The Success of Jeff Nelson and other urban legends

Jeff · March 20, 2005 at 9:36 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The Mariners’ most vexing dilemma in spring training so far? They have too many solid pitchers, quoth the Sunday Everett Herald.

Given that too many good players is always a pleasant problem, I was pleased to read an article with this premise. I was even more pleased to read the sub-headline, “The success of Jeff Nelson and Aaron Sele gives Seattle 16 pitchers for 12 spots,” because I had thought Nelson was struggling. Eagerly, I dove into the article, anxious to get some positive news.

In the next-to-last paragraph, here’s what I found:

Nelson, who pitched for the Mariners from 2001-2003, has an unimpressive 7.20 ERA but has allowed one run in his past three outings and has three strikeouts in his past two innings. The swings and misses tell Nelson that his best pitch, his slider, is working.

Holy Small Sample Size, Batman! He’s got three strikeouts in his last two innings! Quick, lock him up to a multi-year deal, like we did with Shiggy and Villone.

Most importantly: I am shocked that I just read an article about the outstanding spring a guy with a 7.20 ERA is having. Really puts all those “Aaron Sele has pitched nine straight scoreless innings” stories in perpective.

But wait! There’s more. The Herald’s Kirby Arnold continues by saying that just about every pitcher offers something that will make it hard to keep him off the team. For example, “Shigetoshi Hasegawa, J.J. Putz, Scott Atchison, Julio Mateo, George Sherrill and Nathan Bland all are pitching well … and Matt Thornton is a rare power left-hander who the M’s believe will dominate left-handed hitters if he solves control issues”

But check out the following quote from the Sunday TNT, where Mike Hargrove says that “Nathan Bland, Matt Thornton and George Sherrill have not yet pitched well enough to make the team.” This seems to blow up Arnold’s theory that every pitcher is wowing management. And for those keeping score at home, yes, these may be the first unflattering remarks Hargrove has said about anyone in spring training. I’m sure Bland, Thornton and Sherrill feel special.

Speaking of small sample size, this Nathan Bland Arnold praises is the same Nathan Bland that “turned heads” with four early scoreless innings. Yes, four. Then he got shelled, but that seems to be unimportant. Like Nelson’s impressive last two innings, it’s the impressive small sample that Arnold wants to focus on, not the gnarly small sample.

First upshot: From my perspective, the problem isn’t too many good arms — it’s too many undistinguished arms, pitchers that are promising in some ways but flawed in others.

Second upshot: it’s silly for ballclubs to make important roster decisions based only on spring training performances. It’s even sillier for media folks to project roster decisions based on the parts of spring performances they like.


21 Responses to “The Success of Jeff Nelson and other urban legends”

  1. Derek G on March 20th, 2005 10:01 pm

    If Hargrove doesn’t want George Sherrill in his bullpen, I’m sure there are plenty of other clubs that do…

  2. TypicalIdiotFan on March 20th, 2005 10:27 pm

    Part of the bite of trying to gauge relief pitching performances is that by the time they get in the game, most of the opposing starters are gone. If a relief pitcher can get out the pack of AAA people that he faces, and is he himself a AAA pitcher, it does nothing to gauge how he will do against those that have made it to The Show. All it says is that they can keep up the greatness they achieved in Tacoma, as long as they’re not facing people who can actually put relative contact to baseball. Conversely, it’s harder to gauge any of the younger batting talent against AAA pitching.

    Of course, if you CANT get the AAA people out, well you just suck.

  3. John in L.A. on March 20th, 2005 11:00 pm

    I just don’t understand how people can expect this rotation to improve enough from last year to actually achieve “good”.

    What do they think happened last year? Something in the Gatorade? All Melvin’s fault?

    I mean, I love optimism, but that’s not what this is. And not just this article, either. Nobody seems concerned about our pitching. (present company excluded, of course) I don’t get it.

    I know an ace was going to be difficult to bring in… but I would love to have seen more effort into getting a solid number two in the Odalis Perez vein.

    There is no way that any of these writers can believe half of what they print. Which means they are intentionally misleading. Which irritates the heck out of me. Proganda stinks.

  4. jc on March 20th, 2005 11:07 pm

    Im sure kerfeld would talk the padres into taking sherrill he got them to trade for randy williams another one of his indy ball guys..

  5. Noel on March 20th, 2005 11:17 pm

    On the topic of the bullpen: the media don’t seem to be talking much about how badly Ron Villone is sucking, or that J.J. Putz seems to be consistently good so far, completely under the radar.

    Thank goodness Villone’s not in the race for a rotation spot, so Hargrove should be able to limit the damage by just ignoring him… until Bavasi decides at some point that Villone needs to be showcased for a trade, and pushes to get him more work.

    Can’t the Yankees use another third-rate lefty? Work that phone, Bill.

  6. Taylor Davis on March 21st, 2005 6:58 am

    Glad we signed Villone to a two year deal. Great signing. Honest. Wonderful.

  7. Paul Baker on March 21st, 2005 7:44 am

    The elephant in the room is the starting rotation. If this bunch does what it did last year the M’s will tap out a middle of May mayday to Tacoma and, ready or not, Felix will be sent into the breech.

  8. Michael on March 21st, 2005 8:14 am

    Jeff implies a wider point as well. Every year, teams invite pitchers to Spring Training as NRIs etc and then use the limited time on the mound to make decisions about the pitching roster. So, are decisions made on the basis of ST largely redundant, with the “real” decisions made before the pitchers take the mound, or is this an admissions that assembling a roster is a hot or miss (no pun etc) affair for many major league teams. And where does this leave pitchers like Bland, Reichart etc ? Just being strung along?

