Sunday, December 27, 2009

Read this book!

I’d like to take this time to introduce a book that I’ve been able to read a few excepts from - Evaluating Baseball's Managers, 1876-2008 by Chris Jaffe. Chris and I have traded a few emails back and forth, and I was fortunate enough to read about some of the most influential managers in Dodgers’ history.

First, a plug. It’s good stuff. And I’m not just saying that because he asked me to. In fact, he didn’t. He just wanted me to read it and provide a quick review. It’s a very detailed view about what makes managers successful (or unsuccessful for that matter). If you like baseball history, order this book.

While the book contains information about many managers dating back to the Brooklyn days, I’ll focus on Tommy Lasorda and Joe Torre and give his thoughts, followed by my own about his. Got it?

Tommy Lasorda. Still the most recognizable manager in the history of the Dodgers, and in baseball history for that matter. Lasorda won 1,599 career games, and was at the helm of one of the more unlikely World Series champions of all-time in 1988. Plus he bleeds Dodger blue. I’m jealous.

Jaffe focus mainly on Lasorda’s treatment of starting pitchers. In his words, “He used them as much as he could and his bullpen as little as he could.” This could be to a fault, however. Five pitchers – Rick Sutcliff, Fernando Valenzuela, Alejandro Pena, Orel Hershiser, and Ramon Martinez – started off like gangbusters, but were soon run into the ground. Too many innings too soon was the culprit. And those stats are undeniable.

The flip-side, as pointed out by Jaffe, was that Lasorda had a bunch of quality starters, so he may as well take advantage of them while he could. He let the starters be the ones to determine wins and losses, not the bullpen. In fact, only once did he have a closer get over 30 saves (Todd Worrell with 32 in 1995, Lasorda’s final full season).

Many wins came via the long ball as well. Combined with good starting pitching in the spacious Dodger Stadium, that translated to much success.

I’m glad Jaffe gave credit to the 1988 team and how Lasorda won with a team that talent-wise was certainly nothing special. In Jaffe’s words, “It takes a great manager to win with second-rate talent; which is a sign in Lasorda’s favor.”

Jaffe had a hard time determining if Lasorda was a good manager, or someone who promoted himself to be one, but really wasn’t. Of course I’m biased here and love Tommy, but it’s not like I grew up watching him manage much (I’m 29, in case you’re wondering). I can only go by what I read.

Based on what I read here, I think still think Lasorda was a fantastic motivator, but definitely did not trust his bullpen as much as he should have. Then again, he has two rings and I don’t, so there.

Joe Torre. Joe’s success is obviously due in large part to his years with the Yankees and claiming four championships. Jaffe recounts his days as skipper of the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals as more successful than his record might indicate. With each of those teams, other circumstances prevented more wins, such as Tom Seaver demanding a trade from the Mets in Torre’s first year and the ownership of the Braves and Cardinals overrating their own players.

With the Yankees, however, everything fell into place the second he took over in 1996. He installed confidence in his players, and as Jaffe put it, “A manager’s confidence can rub off on players, and the quieter the confidence, the more effective it can be.” After losing the first two games of the ’96 World Series to the Braves, patience and confidence helped the Yankees sweep the next four.

Most impressive is his postseason winning percentage in New York, .617. That beats his regular season winning percentage of .605. That’s amazing.

Unfortunately, the lumps he took at the end of his Yankee tenure helped cast a cloud over his true ability as a skipper. Jaffe mentions that his quiet confidence seemed to vanish, such as the time he dropped Alex Rodriguez to eighth in the lineup facing elimination against the Tigers in 2006. Jaffe said this was “aimless thrashing,” but I can’t blame Torre for trying to make something happen. A-Rod was just useless in that series, so he pretty much played his way down the order.

Perhaps the rough ending of Torre’s years in New York was because of exhaustion from the job, as Jaffe claims. And that’s probably the best way to put it. A great comparison is made between managing the Yankees and coaching Notre Dame football: win now, don’t stop winning, then win some more. It’s just a tremendous amount of pressure.

