RHP Josh Fogg v LHP Jamie Moyer.
The team returns home over .500, and what a great day for it. I’m tempted to hop on a bus and head on in. I’m curious to see if the M’s start to see walk-up ticket sales pick up now that they’re in the hunt.
I’m still a little hungover from last night, so if everyone could try and type quietly, that would help out a lot.
Everett returns to the lineup. We may see if the team’s recent tear was due to losing the DH.
The Mariners have traded SS Asdrubal Cabrera to the Indians for 1B/LF/DH Eduardo Perez.
Perez is a lefty masher who can help the team (.303/.343/.636 in 99 at-bats this year), but this is way too high of a price to pay. He’s basicalliy a strict platooon player, getting 88 of his 99 at-bats vs lefties. He hit .259/.371/.526 vs lefties and just .231/.355/.346 vs righties last year.
This probably sends Mike Morse back to the minors, and Perez will become the DH vs left handed pitchers. The team gets better, but this isn’t a huge upgrade. It’s a minor upgrade that cost them a top prospect.
The team is better, but the price to pay was too high.
It seems that a large percentage of the baseball watchinig public has a hard time accepting that statement. The A’s are still the darlings of the sabermetric community, and for reasons that I never totally understood, most national writers labeled them as World Series contenders. In their staff predictions article, every author of Baseball Prospectus polled selected the A’s to finish first or second in the division, and the Mariners third or fourth.
In Joe Sheehan’s AL West preview, he put the A’s down for 101 wins and the Mariners 76. Included in the preview was the statement “The AÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s are the best team in baseball.”
80 games into the season, it’s pretty obvious that the A’s abilities were well overstated.
The A’s offense is, to be kind, lousy. Nick Swisher is having a breakout year and should get consideration for the all-star game. Frank Thomas still has walks and homers, if not much else, and Eric Chavez is a good enough hitter to be valuable, even if he’ll never win the MVP that his talent could allow. After that, it’s rough.
Bobby Crosby, who was Peter Gammons pick for MVP before the season started, has a .690 OPS, lower than Yuniesky Betancourt’s. Jay Payton is hitting worse than Carl Everett. Milton Bradley is hitting worse than Jay Payton. And Jason Kendall is slugging .320, a mark so astonishingly bad that it’s hard to believe he’s still a major league starter. Mark Ellis and Marco Scutaro are automatic outs this year as well.
The A’s essentially have one very good hitter, two okay hitters (one of whom is chronically hurt and can’t run), a guy who should be a good hitter but isn’t right now, and a whole lot of crap. They’re averaging 4.45 runs/game, which just isn’t anything close to enough runs for a team that was called the best in baseball before the season.
However, everyone didn’t love the A’s because of their hitters. They loved them because of their starting rotation. Zito, Harden, Haren, Blanton, and Loaiza was hailed as the best rotation in baseball, and they had depth in guys like Saarloos, Halsey, and Kennedy, in case of injuries.
Zito and Haren have lived up to expectations, and both are among the best pitchers in the AL. Rich Harden has been limited to 35 innings, and with his injury history, has essentially become the A’s version of Doyle. Blanton has pitched the same as he did last year, but his luck ran out, and now his poor peripherals have made his ERA line up with the mediocre stuff that he has. And Esteban Loaiza started the year pitching hurt and has been a disaster.
The depth hasn’t been effective either. Kirk Saarloos is posting a 4.57 ERA despite a 6.35 FIP, and he’s walking well more than he’s striking out. Halsey has been slightly better, but still a replacement level starter. And Joe Kennedy has thrown 12 innings due to shoulder problems of his own.
So, the A’s have basically had two good starting pitchers, one innings eater who isn’t awful but isn’t very good, and a rotation crop of awfulness. The vaunted bullpen has also been significantly worse, as Huston Street’s giving up longballs at an average rate instead of his ridiculous rate of last year and has already blown 6 saves.
Put it together, and you have a team that can’t score and can only sorta pitch. Thus, you have a team that is in first place despite scoring three more runs than they’ve allowed.
The A’s, for all their vaunted second half runs of the past, built those great teams on great players. Looking at this roster, there just aren’t enough great players for the A’s to put together another stretch of .700 baseball like they have the past few years. Their team’s chances essentially depend on Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby returning to full health and playing up to expectations, because without those two performing at all-star levels, this team just isn’t very good.
