March 29, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

A quick wrapup of some of the recent M’s “news” we haven’t discussed:

Ichiro is going to hit leadoff, not third. This isn’t really a surprise, but helps the cause of ignoring everything managers say in Spring Training. The talk about Ichiro being more patient this year, however, is intriguing. It appears that the M’s realize that he is more effective when he’s not chasing the fastball at his ankles, even if he can hit it. Getting Ichiro on base at a .380+ clip would be a huge lift for the offense.

Edgar is still the cleanup hitter. And thank God for that. We’ve discussed batting order to death, with people taking every possible opinion, but I don’t know of anyone who thought that hitting Martinez and Boone behind Ibanez was anything but a disaster waiting to happen.

Bobby Madritsch is an angry young man. The Mariners love to extoll the virtues of veterans, but this is an overlooked reality of leaning on players simply because of experience. I don’t agree with Madritsch that he is major league ready yet, but he is right that he never had a prayer going into camp, and that is not going to sit well with players in their upper-20’s. In their pursuit for all-things veteran, the M’s have quietly wasted some very good talent, including guys like Aquilino Lopez and Brian Fuentes. Keeping pitchers like Jarvis and Villone over just-as-capable youngsters has its downsides, besides the obvious fact that we’re carrying bad pitchers.

Mariners hire former Dodgers GM Dan Evans. We’ve gotten quite a few emails about this, ranging from mad (“Bavasi is just doing his friend a favor”), gloating (mostly from Dodger fans), and even optimistic (thinking Evans is being groomed as Bavasi’s replacement). Really, this is not anything to get worked up over one way or another. Yes, this move was made because Evans gave Bavasi a job and BB is as loyal as anyone in the game. This is a repayment hiring, but not a terrible one, as those things go. Evans is a lot smarter than most people give him credit for, and he got the short end of the stick in LA. Honestly, I’d rather have Bavasi calling Evans for advice than Pat Gillick. However, his role as a pro-scout based in Southern California essentially means that he’ll go see some games when they don’t interfere with his golf schedule, and essentially gets a paycheck for availability purposes. Don’t expect Evans to be any factor when it comes to decision making.

It does raise the question, however, of why a team that likes to complain over the smallest bonuses and incentives going to their players feels it necessary to have three former GM’s on the payroll as overcompensated consultants.

March 28, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

Two new left-nav links:

1. A new blog, DR Mariner

2. The M’s payroll info over at Dugout Dollars


March 28, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

I put off posting for a bit, because I wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to read Derek’s lengthy (and very good) post below. I find that sometimes when a blog gets into rapid posting mode, it’s easy to miss a post here and there. For example, I know I missed Dave’s Good News/Bad News post until today because of Derek’s post. As an aside, Dave’s picture of the stairs leading up to the orchard supply hut is really cool, so be sure to check it out.

Over in the Times, Steve Kelley has a relatively fluffy piece about John Olerud being reunited with Paul Molitor. I don’t generally put much stock in the role hitting coaches play, but I think this might be one that works out well. The two talked hitting during their time in Toronto together, and if nothing else, Olerud should benefit from having a buddy on the bench to go over things with. I’m still not expecting a big year from Olerud at his age, but I don’t expect him to hit as poorly as he did last season, either.

March 27, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

I’m posting something I’ve worked on, set aside, and worked on some more, because I feel bad about not being around to do actual postings. It’s sort of leaked into some of my stuff lately, but —

State of the Debate

“There are two kinds of people: those who think there are two kinds of people, and those who know better.”

When I first got on the internet, I flamed everyone, friend and foe alinke. I called people all kinds of names when they disagreed with me and I got frustrated with them, and I attacked message and messenger indiscriminately.

I don’t do that today, for a couple of reasons.

Part of it is that I almost never publish anything anonymously or under fake names. I’m aware that my long history of baseball ranting is published and archived, and that I’ll be responsible for what I write in a way that FlameBobAsbestosPants666 doesn’t have or want to be. I sometimes wish I’d done all my writing under a pseudonym from the start for privacy reasons, but it’s too late for that now.

