Game 129, Red Sox at Mariners

August 26, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 317 Comments 

David Wells vs Gil Meche, 7:05.

David Wells famously claims to pitch while drunk. Gil Meche just pitches like he’s drunk, but we’re pretty sure he’s not.

David Wells is a strike throwing machine. Gil Meche wouldn’t even know how to turn on said machine.

David Wells has had a pretty nice career, winning a lot of games despite average stuff. Gil Meche has spent the last few years stealing the Mariners money by chronically underachieving.

Advantage: Wells

However, we have Doyle, and they don’t, so I predict the M’s win 34-6. Doyle, by the way: .400/.500/.650 in 24 plate appearances as a Mariner. He’s drawn 4 walks and has 4 extra base hits in what amounts to a weeks worth of playing time. 4 walks and 4 extra base hits was a good month for Carl Everett. Huzzah for Doyle!

Game 128, Red Sox at Mariners

August 25, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 272 Comments 

Schilling vs Woods. This could get ugly in a hurry.

Reasons to watch: Doyle, Ichiro in center, and, umm, Doyle!

Looking Ahead: Jeff Clement

August 25, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 109 Comments 

Today, we continue the irregularly scheduled Looking Ahead series, where I do a slightly more in depth post on a player from the M’s farm system. The Bryan LaHair feature generated a lot of positive response, so I’m going to try to do at least a couple more of these before the end of the year. This time around, we’re going to take a look at the Mariners Catcher Of The Future (TM), Jeff Clement.

Jeff Clement has been a big name prospect for a long time. He played in the Little League World Series in 1996, and he is still the nationwide high school home run champion, launching 75 bombs in his four years of prep baseball. The record was previously held by Drew Henson, and Clement got significant accolades in both his junior and senior years. A firm commitment to USC scared teams off, however, and the Twins finally selected him in the 12th round of the 2002 draft. He turned down their offer to attend college, and went on to have a very nice career for the Trojans.

The Mariners used the third overall selection in the 2005 draft to select Clement, going for a power left-handed bat at a position where they had no long term solution. Reports on him coming out of college were very good on his power, but not so good on other aspects of his game. His defense was considered a work in progress, and scouts were split on whether he would remain behind the plate or eventually move to first base. The Mariners insisted that they projected him as a catcher, and they worked with him extensively on his footwork and release to help improve his skills as a receiver.

Clement’s professional debut went very well, as he beat the tar out of the ball in the Midwest League. While low-A ball isn’t a huge challenge for a star college hitter, Wisconsin is still not an easy place to hit, and Clement posted a .319/.386/.522. He showed both patience and power, and while his contact rates (19.7% K, 9.7% BB) weren’t as good as they were in college, scouts were very impressed with his adjustment to using wood bats. He entered the 2006 season neck-and-neck with Adam Jones for the title of best prospect in the system.

He began the 2006 season with an assignment to Double-A San Antonio and continued hitting right out of the gate. His .288/.386/.525 line during the first 15 games of the season continued to show the skills he was known for – a good approach at the plate, knowledge of the strike zone, and serious power (11.1% K, 10.0% BB). However, just two weeks into the season, he required knee surgery to repair a torn miniscus in his left knee and remove bone chips from his left elbow. This sidelined him until June, and upon his return, the Mariners gave him a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma.

Things haven’t gone as well since his return. He’s struggling for the first time in his life as PCL pitchers have proven more of a challenge. He’s hitting just .252/.320/.354 in 206 at-bats, and his base skills that we know he has haven’t demonstrated themselves. He has just 14 walks in 206 at-bats and is failing to make consistent contact, striking out 47 times (20.1% K, 6.9% BB). He’s also not making consistent hard contact – just 13 of his 52 hits have gone for extra bases. This slump isn’t a case of him hitting the ball right at people. He’s just not making solid contact. He’s posting a ridiculous 27.9% IF/F rate. Essentially, when he hits it in the air, it’s not leaving the infield.

