29 July 2005

Shawn Chacon, Unlikely Savior

The Yankees needed a Savior.

Perhaps not Jesus, himself, but someone who could pitch. (Unless it turns out that J.C. could bring it at 95 mph, and hey, after rising from the dead, throwing strikes must seem pretty easy, right?)

With four starting pitchers on the DL, three of them former 15-game winners making nearly $31 million combined, the Yankees' pitching woes have been well documented. Those three, Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano, have combined for a 10-15 record and a 5.88 ERA in 193 innings. In their desparation, the Yankees have started...

...LHP Darrel May, who lost 19 games for the Royals in 2004 and had an ERA over five and a half with San Diego this year when the Yankees aquired him for (also ineffective) relief pitcher Paul Quantrill in early July. May gave up three homers and seven earned runs and did not get out of the fifth inning in his only start in Yankee pinstripes. After an equally disastrous relief outing, he was sent back to the minors.

...rookie LHP Sean Henn, who had never previously pitched above Double-A. Henn made three starts over two months, exiting in the third inning of his debut, walking seven batters in under six innings in his next start, and allowing three homers in under five innings in his third (and mercifully, final) appearance. Henn and his 11.12 ERA were returned to Columbus.

...relief pitcher Tanyon Sturtze, who had not won a game as a starter since last August, and who was so bad two years ago (4-18, 5.18 ERA) that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who stink on ice, didn't want him back. Neither did the Blue Jays after 2003. And neither did the Dodgers or Marlins, who both released him at some point in 2004.

...RHP Tim Redding, also aquired for Paul Quantrill with Darrell May. Redding managed a 3.68 ERA in 176 innings with the 2003 Astros, a line that is beginning to look increasingly anomolous among his other career stats. He doesn't have another season in the majors of any length with an ERA under 5.40. In his lone Yankee start, Redding allowed six runs in one inning for an ERA of 54.00. Yes, that decimal is in the right place, or at least the accurate one.

These four have combined for an 0-5 record and a 13.72 ERA.

Some of the (slightly) brighter notes have included...

...rookie Chien Ming Wang, who went 6-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 12 starts before shoulder inflammation put him on the DL in mid-July.

...journeyman RHP Aaron Small, whose previous major league 5.52 ERA in 217 innings spread out over 11 seasons would not have suggested his two wins in two starts with New York. Granted, he hasn't blown the competition away, with only four strikeouts in 13+ innings, but for a guy who hadn't started a major league game in almost ten years, I'm not complaining.

...journeyman LHP Al Leiter, who was designated for assignment by the Marlins. Leiter is only 1-2, but he's given the Yanks a chance to win two of those three outings, and just got out-pitched by Johan Santana on Wednesday, a common occurrence for his opponents, as I understand it.

One player who will not likely be a "bright spot" if he gets to pitch for the Yankees is Hideo Nomo, recently picked up off waivers from Tampa, who, you will recall, suck. Nomo's 7.24 ERA in just over 100 innings was the highst of anyone in the majors this year with more than 46 innings under his belt. Hideo? No, no. Not the answer.

Apparently, Shawn Chacon is the answer.

A product of the Colorado Rockies' vaunted farm system, Chacon was a starter-turned closer-turned starter-turned Yankee Messiah, it seems. Chacon is unique, in a number of ways (as Margaret Mead would say, just like everyone else.) He's one of only nine players in major league history to be born in Alaska, though five of these were active in 2004, and is the first Alaskan to play for the Yankees.

The bizarre experiment that saw him rack up a 1-9 record in relief last year, saving 35 of 44 games despite a 7.11 ERA, made him the holder of several records. He has the most saves of anyone with an ERA over 7.00, or for that matter, over 6.00 and over 5.28! (Todd Worrell saved 35 games in 1997, with an ERA of 5.28...and then retired.) Chacon also, therefore, holds the record for the highest ERA of anyone with 35 saves...or 30 saves, or 20, or 15. (Norm Charlton saved 14 games in 1997 with a 7.29 ERA.) This, probably more than anything, is a testament to the ridiculously meaningless nature of the save rule, and the way closers are used in today's game, but I digress.

I have seen Chacon pitch twice in person. The first time was on May 5th of 2001, his rookie season, a day on which he was lit up for 7 runs (6 earned) in 1.1 innings. It was only his second major league appaerance, but he was pitching in Pittsburgh, no the thin air of Coors Field, against the Pirates, a team that would proceed to lose 100 games that season.

The second time I saw him pitch was during a visit to San Francisco last summer, at which time he was the "closer" for the Rockies. He got two outs, but gave up two runs to tie the game. After allowing another baserunner, he was pulled for a lefty to face Barry Bonds, and lost the game when his successor gave up a homer to Barry, scoring the baserunner he'd allowed, and thereby turning a two-run lead into a two-run loss.

