Mariners Analysis

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Twins killers

If the Twinkies miss out on the playoffs by a game, the past few are going to hurt in the offseason. The Mariners are playing a team trying real hard to win and are managing to not embarrass themselves in the process. Hopefully management can realize you can have it both ways- play the kids to see what your future looks like while at the same time putting a competitive team on the field. I just hope when September comes around they continue to give others playing time- we know what the veterans can do and have last place to show for it.

A real question mark going in to next season is of course Morrow. I have long expressed my skepticism that the transition will be smooth, as I feel he has never been given the time to develop as a starting pitcher and I don't think Tacoma is just about "stretching out his arm."

The ideal plan sees Morrow invited to spring training as a starter (with the bullpen completely out of the question) and see if he is really, truly ready to start. If the team has any reservations at all, send him back to AAA. Morrow won't like it, but he never should have been in the majors all this time anyway so just suck it up and get you act together. A few more months learning to see if you can be a starter will be put millions more in your back account over time, so let's keep the sob stories out of the paper as much as possible.

I see Morrow likely being ready to face Major League hitters and being effective in July of next year. The Mariners plan on calling him in up a few weeks. I expect September to be a little rough.

I hope Brandon proves me wrong.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

M's need to consider future in September

Last nights game featured a dramatic walk-off homer by Beltre, but I'm sure I'm not the only fan who thought about what it did to our chances of getting Steven Strasburg.

All fans who follow baseball have heard the name. He's probably not a franchise saving guy, and we all know the risks associated with young pitchers, but he has a chance to get fans excited in a way Ken Griffey version 2009 can never achieve.

So if you're the Mariners, you have a choice. Option One is to try to win every game and avoid the tag of 100 losses. It means little to most fans- but we know Howard and Chuck care more about this then any living, breathing person on the planet. Option Two is to tank games and hope to land Strasburg.

Is there something in between? Say play the kids, look towards the future and see what you have to build for next year?

Here's an example. Beltre is playing hurt. The team may consider trading him in the offseason. How about bringing Tui up and playing him at 3rd for an extended period in September. Accomplishes both goals of seeing what you have and possibly increasing your odds of landing Strasburg.

If you apply this strategy across the board in September, you'll actually increase the interest to fans like me who want to see the kids play while at the same time looking towards the future of the club. If you employ this strategy and actually win, well then that's the way the cards play out and you can't feel bad about it.

However, if the team plays veterans and tries to win every game in September, it will result in the worst outcome to everyone not named Chuck or Howard.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Quality Starts and a lousy offense

Geoff Baker of the Times has made a point of calling out the number of quality starts the Mariner starters have made and how few result in a win. It's a topic that was hotly debated over the winter in combination with the Bedard deal and I think is helpful to bring up again today.

If we went back to last winter and looked at previous posts, there was the normal Baker/Bavasi vs. USS Mariner disparity when it came to previewing the M's.

On the USS Mariner side, serious concerns were raised regarding the teams offense and defense coming in to 2008. An expected decline in the teams ability to score combined with one of the worst defenses in baseball was going to make it extremely challenging for the teams pitchers to win games.

On the other hand, you had Geoff Baker write article after article explaining the offense would be very similar to 2007. The argument was losing Guillen was hardly earth shattering and there were multiple options should trouble arise. Everyone was else was coming back, and with a healthy Vidro adjusted to the AL the team was ready to make a run. As for the defense Geoff again countered he watched this team play game after game and didn't see many times when the defense was a significant factor.

Now fast forward to today and what do we have? A terrible offense behind a lousy defense and starting pitchers with losing records. Oh, and we have the quality start metric.

Quality starts is a lot like WHIP. With WHIP you take useful numbers like hits and walks and you combine them in warped way useful to fantasy owners. Are hits a useful stat? Of course. How about walks and innings pitched? Yep, extremely useful. What do you get when you combine them? Not much.

Quality starts is the same thing. You take an artificial snapshot on a pitchers performance and then try to make conclusions from it. If a pitcher is good, they will pitch longer in games then less effective ones and will likely win more games doing it.

