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March 11, 2009

On the Beat

Spring Dust-Up

by John Perrotto

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Dusty Baker is as cool as any manager in baseball-that is, until you mention his reputation for mis-handling young players. Suddenly, the friendly and talkative Baker will become agitated and defensive, insisting that the tales of his disdain for young players are greatly exaggerated, and that he can't wait to see his young Reds take the field on Opening Day. "This is the type of team I've always wanted to manage, a team that is young and athletic," said Baker. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Baker does have a past history as a manager of favoring the veteran player in almost every instance, but he says that the reputation is unjustified, and he's tired of hearing about it after 15 years as a big-league skipper with the Giants, Cubs, and Reds. "No, no, no," Baker said. "There has always been that perception. I got that perception when I got to Chicago. I managed the Giants for 10 years before I got to Chicago. There were a lot of misperceptions when I got to and left Chicago. We can stop that right now. You go ask young players anywhere who I play in spring training, and they'll tell you the young kids. I've always been fair with young players."

To illustrate his point further, Baker began talking about his family life. "When you've got a nine-year-old son and a 29-year-old daughter, how do you not like young people? That makes no sense. Have you ever seen kids around me? You understand what I'm saying? I'm the oldest of five in my family, I've got 18 nieces and nephews. They all love Uncle Dusty. I've got 22 godchildren, so how do I not like young people? That just floors me. I don't even want to defend that anymore."

Baker won't have to be worry about defending it this year. The Reds are going to play their share of youngsters after suffering through eight consecutive losing seasons. Six of the eight players in the Reds' projected Opening Day lineup are 27 or younger: first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Brandon Phillips, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, left fielder Chris Dickerson, center fielder Willy Taveras, and right fielder Jay Bruce. The Reds also have a pair of precocious right-handed starters in their rotation, 25-year-old Edinson Volquez and 23-year-old Johnny Cueto.

If the Reds are to mount a surprise challenge to the two-time defending champion Cubs in the National League Central this season, it will be with this young core of talent. "I'm excited about the potential of this team," said Baker. "It's a young team that's willing to learn, that's willing to be molded into a championship club. Our guys have the right attitude, and I'm looking forward to seeing these guys grow up together. It's a different situation than I've been in before. It's always been a case of having to win now. We had to do it in San Francisco, because [former Giants owner] Peter Magowan had a mortgage to pay off on a new ballpark. We had to win right away in Chicago, because the Cubs haven't won a World Series in over 100 years. I'm not saying we don't want to win now, too. It's just that we can afford to go with the younger players, and live with the inevitable growing pains that come with the young guys."

During the Reds' recent run of consecutive sub-.500 seasons, the biggest problem had been run prevention, but last year they had problems on both offense and defense; they finished 74-88, and were 23rd in the major leagues in both runs scored per game (4.4), and runs allowed per game (4.9). This season, however, the Reds believe that they have their best starting rotation in years, with Volquez serving as the ace after finishing 17th in the majors with 5.7 SNLVAR last year. Arroyo had 3.5, Harang 2.9, and Cueto 2.6, not shabby, but the Reds are confident that all three will significantly improve this season.

The Reds have also been encouraged by the spring showings of young right-handers Darryl Thompson and Homer Bailey, the latter of whom, as a 22-year-old, is trying to restore some of the luster lost from his former blue-chip prospect status. Baker feels Volquez and Cueto can give him the same kind of young dynamic starting duo that he had with the Cubs in Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in 2003, when they advanced to the National League Championship Series before blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Marlins. "The young pitching is one of the reasons I came here, and one of the reasons I came to Chicago," Baker said. "I analyzed their young pitching staff, and I liked it. I like young kids who come to play. I like young kids who have ability. I think Cueto and Volquez have a lot of ability."

The same could be said for many of the Reds' young hitters. Votto had a .291 EqA as a rookie last season, and Bruce is expected to improve upon his .255 mark as a rookie in 2008. Encarnacion was at a solid .273, and Dickerson posted a fine .325 mark, albeit in just 122 plate appearances as a rookie.

Don't throw the EqAs and SNLVARs in Baker's direction, though; he readily admits that he doesn't make much use of statistical analysis to evaluate young talent. "Stats don't show a guy's guts," Baker said. "They can't tell you the human side, help you recognize fear, or figure out who is having a good day or a bad day. I look at the numbers all the time, but people who play fantasy games don't have to look a guy in the eye or try to help restore his confidence. That's the thing with young players, it takes learning their personalities, and who can handle playing at this level and who can't."

