GM DePodesta Finds Value In Rising Stock of Dodgers
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2004; Page E11
Seeing as how Paul DePodesta has an economics degree from Harvard University -- not to mention a central role in a book entitled "Moneyball" -- it seems not at all pretentious for the Los Angeles Dodgers' 31-year-old general manager to drop a "Berkshire Hathaway" on us during a telephone interview the other day. Even though the question was about the many reclamation projects at the heart of the Dodgers' impressive start, which had them holding baseball's best record entering the weekend.
"Berkshire Hathaway did not get to where it is today by buying everything at top value," said DePodesta, referring to the Warren Buffett conglomerate. "Not that we're a bunch of Warren Buffetts here. But sometimes, in any market, you have to take chances on things that are down, but that you think still have a chance to perform very well for you."
DePodesta, who grew up in the Old Town section of Alexandria and attended Episcopal High School, wisely attempts to distance himself from the Moneyball label -- because the book has had such a polarizing effect within the game, pitting the old school against the new.
But the Dodgers' success with hidden-gem-hunting is straight out of Michael Lewis's book about the Billy Beane-era Oakland Athletics, for whom DePodesta was assistant GM before getting the Dodgers' job in February.
Consider the players who have led the Dodgers to a 22-13 record and a two-game lead over the San Diego Padres in the NL West:
• Their best starting pitcher of late is Wilson Alvarez, who recently was out of the majors for two years.
• Their best hitter -- an early Triple Crown candidate, in fact -- is third baseman Adrian Beltre, the 25-year-old free-agent-in-waiting whose troubled career has included a legal battle over his true age, a botched appendectomy in the Dominican Republic and a boatload of strikeouts.
• Their No. 3 hitter is Milton Bradley, whom the Cleveland Indians had to dump hastily when he couldn't get along with Manager Eric Wedge.
And that's not to mention hitters such as Cesar Izturis, Paul LoDuca, Alex Cora -- all of whom are batting at least 20 points higher than their career averages under first-year hitting coach Tim Wallach.
Though DePodesta can claim credit for only Bradley -- the others were already in L.A. when he got there -- something is causing all these players to perform at their peak levels, or even beyond, at the same time.
"Wallach probably plays a large part in it," DePodesta said. "But there are some other elements going into it. If you look at last year's club [an 85-77 disappointment], not many players performed at career levels. Most of them had down years. So it's reasonable to think some guys, if they regress to the mean, would have better years than a year ago.
"And to some degree, hitting can be infectious. It flows down the lineup. That's true here. We've had contributions from everybody. Every night, there seems to be a different hero."
On Wednesday night, in fact, the hero at Dodger Stadium was Cora, a second baseman with a career .241 average, who battled Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Clement through a stunning 18-pitch at-bat -- at one point, Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches -- before ripping a hanging slider for a two-run homer.
"It was unbelievable," DePodesta said. "On the last four or five pitches, the crowd was on its feet, doing the wave and everything. And then when he hit the homer, the place went nuts."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company