Monday, July 28, 2014

Possible Breakthrough in Dodger Cable Broadcast Mess

Look I'm not going to fake the funk and provide some sort of deep analysis based on what is just being reported, mainly because a) I'm lazy b) I've had a couple of margaritas c) I'm not steeped in cable economics. But this sounds positive and is hopefully something to get excited about. So I'm just going to quote Dodgers' Jon Weisman in full with all credit to him for breaking it down in the last hour.
Dodgers support binding arbitration to solve distribution of SportsNet LA
By Jon Weisman

On behalf of the Dodgers, team president and CEO Stan Kasten spoke tonight in favor of a proposal from a group of six California-based members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Brad Sherman, calling for binding arbitration between Time Warner Cable and potential carriers that would enable immediate distribution of 24-hour Dodger channel SportsNet LA to all available homes in Southern California.

Time Warner Cable also said it would submit to binding arbitration with potential distributors of SportsNet LA (including DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Dish Network and Verizon Fios), effectively taking the negotiations out of Time Warner Cable’s hands.

“This, if it were agreed upon, would end this blackout right away, today, and we would be on the air literally tomorrow night in the entire area, ” Kasten said at a Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission event at Dodger Stadium this evening. “I want to thank Congressman Sherman and his colleagues for their diligent work and their concern for Dodger fans everywhere. I think it’s a very useful and productive step that he made.”

“We’ve heard a lot of things on both sides of this equation,” Kasten added. “This is a way to cut through all that. We’ll let an arbitrator decide who’s right and who’s wrong, and we can move on. And we don’t need to wait for the outcome of the arbitration. Once both sides agree to submit, we can turn the games on right away and they can figure out the price later.”

Kasten’s words followed an affirmative response from Time Warner Cable earlier in the evening to the proposal from the Sherman group.

“We are willing to enter into binding arbitration with DirecTV, and we appreciate the Congressman’s concern for Dodger fans,” Time Warner Cable’s statement read. “We prefer to reach agreements through private business negotiations, but given the current circumstance, we are willing to agree to binding arbitration and to allow DirecTV customers to watch the Dodgers games while the arbitration is concluded.”

Earlier this evening, a letter sent to the chairman/CEOs of DirecTV and Time Warner Cable by U.S. representatives Sherman, Janice Hahn, Gloria Negrete McLeod, Alan Lowenthal, Grace Napolitano and Karen Bass was released, outlining the proposal. It followed a recent letter from eight members of Congress, led by Tony Cardenas, that asked the FCC to mediate the gap between TWC and potential distributors.

“While such mediation would be helpful, it would not be binding or certain to resolve the dispute,” Sherman’s group wrote. “Now, on behalf of Dodgers fans throughout Southern California, we urge that Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and all other TV providers enter into binding arbitration, so that a neutral third party can determine the right price and terms for the Dodgers network. This will be a fair and fast way to return programming to consumers.

“Additionally, as you enter into the arbitration process, fans should no longer be left in the dark. We are requesting that SportsNet LA be made available immediately to all fans, beginning with tomorrow night’s game against the Atlanta Braves. The arbitration would determine the amount payable for games aired both before and after the arbitration is complete.”

MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred, among the speakers at the LASEC event, said that he spoke about tonight’s news with MLB commissioner Bud Selig and said “we’re in complete agreement that this is a very positive development.”
Could be something, kids. Fingers crossed. Boobs exposed and burgers on the griddle.

Kudos to Broom-Wielding Fans at AT&T Park

SoSG Dusty and I agree: It takes a certain type of ballsy individual to bring a broom to an opposing team's ballpark, let alone the stadium of your biggest rivals. So we salute you, Mr. Blue-Broom-Carrying Dodger Fan in San Francisco. You represent where others fear to tread.

