Daily Distractions: Imagining a world in which the Dodgers and Clippers are owned by the same group.

Magic Johnson

Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson is reportedly interested in buying the Clippers if Donald Sterling is forced to sell the team. (Getty Images)

Baseball’s Detroit Tigers and hockey’s Detroit Red Wings have been owned by the same man, Mike Ilitch, since 1992. There is little overlap between the MLB and NHL seasons, so it’s not hard to share the same core group of fans. There are no other MLB or NHL teams in town. For his part, Ilitch quickly turned the Red Wings from a loser into one of hockey’s most valuable brands. By the time he bought the Tigers, he had built up enough goodwill in the city to be welcomed by local baseball fans with open arms.

For those who question if it’s possible to own two teams in the same market, look no further than Detroit.

Los Angeles is not Detroit, of course, and it might be time to start asking questions in Southern California. Magic Johnson has reportedly expressed interest in buying the NBA’s Clippers from disgraced owner Donald Sterling. What would it look like if the Dodgers and Clippers were owned by the same group?

Fans already boo Clippers star Chris Paul whenever he’s shown on the video board at Dodger Stadium. Pau Gasol and other Lakers are cheered like the hometown team. Clearly, Dodger Stadium is a Laker stadium. This might get weird.

Or will it? If Johnson is the face of Dodger ownership, he’s also the face of the WNBA’s Sparks and Magic Johnson Theaters. His name is not synonymous with the Dodgers; it’s synonymous with “multiple business interests.” In theory, it should be easy to put the Clippers in the context of Another Magic Johnson Business Interest. Same goes for the other Guggenheim investors; it’s yet to be seen how many of them want in on the Clippers.

In practice, how weird this gets might depend on why Dodger fans boo Clipper players. Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the Clipper brand from Laker fans? Is it because of Sterling? Is it just a Chris Paul thing?

Sterling might be replaceable; we’ll find out soon enough. Paul’s time as a Clipper is inherently temporary. But if it’s a knee-jerk reaction from Laker fans, this might not go over well.

Johnson was a minority owner of the Lakers until 2010, when he sold his shares to Patrick Soon-Shiong, but that didn’t really change his status as a face of (and a mouthpiece for) the Lakers franchise. A world in which Magic Johnson owns the Clippers could be an uncomfortable one for Laker fans. This could be perceived as heel turn worse than Phil Jackson joining the Knicks’ front office.

Johnson said last October in Atlanta that Los Angeles can be both a Lakers town and a Dodgers town. Selling Dodger fans on the idea that this can be a Clipper town too might be beyond even Johnson’s long reach.

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Daily Distractions: MLB clarifies its ‘transfer rule,’ but 7.13 is still baffling to Dodgers catcher.

Major League Baseball gave its players roughly one month to adjust to a new, literal interpretation of its “transfer rule.” Catch the ball, transfer the ball from glove to hand, make sure each of these steps is deliberate enough to be discerned on video review, and you’re good. That sounds simple. In practice, the rule demanded that fielders break a lifetime’s worth of hard-worn habits. Hanley Ramirez got burned on the call once this season, when he lost his grip on the ball after recording what looked like a forceout at second base. The umpire on scene ruled Ramirez didn’t make a catch in the first place.

Friday morning, the league officially changed its mind.

Beginning tonight, MLB announced that umpires will enforce the transfer rule according to a new standard — that is, the old standard. According to a league release, a catch or valid forceout/tag has occurred:

…if the fielder had complete control over the ball in his glove, but drops the ball after intentionally opening his glove to make the transfer to his throwing hand. There is no requirement that the fielder successfully remove the ball from his glove in order for it to be ruled a catch. If the fielder drops the ball while attempting to remove it to make a throw, the Umpires should rule that the ball had been caught, provided that the fielder had secured it in his glove before attempting the transfer. The Umpires will continue to use their judgment as to whether the fielder had complete control over the ball before the transfer.

It was too late for Ramirez, but it was nice to see the league act quickly. That said, there’s still at least one rule that the Dodgers would like to see clarified. Ramirez was involved in this one, too.

