Pokey gets owie

February 24, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

I know, I know, that’s terrible.

Pokey Reese sprained his ankle. “Slight sprain” is the word from the team. Reese has a long and storied injury history, and we knew this was part of the package. He’s supposed to be fine.

This week’s PI column

February 24, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

On the 1995 team and lessons from that year.

Also in the PI today — a long human-interest-type story on Yuniesky Betancourt, the Cuban player the M’s signed.

Position Roundtables: Starting Left Field

February 23, 2005 · Filed Under 2005 Roundtables, Mariners · 61 Comments 

Dave: Starting Left Field: Randy Winn, Jeremy Reed, or Raul Ibanez

This is the first position where we don’t really have a clear cut
favorite for the position. Winn makes the most sense and goes along
with everything the M’s have said to date, but he’s also the most
likely to be traded. Continuing with the organizations historical
trend, left field is not a position of stability for the 2005
Read more

Sickels on the M’s

February 22, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

John Sickels posted his ranking of the M’s Top 20 prospects over at his new blog. It’s pretty similar to the Future Forty, with a few differences, but there’s also some pretty solid discussion about Felix and Madritsch in the comments below, so I figured I’d link to it for you guys. Enjoy.

Ahh, Snelling

February 22, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 43 Comments 

Many people have asked us what happened to Chris Snelling this off-season. He went home for the first time in years to spend time with his family and friends. So on a whim he and his brother he spent two months adventuring in the Outback (the real one, not the steakhouse) and all over the place.

Cameron rumors

February 22, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 46 Comments 

From the latest Gammons column on ESPN.com

The Mariners are very eager to bring back Mike Cameron, and Scott Spiezio and Randy Winn are two names being mentioned as trade bait.

We’ve talked about this before (quick summary of the reaction then: Jason sure, Dave enh, me no). But this really doesn’t make sense. Winn’s not too expensive and reasonably good, there’s no reason to move him unless it’s going to be a significant upgrade. The Mets probably want to move Cameron even though I just now read a different story where they reassured him they weren’t trading him.

But why would they want Winn? Cliff Floyd has to play left if he plays, Beltran’s a lock for center, and there’s really no way you want Winn over Cameron as long as you’re forced to stick one of them in right field.

And why would they want Spiezio? They’ve got a stud 3B and a bunch of guys to play first, including Doug Mientkiewicz, who they just got off Boston in trade.

This doesn’t make sense for the Mets or the Mariners. The Mariners, if they’re going to trade Randy, are probably going to look for something they’re going to need down the road, like pitching prospects. Otherwise, they’re better off letting him play and if the right trade emerges later, making it then.

I can’t believe that the Mariners would be “eager” to make a trade that commits them to paying Cameron so much money when his expected performance — and I say this as a huge fan — is far below that, and they have better, cheaper alternatives in hand right now.

Position Roundtables: Starting Third Base

February 21, 2005 · Filed Under 2005 Roundtables, Mariners · 36 Comments 

Dave: We’ve talked about Beltre’s contract at length, and obviously, we were
all big fans of the signing. The organization needed a franchise
player on the right side of 30, a young player that they can
theoretically build around for the next decade. With one signing,
they went a long ways to addressing the problems in the middle of the
lineup, while simultaneously adding one of the best defensive third
baseman in the game. In 2004, only Barry Bonds was a better player
than Beltre, and I argued before the offseason began that Beltre might
be the best player for the Mariners on the market, a better fit than
even Carlos Beltran.

So, we’re glad he’s here. Three cheers for the signing. But what do
we think he’s going to do in 2005?

You just can’t realistically expect a repeat of 2004. It was a career
year in every sense of the word, an enormous leap over reasonable
preseason expectations. Keep in mind his 90th percentile PECOTA
projection for 2004 was .281/.336/.512. He hit .334/.388/.629. That
means he exceeded the most optimistic projection possible by 18
percent in batting average, 15 percent in on base percentage, and 23
percent in slugging percentage. It was an improvement of historic
proportions, and the few players in the history of the game who have
made leaps of even remotely similar proportions have a portion of
those back in future years. Thinking he’s going to be that good again
is unrealistic.