I’m a better person than I was when I was in my late teens. That sounds clunky when I write it, but it’s entirely true. I’m slower to anger, more patient, more interested in reading a good argument than picking a spicy fight.

I’m confident the facts are on my side, and if they’re not, I’ll have learned something because the best argument I had turned out to not be good enough, and there was more out there. When I build a case for the Mariners not improving in the off-season, I’ll try to bring out everything I’ve thought about and let the strength of the facts and reasoning sell themselves. I hope that once I’ve written something, it’s clear enough and simple enough that a reader can’t help but be persuaded or disagree intelligently.

I bring all this up because for a while after I discovered Total Baseball and performance analysis, I carried a great stathead banner and rode around on a rhetorical war horse, trying to set fire to the houses of people I thought had lied to me. I called them “mediots” because they were mindless consumers of the tedious clichés and worn wisdom fed to them by what passed for baseball analysts.

I’ve since come way back to acknowledging the wisdom of good scouting. I understand that there’s great value in understanding the possible “why” of the performance on the field. It’s part of another thing that’s made me calmer and better at thinking about baseball: I’ve become a much better flexible thinker.

What I’ve been doing for a while now, partly because it’s interesting but also because it’s led to some great ideas, is think “What if that wasn’t the case? Could I prove the opposite side?” We saw this on the Melvin posts, where one of the things I found was that while Melvin was being stupid about some things, there were other things he was doing I’d overlooked.

We’ve taken a lot of reader feedback on things and reexamined those issues, and sometimes it turns out we were wrong and we get to run that, too. I don’t get mad at the people who email us, though: if we’ve gotten closer to a good opinion, it’s all for the best. I’m a baseball fan and I’m particularly a Mariners fan. And I know that I’m not like most fans in that desire to weigh conventional thinking and new ideas both, because for many fans the games are entertainment that don’t warrant investments of time and energy to gain deeper appreciation for.

Even for me though, as much as I want to be a neutral researcher, that’s never going to be the case. There are two things that affect the discussion of team and baseball issues that need to be acknowledged, because they affect the work everyone in the M’s online community does.

There is a clear perception bias. Everyone wants to see their side as the best one and interprets the world to support that. This is a proven issue with the way our brains work when it comes to group psychology.

Give a group of law students a hypothetical accident case with information about what happened that can lead to a clear determination of fault. Include what the injuries were, how much damage was done to the vehicles, and so forth. Ask the students to estimate the settlement value of the case and they’ll argue among themselves and come up with a number. Break another group into two teams, give each a side, the same information, and ask them to make an estimate, and they’ll come up with wildly divergent numbers.

Each team will look at the evidence in their favor and give it more credit and importance to the case than evidence that supports the side, and before they’re done they’ll be filing restraining orders against each other and tying up the court system with nuisance lawsuits against each other.

There are more studies about this than you could read in a year. We see this every year with Spring Training Syndrome (“If our team can just avoid injuries this year, the overperformers keep going, the bad guys bounce up, and we can get big years out of a couple kids, we’ll do great”). This affects our thinking about the team we follow by forcing us to struggle constantly for objectivity. But as a Seattle Times reporter told me a long time ago while describing the good and horrible things he’d seen on the job, “Objectivity is a myth.” I may attend sixty M’s games next year, and I’ll watch the rest. I loved 2001. I may never enjoy a baseball season more: a year of amazing games, cheering breaking out as the crowds walk out of Safeco Field after a win, the belief that the team was almost invincible, never too far behind, and even the water-off-duck reaction to losses, that they were flukes and nothing to be concerned about, because this was a historically great team that would get its revenge next time.

