TBLA Rewind: Dodgers in The Bush Years: 2005-2008

Back in January 2009, as the Oval Office changed hands, we looked back at the Dodgers during the previous administration. Phil Gurnee reviewed the first term, while I reviewed the second term. Here is a look back to that article, covering years 2005-2008:

*****

With the official end of the Presidency of George W. Bush (who was the 42nd or 43rd President, depending on how you could Mr. Nonconsecutive Grover Cleveland), let's look back at how the Dodgers performed during Bush's second term.  Or, as I like to call it, The Lowe/Kent Era™

2005

Record: 71-91, 4th place

In 2005, the Dodgers had their second worst winning percentage since 1944.  Thanks to being in the worst division in baseball history, the Dodgers did only finish 11 games out of first place.  Coming off a division title in 2004, the Dodgers made up for losing 48-HR Adrian Beltre by adding premium free agents Jeff Kent and J.D. DrewDerek Lowe was also brought in, but I didn't count him in the "premium" category because he was coming off a putrid 2004 in Boston (90 ERA+).  I remember sitting at the BART station just outside the Oakland Airport when I heard the Dodgers dropped $36 million for four years on Lowe.  That amount seemed exorbitant at the time, and I was pretty mad.  Of course, Lowe ended up being one of the greatest Dodger free agent signings ever, putting up a 122 ERA+ over 850 innings during his Dodger term.

2005 was the ugly year caused partly by the many dry years of the Dodger farm system, aka the pre-Logan White years.  With no real talent produced by the system since Adrian Beltre, the Dodgers had a hard time transitioning to the next crop of young talent.  While the major league team struggled, the future shone bright in Jacksonville, the Dodgers' AA affiliate.  Led by the awesomely-named "Jacksonville Five" (top prospects Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, Joel Guzman, Russell Martin, and Jonathan Broxton), Jacksonville made the Southern League playoffs.  Billingsley (7 innings) and Broxton (2 innings) combined for a no-hitter in the opening game of the playoffs, and the club never looked back, winning the league championship.

At the major league level, the lack of young talent hurt the depth of the club.  When J.D. Drew, Milton Bradley, and Jose Valentin got hurt, they were replaced by Ricky Ledee, Jason Repko, and Mike Edwards.  A rift between GM Paul DePodesta and manager Jim Tracy was exposed when Tracy refused to play Hee Seop Choi regularly at first base despite DePodesta's request to do so.  Seeing Jason Phillips start at first base for 18 games was painful, at best.  Tracy's undoing was also hastened by the feud between Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent.  Tracy implored Bradley to keep the rift in house, so when Mount Milton erupted to the press it hurt both of their futures.  At the end of the season, Tracy was let go, and a few weeks later the 71-91 record cost DePodesta his job as well.  Milton Bradley was also jettisoned, but as you'll soon see we got something good in return for him.

2006

88-74, NL Wild Card (tied for 1st, NL West)

2006 was a nice rebound for the Dodgers, as new free agents Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, Takashi Saito, and Kenny Lofton joined the arrival of many of the young players from the farm.  Kemp burst onto the scene, hitting 7 HR in his first 18 games (and perhaps skewing the hopes for his power numbers going forward) and introducing America to The Bison.  Broxton, who debuted briefly in 2005, made great contributions to the back end of the bullpen.  Billingsley came out of the gate wild but showed flashes of brilliance in his first 4 months in the big leagues.  Loney, in the heat of the pennant race, set a Dodger record with 9 RBI in a game at Coors FieldAndre Ethier became much more than just the guy we got for dumping Milton Bradley.  But none of the young pups made as big a splash as Russell Martin.   When Dioner Navarro went down with injury early in the season, Martin was called up and joined the long line of great Dodger catchers.  He combined a workload that would make Jason Kendall blush with actual offensive production, putting up a .282/.355/.436, 101 OPS+ as a rookie.

