Ding ding ding ding ding

February 29, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 63 Comments 

msb noted that we have a winner!

Cairo, or “I can’t believe he’s not Willie” is such a great imitation of Willie that McLaren will now be freed to use Bloomquist more! Which also tells you something about the daring nature of McLaren’s in-game tactics! Thrill to the thought of a year of these two together, occupying not one but TWO YES TWO bench spots every game, all season long!

baby wild horse, so cute, like Willie. Also, like Willie, a good runner. Which one gets all the press though? Bloomquist. It's like a horse can't get a break in this town.

(“baby wild horse” by plizzba and used under the Creative Commons license)

M’s radio deal up for renewal

February 29, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 32 Comments 

Mike Snow pointed out this article in the PI on the M’s radio deal, MLBAM, and the interesting complications of the current situation. Particularly, it’s interesting to think that for many teams flush with MLBAM cash, they might see a decline (or at least an end to the huge increases) in local media revenue as online technologies take away ears and eyeballs from traditional broadcasters

Another reason GMs are reluctant to sign Bonds

February 28, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 31 Comments 

I neglected this in my writeup the other day, but there’s a huge reason that teams are reluctant to sign Bonds, no matter if he’s a bargain and if he’s a perfect fit: they’re human, and the sports press will absolutely tear into them for it.

A lot of the weird, small moves we see at the edges of transaction wires are due to things we don’t know about: some guy is such a colossal jerk that the team waives him even though he’s a left-handed hitting backup catcher who can steal 15 bases a year. A minor league organizational soldier is called up for a week and given spot at-bats until he gets a major league hit. Two teams that could make a mutually beneficial trade won’t even talk to each other because one side’s still too angry about being dealt a pitcher with a bum shoulder years ago.

No GM wants to have to deal with hordes of national press calling him, clogging the clubhouse interviewing all the players trying to get dirt on Bonds. It’s probably not a big factor — a GM, after all, is supposed to take the heat if it’ll improve the team — but I can see where it would make a big difference in whether they lobbied their owner hard over it.

And for that matter, it’s probably even a bigger deal for owners, who look at the franchise’s marketability and long-term reputation.

As a cautionary tale, I present Tampa Bay. By all indications, some Tampa Bay people, including the manager, talked about Bonds. There’s no evidence they said “I wonder what it would take” or even contemplated what they’d do to fit him into the lineup. And we know that Bonds’ agent’s been actively lobbying teams to bring his client in, so the conversation probably went

“You think we should sign Bonds?”
“What’s the point? We’re the Devil Rays.”
“Just the Rays now.”
“Sorry, I keep forgetting.”
“No Bonds, then?”
“No, we’re rebuilding and we’re already going to end up doing a lot of roster juggling, let’s pass.”

For this, Tampa Bay became the story of the week. I present this SI.com article as an example of its kind.
Bonds’ bat not worth taking on his baggage

There’s a lot in the article about how Bonds is a jerk, a bad clubhouse presence, and then Omar’s quoted —

“Nothing against Barry, but having all the things that come along with having him here sometimes made it hard to concentrate on baseball,” says shortstop Omar Vizquel. “We’ll definitely miss a lot of the things that he brought to the table, but there’s a feeling now that we’re a normal baseball team again.”

That’s… well, I would have said nothing.

Do you hear that, Rays? A normal baseball team. There is absolutely no shot at normalcy for any team that signs Bonds.

What does normalcy get you, exactly? A congeniality pennant?

Which takes us to this gem:

For all the pop and on-base percentage he brings to your lineup, for all the fannies he puts in your seats, he brings more negatives.

I know we can argue about chemistry forever, but… really? If you’ve got a crappy DH and you put Bonds in and he’s only healthy enough to get to 300 at-bats and hits a little worse than last year, your team will win three, maybe four more games than they would have.