So I can't say that I had a lot of hope in Chacon when I found that the Yankees had traded for him last week. Sure, he had an impressive-for-Colorado 4.09 ERA so far this year, bolstered by a perfectly respectable 3.12 ERA on the road. On the other hand, he was only 1-7, and 0-56 on the road, thanks largely to the fact that, in an effort to save money, the Rockies aren't actually employing any hitters this year, just a Weeble-Wobble with a cricket bat duct taped to it at a 90-degree angle. Considering that, it's fairly impressive that they managed to score a little more than three ruins per game for him, and that he actually got a win somehow.

But, to my great and pleasant surprise, Chacon managed to pitch pretty well in his Yankee debut on Saturday, the thirteenth pitcher to start a game for the Bronx Balmers, er, Bombers this season, the most since that horrid 1991 season. Six innings, one (unearned) run, three walks, four strikeouts. That's about as good as most of Randy Johnson's or Mike Mussina's outings this season. That performance kept the Yanks in the game, giving the bullpen a chance ot blow the lead, which they did, but also giving Jason Giambi a chance to be the hero again, which he was.

Now if Chacon can just keep them in the pennant race.

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23 July 2005

CD/DVD Review: Oh Say Can you SING?

Oh Say Can You SING?
Music Recordings by Major League Players

$17.99 (plus shipping)
c. 2005 Good Sports Recordings, Inc.

Good Sports Recordings' recently released compilation album of current and former major league baseball players' musical performances is nothing if not unique. It includes a CD with eleven songs and a DVD with some "extras", all for $17.99, which isn't too bad since lots of albums that benefit a cause no better than the producer's wallet go for more than that, and don't come with a DVD.

By contrast, some of the proceeds from this album will go to charities chosen by the ballplayers who performed on it. These are listed in the liner notes, good causes all, and frankly, that's the best reason (if not the only one) to buy this CD. The various tracks don't work well together in any sense of the word, with country songs following bluegrass songs following rap songs following rock and roll and pop songs and oldies and so forth. Even fans with the most eclectic of musical tastes will find their heads spinning after listening to this album straight through.

Nevertheless, a good cause is a good cause, and baseball is baseball, so this disc is certainly worth the money in those regards. Good Sports Recordings, Inc. has hockey, basketball and football equipment in their logo, in addition to baseball, so it's possible that this is just the first of a series of benefit albums to come. In the future, sticking with one or maybe two closely related music genres per album should help to net both better reviews and better sales.

This CD's unique nature, I feel, prevents it from being reviewed simply as one entity. The tracks are so diverse and the musicians' talents so varied that it would be an injustice to lump them all together, so I will review each song individually and then the DVD separately as well.

Ben Broussard, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians, With or Without You, U2

Broussard (currently hitting .254 with 10 homers and 38 RBI) plays acoustic guitar and sings the lead on this U2 classic, and he does not embarrass himself with either venture. His voice, a solid baritone quite different from the breathy style used by Bono, works well for the song. He wisely does not attempt Bono's falsetto on the chorus or bridge. Possibly the best track on the album.

Sean Casey, 1B, Cincinnati Reds, How Do You Like Me Now?,Toby Keith

Casey's (.304, 4 HR, 40 RBI) lack of power as a hitter belies the power in his voice on this fun country track. Country music isn't known for its great vocal performances, so it's not as though Sean had to emulate Pavarotti, but he certainly proves himself up to this task. A solid track.

Jeff Conine, 1B/OF, Florida Marlins, Plush, Stone Temple Pilots

Conine (.271, 2 HR, 13 RBI) has gotten only sparing playing time with the Marlins this year, thanks largely to his age (39) and to the presence of more talented players (Cabrera, Delgado, Encarnacion) on the Marlins. Likewise there are more talented singers on this CD. I'm not much of a fan of STP, and even though the screaming tones of their lead "singer" aren't much to live up to, Conine has trouble holding some of the notes. Not the worst track on the album, but far from the best.

Coco Crisp, OF, Cleveland Indians, We Got That Thing, Original song

Crisp (.295, 8 hr, 37 RBI, 11 SB) deserves credit for writing his own song for this album, and while I can't call what he does "singing" he seems to rap as well as anyone I've heard. Not a rap fan myself, I can still appreciate his sense of rythm, quick-rhyming lyrics and solid delivery.

