Springtime Storylines: How long until new ownership puts the magic back in the Los Angeles Dodgers?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: How long until new ownership brings back the magic?

Sorry. That was kind of hacky, wasn’t it?  Oh well. I coulda gone with “Showtime,” and I didn’t so consider yourself lucky.

But our hackiness can be forgiven, can it not?  These are heady times for the Dodgers. Frank McCourt’s reign of terror is about to end and in comes the most beloved figure in L.A. sports this side of Vin Scully. And what’s more, Magic Johnson is accompanied by serious money in the form of Guggenheim Partners, and real baseball brains in Stan Kasten.  That stuff has led to a zillion headlines this week, but how long until that translates to success on the field?

Maybe sooner than you think. Here was Magic Johnson early Wednesday morning, when asked if the new ownership group was going to approach things like the Yankees do:

“It’s not just the Yankees. The Angels invested a lot of money into Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. You see what the Tigers just did with Prince Fielder. Teams are investing. That’s what you do when you put a winning team on the field. We’re not going to be any different from those teams.”

Cole Hamles is available next year. So is Matt Cain. So is Josh Hamilton. In not too long Joey Votto will hit the market.  There’s no reason to think that the Dodgers aren’t going to be in on that business.  And if they are, they could start winning a lot of baseball games here pretty soon.

What else is going on?

  • None of that is this year, though. For this year it’s their Cy Young pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, their MVP-caliber center fielder Matt Kemp and … a whole lot of blah. Or, as Jonah Keri put it so succinctly: “2012 could bring the Dodgers another Cy Young, an MVP award, and the league lead for crummy, overpaid starters named Juan.”
  • Dee Gordon is about as exciting as it comes. He hit .304 with a .325 on-base percentage and stole 24 bases in only 56 games.  He may be trouble for the Dodgers at the top of the order given how batting average-heavy that OBP is, but when he does get on base, watch out.
  • Otherwise this is a pretty weak lineup. Outside of Kemp there are very few power threats and the one guy who could maybe turn into one one day — Jerry Sands — was just sent down to the minors. For this lineup to be any kind of respectable, the Dodgers need Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Rivera all to remember what they were like when they used to be something. That’s a tall order.
  • Kershaw is less of a lone solider in the rotation, as Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang all look solid. Not spectacular or anything, but solid.

So how are they gonna do?

Not that great. I really don’t like anyone in this lineup not named Matt Kemp.  The cupboard is basically bare here, as the minor league system atrophied under McCourt and Ned Colletti simply doesn’t appear to know how to assemble useful spare parts.  All of that is a recipe for mediocrity at best.  Even if there is excitement on the horizon.

Major League Baseball limits mound visits, puts off pitch clock until 2019

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Major League Baseball just announced its much awaited pace-of-play initiative for 2018. The big news: no pitch clock, with Rob Manfred deciding, in the words of the league’s press release “to defer the implementation of a pitch timer and a between-batter timer in 2018 in order to provide players with an opportunity to speed up the game without the use of those timers.”

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes. In rules changes which were reached with the cooperation of the Players’ Union, teams will now be limited to six non-pitching change mound visits per team per game, and one extra visit if the game goes into extra innings. Also, a new rule is being introduced that is designed to reduce the time required for inning breaks and pitching changes.

The mound visit rule is NOT limited to coach or manager mound visits. It also includes position players, including catchers, visiting the mound to confer about signals and the like. It will not count the normal conversations which take place between plays, such as when a pitcher says something to a fielder as they throw the ball around the horn. It likewise does not include things like a first baseman coming to the mound to clean his spikes off with the pitcher’s gear on the back of the mound. Mound visits to check on injuries will not count either.

While six visits may seem like a lot, it really isn’t once you realize that a pitching coach may go out two or three times in a close game and that a catcher, especially in close games, may come out to talk about signs and things seemingly countless times. Heck, they could re-name this the Jorge Posada or Gary Sanchez rule.

There will be one big exception to the rule, which relates to catchers and pitchers truly being crossed up on signals after they have exhausted mound visits. It reads thusly:

3) Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a “cross-up”), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team’s total number of allotted mound visits.

This makes sense as a matter of safety, if nothing else, as you don’t want a catcher truly not knowing where a pitch is going. It’s also notable as one of the few rules changes in recent years that actually adds in an umpire’s judgment rather than takes a judgment call away from an umpire. It’ll be worth watching, however, to see how easy a touch umpires are about this. Again: if we have a tense September game between Boston and New York and everyone has used up their mound visits, I wonder if the umps will truly enforce the rule.

The big problem here is that there is nothing in the new rule which talks about the penalty for trying to make a seventh mound visit. To that end:

This is gonna lead, at some point, to a pretty big argument. Should be amazing.

As for innings breaks, There will be a timer that counts down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised regular season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised regular season games, and from 2:55 for postseason games. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break. 

There are set things the players must be doing at certain points on the clock. To wit:

  • When there are 25 seconds left, the umpire will signal to the pitcher to complete his last warm-up pitch;
  • When there are 20 seconds left, the batter will be announced and must leave on-deck circle, his walk-up music shall begin, and the pitcher shall complete last warm-up pitch;
  • When the clock gets to zero, the pitcher must begin his motion for his first pitch of the inning.

There will be “special circumstance” exceptions, such as when other random things are happening on the field that prevents this, such as in-between inning events going too long or something, and an umpire can determine that a pitcher or batter needs more time for safety purposes.

Enforcement of the clock will be handled by umpires directing players to comply. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline by the league. Put differently, no one is issuing automatic balls or strikes here. It’ll be handled by fines.