Mariners Analysis

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mariner fans feeling good

It seems like most of the columns, blog posts and fan comments today are focused on the recent success of the team. A sweep of the Red Sox is always sweet, and it's understandable after years of doom and gloom around this team it's nice to to be able to bask in the glow of winning for a bit.

Yesterday we saw the good Dice-K, not the early version the Mariners teed off on somewhat surprisingly. Lost in the feel-good nature of yesterday was Hargrove and his opinion on Matsuzaka as a pitcher.

Earlier this year, Hargrove was asked what he thought of the new Japanese star. The basic response was sort of a "no comment" with a sly "if only I could tell you what I really feel." It only made me hate Hargrove more at the time, since only an idiot could look at the pitchers ability and not see reasoning for the hype (and I know Hargrove is not an idiot). While someone could reasonably argue he's not a $100 million pitcher, you can't argue he has no value to a team. Yesterday we saw him locating his fastball, and normally when a pitcher holds a team to one run, you expect to win the game. Who would have guessed a pitcher Hargrove didn't want (Matsuzaka) could be outpitched by another pitcher (Feierabend) who's only playing because the pitchers he really wanted sucked so bad!

It was an interesting case study. The Mariners refused to bid for Matsuzaka for reasons that are still unknown. They went out and signed pitchers who either suck (Weaver) or traded for pitchers who suck (HoRam) and only went to the minors through necessity, not insightful planning.

This wasn't a case of the Mariners realizing they had better prospects and didn't need to throw $52 million at a posting fee. This is a case of a pitching plan that failed miserably, and while entering plans D and F they might have possibly learned something.

The lesson isn't that Feirebend is a better pitcher than Matsuzaka. It's the lesson that really, really good pitchers are worth big money to smart teams, and not-so-good pitchers (Weaver, HoRam) are often times sitting in your own system.

If Hargrove was paying attention yesterday, he might have noticed the other teams pitcher would have looked pretty damn good in a Mariner uniform.

But for now, we'll leave that for another day and just try to remember what it feels like to root for a team that doesn't completely suck.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Go figure

Last time, the Mariners were all over Dice-k and we all know how Ryan fared his last outing.

So of course I suspected a high scoring game, and we are presently tied 1-1 in the 7th.

Seattle has managed all of two hits today. Like I said, go figure.

Do the Mariners own Matsuzaka?

All in all, I suppose Dice-K has been a little bit of a let down for Boston fans. With all the hype, and with the benefit of playing on the best team in baseball, he's not winning 20 games this year. Clearly Beckett is the ace, with Schilling #2 and Matsuzaka a middle-of-the rotation starter.

In some ways, his struggles are hard to understand. He throws a fastball as hard as Felix or Morrow. He has 5 pitches he can throw for strikes. He has excellent command of his off-speed pitches. If you remove the hype over his posting fee and just thought of him as a rookie pitcher, he would have you tremendously excited as a fan. But he has struggled at times, and no team has done better than the Mariners.

For some unexplained reason, the hack-tastic Mariners have actually hit Matsuzaka, ignoring their long history of struggles against power pitchers. Perhaps because Dice-K usually pitches in the strike zone, the Mariners enjoy more success than if he was a little wild every once in a while. We all know the Mariners don't walk, so it might actually behoove Matsuzaka to ignore conventional wisdom and throw a few really bad pitches to each hitter, knowing there's a pretty good chance they'll swing.

So the Mariner success this year has added to the intrigue as they attempt an unexpected sweep of the best team in baseball. I would expect this to be a high-scoring affair.

I'll place the under/over on runs at 17.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Griffey reunion over

While I didn't purposely plan on being out of town for a week while Griffey was in town, I'm glad it worked out that way. I would have gone crazy watching "fans" cheering when the opposing teams player got a hit. I would have gotten even more disgusted when the "fans" booed a Mariner for having the audacity to strike out an opponent.

I understand some fans are morons. While it's not moronic to want Griffey back, it is moronic to do some of the things seen over the weekend. If bringing Griffey back meant more of those "fans" came to watch, it would probably drive me to see more games from the TV.

The old Griffey is gone. The Griffey people want to remember, with the million-watt smile and spectacular defense, is gone. The current Griffey hasn't bothered to set foot in the city for 8 years, but people want him back. Sure he moved his family to the cultural mecca called Orlando, and used that as an excuse to force a trade, but for some reason the "fans" don't care.