Matt Ginter, RHP, NY Mets, Dooley, The Dillards

Clearly the producers of this disc were not aiming for name recognition or staying power when they sought out players to perform on the album. Ginter spent the winter on the DL after having surgery on his ankle, got traded to the Tigers in April for Steve Colyer(???), pitched badly every other week for Detroit (5.47 ERA in 25 IP)until late June and was then outrighted to Toledo, where he's 3-2 in six starts with a 3.82 ERA in 35 innings.

On the other hand, he can play the banjo. I like Bluegrass music, and I can say with some authority that Ginter does fine in that role (I think he sings backup vocals as well). Kudos to Scott Schorr, the producer of "Oh Say Can You Sing?" for seeking players who could do something other than sing, though I'm not sure that placing this staple of Bluegrass music right after an original rap song was the best choice.

Aubrey Huff, 1B/OF Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Letters From Home, John Michael Montgomery

Huff (.261, 11 HR, 53 RBI) is struggling through a rough year at the plate, but gives a solid performance on this patriotic country number. Huff shares my birthday (December 20) but is two years younger than me, and has now got not one but two major life accomlishments on me: playing major league baseball and recording an album. I'm way behind schedule.

Scott Linebrink, RHP, San Diego Padres, Wave on Wave, Pat Green

Linebrink (4-1, 2.14 ERA, 13 Holds) has been a vital cog in the Padres' bullpen machine, which, with the second lowest ERA and second most wins in the NL, is a huge reason that San Diego is leading the NL West right now, albeit tenuously. Showing his versatility, Linebrink sings and plays guitar on this country song, and is decent at both.

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies, Wish List, Original Song

J-Roll (.274, 7 HR, 62 Runs, 23 SB) signed a 5-year extension with the Phillies last month, which means he should never have to worry about money again. This is a good thing, because I don't see much of a future for him in the recording industry. Like Coco Crisp, he deserves credit for writing (if not really "singing") his own rap song, but the lyrics aren't very creative or interesting ("As a child I never had a big wish list / A bat and ball was all I wanted for Christmas / In '78 a star was born / 2001 his career was on"), and he doesn't deliver them as well as Crisp did.

Ozzie Smith, Hall of Fame Shortstop, Cupid, Sam Cooke

Over the course of his 19-year career, Smith showed talents for stealing bases (580 of them), doing back-flips, and hitting respectably enough (2460 hits, .262 career average) to keep his phenomenal glove (13 Gold ones) in the lineup. Now he's shown a talent for singing as well, as his impressive performance truly does justice to the late Sam Cooke on this R&B classic. His smooth voice delivers nicely on this track, which is helpful to the album as a whole, since Smith is far and away the biggest name (and biggest drawing card) on this record. Now we just need a cooking show on the Food Network and Smith will have nothing left to prove. "Omelets by Ozzie", anyone?

Omar Vizquel, SS, SF Giants, Broadway, Goo Goo Dolls

Vizquel (.294, 3 HR, 46 Runs, 14 SB) sings and plays the drums on this '90's pop/rock song. His drum work seems fine, but as a singer, well... let's just say he's having a surprisingly good year at the plate for a 38-year old shortstop in a pitchers' park.

Kelly Wunsch, LOOGY, Los Angeles Dodgers, Hurts So Good, John Mellencamp

Wunsch (1-1, 4.56 ERA, 15 Holds) is the quintessential Lefty One Out GuY, with 26 of his 45 appearances this year lasting less than one full inning. Despite his debateable prowess in that limited role, he manages to submit one of the best tracks on this disc, with a rendition of Hurts So Good of which Mellencamp would be proud. He sings lead and plays acoustic guitar on the track, which is a solid ending to a weird and disjointed CD. This is your reward if you kept listening this long.

DVD: Player Interviews; Outtakes; Ozzie's Memorabilia Tour

The DVD offers only marginal additional value, though there are a few amusing moments in the outtakes section and the tour of Ozzie Smith's trophy room is very interesting and informative. To their credit, the players all come off as likeable, average guys, most of whom are much more humble than you'd expect. The players were permitted to perform and record in the comforts of their own homes, as the producer brought his studio to them. This may explain why some parts of the DVD feature less than optimal lighting, a forgiveable offense given the trade-off, namely that the music would sound better if the players were more comfortanble. (It's probably also true that they'd be more likely to contribute of they didn't have to travel to do so, though the never mention this on the DVD, of course.)

Incidentally, producer Scott Schorr bears a striking resemblance to Dan Lauria, the dad from The Wonder Years, albeit with more hair. I don't know what that has to do with anything, but I found it interesting.

The interviews are spliced together, a 5-to-10 second clip at a time, in the quick, keep-it-moving style typical of modern commercials and much of TV. A head-on, color shot will cut to a shaky, intentionally out-of-focus black & white camera, from a side angle, often in mid-sentence, presumably for some kind of "authentic" feel or something, but that doesn't work well either. In parts of the interviews and outtakes the color seems washed out or the camera is slightly blurry. Like I mentioned, the tour of Ozzie's memorabilia is the best part of the DVD, so skip to that and you won't be disappointed.

