Thirty three, forty six

DMZ · July 3, 2005 at 12:09 am · Filed Under Mariners 

In 2004, the team made a decision that the team needed more grit. They imported certified grit to supplement their homegrown grit, and the result was a depressing, gritty team that had to be taken apart mid-season — and got better.

This year, they decided they needed power, and they pursued two huge free agents in Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. The result is a depressing team that may still be taken apart mid-season.

This Mariner team is worse in many ways than last year’s: the 2005 squad is 2nd to last in batting average (.254), last in on-base percentage (.314), 2nd to last in slugging, where last year’s squad was tied for 9th, 19th, and 27th. I used to complain that all the 2004 Mariners could do on offense was hit boring singles. This year’s team can’t even manage that.

On the reverse side, the pitching staff now consists of five Ryan Franklin clones gone wrong. They have the worst strikeout rate of any pitching staff in the major leagues, and they’re walking too many hitters and letting too many home runs go to make that a reasonable strategy (tied for 9th overall). It’s last year’s staff with a slightly different flavor.

Who’s to blame on the field?

Bret Boone‘s been below average for his position, but he hasn’t reached truly horrible. We’re a little spoiled with 2001/2003 memories: second basemen, as a group, don’t hit that well. He’s in the last year of a huge three-year deal (containing a fourth year option guaranteed after 400 plate appearances in 2004). It was signed when he was 32, after a out-of-nowhere career year. At the time, we wrote that the team would have been better off taking him to arbitration every year and avoiding even that kind of commitment. Certainly, we don’t know when would they have cut him, and whether they would have found a good replacement? It’s unlikely they’d have seen 2004 coming (even I was saying at that point my arbitration plan would have been less efficent), but after 2004 it’s likely they’d have cut him, and even a random rent-a-player this off-season would have worked out better.

A $35m, four-year deal for a 32 second baseman who’d never hit anywhere near that well isn’t a good risk.

Catcher. Ugly all around. When Rene Rivera can have thirty plate appearances and be the high point of the position’s contributions this year, that’s sad.

Catcher ERA
Wilson 3.80
Borders: 3.89
Olivo: 4.79
Rivera 4.03
Wiki: 5.73

Previous research into catcher defense has shown that catcher ERA isn’t a repeatable skill, or at least it’s not showing up easily. That is, a catcher who seems to help his team’s pitcher one year isn’t any more likely to seem to help them the next year compared to someone who hurt them the year before (compared to skills like home run power, where being good at it one year’s an excellent indicator they’ll be good at it the next year).

And yet even as I type that, I think about Olivo and wonder. He seems to constantly get crossed up with his pitchers, for instance. And see Super Reader Paul Covert’s comment below.

The Mariners, as a team, have been awful at catching base stealers (6 for 45). 89% of opposing baserunners are getting there. The break-even point for opposing teams where the extra bases outweigh the value of the outs created is 75%. Every team that faces the Mariners should have everyone with good speed going first-to-second, at least until Borders can get back to throwing out some of them, and Olivo can put that once-feared cannon to use.

Shortstop. Wilson Valdez was helpless with the bat. Pokey was a cheap gamble at short, but he has also been fragile through his career.

The starters. I was worried at the start of the season about this: every pitcher had serious questions and there was little chance that all of them would turn out okay (Pineiro’s the ace everyone thought he’d be! So’s Meche! And Moyer returns to form! Madritsch builds on last season! Someone isn’t awful in the 5th slot!).

What we’ve seen is what we’d most feared: all questions have been answered in the negative. No Mariner starter is above average.

By runs over an average pitcher and Value Over Replacement Pitcher:
Sele, -6, 8.7
Franklin, -7.9, 7.9
Meche, -8.6, 6.5
Moyer, -8.9, 5.8
Pineiro, -12.1, 1.5


The team’s best starter is Aaron Sele, who is still significantly worse than an average starter. These guys are mostly Gillick deals: Moyer and his self-negotiated deal (which only Dave seemed to realize was likely to go horribly wrong for the team), Franklin’s almost inexplicable extension, Pineiro’s long-term deal (speaking of which, how come everyone is willing to talk about how Pineiro’s velocity is way down, and how he’s got to learn to pitch without having a good fastball, but no one talks about the why, or what’s wrong? Isn’t that equally important?).

