Another Mariner suspended for ‘roiding

April 26, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 66 Comments 

Yet another Mariner minor league player has been suspended ten games for violating the steroid policy. The slugger who has been using the banned substances to increase his power…

Jamal Strong.

For all the talk of how steroids have helped home run hitters, its interesting that speedy contact guys are the ones testing positive.

June of 24: Another Paean to the Great Ichiro

April 25, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 61 Comments 

Watching baseball trends emerge is like seeing ripples in the desert. You want the ripples to herald an oasis, but you don’t want to emerge sandy-mouthed if it’s just another mirage.

I had this in mind when I saw that the New York Times has Bob Sherwin’s latest piece on Ichiro up now. [Use Bugmenot if you aren’t registered]

Well worth reading in its entirety, the section of most interest to me involves a batting stance adjustment Ichiro says he made last June.

But June 24 was the night of his breakthrough, he said. During batting practice, he experimented by moving his right foot – the front foot in his batting stance – a couple of inches away from the plate, opening his stance and spreading his legs four more inches apart. He said those minor changes allowed him to lower his bat angle slightly.

One must be careful when taking claims like this at face value, not because of any doubts about an athlete’s veracity, but because no one is truly objective when performing a self-evaluation. After all, Ichiro went one for seven on June 24, 2004, and just seven for his next 33.

But what if he’s right? What if he did figure it out on that night, and it stays figured out? What if, in the middle of a 99-loss Sahara, he hit sweet water, dates and maybe an olive tree that’s fueling a very real performance boost?

Giving immediate credence to the June 24 Hypothesis are the numbers from that day forward. In the 480 at bats he’s recorded since moving his front leg a few inches, Ichiro has 191 hits.

That’s a significant hunk of time — a little over two-thirds of an average season — at a .398 clip, folks.

Occasionally forgotten: Ichiro has historically been a slow starter. Scope out his month-by-month splits. Mariner fans given to wishful thinking — guilty — have pondered how great a season he might turn in with a torrid run to start this campaign.

Going into the 2005 season, Ichiro was a .270 hitter for April. His hot start to this year (.355 so far) has boosted that to a .288 average in the opening month, which is still his lowest rate for any month of the year.

Breaking down statistics by month is arbitrary, to be sure, and players labeled slow starters or late faders don’t always perform consistently in those ways. Ichiro hasn’t been stellar in September, either, for example. Additionally, all players are capable of an unpredictable, prolonged slump, and some of those players are even written off by an august persona such as David Locke.

We’re looking at a 300-plus at-bat April sample size, though, and while I can’t find Japan statistics broken down by month, he had a “heats up as the season goes along” reputation with the Orix Blue Wave as well. That lends credence to the notion that No. 51 usually takes a while to get going. And we have nearly 500 at-bats that say hey, maybe he has reached a new plateau.

What might have been last year had Ichiro improved on his .255 April 2004 average? We may be about to find out.


April 25, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 40 Comments 

I’m listening to the Rainiers while doing a few other things, and Tacoma is up like 142 to nothing in the top of the first. Felix could have the worst start of his career and still get a win.

Jason Young’s line for Colorado Springs: 0 IP, 8 Runs. Ouch.

What’s Wrong With Miguel Olivo?

April 24, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 51 Comments 

I started working on this post on Friday, and obviously, it would have been a lot more timely before Olivo went 2 for 3 with a walk, a double, and 3 RBIs. But, despite the nice afternoon (and yes, the numbers below include his performance from Sunday), it’s still a relevant topic, and something I hope you find interesting.

When the Mariners traded Freddy Garcia to Chicago last summer, they acquired three players, including Miguel Olivo, who was playing regularly at catcher for the White Sox at the time. In 141 at-bats for the Pale Hose, Olivo had managed a .270/.316/.496 line. The OBP is a bit low, but the power is valuable, and his .269 EqA, if sustained over the full season, would have ranked him as the 10th most valuable catcher with the bat in major league baseball. Despite a poor rookie season in 2003, his minor league totals backed up the hypothesis that Olivo really could hit. In 1595 at-bats before reaching the majors, he totaled a .285/.355/.462 line, including hitting .306/.381/.479 in Birmingham during his last stint in the minors.