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14 July 2005

Rockies, Nationals, A's, Red Sox Trades

It's interesting to see teams making moves this early in the season, right at the All-Star break, instead of waiting until the trading deadline or later. Boston's needed bullpen help for some time now, and Chad Bradford is just that. He hasn't yet pitched in the majors this season due to a back injury, but he has established himself as an effective middle reliever for the last several years in Oakland. His sinker should help keep the ball on the ground in Boston, which is necessary for any pitcher's success in such a small park.

On the other hand, why Oakland would want Jay Payton is beyond me. He's a decent defensive outfielder, but is below average in every offensive category, having neither the patience nor the power that Oakland GM Billy Beane supposedly values so highly. Oakland is 14th in the majors in run-scoring, despite hitting the fourth fewest homers of the 30 MLB teams. They are 8th in on-base percentage, so maybe Beane knows what he's doing.

And by extension, maybe he also knows what he's doing by trading OF Eric Byrnes and cash to the Rockies for LHP Joe Kennedy and RHP Jay Witasick. Byrnes is 29 and is in his sixth season in the majors, though he has only been a regular for the last few of them. He'll either be a free agent or at least elligible for arbitration at the end of the year, and therefore expensive in either case, a luxury the Oakland franchise cannot afford.

Beane has built his team by finding reasonably inexpensive talent through the draft and through minor league free agency, keeping players through the portions of their careers during which they're both good and cheap, and preferrinf to let someone else pay them the big bucks afterwards, even if they may be better once they leave Oakland. Terrence Long, Ramon Hernandez, Jason Giambi, Cory Lidle, Jason Isringhausen, the list is almost endless. But the proof is in the pudding as the A's have had six-straight winning seasons with the Moneyball formula, including four trips to the playoffs.

Another possible reason for trading Byrnes, though Oakland would never admit this, is the possibility that he'll get injured. ESPN's baseball analysts were handing out their defensive awards for the first half of the season last night (slow sports news day, you know) and Peter Gammons' pick was Eric Byrnes, whom he called "The Crash-Test Dummy" because he plays defense with such abandon, running and diving for balls, crashig into walls, teammates, moving automobiles, etc. just to make a catch. It's a great and creative nickname, something today's game tends to lack, but it's also a recipe for disaster.

Historically, one of the better known individuals with such tendency was Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser, who had a reputation for crashing into walls and other non-malleable objects as well. Reiser's enthusiasm and acrobatics made him a fan favorite, like Byrnes, though he was a better player than Byrnes is. He finished second in the NL MVP voting in 1941, sixth in 1942 and 9th in 1946, even after he missed the '43-'45 seasons serving in the military. He had hit .306 while scoring 400 runs, driving in 298 and stealing 78 bases during the six years Brooklyn had him, but after being traded straight-up to the Boston Braves for a backup outfielder named Mike McCormick, Reiser never saw 260 plate appearances in a season again, and hit only .248, stealing only 9 bases over parts of four seasons with three different clubs throughout his career.

Not that Byrnes is necessarily doomed to the same fate. Theoretically, Byrnes should be helped offensively by Coors Field, as nearly every hitter is. He's got 20-homer, 20 steal potential in Oakland, a pitcher's park. The thin Colorado air should help to improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio and help to turn some of those doubles into home runs, making him more valuable in fantasy leagues, if not in an actual one. However, the large expanses in the Colorado outfield will mean that Byrnes will have even more area to cover, and potentially more chance to dislocate, oh say, a shoulder while diving for a batted ball and crashing into Cory Sullivan and/or a Volkswagen.

One player whose offensive numbers will not be helped by his recent trade is Preston Wilson, swapped with some cash for pitcher Zach Day, OF J.J. Davis and a minor leaguer. Wilson led the NL with 141 RBI in 2003, but his adjusted OPS was only 15% better than the league for that year, and his 36 homers and that truckload of RBIs had more to do with Colorado than with his talent. Furthermore, Wilson's gimpy knees and $12.5 million salary seem to have aided in wearing out his welcome even more than his .258 batting average and propensity to strike out 140 times per season.

