Thursday, September 30, 2004

Random Thoughts

* I know Jeremy Reed has a very small sample size of just 50 major league at bats, and guys like Willie Bloomquist (.455/.526/.576 in 33 ABs two Septembers ago) are constant reminders of the danger of reading too much into a 2-3 week hot streak, but . . . MAN! .440/.491/.520!

It's damn clear Reed's no Willie Bloomquist, either. Willie was a career .255/.294/.310 hitter over 491 ABs in AA, and .257/.304/.352 over 540 ABs in AAA, while Reed hit .409/.474/.591 over 242 ABs in AA, and .289/.361/.436 over 509 AAA at bats. I think there is plenty of statistical evidence to conclude that Bloomquist's September Surprise was far flukier and less representative of what might follow than Reed's. This is a guy who regularly shows an understanding of the strike zone and good patience. After an initial adjustment to major league pitching (he went 0 for his first 5 with no XBH or BB until his sixth appearance, at which point he was hitting .308), he seems to be showing he has the potential for at least gap power -- since he got that first XBH, he's hit .486/.547/.590 over more ABs (37) than Willie got in his big September . . .. What's not to like here?

I'm not saying that Reed can come close to sustaining this over a rookie season, that he will have enough power for a corner outfielder or the arm and instincts to play centerfield (I like his range, but his arm has looked suspect at times and so has his ball trajectory/route judgment -- remember that throw that hit the back of the mound? Very Winn-esque; remember Reed pulling up on a Trot Nixon shot off the base of the wall that Reed thought had left the yard?), but he certainly deserves a fair shot at the 25-man roster next Spring. If he can get 300 major league ABs next year, I don't see that sending him back to AAA will serve any useful purpose except saving a year of service time and extending the time the M's can cheaply keep Reed around further into his prime. That's not insignficant, but for a team with the resources of the Mariners, it shouldn't be the much of a concern, either.

* Man, Ichiro! just laced number 256. I don't want to root against him, but I sure hope he doesn't get more than one more hit today. It's bad enough that he could tie the record in Oakland; I definitely don't want him to break it there -- especially since I bought tickets to Friday's game specifically to see him break the record. [Post-game update: only one hit, thanks to a nice running catch by Eric Byrnes . . ..]

* Speaking of Ichiro!, there is a good discussion on USSM about whether Ichiro's Japanese statistics should be considered for Hall of Fame purposes. Derek makes some rough translations of what Ichiro might've done had he been in MLB his whole career, not to make the argument that he would have done those things but rather to give him the benefit of the doubt in considering a likely short but excellent MLB career that he was capable of putting up HoF numbers had he been given a full chance. At least that was my understanding of Derek's argument . . .. Anyway, most of the comments focused on the imperfect analogy between Japanese baseball and the Negro Leagues as they relate to the Hall of Fame, the fact that Cooperstown is not an international Hall of Fame but the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and therefore Japanese players and performances shouldn't be considered.

Here's my take: Unlike black ballplayers before Jackie Robinson, Ichiro and other Japanese ballplayers at least had the opportunity to sign with MLB teams (ala Mac Suzuki) rather than pursue a career in Japan. While it is true that agreements between NPB and MLB prevent players in the NPB system from freely moving for something like 8 years once they are in the system, that is a far cry from what black players faced before Jackie. I don't think players who played exclusively in Japan should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but if a player with a significant career in Japan comes to MLB and plays ten seasons here (the minimum for consideration in the HoF absent special circumstances such as the banishment of black players pre-Robinson, which I don't think applies to Japanese ballplayers), there is nothing wrong with voters considering the quality of his career in Japan in deciding whether the player is Hall-worthy.

Ichiro! is likely to fall into that category. By the end of Ichiro's age 36 season (2010), he will have played 10 years in MLB. Using Bill James' aging pattern findings as a rough guide for how Ichiro! might perform in those years (using Ichiro!'s best numbers for each particular stat between 27 and 30 as his peak "season"), Ichiro is likely to get roughly 2000-2100 hits, 260 doubles, 60 triples, 95 home runs, 550 RBI, 375 or so stolen bases in about 500 attempts, about 700 strikeouts and 425 walks, and career rate stats of something in the neighborhood of .320-.325 BA, .375-.385 OBP, and about .430-.450 SLG. While that is not a slam-dunk HoF career in and of itself, it gets much closer to being one when you consider at least 2 batting titles, probably 8 All-Star appearances, an MVP, a significant MLB record, several Gold Gloves, and a prominent role in opening MLB to Japanese position players. If you consider his dominance of Japanese baseball before that (1278 hits, and a career .353/.421/.522), and especially if you think he'll play at better than league average level past his age 36 year, it probably is a slam-dunk HoF career.

* And speaking of the Hall of Fame, I've been known to make heavily statistical arguments for Edgar Martinez's Hall of Fame credentials, here's a decidedly un-statistical argument: How many players -- at least players who aren't considered slam-dunk Hall of Fame candidates -- are given special ceremonies by opposing teams in virtually every ballpark, and see the Commissioner make a special appearance at his retirement ceremony? Hall of Fame voters are supposed to consider character as well as performance; the kind of reverence and respect Edgar has been shown by his peers on this Farewell Tour speak volumes about why Edgar deserves enshrinement -- probably more than statistics ever can.

Thanks, Papi. I'll see you this weekend.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Ichiro! Watch, 9/23 Edition.

[Editor's Note, 9/26: I noticed this weekend that I had screwed up the probables here, listing Harden before Zito, when in fact it will go Zito-Hudson-Harden-Redman-Drese-Rogers-Park. I have adjusted the post to correct the errors.

Ichiro got three hits over the first three games profiled in this post, to sit at 251. he needs 7 hits over the last 7 games. He needs to hit something around .230 -- depending on how many ABs he actually gets -- to break the record. I think that is very do-able for Ichiro. I do think he will fade some over the last week, but I think much less than about 8 hits (.275 or so) is unduly pessimistic. Let's say two against Zito, maybe one each against Hudson and Harden, one or two against Redman -- Ichiro will be at 256 or 257 on Friday, at home.

Personally, I think the record will be tied and/or broken on Friday against Drese. In fact, I am confident enough about that that I made sure I had tickets for Friday (to go with the Saturday tickets I already had, and the Sunday-Goodbye Edgar-tickets I still plan to get). This record is going down.]

Hits: 247
Games Remaining: 10
AB/G: 4.37
Projected ABs Remaining: 44
Hits/Average Needed to Break Record: 11, .250
Average Needed to Break Record in 154 Games: .846 (11-13)
Average Since July 18: .451
Hits/ Average Needed to Hit .400: 35, .795

Next Five Games' Pitching Probables:
(R) J. Benoit, 5.83 ERA, 5.0 IP/ST, .274 BAA, IchiAVG: .188 (3-16)
(R) C. Young, 4.50 ERA, 5.0 IP/ST, .242 BAA, IchiAVG: never faced
(R) R. Drese, 3.80 ERA, 6.1 IP/ST, .274 BAA, IchiAVG: .500 (8-16)
(L) B. Zito, 4.47 ERA, 6.0+ IP/ST, .267 BAA; IchiAVG: .386 (17-44)
(R) T. Hudson, 3.33 ERA, 7.0+ IP/ST. .265 BAA; IchiAVG: .211 (12-57)

Aggregate IchiAVG vs. Next Five Pitching Probables: .301 (40-133)

Aggregate IchiAVG Against Texas Relievers: .313 (25-80)
Aggregate IchiAVG Against Oakland Relievers: .365 (19-52)

Pete's Prediction for Hits Over Next 5 Games: 6, leaving 22 projected ABs to get 5 hits (.227) to break George Sisler's record. My first instinct was to say seven, but I think once again it will be better to err on the low side. Of course, I hope he maintains this ridiculously hot streak over the next 3 games, and breaks the record in 154 games. Certainly, with Ichiro, anything is possible . . . but I think that is more than a bit unlikely.