But it's not a tool you would ever use if you were building a team. It's just a fun made up stat. And what does it tell us about the Mariners?

It tells us if you take a really good pitcher and have him throw for the Mariners, he's going to lose a lot of games. Because the Mariners can't hit and can't defend. They are one of the three worst teams in baseball, and we don't quality start metrics to tell us that.

If you mention quality starts, you are probably someone who still believes pitching wins championships. It's not that simple, and the evidence is overwhelming.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

At least we're not Mariners fans, right?

The always excellent Replacement Level Yankees web site has a list of the AL LVP rankings.

To no ones surprise, the list is a little... how shall we say... Mariner heavy.

When I first heard of the list, my immediate reaction was surely Kenji would sit on top. After all, he's been awful and has gotten quite a bit of playing time. However, there are 8 Mariners total in the list, so he has some competition for the title.

25 players to start the season. 8 make the list of LVP based on the metrics used.

Pretty much sums it up doesn't it?

Check it out if you haven't already.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We all make mistakes

As the Mariners head toward 100 losses it's pretty obvious the team stinks. Management has juggled the lineup, shuffled players, cut a few, given veterans yards of slack and the losing continues. I think it is fair to say mistakes were made in assembling the team.

Along the way, us fans have made mistakes too. I thought the team was .500 or a little better (I predicted mid-80's the most likely outcome). I never saw this train wreck coming. I made a mistake in judging just how bad this team would be.

But the big debate among Mariner fans after the "how good is this post-88 win team going to be" is the Bedard trade. Sides were taken. Words written. Venom and blood intermingled.

We can now say the trade was a complete disaster. The Bedard supporters couldn't draw up a worse scenario if they tried. Even the most ardent pro-trade fans will admit the trade hurt the team and should never have been made. In other words, the other side was right.

And that's a hard thing for some people to admit. Wrong sucks. It means your analysis, your knowledge of the game, your belief system is incorrect and the only way to avoid the mistake again is to change.

And we all know how people fear change.

This season was set up as a showdown. On one side you have people like USS Mariner, LL, Rob Neyer, BP etc... arguing the team isn't good and the trade foolish on the part of the Mariners. On the other side you have supporters like KJR, Baker, Stone, Kelley, Hickey etc... who thought the trade turned the team in to contenders.

We don't even need to finish up the season to see who won do we? This was a first round knockout and by May the staredown was over and only the most supportive fans around to view the carcass.

If you believed the Bedard trade was good at the time, don't you have to give the other side a little more credit than you did before when the next debate comes up? Don't you have to admit you made a mistake and move on?

It's one thing to say you made a mistake.

It's another to actually make the changes necessary to avoid them in the future. What's the saying.... insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results.

Time for some people to stop the insanity.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Defense does matter

It's funny to watch the post game chatter after another loss to the Angels and hear/read how the error by Yuni cost the team the game. Baker in the Times actually wrote "courtesy of the latest Yuniesky Betancourt mishap in the field" in todays paper.

I find it funny because this same reporter wrote very passionately earlier this season how the Mariners were poised to make a run at the division yet defense didn't seem to be a huge concern at the time.

Consider what was written last January-
"The defense could be slightly worse than last year, or slightly better depending on who replaces Jones and the progression of the middle infield."

Considering Jones was one of the better defenders in baseball before he got hurt I think we can safely say the Mariners defense was downgraded when the trade was made. But the last part of the statement is telling- even the Times beat reporter knew before the season started the progression of the middle infield was important. He's also stating the defense, which already was one of the worst in baseball last year, had the chance to get a little worse or a little better.

In other words, the same reporter who predicted the team would win the division knew full well the teams defense was at best bad. The range was basically worst in the league to maybe bottom third. And guess what- the teams defense is as awful as Geoff feared.

Yet now the defense is costing us games, or so says the paper.

See if you agree with this timeline-
2001: 116 wins and best defense in baseball
2002-2003- decline in wins and defense
2004-2007- defense in bottom 5 in baseball
Jan 2008- Times reporter predicts team will win division while acknowledging defense will be poor
August 13, 2008- Times reporter writes article listing defensive mistake as critical moment in game, leading to yet another loss

So fans need to make a decision. When a team goes in to a season with a terrible defense, do you act surprised when the terrible defense costs you games?

