What Ails Dem Bums: Part 1, Offense ................. 1 1 / 2 5 / 2 0 0 2

I have written previously about my rediscovery of the great Game, its mysteries and charms. Good enough -- the Angels are in peak form for another run at the championship, provided they can all stay healthy (likely) and not fall victim to hubris or bad nicknames. (K-Rod is liable to end up as both -- witness his feet-of-clay performance in game 5 of the World Series. Mariano Rivera he ain't -- just yet.) But I have always been, in my heart, a Dodger fan; much as I love to see the Angels play, I'm chronically scared they'll blow it. It's not that the Dodgers never lost or had me worried; Jerry Reuss' no-hitter had me teetering on the edge of nervous insanity in 1980. No, it was the fact that, I suppose, I share the same weakness I charge Yankee fans with. Namely, I like to see my team win. And, after the Dodgers' numerous postseason appearances and actual World Series victories, it wasn't much of an emotional investment to be a Dodger fan. These guys had big shoulders -- Baker, Garvey, Cey, Lopes, Yeager, Scioscia. Their predecessors were all time greats, like Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in Dodger blue. You can't forget a team for doing the right thing in a big way, and the Dodgers did lots of things the right way.

Until the O'Malley's sold them.

Fox ownership has been a virtually unmitigated disaster. Kevin Malone rushed to buy a championship with expensive free agents, most notably Kevin Brown, a starting pitcher with a temper so ferocious that, when he signed with San Diego, "he informed the Padres that he would reimburse the club for any damage inflicted on team property during the season." Malone fired the Dodger minor league coaching staff, including Mike Scioscia, Mickey Hatcher, and Bud Black, all of whom went on to teach the Angels a thing or two about how to win ballgames. Fox traded away Mike Piazza -- twice. Fox wanted wins, but they were the ultimate soulless machine, and couldn't understand that the Dodgers had a culture as important as turnstyle counts. By ignoring it, they wrecked one of the great and storied teams of baseball. Dodger fans, bless 'em, have been remarkably forgiving, continuing to show up regardless of win-loss numbers. But the Angels World Series win brings to light some of the really big missing elements of the Dodgers' organization. I hope to put on the web some of my thoughts, position-by-position, for what the Dodgers could do to bring home a division win.

In this section, I've taken the liberty of crawling mlb.com to get the last ten years' worth of stats. Since offense was the big thing obviously missing from the Dodgers' numbers this year, I'm starting with that. To simplify things a bit, I use OPS numbers as a shorthand for overall offensive capability. It's necessarily incomplete, but it does serve the purpose of highlighting the problems I think exist in the organization at present. The statistical tables below are color coded according to the following legend:

light greenTop third of MLB players with 100+ appearances (unless otherwise indicated)
light yellowMiddle third
light redBottom third


What the hell was wrong with the Dodgers that they couldn't hold onto Mike Piazza? His numbers consistently impress; he's the best offensive catcher in the majors. Once again, he led the majors for starting catchers, something he's done eight out of ten years!

Offensive statistics for M Piazza
2002NYMC0.9031 of 22 0.045
2001NYMC0.9571 of 20 0.050
2000NYMC1.0121 of 18 0.056
1999NYMC0.9362 of 25 0.080
1998NYMC0.9601 of 22 0.045
1997LAC1.0701 of 23 0.043
1996LAC0.9851 of 24 0.042
1995LAC1.0061 of 17 0.059
1994LAC0.9101 of 6 0.167
1993LAC0.9323 of 22 0.136

But, as Susan Sarandon's character in Bull Durham observed, bad trades are a part of baseball. We now have Paul LoDuca, one of the few Dodgers whose performance I have no complaints about. This year, his OPS is a fairly mediocre .731, 28 of 100 in the majors but 9 of 22 for catchers appearing in 100 or more games.

