Fire Jim Tracy

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Virtues of Patience

Choi Central is understandably bullish on Hee Seop Choi after last night's Grand Slam. And so they should. It was a line drive shot -- perfect for getting out of the stadium despite the sea level altitude and "heavy" air at Chavez Ravine. As always, I'm holding my Choi stock too, but I cannot as easily jump on the anti-platoon bandwagon as many have. I am not anti-platoon per se; the platoon simply has to be justifiable (as, for example, last year's Ross/Mayne platoon was not -- Mayne should have been playing every fifth day). Specifically, I look not at the Choi side of the equation, but the Saenz side. Saenz's early successes against LHP might be considered too small a sample size to be meaningful (1.407 OPS to be specific), but last year his split was 1.058 LHP/.571 RHP. In 2002 (Saenz missed 2003 with injuries), his split was not quite as pronounced, but it was still a healthy .937/.744. Furthermore, at least given tonight's game, Joe Kennedy is a pitcher with some pronounced splits of his own (other than 2002, which was three years ago -- below, with OPS against right handed batters on the right).

2002 .742/.796
2003 .906/.684
2004 .822/.549
(There is no pronounced split in 2005, but Kennedy's samples are too small to be meaningful -- total he OPSes at about 1.000)

Of course, the X factor in all of this is Choi's ability to hit major league left-handers. Really, no one has any idea whether he has any or not. Only about 70 plate appearances in his career against them, and while those 70 appearances are downright horrible, no one but Bill Plaschke would argue that they are meaningful of themselves.

Of course, you have to take into consideration that Choi is the future and Saenz, well, isn't. And if Choi never has a regular regimen of hitting against LHPs, it leads to the circular but unfortunate conclusion that he can't hit LHPs. But Tracy has on his bench a guy who hits lefthanders. By starting Saenz, Tracy guarantees that Saenz gets at least two or three at-bats in favorable situations, rather than sitting around and waiting to possibly get a situation later in the game.

So while Tracy's inexplicable decision to bring in Saenz against a RHP last week was as close to unforgiveable as he's made in four years (though last week was possibly his worst six game stretch as the Dodger manager, period), it seems to me that Tracy's use of Saenz against starting LHPs (the way I would look at it) is at least defensible, and probably right for the time being. If Saenz appears to cool as the season progresses, that would call for reassessment.

And if I ever, ever, ever, see Grabowski or Nakamura over there again...

UPDATE: Some more background. Last year, it was Jayson Werth's emergence in left field that benched Choi. My problem with Tracy last year was not that Tracy wasn't starting Choi, but that the first guy off the bench was always Grabowski, who was in the midst of a 1-250 slump, even in cases where we needed baserunners and where no one denies Choi's ability to work a walk. Tracy did a few times, but could hardly bench Green in favor of Saenz; he would either have had to do that, or move Green to right, moving Bradley over to left(?), or center with Finley going to left (?) -- anyway, you get the idea. I suspect that for this year, DePodesta understood that by getting rid of Green (a move heartily endorsed in these quarters), Tracy would have more opportunity to play both Saenz AND Choi, and that a loose "switch-hitting" Choi/Saenz platoon would be better than Shawn Green at first base, particularly in 2005. Early in the year, that is turning out to be true, and is especially true when you look at Green's Erickson/All Pitchers Not Named Erickson splits.

This is all a long way of saying that for the short-term, I think that DePodesta probably has little problem with Saenz starting against some LHP. In my admittedly short experience with DePodesta, the players who Tracy likes who are used badly (Encarnacion, Martin, Roberts, Mota), generally find themselves on other teams that use them badly (Encarnacion has 23 RBIs. When I found that out, I wanted to kill myself with a spork.) . DePodesta doesn't like to leave Tracy a lot of rope to hang himself with. And that is all a long way of saying that if DePodesta doesn't want to platoon Choi anymore, he won't give Tracy anybody to platoon him with.

But forget Choi. What in the world are we going to do about Valentin?


  • I am, as I like to say at least three times a week, the self-professed number one fan of Choi.

    I almost posted your exact thoughts this morning on Choi Central but I hesitated because I really don't have an answer. Good thing I held back because I like your post a lot better. I do think that...

    a) A player who wastes away on the bench is a waste of a roster spot (witness Choi last season) and...

    b) Saenz sends it sailing against southpaws.

    So, I like the platoon but as Aeamadar (or Aeneas or whomever) said quite eloquently, it has to be a *true* platoon. None of this batting Saenz against the lefty and then leaving him in the damn game against righties.

    By the by, was Tracy ever taken to task or even asked by anyone in the MSM about pinch-hitting Saenz for Choi against Vazquez? If he was, I didn't see it.

    By Blogger Mr. Landon, at 4/30/2005 12:51:00 PM  

  • If third base is our only unproductive slot, we're in pretty darn good shape. In 2003 we had 9 unproductive slots on most days.

    By Blogger Jerry Fors, at 4/30/2005 02:09:00 PM  

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