He’s gotten back on track in Los Angeles, taking the Dodgers to consecutive NLCS appearances with a young core of players like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Russell Martin. For now anyway, Torre seems rejuvenated and back on top of his game.

There’s plenty more to read about, as I’ve only scratched the surface. It’s hard to argue with Jaffe’s opinions. He backs them up with rock-solid statistics, so he’s done his homework (my guess is he did A LOT of homework for this one). Even if you don’t agree, it’s worth a read.

Check it out by ordering here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dodgers add Carroll to the bench

The Dodgers finally signed a free agent for the first time this offseason. It's certainly not an earth-shattering move, but it does help add some depth.

Infielder Jamey Carroll has signed for two years and $3.85 million. His primary role will be to backup third and second base. He may even get a starting role at second if Blake DeWitt does not impress.

Carroll is entering his ninth season in the majors, as he's played with the Expos, Nationals, Rockies, and Indians. In 93 games last season, he hit .276 with 10 doubles and 26 RBIs.

His calling card is definitely his defense and versatility. In 56 games at second base (52 starts) last season, he had a .996 fielding %. He's a career .984 fielder, playing mostly second and third, with shortstop and outfield sprinkled in.

This is exactly the type of guy the Dodgers covet. Last season they had Mark Loretta, Juan Castro, and Ronnie Belliard to play multiple positions. Well, Castro's already in Philadelphia, and Loretta and Belliard don't appear to be on their way back. So Carroll can count on getting his fair share of playing time.

This is a solid signing only because he adds experience and depth to the infield, and because he chose the Dodgers over other teams. I'm doubting this is the impact signing most Dodger fans want, but guys like him help build the nucleus of a winning team. I like it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Juan Gone - Pierre off to the White Sox

Juan Pierre has finally gotten his wish: a starting outfield role on a new team.

The Dodgers made their first big move of the winter by sending Pierre to the White Sox for two players to be named later. The players will be named on or before January 7.

Pierre has two years and $18.5 million remaining on his existing contract. The Sox will pick up $3 million this upcoming season and $5 million the next one. The Dodgers assume the remaining $10.5 million.

Still, freeing up $8 million for a fourth outfielder is not a bad deal for a team that is trying to save some bucks. Whether Ned Colletti will admit that or not, that's exactly what's happening here. Yes, Pierre has been on the trading block ever since Manny Ramirez came aboard, but with the McCourts going through a divorce, now was the time to make a move.

The names in the deal haven't been completely confirmed, but they're rumored to be minor league starter John Ely and reliever Jon Link.

Ely looks to be the stud of the two. At Double-A Birmingham last season, he went a whopping 14-2 with a 2.82 ERA in 156.1 innings. Link was at Triple-A Charlotte last season, and he put together a 3.99 ERA in 56.1 innings while striking out 66.

So while the arms that are supposedly on their way look to be pretty good, I'll actually miss Pierre. Look, we all had our turn poking fun at him when he first came. Just look at my old posts from a couple seasons ago, and I have plenty of "Juan for Five" references. But that tune changed last season.

None of us should forget the great effort he put forth starting all 50 games of Manny's suspension. He finished the season with a .308 average and 30 stolen bases. This from a guy that only started 76 games.

I won't miss his rubber arm on defense, though. His lollipop throws to the infield were hard to watch. But when he got on base, he wreaked havoc with his speed like few others can.

With Pierre out of the fold, the Dodgers will need someone else to play the fourth outfield spot and spell Manny. Jason Repko and Xavier Paul are two names that come to mind right away. Maybe more moves will come.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More second base talk

I've run down a few different second basemen the Dodgers thought about trading for in a previous post (Dan Uggla, Alberto Callaspo, and Brandon Phillips). Today comes talk of a few free agents that are on the radar. Here we go:

Ronnie Belliard - Belliard was quietly brought in last season and made a big impact. In 24 games, he hit a whopping .351 with 5 homers and 17 RBIs. He also hit .300 in the playoffs, picking up a hit in all seven games.

