  142    34.0 2014 2020 3989
Jose Altuve         117  137    32.9 2014 2020 4053
Josh Donaldson      186  139    32.4 2014 2020 3507
Anthony Rendon      135  130    30.4 2014 2020 3650
Manny Machado       194  124    30.1 2014 2020 3954
Christian Yelich    142  138    30.1 2014 2020 3884
Anthony Rizzo       184  138    29.8 2014 2020 4079
Justin Turner       114  138    28.0 2014 2020 3022
Freddie Freeman     163  143    27.6 2014 2020 3912
Nelson Cruz         255  150    27.3 2014 2020 3876
Joey Votto          130  143    27.1 2014 2020 3684
Giancarlo Stanton   194  149    25.9 2014 2020 2949
George Springer     164  130    25.6 2014 2020 3450
J.D. Martinez       210  150    25.3 2014 2020 3564
Carlos Correa       105  129    25.3 2015 2020 2480
Provided by Stathead.com: View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 8/25/2020.

Justin Turner hasn’t really turned it on yet in 2020. He’s done alright, but there is more, and it is kind of scary that the Dodgers already have the best team in baseball and Cody is just getting going, and Justin hasn’t really turned on his jets yet.

Did we forget another under-performing MVP candidate? I think we did, and his name is Max Muncy. Max has really struggled, his walk rate is the only thing keeping his OPS respectable at this point. Max has never gotten full credit for what he did in 2018/2019. He was clearly one of the top ten players in all of baseball and yet couldn’t crack a top ten MVP in either season. Again every other player on this list got top ten MVP votes in 2018 or 2019 except Max Muncy. I should have the same faith that Max will turn it around as I did for Cody but to be honest I don’t. It took me three years before I trusted that Justin Turner was for real, and I need that third year from Max. I expect he will, but I’m not certain he will.

                                                 
Player             HR OPS+ WAR/pos From   To   PA
Mike Trout         94  187    19.0 2018 2020 1326
Nelson Cruz        89  156     8.7 2018 2020 1231
Christian Yelich   87  167    14.1 2018 2020 1345
J.D. Martinez      82  151     9.6 2018 2020 1421
Cody Bellinger     80  141    13.8 2018 2020 1420
Max Muncy          77  140    10.2 2018 2020 1194
Alex Bregman       76  156    17.0 2018 2020 1502
Mookie Betts       72  160    20.0 2018 2020 1442
Anthony Rendon     64  148    12.9 2018 2020 1360
Aaron Judge        63  150    12.6 2018 2020 1013
Juan Soto          63  146     8.4 2018 2020 1229
Provided by Stathead.com: View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 8/25/2020.

Speaking of underrated players, does Chris Taylor come to mind? He should but I’ll do a specific column on that because this is getting long. Anyway below are the Dodgers numbers so far this season:

Mookie leads the team in hits (33), doubles (7), home runs (11), runs scored (25), RBI (24), batting avg (.300), slug% (664), OPS (1.032), OPS+ (176), and Total Bases (73). Oh, and stolen bases with 5 and zero caught stealing.

AJ Pollock has also hit 7 doubles, and I’m sure we are all surprised that Corey Seager is only 3rd on the team with doubles with six.

Chris Taylor leads the team in OBP at .376 with Justin Turner 2nd at .372 so so suck it Mookie. You aren’t the best at everything, just almost the best at everything.

Hat tip to Austin Barnes for having a brief spell where it looked like 2017 again, and making his stat line respectable for the season after looking like his career had morphed into Jeff Mathis.

Hat tip to Edwin Rios who makes power look as easy as anyone in baseball.

Hat tip to Keibert Ruiz who hit a home run on his very first major league swing. Not first at-bat, but first swing. That was extra cool.

Final hat tip to AJ Pollock who I thought was redundant on this team and has proven that he is very much needed since Joc / Enrique have joined Max as the offensive disappointments of 2020.

Will Smith hit the ball hard and made a lot of outs. That is all.

PosNameAgePARH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSO
CAustin Barnes3062715101710417
1BMax Muncy*29124152020713001630
2BEnrique Hernandez288314194131100318
SSCorey Seager*2610016286072000512
3BJustin Turner35121142861218001320
LFJoc Pederson*28841413104810918
CFCody Bellinger*24127212430817201321
RFMookie Betts271222533701124501119
DHAJ Pollock329813257051521621
PosNameAgePARH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSO
UTChris Taylor2910613234129321626
CWill Smith25456710390095
UTMatt Beaty*27407910250025
CIEdwin Rios* (10-day IL)26315830360009
CKeibert Ruiz# (40-man)2181200110003

To sum up the Dodgers have the best team in baseball right now even with the current MVP struggling 90% of the season, Max Muncy not finding any groove, and Joc looking lost. Three huge components to the success of 2019, and yet they haven’t missed a beat. This team has proven once again that with their depth they are a regular season beast.

There is only one thing left to prove. Can they beast in October?

Unstoppable Dodgers – Relief Pitching

Thirty games into the abbreviated regular season and the Dodger record is very much what everyone expected. The best in baseball. How they got there however is not quite what I expected.

