Of the criticism that Terry Ryan received this year, the most unfair surrounded the performance of designated hitter Rondell White. White has been absolutely terrible this year, and for the first month he was terrible in a critical place in the lineup. Of all the offensive struggles the Twins faced this year, his collapse was the most damaging. It was also the least predictable.
White didn’t just spring from the ground in December when he signed with the Twins. White’s professional career goes back to 1990, and what is says is that he’s a professional hitter who borders on elite, except that he’s hasn’t been able to stay healthy. The move to sign him to an incentive-laden contract and play him as designated hitter was close to brilliant, and had the potential to pay dividends the way Chili Davis did fifteen years ago.
The news that he’s battling – and probably has been all year – a shoulder injury that hasn’t healed correctly suddenly makes his .182 batting average a bit more understandable. It may give both White and the Twins some insight on how he can find his previous form. Maybe more importantly, it confirms that the designated hitter spot is now available, either for a nominally healthy Shannon Stewart or a player acquired at the trade deadline.
Their offseason can be best described as “dysfunctional”. They threw money at a slew of questionable veterans. And they still find themselves contending for a division title as the All-Star break approaches. Let’s take a look at the last nine months of Dodger history and find out how that happens.
The Dodger tumultuous offseason started the day after the season ended. That’s when manager Jim Tracy exercised an out clause in his contract and resigned. The previous season it had become clear that he didn’t see eye-to-eye with GM Paul DePodesta. As the offseason progressed, it became clear he wasn’t alone.
Depodesta, the ex-assistant GM from Oakland who was heavily profiled in the book Moneyball, had been mocked the previous year by the Los Angeles scribes as “Google Boy” while the Dodgers finished with just 71 wins. He spent four weeks searching for Tracy’s successor, but owner Frank McCourt wasn’t satisfied with DePodesta’s choice. Instead, he fired DePodesta and hired San Francisco Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti. Then he replaced Tracy with Boston’s previous manager, Grady Little. (Yes, the same Grady Little that left Pedro Martinez in 2003 ALCS Game Seven too long.)
Then the Dodgers lightened their rather large and heavy purse. Their premiere signing was Rafael Furcal, the 28-year-old shorstop from the Braves, to a 3-year, $39 million contract. Beyond Furcal, however, they plugged their holes with a number of declining veterans who were familiar because they were ex Red-Sox (Nomar Garciaparra), ex-Giants (Brett Tomko, Kenny Lofton) or both (Bill Mueller).
One of those signings paid off huge. After recovering from another early season injury, the 2006 Garciaparra has morphed into the 2000 Garciaparra, except he’s playing first base. The other free agent signings haven’t done much, but ex-St. Paul Saint J.D. Drew has been reasonably productive and (more importantly) has avoided the disabled list.
The Dodgers offense ranks second in the National League and seems to thriving because it’s so well balanced. The Dodgers have nine players with 70 or more at-bats who have an OPS (On-base Plus Slugging percentage) exceeding 800 (the benchmark for a solid offensive year), ranging from 35-year-old veteran backup Olmedo Saenz to 21-year-old prospect Matt Kemp. If Furcal ever gets going (he’s currently hitting just .251) they could be a hard team to pick shut down.
But mostly, the Dodgers are blessed to be competing in the NL West. Last year the Padres, who finished all of two games above .500, won the NL West. The division is stronger this year, but the Dodgers 40-35 record is still the worst record to be leading a division in the major leagues.
On The Hill - Billingsly vs. Silva
Chad Billingsley (0-0, 3.48 ERA)
- 2005 (AA): 13-6, 146 IP, 162 K, 3.51 ERA
- 2006 (AAA): 6-3, 3.95 ERA, 70.2 IP, 57 H, 78 K, 32 BB, 7 HR
- The 21-year-old has been in the majors for just two weeks, and this will be his 3rd major league start.
- Both scouts and statheads agree that Billingsley is legitimate. His minor league numbers, especially those strikeouts, have been impressive, and he was the Dodgers first round draft pick in 2003.
Carlos Silva (3-8, 6.87 ERA)
- Throws a 90-mph fastball that naturally sinks, which some refer to as a “power sinker”; also throws change-up and curve.
- 2005: 9-8, 188.1 IP, 71 K, 3.44 ERA
- 2006: 76 IP, 111 H, 29 K, 11 BB, 18 HR
- Silva’s had much more success in his last couple starts, but it isn’t apparent he’s turned the corner just yet. In both starts, he tired after 70 or so pitches, which seems odd for a starting pitcher whose primary asset has always been to eat innings. Also, we still aren’t seeing the high ratio of ground balls that we’ve seen when Silva is really on a roll. It’s possible that he’s made some adjustments such that he no longer needs to be an extreme ground ball pitcher, but there are enough unanswered questions for Twins fans to remain cautious in their optimism.