For week 8 our activity was to transform our basic ART 110 blog into an ePortfolio of sorts. Over the years I have started two different blogs dedicated to writing about the Dodgers. Unfortunately I only got as far as posting one time on each blog, not having been satisfied with my writing or creative ability. So I figured it only seems right to attempt my Dodger blog again, this time with a copy of the better-of-the-two posts that I wrote as well as a separate section for my ART 110 posts. I like to think the audience of my blog or website would be forward thinking baseball fans, preferably Dodger fans, with an interest in advanced player analysis and sabremetrics. I have included a “Baseball 101: sites to know” sub menu under the “Dodgers” menu on my site, with a link to sites that I frequent and sites that have a lot of the basic information that newer fans to baseball would need before diving into the advanced content I would include on my site. Obviously, my blog is very preliminary, as I only have the one baseball-related post, however I think the theme works a little better for my subject matter, and there are tons of widgets that I can add to imrove functionality and overall site capabilities.
The following is part one of a two-part investigation into the struggles of the 2014 Dodgers and possible reasons for optimism as the season progresses. Part one will focus on the Dodgers’ offensive production to date, with an emphasis on key contributors and a deeper look into batted-ball data for a few struggling Dodgers. Part two will focus on the starting rotation and bullpen, with a look at some predictive stats and contextual clues that point to an expected increase in pitching performance as we get into the dog days of summer. Without further ado, part one awaits:
Part One: The Offense (or Puig & everybody else, supposedly)
“…all we need is a little patience.” – Axl Rose
Ah yes, the oh-so-eloquent Axl Rose. One might say that Axl, through the gift of foresight, wrote that lyric with the 2014 Dodgers in mind. One might then ask, if Axl had the gift of foresight, how does he explain the cornrow hairdo, or pretty much anything after ‘Appetite for Destruction’? Well that’s neither here nor there. Regardless of the song lyric’s intended target, the words ring true when it comes to the boys in blue. (See what I did there?) It’s no secret that the Dodgers have stumbled out of the gate and underperformed so far this season, with a 31-30 record. Though by the slimmest of margins, the fact that they’re above .500 with 101 games to go and all of Los Angeles appears to be in panic mode says more about our expectations than it does about this team.
True, this team is not without its faults and concerns. The offense has been underwhelming at times, going through stretches of seemingly uninspired play and undisciplined at bats. However, if you look a little deeper, there are legitimate reasons for optimism that this group of hitters can and will resemble something closer to last year’s second-half juggernaut and less like the futile bunch that showed up in April. This is a team that can break out at the flip of Puig’s bat…err…drop of a hat. After digging deeper into their actual production this season, I feel confident in saying that this breakout WILL happen. Yes, THIS year. Would you like to know why? No? Too bad.
First of all, this team has Yasiel Puig playing right field every day and batting somewhere from 2nd to 4th in the lineup. Also, there’s the fact that Puig is currently batting .340 with a .433 On Base Percentage (OBP) and a .604 Slugging Percentage (SLG), which, put another way, is essentially Ted Williams’ career line. Next. Dee Gordon, though not as good as he was in April, and not as bad as he was in May, has improved leaps and bounds defensively at second base, forming an air-tight right-side defense with Adrian Gonzalez. Dee is also getting on base JUST enough (.327 OBP) to disrupt games with his plus-plus speed. Though his defense might not directly affect his offense, the comfort he has shown at second base has allowed him to focus more on making continued improvements in his offensive approach, and the results speak for themselves, with career highs in OBP, steals and extra base hits already exceeded or within reach. Moving to the heart of the order, batted-ball data shows that Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez have been suffering from a bit of bad luck as far as Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). Adrian is currently at a .275 BABIP (career .321 in 6,000 plate appearances) while Hanley is currently at a .279 BABIP (career .332 in 5,000 plate appearances). Adrian and Hanley’s SLG numbers are artificially lowered by their low BABIP, but a quick look at their Isolated Power (ISO) numbers show that they’re hitting for power when making contact, so no need to fret. With a return to career BABIP rates, the rest of their triple-slash line will return to normal and increased production thus inevitably follows. There’s your top four in the lineup: a toolsy speed/defense-oriented second baseman, an MVP candidate, and two proven middle of the order run producers due for a return to career norms. The three-headed outfield monster of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier has yet to live up to expectations, but frankly, our expectations were probably too high to begin with. Though Crawford showed signs of life with the bat prior to spraining his ankle, the continued foot and leg injuries diminish his two primary weapons, speed and defense. If Crawford can find a way to continue producing with the bat, and manage to stay off the DL, he at least provides average production against right-handed pitchers, though lefties give him all sorts of trouble. Andre Ethier has filled in capably defensively since the move to centerfield, though his bat is still hovering somewhere between a deep freeze and respectability. Ethier’s offensive production has been on a downward trend for 2-3 years, and, like Crawford, is virtually unplayable against left-handed pitchers. Ethier does still post basically respectable numbers against right-handed pitchers so he’s not without value, at least as the dominant side of a platoon. This leads us to our final contestant, Matt Kemp. What do you do with Matt Kemp? Have a little patience. Yes, he’s been injury riddled and on the disabled list for much of the last year and a half, and generally average/borderline unproductive when on the field in that time. And yet, just two years ago this past April, Kemp was hitting over .400 with 13 HR’s through 28 games, and looked to be well on his way to winning his