I felt the Dodgers would have a good bullpen with the additions of Graterol/Treinen but so many things needed to go right for it to become a great bullpen, and for the most part, they all did.

Kenley Jansen is once again throwing with confidence and ease, and giving Dodger fans a reason to relax in the 9th inning. Kenley has only given up one run in thirteen appearances and is firmly entrenched in the role as Dodger closer. Fangraphs says he using a cutter 73% of the time so far in 2020. Whatever he’s throwing it is working.

Caleb Ferguson in 2018 looked like the next coming of Andrew Miller, but took a big step back in 2019. In 2020, the Andrew Miller Caleb is back and providing dominant setup action.

Dylan Floro doesn’t walk anyone so he doesn’t get hurt when he gives up hits which so far in 2020 have been far and few between.

Jake McGee was once a huge prospect with the Tampa Bay Rays but had spent his last few years getting knocked around in Coors. He still had the big left arm and the Dodgers took a chance and once again found a nugget that had been cast aside by other teams. That nugget has the highest K% on the Dodgers at 40.50% and the 8th best in baseball right now.

Adam Kolarek looked like he might be a victim of the new three batter rule given he was a LOOGY, but he has thrived and continues to pitch as though everyone is Soto. Adam hasn’t walked anyone yet in 2020. He is one of only three pitchers left in baseball who has thrown at least ten innings without a walk.

Brusdar Graterol does not strike out as many as you’d think given his 100 MPH heater but he has been effective.

Blake Treinen looks to have the best stuff in the bullpen when he is on. Most of the time he has been on, but he had one clunker early on and one late. He might be the best addition to the Dodger bullpen since the 2017 version of Brandon Morrow. Blake was the best relief pitcher in baseball as recently as 2018. He may not be at that level in 2020, but he looks like a stud to me and could really be a difference maker in October.

Scott Alexander started off the year striking out everyone but lately has gone back to what he normally does well, getting ground balls. His 73% ground ball percentage is 2nd on the team for those who have thrown meaningful innings. On the down side is that his walk rate is the highest of his career.

Dennis Santana had an early brilliant game that displayed what he could do when he is on. He has struggled since that point, and I can’t see how he makes the October roster.

Joe Kelly became a Dodger folk hero by throwing at someone’s head and making silly faces. I don’t condone either action so he’s nothing but a jerk for me and hasn’t pitched very well either. He’s now hurt.

One quick tidbit. Eight relief pitchers have yet to give up a home run in 2020. The exceptions are Santana (3), Baez (2), Alexander, and Ferguson Those eight have combined for 78 innings without giving up a home run.

The stats below were provided by www.fangraphs.com. I’m a member, every baseball fan should be. Support the writers.

NameGIPK%BB%WAR
Kenley Jansen1311.232.60%9.30%0.4
Caleb Ferguson1211.140.00%5.00%0.4
Dylan Floro131320.40%2.00%0.4
Jake McGee111040.50%8.10%0.4
Adam Kolarek91023.50%0.00%0.3
Brusdar Graterol1110.218.00%2.60%0.3
Blake Treinen121224.00%14.00%0.2
Victor Gonzalez3519.10%4.80%0.1
Joe Kelly76.119.20%19.20%0
Scott Alexander9922.20%13.90%0
Pedro Baez1111.117.40%10.90%-0.1
Dennis Santana913.125.40%11.90%-0.2

At the halfway point we can look toward October where it looks like a huge strength. You have your closer in Jansen. You have right / left setup studs in Treinen and Ferguson. You have left/right/left middle relief options in McGee/Floro/Graterol/Kolarek. Alexander might make it. That doesn’t even take into account what the bullpen might look like when some of the starters bounce to the bullpen like May/Urias/Gonsolin/Stripling. It will be crowded, it will also be very hard to score on.

Maybe the best option for a postseason game three is a May/Urias humpback start.

Unstoppable Dodgers – Starting Pitching

Thirty games into the abbreviated regular season and the Dodger record is very much what everyone expected. The best in baseball. How they got there however is not quite what I expected.

Walker Buehler has not been anything we expected until his last start. The future Cy Young candidate hasn’t even been the best pitcher on the Dodgers. Right now that honor belongs to Tony Gonsolin who was last seen giving up home runs balls to Gavin Lux during a Taxi Game on Monday Night at Dodger Stadium. Now, I can understand if you think I’m being hyperbolic about Gonsolin, after all, he has made only three starts in thirty games. Sure, Tony the Tiger hasn’t given up a run, but prepare to be shocked. Even though Tony the Tiger has made only three starts out of thirty games, he leads the Dodgers in pitching fWAR. Well, he is tied with Julio Urias who gets his own paragraph. Anyway, Tony has certainly been the biggest “good” surprise of the season.

Out with the old and in with the new may have to wait a little while longer. Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen aren’t ready for the back ends of their careers just yet. Clayton got off to a rocky start when he missed opening day and started off on the IL but has made three solid starts including back to back games scores of 75 in his last two starts. Kenley has only given up one run in thirteen games and looks as confident as ever.