  9. anotherjeff on March 21st, 2005 8:16 am

    From rotoworld:

    “The Nationals are looking to trade for a backup middle infielder. They have reportedly talked about Pokey Reese, Damien Jackson, Wilson Betemit, and Chris Woodward.
    Washington is very thin behind Christian Guzman. The Nationals say they won’t part with any major league ready pitchers to shore up the position.”

    Wouldnt that shake things up a bit if Pokey were traded? Honestly, I’m all for it now. If this spring has been a sign of the season to come, Pokey will not be at all dependable. Clear a spot on the roster for someone willing to play with a hangnail.

  10. Todd on March 21st, 2005 8:59 am

    I will be quite upset if Hargrove cannot find room for Sherrill on a twelve-man pitching staff. I cannot imagine that there are seven relief pitchers better than him.

  11. Pilots fan on March 21st, 2005 10:04 am

    I agree that what is not being discussed is scary. Villone and Shiggy are not doing well this ST, and I don’t think (correct me here if wrong) Mateo has been that sharp either. The first two (if not all three) have roster spots locked. This all doesn’t look good for our pen, especially with Guardado still a question mark.

    I really liked what I saw from Sherrill last year. It would be a shame if Thornton makes the team over him simply because of the options situation.

  12. eponymous coward on March 21st, 2005 10:15 am

    Wouldnt that shake things up a bit if Pokey were traded?

    You can’t trade a free agent you sign until June. Rotoworld’s on crack.

  13. paul mocker on March 21st, 2005 10:17 am

    That is very important – don’t make decisions based on limited sample size. UNLESS, you have other information — non-statistical, visual and reliable — which trumps the statistics.

  14. bilbo on March 21st, 2005 10:26 am

    and this from the Times: “Left-hander Ron Villone pitched three innings yesterday for Seattle’s Class AA San Antonio club against San Diego’s AA club. He allowed three hits and two runs — both on solo homers — walked one and struck out two. Villone has pitched in two Cactus League games, allowing 12 hits and 10 runs — seven earned — in four innings. He also allowed five hits and four runs — two earned — in a B game and the Peoria charity game. He has given up at least one homer in four of his five outings — six in all.”


  15. Xteve X on March 21st, 2005 1:07 pm

    Moyer was rather craptastic in yesterday’s game, giving up back to back dongs to Jose Cruz Jr and Glaus … I’m very concerned about the pitching situation. Between injuries, lack of experience and the fact that half our rotation just isn’t that good things could go south quick.

  16. Matt Hoffman on March 21st, 2005 2:05 pm

    I tend to believe most teams break spring training with a “Why Not Us?” and maybe tend to be a little too undully optimistic about their players. As a Royals fan, I am probably even more prone to this line of thinking than a sane fan would.

    I like Hargrove; he was a good hire for the M’s and posseses a good baseball mind. He is good to be cautiously optimistic but I seriously think they are going to rebound in Sonic-esque fashion.

    Just my two cents.

  17. paul mocker on March 21st, 2005 2:20 pm

    I figure Moyer has a 1/3rd chance to be out of baseball or off the M’s by August 1. Being fair, this team is capable of scoring 6 runs a game. All Jaime has to do is allow fewer than 6 and he could get 10 wins this season.

    I hope Jaime is good enough to stick around.

    Of course it doesn’t really matter because this team isn’t going to the playoffs.

  18. paul mocker on March 21st, 2005 2:23 pm

    To make the playoffs the M’s would have to win the AL West or be better than either the Red Sox or Yankees (whichever team finishes 2nd). The chance of that is 1% or less.

    The Yankees are going backward though and a 90-win season is not out of the realm of possibility.

  19. chaney on March 21st, 2005 2:36 pm

    Nitpicking a bit here… But if you look at the actual article, you’ll see that Thornton, Sherrill, and Bland were not named in a direct quote. Rather, they were specifically named in the author’s summary of something Hargrove had said. Grover may well have said “Them young lefties ain’t pitchin’ too good. May get cut if they don’t step it up.” Or, he may have named them individually, but the author decided not to use the direct quote in an effort to confuse readers. Point is, I’ll wait to grab my pitchfork until I actually hear Grover say “You know, I think I’ll cut that George Sherrill, he’s sucks.”

  20. eponymous coward on March 21st, 2005 2:41 pm

    What would you have estimated the chances of the Marlins winning it all in 2003? Or the Angels in 2002?

    I don’t think we really KNOW what the chances are. My gut tells me the pitching staff probably will be the make or break element- if we can get 45-50 wins and a sub-4 from our top 4 starters, we can probably hit 90 wins. This doesn’t seem to be the MOST likely scenario (Basically, we need 3 of the following- Piniero comes back quickly and pitches up to his potential, Sele and/or Franklin pitch well, Meche and/or Madritsch build on their late season success, and Moyer doesn’t tank but bounces back at least modestly, if not to his 1996-2003 peak)- but it’s not totally outrageous.

    I, personally, suspect one or two of these things will happen. My odds are on Madritsch pitching well and Meche building on his late season success. The other stuff I have various degrees of trepidation about.

  21. paul mocker on March 21st, 2005 3:52 pm

    I hope your hopes come true. I hope for the same.