Monday, March 31, 2008

Ethier Starts

Well kids, it looks like the OutWatch will be off to a slow start
this year, with Pierre starting the season benched in favor of Andre Ethier, as reported by the official Dodger mouthpiece. Seems being the best offensive player in spring training while Pierre finished sub-.200 sealed the deal for Torre. For now at least.

The good news is the Dodgers kicked the crap out of the Giants. The bad news is Andre went 0 for 4. A pop-up, two ground outs and a line out, in that order. So it might have just been a little nerves/pressure as his contact improved with the day. Could also be he does not hit Zito well. Fortunately Kent and Furcal do.

Martin also went 0 for 4, but somehow I don't think his position is very precarious. Pierre did not play at all, so his consecutive games streak, such as it was, comes to an end. I would hope Torre did that on purpose as well. No more of that nonsense to contend with.

Boy, those Giants are going to be a bad team. Their opening day line-up had a grand total of 78 HRs last year. If you remove Rowand, 51 HRs. Only Rowand has a lifetime OPS over 800 (.806) and most of these guys are on the downward (some steeply downward) swing of their careers [median age 33]. People say they at least have good pitching, but I don't know.

Matt Cain is the best 7-16 pitcher in baseball, but Zito is at best merely solid. Then you have Lincecum and Correia, who are two good-looking pitchers, but both are raw as hell and either one could implode completely. They don't appear to have a 5th starter at the moment, with Noah Lowry (another potential "solid" starter) recovering from arm surgery. But for the sake of argument, let's say this group can get you to the 7th inning in decent shape. The bullpen looks quite shakey, with more question marks than the riddler's underpants.

I would not be surprised to see this team lose 100 games, especially against what I think will be stiff NL West competition. So I guess what I am saying here, is let's see how the Dodgers do when they have to play against a team besides the Pleasant Acres Home For Retiring Mediocre Ball Players.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hello and Salutations

I had been waiting for a brief break in the flurry of postings marking the return of Humma to blogdom. He recruited me to write some extra blogs to fill in because he was only going to be able to post sporadically this year. Perhaps his definition of sporadic and mine are different, some sort of Websters vs. American Heritage sort of thing.

Actually if I am being honest with you, and let me assure you I seldom will be, another reason I waited until today was that the blogspot invitation was swallowed by my junk email sorter. Apparently Mac email doesn't believe Humma Kavula is a real person.

I am hoping one of the signatures of my entries will be decidedly less venom accompanying my Pierre cogitations. On the basic question of who should start, Juan Pierre or Andre Ethier, I am in firm agreement with Humma. Absolutely Ethier should start while Pierre rides the pine, but I try not to let hyperbole run amok with my emotions. Pierre is not worthless. Nor is he the worst outfielder playing baseball.

For instance, let me revisit something I talked about in the comments at the very end of the last season. Juan Pierre had the lowest OPS of any batting title qualified outfielder last season, at .685. This is not good, but not entirely fair for two reasons:

First, only 20 center fielders qualified out of 30 teams, so there were a lot of center fielders running around all year that probably should be included. If we just take all those with 300 PA, Juan is 32nd of of 37, the worst being poor Jerry Owens of the Chicago White Sox (.636). Again, not good, but not the absolute worst.

Second, OPS does not take into account speed. While speed is often over-rated, it is not worthless either. We can use EqA instead, a stat which does include stolen bases and also has the advantage of being normalized for league difficulty. Juan's EqA in 2007 was .248, below the league average of .260 (by definition). Out of the 20 batting qualified CFs, that puts him tied for 16th. Out of the 37 players with 300 PA, Juan
ranks 26th. Again not fantastic, but instead of the worst player at his position, you can see he is actually in the 3rd quartile. Maybe not someone you pay 9 million a year, but not the millstone dragging us into the depths either.

So bottom line, Juan has no power but makes up for it a little bit by stealing a lot of bases. He doesn't walk enough, but I strongly suspect that has a lot to do with his extreme deficit in power: If the worst he can do to me is hit a single, I am not going to tip toe around the strike zone. His defense is a similar story: Weak throwing arm partly made up for by his good range. All and all I rate him a mediocre center fielder. Andruw Jones should be a big step up in both defense and offense (although last year he was awful, EqA=.251), so playing him over Pierre is a no brainer.

