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April 23, 2013

Western Front

The Rockies and Dodgers Have Swapped Scripts

by Geoff Young

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We know that three weeks isn't enough time to judge a season. We'll do it anyway because that's what we have and that's what we do.

There have been many surprises so far, particularly in the National League West. Here's how the Baseball Prospectus crew saw the division shaping up in 2013:

  1. Dodgers (24 first-place votes)
  2. Giants (15)
  3. Diamondbacks (3)
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

And here's what it looked like through games of April 21:

  1. Rockies, 13-5
  2. Giants, 12-7
  3. Diamondbacks, 10-8
  4. Dodgers, 8-10
  5. Padres, 5-13

The Giants and Diamondbacks are where we'd expected them to be, and the Padres are close enough. But the Rockies and Dodgers have nearly traded places.

Colorado has benefited from a healthy Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, as well as hot starts from Michael Cuddyer and the apparently still-developing Dexter Fowler. More surprisingly, the Rockies have gotten strong results from a starting rotation that entered the season with serious questions.

Jon Garland? Really?

Their starters' collective 3.75 ERA makes for a good story, as does winning their first eight games of the year at Coors Field. They won't play this well all year, but it's possible that the Rockies are better than we thought. Just as folks underestimated the A's last year or the Padres in 2010, maybe they've done the same with this season's Rockies.

Or maybe it's just 18 games.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, this cannot be the start anyone expected or hoped for from the Dodgers. As I began writing this, they had lost six straight games, by a combined score of 36-13.

The Boston imports have been fantastic, at least on the hitting side. Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto have combined to hit .372/.454/.514 in 175 plate appearances. Crawford and González are doing what the money and the fanfare say they should do, and even Punto is inflicting damage in a limited role.

The left side of the infield, thanks in large part to Hanley Ramirez's thumb injury, has been dreadful. Minor-league journeymen Justin Sellers and Luis Cruz are hitting .130/.206/.163 in 103 plate appearances. And although Cruz's story was fun to follow in 2012, the fact remains that he owns a 690 OPS in nearly 5,000 minor-league plate appearances. This does not qualify as an answer at third base. His backups—Juan Uribe, Punto, and Jerry Hairston Jr.—are no less uninspiring.

Then again, with a healthy Ramirez, the Dodgers could get away with stashing a zero at the hot corner. Sellers changes the equation, as does the fact that Matt Kemp's contribution thus far has been limited to staring down Carlos Quentin in the parking lot after a game.

Kemp will hit—it's what he does, and does well—but Clayton Kershaw has out-homered him through the team's first 18 games, which can't have been part of anyone's plan. Kershaw has been strong on the pitching side as well, except for allowing a career-high three homers in his April 17 start at home against the Padres.

But beyond Kershaw, questions abound. Key off-season acquisition Zack Greinke will miss two months after breaking his left collarbone during an April 11 fight with Quentin in San Diego. Greinke's replacement in the rotation, Chris Capuano, incurred a calf injury in his first start. Then, on Sunday, Chad Billingsley joined those two on the disabled list thanks to right elbow pain.

This is where the Dodgers might like to undo the April 6 trade that sent right-hander Aaron Harang to Colorado for catcher Ramon Hernandez. No disrespect to Hernandez, but what does the soon-to-be 37-year-old making $3.2 million offer that Tim Federowicz (a 25-year-old making $491,000) doesn't?

Then again, Federowicz is now up with the big club thanks to Capuano's injury. Which raises the question of whether a team missing huge chunks of its starting rotation really needs three catchers on the roster.

Maybe the Dodgers could trade Hernandez back to Colorado for Garland. Or maybe it's just 18 games.

* * *

Despite their early-season struggles, the excitement that accompanies spending “all the money” remains high. Fans are coming out at a ridiculous rate to watch the Dodgers play. The sample is small, and at some point a lack of on-field success could trump the buzz of breaking the proverbial bank, but the investment so far seems to be worth it. Here are the top five teams in home attendance through April 21:

  1. Dodgers: 47,112 per game through 9 dates
  2. Giants: 41,793 through 9
  3. Cardinals: 41,638 through 6
  4. Angels: 39,570 through 9
  5. Rangers: 38.597 through 9

And here are the top five increases from 2012 through an equivalent number of home dates this year:

  1. Dodgers: +10,745 per game through 9 dates
  2. Orioles: +8,451 through 9
  3. Blue Jays: +7,877 through 13
  4. Nationals: +7,177 through 9
  5. Angels: +5,113 through 9

Maybe fans are grateful to have the McCourt era behind them. Or maybe it's just nine games.