When it comes to the Mariners I want more than anything, to see great baseball played. Down the road, that’ll be seeing Edgar Martinez acknowledged and inducted into the Hall of Fame, but for now, good baseball will suffice. I am a biased observer of the team, because as much as I’m interested in nailing predictions and dissecting the games to find out more, what I really want is to take the bus back home packed in with a ton of other fans who can’t stop talking to each other about the amazing play they saw that night.

The other thing that affects discussion is our agreement bias. Just as we’re pushed to advocate for our side, it’s hard to disagree with someone, and it’s much harder to disagree with many someones. There is an enormous pressure to conform, to see what other people see. I can give some study examples, but doesn’t everyone know this? Or did I just use that trick myself? The most important voices in Mariner commentary aren’t Art Theil or Larry Stone. It’s Dave Niehaus, Rick Rizzs, Ron Fairly, Dave Henderson and Dave Valle, because that’s who we hear for three hours a night (minus commercials) on television and radio, and they’re deeply invested in clubhouse chemistry, magic, and most of all, selling the team. Broadcasts are marketing — almost all broadcasters are homers, and rarely is anything harshly criticized, and because of this, we don’t get good discussions of managerial decisions, or roster composition. The starting point for any serious discussion of the Mariners, or any baseball team, is set deep in the clubhouse and front offices, where we’re assured that the insiders know what they’re doing, because they’re inside.

What can anyone do then?

We try to be as good as we can. Learn as much as we can. Be open to new ideas, and be willing to admit we’ve been wrong.

I don’t believe that players are random number generators. I wouldn’t rather calculate pi to the next digit than watch a game. Knowing so much more than I did when I was sneaking out of Latin to go watch John Cummings get slapped around (I wrote a short story about this I may have to dig up sometime) has made me enjoy baseball more. Knowing that pitchers have much, much less control over what happens to balls in play has made the game more exciting, because I’ve been watching more and more defense, trying to compare how far and how fast players go to get balls, how strong their arms are, when a couple years ago I didn’t care about defense enough and didn’t give much thought to it.

The best thing we can do is acknowledge our flaws and open our minds. I’d be smarter today if I’d read Bill James earlier and gotten through my growing pains before I hit college, where I could have learned a lot more than I did.

Which brings me around to the worst thing we can do, and I know this because I did it and still do.

We can’t group-and-dismiss those who disagree with us. I’ve fought this for years, the urge to label vast tracts of the population “unreachable” and write them off. The temptation is great, but I see in it the seeds of past injustices by those who’ve given in to it: There was a time education policy was set by people who thought Mexican children were mostly retarded — seriously, it’s why they were segregated, check out Mendez v. Westminster. If I ever give up trying to have a conversation with everyone who wants to have a reasonable talk, I’ve lost any reason for writing. There’s a time in childhood development when kids want to have the same thing read to them over and over, and repetition serves a purpose (which I forget — again, should have paid more attention in college). But (and this is probably the first time I’ve made a biblical reference here) when we become adults, we give up childish things. Elevating the discussion requires all of us to look for new things say, and ways to speak that will invite new voices to the discussion and not turn them away.

What’s the point of labeling an opponent? When are the people who call the other side names ever right? If the facts speak for themselves, there’s no need to dip them in mud and throw them at someone. Which of these is more persuasive?

There’s good reason to believe that Ryan Franklin’s performance will decline significantly next season. He’s a severe flyball pitcher who is aging, and his strikeout rate has dropped dramatically over the last few years. His overall performance hasn’t looked bad because he’s seen a dramatic decrease in the hits batters get when they make contact on a ball. We can expect that as a flyball pitcher who puts many balls into play, many of those outs will turn into hits with Mike Cameron replaced with Randy Winn, though our estimates vary as to how great an impact that will be over the course of a season. Further, historically pitchers with low strikeout rates are far worse bets to have continued success than pitchers with more strikeouts, as Bill James showed a long time ago and has been proven repeatedly since then. While the word out of spring training is that Franklin has been working on a new pitch, I think Franklin’s probably going to put up an ERA around 4.50 this year, with some potential for getting it down below 4 if he can adjust his pitching style to (perhaps) get more grounders and avoid the long ball, but there’s also the chance that he’ll do much worse, and even that the strikeout rate hints at a progressive injury that could start to seriously hurt his performance.