All great and good. We got Jones so Pierre should go play center field for one of those 5-10 teams for which he really would be an improvement. Except this is where I get off the reasonable train and onto the Kavula Rant Express. We are being told Pierre is going to play left field.

One of the top offensive positions on the field.

The typical >300 PA left fielder has an OPS of .813 and an EqA of .271 (compared to CF OPS=.747 and EqA=.255). No batting qualified LF (or RF for that matter) has an OPS or EqA as low as Pierre. While I can find a handful of terrible LFs (about 5 out of 35) with lower EqAs than Pierre, it is unquestionable that Pierre would be well below the offensive output the typical left fielder brings to the table. This truly would be a terrible decision, especially when we have Ethier (2007: EqA=.269 OPS=0.802) as a better option. And, oh yeah, Ethier was 25 years old last year, so he might have some upswing left. Pierre is likely on his way down.

To summarize: Last year I grumbled about a mediocre center fielder. This year I will scream every time he starts in left field.

I return you to your regularly scheduled Humma.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In which Humma Comes Up With a Most Unfortunate Explanation for Why the Dodgers Might Start Juan Pierre Over Andre Ethier

More from the dog trainer:

Ethier's competition for the job, veteran Juan Pierre, is batting .188 with a .253 on-base percentage after reaching base only once in his last 12 at-bats. But Pierre has an established track record, having averaged more than 200 hits, 95 runs and 57 stolen bases over the last five seasons.

But Ethier, 25, has more power, a better arm and will drive in more runs, tools that would make him more valuable off the bench. And that fact, ironically, could wind up costing him the starting job.

"They bring different things to the table," Torre said. "Obviously, Pierre is that guy who's going to put the ball in play. He's going to be a threat on the basepaths."

So let me get this straight. The guys with more power and better arms who drive in more runs and -- though you didn't say this, I'll point it out -- get on base more often belong on the bench, rather than the starting lineup, because they provide valuable tools late in the game?

I don't know where that reasoning came from -- if it's something that this writer is making up or if the Dodgers are feeding it to him -- but let me be the latest among many to say:

This. Makes. No. Sense. You do not put your better players on the bench in place of worse players. The lamest fantasy baseball owner knows that.

You know, maybe I've put my finger on something here. Maybe the Dodgers think they're playing fantasy baseball in a five by five league. "Sure, we've got Kemp, who can steal. And Furcal. And Martin is fast for a catcher. But where else are our steals going to come from? I've got enough homers, with Jones and Kemp and Loney and Martin; I'll seat Ethier, and Pierre will rack up the steals. And just look at that batting average! Eat our dust, Sabez's Sluggerz!!!!!11!!"

Memo to the Dodgers: Although Juan Pierre is a very good fantasy baseball player... when it comes to the real thing, it turns out, not so much.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hot Hand

Today's Dog Trainer:

But contracts are not likely to sway Torre's decision in picking a starter
in left field where Juan Pierre, in the second year of a five-year, $44-million
contract, is battling Andre Ethier, who will earn $424,000 this season.

Both players will make the team but it's becoming more and more likely that
Ethier, who is batting .344 and is tied for the lead among National League
players with five spring homers, could start over Pierre, who is hitting .188
with a .253 on-base percentage.

The idea that Ethier will start is good news. Good news? Great news -- the news we've been waiting over a year to hear.

But scratch the surface and this is actually a little troubling. For example, the next paragraph is this:

"You're going to play the players that you think are going to best serve you
that day," Torre said.

This begs the question: will Torre play the hot hand in left field all season long?

Playing the hot hand can sometimes have benefits. We all remember Marlon Anderson. It is possible that Ethier was a better player than Anderson in September 2006, but Anderson was so hot that it's difficult for me to argue that the decision was wrong*.

(*Note that I say that it's merely possible that Ethier was a better player that month. That might not be true. Ethier was a rookie and showed signs of fatigue. He had also been riding an inflated batting average all season long and may have been returning to earth. At that particular moment in time, without even considering the fact that Anderson was so hot, it's possible that Anderson was the better ballplayer. Add in his serious hotness -- he played the best month of baseball in his life -- and starting Anderson makes a lot of sense.)

The problem with playing the hot hand is that it is sometimes code, a thinly-veiled excuse, to play a lesser player over a better one. Even if the lesser player is producing at the moment, you don't know what the better player would be producing while riding the bench.