Offensive statistics for P Lo Duca
2002LAC0.7319 of 22 0.409
2001LAC0.9172 of 20 0.100

You won't find me complaining about hitting at the catcher position, though; offensively, he's at least in the middle of his position's range throughout the majors. And, now that the threat of a strike has passed, there's every reason to think he'll be in better shape next year, as his duties as union representative will have either migrated to someone else's shoulders, or will have in any case diminished. However, you will get an earful when the subject turns to

First Base

and Eric Karros.

Offensive statistics for E Karros
2002LA1B0.72230 of 33 0.909
2001LA1B0.69127 of 27 1.000
2000LA1B0.78025 of 30 0.833
1999LA1B0.91210 of 35 0.286
1998LA1B0.83016 of 34 0.471
1997LA1B0.78723 of 26 0.885
1996LA1B0.79524 of 31 0.774
1995LA1B0.9057 of 23 0.304
1994LA1B0.73613 of 15 0.867
1993LA1B0.69625 of 28 0.893
1992LA1B0.73018 of 26 0.692

This is just pathetic. Sarah Morris recently wrote an article on the Dodger's website analyzing their current situation; while I normally find her rational, her discussion of Karros is perfunctory. How she can look at his OPS numbers and say she doesn't understand why the Dodgers would want to platoon him is beyond me. Offensively, Karros has been in the bottom third of starting first basemen in the majors for seven of the last ten years. His poor hitting has hurt the Dodgers immensely at a traditional power position. He should be platooned at the very least. Preferably, he should be traded.

Update 2/21/03: it looks like I get my wish. Both Grudz and Karros are now safely away in Chicago, where they will, in all probability, end their careers. (This is probably true for Karros, at least, though given Grudz's low numbers, it's hard to argue that he'll withstand younger competition much longer). I wish both the best with their new team, excepting that they're playing the Dodgers, natch. Karros' replacement is the Cubbies' stalwart Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff, who will likely end his career in Dodger blue. McGriff is one of the game's great power hitters, never mind that he's pretty aged at this point -- he has one or two good seasons left, and I think it was overall a good series of trades that brought him to Chavez Ravine.

Second Base

Mark Grudzielanek has had some down years, but this was his worst. By contrast, I also show his numbers when he was playing shortstop:

Offensive statistics for M Grudzielanek (2B)
2002LA2B0.66523 of 29 0.793
2001LA2B0.71119 of 27 0.704
2000LA2B0.72420 of 30 0.667
Offensive statistics for M Grudzielanek (SS)
1999LASS0.8125 of 30 0.167
1998LASS0.67317 of 27 0.630
1997MONSS0.69011 of 26 0.423
1996MONSS0.73710 of 26 0.385

Clearly, his breakout season of 1999 was just not repeatable. His .665 OPS is well below his career average of .704. And even though major league average OPS at second has generally declined every year over the last four years, Grudz has declined faster than the league. There doesn't seem to be much hope that he'll improve to a repeat of his 1999 numbers. My advice to the Dodgers would be to trade him, especially given how expensive he is.

Third Base

and the disappointment of Adrian Beltre:

Offensive statistics for A Beltre
2002LA3B0.72923 of 31 0.742
2001LA3B0.72018 of 28 0.643
2000LA3B0.83511 of 31 0.355
1999LA3B0.78018 of 32 0.563

In his defense, he's hit a fair number of homers (21), but homers don't by themselves win ballgames. His weak OBP (.303) and his mediocre SLG (.426) combine for an OPS in the bottom quarter of starting third basemen. Most players at this position either have a good eye (high OBP and/or lots of walks) or can hit for extra bases (SLG), but Beltre is outstanding in neither of these categories. The Dodgers should trade Beltre... but wait, this is beginning to sound too familiar.

Update 2/21/03: Owing to the Dodgers' weak financial situation and bad moves under former management, Beltre's chronic underachievement at third just won't go away.


