The size, shape, and other characteristics of the mountain ahead

May 28, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 60 Comments 

I don’t know a reasonable M’s fan that doesn’t look at this next series without realizing its importance. Three games against the Angels, 4.5 back, could be a season-breaker, and we’ve drawn:

Batista vs Colon
Feierabend v Santana
Felix v Good Weaver

There’s another way to get into the playoffs, but right now it looks a lot harder – Detroit and Cleveland have both played .600 baseball so far, and Detroit hasn’t even dropped one of their poorer starters for Andrew Miller yet, which is crazy to contemplate. The M’s aren’t as far back in the wild card as they are in the division race, but in the division race they only have to catch one team (right now) while in the wild card race two really good teams have to collapse while Chicago stumbles (and New York doesn’t wake up and run off a 10-game winning streak).

Focus on the division, then. I’ll re-use a comment from Typical Idiot Fan on yesterday’s game thread:

[…] The difference is really in the runs allowed area. Anaheim has allowed only 199 runs to score against them in 51 games, or 3.9 per game. Seattle has allowed 224 in 46 games, or 4.8 per game.

Seattle RSPG – 4.8, RAPG – 4.8
Anaheim RSPG – 4.6, RAPG – 3.9
Oakland RSPG – 4.5, RAPG – 3.8
Texas RSPG – 5.0, RAPG – 5.7

By all logical reasoning, Oakland should be right there with Anaheim but they’re not. Oakland should probably improve in the W/L column soon enough as things start to even out. Seattle, meanwhile, is one big lefty bat and one good starting pitcher away from making some serious strides.

If it keeps up for the rest of the year, the Angels could easily wind up ten games up on the M’s. I don’t think the Angels are a .600 team, but they don’t have to be. They only have to stay ahead of the M’s. Vlad Guerrero could decide to retire tomorrow and it’d still be a toss-up if the M’s could catch them.

But to the question at hand: what does it take to compete, to take use this early luck and turn it into sustained contention? The team, to be overly simplistic, has a couple of huge, obvious holes:
– they’re too right-handed
– Sexson has sucked, but if he’s really just always a slow starter, that’ll resolve
– Ill offensive production from Lopez/Ibanez
– Starters 3-5 suck

There are other issues (Betancourt’s eye-popping defensive woes, for instance) but that’s the big stuff.

There’s not a lot to be done about the offense – when you can’t find a spot for Adam Jones, well, you’ve got some team construction issues.

The argument about the rotation is that we’ve seen a lot of Weaver, and now that Baek’s here, things are greatly improved. We’ll see how Baek does over an extended period, but even if he’s a solid back-of-the-rotation guy, right now any pick-two of Weaver/Batista/Ramirez means you’ve picked two crappy starters. There’s no way around it: they’re pitching terribly.

Possibly that skews any runs scored/allowed analysis. If there are two major league starters in the rotation and the 3-5 guys get shelled and chased out of games early (that group’s average start goes five innings), it doesn’t really matter if the offense is cracking along, because they’ll need to score 7, 9 runs to win. Plus the bullpen has to pick up a lot of innings, and there are secondary issues from that as well, but here’s my point — as much as the M’s operate at an advantage when Felix starts, they’re giving that away and then some a couple times a week. They turn average offensive players into a lineup of — well, Johjima’s not a bad comparison, actually.

Some comments noted that the team’s a lot like some of the mid-90s M’s teams, and while I might quibble with it, I think it’s a useful because it does convey some of the feel of this team. There’s a really good starter, someone behind him, and then you’d watch the other games with one eye open, wincing.

You can, as we’ve seen, make it to the playoffs with that. But Felix has to be great, Washburn has to be good, Sexson needs to start to hit, the bullpen needs to put up with being stretched frequently, and nothing else can go seriously wrong.

