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What Ever Happened to Los Angeles?

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The Los Angeles Dodgers are 59-71, have a third order winning percentage of .439 and their odds of making the playoffs are roughly 1 in 20.

At the beginning of the season, the defending NL West champions were a popular pick to repeat. They had an impressive pitching staff that featured Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Jeff Weaver. Their batting order included J.D. Drew, Jeff Kent and Milton Bradley.

Things looked good from the start as the Dodgers were ten games over .500 by the middle of April. Unfortunately for Dodger fans, that was the high-water mark of the season. What happened? What went wrong?

The potential answers offered by reader sas723 were injuries, mistakes by Jim Tracy and mistakes by Paul DePodesta. My initial expectation is that injuries are the main cause of L.A.'s fall followed by mis-management by Tracy . Those are the biases I will try to be aware of.

We'll begin with the starting rotation, expected prior to the season to be a strength. Ten pitchers have started at least two games for the Dodgers this season, which would appear to suggest that injuries have been a big problem. However, when you look at the five pitchers who have amassed at least ten starts, only Brad Penny has been especially effective.

That would seem to indict the personnel moves of GM Paul DePodesta. Lowe and Perez, both owners of Run Averages in excess of 5, were major off-season signings inked for four and three years respectively. D.J. Houlton, considered by many (myself included) as a nice pick-up in the Rule-V draft, also lays claim to a high RA, but that's not exactly comparable to the Lowe/Perez situation.

Conclusion: The mess of the rotation can be attributed primarily to moves made by DePodesta.

The bullpen was not terribly deep at the beginning of the season, and so the loss of Gagne was crushing. The 'pen features a couple of sub-4.00 RA in Sanchez and Dessens as well as marginally effective pitchers Brazoban, Alvarez, Carrara and Wunsch. The loss of Gagne pushed everyone into higher leverage situations than they belonged. I do find it a tad odd that Brazoban of the 6.00 RA is being used to close games and perhaps that can be laid at the feet of Jim Tracy?

Conclusion: Injuries are the single greatest factor with regard to bullpen effectiveness. However, one could also potentially fault DePo for the lack of depth and Tracy for his management of the 'pen.

I suppose it makes sense to move on to the regulars. We'll start with the composite production from each position:

Position EQRAA Rate Games NRAA NRAA/G NRAA/162
Center Field 16.3 108 128 20.72 0.207 33.56
Right Field 7.9 109 128 15.17 0.152 24.57
Second Base 27.0 89 128 10.09 0.101 16.35
First Base 12.4 90 128 -0.29 -0.003 -0.47
Third Base -3.1 94 128 -8.4 -0.084 -13.61
Left Field -5.9 95 128 -9.58 -0.096 -15.52
Shortstop -19.8 104 128 -11.45 -0.115 -18.55
Catcher -10.8 89 128 -19.42 -0.194 -31.47

Assuming you actually looked at the table, you can see that those numbers are current only through 128 games. I had already collected the numbers a day or so ago for no reason and we'll keep them. Also, you should see that the Dodgers have gotten sub-par production from every position other than Center Field, Right Field and Second Base. At least the Kent and Drew signings look good (with regard to on-field performance).

The next closest a position comes to be productive is first base. There are only two players worth considering for the job, Saenz and Choi. Saenz has been better at the dish but has been worse enough in the field to hand the advantage to Choi. This looks like Tracy's fault. He has a first baseman, he just isn't playing him.

At third base, Tracy doesn't have much to choose from and Robles, the best of the bunch, leads the group in games played at the position. Valentin was injured, but was ineffective anyway.

Cesar Izturis has regressed and regressed badly. I think we all expected him to fall off a bit, but who could have predicted how much worse he would be this year? At least his defense is improved.

Catcher is another problem spot. I simply cannot fathom why Jason Phillips has been allowed to start. He has been worse both offensively and defensively than Bako. Not much to choose from, but Bako is above average and on the bench.

Left field certainly isn't a strength, but it shouldn't have been the offensive weakness it has been. Werth and Ledee have been solid at the plate. A significant number of games have been wasted on Valentin and Repko. Injuries have played a role.

Conclusion: Injuries have been a serious problem, and they have bee magnified by Jim Tracy's poor judgment and a lack of depth (see DePo).

It would seem that sas723's suggestion that the Dodgers have failed because of "a combination of all three" is accurate. It's difficult to place which has done the most harm, but it appears DePo has made more errors than I would have originally credited him with.

Kevin Towers: Or maybe it's a lack of character.

Update [2005-8-30 18:13:2 by Richard B. Wade]: It would seem I've given the impression that DePo is the biggest reason the Dodgers have failed. I only meant that he had made more mistakes than I had thought (read that as "practically none"). Also, I'll grant that injuries have done the most harm, but one has to recognize that they came into the season with no catcher, third baseman, starters 3-5 or any decent fill-in for Gagne.