Game 157, Mariners at Indians

September 26, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 92 Comments 

Sort of. 4:05, Safeco Field! First game of an actual, no-joke double header, folks. Wooooo! Beer sold all through the first game! Feierabend v Carmona! And the Indians are the home team, thus screwing up all kinds of Gameday-type features (Yahoo hasn’t been able to figure it out yet, for one). And future studies on home field advantage. Possibly park effect calculations. Good times.

Seriously, though, this is bargain baseball. Don’t miss it.

That’s it for contention

September 26, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 78 Comments 

I come not to praise the M’s, but to bury them. It’s over, officially now to confirm what everyone knew a long time ago. It was a good run for a while and then miserable to watch.

McLaren said he wasn’t going to play the kids until they were eliminated, and now that they’re eliminated, he’s said he’s not going to play the kids. Look, I don’t know – as much as anyone else, I’ll say not to listen to what a manager says but watch what they do, but the sheer size of the inconsistency in thought, guiding principles, and execution makes me want to tear my hair out and scream. At this point, you have to think he’s trying to compile as good a W-L record as he can for his resume and “keep me around next year” negotiations. Whatever. He stinks as a manager, and there’ll be plenty of time to hash that this off-season.

Many of our readers have said that if we’d been offered the team’s final record at the start of the season, almost all of us would have jumped at the chance, and — like last year — it was the glimpse at contention and the way that was wasted that hurts. That’s true in some sense, and certainly if they’d ground out a .525 season by winning consistently but lagging behind the Angels, our frustration with their shortcomings would show as disappointment and not resignation at another wasted chance and simmering rage over the institutional shortcomings that look like they’re going to continue to hamper the team’s ability to ever build a serious contender.

Speaking of which: play the kids already, would you?

Game 156, Indians at Mariners

September 25, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 122 Comments 

Felix Day! Woooo! The Indians are playing for the best record of any playoff team, and the Mariners are playing for the honor of.. uh… not being eliminated from the wild card race today? Veteran pride?

I don’t know, but check it out…

CF-L Ichiro
2B-R Lopez
LF-L Ibanez
DH-R Guillen
3B-R Beltre
1B-B Vidro
C-R Johjima
RF-R Jones (WOOO)
SS-R Bloomquist (IGNITION)

Off Day Reflection Columns

September 25, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 126 Comments 

Since the Mariners didn’t play yesterday, the local dailies all wrote an end-of-season retrospective, with Geoff Baker, Larry Stone, John Hickey, and Larry LaRue all tackling different angles, some with better success than others. If you only have time to read one, read Stone’s, as it is typical of his work – smart, well written, engaging, and the best thing published on the day he submits a column.

Here’s a few highlights from the other three, with a little commentary sprinkled in just for fun.


But before the Mariners get too discouraged, there just might be at least one hidden gem out there. And not a No. 3 guy, either, but a No. 1.

How about Zito?

The Giants offered him $126 million and seven years 10 months ago compared to the six years and $99 million the Mariners offered. Yes he had a bad year. But he’s always been able to pitch in the American League West. And the Giants, who just unloaded Barry Bonds, are going to be rebuilding for a while.

To take on his contract, Seattle would be on the hook for $116 million over six years. But if the Giants can’t compete short-term, it might be worth it to cough up some money to get the Mariners’ obligation closer to the $99 million they offered just to unload Zito’s monster contract. And the Giants could get some young talent they need in exchange.

Congratulations, John – the offseason hasn’t even started yet and you win the award for Worst Idea Of The Winter. The Barry Zito contract is one of the three or four worst in baseball history. The idea that Barry Zito is a #1 starter is ridiculously laughable. You can’t even defend the idea that he’s a #3 starter anymore. He’s an innings-sponge, a back-end starter that is marginally better than Jarrod Washburn. Even if you don’t want to use all these new-fangled performance metrics like “walks” and “strikeouts”, we could point you to his 4.63 ERA – you know, the one that is 3% below league average for a guy pitching half his games in a pretty severe pitchers park.

