Results of the attendance prediction contest

December 18, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

A long, long time ago, we asked readers to send in their guesses on what the high and low attendance at a game last season would be. The actual results:

Lowest attendance: 16,555 (May 2nd, hosting the White Sox)
Highest attendance: 46,377 (August 5th, hosting the Red Sox)

Going back through our email, I found that the best guess on the high *and* the low was by Perttu Soininen, who guessed 46,512 and 17,203 — only missing the high by 135 and the low by 648.

Congrats, Perttu. Good guessing.

Carlos Silva

December 18, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 87 Comments 

Okay, so, obviously, the initial reaction to the potential Silva signing isn’t very positive. But, I know a lot of people still just look at innings and ERA and say “he’s not bad – what’s the problem?” However, as your broker has probably told you, past results are not necessarily indicative of future performance, and the M’s aren’t paying for what Silva used to be, but instead, what he will be going forward.

So, let’s take a look at what Carlos Silva’s actual skills are, and how those project into 2008 and beyond.

What Does He Throw?

Let’s take a look at Silva’s Pitch F/X card, made possible by the hard work of Josh Kalk. What we see right off the bat is that Silva is essentially a two pitch guy, primarily throwing a low 90s sinker (his version of a two-seam fastball) and a low 80s change-up. He also has a slider, but he hardly ever uses it.

The sinking two-seam fastball has several basic characteristics that are true in almost every instance, regardless of which pitcher is throwing it – it’s average in velocity, induces groundballs, is fairly easy to throw for a strike, almost never gets batters to swing and miss, and is far more effective against same-handed hitters.

Pitchers who feature a two-seam fastball often show significant platoon splits on that pitch, and if they don’t have a separate offering to keep opposite handed hitters off balance, they can often struggle. Silva uses his change-up to keep left-handed hitters off balance, but it’s clearly not as good of a pitch as his sinker – he doesn’t command it as well, it moves less, and since it’s 10 MPH slower, it can be a meatball if it’s not located correctly.

The slider is essentially a show-me pitch, used only when he’s ahead in a count where he’s going for a strikeout, and he only throws it when he can afford to miss out of the strike zone and hope the batter chases a bad ball. As you can see here, Silva actually doesn’t bury his slider in the dirt the way most pitchers do (think of everyone who ever pitches to Adrian Beltre), but instead throws it towards the outer half of the plate against RH batters and up in the strike zone. Because he doesn’t have much bite or velocity on his slider, it’s not a true outpitch – only 11 of the 110 sliders that the Pitch F/X system registered resulted in swings and misses.

So, from this, we can see that he’s primarily a sinker/change-up guy, with the change-up being a below average pitch, and the slider really being just for show. In scouting terms, he’s a two pitch guy with only one of those pitches being better than average, and it’s a pitch designed to induce contact.

Why Has He Been Successful?

With stuff that could easily be described as below average and an incomplete repertoire that usually gets a guy with his arsenal sent to the bullpen, Silva could certainly be described as something of an overachiever. After all, he’s thrown 945 innings in his five year career and produced decent results. How has he managed to pull that off?

Well, to start with, Silva has plus plus command – he can generally spot his pitches wherever he wants at any given time. The ball goes exactly where he wants it to go a huge majority of the time. Because of his pinpoint command, Silva’s been able to essentially eliminate the base on balls from games in which he pitches (he walked a crazy low nine guys the entire season in 2005), reducing the damage his opponents can do to simply putting the bat on the ball. if they don’t swing, he wins, every single time.

This approach can work quite well against bad hitters or when you have superior defensive players behind you. By forcing the opponent to put the ball in play in order to produce runs, you increase the variable outcomes that can occur. If your fielders make a bunch of great plays on hard hit balls, and you’re not walking anyone, well, you’re going to get a lot of outs. Or, alternately, if the hitters are a bunch of pansy slap-hitting ninnies (think Reggie Willits) who are just trying to get a walk so they don’t have to show everyone how weak they really are, then throwing the ball down the middle exposes their weakness.