I had been seriously overestimating Ichiro's number of hits per each 5 game period between these updates, until the last (9/18) edition, when I underestimated the number by 5. Overall, I am only off by two hits (too many) over the last 15 games, though. This illustrates one of my favorite points to make about statistics, very well: average is only a poor approximation of reality/truth, which you can only really see in variation of performance. Over short bursts, just about anything is possible, and average over small samples isn't really very instructive.

I think, as I've been saying for the better part of a month now, that Ichiro will break the record. I expect he will do it either on Friday, October 1, or Saturday, October 2.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Ichiro! Watch, 9/18 Edition

Hits: 235
Games Remaining: 15
AB/G: 4.36
Projected ABs Remaining: 65
Hits/Average Needed to Break Record: 23, .354
Average Needed to Break Record in 154 Games: .742
Average Since July 18: .447
Hits/ Average Needed to Hit .400: 46, .696

Next Five Games' Pitching Probables:

(R) T. Hudson, 3.36 ERA, 7.0 IP/ST, .267 BAA; IchiAVG: .208 (11-53)
(L) M. Redman, 4.94 ERA, 6.0 IP/ST, .268 BAA; IchiAVG: .381 (8-21)
(R) J. Lackey, 4.67 ERA, 6.0+ IP/ST, .276 BAA; IchiAVG: .207 (6-29)
(R) A. Sele, 4.88 ERA, 5.0+ IP/ST, .304 BAA; IchiAVG: .588 (10-17)
(R) B. Colon, 5.08 ERA, 6.0+ IP/ST, .268 BAA; IchiAVG: .375 (9-24)

Aggregate IchiAVG vs. Next Five Pitching Probables: .306 (44-144)

Aggregate IchiAVG Against Anaheim Relievers: .275 (14-51)
Aggregate IchiAVG Against Oakland Relievers: .380 (19-50)

Pete's Prediction for Hits Over Next 5 Games: 7, leaving 43 projected ABs to get 16 hits (.372) to break George Sisler's record. To have a decent chance, Ichiro! will have to do better than one would expect against one or both of Hudson and Lackey, and continue to rake the other three . . ..

Friday, September 17, 2004

Pitch Counts

There's been a fair amount of talk about Melvin letting Bobby Madritsch and Gil Meche throw too many pitches in recent games. Madritsch has thrown over 120 pitches in two of his eight starts (the last two). Since he was called back up, Meche has thrown 120+ pitches in three of eight starts, including 2 of his last 4.

It's tough to justify letting two pitchers with the collective history of shoulder trouble these two have throw that many pitches in a lost season, when both are being counted on to play significant roles in next year's rotation. The "risk vs. reward" analysis weighs heavily in favor of the "risk" side. I went to several of these games (Meche's 8/10, 8/15, and 9/12 starts, and Madritsch's 9/9 gem), and at least at the 9/9 and 9/12 games bent the ear of my seat partners about pulling them before their last inning -- not necessarily because they were no longer effective but because it just doesn't make sense to ride these guys so hard in games that don't matter.

But let me play Devil's Advocate here . . . there is another side to this argument.

Two years ago, Bobby Madritsch was pitching in the Independent Leagues, and came up this July after not much more than a couple of months (12 starts) in AAA -- he spent almost a month and a half on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle -- and fewer than 40 games pitched above the Independent Leagues/A-ball. Two months ago, Gil Meche was struggling to a 1-3 record and 5.05 ERA over 57 innings (over ten starts) in Tacoma, after being demoted for stumbling out to a 1-5 record with a 9.00 ERA over 43.1 innings (over ten starts) in which he averaged over 20 pitches per inning. In their second-half call-ups, I'm sure it has been important to Bob Melvin -- to the extent their performance would allow him -- to help each guy gain confidence, come to believe they belong in MLB, and learn to pitch through a variety of situations.

For example, take a look at Madritsch's comments after the 9/9 game against Boston (in which Madritsch threw 126 pitches in eight innings). They are telling, both about how he had developed confidence over his previous 6 starts, and how Melvin letting him pitch through the 8th helped build on that.

Madritsch walked the first batter of the 7th inning of that game, and even though he came through it unscathed, he threw 23 pitches to get through the inning -- not a huge number, but more worrisome than it would otherwise be because it came later in the game. After the inning, Madritsch had thrown 100 pitches, and he led 7-0.

I would have been just as easy to let Madritsch take a seat with a win in his pocket and only 100 pitches thrown, but the kid is throwing a shutout, and the confidence gained by working through the top half of the order of the best offensive team in baseball.

This is what happened, as described in the P-I:

"If there was one moment when Madritsch could have wavered, it was in the eighth inning. With one out [the ninth hitter, Gabe Kapler, grounded to third on Madritsch's 104th pitch], he walked Johnny Damon [on 7 pitches] and Mark Bellhorn singled. All that did was bring up MVP candidates Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, who came into the game with 235 RBIs between them. Seattle manager Bob Melvin let Madritsch work out of trouble. 'When he didn't come out to get me, that's a load of confidence for me,' Madritsch said. 'He could have taken me out there. But I had confidence in what I was doing.'"

Ramirez and Ortiz did what they usually do -- they worked the count -- but Madritsch got Ramirez to ground into a fielder's choice (on a nice play by Jolbert Cabrera), and Ortiz chopped one off Madritsch's glove to Jose Lopez, who got the last out.

I don't really have a problem with that. Pitch counts aren't everything, even if they should be part of the equation . . . but so should be instilling confidence in young pitchers. Now, I have a bit more of a problem with sending Madritsch out to pitch the 9th in his next start. Even though he was throwing a shutout, he was at 116 pitches through eight, was beginning to leave "mistake" pitches way up in the strike zone, and threw more pitches in the eighth (19) than any other inning. The "confidence" lesson was learned the game before and didn't need to be repeated, and I do think it is a much bigger deal to throw consecutive games with over 120 pitches than it is to throw a single game of 120+. To Melvin's credit, he had a relatively short leash (6 pitches -- though 2 hits and a stolen base -- into the 9th), and again I think you've got to weigh the value of building confidence in a guy by letting him try to get his first complete game shutout versus the risks associated with high pitch counts in fragile pitchers.

We may disagree with how Melvin conducted that risk/benefit analysis, but I think it is unfair to criticize him for it without even acknowledging the other side of the argument. I don't want to speak for Bad Bob -- whom I've criticized as much as the next guy -- but I think he would say to those who've said he is managing as though he could give a shit less about the future of a team he knows he won't be managing (a fait accompli I am not entirely convinced of) that this is precisely how he is caring for the future of this team.

If you look at pitch counts by inning for these guys, I think it becomes clearer what Melvin is doing.