You don’t have to be any kind of statnerd to know that Barry Zito’s not a particularly good pitcher. That John Hickey is still clinging to this myth is just remarkable.

But, not to let Hickey wallow alone in ridiculous statement land, we get Larry LaRue chipping in with this:

Four seasons into his tenure as GM, Bavasi has improved the team’s record in each of the past three seasons, taking one of the older big-league rosters and turning it into the youngest roster in the major leagues.

Uhh, what? The youngest roster in the major leagues? Where on earth did he get that idea? Baseball-Reference lists average age for each team, sorted by both batters and pitchers, and, well, this isn’t particularly hard to research.

The Mariners hitters have a weighted average age of 29.9, good for 10th in the American League. The only teams with an older offense than Seattle are Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, New York, and Detroit. The average of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays hitters was four years younger than their Seattle counterparts.

Maybe LaRue meant the pitching staff?

Umm, no. The Mariners pitchers averaged 28.1 years of age, ranking 9th in the American League. The Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles all maintained their older-than-Seattle perch and were joined by the Angels and Indians. But every other AL team had a younger pitching staff.

How did this get written, or better yet, get past an editor? How do you watch the team all year, especially when they played a series against Tampa Bay so recently, and somehow come away with the impression that the Mariners have the youngest team in the majors?

LaRue continues on with these statements:

When Sexson was placed on waivers last month, 29 major league teams had the chance to claim him. Not one did.

This goes against numerous published reports stating exactly the opposite, as well as what I’ve been told personally. I’m pretty sure LaRue is wrong about this.

The outfield will bring back Raul Ibañez, Ichiro Suzuki and Adam Jones, and the team has a $9 million option on Guillen, whose strong presence on the field and off was an unexpected bonus.

And, of course, he totally whiffs on the fact that Guillen’s option is mutual, meaning he can void it and become a free agent. The Mariners can’t bring him back for $9 million next year – he’ll test the market if the Mariners don’t give him a multiyear deal.

Not a good effort by LaRue this morning.

And, remember yesterday’s veteran entitlement post? Well, Raul Ibanez offers up exhibit 8,432 in Baker’s article:

“The one thing I want to do is play every day,” he said. “I don’t get to control where, and I’ll play wherever they put me. But as a player, I want to see my name in that lineup.”

That’s right, team – don’t even think about platooning Raul Ibanez and his complete inability to hit lefties. He wants to play everyday, and preferably hit cleanup, where he can continue hitting like a middle infielder against southpaws. Don’t you dare disrespect Raul Ibanez by putting the best team on the field and giving the team the best chance to win. If it comes at the expense of his playing time, he’s not interested.

Don’t you love veterans?

One alternative is to trade Vidro while his numbers are high. Vidro is owed $6 million by the Mariners in 2008, which isn’t bad for a .300 hitter steady from both sides of the plate.

The problem is, Vidro can’t play the field often.

I find it somewhat ironic that, when the topic of trading Vidro is broached, the fact that he’s an immobile tub of goo who can’t run or field is a problem that every other team will recognize, but as long as he’s a Mariner, he’s a huge asset.

And, in a little sidebar, Baker offers up some offseason roster suggestions, including:

1. Trade for Brad Penny – giving up Brandon Morrow and unspecified other players. Penny is a solid pitcher – not nearly as good as his ERA would suggest, mind you, but still above average – but it’s unclear why the Dodgers would be looking to move him this winter, and they’d be unlikely to have any interest in the Mariners two best trade chips (Balentien and Clement), as they already have young established major leaguers at C/RF/LF. It’s something worth exploring, but I’m not sure it makes as much sense as Geoff does.

2. Sign Mark Loretta for $2.5 million. Loretta’s not a terrible player, and I’m fine with the idea of bringing in another infielder to give Jose Lopez some competition for the job, but I wonder if people realize that Loretta was disastrously bad in the second half of the year? If we’re told to believe that Jose Vidro’s second half surge was legit, why are we supposed to ignore the fact that Loretta hit .250/.301/.321 and that he’s turned into a pretty bad defensive player heading into his age 36 season.

