I came across this article from L.A. Times reporter, Houston Mitchell, where he reprinted some emails he received of ideas from fans on how to improve the Dodgers. He asked for these emails in a previous article lamenting a Dodgers series loss to the Mets at home, a series where both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke pitched.
It’s a clear overreaction to one series, and the fan responses reflected that. It’s not a big deal at all, really, as fans will be fans. I’m not going to fault fans for being human, emotional creatures. I’m not going to fault people who aren’t paid to cover or analyze baseball for making bad baseball suggestions. As I mentioned in my All-Star game post, fans are, in general, better analysts than most baseball “experts,” anyway.
The reason why the Dodgers lost to the Mets at home with two of the best pitchers in the NL is because baseball is crazy random and anything can happen over the course of three measly games. I understand that isn’t a satisfying answer because it’s human nature to want reasons for everything, but it really is that simple. What I found perplexing is this sentence from Mitchell:
“…right now, this team is not winning the World Series.”
Um, what? Because of a disappointing series? The Dodgers are the best team in baseball! According to Fangraphs playoff odds, they have the best odds to win the World Series out of any other team! They have the third-best run differential in baseball and are projected to have the best going forward. Adjusting for league and park effects, they have the best offense in baseball. If we look at their pitching staff using two of the most advanced pitching metrics from Baseball Prospectus, they lead the league with a 3.74 DRA and their 94 cFIP is fourth best. To put that in more qualitative terms, the Dodgers pitchers have pitched the best so far and will continue to be one of the best going forward.
Of course, no team is perfect. For example, the Dodgers have a glaring hole at shortstop. I lauded the Jimmy Rollins trade, but it has been a disaster. He’s been a sub-replacement level player this season. It’s an example of good process, bad results. Beyond that there really isn’t a ton of places for the team to improve.
I understand that there is a considerable drop-off in the starting rotation after Kershaw and Greinke, but Mike Bolsinger and Brett Anderson have been quite good. Depending on what flavor of WAR that you choose, Bolsinger and Anderson have been above average starting pitchers so far. The catch is that they have both overperformed to a certain degree. Bolsinger has a low 6.3% HR/FB and Anderson has a low 17.5 K%. The good news is that Bolsinger’s 97 cFIP indicates that he should be a league average pitcher for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Anderson’s 109 cFIP is rather pessimistic of his future performance, likely because of his low strikeout rate. Anderson and the replacement level fifth starters that the Dodgers have been trotting out there could use some upgrading.
The Dodgers might be just fine if they stand pat at the deadline, but of course they should try to make some moves. Teams should always be looking to get better. In a game with the high level of variance that baseball has, that’s especially important.
The fan suggestions in Mitchell’s article had two recurring themes: Trade Yasiel Puig and fire manager Don Mattingly. I’ll cover Mattingly first.
I am fully on board with firing Don Mattingly. He’s a horrific in-game tactician who has refused to learn from his mistakes. That’s especially egregious under the new leadership of President Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi, who come from strongly analytical backgrounds. Some of the reasons cited by the fans for firing Mattingly were odd, but I agree with their wishes even if I don’t believe that their reasoning is sound.
It is said that a poor manager will cost his team 2-5 wins a season. Four or five wins sounds like a lot, but if a manager is capable of causing that much damage, them Mattingly qualifies. The problem is that there are countless managers who are terrible when it comes to lineup construction, bullpen management, and other in-game tactics. They still generally like to go by “feel” and other subjective nonsense like that instead of objective evidence. The good news is that if anybody can find the right guy, it’s Friedman and Zaidi. The right new manager could be a multi-win upgrade over Mattingly. Again, though, it’s easier said than done.
I completely understand the criticisms levied at Mattingly. What I don’t understand, however, is the vitriol against Yasiel Puig. Have the minds of Dodger fans been polluted by the media’s smear campaign against him? Or are the fans selected in Mitchell’s article an unrepresentative sample of how Dodger fans feel about Puig? If you’re a Dodger fan who can inform me on the situation, please feel free to do so in the comment section.
