June 24, 2003 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

With two more hits tonight, Ichiro! now has a 19 game hitting streak. 14 of those 19 games have been multi-hit games, including 7 of the last 8. He has nearly as many 4 hit games (3) as he does 1 hit games (5). He’s 40-81 during the stretch. And to think, a month ago, I wrote he was going to the all-star game on reputation. What the heck was I thinking?

June 24, 2003 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

Good Cirillo, Redux

Yea, so I’m probably the last guy on earth who is still standing up for him, but I’m stubborn.

Cirillo, on road, in June: .261/.393/.348 (6-23, 2 doubles, 5 walks)

Cirillo, at home, in June: .209/.258/.241 (6-29, 1 double, 2 walks)

His awful June and coinciding slump that Derek referred to was basically just a homestand. Cirillo hits like a pitcher at Safeco Field, that we know. His season numbers at home are now .200/.245/.250. He’s still pretty useful away from Safeco, though, hitting a respectable .277/.384/.372.

At this point, with both Cirillo and Cameron, I believe the mental frustration has gotten to them. Cirillo is just a different hitter when he’s not in Seattle. In 94 road at-bats, he’s drawn 15 walks against 12 strikeouts, but he’s drawn just 5 walks while still striking out 12 times in 100 at-bats at home. Safeco is downright intimidating to righthanded hitters, and Cirillo and Cameron have not shown an ability to overcome this problem.

This is why I’m against a trade for Mike Lowell, or pretty much any other right-handed bat. The Mariners offense on the road is great. What they need are more people who can hit at Safeco Field. Right now, its basically Boone, Ichiro, Olerud, and Guillen, and the rest of the line-up (Martinez included) goes into the tank when the M’s come home. Safeco really doesn’t do that much harm to lefties, and that is probably what they should focus on acquiring. It may be dramatic, but its time to seriously consider finding Cirillo a home/road platoon mate.

June 24, 2003 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

The Madness of Bob Melvin

Bases Outs
0 1 2
empty 0.57 0.31 0.12
1st 0.97 0.60 0.27
2nd 1.18 0.73 0.33
1st, 2nd 1.63 1.01 0.48
3rd 1.52 1.00 0.41
1st, 3rd 1.92 1.24 0.52
2nd, 3rd 2.05 1.50 0.64
1st, 2nd, 3rd 2.54 1.70 0.82

That’s a Run Expectation table I got a while back from one of the BP dudes (Michael Wolverton). It’s for 2000, because that’s what I had lying around, and since I’m not getting paid for this, you’re not getting the consulting-rate research. But it’ll do for our purposes.

What it is is a way to estimate the value of certain situations. For instance, if you have a guy on first and no outs, an average team in an average ballpark against an average pitcher would get 1 run (well, .97 runs). Notice how quickly the run expectation drops eith each out.

You can start to see some things: guy on first, no outs, .97. Sacrifice him to second, 1 out, and.. uh, oh, you’ve cost yourself a fifth of a run.

So, let’s look at Bob’s weirdest fixation: bunting guys from 1,2 to 2,3.

0 outs: 1.63 runs before the sac to 1.50 runs after.

1 outs: 1.01 runs before the sac to .64 runs after.

Counter-productive. Always counter-productive. As an offense, you only have 27 outs to work with, and giving them up is almost never a good idea.

Now this isn’t a sure-fire situation: because it assumes a league-average hitter, for instance, if you’ve got a particularly weak hitter up with a penchant for ground balls, it may make more sense to take the sure advancement, but only if you don’t have any pinch-hitting options available to you.

The reverse, however, is also true: if you have good hitters up, it makes even less sense to give up an out when there’s a good chance the batter will advance the runners and be safe themselves.

Let’s say you’ve got Mike Cameron up and runners on 1,2. Cameron’s been hitting well this year, he’s a righty, and he’s historically a pronounced fly-ball hitter, which means you’re at a decreased risk of a double-play ball aaand even if he gets himself out there’s a chance you get the runner from second to third anyway. Aaaand let’s say you’re down by two. Needing two runs, it doesn’t do you any good to try and bunt the two runners over: it would appear that it does, in the sense that it takes away the DP and allows a single to score both runners, but the chance of the runner from second scoring on a single is actually pretty low. What you really need is a couple of hits, and maybe a dinger. What you don’t want is to squander any of those outs.

