Mariners Analysis

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Surprising move

I have to admit, I am surprised the team decided to make logical, tough business moves with the promotion of Clement and Wlad. They totally screwed up Jones last year, and they and Baker can try and explain how the situations are completely different all they want, but the team made a quick decision on Wilkerson and I am genuinely surprised.

However, as much as I am happy to see the team make this decision I am concerned about expectations. You cannot judge what Wlad does in 20 at bats. You just can't. Same goes for Clement. If this team thinks vets can be judged under a different set of rules they are kidding themselves. You bring up Wlad and play him because you believe he is ready to play at the ML level. You cannot yank him from the lineup because he went 0-9. You can't make him feel every at bat determines his future in the majors. They already feel enough pressure as it is, and the team doesn't need to add to it by some ridiculous playing schedule McLaren makes up based on the previous night.

The best possible outcome is both Wlad and Clement come out smoking and eliminate whatever "platoon" McLaren comes up with. They can say Wlad is the starting RF all they want, but a hot start will really help the team and the players avoid a repeat of previous years.

The team management did something they wouldn't have done last year, or the past 5 years. It's refreshing, and I welcome them to the 21st Century.

Monday, April 28, 2008

We've had great starting pitching

Something that I see written by many columnists and fans-

"The team has great starting pitching..."

It's true of course. You have Bedard, Felix and Silva who if they continued on their present pace would all be competing for a Cy Young award. But we know that's not happening.

Batista has been spotty, but hopefully Friday night is just a blip and he continues to pitch well enough to win some games.

Washburn is a true back of the rotation kind of guy. He will have some games where the team hits them right at somebody and gets great results... and other nights where he's the same pitcher but gets shelled.

Silva is a number three pitcher. We can either believe in the 10 years of previous data or the past 5 weeks. If you think Stottlemeyer is a genius and Bavasi found a hidden gem, I guess Silva will have a FIP of 3.5 and win 18 games this year. It's also possible he's due for a serious regression to the mean.

Felix is fantastic, no doubt about that. Let's hope McLaren doesn't let him throw 115 pitches every game because he can't manage a bullpen.

Bedard when healthy is looking good as well. Jury is still out until he can throw some starts together.

The FO needs to act with a sense of urgency with the offense because there will be a time when the starting pitching comes back to earth. There is no way Silva pitches like this all year, and we are under .500 with him hiding a superman cape under his uniform.

Can you imagine what this team will do if the offensive woes continue and the starting pitching hits a rough spot?

That should be keeping Bavasi up at night right now.

Ugly series ending

You don't want to make too much of a tough loss in such a long season, but really the weekend in general was bad for Mariner fans.

The weekend didn't start off on a good note with the Joh extension. I see most fans have been largely negative on the deal, and I agree with them. In a perfect world this is a good business deal, but we aren't dealing in that universe. It's the Bavasi/M's world that is far more scary.

If you are an optimist towards the M's moves, like say Baker of the Times, then this is good business sense because you could always move him in the future if Clement takes off. By letting him play out the year, you risk losing him for nothing if a team comes along and offers him silly money. As long as the contract is reasonable, the teams gives itself some options for the future.

The pessimist of course says you signed a catcher on the down side of his career and have already given up on your #3 pick of the future in Clement. After we watched Morrow and his stunted development as an 8th inning guy while Timmy lights it up in San Fran, you can see why M's fans are stunned to see this approach.

How can Bavasi already proclaim Clement's future is not behind the plate when he refuses to give him any time to see with his own eyes? Are the Mariners really this down on his defensive abilities after three years they are ready to move him somewhere else? Where they haven't even seen him play any other position!! Is Bavasi really saying Clement at 25 is DH material only?

Can Clement play a decent 1st base? It sounds like Bavasi thinks so, even though he's never seen any extended time there. Remember the word from KC that Ibanez does not make a good 1st basemen? You can't just automatically think any stiff can catch the ball so 1st base isn't an auto-option. (Of course then again, this franchise thinks Sexson is tall and really good at first base, so then again anything is possible.)