He also supplanted Orlando Hudson in the playoffs because of his hot bat. Granted, Hudson didn't help his own cause, hitting .237 in September. Still, to completely take over for a guy that won a Gold Glove this season speaks volumes to how well Belliard played.

He's not the slick defender that O-Dog is (not many people are), but he's capable of hitting around .290. I would very much like it for him to be brought back.

Juan Uribe - Uribe is coming off a very solid season by hitting .289 with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs for the Giants. The average was a big bounce back after three seasons of hitting in the .230's and .240's.

He's hit 20 homers in the past, so the power is there if that's what you covet from an infielder. Defensively, he's a stud at second base. Last season in 38 games there, he had a .993 fielding %. The season before with the White Sox, he had a .996 fielding % in 52 games.

While he hasn't played full time at second in his career (shortstop is his natural position), he's shown that he can get it done if given the chance.

Craig Counsell - Like Uribe, Counsell had a rebound season at the plate with the Brewers. He won't give you any power, but hit .285 with 22 doubles. He's a career .258 hitter, so maybe he found the fountain of youth for one season anyway.

He appeared in 44 games at second base, and guess what? He was flawless, recording a 1.000 fielding %. He played short and third as well, giving the Brewers a lift wherever needed. It's easy to see why teams are interested despite turning 40 next season.

If he is brought in, it will be to split time with Blake DeWitt. I look at him more as a utility guy, so I think the Dodgers can do better.

Jamey Carroll - Carroll has been a model of consistency the last two seasons for the Indians in that he'll give you decent hitting, no power, and a good glove at second. He hit .276 last season compared to .277 two seasons ago. In both years, he registered a .355 OBP.

He's another guy who's played many positions, but when he's played second, he's been good. In 56 games, he had a .996 fielding %. He also appeared at third, right, and left. I've seen his name pop up a few times simply because of his versatility.

I look at him like Counsell. He's wouldn't be a bad addition by any means, but not much of an impact player at the plate.

In my opinion, the Dodgers should try to retain Belliard or go after Uribe. Of course, this is all assuming they can't swing a trade for someone. Both players can get it done at the plate, which they showed last season. Uribe's the better fielder, but Belliard isn't that bad. Most importantly, I think they can be full-time guys.

DeWitt is still a wild card in all of this. If he shows he can handle the job himself, Ned Colletti will look to get someone to share some of the time. DeWitt's played well before, but he needs to really make an impression if he wants an everyday gig.

Tigers interested in trading for Pierre

Believe it or not, there is interest out there for Juan Pierre and his remaining contract of two years and $18.5 million. The Tigers appear to be leading the charge.

After trading away Curtis Granderson to the Yankees for pitching help, an outfield spot is now wide open. Hence, Pierre can get what he wanted: a starting gig in the outfield.

Here's what needs to happen. The Tigers have plenty of overpaid, broken down starting pitchers themselves (Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, and Nate Robertson). The Dodgers don't want anything to do with that, especially after the Jason Schmidt debacle they just suffered through the last three years.

To make this deal happen, the Tigers would again need to swing a three-way deal. It's unclear if another team is in on this or if the Tigers have even pursued it yet.

Look, Pierre deserves to start. We can point to his huge contract all we want, but he showed last season during Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension how valuable he can be. He deserves better than occasionally starting and being a late-inning replacement.

The problem is that his role will continue to be that with the Dodgers. Manny's back, and Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier each had career years and are only getting better. Pierre is again the odd man out.

After the season I may not have been crazy about trading Pierre away. I liked the weapon he became off the bench. But with Randy Wolf gone, and most likely Jone Garland and Vicente Padilla, the Dodgers need starters. If they can get one, I'd swing the deal.