I don’t understand how you can possibly reason that press attention and having a surly guy in the clubhouse possibly outweighs that kind of contribution. Even if you want to say “it’s not worth it” or “you have a moral obligation not to sign him” I can’t see a reasonable weighing of the evidence that would lead you to the conclusion that adding Bonds to a team that needed him would make it worse.

To find players like that, you have to go back to the totally corrupt days of baseball and look to Hal Chase and Buck Weaver — people who were so dirty they threw ballgames for money.

But not to dwell on this particular article too much — I wanted to look at the larger point. You can find dozens of articles like this. It was an easy column for writers to churn out this week, and they took it.

My point is that Bonds has never had a good relationship with the press. Even when he’s tried to do better in interviews, make himself more available, the detente collapsed pretty quickly. His place as the lightning rod for steroid discussions is due in no small part to the obsession with making him out to be the worst villain.

Every team knows that Bonds’ signing will create exactly this kind of national story, multiplied — the Rays barely talked about Barry, after all — and that no matter how tame the local press is, Bonds and his successes, failures, and his effect on his teammates will be the story that’s told and retold, all season long.

If you’re a GM, or an owner, the possible payoff for signing Bonds and being right has to be immense for you to risk that kind of continual negative attention, knowing the only way you could hope to be redeemed in the public’s eyes would be to get to the playoffs – never a sure thing – and have Bonds perform extremely well in post-season play. And only a World Series victory would assure forgiveness from some fans.

The number of teams with strong ownership groups unafraid of that kind of sustained attack is smaller than the number of teams that could use Bonds. And moreover, you can understand why teams on the edge would be extremely reluctant to make it known that they were even mulling it, given the treatment Tampa Bay’s received for doing nothing.

A brief moment of thanks to the mods

February 28, 2008 · Filed Under Site information · 38 Comments 

Sooooo I’m going to say that the volunteer mod corp’s been great. No complaints, only minor power-mongering, continued good discussion. So I thought I’d share, because I frequently hear from people that disagree with the comment policy (generally because they’ve just seen something disappear, but often they’re just concerned.

Below, the horror. This is a new user’s first three comments:

Read more

2008 USSM/LL Community Projections

February 28, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

It’s back – we are once again joining our efforts with Jeff Sullivan and his crew over at Lookout Landing to give you guys the opportunity to create the 2008 Community Projections. We’ve spent a lot of time over the offseason talking about the different projection systems and how they think the Mariners are going to do this year, but this is your chance to make your voice heard. Using the wisdom of crowds approach, we happen to think that the combined readership bases of USSM and LL are quite knowledgeable about this organization, and have some real insights into how the individual players, and thus the team, might perform.

As has been shown in different analysis studies, a large group of informed readers can do just as well or better as the best projection systems out there. This isn’t just fans wishcasting into a spreadsheet; each of you has some valuable piece of information, and when we combine all those pieces into one big pool of knowledge, we come up with a fairly reliable estimate of what’s going to take place in 2008.

So, I encourage you to participate and take it seriously. You have something to offer, and this is one of my favorite things we do every year. The results will be a lot of fun to look at, and we’ll be doing posts on what the community expects from individual players as we go through spring training.

Should you choose to participate (and I hope you will), this year is going to be a little different than the last. Instead of emailing out links to individual player sheets, we’re going to send you a form with drop-down menus for every relevant player. It will look like this. You’ll have a while to fill it out, so don’t worry if you can’t do everyone in one sitting. Here’s how you do this: enter your data, and when you’re done with each pair of players (one hitter + one pitcher), click ‘Submit’. Then use the drop-down menus to advance to the next pitcher and hitter in the list. You can’t do more than one pitcher and hitter at a time, so don’t try. It’ll bungle things up, and that won’t be fun for Jeff and I when we try to interpret the spreadsheet later on.

Once we have all the projections, we’re going to plug the data into Diamond Mind and run some season simulations (using ZiPS data for other teams) to figure out what the community thinks of the Mariners as a team. This is the part to which I’m looking forward the most.

