At the beginning of the 2010 season, hopes and dreams in Dodgertown were filled with very high expectations.
Not only did the Los Angeles Dodgers expect to return to the playoffs, but many thought that this could also be the year that the Blue Crew would return to the World Series for the first time in over 20 years.
However, with just over one-quarter of the season remaining, Los Angeles has been on a turbulent roller coaster ride and finds itself in an almost impossible position to even make a run at the wild card spot in the playoffs.
Critics around baseball seem to argue that the dozens of injuries throughout the course of the season were keys to the demise of the Dodgers in 2010. However, one of the crucial ingredients to a triumphant squad is the team's ability to overcome injuries. Looking back at past World Series champions, roster depth was among the critical elements of success.
Besides the speculation as to whether manager Joe Torre will return for yet another season, the torrid divorce proceedings between team owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie have also been credited for the poor play of the Boys in Blue. Yet logically these factors should by no means have an effect on the way the players perform on the field.
Some players just have substandard seasons—plain and simple. But it's more than coincidental that at least a half-dozen Dodgers players have seen a downward spiral during the 2010 campaign.
One area that has slipped under the radar of being blamed for the lackluster play of Los Angeles is the coaching—most specifically the pitching and the batting coaching specialists.
The following frames show six Dodgers who have been negatively affected by their own management, as well as offer commentary on how each player's season has been damaged.
What a difference a year makes.
After acquiring George Sherrill in a deal with the Baltimore Orioles a day before the 2009 trade deadline, the Dodgers bullpen quickly became one of the best in baseball.
While wearing blue last year, Sherrill's ERA was 0.65, as he surrendered an unbelievable two earned runs in 30 appearances.
2010 hasn't been nearly the same. In 46 appearances and just 27.1 innings of work, the lefty has yielded 22 earned runs, which calculates to a vile 6.83 ERA.
However, since catcher Brad Ausmus' return from the disabled list, Sherrill has made nine appearances, and in that span his ERA is less than 4.50. Now, Sherrill seems to be regaining confidence and is being used more regularly.
Ausmus helped Sherrill identify a few flaws in his mechanics, primarily how he wasn't effectively hiding the ball in the middle of his delivery.
Such a simple flaw should have been identified much sooner by a pitching coach with a much sharper eye.
Before the 2010 season even began, Xavier Paul was the consensus "left fielder of the future" for Los Angeles, based on the assumption that Manny Ramirez wouldn't return in 2011.
But late in the offseason, the Dodgers added veteran outfielders Garret Anderson and Reed Johnson, which saw the X-Man start yet another campaign in the minor leagues.
Still, with the multiple injuries to Manny, Paul was recalled on three occasions during the course of the season, but the coaches and managers never really gave Xavier an opportunity to settle in.
Just before being sent back to Triple-A Albuquerque for the third time, Paul found himself in a three-way platoon with Anderson and shortstop Jamey Carroll in the left field spot.
The Dodgers' brain trust continues to say that Paul needs to be playing every day, but perennially he puts up astounding numbers in the minors and has proven that he's ready for the show. In 53 games with the Isotopes this year, he's batting .335 with 18 doubles, 12 home runs, 37 RBI, and 45 runs scored—primarily from the leadoff spot.
When he saw time with the Dodgers in 2010, there's no question his numbers were below average, but his career minor league statistics clearly show that he is a fountain of potential.
If he had been shown some attention in the batting cage or instructed about trends of opposing pitchers, things may have turned out differently. Perhaps if he had seen steady playing time rather than taking a backseat to Carroll or Anderson, Paul would have developed a groove.
Now, with the addition of Scott Podsednik and the emergence of Jay Gibbons, the X-Man's future for 2011 is uncertain.
Catchers in Major League Baseball today must have the ability to endure wear and tear more so than any other position player, but it's still critical that management allow enough rest periods throughout the course of the season to maintain health and productivity.
In 2007, Russell Martin appeared in 151 games, and the following year he was utilized in a total of 155 contests.
2007 turned out to be his signature season— Martin batted .293, hit 19 home runs, drove home 87 runners, had a slugging percentage of .469, and even stole 21 bases. These numbers, along with his solid defense behind the dish, earned him a Silver Slugger award, a Gold Glove award, and a spot on the NL All-Star squad.
Martin was named to another All-Star team in 2008, and although he posted very productive numbers, he had a slight drop-off from 2007. His .280 batting average, 13 HR, 69 RBI, and .396 slugging percentage were still among the league leaders for catchers.
However, after two consecutive seasons playing over 150 games, he was seemingly beaten into the ground.
In 2009, he batted only .250 for the year, while recording only seven home runs and 53 RBI. His .329 slugging percentage was a drop-off of 67 percentage points from 2008 and a full 140 points from 2007. He did, nonetheless, appear in 143 total games. 2009 turned out to be his most unproductive season in the majors, by far.