I've always thought that high pitch counts in individual (or worse, consecutive) innings are much harder on a pitcher than simply high aggregate pitch counts. That's one reason I didn't have a big problem with Meche's complete game -- he never threw as high as 20 pitches in any inning after the first, and he was still throwing hard and effectively in the ninth (12 pitches -- one of which he threw 95 mph). When I see a starter throw 20 or more pitches in a couple of innings between, say, the 2nd and the 6th innings, I would be much more hesitant to let that guy pitch another inning much after 100-105 than if I've got a guy cruising along throwing 10-15 pitches per inning. A poor analogy, but: I would expect fighter who had to go a couple of tough five minute rounds mid-way through a 10-round fight would fight more tired in the rounds after that than the guy who cruises through twelve three-minute rounds. The second guy would probably be fresher in the 12th round than the first guy is in the 7th round -- even if they were the same guy in different fights.

I think Melvin's usage patterns with Madritsch and Meche reflect similar thinking. The games where you can reliably predict that Melvin will remove these guys are games where they labor through a few long innings. The exception is occasionally when the pitcher is close enough that he wants to give them a chance for a win (if they are tied or down by a run or two and the offense looks like it has a chance) or when the pitcher is up but has a chance to achieve something special like a shutout or a complete game, but even then he will rarely if ever let a pitcher go past 130 pitches. I might hope for a bit more caution than that, especially given the history of pitching injuries on this team, but I don't have a big problem with it and I don't think it is as big a deal as it is commonly made out to be in the Mariners Blogoshphere.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Will It Matter if it's in 162 instead of 154?

Especially after an 0-fer against Escobar last night, It's probably pointless to even talk about Ichiro! breaking George Sisler's record in 154 games (the number of games played in Sisler's era) anymore. Does this matter? I don't really think so.

Larry Stone penned an excellent piece in Sunday's paper that raised some of these issues in explaining that Sisler only holds the modern hits/season record, as a couple of old-timers named Tip O'Neill and Pete Browning each had 275 "hits" in 1887.

Of course, in 1887, things were a bit different from what we're used to. For one, walks were counted as hits (so O'Neill actually had "only" 225 hits, and Browning only 220, since the former walked 50 times and the latter 55) and required five balls rather than four. For a couple of others: foul balls were not counted as strikes (and wouldn't be until 1901); "gloves" were little more than just that; the pitching mound was forty-five feet away rather than 60'6"; and pitches were delivered underhand (the latter two rules changing to their modern form in 1893). The game that Browning and O'Neill played was far different from the one Sisler played, and comparing the two is akin to comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.

This got me to thinking about how different the game Ichiro! plays is from Sisler's. I'm not just talking about the advent of night games, relief specialists, and computer-chart-assisted pitching and defense (though the role of those things in today's game certainly makes Ichiro's task more difficult than the one Sisler faced). I am also not just talking about the five-fold increase in the pool of potential major leaguers (and presumably similar increase in ability of the best players) over the last hundred years just by virtue of the United States population growth -- not to mention the increases due to inclusion of black players and foreign players, which has likely had at least as big an effect on competitive levels as that.

Apart from all that, there were other changes within the game itself during Sisler's time that profoundly affected performance. After the adoption of the foul-strike rule in 1901, mean batting average in MLB fell rapidly from an all-time high of .307 in 1894 (where it had jumped, from the .240s in the early 1890s, after the mound was moved back) -- too precipitously for MLB, which introduced the cork center ball in 1911 in part to counteract this trend and quickly saw mean batting averages move upward. The Black Sox scandal, coupled with the awe that greeted Babe Ruth's mind-boggling 29 home runs in 1919, prompted MLB to adopt several more changes that would again send mean batting averages soaring (breaking .300 for the second -- and only other -- time in 1930). Beginning in 1920, trick pitches were banned; no more spit balls, emery balls, or "shine" balls. Maybe even more importantly, umpires now supplied new white baseballs any time they became scuffed or dirtied. Before 1920, soft, scratched and darkenened balls were kept in use as long as possible; fans were even supposed to throw back souvenir foul balls for continued use. These changes, according to Bill James and others, had as much or more effect as any (unproven) "juiced" ball could have had, and the results were immediate and obvious.

I don't think it is coincidental that George Sisler set the record Ichiro! is now chasing in the year these changes were adopted, before pitchers began the slow process of adapting to them. People often argue that the "juiced" 1990s and early 2000s should be looked at as some kind of abberation in baseball, even though the 1920s and 1930s were far more "juiced" (and the causes of spiking offense much more easily attributed) than today's game, and the year Sisler set this record was the beginning of it.

All in all, I think it is fair to say that the game Sisler played was nearly as different from the game Ichiro! plays as the one Sisler played was different from Browning's and O'Neill's. Just as modern baseball historians now universally recognize Sisler's record rather than Browning's and O'Neill's, and just as the asterisk was long ago removed from Roger Maris' single-season home run record, if Ichiro! manages to pass Sisler in the coming weeks, we should all justifiably think of him, without proviso, as the Single-Season Hit King.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Ichiro! Watch, 9/13 Edition

Hits: 231
Games Remaining: 20
AB/G: 4.38
Projected ABs Remaining: 88
Hits/Average Needed to Break Record: 27, .308
Average Needed to Break Record in 154 Games: .509
Average Since July 18: .464
Hits/ Average Needed to Hit .400: 52, .591

Next Five Games' Pitching Probables:

(R) K. Escobar, 3.97 ERA, 6.0 IP/ST, .250 BAA; IchiAVG: .174 (4-23)
(L) Washburn, 4.84 ERA, 5.2 IP/ST, .268 BAA; IchiAVG: .268 (11-41)
(R) J. Lackey, 4.83 ERA, 6.0 IP/ST, .280 BAA; IchiAVG: .200 (5-25)
(R) A. Sele, 5.01 ERA, 5.0 IP/ST, .256 BAA; IchiAVG: .588 (10-17)
(L) B. Zito, 4.44 ERA, 6.1 IP/ST, .267 BAA; IchiAVG: .390 (16-41)

Collective IchiAVG Against Anaheim Relievers: .298 (14-47)
Collective IchiAVG Against Oakland Relievers: .367 (18-49)

Pete's Prediction for Hits Over Next 5 Games: 7 (I'll err on the conservative side this time), leaving 66 projected ABs to get 20 hits (.303) to break George Sisler's record, or 20 hits in 31 ABs (.645) to break the record in 154 games.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

A Few Quick Hits

A few thoughts from my last foray to the Safe (Thursday) and beyond:

* Bobby Madritsch is a very pleasant surprise. I thought he would be an effective pitcher, but probably not the best of the Tacoma call-ups, as he has been. Hell, he has been the de facto ace of the staff for the last 4-5 weeks. His periperals are fantastic -- 1.18 WHIP, works deep into games (7.1+ average innings pitched as a starter), pretty good K/9 (6.5+) and K:BB (40:22) numbers, terrific against both lefties (.212/.300/.288) and righties (.238/.317/.338), and as Dave Cameron noted today, keeps the ball in the ballpark. Madritsch has definitely earned a place on the 25-man roster next year, and IMHO, somewhere in the rotation.

* Why does Ichiro! think that bunting with two outs and a man on second (particularly when trailing) is a good idea? He must, since he did it two nights in a row. I mean, if you are hitting .460 in the second half, and most base hits will score a run in that situation, how are your improving things by bunting? Even if you think you have a better than .460 shot and successfully getting the bunt down (which Ichiro! didn't do in either game he tried it this week), you only move the runner up to third where he still needs a hit to score him, but you are now relying on a guy who has hit about .285 after a torrid July-- and is slowing (.265) in September -- instead of your .400+ hitter to get that hit. I just don't get it.