Short answer is the signing of Johjima was depressing. It was depressing because it means Clement is a long ways from helping the team, if ever, and it means this season will be a long one.

Then of course we had the Felix disaster. Remember all the talk about how a 1-2 punch stops losing streaks? What if your starting pitcher is really good, but you have no one you trust to hold the lead until you get to your closer? So you leave your starter in too long for multiple games, driving his pitch count up in the process. Then your team loses anyway because it can't score runs.

That's what the Bedard trade has netted us so far. Two good pitchers, a weakened bullpen and a lousy offense.

Now it's up to the players to either turn this around, or watch Bavasi and company make a panic move to try and save their jobs. The blogs will be busy this summer regardless of how it turns out.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jones and GS52 come to town

While it was painful to see 5 players shipped away to Baltimore for a brittle pitcher, that ship has sailed and I look forward to seeing these guys play, especially Jones. I wish him all the best, and certainly am not rooting against him (except when he plays the Mariners of course).

A casual fan might look at Jones .649 OPS and wonder what all the fuss was about. But of course that would be a foolish mistake. Just as McLaren isn't going to yank Vidro from the lineup based on this years stats, the Orioles aren't about to bench Jones on 62 at bats. It's the definition of small sample size.

Some people like to make a correlation between the start of a baseball players careers in the majors and his chance at stardom. They feel if he comes out and has a great start, then certainly that proves he has the "mental toughness" to make it in the majors. This is one of those quickly thought out theories that anyone can make up as they sound reasonable at first, but the reality is the numbers show it has no merit. (The people who believe in this are the same fans who argue Wlad is really better than Jones, based on what the two did during irregular playing time last year in the bigs.)

A quick look at the Mariners is all you need to do to disprove the importance of a fast start and the guarantee of major league success. Most would agree Alex will finish his career as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Look at his numbers his first year and tell me if it was a mistake to continue to play him.

Conversely, our own lovable Willie Bloomquist is at the other end of the spectrum. Started out hot during his audition late in the year and but up some impressive numbers. Much better than anything he'd done in the minors at that point. Since then? He's proven to be one of the worst hitters in baseball when given half a season to play. There's a reason Bloomquist doesn't start many games any more for the Mariners.

No one can really explain why some hitters start out hot, then cool off. Or others start slow, and then finally show their potential. For every example of a touted rookie who starts off hitting the world on fire then slumping (usually blamed on fatigue) there is a twin who started the opposite. It is too easy to cherry pick numbers based on 62 at bats, so I caution anyone to not read too much into it because it's more complex then simply rookie vs veteran some make it out to be.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Is Richie back?

He had a great weekend, and if he continues at this pace he'll hit 42 home runs. I think we all agree we'd take that in a minute. He's in the Top-Ten in HR's, walks and RBI's which is what you want from a first basemen making $15 million.

However, let's see if he can keep this up. I need to see more than a nice couple of weeks before I get too excited and feel the Richie of '07 is gone forever. While this is clearly great for his confidence, and should keep the boos at bay at Safeco, I still feel the league will have an answer for him.

If you watch, it's clear he's made adjustments at the plate. What I am concerned is the league hasn't really cared at this point what he's done based on last year, but that will change in a hurry. Once the revised "book" comes out on his new approach he's going to start getting something he can't handle and we'll see the old, frustrated Richie at the plate.

I hope it doesn't happen. I'll root for him at every at-bat, and I hope Sexson and the M's coaches will detect any changes in pitch selection and make the appropriate counter-move to keep him productive in the lineup.

