Derek’s gigantic pre-Opening Day Mariner post-o-rama
I’m still sick, so there’s been little to do but sit around and write a couple thousand words about the M’s as they go into Opening Day. Please do note there’s a lovely post by Dave under this one.
SP-L Erik Bedard
SP-R Felix Hernandez
SP-R Carlos Silva
SP-L Jarrod Washburn
SP-R Miguel Batista
Iâ€™ve heard that this is going to be the best Mâ€™s rotation ever, and I beg to disagree. Bedard and Felix are great, no doubt, but I submit for your consideration a couple of other candidates.
First, the 2001 rotation. 2001 doesnâ€™t have the top-line names, but they ran out Freddy Garcia (the good version), Jamie Moyer, Aaron Sele (the good version), scrap-heap find Paul Abbott, and by the end of the season, Joel Pineiro, who ran off a crazy late-season surge. Paul Abbott threw 163 innings of average baseball, and he was the #4 starter. That was a sweet rotation. Sure, they were backed by a fine defense, but that was a good rotation top to bottom (which is part of why the 116 wins didnâ€™t translate, but thatâ€™s a whole other post).
An even better and less-remembered staff might be the 1990 and 1991 teams.
The 1990 staff was Erik Hanson, Randy Johnson, Matt Young, Brian Holman, and some scraps. The pitching staff allowed 674 runs as a whole, but those top four guys gave up 389 runs allowed in 870 innings (Matt Young pitched in relief once, I didnâ€™t take the time to chase that out) for about a 4 RA/9 and a 3.5 ERA â€“ in the Kingdome.
In the Kingdome! That staff rocked. Then in 1991, you get future TV talking head Bill Krueger starting 25 games and kicking butt instead of Matt Young. That yearâ€™s pitching staff only allowed 680 runs total!
I know, they were almost twenty years ago. But holy mackerel, that was a good pitching staff.
Bedard/Felix is a great 1-2, but I wonder if the rest of those guys are anywhere close.
And in terms of the best 1-2-3, I have to go with the Johnson-Moyer-Fassero 1997 team. Ridiculous. They went 53-18. 52-18 if you throw out Randyâ€™s vulture win.
Does pointing this out make me a bad fan, though? Because before I talk about Bedard, thereâ€™s something else to deal with.
I donâ€™t understand part of the discussion around the Bedard trade, and Iâ€™ll try talk about that and explain why I find it so frustrating. We take a lot of crap around here for supposedly being too negative. Both Dave and I were huge fans of George Sherrill and Adam Jones, in our own ways. This does not get counted in our favor. Then when they were traded, an honest disclosure of my opinion on the trade (it was bad) and my feelings about the trade (I hate to see Jones go) even as we look forward to seeing Bedard pitch for the Mâ€™s (I do) is taken as being down on the team. Or being too attached to prospects, while being too enthusiastic about an Mâ€™s prospect is not a point in our favor.
Or season predictions. When Iâ€™ve been high, I donâ€™t hear a chirp, but being low by a couple games last year, well, how dare I not predict the Mâ€™s would win that many games! Canâ€™t win for losing. If someone thinks that weâ€™re too negative, thereâ€™s seemingly no way to break out of it. Theyâ€™re going to keep emailing us their opinion of the number and size of dicks we have in our mouths (because our disagreement equals our homosexuality). Which in itself is a depressing indicator on humanity in general, but I digress from my digression.
All this goes to a larger issue of what it means to be a fan. When I was one of a couple thousand people in the Kingdome, watching the Mâ€™s find ever more frustrating ways to give games away to their opponents like it was a promotion (first visiting team gets a win!), I always believed that as bad as things were now, they would eventually get better, and weâ€™d beat those annoying Blue Jays, and Yankees, and the hated Aâ€™s and Brewers. But I never denied that the team in front of me was pretty bad. When I was skipping classes to see day games, and Iâ€™d get to the stadium to find out John Cummings was starting, I didnâ€™t yell â€œwoo-hoo!â€
Thatâ€™s just me. I have faith in the long term, and Iâ€™m realistic about the short-term. This may help explain why Iâ€™m particularly attached to players I think can contribute to a winning core the team can build around, like Ichiro, Felix, or even what I saw in Adam Jones.
This is part of my day job: making things happen requires me to know as much as I can about whatâ€™s going well and whatâ€™s going badly right now, while keeping the long-term vision on the release date and figuring out how we get there from where we are.