That's what it feels like the Times reporting is doing. When they had a chance earlier this year to read the many articles and computer predictions that showed the Mariners defense stunk and was a leading cause along with an inept offense for a disappointing season, they ignored the evidence. Did Steve Kelley take all the evidence given to him and take that in to account when writing about the Mariners before the season started?

I think not. Did Geoff Baker believe the defense was a critical issue that may well determine the teams chances of being successful this year? His articles and blog posts quite clearly answer that question; defense was not a major concern coming in to the season. He knew it would be bad, and used the NY Yankees as an example of a poor defensive team who still makes the playoffs.

I bring this up just to voice my overall disappointment when I hear fans make a conscious choice to ignore evidence at the beginning of the season and then choose to highlight it when the mood strikes them. It's cherry picking at its worst.

A telling stat for this team is this will now be the FIFTH year in a row it has given up more runs than it has scored. This team has to go back to 2003 to remember what it feels like to score more runs than they give up. They are a bad team. Bad pitching. Bad hitting. Bad fielders. Lack of talent. Lack of power. Lack of patience at the plate.

They all were visible during last nights game. This team was poorly constructed coming in to the season, and had ZERO backup plan when things went sour.

Don't single out Yuni or Lopez or any single player.

It's a collective effort to be this bad, and to focus on a single player or play during a game while the team marches to 100+ losses just doesn't make sense to me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thoughts on Shannon Drayer

"No reporter has spent more time with the Mariners the past 4 years than Shannon Drayer."

In a somewhat surprising move, the radio reporter for KOMO Shannon Drayer was fired last week and it hasn't gone unnoticed in the blogger world. From a purely financial perspective, (it's obviously nothing against Drayer's work) the move makes some sense. The radio station has lost millions on the deal and is simply looking at staunching the bleeding.

As a fan, of course I think it stinks. KOMO signed up for the deal with the Mariners and has now chosen to downgrade their coverage in a move to save a few dollars. Not good PR for sure.

However, as a blogger and Mariner fan I have to admit- I have long wondered what Drayer did that made her worth whatever they were paying her.

Let me try to explain.

KOMO has been paying Drayer's salary (let's say $100k) and travel expenses (~$50-75k?) for years. Now these are totally made up numbers, but just for fun we can guestimate the station was probably paying close to $150-200k a year by the time all the accounting stuff is added in for Drayer's time. What did it get for that money?

A blog that is updated infrequently- check
A radio reporter who gets a few minutes on air before and after a game- check

That about cover it?

I can't think of a single media person who is paid to follow the team and produces less content or analysis. As a member of the radio station reporting on the team, I don't expect a young reporter to be ripping on the M's. Don't get me wrong, I understand the context of her job. Follow the players, pick good stories and entertain the fans.

That's it.

Be entertaining.

But was she? For hardcore fans, I don't see how you can give her a passing grade. Her stuff may have been great, but there's no way the quantity justified the expense. And to the casual fan? Was her two minute update on Raul's batting practice session all that entertaining? Again, I say no. She's not a beat writer. She doesn't have deadlines for tomorrows story. She covers the players, says a few things on air and watches the game. Then she goes on the air for a couple more minutes and then joins Hickey, Baker etc... in the clubhouse.

(Just to be clear, my skepticism of the job was not personally directed at Drayer; more at the way the station chose to user her reporting skills.)

She would occasionally mention hot topics but just as often gave "AP Wire" type of updates. She could have said things on the radio like "... the fans online were really debating Raul's defense after last nights game..." or "...Vidro in the DH spot is raising eyebrows around the league..." more often and still be wearing a reporters hat. She is not making the news, not offering analysis, but is reporting on the team while being entertaining. But either she or the station refused to increase the quantity or entertainment factor of the reports, so what are we left with?

Was it worth listening to 20 minutes of commercials to get to the two minute update that stood a 50/50 chance of a rehash of the lineup or injury report? Not for me.