Dustin May has thrown the filthiest pitches by a Dodger in 2020 but he hasn’t thrown the best games. May has been consistent, with game scores ranging from 43 to 65. He has not given up more then two runs in any game but has also only thrown 29 innings in six starts. He looks like a big piece of the future rotation but I’m not sure that rotation will include this postseason.

Julio Urias seems to be a big disappointment to many Dodger fans. They keep expecting him to be a star, and if he’s not going to be star, they don’t seem to have the patience for what he is. What he is right now is very much an average starter just like Dustin May. He has made five starts, has never given up more than two runs in any start but has not dominated any start. He has game scores ranging from 47 to 58, that is a very consistent range. Yet, he gets dragged, while Dustin May is the next coming even though, Julio is just one year older than Dustin and they have basically pitched the same in 2020.

Wood came and went in one start. He might have more to his 2020 story but I’m not sure if he does. Ross Stripling replaced him and while it started off promising, Ross is the one starter who has gone off the cliff. In his first start Ross pitched one of the best games of the Dodger 2020 season putting up a game score of 72. He hasn’t had a game score above 50 since that game and has put up two real clunkers and now sports the lowest fWAR among any Dodger pitcher currently in the rotation.

The stats below were provided by www.fangraphs.com. I’m a member, every baseball fan should be. Support the writers.

NameGGSIPK%BB%WAR
Tony Gonsolin3314.223.50%3.90%0.6
Julio Urias552319.00%7.40%0.6
Clayton Kershaw442432.20%4.40%0.4
Dustin May662916.70%5.80%0.4
Walker Buehler552527.50%8.80%0.3
Ross Stripling6629.218.20%6.10%0
Alex Wood11326.70%20.00%-0.1

Looking at the Dodger pitching stats, you wouldn’t think they are 22 – 8 and the best team in baseball. Even when Walker gets straightened out and once again becomes one of the best pitchers in baseball, they might have a postseason problem. With David Price sitting out the season. With Ryu in a different country. With Kenta, will never mind about Kenta, he was never going to get a postseason start no matter how well he pitched. The Dodgers don’t really have that 3rd/4th guy that scares anyone. On the plus side, no one else does either. As good as Tony Gonsolin has been, I don’t think anyone thinks he’s the 3rd or 4th starter in October. Urias or May might get there, or they might not. Ross and Wood aren’t going to be there. They need help here, and when the Dodgers need help they usually get help.

Take a Knee

I wrote the column below three years ago on Sept 17, 2017 right after Bruce Maxwell took a knee before a baseball game. Sadly, three years later it is still relevant and since I can’t seem to write about baseball right now, I’m going to leave this at the top of my queue.

==============================================================

You can’t equivocate on this issue, our country has tried to sweep it under the carpet ever since the Black Panthers stopped having a voice, but instead of black Americans getting hanged they have simply been shot at an alarming percentage compared to their Caucasian brothers.

I was disappointed last year when Colin Kaepernick took a knee but did so by himself. Where was the Pee Wee Reese moment where his Caucasian teammate would kneel next to him?  A year later the movement has spread as President Trump galvanized the players by making a typically anti-constitutional comment. It must drive him crazy that he is not a monarch and that our country has a whole series of checks and balances that he still trying to figure out ways to dodge.

Just as he dodged the draft, he has never served anything but himself, so when the blowhard tweeted that people should be fired for protesting, just proves once again, that President Trump has no idea what this country is supposed to be about.

His henchman Mike Huckaby had this to say:

The former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said on Fox News, “I wish that some of these players who get on one knee would get on both knees and thank God they live in the United States.”

Seeming to ignore the entire history of the African American world. The world in which they were kidnapped from their country to work as slaves in our country. The country which continued to hang them for a myriad of reasons, most of which were simply because they were black.

Most of my life I’ve felt the people who died in the Civil War is the price this country paid for slavery

Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty.  Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.

and that should have closed the book on the Caucasian guilt of what they did to the people of color but the book never closes. Whatever lessons we should have learned we did not as we progressively moved through each segment of the color chart of the human experience,  Native American, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, South American. You name a color the United States has smeared that color rather than embrace it.  First, we brought you here to do the worst jobs we had and then hated you for doing them.  Almost a psychopathic display of non-Christian attitudes.

The ongoing protest is now about the percentage of people of color who are being murdered by the police force of the United States but it could just as easily be about all of the inequity of our system.  I’ll even admit that for most of my life I assumed every shooting was for just cause, but seventeen years ago the Los Angeles Police Department shot a black American at a Halloween Party   and the reason behind it did not hold water.  Ever since that incident, I have had an open eye to the victim of a police shooting.

I won’t pretend to understand the pressures a police person goes through to do their job, but I do know that if you are going to take the job as a police person you can’t simply kill the people you have been hired to protect every time you feel you are in danger. It is obvious that major training needs to happen, and that some of the police people involved in shooting unarmed people of color need to be held more accountable for their crime than simply losing their jobs.

Should an athlete who has made it thank God they live in the United States? He should thank his athletic skills because without those skills he would have had a 10% chance of being incarcerated in this great country of ours.