The A’s aren’t a bad team. But they’re nothing close to the best team in baseball. They aren’t even the best team in the American League West.
There’s no reason to be afraid of the A’s. The Mariners are a better team, even if the national writers will take months to figure that out.
Gil Meche vs. Arizona’s other E. Gonzalez, Enrique. 6:40pm.
Oakland has won; Texas has lost.
There are two days left in June, 82 games left in the season, and five weeks until the non-waiver trading deadline. The Mariners are 40-39, one game over .500 for the first time in something like 183 years, and have a +29 run differential, the best in the American League West. They are two games behind Oakland for the lead in the AL West, but the A’s have only scored two more runs than they’ve allowed, so they haven’t exactly been playing stellar baseball all year long.
So, the question on everyone’s minds is what do the Mariners do now? Is this for real? A month ago, we were counting down the days until Mike Hargrove was fired and figuring out if any of the veterans had trade value to flip for prospects in the annual summer sell off. Right now, however, breaking up this team is incomprehendable, as this is the most fun Mariners fans have had in years. The offense is steamrolling people right now, as 7 of the 9 regulars are posting an .800+ OPS for the month, with Ichiro/Ibanez/Johjima all being over 1.000. They’ve won their last four games, scoring 9, 9, 11, and 10 runs in those four games. The memory of Joe Blanton making these guys look miserable seems like ages ago.
The most encouraging signs have clearly been the improvement of Adrian Beltre, who is wrapping up his best month as a Mariner (.314/.375/.588, 17 of his 32 hits are XBH), and Felix Hernandez, who has posted a 3.38 ERA in 34 2/3 innings during June, giving up just three home runs, six walks, and striking out 29 batters. With Good Adrian and Good Felix replacing Bad Adrian and Bad Felix, the team has swung into another gear, essentially removing replacement level production and adding all-star level production. Those two both have all kinds of talent, and we’ve seen what this team can do when they are providing production that goes along with expectations.
However, we’ve also seen this team at its worst, when Beltre and Sexson aren’t hitting, Felix isn’t commanding his fastball, and the team spins its wheels due to the lack of firepower in the middle of the order and front of the rotation. That they’re playing well now does not guarantee that they’ll play well in July, August, or September. The M’s are full of players with huge variances in plausible performance. Adrian Beltre in April was the worst player in baseball, and we saw him struggle for almost all of 2005. However, in June, he’s been one of the best third baseman in the game, combining a high offensive level with his usual terrific defense. Despite what you feel about Beltre, both of these performances are well within reasonable expectations for the rest of the year. Beltre could be great, or he could be horrible. A large percentage of the team is like that.
So, what do you do? Personally, I think this team is a contender for the AL West (run differential makes that point almost inarguable), and the team should be looking at ways to improve the current 25 man roster. I’m not advocating a mortgage-the-future series of moves where the young talent in the minors is shipped out for modest upgrades, but this team is in a position to have a legitimate pennant race down the stretch that would bring excitement back to the organization for the first time in years, and they should not squander that opportunity.
The M’s, even while playing well, have some issues. There are spots on this team that could be easily upgraded. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
Raul Ibanez is helping carry the offense right now, and his surge has been a big part of the reason why the team is scoring runs in bunches. However, while we’ve been wrong about Ibanez before, I still don’t feel its wise to expect him to sustain this level of performance – he’s never been this good, and its not often that a player has a career year power wise at age 34. Keep in mind, he slugged .474 before the all-star break last year and .393 afterwards.
He’s also a defensive liability in left field, and his lack of range was on full display last night. His defensive skills are best suited to DH’ing at this point, and the team’s current DH is hitting like a middle infielder. With Carl Everett reaffirming what we already believed, that he’s done as a major league starter, the team would do do well to slide Ibanez back to his DH role and acquire a left fielder to both upgrade the offense and the outfield defense. Jarrod Washburn, especially, would appreciate the help.
The M’s have some internal options here that, in my opinion, are more attractive that completing a deal for a rent-a-player. Doyle is hitting .271/.385/.415 for the Rainiers. The low SLG isn’t representative of how well he’s hitting the ball – 13 of his 32 hits are for extra bases, but 11 of those 13 are doubles. If a player is making consistent contact like Doyle is, he’ll drive the ball out of the yard more often than that. He also has the ability to work the count and a history of providing a high OBP even when he’s not hitting, which is something the offense lacks at the moment. Doyle would be a perfect fit in the #2 hole, but if the team decided not to mess with Beltre’s success, he could improve the bottom of the line-up as well, sliding in to the #7 spot.