2nd 1st MVP. I have to believe that some semblance of that hitter is still in there. Many, many major leaguers will attest to the arduous return from reconstructive shoulder surgery that Kemp has been dealing with the past year and a half. Some hitters claim it was at least a year, if not two, before they felt remotely close to their old selves. So I preach patience with #27. He’s earned that much. Though these are three flawed players, with the proper platooning strategies and some regression to career-norm rates, this can be a moderately valuable 2/3 of an outfield, which, when paired with the dynamic Puig, becomes a strength. The catcher spot is primarily focused only on defense, unless you’re one of the lucky few who get to watch Buster Posey or Yadier Molina or Jonathon Lucroy play for your team. In this regard, the Dodgers grade out well, as all three backstops used this season are at least average to above average defensively. The return of AJ Ellis will also provide a much-needed OBP bump near the bottom of the order. Third base is up in the air right now, with Juan Uribe on the shelf and no clear timetable for his return. Justin Turner has filled in capably on both sides of the ball, though third base will be a potential area to upgrade leading up to the July 31st trade deadline. Honestly, I’m still holding out hope for a move of Hanley to 3B to better hide his sub par defense, but that’s a story for another time.
Offensively, though this team has unperformed as a unit to date, they led the league in batting average and runs scored in the month of May, and when you factor in that many of their key players are showing signs of expected improvement in the near future, along with the continued maturation and transcendence of Yasiel Puig, it’s not hard to see that a more prolific offense is bubbling under the surface. As Axl said, “…all we need is a little patience”.
During week nine I chatted with Austin Naud. Austin is a sophomore, he’s currently undecided on his major, but he is leaning towards a general, broad-ranging degree such as business or communications. Like others I have chatted with this semester, Austin explained that he had little to no prior experience with art, at least from an educational standpoint. Austin went to Wilson High School, so, like me when I went to Millikan High School, he took an introductory art class but beyond that he’s only focused on this class as an elective and a stepping stone of sorts. Austin and I share an athletic upbringing, except whereas I was a baseball player through and through, Austin spent his childhood and high school years playing soccer. One area where we differed was our intentions after school, as Austin said he definitely plans on staying local, whereas I am intent on heading out-of-town, most likely to the pacific northwest, or else on a two-year Peace Corps assignment. I think a lot of that could have to do with age and just repetition, as I am 27 going on 28 and I graduated high school in 2005, while Austin on the other hand graduated in 2013. That’s another interesting dynamic of this class, the mashup between students of all ages, which I haven’t had since taking GE courses some time ago. Another week, another interesting conversation.
For Week 8, I focused most of my attention on Susan Patt’s “Deserted” piece. The ominous image of the closed doorway, as well as the effects of the quality of the image itself served to pull me in. I found the piece captivating as the image is of a deserted building, with a closed-door further giving the sense of it being locked or abandoned, and the after effect on the image itself leaves the edges looking worn, dated as if the piece itself had been “deserted”. I don’t know if it’s from the multitude of scary movies I’ve watched over the years, or else perhaps it’s just a natural fear, but abandoned/deserted buildings, specifically ones in the shape of this building, with the paint peeling and cracks throughout, are just the epitome of fearful and negative energy for me. Something about the absence of life, or at least the perceived absence of life, gives it all a very unwelcoming vibe. Any way, considering how transfixed I was and the feelings the piece stirred, I felt compelled to write about Susan Patt’s piece.
For Week 7 I had my first experience with spray paint or graffiti art. The experience really should be split in half, as my first half was pure frustration at my lack of ability while the second half was much more calm, cool and collected. I watched the videos provided on the class website and checked out a few others as well just trying to absorb as much info as possible but ultimately there’s no replacement for experience and that’s definitely true with painting of any kind. At first my hand was too far away and I kept angling my wrist and this led to uneven paint spray and overall a muddled and amateur look. The second time around, after going back to the videos to go over the tips again, I felt much more confident and steady with my hand, though I realized how much different the experience would be with a wall 5 feet high and wide or bigger, rather than the small wooden boards I used this time around. The experience was a cool one for me personally, as I can honestly say I’d never spray painted my name before on any surface, and after this I definitely intend to take a trip to Venice to try my hand at the legal art walls.