Among the veterans, Takashi Saito parlayed a minor league deal into become one of the greatest closers in baseball history.  Kenny Lofton provided some spark at the top of the order (along with team MVP Rafael Furcal), and would have stolen his 600th career base with me in attendance in San Francisco but umpire John Hirschbeck blew the call at third base (a fact clear to me from the infield upper deck).  J.D. Drew was healthy for full year, and Jeff Kent angrily provided pop at 2B for just over 2/3 of the year.  In all, the 2006 Dodgers featured one of the best offenses in club history, scoring 820 runs (2nd most in LA Dodger history), and leading the league in both batting average and OBP.

To me, the story of the season was Nomar Garciaparra.  Coming off two injury plagued years and a stormy exit from Boston (does anyone every leave Boston amicably?), the long-time SS moved to 1B due to injury.  Nomar came out of the gate swinging, hitting .358/.426/.578 before the All-Star break.  Nomar really tailed off dramatically in the second half, but still provided many key hits, including two very memorable ones:

1) The "4+1 Game" (aka the greatest regular season game in Dodger Stadium history): Nomar ended the game with a 2-run bomb off Rudy Seanez

2) 6 days later, Nomar hit a walk-off grand slam to beat the D-Backs.

I would be remiss without mentioning two key late-season Dodger acquisitions, Greg Maddux and Marlon Anderson.  Maddux welcomed himself to the club by tossing 6 no-hit innings in the rain in Cincinnati in his first Dodger start.  Ten days later, Maddux economically threw 68 pitches over 8 shutout innings, retiring the final 22 batters he faced in a game the Dodgers would win 1-0 on a Martin 10th-inning HR.  Maddux capped his great run by winning the next to last game of the year in San Francisco (did I mention I was there?), securing a playoff spot for the Dodgers.  Marlon Anderson came along on August 31, an under-the-radar pickup that far exceeded any reasonable expectations.  The 4+1 Game could just as easily be called "The Marlon Anderson Game," as he was 5-5 with 2 HR (including the 4th consecutive HR in the 9th).  Anderson's 208 OPS+ was the highest in LA Dodger history until a certain dreadlocked someone came along.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers were swept out of the playoffs by the Mets.  All I will say about that series was that I never thought I would see a play with two Dodgers thrown out at the plate.

2007

82-80, 4th place

The 2007 season was disappointing due to the Dodgers poor finish, but there were some positive signs as well.  The club had the best record in the NL as late as July 21 (incidentally, the date of Dodger Thoughts Day at the ballpark), and were only 1.5 games out of the Wild Card with 14 games left to play.  Unfortunately, the Dodgers played (and lost) to the Rockies seven times in the final two weeks, during the Rockies' historic 21-1 run to the World Series (hey, 21 out of 25 ain't bad!).

After the 2006 season, J.D. Drew exercised the opt-out clause of his five-year contract with the Dodgers, and ended up signing with the Red Sox.  Dodgers' GM Ned Colletti whined and complained, apparently unfamiliar or naive to Drew's contractural rights, and essentially set a blueprint to be later used by the Braves' Frank Wren and John Schuerholtz during the Rafael Furcal situation this offseason.  Anyway, the Dodgers' OF depth heading into the season consisted of Andre Ethier, plus youngsters Jason Repko and Matt Kemp.  Rather than recognizing Kemp would be ready within a year at most and sign a short-term OF solution like Kenny Lofton, Colletti leaned his veteran crutch and signed outmaker Juan Pierre to a five-year deal.  Colletti also signed Luis Gonzalez to play LF and give Vin Scully a reason to mention his triplets over 100 times, a new record.

Nomar's second half 2006 collapse was ignored, and he was given a two-year extension.  James Loney, who led the minor leagues with a .380 batting average in 2006 (he hit .380/.426/.546 in Las Vegas), coupled with a .284/.342/.559, 125 OPS+ major league line, didn't make the club out of spring training despite lighting up the Grapefruit League.  Loney and Kemp were brought up for good in early June, and for the most part haven't looked back since.