---

One baseball book that has already created quite a stir during spring training is The Yankee Years, by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, which gives a candid look at Torre's time as the Yankees' manager, and even recounts what were, in theory, personal conversations between him and his players.

Another book beginning to land in bookstores that should be quite interesting is Becoming Manny, which takes an in-depth look at Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez, and is co-authored by former Lawrence Eagle Tribune reporter Shawn Boburg and University of Massachusetts Boston professor Jean Rhodes, a clinical psychiatrist.

Ramirez is an intensely private person whose dealings with the media have been sporadic throughout his career. However, in Becoming Manny, the authors try to explain the enigmatic Ramirez after being granted unprecedented access to the slugger. "It took years to get cooperation from Manny, but we ended up getting a lot of cooperation," Rhodes told the Boston Herald. "We went to his house in Florida and talked to him there. His family became our family. I'm still close to his sisters and niece."

So why did Ramirez decide to open up to a news reporter from a newspaper in suburban Boston and a college professor? "We're not huge baseball people," Rhodes said. "We're outside that world, and that world is something Manny would not have responded to. He's got a lot better grip of English than he lets on, but he finds the world of PR and media reporters distracting. It's not a place he wants to go."

---

The Yankees will most likely be without third baseman Alex Rodriguez until mid-May, after he underwent surgery this week to alleviate some of the pain in his hip caused by a torn labrum.

That the Yankees will feel Rodriguez's loss is obvious; he was seventh in the major leagues in VORP last year at 62.9. They also went 9-15 early last season while A-Rod was on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps. However, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says that he won't rush into any trades in an attempt to replace Rodriguez's productivity. "We're not going to sell the farm," Cashman told George King III of the New York Post. "Alex is coming back."

The Yankees' plan is to play journeyman Cody Ransom at third base. The 33-year-old had a .338 EqA in 51 plate appearances with the Yankees last season, but .a 245 EqA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. "I don't think you replace Alex," Ransom said. "If they ask me to play third base, though, that's what I'll do."

---

While hitting 30 home runs and stealing 30 bases in the same season isn' t quite the unique feat it once was, 40-40 is still considered rarefied air. Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Rodriguez are the only members of that club, but Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp thinks that he can reach the 40-40 level someday. The 24-year-old's career highs in those categories are 18 homers and 35 steals, both set last season. "Sure, I think I'm capable of doing something like that," Kemp told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre also believes that Kemp has 40-40 talent, even though he's still learning the game. "It's all about walking before he can run, but he's not taking anything for granted," Torre said. "He's working hard. There's no reason, with his ability, that wouldn't happen."

---

Major League Rumors and Rumblings: The Orioles have only passing interest in signing right-hander Pedro Martinez as a free agent, and certainly not at his reported asking price of a $5.5 million base salary with the opportunity to make $5 million more in performance bonuses. ... The Cubs are considering releasing reliever Luis Vizcaino, even though doing it would cost them $4 million. ... The Cardinals have decided on converted outfielder Joe Mather as their starting third baseman while Troy Glaus recovers from shoulder surgery, and they've also put veteran set-up man Ryan Franklin into the closer's mix with Josh Kinney and rookies Jason Motte and Chris Perez. ... The Indians plan to give the fourth slot in the rotation to right-hander Anthony Reyes, fearing they would lose him on a waiver claim if they tried to send him back to the minor leagues since he is out of options.

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

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

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amazin_mess

Methinks Matt Kemp is right.

Mar 11, 2009 08:50 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

Right about what? The article only quotes him as saying he thinks he can go 40-40.

Mar 11, 2009 11:37 AM
rating: 0
 
Squirrelmetrix

Dusty Baker is full of shit. Having kids proves that he likes to play young players?!

"This is the type of team I've always wanted to manage, a team that is young and athletic," said Baker. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun."

You will be asking your GM for Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez by the end of the week.

"You go ask young players anywhere who I play in spring training, and they'll tell you the young kids. I've always been fair with young players."