But, as I’ve argued before, Beltre’s a weird case, a super talent who
was something of a minor star by age 22 and had shown all the signs of
future greatness. The apendectomy that nearly took his life and
robbed him of needed development isn’t something that any statistical
based projection can account for. He’s got a pretty severe case of
extenuating circumstances. In his case, I don’t believe his offensive
performance from 2001-2003 accurately reflects the skills Beltre has,
and they carry less weight than they would in a normal circumstance.
But they do carry some weight, and we’d be remiss to not admit that
Beltre’s got some downside, a risk of falling back to levels where
he’s not a great hitter.

He’s also a right-handed pull hitter in Safeco Field. He has enough
power to drive it out to right field, but historically, about 75
percent of his bombs have been hit to left or left center. Safeco’s
probably not going to be his favorite place to hit, as it has been
tough on hitters with his profile through the years.

What am I expecting from Beltre in 2005? Probably something in the
.290/.350/.530 range, which may look like a disappointment on the
surface. But in Safeco, that’s a pretty strong offensive performance,
and added with his defense, he’ll be a legitimate all-star. I think a
realistic expectation is that he’ll be worth 6-7 wins above
replacement and be the best player on the team. And, as we saw last
year, there is a chance that he exceeds our expectation and
establishes himself as one of the best few players in the game.

Jeff: If you Google “Adrian Beltre” and “disappointment,” you’ll get
over 600 results. That’s a lesson in patience and in perspective: because he’s been
around forever, it’s difficult to remember that Beltre won’t turn 26 until April.

Since his breakout year was 2004, I’ll be interested to see the changes to his
PECOTA card when the comparable players section is updated. I think you will see less
Aurelio Rodriguez, more Mike Schmidt. Who, by the way, hit .249/.367/.523 and
.262/.376/.524 is his age 25 and age 26 seasons.

Dave’s crystal ball is more predicto-riffic than mine, and think his reasoning is solid, so
let’s assume Beltre finishes with a line in the neighborhood he suggests (290/.350/.530).

If Adrian Beltre had put up those numbers in 2004, he would still have been fifth in
baseball in OPS among third basemen. All of the others that would have been ahead
of him — Scott Rolen, Aramis Ramirez, Melvin Mora and Alex Rodriguez — play in
home parks that are at least marginally more favorable to hitters than either Dodger
Stadium or Safeco.

Beltre is a pull hitter (hitting chart here, but it’s important to note that he also had success
as a right-handed power bat in spacious Dodger Stadium. This bodes well for the
transition to Safeco. That’s not to say his home park didn’t depress Beltre’s numbers a bit —
his road OPS is .60-.100 points higher over the past three years — but to point out that he
was able to be productive despite a pitcher-friendly environment. I think we’d all be thrilled
if he put up his Dodger Stadium line last year (.326/.371/.611) for the whole season.

This is an excellent signing because, even if he doesn’t deliver another season like last year,
Beltre is likely to be among the very best at his position. Welcome to Seattle.

Derek: Well, if you put “Jeff Shaw Funkadelic” into Google, you get about 700
references, so I don’t take that as any particular sign.

I fight over PECOTA all the time, and I want to make this point one more
time: PECOTA forecasts, by themselves, mean nothing. Players don’t
struggle against them. They don’t over-achieve because they do better
than the weighted mean forecast, or struggle because they do worse.
PECOTA attempts, using limited criteria, to make a guess at a player’s
performance the next year. Because it only uses statistical lines from
the last three years, it wears blinders that we do not. We can look at
Beltre and see the early stardom, know about the surgery. We don’t know
that that’s the cause of the two down years, but we see a wider picture
than PECOTA can. If a projection system sees two down years and a fluke
MVP-caliber performance, of course it’s going to be down on next year’s

Anyway. Beltre’s an encouraging sign for a couple of reasons. Not only
because he’s young, and he’s awesome, and whatever else, but because
it’s a departure from the modest-cost stop-gap measure. He’s a huge
expensive risk with potentially huge returns for the team, instead of
the kind of Gillick-era modest-cost filler we got for 2004. Guys like
Ibanez, Spiezio… we saw the upside, and now the team’s trying to
figure out what they do with these guys.