From my game story last night, in case you missed it, here’s what happened:

With Hanley Ramirez on third base and (Adrian) Gonzalez on first, (Yasiel) Puig hit a ground ball to Phillies third baseman Cody Asche. Asche fielded the ball deep in the third-base hole and threw to home plate, where Ramirez was out by several feet.

Or was he?

Mattingly popped out of the third-base dugout, asking for help. He demonstrated to the home-plate umpire, Mike DiMuro, what he saw from Philadelphia’s Ruiz: A catcher with both feet planted in front of home plate as Ramirez was bearing down.

According to the rule, which was ratified by MLB and the Players’ Association in spring training, “Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.”

The problem for Mattingly was that Asche delivered a perfect strike to Ruiz in plenty of time to retire Ramirez. Hunter Wendelstedt initiated a crew chief’s review and baseball’s two new rules for 2014 suddenly collided, an instant replay being used to determine whether a catcher illegally blocked home plate.

Three minutes and 18 seconds later, the call stood. Ramirez was out.

Just before the next inning, I saw Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz in the dugout demonstrating how to block home plate to pitcher Josh Beckett. After the game, Federowicz was still upset and confused by the sequence of events.

“I honestly thought that call was going to be overturned,” he said. “The only thing in their favor is that (Ruiz) got that ball in plenty of time. He probably got it a good 10 feet before the play. That’s what the final decision was probably on. My whole thing is, why have the rule saying you can’t block the plate without the ball, and he blocks the plate without the ball?”

Here’s a still image, taken from the video of the play, that shows where Ruiz was stationed when he caught the ball (unfortunately I couldn’t grab an image just before Ruiz made the catch):

Hanley  Ramirez

Whether Ruiz is illegally blocking Ramirez’s path to home plate represents a judgment call, too. Could Ruiz be more out of the way of the baseline? Of course. But, as noted at the time, Asche made an accurate throw. If Ruiz plants his mitt in the baseline and his body in foul territory to receive the throw, and Ramirez (who left on contact) sprints home at full speed and slides inside the baseline, Ruiz is in jeopardy of not being able to make the tag.

Maybe Wendelstedt factored this into his judgment. Rule 7.13 goes on to state that “it shall not be considered a violation of this rule if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner.”

Watching the sequence in real time, Federowicz felt that Ruiz didn’t need to lay his right leg in the basepath in order to make the catch. Therefore, Ramirez should have been ruled safe.

“Hanley has nowhere to slide and he’s still out? I guess Hanley’s allowed to hit him in that situation,” Federowicz said. “But again, they scare all these runners from being able to do that. Nobody really knows the correct rule right now.”

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Daily Distractions: After a long dry spell, Dodgers catchers are starting to hit.

Tim Federowicz

Tim Federowicz is batting .108 since being recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque. (Keith Birmingham/Staff photographer)

A.J. Ellis won’t be catching Clayton Kershaw‘s rehabilitation start Friday in Rancho Cucamonga.

The fact that this was even a possibility, 15 days after the catcher had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, is a bit mind-boggling. Ellis has been taking batting practice regularly, caught Kershaw’s bullpen session Tuesday, and is running on an Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill — the same one that got Matt Kemp in shape during spring training.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that the initial 4-6 week timetable is still in play for Ellis, but that could change soon enough.

In the meantime, a couple trends have emerged. Drew Butera has caught three of Zack Greinke‘s last four starts. The term “personal catcher” hasn’t entered the discussion yet, but the two have had high praise for each other and Mattingly might choose to keep them paired together, even after Ellis returns.

Tim Federowicz has caught 10 games to Butera’s six since Ellis went down, and has just four hits in 37 at-bats. Two of those hits have come since Paul Goldschmidt whacked him in the left hand over the weekend.

“Each day is getting better,” Federowicz said Wednesday. “Right now I’m really focused on my defense. Offense will come. I’m not worried about it.”

Can fans be so patient?

In spite of the fact that the two healthy catchers have a modest three-game hitting streak, Federowicz and Butera are still batting a combined .145 (8 for 55) since Ellis had his surgery. For his part, Ellis was batting just .167 (4 for 24) before going on the DL.

