For a few months I was spending a lot of free time playing MLB Power Pros on the Wii. It is the perfect game for the true baseball geek: you can create players that have to earn pro contracts, you develop players, draft, have a AAA squad to send players to and get players from, the simulation of games was good, and you had to manage a budget. I absolutely love the game and can’t wait to get my hands on the new one which includes rules such as 40-man rosters and another level of minor league play. It also has real-life players pretty closely matched with their real-life skills.
As I started my run as the general manager of the Dodgers, I quickly made moves to get the team to where I wanted it to be. I cut salary of dead weight (Juan Pierre, expensive pitching that wasn’t worth the cost) and brought in young talent. Except that the young talent that I appreciate is largely based on potential and not skill level translated into the game. The younger Dodgers (Matt Kemp, James Loney, Chad Billingsley and others) are just now showing that they’ll be very good players. But when the game was made, they were minor leaguers without the recognized abilities that we see now. In fact, Loney isn’t even in the game, which surprised me. So their abilities did not rate among equally-talented veteran Major Leaguers. They had to be developed.
This is how geeky I am. I kept logs of the players and how they should be developed in the off-season and during the season (they progress at different rates in the different situations). I made sure they were gaining power if that is what I needed and that they were getting better at defense if that is what their position dictated. That’s the fun of these types of games. You get to actually be in control of the team and how your team becomes what you want it to be.
My team remained good. I won my division by 25 games one season with a team salary of ~$60 million, which is pocket change in baseball. It was a result of winning with young players who don’t yet have the bargaining power to make a bunch of money (a flaw in baseball, but one that helps teams stay competitive if they develop players themselves). Some of the players that I am confident will be outstanding Major Leaguers by 2010 were simply average due to their minor league handicaps at the start of my tenure. Matt Kemp, who is already becoming a monster is one of those. Despite his age now (he’s 23) and how rapidly he’ll improve in the next couple of years, he was unable to become a huge force in the game because once you hit the big leagues, you begin to slow down in your progression in the game. On the other hand, one player in particular, who I have always liked but never thought would be the one when it came to the Dodgers’ younger players, became an unstoppable force for my team.
It was almost weird how I was playing the game and watching him get better and better and be a perennial all-star and only not win Triple Crowns because of a player on another team that my son used some cheat method to max out all his skills. He started to become one of my favorite guys on the team. So much so that I specifically wanted to get a good shot of him as he entered the L.A. Coliseum when I attended the preseason game there. It was totally irrational. My off-season addiction to the baseball game fueled my hope for the upcoming season, and I now had a player I wanted to succeed more than any other because he brought me success in my game. The trouble was that he was likely going to play on a limited basis, as the Dodgers had just signed Andruw Jones to play center field, already had crappy Juan Pierre (something about he’s fast and “knows how to lead off” comes to mind) to play left field, and wanted the power that they knew would come in Matt Kemp to be in right field. Ethier’s time would be spent spelling each of those other guys who might need a day off here and there. He was dubbed, ironically, “3.5” by Dodger Thoughts commenters because everyone there knew he was too good to be a “fourth outfielder” but that he wouldn’t get the chance to play with Pierre sucking up playing time.
Then injuries and just general sucking happened. Jones went down, Pierre was exposed as terrible compared to Ethier and Kemp, and Manny Ramirez came to town. The result of all of those things gives the Dodgers an everyday outfield of Ethier, Kemp, and Ramirez. It’s actually the best of all possible outcomes. Manny is ridiculous and proving himself as among the top 5 hitters in all of baseball, Kemp is still growing and learning, but is good enough to have relegated Juan Pierre to the occasional pinch hitting appearance, and Ethier, well, I need a new paragraph for this.
Ethier has become what MLB Power Pros said he’d become. In the past month, he has been incredibly close to the numbers Manny Ramirez has put up since becoming a Dodger. And those numbers are other-worldly.
From April to July, Ethier was doing the following:
- On-Base Percentage: .338
- Slugging Percentage: .442
- Home Runs: 11
Since August 1:
- On-Base Percentage: .447
- Slugging Percentage: .729
- Home Runs: 9
His OPS (on-base + slugging, a great measure of a hitter’s skill) improved from .779 to .888 overall, which is incredible. And mind you, .779 is a good OPS. An OPS of .888 is excellent. In the .900 range is superstar range, and over 1.000 is Barry Bonds freak range. His OPS+ (a measure of relative ability amog other players, with 100 being average) is now 127. Some of the improvement might be due to the theory that with Manny Ramirez hitting behind Ethier, Ethier sees easier pitches to hit. Even if that’s true, he’s taking those pitches and doing to them more than you can expect anyone to do to them, which shows he is a very good baseball player. However, it’s not even like he’s changed his approach at all. Jon Weisman gives us a chart on what pitches he’s seeing, and it’s not a whole lot different than it would have been before. That chart shows that the easier pitch theory is at best unprovable.
If MLB Power Pros is to be believed, Ethier could be putting up MVP numbers in the next couple of years. I have no idea if that’s going to happen, but it certainly is something I’ll be watching out for. Now I have to get the new version so I can look for the next hidden gem on the Dodgers roster.