Going Inside

Jeff · March 1, 2005 at 3:28 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

If you don’t have an ESPN Insider account, well … it’s not really worth the money, I don’t think. But if you do, or if you have ever been tempted to sign up for that 30-day free trial, then you can read in their entirety two new columns by Jerry Crasnick and Rob Neyer about the M’s.

My honest opinion? There’s not much new or interesting about either of these pieces, but each has one element I wanted to highlight.

From Crasnick, there’s the part where he paints an somewhat different picture of the Adrian Beltre negotiations than Bill Plaschke did a few days ago.

Beltre surprised a lot of people by leaving Los Angeles, where he signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1994 at age 15. But he says the Dodgers made him a five-year offer for money that “wasn’t close” to the Seattle deal, and dallied enough to make him wonder how sincere they were about re-signing him.

“Seattle handled the negotiations better,” Beltre said. “There was a lot of communication, and I never got that from L.A. It was a tough situation because I was born in that organization. It’s a great city and a great ballpark. I met my wife there, and we had lived there for a while. But I think this was the best decision I ever made.”

There are elements of commonality between the Crasnick account and the Plaschke account. In each, Beltre says that he was disappointed in the Dodgers’ lack of communication skills. But there are two important differences.

First, Plaschke implied that the Dodgers’ offer would have been enough to woo Beltre back if only Paul DePodesta had done a bit more gladhanding with or directed more phone-coddling toward Beltre. This piece says that ain’t so, and that the M’s offer flat blew away L.A.’s bid. Our very own inestimable Dave Cameron backs this version, and I buy it.

Second, Plaschke implied that Beltre as filled with regret and tearful. He might be, and I don’t doubt that it was a tough decision for him to leave his first organization. But including the “signing with the M’s was the best decision I ever made” quote would have undermined Plaschke’s prescripted narrative, that Dodgers management are bloodless, buffoonish spreadsheet-huggers without the human touch.

These are minor distinctions that are of little importance to Mariner fans now — hey, we got our stud third baseman, who cares whether that happened because Bill Bavasi opened the checkbook, because Paul DePodesta messed up, or because of a combination of factors? And who really knows, if you aren’t Adrian Beltre or in the front office of either organization?

Crasnick’s account tends to flesh out the picture we get of what happened, though, which is why I’m citing it.

As for Neyer, his column is an update and reconsideration of another Insider story he did in late December that I critiqued at Mariner Musings. Using a pretty rough calculation, Neyer estimated that the Mariners would win games numbering in the mid-70s. I thought this missed a lot, and predicted an 82-win year myself.

Apparently, Rob was in a room full of fans recently where he crept his estimate northward, forecasting a 78-win season. Afterward, though, he used a new tool called the Team Efficiency Summary from the new Bill James Handbook to conclude that (as you might already suspect) the Mariners were beset with loads of bad luck last year.

Without getting into too much detail, I’ll tell you that Rob reconsidered his prognostication again:

That roomful of baseball fans, where I predicted 78 wins for Seattle? That wasn’t a terrible guess, but with the help of Bill James, I’m happy to revise it upward: In ’05 the Mariners will win 82, give or take a few — unless they’re as lucky this season as they were unlucky last.

Let’s hope Rob publishes another column about expected Mariner wins and losses before the season starts. Seems like the team is climbing in the standings each time he does.


26 Responses to “Going Inside”

  1. Evan on March 1st, 2005 4:53 pm

    Weren’t Clay Davenport’s Third-Order Wins making these sorts of calculations before Bill’s Team Efficiency Summary?

    Rob’s estimate now comes in around where my best guess arrives, though the M’s do have significant risk in both directions. Which is why we play the games.

    The ESPN Insider is worth the money if you’re interested in the ESPN Magazine and you live outside the US. Since the Magazine is offered free if you’re an Insider, and the Insider doesn’t cost more just because you’re outside the US (so ESPN just eats the extra mailing costs), it’s a great deal for non-Americans.

