Why Can’t Money Hit the Ball?

April 17, 2013 at 11:49 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment

mattingly_mcgwire_arizona_2013-04-13As we continue what now appears to be a daily series of “what fans think is wrong with the Dodgers,” let’s move away from Dodger blue and into big, stinky Guggenheim green. Yes, for as many people asking for Dee Gordon & Yasiel Puig to come up, there’s a nearly equal amount attempting to point out — whether in disgust or joy — that a team with a $230 million payroll has some holes in it.

While frustration is understandable, it is of course ludicrous to expect that any team, no matter how expensive, is going to win all 162 games. With 93% of the season remaining, the Dodgers are at 7-7, just two games behind the Giants. (Yes, you heard me. The Rockies are 10-4, and they’re not for real. Mark it.) That’s with the handicap of losing their starting shortstop and #2 pitcher, so you’ll excuse me if I’m not ready to raise the white flag yet with a team that doesn’t even have a losing record.

Name
wOBA
$
Gonzalez
.438
$21m
Crawford
.436
$20m
A.Ellis
.358
$2m
Ethier
.337
$13.5m
M.Ellis
.283
$5.25m
Sellers
.244
494k
Kemp
.215
$22m
Cruz
.089
505k

Besides, if this is really about money, let’s look at the regular roster and see which group of salaries is lagging behind, shall we?

Check out the chart at right. Adrian Gonzalez & Carl Crawford, making a combined $41 million this year, are more than pulling their weight. A.J. Ellis is off to a fine start as well; Andre Ethier is somewhat behind his career norms, yet still safely above the current NL average for non-pitchers, which is .324.

It’s the second half of the chart that’s the problem, though Mark Ellis has long been expected to contribute far more on defense than on offense. What you have here is two of the three lowest-paid players doing the worst, while two of the three highest-paid players doing the best — and Justin Sellers is only in the discussion because Hanley Ramirez injured his thumb, a situation which will be rectified in the next few weeks. That seems like basically the scenario you’d expect.

We could do the same for the pitching staff, but the rotation is generally both well-paid and productive, with Chris Capuano‘s injury-shortened bomb last night being the first truly awful outing of the year. (And not only was he in a tough spot having sat in the bullpen for weeks, he was deemed not good enough to make the rotation in the first place, pitching only due to the crimes of Carlos Quentin.)

What this really comes down to are the same two things we’ve been talking about for a while. First, Matt Kemp is off to an atrocious start, and second, Luis Cruz has been awful. Kemp’s struggles have been beyond frustrating, and it seems likely that he’ll get the night off tonight to give him two days free before the team heads to Baltimore (!) to begin an east coast trip. I can’t say I know the answer to what his problem is — though I’ll note, again, how serious his shoulder surgery was and how foolish it was that he continued playing for a full month after being hurt last year — but there’s little we can do other than give him time to work it out. No, you can’t demote him to Triple-A — and yes, that’s a real suggestion I’ve heard, which is insane even if the team could legally do it, which they can’t — and if you must drop him in the lineup that’s fine, but it’s unlikely to have much impact. Whatever Kemp’s problem is, it’s not something related to his wallet.

As for Cruz, well, we’ve spent more than enough time talking about him. He was stuck in the minors for more than a decade for a reason, after all; the Dodgers gave him a chance, and it hasn’t worked out. Even then, I’m not sure what the team could reasonably have expected to do, given the market last winter. Did you really want Kevin Youkilis? Yunel Escobar? To give every non-Puig prospect on the farm for Chase Headley? It’s one thing to have money, and it’s quite another to have a viable option to spend it on.

I know we’re all frustrated by how this season has started off, but it’s really not about how much money was spent. So far, the expensive players have produced — other than Kemp — and the cheaper placeholders haven’t. The offense is still getting its share of players on base (8th best in MLB), so it’s really a matter of getting hits with men in scoring position. That, sadly, is not a tangible skill, inasmuch as a player is no more likely to get a hit with a man on than he is otherwise. It’ll even out. It has to, and simply getting Kemp right and either Sellers or Cruz replaced with Ramirez will go a long, long way towards that.

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