Beltre… man. He’s going to be a huge boon to this team, and good for
them for taking the chance.

Jason: When was the last time the M’s signed someone and you said “Wow, I have no
complaints about this signing”? And I mean a real signing, not something
like giving Dan Reichert a minor league contract. It’s always something —
the contract’s too long, they gave him too much money, he’s too old, he
hasn’t been good in three years, his arm is about to fall off, and so on.
Adrian Beltre? I have no complaints.

The biggest knock on Beltre is that he only hit well last season, his free
agent year. But that’s being unkind to his 1999 and 2000 seasons, when he
hit .275/.352/.428 and .290/.360/.475… as a 20- and 21-year old in
pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium
. You don’t do that without having
legitimate skills.

His 2004 season was an absolute monster, one he isn’t likely to repeat next
season (or over the course of his contract, for that matter). Still, though,
even a step back from that will place him among the best in the game at his
position and earning his considerable paycheck. That he plays good defense
is simply icing on the cake.

Best of all, he won’t turn 26 until the first week of the season. This isn’t
quite up there with a 25-year old Alex Rodriguez becoming a free agent after
the 2000 season, but Beltre remains one of the youngest (and best) free
agents ever to hit the open market. And now he’s in a Seattle Mariners
uniform. Again, no complaints.

Peter: All I want to know is why I can STILL buy a Kaz
jersey from MLB.com but no Beltre.

I want my Beltre jersey.

BP 2005, other fun stuff

February 20, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 35 Comments 

Okay, so I know I quit BP, but there’s a whole slew of stuff coming out worth mentioning that I contributed to before, and in the case of the Sox book, today.

Baseball Prospectus 2005 ships this week, if you haven’t already pre-ordered your copy. I’ve got two chapters (Mariners and Expos) (added by Dave: The Brewers player comments were written by a good looking guy from North Carolina, as well) and an essay in the back of the book, and I really think all three are good work. $12, 21 cents. I mean even if you only read the Mariners chapter, that’s pretty cheap.

There’s also the Red Sox book Prospectus book, which doesn’t have a listing on Amazon yet, but was edited by Steve Goldman, who is awesome, and I wrote a huge chunk of that. Further updates as we get a release date, a listing, etc.

And then — teaser alert — there’s another huge thing I’m working on. So my fingers hurt, and as much as I love my nice LCD, I’m tired of looking at a monitor and doing reserach.

All of which would be bad enough if Blizzard hadn’t released World of Warcraft, which as a life-long gamer I am obligated to play but which, I must also point out, is enormously time-consuming. Especially with all the ganking (stupid Alliance).

“Better in a Tigers kind of way.”

February 18, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 48 Comments 

Jayson Stark names the Mariners the AL’s most improved team. Don’t get too comfortable, though, folks: it’s just to set you up for this zinger.

Of course, all that just makes these Mariners better in a Tigers kind of way, as opposed to a win-the-World Series kind of way. But you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Does anyone else feel a chill? Because that seems cold. At first, anyway.

As miserable as last year was for M’s fans, Detroit was historically bad two seasons ago, a forehead-slapping 20 games worse than the 99-loss 2004 Mariners. Since hope is like a tulip bulb — you can’t stop it from blossoming in the spring — I should mention that the Tigers did improve by 29 games between 2003 and 2004.

That probably won’t happen, of course. That type of improvement has only happened twice in the AL since the 1961 expansion. But improbable does not mean impossible.