    That said, I’m not renewing mine.

  2. Rusty on March 1st, 2005 4:54 pm

    There has probably been much posted here about Neyer and his sensibilities. ESPN obviously hired him to represent the statistical analysis side of the game. But in his rush to put up a column several times a week, he takes major shortcuts in just about any analysis he does. I think writing is his first love and analysis second. Therefore, he’d rather spend time writing a colorful piece with some quick analysis supporting it rather than getting the analysis right the first time at the expense of a deadline.

    This 2005 Mariner analysis has all the trademarks of this writing over analysis tendency. Also, it’s hard to trust what he says about the Mariners considering he lived here for several years and had Season Tix to the M’s. It’s like he has a reverse bias since it’s not his favorite team and he’s seen it so much with his own eyes.

    All that said, I have significant respect for him. The one book I read of his was well written, although he did have Esptein helping him with it. Also, his email door is always open. He’s probably replied 3 or 4 times to around 10 emails that I’ve sent him over the years. To me, that counts for a lot. He’s not afraid of stirring up controversy and he’ll always apologize if he realizes after the fact that he was incorrect.

  3. Joel on March 1st, 2005 5:25 pm

    Thanks, Evan. I’d wondered why I’ve been receiving a copy of ESPN Magazine each month. I guess I should’ve read the fine print.

  4. Brent Overman on March 1st, 2005 5:33 pm

    In other words, ESPN bundles the two to boost viewership in order to escalate their advertising rates.

    I get quite frustrated reading their site. Their java scripts and unusual pop-up ads (that slip past blockers) lock my browser up routinely. I just don’t read it at home… Ah well…

    Thanks for the info, Jeff! I don’t subscribe any more either.

  5. Brandon on March 1st, 2005 6:41 pm

    It’s interesting that the M’s pitching is not receiving more attention from columnists. I admit that I would rather read about the M’s offense and how the new additions will hopefully lead to increased production from Boone, Winn and others. However, while retaining my interest I don’t believe that this is where the bulk of the M’s analysis should reside. The performance from the pitchers will make or break the 2005 season–I don’t think enough bad karma exists for the Mariners to not have a potent offense in 2005. The offense (and of course infield defense) is a done deal. Kaput. They are going to be great and thank you Mariner’s management for shelling out the money. But every M’s pitcher has a question mark next to their name. I know it is much easier to “predict” wins using formulas based on offensive statistics, but that shouldn’t impact the greater dialogue when writing about a team. But, in the end it is much more enjoyable to read about the improved M’s offense as opposed to this time last year when people could only talk about how old the team was: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/gammons/story?id=1765340

  6. John on March 1st, 2005 8:02 pm

    Re # 5 (“and others…”): Do you mean “rah ool and the gang”?

  7. Shoeless Jose on March 1st, 2005 8:07 pm

    So your complaint is that the USSM folks covered the position players before the pitchers? Or what? They’re working their way through the projected 25 man staff, and they just got done with the non-pitching part of it. That’s where all the attention over the past few months because that’s where all the money was going in the free agent market. And I certainly don’t have any problem with this ordering, particularly as the very question marks accompanying all the pitchers made it tempting to wait for spring training to open before trying to draw up a rotation and pen.

  8. A's fan on March 1st, 2005 8:59 pm

    It’s probably pretty likely that Crasnick lifted much of his material, or at least his thesis, from Plaschke’s articles, and other articles like it. Remember Paul DePodesta is, for lack of a better word, a “Moneyball” guy. And ESPN is leading the counter-revolution against all things logical. My conspiracy theories probably need some work, but really, does anybody even bother getting their news from ESPN anymore?

