Dodgers and Royals: Close but no Classic

DSCN9082By Mark Langill

Jack Clark’s three-run home run in Game 6 of the 1985 National League Championship Series ruined the Dodgers’ pennant hopes and shut the door on a World Series between Los Angeles and Kansas City Royals.

The Royals outlasted the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game thriller, aided by a controversial call at first base in the ninth inning of Game 6, as Kansas City won its first and only championship.

But what would’ve happened if the Dodgers played Kansas City in 1985? That question also lingers for the 1977 and 1978 seasons which followed similar scripts. The four playoff teams were Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and Kansas City. And in consecutive years, the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in six games in the World Series.

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So you wanna build a bullpen …

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen is one of 10 MLB relievers to rank in the top 50 in WAR for the past three years.  (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

After being exposed in the 2014 National League Division Series, the Dodger bullpen has a bull’s-eye on it.

But revamping the relief corps is not only going to require some dexterity, scouting and analysis from Team Andrew Friedman, it’s also going to require a fair amount of luck.

Using Fangraphs, I pulled together lists of the top 125 relievers ranked by Wins Above Replacement from the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. (To see the entire chart in an Excel file, click here, or look at the end of this post.) This cutoff point is fairly arbitrary, but it tells a story: Nearly half of the top 125 from 2013 failed to make the same list in 2014.

How rare is it to find, let alone acquire, a durable elite reliever? Only 10 relievers, including the Dodgers’ oft-underappreciated Kenley Jansen, have finished in the WAR top 50 for three consecutive years. Only one of those 10 pitchers, 37-year-old Seattle closer Fernando Rodney (last seen at Dodger Stadium blowing a 6-3, ninth-inning lead for the Rays in August 2013) has changed organizations since 2011.

How rare is it to find a reliever that’s reliably decent? Only 36 relievers, barely one per MLB team, finished in the WAR top 125 for three consecutive years.

How about just banking on a good reliever from last year? Out of the top 125 relievers in 2013, 65 (barely half) repeated in 2014. The Dodgers had two of those players in Jansen and Howell, which puts them at par for the course, though certainly not at the head of the class. Baltimore and Oakland each had five.

A late-season slump helped lower J.P. Howell's performance relative to 2013. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

A late-season slump helped lower J.P. Howell’s performance relative to 2013. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

A bit of the fluctuation results from relievers switching to or from the starting rotation. But there’s no escaping the level of inconsistency to be found in MLB bullpens — which makes sense, since nearly every reliever in existence would be a starting pitcher if he had a more dependable or varied arsenal.

Even though a reliever’s past credentials do count, there’s much to be said for making low-rent bets that maximize flexibility. In trading for a reliever, you risk giving away talent in exchange for a player whose quality, for the reasons outlined above, has an expiration date. Also worth noting is that 40 of this year’s top 125 haven’t changed teams since they were signed as amateurs. As Che Guevara of “Evita” said, “Get them while they’re young.”

Despite the calls for the Dodgers to improve the bullpen this past summer before the trading deadline arrived, it’s rare for quality relievers to change teams after the season begins. Only six of the top 125 relievers in 2014 were traded midseason, with three others available as free agents or on waivers.

So really, most of the work there is to be done on the Dodger bullpen — keeping in mind who’s already under contract for 2015 — has to be done before Opening Day. And it has to be done with a combination of risk-taking and restraint.

And then you hope for good luck.

Click to enlarge any of the files below. (more…)

Baseball America rates four more Dodgers in league rankings

By Cary Osborne

Baseball America completed its list of the top 20 prospects from each league this week by hitting on the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

Center fielder Joc Pederson was the only Dodger prospect selected from the Pacific Coast League, while shortstop Corey Seager, left-handed pitcher Chris Reed and outfielder Scott Schebler made the list from the Southern League.

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Union Rescue Mission’s Ethier Learning Center nears completion

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Erin Edwards

In addition to scholarship funds and educational support, the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation (LADF) and Andre Ethier granted $100,000 to the Union Rescue Mission toward the renovation of URM’s Learning Center — soon to be the Andre and Maggie Ethier Learning Center.

Teamwork and collaboration led to the reality of URM now having a functional, comfortable and inviting space that will provide inspiration to hundreds of homeless men and women.

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Roger Bernadina elects free agency

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Roger Bernadina crosses home plate after hitting the Dodgers’ final three-run homer of 2014. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Roger Bernadina, the speedy outfielder who ended up leading the 2014 Dodgers in hitting — yeah, that’s right — has declined a minor-league assignment, as permitted by the MLB service time he has accumulated, and elected to become a free agent.

With a single and a home run on the final day of the regular season, the 30-year-old Bernadina finished with a 1.159 OPS in nine plate appearances with the Dodgers. He was also tied for 10th place on the team with two hit-by-pitches.

Bernadina, who had been signed to a minor-league deal in July and was called up September 6, has a .307 on-base percentage and .354 slugging percentage in 1,480 career plate appearances.

