30 May 2011

Why we're not going to get better

I was the first person to comment on Joe Block's new blog on MLBlogs. He basically argued that if the Dodgers lineups could match the production of teams like Pittsburgh and Houston the rest of the way, we could potentially compete in this division. His main point was that the Dodgers lineup is better than those teams. I commented and said something to the effect of "fat chance." He asked me to elaborate, so I did:

It all comes down to depth, and this is an organization that has failed to maintain a farm system that had always supplied the big team with a steady stream of good young ballplayers. Since the graduation of the team's current core to the bigs in 2006-07 (a group you were very familiar with in Jacksonville [Block was a commentator for the then AA-affiliate Jacksonville Suns while guys like Chad Bilingsley, Andy LaRoche, and James Loney were there), there hasn't been a single impact player to come out of the farm system. Now, while most of the players that we've brought up haven't met expectations or weren't all that great to begin with (Andrew Lambo, James McDonald, Blake DeWitt for instance), our general manager has failed to take advantage of their value (as young ballplayers with potential upside always have good value). Throwing away prospects for guys like Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik has killed us because we've thrown away our limited resources on scrubs rather than pooling them together and waiting for the big fish to become available.

Also, not offering salary arbitration to two guys we knew were not coming back (Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson) after the '09 season kept us from collecting two additional draft picks last year. This has been a facet of the club that has been grossly mismanaged.

When you don't have a strong farm system to lean on, you end up with a team forced to form their roster with guys like:

Aaron Miles
(career .319 OBP)
Jay Gibbons (career .314 OBP)
Dioner Navarro (career .309 OBP)
Tony Gwynn Jr (career .316 OBP)
Juan Castro (career .268 OBP)

This is your depth, with the exception of the great Jamey Carroll and the budding Jerry Sands, who needs to be playing every day.

Our regulars:

James Loney (atrocious, has hit worse with each year, not going to suddenly start producing, .284 OBP this season)

Casey Blake (37 yrs old, breaking down as he gets older, has produced in limited playing time this year, but you're always one muscle pull away from full playing time for Aaron Miles, also likely to regress this year as he's one year older than he was when he put up .248/.320/.407 line).

Juan Uribe (what a waste, .300 OBP, we're better off with him on the bench or DL, Carroll is also outslugging him this year .351 to .333)

Rod Barajas (career .283 OBP, so he's simply matching his career numbers with his senseless hacking at the plate this season)

Rafael Furcal (similar to Blake, brittle but can produce when healthy, which is something you just can't count on)

Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are the only reasons this team isn't competing with San Diego for last place. We don't have a LF but we should be playing Sands every day because it's only a matter of time until his hard hit balls fall in as his .270 BABIP this year is unsustainably low. His walk rate (something this team is missing badly) helps the entire club, and it looks like he's about at that point where the adjustments he's making against the league are working in his favor. A Sands/Kemp/Ethier outfield should be in the lineup card every day.

So, where we stand now, this team is actually batting in line with what was expected of them this year. Most of the players are either in line with their career numbers (Navarro, Barajas, Uribe, Gwynn, Miles, Ethier, Carroll, etc.), on the up as was predicted (Kemp), or on the down as was predicted (Loney).

This team's woes with the bases loaded and runners in scoring position are not that much worse than we should have expected, what with this team's glaring lack of OBP. They make way too many outs. You can't score if most of the guys on the team have a 70% chance of allowing the other team to get one step closer to getting out of the jam.

This team was only going to go as far as its depth allowed it. So far, I've been impressed with three of the team's reserves... Sands, Carroll, and AJ Ellis, who is at the very least the 2nd best catcher in the organization but is wasting away in ABQ while Navarro makes outs up in the bigs.

Whenever I listen to DodgerTalk, you (Joe) and Josh Suchon always ask callers who demand that the Dodgers spend more or make trades for marquee players "who would you get?" Most of the time they have no answer because, quite frankly, there is no answer. But the woes of this team don't necessarily come from not getting that perfect Free Agent or making that smart trade. The Dodgers' woes stem from spending the least amount of money in the draft in recent years (up until the shocking signing of Zach Lee), failing to produce major leaguers through the farm system, and spending less money on scouting and player development. Low income teams like the Rays have competed because of the strength of their farm systems. The thing that has allowed high payroll teams like the Yanks, BoSox, and Phils to keep competing while other high payroll teams like the Cubs, Mets, and Mariners have floundered is, (surprise!) the strength of their farm systems, allowing them to plug up holes and injuries with good ballplayers, while also dealing youngsters (while utilizing their value as youngsters) to fill needs on the major league level.

So there, those are my facts with a sprinkle of opinion. This team has been mismanaged in multiple ways in the past few years, but the holes in the farm system have forced us to latch on to players who have a proven track record of not being very good.

And you can't win if you don't have good players.

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