Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Ahhh, Pitching Injuries

Good comments on Pineiro, Jack.  The Mariners have a dubious record of over-using pitchers, and have a full stable of injured pitchers to prove it.  Steve from the Mariners Wheelhouse did a great piece on how the Mariners have bungled pitcher development and incurred unnecessary injuries at a rate that is hard to ascribe simply to chance.

I've always thought that overall pitch count was less important than high pitch counts per inning, which have always seemed to me like they would be more taxing and tiring than just a high cumulative total.  While I don't know how to find data on how often Mariners pitchers have had innings where they throw more than, say, 25 pitches, I do know that they are among the worst in baseball in things like pitches per batter faced (P/PA) and pitches per inning pitched (P/IP).  Among 547 men who have appeared as a pitcher this year in MLB thus far, here are where Mariners pitchers rank (a lower ranked number is bad, obviously):

PITCHER            P/PA (RANK)          P/IP (RANK)
Rafael Soriano     4.1 (62)             28.5 (12) 
Travis Blackley    4.1 (64)             21.3 (32)
George Sherrill    4.2 (45)             21.0 (34)
Matt Thornton      4.2 (54)             20.2 (49)
Clint Nageotte     3.8 (237)            18.8 (108)
Mike Myers         4.1 (84)             18.4 (122)
Shiggy Hasegawa    3.9 (198)            17.5 (187)
Ron Villone        4.0 (131)            17.3 (204)   
J.J. Putz          3.7 (316)            16.9 (250)
Jamie Moyer        3.9 (157)            16.8 (262)
Bobby Madritsch    3.4 (505)            16.3 (321)
Ryan Franklin      3.7 (339)            16.2 (323)
Joel Pineiro       3.8 (292)            16.0 (365)
Julio Mateo        3.6 (396)            15.7 (396)
Freddy Garcia      3.7 (353)            15.3 (454)
Eddie Guardado     3.9 (165)            14.7 (498)
To make matters worse, the M's have high pitch counts too, with six pitcherson their staff (or who spent most of the year on their staff) among the highest pitch counts in MLB, including a RELIEVER and a guy who hasn't pitched in the Bigs in almost two months (Pineiro is #5 with 2246 pitches, Garcia is #15 with 2162, Moyer is #38 with 2068, Franklin is #63 with 1883, Villone is #137 with 1142, and Meche is #168 with 889).

I don't know that much can be done about this.  You would hope that with good coaching (and playing in what's considered a pitcher's park), Mariner pitchers would challenge hitters more and throw fewer pitches than this, but I tend to think this is a performance issue rather than a coaching issue.  From a manager's perspective, though, if you don't want to burn these guys out, I think you want to watch high pitch-count innings and maybe let guys who do that more often throw fewer pitches overall.   Particularly when you see guys who have arguably been over-used become ineffective (like Meche) or hurt (like Pineiro -- who BTW was in the top 16 pitchers in Pitching Abuse Points before he was injured, according to Baseball Prospectus), and when you have an organization-wide epidemic of pitching injuries. 

It wouldn't hurt to correct mechanical issues (like pitching in front of the rubber) that might be contributing to high pitch counts, though.  Yeah, that might be a good idea.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Pineiro Update

FOX Sports has changed their story and now report that the injury does not require ligament-transplant surgery.   This doesn't mean that the news on Piniero isn't ominous on the day after Piniero pitched his best game of the year.  While waiting at the bus stop early this morning I read the following blurb in the morning rag:

     Pineiro displayed some discomfort near the end of his eight innings of work, gingerly rotating his pitching arm on the mound.  Admittedly, he felt tightness after delivering a changeup, two pitches before he was done.  He shrugged it off.
     "I kept on pitching," he said.  "I'm not worried,"
I was worried.

Should this be surprising?  Let's review what we know:

  1. In 2003 as a 24 year old who had never started more than 30 games in a season, he was seventh in the American League in pitches thrown.
  2. That same season Piniero was allowed to throw 5 games with pitch counts of over 120 including 125 and 129 pitch count games in September.  This kind of workload is alarming for any pitcher not named Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, or Livan Hernandez.  ( For further information on pitcher abuse please see Rany Jazayerli's excellent study on the effect of high pitch counts on young pitchers from the 2002 Baseball Prospectus.)
  3. In 2004 in his second full season as a starter, Piniero is currently 3rd in the league in pitches tossed.

But that's not all.  Piniero was quoted in Sunday's Seattle Times:

"It's been little things.   For instance, in that last game[against Boston] I didn't have much of anything so I wound up trying to compensate by overthrowing".

That doesn't sound good to me.  But the real kicker came in the same Sunday Seattle Times article:

"When Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price checked the film, he found that Piniero was putting his right foot about 3 inches in front of the rubber. 

"You don't usually look down to see where your foot is" Piniero said.  "I'm like almost everyone else, I use the rubber to drive off to throw a pitch.  And here I was not using it and didn't even realize it."

"It doesn't work that way.  It throws everything off.  One thing to try to do is to be consistent in your mechanics.  It was crazy to be off the rubber like that, but I hope that's what was making me not pitch good."

Now I am not a pitching coach.  Not even close.  But shouldn't somebody have noticed this?  We have a pitcher who has a noticeable decrease in velocity and effectiveness this season compared to his first two seasons in the majors, and we are finally checking his mechanics at the end of July, all the while allowing him to throw more pitches than all but two pitchers in the league?

Pineiro Blows Up

Fox Sports' (and The Sporting News') Ken Rosenthal reports that Joel Pineiro has a torn elbow ligament and "could" face ligament-replacement surgery that would sideline him for 12-18 months.  The Mariners have not yet confirmed this, but if true, this is a MAJOR blow to any attempt by the M's to buy their way back into contention next offseason.  Pineiro will have to be replaced with a middle-of-the-rotation guy, and I think the M's already thought they needed one of those.  Paying two pitchers for the rotation will put a damper on what else they can do, particularly with all the penny-pinching noises still emanating from the Mariners' front office.  [Notice I did not say I don't think the M's have the money to do all they need to.   I believe they do, but probably will not.  They will cry "budget" and aim low with the excuse that they need to spend what money they have across the board, to fill many holes, and we will end up with a lot of Spiezio/Ibanez type signings rather than any serious attempt at Beltran-level guys.]