    Or, Maybe DePo just sorta bungled the negotiation. Or maybe it was a combination of both. But like I said yesterday, I have a hard time believing that DePo was willing to spend 55 million on Drew, was willing to absolutely, completely, and unequivocally WASTE (word capitalized for effect) 36 million on Derek Lowe, but wasn’t willing to pony up the dough for Beltre. I also have a conspiracy theory regarding Scott Boras in all of this. I’ll reveal it to you later.

    Also, the absolute best case scenario for the M’s is 81 wins this year, if everything goes right. You guys win 72 this year.

  9. Harry on March 1st, 2005 9:49 pm

    That’s wishful thinking on your part, A’s fan. M’s contend this year, even as they rebuild.

  10. Evan on March 1st, 2005 10:38 pm

    Removing luck from the equation, the M’s would have to decline to have 72 wins this year (according to both Neyer and Davenport). And I don’t see how this year’s M’s could possibly be worse than last year’s M’s.

    80 wins is a safe prediction. Anything from 85-75 is likely. Anything beyond that requires an unexpected confluence of events.

  11. Cap on March 2nd, 2005 12:04 am

    Off topic, but I am off to Peoria, AZ to catch 5 days of Mariners spring training in person! Woo!


  12. urchman on March 2nd, 2005 6:24 am

    Given the risks with their starting pitching, I just don’t see the M’s playing .500 ball this year. I’m thinking ~75 wins is a reasonable guess. Maybe they’ll surprise me, but I really don’t see the team contending this year.

    Also, I haven’t read Rob Neyer’s stuff since ESPN moved his column to Insider, but several years ago, when I first stumbled across his columns, it was the first time I’d been exposed to anything resembling real statistical analysis of baseball. If not for his column, I probably wouldn’t have ever found Baseball Prospectus or this site either. As I said, I haven’t read his column since it went Insider, but I’ll always be thankful to him for introducting me to sabrmetric-like stuff. The way I see it, his column is sort of an introduction for fans who haven’t seen this type of thing before, much the way DMZ’s column in the PI is.

  13. Scraps on March 2nd, 2005 7:02 am

    I’ll reveal it to you later.

    I don’t know how we’ll all sleep till then.

  14. msb on March 2nd, 2005 8:35 am

    ““Seattle handled the negotiations better,’’ Beltre said”

    interesting, too, when you look at what Delgado also said about the negotiations with him, in Stone’s Times piece on monday:


  15. MikeJ on March 2nd, 2005 8:44 am

    Like many internet-aged baseball SABR/blog fans, I was introduced to Bill James and “the Moneyball world” by Rob Neyer. He daily introduced me to new ideas and new ways to think about baseball. I signed up for Insider, and still read his work regularly.

    That said, these last few months he appears to have become bored with his ESPN columns. At least half of the time, it is my opinion that an editor gives him an assignment that he has little interest in writing about, and it shows in the final result. Or he’s writing about something he’s written about a dozen times and feels he’s preaching to the choir. Either way, his work has suffered. Anyone else notice this?

  16. Xteve X on March 2nd, 2005 9:47 am

    Re: #5, I think that’s a legitimate point and I agree with you completely. The offense will be better — heck, it couldn’t get any WORSE than last year, could it? — but the pitching is going to be the difference between this being a .500 club or one that’s maybe 10-15 games worse than that.

    The reason nobody in the mainstream baseball press is writing about it is because virtually the entire staff has question marks of one kind or another, and there’s no clear conclusions that can be drawn or predictions made about how the staff will do…writers like to make predictions that they can point to later and say “hey! I knew that!” I don’t blame anybody for wanting to stick their neck out and say “The M’s staff is going to rebound in 2005, book it.” Since I have a much smaller audience I don’t have those misgivings. 😀

    I think there’s an even chance this team’s pitching could be absolutely dreadful, like Detroit Tigers bad, depending on how well Piniero and Guardado come back from injury. Even with the improved infield defense I can’t believe guys like Madritch and Meche will be able to sustain success over an entire season, Franklin’s picture might as well be in Webster’s under “fifth starter,” and Moyer’s, well …we’ll see. That leaves Joel Piniero as the lone guy to count on every fifth day, and he’s coming off surgery. Not good.