Furthermore, being traded to a team that plays half its games at sea-level will not help him to land another big contract. Take a look at Wilson's career stats at Coors Field and elsewhere:

Coors .279 .347 .528
Else .261 .324 .469

The biggest difference, of course, is the slugging percentage, but those batting average and OBP variations are nothing to ignore either. More importantly, the differences since Wilson joined the Rockies are even more stark:

2003-05 AVG OBP SLG
Coors .288 .350 .544
Else .248 .306 .445

Rob Neyer once suggested that a hitter being traded to the Rockies, and therefore playing half his games in Coors Field, may not be entirely unlike the evolution of the polar bear, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Personally, I'm not yet sold on the theory, as I've never actually seen a "polar bear".) Presumably, polar bears went through numerous mutations over millions of years until they had developed traits (white fur, thick layers of fat, an affinity for Coca-Cola, etc.) that made them particularly adept at surviving in the harsh Arctic climate. Conversely, polar bears do not do well in any other climate, as their fur provides no natural camoflauge in other settings, their fat makes them too hot south of the Arctic Circle, and Coke isn't nearly as readily available in other places.

Similarly, hitters learn to hit very well in the thin air of Denver, as curveballs break less, sinkers sink less and batted balls travel farther than they do at sea level. But when the Rockies go on the road, those pitches are harder to hit because they break normally, and even the balls they do hit don't go as far with the same force imparted to them. This gives the Rockies an especially tough time adjusting when they go on the road, as no road trip is usually long enough to allow them to recover from "air-lag", if you will. Once getting traded away from Colorado or leaving via free agency, most players lose much of their hitting prowess at home but recover some of what they lacked on the road, winding up with lower stats than their overall numbers as a Rockie, but not as low as their away-from-Coors numbers had been during the stint in Colorado. Larry Walker, for example, had hit only .227 on the road in 2003, his last full season with Colorado, but hit about .280 with St. Louis last year and is hitting .269 this season.

Other players, such as the aforementioned Jay Payton and Vinny Castilla, completely fall apart upon leaving Colorado. Castilla has done it twice now. The first time he left Colorado, he hit about .220 in parts of two seasons with the Devil Rays, with no power and even less health, as it turned out, after averaging better than .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBI for four straight years in a Rockies uniform. Last year, back in Colorado, he slugged .535 and led the NL with 131 RBI, but again left, and has seen his numbers dwindle to .253 with a .397 slugging percentage. At this pace, he won't even hit 12 homers for the season. Bret Boone has more homers than Castilla, and his team just released him.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that if you have Preston Wilson on your fantasy team, get rid of him now. Not only is he leaving the best hitting environment in the history of major league baseball, he may be going to one of the worst. Washington has scored the fewest runs and hit the fewest homers of any other team in MLB in 2005. They're tied for dead last in the majors in both runs and homers at home, but are pretty bad at scoring runs on the road as well, ranking 22nd of 30. Jose Guillen is having a fine season, worthy of his All-Star selection, with 18 homers and a .305 average, but he's hit only one of those 18 homers in Washington. One. Nobody else on the team has more than Nick Johnson's eight, and he's currently (surprise!) on the DL.

What you may not know is that Washington's pitching staff has also allowed fewer homers than any team in MLB, including an especially stingy 19 at home. (For reference, the next closest team is Boston, with 26, and they've played five fewer home games than the Nats.) On the road, the Nationals are just average at preventing homers, having surrendered 48 of them, for a #16 ranking out of 30 teams. Not surprisingly, they're 20th in road ERA, while easily ranking first at home, two-tenths of a run better than Houston at #2.

I don't know exactly how park factors are calculated, but I'm sure that if this trend continues, RFK Stadium could go down as one of the worst hitter's parks in history, at least for one year. And Washington should further deflate Wilson's already Coors-inflated statistics, making him look even worse to potential off-season buyers.

What the Nationals really needed to boost the offense, I mean besides Harmon Killebrew in his prime, is someone whose apparent offensive prowess was not a creation of his home park. Someone like Ken Griffey, for example, who's been a good hitter in almost every environment for over 15 years, has only one more year on his contract and is already rumored to be on the trading block. Griffey would have been a better fit, especially since he's actually making less money than Wilson, a difference of over $2 million for the season, about half of which is still due to be paid.

Of course, having Griffey and Nick Johnson on the same roster probably is not a good idea. I doubt its ever happened before, but if anyone can figure out how to get a centerfielder and a firstbaseman to collide on a play, causing both players to sustain season-ending injuruies, these two would figure it out. So forget I mentioned it.

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11 July 2005

Tomb of the Unknown Dodger

Have you sene these men?

A             B
Robles Olmedo
Repko Oscar
Werth Mike
Saenz Cody
Perez Mike
Edwards Jayson
Ross Jason
Rose Antonio

More importantly, do you even know who they are? Can you match the first names in column A with the last names in column B?