More thoughts on this later.  One thing I know for sure, though . . . Jamie Moyer, if ever he was going anywhere else, isn't now.

Whither Sweeney . . .

Well, first let's hope we're talking about Mike Sweeney and not Mark Sweeney -- though the latter actually has slightly better (though Coors-enhanced) numbers for about 5% of the price, and he's left-handed. 

I kid because I care, Jack.

Although I doubt the veracity of this rumor (Royals GM Allard Baird was quoted as saying that "he owes it to Sweeney to see if he can find a home for him with a contender," which doesn't exactly sound like the Mariners), there is no question that Jack's right about Sweeney.  It's even worse than he said: if Sweeney is traded, the $11M per year he is owed from 2005-2007 would increase to $12.5M per year.  That's the same money Vladimir Guerrero will make over the same time (although he will get a minimum of $17.M more after that, in the form of $14.5M in 2008 and at least $3M buyout in lieu of a $15M salary in 2009 . . . but we're talking about Vladimir Guerrero  here, who's 28 and a helluva  lot better than Mike Sweeney).  Miguel Tejada, the guy the M's balked at last winter and most people thought the Orioles overpaid to get, will make less and put up better numbers through his (upcoming, he's 28) prime than Sweeney did in his (past) prime.

To me, this is exactly the kind of deal the M's have stumbled over in the past.  They're almost like the bad fantasy owner who catches on to the fact that a player is pretty good after  he has already begun the decline from his peak.  The Mariners look at Sweeney, and they think he can repeat, in his age 32-34 years, the run he put together from 1999 to 2002, his 26-29 years.  I am in the process of updating Bill James' "Aging Patterns" study that I referred to in a post a couple of weeks ago, but trust me, that very rarely happens.  Some guys have one year during this age span where they approximate something resembling their peak, but the chance of Sweeney performing to the level of his contract for more than 3-6 months out of three years is somewhere between slim and none. 

This is especially so because Sweeney has already suffered a serious injury and has not seen his performance recover.  Before wrenching his neck (when his teammates apparently slapped his head too hard after a game-winning hit against the Giants on Father's Day) last year -- an injury that cost him six weeks -- Sweeney was putting up what had been (for him) typical numbers: .321/.440/.540.  After he came back, he hit only .260/.325/.379 with only 12 XBH.  He was simply not the same hitter he was before the injury.  Over the off-season, Sweeney reportedly opted against surgery so that he could be ready for this season, but he has not returned to previous form.  He's hitting .289/.344/.503 -- not bad numbers (though probably inflated a bit by the Royals' home park), but not $12.5M per year over three years kinds of numbers, and the age/injury issues have  to give any reasonably competent GM pause to consider that he will never again be the same player he once was. 

That the Mariners are consistently  fooled on exactly these kinds of things is the most distressing thing about being a Mariners fan.  Forget about giving up Gil Meche (although I question the wisdom of trading up a 25-year old pitcher with 70+ ML starts and an over-.500 record -- not to mention the kind of stuff scouts drool over -- for aging hitting, no matter how big Meche's current struggles are), it's just a bad idea to acquire somebody like Sweeney and the contract that comes with him, no matter who we give up.   

Sunday, July 25, 2004

runs standings

Again we have surpassed the Brewers for 28th place on the MLB run list.  Here are up to date standings on where we are at and see who we are going to pass next: 

Rank Team    Runs  Runs Behind
29   Brewers   400        --

28   Mariners  404        4

27   D'Backs    406         6

26   Royals      410        10

25   Marlins    414         14

24   Mets         422        22 

23   D'Rays      430       30

22   Blue Jays 431        31

21   Padres      437        37

Sunday funnies

While perusing the Sunday papers this morning, I ran across the following tidbit in the Akron-Beacon Journal:

ANY MINUTE? -- An American League source believes that Kansas City first baseman/DH Mark Sweeney is on the verge of being traded to the Mariners for Gil Meche and one or two minor-leaguers.
What are some of the facts that we already know:

1)  Sweeney is owed (at least) $11 M per season for 2005, 2006 and 2007.
2)  Sweeney will be 32 years old next year.
3)  Sweeney has a history of back problems limiting him to 126 games in 2002 and 108 games in 2003.  He has already missed 10 games this year.
4)  Sweeney's back problems limits his ability to play 1B full time making him a 1B/DH when/if healthy.
5)  Sweeney is unhappy in the DH role.
6)  After posting OPS numbers of 916 and 980 in 2001 and 2002 he has declined to an 858 OPS each of the last two years.

If this is even being considered, what can Bavesi be thinking?  Acquring another over-priced declining player on the wrong side of 30 is the last thing we should be thinking about.  Add another one of these players to the list of Spiezio, Ibanez,  Cirillo, Aurilia.  The front office simply isn't learning from their mistakes. 

Also, why does this deal take several minor leaguers to complete?  Baird would love to get out of Sweeney's contract! 

What's the next rumor?  Giambi to the Mariners for Gil Meche?  Maybe Meche to the Indians for Vizquel?  How about Meche to the Mets for Mo Vaughn?

New paper -  The LA Times (you need a subscription, but it's free)

After Scott Spiezio rejected the Angels' offer of a bench job, the Seattle Mariners signed him as a starting infielder, for three years and $9 million. Although Spiezio entered Friday's game hitting .211, Seattle General Manager Bill Bavasi would not say he made a poor investment."You can't say that yet. It's a three-year deal," Bavasi said.Bavasi said Spiezio would be Seattle's first baseman next season. In this last-place season, the Mariners have cut shortstop Rich Aurilia and first baseman John Olerud, and second baseman Bret Boone and designated hitter Edgar Martinez were hitting below .250 before Friday's game. "We've had failures in other spots that were supposed to be more productive," Bavasi said. "He was brought here to be an everyday player, not to carry the club. Guys like him and [Raul] Ibanez have been trying to carry the club when they're not supposed to."

Let's read between the lines a little here:

1)  Spiezio is not a very good player, because he has taken it upon himself to carry the club when others around him who have supposed to have carried the club such as Boone, Edgar, Olerud, Aurilia have failed.