His defensive skills aren’t what they once were (though he still has a very good arm), but he’s a better outfielder than Raul Ibanez. He’s been playing center field for Tacoma to stay away from the chainlink fences of Cheney Stadium, but that wouldn’t be a concern in major league parks, and his range is best suited to a corner. Having him and Raul shift between LF/DH could be a good way to keep the workload off both of them, while improving the offense and defense without having to acquire outside help.
Health is obviously the main concern, but he’s healthy now, and the organization shouldn’t let fear that he may get injured again stop them from reaping the benefits of what he can provide while he’s on the field.
Replacing Everett with Doyle would improve the team both offensively and defensively, all with the simultaneous advantage of keeping Carl Everett’s 2007 option from vesting. Everett has played badly enough that his benching/release could be easily explained as a performance issue to avoid any issues with the players union. While the team may take a don’t-mess-with-what’s-working attitude, they also can’t ignore that they’ve been on their biggest tear with Carl Everett on the bench. If his intangibles that they love so much can be provided from the bench during interleague play, they can be provided from the bench when the team has a DH too.
So for the LF/DH, Doyle should be option #1. Option #2 would be making a trade that doesn’t cost the team a significant piece of the future or bring in salary commitments for 2007 – the big name guys like Carlos Lee don’t interest me. We’re not at the point where we want to be trading away top prospects, but if the team could pick up Jose Cruz Jr for a guy like Oswaldo Navaroo or Mike Wilson, I’m fine with that. They could also promote Shin-Soo Choo, but despite his recent surge, he’s still a fourth outfielder in the majors. Adam Jones isn’t an option – he’s not ready, and he shouldn’t see Seattle until 2007 at the earliest.
Solid middle reliever
While we love Soriano and Putz at the end of games, and Sherrill is death to lefties, the rest of the bullpen is replacement level or worse. Woods, Green, Mateo, and Guardado simply aren’t good enough to be pitching in high leverage situations. This team needs another arm who can come in and strand baserunners. The back end of the bullpen is mostly contact flyball pitchers who can’t miss enough bats to be useful in situations with runners on and a tight lead to protect.
The M’s don’t have many good in house options here. Fruto and Cruceta have enough stuff to miss bats, but both need improved command, and its unlikely Mike Hargrove would trust them in critical situations over a “proven veteran” such as Eddie Guardado or Julio Mateo. The M’s need another arm back there that Grover can trust, and that’s probably going to have to come from outside the organization.
The nice thing is that good relievers can be acquired without paying an arm and a leg, especially if you’re not paying for the proven closer tag. Kyle Farnsworth was acquired last year while pitching extremely well for the Cubs, and the Tigers gave up Roberto Novoa, Bo Flowers, and Scott Moore. None of these guys are or were top prospects, and they’re the kind of expendable talent that isn’t that hard to replace. The M’s could really use an arm like Farnsworth to help get them through to Soriano and Putz at the end of the game, and if the cost is a couple of guys who could be role players down the line if everything breaks well, that’s a reasonable price to pay.
Some potential targets could include Jon Rauch (Washington) or Jorge Julio (Arizona) if they want to avoid a financial commitment, or Bob Howry (Cubs) if they feel like taking on some salary.
Joel Pineiro’s been terrible. His stuff is gone, and at this point, he’s a junkballer who hopes the other team gets himself out. There’s almost no chance he returns next year, and he’s barely hanging onto his rotation spot.
However, a #5 starter is easily marginalized if the team is willing to use its off days to skip his starts, so I don’t think this upgrade is as important as improving the LF/DH spot or adding another arm to the pen. The fifth starter goes away entirely in the playoffs, so you don’t want to mortgage the farm to pick up a guy who may not even pitch critical innings for you in games that count the most.
That said, it would be helpful to have someone who was more effective than Pineiro taking the hill every five days. Again, there’s probably not anyone in the system who Grover would trust with the role – he’s seen and voted against Bobby Livingston and Clint Nageotte (neither of whom are lighting up Tacoma, to be honest), and Cruceta isn’t likely to get a real shot in the rotation. Cha Baek has less stuff than Pineiro and would be a batting practice pitcher in the majors, so again, any upgrade probably has to come from outside the organization.