Overall, Baker’s offseason makeover involves very minor changes – Penny replaces Weaver in the rotation, Jones takes over right field, Guillen moves to left, Ibanez goes to 1st base, and Sexson goes away.

Is that team better than this year’s version? Yea, probably. Is it good enough to beat the Angels next year? I doubt it. This isn’t a roster that is one player away from winning the world series. If the M’s are serious about building a perenniel contender, they’ll have to do more than this.

The Danger of Veteran Entitlement

September 24, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 82 Comments 

One of the main themes of the 2007 season has been the divergence of opinions on the value of veteran happiness, especially as it pertains to clubhouse chemistry. As we’ve talked about many, many times, we were in favor of putting the best players on the field in an effort to have the 2007 season result in a playoff appearance, while the Mariners were extremely reluctant to make any roster moves that would result in the veterans on the club feeling disrespected.

The Mariners bent over backwards to make sure that Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro, Richie Sexson, Jeff Weaver, and Horacio Ramirez were given leashes that would cross the Atlantic ocean, despite all having significant struggles for long periods of time that undermined the teams ability to win games.

All the while, the fans were fed a continuous line of defense of this please-the-veterans strategy from most of the local media. They had a track record. They had earned the right to fight out of the slump. The team owed it to the guys who got them in the playoff race in the first place to go the whole season with the same group. You’ve heard all this before.

Well, about 1,000 miles south of Seattle, we’re seeing the danger of an organization enabling their veterans to, essentially, have free reign over the clubhouse culture. The Los Angeles Dodgers have fallen apart in September, and it didn’t take the old players long to start telling the fans why the team wasn’t able to stay in the race:

Jeff Kent:

“I don’t know what it is, especially when you have a lot” of young players, said Kent, whose double Thursday raised his average to .298 to go along with a team-high 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in. “It’s hard to influence a big group. We’ve got some good kids on the team. Don’t get me wrong, please don’t misinterpret my impressions. [But] it’s hard to translate experience.

“I don’t know why they don’t get it.”

Asked what they don’t get, Kent said: “A lot of things. Professionalism. How to manufacture a run. How to keep your emotions in it. There’s just a lot of things that go on with playing 162 games.

“But I think experience can help more than inexperience. And it’s hard to give a young kid experience.”

Derek Lowe:

It’s become increasingly apparent in the last few days that the Dodgers have more problems than their lowly station in the standings, or as Derek Lowe put it, “The tension here is getting to the point where we have two different teams in [the clubhouse].”

Lowe, after spending a good deal of time criticizing his own inconsistent performance this season, added, “The last two or three weeks we haven’t been on the same page as a team, and you can see what happens when that’s not the case.”

The Dodgers’ collapse down the stretch, Lowe said, “wasn’t because of a string of bad luck; it’s just not a lot of people pulling together in here.”

Or, as Lowe put it, “you can’t have young players thinking they are bulletproof. No one should be bulletproof around here, walking around believing they don’t have to listen to anybody.

But “historically teams with a lot of young players don’t win championships right away,” Lowe said. “That’s something everyone around here is going to want to know — are we going to be playing young players so that they can have the time to develop and really be good in two years?

“What about next season? I’m going to be 35 . . . that’s a little unsettling for some guys who are under contract here. Do they already know the team they’re going to field is not going to be competitive next year?”

More than that, Lowe said, when it comes to mixing young players with a new crop of veterans next season, there has to be two-way respect.

“This has to be settled going into spring training,” Lowe said. “If there has to be a knockout, drag-out fight, so be it. But it cannot carry over where we’re having this same conversation. We can’t have the young players believing they are bulletproof.

“We’re also going to have to be very careful as an organization what kind of people are brought in next season,” he said. “If you listen to people here, the vision is to get even younger. You’re going to have to bring in players who are going to be all right with limited playing time.”

Luis Gonzalez:

“Look at the back of his bubble-gum card, and all those numbers compiled over the years, which tell you how consistent [Kent] has been,” Gonzalez said, “and consistency is what gets you respect in this game.”

