February 26, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

I’m stealing a page from Derek’s book. Begin off-topic diatribe now…

Its nearing 12:30 in the morning, as Thursday has wrapped and Friday would be peaking out from under the clouds if it could penetrate the wall of them that have rolled in. There is half a foot of snow outside, and I’m supposed to be at work in a little over seven hours. We’re two days from months end, and I’ve got enough projects that need tending to fill my weekend. I’ve already committed to work Saturday, and that was before I left early today to drive home before the storm paralyzed the city. When the snow began falling this afternoon, I followed the programmed response of the news and started complaining. I was ready for spring, 70 degree days, not having to drive 30 on the freeway because people in the south don’t realize that it is possible for cars to accelerate in the snow without hitting a busload of small handicapped children. As the flakes fell, I rooted for it to pass, or for it to warm up and melt, or at least for the plow to have the good sense to clear just the streets that I need to take to work in the morning. As my roomate and a good friend got the good news that they weren’t working tommorrow, they began to celebrate and plan a sledding excursion. John is 25, married, and will be a first-time father within the next month, giddy over the white covering, and planning a trip down a hill on a piece of wood without steering.

I’m 23 years old, single as the day I was born, with the most understanding boss on the planet, and no pressures placed upon me except the ones I thrust on myself. And I’m rooting against snow. Why? So that I sit behind a desk and ensure that reports for a mid-level executive of a woman’s underwear company can be more accurate by a few pennies, so they can hem and haw and figure out how many more styles they can sew in Honduras instead of America. My roomate Aaron, 3 years my senior, with a job of much greater responsibility, has made plans to hurdle himself down a hill on a Friday morning, celebrating the gift of winter. John, whose wife could theoretically go into labor at any moment, will join him on this quest to enjoy life. And I’ve decided to try to drive 30 miles in a two-wheel drive vehicle with poor alignment for the right to be the only person in the office? I’m 23 going on 40. I’m rooting against snow. Something is clearly wrong.

Life is to be enjoyed, not tolerated and persevered. Within the next thirty days, I’ll get to see John only when he needs me to pick up some diapers from the store and drop them off at his place on the way home. I’ve lived with Aaron for two months and been disappointed that we’ve only had two real conversations in the that timeframe. An opportunity like this is rare, and I nearly let it go by, so that I could help establish myself as another faceless employee in a cubicle at a company that asks women to stick wire inside their shirts and markets it as a comfort strap.

I’m 23 years old, have no idea who I’m going to marry after I figure out how to stop offending women en masse, and have more freedom to make my own decisions than nearly everyone else on the planet, and I was rooting against snow. Take it as a cautionary warning; maturity straddles the fence of boredom and humbugs refer to themselves as responsible. Me? I’m going sledding, and I’ll see everyone at work on Monday.

February 26, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

Usually, comments like what Melvin made yesterday will be defended with tales of players who pitched well in non-save situations, but faltered when handed a closers role, and have had their toughness called into question. Frequent targets of this include LaTroy Hawkins, Armando Benitez, Mike Timlin, Keith Foulke, Jeff Nelson, and Arthur Rhodes. All have been dominant setup men at some point in their careers, and all have endured some struggles in ninth inning situations. Hawkins, in particular, was a disaster as a closer (5.96 ERA in 2001), but an untouchable setup man in 2002 and 2003 (2.13 and 1.86 ERA’s respectively). While the usual defenses from those who do not believe in “closers mentality” are sample size, natural improvement, or random variation, I believe there are instances of pitchers who simply are more effective when the game is not on the line. However, they are the exception, not the rule.

Pitchers like Eddie Guardado are the norm. They’re effective whether used in the first, fifth, or ninth innings. Among effective major league pitchers, I would estimate 90 % fall into this category. Shigetoshi Hasegawa didn’t pitch lights out in the 9th last year because he had guts, heart, and determination. 37 pitchers in MLB last year recorded at least 10 saves. Among these fierce warriors of proven mettle are former castoffs Damaso Marte, Julian Tavarez, Cliff Politte, Aquilino Lopez, Mike DeJean, Dan Kolb, Lance Carter, Joe Borowski, Rocky Biddle, and Tim Worrell.

Derek’s column is dead on. The save invented the closer, and its a misunderstanding of the game to believe that you have to pay a premium for a pitcher who has the intestinal fortitude to pitch effectively in the ninth inning.

February 26, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

From MLB.com:

Melvin said baserunning and situational hitting are two of the areas that the team needs to improve this season. And he will use the five-week training camp to get the message across.