— Jon Weisman

Ned Colletti, the Bubble Man and the bubble machine

Clayton Kershaw and Ned Colletti congratulate each other after the Dodgers clinch the NL West on September 24. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Clayton Kershaw and Ned Colletti congratulate each other after the Dodgers clinch the NL West on September 24. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Sherak

Former AMPAS president Tom Sherak

By Jon Weisman

Ned Colletti and Stan Kasten met with reporters at Dodger Stadium today to talk about Colletti’s transition from general manager to special assistant to Kasten. Ken Gurnick is covering it all for MLB.com, but there was a story that Colletti told near the end of the session that I wanted to share.

Colletti remembered his good friend, Tom Sherak, the former entertainment executive and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, who passed away in January after a long battle with prostate cancer.

“When he left the Academy, he wanted to work for the Dodgers,” Colletti said. “Grew up in Brooklyn. So I hired him for a dollar a year, special assistant to the GM. He used to always tell me, no matter how bad his day was going — and this man was in a lot of pain for a lot of years — that everything was going to be OK. And he’s said, ‘I’ve had this marvelous life, coming out of Brooklyn. coming out of not much, worked for Paramount for years, Fox for years, the Academy. I’ve got this protective bubble around me, so you can call me “The Bubble Man.”‘

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Hyun-Jin Ryu vows to increase innings in 2015

RYu 2
RyuBy Jon Weisman

With his second Dodger season behind him, Hyun-Jin Ryu returned early today to Seoul, where he was greeted by approximately 150 reporters and 1,000 fans in person and a live TV audience.

Martin Kim, the Dodgers’ international partnerships account director who doubles as Ryu’s translator here, noted that Ryu received a full security and military escort to his residence. Kim also passed along these Ryu quotes from the Korean press.

“Overall it was a good year, but unfortunate I missed many starts due to my injuries,” Ryu said. “My offseason goal will be to stay in shape. I’m already focusing on next season.”

Injuries limited Ryu, who turns 28 in March, to 152 innings in the 2014 regular season after he threw 192 in 2013.

“My goal next season is to pitch close to 200 innings.  I’ve done that consistently during my professional career, and this was the first time it was low due to injury. I will start working this offseason so I can get my inning count up for next season.”

Ryu added that he will also work on the new slider he picked up this season.

Dodgers hire Andrew Freidman as president of baseball operations — Ned Colletti to remain as senior advisor

J. Meric/Getty Images

Andrew Friedman (J. Meric/Getty Images)

By Jon Weisman

Andrew Friedman, the 37-year-old architect of four playoff appearances and a trip to the World Series for the Tampa Bay Rays, is joining the Dodgers in the newly created position of president of baseball operations.

Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ general manager since 2005, will remain in the organization as a senior advisor to president and CEO Stan Kasten. A news conference will be held at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.

Friedman is six years older than Paul DePodesta was when the latter was named general manager in February 2004. And it’s those six years, plus three more as Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, that probably will impress those who would otherwise doubt someone so young and who came to baseball after starting his working career with Bear Stearns and MidMark Capital.

Though they finished 77-85 in 2014, the Rays had a run of six consecutive winning seasons — five of them with at least 90 victories — despite operating with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. At age 31, he became the youngest-ever winner of the Sporting News’ Executive of the Year award.

“Andrew Friedman is one of the youngest and brightest minds in the game today and we are very fortunate to have him join our organization,” said Kasten. “The success he has had over the past nine years in molding the Tampa Bay Rays team has been incredible.”

Lest you think Friedman was a baseball neophyte when he joined the Rays, he went to Tulane on a baseball scholarship as an outfielder.

Since Colletti joined the Dodgers, the team has had eight winning seasons and five playoff appearances in nine years.

“Ned Colletti has played a major role in the success of the Los Angeles Dodgers over the last nine years, and I’m thrilled that we are able to retain him as a special advisor to me,” said Kasten. “Ned’s knowledge and experience in the game covering 33 years will be a great asset to the club as we continue to add and build our player development system.”

Live and let die

By Jon Weisman

Almost all the time, I spend too much time worrying about my own house to worry about anyone else’s.

Then comes the time when the Giants are still playing baseball and the Dodgers aren’t, and the bitterness creeps in. Postseason baseball in San Francisco tolerable as a fluke, but as a recurring event, it’s brutal to suffer through. And it hasn’t been helped by the Cardinals flying on, oblivious to any concept of whose turn it is to bask in October’s magic glow.

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Dodgers outright Stephen Fife to AAA

Stephen Fife crossed paths with fans at Camelback Ranch in March. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Stephen Fife crossed paths with fans at Camelback Ranch in March. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

The Dodgers have activated Stephen Fife from the 60-day disabled list and outrighted him to their new AAA affiliate in Oklahoma City.

Fife made one appearance for the Dodgers in 2014, a six-inning start against the Marlins on May 4 in which he allowed four runs. Eventually, after struggling to a 7.01 ERA in 43 2/3 innings with AAA Albuquerque, he had Tommy John surgery in August.

In 91 career innings with the Dodgers, Fife has had a 3.66 ERA.

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