What we don't want is for McLaren to see a couple of weeks of good Richie and then continue to wait for that same hitter to reappear if the struggles we saw last year return. This team NEEDS the guy we saw this weekend. I hope he really is on track to win Comeback Player of the Year, as McLaren predicted earlier this spring.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dennis Green and the Mariners

When the team swept in Oakland recently, I detected a hint of smugness among some fans who still feel resentment over the discussion about how good this team really is. There is a segment of fans so invested in their positions about how we now have a playoff caliber team they are just waiting to send a giant "I told you so" towards USS Mariner in particular.

But really, isn't this team right about where everyone thought they'd be?

Consider the general consensus among most fans before the season started-
  • The AL West looked pretty down this year, with Texas and Oakland rebuilding and Anaheim without their two top starters
  • The Mariners have a significant spending advantage over Texas and Oakland, are on roughly on par with the Angels
  • The wildcard team is unlikely to come from the West. The WS favorites are generally in the Central and East this year
  • The Mariners improved their starting rotation over the offseason, both through acquisition (Bedard and Silva) and subtraction (Weaver, HoRam).
  • The pessimists view of the season saw them winning somewhere around 85 games. Nice season, but not making the playoffs historically given what it takes to win the West.
  • The most optimistic fan thinks 95 wins is achievable.
The general swing between half-full and half-empty fans this year was about ten games, based on about 10 billion words expended over the off season.

So here we are a few weeks in to the season, and the team is right around .500 and in the thick of the AL West race. It reminds me a lot of Dennis Green in one of his famous speeches in the NFL, when after losing to the Bears he was asked about his opponent. He erupted into the famous "...they are who we thought they were" speech.

Doesn't that about explain the Mariners at this point? They have played a few teams, suffered a few injuries, and are right around .500 on the season. It should come as no surprise, and I don't think anyone can claim victory at this point in terms of how they saw the season unfold. Like all sports, some players are excelling (Felix, Raul) and some are struggling (Vidro, Wilk) but in general these even out over the course of the season.

All in all, this team is exactly what everyone said. An entertaining team that is worth watching, but as of right now isn't quite ready to be World Series favorites. That's a million times better than what we've been used to the past few years, so we should all put our "told you so" speeches on hold. There's room on this team for everyone to be right.

Bedard injury

Here is a link to the infamous Hardball Times article discussing the hip injury.

The author goes to great lengths to explain he is merely speculating on what might be causing the hip inflammation so there is no reason to get worried until we have more information.

It's interesting Baker and Hickey aren't saying much, but I'm sure they are waiting for the team to provide an update just like the rest of us.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Eric O'Flaherty and the rules of baseball

It's fun to see Felix pitch so well, but I have long maintained he is the true number one on this staff and Bedard on opening day was purely for political purposes.

But we know Felix is good and has unlimited potential. This is only a news flash to those that haven't paid attention and tried to focus more on "maturity" and less on the 96 mph fastball and killer assortment of offspeed pitches.

Assuming Silva pitches well tonight (which is not a given, although the A's offense will help) and Raul continues to hit, many casual fans are going to look at the team like this:
- Starting pitching? Check
- Offense? Check
- Defense? Not sure if that's important, but Sexson is the tallest 1st basemen around so Check...
- Bullpen? Great, except for that stupid EOF!!

I am predicting this bullpen is going to get a lot of attention in the coming weeks. If the starters keep the pen rested and Putz returns soon, McLaren and company may get by for awhile. But eventually the pen is going to cost us wins, and I'm guessing it's sooner rather than later (history says Silva is not a Cy Young candidate, for example).

In order to look at the present bullpen, it helps to restate one of the many truisms in baseball.

Relievers who are good one year might suck the next.

It's a simple but time tested rule. It has cost the Yankees a lot of money trying to prove this rule to be incorrect, but it is foolish to try. For a number of reasons, a guy can be unhittable one year, and be the Mariners EOF the next. Why?

A couple of reasons.