Want to participate? Great! Here’s how:

(1) Send an email to communityprojections@gmail.com with “Sign Me Up!” in the subject line from the email address you want us to send the form to

(2) Receive the form (will happen within 24 hours of your request)

(3) Before you begin filling out the form, check out this spreadsheet as a reference. This spreadsheet includes 2007 data for every player and an area for you to input some test data to see just what you’re projecting. (For example, the form doesn’t have an area that automatically calculates BA/OBP/SLG, so in order to make sure your numbers make sense, run them by this spreadsheet first.) If you want player data from earlier years, everything’s available in the player splits at Baseball-Reference, the greatest website in the universe.

(4) Within a week, submit your projections. If there are certain players that you don’t feel like projecting, skip them.

After we’ve sent out the forms and given people time to fill them out, we’ll begin to publish the results of the community projections here and on Lookout Landing. We’re also going to take your projections, plug them into the Diamond Mind event tables, and run some simulations based on your projections, which will give us a good idea of how well you think this team is going to perform, even though we’re not asking you to individually predict the team’s overall performance.

It should be a fun project, and it will be much easier to contribute this year with a form that can be emailed to anyone. So, if you’re interest in participating, send that email to communityprojections@gmail.com with Sign Me Up! in the subject line. We’ll send out the form on a daily basis, so you should have it within 24 hours of signing up.

Any questions, feel free to post them in the comments.

A goldmine of Howard Lincoln goodness

February 28, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 42 Comments 

Check it out.

Things that, on first glance, are provably false:
– Every year is a franchise record in payroll
– That they were sixth in MLB payroll, that they spent $113m on payroll (unless you want to buy their now-standard crazy every-year-inflating accounting)
– Payroll in 1992 was between $35 and $40m

Things that are not provably wrong:
– They’ve closed the gap between the M’s and the Angels
– “It looks like we’re heading in the right direction.”
– “we have one heck of a starting rotation”

Things that are at best misleading:
– “We’re not as large as a city or area of many teams that have lower player payrolls.” [sic]

Things that could be considered true:
– The Angels swept the M’s Aug 27-29 because they had better starting pitching (the Angels scored 8 runs a game, and the M’s had three poor starts in a row, though one of the Angels starts was Santana’s one-out disaster, when their bullpen carried them through the rest of the game)

Ichiro is, again, smarter than his manager and the press covering him

February 27, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 106 Comments 

ichiro ichiro ichiro

I know, our fanatical Ichiro devotion here at USSM taints our judgment of all things Ichiro. But I want to take a second and point something out.

McLaren is the manager of the Mariners. He made a comment about Ichiro being capable of stealing 80 bases, and his meaning was kind of hazy, but it appears he’s trying to put the idea in Ichiro’s brain. From mlb.com’s story:

“He has done everything so well in his career, winning batting battles and Gold Gloves, that the bar is set high for him,” McLaren said. “He’s a numbers guy, and I just like him and others to think, ‘I am capable of doing this.’ That [80] was a number I pulled out of a hat.”

Batting battles? Titles?

Great motivation there, McLaren. You’re doing a heckuvajob.

(イチロー photo by BobbyProm, cc-licensed)

When asked if McLaren’s forecast was possible, Ichiro said, “I could steal 80 bases … if I would get thrown out 70 times. When you run that much, there is a risk involved.”

Good point there, Ichiro. Ichiro’s a smart player, he knows it doesn’t make sense to run 200 times and get thrown out 150. He knows when he can take advantage of the battery to take an extra base successfully, and there are situations when it’s worth more risk. He’s awesome, is my point.

So. Jim Street goes on to talk to Harold Reynolds, who thinks that the running game puts pressure on the defense (sigh)…

The success rate during Ichiro’s seven-year MLB career is 81 percent (272-for-338), and his base-stealing percentage has been better the past three seasons (86 percent) than it was in his first four seasons (77 percent). That is a clear indication that he reads pitcher’s pickoff moves better now than earlier in his career.