Now in 2010, Martin saw his season end prematurely with a torn labrum in his hip. In the 97 games prior to the injury, he batted only .248 with five home runs and 26 RBI.
The future of Martin in Los Angeles remains uncertain, as his contract expires at the end of this year. With the below-average numbers that he has produced over the last three seasons, it will be difficult for Dodger management to offer him anywhere near his current $5,050,000 annual salary.
Before the arrival of George Sherrill in 2009, Ramon Troncoso was the trusted setup man for All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton.
Even after Sherrill settled into late inning relief, Troncoso fit perfectly into middle-inning relief and became a key ingredient to the near flawless Dodger bullpen.
In 73 appearances last year, Troncoso tallied a 2.72 ERA, and in doing so earned five wins, six saves, and 14 holds.
However, throughout the course of 2010, Troncoso never could get it together, and before being demoted to the Isotopes for a second time, he posted a 4.85 ERA while logging 39 innings in 41 games.
Although pitch location is critical to a pitcher's success in the Majors, Troncoso's bread and butter was always challenging hitters with his best stuff.
With the emergence of video technologies, every single batter in the Major Leagues has a "hot and cold" zone, and pitching coaches are beginning to live and die by these figures.
Still, just because Albert Pujols consistently destroys a Kyle Kendrick fastball down and in doesn't mean Pujols would pound a Troncoso sinker in the same location.
By being forced to "nibble" around certain areas of the plate rather than challenging hitters with his best stuff, Troncoso lost confidence, which eventually spread into his throwing mechanics.
Pitching coaches can't live by just one overall philosophy—every pitcher absolutely needs to be coached with a different mindset.
At the 14-game mark of the 2010 season, Matt Kemp had seven HR, 20 RBI, and was approaching a batting average of .350—a start which any MLB player would dream to have.
Then the criticism began.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti publicly pointed his finger toward Kemp for the team's dismal start, and although the situation was supposedly squashed, it immediately had an effect on Kemp's performance on the field.
Added to that, Kemp had several confrontations with bench coach Bob Schaefer and battled an ongoing bitter relationship with third base coach Larry Bowa.
Despite being first on the team in home runs, third on the squad in runs batted in, and first in runs scored, Kemp became the easy target of both the coaching staff and the media when the team suffered poor quality of play.
At two points in the season, Kemp even became trapped in manager Joe Torre's doghouse and was relegated to the bench for several days at a time—despite his run production and overall potential.
Seemingly, at 25 years old, a player with Kemp's tools could have used some hands-on personal coaching rather than deal with multitudes of negativity.
Even during his worst slumps, Kemp wasn't even coming anywhere near contact with his bat, as it was obvious that any type of hitting instruction was absent.
The irony is that with Manny Ramirez in the lineup, or when he's giving Kemp pointers from the dugout, Matt Kemp's game elevates in a hurry.
If he's that difficult to relate to or coach, a trade seems to be in order—but just about everyone in the Dodger organization doesn't want to see Kemp leave Los Angeles.
Just imagine the numbers Kemp could have put up with a healthy psyche and positive reinforcement, rather than a plethora of negativity and bad energy.
Coming off his benchmark season of 2009, it's not difficult to see that Jonathan Broxton's pitching game has more than one problem this season.
Now, instead of being recognized as one of the top closers in Major League Baseball, he has been demoted to a setup man by his own squad.
An automatic fix that would get Broxton back on track is a new pitching coach.
Broxton clearly has the stuff, as his mechanics seem fine. Although his velocity has dropped off slightly, any pitcher with a suitable slider and the ability to throw a fastball in the 96-98 mph range should be a force in any bullpen.
It was evident from the beginning of the season that Broxton shifted his priorities to pitch location. Even when he's effective, it's still obvious that he's trying to locate his best pitches on the outside of the plate.
In 2010, one of his biggest consistencies is that he's always falling behind in the pitch counts in attempts to "nibble" at the corner of the dish. After falling behind, especially with a runner(s) on base, he's forced to throw a mediocre fastball down the dead center of the plate, which seemingly every opposing hitter is expecting.
Without a doubt, it's easy to see that whomever is coaching him is emphasizing location over power pitching. Broxton's success in the past came from bringing heat to the inside of the plate, thus making the batters have slight tendencies to back away. He's not a low and away pitcher, and it's not hard to detect that's where he's trying to throw. Any pitcher with his type of velocity doesn't need to "nibble."
Critics around the league claim that Broxton was overused, especially in the earlier part of the season. But with careful attention to statistics, it's clear that he's more effective when given less rest. After sitting on the pine for more than three straight days, he seems to have his worst outings.
To get back on track, perhaps the big man needs to take a page from Vicente Padilla's book and throw his own game, rather than try to "nibble" at the plate as advised by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.