So knowing that, and knowing that trading an out for a one-base advancement is dumb, why would you ever do it?

I know that small baseball is ‘how the game is supposed to be played’ and that everyone has to hear this tripe from the announcing crews constantly. Ron Fairly, for example, will say “It’s amazing how many times you play for one run and get more than run.” Yeah, Ron, it’s amazing — almost never. As Earl Weaver put it, you should only play for one run if that one run will win you the ballgame.

It must be hard for Melvin as a rookie manager, eager to prove himself, to remain passive in these situations, to let the game play itself out and not try and make something happen. He’s eager to make his mark, to do things when not doing a thing would be better, in order to show that he’s active and engaged and working for the team, and it’s a shame that much of what he’s doing — the bunting, the fixation on L/R matchups — is counterproductive.

June 24, 2003 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

If I may be excused for lapsing into the crazy, I’d like to see Ichiro hit .400 this year. He’s hitting .356 so far, and that’s dragged down by his terrible start. In the last couple months he’s been on fire. I punched some numbers into the U.S.S. Mariner Predictotron 2000, and here’s what it said: to finish the season at .400 — not rounding up to .400, but .400 or better — Ichiro will have to get 260 or more hits in his 650 at-bats. In his remaining ~344 at-bats, he’d have to get 151 hits, or hit .439 the rest of the way. Here’s how he can do it, as explained by Wildly Optimistic Fan:

“Okay, so what Ichiro does, he’s hitting .417 against lefties this season, right? So we have to figure that Ichiro’s really figured out left-handed pitching, it’s no problem for him, and he’s got an advantage, they still think these guys are going to get him out, so late innings, Ichiro’s going to get a shot at a lefty every night, probably. Huge opportunity for him to run up his stats. But on the other side, against righties, Ichiro’s only hitting .323, and you know that can’t last. He can hit .350 against right-handers in his sleep, no problem. We’ll see that rise up to what we’d expect, like .380 or so. Right? So we’re looking at him hitting uh, what, figure .400 the rest of the way. That’ll get him 138 hits, no problem, and then he’s only 13 hits away — over the rest of the season! That’s not even one infield hit a week, and if you don’t think Ichiro can do that, you haven’t been watching Ichiro!”

Thanks, WOF. You can now return to your hamster wheel, restoring power to the Seattle Art Museum.

June 24, 2003 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

Ichiro: Likeable Dude

I’ve never seen anything as strong as Seattle’s embrace of Ichiro when he arrived here. Ichiro jerseys (or jersey-style T-shirts) as a percentage of total fan shirts was way higher than I’d ever seen during the city’s affairs with Randy, Griffey Jr., or even with Alex. I’ve thought a lot about this and I’ve got a couple of answers.

Ichiro is exciting. I understand that the walks-and-homers approach is great and effective, but it’s boring. Walks are boring, and strikeouts are only a little more exciting. The routine ground-out isn’t exciting. Ichiro puts all of that on its head: he doesn’t strike out much, in fact, he doesn’t swing much if he’s not going to put the ball in play, and every ground ball is a potential hit. Ichiro’s a hitter where as a fan I lean forward in my seat, eager to see if something crazy and exciting is about to happen every time he’s at bat.

And like I know the stolen base isn’t worth attempting unless you can swipe ’em at over a 66% success rate to make it worthwhile, it’s an exciting play, and it honestly makes me wish that run scoring in baseball was a little more depressed, so that it would be easier for teams to justify doing wacky double steals, and we could argue about whether the sacrifice bunt was ever worth it. From the grandstands, Ichiro shines here too — when he’s on first there’s a good chance he’s going, and not neccesarily when you expect him to. He steals well, with a good success rate (last year it was down to about 2/3rds, but then I still think something was wrong with him towards the end of last season, when he wasn’t stealing and looked slower).