2)  Spiezio will be 32 next year and has a lifetime OPS of 750.  This is our idea of the numbers we are looking for from our first baseman of the future.  Let's forget about the fact that a 750 OPS from our first baseman would rank just above John Olerud.  This is our idea of a sound three year investment.

or possibly:

3)  Here we have a solid corner infielder who has failed this year because he has tried to do too much.  The Angels could use a 3B for the stretch run and Speizio is practically a folk hero (how can these things be only $20) in Anaheim.  Let's throw a bone to the LA Times and see if we can't unload a bad contract for say....Ramon Ortiz?  Nah...too good to be true.


Friday, July 23, 2004

The willie watch

With his 0-2 tonight, Dan is now slugging .200 for the month of July to go with a .212 on-base percentage.  A 412 OPS ranks him 318th out of 328 players with at least 25 at bats in July.  In June he ranked 343 out of 368.  Mike Restovich sounds pretty good to me right now.

Regarding Pete's post about Hole-Bert Cabrera's beef with home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, this is the way I saw it from my vantage point behind the third base dugout.  Barry Zito tossed a slow curve ball,  as he so often does, in the dirt for a ball.  Cabrera asked Cuzzi to take a look at the ball and Cuzzi refused.  After yelling at Cuzzi for awhile, Cabrera looked into the dugout for a little help only to find B0-Mel utterly confused with the situation at hand.  It took some convincing by Hole-Bert to get B0-Mel out of the dugout to help plead the case, although I was never fully convinced that Bo-Mel got the full jest of what it was he was arguing about.   It seems as though this was another example of an umpire showing up a player and making a point that the man in blue is above the game.  I wonder if the same situation would have existed had Alex Rodriguez been the batter and Travis Blackley had been the pitcher.

The Brewers scored 7 runs tonight to our 2 which puts us back in 29th place in runs scored.

Of course Pete is correct about Ichiro stealing 3rd with nobody out.  I am haunted by the thoughts of Chuck Armstrong a few weeks ago, who insinuated that the Mariners make decisions based on fan polls.  Many of these poll people are women and families who may not make the best sound choices.   What they may or may not want to see may or may not be best for the team or the best choices for scoring runs and winning ball games.  Many of the fans want to see Ichiro steal bases.  Is it advantageous for the M's to send Ichiro in ways other than for scoring runs and winning ball games? 

Speaking of stolen bases and Ichiro, it seems that Ichiro stole a base tonight on a 3-0 count.  Niehaus, who is always the master of the understatement, said that he didn't think he had EVER seen that happen before.  Well Dave...Ichiro did it once last year...once the year before...and twice the  year before that.  Oh wait...Randy Winn also did it this year.

Speaking of 3-0 counts, the M's are 3 for 6 with 86 walks on 3-0 counts.  ( Dan Wilson is 0 for 2.)   Incidently, the Red Sox are 8-9 on 3-0 counts with 5 doubles and 2 homers.  Wow!



Thursday, July 22, 2004

We're # 28!

A bit of good news today.  We have moved past the mighty Brewers for sole possession of 28th for total runs scored and we are within striking distance of the Diamondbacks and Royals.

By my calculations Dan Wilson now has a .214 slugging percentage for the month of July.  Thank goodness "he hits the ball with authority" (according to Shane O'neill).

Over the last 7 days we are 2nd in the majors in Runs Created despite playing some good teams.  It might not seem like much now, but it's a baby step...



Bucky Jacobsen -- The Mountain Man of The Power Valley

All hail Bucky Jacobsen, the Mountain Man of The Power Valley.  Although heading into Wednesday's game Bucky was one for his last nine (a single in the 8th against Boston on Monday) and would stretch that to 1-for-his-last-12 before his 10th inning blast to win the game, he comes out of this game looking like God's Gift to the Mariners, winning games and hitting .333/.500/.762.  Yes, pitchers are pitching him (and Justin Leone) much smarter, and he's going to struggle some, but he's giving the Mariners something they've lacked all year -- a personality fans can relate to, and a Big Bat threat.  That he is doing so while showing patience at the plate is very refreshing.

I went to this game with my seven-year-old son, who is spending all day every day this week playing baseball.  Both Travis Blackley (51 strikes, 42 balls, 43 Game Score) and Barry Zito (62 strikes, 44 balls, 30 Game Score) were far from having their best stuff, and this game took forever to play, so we had to leave before the 8th (10:00 PM, roughly) so my boy could get some sleep, but I managed to catch the 10th on TV at home.  This was an entertaining game, on a beautiful night.

A couple of random thoughts:

* What the heck was Jolbert Cabrera arguing about during his AB in the 3rd?  I didn't see all of it, but he appeared to be talking (animatedly) to somebody in the Mariner dugout rather than the umpire . . . I just couldn't figure it out.

* Why is Ichiro attempting to steal third in the 4th inning when he is already in scoring position on second and his team is up 5-3 with nobody out, on a 0-0 count with the team's second-hottest hitter for the month up to bat?  Granted, from my perspective, it looked like Ichiro beat the tag (and I booed lustily), but that's not smart baseball. 

If you look at this year's Expected Run Matrix and Situational Run Probabilities reports from Baseball Prospectus (these are premium reports, but there really is no excuse for not subscribing to BP if you are a serious baseball fan), you'll find that the difference between average runs scored from the 2nd/no outs situation (1.1647) and the 3rd/no outs situation (1.4897) is not that great; if successful, you do decrease the probability of going scoreless (from .375 in the 2nd/no outs situation to .832 from 3rd/no outs), but your probabilities of scoring more than a single run (which increase from .329 to .534) are left basically unchanged.  And, of course, this play is not without substantial risk of failure.  Even though Ichiro is a pretty good base stealer (stealing at a 77% success rate career -- though probably less than that when stealing third), you're going to fail almost 25% of the time even with a good base stealer trying.  If he fails, you've gone from the expectation of scoring 1.1647 runs on average, with a fairly low probability (.375) of not scoring and a decent chance of scoring one run (.329), two runs (.157) or more (.078 for 3 runs, .035 for 4), to an expectation of 0.5330 runs on average, with a very good chance you won't score at all (.832) and severely reduced probabilities of scoring any number of runs in comparison (.099 for 1 run, .040 for 2, .018 for 3, .007 for 4).

