Tuesday, April 12, 2005

One Week In . . .

Jeff Shaw, over at the USS Mariner, has already lent us all this cautionary piece of advice about drawing conclusions about a baseball team's season based on one week of play:

"If a baseball season is a marathon, a week is one city block."

Apart from my own smartass observation that it is really more like one mile of a marathon, he's absolutely right. Take all this with a grain of salt. Statistically speaking, it's really early, and a tiny sample from which to draw conclusions. That doesn't stop us from forming opinions, and some of the observations we're making might be meaningful. Sorta. Kinda.

First, my prediction that despite his 0-13 start Jeremy Reed is going to be OK . . . seems to be on track. After that 0-13 start, he's been 5-for-his-next-13 (.384), and three of his five hits have been doubles. That's good -- though probably no better indication of Reed's long-term ability than the first thirteen ABs were, or even his first-25-game (64 ABs) career line of .333/.404/.417. I note that I heard Harold Reynolds say on Baseball Tonight that, in his opinion, Reed might be among the most overrated rookies to come along in a while and that the Mariners expectations for him are too high. Reynolds made a comment about "lots of holes in his swing." I dunno. Maybe Harold caught him the first part of last week instead of last September. When he is on, my observation is his approach at the plate is as good as any rookie hitter I've seen in a good long while. Then again, Harold does have a bit more experience with the game than I do . . . but I'd venture to say I've watched Reed more closely than he has.

My friend Dave Cameron at USS Mariner has some interesting comments today about the Mariner offense, all previous caveats noted. I have a slightly different take.

While it is hard to fault an offense that is scoring runs as the Mariners have, I agree with Dave that the hitting with runners on base and in scoring position will regress to the mean over time. Their overall numbers -- which aren't so good -- are a bigger sample and I would argue more telling (even if neither is very telling at this point). So what may account for this not-so-good hitting early, and is there any reason to disregard the early trends?

Well, I have a theory. One thing I've noticed early this year is a lot of Mariner hitters swinging pretty early in the count. Most people who reading an obscure basesball blog like this are aware that getting deeper into counts (particularly when ahead in the count) benefits the hitter, who will see his rate stats jump considerably the more patience he shows. Occasionally, you jump on a first-pitch fastball that is too good to pass up, but most pitchers (like Johan Santana in the Mariners second game) will make the adjustment if you develop a pattern of it, and the second and third times through you won't see the same pitches, nor experience the same success. Patience is a virtue.

Anyway, I decided to check this out, and was surprised to learn that every batter in the Mariner line-up except Raul Ibanez and Randy Winn is seeing significantly fewer pitches per plate appearance than they did in either of their past two seasons. Most of them are seeing pretty dramatic drops (yes, this is most likely a product of small samples): Ichiro is at 3.26 (vs. 3.51 and 3.50 in the previous two seasons); Adrian Beltre is at 3.40 (vs. 3.74 and 3.80 in the last two); Richie Sexson is at 3.34 (vs. 3.93, 3.95); Bret Boone is at 3.39 (3.96, 3.93). Some of the bit players are chiming in, too: Miguel Olivo is at 2.75 (vs. 3.84, 3.97); Dan Wilson is at 3.14 (3.87, 3.52), and Willie Bloomquist is at 3.25 (3.81, 3.76).

I believe that, for the vast majority of players, a high P/PA average is a good predictor of offensive success. To have this many players significantly below their established levels -- if it continues -- is troubling. Not only do players with low averages tend to be swinging at the pitcher's pitch (rather than the hitter's pitch they will get if they are patient enough to work the count), they aren't going to walk much, they are giving their own pitcher less time to rest between innings, and they are allowing the other team's pitcher to work deeper into the game than they otherwise would. None of these things is good. I'd really like to see a reversal of this incipient trend.

And one final observation: We now appear stuck with Ryan Franklin as a starter, at least until Bobby Madritsch heals and as long as Aaron Sele avoids implosion. Pleeease, people, don't read too much into Franklin's impressive performance against KC yesterday. It's one game, against a team that probably isn't very good offensively, and it doesn't tell us any more about a "changed" Franklin that Aaron Sele's 12 Spring Traning innings told us about him.

What got me off on this rant was this article from this morning's P-I. It went on about a "new" and "improved" Ryan Franklin, who is using a sinker more and becoming a groundball pitcher. That's a bit much for me, and I note that Bryan Price didn't go that far, noting that Franklin is historically an extreme flyball pitcher before commenting that his ratio yesterday was a high groundball ratio for Franklin.

Breaking News: Ryan Franklin continues to be a flyball pitcher. The same article made a note of the fact that homeplate umpire Ted Barrett established early that he would give both pitchers the low strike. Why wouldn't Franklin try to take advantage of that? Even so, Franklin still gave got more flyballs than groundballs in this game, and his GB/FB numbers on the season thus far are only slightly more groundball-oriented than they were in each of the last two (0.86, vs. 0.78 and 0.76 the previous two years).

It's nice to know that Ryan Franklin is smart enough to take advantage of an umpire's low strike zone, and that he has come to realize that it isn't smart for a pitcher with below-average velocity to challenge hitters up in the zone with fastballs, particularly (like last year) when your outfield defense isn't that good. I'm glad he realizes that the 2005 Mariners infield defense should be pretty good (so far, we haven't really seen it though), and that trying to induce a few more ground balls should be a good idea. But I'm tired of hearing that Ryan Franklin is a changed pitcher every time he pitches a good game. He is a likeable guy and I love his competitiveness, but . . . he is what he is, and "frankly" I'm not sure that is he is good enough to be a #5 starter on a competitive major-league team (as a long reliever and spot starter, he's more than adequate). That he is, for the Mariners, tells me that maybe the Mariners won't be as competitive as most of us hope they will be.


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