* * *

Allow me to digress for a moment. While perusing attendance data, I noticed something disturbing. Here are the bottom five teams in attendance so far in 2013, along with their win totals from last year:

  1. Indians: 15,195, 68 wins
  2. Mariners: 18,532, 75
  3. A's: 19,309, 94
  4. Marlins: 19,586, 69
  5. Pirates: 20,616, 79

The A's are down 4,300 per game from 2012 through 10 home dates. I'm reminded that seven of those 10 came against the Mariners and Astros, but still. Someone should be outraged by this. On what planet do the Marlins deserve more support than the A's?

Maybe... oh, never mind.

* * *

We were talking about the Dodgers and their losing streak, which stood at six as I began writing this. When the Orioles scored three in the first inning against rookie right-hander Stephen Fife (recalled to replace Billingsley) on Sunday, I felt validated.

The established narrative continued unfolding beautifully, until the fifth, when the Dodgers' bats awoke. They scored four runs that inning and went on to win, 7-4, breaking the skid. Even Kemp had three hits, damaging the “contribution thus far has been limited” assertion while lending credence to the “Kemp will hit—it's what he does, and does well” line.

Always give yourself an out. If you present both sides of a story, one of them is bound to be right. Unless there are more than two sides, in which case you're out of luck.

Do we include Sunday's results and ruin a perfectly good tale about the Dodgers' poor start? Or do we use those results to reinforce the larger point that the season is long?

Circumstances change. They are constantly changing. For example, the Rockies placed starter Jhoulys Chacin on the disabled list on Sunday due to a “left lower-back strain.” Chacin, who made just 14 starts last season and didn't pitch particularly well, had posted a 1.46 ERA in his first four starts of 2013.

How will the Rockies respond to the loss of their nominal ace? How important is their signing of Garland—who hadn't pitched at any level since June 2011—at the end of spring training, after he exercised his option to be released from the Mariners?

* * *

As if on cue, the Rockies broke their part of the narrative on Sunday as well. Juan Nicasio spun four hitless innings before departing with one out in the fifth and 96 pitches to his credit. Nicasio and the Colorado bullpen turned a 3-0 lead into a 5-4 loss.

After Arizona scored once in the eighth and twice in the ninth, the Rockies put runners at the corners with two out in the bottom half of the ninth. J.J. Putz then got Eric Young Jr. to tap gently back to the mound for the final out, ending Colorado's eight-game winning streak.

The Rockies' early-season success remains a great story despite last-minute script revisions that called for A.J. Pollock to chop a Wilton Lopez offering just over the glove of a drawn-in Jonathan Herrera (listed at 5-foot-9) at third base, opening the door for Alfredo Marte's game-tying groundout and Gerardo Parra's game-winning sacrifice fly.

Depending on the Rockies' eventual fate, this single game in April could be viewed as the beginning of the end or as a point from which they later rallied. One of them is bound to be right, unless there is a third option. The same holds for the Dodgers and their comeback in Baltimore.

There is plenty of story yet to be told. Maybe what comes next will surprise us, maybe it won't. My money is on that annoying third option. My money is on both.

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

rsjanabasis

"On what planet do the Marlins deserve more support than the A's?"

Let's see. The A's

1) Have a horrible stadium that they refuse to invest in. The giants were also stuck with Candlestick park -- multi-use -- but they privately financed a beautiful baseball stadium, which requires investment in the community. The A's are not willing to invest in the East Bay, although it is one of the nation's largest markets.

2) The A's strategy of nurturing unknowns, getting a few years of excess value out of them, and then selling them off to the highest bidder does not inculcate fan loyalty or spur season ticket sales.

3) The A's have no loyalty to Oakland and are open about doing anything they can to move to San Jose (to get a taxpayer financed stadium in the south bay)

4) The A's refuse to lower prices up until all tickets are sold. As they claim to practice dynamic pricing, anything less than a sellout of all tickets is a failure on the part of the A's to lower prices. In the past, the Giants have lowered prices to $6 to ensure that there are no empty seats. Oakland isn't willing/able to do the same.

In short, they went from a team with the largest payroll in the late 80s/early 90s to a money grubbing team that is bent on extracting surplus value from taxpayers, ticket holders, and players. Last year, their operating income was greater than the Giants, and their operating income is generally the same as that of the Giants, even though they have invested much less in their franchise. That surplus yield has costs, and loss of long term community support is one such cost.

Apr 23, 2013 04:18 AM
rating: 10
 
alangreene

The short version: A's ownership does not want people to come to the games and is not shy about announcing it, both in action (they do not make the most of their stadium or try to improve the experience) or in words.