This is not a situation where one run was desperately needed.  This was a situation where a team that has struggled to score runs all year long, facing a former Cy Young winner, had a chance to break open a big lead and traded it away on a risky play for a chance to play for one.  Not smart . . . exactly the kind of bad baseball that helps you become a .400 team.

Of course, Ichiro was called out, and Randy Winn (who, as Peter White of Mariner Musings pointed out, had the courtesy to fake a bunt on strike one down the middle and then duck out of Damian Miller's way for the throw to third -- gee, thanks Randy) promptly doubled.  A very concrete example of "How to Kill a Big Inning & Other Theoretical Ramblings about the Idiocy of Sacrificing and Stealing with Men Already in Scoring Position."  Of course, had Ichiro been (correctly) called safe, we would have heard endless babble about what a fine, aggressive play it was . . . but it wasn't.  Whether he succeeded or failed, this is just bad, dumb baseball.


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Ole Redux - Cycle Trivia

"Wordy yet elegant?"  Let's just leave it at wordy and be done with it, shall we?
Jack's note about Olerud being the last Mariner to hit for the cycle, and yet having only two triples as a Mariner, got me to thinking about Cycle Trivia.  I assumed that John Olerud would be close to the highest ratio of cycles to triples (2:13) all-time, and probably among the players with the fewest triples ever to hit for the cycle.  He is, on both counts, but he is not the top in either category (5th in ratio, 18th and climbing in fewest triples among players with cycles), though he does have the fewest triples among all men who have hit for the cycle more than once.  He's also one of only three men who have hit for the cycle in both leagues.
Among the 244 players who have hit for the cycle, here are the players with the fewest triples (15 or fewer -- Edgar has 15, so I figured not hitting more than Edgar would be a good cut-off point):
Triples:Cycles & Percentage Ratio of Cycles to Career Triples
1.  Bill Salkeld, 2:1 .500 
2.  Daryle Ward, 3:1 .333 (active)
3.  John Mabry, 4:1 .250 (active)
4.  Chad Moeller, 5:1 .200 (active)
5. Travis Hafner, 5 .200 (active)
6.  Roy Carlyle, 6:1 .167
7.  Mike Blowers, 8:1 .125
7.  Albert Hall, 8:1 .125
8.  Bill Collins, 10:1 .100
9.  Jeff Frye, 11:1 .091
10.  Greg Colbrunn, 12:1 .083 (active)
10.  Miguel Tejada, 12:1 .083 (active)
10.  Eric Byrnes, 12:1 .083 (active)
10.  Scott Cooper, 12:1 .083
10.  Rich Gedman, 12:1 .083
10.  Jack Brohamer, 12:1 .083
10.  Curry Foley, 12:1 .083 (1st man to ever hit for the cycle)
11.  John Olerud, 13:2 .154 (active, sort of)
11.  David Bell, 13:1 .077 (active)
11.  Randy Hundley, 13:1 .077
11.  Andujar Cedeno, 13:1 .077
12.  Eric Chavez, 15:1 .067 (active)
12.  Tony Horton, 15:1 .067
12.  Buddy Rosar, 15:1 .067
12.  Brad Wilkerson, 15:1 .067
For inquiring minds who want to know.
What's eerie about this list is how many guys with ties to the Mariners are on it.  Blowers, Olerud, Bell, Mabry, Colbrunn -- and Jay Buhner (1 cyle, 19 triples) isn't far removed.  Hell, Bill Salkeld is probably related to Roger Salkeld, at this rate. 
[BTW, Jay Buhner is one of only six men to have hit a Grand Slam as part of the cycle.  Only one of those six -- Tony Lazzeri -- ever hit a "natural" (i.e., in order -- single, double, triple, home run) cycle with a Grand Slam to top it off, which he did on June 3, 1932.  However, his singular feat was overshadowed by one Lou Gehrig (himself the author of two cycles), who became the first modern player and firstAmerican Leaguer to hit four home runs in a game (and he barely missed a fifth), in the same game.] 

Monday, July 19, 2004

Inside the numbers on Johnny O

There is not much I can add to Pete's wordy yet elegant obituary toward John Olerud, yet here are some numbers just the same:  (this information is unofficial and it's a little late for me to be doing math in my head)
1)  9th on the all time Mariners hit list with 705.
2)  238 extra base hits puts him 10th on the Mariners all time list.
3)  John was the last Mariner to hit for the cycle, doing it on 6/16/2001.
4)  The triple on the night of the cycle was just one of two he hit as a Mariner.
5)  The home run that he hit to complete the cycle was just the second ball ever to reach the right field second deck at Qualcomm stadium.
6)  164 doubles puts him 8th on the all time Mariners list.
7)  5th all time in walks with 418.
8)  Tied for 10th with Mike Cameron in runs scored at 353.
9)  The Mariners never committed more that 100 errors in a season while he was a Mariner.  A feat they only accomplished once before in their history in a non-strike year season.  It's hard to say how much he had to do with that if anything.  ( Although the New York Mets swear that their infield errors went up significantly the year after he left.)
10) 10th on the Mariner all-time list in total bases with 1093.
Olerud is only 35 years old.  I think it is  likely we will see him in the playoffs this year and it's not inconceivable that he will see this as a kick in the butt to work his ass off in the off-season and come to spring training in shape to win a starting 1B job somewhere.  San Francisco or Anaheim perhaps?  At least I hope that happens.

As Expected?