I can understand a Caucasian person taking a knee and thanking God if they happen to believe in God for being born in the United States, I don’t believe that holds true for people of color, and until it does, taking a knee during the National Anthem is a very pacifistic way of protesting the gross inequities of this nation between people of color and us white folk.

Last year after Colin Kaepernick took his knee I was at a Clipper game, I really wanted to take a knee but didn’t. I lost a little bit of respect for myself that night.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo sports explains why Bruce Maxwell took a knee.

The 2000 Census counted 14,128 people living in Cullman, Alabama, a city in the northern part of the state, halfway between Huntsville and Birmingham. Forty-eight of those residents were black. Baseball took Bruce Maxwell an hour down the road to Cullman that year for a tournament. He was just shy of 10 years old, mature enough to understand that almost nobody there looked like him, innocent enough to believe it didn’t matter. His father was African-American. His mother was white. He couldn’t control who he was.

“We won the tournament,” Maxwell said, “and a man stood up in the stands. And he threatened to hang me and my dad.”

When Bruce Maxwell took a knee this weekend,  he did it for all of us who did not have the balls to do so on our own.

Thank you

Lima Time

P1_1009_lima_ap_medium

Pedro Moura just wrote an excellent memorial to Jose Lima who died ten years ago. Pedro dug deep into the Lima mystique and has quite a few nuggets. My favorite might be:

“Sweet home Dominicana,” Lima would often sing to the tune of a Lynyrd Skynyrd classic, “where you can lie about your age!”

I wrote this ten years ago when Dodger postseason star Jose Lima died unexpectedly at the age of 37. I’ve brought it over here for today.

The news of Jose Lima dying at the age of 37 today should have shocked all of us. I expect to write about Dodgers dying but not guys who are 14 years my junior. He only pitched for us for one year but man oh man, what a year it was.

Until Jose Lima joined the Dodgers I considered him a showboating fool, who was all about public relations. In 2004 with the change in ownership I delved into buying season tickets, and ended up right next to the Dodger bullpen staring down into that strange world of hierarchies.

I wasn’t happy that Lima had made the team in the spring of 2004, he was to me someone who should be pitching for a losing program not the Dodger program. I also have never been a fan of fake showmanship, and at the beginning Lima  seemed all about fake showmanship. Later as I settled in to my season tickets Lima would prove me wrong in every which way.

First off, in 2004 the man could pitch, in fact as I wait for Ely to fall to earth,  I should take note of what Lima accomplished with less. 

Second, the man loved this game and the fans. No Dodger before or since Jose Lima, interacted on a daily basis with such enthusiasm. His love of the game was contagious and since he loved the fans, they loved him back. Lima Time was not just some bullshit term, Jose Lima earned it by using every trick in the book to fool the hitters, and genuine enthusiasm  to make the fans feel like someone actually cared about them.

When Jose was first used in the bullpen he would be the first guy to show up, and shower the stands from the field box to the reserve with free baseballs.   Later when he became a fixture in the rotation he still would come down to the bullpen area to chat with the fans. He’s the only starter who has ever done that on a consistent basis.

He sang the national anthem and to be honest I have no idea if he was any good or not, because most of Dodger Stadium was ogling his gorgeous wife.

Joselimawife_medium

via www.murrayinthemorning.com

However without something to cap off the season, he would simply have been remembered as just another interesting Dodgers, but in October he did something completely unexpected. He pitched the game of his career, and he did it in style. It was the greatest game I’ve ever witnessed at Dodgers Stadium. From the time Jose Lima was warming up until the last out, Chavez Ravine was buzzing. I’ve been to a game like that before but the buzz stops when the pitching fails, this time the pitching did not fail.

It wouldn’t have been the same if someone like Orel or Fernando had pitched the gem. The greatest part of the game was the complete surprise that someone like Jose Lima could pitch the greatest Dodger playoff game in the last 16 years.

Jose Lima shut out the prodigious St Louis lineup for the first playoff victory for the Dodgers since 1988. He shut down Albert Pujols. He shut down the critics.

He won our hearts forever.

Garry Maddox and the Long Winter of 1978

You’d think that someone like myself who loves LAD history more than most would be enjoying all these historic games being broadcast, or all the great blogs trying to find an angle to write about from the best player that wore a Dodger number to the best Dodger player for each position but truth be told I have thought very little about baseball over the past two months. It wasn’t just that Covid-19 had put a halt to the 2020 MLB season, I can’t seem to get past the upcoming election and how if things stay the same, this country will continue down a path I don’t want to be part of. I won’t say it consumes me, but it has changed my perspective.

Last night I noticed that game four of the 1978 NLCS was going to be on so I recorded it for late night viewing and when I settled into watch this particular game something changed, all my memories of this sport I love came flowing back. I imagine a good part of it, was this specific team. The 1973 – 1981 Dodgers were my hey day, as I watched the core grow from kids and turn into a team that could have legitimately won four World Championships instead of just one. It wasn’t just the infield of Garvey/Lopes/Russell/Cey but also Reggie Smith/Rick Monday/Dusty Baker/Lee Lacy/Joe Ferguson/Manny Mota/Steve Yeager/Burt Hooten/Tommy John/Don Sutton/Terry Forster. This was a fun and loaded team to root for.