First, it helps to remember most relievers are failed starters. Teams not run by Bavasi draft guys to be starters first, and if they can't make it for whatever reason they move to the pen. It could be health issues, it could be inability to get through a lineup, a plus pitch but nothing else etc... but generally guys start, fail, then go to the pen. Some fans forget Putz was a starter in the minors and went to the pen because he had no future in this league in a rotation and needed to find his niche (and of course we are glad he did).

But those issues that kept the pitcher from the starting rotation often creep back in when they enjoy success in the relief role. Maybe they experience the 1,000th little nagging injury that forces a small, but noticeable change in their mechanics. Or maybe they were a one-hit wonder and the league simply figured him out. But regardless, relievers are constantly tinkering with new pitches because they know history says their shelf-life as an effective hurler is limited.

A second important point is sample size. When a guy only faces in some cases one or two hitters a game, he can go quite a while and put up some impressive numbers when in reality he may not be that good. EOF was effective for part of last year. He should not be considered a given because he was good for part of a season.

This is all part of a larger mistakes fans make when evaluating a team from year to year. They looked at last years bullpen, assumed a level of performance based on '07 for this year and figured losing Sherrill was no big deal. They want to cherry pick the players they expect to do better, and never take a hard look at who might fall back.

Turnover is normal for a bullpen. Guys should be expected to regress and improve not only from year to year, but month to month during a season. In my opinion, this is the biggest area where a pitching coach and manager can earn their paychecks. In the business world, there is a simple mantra for this type of management: Know your people!

And here's why I think the Mariners are in trouble. The team and the manager is so focused on roles, they are losing sight of the bigger picture.

As evidence, I present Rhodes and Morrow.

Very different career paths, both in the same place. Unproven, but about to be put in difficult positions that might cost the team runs.

Now a casual fan might immediately question how Rhodes is unproven. They will point to his years of effective relief. But let's go back to our previous statement to not rely on the past as a guarantee of future performance. Just as financial institutions will caution to not let past performance cloud your vision of the present, let's not forget Rhodes has never come back from TJ surgery as a 38 year old.

He has no idea if he is really ready to pitch. He wants to pitch. He wants to get a major league paycheck. But McLaren is gambling, because he doesn't know either. If the team let him face batters for a month in AAA, we might have a better idea. Spring training gave us all kinds of warnings signs. Do we really think a couple of weeks in Tennessee solved anything?

And don't even get me started on Morrow. The papers can quote all the crap they want about how many pitches Morrow has learned, but he hasn't shown it on the field.

The same manager who was caught off guard with EOF's failures is now putting Rhodes and Morrow in situations they are not prepared. Expect lots of fireworks in the bullpen over the next couple of weeks.

In fact, I guarantee it.

Just as long as Carlos Silva doesn't win the Cy Young.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Washburn is what he is

It's funny reading the papers after Jarrod's start against the Royals. The familiar line goes... pitched great except for those two mistakes.

Except that's how all #5 pitchers play the game. If you let every pitcher go back and "erase" key events, of course the line looks better. What if Joel Piniero could take back every 1st inning he every pitched in a Mariner uniform... would his numbers look better? Of course.

Washburn didn't make two "mistakes" yesterday. He is a throw-to-contact pitcher and he's trying to get the batter to get himself out. When he catches too much of the plate, sometimes the hitter flies out, hits it right too somebody, misses the ball or hits a home run. We could count a dozen pitches that were solidly in the middle of the strike zone last night, but we only get excited when the other team hits a home run or drives somebody in.

Despite what the team says, Washburn is the 5th best starter on the team. He's basically a slightly above replacement level pitcher who is going to have Ryan Franklin type games. Sometimes the other team hits every ball right to a Mariner defender and the team and McLaren praise Washburn for a great outing. Sometimes the batters drive the ball out of the park and everyone talks about the "mistakes."