Ask Mark Prior and Kerry Wood about that. Dusty is horrible with young players. Does he even know who Jay Bruce is? Sorry Cincinnati, as you may have already gathered, Dusty Baker is going to ruin your team. Worst manager in MLB.

Mar 11, 2009 08:58 AM
rating: 1
 
Russell Jones

On the MLB Network this week, I believe that Harold Reynolds repeated almost word for word the BS about Dusty relating to young players because he has young kids. I laughed out loud when I heard that.

Dusty never met a veteran he didn't prefer and Harold Reynolds offends me on a daily basis...he isn't as bad as Joe Morgan but he is gaining on him!

Mar 11, 2009 09:54 AM
rating: 4
 
Austin (Raleigh)

Wouldn't having young kids be more likely to lead to treating players as if they were children? Perhaps not trusting them in key situations?

Mar 11, 2009 10:12 AM
rating: 2
 
Fresh Hops

I'm inclined to say the reality lies between what you say about Dusty and what he says about himself.

Jay Bruce is actually a pretty good case here. Dusty never benched him last season, never platooned him against lefties. Bruce struggled quite a bit after that first week or so, especially against lefties, and Baker tolerated it, which is exactly what you have to do with a talent that has so little left to learn from minor league pitching. Votto was the starting 1B from day one and Baker never blinked.

If anything is wrong with Baker's player management, it's that he doesn't understand the limitations of young pitchers. I basically expect Cueto's shoulder or elbow to fall off mid-season.

Baker also doesn't understand a thing about lineups and is too stubborn to learn about the significance of an OBP. Those are problems. But they are epidemic among MLB managers, so I don't think too much should be made of it.

Mar 11, 2009 11:57 AM
rating: 7
 
Squirrelmetrix

"Baker also doesn't understand a thing about lineups and is too stubborn to learn about the significance of an OBP. Those are problems. But they are epidemic among MLB managers, so I don't think too much should be made of it."

What else do managers do besides make lineups? Dusty Baker is notorious for being a player's manager. That is why he is so bad because the one thing he does he is no good at.

With Jay Bruce, he could have started him from Opening Day but he did not.

I went a little easy on Dusty Baker. This is a guy who said that baserunners "clog the base paths" while in the broadcast booth, used his son to shield questions from him as a Cubs manager, wanted to deploy holy water to heal some of his players in 2005, unashamedly blames past general managers and managers for his current failures and said that dark-skinned players are better during the hot months. Let's not even get into the denial of any knowledge of steroids. He is nearly as guilty as Barry Bonds in that respect.

This guy is worse than you think, worse than I know. The only reason he still has a job is that he rode Bonds and a well-assembled team to a World Series which he did not win. It is scary to think somebody as dumb as him could get that far but when you have those players, it is hard to screw up. When he talks of developing players, he talks out of his ass and he will ruin that pitching staff and use any veteran as his safety blanket and play him over a rookie given the choice.

All of his failures should be common knowledge but I guess it is not. Ugh!

Mar 11, 2009 14:00 PM
rating: 2
 
redsfan1470

Just nitpicking here, but Bruce started the season in the minors; Dusty wasn't able to start him on Opening Day. While I'm sure he had some input into that decision, it's still a move made by the GM (and probably had more to do with service time than any issue of readiness or skill).

Mar 11, 2009 15:44 PM
rating: 0
 
Ira

I wish the Rangers would show some interest in Pedro. One year at $5.5 million with a club option for a second at $6 million and a $500k buyout would probably do the trick in a heartbeat. Sure, he would displace Matt Harrison or Dustin Nippert or a kid, but I'm not worried about that. At his worst, he's no worse than Millwood or Padilla, and if he can recapture some magic, well... lets just say that "The best pitching season in Rangers History" isn't all that good:

Mar 11, 2009 09:04 AM
rating: 1
 
Ira

Rangers single season records:

ERA: 2.16, Dick Bosnan, 1969
Wins: 25, Fergie Jenkins, 1974
Win%: .765, Danny Darwin, 1980 (13-4)
WHIP: 1.006, Nolan Ryan, 1991
K/9: 11.32, Nolan Ryan, 1989
K's: 301, Nolan Ryan, 1989
ERA+: 167, John Matlack, 1978

Pedro's best:
ERA: 1.74, 2000
Wins: 23, 1999
Win%: .852, 1999 (23-4)
WHIP: 0.737, 2000
K/9: 13.2, 1999
K's: 313, 1999
ERA+: 291, 2000

Pedro's Average:
ERA: 2.91
Wins: 12.5
Win%: .684
WHIP: 1.051
K/9: 10.08
K/sea: 183
ERA+: 154

Mar 11, 2009 09:30 AM
rating: -3
 
aareinsch

Didn't Alfonso Soriano go 40/40 in 2006 with the Nats?