In 1978 the Dodgers were facing a formidable Phillies team that had won the East three years in a row. The Dodgers had dispatched the Phillies in 1977 and had won the first two games of the 1978 NLCS , but after losing game three, they needed to win game four so they wouldn’t have to play a game five. The Phillies boasted HOF Mike Schmidt in his prime, the Bull Greg Luzinski, the best CF in baseball in Garry Maddox, relief expert Tug McGraw, and of course HOF Steve Carlton.

The Dodgers were no slouches, having perhaps one of the best Dodger teams to not win the World Series. They did not have any HOF position players but you could have almost fielded a complete Hall of the Very Good with a lineup of Garvey/Cey/Lopes/Reggie Smith/Dusty Baker/Rick Monday. Missing from that list is Bill Russell because Bill Russell just wasn’t that good. He could however, do one thing very well, hit singles, and in 1978 Bill had 140 of them. None of his singles were more important to Dodger history than the one he would hit in the 10th inning to send the Dodgers to the 1978 World Series.

About this game:

The Announcers were an extremely young Al Michaels, a living Don Drysdale, and a still playing Johnny Bench. I had forgotten how good a baseball play by play person, Al Michaels was. He did an excellent job in this game, and I can’t remember wincing at anything he said. He even got in a nice playful jab regarding the Sutton/Garvey hubbub that had happened earlier in the season.

The Managers were Tommy Lasorda and old friend Danny Ozark who used to coach the Dodgers. Still alive at the time was Walter Alston as they showed him in an upstairs box with what looked like four ladies who had just had their hair done in the their best Queen Elizabeth mode.

The starting pitchers were Doug Rau and Randy Lerch, not exactly the best for either team but will suited for this particular matchup. Neither was over powering, relying on finesse to get outs.

The game starts off strange enough, with HOF Mike Schmidt leading off, which made me wonder how many times did Mike Schmidt lead off? Not very many. In 1978 he lead off seven times, in his whole career he lead off eight times, so outside of 1978, you could say he never led off, but here he was leading off in the most important game of the season. Maybe Ozark knew something because Schmidt led of with double down the line. Bowa walked, and Garry Maddox blooped a single in front of Smith. Schmidt did not attempt to score and you could see he was annoyed with himself when the ball bounced away from Smith. He should have tried to score because with the bases loaded, no outs, and Luzinki/Cardenal/Martin coming up, the Philllies failed to score anyone. That inning would haunt the Phillies the rest of winter.

Jose Cardenal was batting fifth and playing 1st base for the Phillies. I have no memory of this. I remember Cardenal as a good but never great outfielder who was playing LF the day that Rick Monday ran in from CF and saved the flag from being burnt. I remember this because I was at the game, and I’ll always remember that after Monday scooped up the flag, Cardenal stayed with the guy who tried to burn the flag until security showed up. Cardenal played 1778 games in the outfield and only 58 game at 1st base, but in 1978 he played 50 of those 58 games for the Phillies. He also had a big Afro, and I loved all Afro wearing baseball players. Just something about trying to keep that hat on a big ass Afro that made me smile.

Speaking of Rick Monday. Rick didn’t start game four, Bill North did. Rick was only playing against RHP and Lerch was left-handed. When Monday came on to pinch-hit they posted his season totals and they were ok, but nothing to get excited about. Al mentioned that Rick had won the April Player of the Month which left me wondering if he had such a torrid April, and he had such pedestrian overall numbers, he must have had a really tough season after April but that isn’t quite right. Rick also had a great May, and ended April/May with an OPS of 1.096. From June 1st – August 31st he really struggled. Over that three month span, Rick only had 7 extra-base hits in 153 plate appearances.

In the bottom of the 2nd Garvey leads off and they put up stat saying that his five NLCS home runs are a record. Put a pin in that. Cey hits a double, and Dusty Baker drives him home with blooper just over Schmidts head. Cey can score because there were two outs and it wasn’t hit hard enough for anyone to throw him out. Dodger lead 1 – 0.

When Randy Lerch comes up they mention several times about his two home runs against the Pirates the previous Saturday. Those two he hit on Sept 30th, 1978 were half his career total. Lerch did drive Billy North to the wall in his last at-bat of the 1978 season in the 4th with Ted Sizemore on 3rd base. Sizemore had hit a generous triple when Reggie Smith tried to catch a sinking line drive and it skipped past him.

Al Michaels mentions that Doug Rau hasn’t give up a run yet, but every out has been a fly ball. Big D says that is OK as long as those fly balls stay away from the blue walls. A few seconds later Greg Luzinki parks a two-run blast beyond the blue walls and Johnny Bench asks Big D what was that you were saying.

Phillies now lead 2 – 1 but Ron Cey crushes a high fastball into the middle of the left field pavilion. Baker follows with his 2nd hit but Russell hits into a DP.

With the score 2 – 2, Rich Rhoden replaces Doug Rau and gives up a pinch hit home run to Bake McBride in his 2nd inning of work in the 7th. It would be the only bad pitch Rhoden would throw while getting twelve outs pitching the 6th-9th innings.