Since the trade, Olivo has hit .195/.240/.356 in 205 at-bats. In his last 105 at-bats dating back to the start of last September, he’s hitting .133/.172/.200 with 5 walks and 37 strikeouts. Pitchers, as a whole, hit .143/.177/.184 last year. Since being acquired from the White Sox, Miguel Olivo’s offensive production has been equal to that of the average hitting pitcher.

Obviously, something is amiss, as this is no longer just a slump. This is so far below any reasonable expectation of his performance that there’s clearly a problem. But what is it? What’s wrong with Miguel Olivo?

While we obviously are big fans of statistical analysis, these are the kinds of “why?” questions that statistics don’t often provide a great answer for. The numbers confirm that, yes, this is a pretty nasty funk, but they don’t really provide any insights into what the problem is. He’s not walking enough. He’s striking out too much. He’s just making a lot of outs. Well, yea. But why?.

So, I called in a few favors from a couple of friends of mine who have been scouting baseball talent for a long time. Both of these guys saw Olivo in Chicago in 2003 and 2004 and have seen him in Seattle since the trade. They have a frame of reference for both Good Olivo and Abysmal Olivo, and they have the expertise necessary to correctly break down a major league player’s technique. Now, neither of these scouts work for the M’s, so its not in their organization’s best interest for Olivo to start hitting again, so some of the proprietary stuff that they’ve filed in their scouting reports for their club, I’m not allowed to publish. But, they were both very gracious with a majority of their thoughts, and they were willing to share some great insights on the issue.

Below are some excerpts from two seperate conversations I had, edited to read smoothly. While its going to read like a transcript of three guys sitting together talking, the two conversations took place separately, but I asked them both basically the same questions, so I’ve put their answers together. Off we go.

Dave: Well, let’s start off with a little background. Can Miguel Olivo hit major league pitching?

Scout A: Yea, I think so. He’s an aggressive hitter–you’d call him a hack, I think–but he’s got bat speed, and there’s juice in his swing. He can catch up with major league fastballs and turn on pitches on the inner half. With his catch-and-throw skills, you don’t need him to hit like Piazza, but I think he’s an asset with the bat, too.

Scout B: Definitely. He was hitting really well for Chicago last spring. He killed (our lefties). Anything inside that doesn’t jam him, he can pull with ease. Really quick hands. Physically, you have to like the package he brings to the plate. He’s got 60 power (on a 20-80 where 50 is league average), which is rare for a catcher. He’s always taken a while to adjust to new places, but the key is he always has. There’s offensive talent in that kid.

Dave: Okay, so he can hit. So why has he been so awful since the trade?

Scout A: I was talking to (a White Sox official) and they said the kid cried when they told him he’d been traded. It sounds like he took it more as “the White Sox don’t want me”. Getting traded from Oakland for a triple-a middle reliever (Chad Bradford) earlier in his career, it sounds like he saw this as another organization giving up on him. Mentally, I think he decided that he was doing something wrong, since he kept getting traded. So he started changing things that weren’t broken.

Scout B: Look at his career. This isn’t the first time he’s gone somewhere new and forgotten how to hit. It seemed like everytime Oakland promoted him up a level, he’d leave his bat behind and have to repeat the league. He was a pretty easy out his rookie year in Chicago, too. For whatever reason, he’s not a quick adapter. He always needs a couple hundred at-bats to learn how to hit in a new city.

Dave: From my point of view, it seems like Olivo is trying to pull every pitch on every swing, making him easy to pitch on the outside half of the plate. Has he always been like this?

Scout A: He’s always been a pull-guy, but never like right now. He’s throwing his arms out and aiming his head towards the foul pole. We tell our guys to throw him nothing but breaking balls away, because with the way he’s trying to hit everything past the third baseman, there’s no way he’s going to reach that pitch.