For week 6 we tried out the “French Girls” app, however, as an android user, I went with the less popular, and more crash-happy “Draw Me!” app and submitted a series of selfies. I am definitely not a “selfie” person so that entire process was probably hilarious to witness. I had a great time just scrolling through all of the submitted drawings, and even the pictures themselves were hilarious or perhaps impressive for super amateur photography. I was shocked (not shocked) when I realized that I was particularly bad at drawing with my fat fingers on my phone, and quickly lost patience with myself and the process. I had more success just messing around on the ipad, though i’m clearly still a novice when it comes to cell-phone art. The three drawings that were submitted of me were all of the same selfie, and all three were insanely impressive given the return time on them. There is something very cool about seeing the near instant art appear on your screen, though I would love to find videos of people actually drawing in the app to get a greater feel for how they possibly do such intricate work on such small surfaces. I enjoyed this week’s activity, and the way I looked at my artistic capabilities in this particular endeavor was that it can only get better from here.
During week 7 the one exhibit that stood out to me the most was Kenita Hale’s eerie sculpture/circus tent. I think most people tend to think of art as only drawing and paintings, and maybe some sculptures, but there’s so much more that goes into it. The context, environment, materials, lighting, signage etc. all combine to create the artists’ preferred lens through which to view their piece. I felt that Kenita did an amazing job with all of the details BEYOND the actual sculptures. The circus tent plays up the subject of the sculptures – circus performers and physical deformed outcasts, while the eerie lighting and dark tone with intermittent candle-light all set the stage for the emotional feel of the sculptures and subject-matter. It says something about the potential “accuracy” of Kenita’s work that part of the message being sent with her sculptures is the objectification of physical or mental abnormalities, and here we all are staring and perhaps laughing or gasping at the sight of sculptures. One thing I keep going back to with Kenita’s piece is the importance of the context and environment of her exhibit. The sculptures themselves wouldn’t have drawn me in as much without the darkened tent and eerie atmosphere.
During week 6 I was mesmerized by “Labryinth”. The artists for this sculpture exhibit are Angel Franco, Isiah Ulloa and Juan Martin. “Labryinth” is described as a show that explores Digital Manufacturing along with already-established methods of production to alter the perception of how you go about creating art. It seems to me to be an expression of diversity and interrelations. I like how the artists compare the world of art to the world of geometry, as this seems to give a clearer picture of the ways in which you can, and they did, “mulitiply, dock and/or warp” the “expansive” world that you are essentially creating. With geometry so many things (angle, direction, size) can be slightly altered or manipulated to create something entirely different and unique. This applies to art just as well. There is no “one way” to do things, and it’s amazing how easily it is to assume this piece is created one way when you initially see it, then another way as you get closer to it, then another as you really examine it closely, and so on and so forth. Almost as if the piece is moving or changing as you examine it. The processes is, most often, just as important if not more important than the final result, and I think this project nailed that concept.
During week 7 I had a chance to interview Branden Saito. Branden is a 3rd year student, he’s an Information Systems major, and he has aspirations of one day working for Google, YouTube or Facebook. Branden described his major as being heavy on the programming, but with an emphasis on being more well-rounded with respect to Information Systems, as opposed to being technically proficient in only one area. Branden and I both got a laugh reminiscing about our only previous “official” art education classes that took the form of “Drawing and Painting 1 & 2” or something similar at our respective high schools. Branden is a Los Alamitos high school graduate, while I attended Millikan high school, so we had some common experiences and dispositions growing up in similar environments. In addition to our educational similarities, Branden and I have both spent a good deal of our childhood and adult life making trips with our dad up to the Lone Pine area in Northern California. Branden did so mostly for fishing, while we tended to just camp and hike and soak in the landscape. Branden and I seemed to hit it off pretty well, so I’d say this was a successful “interview”.
During week 6 I interviewed Connor Bailey of Couch Potato fame. Connor is a freshman currently majoring in Film Production. As I already knew from prior classes, Connor has a production company with several friends living in the area, with their current project being the Couch-Potato-funded Martin Scorsese movie. In addition to the current project, Connor has prior experience with film production such as when he made a music video in high school that got over 25,000 hits on YouTube. Connor mentioned being interested in making club-baseball scouting videos, something that interested me greatly as a baseball fan in general, and a scouting/analytics fan in particular. Ideally, Connor sees himself moving to the LA-area full-time, as opposed to making the current commute from his hometown San Diego, and hopefully landing a gig as a director or producer. Artistically, Connor seems to be ahead of the curve when compared to others I have interviewed considering his already extensive film production and editing experience, in addition to his OBVIOUSLY good taste in movies (Scorsese).