Down 3 – 2 in the bottom of the 7th, that pin I was talking about comes due. Steve Garvey launches his fourth home run of the NLCS into the exact same spot as Ron Cey and ties the game at 3. Johnny Bench cackles that Garvey just broke Garvey’s records and as he doffs his cap before heading into the dugout announces that Steve Garvey is one prime time player. Bench was right, more times than not, Steve Garvey would get the big hit. The one time he didn’t, it was because Graig Nettles was turning his rockets into outs. Garvey would win the 1978 NLCS MVP award, and he earned it, hitting four home runs in four games, six extra-base hits out of seven, and a staggering 1.611 OPS for the series. Garvey would finish second in the MVP voting but I bet you’d never guess who finished 3rd. Not without watching this game you wouldn’t.

Every time Larry Bowa would come up, one of the announcers would mention that he was in the running for the MVP. I thought they were just being silly but damn if he didn’t finish 3rd and before you say what a joke that a guy who had an OPS+ of 92 could be in the MVP conversation, let me just say, that Larry Bowa put up a bWAR of 5.8. Yup, which would have been the 5th highest bWAR in the NL in 1978 just a tick behind Jack Clark, so not so crazy. Which also made me wonder, how many players have been so defensively dominating that they could put a 5 plus bWAR while having an OPS+ below 95? Mostly SS except for two CF, hey put a pin that.

                                                
Player              OPS+ WAR/pos Year  OPS   Pos
Andrelton Simmons     90     5.8 2013 .692  *6/H
Larry Bowa            92     5.8 1978 .689    *6
Craig Counsell        89     5.5 2005 .726 *4/H6
Michael Bourn         89     5.5 2010 .686  *8/H
Gene Alley            91     5.2 1968 .628 *64/H
Maury Wills           93     5.2 1965 .660  *6/H
Ozzie Smith           84     5.1 1982 .653  *6/H
Ozzie Smith           71     5.1 1980 .589    *6
Garry Maddox          95     5.0 1979 .729  *8/H
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2020.

In the bottom of the 7th, Davey Lopes singles and the best basestealer of his generation is on 1st base. They show a quick graphic, Lopes is 45 for 49 in stolen bases and of the four catchers to catch him, one is Johnny Bench doing the color analyst, and the other is Bob Boone the catcher for the Phillies. The Philllies throw back to back pitchouts but the wily Lopes does not run on either pitchout but does run on the next pitch and steals 2nd easily and continues to 3rd when the ball goes into CF. Lopes wouldn’t score but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that between 1978 and 1979 Davey Lopes would steal 89 bases and be caught only nine times. No one was ever as good as Davey Lopes at stealing a large number of bases successfully. At the age of 40, Lopes would steal 47 bases for the Cubs and be caught only 4 times. At the age of 40.

With the score tied 3 – 3, Terry Forster pitches the 10th and Tug McGraw goes for his 2nd inning in the bottom of the 10th. Tug gets Smith to lead off the 10th. Reggie Smith was voted by the booster club as the Dodgers MVP in 1978 but he had a dismal NLCS. Reggie went three for sixteen with no walks and two of the three hits were singles. He also didn’t look good in RF. Normally an excellent RF, he bobbled a single in the 1st that should have scored Mike Schmidt, and gave Ted Sizemore a gift triple that didn’t hurt the Dodgers. Garvey made the 2nd out but Ron Cey was up and Tug McGraw walked the underappreciated Penguin bringing up Dusty Baker. Did I mention the CF for the Phillies was one of the greatest defensive players of his generation? Garry Maddox would win seven gold gloves in a row from 1976 – 1982 and was one of the most beautiful center fielders I’d ever seen play. His long legs would run down everything but on this day he simply dropped a Dusty Baker fly ball that hit him just below the hip. He just dropped it. He wasn’t done, Bill Russell hit a single up the middle and Maddox charged knowing Cey was the runner but he couldn’t come up with it cleanly and Cey scored without a play. The Dodgers were going to the 1978 World Series because the best CF in the game, dropped a fairly routine fly ball.

Justin Turner turns six

Six years ago Ned Colletti made his best move as the Dodger General Manager and it barely moved the media needle at the time when he signed Justin Turner to a minor league deal. Over at TrueBlueLA, we hailed the minor league signing because we thought Justin Turner was the perfect bench player for the 2014 team, no one though expected Justin Turner to become the greatest Dodger 3rd baseman of all-time.

Conner Byrne over at MLBTradeRumors has a nice breakdown on that signing.

It was on this date six years ago that the Dodgers made one of the greatest low-risk free-agent signings in recent memory. On Feb. 5, 2014, the club agreed to a minor league contract with third baseman Justin Turner, who has gone from afterthought to household name since he first donned a Dodgers uniform.

Justin Turner will never catch Ron Cey in bWAR because he’s still over 3,000 plate appearances shy of the Penguin, but for peak 3rd base performance you have to go with Justin Turner. Adrian Beltre may end up the only HOF of the Dodger 3rd baseman but he was but a kid when he left the team for greener pastures.