The bench. Once again, the team filled this drawer of the toolbox with a bunch of the same size, low-quality flathead screwdrivers. Bloomquist at least offers something, no matter how small, while Dobbs and Spiezio have nothing to offer the team.

Adrian Beltre. Could be the hamstring, could be the stance, could be his foot injury last year helped him. It could be last year’s performance is a fluke, and that his early years of promise are too far in the past to be considered.

Whaterver the reasons, his performance so far has been awful. A healthy Justin Leone could hit this well.

And it could be he’s coming back around. We gotta hope.

Who not to blame — Raul Ibanez is working out okay. At the time, I criticized this deal as being too much for too long, and I still think the team could have done better than commit to him for a couple of years. But for a couple million dollars a year, it’s gone okay.

The bullpen’s been a heck of a lot more effective than the rotation, even carrying Thornton.

Reed’s doing okay at the plate and contributing in the field. It’s not the great rookie year I’d hoped for, but it’s something to build on for the future.

What happens next?

Boone’ll be gone. Fortunately for us, the Mariners have a lot of good minor league hitters coming up the middle. Lopez should be able to step up and improve that immediately.

Randy Winn and Raul Ibanez could both be back, but it’s likely Winn will be dealt soon (I’m shocked he wasn’t dealt this off-season). This would open up a left-field slot for an exciting prospect tearing it up in Tacoma right now, which at least would make the team more entertaining.

King Felix, if his arm isn’t blown, might be ready to take one of the rotation spots next year. He’s had a strange year in Tacoma, switching between dominance and wildness inning to inning and even batter to batter, and he’s seemed a lot more effective as he gets into games. Maybe Bobby Livingston, though I doubt they’d want to push him that far.

Aaaaaaaaaaaand that’s all we can look forward to. The farm system doesn’t have five starters to revamp the rotation. Then the choice comes to: do you try and discard each of these guys not under contract and gamble that the free agent market will provide just as good or better replacements?

There aren’t a lot of interesting names who’ll be out there, either. Then you’re risking having the pitching equivalent of Wilson Valdez, which would be even worse. The farm system’s total destruction of nearly every pitcher of worth has left the once-seemingly-rich system with few replacement possibilities.

And there’s your 2006 team, much like the 2005 one: a rotation of questions and uncertainty, two positional upgrades (and, we’d hope, Beltre playing better), continued catching problems, and a bullpen that’ll need some patching.

This year’s team should be a step forward to contending again, a lost transition year that might, in punting some players before the deadline, help in 2006 and beyond. But as we approach the break, we can see that there are things to be concerned about, particularly the team’s failure to plan in depth — faced with a rotation of question marks, they needed to stockpile better depth, and failed. They’re likely to face the same problem next year. Whether they’ve learned a lesson from seeing a bad pitcher take the ball every day, all season long, remains to be seen.


32 Responses to “Thirty three, forty six”

  1. Jim Osmer on July 3rd, 2005 12:23 am

    Good analysis here.
    I agree that the rotation needs to get blown up entirely.
    Hopefully two free agents plus maybe a good prospect (for Eddie) plus Felix, Campillo, a healthy Madritsch and another run for Joel.

    They need to start dealing now and create at least an interesting team. We are not the A’s who are rising quickly. We are dead in the water with the current group. End the charade and get Lopez and Doyle in the lineup.

    I totally believe that the Rainiers today could beat the M’s with the exception of the bullpen. If the Rainiers were on one TV channel and the M’s were on the other, the ratings would be much closer than M’s management would like.
    Hell bring up Rohn, Rafael Chaves and Curto as well.

  2. Mords on July 3rd, 2005 1:22 am

    Are Blackley and Nageotte still part of the team’s plans?