Outfield Might Prevent LA Price Shopping

Speculation still abounds that David Price is headed toward Los Angeles. And although Doug Wachter at ESPN.com thinks the Cardinals and Braves are probably bigger contending suitors, he did mention the Dodgers as a potential destination:

Price is the most prominent name rumored to be on the move, and with his track record the former Cy Young winner is likely to command a massive return if the Rays do decide to deal their ace. Price's strikeout rate this season is easily a career best, and he is also limiting the free pass more effectively than ever before. Price is inducing grounders at a lower rate than he has in the past, instead relying on his outfield to convert additional fly balls into outs. Everything about Price's stats suggests a career year, except for his results, which have been negatively impacted by Tampa's uncharacteristically poor defense. The Rays have totaled minus-26 runs saved, which would be the worst total for the franchise since they put up an MLB-worst minus-81 runs saved total in 2007. [...]

Los Angeles Dodgers: The final NL contender for Price's services is the financial juggernaut in Southern California, who may be looking to turn Zack Greinke into the most overqualified third starter in the history of our national pastime. While the Dodgers certainly have the money and the blue-chip prospects to get a deal done, Price's declining ground-ball rate could be a concern. While the Dodgers may have four outfielders on big contracts, none of those four has shown an ability to play center field to a level acceptable for one of the top teams in the league. Matt Kemp, in particular, has been the worst defender in baseball over the past five seasons, costing the Dodgers an MLB-worst 84 runs as compared to average defense while serving as their regular center fielder.

Wow, so our outfield defensive woes actually might supersede picking up a key starter? Interesting shift of perspective.

Scoreboard Watching: July 28, 2014

Man mistaken for Jason Lane

Two baseball games of interest today:

San Diego @ Atlanta: Jason Lane (0-0, 0.00) vs. Ervin Santana (9-6, 3.87). Jason Lane, a former outfielder who last played in 2007, is taking the mound due to an injury to Ian Kennedy. He will be the oldest pitcher in seven years to make his first major league start, at 37 years old and 218 days. This game also has relevance because if it can extend to a ton of extra innings, Atlanta would have a pretty late plane flight into Los Angeles; the Braves start a three-game series with us on Tuesday. First pitch, 9.10a.

Pittsburgh @ San Francisco: Vance Worley (3-1, 3.10) vs. Ashley Bumgarner (12-7, 3.19). Pirates look for their seventh win in 10 games since the All-Star break; San Francisco has lost 19 of 25 at home, where Bumgarner is 4-5 with a 5.22 ERA (10 starts). The Giants are 1.5 games behind the Dodgers following a demoralizing, nationally-televised sweep at home. Honestly, I don't know how one comes back from that. First pitch, 7p.

Or, if you don't want to watch baseball, there's LA Galaxy @ Seattle Sounders, 7p. The two most successful MLS clubs meet for the first time this season; LA leads the all-time series 8-6-4, but are sixth in this year's standings with 27 points (Seattle leads the West, with 38 points).

On Keeping Kemp

Lots of rumors swirling about Matt Kemp being traded, potentially to the Red Sox. However, Mark Saxon tries to quell the noise:

The only impetus for trading Matt Kemp at the moment is to free up whatever money the Dodgers could and to alleviate whatever rift exists between him and the coaching staff. The outfield situation is as good as it has been all season. Kemp has looked comfortable playing right field, his original position, and he has been productive at the plate. In his past 16 games, he is batting .370. He's now batting .277 on the season with an above-average .775 OPS.

I for one am in favor of keeping Kemp this year.

Vin Scully, on Paying the Price

We don't get TWC at SoSG Worldwide Headquarters, so we apologize for the lack of new Vin transcriptions this season. But we've dipped into the archives (OK, last year's games) to bring you some fresh transcriptions we haven't run yet.

Vin Scully, from the sixth inning of the Mets-Dodgers game on August 13, 2013:

We've told it before, but it still bears repetition as to how it used to be fifty years ago.