Thatâ€™s the overlooked theme of my USSM writing, and I wish I was better about consistently expressing it clearly. I want what everyone else wants: a World Series win.
This is what I love in some of Daveâ€™s posts. We get not only why ERA is deceptive in evaluating a pitcher, but how to do it better. I try and talk about the bench in terms of bench construction, rosters as part of a larger discussion about team building, and on and on and on.
I can see why my reaction to other peopleâ€™s opinions comes off strangely. If someone told me they thought the Mariners will win 95 games, Iâ€™d probably give them a blank look. And then theyâ€™d wonder why I wasnâ€™t happy to hear it. This goes back to the fundamental divide: that news doesnâ€™t affect anything, and I donâ€™t see why their belief that the team will win 95 games is something I should rejoice in.
Let me give a work example instead. Iâ€™m working on a project thatâ€™s in trouble. It started with an aggressive timeline, and everythingâ€™s gone haywire since then: it turned out to be more difficult than we thought, half the teamâ€™s had the flu and missed more than a week each, and thatâ€™s just the start of it. I spend all my time working on mitigation, trying to fix broken stuff, make the problems that are holding progress up go away or at least make them less painful.
Someone stops me in the hall and says â€œYour projectâ€™s going to come in on time!â€
Thanks! But that changes nothing, and if it is going to come on time, I need to go back to work.
Now if they offered me some additional information, thatâ€™d be different.
Steve Phillips at ESPN, or any other supposed analyst or writer thinks the Mâ€™s are going to win the division, or go to the World Series? Okay. Iâ€™d love to hear some insight into how that comes together.
I have come to realize that for many people, all of this I might as well wear a name tag that says â€œ#1 Angels fanâ€ or something. Sorry. I wish people didnâ€™t take that so personally.
To Bedard. Iâ€™m a little worried about whether heâ€™ll get to 200 innings or start thirty or more games, but even if he doesnâ€™t, heâ€™s great. Barring a total collapse in his performance, Bedard is going to be the best starting pitcher the teamâ€™s seen since Moyerâ€™s amazing 2002-3 run. Thatâ€™s huge. Itâ€™s exciting. Iâ€™m excited.
Felix. Heâ€™s still young. Heâ€™s still mostly just flinging stuff from the mound to the catcher. If he doesnâ€™t progress much at all, heâ€™s still very good. If he starts to pick his pitches better, work them more consistently, and especially if he hones his command of his fastball a little, heâ€™ll rack up the wins like crazy. Heâ€™ll strike out a batter an inning and threaten to pitch a no-hitter once a week. Hereâ€™s hoping.
Now, the rest of the staffâ€¦ I donâ€™t like the Carlos Silva signing. Picking up Silva was like acquiring Ryan Franklin after he put up that 3.57 ERA in 2003. Silvaâ€™s not that good. He doesnâ€™t offer a significant upgrade over a guy like â€“ just to pick a random example â€“ Baek. If both of them were in the rotation, Iâ€™d give you even odds for which one finished with better stats. Iâ€™d probably discount Silva, now that I think about it. Weâ€™ll see, of course, but the potential good outcome of this deal is that Silvaâ€™s another Washburn, who eats innings and pitches well enough to avoid notice.
Which brings us to Washburn. Who is Washburn. This defense isnâ€™t going to do him any favors. Ugh.
And Batista. I like to watch Batista pitch. Thereâ€™s something weirdly hypnotic about how he gets his outs. Itâ€™s like watching Bosio, in a way: Batista doesnâ€™t have great stuff, and youâ€™ll see sometimes he has to really labor to get his three outs each inning, but he ticks along. And I donâ€™t know why I enjoy seeing Batista pitch over Washburn, when the end result is so similar, but I do.
The ideal scenario, and this will tie into the bullpen section, is that Morrowâ€™s put back on the starter track. We canâ€™t know if heâ€™ll be ready next year, or whenever, but it would be amazingly productive to have a start-capable Morrow ready to replace Washburn/Batista down the road.
I donâ€™t want to neglect the pleasure of not having to see Jeff Weaver or Horacio Ramirez. I donâ€™t think Jeff Weaverâ€™s even signed anywhere yet. Thatâ€™s a long fall in a short time. Carlos Silva may be adequate, and we donâ€™t look forward to adequate, but thatâ€™s a huge improvement over the stomach-knotting dread of seeing HoRamâ€™s name as the dayâ€™s probable starter. Letâ€™s move on.