“With a lineup that puts the ball in play, we have the option of starting the runners more than we did last year,” he said. “We may not be as fast (as a year ago), but all of our hitters, one-through-nine, make contact.

“I don’t want to mention any names, but we had some swing-and-miss guys.”

What a stupid thing to say. I mean beyond the every-year refrain of situational hitting… Heaven forbid Melvin should pass up a chance to take another dig at Mike Cameron and his productive career in center field.

February 26, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

I mentioned this yesterday — if you’re interested in why closers are overrated and Bob Melvin’s opinions on the subject are bunk, my Baseball Prospectus Basics article ran today: “How to run a bullpen“. No subscription required, though everyone should subscribe.

February 25, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

An off-topic rant about a local business

By Derek

I worked for AT&T Wireless for five years, when were in Kirkland, Remond, and when IT went to Bothell. I was there when it was a great company, innovative, and led by Dan Hesse. I think we all loved Hesse… he was a guy who’d leave company-wide voicemails like “Hey, I’m in Chicago– and it really is windy here. We’re out here because…” or to tell everyone it was the first sunny day of the year so anyone not on a critical project should go enjoy it, and those people left behind would get the next sunny day off.

I was annoyed when they put one of AT&T’s lawyers, John Zeglis, in charge of the place, and kept working after Hesse left and they appointed a former CFO in Hesse’s old job. Zeglis remained in New Jersey with his own mini-staff even after AWS spun off from AT&T, which was nice: we weren’t important enough to have our leader work at HQ with the rest of us slobs. I stuck it out as things got worse and worse, as we lost our way, our leadership, and we made bad decision after bad decision about the business, did things everyone knew at every level were stupid. I stayed through the constant outsourcing (and despite what you may have read, Wireless has been sending jobs to India for a long time, but quietly, one product or service at a time), because I really liked the people I was working with. I finally moved on, and now they’re going away as a company.

John Zeglis, for taking the best cellular company in the country and driving it into the ground, will make millions of dollars. On a recent company conference call he told those who were annoyed about their options being rendered worthless after the takeover that he felt their pain, because he had a lot of options underwater.

You can go look up the insider trading records, though, and ask yourself this: if Zeglis made (say) $11m in salary, stock grants and super-low priced options he exercised, how painful is it for him that some portion of his options didn’t pan out?

Is that more or less painful than someone making $40k who is now out a job in a crappy economy for Seattle IT workers?

Can Zeglis, so well compensated, really empathize with all my friends who worked their ass off to make him that money, and saw their dreams fail and their company fade away despite their best efforts?

I can at least understand arguments that truly succesful visionary leaders deserve great compensaion. I never understood how the board of AWS could in good faith grant Zeglis so much money, over and over, lower his performance targets so he could get his bonuses when the company struggled. It’s thievery.

I kept my Wireless service after I left, maybe in the hope that one more subscription would help everyone I left… force of habit?

And today, despite my repeated requests to knock it off, Wireless spammed me with a “Service notification” that I could vote for American Idol on my phone. So next chance I get, I’m switching services.

Screw you, Zeglis, and your millions. Never has such ripe incompetence been so richly rewarded. I hope your conscience wakes up and chokes you.

February 25, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

You’ve probably already found it by now, but everyone’s favorite unofficial M’s publication, The Grand Salami, now has its very own blog. As both the minor league editor and a columnist I probably should post over there too, but I’m having trouble finding enough time to post over here, so who knows. Perhaps once the season starts and the magazine is being published, I’ll tease what you can expect from the Minor League Wrap before it hits the streets. No guarantees, but stay tuned. I also know Jon is planning to get other magazine-related stuff, such as subscription and advertising information, up once Blogger lets him upgrade to Pro (apparently they’re re-working their ordering/billing system currently and aren’t set up to do upgrades), so look for that too.

February 25, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

The stathead (and I really hate that word) party line about closers gets both blown out of proportion and taken out of context. James and company never said a team didn’t need good relievers, just that you don’t necessarily need one specific guy to pitch the ninth. Further, using your best reliever to get three outs in the 9th when you’re up by three runs just doesn’t make sense; it’s a waste of resources.

As for the 2003 Red Sox, which is where this all stems from, it didn’t work there for a couple of reasons. First, they gave up on it after about a month, before the relievers in question were comfortable with how things worked. Second, the relievers weren’t all that good in the first place, as evidenced by the Sox turning over most of their pen between April and September (thanks to friend of the USSM and all-around good guy Bill Wilmot for the background info).