The challenge is that much less has to go right for the Angels for them to survive, and in many ways, they’re a lot better built for Stoneman to go make a move to improve the offense than the M’s, who need a left-handed bat and can’t get one.

And, of course, we neglect the A’s, who if history holds will shuffle some more pieces around and then come out of the All-Star break to rip off a 81-game winning streak to finish the season. It’d be nice, as an M’s fan, if they didn’t do that this year.

If the M’s get swept, they’re toast, because at that point it’s extremely unlikely they could make up that deficit.

If the M’s sweep, they’ve got a reasonable shot at it, but it’ll be quite a haul.

Batista starts the first game of the series tonight.

Game 46, Mariners at Royals

May 27, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 234 Comments 

Swwweeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Swwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

Washburn v Perez. Hot cha cha.

Mariners offer
CF-L Ichiro
DH-B Vidro (~7 VORP!)
RF-R Guillen
LF-L Ibanez
1B-R Sexson
3B-R Beltre
SS-R Betancourt
2B-R Lopez
C-R Burke

Kansas City’s lineup is a little wonky.
DH-R German
CF-L DeJesus
2B-R Grudzielanek
RF-L Teahan
LF-R Brown
C-R Buck
3B-L Gordon
1B-R Shealy
SS-R Pena

Brown hasn’t been hitting at all this year, and when he did, he was pretty much an AVG/OBP guy, but here he’s fifth. Their DH is batting leadoff, which is rare. Grudzie’s batting third – which in this lineup isn’t that unusual, but he’s not your normal #3 guy.

Q: How do you know your lineup sucks?
A: Mark Grudzielanek’s your best hitter.

The beer button

May 27, 2007 · Filed Under Site information · 14 Comments 

About that beer thing: I was playing around with plugins on Friday and threw that up for a minute to play with, Russ Hausman immediately hit it, and I cracked up laughing. Since then, ten others joined him, and I bought decent beer last night for the first time in ages (beer turned out to be more expensive than $3, but whatever, right).

Now, I don’t know if asking for random small amounts randomly for a specific purpose is more effective, or really how we might get any amount of money out of USSM, much less make a delicious living at it, but in terms of random experimentation, that worked out kind of nicely and made me grin last night while enjoying an Anchor Steam.

Game 45, Mariners at Royals

May 26, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 209 Comments 

Baek v Bannister.

On the other hand, only a couple more days until Felix Day again, right? Am I right?

Lineup goodness: Ibanez bats 3rd, Broussard gets a start in right field and bats 5th. Hmm.

Game 44! King Felix vs Gil Meche, Opening Day Starter

May 25, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 244 Comments 


HoRam to DL, Huber up

May 25, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 58 Comments 

PI’s reporting that Horacio Ramirez is on the DL, while Jon Huber’s been recalled from AAA. Hickey speculates that Weaver’s the obvious move to come off the DL and take Ramirez’s next start.

HoRam’s made-up suspect totally legitimate injury is “left shoulder tendinitis” I understand. Weaver is on the DL with right shoulder tendinitis. Both of them suck.

Jon Huber’s thrown 24 2/3rds innings in Tacoma, allowing 26 H, 2 HR, 5 BB, and 19 K.

Felix Day

May 25, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 88 Comments 

O Felix Day
O Felix Day
You come too seldom
Felix Day…

Game 43, Mariners at Devil Rays

May 24, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 396 Comments 

Horacio Ramirez vs Jae Seo, 12:10 pm.

Lousy LH pitcher vs Lousy RH starter. This should be fun.

Ibanez still not healthy, so we get Broussard in left field. And it’s time for another Adrian Beltre day off, so we get WFB at third base.

With a left-handed pitcher on the mound, we’ve dramatically reduced the defensive abilities of the left side of our defense. You know, the side that fields most balls hit by right-handed hitters. With a lefty on the mound, I’m guessing Tampa will have a few right-handed hitters in their line-up. (Yep, all nine Tampa starters are right-handed today).