The Dodgers might have bigger problems than this one, so it’s flown a bit under the radar. Just don’t expect to see any catchers batting higher than eighth unless one, at last, catches fire.

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Daily Distractions: Dodgers don’t make good rangers, among other problems in the field.

Hanley Ramirez

Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez committed one of two Dodger errors in a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday night. (Keith Birmingham/Staff photographer)

Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford wasn’t sure he could get to Carlos Ruiz‘s fly ball in the 10th inning Tuesday. There are two problems with this.

One, Crawford was able to get to the ball. (Check out the clip.) Ultimately he failed to recognize this and call off his shortstop, Hanley Ramirez.

Two, the reason Crawford didn’t know that he could get to the ball is because he has poor range for a left fielder. He basically admitted it afterwards, saying, “I didn’t think it was clearly my ball. That’s a long run for me.”

So if we’re really going to analyze the fielding woes that doomed the Dodgers in their 3-2 loss to Philadelphia last night, it’s not as simple as logging the number of errors (for the record, they have made errors in five straight games, a total of eight in that span). The best defensive metrics are never that simple.

What do the complicated metrics say?

FanGraphs’ Range Runs statistic measures the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, as determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity. Range Runs says that the Dodgers have four above-average fielders at their positions (among regulars): Yasiel Puig in right field (+2.3 runs), Juan Uribe at third (+2.2), Andre Ethier in center (+1.4) and even Crawford in left — albeit barely (+0.3).

Ethier has been below average this season when he shifts to right field (-0.5), as is Dee Gordon at second base (-0.2), Adrian Gonzalez at first base (-0.6), Hanley Ramirez at shortstop (-0.8) and Matt Kemp in center, by quite a bit (-2.0).

Translating that 2 into layman’s terms: The average center fielder has enough range to prevent two more runs from scoring than Kemp, and we’re less than a month into the season. That might be fine, except that Ethier and Crawford don’t offer much range in left and right, respectively. With Kemp in center, no wonder Puig acts like the only fielder capable of overcoming the limited range of literally every player around him — he is.

Maybe that’s why Kemp feels compelled to call off Puig on fly balls hit within 10 feet of him, which he did at one point Monday night.

A team’s fielding percentage tends to fluctuate with mistakes, like the occasional poor throw. Even Mark Ellis makes an occasional poor throw. Puig, for what it’s worth, hasn’t been charged with an error this season.

Range, however, is more fixed. So long as the body parts responsible for running are healthy — Crawford, Kemp, Ethier, Ramirez, Gonzalez and Gordon fall in this category — it’s unfair to expect significant improvement in their range. If anything, ordinary wear and tear might restrict their range further as the season goes on.

So it’s fairly safe to say the Dodgers have a range problem. Monday, Crawford complicated things by underestimating even his own range and not calling off Ramirez on a ball that should have been his.

It was a tough play to watch, and there will probably be more of those in the future.

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Daily Distractions: Is Brandon League’s ‘whipping boy’ status deserved?

Brandon League

Brandon League has not allowed a run in five of seven appearances this season, including his last three straight. (Associated Press photo)

When Brandon League‘s name was announced over the Dodger Stadium public-address system in the sixth inning Monday, the reaction was best described as a mixture of boos and cheers and indifference.

When League’s name was brought up in Don Mattingly‘s postgame press conference, the reaction was different: “We feel like he’s been pretty good.”

It’s time to call BS on someone here.

A quick look at League’s 2014 resume:

That’s not terribly difficult to defend as “pretty good.” By comparison, this poor chap faced nine more batters and got two more outs, and doesn’t get booed by his fans:

The second gamelog belongs to Jamey Wright, in case you were wondering. We’re dealing with small sample sizes, but here goes: Wright has the superior ERA (3.38 compared to League’s 3.60). League has the better FIP (2.84 compared to 4.35), but FIP doesn’t show up on the Dodger Stadium display boards. Maybe that explains the boos?

Here’s Mattingly, continued: “I know he got the loss in that game in San Francisco. He’s been throwing the ball pretty good. It’s been negative since last year because he has a little bit of a rough spring. It’s been negative but he’s thrown the ball well. We want to stay realistic. He’s thrown the ball good. He’s given us some good innings. He’s kept games where they should be, given us chances, so he’s doing his job.”