Mar 11, 2009 09:22 AM
rating: 5
 
ostrowj1

Yes! I remember The Onion article "Soriano regrets joining the 40-40 club after meeting its other members".

Mar 11, 2009 09:25 AM
rating: 5
 
oystertoadfish

Soriano's 40/40 season is essentially the only thing that has happened in Washington baseball since, I dunno, Ted Williams managing, so please don't overlook it!

Mar 11, 2009 10:01 AM
rating: 3
 
RedsManRick

Guts: The #1 predictor of future success.

Mar 11, 2009 10:12 AM
rating: 6
 
RazorRamon33

If Dusty doesn't prefer veterans why did I have to watch Neifi Perez come to the plate over 600 times in 2005.

Mar 11, 2009 10:42 AM
rating: 3
 
jwaldhoff

As stated above, you left Alfonso Soriano out of your 40/40 list.

I am curious if there are any other lessons we can glean by looking at the members the 30/30 or 40/40 club: Canseco, Bonds, Ramirez, and Soriano are the only 40/40 clubbers. At least 2 of those players are pretty definitively part of the PED club as well. Is 40/40 an outer limit of physical ability given the current games parameters?

For additional reference, Wikipedia (among others) has a list of 30/30 or better players -- most these were after the (at least anecdotal) arrival of PEDs:

Ken Williams St. Louis Browns 1922 39 37
Willie Mays New York Giants 1956 36 40
Willie Mays (2) New York Giants 1957 35 38
Hank Aaron Milwaukee Braves 1963 44 31
Bobby Bonds San Francisco Giants 1969 32 45
Tommy Harper Milwaukee Brewers 1970 31 38
Bobby Bonds (2) San Francisco Giants 1973 39 43
Bobby Bonds (3) New York Yankees 1975 32 30
Bobby Bonds (4) California Angels 1977 37 41
Bobby Bonds (5) Chicago White Sox/Texas Rangers 1978 31 43
Dale Murphy Atlanta Braves 1983 36 30
Joe Carter Cleveland Indians 1987 32 31
Eric Davis Cincinnati Reds 1987 37 50
Howard Johnson New York Mets 1987 36 32
Darryl Strawberry New York Mets 1987 39 36
José Canseco Oakland Athletics 1988 42 40
Howard Johnson (2) New York Mets 1989 36 41
Barry Bonds Pittsburgh Pirates 1990 33 52
Ron Gant Atlanta Braves 1990 32 33
Ron Gant (2) Atlanta Braves 1991 32 34
Howard Johnson (3) New York Mets 1991 38 30
Barry Bonds (2) Pittsburgh Pirates 1992 34 39
Sammy Sosa Chicago Cubs 1993 33 36
Barry Bonds (3) San Francisco Giants 1995 33 31
Sammy Sosa (2) Chicago Cubs 1995 36 34
Dante Bichette Colorado Rockies 1996 31 31
Barry Bonds (4) San Francisco Giants 1996 42 40
Ellis Burks Colorado Rockies 1996 40 32
Barry Larkin Cincinnati Reds 1996 33 36
Jeff Bagwell Houston Astros 1997 43 31
Barry Bonds (5) San Francisco Giants 1997 40 37
Raúl Mondesí Los Angeles Dodgers 1997 30 32
Larry Walker Colorado Rockies 1997 49 33
Shawn Green Toronto Blue Jays 1998 35 35
Alex Rodriguez Seattle Mariners 1998 42 46
Jeff Bagwell (2)Houston Astros 1999 42 30
Raúl Mondesí (2)Los Angeles Dodgers 1999 33 36
Preston Wilson Florida Marlins 2000 31 36
Bobby Abreu Philadelphia Phillies 2001 31 36
Jose Cruz, Jr. Toronto Blue Jays 2001 34 32
Vladimir Guerrero Montreal Expos 2001 34 37
Vladimir Guerrero (2) Montreal Expos 2002 39 40
Alfonso Soriano New York Yankees 2002 39 41
Alfonso Soriano (2) New York Yankees 2003 38 35
Bobby Abreu (2) Philadelphia Phillies 2004 30 40
Carlos Beltran KC Royals/Houston Astros 2004 38 42
Alfonso Soriano (3) Texas Rangers 2005 36 30
Alfonso Soriano (4) Washington Nationals2006 46 41
David Wright New York Mets 2007 30 34
Jimmy Rollins Philadelphia Phillies 2007 30 41
Brandon Phillips Cincinnati Reds 2007 30 32
Grady Sizemore Cleveland Indians 2008 33 38
Hanley Ramírez Florida Marlins 2008 33 35

