Despite your brilliant statistical study of Mr. Box, I still find myself griping about pitcher usage. Melvin went to Arthur Rhodes with a 6-1 lead in the 8th tonight, then to Jeff Nelson with a 6-3 lead two batters later. What baffled me the most, however, was his decision to bring in Shigetoshi Hasegawa to face David Segui. Nelson had control of both his fastball and slider and had been effective, getting a grounder and a flyball from the two batters he faced. And suddenly you need Hasegawa — supposedly the team’s new closer, which is odd given that Box used him in the 8th — to retire David Segui?
Hasegawa didn’t retire Segui, as we all know, and suddenly the score was 6-5. Personally, I would have stuck with Rafael Soriano. He had a 6-1 lead, and the two runners on with no outs really aren’t a huge deal when you consider his stuff (fastball/slider) is perfect for getting strikeouts and grounders. I also think it’s important to let Soriano pitch meaningful innings and work his way out of the jam he created, too.
For reference, here’s the top of the 8th inning:
-Melvin Mora walked.
-Jeff Conine singled to right, Mora to second.
-Arthur Rhodes relieved Rafael Soriano.
-Jay Gibbons singled to left, Mora scored, Conine to second.
-Tony Batista popped out to third.
-BJ Surhoff singled to shallow left, Conine to third, Gibbons to second.
-Jeff Nelson relieved Rhodes.
-Deivi Cruz reached on infield single to second, Conine and Gibbons scored, Surhoff to second.
-Brook Fordyce flied out to right.
-David Segui hit for Brian Roberts.
-Shigetoshi Hasegawa relieved Nelson.
-Segui singled to left center, Surhoff scored, Cruz to second.
-Jose Morban ran for Segui.
-Luis Matos flied out to right.
Side note: How weak is Randy Winn’s throwing arm? The throw he made when Mora scored on Gibbons’ single was from short left, and he didn’t get anything on it at all. It wasn’t even a close play, and it sould have been, given that Mora (and his 3B coach) decided pretty late to head for home rather than stay at third.
Box Melvin, a statistical study
It’s instructive to compare Melvin to his predecessor and look for differences.
Last year, there were 505 appearances by Mariner pitchers in 162 games, an average of 3.1 pitcher appearances/game.
This year, there have been 279 appearances by Mariner pitchers in 87 games, an average of 3.2 pitcher appearances/game.
So for all our griping about reliever usage patterns, it’s not as if Melvin’s using significantly more pitchers every game. He’s just using them differently:
|Who||2002 IP/G||2003 IP/G|
Where’s he getting the IPs to make up for the difference? Moyer, Garcia are both getting an out more an inning, we don’t have the James Baldwin Experiment going 5 innings every few games, and Pineiro’s been out of the pen. For how long he was on the roster. Mateo’s been up longer and working more, and sopping up almost 2 IP/appearance. Carrara was averaging almost an inning and a third while he was up.
Here’s the big difference between Melvin and Piniella through the first half of the season: only five pitchers have made starts for the team, and none of them have made bullpen appearances. Piniella, as you’ll recall, jerked Pineiro in and out of the bullpen early last season, where Melvin has done a lot of subtle rotation position swapping, ordering the team essentially by weighting in-season performance against historical talent (Moyer-Meche-Pineiro-Franklin-Garcia), and avoided moving the pitchers between the rotation and the bullpen. Give Melvin some credit for this — the pitchers (the starters, certainly) must feel secure in knowing what they’re being asked to do and what their contribution to the team is.
One of the things that’s been overlooked about Melvin is that he will not issue the free pass, which we should applaud him for. It’s a dumb move with only limited use that’s pulled out all too often by the advocates of small ball and over-managing. The Mariners have only issued 11 so far this year and are dead last in this category. League leader is Toronto, with 29, and Texas has given 28. Lou used to give one about every fifth game. Melvin’s one in eight, and that’s a significant difference.
Equally interesting is the team’s increase in caught stealing rates. They’ve gone from 35% to 41%, and every out is also a runner wiped off the paths. Oh yeah. This is entirely Ben Davis, though — he’s gunning down 46% of baserunners, up from 44% last year. The other half of this ill catching platoon, Dan Wilson, has thrown out 33% this year, which is up from last year’s even worse 28%. If you wanted another reason the team should play Davis at least two-thirds of the time, there you go… and this is another point against the Box.
I discard the notion that set lineups are valuable. There’s no real correlation between lineup frequency and team strength. So I’m going to ignore that, though it’d be easy to say “Piniella turned in 100 lineup cards, Melvin 12” (not actual numbers).
In 2002, we saw 10.8 lineup players/game. In 2003 so far, we’ve only seen 10.2 players a game. It’s interesting to note that Melvin, reputed to be a NL-style manager, is not as big about in-game substitution as Piniella, who… well, he was also frequently noted for being an NL-style manager. While I’m at it, though, that whole distinction is bunk anyway.
Further, we’ve seen a lot less in-position flexibility. Players who’ve appeared at more than 1 position:
By the end of 2002, we’d seen both Wilson and Davis at first, and by my count, 82 outfields including the University of Washington Marching Band.
This tails nicely on what we’ve seen from Melvin on the pitching side: you’re my starter, and you’re my left fielder. Melvin does have the luxury of Winn, a nominal regular left fielder that Piniella did not, but at the same time we should recognize that this is part of his comfort-and-security campaign to make his players like him.