Or this —

Why do people insist on thinking Ryan Franklin is good? They can’t all be from his home town, because it’s supposed to be small. They must all be hicks like him. Franklin sucks! He’s always giving up clutch home runs and he doesn’t have good stuff. Cammy saved him so many times last year it’s not even funny and now it’s all going to come back on him. He’s not the guy you want with the game on the line, someone who can put mustard on the ball and say “you can’t hit this, in fact I dare you” and blow it by great hitters. So what, he’s learning a sinker? How many times do you hear some pitcher’s working on some thing and it doesn’t ever turn into anything? ALL THE TIME!! How bad is he for real? Against Detriot he gave up 5 runs in six innings! San Diego owned him last year! Texas whupped him all year long. If you can’t beat the worst teams, what good are you? Why can’t all you dumb hicks see that?

There was a time I’d rise to the second one and write a scathing response that left little standing but now… why bother? If someone is unwilling to respect those they disagree with and make a reasonable argument, and to respect their audience enough to treat them well, why should anyone return that respect? We have so much to do with our time, and there is so much quality discussion out there that there’s no reason to listen to the unreasonable, the name-callers, the group-and-dismiss warriors, the blind corner prophets, and those who act the fool.

I encourage everyone to consider this. When you read an argument sprinkled with cheap shots and broad generalizations about the views of opponents, ask why the writer has to get around on that crutch, and consider that maybe it’s not worth your time to find out.

For my part, I’m going to try and lay off the derisive nicknames this year. I don’t know how well that’s going to go, but the more I’ve thought about all of this the more I think that referring to Bob Melvin as Box Melvin all the time distracts from my points more than it’s funny or makes a larger point about my frustration, and if I’m going to sigh and roll my eyes when people talk about what a bunch of robots “statheads” are when they mean me, I shouldn’t come up with cute nasty nicknames for the M’s braintrust.

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

I have good news and bad news.

Good News

My new camera arrived today, and I’m pretty fired up about it. I can’t wait to start taking some really cool shots and putting them up on my brand new photoblog. Opening the package felt like Christmas when I was a kid. As a bonus, its 75 degrees out here this weekend, and there are a ton of great photo ops in the area. I couldn’t ask for nicer weather to break the D70 in.

Bad News

I’m going to have to work most of the rest of tonight, and I have to work tommorrow. Because I just made a major screwup, I added an extra hour of work to my load. By the time I can touch my camera again, it will be dark. A beautiful day, a brand new camera, and I’ll be inside working. This is like going through the Quinton McCracken trade all over again.

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

Short version: unless the M’s do something colossal, I’d be surprised if I posted again before mid-April.

Long version: about two weeks ago, I fought it out with a nasty flu for over a week. Afterwards, I never felt like I’d recovered, but I’ve been working so hard on a bunch of different stuff (work, house, cool thing that I hope to talk about soon), so I put it up to stress and exhaustion. I went into the doctor today and found out that while fighting that flu, it seems that virus opened the doors for all kinds of other crazy bad-but-not-really-bad things to happen. So in the next two weeks:

– Pack all my stuff

– Finish (or hire crews of people to finish) the crazy amount of work that needs to get down to get my new (built in 1959) place ready for human habitation

– Work out all the final paperwork to sell my old (new) house

– Go on a five-day business trip

– Spend at least two days in Portland for Baseball Prospectus


– Fight several minor illnesses that seem to have teamed up into some kind of foul alliance and have stalemated my immune system for a week already and will, they threaten, be reinforced tomorrow by a brigade of members of the common cold army, the Andromeda Strain, viral narcoleptic dementia, the heebie-jeebies, wandering spleen, Cotard’s syndrome, and tennis elbow. I tried to see if they’d let me get Edgar’s hamstring pulls for 2004, but they said no

On a related note, I’m organizing a impromptu U.S.S. Mariner Pizza Feed*. It’s at my house.