Mar 11, 2009 11:15 AM
rating: 0
 
David Coonce

If anything, I would imagine that steroids, since they bulk the body up, would tend to make a player slower, and less likely to steal a lot of bases.

Lots of Rockies on that list....which may be closer to figuring out any true "cause" than PEDs.

Mar 11, 2009 11:22 AM
rating: 0
 
cbirkemeier

If steroids make a player slower, could you explain why sprinters take them? Also, consider that sprinters usually have much larger muscles than marathon runners, and I think you can see where I'm going with this.

If steroids can increase power, they can also increase speed.

Mar 11, 2009 16:06 PM
rating: 3
 
eighteen

Dusty Baker is either the most brilliant bullshit artist of all time, or he has absolutely no frickin' clue what he's saying.

I don't think he's brilliant.

Mar 11, 2009 11:32 AM
rating: 3
 
Evan
(47)

Any rumours of teams looking at those Dutch pitchers?

Mar 11, 2009 13:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Pietaster07

Hopefully not Cincinatti!!!!

Mar 11, 2009 20:01 PM
rating: 0
 
akw4572

So if I am a baseball manager, and I have 2 kids and lots of nieces and nephews, I'm automatically good with young players, despite a track record of playing Corey Patterson over Jay Bruce (early last year), Scott Hatteberg over Joey Votto (early last year), and playing the likes of Neifi Perez over, and over, and over........yeah, I'm buying that Baker. Baker is full of crap, and the Reds front office may be the only group of people who are dumber than he is.

Mar 11, 2009 15:11 PM
rating: 2
 
Fresh Hops

Baker may have had input into the decision to start Bruce at AAA last year, but it's the GM's decision, not his. From the time that Bruce was on the 25 man roster, he played. You can't blame Dusty for not starting a guy that's not on his roster.

I'm not saying he's good. But he's not responsible for the decisions regarding Bruce.

RE: Votto, I have no idea what you're talking about, and neither so far as I can tell do you. Votto played 151 games last season, including 26 in March; 151 games makes him around 68th among all MLB players in total games played; that's only 11 days off all season. Hatteburg played 1B in just 16 games, and started at first in only 8.

Mar 11, 2009 17:06 PM
rating: 0
 
joel3green

RazorRamon33
"If Dusty doesn't prefer veterans why did I have to watch Neifi Perez come to the plate over 600 times in 2005."

Pretty brown eyes?

"Stats don't show a guy's guts," Baker said. "They can't tell you the human side, help you recognize fear, or figure out who is having a good day or a bad day. I look at the numbers all the time, but people who play fantasy games don't have to look a guy in the eye or try to help restore his confidence.

No not pretty eyes.
It is the confidence building part. Looking Perez in the eyes and knowing that if he could just lead off some more days he would get that bat back in gear. The young kid who is hitting almost league average doesn't need that, especially after getting a collar- he needs rest to let that cold streak blow by him; it is the salty vet who has lost a step each way on D and who stops for prune juice on the way to first who needs the manager.

Besides, if some phenom gets the MVP everyone credits the kid. But, if Neifi Perez had hit .400 with twenty home runs Baker would be called a genius.... or a chemist or Satan's "Broker of Used Baseball Souls."

Mar 11, 2009 15:32 PM
rating: 3
 
cbirkemeier

"The Cubs are considering releasing reliever Luis Vizcaino, even though doing it would cost them $4 million."

They already owe him $4 million, so releasing him doesn't cost them anything. If anything, the release could save them $400K if another team signs him.

Mar 11, 2009 16:12 PM
rating: 5
 
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