Clement just turned 23 this week, so there’s no real reason to be concerned about his struggles. The promotion to Tacoma was extremely aggressive to begin with, and when combined with the fact that he had missed six weeks due to an injury, it’s not a big surprise that he’s experiencing an adjustment period. The skillset of power and patience is still there, but he just needs to adjust to better pitchers and start making better contact more frequently.

Clement’s struggles in Tacoma have made it easy to have him begin the 2007 season back in the PCL and ignore the talks about what to do with him and Kenji Johjima when Clement is major league ready. The team is wisely taking a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” approach, realizing that many things can happen over the course of time, and making a decision now based on Clement’s projected arrival time isn’t in the best interests of the franchise.

I’m firmly against the suggestions of moving Clement to another position to get his bat to the majors sooner. With the additions of Ben Broussard and Chris Snelling to the line-up on a regular basis, the Mariners have added two major league quality left-handed bats that they didn’t have a month ago. Despite all the cries for “left handed sock” that we have heard the past year, the current line-up is actually fairly well balanced, with Ichiro, Ibanez, Broussard, and Snelling all swinging quality bats from the left side.

The M’s would be wise to let Jeff Clement force his way into the major leagues, rather than rearranging the deck chairs to try to push up his timetable. With Johjima around, the Mariners don’t have a hole to fill at the catcher position, and the team has enough other options at 1B/DH that moving him from behind the dish shouldn’t be an option. His receiving skills have developed nicely, and his defensive reputation is significantly better now than it was a year ago.

With Jeff Clement and Adam Jones, the Mariners have two strong up-the-middle building blocks for their future sitting just half an hour south of Safeco Field. While they gave in to the temptation of bringing Jones up to fill a need, the team would do well to ignore any similar unctions they get with Jeff Clement. Give him another year in Tacoma, and he’ll let you know when he’s ready for the show.

Game 127, Yankees at Mariners

August 24, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 224 Comments 

Johnson vs Washburn.

The 1990s Mariners are often associated with Ken Griffey Jr, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Lou Piniella, and even occassionally Alex Rodriguez. But for me, a lot of the memories that I love have to do with the Big Unit. I remember his no-hitter. I was at a couple of his 19K performances. I skipped school to watch him beat the Angels in the one game playoff. No one can forget the roar of the crowd when he began to warm up in game 5 of the ALDS against the Yankees. Randy Johnson was the most fun pitcher to watch of my youth. He was so dominant, so intimidating, and so tall.

When I was about 10 or 11, I went to Dave Valle’s baseball camp, where we learned not much of use but got to hang out with major league players. I remember asking Brian Holman how he felt when Ken Phelps went yard to end the perfect game and what he’d do if brother Brad ever blew a save for him. I remember asking Valle about Edgar’s toe tap timing mechanism. But more than anything else, I remember the last day, there was several lines for autographs. Valle’s line was the longest, naturally, and the Julio Cruz and Brian Holman lines were pretty long too. But the shortest line led to the table where the tall ugly guy sat. We didn’t really know who he was or why he was here, but I decided to get in that line, and ended up having a 10 minute conversation with Randy Johnson, and he couldn’t have been any nicer to me. He won me over that day, and then spent the next 10 years reinforcing what I already knew – this guy was awesome, and I’d never see anything like him again.

I never got on the Randy sold out bandwagon. I pulled for the Diamondbacks to win the World Series because I wanted to see him get a ring. I didn’t care when he went to the hated Yankees. He’s still Randy Johnson.

Call me whatever you want, but tonight, I’m rooting for Randy Johnson again. I hope he throws another no-hitter. Thanks for all the memories, RJ.

Reading for the day

August 24, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 109 Comments 

More interesting stuff than usual in the local dailies.

Front office changes looming in the Times. Benny Looper is moving from his VP executive role into a scouting position. This will allow him to spend more time doing the things he enjoys, and less time riding a desk. The one and only Frank Mattox will inherit most of his responsibilities. At the bottom, it’s noted that the M’s have dismissed Glenn Adams, their minor league hitting coordinator. You knew someone was going to get blamed for the Matt Tuiasasopo debacle.

Also in the Times, another Chris Snelling profile, though this one written by notable scribe Larry Stone, so its better than most. If you’ve followed Snelling the past few years, it’s nothing new, but if you’re a new reader to the site, you may not be aware of his penchant for Yoda or the stuffed doll story.