Bob Finnigan and Bob Melvin did their best to offer up Ichiro's thought process in a piece for yesterday's rag. Melvin says: ""We were down by two runs (5-3 Wednesday), the middle of the order was coming up behind him. I know this is not the most popular play in that situation, but he was trying to put us closer to the middle of the order, with the power hitters. Ichiro is not profiled as a home-run hitter, so it was something he felt he had to do." Sorry, Bob, but that's not very persuasive. Next, Finningan. He first justifies the move on the basis that Ichiro has used it successfully before, this year. I don't think that makes it smart, Bob, and I would be interested to know how "success" is defined here. How many times did Ichiro get the bunt down safely and the following hitters also came through? Finnigan also implies that Ichiro has so few RBIs this year because outfields play him in, and therefore any non-bunt hit he gets in this situation is unlikely to score the runner anyway. I don't buy it. First, RBIs despite a .370+ average with runners in scoring position isn't evidence of outfield defenses successfully squeezing Ichiro, but rather lack of opportunity to drive runners in because of poor hitters hitting in front of him. Second, even if outfield defenses play Ichiro in, the runner is going on contact on that play, which increases the chances of scoring from second over the similar situation with less than two outs, even with the outfield in. Third, even Finnigan doesn't offer the answer to the critical question: if Ichiro is hitting .460 in the second half, and what you need is a base hit to score a run, why are you better off with Randy Winn hitting that Ichiro? Even assuming outfield defense on Ichiro can keep a runner from scoring on 30% of his hits, that still means you're trading a 30-35% chance of scoring for a 26-28% chance . . .. It just doesn't make sense to me.

* Jose Lopez looks to me like he's making the adjustments to be a decent major league hitter. When he was first called up, he wasn't hitting for power. As late as twleve games into his MLB career, he had a sub-.500 OPS and hadn't yet gotten an extra base hit. Since then, he has hit seven doubles and four home runs in 24 games, and has an .868 OPS in September. Against Wakefield on Thursday, he looked like he had a plan, stayed back nicely, and was rewarded with two doubles and a home run. All very encouraging things for Mariners fans.

* With the loss of Bucky Jacobsen for the year, why not let A.J. Zapp get a cup of coffee? I know the company line is the Mariners want to see Raul Ibanez at first some, but that hasn't happened. In fact, Ibanez hasn't played 1B all year; instead, we've been treated to the likes of Willie Bloomquist and Jolbert Cabrera at first since Bucky went down. Keeping Zapp in the organization should be important to the M's, if they want to have flexibility at first base next season. Zapp has as much as said he needs a call-up in order to feel wanted enough to stick around if he isn't added to the 40-man roster by the October 15 deadline: "Zapp is uncertain whether he would re-sign [if he isn't added to the 40-man roster]. 'They're in a rebuilding year, and if I don't get a shot at the end of the year I just don't know if I'm in their plans for the future. It has crossed my mind along with a lot of other things . . ..'" So, how would it hurt to give him that shot, especially now that Bucky is out?

* Speaking of Bloomquist and Cabrera, what is the thinking behind playing these guys instead of Edgar Martinez, who is as hot a hitter (well, almost) as any the M's have right now? Let the man play first if you have to -- there is no reason to "save" him. Unless 'Gar bags off for some reason, I want to see him play someplace every day from here through October 3.

* Speaking of first base, Baseball Weekly's Bob Nightengale reports in his "The Buzz" column in the latest issue that the Mariners are intent on signing either Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson for next season (which may explain their indifference towards Zapp). I've already explained ad nauseum why I think it would be a mistake to sign Delgado, at least unless he comes on the cheap and for a short contract, but I'm similarly somewhere south of ambivalent about Sexson, who'll be 30 next year, is coming off shoulder surgery, and whose PECOTA and Baseball-Reference comps suggest might not be a player who ages well or without nagging injuries. I'll say it again: the M's are better off focusing their attention and money at positions of greater need that first base -- which is a good part of why I think it is important to keep Zapp around.

* The same Baseball Weekly article says that Angels bench coach Joe Maddon, who managed the Angels in parts of 1996 and 1999, "is expected to replace Bob Melvin as manager in Seattle." I don't know much about Maddon, other than his interim stints as Angels manager coincided with Bill Bavasi's 6-year tenure as GM there, so it makes some sense.

* John Hickey and David Andriesen were the Mariners apolgists of the week, offering this curious pre-justification for the Mariners not pursuing Carlos Beltran: "Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, center fielder Randy Winn and [Raul] Ibanez are all locked into contracts for at least two more seasons. That would make it hard for the Mariners to go after a big-name free agent outfielder like Houston's Carlos Beltran." Why is that? Although he may be a bit expensive for the role, Randy Winn's best role is probably as a 4th outfielder who gets 400 or so ABs a year, plugging into left field mostly when Ibanez fills the DH role or plays first against righties. Furthermore, if Jeremy Reed, Chris Snelling, or Jamal Strong appears to be ready to fill that role at some point next Spring or beyond, Winn should be a fairly tradeable commodity. He hits (admittedly, in a very streaky way) for average, has improved power, and his contract is not out of this world ($3.75M next year, followed by a mutual option year in which the Mariners can elect to bring him back at $5M but if they decline it becomes Winn's option to come back at $3.75M; he also can make an additional $125K in each of the next two years with 650 plate appearances -- he had 674 PA for Tampa Bay in 2002, 660 for the M's last year, and is on pace for just over 700 this year). It is also curious that the M's would be floating rumors of their interest in historically expensive players like Delgado and Sexson while simultaneously crying that poverty because of their long-term contract mistakes with the likes of Ibanez and Winn (not to mention Scott Spiezio) will prevent them from pursuing players like Beltran, who is both younger than the others and plays a position of greater need. A healthy dose of skepticism the next time the M's float this stuff, gentlemen. Please.

* It may appear that my Ichiro! prediction for hits in the five games between Wednesday's Cleveland game and tommorow's game against Boston was a tad optimistic. But all is not lost -- I need Ichiro! to get three hits apiece in tonight's and tomorrow's games to prove my prediction skills. I expect that Bronson Arroyo may not have as much success against Ichiro! this time as he did the first time he faced him, Ichiro! has just about killed Sunday's starter Derek Lowe, and the BoSox' bullpen hasn't had a lot of success with Ichiro!, so all is not lost. A little quick math reveals that Ichiro! can break George Sisler's single-season hit record by batting .302 the rest of the way, or .468 to break the record in 154 games.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

3 reasons why the Dodgers won't sign Delgado

1) DePodesta will not be able to move Shawn Green and his $17M contract without paying at least $10M of it. Is it really worth paying $10M just to get rid of Green and then pay another $10M for Delgado?

2) DePodesta of all people is smart enough to realize that Delgado is on the wrong side of 30 and shouldn't be signed to an overblown contract. DePodesta inherited the bad Shawn Green contract.

