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July 8, 2003

Prospectus Today

Fading Into Oblivion

by Joe Sheehan

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At some point, you just have to laugh.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are fading into oblivion, unable to put together much in the way of an inning, never mind an entire game. They've scored 14 runs in their last eight contests, or as many as the Diamondbacks tallied in the last five innings of their win on Monday night. They might not reach 300 runs by the All-Star break, a feat I didn't think was possible in the modern era of late-March starts and league RAs in the mid-4.00s, and they're on pace to be the first NL team since 1993 to not score 600 runs.

I've watched almost every inning of Dodger baseball in July, and I have to say, I deserve something for that. For the past week, the Dodgers have been just as bad as the Tigers--who might be The Worst Team in 40 Years--were back in April:


Team                  AVG   OBP   SLG   R/G
-------------------------------------------
Dodgers (July '03)   .188  .223  .262   2.0
Tigers  (April '03)  .184  .258  .262   2.4

It's worse than that up close. The Dodgers are painful to watch because they simply can't assemble rallies. Since the first inning against the Angels on June 21, when Daryle Ward singled home a run and Adrian Beltre followed with a three-run homer, the Dodgers have had multiple run-scoring hits in an inning just three times in 14 games. With an offense nearly devoid of walks (25 in 14 games) and doubles (15 in 14 games), they're reduced to singles and home runs, and they don't get remotely enough of either.

Even when they do get a big hit, they're prone to screwing it up; last Friday, Cesar Izturis was thrown out at home while trying to score on a single by Alex Cora. That's not terribly unusual, except that Izturis began the play on third base.

As usual, it comes back to OBP. With just two current starters above average in that category, the Dodger lineup right now is a tribute to outmaking:


                             PECOTA
Player            OBP           OBP
-----------------------------------
Wilkin Ruan      .150          .267
Alex Cora        .274          .321
Shawn Green      .307          .380
Paul Lo Duca     .370          .331
Adrian Beltre    .277          .328
Mike Kinkade     .355          .342
Dave Ross        .327          .303
Cesar Izturis    .284          .267
Jolbert Cabrera  .316          .301
Daryle Ward      .219          .303
Ron Coomer       .289          .270

Dodger fans can point to injuries that have Mike Kinkade, Dave Ross and Ron Coomer garnering lots of playing time, but how much are the guys they're replacing really being missed?

                             PECOTA
Player            OBP           OBP
-----------------------------------
Fred McGriff     .318          .345
Brian Jordan     .372          .301
Dave Roberts     .321          .330

Brian Jordan's at-bats have largely gone to Kinkade, who has essentially been the same hitter. Dave Ross has effectively gotten Fred McGriff's playing time and been a better hitter, with Paul Lo Duca moving to first base. Dave Roberts' replacements have been brutal; the Dodgers desperately miss what he gave them last year, a .354 OBP in the leadoff slot that at least gave their offense a fighting chance. Of course, his performance looked fluky then, and it looks even more so now.

The Dodgers aren't getting unlucky. Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre have been disappointments, while Lo Duca and Jordan--when the latter was healthy--have played above their heads. Everyone else has done about what could be expected, and that is the Dodgers' problem: they assembled a lineup that didn't have a chance of scoring enough runs to win, and it hasn't.

I've gotten a few e-mails asking about Chin-Feng Chen, who is the only outfielder at Las Vegas who hasn't gotten a tryout in Los Angeles. On the surface, it looks like Chen is having a good year: .295/.369/.495 in 315 at-bats. However, he plays in a very good hitting environment, and those raw stats translate to just a .246 major-league Equivalent Average, which isn't going to help the Dodgers any more than Kinkade is helping them.

The fact is, no one player, perhaps no two players, are going to be enough to turn this into an adequate offensive team. As long as the middle infielders are non-hitters, and there's no center fielder above A-ball, the Dodgers aren't going to be able to score runs. Green and Beltre are going to have to bounce back just to offset Lo Duca's annual August fade and the continued absence of Roberts, who looks like Brett Butler compared to his replacements.

Moreover, it's not like the Dodgers have the prospects to acquire top hitting talent. If they were given 24 hours to make the best offers they could on Carlos Beltran, Mike Lowell and Ryan Klesko--which is about what it would take to make this a viable offense--it's unlikely that they could get even one of those players, much less all of them.

I'd prepared a litany of numbers showing where the Dodgers ranked among teams who contended despite lousy offenses, but a funny thing happens when you average two runs a game: you don't contend. The Dodgers have fallen 7.5 games behind the Giants, after leading the division as late as June 22. They're in danger of slipping into fourth place, with just a two-game lead over the Rockies. It may not matter that they cannot hope to trade for enough hitting to make a difference, because they could be sellers, not buyers, by the trade deadline.

The Dodgers have been running in place for years, burdened by a ridiculous amount of money committed to fragile pitchers and some bad choices on position players. With a farm system frighteningly bereft of hitting talent (after Koyie Hill, you have to go down to James Loney in A-ball; Joe Thurston isn't an answer, hype notwithstanding), it may be time for Dan Evans to suck it up and convert the little marketable talent he has into help for 2004 and beyond. Hideo Nomo would be perhaps the best starter on the market. Lo Duca plays a position at which the Dodgers are deep, and would be attractive as a player who can't become a free agent until after 2006. The bullpen that has kept the Dodgers in so many 2-1 games this year includes trade chits like Guillermo Mota, Paul Shuey and Paul Quantrill; everyone but Eric Gagne, in fact, could be turned into some type of prospect.

Like the Mets in recent years, the Dodgers have occupied the no-man's-land of being too good to make rebuilding an easy option, and too bad to sell playoff tickets. Unless Evans becomes aggressive, he may find himself in the same place the Mets' GM did after he, too, went too far with the wrong roster: on the outside looking in.

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:  Dodgers,  The Who,  Cesar Izturis,  Trade To Dodgers

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