Finally, the P-I has a bit on the M’s lousy approach at the plate, and has some quotes from Pentland and Hargrove. This one is my favorite:

“It’s not a philosophical thing. It’s our philosophy to get in good hitters’ counts,” manager Mike Hargrove said. “I think it’s a combination of hitters’ styles and the fact that we have younger hitters, less experienced hitters.”

Yes Mike, it’s all those darn young players. If only we had more old guys, we’d be doing great. Darn Bavasi and his roster construction.

It is a philosophical thing. You can’t say the word aggressiveness 842 times a day during spring training, reward guys who hack wildly with regular playing time, and expect them to simultaneously become walk machines. Yes, part of it is roster construction – players do walk more as they age. But it’s also a philosophy thing – the M’s overarching “put pressure on the defense” mentality does creep into the at-bats, and the organizations general lack of interest in players who draw walks reinforces the culture of free-swinging that has been fostered here.

Game 126, Yankees at Mariners

August 23, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 219 Comments 

Wang vs Hernandez, 7:05 pm.

63.5% of Chien-Ming Wang’s balls in play are grounders, best in the American League. 56.2% of Felix Hernandez’s balls in play are grounders, fourth best in the AL. Felix’s GB% in his 12 starts last year was 67%, which is just off the charts for a starting pitcher. In other words, don’t expect the outfielders to get many chances tonight. Jeff Sullivan and I were joking around last night that both teams should go with 5 infielders and 2 outfielders, and after a night of thinking it over, I’m not sure its that crazy.

This will be an interesting matchup for Felix. No A-Rod in the Yankee line-up tonight, so its not quite the juggernaut it usually is, but they’re still extremely patient hitters, and that can give Felix fits. He gets a lot of swings-and-misses on pitches out of the zone, so if NY isn’t biting at those pitches, he could run up a high pitch count pretty quickly. It will be important for Felix to get ahead in the count, and do so with something besides constant first-pitch fastballs.

The line-up is the same as last night.

1. Ichiro, CF
2. Snelling, RF
3. Beltre, 3B
4. Sexson, 1B
5. Ibanez, LF
6. Lopez, 2B
7. Broussard, 1B
8. Betancourt, SS
9. Rivera, C

Another day off for Johjima. He hasn’t started a game since last Saturday. He’s pinch-hitting late in games, so it’s probably not an injury.

Also interesting, this is Snelling’s fourth start in the last five games after Hargrove proclaimed that he “didn’t expect him to play much”. It’s pretty likely that Hargrove was asked to get Doyle in the line-up more often than he originally planned. And the team is certainly better for it.

Fan Scouting Report

August 23, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 49 Comments 

Friend of USSM and extremely smart guy Tom Tango is putting on his annual Fan Scouting Report. With all the work done to try to quantify defensive analysis, Tango is taking the Wisdom of Crowds approach. None of us are defensive experts, but if you’ve read the wisdom of crowds thesis, you realize that we all have our own small insights to add, and when you get a large representative sample, you can end up with some very good information.

By bringing together a lot of people who watch a lot of baseball, he’s compiled ratings based on the popular consensus of how good defensively players are. The data certainly isn’t the be-all, end-all of defensive analysis, but it’s very good information to have.

So, if you’d like to participate, go fill out the survey. However, please read the instructions. Tom takes a unique approach to evaluating defensive skills, and one that I whole-heartedly agree with; he wants to know what kind of skills a player has, and not how those skills compare to the relative merits of the other players who man that position. Or, as he states it:

Try to judge “average” not as an average player at that position, but an average player at any position. If you think that Chone Figgins has an average arm, then mark him as average, regardless if you’ve seen him play CF, 1B, 2B, or 3B.


Position-independant defensive analysis is superior, in my opinion. Do we want to slag Derek Jeter’s defense at shortstop because his range isn’t good, relatively, to other shortstops, while giving Troy Glaus a pass because his defense at third isn’t as bad compared to other 3B? No – Jeter’s a significantly better defensive player than Glaus, but that gets lost in the shuffle of defensive position rankings.