So, here’s a crazy suggestion; trade for Jeff Weaver. He’s been terrible for the Angels this year, sporting a 6.29 ERA and he’s due over $4 million for the rest of the year. The Angels are on the verge of replacing him with his brother Jered, who is simply a better pitcher right now.
However, Jeff Weaver is a great bet to pitch better as the year goes on. His 6.29 ERA isn’t close to his Fielding Independant ERA (5.20) or xFIP (4.61), which adjusts for HR/FB rate. Weaver’s peripherals aren’t much different than what they were previous years – 2.0 walks, 6.0 strikeouts, 39% GB rate. He’s a flyball pitcher who throws strikes and occassionally misses bats.
This year, he’s been struggling because teams are getting more hits on balls in play than expected, he’s giving up more homers per fly ball than expected, and he’s got worst Left on Base% of any starting pitcher in the American League. Basically, he’s the anti-Jarrod Washburn, who last year had those three things break in his favor and cashed in on non-repeatable skills. Weaver’s not going to keep giving up home runs at this rate, and he’s not going to keep giving up hits with RISP at this rate. He’s a great bet to pitch better in the second half of the year than he has to date.
The difference between Joel Pineiro’s salary the rest of the year and Jeff Weaver’s is about $1 million. Weaver, on a one year deal with the Angels, has almost no chance to be back with the club next year, while Joel Pineiro will be arb. eligible and still under club control. I would imagine, in purely speculative form, that the Angels would gladly eat the million dollar difference to gain the rights to a pitcher who they could still potentiall have on their roster next year while opening a rotation spot for Jered Weaver without having to demote his brother to the pen in order to create the opening.
So, working off the assumption that the Angels would make up the cash difference, would you rather have Joel Pineiro or Jeff Weaver the rest of the year:
Pineiro: 3.0 BB/G, 4.0 K/G, 47.2 GB%, 16.7% HR/FB, 68.2 LOB%, 4.83 xFIP
Weaver: 2.0 BB/G, 6.0 K/G, 39.2 GB%, 16.8% HR/FB, 62.4 LOB%, 4.61 xFIP
Weaver has outpitched Pineiro despite pitching in a less friendly park (FIP and xFIP aren’t park adjusted), and he has better stuff and a better track record.
Jeff Weaver’s not the answer to all the Mariners problems, but he’s a better bet for the second half than Joel Pineiro is. It’s the classic change of scenery trade that potentially helps both clubs. The Mariners are reticent to trade within their own division, but this is a time where the two sides could benefit too much to ignore such a deal.
So, that’s my plan, as of June 28th. Bring up Doyle and let him and Raul share LF/DH with Everett playing DH occassionally to keep everyone healthy, package a couple okay-but-not-great prospects for a servicable middle reliever, and swap Pineiro for Jeff Weaver with the Angels picking up the salary difference.
The current roster gets better and the future is still intact. The M’s have a shot to win this division – they shouldn’t ignore that. However, they also shouldn’t be overconfident, because the reality is that this team still has some significant downside potential. They have a month to figure out if they’re for real. Right now, they look good enough to contend in a mediocre division, and I’d like to see them increase their chances of making September a good time to be a Mariner fan again.
39-39 with a shot to go over (over!) .500, and Felix on the mound… how sweet is this? And the guy we’re facing is Ed Gonzalez. Ed Gonzalez? Ha. He sucked when he was up in 2004, he sucked in 2005, and he’s not so hot this year either (don’t go look up his minor league numbers, I’m being intentionally oblivious here). They should smack this guy around for a couple innings to kick of Melvin’s Crazy World of Bullpens.
40-39. It’d be nice.
A month ago we were about ready to throw things across the room in frustration (see Dave’s lament on a horribly-managed game which captures the moment well). Today I’m a happy fan. I don’t care if it’s irrational or if the team’s about to hit a tough stretch of schedule. They’re even! Even!
Ignoring the first week of this season for a second (they were 5-5 April 13th), the last time they were at .500 was 12-12 April 30th, 2005. They were never at or over .500 in 2004 (unless you count 0-0). The last time they were at .500 this late in the season was in 2003.
Interleague play, your generous blessing of wins is greatly appreciated.