Well, if you live on the Left Coast and/or you bleed Dodger Blue, you know exactly who they are. They are, or were, the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers as they closed out a four-game series against the hapless Colorado Rockies, themselves a refuge for obscure baseball players, on July 7th, 2005. If you matched all the names correctly, without first looking up the Dodgers roster online somewhere, well, congratulations, Mr. Tracy, but you should probably be paying closer attention to the game, don't you think?

Let's look at that list again, with a little more info, shall we?

Name, Pos           Age   pre-05 AB   2005 AB   pre-05 G  2005 G
Oscar Robles, ss 29 0 66 0 34
Jason Repko, cf 24 0 136 0 63
Jayson Werth, lf 26 384 146 130 40
Olmedo Saenz, 1b 34 1055 164 429 57
Antonio Perez, 2b 25 138 152 61 46
Mike Edwards, 3b 28 4 111 4 44
Cody Ross, rf 24 19 20 6 11
Mike Rose, c 28 2 25 2 9
Total N/A 1602 820 632 304
Average 27 200 103 79 38

That's eight players who had compiled a total of about three "player-seasons" worth of at-bats before the start of the 2005 season, and nearly two-thirds of those come from 34-year old journeyman Olmedo Saenz alone. Even this season, not one of these guys has been a regular to this point in the season. Fully half of this lineup had not amassed more than six major league games apiece in their careers before April 2005, including two who debuted this season. All-told, these eight players have an average of less than one season worth of game experience, more than half of that coming from Olmedo Saenz, the "clean-up" hitter, who's never hit more than 11 homers or compiled more than 41 RBI in a season.

Not surprisingly, this lineup didn't win, couldn't even beat the Rockies, who entered the game sporting the worst record in the NL at 29-54. Why, do you ask, would the Dodgers run out a lineup that had so little experience and arguably, so little chance of winning? Well, as is the case with many of the strange occurrences during baseball season, Lady Luck is to blame.

To say that Lady Luck has been less than kind to the Dodgers this season would be an understatement exceeded perhaps only by something like, "That Hitler was not a nice man." Lady Luck has not just robbed the Dodgers, but humiliated them in the process, and multiple times. She's lured the Dodgers into a false sense of security, and then handcuffed them to the bed in a cheap motel room while she stole their money, their credit cards, their watch, and not yet satisfied, their suit from Moe Ginsberg.

Let's recap, shall we?

April 3rd:
*RP Eric Gagne goes on the 15-day DL w/ right elbow injury;
*SP/RP Wilson Alvarez goes on 15-day DL w/ left shoulder tendinitis
*OF Jayson Werth goes on 15-day DL w/ fractured left wrist
*SP Brad Penny goes 15-day DL w/ right biceps injury
*SP/RP Darren Dreifort transferred to the 60-day DL

These things all happened on one day as the season was beginning. Alvarez would come off the DL on May 4th, pitch badly for a month, and then get placed on the DL again on June 6th with the same injury. Gagne similarly would come off the DL on May 15th and pitch for a month (very well, in fact) only to be placed back on the DL on June 16th, with a season-ending elbow injury. His replacement in the pen, Yhency Brazoban, has a 5.09 ERA. Penny came back in late April and has had one really bad start for every two good ones, and he's been their best starter to date. Werth returned in late May but has hit only .245 with four homers while playing essentially every day since. Dreifort still hasn't pitched this year, and probably won't.

May 5th:
*IF Jose Valentin goes on 15-day DL w/ sprained right knee

Valentin had hit a career-high 30 homers for the White Sox last season, despite a .216 batting average, and was being counted on for some much needed pop at the hot corner. Instead he hit .194 for a month and then got hurt. Japanese 3B Norihiro Nakamura, a star power hitter in his native Japan, hit only .128 in part time duty for the first month of the season and was designated for assignment. He's currently hitting .289 with power for AAA Las Vegas, but everybody can hit homers in the PCL, so that doesn't say much. Rookie Mike Edwards, an out-of-place outfielder, and Antonio Perez, an out-of-place shortstop, have split duties at third base for most of the year. Overall, Dodgers thirdbasemen have hit .258 with five homers combined. They have a .706 OPS, which is better than only two teams in the NL (Philadelphia and Florida) and 24th out of the 30 Major League teams.

May 24th:
*SP Odalis Perez goes on 15-day DL w/ left shoulder soreness
*IF Jose Valentin transferred to 60-day DL

Perez just returned to the team last week, on July 5th. He has now pitched twice since his return, surrendering 4 earned runs in five innings of work each time, to raise his ERA to 4.97. The Dodgers lost both games. He was doing the team more good on the DL.