Scout B He did a nice job of going to right field on fastballs away last year with Chicago. He knows how, but right now, it seems like he’s not trying. He’s not making any adjustments. We threw him the same pitch in the same count four times in a row, and he swung and missed all four times. He definitely is too pull-conscious right now.

Dave: Okay, so if you’re Don Baylor, how do you fix him?

Scout A: Throw him a thousand curveballs a day. He has to learn how to recognize offspeed pitches. He doesn’t have to hit them. He just has to learn to see that its a curve ball and not swing. Nobody in this league throws him a curve for a strike, because the book is out. He’ll chase the hook in the dirt, so there’s no reason to risk leaving one up for him to drive. Until he stops swinging at that pitch at his toes, he’s an automatic out.

Scout B: Make him go the other way. Do whatever it takes to make sure he understands that he can’t pull every pitch, especially soft stuff. He has to hit the ball to right field. As long as he’s trying to rip every pitch down the line, he’s an out. And have patience. He’s always come around after a few hundred at-bats. Don’t give up on the kid. He’ll come around.

They both said pretty much the same things. The book on him is to pitch him away with breaking balls and change-ups and let him get himself out. He’s too impatient to walk right now, so there’s no reason to throw him anything on the inner half. Just pound him away with offspeed stuff and take the easy out. This lines up with what I’ve seen, and what I felt, but it was good to know that both think that this is something he can break out of.

After we were done talking, I decided to look at some hitting charts for Olivo to see if the objective evidence backed up the scouting observations that Olivo has become more pull-conscious since the trade. The results are amazing. Since the hitting charts aren’t broken out by pre-trade/post-trade but are broken out by ballpark, I used U.S. Cellular Field as a proxy for his 2004 in Chicago and Safeco Field as a proxy for his time with Seattle.

Olivo with White Sox:
Singles:: Left-6, Center-2, Right-3
Doubles/Triples: Left-2, Center-4, Right-1
Home Runs: Left-4, Center-0, Right-0
Fly Outs: Left-6, Center-7, Right-8

Olivo with Mariners:
Singles:: Left-7, Center-3, Right-1
Doubles/Triples: Left-4, Center-2, Right-0
Home Runs: Left-4, Center-0, Right-0
Fly Outs: Left-7, Center-7, Right-4

The graphical hitting chart makes the case even better than the numerical breakdown above. In Chicago, Olivo was a pull hitter, but not a dominant one. His extra base hits were in the right-center field alley, and he had a majority of balls in the air to right field. Since the trade, however, he’s basically cut the field in half, hitting almost solely to left field. The hitting chart is in complete agreement with the scouts take: since the trade, Olivo has been far too pull-conscious, making him an easy out by exploiting the outside half of the plate.

Is this fixable? Two pro scouts think so. His minor league numbers and his performance in Chicago suggest that there is offensive talent there, somewhere. He just has to make some adjustments. He can’t continue to just hope the funk miraculously ends. This is going to take some proactive work on the part of Miguel Olivo. He has to make strides in hitting to right field, recognizing and laying off the breaking ball, and adjusting to what pitchers are throwing him.

For the M’s sake, lets hope he can.

Oregonian on Bucky’s dad

April 24, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

John Canzano tells a strange tale in his latest (fake demographic information required).

Essentially, uh… Bucky’s dad, Larry Laverne Jacobsen, has over the course of his life spent a lot of time representing himself as Larry Paul Jacobson, who had a bit of an NFL career. It gets weirder from there.

Madritsch out for the year… maybe

April 24, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 29 Comments 

I get asked how Madritsch is doing a lot. I don’t know any more than you might from reading the papers, and lately that’s been kind of grim.

Corey Brock in the TNT says Madritsch is a week into a four week stretch where he’s not throwing, which would be a little off his timeline, they’re going to look at him again and–

Once that happens, Pedegana will examine Madritsch again and make a recommendation. Chances are he could miss half the season.

