When All Else Fails, Blame The General Manager
"It ain't my (bleeping) fault. Campanis is the (bleeping) guy!"
--Tommy Lasorda (radio outtake, circa 1980s, replayed incessantly by the legendary radio broadcaster Jim Healy)
Bob Keisser of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram wrote a column today, entitled "Tracy's future role: the fall guy." While defending Dodger manager Jim Tracy, Keisser rips into general manager Paul DePodesta:
Add it all up, and you have the perfect fall guy for the Dodgers' swoon of 2005. It's not (Tracy's) fault, but when did that ever matter?
Owner McCourt's not going to take any of the blame.
General manager Paul DePodesta isn't going to step up and take the heat, either, even if this is more his team than Tracy's.
DePodesta signaled how much he thought of Tracy in the offseason. He gave him just a two-year contract, a measly raise, and then put the same kind of financial squeeze on his coaches.
Tracy deserves better. He's not Tommy Lasorda one per planet is enough and he's not even Walter Alston, but then neither of those Hall of Famers were handed what has become an annual mess since Tracy was, um, fortunate to succeed Davey Johnson after the 2000 season.
So Tracy won in spite of DePodesta's moves. Now he's losing because of them.
The GM never replaced Lo Duca. Jason Phillips can't throw anyone out, and he's a hack at the plate.
The infield defense is predictably weaker with the departure of Beltre and Alex Cora, not a good thing when you also go out and acquire a big-dollar pitcher, Derek Lowe, who depends on ground-ball defense.
The two key players acquired in the Lo Duca trade are flawed. Hee-Seop Choi has played enough now to know he's average. Brad Penny averaged 6.5 strikeouts every nine innings through the injury he suffered three games into his Dodgers career. His 2005 strikeouts/per nine innings average is down to 4.8, along with some of his velocity.
I don't really know how many managers could have handled this kind of chaos as well as Tracy, other than Joe Torre. The bigger question may be how much longer he gets to handle it.
For whatever reason, Keisser obviously has an axe to grind here. I think this type of "analysis" is proof that (many of) the oldtimers are uncomfortable with the changing of the guard within the executive suites of major-league baseball. To say it is disappointing in the case of Keisser, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, is an understatement.
On occasion, Keisser has shown that he "gets it." But, more often than not, he reverts to criticizing DePodesta in a less than objective manner. He uses the cafeteria approach by picking and choosing his spots, pointing out the failures and ignoring successes.
First of all, to write that "Tracy won in spite of DePodesta's moves" last year is irresponsible. And then to go on and say that he's now "losing because of them" is pretty outrageous.
I mean, Keisser talks about the (poor) team Tracy inherited, especially as compared to Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda. But what did DePodesta inherit? A ballclub that was still reeling in some respects due to bloated contracts from the Kevin Malone era and moves (or lack thereof) from the pending sale of the team by FOX. Vladimir Guerrero, anyone?
DePodesta has been on the job 18 months. I'm not sure how much credit he should get for last year or how much blame he should get for this year. But to not give him credit for last year while blaming him for this year is unfair, to say the least. I'm not even trying to defend DePodesta per se. To be honest, I'm not convinced he has the shrewdness yet of Billy Beane, and he certainly doesn't have the luxury of a budget the size of Theo Epstein's Boston Red Sox.
Keisser says "Phillips can't throw anyone out." Granted, Phillips has only thrown out 20% of base stealers this year, but LoDuca has thrown out just 29%. The difference between the two is about four or five stolen bases for the year. I'm sorry but that is not statistically significant.
Phillips is a "hack at the plate?" C'mon. He is about average for a catcher. Not good, not bad. Is he LoDuca? No, although I'm quite sure Keisser overvalues the latter's batting average. What I will say is that LoDuca (.298/.355/.399) isn't worth $4.2M more than Phillips (.246/.300/.365). Not surprisingly, Keisser fails to mention the difference in money. I guess it must be nice to have an unlimited budget to work with in this department, as Keisser most assuredly would have in putting together his "fantasy" team. He writes that McCourt is cheap but blames DePo for making cost-conscious moves. Talk about having it both ways?
I give Keisser credit for pointing out the decline in Brad Penny's strikeout rate, but he doesn't mention that the loss in Ks has been offset by a lower walk ratio while importantly increasing the number of groundballs vis-a-vis flyballs.
Let's face it, Phillips isn't the hack here. Keisser is.