May 28th:
*C Paul Bako goes on 15-day DL with a knee injury, forcing to Dodgers to call up one-time Yankees prospect Dioner Navarro, who doesn't get into a game before being sent back to Las Vegas three days later, when rookie C Mike Rose is brought up. Dodgers catchers have combined for a .669 OPS, third-worst in the NL and 23rd of 30 MLB teams.

June 3rd:
*OF Milton Bradley goes on 15-day DL w/ torn ligament in right ring finger

Bradley had been hitting .298 with ten homers, one of the few bright spots in a Dodgers lineup that currently ranks 24th of 30 MLB teams in run scoring. The only game Milton Bradley's been able to play since is Candyland.

June 8th:
*OF Ricky Ledee goes on 15-day DL w/ strained left hamstring, forcing the Dodgers to recall OF Jason Grabowski, who has been on the DL since the May 18th. As he was doing before his injury, Grabowski resumes hitting about a buck-fifty in spotty playing time.

June 29th:
*SS Caesar Izturis strains an already weak hamstring legging out a bunt. He will be placed on the 15-day DL July 5th.

Izturis had been playing injured for almost a month, and it showed, as he was hitting only .105 (that's right: one-OH-five) in June and hadn't gotten a hit in 20 at-bats before beating out a bunt in the 5th inning. That play apparently strained the hammy enough that they finally caved in and placed him on the DL as well, making rookie Oscar Robles the starter at short. To his credit, Robles has played well, hitting .357 overall, including .457(!) in July.

July 4th:
*OF J.D. Drew goes on 15-day DL w/ broken left wrist

Drew sustained the injury being hit by a pitch from Arizona lefty Brad Halsey, whom I didn't think could break a pane of glass with his fastball, much less a human bone. Drew was hitting reasonably well at the time, batting .286 with 15 homers, but only 36 RBI thanks to a .218 batting average with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers had hoped for more from him after he hit .305 with 31 homers and a dozen steals for Atlanta in 2004. They signed him to a five-year, $55 million contract in the off season hoping he would give them some of the offense they'd miss with the departures of Steve Finley, Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre in the off-season. I'm sure they'd take whatever they could get from him now.

Furthermore, placing Drew on a DL that already included Ricky Ledee and Milton Bradley forced the Dodgers to an all-Ja(y)son outfield: Werth, Grabowski and rookie Repko. Not exactly Snider, Furillo and Robinson out there, you know?

Adding injury to insult, secondbaseman Jeff Kent pulled a hamstring on July 5th, and had to miss a few games to let it heal. With lefty Joe Kennedy going for the Rockies on Thursday, and usual firstbaseman Hee Seop Choi hititng .158 against southpaws this season (and an alarming .132 for his career!), manager Jim Tracy apparently thought it better to start someone (anyone!) else at first base that day, so Saenz got the nod.

Mercifully, Ledee was taken off the DL on July 9th, but a 31-year old who's never gotten to the plate 300 times in a season in his major league career is not the savior Los Angeles needs. Neither, for that matter, is rookie Ching Feng Chen, whom they brought up to take Drew's spot on the roster.

That same day, relief pitcher Kelly Wunsch was placed on the DL with torn ligaments in his ankle. Wunsch had an unimpressive 4.56 ERA, but he also had 15 "Holds" in 24 innings spanning 45 appearances, a LOOGY if ever there was one. His loss leaves the Dodgers' bullpen without a lefty of any kind.

Also mercifully, Kent's injury was not season-threatening and he was back in the lineup this weekend, going 6-for-10 in three losing causes as the Astros swept them. At least he's healthy, even if the Dodgers aren't.

So, as I mentioned, with Drew, Izturis, Bradley, and Valentin on the DL, and with Kent unavailable and Choi useless against lefties, Tracy sent the aformentioned lineup of novices out there to get their butts beaten by the Rockies last Thursday. Originally I started this column with the thought that I might have stubmled upon the least experienced major league lineup in decades, if not a century. But I don't have any way to easily verify this, and besides, that's not all that important.

What's more important, at least if you're a fan of the Dodgers or one of their NL West competitors, is where they're going in the future. In my estimation, unless there's some miracle that occurs between now and October, I expect the Dodgers to continue giving lots of playing time to a bunch of guys you wouldn't know if you caught them breaking into your house. Moreover, the once-proud Dodgers will continue their downward trend, and end up battling the Rockies for third place in their division.

R.I.P 2005 Dodgers Posted by Picasa

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07 July 2005

Pre-MLB 2005 All-Star Game Notes...

Last Man Standing Running...

The winners of MLB's "Final Man" votes for each league were announced yesterday, with Astros starter Roy Oswalt beating out Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, Brandon Webb and Brett Myers for the NL honor. Oswalt's 11-7 record belies his 15 Quality starts and a 2.44 ERA that would be leading the NL if not for the ridiculous seasons that fellow All-Stars Roger Clemens (1.41) and Dontrelle Willis (1.89) are having. He is a deserving candidate.