So, let me encourage you guys to go fill out the survey. Tom’s been extremely helpful to us, and this is a great chance for us to return the favor.

Late Game Management

August 23, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 100 Comments 

We won! Woohah. However:

This isn’t anything we haven’t pointed out before, but since I said good things about Mike Hargrove’s line-up before the game last night, I have to point out how terribly he managed the end game.

Seattle – Bottom of 8th Score
Ron Villone pitching for New York
R Cano at second base.
E Perez walked.
W Bloomquist ran for E Perez.
Y Betancourt sacrificed to pitcher, W Bloomquist to second.
K Johjima hit for R Rivera.
K Johjima grounded out to third.
I Suzuki intentionally walked.
T Bohn hit for C Snelling.
T Bohn struck out swinging.

The inning starts out well, with Eduardo Perez getting the leadoff base on balls, which the announcers will tell you always comes around to score. They’re wrong, as you’ll see later, but it comes around to score even less often when the manager bungles the rest of the inning.

Using Tangotiger’s Win Expectancy chart, we see that the M’s are in a good situation. Tie game, bottom of the 8th, runner at first and nobody out, they have a WE of .673. In other words, the M’s would be expected to win this game two out of three times, considering they have 6 outs to go vs the Yankees 3 outs, and they have the potential winning run on base with no men out. It’s a good spot to be in.

Bloomquist pinch runs for Perez, which is totally defendable, especially if you’re going to have him steal second. If Bloomquist steals second, the WE raises to .738, a six point increase. If he gets thrown out trying to steal, the WE drops to .559, an eight point decrease. For the steal to make mathmatical sense in this situation, Willie would only need to be successful about 60% of the time. He’s 75% on the season and 85% for his career. Posada’s throwing out 36% of base stealers this year, and 30% for his career.

No matter how you break it out, the math works. Bloomquist is probably around 80% likely to swipe the bag there, which makes the reward well worth the risk.

Instead, the Mariners decide to have Willie stand on first and ask Yuniesky Betancourt to lay down a sacrifice, getting Bloomquist to second but using an out in the process. The WE goes from .673 to .656, a 1.5 point decrease. Yes, the runner is now in scoring position, but the Mariners are actually less likely to win the game now than they were before the bunt, because we’re running out of outs and are still tied.

The sac bunt to get the runner from first to second, especially when the runner is a base stealing threat, is a bad managerial decision. And Hargrove does it all the freaking time. If you want Betancourt to lay one down, have Bloomquist try to steal second first. Then, if he’s successful, bunt Willie to third. That’s okay, if you have to bunt. Getting the runner from second to third with less than two out is a big deal. But stop with the bunting a fast runner from first to second. It hurts the team’s chances of winning.

Then, of course, he compounds the problem with the absurd but totally predictable decision to pinch-hit T.J. Bohn for Chris Snelling. We like the fact that Bohn is here instead of Jones as the designated late game defensive replacement/pinch runner, but let’s not fool ourselves – he’s not much of a hitter. He’s vulnerable to breaking balls, chases pitches out of the strike zone, doesn’t make great contact, and has only gap power. Of course, he’s right-handed, while both Ron Villone and Chris Snelling are left-handed, so it was the by-the-book move to make.

It was just the wrong move to make. Chris Snelling can actually hit. He’s never shown a platoon split in the minors. He doesn’t have a swing that is exploitable by LHP’s. The M’s, needing a base hit to take the lead heading into the 9th inning, replaced a good hitter with a poor hitter, all in the name of getting a platoon advantage. A good LHB is a better bet against a good LHP than a bad RHB is. Mike Hargrove consistently fails to grasp this concept, and Bohn predictably struck out. Asking a kid to make his major league debut in that circumstance isn’t fair anyways, and having him pinch hit for a superior hitter is just foolish.

George Sherrill pitching for Seattle
T Bohn in right field.
K Johjima catching.
J Damon flied out to right.
J Mateo relieved G Sherrill.
D Jeter singled to right.
B Abreu struck out swinging.
A Guiel hit for C Wilson.
A Guiel walked, D Jeter to second.
A Rodriguez struck out swinging.

