Youth And Experience Response
Okay, so, I really wasn’t planning on putting anything else up today, as I’m juggling about 34 things at the moment, but Geoff Baker’s latest blog post might as well be entitled “Why I Disagree With Dave Cameron”. It’s not actually called that, though – instead, it’s called Youth and Experience, but the point is the same – Geoff decided to lay out his case for why the veterans deserve to play everyday, and its no secret that I’ve been beating the drum for the opposite case for quite some time.
I can’t let that post just sit there. I tried, but I can’t. So, while this won’t be as in depth as perhaps I would like to go on the subject, I’ll at least hit the highlights and try to point out where I see the differences in our views. And please, keep in mind that this isn’t some kind of hostile argument – we’ve stated repeatedly that Baker’s done a great job on the beat this year, and he’s a legitimately good guy who I get along well with and have a lot of respect for. He’s not a shill for the organization. He has ideas about the game that I might not agree with, but are thought out and based on some logic, and he’s not just parroting what someone else told him. Geoff’s been a huge addition to the M’s blogosphere, and I’m certainly thrilled with the fact that he’s chosen to dedicate himself so thoroughly to the team and his job.
Okay, so with that said, let’s get to the post.
There has been a lot of online chatter recently devoted to the promotion of minor leaguers by some teams for the stretch run. Talk of how some organizations, unlike Seattle’s, are unafraid of throwing an untested player into the waters to see how they will swim.
That’s all good, but I think that some of the dialogue that’s taken place represents a gross mischaracterization of what’s actually gone on.
First off, there are very few parallels to be drawn between the Adam Jones situation in Seattle and the ones regarding young call-ups Joba Chamberlain in New York and Cameron Maybin in Detroit.
Essentially, Geoff’s taking the stance that we’ve been unfair to the organization in our characterization of their veteran friendliness, and goes on to explain how the situations that the Tigers and Yankees found themselves in are different than what we’ve seen in Seattle. In some ways, he’s right – no two situations are exactly alike. However, the general point that most of us have been making is that the other contenders in the American League are far less enamored with the allure of experience than the Mariners are.
It’s an undeniable fact that, of the six teams fighting for the four American League playoff berths, the Mariners are the ones who have been least willing to make changes to their roster to give their best prospects a chance to help them in a pennant race. This just isn’t an arguable point.
The Mariners have Brandon Morrow, Sean Green, Eric O’Flaherty, and Ryan-Rowland Smith as rookies holding any real role on the roster. All four are relief pitchers, and only Morrow and Green have been used in any kind of real high pressure situations on a regular basis, and generally, those two have flip-flopped roles depending on recent performance. Of those four rookies, the M’s are essentially giving important innings to one of them at a time, and here’s the kicker – the organization spent the last few days of the trading deadline trying to acquire a veteran so that they could reduce the role of said rookies. Not only are the M’s only leaning on one rookie in the bullpen at a time, but in their stated opinion, that’s one rookie too many.
The Angels, on the other hand, are running out a line-up that includes a rookie in Reggie Willits hitting leadoff, two up the middle guys who had a half season of major league experience last year in Mike Napoli and Howie Kendrick, as well as Casey Kotchman, a first baseman who had just over 300 career major league at-bats before 2007. And that’s just the offense. Their pitching staff includes second year starters Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders and a rookie spot starter in Dustin Moseley who is their #1 choice to step in for struggling veteran starters. The Angels punted a significant crop of struggling veterans (including Shea Hillenbrand, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, and Hector Carrasco) and replaced them with guys with little to no major league experience. And they’re going to win the American League West.
The story is the same with every other contending team. From Miller/Maybin/Raburn in Detroit to Carmona/Garko/Cabrera/Perez in Cleveland and Cabrera/Hughes/Chamberlain in New York all the way to Pedroia/Matsuzaka/Okajima/Lester in Boston, the M’s are the the pennant contender in the A.L. that is leaning least on inexperienced MLB players. That’s more a statement of fact than anything else – the real question, however, is whether that even matters.
If this was July 1, some of you might have a stronger case with me if you’d have argued that Jones had to be called up to share playing time with Raul Ibanez and Jose Vidro. I actually made that case right here on this blog back in early July, when Ibanez was hobbling around on a sore hamstring and his hitting numbers were heading south.
Ibanez on July 1 was in an 8-for-43 (.186) slump that was obscured by his .870 OPS in June. Within a week, it was an 11-for-64 (.172) slump in which Ibanez did not appear to be physically functioning up to capabilities. In fact, Ibanez had only seven doubles and two home runs from June 12 until July 24 — nearly a six week span. He would finish July with only a .503 OPS. For a guy the M’s were counting on for power, those numbers could potentially decimate an offense — which is why the calls for Jones persisted all through July.
Same with Vidro, who for three months had hit at a near .300 pace, but by July 1 had managed nine doubles, three home runs and a .697 OPS. Once again, a very risky power shortage for a team in which Ibanez seemed to be dropping off a cliff and which was still waiting for Richie Sexson’s bat to show up.