Pursuing the path of irrational exuberance a bit further, consider that Detroit’s centerpiece free agent acquisition, Pudge Rodriguez, was a veteran right-handed bat who had an injury history and was entering a spacious pitcher’s ballpark. Red flags? If you were a bull, that signing would’ve looked like a matador. To a Mariner fan, maybe it compares to the deal given to a certain slugging first baseman. Richie Sexson is a different type of player, but it’s nice for those of us that just hit 30 to remember that players north of that number can still perform at an elite level.

That probably won’t happen, of course, since career arcs generally follow similar patterns of descent.

A lot of other cosmic tumblers fell into place for the Tigers, too, most notably Carlos Guillen’s agreement with Mr. Applegate. For all Bill Bavasi has done right this offseason, trading Guillen ranks as his biggest gaffe. To be fair, no one foresaw the Venezuelan shortstop making such a leap. If your team is going to improve nearly 30 games from one year to the next, though, a few serendipitous events have to occur.

Enough serendipity probably won’t come the Mariners’ way to equal the Tigers’ improvement. But if they did pull off such a match, they’d finish 92-70.

However improbable, would anyone not take “better in a Tigers kind of way”? I’m certainly warming to the idea.

Position Roundtables: Starting Shortstop

February 18, 2005 · Filed Under 2005 Roundtables, Mariners · 36 Comments 

Dave: Starting Shortstop: Pokey Reese

There aren’t a ton of things in baseball that die hard statistical
analysts and old school scouts will agree on. When you find something
that is being trumpeted as truth by both communities, well, you can be
nearly certain its true. One of these rare truths is that Pokey Reese
is an amazing defensive player, one of the two or three best gloveman
in the game, regardless of position.

Scouts have been raving about Reese’s defensive prowess for nearly a
decade. His defense was the main reason the Mariners tried to acquire
him as the centerpiece of the Ken Griffey Jr trade five years ago.
He’s kept a job in baseball despite hitting like a pitcher for the
past two seasons simply because scouts have seen him vacuum up every
ball that came his way.

In the past couple of seasons, more advanced statistical defensive
metrics have risen to the surface, such as Ultimate Zone Rating,
Defensive Regression Analysis, and the Probablistic Model of Range, as
well as Diamond Mind’s proprietary defensive ratings. UZR, PMR, and
Diamond Mind all base their ratings on specific play by play zone data
that is far more accurate than older, basically worthless stats like
Zone Rating. None of these models are perfect, and we still have a
ways to go in being able to accurately measure defensive performance
statistically, but the consenus among these rankings is clear; Pokey
Reese is worth something like 30 runs with his glove over the course
of a full season. UZR and PRM say about 27; DRA says about 32, and
Diamond Mind consistently gives him the best rating possible.

The only players who even perform at similar levels on a consistent
basis are Darin Erstad (as a center fielder), Mike Cameron, and Scott
Rolen. Saving 30 runs with the glove in one season is basically a
hall of fame type performance defensively, an elite level that few
players can reach.

30 runs is huge, either offensively or defensively. Keep in mind that
Bobby Crosby, last years American League Rookie of the year, only
created 23 runs with his bat. Edgar Renteria, he of the new 4 year,
$40 million contract, created 27 runs with his bat. Even if Reese
doesn’t hit better than .220/.280/.290, he’s still a valuable everyday
player simply based on his glove. For just over a million dollars,
the M’s purchased, arguably, the best defensive player in the game.
That’s just a ridiculous bargain for what he brings to the table.

Jeff: In 1999, Prince could finally party like he’d
always wanted to, the Matrix did for plastic pants what LL Cool J did
for the kangol hat, and something called Napster changed the mix tape
industry forever.

Oh, and 1999 was also the last time Pokey Reese played more than
135 games in a year. He was 26 years old.

Dave’s point about consensus (among people, and among existing
imperfect defensive metrics) is astute. Like blind men attempting to
describe an elephant, basing opinions on only one piece of the puzzle
is often unwise. The fact that Pokey’s glove is respected almost
universally, by baseball minds and by the numbers, is revealing and

Then there’s the injury issue.