Always brought to mind the New York Giants and Bill Voiselle. And Mel Ott was so tired of seeing oh-and-two hits and oh-and-two home runs, he was going to fine any pitcher five hundred dollars if he gave up a base hit or a home run oh and two.

And five hundred bucks in the forties was a lot of money. And Bill Voiselle gave up a home run to Vernal "Nippy" Jones on an oh-and-two pitch.

Jones running around the bases and all Voiselle could think of, That cost me five hundred dollars.

Took his anger out by picking up the rosin bag and throwing it at Jones as he rounded second base.

But I mean it was serious stuff, back then.

It's like the old story about striking out. In the old days, the hitters felt almost disgraced if they struck out. Today, oh!

Do you know during his fifty-six-game hitting streak, Joe DiMaggio — how many times do you think he struck out in fifty-six games?

Well, he struck out five times. Five times. That's nothing in this day and age.

Two and two the count to Marlon Byrd....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Speaking Of Burgers: Dodgers Apparently "Have Chips" To Deal

See, we've been talking about burgers a lot lately, right? And places like the UK and Australia, for example, call french fries "chips". Get it?

Anyway, the Dodgers say that we're open to dealing at the trade deadline, but we "won't be forced":

The priority area of concern for general manager Ned Colletti isn't trading an outfielder but acquiring a starter and reliever, and no deal is imminent. Of course, no deal was imminent three days before the July 31 Deadline of 2008. So if Manny Ramirez can fall into your lap and turn around a season, anything is possible.

But supply and demand indicates that the Dodgers might do nothing more in the next few days than add to their bench depth. Infielder Darwin Barney, for instance, is available.

"We may not do anything," Colletti said on Saturday. "I think we have the players here that can win."

That would explain why manager Don Mattingly, earlier in the week, seemed to lower the bar on expectations when asked about the need for an acquisition.

"For me, I'll take my club right now," Mattingly said. "Sometimes you make a move to show you're trying to win. We know we're trying to win. I can't sit here and say I have to have anything."

Mattingly gets briefed on the trade talks that, for now, have the Dodgers convinced there are too many teams looking for pitching and too few teams selling it. And three confirmed sellers are division neighbors San Diego, Colorado and Arizona. There's no better way for an executive to get dismissed than to help the Dodgers beat them, so any deal with those clubs would extract a heavy price.

The price the Dodgers still aren't willing to pay is any of their top three prospects -- Joc Pederson, Corey Seager or Julio Urias. To land a difference-maker like David Price, Jon Lester or Cole Hamels, it would take two of them. That's even less likely, considering ownership's commitment to restoring in-house development.

"Based on what I know of who can be acquired, I don't see us doing anything that's going to tear apart our farm system," Colletti said.

That's right, we won't be forced by another club to make a stupid trade-deadlilne move. No sir, Ned Colletti can make unimpactful trade deadline deals for starters like Octavio Dotel all by himself.

Post-Game 106 Thread: Burger Time!

DODGERS 4, GIANTS 3

You would always hate to drop the last game of a three-game series, when said last game is on national television (versus the first two games, in which the Dodgers outscored the Giants by 12 runs to regain possession of first place in the NL West). With ESPN pundits like Buster Olney pontificating from the sidelines, this game held relevance even though the Dodgers had already secured the series. In fact, the Giants (and ESPN) would have liked nothing more than the narrative of newly acquired Jake Peavy, serving as the white knight to save the orange and black.

Alas, the power of Dodger burgers was just too much for the Giants to resist. The Dodgers went in-n-out of the Bay Area storming away, sweeping the Giants out of first place, and, more importantly, showing some offensive power that demonstrated well-sequenced barrages of hits in each of the three games.

Today's breakthrough game in the fifth inning, when (after trading runs with the Giants for three frames), the Dodgers broke the game open on the back of Oyster Pubes' defensive missteps. First, Dee Gordon Kd for what should have been the second out, but reached first safely on the wild pitch. Yasiel Puig then walked and both runners advanced on another Peavy WP. Adrian Gonzalez than fanned for the second out, but the ball squirted free from Pubes yet again, and instead of checking Gordon back at third, Pubes threw to first, allowing the fleet-footed Gordon to charge home ahead of a Peavy tag for the tying run.

