Some thoughts

Dave · July 13, 2007 at 7:28 am · Filed Under Mariners 

(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.


112 Responses to “Some thoughts”

  1. Keith Law on July 13th, 2007 5:46 pm

    Indeed, my article today included some pretty sloppy mistakes. I apologize for that. But I do think there’s merit in the argument that the team is playing above expectations, and that their W-L record is better than their actual performance has been.

    As for why I didn’t mention Sherrill, I’ve seen him twice this year, and his stuff wasn’t very good. I recognize that his #s this year are out of sight, but without an easy way to reconcile that with 1) stuff I didn’t think was that good and 2) a mediocre track record, I didn’t offer an opinion on him because I couldn’t offer a reasonable one. I tried to limit myself as much as possible to players I had a good feel for, and he wasn’t one of them.

  2. Sammy on July 13th, 2007 5:58 pm


    Mediocre track record? Have you looked at his numbers against lefties last year? I, along with everyone else that watches this team regularly, can guarantee you that he’s the third best guy in our pen against righties (after Putz and a surprising Green) and the best lefty-killer in the league, bar none.

    In general, I thought your overall conclusion was accurate, but your reasoning was overly simplistic. To say our lineup consists of Ichiro + a bunch of crappy hitters doesn’t really do justice to the overall strength of our lineup top to bottom, nor to the solid seasons being had by Johjima, Lopez, or Beltre.

  3. Sammy on July 13th, 2007 6:08 pm


    It occurred to me that “third-best option” doesn’t exactly sound like the highest praise; I suppose that’s a reflection of just how fantastic this bullpen is. Do you realize the M’s are 42-2 in games they lead after the 7th?

    By the way, pythags underrate this team a bit. I realize that every team has blowout victories and blowout losses, but we’ve had more than our fair share of the latter. Jeff Weaver’s six starts were historically monstrous. Check this list out (via one of the commenters at Lookoutlanding):

    L 14-3
    L 11-2
    L 6-1
    L 8-3
    L 8-1

    L 16-1
    L 17-3

    Total RA: 80
    Total RS: 13

  4. Sammy on July 13th, 2007 6:08 pm

    Make that 39-2, sorry

  5. Keith Law on July 13th, 2007 6:13 pm


    My reasoning was simplistic, absolutely. It was a short take on a subject that deserved a longer treatment. I won’t make excuses for that.

    As for the lineup, when I saw the M’s live, I pretty much had the hitters in two categories: Ichiro and Beltre, and everyone else. (That’s not quite fair – Johjima was OK, but he looked very vulnerable on stuff down.) Ichiro’s VORP is 36% of the team’s total, 34% if you knock out the sub-zero guys. Lopez is having a decent year average-wise, but his plate discipline is horrendous. Someone might want to alert him to the existence of the “slider.” And he was beyond lazy in the field in those games. Granted, it was a limited look, and maybe there was something else going on. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that Ichiro accounts for a significant amount of their offense.

    Regarding Sherrill, I did check his ’06 splits, and I had seen that 43% of righties reached base against him, same as in 2005 (tiny sample). So does what he’s done against 41 righties this year mark a legitimate change in his abilities? I couldn’t answer that question, so I didn’t try to.

    One question you folks might be able to answer for me: Is there some reason Yuniesky Betancourt can’t be bothered to run out a groundball?

  6. lokiforever on July 13th, 2007 6:35 pm


    Thanks for coming by to share your views and respond professionaly to some of the critiques offered here. You have Cyber balls.

    One of the critiques, 71, suggested the tone veered from one side to the other…ironically, the articles posted here at USSMariner are at times optimistic and and others pessimistic, as is the mood with us M’s fans over the course of a season. Today, and this last week, we’re all particularly giddy.

    I thought the article was good, (save the handedness bit with the pitchhers, an honest oversight)

    Thank you for showing the M’s some love.

  7. Sammy on July 13th, 2007 6:57 pm

    Re: Betancourt

    Nope, we can’t answer that for you, though we’d like to. Betancourt is one of the largest sore spots of the season for us. Despite his flashes of speed, he’s not a very good basestealer, either. We expected about what we saw last year: .280 average with a bit of pop, no plate discipline, and all-world defense. So far he’s underperformed our expectations offensively, and, despite brilliant plays at short, he makes frequent lapses in concentration on routine grounders and overthrows Sexson at first.

    Lopez has improved markedly on the field this year; he’s easily one of the five best defensive 2Bs in the league. He does seem to miss a ball here and there that he should have gotten, but the times I think that are far and few between. You’re right that he has no plate discipline, but he does have consistent line-drive power and he’s starting to show that. Our whole lineup consists of hackers, and, while it can be extremely frustrating at times, I don’t believe a high .280 batting average is unsustainable for this lineup, not with Beltre and Sexson coming on the way we expect them to.

    I’ll second loki and say that I had absolutely no expectation you would come over here and talk things over face to face (so to speak); that’s a significant amount of respect to be shown by a national columnist, and I do sincerely appreciate it.

  8. Keith Law on July 13th, 2007 7:00 pm

    Loki – you’re welcome. I thought I did a poor job, and when Dave Cameron dropped me a note about the handedness stuff (and that Morrow had lost his setup job), I thought it was only fair to come over and take my lumps.

    I originally wanted to write the article because I thought there was an interesting story here, because the team is so far outplaying preseason expectations. But then I saw them live, and walked away feeling like I’d just seen a .500 team. There wasn’t an easy way to reconcile what I saw with their W-L record.

  9. gwangung on July 13th, 2007 7:07 pm

    I’m not sure the USS Mariner group think that far away from Keith’s analysis, other than we’re fairly higher on the bullpen than he is (given that, say, Sherrill is death on lefthanders and seems to be used as a LOOGY, that data could be used more). I think we’re somewhat mystified as to the extent of the success of the team, just like the national writers; but I don’t think we’re complaining.

    [as far as the offense is concerned…is there an effect from having a team of decent hitters? Traditionalists TALK about the lineup having “no holes” but does that really translate into real world results?]

  10. Christopher Michael on July 13th, 2007 7:45 pm

    I might not agree with your writing but it does help to read more into your thoughts on the matter. Glad you stopped by and explained yourself a bit more. Shows character and accountability.

  11. Cap on July 13th, 2007 9:10 pm

    Maybe this is something, maybe it isn’t: When you remove 3 games from the Mariners first-half results (4/10, 6/22, 7/3, a combined -40 run differential), the run differential on the season takes a huge leap forward into a realm more accurately reflecting their overall record. The argument can be made with every team, but this is a very large run differential over only 3 games during the first half of the season. This data makes me wonder if a case can be made against the “run differential argument” as to why the M’s shouldn’t just be a .500 team. I’d appreciate some thoughts on this. Thanks!

  12. Sammy on July 13th, 2007 9:20 pm

    You made your own argument:

    The argument can be made with every team

    Every team has a few huge blowout losses. I think what sets us apart is the sheer number of these losses compounded by the fact that the vast majority came from one pitcher during a month and a half long span.

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