2005 Mariner veterans
In the 2005 Mariner post you’ll see that there are two huge questions we haven’t talked a lot here on the USSM, focusing instead on questions of the day.
Jamie Moyer and Bret Boone are both going to be paid huge sums of money in 2005. Moyer $7.5m and Boone $9m. The M’s are going to have payroll flexibility like crazy, but a lot depends on these two. Has age finally cost Moyer enough that he’s unable to walk that fine line between control-freak artist and all-too-hittable? Did Boone get old, fast, or is there Something More Nefarious going on with his hitting problems (and please, let’s not get into that)(please?).
I think Moyer’s the better bet for a return to goodness. But… maybe not. Here’s why:
Moyer’s striking out batters this year at about the same rate (~14%) as he has since he got to Seattle. His best rate’s about 16%, but 14% is good. His walk rate is ~7% which is higher then we’d like to see: in his good years in Seattle it’s 4-5%. It’s the HR rate that’s way, way up, to 5%. That’s ugly. He’s seeing more balls put into play go for hits, but we’ve talked about the decreased defense.
The walk rate was the same last year, cause for concern, but the hit rate would go down if the team improved the defense next year, and that’d help him a lot. The HR rate’s a real worry. It’s higher than it’s ever been in his career, and while pitchers don’t have as much control on hit rate as you might think listening to the broadcasts, Moyer’s been one of the rare pitchers who consistently has held it down. If he’s not getting weak grounders and pop-ups anymore — if hitters are mashing those over the wall not out of luck but because he’s not quite as fine, then this is trouble.
That said, the home runs are subject to a lot of luck. There’s an argument here that Moyer’s been forced to pitch off his game consistently because the team’s offense has been so weak he’s not going after hitters, afraid that the one hit’s going to be the game, so when he has to work from behind… I don’t know, and I haven’t done the tea-leaf thing with this detailed splits against historicals to look for clues there yet.
Boone, by contrast… there was a point in Moyer’s career where the light went on and he started being the crafty left-hander we’ve known and loved. When Boone came over from San Diego, he was a glove man who had never hit particularly well and suddenly was ripped with muscle and putting up seasons (in Safeco!) that looked like something out of Joe Morgan’s career lines, just blisteringly good. And then okay, and then good again, and then.. this year.
Except this year looks like something out of his early career.
There’s a chicken-and-egg argument over power and walks: that power creates walks because hitters get pitched around, or that by being more selective hitters can get pitches they can drive (Ted Williams, for one, weighs in on this side). Doesn’t matter which side you take, though — if Boone isn’t the fearsome power hitter, he’s not a guy who wants to take a lot of walks on his own, so he’s neither chicken or egg. The argument is kind of pointless with Boone anyway, as he took 40 walks in his monster 2001, 53 in his off-2001 2002, and 68 in his monster 2003 year.
What concerns me is that he’s displaying a normal aging path: if you figure as bat speed goes down and power declines, you’ll see avg drop, power numbers drop, strikeout increase (and walks, usually, but again, Boone-as-non-poultry), that Boone’s season for you. Huge drop in ability to make solid contact, when he does make contact he’s not putting enough on it, and he’s striking out more, either unable to pull the trigger or not getting bat-on-ball.
Average is the most variable of skills, and most people understand that even without the Bull Durham speech. But the whole package here? It’s not to say that players can have late-career peaks (heck, check out Boone, years 32-34) but if the reflexes and bat speed start to go, there’s no coming back from that.
Jason advocated benching Boone to avoid this option year. This is a case where I’d have to defer to the scouts: is this aging? Is he getting the bat around as fast this year? Is there something else going on?
Between the two of them, Moyer seems like the guy who can compensate for aging, who can come back next year and contribute. Boone’s the one I’m much more concerned about.