Baseball BeatFebruary 29, 2004
An All-Out Effort
By Rich Lederer

I can't help but think that former Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey would be rolling in his grave if he knew what manager Jim Tracy was planning to do with the lineup this year.

According to Rich Hammond of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram, Tracy has spent a lot of time during spring training talking about "lengthening the lineup" and creating more balance from top to bottom. He apparently intends to move Paul Lo Duca down to the cleanup spot and elevate light-hitting shortstop Cesar Izturis to the number two position in the order.

"The thing I'm looking to do is finding different scenarios of lengthening the lineup, and one way to do that is to move Lo Duca into more of a run-producing spot. I think Paul would relish that opportunity."

First of all, why would Tracy want to dilute his lineup by putting bad hitters in between good hitters? If anything, it probably makes more sense to stack the Dodgers lineup to the extent possible, thereby improving the team's chances of scoring every second or third inning.

Next, why is Paul revered? Maybe I'm missing something, but is this the same Lo Duca who has had only one year in which he hit more than 10 home runs, slugged over .402, or had an adjusted on-base plus slugging average greater than 100? Is this the same guy who hit .226 with one homer after the All-Star break last year?

Lastly, is Tracy aware that Izturis has a career OBP of .270 with a season-high of .282 in 2003? Do you think he even knows that Cesar hasn't walked more than 25 times in a season and has never even been hit by a pitched ball before?

Tracy seems to think Izturis is capable of improving, but he also has another take on the situation. "(On-base percentage) is important, but it's also important to have the ability to move David Roberts from second to third if he gets on and steals a base."

You Don't Know Dick, Tracy

The Dodger skipper obviously places a lot of value on putting the bat on the ball, moving runners around, playing hit and run, and bunting. That's all fine and dandy but, contrary to the beliefs of so many "baseball men", not what a manager should want out of his second hitter.

I don't want to hear the old saw that Izturis can handle the bat well. Look, the guy struck out 70 times last year, which is pathetic given that he only hit one home run. Alex Sanchez, in fact, was the only player in the majors last year who struck out more often than Izturis with an equal or lower home run total.

Unlike Sanchez, Izturis isn't all that great of a base stealer either. He has only stolen 17 bases the past two years as a Dodger and has been thrown out 12 times for a less than acceptable SB rate of 59%.

Last year, Izturis ranked 20th in the National League in the number of outs recorded and yet had fewer plate appearances than everyone in the top 20. Not surprisingly, Izturis had the lowest OBP in the league among players with 502 or more plate appearances.

2003 NATIONAL LEAGUE LEADERS IN OUTS

                               OUTS      PA     
1    Juan Pierre                 511      746   
2    Jimmy Rollins               491      689   
3    Rafael Furcal               480      734   
4    Aramis Ramirez              476      670   
T5   Juan Encarnacion            475      653   
T5   Craig Biggio                475      717   
7    Orlando Cabrera             472      691   
8    Jeff Bagwell                469      702   
9    Richie Sexson               467      718   
10   Shawn Green                 466      691   
11   Preston Wilson              464      661   
12   Jay Payton                  458      658   
13   Andruw Jones                457      659   
14   Luis Castillo               450      676   
15   Ty Wigginton                449      633   
16   Jack Wilson                 448      615   
17   Adrian Beltre               447      608   
18   Alex Gonzalez               446      601   
19   Paul Lo Duca                444      630   
20   Cesar Izturis               441      593

Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia

Hammond reports that Tracy may go with a lineup that includes Dave Roberts leading off, followed by Izturis, Shawn Green, Lo Duca, Adrian Beltre and Juan Encarnacion. As shown above, the proposed second through fifth hitters all ranked in the top 20 last year in the N.L. in outs. David Ross and Alex Cora (.287 OBP, the second lowest in the league among qualifiers) figure to bat seventh and eighth.

Given what Tracy has to work with, I don't envy him. Tracy isn't responsible for the makeup of the current roster. If anything, the Dodgers are still reeling in the aftermath of the front office chaos since Peter O'Malley sold the franchise to News Corp. during the 1990s. Nonetheless, Tracy should be asking his new boss, "How are we going to drive runners home, DePo?"

Knowing Paul DePodesta's disposition toward OBP, one would think that the Dodger lineup may be overhauled between now and the beginnng of next year. The poor offense isn't entirely attributable to a lack of walks (even though the team placed last in the league in that department with 82 fewer than the next worst club). Let's not forget that the Dodgers were also last in the N.L. in batting, on-base, and slugging averages as well as runs scored. Relative to the league norm, the Dodgers scored the second fewest runs of any team since World War II.

As a result, an offense that was once known as The Big Blue Wrecking Crew has been reduced to a mere pittance of its former self. Tommy Lasorda liked to talk about bleeding "Dodger Blue" back in those days. Well, the current Dodger lineup is hemorrhaging outs.

Dodger fans are in for a long summer. But the good news is that the games will at least be short. Three up, three down. Three up, three down. Three up, three down... Good night, folks. Drive home safely.

Note: For more on this subject, read Ross Newhan's article in today's Los Angeles Times, which is entitled Dodgers Better Walk Before They Run.

Comments

I was looking into players who created the most outs a while back, but I found Outs/PA was a better stat of futility. I have a post here on my blog that touches on the subject: http://thegreatestgame.blogspot.com/2004_02_08_thegreatestgame_archive.html#107663247408310117.