With Peavy rattled and Pubes in another world, Hanley Ramirez singled to center to score Puig; Carl Crawford tripled to right to score Ramirez from first; and Matt Kemp had a shot at prolonging the barrage but flied out to right (Kemp went 2-for-3 tonight, with two singles and a walk; and aside from that AB, looked pretty good from the plate tonight). A 2-1 Giants lead turned into a 4-2 Dodgers lead, and though Oyster Pubes hit a solo HR in the bottom of that frame, that concluded the game's scoring.

Hyun-Jin Ryu wasn't spectacular tonight, but he was fine, going 6.0 IP with 6 H and 3 ER (7 Ks and 1 BB). J.P. Howell gave up a leadoff single but escaped the inning with only five total pitches: Brian Wilson walked one but had a scoreless eighth with one K; and Kenley Jansen dutifully struck out the side in the ninth to preserve the victory. Dodgers are now 1.5 games up (having entered the weekend 1.5 games back) and are tied with the Brewers for the second-best record in baseball (behind Washington).

Jake Peavy drops to 1-10 on the year, and is 0-1 as a Giant. Dan Uggla, the Giants' other recent pickup, went 0-for-3 with 2 Ks and is batting .152 on the year. Uggla, a three-time All-Star, was batting .162 with a miniscule OPS+ of 33. He is now 0-for-8 as a Giant. And he does not get fries with that order.

Game 106 Thread: July 27 @ Giants, 5p

Our In-N-Out superstition continues — we're going with the 100x100 for the series sweep and first place today.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (11-5, 3.39) vs. Jake Peavy (1-9, 4.72).

Jake Peavy is 14-2 lifetime against the Dodgers, BUT he's only faced them three times in the past six years, AND his record in those three games is 1-2 (he lost twice in 2009, his last year with the Padres; the one win came last year with the Red Sox). As you can see from his record this year, at age 33 he's losing the form that made him a Cy Young winner in 2007.

BUT he's an ex-Padres wearing a Giants uniform starting a game that will decide which team will keep/take first place in the NL West, so...there's no telling.

All Puig has done in his two games in center field is go 5 for 10 with two RBI and three runs, so it's safe to say he'll be starting there again today. "I like 5 runs and 10 hits. Whatever lineup they can throw out there to do that is great," Kershaw said after last night's win, so don't look for Donnie to try anything radical with the lineup.

Tonight's game is on ESPN, so the city of Los Angeles can finally join the rest of the nation in watching the Dodgers. Let's show them what a first-place team looks like.

photo from @whatupwilly!

Really, LA Times?

Why Do These Exist?

Discuss.

And purchase one here, if you dare.

Rox Misspell 15K Jerseys On Tulowitzki Jersey Night; Dinger Unscathed

If one fires Dinger (who is clearly behind this atrocity, with his jealousy of Troy Tulowitzki's star widely known), one can afford a proofreader.

The Colorado Rockies gave out 15,000 replica jerseys honoring All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on Saturday night, but the back of them read "Tulowizki" instead -- minus the second "T."

The Rockies said they discovered the misspelling at some point, but instead of disappointing those looking forward to receiving the jersey, the team said in a statement that it decided to hand them out anyway.

"Is there something wrong with it?" fan Jordan Deuschleman asked, according to the Associated Press. "I didn't notice with the name being so long."

The Rockies plan to remake the jersey with the correct spelling later in the year, and fans can exchange Saturday night's for the new one at the stadium or at one of the team stores.

Fans who exchange the jersey also will get a free ticket to a future 2014 or '15 game.

"Many of the fans got here early. Took the shirt and left. They recognized it was a collector's item," usher Leon Thomas told the AP. "There were only so many handed out. They were gone fast."