I care. I remember the way he left. I still get satisfaction every time I see the Reds lose in the box score. I still remember the remarks Bowden made at the time of the trade.

Griffey forgot how much this town appreciated his abilities. He was reminded this weekend how great it would have been if he had stayed.

Let him spend quality time with his family in Orlando, calendar free every October, far from Seattle.

The Old Griffey is gone, never to return.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Weaver in position to win game

It's what makes baseball the most interesting sport of all. Not only does Weaver settle down, he just might get a win out of the deal.

Let's hope Lou likes what he sees in this Weaver kid and gives up a few prospects for him.

Weaver again

Gives up a double, then a triple and is already losing the game during a time when the bullpen is on fumes.

Perhaps the front office will grow a pair and realize their master plan to rehabilitate Weaver and trade him for lollipops and rainbows is on shaky ground.

Let's see how long Hargrove leaves him in- I recommend they don't pull him until late in the game, regardless of the score. I'm willing to gamble on losing the game as long as the front office gets to see what happens when Weaver faces a hitter for the third time.

We'd better hope the bats show up, or this could be a long day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Need pitching

This is one thing pretty much the entire Mariner community agrees on- the team needs better starting pitching. From casual fan to season-ticket holder, from Steve Kelley to bloggers, the consensus is clear. You cannot expect the team to hit .320+ the rest of the season and bail out the pitching. And the longer the starters continue to struggle, the more immediate the affect on the bullpen will be.

Torre is loved in NY, but fans hate how he wears out the bullpen. He tends to go with his best relievers and use them over and over, with the theory being they have nothing left in October. For the M's the continued use of Putz and Morrow over and over during this win streak might very well have a price later on down the road.

The problem for Bavasi is how do you fix it? Baek will never be an innings-eater. He is a true 5th starter that you hope to get 5-6 innings and turn it over to the bullpen. Weaver is a disaster who is lucky to go 5. Ramirez is hurt. Washburn's command he displayed earlier in the year is faltering. Hernandez will get better, but you are obviously going to be careful after the arm troubles.

So the team is in a bit of a quandary. I recommend taking Weaver out of the rotation immediately and using him (if you must!) as a long-reliever primarily in mop-up duty. No use burning up your bullpen in games with big disparities, so use Weaver where possible. These one-run games won't continue forever. Second, I would bring back Feierabend to replace him in the rotation. Third, I would stop using relievers only facing one batter except where absolutely necessary. While low pitch count innings are good, it is still hard on the body to continually be forced to warmup.

Finally, I would ensure every reliever on the team is clear on their roles, and stick to the game plan beforehand. If Putz needs the day off, he gets the day off, regardless of how much temptation their might be to try to get one more win.

This bullpen is one of the best in baseball. It would be a shame to let your poor decisions on Weaver and Ramirez have a trickle-down affect and start impacting one of the true strengths of the team.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Interleague play

I hope all those Mariner fans who are vocally against interleague play at least consider what the alternative would be this series- no Piniella, no ivy, no wind to left field, no Soriano...

Instead you would prefer a series with the White Sox? Perhaps Kansas City?

I've just never understood the arguments against- it's a small part of the season, it allows us to see teams we otherwise only watch on Sportscenter. Not to mention the whole Griffey thing (a post all its own).

Leaving that aside, the team has been genuinely fun to watch. If you don't get excited watching your team win 4 1-run games in a row, it's probably time to admit you're a football fan pretending to like baseball.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Anticipation for Weaver builds

This start sets up pretty well for Weaver.

NL team.
Pitcher friendly park.
On the road (no booing from locals).
Low expectations.
Hitting-challenged team (Padres).

He should go five innings pretty easily. Given our bullpen, he would seem to have not only a good chance of success, but also a pretty good chance for picking up the win.

But will he last 5 innings?

My prediction- 4 2/3 innings, 9 hits, 4 runs.

Privately, Hargrove might actually hope the guy gets shelled. Being an old school guy, he's got to be pissed Weaver refused a rehab assignment and is basically forcing the issue. Hence the reason he gets pulled before an opportunity to pickup a win (if the Mariners are lucky enough to be in that situation).