Shawn Green's OPS has been in the top 15% of major league outfielders three of the last four years, in the top third four of the last five, and in the top half every year of his career but one. His only problem is streakiness, but that's typical of power hitters. Year after year he's been a consistent producer for the Dodgers:

Offensive statistics for S Green
2002LAOF0.94412 of 100 0.120
2001LAOF0.97011 of 98 0.112
2000LAOF0.83942 of 104 0.404
1999TOROF0.9729 of 99 0.091
1998TOROF0.84431 of 99 0.313
1997TOROF0.80934 of 92 0.370
1996TOROF0.79049 of 90 0.544
1995TOROF0.83531 of 81 0.383

Besides his outstanding offensive numbers, he's one of the classiest guys playing ball today. Mercifully, he's signed to a long-term contract.

Brian Jordan had an okay year, but he has filed for free agency; I tend to agree with Sarah that a trade is best for all concerned. His OPS numbers are good but not great; he should be replaceable.

Offensive statistics for B Jordan
2002LAOF0.80742 of 100 0.420
2001ATLOF0.83035 of 98 0.357
2000ATLOF0.74283 of 104 0.798
1999ATLOF0.81156 of 99 0.566
1998STLOF0.90216 of 99 0.162
1996STLOF0.83335 of 90 0.389
1995STLOF0.82734 of 81 0.420

Update 2/21/03: ... and yet, he came back. One can only hope for better things.

Marquis Grissom had an exceptional season:

Offensive statistics for M Grissom
2002LAOF0.83133 of 100 0.330
2001LAOF0.65490 of 98 0.918
2000MILOF0.640101 of 104 0.971
1999MILOF0.73477 of 99 0.778
1998MILOF0.68582 of 99 0.828
1997CLEOF0.71373 of 92 0.793
1996ATLOF0.83833 of 90 0.367
1995ATLOF0.69372 of 81 0.889
1994MONOF0.77132 of 49 0.653
1993MONOF0.78936 of 87 0.414
1992MONOF0.74141 of 85 0.482

Given these numbers, it's tempting to suggest that Grissom should play full time. He's capable of some spectacular defensive plays as well.

Update 2/21/03: ... so naturally, he leaves the Dodgers to play for the Giants. They'll need him, with so many of their 2002 team run off.

Dave Roberts is the biggest question mark. I have to wonder why Sarah likes him so much; his OPS numbers are anemic for a starting outfielder, better than his average in Cleveland but declining substantially from his best and last year there:

Offensive statistics for D Roberts (vs all)
2002LAOF0.718139 of 251 0.554
2001CLEOF0.80167 of 244 0.275
2000CLEOF0.533214 of 247 0.866
1999CLEOF0.589195 of 232 0.841
Offensive statistics for D Roberts (vs 100+)
2002LAOF0.71882 of 100 0.820

But, that said, given how cheap ($217k 2002 salary) and young (30) he is, and the fact that his numbers seem headed in the right direction generally, the Dodgers should retain his services.


There have been suggestions of a number of trades, particularly in the infield, to fix the Dodgers' problems. But I have another theory. Perhaps it is time for the Dodgers to replace their hitting coach. The canary in this particular coal mine is Tyler Houston, who came to the Dodgers after the All-Star break. As a Brewer in 2002, he hit .302, but in the three months after his trade, he hit .500, .108, and .188 in 5, 18, and 12 at-bats, respectively. Houston has had more off years than on years, only hitting better than .300 twice, once his first year with the Cubbies in 115 at-bats in 1996, and then with the Brewers with 255 at-bats in 2002.

So, is it time for the Dodgers to replace their current hitting coach, Jack Clark? I don't know, but I suspect Tyler Houston's drought points in that direction. Mickey Hatcher, a former Dodger, is reputed to keep stats on the number of pitches per plate appearance; in fact, if I recall correctly, the only three hitting statistics he cares about are OPS, number of pitches per plate appearance, and RBIs. Perhaps it's time the Dodgers gave him a call for some advice.


Trade: Eric Karros (even if the team only gets a pile of magic beans!), Mark Grudzielanek, Adrian Beltre, Brian Jordan.

Lock in: Paul Lo Duca.

Resign for a 3-year contract: Marquis Grissom, Dave Roberts.

Replace: Jack Clark? Maybe?

Next week: pitching.

more gruntles rlm@scareduck.com
Last modified: Fri Feb 21 22:58:46 PST 2003