3) The Dodgers will need to spend big money if they want to keep Beltre. I don't see them locking up additional money on the corner infield when they already have Green's $17M and Beltre's potiential $12-14M to deal with.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Ichiro Watch

Hits: 226
Games Remaining: 25
AB/G: 4.4
Projected ABs Remaining: 110
Hits/Average Needed to Break Record: 32, .292
Average Needed to Break Record in 154 Games: .429
Average Since July 18: .486
Hits/ Average Needed to Hit .400: 57, .518

Next Five Games' Pitching Probables:

(L) C. Lee, 5.48 ERA, 5.1 IP/ST, .274 BAA; IchiAVG: .333 (1-3)
(R) T. Wakefield, 4.67 ERA, 6.1 IP/ST, .263 BAA; IchiAVG: .250 (2-8)
(R) C. Schilling, 3.38 ERA, 7.0 IP/ST, .251 BAA; IchiAVG: .250 (1-4)
(R) B. Arroyo, 4.23 ERA, 6.0 IP/ST, .256 BAA; IchiAVG: .250 (1-4)
(R) D. Lowe, 5.15 ERA, 5.2 IP/ST, .292 BAA; IchiAVG: .500 (7-14)

Collective IchiAVG Against Cleveland Relievers: .294 (5-17)
Collective IchiAVG Against Boston Relievers: .472 (17-36)

Pete's Prediction for Hits Over Next 5 Games: 9, leaving 88 projected ABs to get 23 hits (.261) to break George Sisler's record, or 23 hits in 53 ABs (.434) to break the record in 154 games.

[Note: Okay, maybe that nine hits was a little optimistic. I almost said eight. Really.]


More Delgado Thinking

The team Jack mentions that I've seen most often linked to Delgado is the Dodgers, and I think they'll be interested if they can find the money and/or dump Shawn Green in the off-season.

That won't be easy, as I think Green is beginning his decline. He's slumped his way through most of the last two seasons, has seen his OBP and SLG (the components of most of his value, because he's never been a hitter for average -- he's only hit over .300 once, five years ago) erode, and is beginning to struggle against left-handed pitching. Although he has been better in the second half, he's hitting .262/.348/448 on the season, hardly numbers you want to see from your first baseman (where he has gotten 65% of his ABs this year). Why wouldn't the Dodgers be interested in improving at that position? Well, for one thing, Green makes $16.7M this year and a similar amount next year in his contract year. Hee Seop Choi makes close to the minimum, is hitting .198/.319/.302 after the All-Star Break, and only .253/.372/.452 on the season.

The Yankees will have interest, but their profligate spending over the last few years will finally complicate things. However, there is no question about their need at the position.

Whether Jason Giambi is healthy or not going into next season, there is no denying that his numbers began a slow decline in 2002 that began to gather more speed this year. Though still a dangerous hitter, the 2003 version of Giambi was 92 points worse than his peak (2001) in batting average, 65 points off his peak OBP, and 133 points off his peak SLG. That would be reason enough to worry even if he had held steady at that plateau this year . . . but he hasn't. Instead, he's lost another 29 points off his batting average, 53 points off his OBP, and 124 points off his SLG, while seemingly suffering every malady known to man. I think most people realize Tony Clark is done, at least unless he is hitting right-handed pitching (only .243 average, but an .889 OPS). John Olerud has had a moderately successful stint as a Yankee, but you wonder if he has interest in another year in Gotham at a significantly reduced salary. He and Clark don't make an effective platoon, either, since neither man hits left-handed pitching.

It seems to me that the Yankees are in the same boat as the Dodgers: if they could find a taker for even half of Giambi's monster salary ($13.8M next year, $21.8M in 2005, $24.8M in 2006, $21M in 2007, and a $5M buyout of a $22M otherwise owed for 2008), they might be interested. I don't think there will be any takers, and thankfully, even the Yankees have to have some limit to payroll dollars they can commit to aging players, so I agree with Jack that they aren't a likely shopper for Delgado's services.

I don't think the Red Sox, Orioles, or Braves will be players, either. Doug Mientkiewicz is under contract to the BoSox for $3.75M next year (and the club has an option at the same salary for 2006), and undoubtedly doesn't want David Ortiz to become a full-time DH if that means Manny Ramirez has to become a full-time leftfielder. The Orioles got burned with a lot of big signings that didn't result in contention in a tough division, and if they spend much this off-season, I think it will be on pitching. Rafael Palmeiro hasn't had much of a year, but he is probably a better bargain at $4.5M (club option) next year than Delgado would be for twice that. The Braves have been in salary-cutting mode for a couple of years now, and seem unlikely to chase the declining years of a star for near-star money.

The Mets might be a player. Except for some non-insured, deferred money, Mo Vaughn comes off the books after this year, they don't have any other logical candidates (except Mike Piazza, who has more ABs at 1B than catcher this year and seems finally ready to accept the position change), and that division seems as up for grabs as any in baseball. They have the money, and depending on Piazza's health and willingness/ability to become a full-time first baseman, the need.

If everything falls into place, the Mariners might have little competition for Delgado's services. I still think it would be a mistake to sign him, especially if the cost is four years. I wouldn't got there, even if the value of the entire contract is only $25M ($6.25M per). I think the Mariners should indicate interest for one year (or maybe a year and an option/buyout) if there is no competition/market for Delgado's services, then focus on more important priorities and come back to him only if and when he finds nothing better or longer. At some price point, though, despite their salary issues, the Yankees, Mets and Dodgers will consider this. If the Mariners get pushed into anything beyond a couple of years, or much above an average of $7M salary for Delgado, I think they are making a mistake.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Delgado thoughts

I remember reading John Hickey's article on Friday and nearly spitting out my coffee when I read his thoughts that Carlos Delgado "might" have to take a 25 % pay cut when he signs his next contract. I don't see Delgado getting the $60M over four years, but I've been wrong before. I think we need to start by figuring out what teams will even be vying for Delgado's services. Going through all 30 teams I came up with the following list of teams who might need a full time first baseman:

Yankees
Orioles
Devil Rays
Twins
Mariners
Braves
Marlins
Mets
Pirates
Dodgers
Giants


I reduce the list to teams which I think can afford at least $27M over 3 years:

Yankees
Orioles
Mariners
Mets
Dodgers
Braves???

Out of those teams, what is the lucklihood of each getting into the mix:

Yankees - Whether or not the Yanks are in or out, they will say they are in to drive up the price. If Giambi can't return, you have to think they are interested although starting pitching will be their priority.

Orioles - They have already invested heavily in Tejada and Lopez for offense. Like the Yankees they are going after pitching first.

Mets - I'm not sure that the sting of the Mo Vaughn contract hasn't gone away. Like the Yankees, they might act interested to drive the price up.

Dodgers - They are probably not in the mix at all. They like Green at first and Choi also deserves a chance. Why would they invest in Delgado.

Braves - They probably don't have the money. Besides, Adam LaRoche is making $300K.

In summary, I don't see much of a market for Delgado. I agree with Pete's post that he is probably somebody we should stay away from for $10M+, but there has to be some point where he is a good gamble for us. Four years at $25M sounds ridiculously low, but where else will Delgado get something like that?


Sunday, September 05, 2004

223

The Amazing Ichiro! went 5-5 yesterday, as all of you who didn't crawl under a rock for Labor Day Weekend already know.

To those who have suggested teams will not pitch to Ichiro!, and that he will see a lot more walks down the stretch, let me offer this quote from yesterday's pitcher, left-hander Mark Buehrle (against whom Ichiro! is now 9-20 lifetime):

"I threw the ball an inch off the ground, over his head and he still hit it. I even tried an eephus pitch. I can't get him out with my other stuff, so maybe that would work."

The only way you're gonna walk Ichiro! is if you throw four wide ones. Even then, you better make sure they're out of his reach.