Player          WAR/pos OPS+   PA   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Justin Turner      27.0  139 2901 .302 .381 .506 .887
Ron Cey            47.7  125 6108 .264 .359 .445 .804
Todd Zeile          2.5  116  842 .265 .352 .454 .806
Bill Madlock        2.0  112  618 .285 .346 .406 .752
Adrian Beltre      23.4  108 3818 .274 .332 .463 .794
Casey Blake         9.2  108 1608 .260 .338 .431 .768

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/6/2020.

The Free Agent contract that Justin signed with the Dodgers on Dec 23rd, 2016 may also turn out to be one of the best free-agent contracts the Dodgers have ever done in the 21st century. With one year to go Justin Turner has been remarkably consistent. From 2014 – 2016 Justin Turner had an OPS+ of 135, from 2017 – 2019 his OPS+ was 136.

How does Justin Turner rank as a Dodger in the 21st century?

Player            WAR/pos OPS+   PA From   To   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS      Pos
Justin Turner        27.0  139 2901 2014 2019 .302 .381 .506 .887 *5/H46D3
Matt Kemp            22.8  127 5002 2006 2018 .292 .348 .494 .842  *897/HD
Andre Ethier         21.2  122 5425 2006 2017 .285 .359 .463 .822 *97H8/D3
Shawn Green          21.0  130 3462 2000 2004 .280 .366 .510 .876  *93/DH8
Adrian Beltre        19.3  112 2990 2000 2004 .278 .331 .476 .808    *5/H6
Yasiel Puig          18.7  127 2765 2013 2018 .279 .353 .478 .831  *9/8H7D
Russell Martin       16.5  100 2962 2006 2019 .268 .362 .391 .753  *2/H5D1
Rafael Furcal        15.7  100 2803 2006 2011 .283 .351 .406 .757     *6/H
Adrian Gonzalez      13.3  119 2986 2012 2017 .280 .339 .454 .793    *3/HD
James Loney           8.7  105 3378 2006 2012 .284 .341 .423 .764   *3/H9D

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/10/2020.

Would it shock you to find out that Justin Turner has the highest OPS+ of any Dodger in the 21st century with at least 2500 plate appearances?

Would it shock you to find out that Justin Turner has the highest bWAR of any Dodger in the 21st century with at least 2500 plate appearances?

And it isn’t even close.

Young Joc

Joc Pederson could do one thing really really well, get extra-base hits against right-handed pitchers, and he’ll take that skill with him to Anaheim where for the 2nd straight year he’ll be playing next to an MVP Center-fielder.

All of the charts below came from Fangraphs, and are based on playing the outfield with at least 2,000 Plate Appearances.

With Young Joc gone, we can look at his historical impact on the LAD. Using 2,000 PA as the cutoff he will end up with some interesting numbers.  Joc checks in 10th in home runs with 123, the exact same number as Frank Howard. His wRC+ would rank 14th at 120. His slug% would rank 9th at .474.  His fWAR, however, puts him 16th. Joc could rack up good metrics because he pounded right-hand pitching and thus was always put in the best possible chance to succeed. Contrast this with Andre who also struggled against left-hand pitchers but still faced them on a regular basis. For example, Andre garnered 1374 PA against LHP while Joc only had 375 plate appearances.

Fun fact. Frank Howard hit 123 home runs as a Dodger and was traded when he was 27. He would go onto hit 246 home runs after being traded. 

 

Name PA HR wRC+ Off WAR
Matt Kemp 5002 203 127 174.2 26.7
Pedro Guerrero 4089 171 150 233.1 32.5
Raul Mondesi 3765 163 120 101.7 20.4
Shawn Green 3462 162 129 125.2 18.7
Andre Ethier 5425 162 122 143.7 24.2
Willie Davis 8035 154 106 85.3 48.6
Dusty Baker 4552 144 120 102.7 20.5
Mike Marshall 3546 137 119 66.9 11.3
Gary Sheffield 2276 129 158 175.7 18.3
Joc Pederson 2379 123 120 60.1 13.1
Frank Howard 2321 123 125 68.2 10.6
Yasiel Puig 2765 108 129 86.3 16.7
Reggie Smith 2055 97 152 123.3 19.9
Joe Ferguson 2525 91 121 59.6 16.4
Ron Fairly 4529 90 112 62.4 13.2
Tommy Davis 3216 86 117 63.4 15.5
Willie Crawford 3198 74 119 65.9 18.1
Ken Landreaux 2981 64 99 0.5 7.8
Wally Moon 2657 64 122 68.9 12.2
Bill Buckner 3081 38 99 2.3 10.8
Brett Butler 3342 14 120 77.4 14
Manny Mota 2187 12 118 42.2 10.4

Sometimes when you do the research for a story you come across something that blows your mind. The defensive metrics for LAD outfielders blew mine. I knew Willie Davis had been an above-average outfielder, I saw it with my own eyes, but the metrics still blew my mind.  The LAD have had only four outfielders able to manage a positive defensive ranking but the difference between 1st and 2nd place is astonishing. It also shows that the Dodgers haven’t had a long term quality defensive CF since Willie Davis and he was traded back in 1974.