In Game Tactics
What I’m about to say might shock you… Melvin doesn’t steal as much. In 2002, the M’s made 195 stolen base attempts, and were successful on 70%. To break even, you want to be at 75%, though there are other factors involved, and the traditional mark is 66%. Melvin’s team is stealing bases at a 74% rate right now — 78 attempts, 58 steals. He’s also trying to steal less: the team’s going after .9 bases/game, while last year Piniella the riverboat gambler had his team trying 1.2 steals/game — that’s a huge difference.
What’s more, check this out: Ichiro is 23-6 so far, on pace for, uhh… 43-11, which would be way up from last year’s 31-15. I still think he was injured at the end of last year: he just wasn’t as fast or as aggressive. Meanwhile Cameron went 31-8 last year, and this year he’ll end up around 13-7. Winn’s gone 15-2 on pace for 28-4, making McLemore’s 2002 18-10 look terrible. Boone’s 7-1 already, last year he was 12-5 on the season. Or, look at this way:
Top 5 M’s in % of team stolen base attempts, 2003
— total 89% of team SB attempts
Top 5 M’s in % of team stolen base attempts, 2002
— total 73% of team SB attempts
Where Piniella would have anyone steal if the impulse struck, Melvin’s concentrating on a few, high-percentage guys and having them run rampant.
Sacrifice hits. I honestly think the stats fail here. Melvin’s got 21 sac hits, on pace for 39. Last year the M’s had 41 all season. I think if I was able to locate a stat for bunt attempts, though, Melvin would bury Piniella. Sometimes the limitations of stats are as frustrating as the limitations of observation.
And the big finish
I’ve learned a lot here. It’s easy to focus on Box Melvin’s crappy in-game management choices or his crappy bullpen management, but the statistics reveal some things we might not otherwise notice. Bob Melvin, the smart guy we heard so much about, shows up here — the reluctance to give up the free pass, the concentration on high-precentage baserunning by players who can pull it off. The stability he’s tried to bring shows up in the number of players we see in a game: all told, in an average M’s game you’ll see 3.2 pitchers and 10.2 batters — 13.4 M’s taking the field, whereas a 2002 M’s game you’d get… 3.1 + 10.8… 13.9 M’s. An extra substitution/game, that’s significant over a season.
Here’s the optimistic viewpoint: Melvin’s reasonably smart, and he has goals in mind for how he wants to run the team, and operates toward those goals. Some of those goals are good: stability, team cohesion, make high-percentage plays. And some of them are bad: protect leads at all costs, use bullpen relievers more situationally and less to their ability, bunt runners along (et cetera). Of the latter, while we’re likely to have to live with the philosophy, it’s possible that someone’s going to straighten him out about workload and bullpen management, one of the areas managers can have a great effect, and it’s possible that Melvin will call someone smart up and talk to them about in-game strategies. And if all that happens, huzzah!
Maybe someone can give him a copy of Earl Weaver’s book.
From the Seattle Times:
“Meche, who has had two shoulder surgeries, is experiencing increasing soreness in his arm the last few starts. He downplayed the soreness and is doing exercises to minimize the problem. He had been fairly consistent all season, allowing three runs or fewer in 11 of his previous 16 starts.
Meche said he’ll use the three-day All-Star break to relax and get away from baseball. Pitching coach Bryan Price said Meche would start the second or third game after the break, so he could go six days between starts.”
John Levesque of the Seattle PI wrote a column about the M’s tinkering with the batter’s eye again. This time it’s “the application of a new material with a honeycomb texture later this month.” After talking about this, Levesque launches into a weird mocking-the-coddled-players thing.
The M’s failure to solve this issue with the ballpark continues to demonstrate the team’s inability as an organization to come up with long-term solutions that do anything but generate more money.
Seattle Media Watch
It’s interesting to look at what a paper does with an off-day. Check this out:
- David Andriesen turns out a profile on Aaron Taylor
- Levesque’s column (above) includes a reference to a stat other than batting average (he’s the former TV critic who tends to write particularly shallow columns). I mock Levesque sometimes, but I secretly hold out hope that he might turn into something good.
- John Hickey offers Ichiro up as a possible contestant in the HR derby based on Ichiro’s batting practice power. “Nobody hits the ball further in batting practice than Ichiro,” says John Olerud, who is, well, I’ve seen the M’s take batting practice and he’s totally wrong. Ichiro can park the balls just over the fence in right field, but Boone and others have more distance, height, et cetera.
- Shane O’Neill “taps into his network of major league scouts” to produce a “scouting the Orioles” feature that manages to offer almost no actual information. It’s almost all batting average, RBI, and those ratings are useless. Here’s a quote from Geronimo Gil’s:
“Long swingx. Likes to extend his arms; smokes mistakes out over the platex. Vulnerable insidex. Chases balls down and off the platex. Slow behind the platex. Lacks balancex. Reaches for ballsx.”
Copy editor asleepx.
- Baseball notebook has some around-the-league tidbits
- Answer Guy John Marshall answers questions about ball girls (“young women of high school and college age”) who must complete a period of indentured servitude before they get their positions, and how the infield fly rule doesn’t apply on bunt attempts (which, as a side note, I mentioned at length in a Prospectus article a while back).
- Jim Moore, Go2Guy, “Battling Steve Kelly to be the worst sports writer in Seattle” mercifully doesn’t write about the M’s today.
- Bob Sherwin has a half-baked column on the value of lefties. “They have a different angle and release point than right-handers and are effective to either side of the plate, particularly against left-handed hitters.” Um, no.
- Inside the Series is the Times version of the series preview. Includes (gasp) on-base percentage, even though the batting column is still batting-average sorted.
I spend my quarters on the P.I. for what that’s worth, and read Larry Stone (“Official Seattle Baseball Print Writer of the U.S.S. Mariner”) on the Web. Later today: a treatise on Box Melvin. I know you’re excited.