His base-stealing rate last season was essentially the same as his first year, when it’s reasonable to assume he was a hair faster, but he attempted 70 steals that year — he found a lot more chances he liked and went for it. Today, he’s picking his spots with the same success, but not running as often. That doesn’t say “better at reading pitchers” to me. That says “continued awesomeness at knowing what his abilities are.”

Over the course of last year’s season, Ichiro ran 37 times and was thrown out 8 times, which is an 80% rate. It’s about his career average of 80%. 80%’s sweet. Above 75% is unquestionably a positive, and there are all kinds of stats and studies you can look up that put the break-even there.

Given permission to largely run whenever he wants, Ichiro’s picking his spots, he’s productive, contributing to the team’s success, and he’s shown season after season that his judgment is pretty outstanding. He’s not doing it as often as, say, Carl Crawford (50 SB/10 CS) or Juan Pierre (64/15), but Juan Uribe was thrown out 9 times and stole successfully once. Willy Taveras was 33/9. My point is, Ichiro’s fine. He knows what he’s doing.

Here’s a rough measure of Ichiro’s selection. He was on base 284 times (232 non-HR hits, 49 walks, 3 HBP) not counting fielders choices where he made it to first but the runner on first got thrown out (GDP? 7 all year). Of all the times he was on base, all the pitches he saw he could have taken off on, he carefully selected 45 times to take off where a play could have been made on him (so we’re not counting “took off, ball fouled off”). His careful selection resulted in a high success rate and a contribution to the team.

What if he ran every time — really, every pitch thrown where he was on base, he attempted to steal. He’d be thrown out all the time. They’d pitch out and even the Kendall/Estrada types would nail him more often (I have a whole other rant about that, but that’s for another time).

So unless you believe that Ichiro’s judgment isn’t good and that being way more aggressive about when to run would improve his judgment, that’s our range of possible outcomes:
Ichiro uses his superior baseball intellect: 80% success
Ichiro runs every pitch: let’s call it 15%. Instead of 37-8 he goes 42-240.

His 80% success rate gives the team a couple runs a year easily, and that’s a larger impact than it seems when I write it that way.
A 15% success rate and running every pitch would entirely destroy the value of his hitting. He’d be the worst offensive player in baseball.

Within that range, the actual success rate is going to vary a lot. If he picked the next best ten times to run, and they were 70% chances, he’d have been at 44-11 (+7, +3), which is still nice. Figure that each additional ten, the percentage goes down 5% again (and this certainly isn’t meant to be representational of the actual probabilities, I’m just working my way to a point). You can get Ichiro to go 57-19 on the season, a nice 75% success rate, and that certainly looks a lot more impressive.

The problem is that it’s not. Those extra 30 attempts have a success rate of 65% — he’s not actually helping the team by taking those, unless you believe putting the game in motion (and so on and so forth). Each of those thirty new attempts are counter-productive.

And to return to Ichiro’s quote, if you start the counter at 75% and drop the success rate 3.5% for every extra five attempts, Ichiro can get 80 stolen bases… but he gets thrown out 70 times, too (79-71, a 56% rate)

In a way, it’s like criticizing him for his defense. Ichiro made 424 put-outs last year. The franchise record for an outfielder is Mike Cameron’s ridiculous 485 in 2003. With Ichiro’s speed and good glove, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to break that. He just needs to charge at every fly ball hit anywhere, fair or foul, sprinting full-out, and knock other fielders out of the way to get there. It would certainly increase his putout numbers, and he could certainly break the franchise record… what could go wrong? (And how different would it be than than the 2008 outfield defense anyway?)

Ichiro’s right to shrug off the standard pre-season blather about running more, or better, or how awesome the Angels are. Unless you believe that by taking more chances Ichiro’s going to suddenly uncover a set of outstanding base-stealing chances that he was previously blind to, we should put our trust in him and continue to enjoy his play, rather than stretch to find areas of improvement where he is already doing an fine job.

