You know how they say the jokes write themselves? I give you the Los Angeles Dodgers front office.
That would be those tech-savvy, sabermetric-loving, new-age gurus of baseball management. I’ve laid off the Geek Squad references lately, allowing the boys’ master plan to play out. And clearly when you’re 19-10 and lead your division by 4½ games it isn’t like some good numbers are not adding up. That’s a two-game improvement over last year’s team after 29 games.
Now it’s hard to say how much of their current success is due to their off-season work and how much to this being the fairly cushy part of the schedule,though I’m pretty certain Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi, and apparently farm director Gabe Kapler, have a stat for that.
They have for everything else, including -- are you ready? -- their minor league players of the month.
The Dodgers released their April winners on Friday, along with new titles and very new criteria for the awards. Their monthly “Pride Awards” are now divided into these three categories: Strong Mind Pitcher of the Month, Strong Mind Position Player of the Month and Strong Mind Teammate of the Month.
Now naturally you may be wondering what in the name of Tommy Lasorda all that means. Fear not, the Geek Squad has a very specific explanation. Right from the press release:
“The winners of the pitcher and position player of the month are selected based on a strict statistical method incorporating several baseball measureables, including best first-pitch strike percentage, best 1-1 count strike percentage, best overall strike percentage, best walk-strikeout ratio, best swing percentage on strikes and lowest chase rate. The teammate of the month is voted on by players, coaches and staff.”
Let’s pause for a moment to bid a final farewell to things like hits and RBI, strikeouts and ERA. You knew this was coming, though, still, their passing deserves one last sigh of goodbye.
And what exactly did these exciting new measurable deliver to us?
The Strong Mind Pitcher of the Month for April is … Scott Baker. That would be the 33-year-old Baker, who was called up in late April, went 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in two starts and then was designated for assignment. But he threw 70.5%t of his first pitchers for strikes and 66.7% for strikes on 1-1 counts in the minors. No other team claimed him and now he’s back with triple-A Oklahoma City.
Now I have no doubt the Geek Squad has some fine stats that show if you do those things, odds are greater you will have more success. Just as Strong Mind Player of the Month winner Jarek Cunningham -- he’s a 25-year-old utility player at Class A Rancho Cucamonga -- swinging at 74.7% of pitches thrown for strikes, while ranking second among all Dodgers minor leaguers swinging at 75.0% of in-zone fastballs on the first pitch helped him to some other nice stats.
But in the end, it’s still pulling off those boring, so-old-school stats that matter most, regardless of how achieved, and the grand emphasis on these new measureables seems a bit over the top. They’ve left me longing for those sabermetric days of yesteryear, when on-base percentage was the rave.
Oh, yeah, and for you apparently diminishing traditionalists out there, the Strong Mind Teammate award, voted on by the minor league staff, went to Class A Great Lakes infielder Mike Ahmed, who batted .290 with five doubles, one triple, four RBI and seven steals in 17 games. No word on his ratio of swinging at in-zone fastballs thrown on the first pitch.