  3. Paul Covert on July 3rd, 2005 1:58 am

    Concerning the Catcher ERA bit:

    I read the Woolner article on the subject some time ago (Field General/Backstop), and still think what I did then: That it proves too much. I reason as follows:

    (1) We know that catchers have differing run prevention skills, at least in the area of base-stealing prevention. Pudge Rodriguez used to be worth at least 20 runs a year vs. an average catcher in this category alone.

    (2) Furthermore, since SB’s and CS’s affect ERA just like batting results do, Pudge must have been worth at least 0.15 or so in catcher ERA at his peak, relative to an average catcher.

    (3) This, furthermore, is a fairly significant difference, equivalent to the difference between an average regular and a AAAA replacement player, or between a marginal all-star and an average regular. (CERA differences of 1.00, if claimed, should be viewed with suspicion: If Pat Borders could save a run a game, he’d be as valuable as Barry Bonds at this peak; and if Miguel Olivo were costing a run a game, he wouldn’t be worth keeping even if he could hit like Piazza.)

    (4) Since significant differences in CERA must exist (because of SBA/CS if nothing else), and since Woolner’s study was unable to detect such differences, I therefore conclude that the data samples Woolner used were insufficient for drawing meaningful conclusions.

    This is kind of like the difference between Voros’ original BABIP study and Tippett’s revision of it: Only with the career-long datasets that Tippett studied did the differences in pitcher’s skills’ impacts on BABIP become evident. In both cases, the noise-to-signal ratio is huge even at the single-season level. Woolner is no doubt correct in asserting, in effect, that season-to-season CERA’s contain so much statistical noise as to be statistically meaningless. But it need not follow that no differences in “true CERA skill” exist.

    Indeed, it can’t follow. We know that differences in SBA/CS skill exist. Do differences in pitcher-handling skill exist? That’s hard to prove– probably harder than with BABIP (or at least it’s not obvious to me how to design the study, and even a brilliant hard-core stat guy like Woolner couldn’t pull it off). But I am certain that Woolner’s study doesn’t prove that pitcher-handling differences don’t exist.

    So I think it could very well be true that Borders might be worth -0.10 CERA or better in pitcher handling (remember that since we’re dealing with ERA’s, minuses are good), and that Olivo might be +0.10 or worse. I don’t know how to prove or disprove it (especially in Olivo’s case; with Borders, it’s conceivable that you could stack up his career and draw a meaningful conclusion like you can with Moyer’s BABIP). But since there seem to be intuitive reasons to think that Borders may be quite good at this, and that Olivo is probably quite poor– I recommend taking seriously the possibility that the common intuition may be more or less correct on this one.

  4. DMZ on July 3rd, 2005 3:37 am

    Another question might be “What does calling a good game mean?” and “What is the effect of calling a good game versus calling a bad one?”

    As a long-term study, the problem is for, say, Borders, you’d want to look at the park-and-opposition-adjusted performance of every pitcher he and a different catcher caught in the same season (to eliminate the “I’m Roger Clemens’ personal catcher” problem), and isolated from the SB/CS number. Then you’d produce a composite line, like

    Pitchers being caught by Borders: x IP, x peripherals
    The same pitchers as caught in the same season by other catchers: y IP, y peripherals

    That’s an immense amount of work, and I’d love to see it. I wish I had the brains or data to crunch the historical adjustments… but I don’t.

    That’s a tough query to construct, and requires a huge

  5. N Jenkin on July 3rd, 2005 4:25 am

    I’m glad for Richie. For all the kvetching by a number of folks around here in advance of the season he has been pretty much as advertised. Half of his hits for extra bases, home ballpark is hurting his numbers, and defense solid. I don’t think he is diving as much as I have seen in the past probably to protect the shoulder. But that is pure guesswork on my part.

    As a Milwaukee fan, I wish him well. Go get’em big fella!

  6. Zach in Spokane on July 3rd, 2005 5:00 am

    The first organization to figure out the difference between a good game caller and a bad one (putting aside Paul’s remarks on throwing out/holding runners)will have a huge edge on everyone else, if a significant discrepancy exists. Or will they?

    Lets say, for arguements sake, that Billy Beane hires a crack team of Harvard guys to demystify the issue. They figure out that some catchers are better than others at calling games.

