News, Notes and Quotes (August 19, 2005)

Who’s on first?

As the Dodgers’ season circles the drain, it is amazing to see which players manager Jim Tracy chooses to give playing time to. Los Angeles called up catching prospect Dioner Navarro from Triple-A late last month and handed him the starting job, which I assumed would mean a backup role for Jason Phillips. After all, Phillips has struggled both offensively and defensively this season, hitting .241/.292/.384 while throwing out just 18.7% of runners from behind the plate.

Instead, Tracy has been playing Phillips regularly at first base. His poor arm is no longer an issue there, but his poor bat makes him a major liability. And it’s not as if the Dodgers are lacking for better alternatives. Phillips being in the lineup keeps both Hee Seop Choi and Olmedo Saenz planted firmly on the bench. Choi, who has been jerked around by Tracy since coming to the Dodgers last year, has hit .252/.331/.466 when given a chance to play, and Saenz has been even better at .291/.348/.526.

Considering Choi’s potential weakness against left-handed pitching (.152/.316/.278 against lefties for his career, but .227/.370/.455 against them this year) and Saenz’s .282/.347/.576 line against southpaws this season, they would seem like a perfect platoon combination at first base. Instead, Tracy chooses to give their at-bats to a guy who didn’t hit well enough to deserve an everyday gig as a catcher. But wait, it doesn’t end there.

Tracy has also been playing Oscar Robles consistently at third base, while Antonio Perez struggles to get at-bats. Robles is a nice player who is getting a much-deserved chance in the big leagues after putting up big numbers in Mexico for the past several years, but every at-bat he takes from Perez is a mistake. Robles is 29 years old and hitting .292/.370/.364, while Perez is 25 and hitting .330/.388/.443. In fact, Perez’s .831 OPS this season ranks fourth on the team, behind only J.D. Drew, Jeff Kent, and Saenz. Yet he has a grand total of 12 at-bats in August, after hitting .353 in July.

A lot has gone wrong for the Dodgers this season, much of which can be blamed on injuries and some of which can be blamed on general manager Paul DePodesta. But while I considered Tracy a very competent manager heading into this season, his decision-making over the last several months has certainly not helped stop the Dodgers’ free fall. Of course, DePodesta is ultimately responsible for his manager, as well as the players, so the buck stops with him.

Riding with The King

Not even my powerful jinxing abilities can slow down Felix Hernandez. I wrote about Hernandez Monday, calling him “The Next Big Thing,” and he went out that night and put up the following line against Kansas City:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
8.0     3     1      1      1     11      0      99

After three big-league starts, the 19-year-old Hernandez is now 2-1 with an 0.86 ERA. He has gone eight innings in back-to-back starts, while throwing fewer than 100 pitches each time, and has yet to allow an extra-base hit to the 77 batters he’s faced. Hernandez has 21 strikeouts and only three walks, has held opponents to a .151 batting average and .345 OPS, and has a ground ball-to-fly ball ratio of 4.1-to-1. In other words, he’s basically been a perfect pitcher. He’ll toss his next gem tomorrow night against my beloved and punchless Twins, whom he already shut out for eight innings in his second start.

Send those angry e-mails to both of us

I’ve been trying to convince people all season that Chicago’s AL-best 74-44 record is not due to “small ball” or “smart ball” or anything like that, but rather good, old-fashioned pitching and defense. Of course, the rhetoric surrounding Ozzie Guillen, Scott Podsednik, and company “doing the little things” to win games has become more powerful with each victory. At some point–probably right around the time I gave up any hope of the Twins winning the AL Central–I stopped trying just to save my e-mail box from the onslaught of angry messages it was receiving.

With all that said, it was nice to see a member of the mainstream media–and one from Chicago no less–get onboard with what I’ve been saying (or at least had been saying) all along. In his column yesterday in the Chicago Sun-Times, Greg Couch wrote:

[T]he Sox never really were that good at smallball, at scratching out ways to get on-base, in the first place. … To me, they just sit back, count on their wonderful starting pitching and swing for the fences. … The Sox don’t know how to get on-base, don’t know how to score without a home run. … This is not a smallball offense, despite what was advertised. The Sox pitch well, play defense.

Believe me, this is not a knock against the White Sox. My earlier belief that they would come back down to earth at some point was obviously wrong, because although they’ve struggled a bit of late they still hold a cushy lead in the division and are headed to the postseason. As a Twins fan it upsets me that the White Sox keep winning, but what upsets me even more is that no one seems to grasp why they keep winning.

It really shouldn’t be that hard to figure out, if only everyone would stop buying the lines Guillen has been feeding them long enough look at some numbers. What other team could rank eighth in the league in runs scored while leading the league in runs allowed and still see the credit for their great season go to something other than pitching? Even if you insist on giving the offense too much credit, how is it that a team ranking eighth in the league in runs scored while hitting the third-most homers is playing small ball? If anything, they’re playing long ball.

Some Fans

I admittedly didn’t see the game in question, but Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez was apparently booed at home during a rough outing Tuesday night. Mike DiGiovanna, the team’s beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, reported yesterday that, “Several Angels were surprised that Rodriguez, a star during the team’s 2002 championship run, was booed so loudly at home.”

Rodriguez made a silly error last week that led to a loss, which I’m sure brought on most of the booing. Still, I will never understand the sort of thinking that leads to fans booing one of the best players on their favorite team. Did they want him to be perfect? Did they think he was intentionally pitching poorly? The guy has a 2.91 ERA this year, even with the bad outing Tuesday, and has given the Angels about 250 innings of phenomenal pitching over the last four seasons. Unless people think the booing will somehow help his pitching it’s probably safe to cut him a little slack.

Quick Notes …

  • On the off chance that my recap of the events didn’t quench your thirst for information about a bunch of guys going to a convention, Chris Dial recently posted his version of the 2005 SABR convention over at Baseball Think Factory. And for additional visual evidence, including pictures showing Yours Truly looking particularly bloated, check out Matt “Mr. High Standards” Rauseo‘s photos at his blog.
  • Tangotiger has started up the second annual “Scouting Report by the Fans for the Fans.” For those of you who didn’t participate last year, the project basically involves fans filing personal scouting reports on players they watch frequently. For instance, I see the Twins play just about every night, so I would fill out a report on Joe Mauer‘s spectacular throwing arm or Matthew LeCroy‘s molasses-like foot speed. The end result is usually pretty interesting, so go check it out.
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