At the All-Star break, I was mulling a post about how, even though the Mariners need to take a good look at some of the guys on the Farm, what we have seen thus far (and can expect to see) aren't a whole helluva lot different from what we've heard about and seen from these guys in Tacoma.  Now, I'm beginning to wonder.
With the pitchers, that's been mostly true.   Clint Nageotte showed pretty much what his minor league peripherals suggested -- good power pitcher with good K rate, but he would struggle with control and needs work on his change-up.  Ditto for Matt Thornton, except emphasize the part about struggling with control, and not so much about needing to work on other pitches.  If the theory holds true, this also strongly suggests that Gil Meche isn't ready to return, either.  The theory buckles a bit under the weight of the collective struggles of Travis Blackley and George Sherrill (both Blackley and Sherrill looked more ready to me than Nageotte or Thornton, though anybody who saw Blackley struggle early in the Rainiers season knows that if he can't locate and/or struggles with his change, he has trouble), but it is still early.
But what are we to make of Bucky Jacobsen and Justin Leone?  For both Jacobsen and Leone, the minor league numbers suggest (actually, shout) that we should expect a lot of strikeouts, to go with patience and power.  Well, OK, the strikeouts have proven true, but did anybody expect the power and patience to translate so quickly?  And in Bucky's case, the average? 
Cheney Stadium is the biggest pitcher's park in all of minor league baseball (in fact, all of the M's farm teams play in the best pitchers' parks in their leagues), so maybe these results shouldn't be entirely shocking.   But I think we'll see this begin to moderate.  Bucky looks to me like he has a chance to be a Buner-esque figure, both in terms of popularity and in what his stats might look like down the road, but I don't expect him to hit much more than .260/.345/.450 this year.  Mind you, that's pretty damn good.  Leone should put up pretty similar numbers -- probably a little worse for average and SLG.  Both look to be solid major leaguers, though probably not stars.  If Leone can play the outfield (as was reported to us by Bad Bob Melvin soon after he was called up -- "He's comfortable at third base, shortstop and left field, so those are good options"), he could become a semi-regular Mark McLemore-type utility guy except with some power and ability to actually pick it a bit, but that would require the M's to recognize that Willie Bloomquist just isn't that good a player, and I don't see that coming.
I'm not really sure where I'm going with this.  Big surprise -- Mariners minor leaguers show about as expected based on what they did in the minors.  One thing this portends that is kind of exciting, however: Jose Lopez should be pretty good when he gets the call sometime in early August.  He's not great defensively, but he'll do as well as the guys we're playing there now, and he should be able to hit .265/.325/.450, I (optimistically) think. 

Friday, July 16, 2004

Mr. Wilson

Good points about Dan Wilson, Jack. I might quibble with a little bit of your criticism of Wilson, but not much.

First, I would probably agree with Shane O'Neill that Miguel Olivo "doesn't have Wilson's experience or feel for working with pitchers or calling games." But hey, that's an advantage a catcher with almost 1100 more career games played is supposed to have; it's hardly an indictment of Olivo's skills.

Second, while I am not Dan Wilson's biggest fan, I disagree with your implication that there is no appreciation of Dan Wilson's defensive skills outside of Seattle, or that this lack of respect is the reason he has never won a Gold Glove. The main reason Wilson has never won a Gold Glove is because he has spent all but two years of his AL career competing for that award with Ivan Rodriguez (AL GG winner 1992-2001).

We all know that defensive statistics are elusive at best, and I think defensive catching statistics are among the murkiest. There is a lot more to catching than blocking balls and throwing out runners, and much of the comparison based on things like catching ERA are very dependent on the variation of performance among pitchers over a pretty small sample. Catching defense is one area where I would be inclined to rely more heavily on subjective observation and traditional "scouting" opinion than I would the kinds of rudimentary defensive statistics we have available to us.

Having said that, judging by some of the better measures of defensive performance, like Bill James' fielding Win Shares and Baseball Prospectus' "Rate" statistics (a figure Clay Davenport came up with to measure how many runs better or worse than an average fielder -- defined as 100 -- is per 100 defensive innings played, with a 105 being 5 runs better than average, 96 being 4 runs worse, etc.) and "Fielding Runs Above Replacement" (or FRAR), it is pretty clear that had Rodriguez not been in the AL in 1995, 1996, and 1997, Wilson was probably the next most deserving of the Gold Glove. That's not to say he should have beaten Rodriguez in those years (though in 1995, it should have been close), but there is no shame in being runner-up to Pudge. Over Wilson's time here, the average of Dan Wilson's yearly Rate statistics is 104 (rounding up) -- a fair bit better than average, though certainly not elite (though his best seasons, from 1994-1997, were).

Shane O'Neill probably overstated the case when he suggested Wilson may be the best catcher never to win a Gold Glove, but I think most baseball analysts and close observers recognize that Wilson is (or at least was) a pretty damn good defensive catcher. The problem is, Wilson has also had some pretty average (or worse) defensive seasons -- inluding 1998, 1999, 2002, and maybe even 2003.  By the measures I've looked at, Wilson would struggle to even be in the Gold Glove conversation in all of those years, while in the years when Wilson was in the conversation, he was never better than a moderately close #2 or #3 guy. If O'Neill is suggesting Wilson should have won one by now, he's just wrong.
[BTW, Bengie Molina is the only other AL GG winner in Wilson's time.  He was a decisive and deserving winner in 2002 and 2003 (over 4-5 guys in each year who had much better cases than could even conceivably be made for Wilson).]

Third, I disagree with your implication that Wilson's defense has been no better over the years than other catchers the Mariners have carried during his tenure. If you look across a range of fielding statistics over Wilson's tenure, there are only a few of seasons where more than a few defensive statistical measures suggested that maybe Wilson wasn't the best defensive catcher we had, and most of those have been in the latter half of Wilson's career. This may say more about the shitty second catchers the Mariners have collected over the years than it does about Wilson, but still . . ..

Despite playing many more games and innings than his back-ups, Wilson has about the same number of errors and passed balls as the others combined. He has a better fielding percentage than any of them (.995 as a Mariner), and a better range factor (6.85 as a Mariner) than any of them (the closest are John Marzano, at 6.04, and Ben Davis at 5.89).

You could argue, based on at least the second half of Ben Davis' 2002 season and the first half of his 2003 season, that he was a better option than Wilson. Here are some of their stats for 2002 and 2003:

2002: Wilson - 97 rate, .998 FPCT, 7.17 RF, 4.12 CERA, .283 CS% (not real good). Davis - 110 rate, .998 FPCT, 6.81 RF, 3.99 CERA, .439 CS%.

2003: Wilson - 98 Rate, .997 FPCT, 6.68 RF, 3.79 CERA, .300 CS%. Davis - 103 rate, .991 FPCT, 7.33 RF, 3.88 CERA, .347 CS%.