    Now that Beane knows that Brad Ausmus is the most adept dude for handling pitchers (the baseball men were right all along!)he sets his ivy league crack squad to the task of systematizing each decision Ausmus makes behind the plate, so that Beane can teach the kid in AA how it’s done. Knowledge spreads from player to player, from organization to organization and pretty soon it’s just another part of baseball’s “book” of canonical belief. Now that the hitters know what is coming, the catcher has to try to mix things up. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t…and we’re back to playing rock, paper, scissiors again.

    Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to make is: Even if there is a secret recipie for good game calling that can be studied and bottled (honestly, I don’t think there is) it will become worthless not long afterward.

  7. Adam S on July 3rd, 2005 8:15 am

    #5, I think we’re all glad to see Richie doing well and, until the last couple of weeks when Beltre has picked it up, be the lone bright spot in the Beltre-Sexson-Boone middle of the order.

    All of the complaining I heard here on Sexson was about the contract, not really about him. Basically in the long run, it had a good chance to turn out like Boone’s or Reese’s have this year. I hope he stays healthy and puts up 3.5 more years similar to what he’s done so far. But otherwise, it’s still too much money for too many years.

    Derek, much like last year, would you say that 2005 has been somewhat of a worst case scenario? Obviously both teams had holes and we could have predicted some of the collapses, but this is bad across the board. Ichiro and Beltre have been below what even the pessimists predicted. Our catching situation was bad, but .150 (!). From our rotation I think it would have been reasonable to expect one or two above average pitchers. Reese is injury-prone, but 0 AB is clearly the worst case for him.

    A few players (Sexson, Winn, Ibanez, middle relief) are playing at expectations and Eddie has had a great year, but everyone else seems to be below what would have been a reasonable prediction. I.e., there’s some bad planning, but this team also seems to be unlucky.

  8. eponymous coward on July 3rd, 2005 8:32 am

    Yeah, to some extent this team’s an exercise in Murphy’s Law…but how do you win anything with a starting staff where you have 4 guys with sub-90 fastballs, and one guy with no idea where his good fastball’s going?

    Luck’s the residue of design, Branch Rickey once said- and in this case, I’d argue we are reaping the whirlwind of bad design (in the form of a farm system that eats arms and made poor draft choices) that we sowed for the last 5 years.

    I’m also not convinced you could reasonably project Boone or Moyer to do a lot- 2B don’t do well at Boone’s age, and pitchers who lose effectiveness after 40 don’t usually get it back (basically, the league is telling Jamie it’s time to retire, like they do most pitchers). Franklin’s much the same (a marginal major league starter with declining K/IP rates).

  9. DMZ on July 3rd, 2005 9:57 am

    w/r/t Sexson: I don’t know how many times we have to go through this, but I, specifically, said that I thought Sexson would be a big improvement for the team if he stayed healthy, but that his contract was still too much money, given the risk/reward. That’s an important distinction: Sexson’s contract doesn’t get on the field and play every game, he does. The contract’s only important when we talk about the team in a wider, organizational sense.

    w/r/t the worst case: in the larger view, this year’s run is “pretty bad”.

    Things that turned out worse than we should have expected:
    – Olivo’s amazingly bad season
    – Madritsch injured all year
    – Beltre’s hitting terrible beyond belief
    – Reese out all year

    and you might throw Ichiro’s offensive struggles on there.

    The rest of it’s played out as we might expect, though not as we wanted: Moyer didn’t return to ace form, Boone didn’t bounce back to amazing Boone. I’d hoped that Reed would be hitting .290 and a Rookie of the Year front-runner at this point.

    Now, whether that’s worst-case is up to you. Personally, if you’d asked me what I thought the worst case would be before the season, I’d have said “Ichiro goes down for the season with a knee injury, Madritsch requires elbow surgery and is out for the year, Beltre returns to 2003 form, Sexson’s shoulder blows out on the first check-swing of the year.”

    That’s not far off the total impact of what we’ve seen.