Puig has been, at worst, a top ten outfielder in baseball since he broke out two years ago. Adjusting for league and park effects, his bat is tied for seventh in all of baseball in total offense since 2013. In fact, according to ZiPS projections1 for the rest of the season, Puig is the best offensive contributor on the Dodgers. This season his offensive numbers have been a little down due to injury (he’s missed half his games), and a BABIP and HR/FB that are lower than his career rates coming into this season. Other than the fact that he’s hitting less ground balls in favor of line drives, which is a good thing, his batted ball rates look the same. There’s every reason to believe that he’ll experience some positive regression. Puig’s defense still needs to improve, however. The guy has a cannon for an arm, a legit 80, but he’s only a 55 overall fielder according to Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs. You can probably guess why. Too many mistakes and misplays in the outfield. It’s a shame, because he could have great range with his 70 speed, but it just hasn’t happened yet.
So to summarize, Puig is a true talent .368 wOBA player who is an above average right fielder and is only 24 years old. According to McDaniel, here are his scouting grades:
- Hit: 70
- Raw Power: 65
- Speed: 70
- Field: 55
- Arm: 80
- Overall value: 75
And Dodger fans want to trade this guy??? Why? Because he is reportedly not a great clubhouse guy who tends to rub his teammates the wrong way? Give me a break. One gentleman wants to trade Puig because he’s “not a team player.” You’ve got to be kidding me. I have no idea what not being a team player is even supposed to mean. Baseball is succession of individual events. It’s not like this is basketball where somebody can be a ball hog and hurt the team. Another gentleman said that he’s “Mr. Entitlement and is a liability.” If anybody wants to enlighten me on how his personality is negatively affecting his on-field performance and that of his teammates, and how that translates into extra losses, then I’m all ears. Otherwise, statements like the ones I cited are nothing more than baseless opinions. Talent wins baseball games, not personality.
If I were a GM, I’d be more than happy to acquire a 4-5 WAR player even if he were ten times as selfish and unpleasant as Puig is portrayed to be. There are too many deluded people who would prefer to have a player that makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside as opposed to one that actually helps his team win games. As Molly Knight recently put it, “The Hall of Fame is littered with men who were not popular in their own clubhouses.”
The best part about Puig is that he is locked up through 2018 and with an annual average value of only $6.5 million! The catch is that there is a clause in Puig’s contract that allows him to opt into arbitration for the last two years of his deal, which he will almost certainly do. That could easily double the $14 million he is contracted to make during that time2. That is still a tremendous value, especially for a team swimming in money like the Dodgers. Even the Tampa Bay Rays could easily take on his contract. That may be the best value of any player not on a rookie deal.
Last season, Fangraphs Managing Editor Dave Cameron ranked Puig fifth in his trade value column. He called Puig’s contract a “ridiculous bargain.” Cameron is in the middle of his 2015 trade value rankings, and while I expect Puig to drop down, I’m sure it won’t be by much.
Because the fans in Mitchell’s column don’t understand Puig’s on field value and grossly put too much weight on his clubhouse impact, the trade suggestions they made are way off in most cases. Again, he’s a top ten outfielder who is locked up through 2018 and making peanuts. That demands a tremendous return. The Dodgers have a strong major league team, but their farm system is in the process of weakening considerably. They promoted Joc Pederson within the past year, Corey Seager will likely be called up soon, and Julio Urias will likely be up next year. To give an example of what I’d ask for if I were Zaidi, I’d ask for two top-tier prospects, a quality major league starting pitcher, and one or two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Perhaps if I could get a higher caliber starting pitcher, I’d ask for just one top-tier prospects and one or two B-level prospects instead.
The good news for Dodgers fans is that Friedman and Zaidi are smart enough to understand Puig’s true value. I doubt they trade him for anything short of a king’s ransom, and that’s if they trade him at all.
Let’s go over some of the fans’ suggestions. Some people said some things that are completely wrong, but I try not to be too critical of people who aren’t paid to write about baseball.