So let's see what happens. Should be one of the more interesting starts all year.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Good day

Any day that involves Paris Hilton being dragged to jail is already off to a great start- coming off a draft that seemed to involve common sense is just icing on the cake. While I certainly claim to know nothing about the draft, the pick of Aumont looks good. The fear among all of us was to see the Front Office pull a "Morrow"-

Mor·row (môr'ō, mŏr'ō) noun
  1. The following day: resolved to set out on the morrow.
  2. The time immediately subsequent to a particular event.
  3. The complete misuse of a resource in an attempt to cover up a previous, egregious error
Ok, so I made that last part up. But the point is the team did the right thing in avoiding the temptation to make a quick, college reliever-type pick and instead looked at the big picture. We criticize the front office at times, so when they make a good choice we should acknowledge it- good job Bavasi and company.

As time goes on, I think most fans realize the M's face a bit of an uphill struggle to make the playoffs. The Angels are quite good and have a loaded farm system. The A's have pitching, a smart GM and a tendency to win in the second half. The Mariners have a team constructed in such a way to make easy upgrades fairly difficult. Combine this with a manager who would never be described as "creative" and the team faces some challenges if they want to be seen as competitive all summer. They've played well lately against some pretty lousy teams. The next few weeks will show if they really are a good team, or just better than last year.

The best part about this team right now, playoff chances aside, is they are vastly more entertaining. We have actually seen some comebacks, we feel reasonably confident every time someone other than Weaver is starting, and the bullpen is almost lights-out these days. So the team is better than last year, and that's worth something. But they are going to need to start taking care of business against some good teams before I get excited about a playoff run.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Still don't understand Morrow

I've watched a lot of baseball over the years, and I've seen a lot of hard-throwing pitchers who have a fastball and little else get lit up. Remember Putz when he first came up? His arrow-straight fastball was launched over the wall enough times to make even his mother wonder if he would ever be what he is now- one of the top relievers in all of baseball. He threw hard, but that's about it. And when he got in trouble, he tried to throw harder. The lesson was obvious- no matter how hard you throw, the hitters will eventually catch up to you.

So is the difference between Morrow and early Putz just some movement on his fastball? Every time I watch Morrow, I sit in amazement at his effectiveness. Essentially his technique boils down to this- throw as hard as possible in the general direction of home plate.

Watch where the catcher sets up, and watch how often Morrow actually locates his fastball. It's not uncommon to see a hitter fall behind 1-2, and yet not a single pitch would have been a called strike. It seems like the hitters look at that fastball and are convinced they can hit it, much like Putz 3 years ago. So they bail out Morrow by swinging at pitches out of the strikezone.

The comparison that jumps to mind is Mariano Rivera. His cut fastball has been fooling hitters for years. They know it's coming, but can do little to hit it. It has just enough sideways movement to deceive the hitter, and is probably responsible for at least a few WS rings.

Morrow is wild, has one pitch, and is effective. I don't know how long he can keep this up, but I enjoy the show pretty much every time he steps on the mound.

Especially because I can't explain it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

While we wait for Weaver's next start

Seriously, who's not excited to see Weaver's next start? Will he record an out, will he make it out of the first inning, will he pitch a complete game shutout, or does Willie run screaming from the dugout and chase Weaver all over the outfield on orders from Hargrove... the possibilities are endless. As stupid as the decision is to start Weaver, I'm beyond trying to fight it with words so I'll just tune-in and see what takes place. It truly is must-see TV for M's fans.

Meanwhile, the teams continues to hit and beat bad teams. In essence that has been the pattern. Lost in Cleveland. Beat Tampa and KC. Lost at Anaheim. Beat Texas. Beat Baltimore last night.

I'm certainly not complaining. While there is no question the hitting has coincided perfectly with the abysmal pitching we've seen, it has still been exciting. Last night when Vidro came in as a pinch hitter and got yet another infield single, it was fun! Who didn't feel relief when the game was tied and we realized Felix had been bailed out by his team and wouldn't take the loss? I can guarantee Felix will return the favor many times over the rest of the season when he singlehandedly wins games for the team.

The draft, the wins, the Weaver start, the booing of Bavasi over the weekend- this team has plenty to keep fans & bloggers busy.