Friday, June 06, 2008

The Folly of Youth

For the last two seasons, we've looked at our up and coming prospects in the Dodgers organization with salivating excitement. Russell Martin. James Loney. Matt Kemp. Andre Ethier (not home-grown, but still). Chad Billingsley. Chin-Lung Hu. Blake DeWitt.

And this year, thanks to injuries to other players all these kids are now front and center, starting almost every day for a storied franchise in the second-largest city in America. And collectively, they look awful.

The problem of youth includes uncontrollable emotions which, without experience and perspective, can't be checked until it bubbles over into unnecessary skirmishes on the basepaths. The problem of youth includes the ability to be easily distracted, leading to throwing errors and baserunning gaffes. The problem of youth is shouldering heavy expectations and crowds and press coverage unseen in the minor leagues, leading to performance anxiety that contributes to sub-.200 averages. The problem of youth includes not being able to perform in clutch situations, either hitting into double plays to squelch potential rallies, or failing to advance runners, or low averages with runners in scoring positions.

Or even worse, having a 2-0 count with the bases loaded down one run in the bottom of the ninth, the opponent's closer clearly on the ropes, and turning it into a bad swinging strikeout.

This is the youth in which we've believed, for which we've waited. And they're finally here in the bigs, with all the spotlights on them, and they can't perform.

I have resisted the urges to trade these fine fellows off, mostly because I too appreciate the potential that they have. However, Ned Colletti's rash of misspent money on veterans--who presumably would be calming influences on the youth, with the exception of the Jeff Kent curmudgeon (who probably hates both young and old at equal levels)--means that there are no veterans on the active roster, since they're all doing time on the DL. This includes money pissed away on people who have not contributed at all this year (Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Nomar Garciaparra) as well as people who at least have a shot at contributing but aren't (Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent (before last night's two-HR outburst)).

Since Ned has spent either unluckily, or foolishly, or both, all of our youth are out there in full display every evening. Without guidance or parental supervision. And perhaps it's not surprising that they can't stem the tide of shifting momentum during the game, or stomach the intestinal fortitude to knock the runner home, or understand his role given the game- and inning-specific situation in front of him.

I've seen too many swings on awful pitches, outs when we had clear advantages in the count, failures to advance runners.

I want to support the youth, but I can't help but think we look like a triple-A team out there.

How much more youth can we afford to stand?


Jon Weisman said...

Collectively they look awful? They can't perform?

Here's the EQA of the expected young starters this year:

.295 Martin
.282 Kemp
.282 DeWitt (subbing for LaRoche)
.279 Ethier
.258 Loney - the only one who's not well above average

The Dodgers' top two pitchers in VORP are Kuo and Billingsley.

Thursday's scapegoat, Kemp, has an .843 OPS with men on and .881 OPS with runners in scoring position.

I don't see how massive underperformance from Colletti's vets, aside from the Month of Furcal, translates into the kids looking "awful." The kids can't do it by themselves, but the reason the Dodgers look like a triple A team is because of the collective performance of the hitters over the age of 27.

Steve Sax said...

Aha, thanks for slapping back to reason. I knew my support of the youth wasn't unfounded.

But why does it seem like they're striking out in the clutch all the time?

(And yes, I have noticed that gaping 0-for-4 hole at the top of the lineup.)

StolenMonkey86 said...

The word "seem" goes together with "clutch" - it's an illusion.

Jon of course is right. It should also be noted that the right young players could be more helpful. Colletti traded Betemit last year when he was hitting .231/.359/.474, and this year has 4 HR in 91 AB for the Yanks (Scott Proctor, not so good). We have Chin-Lung Hu in the majors and Andy LaRoche in the minors. Kershaw has had 3 starts. And Loney's not doing his thing offensively for some reason.

But the folly would have to do more with trading for Danys Baez, trading for Hendrickson and Hall (Martin could hit everyday playing in the infield sometimes if we had Navarro still - D'oh!), having ever Julio Lugo on the team, signing Pierre for 5 years, signing Jason Schmidt, re-signing Nomar, benching good young players in favor of bad old ones, signing Andruw Jones, and everything else Colletti did that I forgot here.

Dean H. said...

The arrival of the kids has happened more or less on schedule.

However, despite several years and tens of millions of dollars, the Dodgers were not ready. There is no power hitting outfielder, little starting pitching and no bullpen depth. That leaves the Kids with no margin for error.

This hangs on Colletti's head.