I’ve railed on this decision so many times, it’s not funny, but it has to be pointed out, because Mike Hargrove simply fails to grasp this concept, and it’s such an easy one.

When you’re the home team, and you go into the 9th inning tied, there can never be a save situation. Ever. It can’t happen. If you win, it’s going to be a walkoff win. You will never have a lead to protect. It’s fundamentally impossible.

Facing a situation where the Yankees had the middle of their order coming up, including two hall-of-fame RHBs, Mike Hargrove went with Julio Mateo instead of J.J. Putz. Why? Because it wasn’t a save situation, and J.J. is our closer.

This basic lack of understanding drives me insane, and Hargrove has done this repeatedly. Melvin did it too. It’s absurd, and the fact that a guy whose job is to make strategic decisions to help his team win can’t understand the concept is mind boggling to me.

Yes, it worked, and we won – huzzah. But we won despite the late game management of Mike Hargrove, who actually made it less likely the team would prevail. He made three lousy decisions in the span of 10 minutes, and the Mariners managed to overcome all three. But if you’re looking for reasons why the M’s suck in one run games this year, look no further than their manager. It’s nights like this that serve as glaring examples why Mike Hargrove just doesn’t belong inside the M’s dugout.

Game 125, Yankees at Mariners

August 22, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 344 Comments 

Baek vs Karstens, 7:05 pm

Cha Baek makes his first start in the majors in a couple of years after posting a nice ERA in the PCL this season, but let’s be clear – he’s not a prospect. He throws his mediocre stuff over the plate and lets hitters get themselves out or not. It’s the Ryan Franklin approach to pitching. This is about the worst possible matchup for him, as the Yankees offense rolls into town fresh off a five game weekend sweep of the Red Sox. The Mariners, meanwhile, haven’t won a game since Columbus sailed the ocean blue. It’s the irresistible force against the most movable object of all time. This should be fun. But on the brightside, the line-up:

1. Ichiro, CF (WOO!)
3. Beltre, 3B (WOO – BOO – WOO – BOO – Who knows)
4. Sexson, 1B (See above)
5. Ibanez, LF (Como se dice WOO en espanol?)
6. Lopez, 2B (Just a W, because after a promising start, we’ve gotten very little)
7. Broussard, DH (CHOOOOOO! – oh, wait, wrong team)
8. Betancourt, SS (OOH – he leads the league in plays that make you say ooh)
9. Rivera, C (Uhh, crap)

Minus the whole Rene Rivera thing – and I’m assuming that now that we’re out of it that Johjima will actually get to catch a human workload, which I’m okay with – this is pretty much the best line-up the M’s have put out all year. Hargrove ignores his normal left-right mandate and actually puts Snelling and his on base ways in the #2 hole, which is the lineup spot he was created for. We have Ichiro in center again. Willie is nowhere to be seen.

They might be too little, too late, but we have to admit, the M’s are making the right moves now. We’ve taken Hargrove to task all year long, but this line-up is a good one, and it shows that he’s capable of assembling a quality batting order. Let’s hope it sticks.

More moves

August 22, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 70 Comments 

Just when you thought they were done, nope, the moves keep coming.

Probably announced tomorrow (Edit: Just announced, now official), though might happen before gametime: Adam Jones back to Tacoma, T.J. Bohn up. Since Tacoma already played today (Bohn didn’t, by the way), they might wait to send Jones back until after the game tonight.

With Ichiro to center becoming pretty much official for the rest of the year (WOOOOO!), Jones is going back to Triple-A to get some playing time for the next few weeks. He’ll be recalled when rosters expand before the 20 day loophole closes, so this won’t cost him an option year.

Rotation shuffle:

Meche is having his start skipped. Felix and Washburn move up to start tomorrow and Thursday, respectively. It’s assumed, but not known for sure, that Woods goes Friday. No Saturday starter has been named. I don’t have an explanation for why Meche’s start is being skipped. It could be because he’s been terrible lately, or, more interestingly, he might have cleared waivers and they could have something brewing. We’ll find out in the next few days.

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