There is simply no evidence that teams have tried to pitch around Ichiro! as he has gotten hotter in the second half (or at least, if they have, there is no evidence that it has worked). Ichiro!'s walk per plate appearance rate has actually declined in every month since June (his highest rate, at .094 BB/PA) -- .084 BB/PA in July, .050 BB/PA in August, and .058 so far in September. His walk rate from July on (.066) is not significantly different from his career walk rate (.061).

Ichiro's PA/G rate suggests he will get another 110-120 AB this season, even if he is walked at higher than his career high rate (.094 BB/G). With that many ABs, Ichiro! needs only to hit somewhere between .292 to .318 the rest of the way to break Sisler's record. While certainly improbable, I don't think you can even say .400 is completely out of the question. To reach .400, Ichiro! will have to hit somewhere between .504 and .509 the rest of the way (59 to 62 more hits, depending on how many ABs he gets). That seems impossible, but then again, Ichiro! has started off September hitting .647, and he has hit .490 since July 18, with each month after June being a bit hotter than the month before.

Ichiro! and Barry Bonds are the only players in baseball today that give me the feeling that nothing is impossible. I consider myself privileged to have seen both players play this historic season.


Saturday, September 04, 2004

Carlos Delgado?

I meant to post this yesterday, but didn't get to it. Edgar Martinez made his pitch for the M's to pursue Carlos Delgado in yesterday's P-I, a subject I thought worthy of comment.

USSM's Dave Cameron shared his thoughts on this recently, and while I am not as down on Delgado as Dave is, I mostly agree with his view that it would be a mistake to sign Delgado. Here are the pros and cons to signing Delgado, as I see it:

Pros:

Edgar summed up many of them in the P-I article. "If they asked me, I'd definitely recommend Carlos," Martinez said. "He's got great power, he's a great hitter and left-handed hitters with power in Safeco Field do well. If anyone could come to Safeco and do well, Carlos could. He's the kind of guy who wants to play every day. He's great with younger players. He's great in the clubhouse. He's just a great teammate. He'd be a great choice, for sure."

I can't vouch for the intanglibles (though I'm sure if Edgar's evaluation is the consensus opinion, that will weigh heavily with the Mariners front office), but the rest is true. Delgado has had an off year this year (.249/.351/.501 in 369 AB, with 25 HR/43 XBH and 77 RBI), but some of that has been attributable to injury. Delgado came out of Spring Training with a nagging knee injury that bothered him right up to the point where he pulled a rib cage muscle that cost him more than a month on the DL. Since his return in mid- July, he has been much better, and hit .317/.411/.653 in August. After his MVP-runner up season in 2003, it is difficult to make the case that this season represents the beginning of his decline.

Delgado has always loved to hit in Safeco Field, too. His career line in Safeco, going into this season: in 72 AB, .389/.476/.792, with 9 doubles, a triple, and 6 home runs among his 28 hits and 14 RBI. Of course, he won't get to face Mariner pitching anymore, so take that with a grain of salt . . . but at least his Safeco numbers don't throw up a red flag.

Defensively, though not great, Delgado has improved in recent years. According to BP, he's played to a 106 Rate2 this year, a 97 last year, and was a 108 in 2002. For his career, he's a 99 -- about average -- and recent years suggest he's playing to at least that level or better now. The scouting report says he is better going to his left than his right, which is fine because Bret Boone has more than enough range to his left to cover Delgado's more limited range to his right. Certainly, Delgado is an improvement defensively over Bucky Jacobsen, and no worse than any other option the M's currently have at 1B.

Cons:

To me, the biggest reason to avoid Carlos Delgado is his age, coupled with the fact that I don't think you can realistically expect the Mariners to seriously contend for at least the next year or two. I do expect them to be better next year, but there are simply too many holes to fill, and too many that will have to be filled with very young players, to expect peak performance from the team as a whole.

Delgado will turn 33 next June. The Bill James Aging Pattern study (which I am still in the process of updating) I referred to in one of my first posts here suggests that on average you should expect a 33-year old player to play to 82% of his peak value (measured by Win Shares), a 34-year old player to play to 72% of his peak value, and at 35, to 65% of his peak value. Granted, Delgado's two best seasons (2000's .344/.470/.664 and 2003's .302/.426/.593, the combination of which represents a .323/.448/.629 over 1139 AB, with 180 XBH representing about 49% of his hits) are absolutely monster, but any GM signing Delgado would have to expect that they will be getting something between 65% and 80% of that player -- 73% of that player, over the life of a three-year deal. This is what you can expect, on average:

Year Expected % Decline From 2000 Peak
2005 18% .282/.385/.544
2006 28% .247/.338/.478
2007 35% .224/.306/.431

Obviously, as is true with anything representing an average, Delgado's actual performance might end up differing significantly -- for either the worse or the better -- but when you are considering a prospective signing, this is as good a guide as any. I actually think these projections are low (absent injuries, ala this year), but I would use them rather than any rose-colored, Bavasi-esque projection that players are almost indefinitely capable of repeating peak level performance going forward.

The downside and upside can be seen in the career paths of BP's PECOTA most similar players to Delgado: Boog Powell and Fred McGriff. Powell actually improved in his age 33 season over his age 32 year, but fell off a cliff after that. McGriff fared better -- with some notable exceptions, he declined modestly from his peak and mostly stayed there until he hit his age 39 season. How much are you willing to risk in a rebuilding phase to find out which path Delgado takes?

The other major reason not to sign Delgado is the money it will likely take. John Hickey speculated that Delgado may have to take a 25% salary cut or more from the $19.7M he made this year. While I think Hickey is still far too high (a 25% cut from Delgado's 2004 salary would still leave him making nearly $15M in his age 33 year, while Vladimir Guerrero couldn't get that last year entering his peak), I would expect Delgado to be looking for 3 years, $30-$36M minimum, and I don't expect he'll have to settle for much under $9-$10M per season.

So I ask you, is this where you want to spend your free agent dollars? The only year I would expect Delgado to approach a performance that would justify this salary is 2005, which also happens to be the season where I would least expect his performance might make the difference one way or the other. For that reason alone, I would pass.

The only way I would consider signing Delgado is if the market for him is softer than I expect both in terms of dollars per season and contract length. I wouldn't go higher than $10M in 2004, or longer than two years with a buy-out club option in the 2nd, or possibly a threeyear deal with a Guardado-esque mutual option in the second year and a club option/buyout for the third. The base salary would have to decline by at least $1M each year, too, and the buyouts would have to be no more than $1M.

The Mariners will be much better off if they focus on very good players entering their prime, particularly if they play defensive positions (well) where the kind of offensive production they offer is more rare.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Apathy?

Jack wrote:

"Starting at first base today and batting ninth is William Paul Bloomquist who possesses an OPS of 589 which is incidently lower than the OBP of Barry Bonds. . . . Can Edgar not play first or is Bloomquist's defense at first so much better than Edgar's that we accept the tradeoff? Are we saving Edgar for the playoffs? We have over 10 spots open on the roster. Would it be wrong to call up Zapp for one of those spots?"

In response, a couple of points:

(1) Although the magic number is down to one, the Rainiers are still not mathematically eliminated from capturing a tie for first place in the PCL's Northern Division. I don't think you'll see the Mariners expand the roster until after the Rainiers are eliminated, and possibly not until after their season is finished (next Monday) even if they are eliminated.