A contrarian would point out that Dave’s 30 runs saved figure assumes
Pokey is on the field a lot more than he’s likely to be. A contrarian would
say that this is a guy who played 149 games at his peak, and the last three
years has played 119, 37 and 96, respectively.

Fortunately, I’m not a contrarian. I’m also on the Pokey bandwagon. His
penchant for getting nicked up, though, almost ensures you will hear in
2005 four words you never wanted to hear again:

Willie Bloomquist, starting shortstop.

I love having Reese on the team, think he was a great value signing, and
am excited to watch him for a number of reasons non-statistical. His cockeyed
cap, gleam-eyed love for game and enormous uniform are all a pleasure to watch.

He’ll turn 32 in the middle of this season, though, so maybe I won’t get
to watch him as much as I’d like.

While you’re lighting that candle for King Felix, it couldn’t hurt to throw
an extra thought out there for Pokey.

Jason: OK, so I guess this means I’m the designated
“negative” on Pokey Reese?

It’s actually tough. Sure, he can’t hit a lick — but he’s not supposed to.
If the M’s lose 100 games this season and Reese hits .200, nobody will blame
Pokey for the team’s offensive failings.

At the risk of reading too much into his stat lines, it appears he hits
significantly better when he gets decent playing time. Of course,
significantly better for Reese means a .700 OPS (1999, 2000, close in 2002)
as opposed to anemic .600 or worse seasons like he posted in 2001 and each
of the past two seasons. Again, there’s a positive correlation between his
playing time and his offense, which would appear to be a benefit here since
he’s the starting shortstop as opposed to backup middle infielder.

The injuries are troulbing, though. Last season he missed handful of games
with a thumb injury (pun intended), then missed 45 games with a rib cage
injury and finished the season in a 4-for-49 slump.

In any event, I wouldn’t worry too much about seeing Bloomquist at
shortstop. Looking over the roster, there appears to be a very good chance
one of the spring training non-roster invitees — Ramon Santiago, Benji Gil,
Ricky Gutierrez — will make the roster as Pokey’s backup, since Bloomquist
really can’t handle the position.

With Adrian Beltre, Bret Boone, Richie Sexson and Reese around the infield,
shouldn’t we be more excited about the team’s pitching this season? Well
sure, except that this flyball staff won’t be able to take full advantage of
the upgraded defense.

Jeff: Is the bit about Santiago, Gil or Gutierrez serving
as the backup shortstop — and hence starting when Pokey’s hurt — intended
to make me feel better?

If so, that’s very nice of Jason to try to cheer me up. Nice, but ineffective — kind of like Bloomquist.

Dave: Jason and Jeff are right; Reese’s health is a legitimate concern, and
the backups are cringe worthy. Really, we’d be foolish to assume that
we’ll get a full season out of Reese, and every game he doesn’t play
is a game that we’ll be running a Triple-A player out to play
shortstop. That’s a problem.

Thankfully, there’s probably a 10-20 percent chance that Jose Lopez
makes The Prospect Leap, so if he’s hitting .330/.380/.580 in Tacoma,
he’d be a legitimate option, especially if the alternative is Ramon
Santiago getting at-bats every day for a month.

And yes, our infield defense is going to be something else this year.
Which is why we should want Dan Reichert on the staff, but that’s for
a later roundtable.

Jason: I will say nothing of his bat, but at least
Santiago’s a solid defensive player.

With respect to Lopez — isn’t the organization set on moving him to 2B? If
he spends two months in Tacoma, hits as you suggest and is playing second, I
doubt they’d move him back to shortstop just to fill in for a week or so if
Reese is hurt.

Dave: If it was just a week, you’re right, Lopez wouldn’t get
the call. If it was a month or two, well, that’s another story, I think. Yes, the
organization wants him adjusting to second base, but he’s going to play some
shortstop down there as well, and if they were faced with giving Ramon Santiago
200 at-bats, well, I think Lopez would look a lot more appealing. Especially if
he’s whacking the ball all over Cheney Stadium.

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