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April 29, 1999

NL West Notebook

Walking Dodgers and laser pointers

by Dave Pease

The Johnson Effect?

There has been a lot of talk about Raul Mondesi's hot start this season, especially the fact that he's finally taking bad pitches. After walking only 30 times in 148 games in 1998, he's already accepted 15 free passes in the season's first 19 games. And he's not the only story so far in the City of Angels: the Swingin' Dodgers, who picked up only 447 bases on balls all of last season, already have collected 90 in 1999. That puts them on pace for 767 in a 162-game season.

That's a big step up.

Were it just Mondesi that started off by taking a pitch, this wouldn't be all that noteworthy. Most people who were hanging around rec.sport.baseball in 1994 noted that Joe Carter started off the season hitting like Barry Bonds in large part because an injury made him unable to take mighty swings at hard-to-reach pitches. Carter walked more than he ever had, and hit better than usual when he wasn't walking. After he healed, he went back to swinging at everything delivered in the general direction of the plate and his OBP levelled off at about .330, regular as clockwork.

Episodes like this make me believe that, for individual players, early season resolve disintegrates into the same old bad habits much of the time. But most of the Los Angeles lineup seems to have been bitten by the free pass bug: notorious free swinger Eric Karros (10 BB/71 AB) is also walking, and second baseman Eric Young (12/74) and third baseman Adrian Beltre (13/64) are both on base more than might have been expected.

How much of this can be credited to Davey Johnson? At this point, it's hard to say, but as we noted in Baseball Prospectus 1999, all Johnson's teams have walked more under him than they did prior to his arrival. His appreciation of plate discipline is a big part of his success, and his influence may already be taking hold.

Not all of the Dodgers are likely to keep up their newfound discipline, but if even some of them do, and if Todd Hundley ever starts hitting, the Dodgers will be a much more unpleasant team to face than they were last year.

That Hurts

The rash of injuries across the majors hasn't spared the NL West. Just ask any Giants fan. The team started the season by losing third baseman Bill Mueller to a broken toe, which made Charlie Hayes the full-time third baseman. In addition to not being Mueller, either at the plate or in the field, Hayes got himself suspended for four games for charging the mound from second base. To add insult to time off, target Todd Stottlemyre of the Arizona Diamondbacks rattled off a nifty line about the whole brouhaha: "He missed me all night at the plate and he missed me on the mound."

All this drama is trivial compared to losing superman/left fielder Barry Bonds for ten weeks to elbow surgery. Bonds was off to a great start (.500/.805), and the Giant offense without Bonds and Mueller looks to be like Dr. Laura Schlessinger: possibly irritating, rarely effective.

The flip side: despite the injury woes and some truly terrible pitching performances from Kirk Rueter (13.50 ERA in 12 2/3 IP) and Mark Gardner (11.77 in 13 IP before landing on the DL himself), the Giants lead the division with a 13-7 record.

A Laser Show You Don't Want To See

If you've caught a show at the local movieplex in the last couple of years, you're probably familiar with laser pointers, optical devices that make a red dot on whatever they are pointing at. Someone always seems to bring one into the theatre, and they always seem to think it is funny, cool or otherwise noteworthy to shine them on the screen during the presentation, proof positive that some people are quite easily amused.

As someone who uses laser pointers in presentations, I know that they can be useful tools. They help identify exactly what I'm talking about on my slides--with some of the more complicated wiring diagrams and schematics, that's an important service. But when someone like Pirates pitcher Jason Schmidt gets ahold of one, I just wish they hadn't been invented.

Schmidt and outfielder Turner Ward were at Qualcomm Stadium on April 20 with the rest of their team to play the Padres. It was here that these two got the idea that it might be kind of fun to use their new hand-held laser to shoot at things--like the photo area near the Padres dugout. They ended up flashing team photographer Joel Zwink's camera lens while Zwink was looking through it.

Now it's bad enough to shoot a laser pointer towards people, period. But shooting it at a guy looking through a camera at a night game is either stupid beyond belief or malicious in intent. Zwink had to leave the game once he took a light-amplified laser beam straight in the eye, and is still reportedly suffering from blurred vision.

Tape of the incident has been forwarded to the league offices, but neither the Padres, or the Pirates expect anything to come of it. When stadium security entered the Pirates dugout after the photographers complained, both Ward and Schmidt denied everything--up to the point where the tape of them in action was furnished.

There's something galling about a situation like this. Think about how players react to the occasional idiot with a mirror in the stands; now add the potential for loss of or damage to a sense, and try to come up with any rationale at all for the actions of the two Pirates. Apologies are in order, as well as compensation for Zwink's injuries. Let's hope someone in the newly-active commissioner's office takes swift action.

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

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