I love how Hargrove doesn’t give this kind of stuff any thought at all.

Oh, and also, the Mariners have promoted Chris Tillman to High Desert of the California League. If he keeps his ERA under 6.00, it’s a great year.

Ichiro The Underrated

May 24, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 194 Comments 

If you’ve read any of the comment threads lately, you know there’s a significant portion of the fan base that wants the Mariners to trade Ichiro this summer before he becomes a free agent. Tacoma News Tribune columnist John McGrath has been beating this drum for years. And last night, Geoff Baker threw out the following comments on his blog:

To settle a debate starting up in the previous post’s comments thread, I will not be re-evaluating my stance on Ichiro anytime soon. I like him at his current contract numbers, but not at what they will likely inflate to next season. He is having a great May, no doubt, but was invisible through too much of April. He has to do more than go on a great three-week run to change my mind. That’s a lot of coin he’s looking for. This is a .500 team (after tonight) he’s playing on. Maybe if he helps lead them to the postseason the way Shannon Stewart did the Minnesota Twins a couple of years back (or the way Ichiro did it in 2001) then I’ll start believing. But right now, for $15 million to $20 million, I don’t think he brings enough. Even with his stellar defense. That .800 OPS is not the same as some of those other center fielders bring in the power and RBI departments. Speed is his big threat and I still think he has to use it more.

I think a large and growing part of the Mariner fanbase agrees with Geoff on this. When the conversation of Ichiro comes up in a crowd, invariably, half of them will talk about his unwillingness to be a leader, his lack of power, the frustrating slumps he goes into, his selection of when to steal bases, and his lower OPS compared to other players who are considered stars. There are a lot of people who view Ichiro as a good-but-not-great player, a uniquely talented singles hitter who doesn’t do enough other things to help a team win. I’m betting that a lot of you guys reading this post feel that way.

In fact, I think this viewpoint has become so commonly accepted among fans that Ichiro is now one of the most underrated players in baseball. I’m not one who thought he was really the MVP in his 2001 season where the baseball writers went nuts over the guy, and I spent his first few years in Seattle calling him overrated. Now, the pendulum has swung too far the other. Ichiro is now better than people believe.

Skeptical? Name the center fielders in baseball you’d rather have than Ichiro.

Grady Sizemore.
Carlos Beltran.

That’s it. That’s my list. You might have been able to make a case for Andruw Jones before this year began, but if you’re worried about Ichiro declining as he ages, you should be frightened by what has happened to Andruw this year, hitting .216 and striking out in 33% of his plate appearances. Vernon Wells continues to settle in as a productive non-star with his age 27 season of last year looking more and more like a career year. Torii Hunter, likewise, is an above average player who simply isn’t in Ichiro’s league.

Ichiro is pretty clearly the third best center fielder in baseball, and there’s a pretty big gap between him and whoever you think #4 might be. The third best player in the game at an up the middle position, and people aren’t convinced that he’s really a great player?

Let’s look at those knocks against him again.

Career .813 OPS is underwhelming.

An .813 OPS while playing half your games in Safeco Field is a lot more valuable than an .813 OPS in other parks. The average OPS for a player in Ichiro’s context would be .746, meaning he’s been 19 percent better than the league average hitter during his time in Seattle. His OPS+ of 119, for comparison, is higher than Andruw Jones’ career mark (117). Johnny Damon has exactly one season where he posted an OPS+ of higher than 119 – that was 120, last year. His career mark is 104. Vernon Wells – 112. Torii Hunter – 104.

OPS also ignores two other things that are quite valuable parts of Ichiro’s game – baserunning and health. Ichiro’s among the very best baserunners in the game, adding 4 to 5 runs a year just with his legs. It might seem like a minor deal, but it separates him even further from the pack.