– Hang new drywall, and patching drywall where the electricians had to tear it up to bring the wiring up to code

– Remodel where I ran out of money (everywhere– sports writing doesn’t pay, folks)

– Tear down, repair, and reshingle my roof

– I call the cops and tell them there’s a crowd of people looking for the former owner, who from what I can gather owes them all a lot of money and crystal meth

Attendees should bring their own 8′ length of 1/2″ thick drywall and tools.

* No pizza will be served. Not a real feed.

Back to baseball!

and w/r/t this constant Davis-bashing by the team — this kind of thing happens in many organizations, where they get down on a player for one reason or another and they become obsessed with ‘fixing’ the problem or dumping him off on another team, even for much less value. Sometimes they just get tired of a player’s attitude, and sometimes it’s more serious, like unwillingness to listen to coaches or obey the trainer’s instructions for staying healthy.

Don’t the Mariners, though, seem to do this a lot? They must have really high standards for makeup and clubhouse leadership, or… I don’t know. From the 2003 team:

Mike Cameron: The team fixated on trying to get his swing right for years to turn him into more of a contact hitter because they thought he struck out too much. Let go through free agency (though the Mets overspent) without contest

Carlos Guillen: Injured too much, and that DUI stop didn’t help matters. Traded for nothing.

… and now I’m really tired and need to sleep. Sorry, I’ll pick this back up in a couple weeks if no one else does.


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

Dave, whatever are you talking about? The game starts at 6:57.

Oh, right.

I’ll second that “get well” to Derek. Without him we wouldn’t have much of a site, and I mean that literally, in that he was the one who a year ago decided we had done too much talking about it and finally started the USSM.

There’s some buzz right now about an M’s-Brewers trade, because the Brewers have had a scout at six of the past seven M’s games. The talk seems to surround Kevin Jarvis, as the Brewers are looking for a guy who can start. How sad is that, when your rotation is so weak that you’re looking to add Kevin Jarvis? In any event, we shouldn’t get too excited. Jarvis won’t return anything more than a C-grade prospect, and the M’s would likely pay the vast majority of his salary as well.

We’ve worried quite a bit this winter about Randy Winn’s ability to cover ground in centerfield, but one thing we haven’t talked about is his arm. In case you missed it, Frank Thomas tagged up on Winn last night. Not tagging up to score from third, mind you, but to go from second to third. Frank Thomas, people. Winn chalked it up to bad throwing mechanics. I chalk it up to him having a weak throwing arm.

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

Let me be the first to wish Derek a speedy recovery. The blog won’t be the same without you. So hurry back.

Also, Derek’s completely right, but the Mariners spend more time obsessing over character, and what they perceive to be a willingness to do it their way, than any other organization in the game. The belief that they found the magic formula in 2001 and simply need to recreate that kind of all-for-one and one-for-all team spirit in the locker room drives a lot of the ill-advised decisions we see today. But thats a longer post that I won’t get into right now.

Also, to whoever decided that a Sweet 16 tournament game between Wake Forest and St. Joe’s should start at 9:57 pm on a Thursday night, you suck. That’s all.

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

Did anyone catch the game on TV last night? Freddy Garcia looks like he’s lost 20 pounds.

March 23, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on  

Important update! Keith’s original email to me had the labels reversed

2003 overall rates, pulled by Keith Woolner from play-by-play data:

Bases empty: 3048 HR

Runners on: 2159 HR

That’s 59% bases empty, 41% runners on base

Which makes this totally false:

So Franklin *and the Mariners* are skewed way towards solo shots, far beyond what you’d expect even given the team’s good pitching (and thus fewer baserunners).

So instead

The M’s weren’t that far off the norm after all. I think Keith may write about this for a BP article, so I’m going to leave that part to him.

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