However, this approach doesn’t work as well against hitters who can whack anything in the strike zone. When you’re hoping the hitter gets himself out and the hitter turns out to be David Ortiz, well, you’re in trouble.

How Does This Skillset Project?

While Silva’s built a nice little career for himself, the list of guys who have been able to sustain a quality level of performance through the throw-average-stuff-right-down-the-middle path to success is remarkably short. Essentially, the margin for error when you’re living off your command is tiny, and any loss in command can have disastrous consequences. Unlike a power pitcher who misses bats and can still dominate even if he’s lost a few MPH on his fastball, command artists have very little to compensate with for any loss of their primary skill. If his command goes from fantastic to just good, then there’s very little difference between Carlos Silva and any number of the hundreds of guys putzing around Triple-A waiting for an opportunity in the majors.

So, Silva’s success is essentially predicated on his ability to retain his otherworldly command, and in the history of baseball, there haven’t been that many guys who have been able to sustain that level of command for long periods of time. There are a few, but the odds are certainly not in Silva’s favor.

Is He A Good Fit For The Mariners?

Well, they’ve convinced themselves that they have to spend money on starting pitchers, and he’s a starting pitcher who wanted money, so maybe the answer is yes. But, if you dig deeper, I’d argue that the answer is a resounding no.

Because of his specific repertoire, Silva has some obvious strengths and just as obvious weaknesses. He’s strong against right-handed hitters, especially ones who try to hit the ball in the air or are patient, walk drawing types. He struggles against left-handed hitters, and he’s always going to run a larger than average platoon split; teams with lots of left-handed hitters will light him up.

The Mariners play in a park that is death to right-handed hitters but extremely friendly for left-handed power hitters. In other words, the Mariners park and Silva’s strengths are not complementary – they both take out the same kind of hitter. So, while Silva will give guys like Mark Ellis fits during games in Seattle, there’s nothing stopping Eric Chavez or Casey Kotchman or Jack Cust from jacking his sinking fastball down the right field line. Safeco’s not going to do anything to help his struggles against lefties, and there’s a significant diminishing return in terms of Safeco’s value to helping him limit right-handed hitters. If he’s already shutting them down on his own with groundball inducing sinkers, the fact that he’s got a cavernous left field behind him just isn’t that big of a deal anymore.

While Jarrod Washburn’s skills are essentially the perfect match for Safeco, Silva is the exact opposite of the kind of pitcher Safeco was built for. It will still help him, but it will help him significantly less than it would a different type of pitcher, meaning that the Mariners are still not building their roster to suit the specific advantages of their home park.

In addition, the Mariners already have two right-handed pitchers who throw a lot of two-seam fastballs and struggle against left-handed hitters. In many ways, Silva’s weaknesses are exactly the same as Felix Hernandez’s and Miguel Batista’s, and a team with a strong left-handed lineup is going to love facing the Mariners starting pitching rotation.

Mariners Close to Signing Carlos Silva

December 18, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 153 Comments 

Per Ken Rosenthal, and confirming what I had heard earlier this morning, the M’s and Carlos Silva are not far from a four year agreement that would bring the strike-throwing, contact specialist to Seattle.

Yep – Carlos Silva, 4 years, $44 million. This organization never learns.

For Profit Business Adopts Capitalism

December 18, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 28 Comments 

The Mariners announced today that they’ll be adopting a variable priced ticketing system, where seats at certain games cost more than others and people get a discount for purchasing early. The headlines, of course, will simply read “Mariners raise ticket prices”, and articles like the one in the P-I will make useless connections between the players salaries and the price of admission to one of their games, but that’s not the story here.

The Mariners, just like Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, or whatever other profit minded enterprise you’d like to pick, are in the business of maximizing revenue. Pricing based on supply and demand is, of course, a basic tenet that every one of these companies use. The sports world is just finally catching up, eliminating inefficiencies in their ticket pricing and putting basic capitalism to work for their businesses.