This post isn't to pick on Washburn. He's a decent guy who's trying to pitch well and get a win at Safeco. This post is more about understanding what Washburn is- an overpaid starter who was signed by Bavasi to restock a system that was so bereft of arms he felt like he had no other choice. Washburn and Silva don't pitch the same but expect similar trajectories. A few years from now Carlos will be cashing those $12/mil checks as he describes his "mistakes" to the media as the #5 pitcher on the team...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Silver lining

The best part about yesterday was now we should see a significant decline in the number of posts wanting to see Morse in the lineup. We knew his defense in the outfield was terrible, and yesterday even the most casual of fans could finally see for themselves what apparently John McLaren could not.

Morse cannot play the outfield.

That's about the only good thing that came out of Sunday's game.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Rhodes not the answer

With the team and management trying to patch up a bullpen, we keep hearing the name Aurthur Rhodes pop up. He is eligible to be promoted to the club shortly, and at this point it sounds like a foregone conclusion he will be getting the call from McLaren in critical games.

I'm sorry, but any question that has Rhodes as the answer for helping your club win games at this point reeks of desperation. I was disappointed when they announced they signed Rhodes last spring. He was coming in on the inevitable downward slope of his career and I thought his injury was a blessing in some ways. It removed the temptation for Hargrove/McLaren to put him in a game in '07.

The injury wasn't just a pulled muscle- it's the kind of injury that causes plenty of players in Rhodes position to hang up the cleats. Late in their career, their bank account well off, why go through rehabilitation to try and salvage a season or two. Plenty of players don't want to be remembered as the guy who lost a bunch of games at the end of their career.

But Rhodes wants to come back. Good for him, but that doesn't mean the club has to feel obligated to for anything. They gave Arthur one million last season to never pitch a single inning. This spring, he faced mostly sub-major league opponents and didn't look that great. Frankly, he needs to prove himself before he is thrust in a major league game with anything on the line.

But the Mariners seem ready to give him the ball, regardless if he has been successful in years. I think it will be a huge mistake, and expect it to cost them games in the process. Every player is going to look like David Justice up at the plate.

McLaren loves his veterans, but Rhodes is not going to get this club out of the cellar.

Monday, April 07, 2008


We all knew when JJ went down last week it would have some affect on the team. How many clubs can expect to lose their closer and not see an impact? So the club finds itself 2-4 when it could very easily be 4-2 if the Putz of last season was available.

What is frustrating of course is how we got here and how the club and players are handling the situation. All teams need to have a plan when their closer goes down (when, not if). Here's the frustrating part-
- Soriano would be a natural fall back plan, but we traded him away for nothing.
- Sherrill would be an alternative, and the numbers say he would have handled those left handers just fine. But we know where he went and was largely written off by the pro-trade people as easily replaced.
- Morrow is seemingly the heir apparent closer of the future judging by how the club handles him, but is out with any injury (they passed on Lincecum due to an injury risk, while Morrow was seen as the safer bet).
- Rhodes, Reitsma and Lowe were all injury risks coming in to the season. The club was forced to leave the veterans home when their bodies were not ready to start the season.

So there is reason to be frustrated, even though ultimately the players failed to get three outs last night and ruin a fine performance by Felix. The club has found itself in a tough spot by trading away key parts of the bullpen w/o adequate replacement. It compounded the problem by relying on aging vets in spring training, and then struggles to fill "roles" when injuries ruin their plan coming out of spring training.

I'll add one more reason to be frustrated regarding the current bullpen. If you go back to the end of last season, you'll find many including myself criticizing the team for sending Morrow to winter ball. It seemed like a no win situation. Morrow faces sub-quality opposition in a hand full of starts, adding wear and tear on his body and mind.

Let's remember, Morrow is not some seasoned minor-league lifer who's been throwing hundreds of innings every year. He was injured for two of his collegiate seasons and really only had his final year in college to point to as having been successful and healthy. Let's recap-
2004 29.7 innings
2005 25.0 innings
2006 96.7 innings
So he racked up 151 innings over three years, and then in his rookie season with the M's had to pitch spring training, 162 game season, starter in winter ball and now '08 spring training.