  17. eponymous coward on March 2nd, 2005 10:07 am

    But Meche and Madritsch DIDN’T keep have sustained success for a full season last year- they spent significant time at AAA (or in Meche’s case, stunk up the joint for a couple of months) while we gave starts to train wrecks like Nageotte and Blackley.

    Madritsch and Meche in the second half were realistically the ONLY good thing to happen in the starting staff last year, whereas assloads of bad things happened (Meche tanked the first half, Piniero, Moyer and Franklin took big steps back, none of the other kids really worked out). Much the same thing happened in the bullpen.

    As for Guardado, if there’s anything we have a surplus of, it’s lefty pitching in the bullpen with “meh” fastballs (Sherrill, Villone). Putz will likely go to the closer role if we have a case of Steady Eddie shoulder spaghetti. He seemed to perform fine there in the second half of last year.

    It’s REALLY hard for me to see how, in a park that’s as good as you could want for a pitcher and with an improved defense, how things could be WORSE in terms of luck. It also seems to me that some of the pickups (Reichert, Campillo) have shots to at least provide depth in AAA.

    Also, looking at the Angels winning out last year with a very average staring staff, and the Rangers and the A’s this year, let’s just say I’m not convinced ANYONE in the division has dominant pitching.

  18. Pilots fan on March 2nd, 2005 10:42 am

    I’ve been trying to decide how to look at our pitchers this year, both bullpen and starting candidates. Do we have a lot of guys competing that have a legitimate chance to be good, or do we have a bunch of mediocre pitchers that are hard to choose 12 from?

    IMHO, the only one I have solid confidence in is Guardado — and that assumes he’s healthy. In each of the rest I can see potential for a good year, but can also make a good argument for why they won’t hold up, at least enough to put up a solid year overall. I’m really looking forward to seeing/reading about how each performs this spring, and who gets how many innings (an indicator of who Price/Hargrove thinks is throwing well).

    With that said, I think Cha Seung Baek (sp?) has as good of a chance as anyone (Franklin/Sele/Campillo/insert name here) of breaking camp as the 5th starter. And the bullpen — out of 7 spots, there only seem to be 2-3 locks, maybe 4. I think all of this makes for a pretty wide range of possible outcomes for # of wins this year, with the mean being an unscientific 81.

  19. Tim O on March 2nd, 2005 10:51 am

    I have to agree with Eponymous Coward on this one. I don’t see a dominant pitching staff in the AL West. Even if they seemed to struggle down the stretch, you can’t convince me that removing Hudson and Mulder makes the A’s rotations stronger. I’m just not that impressed by the Angels and Texas is a bigger question mark than the Mariners.

  20. Jeff on March 2nd, 2005 11:15 am

    One of the reasons no one in the national media is talking about the Mariner’s pitching is because there are no good stories there (as far as they see it). No FA signings (like Beltre and Sexson). No big trades (Like Hudson/Mulder). No big-name prospects (King Felix is still a year or more away). Moyer had a bad year last year so the “soft tosser who put it all together at age 40” angle is gone.

    It was a bunch of mid-range veterans and prospects last year and the roster hasn’t changed this year. Outside of Moyer and Guardado, I’m not sure most casual baseball fans (of the non-mariner variety) could even name a Seattle pitcher.

  21. Keith on March 2nd, 2005 11:41 am

    Re:#15 You are not the only one. Neyer was a great “gateway drug” into the world of SABRmetrics, but he has certainly faded of late. His baseball worldview has become nearly as grating as Joe Morgan’s.

    Thanks for the memories, Rob, but I’m not gonna pony up for the Insider.

  22. bilbo on March 2nd, 2005 12:41 pm

    I am going to have to side with Coward on this one too.