Ex-Giant Jason Schmidt was also brought in as a free agent.  The ace starting pitcher was signed to a three-year, $47 million contract.  At the time, I thought this was a good risk since Schmidt was in fact an ace, albeit with an injury history.  I endorsed the signing because I assumed Schmidt's physical showed no actual injuries at the time of his signing.  When news broke last month about the Dodgers suing the company that insured the Schmidt contract, a crushing detail was that the Dodgers knew of a torn rotator cuff before the contract was signed.  Needless to say, Schmidt has provided almost nothing to the Dodgers.

Another inexplicable move in 2007 was the delay in Chad Billingsley joining the starting rotation.  Billingsley didn't make his first start until June 21, taking a back seat to the likes of Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson.  The dastardly duo of Tomko and Hendrickson were paid a combined $7.025m in 2007, and produced these numbers as starting pitchers:

Pitcher Starts IP Record Team Record
WHIP ER ERA ERA+
Hendrickson 15 76.1 3-7 6-9 1.57 52 6.13 75
Tomko 15 79.1 2-9 5-10 1.58 49 5.56 82
Totals 30 155.2 5-16 11-19 1.57 101 5.84 78

For a team that was a game and a half out of a playoff spot with two weeks to play, it can be frustrating that some of the club's best young players were blocked for at least a couple of months.  However, there were positives from 2007 as well.

The Dodgers sent a trio of players to San Francisco for the All-Star Game:  Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, and starting catcher Russell Martin.  Martin had a fine season, establishing himself as one of the best catchers in the game, hitting .293/.374/.469, a 113 OPS+.  He fell one HR shy of becoming only the second catcher ever with a 20/20 season (Ivan Rodriguez, 1999).  Martin's 21 SB were the most ever by a Dodger catcher.

As the season wore on, the clubhouse seemed to splinter between the young and the old.  As young players Martin, Loney, Ethier, Kemp, Billingsley, et al were establishing themselves as the best players on the team, some of the veterans didn't appreciate either their own diminished roles or the attitudes of the young players.  Luis Gonzalez, who left Arizona in a hissy fit when it became clear he was no longer good enough to start, began complaining again with the Dodgers once his role became reduced, proving himself to be something less than the perfect teammate image he created over the years.  Jeff Kent also showed his true colors by ranting misguidedly against the young players, but waiting to do so until just after his 2008 option vested with his 550th PA of 2007.  The clubhouse friction ultimately led to the dismissal of manager Grady Little, who technically resigned but let's just say there wasn't especially a ton of clamoring to bring him back.

2008

84-78, NL West Champions

The Dodgers got a major contribution from their young homegrown players in 2008, and they contributed greatly to the Dodgers' return to the postseason.  However, it's safe to say the Dodgers wouldn't have made the playoffs without Manny being Manny in Dodger Blue.

Chad Billingsley emerged as the Dodger ace, and one of the best starters in baseball.  Derek Lowe put together his fourth straight productive season, the final year of his contract.  Russell Martin became an All-Star again.  Andre Ethier shed the "3.5" label and turned on the power, especially in the 2nd half.  A 20-year old from Texas, Clayton Kershaw, immediately produced results at the major league level.  Jonathan Broxton provided more excellent relief.  Chan Ho Park turned back the clock to put together a solid season.  Blake DeWitt lept from obscurity to a major league regular.

There were some down moments too.  The Andruw Jones signing was a disaster, so much so that his short-term two-year contract proved to be too long!  Martin faded in the 2nd half, albeit with a good OBP.  James Loney and Matt Kemp (to a lesser extent) didn't quite live up to their (perhaps outsized) expectations.  Brad Penny tried to conceal an injury and pitch through it, hurting the team, and was such a prick that the club didn't bat an eye when he left the club during the pennant race.

However, nothing compares to the greatness of  Manny's two months as a Dodger.  Manny hit an amazing .396/.489/.743, a 219 OPS+, with 53 RBI in 53 games in Los Angeles.  He followed that up with a herculean .520/.625/1.080 in 8 postseason games.