What an insult. Tulo to even consider.

photo: AP / David Zalubowski

Saxon Waxes Well On Kershaw

It's gotta be tough to do a daily sportsbeat these days, but Mark Saxon turned in a nice piece yesterday, by positioning Kershaw's business-like two-hitter Saturday, to a lesson in team leadership:

But the Dodgers are a pitching-first team, and Dodgers pitching is a Kershaw-first phenomenon. He could pitch well in a phone booth, but put him on the mound at a cool, breezy bayside stadium with big outfield gaps, and the other team's hitters might as well close their eyes and swing as hard as they can. Maybe they'll get lucky. Nothing else seems to be working. Kershaw has a 0.69 ERA at AT&T Park.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has noticed other teams' approaches to Kershaw and, at times, Greinke: Swing early when they are trying to get ahead, avoid deep counts where their devastating off-speed comes into play, and perhaps score early in the game and hope your pitchers can do the rest.

"When you do that and you don't [score], you end up with a low pitch count, and you end up getting a full dose of our guys," Mattingly said. "I can't say it's a bad plan, but it's a dangerous one."

The Giants got a full dose of Kershaw on Saturday evening: nine scoreless innings in which they mustered three baserunners. It was absolute domination and you could argue in good faith that it was his fourth-best outing this season. There was that near-perfect no-hitter on June 18, perhaps the best-pitched game in history; the eight scoreless at Coors Field; the 11-strikeout game against San Diego.

This one, of course, carried the most import, slipping the Dodgers quietly back into first place in the NL West.

And all along, Kershaw has operated with a relentless edge that the Dodgers, when they're at their most coldly efficient, seem to emulate. Teams have been throwing inside to Ramirez relentlessly lately. In the game in which Ramirez was hit twice by pitches in St. Louis, Kershaw stuck a fastball under Matt Holliday's numbers. It wasn't personal, just business.

Somebody asked Kershaw how much "fun" he has been having during the run he is on. He leads the majors with a 1.76 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP and a .503 opponents OPS.

"It's fun to win. It's not fun to lose," he said. "It's pretty much a start-to-start thing for me. I'm happy right now and, if I lose the next one, I won't be. That's pretty much how it goes."

There may be a bit of a leadership void on this team that Kershaw has stepped into. Puig is in only his second full season and still has lapses in judgment. Ramirez has trouble staying healthy and can have a brooding presence in the clubhouse. Matt Kemp has taken his unhappiness with his position switch public through his agent, never a way to win points with teammates. Adrian Gonzalez is having a down year and Juan Uribe has never been an elite player.

But every fifth day, the Dodgers look like the team nobody wants to face and everyone should want to play for.

It's one of Saxon's better daily posts over at ESPN. Nice work, Mark! Now if we can just get you to stop ending your sentences with prepositions, you'd be a journalist to cheer for.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Post-Game 105 Thread: Dodgers Drink Giants' Milkshake


DODGERS 5, GIANTS 0

Did you know In-N-Out serves milkshakes? It's true; they're delicious. Clayton Kershaw was delicious tonight, pitching a complete-game two-hit shutout against the Giants. He used 113 pitches and struck out seven, and runs his all-important win-loss record to 12-2.

The Dodgers left the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings but still managed to capitalize on the Giants' pitching. Hanley had a two-out RBI in the fourth, Uribe had an RBI single in the fifth, Crawford and Uribe had RBIs in the sixth, and AGon added a seventh-inning RBI. If only one more Dodger had knocked a run in, we could say Five Guys had RBIs.

Tonight's win gives the Dodgers their first series win against the Giants since 1963 this season and vaults the Boys in Blue into first place by half a game. It's Ryu vs. the newly-acquired Peavy tomorrow for the whole bag of fries!

Game 105 Thread: July 26 @ Giants, 6p

Clayton Kershaw (11-2, 1.92) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (5-7, 3.99)

We've tried boobs. Might as well try burgers.

