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August 3, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Not Making a Difficult Decision

by Joe Sheehan

It appears we're supposed to take the Dodgers seriously as contenders, since they lead the division in early August, have played excellent baseball since the All-Star break, and are doing all this with $427 billion worth of pitchers on the disabled list.

Watching their game last night, though, one thing nagged at me, a sign that as good a job as Jim Tracy has done, he's not prepared to take on the difficult task of reducing the role of a popular, but unproductive, veteran.

Let me set up the situation for you. The Dodgers entered the bottom of the seventh inning down 7-4 to the Reds. Gary Sheffield walked and Shawn Green singled off of Scott Sullivan to bring the tying run to the plate. Joe Hard...er, Paul LoDuca popped up on a pitch above his head, bringing to the plate Eric Karros.

Karros is popular. He has the longest current tenure with the Dodgers, was Rookie of the Year in 1992, is a good-looking guy, and is by all accounts a quality human being. He'd make a good neighbor, or a fine date for your daughter.

What he isn't, at this point in his career, is an everyday first baseman. Karros has never been a superstar, although his durability has enabled him to pile up impressive numbers in his best seasons. His five 30-homer, 100-RBI years have contributed to the notion that he's been an asset to the Dodgers throughout his career. In fact, he's been an above-average first baseman three times, in 1995, 1998, and 1999, and at 33, appears to be on a nasty downward slide. These are his translated lines from Baseball Prospectus 2001, along with his performance so far this year:


       AVG   OBP   SLG    EqA
1998: .303  .362  .489   .282
1999: .303  .354  .544   .288
2000: .252  .319  .456   .244
2001: .240  .309  .389   .249

This year is shaping up as his worst since 1993, when he hit .247/.287/.409. He's even worse against right-handers, a .238/.311/.366 performance.

So when this slow, below-average, right-handed hitter came to the plate last night as the tying run against a tough, side-arming right-handed reliever, a pinch-hitter appeared to be in order. The Dodgers have one of the best in Dave Hansen, who set the record for pinch-hit homers in a season last year, and has about a 900 OPS against righties since returning from Japan in 1999.

Let's look at this in terms of matchups:


Karros vs. RHP:   .238/.311/.366
Sullivan vs. RHB: .240/.314/.413

Hansen vs. RHP: .253/.395/.363 Sullivan vs. LHB: .277/.327/.465

In case you're wondering, the Reds had no left-handed pitchers available, and in fact, had no one other than their closer, right-hander Danny Graves, even close to coming in. Sullivan was going to pitch the eighth inning, so a counter to a pinch-hitter wasn't a concern. This was the tying run at the plate, the guy the Dodgers had to have get on base, probably the most important batter of the game.

Tracy stayed with his popular veteran, and Karros promptly grounded into a 5-3 double play, ending the threat. The Dodgers didn't get a ball out of the infield in the ninth, and lost by that 7-4 score.

This was an opportunity for Tracy to put winning above the protection of a veteran's ego, and he didn't do it. This wasn't a typical situation, and there was a lot to be gained by making the move. Hell, he could have even presented the decision as being less about Karros and more about Sullivan, who has been chewing up right-handed hitters for years.

The Dodgers have a real problem at first base, and it doesn't appear that they plan to address it. If they don't, it's going to be difficult for them to hold off the Diamondbacks and Giants and reach the postseason for the first time since 1996.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Eric Karros

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