There are other reasons I think fans love Ichiro. If you were to construct the player many fans harbor a vague hatred for, he’d be huge and fat, overpaid, have a bad attitude towards fans and the game, and possibly be on steroids but no one would know for sure. Ichiro in every way is not these things: he’s smaller and has a whip-like strength, obviously not on the kind of HGH-type streoids other players are whispered to use. Ichiro works constantly at his game, he’s well-paid but not outrageously so — most of the money involved in bringing him here came from the payment to the Blue Wave for the right to negotiate with him. He’s got a level, even attitude about his performance that earns him respect: if Ichiro makes a mistake and leaves men on in scoring position, he doesn’t throw a Boone tantrum, and instead Ichiro almost seems to not care, as if he knows that the chance will come around again, and he won’t make that same mistake. This gives him a sort of stone-cold assasin stare that is, in my opinion, the height of cool: in a way, he reminds me of Will Clark, who would go up to the plate with the Get Shorty stare (“I own you. What I’m not doing is feeling one way or the other about it.”). Ichiro’s stare is almost the same, but it’s more “I’m getting on base, and you’re going to get me there.” People dig that kind of quiet, understated confidence.

Which in turn plays into Ichiro’s relationship with the press and the fans. Ichiro is a man of few words (though you can, as my University of Washington English professor David Shields did, milk a book out of it), but he is uncomplaining, wise, and modest. Having followed his comments and the rare interviews since he’s come over, I think Ichiro is a strange baseball player: he’s confronted with colossal fame he doesn’t understand (I can’t imagine how strange it must be to have that kind of constant media attention), he’s blessed with amazing talent at a sport when tempermentally he might have settled into an entirely different career, something understated, and led a happy life outside of the media eye. And despite his strange situation, he’s having a good time: when he drops the game face, he’s smiling. He cracks a huge grin for kids when they go out for pre-game promotions to meet him, says “Whassup,” jokes around with other players in English, Spanish — he’s a likeable guy.

Ichiro is also unique, building a career out of pieces of a game no one else has — astounding bat control, a great throwing arm, speed, effort, and skill.

This is all part of Ichiro’s star power: He plays a particular game only he can play, it’s a game that we want to see, and he conducts himself as we’d like to think we would conduct ourselves: respectfully, concentrating on the game when it counts, and being a good guy outside of the game.

June 24, 2003 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

Good Cirillo, We Hardly Knew Ye

I know I got a little excited about Jeff’s strong May. And why not? He hit .306/.351/.389 and for a while after that, it looked like the power was starting to come back a little… and now not so much. Jeff’s June is a paltry .231/.328/.288 and I feel like maybe it was just the wandering pixie dust, now favoring Freddy Garcia, and Jeff has turned back into a pumpkin. Coincidentally, the local papers have stopped talking about what a great job Lamar Johnson was doing working with Cirillo. The problem, roster-wise, is that the Mariners may now decide to give CrapLemore more playing time at third, particularly against right-handers, punting defense for Bob Melvin’s Patented Percentage Play, and it’s a sucker’s bet:

Splits, both players:

McLemore v. righties: .187/.279/.299

Cirillo v righties: .216/.298/.280

And because OBP is worth a lot more than SLG, you’re taking an offensive hit as well as a defensive hit with this move. Here’s what the Mariners need to do: comb the minors and find a solid hitter who looks sort of like Cirillo. Ernie Young, perhaps, but it doesn’t matter — anyone will do who can pass for Cirillo with some eyeblack and facial hair. Then every time it’s Cirillo’s turn to bat, instead of stopping in the dugout, he walks straight back into the clubhouse, and out comes FakeCirillo, who bats and runs for Jeff.

Illegal? Sure. But for the cost of a minor league deal, the Mariners get a two-way player and no one has to be the wiser. It’s really the only option they’ve left themselves at this point.

June 24, 2003 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

I continue my Edgar-as-Hall-of-Famer crusade in today’s Breaking Balls column o’er at BP (the original BP).