Rafael Furcal was probably the NL MVP through May 5, the date of his last game before going on the DL.  In fact, we can break down 2008 into 3 sections:

1) Furcal MVP:  Opening Day - May 5

2) The Dead Zone:  May 6 - July 31

3) Manny MVP: August 1 - September 28

The Dodger offense during the functioning periods was far better than the "dead zone":

Games Runs Runs/Gm Record
Functioning Offense Periods   
86 422 4.91 48-38
Dead Zone 76 278 3.66 36-40

It's stats like these that make Dodger fans salivate over bringing back Manny for 2009.  With Manny, the Dodgers erased a 20-year playoff drought by sweeping the Cubs in the first round.  From Manny's heroics to Loney's grand slam, to excellent starts by Lowe, Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda, the NLDS against the Cubs is the lasting memory of the 2008 season for Dodger fans, moreso than the 5-game NLCS loss to the Phillies or the Matt Stairs home run.

Overall, it's hard to complain about two playoff appearances in four years, but I think the Dodgers could and should have done better than their 325-323 record.  With all the young talent currently in the system, can the Dodgers improve upon this record?  Yes They Can!

Here's a look at the Dodger leaders during President Bush's second term (2005-2008):

Games
1) Jeff Kent, 521
2) Russell Martin, 427
3) Andre Ethier, 420
4) Rafael Furcal, 333
5t) Matt Kemp, 305
5t) James Loney, 305

Runs
1) Jeff Kent, 281
2) Russell Martin, 239
3) Rafael Furcal, 234
4) Andre Ethier, 190
5) Matt Kemp, 170

RBI
1) Jeff Kent, 311
2) Russell Martin, 221
3) Andre Ethier, 196
4) Nomar Garciaparra, 180
5) James Loney, 175

Steals
1) Juan Pierre, 104
2) Rafael Furcal, 70
3) Matt Kemp, 51
4) Russell Martin, 49
5) Kenny Lofton, 32

Batting Average (min 1,000 PA)
1) James Loney, .303
2) Matt Kemp, .2994
3) Andre Ethier, .2990
4) Rafael Furcal, .293
5) Jeff Kent, .291

On-Base Percentage (min 1,000 PA)
1) Russell Martin, .373
2) Jeff Kent, .367
3) Andre Ethier, .364
4) Rafael Furcal, .362
5) James Loney, .353

Slugging Percentage (min 1,000 PA)
1) Andre Ethier, .482
2) James Loney, .480
3) Jeff Kent, .479
4) Matt Kemp, .474
5) Nomar Garciaparra, .445

OPS+ (min 1,000 PA)
1) Jeff Kent, 118
2) Andre Ethier, 116
3) James Loney, 114
4) Matt Kemp, 109
5) Russell Martin, 108

Games Pitched
1) Jonathan Broxton, 235
2) Joe Beimel, 216
3) Takashi Saito, 180
4) Derek Lowe, 137
5) Brad Penny, 115

Innings Pitched
1) Derek Lowe, 850.1
2) Brad Penny, 667
3) Chad Billingsley, 437.2
4) Jonathan Broxton, 241
5) Jeff Weaver, 224

Wins
1) Derek Lowe, 54
2) Brad Penny, 45
3) Chad Billingsley, 35
4) Jeff Weaver, 14
5t) Takashi Saito, 12
5t) Jonathan Broxton, 12

Saves
1) Takashi Saito, 81
2) Yhency Brazoban, 21
3) Jonathan Broxton, 19
4t) Eric Gagne, 9
4t) Danys Baez, 9

Strikeouts
1) Derek Lowe, 563
2) Brad Penny, 456
3) Chad Billingsley, 401
4) Jonathan Broxton, 306
5) Takashi Saito, 245

ERA+
1) Takashi Saito, 229
2) Joe Beimel, 147
3) Jonathan Broxton, 146
4) Chad Billingsley, 132
5) Derek Lowe, 122

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