Barry Bonds, Seattle Mariner

February 26, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 152 Comments 

It’s a little strange to me that everyone is so eager to say that the M’s won’t under any circumstances take on Bonds as DH. They’ve brought on Al Martin, after all, and Carl Everett, who was no PR fun either. They had Ben Christensen in the system, and he almost killed a guy on the field for no good reason.

The M’s clearly believe they can win now, and whether or not we agree with that, they could if they wanted sign Bonds, giving up only cash, and upgrade their offense hugely.

(Honey in Tutu cc-licensed from allspice1’s flickr stream)

Bonds, under various projection systems:
Bill James .284/.491/.588
CHONE: .272/.446/.558
Marcel: .257/.421/.488
ZiPS: .256/.456/.518
PECOTA: .235/.387/.447

All of them figure his play somewhat limited (300-400 PAs), which is obviously an issue. And his defense has been steadily declining (but it’s still not as bad as Raul’s). You could either DH him or play him in left, moving Ibanez to DH or wherever.

Whereas Vidro’s a .280/.345/.389. That’s a huge drop from even the worst Bonds projection.

If we take the team on their word that they’re close to the playoffs, then it should absolutely be worth it to sign Bonds and figure out how to make room later (Vidro as 1B? PH? Waiver-wire fodder?). It’s only cash, cash they’d make back if they made it to the playoffs.

Why not do it, then?
Is it more important to the team to maintain their steroid-free image? That seems unlikely, given the huge number of positive steroid tests in the organization. The damage is done. You could argue that Bonds is a particular lightning rod for bad PR and steroid criticism and hysteria, and there’s really no counter to that — he certainly is. He does and will continue to attract more attention than anyone else.

Is Bonds such a huge clubhouse cancer? Does the team really believe that the negative clubhouse energy from having Bonds would outweigh his contributions offensively, that a winning team with a good offense would have worse chemistry and thus drag itself down into losing, compared to a losing team with a bad offense that would lift itself up through the power of rainbows and unicorns?

And isn’t that McLaren’s job, to ensure that the team plays well, that its personalities are managed? What are they paying him for if they can’t bring in an upgrade like Bonds and make it work?

Is Vidro that valuable? There’s no way anyone can rationally believe that. Even if they fill the rest of Bonds’ time with a random AAA guy you’ll do better, and a lot better, and if you can keep Bonds in the lineup by being careful with his usage through the year, you could do quite well. Plus you dodge Vidro’s option.

Is the money too dear? No one knows what he’s asking for, but there’s no way it’s that much more than what they just threw at Silva. And Bonds would be a far greater upgrade. If this is the reason, every criticism that the team’s more interested in turning steady profits than truly competing is validated.

Is it because he might be headed to jail? There’s a ton of those guys, and they’re all at camp. Depending on the deal he’s willing to strike, you might be able to reduce that risk, but even if it’s a straight salary concession (you get him at 1y, $10m with the understanding you’ll be paying for his play in the penal league if things go bad) that contract is still a huge value if you get that half-season out of him.

If I’m honest, of course, I know that they’re not going to sign him, that they’re happy with Vidro and last year’s hollow high-average performance, and they think they can compete without Bonds. I know, I know.

There’s another possibility here, of course, that I haven’t seen mentioned, which is that Selig’s made it clear that what he’d really like is for Bonds to go gently into retirement, without another year of court battles and headlines. The M’s, as we’ve noted, have historically heeded the whims of the commissioner. I don’t know that we need that to explain why teams are passing, though.