This isn’t the Mariners raising ticket prices because they’re raising payroll, or those greedy players costing you more money to take your family to the game – this is the Mariners charging more money for tickets because people are more than willing to pay the price to attend games.

Despite what you’re going to be told, there is no link between the team’s payroll and ticket prices, and the raising of ticket prices doesn’t mean anything in relation to the roster. It simply means that a for profit business is figuring out ways to make more profit by applying simple capitalistic strategies to selling its product.

The Dream Scenario

December 17, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 131 Comments 

When I posted my offseason plan, I noted that it was made with the understanding that the front office has real limitations they have to work under – they aren’t allowed to just trade half the roster and pitch the executives on the concept of freely available talent, so I made the suggestions to comply with the structure that Bavasi and the rest of the baseball operations team are working under.

This post, however, ignores all that. This is what I would like to see the Mariners do this winter if there were no executives to yell that we can’t trade the marketable left fielder, no writers penning wishes for a frontline starter everyday, no season ticket holders to placate, no press conferences to deal with, and the front office was just allowed to shape the roster based on baseball decisions without any outside influences. This, of course, isn’t any kind of realistic scenario, but it will show where I see the weaknesses of the team and potential ways to address them.

So, here goes – if Dave controlled the universe and didn’t have to answer to anyone, the offseason would look something like this.

Lineup Player Position Salary
1. Ichiro Suzuki CF $17,000,000
2. Scott Hatteberg DH $1,800,000
3. Nick Johnson 1B $5,500,000
4. Adrian Beltre 3B $12,000,000
5. Geoff Jenkins RF $8,000,000
6. Kenji Johjima C $5,200,000
7. Adam Jones LF $400,000
8. Yuniesky Betancourt SS $1,300,000
9. Ronnie Belliard 2B $1,600,000

Bench Player Position Salary
1. Ray Durham Util $7,500,000
2. Willie Bloomquist Inf $950,000
3. Jamie Burke C $400,000
4. Wes Helms 1B/3B $2,150,000
5. Kevin Mench OF $2,000,000

Rotation Player Position Salary
1. Felix Hernandez Starter $500,000
2. Miguel Batista Starter $9,000,000
3. David Wells Starter $4,000,000
4. Bartolo Colon Starter $10,000,000
5. Edwin Jackson Starter $500,000

Bullpen Player Position Salary
1. J.J. Putz Closer $3,800,000
2. Sean Green RH Setup $450,000
3. Jeremy Affeldt LH Setup $3,000,000
4. Eric O’Flaherty Middle $450,000
5. Todd Coffey Middle $450,000
6. Cha Seung Baek Long Relief $450,000

Transactions that get us to this roster:

Trade Jarrod Washburn, Raul Ibanez, and Mike Morse to Philadelphia for Wes Helms and Adrian Cardenas
Trade Jose Lopez and Jose Vidro to Washington for Nick Johnson and Ronnie Belliard
Trade Richie Sexson and $4 million in cash to San Francisco for Ray Durham
Trade George Sherrill and Horacio Ramirez to Cincinnati for Scott Hatteberg and Todd Coffey
Trade Wladimir Balentien to Tampa for Edwin Jackson
Sign Geoff Jenkins to a 2 year, $16 million contract
Sign Kevin Mench to a 1 year, $2 million contract
Sign David Wells to a 1 year, $4 million contract
Sign Bartolo Colon to a 1 year, $10 million contract
Sign Jeremy Affeldt to a 3 year, $9 million contract

Quick explanations of why the other teams would make this trade:

Philadelphia adds the LH outfielder they’ve been looking for and another veteran starter to help fulfill Gillick’s old pitcher fetish while only parting with a utility player they don’t need and a prospect who plays the same position as Chase Utley.

Washington gets a toolsy young second baseman and relieves their 1B roster logjam, while Bowden gets a chance to trade Jose Vidro for young players for the second time in as many years.

San Francisco gets a first baseman at basically no cost and opens up second base for Kevin Frandsen.