Here, Geoff lays out the reasons for why he was on board with Jones becoming an everyday player two months ago. Ibanez and Vidro were killing the team and a change was seemingly needed. The veterans weren’t getting the job done. But…
Jones was finally called up right at month’s end. But by then, some of the desperation that had existed earlier had quelled. Vidro managed six doubles in July — two thirds as many as he’d hit in the first three months of the season to that point. He’s added another four doubles and three home runs in August, along with the steady slew of singles needed to keep his bat over .300.
Since the All-Star Break, he’s hit .358 with an .897 OPS which is more than the team ever expected from him. And those numbers have been compiled over a two-month stretch, so the pace is being sustained — even with a slight dropoff here and there. Nobody goes through a season without slumps. But two months of near .900 OPS out of Vidro means there is no crisis, no desperation where he is concerned.
Ibanez worked out problems with his stance and swing and posted a 1.129 OPS with nine home runs and six doubles in August. When a player’s OPS goes over 1.000 you leave him alone. Defensive questions, unless he is committing an error per game, become moot.
So, there you have it. By August, the conditions of desperation that prompted the Tigers and Yankees to “go young” were not in evidence in Seattle. Based on Ibanez’s track record, the team had reasons to expect his OPS would stay above the .800 range it needs to be for the duration of the season. The .503 OPS of July appeared to be the exception rather than the rule.
Of course, as we all saw, Ibanez and Vidro caught fire for a few weeks, and helped carry the M’s to a strong surge that got them right back in the thick of things. And those few weeks of awesome hitting were enough to convince the Mariners, and Geoff, that sticking with the veterans for the remainder of the year was the best plan of action.
Baker then sums up the post with this paragraph:
But for the M’s and their wild-card hopes, they merely need the pair to keep doing what they’ve done since early-August. The winners or losers in MLB are to be determined over the next 3 1/2 weeks. This is about who has the best chance of putting up the biggest numbers in that short time-span. The M’s don’t have to make desperation moves to find room for Jones when they have two guys already putting up the numbers they need. And that is why, for now, Jones is primarily sitting while Maybin and Chamberlain keep on playing.
If I may, I’m going to try to restate the basic opinion that I feel Geoff is espousing in this post.
In July, Raul Ibanez and Jose Vidro had played poorly enough to earn a loss of playing time. Their recent performance, however, changes the equation, and they are no longer struggling to the point where the team should be reducing their playing times – they’ve earned their spot in the line-up on a daily basis by playing well since August.
From my understanding of Geoff’s opinion, that’s basically his point – the veterans have played well enough to not make their job status an issue despite the fact that the team is 16-15 since August 1st.
And this essentially boils down all of our disagreements into one basic philosophy – I don’t believe that pennant race playing time is earned. I don’t think that the best way to decide how to win games is to use at-bats and innings as a reward for things that have occurred in the past. I believe that’s a mindset that works as a motivational tool with children in situations where the outcome doesn’t really matter, but Major League Baseball is neither a league of children nor such a situation where the journey is as important as the destination.
The Mariners, just like every other team in baseball, should be in the business of winning the World Series. To do that, you have to qualify for the playoffs. For the Mariners to achieve a post-season birth, they have to win more games than the Yankees and Tigers in September. That goal – outplaying Detroit and New York for the next four weeks – should be the sole focus of this organization.
The question that Geoff frames the playing time debate as is, in my opinion, the wrong question to be asking. He wants to know “Who has earned their playing time?” I could care less about a discussion of whether Jose Vidro’s singles-fest from July 12th to August 14th (when he hit .413 for 104 at-bats) “earned him” the right to play everyday the rest of the year.
The question should not be whether the entitled veterans have performed adequately enough to keep their job status from becoming a question. Every players job status in a pennant race should be a question if there’s a viable better alternative. The only question that matters in this discussion to me is what mix of line-ups helps the Mariners win the highest percentage of their remaining 26 games. That’s it. That’s the only question we should be asking at this point. How do we win more games than NY and Detroit?
Obviously, I believe that the team has a better chance of getting a playoff birth if the team gets AJ into the line-up on a regular basis. We’ve laid the case out multiple times here, and if you’re interested in the specifics of why we believe that Jones helps the team win more than Ibanez or Vidro, you can find tens of thousands of words written on the subject.
But here’s the thing – that’s a different discussion than the one Geoff is presenting in today’s post. His conclusive paragraph isn’t a value discussion about the abilities and respective performance abilities of Ibanez/Vidro vs Jones. That’s not the argument Geoff Baker, or the Mariners, are making.
The frustrating thing for us is that the M’s, and in this instance our favorite beat writer too, is asking the wrong question. Penannt race playing time isn’t a reward to be earned and lost – it’s the role of management to put the best team on the field and give the organization the best chance possible of playing October baseball.
The Mariners may yet capture a playoff spot, but I’ll go to my grave defending the idea that they’re taking an inefficient course in trying to get there, and they’d have a better chance of pulling this off if they treated at-bats and innings as opportunities to beat their opponents rather than carrots to placate the guys who have been around for a long time.