What Mattingly didn’t mention is that League’s $22.5 million, three-year contract makes League the Dodgers’ best-paid relief pitcher. That’s closer money for a sixth-inning reliever. League is certainly paid better than Wright’s $1.8 million deal, which is why Wright (or a young pitcher with contract options like Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez or Paco Rodriguez) will hardly ever get booed. Their contracts are more readily expendable. League’s contract, a seagull bordering on an albatross, is not. For fans, that comes with certain expectations.

Ever since League lost the closer’s job and finished the 2013 season with a 5.30 ERA, it seems like there’s been no turning back. He is the whipping boy. Juan Uribe was in a similar position in 2011 and 2012, but was able to turn it around.

Maybe League can turn his reputation around too. Apparently it’ll take more than seven “pretty good” appearances.

Speaking of which, Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area had a pretty good take on the Giants’ “whipping boys.” Does race have something to do with it?

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Daily Distractions: Philadelphia Phillies offer a visit from the Dodgers’ past and hypothetical present.

Tony Gwynn Jr.

Tony Gwynn Jr. batted .245 in 239 games with the Dodgers from 2011-12. (Getty Images)

When the Dodgers host the Philadelphia Phillies in a four-game series this week, the past and the hypothetical present converge.

Tony Gwynn Jr. played 239 games for the Dodgers from 2011-12. By one metric, he was the team’s best defensive outfielder during that time. Gwynn was a serviceable hitter until somewhere around June 2012; he batted .180 after June 1 of that year. Gwynn gave way to Shane Victorino, then Carl Crawford, and wound up spending all of 2013 in Triple-A.

Gwynn signed with Philadelphia last November (for a modest $900,000) and made the Phillies’ Opening Day roster. Gwynn doesn’t start against left-handed pitchers, so we might not see him in the series until Zack Greinke starts Wednesday. The platoon seems to be working; Gwynn is batting .292 this season.
The success might also stem from his jersey number. After going his own way since he broke into the majors in 2006, Gwynn is wearing his father’s number 19 for the first time in his career.

So about that “hypothetical present.”

The Dodgers were rumored to be interested in their opponent today, Cliff Lee, at the 2012 trade deadline. They traded for Joe Blanton instead and missed the playoffs. Last year Lee went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and made the National League All-Star team. Sounds like a missed opportunity.

Then again, given the Phillies’ reluctance to trade any of their high-priced, high-risk veterans (Lee, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley), it’s no surprise that Lee is still in Philadelphia. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has shown no intention of rebuilding his aging roster. Lee might be no less untouchable today than he was in the summer of 2012. His team, meanwhile, is 8-10 in the young season.

Lee, 35, is owed a total of $50 million between this year and next. The Dodgers opted to put that money toward signing Greinke instead and dealt their expendable prospects to Boston for Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto.

To think: Maybe if Lee became a Dodger, the Punto Era might never have existed.

Hypotheticals are fun.

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Daily Distractions: Watch Joc Pederson make a baseball disappear.

Joc Pederson made a baseball disappear Tuesday, with an assist from a Triple-A cameraman.

Pederson hit his third home run of the young season (above) in the Albuquerque Isotopes’ win over the Reno Aces. We know only that the ball cleared the center-field fence in Reno, which is 410 feet from home plate. It’s an understatement to say that Pederson has taken quickly to the Pacific Coast League; he’s 8 for 17 (.471) with three homers, two doubles and two stolen bases in the first five games of the season.

No one needed a reminder of Pederson’s skill. He spent all of spring training with the Dodgers, traveling to Australia for the exhibition game against the Australian National Team. He hit three Cactus League home runs but also struck out 13 times in 38 at-bats. If anything, the PCL is serving as a confidence booster for the 21-year-old prodigy.

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Daily Distractions: A.J. Ellis to miss 4 to 6 weeks following arthroscopic surgery.

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis underwent a 20-minute arthroscopic procedure, performed by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, to debride (clean up) the medial meniscus of his left knee. According to the team, he will start his rehabilitation tomorrow and recovery is expected in 4-6 weeks.