I expect Putz to be great in relief and not as good as last year, which is another fine example of the perception generated by being realistic: talking to someone about Putz and mentioning that heâ€™s likely to come down to earth a little, well, I might as well have told them that roast puppy was delicious if you put a little barbecue sauce on them.
Putz is solid. Iâ€™m not worried.
The rest of the staff, thoughâ€¦ I frequently said that I had a lot of faith in the teamâ€™s ability to put together a cheap and effective bullpen. But now that Sherrillâ€™s gone and Morrowâ€™s out, Iâ€™m not as confident. I like Baek and Rowland-Smith as long relievers, though Iâ€™m not as sure the team needs them in that role. Rowland-Smithâ€™s likely to get pounded into the â€œsecond lefty specialistâ€ role though, like Sherrill, itâ€™s not the best use of his skills. But then, neither is having two long relievers. Itâ€™s not like we have Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez in the starting rotation. I like Mark Lowe a lot, but like Dave I worry about his health. We canâ€™t know how well heâ€™ll be able to pitch through a season, or whether heâ€™ll stay healthy. And as for Oâ€™Flaherty and Green, everyoneâ€™s probably tired of me saying this, but if youâ€™re reasonably careful about picking their spots, you can get a lot out of those guys. Greenâ€™s the reliever Iâ€™d be calling to staunch rallies by getting grounders, but youâ€™ll take your lumps with him too.
RF-L Wilkerson / RF-R Morse
I freely admit Iâ€™m guessing at how the bottom of the lineup will turn out.
Ichiro. I love watching Ichiro play. They could trade everyone else on the team and Iâ€™d still tune in, fuming at myself for not being able to stop. I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a better value for your ticket dollar than Ichiro.
Lopez. If putting him at #2 makes him a more selective hitter and helps him get his career back on track, Iâ€™m all for it. Weâ€™ve seen the Lopez thatâ€™s full of potential and was on a track to become a key part of a young Mariner middle-infield tandem that would help the team field competitive teams for years to come, and weâ€™ve seen a wince-inducing Lopez that makes us wonder why the team ever invested in him. I want to think that last seasonâ€™s swoon was due to off-field problems as much as anything. I have to admit that I wonder if Lopez is just going to end up being another young player who stalled. And then maybe two years after everyoneâ€™s cut bait on him heâ€™ll put up an All-Star season playing for some awful .400 team that invited him to spring training on a lark. Baseballâ€™s a weird game. And as much as I resist making any kind of personal judgments of players, Iâ€™ll say this: I think Lopez is a smart guy, and knows all that. The question may be whether or not he wants to work that hard now, and what he decides he wants to do with his career, more than whether or not he has the talent.
Ibanez. Itâ€™s sad heâ€™s out there in left. Heâ€™s a DH. Maybe a first baseman, though as Iâ€™ve mentioned before, reports out of KC from his limited time there were just as scary. Ibanez is pretty good about catching what he gets to, and we see him occasionally make the highlight-worthy play against the wall, but that obscures the fact that he doesnâ€™t get to many balls. He just doesnâ€™t. Itâ€™s not his fault. The team should be able to see this, and they should particularly have realized that if they were going to commit to making him the heart and public face of the team, they would also need to clear a spot for him to play. Playing left field in Safeco, heâ€™ll have to hit a ton to make himself a net asset to the team.
Sexson. Ugh. He needs to hit a lot to make up for his glove, and heâ€™s a long way from hitting that well. Hereâ€™s hoping. The interesting question may be how long the team waits if he gets off to a poor start. If theyâ€™re competing for now, they canâ€™t have a punchless first baseman hitting .205 who canâ€™t play defense striking out in the middle of the order every game. How long will their faith in Sexsonâ€™s comeback last in what we hope will be a pennant race?
Beltre. I know, the Beltre admiration runs strong here, but why not? I don’t pretend to understand the whole timeline of the injury – at some point that might be worth puzzling out – but Beltre plays good defense at third and hits well. What’s not to like? I’m still baffled by the belief that he isn’t, or at least wasn’t, worth the deal the M’s gave him. As we’ve pointed out here, thinking renewal might be smart, not cutting losses.
Wilkermorse: what a fine example of the teamâ€™s perception of roles getting in the way of reasonable decision making. You donâ€™t have to platoon for Wilkerson. He hits lefties okay. Ibanez is the guy who sucks against lefties. But theyâ€™re going to leave Ibanez in the middle of the lineup against lefties, because heâ€™s Ibanez, the middle of the lineup presence. Ugh.