Dodgers will hope to double down on their emphatic win last night, and the odds are good for doing so with the #1 pitcher in baseball taking on a struggling Vogelsong. As SoSG Sax reported earlier today, it seems as though Puig is becoming more entrenched in center field, which may be part of the secret menu to help provide the stability that hasn't truly been there all season, really shake things up, in time for the stretch run. Only a half game separates these two teams, and this series remains critical, almost taking on a playoff atmosphere. Please lettuce take this one today!

Where the hell did Dan Uggla come from? I know, the Barves cut him, but I had pretty much thought his career was fried. Now he's an every day starter for a contending NL West team. To top it all off, we have to hear Vin tell us at least several more times that "Uggla" is Swedish for "owl."

Programming note: Don't forget the six o'clock hour start time, not the usual seven, for this one.

This Puig-In-Center-Field Thing May Have Legs

We saw Yasiel Puig start in center for the first time this year, and it looks like this move, unlike other Dodgers before Puig who have not fared well in center, might have some legs (get it?!):

After moving Matt Kemp out of the position in May because they were unsatisfied with his defense, and tiring of the lack of speed from the next two players they tried there, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke, the Dodgers have decided to make Yasiel Puig their center fielder.

Puig returned from a hand injury and started in center for Friday night's opener of a crucial three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. He had only four chances in center. Three of them were routine, but he ran down a Buster Posey warning-track drive to left-center in the ninth that might have eluded the Dodgers' other center-field candidates.

He also tied a franchise record with three triples and added a double and two RBIs as the Dodgers moved within a half-game of National League West-leading San Francisco by beating the Giants 8-1. The last player with three triples in a game was Denard Span for Minnesota in 2010.

"I just want to be on the field helping my team win," Puig said after the game. "Whatever position they ask me to play, I'm going to do my best. I do prefer center field a little bit, because I can run more."

Three days earlier, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he hadn't tried Puig in center yet because he plays "out of control most of the time" and "he scares the other outfielders."

Mattingly said he and the coaches sat down with Puig on Friday and stressed the importance of communicating with the other outfielders. Puig started six games in center last year but hadn't started there all season until Friday.

"We feel, with our combination of guys, this may be our best chance in center field," Mattingly said. "It could be a day, it could be a week, it could be forever -- or as long as he plays. We don't really know, but we know he's physically capable of handling the spot."

Article goes on to say that Matt Kemp's agent, Dave Stewart, continues to be a salty dog about Kemp in right. Enough yapping, Dave.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Post-Game 104 Thread: Puig Serves Up Triple Triple; Dodgers Go Animal Style on Giants

DODGERS 8, GIANTS 1

The Dodgers, rested from their day off yesterday, began tonight's game with some sparks, with Yasiel Puig tripling and Adrian Gonzalez knocking him in for the 1-0 lead. Little did we know what this would augur.

The fifth inning is where the Dodgers opened up the can of whup-ass, mostly on Tim Lincecum:

  • Zack Greinke with a one-out single.
  • Dee Gordon RBI triple to center. 2-0 Dodgers.
  • Puig RBI triple to center. 3-0 Dodgers.
  • A-Gon RBI single to right. 4-0 Dodgers.
  • Hanley Ramirez single to left; Lincecum chased after 4.1 IP.
  • With Juan Gutierrez pitching, Carl Crawford lines to first for the second out.
  • Matt Kemp with a 2-RBI triple to right. 6-0 Dodgers.
  • Juan Uribe flies to left, to end the inning. 6-0 Dodgers.

That's right, a three-triple inning for the Dodgers. And in fact, Puig himself had an incredible three-triple night: a triple triple. Puig went 4-for-5 with 2 runs and 2 RBI--11 TB (three triples and a double)--in his first career start in center field. Maybe that's a good spot for him?