Setting aside for a moment things like whether pitchers are more comfortable pitching to Wilson than Davis -- no small matter, and something that I don't think can be measured but is nevertheless very important -- Davis was pretty clearly the better defensive catcher in 2002, statistically. However, his offense kept him on the bench in the first half (.230/.306/.278, versus Wilson's .314/.343/.416); it wasn't until the second half that he proved to be the better player all-around (hitting .294/.324/.559 to Wilson's .276/.307/.374). That performance led me, you, and a lot of other followers of the Mariners to conclude it was time for Dan Wilson to step back in favor of Ben Davis, and his offense in the first half of 2003 (.294/.333/.490) did nothing to discourage that thinking. However, just when he should have been ready to step up to more regular duty in the second half, he collapsed (.140/.204/.204). Neither his offense or his defense ever recovered.

You could argue Tom Lampkin was better defensively in 2001, but they were really both about the same, and both only moderately better than average. Wilson had a 104 rate, .999 FPCT, 7.11 RF, 3.51 CERA, and a.281 CS%, while Lampkin had a 105 rate, .995 FPCT, 7.11 RF, 3.57 CERA, and a .278 CS%. However, Lampkin had a poor year at the plate and, besides, this was basically a platoon between lefty Lampkin and righty Wilson. It's pretty difficult to make the argument that Lampkin should have been elevated to the #1 catcher based on this year. In 2000, Lampkin and Joe Oliver combined to be a fair bit better than Wilson offensively, but not defensively.

Lampkin probably was better than Wilson in 1999. Wilson had a 95 rate, .995 FPCT, 6.78 RF, 5.47 CERA, .243 CS% (uhhhhgly), while Lampkin had a 116 rate, .985 FPCT, and a 5.70 RF (I can't access his CERA and CS% numbers, but they can't be much worse than Wilson's). Neither of these guys was anything to write home about defensively, but Lampkin was certainly the better offensive player. He probably should have caught 121 games while Wilson caught 56, rather than the other way around. And John Marzano may have been a better defensive catcher in 1998, but he had done nothing the previous two years to suggest that would be true, and he and Wilson were about equally poor offensively that year (typically, Wilson hit for better average, and Marzano for better OBP and power -- though in relative terms, since both were 15-20% worse than league average in adjusted OPS).

In all the other years, Wilson was hands-down the clear choice, at least defensively.

BUT I do I agree with you about this: Wilson has had some relatively poor years defensively, and even his record as a whole doesn't really justify the reverence for his defense generally accorded him in this town -- at least in the latter part of his career.
Still, it's always been his offense that's bugged me.  Wilson's as empty as they come. Even in "good" years, he is all about hitting singles, with almost no patience at the plate, and little-to-no power. Wilson has never been even a league average hitter his entire time in Seattle (he's a career 82 OPS+ -- 18% worse than league average, park adjusted -- and he's been better than league average in OBP only once in his career and has never slugged at or above league average). Paying this guy an average of $4.1M per year over the last four years was insane, and had to be based on a serious over-valuation of his defense, because offensively, he's a black hole who can only be expected to even approach league average in his best years. But let's be realistic: the Mariners kept Wilson because they correctly felt they had no other good option, and the believed good-guy Wilson is worth something at the box office and in the community (which he is).  Fault them for giving him too much money, but not necessarily for bringing him back when they did.

I generally agree with you about Olivo, but it is probably too early to say with much conviction how much better he will be with our pitchers than Wilson (other than the arm -- we know that will be better).  We will certainly find out, as I fully expect that Olivo will catch 60-70% of the games from here on out.  I think there is value in having Wilson help Olivo learn our pitching staff this year, but to re-sign Wilson to continue that process next year would not be smart (at least unless Wilson will work for $1M or less). To the extent they can, they should find a decent defensive catcher who hits right-handed pitching well (since Olivo has had trouble doing that (.214/.278/.292 from 2001-2003, .192/.243/.317 this year) -- as has Wilson, before this year). Damian Miller (at 35 next year, a bit old, but .302/.352/.488 vs. righties this year and .245/.315/.415 over the previous three) and Jason Varitek (expensive and also getting up in age, but a good defender and (switch) hitter who hits respectably well against righties are among the free agent-to-be catchers on the market next winter, and I think either one would be a better (short-term) investment than continuing to pay Dan Wilson anything close to what he is making now. The best bet is probably to scour the four-A types for a minor-league free agent, left-handed hitting catcher (maybe a guy like Mark Johnson of the Brewers, who is good defensively and a patient left-handed hitter with more offensive upside than his stats suggest), but I don't know how plentiful or available guys like that might be.

Time to Go, Johnny O

Well, John Olerud is gone now, perhaps the victim of his own unwillingness to accept a trade (now he can be claimed on waivers by anybody, and if he wants to keep playing, he'll have to go), and certainly the victim of team-wide offensive ineptitude -- even though he was far from the worst offender.
Although I am sad to see him go this way, this is an understandable move.  Even though Olerud hasn't been the M's biggest offensive disappointment, he plays a position where his under-production was pretty glaring, and despite his reputation as a stellar defensive first baseman, he had slipped there too in recent years.  Scott Spiezio has been worse, but while Olerud comes off the books after this year, Spiezio is signed for three years -- the Mariners aren't going to eat that contract -- and while Spiezio has virtually no trade value, once designated for assignment (a move signalling to all teams that the M's are willing to eat a significant part of his contract in hopes of getting a trade for little-to-nothing in return), Olerud may have some value.
Although Bucky Jacobsen is the grateful recipient of Olerud's spot on both the 40-man and 25-man rosters, it is unlikely he will play a whole lot at first base, where (in part thanks to a bum knee he's been nursing) he has only played 5 games this year for the Rainiers.  Scott Spiezio will play the lion's share of first base (with Dave Hansen also getting time there, unless he is traded, and possibly also Jolbert Cabrera), and Justin Leone getting a real look at third.  If Bucky plays much, it appears it will be at the expense of Edgar Martinez at DH or in a pinch-hitting role.  As much as I hate to see anything detract from as graceful an exit for Edgar as is possible in such a horrific year, this is probably all for the best.  This is (and has been for probably a month longer than anybody has cared to admit) a lost season, and the Mariners have to see what they have in late-20s guys like Leone and Jacobsen.  These moves will probably make the team worse in the short-run (though maybe more entertaining), but better in the long-run.
I wish the best for John Olerud.  He's a class act, and probably deserved a classier ending than this.  As we say goodbye, I also want people to remember want a great player John Olerud was through the decade of the 1990s.  Among all players in MLB with at least 3000 plate appearances from the 1990-1999 seasons, Olerud was among the top thirty players in batting average (#26, .301), hits (#24, 1431),  doubles (#9, 322), extra-base hits (#28, 505), walks (#8, 820), on-base percentage (#8, .406), OPS (#20, .888), runs created (#14, 954), runs created per game played (#18, 7.28), runs created above average (#15, 299), total average (#18, .912), and total bases (#30, 2291).   He was a batting champ (and a runner-up in the batting race another year), once finished in the top three in MVP voting, a two-time all-star, and a three-time gold glove winner.  That's a hellluva career, and I hope that is not lost in the ignominy of his release.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Dan "the Man"