Plus, turn Ibanez into Morse in left and youâ€™ve upgraded the left field defense a little while still minimizing Morseâ€™s general defensive badness. Turning Wilkerson into Morse doesnâ€™t help at all. Why do they do this to us?
Vidro. Heâ€™s still the DH. Hereâ€™s another Sexson-like question. Assume that Vidroâ€™s option vests at 400, 450 at-bats, and the team really believes that having their DH hit .300 and walk sometimes is helping. If heâ€™s hitting .330, sure, they let him play and the option vests. What else, though?
What happens if Vidro starts slow, and really looks like heâ€™s done? Where do they go from there? Work through the scenarios, and it gets weird pretty quickly. Move Ibanez to DH and put Reed in left (or right?)
Or what happens if Vidroâ€™s hitting an empty .280 halfway through the season and the Mâ€™s are out of the race. Do they bench him? How?
And what if Vidroâ€™s hitting .300 while Sexson and Lopez both stink up the joint and the teamâ€™s three games back? Do they move Vidro to first, Ibanez to DH, and play Bloomquist? Could they go through with swapping a third of the everyday lineup?
I find this kind of thing fascinating.
Anyway, I think thereâ€™s some good evidence that Vidroâ€™s just done, stick a giant novelty fork in his back. Put it at 40%. Maybe 50%. And then thereâ€™s a 40% chance heâ€™ll hit .280/.350/.375 and the Mâ€™s will wring their hands all year about what to do. And Iâ€™ll acknowledge say a 10-20% chance Vidroâ€™s awesome and all the danger signs I see of a collapse are just mirages, and he hits .330 and is the toast of the town again.
Johjima. Johjima didnâ€™t get a lot of notice, but getting .287/.322/.433 out of your catcher is pretty sweet. Heâ€™s in the top third of catchers offensively, without the Josh Bard defensive liabilities. 40 runners caught stealing last year! And only 46 successful! Thatâ€™s pretty great. I donâ€™t expect him to repeat that, but heâ€™s solid. Iâ€™m glad the Mâ€™s have him.
Betancourt. His defense took a huge step back last year, between the throwing issues, which we hope heâ€™ll avoid this season, and what appeared to be reduced range. When Betancourt came up, he got to balls he had no business catching. Every game I remember being shocked at least once by him. Last year, it didnâ€™t happen. I donâ€™t have a good explanation for what happened. I donâ€™t think I just got used to him: his rate stats for the balls went way down too. As a decent glove at short that hits well for the position, heâ€™s a quality contributor. If he can avoid throwing the ball away, heâ€™s still better. If he can hit well again and play good defense, well, thatâ€™d be great.
Whatever half of Wilkermouse isnâ€™t playing that day.
And here we reach the single most ridiculous roster choice: Miguel â€œI canâ€™t believe heâ€™s not Bloomquistâ€ Cairo. Bloomquist Lite. The team was so happy having a no-hit, good baserunning, decent-fielding utility player that they decided they needed a worse-hitting, worse-running, worse-fielding backup to allow them to use the first one more often. It boggles the mind.
Beyond that, Iâ€™ve argued before for Jimerson and Morse on the bench, so thatâ€™s fine. As a unit, though, what do these guys offer?
You have to believe that could have been handled better.
The whole deal
I haven’t come out strongly with any predictions because I’ve been really torn up this off-season. Like many of the teams the last few years, there’s a huge swing in potential outcomes based on the performance of players we can identify going in. If you could guarantee a Sexson bounce to career norms while everything else remained uncertain, my instinct would be to say “85 wins” before I even thought about it. And yet when I sit down and work through everything to figure out how they’re going to shake out, I don’t get to 85. I get to .500, which is what I somehow manage to get to every year. I can see how they’d finish 75 without having to injure Bedard or Felix or Ichiro, and I have to remind myself that seeing all the potential ways things can go right or wrong doesn’t help the outcome.
I’ll say 83 wins. And yet that feels too high and too low at once. I don’t think I’ve ever been this conflicted about trying to guess the season totals. Already I want to write “but I’m sick, and haven’t slept well in a week and so I’m really tired and I’ll have another opinion in a minute.” But I’ve thought this through, and I feel like I’d clearly take the over on BP’s 75 wins, and the under on 90, and when I repeated that all the way through it was at 83 where I couldn’t decide which way I’d go.
That’s where the balance between my fandom and my judgment lies today. Take it for what you will. If nothing else, the Mariners go into this season as an intriguing team.