Would I listen to 20 minutes of commercials to hear a roundtable of Derek at USS Mariner, Jeff at LL and some random ex-Mariner analyst? Sure. That content works for me.

All the access granted as a team reporter didn't feel like "insider information" to me. What did I learn from Drayer? Where was the insight?

The station invested quite a bit of money to send a reporter all around the country and interview players. However, it seemed to struggle with taking the information gathered and presenting it in a compelling, interesting fashion to keep readers and listeners interested.

If of course wish Shannon the best, and hope she lands on her feet perhaps at KIRO.

However, if it's going to be the same limited output as at KOMO, I'd prefer they went in a different direction. She may have spent more time with the team than any reporter the past four years, but I'm not sure I learned enough to justify the expense.

To put it another way, Derek and Dave at USS Mariner get paid zero and have increased my knowledge of the team tremendously. Drayer was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over a similar time span and increased my knowledge of the team a negligible amount.

Not a fair comparison I know, but covering baseball is a business and I wasn't going out of my way to hear or read Drayer's reports. I couldn't have been the only one.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wow, Washburn is awesome

Six innings, only gives up three earned. I am sure at least a dozen teams are chomping at the bit to take on his salary for next year when they see the kind of performance Jarrod is capable of.

According to Baker and others, the M's can make a deal at any time since they can simply put him on waivers and watch him get snapped up. With Joba out, this seems like the perfect time to test the theory.

Personally I think it's crazy to believe the M's always had an August waiver option with Washburn. The team took a chance when they passed on trading him to the Yankees. Now they are forced to soon decide when to put him on waivers and see if teams bite.

The longer they wait, the more likely Baker and others will be wrong for assuming Washburn would be easily moved this month.

(Then again, I was wrong about the team releasing Vidro with so little time left in the season. I think one thing we can all agree on is we've all been wrong in one way or another about this season.)

But Washburn needs to go. There should be no disagreement there, regardless of how easy you might think it will be.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Who is in charge of the Mariners?

Now they DFA Vidro on August 5th? Right after they move Morrow to the pen?

I'm with everybody else. Where did this come from?

Sure, the team is the laughing stock of baseball. They will be the first $100+ million team with 100 losses. They are included on every list of losers with regards to the trading deadline. Their decision to draft a reliever in the first round was met with snickers throughout baseball. They are regularly included in the bottom on team rankings. They are casually slammed by baseball analysts on a daily basis. The Onion even jumps in the fray. What is left? The Word on the Colbert Report?

Through all this, the team continued on its merry way, making decisions that baffled everyone. Now out of the blue, with the same interim GM and interim manager who was quoted LAST NIGHT there was no internal consensus on Morrow, who hadn't talked to the pitching coach about moving Morrow in TEN DAYS we have our bombshells.

It's great. I'm not complaining. I'd just like to understand why our irrational friends suddenly make two good decisions in a row. Even blind squirrels find a nut? Or is something else happening over at Safeco field behind the scenes?

This is not the normal Mariner Front Office. Something happen, and I suspect we'll get some answers shortly.


USS Mariner is reporting Morrow is heading to AAA to learn how to be a starter. After all the confusing reports we've heard... they haven't talked about it, there is no consensus internally etc... I have to say I'm surprised to hear the news.

If logic were in place, this would have happened 18 months ago but I won't complain because the team actually made an intelligent decision.

If the team announces Ibanez to a 3-yr extension tomorrow then all good news is lost. However, this is a baby step towards rebuilding the team with intelligence and planning.

Hooray to the team showing belated common sense. Not a slam, just a fact.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Morrow is not a security blanket

Or a babysitter for that matter. Yet we hear more and more the M's are finally considering having a plan to move Morrow to the rotation (hooray for waking from zombie sleep) but the plan depends on Putz.

To which I say wtf!

Who cares if Putz is ready to close right now. You are the worst team in the AL BY FAR. There really isn't even a close second. Your closer situation is the last thing on the list to worry about.