Catcher Tim Federowicz, who wasn’t in the Albuquerque Isotopes starting lineup Monday or today, is expected to be recalled from the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in time for tonight’s game against the Detroit Tigers.

On Oct. 5, 2012, ElAttrache performed a 30-minute clean up procedure on Ellis’ medial and lateral meniscus.

Ellis is already recovering and receiving top medical care:

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Daily Distractions: Why Sunday’s sixth inning encouraged Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.

Andre Ethier

Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez made outs in the sixth inning Sunday, but impressed Don Mattingly in the process. (John McCoy/Staff photographer)

The Dodgers hit four home runs Sunday against the San Francisco Giants, but that’s not what had Don Mattingly excited.

Hanley Ramirez can hit home runs. That’s no revelation. Even Matt Kemp, Mattingly said, had his power swing on display from the time he reported to camp, with his high follow-through leaving many pitching machines in Glendale, Arizona with stratospheric ERAs.

No, what had Mattingly excited was the sixth inning.

Ramirez led off with a double into the left-field corner. Adrian Gonzalez was next up, and he hit a ground ball directly into the Giants’ shift. First baseman Brandon Belt fielded the ball and tossed to pitcher Matt Cain covering first base for the out. That didn’t matter to Mattingly, because Ramirez advanced to third base, then scored on a deeply hit sacrifice fly by Andre Ethier.

“That was a big run for us,” Mattingly said. “They cut it to 4-2 with a couple homers there. Hanley starts the inning with a double, Adrian gets him over with the ground ball, Andre gets him in. Sometimes last year we didn’t get that done very well. I was encouraged by that tonight.”

Indeed, the biggest complaint about the Dodgers’ offense for the first six weeks of 2013 was its lack of situational hitting. On June 14, the Dodgers were 10 games below .500 and averaging 3.5 runs per game. From June 15 on, they averaged 4.3 runs per game. The arrivals of Yasiel Puig and Ramirez were integral. They added two dimensions the offense lacked, speed and power. More importantly, they didn’t make as many outs as the men they replaced. By extension, the Dodgers had more runners on base and had more success moving them over. Their situational hitting improved.

The Dodgers might never have another inning like the sixth this season. But if it becomes a trend, that’s one less way a lineup full of superstars can fail to score.

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Daily Distractions: The Dodgers’ starting rotation looks good. So does every team’s.

Aaron Harang

Former Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang, now with the Atlanta Braves, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning Wednesday. So did his opponent, Matt Garza. (Associated Press photo)

I’m going to get off the topic of my fantasy baseball team quickly, promise. Just bear with me for a second.

Something strange happened this week. The first time through my rotation, my five starters gave up a total of one run. The one run belonged to Jose Fernandez (otherwise the miscreant might be booted from my rotation).

Across the majors, in the few games that have been played, pitching has been good so far. Very good. The league-average ERA is 3.31.

To some extent, that makes sense. Pitchers’ arms are healthier now than they will be in September. Some teams have only played two games, meaning they have used only their top two starters — and seen their opponents’ top two. The best pitchers in the world, all those Opening Day starters including Clayton Kershaw, have all pitched once.

The Dodgers aren’t immune to the phenomenon. Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren have allowed a total of three runs in the club’s first five games. That’s encouraging. They will need more encouragement from starters five and six, Paul Maholm and Josh Beckett, while Kershaw rests his bad back. Maholm starts Saturday against the San Francisco Giants.

It’s easy to dismiss the dominance of pitchers, but we might be witnessing the makings of a trend. This season could be a down year for hitting. While they’ve pitched well, the Dodgers are collectively hitting .229. Want to guess where that ranks among the 30 teams? Fourteenth. Sixteen clubs have batted .223 or worse in the early part of the season.

Those numbers will get better, but you wonder when we’ll see the first no-hitter of the season. It might not be long. Former Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang lost one in the seventh inning of the Braves’ 1-0 win over Milwaukee last night. So did his opponent, Matt Garza. Harang and Garza aren’t elite pitchers anymore, but they were elite Wednesday.

Let’s see if this trend continues.

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