Shane O'Neill writes in Tuesday's PI about Dan Wilson:

* The best catcher to never win a gold glove
* Wilson continues to be a major assett behind the plate
* He still blocks balls in the dirt and tracks foul pops as well as any receiver in the game
* He's hit the ball with authority from left-center to right field and gotten some big hits.

Shane O'Neill writes about Miguel Olivo

* He doesn't have Wilson's experience or feel for working with pitchers or calling games.

* If Olivo continues to develop and learns from the heady Wilson, he can be a fixture behind the plate for several years.

My thoughts:

* The reason Dan Wilson has never won a gold glove is because he is not respected outside of Seattle. There is a reason for that. He is not all that good. This city has love affairs for certain athletes which clouds its vision on the value of that athlete to the team. Dan Wison is a $3.5 million dollars anchor on this team.

* There is an allusion that Dan Wilson calls a great ball game. Where is the evidence for this? Historically, Seattle pitchers have pitched no better with Wilson in the game than any other catcher. Also, you don't generally hear about free agent pitchers lining up to sign with the Mariners in the offseason knowing that the "do-nothing-wrong" catcher is instantly going to shave 1/2 a run off their ERA.

* After getting off to a fairly good start in April, Dan Wilson is ranked 18th in OPS
for catchers with at least 70ABs. 18th! There are only 14 teams. He slugged .250 in June and .278 so far this month. He hits the ball with authority?

* Olivo may be young and have less years than the "heady" Dan Wilson, but there is nothing proving that he is not already a better defensive player and pitch selector than his "protege". We do know that Olivo threw out 36% of basestealers against him last year which is something Dan Wilson has only come close to matching once in the last six years.

* To suggest that Olivo needs Wilson to "develop" and "learn from" in order to become a fixture behind home plate for the M's might be the most absurd statement of the bunch. Olivo will either develop on his own or he won't. To waste $3.5 million dollars and a roster spot on a mentor for Olivo as opposed to picking up a decent back up catcher is insane.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Here's Something That's Been Bugging Me . . .

I know this is old news, and others have covered this pretty well, but what the hell . . .

Bob Finnigan wrote an Independence Day analysis that was laughable on many fronts. For a change in the M's blogosphere, I'm not going to focus on Mr. Finnigan (he has his faults, and says some dumbass things, but let's face it, the basic premise of the article -- its title was "Mainers Analysis: No Speed, No Power, and a Struggling Bullpen" -- was on the mark, even if patently obvious) but on the comments of some of the Mariners players/management/apologists. There is plenty enough "dumb" going around that picking on writers seems a bit silly.

Not to pick on Jamie Moyer, who has been his usual professional self this year, but this is kinda dumb:

"You've got players here who have been successful. How do you know suddenly they aren't going to be? Are you supposed to anticipate that, when you're geared to try to win, to do all you can to win. If you've got a chance, you try to fill in your roster holes with the right people and you go for it again.

"Is it an age thing?"

No, he said.

"Rebuild? How do you determine when is the time? How do you do it?"

With all due respect to a guy who has been able to defy the odds for years now, and understandably let's his competitive nature lead him to expect the same of others, this is a cop-out.

First, of course you are supposed to anticipate that a long-successful team will reach a point, even (seemingly) suddenly, when it is no longer going to be successful. It involves foresight, planning, and a willingness to risk being wrong (and weathering the inevitable criticism that will accompany prophylactic moves, whether wrong or right), but that's what well-managed teams do. Second, I would dispute whether this has ever been a team "geared to try to win" by "do[ing] all you can to win" and "fill[ing] roster holes with the right people." If that were the case, demands to fill obvious needs at mid-season in each of the last two seasons would have been met rather than answered by drive-numbing pablum about being up against an illusory budget. Teams that are "geared to try to win" maintain the financial flexibility -- even if it means foregoing tens of millions of dollars in profit for a year -- to act not just in the offseason but during a competitive season. Third, this is not a team that spent the past offseason "fill[ing] roster holes with the right people." This is a team that spent the offseason trying to clear away players it saw as either attitude problems or guys who didn't fit the team's antiquated view of performance analysis (or both) in favor of "clubhouse guys." And fourth . . . sorry, Jamie, but it is an age thing.

For the last two years in a row, usually right when I go camping the last week or so in August, the M's have begun folding up their tent with about 6-8 weeks to go. In 2002, the M's were in first place on August 15, at 74-47 (.612) and 1.5 games up on Anaheim and 4 games ahead of the A's. By Labor Day, they had dropped 10 of 17 games and found themselves in third place, 6 games behind Oakland and 4 behind Anaheim. They would play only .500 ball (12-12) the rest of the way and finished 10 games back of Oakland. In mid-August of 2003, the M's were playing .607 ball and had a 5 game lead on Oakland and a 16 game lead on Anaheim. By the beginning of September, the A's had caught and passed the M's, who would continue to muddle about (13-12) the rest of the way, continuing to give ground to the A's, who finished 3 games ahead of the M's. In both years, "the stretch" was a time when the Mariners became a sub-.500 team.

Folks, that kind of consistent, late-season fade is one pretty good sign of an aging team, and not a good indicator for avoiding future, precipitous, age-related decline. Average weighted team batting age in 2002 was 31.2 (for pitchers, it was 30.3); in 2003, it was 31.9 for batters and 29.9 for pitchers. These are not ages at which anybody should expect performance to continue at peak levels, much less for three straight years. After all, we are all -- even Edgar and Jamie -- human.