Cincinnati creates a line-up spot for Joey Votto, continues to improve their bullpen, and gets an extra arm with a pulse for their rotation.

It’s a pretty significant gutting of the roster. Gone is half of the ’07 line-up, including the three DHs and the underperforming second baseman. In their place are a pair of high on-base left-handed first baseman, a slugging left-handed outfielder with range, and a serviceable veteran second baseman to hold down the fort until the shiny new second base prospect is ready in a few years.

On the pitching side of the ledger, the calls for a frontline starter are ignored, and the rotation is filled with two overweight question marks and an Australian kid with very little experience in the rotation. However, the key isn’t the three names in the rotation – it’s the guys who are still around, ready to take their jobs should anyone fail. Still in the organization are Ryan-Rowland Smith, Cha Seung Baek, Brandon Morrow, Ryan Feierabend, and Robert Rohrbaugh. The M’s would go to camp with 10 guys potentially available to break camp as a starting pitcher and to fill in for the inevitable nagging injuries that the new rotund pitchers will have to work through.

This team, while not perfect and filled with potential injury issues, would have a solid chance of taking the division if certain things break right – Nick Johnson’s recovery goes well and he plays a full season, either Colon or Wells are healthy and effective, Rowland-Smith or one of the young kids solidifies another rotation spot, and Affeldt/Green/O’Flaherty/Coffey can replicate some of the terrific performances the pen got from Sherrill and company in ’07. It’s all within the realm of possibility, and does give the team something like a 20-25% chance of knocking off the Angels and stealing the division title.

The beauty of this roster, however, is the 2009 team. About $33 million of the budget is coming off the books after the season, giving the team significant financial flexibility going into the future while retaining the core young talent to build around going forward. The team creates potential opportunities for Jeff Clement and Brandon Morrow to demand playing time through strong performances in Tacoma, keeps all it’s valuable trade chips for a midseason deal if the team is showing signs of being a contender, and realigns the organizational talent to better fit together and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

The defense is good (potentially terrific, depending on how Nick Johnson moves after a year off with a broken leg), the offense is solid and balanced with both LH and RH hitters who can get on base and drive the ball into the gaps (while also being perfectly setup to take advantages of platoon strengths), the bullpen is still good, and the rotation is good enough. No, it’s not filled with a bunch of big name Cy Young contenders, but for once, it’d be nice to see the team stop obsessing over the quality of a couple of pitchers and figure out that teams win baseball games, not starting pitchers.

Of course, none of this is going to happen, and a lot of it couldn’t happen even if the front office wanted to be so radical, but it is at least nice to dream every once in a while.

Kuroda to Dodgers

December 15, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 73 Comments 

Alternate headline: “M’s lose out on Kuroda, plan franchise suicide.”

Hiroki Kuroda is signing with the Dodgers for three years and a reported $36 million, taking less money from L.A. than the M’s offered. I think they probably dodged a bullet here, personally – $12+ million per year for Kuroda just has no upside and a whole lot of downside.

However, since the M’s are intent on bringing in two veteran starters this winter and now have to go to Plan B, we’re going to here talk about two things – trading for Erik Bedard and signing one of the remaining mediocrities to a stupid contract. Just say no to Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, and pitchers of that ilk – the M’s simply don’t need any more overpaid pitch to contact veteran starters, despite the stupid cries about the requirements of upgrading the rotation.

I didn’t want Kuroda, but honestly, I have no faith in this organization to have any kind of real backup plan that isn’t simply panic based. I fully expect the rest of the offseason to be a total disaster. It doesn’t have to be, of course; Bartolo Colon’s still sitting out there, and they could actually work on improving the rest of their roster as well, but unfortunately, we don’t root for an organization that wise.