    In Neyer’s article, he articulates how with “regular luck” the M’s should have won 74 games last year. With the additions to the M’s infield (including Pokey) they are 8 games better, and that is strictly on offense! If we also adjust for the added defense, I don’t see how this club won’t win 82 games with average luck.

    Now this also assumes we get the same crappy pitching that we had last year. Even with all the question marks, I don’t see how we could possibly pitch any worse (quick, somebody hand me a wooden bat to knock on!) than last season. I know we will get to pitching later in the round table, so let me just say that I would be surprised if this team didn’t win 90-95 games. (BTW, if Seattle is a better team, doesn’t it also stand to reason that the other division teams’ win totals will suffer as a consequence? ’04 Div. record: 22-36)

    Crasnick’s article had little substance except to say that Beltre and Sexson will fill the power void from last year (really?). What is interesting is that his previous article was on the power of the Angels lineup and how good they are going to be in spite of the fact that they are not traditionally built (prototypical 1,2,3 hitters, etc).
    Not to put a stick in a hornets nest or sound like a complete homer (too late!), it is interesting because when I match up the lineups I see Seattle with almost as good a lineup, and probably a more traditional one at that (Ichiro, Winn or Reed, Beltre, Sexson, etc).

  23. Jason Lake on March 2nd, 2005 12:59 pm

    Regarding the ESPN Insider, as a sportswriter I had access to the site for a couple of years and found it a tremendous research tool. Having links to all those newspaper columns in one place is a godsend. And the game analysis for NFL and March Madness is top-notch. Editorially speaking, though, nearly all the columns appear to be slapped together rather quickly. The argument is usually sound, and the personality of the author certainly comes out, but Ring Lardner it ain’t.

    Still, I’ll take a poorly edited Rob Neyer over a typo-free (insert hack here) any day.

  24. J.R. on March 2nd, 2005 4:38 pm

    “80 wins is a safe prediction. Anything from 85-75 is likely. Anything beyond that requires an unexpected confluence of events.”

    Which is what ever baseball season brings, “an unexpected confluence of events”.

    Seems with all the question marks on this team you guys shouldn’t be so confident in your predictions. (not directed at the post I quoted, more at the people claiming they “will” win x# of games)

  25. Bernard Aboba on March 3rd, 2005 8:18 am

    The Mariners gave up 823 runs last year (7th best in the American League). Of the 6 teams that gave up less runs than the Mariners, 4 made the playoffs (Texas and Oakland being the exceptions).

    Given the improved defense, and some better management of the staff, it seems quite reasonable for the Mariners to shave 30 runs allowed in 2005. That would allow them to move up to fifth best in the AL, with approximately 790 runs allowed.

    Here’s why I think shaving 30 runs allowed isn’t that hard:

    Assume Moyer doesn’t deteriorate beyond where he was in 2004. How much worse can he get?

    Assume Mandritsch only provides a performance equivalent to Garcia until he was traded, not more than that.

    Assume that the Mariners send Franklin to the bullpen so that instead of 200 innings, he pitches more like 80 innings or less. If those 120 innings can be pitched with an ERA 1.0 less than Franklin’s, then you’ve saved 7-13 runs.

    Also, if you take the starts that were given to Jarvis, Blackley and Nageotte, etc. and give them instead to a replacement level pitcher you’ve probably saved another 7-10 runs.

    The bullpen seems very likely to be better than last year, even if Guardado doesn’t get healthy. The kids (Putz, Achison, Sherrill) have more experience, and Nelson might make the club and contribute. So my guess is that we could get another 10-15 runs there.

    And that’s not even counting the improved infield defense. So shaving 30 runs allowed doesn’t seem that hard, really.

  26. Evan on March 3rd, 2005 10:22 am

    Further keep in mind that pitchers who deteriorate further, beyond what they did in 2004, won’t get to pitch much. I doubt we’ll keep sending Franklin out there if he carries an 7+ ERA into June.