The targets of most of this criticism? James Loney and Matt Kemp, both of whom were called in for a closed door meeting with both manager Grady Little and GM Ned Colletti. Earlier in the linked article, they discuss how Kemp showed bad teammate abilities by failing to properly meet Tony Abreu at home plate for a high five after he hit a home run to give the team a 1-0 lead the other day. In their eyes, this was simply more evidence that Kemp and Loney are not doing enough to help the Dodgers win the NL West.

James Loney: .331/.381/.528
Matt Kemp: .333/.367/.515

Loney in September: .395/.441/.721
Kemp in September: .358/.386/.507

James Loney and Matt Kemp have been, without question, the Dodgers two best hitters this year. They have literally carried the Los Angeles offense that was been dragged down by the poor performances of highly paid veterans Juan Pierre, Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, and Luis Gonzalez. And yet, when you hear the Dodgers veterans tell the story, the reason this team didn’t make the playoffs is that they had too many young players.

Lowe actually outright states that he’s worried the team is rebuilding by giving so many at-bats to “developing” players such as Loney and Kemp, worried more about the future than winning immediately. Because, clearly, James Loney and Matt Kemp’s presence on the roster is about playing for the future…

Keep in mind that both Loney and Kemp began the year in Las Vegas, having been given no chance to compete for a job in spring training thanks to the offseason acquisitions of veteran players to play the positions they have ended up taking by force after the veterans failed.

The Dodgers, through their heavy pro-veteran entitlement, have enabled bad players to publicly blame good players for the team losing. Think about that – the guys who are actually responsible for the Dodgers struggles are taking aim at the guys who have kept them in the pennant race. And, thanks to the ridiculous gang of writers who cover the Dodgers, the pro-veteran story will be written without challenge, and the 2007 Los Angeles Dodgers will be held up as an example of what can happen when you tinker with team chemistry by promoting kids from the minors in the middle of a playoff race.

Congratulations, Los Angeles – you’ve officially gone from dysfunctional to embarrassing. If you want to unload noted troublemakers Kemp and Loney, there are 29 other franchises who will gladly take those young punks off your hands. Good luck winning with your highly entitled, overpaid, and essentially useless veteran core.

But at least they’ll high five each other at home plate.

Off-day fun

September 24, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 62 Comments 

Angels clinch the West.
Indians clinch the Central.
Boston’s only a game and a half up on the Yankees.
The M’s are one Yankee win or Mariner loss from being eliminated from the wild card. You’d think then they’d start to play the kids… for a couple of games, which… standard rant goes here.

Good times.

Game 154, Mariners at Angels

September 22, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 100 Comments 

Batista v Colon! Wooo! 12:55, which I totally did not see coming.

Bloomquist at 3rd! IGNITION TIME

Game 153, Mariners at Angels

September 21, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 126 Comments 

Washburn v Saunders! Joe Saunders. You know him, right? He’s that one guy.

Jones in left, bats 7th. Ibanez takes over at DH, Vidro takes first.

Also, Dave adds that Jorge Campillo was suspended for four games, and John McLaren for tonights game, as the result of Campillo throwing at Vladimir Guerrero last night. Honestly, I’m not sure four games is enough – what Campillo did was ridiculous and petty. Don’t like Vlad showing you up when you gave up a HR on your 85 MPH fastball? Hit him in the back. Message sent, move on. Throwing at someone’s head shouldn’t be tolerated, and honestly, if Vlad had charged the mound, I’d have been rooting for him to get a few good shots in before everyone broke it up. It’s basically inevitable that a Mariner hitter is going to get drilled in the next few days and we’re probably going to see a fight. Let’s just hope no one gets hurt because Jorge Campillo wanted to be an idiot.

USSM on KJR an hour early

September 21, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 28 Comments 

Just an FYI, I’ll be on with the Groz a little early today – 1:35 pm out in Seattle. As always, you can listen here.

Rotation Building

September 21, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 142 Comments 

One of the main topics of conversation this winter will be, I’m sure, how to acquire some new starting pitchers. Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez are unlikely to be back, and the Mariners will continue their annual offseason pursuit of starting pitching.