A’s trade Haren to Diamondbacks

December 14, 2007 · Filed Under General baseball · 40 Comments 

The A’s have been in a weird situation: unable to keep reeling off division titles for $1/year, they were looking at having to rebuild. The squad this year was almost certainly not going to reach the playoffs, especially with the Angels looking so strong again. It may take over 90 wins to finish the season in the wild card race, and they’re just not 90-win good. But they don’t have a lot to rebuild on, either, and any effort should be targeted at putting the best team possible on the field when they open in their new stadium.

So they dealt Haren to the Astros, and got back… let’s see here

Oakland gives up
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Connor Robertson

and gets back
OF Carlos Gonzalez (#1)
LHP Brett Anderson (#3)
OF Aaron Cunningham (#7)
1B Chris Carter (#8)
LHP Dana Eveland
LHP Greg Smith

That number’s the Baseball America prospect rating.

I’m not the minor league talent evaluator Dave is, but it certainly looks way, way sweeter than the Tejeda deal, say, but not as good as what the Twins were rumored to be getting for Santana.

Mitchell Report

December 13, 2007 · Filed Under General baseball · 206 Comments 

Soon the results of baseball’s oft-halting, sometimes stymied, pearls-clutching investigation into how in the world those steroids got into the game will be announced. It supposedly includes some eighty names, and will probably include past Mariners. Possibly present Mariners, who knows. If advance leaks are to be believed, it credits MLB with trying to impose testing without noting how baseball squandered previous opportunities to implement a program with receptive players, or the circumstances that led to the union being so adversarial.

After which, Selig has his own conference, in which he’ll say “we appreciate these findings and all the hard work, so on and so forth, and we’ll do what we can.”

Most of the advance recommendations of the report I’ve seen are quite good, and baseball would be well-served to implement them — though I’ll wait on talking about the pros and cons at length until we see them. And, despite my reservations about the whole exercise, I’m pleased that those recommendations are reasonable, and don’t involve, say, torturing randomly-selected players until they finger others before banning them for life.

Inevitably, though, the story today’s going to be names, which is unfortunate. Still, I hope after the initial hysteria, there’s progress made.

M’s deal Broussard, keep HoRam

December 13, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 45 Comments 

Yesterday was the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players or let them become free agents. The Mariners decided that Ben Broussard didn’t fit in their plans for 2008 and would have non-tendered him, but the Rangers stepped in and gave them a C- prospect so that they wouldn’t have to bid for him as a free agent. Broussard should get a decent opportunity in Texas, and the M’s get something instead of nothing, though Tim Hulett is about as close to nothing as you can get back in a trade. If he continues to develop and everything goes well, he’ll be a backup infielder. Hulett’s lack of a future isn’t any kind of indictment on the M’s trading abilities, though – there just wasn’t much of a market for Broussard.

On the other hand, the M’s decided to keep Horacio Ramirez, apparently believing their own lies that he was just confused and poorly coached last year. You have to wonder what it will take for this organization to realize how to evaluate pitching talent correctly – Horacio Ramirez is a Triple-A arm, and that should be pretty obvious to anyone who watches baseball with even a casual eye. This was obvious last year when the M’s traded for him, and his horrendous year in Seattle didn’t make him any more valuable. That they’re willing to give a replacement level pitcher millions of dollars to try to resurrect some potential he’s never had is just a continuing sign that the Mariners don’t have any better of an idea of what makes a good pitcher now than they did twelve months ago.

And Tejada moves

December 12, 2007 · Filed Under General baseball · 70 Comments 

The Orioles get five players for the declining, expensive, and increasingly immobile shortstop. Wow.

Dave adds: The five players aren’t very good. A couple of back-end starters without much upside, a run of the mill corner OF, and a pair of fringe prospects. Of course, I don’t think much of Tejada either. Both teams still stink, but the Orioles save some money and don’t get demonstrably worse, so I guess they win the trade.

Also, Jeff Kent’s agent on Kent’s return:

“He is actively pursuing his customary and rigorous offseason conditioning and weightlifting program, and is very focused on helping his team win the World Series this year,” Klein wrote. “He asked me to wish all of you and your families a happy holiday season.”

Doing a lot of truck washing, then?

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