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
season’s first 19 games. And he’s not the only story so far in the City of
the Swingin’ Dodgers, who picked up only 447 bases on balls all of last
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.
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
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.