But health is the big key here. In his 6 1/2 years in Seattle, Ichiro has played in 999 of a possible 1,014 games. He’s played 98.5% of all Mariner games since he joined the team. He’s the most durable player going today, a guy who simply does not get hurt thanks to his insane stretching routines. He doesn’t take days off due to back spasms. His hamstrings don’t tighten up. He just doesn’t get hurt. He shows up to the park, every day, and plays at 100%.

No rate statistic, one that boils everything down to production per at-bat, is going to properly value Ichiro’s remarkable endurance. Not only does he play at a high level, but he plays every single day.

He doesn’t run enough.

Last year, Ichiro stole 45 bases and was caught twice. If you want him to run more, what you’re really saying is you want him to get thrown out more. Ichiro understands better than anyone watching at home when the probabilties of him taking the bag are in his favor. He could be a more aggressive basestealer, picking up 60-70 steals a year if he ran more often. Jose Reyes stole 64 bases last year, for instance, but it took him 81 tries to do it. Ichiro was 45 for 47. Are those 19 extra steals worth 15 extra outs? No way.

Ichiro doesn’t run as often as other basestealers. And that is why he gets thrown out at a far reduced rate, making his baserunning even more valuable than if he ran like a wreckless maniac. Ichiro’s one of the two or three best baserunners in baseball today. Complaining about how he handles himself once he gets on first base is like complaining about Albert Pujols’ home run trot.

He’s not a leader – He only cares about himself and his numbers – He’s aloof.

Pick your criticism of Ichiro’s personality, because there are certianly enough to go around. It’s no secret that most of the guys who cover the Mariners on a daily basis don’t like Ichiro. He doesn’t give good interviews even though he clearly speaks very good English, the quotes come through a translator and often don’t make a lot of sense, he dresses funny, he does his own pre-game routine, and he’s nothing like the stereotypical caucasion “leader” guy who calls team meetings, pumps his fist when the team wins, and gives quotes that makes the media’s job easy.

But you know what? There’s simply no evidence – none, whatsoever – that Ichiro’s unique personality has a negative effect on his teammates performance. He was just as quirky from 2001 to 2003 when the Mariners were winning 90+ games a year. Now that he’s surrounded by bad players instead of good players, it’s apparently his fault for not turning himself into an American Leader and making Horacio Ramirez not suck at pitching.

Give me a break. Every negative thing that fans believe about Ichiro’s personality is the direct result of an article written by a member of the media. We’re supposed to not like Ichiro because they don’t like Ichiro.

I’m a Mariner fan, not a beat writer fan. I don’t particularly care if Ichiro is a good quote or not. And I’m not going to let the personal views of a few 50-year-old white men color my opinion of Ichiro’s value to the team. He’s a great player, and the fact that he’s not beatwriter friendly doesn’t change that at all.

Ichiro is one of the very best players in the game. He’s a true star, a guy who is worth 5 wins a year over an average center fielder. He’s nearly impossible to replace, and he’s the main reason the Mariners are a .500 team despite some pretty bad teammates.

He’s going to be paid like a star this winter because he is a star. He’s an elite player at a premium position who never gets hurt and shows no signs of aging. The knocks on him are vastly overstated, and it’s pretty remarkable that we’ve come so far that we now have to write a post about how underrated Ichiro is among Mariner fans. But he is, and he shouldn’t be.

Also, we’re going to ask you to refrain from turning comment threads into sounding boards for your personal trade suggestions. It’s just not good content, and we’ll be proactive about deleting comments that head in that direction.

Game 42, Mariners at Devil Rays

May 23, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 143 Comments 

4:10. All the Mariners need to do to stay in this, to catch up, to take the division, is win, and win, and win. Today, they need to beat Casey Fossum, and Casey Fossum’s 3-3 with a 7.80 ERA. Win, dammit, win.

Fossum’s not-superficial stats: 45 IP, 10 HR, 12 BB, 26 K
Batista’s not-superficial stats: 45 IP, 6 HR, 14 BB, 26 K

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