  10. Pilots fan on July 3rd, 2005 10:04 am

    This year will start to look like last year in terms of personnel moves, that’s for sure. We have to get the potential offense of Lopez, Bucky, and Doyle up here to play so we know what we have. We have to find out what in the @#$&! is going on at catcher. That is a mess. Oh, and I didn’t mention shortstop.

    And then there’s pitching. We’ll add Soriano, and that should be nice. I think we have enough in the bullpen to build something decent for 2006. Could Soriano start? I think right now that we have (optimistically) our #3 and #4 starters in Piniero and Meche. That is it.

  11. Spike on July 3rd, 2005 10:05 am

    Everyone keeps on talking about the last 5 years if poor planning. Just out of couriosity, when did Ellis step down as C.E.O.?

  12. DMZ on July 3rd, 2005 10:12 am

    Soriano should totally, totally start.

  13. DMZ on July 3rd, 2005 10:12 am

    Also, I say “totally, totally” totally, totally too often.

  14. fair-weather on July 3rd, 2005 10:29 am

    Yeah, I fear we will under-use Soriano as a closer (a few innings a week) kind of a shame.

  15. joealb on July 3rd, 2005 10:29 am

    Not that I don’t think Soriano shouldn’t start but does anyone know if any stat’s support the conventional wisdom of relieving being “easier” on arms the starting? I read somewhere that Smolts thinks closing was harder on his arm then starting.

  16. eponymous coward on July 3rd, 2005 10:40 am

    5 years is when Gillick came in as GM and Mattox was the prime mover in the draft (I think), taking over for Jongewaard (I think)… who, despite being part of the narrative in Hardball, should get a lot of credit in scouting astutely for the Mets in the 80’s and the M’s in the 90’s.

    The farm system has totally tanked since then, which is a big factor in all of this.

  17. Pilots fan on July 3rd, 2005 11:58 am

    If we could get Soriano and Mads back and in competition for starting roles for ’06, then maybe between those 2, Piniero, Meche, Felix, Campillo and others (list ’em) we can field 4 effective starters to go along with a FA signing of a #1 starter.

  18. tede on July 3rd, 2005 11:59 am

    “What happens next?

    Boone’ll be gone.”

    Check. DFA’d today.

  19. Paul on July 3rd, 2005 12:12 pm

    How much credit?

  20. edgarfan on July 3rd, 2005 12:14 pm

    Not only is Boone DFA’d, but Hansen is on the 15-day DL, making room for Doyle!

  21. the ghost of shane monahan on July 3rd, 2005 12:21 pm

    Jim(1), you got your wish. Any guesses on how soon until Doyle’s playing every day?

  22. world series on July 3rd, 2005 1:01 pm

    Although I’m not enamored so far with Hargrove, more and more I’m thinking a switch to Hargrove’s favorite pitching coach over Brian Price for 2006 could be good for this club. I originally believed it was good for Price to stay. Not anymore. I hope Piniero (one of Price’s biggest projects) is not with us next year either – Good Luck to him somewhere else. Rotation? Big Free Agent, Madritsch if healthy, Hernandez, Soriano, Mateo?, anybody?

    I think we should keep Eddie, if we plan on any winning next year we’ll need a closer.

    Now that Boone is gone, next step is Winn. Since the team didn’t rise to the occasion and find a way to compete this year he must go despite the somewhat decent numbers. Originally I thought he could quietly round out our order hitting maybe seventh ( Reed a spectacular 2nd in the order) with 15 homeruns, multiple clutch hits and rbi’s, some speed, etc. I knew we couldn’t get anyone to start for him so we might as well keep him a little longer for his “offensive tools”. But I’m just tired of watching his uninspiring play. He has no personality, shies from the spectacular and shouldn’t be one of our best players by this type of play – as an example if nothing else.

    The Yankees are going to bite on something. Historically they are one of our biggest trading partners for better or worse and they are about desperate to do something really stupid. Furthermore they are the type and have the budget to deal for Randy as a back up should Mike Cameron slump as their new centerfielder.