Team DH LF Non-Selig reason not to sign Bonds
Angels Anderson/Morales Sarge Jr Want M’s to feel like they have a chance — they’re so cute when they’re hopeful
Athletics Cust Brown No money, rebuilding
Blue Jays Thomas ? Given legal problems, Bonds wishes to minimize border crossings
Devil Rays Gomes Crawford As long as they’re rebuilding, might as well be cheap
Indians Hafner Dellucci (?)  
Mariners Turbo Ibanez It’s all about being a family experience, Bonds doesn’t say "family-friendly" to them.
Orioles Huff Scott/Payton Angelos heard Bonds had some kind of degenerative hip condition.
Rangers Catalanotto Murphy? (With Bradley out, I’m not sure how playing time will end up.)
Red Sox Ortiz Manny No point.
Royals Butler Guillen They’re cheap.
Tigers Sheffield Jones Feel further offensive upgrade wouldn’t increase playoff chances.
Twins Kubel Young? Monroe? Cheap.
White Sox Thome Quentin Quentin’s a good player, and Ozzie feels Bonds wouldn’t sign on for new run-first, run-often strategy.
Yankees Giambi Damon Already will be struggling to get Matsui playing time.
Astros Lee Not an upgrade.
Braves Diaz Diaz may outperform Bonds next year.
Brewers Braun Not an upgrade.
Cardinals Duncan Not a large enough upgrade to justify headache. Also, LaRussa known for not tolerating players with steroid issues.
Cubs Soriano Not enough of an upgrade.
Diamondbacks Byrnes Not enough of an upgrade to dump Byrnes
Dodgers Pierre They can’t even figure out how to get Kemp and Ethier playing time, they’re not bringing in another LF.
Giants Roberts Doesn’t matter.
Marlins Willingham Cheap.
Mets Alou They feel Bonds wouldn’t be able to handle the media pressure.
Nationals Pena/Dukes Cheap.
Padres Hairston  
Phillies Burrell Stuck with Pat.
Pirates Bay Not anough of an upgrade
Reds Dunn Not enough of an upgrade
Rockies Holliday Bonds not the kind of clean-cut, good-character player they swoon over.

The list of teams that have $10m to spend and could clearly use Bonds is pretty slim: it’s the Blue Jays, the Mariners, the Orioles, maybe the Padres, and the Rangers. The Tigers could use him in left, but they don’t have a lot of incentive to make that extra upgrade. The Orioles and Rangers probably don’t see themselves as in contention, and Bonds is probably a one-year stop-gap piece. So the Blue Jays, Padres, and Mariners — it doesn’t take much to close the market there.

The list of teams that might sign him if his price approached free is larger: the A’s, the Devil Rays, the Marlins, the Royals, the Twins. And at some point, if he’s near free, everyone can sign him and upgrade their bench. We can reasonably assume Bonds’ price isn’t going to go down to major league minimum, though, and so whoever gets him will have to see that they’re getting $10m+ of value out of that half-season, and that they’ll be able to justify the risk by making a run at the playoffs, which really does limit it to teams in contention.

The Mariners would have to come to their senses about how they value several players already on their roster, swallow a huge contract no matter which one ends up getting cut, and be willing to take a lot of public criticism all while not realizing they’re probably still a lot farther out from contention than they think.

So no, it’s not going to happen, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t help them win games this year.

Later: Griffey! Seriously! There’s no need to talk about Griffey here! Really! Stop! Don’t do it!

USSM on KJR returns

February 25, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 36 Comments 

Okay, it actually returned last week, but I wasn’t feeling well enough to put up a post about it. However, if you enjoyed my conversations with the Groz last year, you’ll be happy to know that we’re planning on doing them every Monday at 2:35 pm pacific time this year. As always, you can listen online or just use your old fashioned radio and tune it to 950 am.

M’s announce rotation order

February 24, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 49 Comments 

I have no idea why you’d do this. Baker.


What’s more, the team intends to use Batista — if he’s needed — out of the bullpen in weeks where his No. 5 spot is skipped.

“He’s aboard,” manager John McLaren said moments ago. “He’s already volunteered his services.”

The M’s don’t skip their 5th starter. The only time they’ve done it is over the All-Star break, when they’ll re-organize as they go.

Anyway, it’s another fine example of the team’s obsession with roles. The #2 starter has to do something different than the #3 starter. The lineup needs a left-handed hitting power hitter with middle-of-the-lineup experience. The bullpen needs a left-handed veteran setup man. And on and on and on.

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