Everyone knows the normal suggestions. Throw big money at a free agent (which, in this years case is, I don’t know, Carlos Silva?). Trade for an established frontline starter, even though those guys are almost never available. I’m sure you’ll hear names like Dontrelle Willis mentioned in rumors because, after all, everyone knows who he is.

However, I’d like to offer an alternate option, and one that will could make the casual fan write me off as a blithering idiot – make a deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for one of their excess arms, because they’ve got more good starting pitchers than they have rotation slots.

Yes, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They have too many quality starting pitchers. Really. I’m not kidding.

You probably know that the Devil Rays 2007 starting rotation has the 3rd worst ERA in the American League this year, posting a 5.15 ERA that is only better than the performances by the Seattle and Texas starters. Whenever people talk about the good young talent in Tampa, they always bring up B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, and Delmon Young, so the perception is that the team can hit but not pitch.

Well, perception is not reality, especially in this case. The Devil Rays, as we’ve mentioned before, have the worst defense in baseball and one of the worst in recent history. They’re absolutely abysmal at turning balls in play into outs. They’ve used guys out of position in up-the-middle positions for significant portions of the year, and while it gave them a good chance to evaluate what guys can and can’t do, it also sabotaged their pitching staff.

But, if we evaluate their starters (bullpens not included in these numbers) by fielding independent metrics, we see that they’ve actually pitched pretty well this year.

Team	BB/9	K/9	HR/9	FIP
LAA	2.83	6.97	0.90	3.90
CLE	2.21	5.64	0.92	4.01
BOS	2.83	6.92	0.98	4.02
OAK	2.99	5.93	0.89	4.16
TBD	2.99	7.63	1.18	4.21
MIN	2.34	6.58	1.23	4.30
NYY	3.11	5.66	0.92	4.30
TOR	2.80	6.39	1.17	4.40
CHW	2.59	6.14	1.20	4.43
SEA	3.11	5.83	1.10	4.53
BAL	4.07	7.02	1.09	4.57
DET	3.27	6.33	1.21	4.64
KCR	3.16	5.28	1.13	4.71
TEX	4.33	5.68	1.16	5.06

That’s right – the Devil Rays starters have the fifth best Fielding Independent ERA in the American League, ahead of Detroit, Minnesota, New York, and Toronto, all of whom are considered to have playoff caliber starting pitching. Yes, I’d have rather used xFIP for the comparison, but I don’t have team GB/FB/LD totals, and in this case, it doesn’t matter, since xFIP would tell the same story. This is despite going through the first couple of months with Casey Fossum and Jae Seo getting regular turns in the rotation. Those guys have since been replaced by actual major league quality arms, and while it may still seem tough to believe, the Devil Rays have a very good rotation.

Everyone knows about Scott Kazmir and James Shields. But it doesn’t stop there. Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson, and J.P. Howell have thrown a combined 390 innings and posted a 4.74 FIP/4.75 xFIP. Those are solid numbers for the 3/4/5 spots in a rotation, especially considering their cost. And, of course, that gives the Devil Rays six arms for five 2008 rotation spots, and it doesn’t leave room for top pitching prospect Jeff Niemann, who is essentially major league ready after succeeding in Triple-A and staying healthy this year.

Counting Niemann, the Devil Rays will enter spring training with seven guys worthy of a rotation spot, none of them older than 26, and all of them making peanuts. And they’ll have two more top prospect arms starting the year in Double-A or Triple-A, knocking on the door to the majors, in Jake McGee and Wade Davis, along with moderately interesting Chris Mason, who could be next year’s Andy Sonnanstine.

That is an abundance of pitching depth, almost all of it certain to be undervalued by the market, and a chance to acquire a quality young arm with a better future than a past. No, you’re not going to get Kazmir or Shields, but that’s okay – pick up one of Sonnanstine, Howell, Jackson, or Hammel (with Howell getting my vote as the primary target), and your rotation is instantly better, younger, and you’ve managed to keep your money to improve other areas of the club.

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