  23. troy on July 3rd, 2005 1:05 pm

    DMZ, do you think Soriano can start and stay healthy? If so, I totally, totally agree, but I have my concerns, especially as long as BP is pitching coach.

  24. taro on July 3rd, 2005 6:07 pm

    [deleted — duh]

  25. taro on July 3rd, 2005 6:08 pm

    [deleted — duh]

  26. eponymous coward on July 3rd, 2005 6:15 pm

    But its the truth

    And we should accept the accusation of some random poster on USSM exactly why?

    “Well, now he suxx0rs, so he must have been juicing” is not proof of anything other than he’s not pitching effectively… and someone losing veolcity after an arm problem isn’t exactly unheard of.

  27. Nedmundo on July 3rd, 2005 6:37 pm


    First post from a long time USS Mariner voyeur..blah..blah..blah..

    Anyway, it seems to me like we have a real problem behind the plate. Namely, we don’t have anybody to play there.

    Now, I am painfully aware of the fact that FA’s are rarely the godsend to a positional black hole like they are often made out to be. This being said, I’d like to call your attention to the best FA catcher available this winter: Kenji Jojima

    Kenji Jojima

    DOB: ?/?/1976
    POS: C

    2004 STATS

    BA: .338
    SLG: .655
    OBP: .432
    HR: 36
    2B: 25
    RBI: 91
    K: 45
    BB: 49

    % of Runner Thrown Out (I don’t know the proper acronym, sorry) .427
    E: 4

    This dude is legit. He’s a five-tool talent behind the plate and bonafide team leader. This season, HIS team, and I stress the word HIS, is 55-25 and boat racing’ the rest of the Pacific League, save Bobby Valentine’s scrappy Chiba Lotte Marines. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year and I expect a major bidding war to erupt over this guy once he hits the MLB market. For the Mariners, he’s worth every penny. I live in Japan right now and, not coincidentally, ingest a ton of Japanese baseball. Unfortunately, I’m also able to catch most of my beloved M’s’ games on TV. From what I’ve been able to glean, we need an everyday catcher VERY badly. Obviously, we’re not going to find one this year but Jojima in Mariner blue come 2006 would be sweet-ass.

    Thoughts? Would it be wise to sign a catcher long-term with Clement waiting in the wings? What kind of problems, besides the obvious, would a Japanese catcher with very little English speaking ability and no real familiarity with MLB pitching styles pose?

    Anybody else heard of this guy? Anybody? Bueler?

  28. eponymous coward on July 3rd, 2005 7:04 pm

    Um, how do J-League catchers generallly fare after 30? Over in MLB, C’s tend to start falling apart by 1200-1500 games, with rare exceptions (Piazza is experiencing this now, for instance)- so if they aren’t overused in their 20’s, they can do well into their 30’s.

  29. taro on July 3rd, 2005 7:21 pm

    [deleted, repeated violations of the comment guildelines regarding unsupported steroid allegations]

  30. Rusty on July 3rd, 2005 10:05 pm

    I’m pretty pessimistic about M’s pitching situation for next year, but not this pessimistic. Nageotte, I believe, led his respective minor league level, 2 years running, in strikeouts. He’s now pitching again after injury recovery. I think he still has major league potential. I also think Madritsch has a shot to come back from injury. Sure, Pineiro and Meche might not be worth another contract, but I think Nags and Mads can potentially fulfil these 2 guys’ roles 1 or 2 years down the road, at a much lesser cost, allowing the franchise to spend Pineiro and Meche money on a #1 or #2 type free agent starter.

  31. DMZ on July 3rd, 2005 10:10 pm

    Nageotte doesn’t have three pitches and hasn’t shown that he’s willing or able to learn to throw his change effectively. Until he does, he won’t be a decent starter.

  32. Rusty on July 3rd, 2005 10:18 pm

    I agree that Nageotte’s development of a 3rd pitch is an important issue, but anyone who has demonstrated such a repeatable skill as striking out opposing hitters is worth a mention on the team’s prospect for improving. Add in Rafael Soriano with Nageotte and Madritsch and I think the M’s have a decent shot that at least one of these guys will be a positive contributor for the team relatively soon.