Colletti trying, but can't trade for a starting pitcher

Not only has Ned Colletti tried to trade for Roy Halladay, but three other starters as well. So far, no luck.

While Colletti has never actually come out and said he wants Halladay, he did refer to the "big guy in Toronto" as being coveted. Nice. The only other known pitcher was former Dodger Edwin Jackson. He's now off the table as he's heading to Arizona as part of the Curtis Granderson three-way deal.

Another option Colletti has explored is trading Juan Pierre and the rest of his bloated contract (two years and $18.5 million) for a starter at the back end of the rotation. Like everything else, he's come up empty thus far.

The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda as starters etched in stone. Other options include James McDonald, Charlie Haeger, Scott Elbert, Ramon Troncoso, and Josh Lindblom. Who knows how they'll pan out, so it's obvious to see why Colletti wants more established arms.

I will give Colletti this - he's pulled deals out of nowhere before, such as getting Manny Ramirez two seasons ago and Jon Garland and Jim Thome on the same day last season. So anything can happen when we least expect it.

Wolf looks headed to Milwaukee


According to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, it's official. Wolf will sign with the Brewers for 3 years and just under $30 million.


When the Dodgers chose not to offer arbitration to their top pitcher of last year in Randy Wolf, it was obviously not a good sign. Even with Wolf saying he'd still consider resigning, it looked doubtful.

Now, the Brewers are jumping in and making an offer Wolf would might find hard to refuse.

Wanting a multi-year deal, the Brew Crew have obliged by offering a three-year, $27 million deal. The Mets appear to be in second place, so they may jump back in at this soon. Other teams have been rumored as well, but the Brewers are the first one to make an offer like this.

I would hate to see Wolf go, but the writing has been on the wall for a week now. Maybe the Dodgers are still concerned about his injury history. Maybe they think they'd have to overpay to keep him. Or maybe they're trying to slash dollars off their payroll and aren't coming out and saying that.

My guess is Wolf takes this deal for a couple of reasons. One, you'd think he learned his lesson from a year ago when the Astros initially made an offer of 3 years and $28.5 million only to pull it because of the difficult economy. The Dodgers then nabbed him for one year and $9 million.

The second reason is that the Brewers are pretty good, so they'd be a contending team. A 1-2 punch of Wolf and Yovanni Gallardo is not too shabby.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wolf not offered arbitration, but will he be back anyway?

In a surprising move on Tuesday, the Dodgers passed on offering Randy Wolf arbitration. Even with ownership in flux (Google this: divorce and McCourts), it was assumed they'd at least want to resign their top pitcher from last year.

Instead, the Dodgers are stuck with the excuse of "we don't want to overpay for him." Wolf's a Type A free agent, meaning he's in the top 20 percent of starting pitchers. He received $8 million last year, so it's most likely he would've gotten a raise in arbitration.

Had the Dodgers offered arbitration and Wolf ended up signing with another team, they would have received a draft pick from the first or second round.

From what I've read, Dodger fans are not happy. It's understandable considering Wolf was clearly their best, most consistent pitcher for all of last year, and he was signed just to give support in the middle of the rotation. By the end of the season, he was starting Game 1 of the NLDS.

On the year, he went 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA. He also struck out 160 while throwing a career-high 214.1 innings. It was an especially impressive year for a guy who basically throws two pitches: a fastball and a looping curveball.

While Wolf will easily be one of the top dogs on the free agent market, he's given us Dodger fans some hope by saying that even in these days of uncertain ownership, he's open to re-signing with his old mates. Just the fact that's gone public with that comment is a positive sign.

Still, I would be pretty shocked if that actually happened. With Wolf proving that he's healthy and at the top of his game, he'll most likely take a bigger payday elsewhere. Right or wrong, the Dodgers remain reluctant spending big bucks on a pitcher.

With Wolf probably gone, the Dodgers now have a starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, and a bunch of question marks. Needless to say, they have work to do.