(2) You know I agree with you about bringing up A.J. Zapp -- who BTW, with a three-run homer last night became the first Tacoma player since 1968 to drive in 100 runs in a season last night and set a new PCL record for strikeouts (176) -- but he's not on the 40-man roster. Even with the expanded rosters in September, I believe the call-ups have to be on the 40-man roster. This wouldn't be all that hard to achieve (somebody who has been shut down like Chris Snelling, Justin Leone, or any of about a half dozen pitchers, could be moved to the 60-day DL and replaced with Zapp), and it appears that Zapp needs to see this kind of interest in order to stay with the organization next year.

As I said yesterday, I am all for doing this. However, the Mariners appear to be spooked by all the strikeouts, ala Mike Cameron, despite an otherwise productive season. Once again, the refusal to look and production and instead focus on one particular kind of out despite ability to get on base and create runs.

The last-linked article mentions that the Mariners think Zapp could be a good hitter for average if he cut back on the strikeouts (his average on balls in play is .459). That's a debatable point -- the adjustments he makes for greater contact might also result in more weak grounders and such -- but it seems reasonable to assume he would improve some by making better contact. Benny Looper mentions a hole in Zapp's swing (up and in) that would likely be exploited in MLB. But, like Clint Nageotte seeing the need to develop his change-up, what better way to convince Zapp of this than to let that happen in a September cup-of-coffee, which also would allow the Mariners to evaluate whether a stop-gap, placeholder platoon of Zapp and Bucky Jacobsen might work next year?

(2) Melvin has said that whether Edgar plays first is Edgar's call, but despite indications from Edgar that he wouldn't mind, Melvin says he couldn't live with himself if Edgar got injured playing first. Why? What's left to play for? As Jack mentioned, if you are trying to win, you don't play Willie Bloomquist over Edgar. Bloomquist is incapable of playing enough defense at first to overcome the difference in offense between these two. But . . . well, Melvin is enamored with Wee Willie. I don't think this is going to change.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Melvin has given up

It doesn't bother me so much if the Mariners lose 100 games. They lost 98 games in 1992, but I never really felt like they gave up. They just weren't very talented and they didn't have any money to spend, but I don't remember leaving the Kingdome very often with the gut feeling that we weren't attempting to win.

Starting at first base today and batting ninth is William Paul Bloomquist who possesses an OPS of 589 which is incidently lower than the OBP of Barry Bonds. As you can see from THIS CHART which displays the OPS for first basemen for all 30 major league teams. The WORST team on the chart is the Mets with a 713 OPS. I remind you that Bloomquist is 589. Can Edgar not play first or is Bloomquist's defense at first so much better than Edgar's that we accept the tradeoff? Are we saving Edgar for the playoffs? We have over 10 spots open on the roster. Would it be wrong to call up Zapp for one of those spots?

The worst part of this season to me isn't the poor offseason free agent signings or the losing. The worst part is that we have apparently given up early.

To Pitch to Him or Not to Pitch to Him

Just as I posted my thoughts about why it is stupid to intentionally walk Ichiro!, the Blue Jays did exactly that in the 7th inning last night. I stand by my comments, though; the Blue Jays faced a situation that I explained was rare -- facing Ichiro with a runner on third base (and two outs, even rarer).

I should have clarified my comments, though. YES, the fact that runners hitting behind Ichiro! aren't doing much (collectively, the #2 hitters are .262/.337/.409, the #3 hitters are .287/.378/.502, and the #4 hitters are .258/.337/.478 on the season, which actually isn't all that bad and much better than it was not long ago) would make it more likely that an opposing manager would walk Ichiro! under any circumstances, but particularly if one or more of the 7-8-9 hitters are on base ahead of him. But the fact that Ichiro is almost exclusively a singles hitter, and even in his best stretch will make an out 40-50% of the time, has to give a manager pause before giving him first base for free -- particularly since Ichiro! is also a threat to steal. Sure you would rather face Randy Winn, Bret Boone, or Raul Ibanez than Ichiro!, but if there is nobody in scoring position (which is true for Ichiro! more than 80% of the time) and he is a threat to be on second shortly after you put him on, is that a situation in which you want to put your pitcher? I don't think so. Also, Winn has hit .298/.356/.431, Boone .279/.335/.464, and Ibanez .302/.360/.426 after the All-Star Break. It is a far riskier proposition to put Ichiro! on than it would appear at first glance.

Also, since it seems Jack is in the Ichiro!-doubter camp, I'll explain why I also don't think the quality of pitching the Mariners are going to face down the stretch will necessarily slow Ichiro! down (or at least not enough to prevent him from a good shot at the hit record). Jack's reasoning is sound -- it's based on opponents batting average against the teams the Mariners will face -- but like all arguments based on team averages, is vulnerable to the vagaries of individual performance and variation.

The next three pitchers the Mariners face are right-handers Justin Miller (5.26 ERA, .310 BAA), Jon Garland (4.91 ERA, .266 BAA; Ichiro is 5-14 against), and Mark Buehrle (4.13 ERA, .287 BAA; Ichiro is 5-16 against). After that, they will likely face either Freddy Garcia (against whom Ichiro! is 2-3 and we all know can be either very good or very bad), or one of two right-handed rookies who haven't faced Ichiro! but have ERAs well over 7.00 and BAAs over.325. Jack's assumption that Ichiro! can average two hits a game against the likes of these guys seems reasonable to me given who he is facing and the groove he's in.

Next comes Cleveland. I don't know who the probables are for that series, but Ichiro is a collective 17-42 (.405) against Cleveland's top four pitchers. He should be able to knock them about for 2 hits a game, too. Four games against the BoSox will be a bit of a chore. Ichiro! hits their starters to the tune of .289 collectively -- though he loves to hit Derek Lowe (7-14). Anaheim pitchers, who he'll face seven more times, are a mixed bag. Ichiro! hits them collectively at .282, but he mashes Bartolo Colon (.375, 9-24) and Aaron Sele (.588, 10-17) while struggling against Kelvim Escobar (.174, 4-23) and John Lackey (.200, 5-25). My guess is he'll move toward the mean some against the latter two, and continue to mash the former two.

Ichiro! has hit surprisingly well against Oakland's starters. He's 33-79 (.418) career against Mulder and Zito combined. He's hit Mark Redman well (8-21, .381). He's only struggled against Tim Hudson (2-11, .208) and Rich Harden (0-4) in relatively few ABs. I don't think the seven games against Oakland will be as big an issue as you would guess, and I doubt that the Oakland brain trust will be much into giving away bases to avoid him, either. That leaves only Texas for three games. With all their injuries, it is hard to know who they will throw at the Mariners, but none of them except Kenny Rogers (6-24, .250) and Chan Ho Park (3-15, .200) has had much success against Ichiro!, who has hit Ryan Drese and R. A. Dickey to the tune of .500, John Wasdin .444, and Colby Lewis .421. These guys don't seem likely to slow Ichiro! either.

Ichiro! is a career .338 hitter who has hit .466 since the All-Star Break. His current pace suggests he'll get 136 more ABs in which to get the 44 hits he needs to break the record. That's only .324, well within what I would expect him to do. Even if you think he'll lose 16 of those ABs to fewer ABs and/or intentional or semi-intentional walks -- which I think is unlikely -- he still would need only to hit slightly worse than his seasonal pace (.367) to get the record.

I'm not going to come out and say Ichiro! is going to set the record. There are too many things that could happen to prevent that, and I don't want to jinx him. I will say this, though: I wouldn't bet against him.

A.J. Zaaaapp!