The Dodgers had 15 hits tonight, with no HR. A.J. Ellis, Carl Crawford, and Juan Uribe each went 0-for-5. Speaking of lame performances, Paul Maholm is still trainwreckian, giving up three hits and a walk in the ninth inning, and allowing the Giants to get on the board.

And our starter, Zack Greinke? Just another 10-K evening, 7.0 scoreless innings pitched, with only one walk. In fact, Greinke recorded the Dodgers' fourth all-time 4-K inning, when (in the third inning), Greinke Kd Hector Sanchez swinging, Tim Lincecum looking, and Hunter Pence swinging but the ball escaped Ellis and Pence reached first safely; so, Greinke struck out Gregor Blanco who was thrown out at first for the fourth and final out. Great night for Zack and Puig, and for the start to this three-game series!

credit to SoSG Nomo for the PGT photo idea! Thanks, Gnomes!

Game 104 Thread: July 25 @ Giants, 7p

Zack Greinke (11-6, 2.90) vs. Tim Lincecum (9-6, 3.65).

"There's never any controversy or distractions around a Bochy team. They just play hardball," writes Richard Justice at MLB.com. Look, we get it. The Giants have chemistry, magic bat-splintering googly-eyed aliens, and Chardonnay. They turn fool's gold into MelkyScutaroHudson. They are the Littlest $154-Million-Payroll Team That Could.

That would make the Dodgers the bad guys, and tonight the bad guys are starting Greinke in the type of game they are paying him $147 million to win. Not give-his-team-a-chance win, but terminate-with-extreme-prejudice win. Zack will be with the services of a hobbled Hanley Ramirez, thanks to the plunk-happy Cardinals pitching staff, and Yasiel Puig will be able to don his Superman tights tonight. The bullpen? Stuck on Krypton.

Greinke-Kershaw-Ryu. It's the best the Dodgers have to offer against the grittiest team in the NL West. Let's keep it clean, and no hits below the Belt!

In Focus with Vin Scully

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kemp's Doing Great! (Caveat Emptor)

Dodgers.com trumpeted yesterday that players' coach Don Mattingly was awful impressed with Matt Kemp's two-game record in right field. Hmm:

PITTSBURGH -- Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez missed another start Tuesday night nursing left hand injuries, so manager Don Mattingly had Matt Kemp back in right field and Justin Turner at shortstop.

Kemp, in fact, impressed Mattingly so much with his natural play in right field Monday night that Mattingly said he is considering trying Puig in center field.

The reason center field is an issue is that Mattingly took that job from Kemp, who hasn't regained his center-field form after ankle and shoulder injuries. Mattingly has started Puig in center on rare occasions, but hasn't been at ease with it, opting more for Andre Ethier or Scott Van Slyke.

"Pretty much because he's out of control most of the time," Mattingly said of Puig's unbridled aggressiveness. "I don't mean that in a bad way. But for a tweener that both guys can catch, nobody wants to get hit at full speed. You have to have communication and you have to have trust. Yasiel doesn't give up on balls and I think guys know that. Scott said [there was] one ball he could have caught, but he knew Puig wasn't going to stop."

As for Kemp, Mattingly said he wasn't completely surprised that the outfielder would take to right field, even after a five-year absence from the position at which he broke in.

"He always said he felt better in right than in left," Mattingly said. "It looked like it last night."

Wow, that's a pretty solid endorsement from a manager who was just recently questioning Kemp's defensive range, judgment, and ability in the outfield scant months ago.

Oh...wait a second. ESPN.com has the Matt Kemp trade outlook; I get it now. (link insider only):

The Los Angeles Dodgers have maintained a crowded outfield for some time, and there are always plenty of teams looking for a quick fix to their lineup. As such, Kemp's name has come up often over the past two years as a possible acquisition for production-hungry teams such as the Seattle Mariners.

But consider this a word of warning: No matter who's in the hunt, acquiring Kemp would be regrettable.

