(Quick Roster Note – M’s have signed Tomo Ohka to a minor league deal. He’s going to hang out in Tacoma and act as Horacio Ramirez insurance for a few weeks.)
Good win for the M’s last night. Felix pitched better than the box score will show, consistently lighting up the radar gun for the first time in a couple of months and getting a ton of ground balls. Curtis Granderson’s double was the only well struck drive of the game, and everything else just found a hole. When he got in trouble, he busted out the knockout slider to get some swinging strikes, showing that the Felix we saw in Boston is still in there, ready to be summoned when help is needed. If it keeps him healthy, I’m totally fine with Felix not trying to throw a perfect game every start. Note to Rick Rizzs, however – Felix’s fastball command is still terrible.
Sean Green deserves his own post. I’m going to give him one eventually.
At what point do we ask if J.J. Putz has put himself into the Cy Young race? Through the awesomeness of Win Probability (which accounts for high leverage performances, making it a reliable indicator of what actually happened but not a great estimator of talent), we can show that J.J. has added 4.2 wins to the team so far, a full run better than any other reliever in baseball (Takashi Saito, at 3.1 wins, is second), and a win and a half better than the next AL reliever (Hideki Okajima, 2.7 wins). In fact, J.J. Putz is #1 in the majors in Win Probability Added, with Alex Rodriguez being .3 wins behind him at 3.9 Wins Added.
Because of the way they’re used, closers get a WPA boost thanks to the high leverage nature of their innings, but no matter how you slice it, J.J. Putz is currently having a remarkably valuable season. When Eric Gagne won the Cy Young award in 2003, he posted a WPA of 6.74 – Putz is on pace to blow that number out of the water. In general, starting pitchers are far more valuable than relief pitchers, but J.J. Putz is not your average reliever, and he’s not having your average closer season. The guy’s a true relief ace, and if you’re wondering how the Mariners are 14 games over .500 with this roster, he and Ichiro and reasons 1A and 1B.
And, finally, let’s talk about John McLaren for a second. Remember all the hand wringing over the team suffering a letdown when Hargrove left? Yea, that didn’t happen. This team hasn’t played any differently since the resignation. They also haven’t been managed much differently. McLaren’s used his bench a little bit more, but overall, he’s just maintained the status quo. And watching him set the line-ups and employ his bullpen, I have to point this out, because it just defies logic.
John, when it comes to platoon splits, pick a fricking side. Either they matter or they don’t. When you set your line-up, they clearly don’t. Left-handed hitters are 2 for 28 against Andrew Miller this year, a ridiculous .071/.156/.107 line that makes even George Sherrill envious. Right-handers, meanwhile, are clipping along at a .260/.356/.425 rate. So, who did you hit third last night? Raul Ibanez, he of the .245/.258/.298 line against lefties. Ibanez, predictably, went 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts, with his first three outs coming in rally situations with a runner on base. When you turned in your line-up card, you made a clear assertion – the left/right match-up is not as important as having your “best hitters” face their guy as much as possible.
Then, in the 8th inning, you faced a decision. You used Sean Green to get Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen out to end the 7th, and he looked like his typical awesome self, mowing down the two-all stars. Due up for the Tigers – switch hitting Mike Rabelo, left-handed hitting Sean Casey, and right-handed hitting Omar Infante. Sherrill has been the team’s best setup guy, and with a switch hitter and a lefty due up, he might seem like the natural guy to go to.
But here’s the rub – the Tigers had Craig Monroe sitting on the bench, and while he’s not having a great year, Monroe does have one skill – mash lefties. In fact, he’s hitting .333/.342/.609 against them this year, and he has a career OPS of .830 against LHPs versus .728 versus RHPs. Sherrill vs Monroe isn’t a good matchup in a one run game – Sherrill’s a flyball guy, Monroe’s a home run hitter, and one mistake ties it up. So, if you bring in Sherrill, you know they’re pinch-hitting for Casey, and you’re going to have a bad matchup, based on platoon splits, on your hands.
You brought in Sherrill anyways, sending Sean Green to the showers. Sherrill got Rabelo out. The Tigers pinch-hit Craig Monroe for Sean Casey.
And then you decided platoon splits mattered. So, out comes George Sherrill and in comes Chris Reitsma. Reitsma, of course, is a far inferior pitcher to Sherrill. But he’s right-handed, and Monroe doesn’t hit right-handers very well, and he’d be followed by two more right-handed hitters (even if not particularly good ones in Infante and Inge). With three righties due up, you went and got the team’s fifth best relief pitcher and stuck him in the game. Why? Because of the right-right matchup.
Why do platoon splits matter so much that you remove a dominant lefty for a mediocre righty in the 8th inning of a one run game, but they don’t matter enough to not hit Raul Ibanez third against a 6’7 flamethrowing southpaw who is absolute death to left-handed hitters. How do those two opinions coexist? Either platoon splits matter or they don’t. Right now, we’re getting the worst of both worlds, with line-ups configured to put automatic outs in the middle of the line-ups and inferior pitchers replacing our dominant lefty setup guy.
In the end, the decisions you made last night worked in that you won the game, but let’s look at their actual results. In the first inning, Raul Ibanez’s strikeout took 3% off the team’s win probability, as you handed Andrew Miller an easy out with a runner on base. In the 3rd inning, Raul Ibanez’s fielders choice took 3% off the team’s win probability, forcing Vidro out at second base and again hurting a rally. In the 5th inning, Raul Ibanez’s flyout to right field took 4% off the team’s win probability, again harming a rally by making an out with a man on.
Ibanez’s first three at-bats combined to make the Mariners 10% more likely to lose the game. This is what ignoring platoon splits gets you – a bad hitter in situations where the team needs a good hitter. I’d love to hear a rational explanation for this. How do you continue to justify hitting Raul Ibanez third in the order while tacitly acknowledging the power of platoon splits with your bullpen management? I just don’t get it.