The Tacoma Rainiers are floundering to the finish of the PCL season, their roster decimated by the needs of the Big Club. They've 5 of their last 6, and 7 of their last ten, while the Portland Beavers have won 7 in a row to catch and pass the Rainiers for 1st place in the Northern Division of the Pacific Conference of the PCL. The Beavers have turned a 2-game deficit when they came to Tacoma last weekend into a 4-game lead, with 5 games remaining for both teams.

There has been a bright spot for the Rainiers of late, though. A. J. Zapp has been on an absolute tear. Since I last went to a Rainiers game on August 18 (when he was hitting .284), Zapp has gone 19-50 (.380) with 4 doubles, 5 HR (that's a .760 SLG, folks), 11 runs, and 16 RBI. He's now hitting .294/.367/.528 as a left-handed hitting first baseman. Baseball Prospectus projects his major league equivalent average at .239, which is a helluva lot better than Scott Spiezio.

In that time, Zapp has had a couple of really special games. On August 20, he went 5-5 with a double, two home runs (a Grand Slam and a 2-run bomb), and nine runs batted in against Fresno. Then, last night, Zapp became the first man to hit a home run over the 29-foot high center field wall in the 44-year history of Cheney Stadium. That wall is not only really high, it is really, really far away -- 425 feet from home plate. That is just a MONSTER shot -- I have my doubts about whether the estimated 505 feet the ball traveled is quite a bit too low.

Zapp still strikes out way too much (174 times this season), but he's had quite a season for Tacoma -- as he did for San Antonio the year before. He's quite a bit better than Bucky Jacobsen defensively, and might make a decent platoon with the right-handed hitting Jacobsen next year. He's not on the 40-man roster, but you've got to think he's earned a September call-up, not to mention a reasonable chance to compete for a spot on the 25-man next Spring, if the Mariners look to positions other than 1B to fill their offensive needs (as they should).

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

More Thoughts on Bell and Ichiro!

No argument from me that the team would be better off if they had kept David Bell and never gone down the Jeff Cirillo-Kevin Jarvis-Scott Spiezio road. I only suggested it wouldn't have been a good idea to give him $9M over three years when his market value was about $1.5M over one year, and if he had stuck around, the itch to improve at that position (as well as left field) would have continued unabated, and appropriately so.

I might argue (and did) that it was foreseeable at the time that Cirillo would not be the player he was in Milwaukee, given both his age and the decline in his road splits he had already begun to experience in Colorado, but nobody -- at least nobody telling the truth -- could say that they expected him to be as bad as he was, or that he would be a lesser player than Bell had been. I just thought that if Scott Rolen had been willing to waive his no-trade to come here in a trade in July of 2001 (that's a big "if," but there were some indications at the time that he would have, though his preference was to stay in the National League), I thought it would have been better to pay a steeper price to acquire Rolen entering his prime (26 at the time) than Cirillo entering his decline, but nobody asked me for my opinion (not that that stops me from offering it). I also agree with you that acquiring Spiezio -- especially to play third base -- was foreseeably foolish. After all, Spiezio was entering his age 31 year -- you're no longer getting this guy's prime years -- and he was, going into this season, a career 98 OPS+ hitter and at best an average fielder who would be playing out of position. That this front office doesn't seem to see a difference between 3-year contracts offered to age 32-ish guys like Raul Ibanez, Spiezio, and Randy Winn while balking at only slightly higher and/or longer-length contracts to guys entering their prime (like Miguel Tejada last offseason, or perhaps Carlos Beltran or Adrian Beltre this offseason) is disturbing. I am all for fiscal prudence, but rebuilding will require some risk-taking and there is a big difference in the return on your investment you can expect from the latter compared to the former. There just is.

Now, on to another subject. Ichiro! just got his second hit of tonight's ballgame, and now needs 44 hits in 30+ games to beat George Sisler's season-record for hits. At his current season's pace for AB/G, that will only require him to hit somewhere between .330 and .340 the rest of the way to get there.

Some people are suggesting now that Ichiro! won't be able to break the record because teams in the playoff hunt will not pitch to him. I just want to go on record saying I think that is complete BS. First, if you don't give him much in the strike zone to hit, Ichiro! will swing at it anyway. Secondly, if these folks ("The Groz" being prominent among them) think teams will intentionally walk Ichiro!, may I ask why you would walk a guy who has 181 singles among his 215 hits? If the chances are roughly 37% that Ichiro! will get a hit (a figure only increased by about four percentage points by bases on balls), and only about 16% of those his hits will go for extra bases, why give him a 100% chance of a base for free? How often does Ichiro! come to the plate with runners in scoring position? Not much -- only 98 times all year going into tonight's game, about 17% of his ABs. Take a look at the team splits for the 7-8-9 hitters and the 2-3-4 hitters hitting around Ichiro! There just isn't much reason to pitch around him, because he can't hurt you much by himself and isn't getting much help. I mean, how often would you expect a .372 leadoff hitter with 215 hits good speed to score only 84 runs?

Ichiro! will get his chances. The bigger threat to his record chase is facing some of the league's best pitching down the stretch (the teams the Mariners face the rest of the way rank 11, 12, 13, 1, 4, 2, & 8 in batting average against, respectively), but right now, I think Ichiro! can hit anybody.

Jack's Ichiro! prediction

Ichiro fininshed the month of August with 212 hits for the season on his quest for 258 leaving him 46 hits short heading into tonight's game. Assuming that he averages 4.4 at bats per game he would need to go 46 for 136 putting him at a .338 clip for the month of September. Ichiro! hit for a .432 clip in July and a .463 clip in August which makes .338 appear to be a piece of cake. But just to be sure, let's look at the numbers:

Ichiro has hit .283 for the month of September in his American professional career. It's speculated all over that Ichiro wears down in September. I don't know that I buy that theory, although I do think it's possible that Ichiro plays worse in cooler weather since he also posts a .298 average in April. A typical Ichiro September would produce 39 hits putting him 7 short of his goal.

The next 7 games are against Toronto, the White Sox, and Cleveland. Opposing teams hit 274 against these three teams which is amongst the worst in the league. In my opinion he needs 14 hits in those 7 games. That comes out to two hits per game. It sounds like a lot right now, but the schedule gets scary after that. 18 of the 24 remaining games after that are against the Angels, Red Sox, and A's who own three of the top four spots in AL batting average against. I think he would be fortunate with 18 hits in those 18 games keeping in mind that Schilling and Pedro are sure to pitch and Hudson, Mulder, and Harden are pitching lights out lately. Even Zito seems to be back as the Oakland staff seems to have found life in August. All three of these teams are contending, and will not be giving in to Ichiro because more than Ichiro needs the hit, these teams need to win. The remaining six games are against Texas who are in the middle of the pack in batting average against. Since these games are in the last two weeks of the season, the Rangers may or may not be still in contention which could have a lot to say on how they pitch to Ichiro. In my opinion these are the make and break games for the record. I think that Ichiro will get between 9 and 12 hits during these games, but I am leaning on the low side toward nine.

To recap my prediction:

Ichiro needs 46 hits to break George Sisler's record.

Ichiro will get 14 hits in the next seven games against the weak pitching of the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Indians.

Ichiro will get 18 hits in the 18 games against the strong pitching of Oakland, Boston and Anaheim.

Ichiro will get 9 hits in the six games against the Rangers.

This adds up to 41 hits which is 4 shy of tying the record and 5 shy of breaking it.