A crowded outfield

While the Dodgers have demonstrated that they are not particularly troubled by a high payroll, they have a surplus of outfielders. Yasiel Puig is one of baseball's young superstars, a player who seems to up his game every time a baseball writer complains about his conduct. Joc Pederson, one of the top prospects in baseball, is hitting .327/.452/.582 for Albuquerque and is the Dodgers' only outfield candidate with any business playing center field.

If we look at Puig and Pederson as keepers, that leaves Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford for the last open outfield spot. Those players are currently guaranteed $244 million in salary. Even for the cash-flush Dodgers, moving at least one of them would be prudent.

Ethier and the always-overachieving Scott Van Slyke make for an ideal platoon. Also, neither Ethier nor Crawford has significant trade value, which leaves Kemp as the most realistic trade candidate.

A fallen star

Thinking of Kemp as a high-upside addition at this point requires one to have been in deep hibernation or abroad without Internet access since the middle of 2012. Over the past two seasons, Kemp has hit .269/.329/.411 with 14 homers in 641 plate appearances for a 109 OPS+, numbers that aren't remotely close to his monster .324/.399/.586 line in 2011.

While a 109 OPS+ is still quite useful from a center fielder, Kemp has enough business being in center field at this point in his career as I do in a swimsuit competition.

Several years ago, it appeared Kemp would maintain a below-average yet acceptable level of defensive play in center. While defensive numbers are volatile and different measures sometimes don't match up, there's a good deal of consensus regarding Kemp's defensive performance. The numbers from the gang at Baseball Info Solutions have Kemp's defense in center field at 18 runs worse than average over 88 starts going back to the start of 2013. And that might be generous; ultimate zone rating puts the figure at a hair under 25 runs worse than average over the same period.

What's even more concerning is that Kemp doesn't even play solid defense in left. BIS and UZR have Kemp's defensive performance this season as a left fielder -- in fewer than 400 innings -- at minus-11 and minus-9 runs, respectively. The loss of Kemp's speed is reflected in the numbers. While baseball doesn't hold a combine with measured 40-yard dashes like the NFL does, it does have measures that approximate speed, with Bill James' speed score taking into account stolen base rate, triple rate and other things that reflect a player's in-game speed. In 2009, Kemp's speed score of 7.0 was 10th in the majors (leading were Michael Bourn, Jacoby Ellsbury and Elvis Andrus). In 2014, his speed score is 4.0, 77th in the majors, just below Seth Smith and just above Edwin Encarnacion. Neither of those players is known for having blazing speed.

The defensive numbers aren't a mirage; they simply reflect the real-world consequences of losing a great deal of one's burst.

A heavy weight

While there are a number of teams that may be willing to take on Kemp, the obvious issue that we haven't directly addressed is that doing so would also involve taking on his contract. With roughly $114 million guaranteed through 2019, the Dodgers likely would have trouble trading Kemp without eating a hefty portion of his contract. To get an idea of what Kemp's performance is likely to be worth to a team over the next 5 1/3 seasons, I ran his ZiPS projection (to the right). It ain't pretty. In fact, it's perhaps even more frightening than my involvement in that theoretical swimsuit pageant.

Though ZiPS projects Kemp to hit better than he has over the past year and a half, it predicts just 8.2 WAR from him over the remainder of the contract. His projected value for next season checks in at $5.7 million, and with a 5 percent yearly salary growth, his actual value for the course of his contract is right around $51 million. That is, of course, a much smaller number than the $114 million he's owed.

If a general manager decides he likes Kemp more than the evil supercomputer and its algorithms do, then maybe Kemp is worth $70-80 million, which would mean the Dodgers would need to be willing to eat $30-40 million. None of this factors in on-the-field compensation for losing Kemp; if the Dodgers want actual prospects in return, they would likely have to throw in even more cash.

I don't want to see Dan Szymborski in a swimsuit competition. However, I do still hold out hope that Kemp is just playing injured and he will regain his form. Wishful thinking?