February 25, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

I’ve come around from believing Bob Melvin was pretty much an idiot to thinking that like most managers, he’s a mixed bag, and that there’s potential for growth. So enter today’s comments, quoted in the PI:

“There is a huge difference between the eighth inning and the ninth,” Melvin said. “The ninth is the toughest inning. I don’t believe Bill James and the stat guys who say you don’t need a closer. It’s a special guy who pitches in the ninth. Eddie is a special guy.”

This is stupid. I just finished writing something about bullpen usage for Baseball Prospectus that’ll run tomorrow, but quickly:

For almost all of baseball’s history, there was no importance attached to the ninth inning. Teams used their best pitchers when they needed them most.

The invention of the save created the closer, and the closer brought us the closer mystique.

Teams that have stayed with traditional usage patterns have made much better uses of their resources than teams that have fallen into the rigid closer/set-up roles.

Sure, you can talk about how different the ninth is, but it’s because people believe the ninth is special. It’s a kind of shared hysteria. Like in Japanese baseball, there’s an incredible value put on scoring the first run, and if you manage it it’s almost game over — because everyone’s so huge on it, their morale breaks, their heads explode — they turn their weird obsession into a reality. Similarly, because people believe that pitching with a 3-run lead in the ninth requires some kind of special makeup, they select closers with that makeup and perpetuate the myth. But look at how many accidental closers are made each year — Hasegawa, for instance — and the common success of good pitchers without closer stuff — Hasegawa, for instance — when forced into a closer role.

Last year Melvin ended up using his best relievers — Sorianio, Mateo — in the situations where they were most valuable: tight games, regardless of inning, and it paid off for him and the team. That a supposedly smart guy like Mevlin is unable to recognize the meaning in that and to draw lessons from the historical record leaves us little cause for optimism that he’ll think his way out of his situational obsession, to name one drawback.

February 24, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

Oh, and Derek touched on it briefly, but since he got snubbed by the P-I this morning, consider this our official endorsement of Peter White and Mariners Musings. For my money, Peter’s been the best thing going in the M’s blogosphere for at least five months now, and he’s been extremely entertaining and insightful throughout the offseason. He’s articulate, well-read, and intelligent, but manages to avoid the cliches many sites fall into. While he’ll come to a lot of the same conclusions as other blogs, I always enjoy the way he gets there, and I never feel like I’ve read his stuff elsewhere, while many of the other blogs can run together.

Peter, you the man. Keep up the great work.

February 24, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

I see both sides of the fence in the Soriano argument. Everyone agrees that starters are inherantly more valuable than relievers, and you shouldn’t flippantly convert a starter into a reliever without cause. However, there are cases where it is obviously the right move-Francisco Rodriguez, for instance-and turns an average starter into a dominant force out of the bullpen. While 200 innings are certainly more valuable than 80 innings, I think people have underrated the value of an ace reliever. If you believe Soriano can throw 70-90 high leverage innings and post an ERA below 2.00, that is a tremendous weapon that has alot of value.

Essentially, the question becomes how good of a starter you think he can become. If you feel he’d be no better than average in the rotation, where his lack of a third pitch and stamina could become issues, then he’s more valuable to the team coming out of the pen. However, as Jason notes, 23-year-olds rarely have three major league pitches, and giving up on Soriano as a starter because he looks like a dominant closer today is short-sighted. Good organizations give their players a chance to improve on their weaknesses and develop into something better tommorrow than they are today. The Mariners have consistently focused on the shortcomings of young players, especially pitchers, to the detriment of their development. Soriano may belong in the bullpen, but putting him there permanently because he lacks a change-up at 23 is ignorant.

We’re going to face this exact same dilemma in a year, maybe less (usual caveats about health apply), when Clint Nageotte forces an audition. He also profiles better as a reliever, and will be categorized as a power-arm capable of dominating out of the bullpen. Converting both of your dominant upper-level pitching prospects into relievers, however, is a tremendous waste of resources, especially for one so intent on spending millions on proven closers. If the M’s believe that Nageotte will end up as a reliever in this organization, than it is even greater incentive to keep Soriano as a starter. People can talk about the depth of pitching all they want, and it is a strength of the organization, but this rotation could get ugly in a hurry, and the team can’t afford to be moving prospects to the bullpen while depending on the likes of Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche for 200 innings a year.

Ideally, they would have traded Franklin during the offseason to open up room for Soriano in the rotation, but they’ve made their bed and now have to lie in it. The current roster is best constructed with Soriano as the ace reliever, but that is as much an indictment of the way this roster was shaped as it is a declaration of his viability in the rotation.

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