And now he's struggling with command and a tired arm. Really, who could have predicted that? Shocking!

The team could have been better prepared when Putz went down. They traded away two obvious replacements, and we find ourselves looking for McLaren to figure out a plan.

Sorry if I seem a little frustrated, even though it is just 6 games into the season.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mariner warts on display

The team has played all of two games and is 1-1. It is way too early to start making changes to anyones thoughts on the team after two games, and anyone who's opinion has changed already probably didn't think things through very well in the first place.

After the opening day win, many fans were super excited and thinking ahead to the playoffs(!). After the next days loss, all of a sudden people are panicking and finding reasons to assign blame. It's funny how even in a 162 game schedule, as humans we put so much into every game.

Last nights blown save by Putz isn't going to happen all that often. Texas' pitching sucks, but they have a nice offense and you can't expect to win many games without doing some hitting yourself. It's too bad the game was as close as it was, and this is where the warts many have been yelling about reared their ugly head.
  • The offense is just a repeat of last year- we have harped on Bavasi and his plan of only upgrading the pitching staff all winter, and basically taking the offense for granted. This is the same, no power, singles hitting team we saw in '07. They get a lot of hits, but often don't score a lot of runs. Talking about "putting the game in motion" is just talk. Actually scoring runs consistently takes more than that.
  • George was really good in the pen last year- we often hear the media talking about who would "replace" Sherrill. The fact is, no one on the roster is replacing him. There is a reason Baltimore wanted him in the trade for Bedard.
  • Sexson is not winning comeback player of the year- some day, the Seattle Mariners might understand the concept of "sunk cost." That time has yet to come.
  • Proper bench usage- some day, the Seattle Mariners might understand the concept of a "bench." That time has yet to come.
  • Defense- if fans want any evidence of why defense is important, just watch Michael Young play the field for Texas. As good as his bat is at Arlington, it is literally erased by his fielding. And to think they are paying him the money they are... But anyway, the Mariners have made some pretty boneheaded plays in the field already (not to mention the basepaths). If they want to play like the champs many think they are, the defense has to improve immediately.
Texas can hit, and the Mariners found that out last night. Bring the bats, because the "pitching wins championships" crap we hear all the time is completely untrue and counterproductive to any real discussion on building a team.

I still expect this team to be in first place at the end of April, but last night some warts were exposed. The team isn't going to try removing them in one month, but lets see if the fans have the same patience.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Felix time

The team and media may list Felix number two, but no question he is the ace of the staff in my heart and mind. I feel he did nothing in spring training or last season to "lose" the starting honor, and see no reason he won't be getting better and better with more experience. As long as he enjoys good health, this may be the last opening day he doesn't start for a long, long time.

This of course is not at all dependent on how he pitches today. Just as last years brilliant starts to the season didn't earn him the nod this year, he can give up 5 runs in the first and walk ten batters tonight and it won't change his potential. Given his modest salary and talent, if we really want the M's to win the World Series in the next few years, it's going to take Felix pitching like we know he is capable to get there.

So last night watching Bedard was fun. This game tonight is more serious. We have a work in progress who can thrill and disappoint all in one night. If he can throw a fastball for strikes and remove his maddening habit of grooving a ball down the middle of the plate about 3 times a game, he will be the savior this team has needed to lead them to the post season.


Last nights game was fun to watch, but we still don't know much about this team, or the Rangers. Our defense was spotty at times, and the Lopez attempted steal of 3rd was a large warning sign this team is not entirely on the same page just yet.

Realistically we won't really understand this team till June. We know the bullpen did a great job last night. We don't know how it will fare against other opponents, in other cities. We don't know much more about Sexson, McLaren or Vidro and won't for some time.

So right now we get to just have fun and watch the game. We don't need to over analyze every move, simply because the sample size is too small and we are watching human beings play a game.

Enjoy the win, enjoy the series and enjoy seeing baseball again.