At least for hitters, Bill James did a study of this in one of his early abstracts, and he revisited it in Win Shares more recently, in a random essay called "Aging Patterns Among Great Players" (pp. 199-202). He looked at all inactive players in major league history who had earned 280 or more career Win Shares (with no more than 10 of those as a pitcher) and looked at the average distribution of Win Shares across the players' careers, relative to their peak, by age. He argued that this was the best way to look at aging patterns, because lesser players get released when their skills decline just a little bit, and thus "great players are the only players who have 'clean' careers with a full opportunity." He came up with a database of 148 great players, ranging in value from Ty Cobb at the top to guys like Ron Cey, Bert Campaneris, Fred Lynn, and Earl Averill on the bottom.

The results were pretty interesting, and very telling about the situation in which the Mariners found themselves this past off-season (and to some degree, the off-season before that, too). By far, the biggest drop-offs (in terms of WS earned at a given age years, relative to peak) were the very years in which the average Mariners hitter found himself -- the years after a player's age 32 year (the last year, on average, where you can expect a great player to perform at within 90% of peak value), and the year after a players age 33 year. James' research suggested that the average M's hitter entered 2004 knowing that the probabilities were that performance should decline by at least 8-10%, even if they were a player of the caliber James studied.

Of course, some of this is due to actual decline, and some to increased injury, decreased endurance, or to some combination of all of these, and it's all based on averages across the database. Some players (like Edgar, for many, many years, or Jamie with the M's) defy this, but not many: Of the 148 players, only 47 had their best year when they were 30 or older, 25 when they were 32 or older, and only 16 at any age later than 32. Forgetting about any specific player, to me this is the biggest single reason to be hesitant about acquiring (or keeping) a player who has already played his age 32 year, or will have a number of years left on a hefty contract after that point. It's just a bad bet, like hitting a 16 when the dealer shows a 3.

But, as I usually do, I digress. The point is, any competent baseball management team should be well aware of this kind of thing or, at the very least, the M's fade in 2002 and 2003 (the M's played under .500 ball after August 15 in both years - 19-22 in 2002, and 19-21 in 2003) should have piqued their interest in figuring it out.

So, what did Mariners management do this offseason? In almost every case where the Mariners chose or were forced to replace a player, they opted for an older player. Carlos Guillen (heading into his age 28 year) almost became Omar Vizquel (37), and then did become Rich Aurilia (32); Mike Cameron (31) became Raul Ibanez (32); Greg Colbrunn (34) became Quinton McCracken (also 34 this year, but a lot worse hitter: a career 81 OPS+ hitter -- meaning 19% worse than league average (which would be a 100 OPS+ by definition) versus Colbrunn's 107 career OPS+, a pretty significant difference); Arthur Rhodes (34) became Mike Myers (35); Armando Benitez (31) became Ron Villone (34); Dave Hansen (35) took the spot of either Colbrunn, or John Mabry (33), depending on how you look at it. Even where they got a younger, it was only by a little, and never with players younger than 30. The only instances I can think of where the M's didn't swap a player for an older player (or a player the same age) are Eddie Guardado (33) for Kazu Sasaki (36), and Jolbert Cabrera (31) for Mark McLemore (39) -- hardly a youth movement.

Now, I am not saying I knew this would result in the kind of collapse we've seen, but this I did know: adding older players like this to an already aged group that has already shown signs of decline put this team at far greater risk for something like this happening than was necessary, or prudent. Forget about talent analyses (I think most of these moves are charitably described as lateral moves offensively, at best, and a fairly significant drop defensively -- but that's a whole 'nother post); the risk of age-related decline alone was never addressed, other than to exacerbate it.

The Mariners never saw it coming. They didn't even see the risk of it coming. As so many of their moves demonstrate, they seem to believe (and count on) guys' ability to repeat career years, close to indefinitely, and express genuine surprise when it doesn't work out that way (despite such basic statistical truths as "regression to the mean"). This quote in the same article, from Howard Lincoln, is typical:

"When I took over we went to the ALCS and you start telling yourself this is the cat's meow. Well, I know now it is a lot harder. You assume it's going to continue that way, it's a shock when you don't. Out of spring training our expectations were rightfully high. Guys did pretty well in the spring. There was nothing to suggest this was going to happen."

That's just sad.

So, to answer Jamie's question, how do you do it? I'm sure, as we go forward, their will be a lot of discussion about this, as the fans and front office demands that Bavasi & Co., with the resources they have available, re-tool rather than rebuild. Re-hashing the past, specifically, doesn't help much, but here are the broad outlines: Build a team that has some balance, between power and speed, the ability to get on base and the ability to clear them, offense and defense, age and youth. Find an offensive style that fits your team's personality and personnel. The 2004 Mariners (and to a lesser extent, the 2003 Mariners) show none of this kind of balance. Zip.

It may be more difficult, even painful, to make the changes necessary to find this kind of balance. But can any of us say that the risk presented by the alternative, especially when realized, is better?
Update: Peter White of Mariner Musings made largely the same observations -- much more concisely -- in a recent post called Slip Sliding.  If you are here and aren't aware of Mariner Musings . . . well, I doubt that might happen but you should check it out.  Along with my friends at the USS Mariner, the good folks at the P-I and Steve at Mariners Wheelhouse, Peter is one of my regular staples in the Mariners Blogosphere.  There are others, but these guys are regular and consistently good.  Check them out.

Friday, July 09, 2004

A Bitcher, Not a Thrower

Lord knows the blogosphere is already chock-full of Mariners bloggers, but I can no longer sit back and watch my team implode without offering my thoughts for all to see. I intend to be a Bitcher, not a Thrower, a right-handed griever out of the 'pen.

This has not been an easy year to be an M's fan. Move after questionable (or worse) offseason (and on-field) move, continuing in a long line unabated until Big Bald Bill surprised us all by sending Freddy Garcia to the White Sox for something more than a bag of balls. Since I am getting kind of a late start, I'll intersperse some comments on "old stuff" together with the current stuff that catches my attention.

Here's to hoping somebody besides me reads this, and enjoys it.