Unconventional Wisdom: Dodgers are really three teams in one
The Dodgers have overcome a slow start thanks to a friendly turn of the schedule, a 10-day stretch of games against the Rockies and Marlins that they converted for an 8-1 run that pushed them within shouting distance of the Diamondbacks. A series win over the Mets has them within three games of Arizona in the division, and, as silly as this notion is on May 8, a half game out for the theoretical wild-card slot.
There's no question that the Dodgers are one of the better teams in the National League. That's because, like the Diamondbacks, they have a tremendous core of young players their system has produced. Unlike the D'backs, however, who have generally allowed their kids to play in the majors -- with some exceptions -- the Dodgers have spent the last couple of years throwing up barriers to giving their youngsters jobs. Even now, as they stride toward first place, they're acting out the industry's classic battle between veterans and rookies, a showdown that tore apart their team a year ago.
See, the Dodgers aren't one team. They're three teams, glued together by three men over a period of seven years. The first team, and the best one, is the Logan White Dodgers. White, the Dodgers' assistant general manager in charge of scouting, is the man responsible for drafting and overseeing the development of stars Russell Martin and James Loney, as well as lower-profile, high-production players such as Chad Billingsley, Jonathon Broxton and Matt Kemp. Former Dodgers GM Dan Evans also deserves a share of credit for this group; it was Evans who hired White, and it was Evans who was in the GM's chair for the team's ridiculously productive 2002 and '03 drafts.
Evans was unjustly fired in the winter of 2004 by new owner Frank McCourt and succeeded by Paul DePodesta. Largely due to the talent he inherited, DePodesta was the the GM for a playoff team in '04. However, already held in ill-regard by the local media -- a group McCourt effectively regards as a consultant -- DePodesta was an easy target after the Dodgers failed to make the postseason in '05, being fired that October. Despite his brief tenure and the manner in which he was treated, his impact on the Dodgers lingers; three players he acquired -- Jeff Kent, Brad Penny and Derek Lowe -- have been among the team's most valuable players in the three years since his firing.
DePodesta's successor, Ned Colletti, is the third architect of the current roster. Colletti earned his stripes working under Brian Sabean in San Francisco, and inherited Sabean's approach to team-building. That means favoring veterans and using the farm system as a tool to acquire experience. Given a much larger budget to work with in Los Angeles, Colletti set to spending it, signing Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra and Kenny Lofton in his first offseason and subsequently investing in Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf, Luis Gonzalez and Andruw Jones.
Consider the production -- particularly the production for the money, of the three groups (all numbers are through Monday):
Now, any analysis of this nature will favor the development guy over the GM, because the development guy never signs anyone to a six-year, $100 million deal, and all of his players start out at $400,00 a year. The gap here, however, is significant, and is probably understated by a number of factors. For one, the Dodgers' playing time has not been distributed entirely on merit, and WARP is a counting stat attuned to playing time. Another reason is that a Logan White player, Andy LaRoche, has missed the season with a thumb injury and is therefore holding down that group's numbers. Also, I have not included Schmidt's $16 million in the count for Colletti's pitchers, as he has yet to pitch this season. That's more an accounting issue than anything else.
Then again, there are some things to note in Colletti's favor. One is that the Dodgers' best player so far as been Furcal. The three-year deal -- Colletti's first signing as Dodgers' GM -- has been a success for the team, as Furcal has been an above-average player during its duration. Another of Colletti's early moves, trading Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez for Andre Ethier, has worked out well; we think of Ethier as one of the young Dodgers, but he's not a Logan White product. More recently, the acquisition of Hideki Kuroda this past offseason has produced early dividends, as Kuroda has pitched well and carries a reasonable price tag for a mid-rotation starter in the U.S. Takashi Saito, another Japanese free agent, goes into Colletti's plus column as well.
Let's total up the data in the chart above.
We're still not completely accounting for the costs of the 8.2 wins above replacement that Colletti's players have tallied. I've mentioned Schmidt, but Colletti has made some egregious trades for dubious short-term gain, giving away Dioner Navarro and Edwin Jackson, among others, for nothing. (The Ethier trade is, in fact, the only good swap Colletti has made in two-plus years at the helm.) While his players have produced more wins than either White's or DePodesta's, they've done so while consuming 75 percent of the payroll. Neither White nor DePodesta is contributing dead weight -- Colletti's players are all of the dead weight, on the roster and on the payroll.
In 2007 the internal conflict that occurred loosely between the Logan White Dodgers and the Ned Colletti Dodgers -- with some help from DePodesta Dodger Kent -- torpedoed a promising season. The young players were productive, the veterans were less so, and Grady Little's inability to play his best players at the expense of those veterans was the critical factor in the Dodgers finishing eight games out in a competitive NL West.
Here's the chart above for 2007:
The $/WARP figures are lower because they reflect a season's worth of performance. You can divide the 2008 numbers by five to compare them.
Once again, the White/DePodesta Dodgers outperformed the Colletti Dodgers outright, while consuming less than 30 percent of the payroll. Neither was responsible for any roster dead weight, whereas Colletti pickups Pierre, Gonzalez and Garciaparra combined a lack of productivity with a knack for creating problems in the clubhouse; again, DePo man Kent was also a contributor to the latter. Schmidt, of course, was terrible, and neither he nor Wolf was even around down the stretch other than on every second Friday. I've said this before, but I don't think I've ever written it: Had the Dodgers sent Colletti on a six-month cruise starting Nov. 1, 2006, they would have won the NL West in 2007.
The case for the White/DePodesta Dodgers is strong again in 2008, as White's players produce when they've given playing time, and DePo's three veterans continue to play well. The gap between their production and that of Colletti's guys isn't quite as pronounced. Colletti did well to add Kuroda, and he largely avoided the second- and third-tier veterans, like Gonzalez, Garciaparra and Wolf, who did nothing to help him in '07. On the other hand, the signing of Jones -- which I praised -- is a disaster as of today. Jones is hitting .170 with seven extra-base hits and striking out a third of the time. He has as many GIDPs (three) as teammates driven in. His $18 million salary, about 15 percent of the Dodgers payroll, looks like wasted money.
Many newly-hired GMs benefit from the work done by the men who came before them. DePodesta won a division title with Evans' players, and Colletti's first team went to the playoffs thanks to DePodesta's guys. As his own players come to populate the roster, though, Colletti seems more and more like someone promoted past his level, the Peter Bavasi Principle in action. That the Dodgers may continue to succeed has little do with his efforts and more to do with the base laid by his assistant, White, and his predecessor, DePodesta. The more the players those two men brought to the Dodgers get to play, and the less Colletti's signings do, the better chance the Dodgers will have of getting back to October.
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