More troubling, it's sometimes difficult to tell when the hot streak is over. Sure, a guy might be hot now, but when do you take him out of the lineup? After one 0-for-4 day? Two one-for-five days? That can happen to anybody and in fact happens to everybody. It doesn't necessarily mean anything. That's baseball.

The fact that Ethier may be getting the job because he's the hot hand right now is ridiculous. Juan Pierre, for all his faults, is not a .188 hitter. Andre Ethier should get the job not because he is hot but because he is a better player than Pierre. The idea that as soon as Ethier is not so hot, Pierre will be starting -- which Torre might be implying in his quote -- is an anathema.

Taking this one step further... and in fact one step too far...

Because it's fun and because I'm feeling particularly obnoxious today, I think I'll make up a ridiculously unlikely scenario. Let's say that Pierre has a streak where he gets hot for, say, 10 games -- let's say he bats .400 over that stretch -- and then follows with 10 games in which he goes 1-for-5 over half and 2-for-5 over the other half. Now he has a 20-game hit streak, meaning people are starting to pay attention, and he's batting .350 over that stretch, which is good enough for him to keep starting.... Now here's the ridiculous part -- let's say that every single day for the next 37 games he goes 1-for-5. He now has broken DiMaggio's record.... and over that 57-game stretch, including the hot streak, he's batting .218.

See what playing the hot hand gets you? A cherished record, broken by a .218 hitter. Is that what you want?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Better than Ever

The great thing about humankind is our ability to make ourselves ever better. This, right now, is the greatest moment in human history so far, and the next one will be even better. As a race, human beings have a distinct, unique ability to learn from the past, correct our mistakes, and move forward into an ever-better future. The great irony is that many, many people feel this is a world that has passed them by. They yearn to return to an earlier age, one that was not as good as the age we live in now.

Which brings us to Juan Pierre.

I have taken my share -- and my bride's share, and my spawn's share, and the guy down the street's share -- of easy shots at Pierre, but on one level, I sympathize with the guy. In an earlier age, he would have been lauded as one of the best players in baseball. He works hard and arrives early every day. He hits .300. He gets 200 hits a year. He steals bases, seemingly at will. He runs out every bunt, every grounder, every popup. One measure of predicting his future gives him about a 1-in-3 shot at reaching 3,000 hits, which would put him in the Hall of Fame.

The problem for Pierre is that the tireless march of time has passed him by. Not only has the average player gotten better, but with what we now know about how runs are scored and games are won, we know that Pierre is not a good baseball player. Stolen bases don't count for as much as we thought. Hitting .300 is great, but not if you rarely walk, as Pierre does. Hitting for power, which Pierre also rarely does, is also important. Today's batter contributes so much more to scoring runs than a batter a generation ago, and Pierre can't compete with that. Juan Pierre, like Howard the Duck, is trapped in a world he never made.

With four outfielders competing for three positions, Dodger fans stand now on the edge of a great precipice as the 2008 Dodgers try to decide what kind of team they're going to be. The three best outfielders on the team are Andruw Jones, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. Juan Pierre, the fourth-best outfielder on the team, maybe, should be benched, or, if possible, traded. And yet, it may happen that Pierre will become the team's regular left fielder. This would be wrong. It is a call to action.

Last year, this blog attempted to spread the word about Pierre by counting each and every out that the man made. Real life, unfortunately, got in the way. It is very difficult to keep up with such a task. So, this year, the reborn OutWatch returns to you, but modified in two ways.

First, the OutWatch will no longer track each and every out made by Pierre. Instead, it will become a watchdog of sorts for the outfield situation, reminding all Dodger fans that any plate appearance that Pierre takes from Andre Ethier, or, heaven forfend, Matt Kemp, is a wasted plate appearance, regardless of the outcome. Posting may be irregular, and we thank you in advance for your patience with that. We will try to make it up to you with keen insight that you can't get elsewhere.

Second, it is clear that this is a job that I can't do alone. With that in mind, you will see posts from the very talented and much calmer JimBilly4, as soon as I get around to figuring out how to make him an author here. JimBilly4 is a very good and funny writer and a lifelong Dodger fan. I know you will treat him with the same respect, warmth, and invitations for unspeakable things that he can do with his mother that you have given to me.

Thanks again to you all, and here's to the Dodgers figuring it out to much success in 2008.