Check this out:

Name PA Def WAR
Willie Davis 8035 102.7 48.6
Joe Ferguson 2525 13.2 16.4
Reggie Smith 2055 0.4 19.9
Bill Buckner 3081 0.3 10.8
Willie Crawford 3198 -1.1 18.1
Joc Pederson 2379 -7 13.1
Raul Mondesi 3765 -13.5 20.4
Yasiel Puig 2765 -14.3 16.7
Manny Mota 2187 -17.9 10.4
Tommy Davis 3216 -24.8 15.5
Ken Landreaux 2981 -25.6 7.8
Wally Moon 2657 -40.6 12.2
Frank Howard 2321 -46.9 10.6
Shawn Green 3462 -47.7 18.7
Brett Butler 3342 -51.4 14
Dusty Baker 4552 -55.6 20.5
Gary Sheffield 2276 -56 18.3
Pedro Guerrero 4089 -58.4 32.5
Matt Kemp 5002 -71.7 26.7
Mike Marshall 3546 -75.1 11.3
Andre Ethier 5425 -78.2 24.2
Ron Fairly 4529 -91.3 13.2

Hopefully, Cody Bellinger plays CF for the next five or more years and can at least make a run as the 2nd best LAD defensive CF of all time. Not a hard bar to pass.

 

Mookie Mookie Mookie

Whelp, it only took a week but the Dodgers finally finalized the deal for Mookie so I’ve updated the original post from a different deal.

Six weeks ago I asked the Dodgers to pivot to Mookie after losing out on Cole and Rendon, and that is just what they did when the much-anticipated trade was finally announced tonight.  Many pundits tried to figure out what the price for Mookie would be, and the only thing they could agree on was that the price for Mookie would be pricey as in David Price and they were right.

The original deal was:

Boston gets Alex Verdugo

Dodgers get Mookie Betts and David Price plus cash to offset the Price contract.

Twins get Kenta Maeda

Boston gets the Twins prospect  Brusdar Graterol the 83rd ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline

To make room for Mookie Betts the Dodgers traded Joc Pederson to the Angeles for 22-year-old infielder Luis Rengifo. That is all that was announced at the time but we just learned this trade is not complete and more pieces will be moved. It is possible that young prospect Andy Pages who had a phenomenal rookie league season is involved. Per MLBTradeRumors:

The final deal might even be better for the Dodgers even though they had to ante up prospects to make it happen.

Boston gets Alex Verdugo, solid prospect Jeter Downs, doubtful prospect Connor Wong

Twins get Kenta Maeda,  low level catching prospect Jaír Camargo, and $10 Million in cash considerations.

Dodgers get Mookie Betts, David Price, $48 Million in cash considerations from Boston, and Brusdar Graterol, Luke Raley, 67th pick in the 2020 First Year Player Draft  from the Twins. Graterol quickly became the Dodgers 4th ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline.

If that wasn’t great enough news, it got even better when the Dodgers / Angels announced that their trade was off so Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling, and highly regarded Andy Pages were all still in the Dodger system.

Craig Edwards gave us the breakdown over at Fangraphs.

Here is a little taste of what Graterol brings to the mound. This could end up being big for the Dodgers. The Red Sox may have nixed the deal because of medicals or because he might be more suited for the bullpen but given the wealth of starters the Dodgers have, if Graterol becomes a big arm bullpen piece, I’m happy with that.

Thus the Dodgers lose a prized young outfielder in Alex Verdugo, who would have been under team control for years and had become a fan favorite. He should fit right in on the Red Sox and become their starting right fielder for the next few years provided he can stay healthy.  I’ve long speculated that with Kenta’s contract he was a valuable trade piece and might be worth more in a trade than what he actually brings to the Dodgers. He’s always been good, but never good enough to make a postseason rotation.

If the price seems low for acquiring one of the top ten players in the game, it is only because Mookie is a one-year rental. He has already turned down a 10/300 extension from Boston so if the Dodgers hope to keep him, they will need to be ready to offer him the largest contract in Dodger history.  None of that matters right now, what matters is that the Dodgers now boast the 2018 AL MVP in RF, and the 2019 NL MVP in CF while adding David Price to the rotation.  AJ Pollock survived the winter and looks to enter 2020 sharing the job with Joc as the Dodger starting left fielder. The Dodgers still have Matt Beaty, Chris Taylor, and Enrique Hernandez as backup outfielders, though Taylor or Hernandez might get some burn at 2nd if Lux has trouble against left-hand pitching.

The rotation looks loaded. I mean loaded. They have Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. They just added David Price. Alex Wood and Jeff Nelson are both trying to come back but if they don’t, Urias, May, and Gonsolin are all ready to step in. I also haven’t mentioned Ross Stripling.

You have all seen the projected lineup:

Betts, Muncy, Turner, Bellinger, Seager, Pollock, Lux, Smith

The last time the Dodgers traded for my favorite non-Dodger was in 1974 when they traded Claude Osteen for Jimmy Wynn. All Jimmy Wynn did was have an MVP type season and lead the Dodgers to the 1974 World Series. I expect nothing less from Mookie Betts.