Do we even need to debate who is more important, a starter or closer? Any rational, breathing baseball person (sorry Chuck) knows full well Brandon Morrow is more important to this team as a starter. Do you think the Yanks regret moving Joba to the rotation? Do you think the Giants are considering moving Lincecum to the bullpen? This line of thinking is so stupid it's embarrassing to even need to bring it up.

This past weekend saw 30,000+ fans show up on a weekend to watch the worst team in the AL play Baltimore. Do you think the closer situation matters to one fan that showed up at Safeco? Do you think Dad told the kids "let's go see a baseball ga... oh wait, Morrow isn't in the bullpen... forget it" even once?

If Safeco fans were about winning and losing, the place would have been deserted yesterday. But our illustrious leaders pat themselves on the back for making idiotic decisions like leaving Morrow in the bullpen by rationalising they are keeping fans coming through the turnstiles.

Morrow's development should be 100% focused on making him the best starting pitcher he can be. If he fails, he can head back to the bullpen. The closers role on a team heading toward 100+ losses is not simply not a problem they should be worrying about. It's like their watching their car get repo'd and wondering if the tire pressure is okay. In my opinion the teams handling of Morrow is a clear sign leadership is behaving irresponsibly and should be replaced. There is simply no rational argument that begins with "Putz needs..." or "The bullpen..." when talking about the move to Morrow and the rotation. There just isn't.

So where is the media in all this? Does Larry Stone criticize the Mariners handling of the situation in the paper? Does Geoff Baker, or Hickey or anyone else who gets paid to follow this team call bullshit on this cave man thinking?

If we want the Mariners to act like a team that's thinking of the future, we need the local media to start caring as well. I know Kelley and a lot of the local writers are probably gearing up for football and have already lost interest in the season. But that is no excuse they can't use their forum to educate the masses when the team is making yet again a stupid baseball decision. We don't need to extend Jose Vidro, and we sure as hell don't need to see Brandon Morrow closing games 1-2 times a week.

Stupid is as stupid does.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Time for team to put "plan" in action

Last year Bill Bavasi right after the trade deadline made the ridiculous statement bringing Adam Jones from AAA was "in play" and we soon saw him with the club. Of course there is no rule in baseball that says you can't bring prospects up until after the trade deadline, hence the ridiculous quote, but for whatever reason it took the deadline to get the team to make a move.

Now that the artificial deadline has past, what can we expect? Are there are plans in store for Lee and the brain trust?

Here's a few obvious moves.

- Release Vidro. He will of course clear waivers and many have expected his release. However, as I noted earlier the team could have released him months ago and didn't. With the expanded Sept. roster getting closer by the day, I expect Vidro to remain with the team in a reduced role.
- Bring up RRS. He is pitching well in AAA and could be brought up to replace Batista or Washburn. Will certainly join club by September at the latest.
- Washburn traded. He should be immediately put on waivers to see if teams are still willing to eat his contract. Baker and others think the market for Washburns contract is bigger than I do. With teams like the Yankees having future options Hughes and Wang getting closer by the day, I don't see any reason the team would want to wait until late August to make a move. If he isn't moved in the next 10 days, I suspect he's on the opening day roster in '09.
- Morrow to rotation. Should have already happened. Smart teams don't send top talent to winter ball, and hoping Morrow magically becomes a starter next spring is risky. However, team has shown no ability to think ahead so expect him to remain in pen for rest of the year.
- Wlad. Should be brought up and given playing time in majors, however I've never been sold on him as an every day major league player so don't really care what they do here. I expect him to be called up in September and keep the bench warm.
- Cairo release. Team won't do it. Next.
- Bench Willie. Team won't do it. Next.
- Move Ibanez to DH. Team won't do it. Next.
- ??

Ideally the team will start making moves to strengthen the roster knowledge they have going in to the off season. However, they consistently have over valued their players and are still struggling to understand why the team is so lousy. Combined with a bunch of interim managers who have little to no creative bones in their body, we can expect much of the same.

Send out same players.
Lose game.
Act surprised same plan produces same results.
Go home at end of season.

That appears to be the "plan" Chuck and Howie are implementing.