Outsiders never seem to realize it, but these owners don't like baseball. They were looking for a real estate deal and are pissed they haven't been able to pull it off.

Apr 23, 2013 08:41 AM
rating: 2
 
LynchMob

I assume the A's like their brand ... in other words, I'm guessing the A's ownership does all those things mentioned above on purpose ... and it seems successful ... I bet they are profitable ... and they put a winning team on the field pretty often ... seems like win-win to me ... I'm a bit of an A's fan ... Let's Go A's ...

Apr 23, 2013 11:17 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Geoff Young
BP staff

Thanks, rsjanabasis, for the thoughtful comment. I agree that folks in Oakland have many reasons to be upset with the A's. To me, however, those reasons pale in comparison to the reasons folks in Miami have to be upset with the Marlins. That and the huge disparity in win totals last year led me to ask the question.

Apr 23, 2013 13:52 PM
 
jedjethro

Maybe Billy Beane/Brad Pitt should do a (flag)pole dance during each game to lure more female fans to the park.

Apr 23, 2013 07:08 AM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

I haven't been to the Colesium in a while, but I never thought it was that bad, much better than Candlestick, though Mt. Davis certainly made it worse. I do think the A's current ownership actively tries to keep fans from attending because if people showed up, they would lose their argument that they need to move to San Jose to be profitable. The A's will be getting some taxpayer help even if they don't move with the BART extension to San Jose which is scheduled for completion in 2015. When that happens, the A's ownership will start bad mouthing BART as well as the Colesium.

Apr 23, 2013 09:23 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

You know the A's park is bad when all you can compare it to is Candlestick... from twenty years ago...

Apr 23, 2013 10:12 AM
rating: 1
 
LynchMob

I went to the Oakland Coliseum many times in 70s and 80s and always enjoyed it ... good baseball games there!

Apr 23, 2013 11:21 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I enjoyed the games in the late 80s, but then again, I was 12. :)

Apr 24, 2013 06:40 AM
rating: 0
 
Beau Giles

The BART extension to Warm Springs, still miles away from San Jose, is due in 2015. Actual BART to downtown San Jose is not currently expected to open until 2025, but that could be delayed even longer as NIMBYs protest underground tunneling. I grew up in the south bay and have been hearing plans for building BART to San Jose for 30 years and it still isn't there. If the Athletics plans are based on BART getting done they are making a ridiculously poor calculation.

Apr 23, 2013 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
matthewverygood

A note on the Dodgers inflated attendance this year. They've benefited greatly from the promo schedule, which brought more fans than what they normally would draw, considering the day of the week and their record.

Take the series against the Padres last week.

Monday 4/15 - Jackie Robinson Night, with a giveaway statue of Jackie, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella
Attendance: 52,136

Tuesday 4/16 - No giveaway
Attendance: 35,898

Wednesday 4/17 - Hello Kitty blanket!
Attendance: 52,393

Give the LA fans a good giveaway, and they'll come.

Apr 23, 2013 10:47 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Geoff Young
BP staff

Thanks, Matt. I don't doubt that promotional items bring people out to the ballpark, but they weren't nearly as effective for the Dodgers at roughly the same time in 2012:

Saturday 4/14 - Replica Dodger Stadium giveaway
Attendance: 46,549

Sunday 4/15 - Jackie Robinson Day, Kids Jackie Robinson Sweatband giveaway
Attendance: 38,359

The Dodgers were 7-1 entering the Saturday night contest. This is hardly conclusive, but I find it interesting.

Apr 23, 2013 14:08 PM
 
matthewverygood

They're not the best comparisons because it's a weekend series vs Mon-Wed, plus the records are different, but ultimately all I wanted to do was point out the obvious power of Hello Kitty.

Apr 24, 2013 11:30 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Geoff Young
BP staff

Fair enough. You'll get no argument from me on Hello Kitty.

Apr 24, 2013 12:26 PM
 
Llarry

Wait, you're telling me that Hello Kitty outdrew Jackie, Newk and Campy, combined? Oy.

Apr 23, 2013 14:54 PM
rating: 3
 
dodgerdan

Hopefully, Kemp looked better at staring down Quentin in the parking lot than he has looked at the plate these first 18 games. As much as I hate to admit it, I'd rather have Ryan Braun in my lineup over Kemp, if a choice had to be made. And Hanley isn't going to prop up the left side,especially if he is their ss.

Apr 23, 2013 11:25 AM
rating: 0
 
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