Chicago outfielder and speed-demon Scott Podsednik beat out Hideki Matsui, Torii Hunter, Carl Crawford and most notably, Yankees captain Derek Jeter for the AL final berth. I don't know if it was planned to use either all pitchers or all position players for the selection process, but if it was, kudos to MLB for getting something right. Creating a ballot like that provides a fairer selection, giving the fans more of an apples-to-apples comparison for their voting processes.

What may not be fair is the presence of multiple players from the same team on that ballot. Brett Myers and Billy Wagner surely siphoned some of the Philly Phan votes that the other would have gotten if only one of them had been presented as an option, though Oswalt was clearly the most deserving of the lot, and is a fine selection. But in the AL, where Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui probably split the Yankee fan vote, the result was a surprise victory by a heretofore, and dare I say, deservedly unheralded Pale Hose leadoff man.

Podsednik is leading the world in steals, with 41, which are 13 more than his closest MLB rival, Rafael Furcal, who doesn't play in the AL anyway. Carl Crawford, with 26 steals, is his closest Junior Circuit competitor, and is actually a better player than Podsednik, with eight triples and nine homers, compared to Podsednik's zero and zero. He's got a decent batting average (for the moment, he hit .244 last year), but doesn't walk much and has, very literally, no power at all, so the speed is all he's got. Seventeen RBIs usually don't get you an All-Star berth where I come from.

Jeter, for his part, is hitting .310, and is on a pace for 20 homers, 20 steals, 130 runs and nearly 200 hits, and would therefore have been a much more deserving All-Star candidate. Ten years from now, we'll look back on the 2005 All-Star rosters and at Jeter's final 2005 stats and wonder why he was left off the squad, just as we can look back at the 1993 All-Star Game and wonder why Greg Maddux, in the midst of a 20-win season in which he would win the second of four concecutive Cy Young Awards, wasn't there. (Answer: He was only 8-8, despite his 2.83 ERA at the Break, and had just pitched seven innings on Sunday.) In Jeter's case though, the answer is that too many decisions are made by the underinformed fans, for the sake of drumming up interest in the game, and at the expense of rewarding the truly deserving players.

Vote Early, Vote Often, Vote Undeserving...

Half a century ago, then-commissioner Ford Frick intervened and kicked two players off the NL All-Star squad, when it became apparent that the Cincinnati Reds fans were stuffing the ballot box. Certainly today's commisioner doesn't have that kind of power, but I think Bud Selig ought to be able to make changes if necessary. Cliff Floyd, Pat Burrell and Ken Griffey, to name a few, are sitting home to watch the game on TV while Carlos beltran, with a .267 batting average and nine lousy homers is starting the game?

If the commissioner can't make a simple little change like that, what good is he? C'mon, Bud, you're the commissioner, right? SO commission somebody to take Beltran's place. Give him his All-Star bonus, as it's not his fault he was selected, but then pick someone else to start in his stead. There must be at least half a dozen NL outfielders who wouldn't embarass the team to be a part of it. Be a man. Pick one, and send Beltran packing, so he can rehab the alleged hamstring injury that's gotten him so much slack in the NY press.

Kenny Rogers: Not Coward of the County

I heard a refreshing soundbite this morning: An apology that actually sounded like an apology. Not, "I'm sorry you felt that way," or "I'm sorry this happened," or "I'm sorry I got caught,", but an actual "I'm sorry I did this wrong thing, and I don't have an excuse." Kenny Rogers held a press conference yesterday in which he said,

"I have been around this game for over 20 years and I prepare myself every day to control my emotions and act accordingly. In this instance, I failed miserably...I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed with myself for my inability to rise above the situation no matter how it became.""

His acts of two weeks ago were simply wrong, but give him credit for having the courage to take ownership of the situation. Rogers did something wrong, and there are natural consequences for that: He was suspended 20 games, which will cause him to miss 5 starts or so, and he's got to pay a fine and will probably face criminal charges. I think that's plenty. His selection to the All-Star game is a separate issue, one that should not be confused with or tainted by his other issues. Let him go, let him play, and if you're in the media, let him alone. This story will go away when the reporters stop making it something more than it is.

"This One Counts...2?"

I mentioned a year ago that MLB was going to have trouble coming up with more slogans with "Counts" in them. They didn't even bother to follow it up with "No, Really, We Mean it This Time" or something to that effect. Apparently they saw my article and have stopped trying. With the same exact slogan as last year's game, we will be reminded not only of the inneptitude of the individuals who run MLB, but also their total lack of creativity! Good job, guys.

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