"You got the crazy rhythm when you walk"
-Bob Dylan, Had a Dream About You, Baby
Now that the Dodgers have officially signed Rafael Furcal (note the word "signed" there; the club didn't simply rely on a vague voice mail message), the 2009 Dodger offense is beginning to take shape. There is still one big, lovable piece remaining of course, but 7 of the 8 starters are set:
C - Russell Martin
1B - James Loney
2B - Blake DeWitt (with a healthy dose of Mark Loretta, especially against LHP)
3B - Casey "The Beard" Blake
SS - Rafael Furcal
CF (or RF) - Matt Kemp
RF (or LF) - Andre Ethier
The addition of Furcal is huge. If he's anywhere remotely close to healthy, he will provide a massive upgrade over the .244/.310/.367 posted by all Dodger shortstops in 2008 (don't forget, that figure is inflated by Furcal's amazing month of a season). Furcal holds the LA Dodger record for most walks in a season by a SS, with 73 in 2006. Incidentally, if you ever wondered why #1 is retired with the Dodgers, a main reason is that Pee Wee Reese bested that walk total in 11 different seasons, among many other things.
Another walking man in the starting lineup is Russell Martin, who had 90 walks last season, including a franchise record 85 as a catcher (this list shows the total walks rather than their walks as a catcher, but only 75 of Joe Ferguson's 87 walks in 1973 were as a catcher).
Blake DeWitt had his ups and downs last season, but the one thing he did have was good patience. Once he was called up for good in late August, he became a walking machine, with an amazing 19 walks in 122 plate appearances. His caddy, Mark Loretta, has had a consistent eye throughout his career as well, averaging a walk every 12 PA or so over his 14 seasons.
That's three positions in the batting order with plus patience, a very good start. If Mr. Dreadlocks comes back to the Dodgers, the lineup will add a hitter who has, among many other things, averaged 85 walks a year for the last 10 seasons.
Among the rest of the lineup, Ethier showed a good eye last year with a creer-high 59 walks. Fellow younguns James Loney and Matt Kemp had 45 and 46 walks respectively. Casey Blake has averaged 49 walks over his six full seasons.
I'm throwing out a challenge to the Dodger lineup: I want each of you to have at least 50 walks each in 2009. It may not seem like much, but only one National League team in the past 50 years has had eight players with 50 walks (the 2000 Giants). Walking, working the count, getting better pitches to hit, will lead to a better Dodger offense in 2009. It's been a Joe Torre trademark for years (in his 12 years in New York, the Yankees finished in the top 4 in the AL in walks 10 times).
Looking back to 2008, the season can be broken into three segments:
1) Opening Day through May 5: Furcal as MVP
2) May 6 through July 31: The black hole
3) August 1 through end of season: Manny as MVP
During the "black hole" period, without the services of either Furcal or Manny, the Dodger offense walked 7.4 times per 100 PA, and averaged an anemic 3.66 runs/game over 76 games.
During the "functioning offense" periods (with either Manny or Furcal), the offense walked 10.1 times per 100 PA, and averaged 4.91 runs/game over 86 games.
Signing Manny is the final piece to make the 2009 Dodgers a fully functional offense. Hopefully one that will walk all over the rest of the NL West.
Side note: Thanks to ToyCannon, named after an amazingly productive Dodger and walking machine, for welcoming me into the True Blue LA family. I look forward to many fun times discussing the Dodgers!