- Trade Yasiel Puig for Cole Hamels: Never going to happen without a third team getting involved. A rebuilding team like the Phillies doesn’t need Puig. Acquiring him instead of the A-level prospects that Hamels could fetch would mean that the Phillies are highly unlikely to be competitive until after Puig hits free agency. As incompetent as GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has proven to be, there’s no way he trades Hamels to the Dodgers without getting Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, or Julio Urias back in return, and that’s just for starters. And no, there’s no way that the Dodgers part with both Puig and one of those prospects.
- Trade Yasiel Puig for some combination of Johnny Cueto/Aroldis Chapman/Todd Frazier: If the Reds decide that they’re rebuilding, then they’re unlikely to trade for Puig for the same reasons that the Phillies wouldn’t. I also don’t see why the Dodgers would want Frazier when they have Corey Seager, who is likely to end up at 3rd base anyway. Frazier is also 29 and has likely peaked. As elite a reliever as Chapman is, he’s still just a reliever and he only has one more year left on his contract. Cueto would just be a rental. Even packaged together, Cueto and Chapman would not be enough to give up Puig. If Cueto were willing to sign an extension as part of the trade and Chapman were included, then MAYBE the Dodgers do the trade. It could make the team a few wins better overall but at the cost of $150- 200 million. I think that’s too high of a price to pay, especially since Zack Greinke is likely to opt out of his deal after this season, but the Dodgers might not care.
- Play Scott Van Slyke more: The fan who suggested this seems to believe that Puig’s very presence on the team is a detriment and that Van Slyke would be an improvement. Based on everything I’ve written so far, I hope that you understand how incomprehensibly, terribly wrong that is. I bring this up because I have found Van Slyke to be a bit intriguing in recent years. Last season was a complete fluke that was fueled by a .394 BABIP and 17.2% HR/FB. I do believe, however, based on his batted ball rates and ZiPS projection, that his true talent level lies in the 2-3 WAR range. The knock on him is that he has large platoon splits. For his career, his wOBA is 72 points better against lefties than righties. He mashes lefties, is serviceable against righties, and is a very good defensive left fielder. That’s a good baseball player. Unfortunately, as somebody who is about to turn 29, this is as good as he’s going to get.
- Trade Yasiel Puig for Dee Gordon: I nearly choked on my coffee when I read that. On the bright side, Gordon is under team control for as long as Puig is. On the not bright side, as I’ve written multiple times before, Gordon is nowhere near as good as he is made out to be. Gordon’s success is BABIP-fueled, he hits for no power, and runs into too many outs on the basepaths. He’s maybe 50% of what Puig is. If the Dodgers wanted Gordon back, they could accomplish that by using a lot less than Puig.
- Trade Yasiel Puig for Scott Kazmir: He’d be a rental and Puig would be much too high of a price to pay. He wouldn’t even make the team better overall. Kazmir is an above average pitcher, while Puig is a top ten outfielder. That would probably cost the Dodgers 1-2 wins this season. Furthermore, the A’s don’t have a strong enough farm system to even out the trade with prospects.
- Call up Corey Seager: By far the best suggestion. DFA Jimmy Rollins and put Seager there. If Seager really can’t play shortstop, then maybe Justin Turner can handle it through the end of the season. What would be lost on defense would easily be made up for on offense. This would likely be at least a 2-win upgrade.
The Dodgers are the best team in baseball. They’re not perfect, and could stand to make a move or two at the trade deadline, but they’re still an excellent team. You’ll be fine, Dodger fans. Most importantly, understand how good Yasiel Puig really is. You don’t have to like him, but he’s arguably the best offensive contributor on the team. I’ll end with this hilarious suggestion from a fan in Mitchell’s column:
“Remove the geeks from the Ivory Tower (aka the front office) and replace them with bonafide baseball men.”
That’s some 80-grade get-off-my-lawn analysis from Grandpa, here. How about this: Let’s allow the people who know nothing about baseball analysis but have trained their whole lives to play baseball play, and let the professionals who have actually studied baseball analysis full-time for their entire professional lives make the baseball operations decisions. The reason why the Dodgers hired Friedman and Zaidi is because they figured out that is what makes the most sense. So far they currently have the best team in baseball.