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.


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