In the same paper, though, Larry LaRue writes this

The Mariners are loathe to say it, but they believe Bobby Madritsch will miss the rest of the season with his shoulder injury – meaning Madritsch, Travis Blackley and Bucky Jacobsen are unlikely to wear Seattle uniforms this year.

(Side note: as much as I’m really trying not to pull examples of local sportswriters being wrong, LaRue also writes

Whatever it was that happened in the right-field corner of Fenway Park last week between a fan and outfielder Gary Sheffield, know this – it wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.

That, of course, was long before fans and players became adversaries. Before fans jumped first-base coaches, before players went into the stands to retrieve stolen caps or – like last September – threw chairs at fans for taunting them in a bullpen.

Players and fans have often and long been adversaries. To pretend otherwise is to willfully ignore a long history of such confrontations. I was disappointed to read this.)

The Seattle Times earlier this week had two relevent quotes:

Dr. Larry Pedegana, the Mariners’ medical director, advised a total shutdown of any activity after the saline solution for an enhanced MRI leaked through the tear, indicating a serious situation.


He knows he will miss at least half this season, if not more.

So instead of “three weeks” the consensus on the street seems to be at least half the season, and it’s likely it’ll be the whole year. That would really suck.

Beltre on steroids!

April 24, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 59 Comments 

In the New York Times, no less, Michael Lewis writes about how baseball’s increasingly a power game, and it gets into the steroid issue, which of course, has to reach out for someone…

Of course, there’s now some sketchy evidence that steroids have contributed mightily to the power surge. […] Ron Shandler, who has worked as a statistical analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals and publishes Baseball Forecaster, an annual survey of major- and minor-league players for fantasy leaguers, expresses his suspicions another way: he flags players who acquire power the same season that they’ve come back from vacation 20 pounds or more heavier. For instance, Shandler has noted that last season Adrian Beltre, in his final year with the Dodgers before becoming a free agent, reportedly showed up 20 pounds heavier than the year before. Beltre, whose career up to that point had been a story of unfulfilled promise, blasted 48 home runs, 25 more than he had ever hit in a single season — for which he was rewarded, by the Seattle Mariners, with a new five-year, $64 million contract. (When a Tacoma, Wash., reporter asked if he had used steroids, Beltre laughed in denial.)

His career was a story of unfulfilled promise. Ummm… wow. Where to start.

Also, here’s a thought — why not attempt to verify the weight gain? Or consider whether… never mind. What a load of garbage.

Game 19, Indians at Mariners

April 24, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 88 Comments 

Day game today, 1:05 p.m. I’ll be listening during a hopefully pleasant drive north. TV: FSN. Radio: KOMO. Jamie Moyer goes for the good guys.

The M’s offense looks to get well off of Scott Elarton. If they can’t score against a guy who gave up 5 runs in 3.2 to Kansas City in his last start, we’ll know the skid is pronounced.

Personally, I just hope the game goes better than the Seahawks’ draft is going. It may take me 15 imaginary drafts on Madden just to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

Game 18, Indians at Mariners

April 23, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 83 Comments 

Lee v Sele. 6:05, KSTW for your television enjoyment in a rare free broadcast for all with antenna and television to enjoy. Tonight is “education night”. Scheduled events include:

  • Willie Bloomquist explains the concept of replacement-level talent
  • Ichiro! shows Randy Winn how to set up to make a strong throw when catching a fly ball
  • Ryan Franklin demonstrates the concept of defense-independent statistics and the importance of defense
  • and much, much more

Mariners are 8-9,

Pics from Ichiro’s speech

April 23, 2005 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

Derek already covered the dominant sentiment with his two-line post below, but I wanted to add my in-person two cents and a couple of snapshots.

Ichiro’s speech was terrific: people were thrilled when they realized he was going to step to the podium and speak in English. A murmur ran through the crown and built to a roar fairly quickly. His gratitude to George Sisler went over well, and the whole speech was well-received.

Basically, he speaks like he does everything: skillfully, well polished and with grace.

Game? What game?

Two shots after the jump.
Read more

« Previous PageNext Page »