Washburn v Webb! Webb rocks, and hopefully this’ll be a good game to watch. 6:40.
Still no Everett-in-the-outfield sightings, which is good.
I’m flipping through the channels just now, and I notice the Hudson Valley Renegades are on local television. The Renegades are Tampa Bay’s entry in the short-season New York-Penn League — equivalent to the AquaSox in the Northwest League. Wouldn’t it be cool if the AquaSox were on TV now and then, maybe when the M’s have an off-day? Anyway, just a random thought.
Also, the showed Bill Murray sitting in the stands, and I was like, “Hey, that’s Bill Murray.” Turns out he owns the team. Whaddya know.
Due to the resurgent Mariners offense, I’d like to appeal to the governing board of the Julian calendar to please let next month be referred to as June 31st through June 60th. You can return to using “July” next year. Thank you.
Now, onto Dave’s Random Ramblings.
- 1. Due to one of our patented East Coast Thunderstorms Of Doom, I haven’t had any internet access at home since Friday evening. Thus, I missed the entire series with the Padres. Good to see the team wasn’t discouraged by my absence and continued to hit the crap out of the baseball.
- 2. Kenji Johjima is now hitting .290/.335/.454, pretty much exactly what we all expected. In fact, in that roundtable, I wrote: “If he hits .280/.350/.440, which is about where I have him pegged, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be an easy choice for the all-star team.” Amazingly enough, though, not only is he not an easy choice, he’s not even in the discussion. American League catchers have been hitting the tar out of the baseball this year.
Joe Mauer – .368/.436/.506. Jorge Posada – .293/.406/.486. Ramon Hernandez – .285/.346/.506. Victor Martinez – .292/.361/.465. And, while he hasn’t played as many games, Mike Napoli (.294/.433/.578) has already out VORPed Johjima due to his ridiculous offensive performance. Even Gregg Zaun is hitting .328/.390/.555 while playing half the time.
AL catchers – they can hit this year.
- 3. Speaking of us being right about things, Marcus Thames is hitting .310/.378/.655. I’ve been advocating bringing in Thames for years, as he’s the prototypical freely available corner outfielder. He’s been tearing the cover off the ball in Triple-A forever, and he’s finally gotten his shot. He’s nowhere close to being this good, but he’s so much better than Carl Everett, it’s not even funny.
My idea for upgrading left field last offseason was platooning Jacque Jones and Marcus Thames. Jones is hitting .326/.359/.558 vs righties, and Thames is at .286/.355/.571 vs lefties (he’s killing righties, too). Carl Everett – .244/.321/.384. I’m just saying.
- 4. Since I just spent a couple paragraphs saying I told you so, let me reiterate that we were wrong about Raul Ibanez. Again. He already has as many home runs as he had in all of 2004 and he’s posting the highest OPS of his career. Guess those high strikeout rates last year weren’t signs of a loss of bat speed. We were wrong about Raul when they signed him, and so far, we’ve been wrong about the decision to give him a contract extension. Ibanez has been a major bargain since the day he arrived. Kudos to the M’s on that one.
- 5. J.J. Putz has faced 141 batters this year. 50 have struck out, 45 have hit ground balls, and 46 have done anything else. His Fielding Independant ERA is 1.38. He’s almost certainly not going to make the all-star team, but he should. He’s been as good as any reliever in baseball this year.
- 6. How much do home runs matter? Take a look at Felix’s line next to Jeremy Bonderman’s:
Felix: 19.2% LD%, 55% GB%, 8.6% IF% 22.7% HR/Flyball 2.7 BB/G, 8.6 K/G
Bonderman: 19.9% LD%, 51% GB%, 14.9% IF%, 8.5% HR/Flyball, 2.6 BB/G, 9.1 K/G
The differences there are pretty minor with the exception of the HR/Flyball rate. Bonderman’s ERA – 3.65. Felix’s ERA – 5.10. They rank #2 and #3 in American League xFIP, by the way.
- 7. The M’s travel to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks who, under the watchful eye of Bob Melvin, have lost 17 of their last 20. And, since I’m bringing up manager quality, we should mention that everything that Mike Hargrove has been doing wrong all year is still hurting the team, and they’d still be better off if he was replaced, but it’s awful hard for a manager to cause a team scoring 6 runs per game to lose, even with crazy aggressive baserunning and awful bunts.