Derek’s gigantic pre-Opening Day Mariner post-o-rama

DMZ · March 30, 2008 at 7:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners, Off-topic ranting 

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.

Starting rotation
SP-L Erik Bedard
SP-R Felix Hernandez
SP-R Carlos Silva
SP-L Jarrod Washburn
SP-R Miguel Batista

I’ve heard that this is going to be the best M’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 doesn’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 didn’t translate, but that’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 didn’t take the time to chase that out) for about a 4 RA/9 and a 3.5 ERA – 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 year’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 Randy’s vulture win.

Does pointing this out make me a bad fan, though? Because before I talk about Bedard, there’s something else to deal with.

I don’t understand part of the discussion around the Bedard trade, and I’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 M’s (I do) is taken as being down on the team. Or being too attached to prospects, while being too enthusiastic about an M’s prospect is not a point in our favor.

Or season predictions. When I’ve been high, I don’t hear a chirp, but being low by a couple games last year, well, how dare I not predict the M’s would win that many games! Can’t win for losing. If someone thinks that we’re too negative, there’s seemingly no way to break out of it. They’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 M’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 we’d beat those annoying Blue Jays, and Yankees, and the hated A’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 I’d get to the stadium to find out John Cummings was starting, I didn’t yell “woo-hoo!”

That’s just me. I have faith in the long term, and I’m realistic about the short-term. This may help explain why I’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 what’s going well and what’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.

That’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 Dave’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 people’s opinions comes off strangely. If someone told me they thought the Mariners will win 95 games, I’d probably give them a blank look. And then they’d wonder why I wasn’t happy to hear it. This goes back to the fundamental divide: that news doesn’t affect anything, and I don’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. I’m working on a project that’s in trouble. It started with an aggressive timeline, and everything’s gone haywire since then: it turned out to be more difficult than we thought, half the team’s had the flu and missed more than a week each, and that’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 “Your project’s going to come in on time!”

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, that’d be different.

Steve Phillips at ESPN, or any other supposed analyst or writer thinks the M’s are going to win the division, or go to the World Series? Okay. I’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 “#1 Angels fan” or something. Sorry. I wish people didn’t take that so personally.

To Bedard. I’m a little worried about whether he’ll get to 200 innings or start thirty or more games, but even if he doesn’t, he’s great. Barring a total collapse in his performance, Bedard is going to be the best starting pitcher the team’s seen since Moyer’s amazing 2002-3 run. That’s huge. It’s exciting. I’m excited.

Felix. He’s still young. He’s still mostly just flinging stuff from the mound to the catcher. If he doesn’t progress much at all, he’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, he’ll rack up the wins like crazy. He’ll strike out a batter an inning and threaten to pitch a no-hitter once a week. Here’s hoping.

Now, the rest of the staff… I don’t like the Carlos Silva signing. Picking up Silva was like acquiring Ryan Franklin after he put up that 3.57 ERA in 2003. Silva’s not that good. He doesn’t offer a significant upgrade over a guy like – just to pick a random example – Baek. If both of them were in the rotation, I’d give you even odds for which one finished with better stats. I’d probably discount Silva, now that I think about it. We’ll see, of course, but the potential good outcome of this deal is that Silva’s another Washburn, who eats innings and pitches well enough to avoid notice.

Which brings us to Washburn. Who is Washburn. This defense isn’t going to do him any favors. Ugh.

And Batista. I like to watch Batista pitch. There’s something weirdly hypnotic about how he gets his outs. It’s like watching Bosio, in a way: Batista doesn’t have great stuff, and you’ll see sometimes he has to really labor to get his three outs each inning, but he ticks along. And I don’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 Morrow’s put back on the starter track. We can’t know if he’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 don’t want to neglect the pleasure of not having to see Jeff Weaver or Horacio Ramirez. I don’t think Jeff Weaver’s even signed anywhere yet. That’s a long fall in a short time. Carlos Silva may be adequate, and we don’t look forward to adequate, but that’s a huge improvement over the stomach-knotting dread of seeing HoRam’s name as the day’s probable starter. Let’s move on.

RP-R Putz
RP-R Green
RP-R Baek
RP-L O’Flaherty
RP-L Rowland-Smith
RP-R Lowe

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 he’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. I’m not worried.

The rest of the staff, though… I frequently said that I had a lot of faith in the team’s ability to put together a cheap and effective bullpen. But now that Sherrill’s gone and Morrow’s out, I’m not as confident. I like Baek and Rowland-Smith as long relievers, though I’m not as sure the team needs them in that role. Rowland-Smith’s likely to get pounded into the “second lefty specialist” role though, like Sherrill, it’s not the best use of his skills. But then, neither is having two long relievers. It’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 can’t know how well he’ll be able to pitch through a season, or whether he’ll stay healthy. And as for O’Flaherty and Green, everyone’s probably tired of me saying this, but if you’re reasonably careful about picking their spots, you can get a lot out of those guys. Green’s the reliever I’d be calling to staunch rallies by getting grounders, but you’ll take your lumps with him too.

The lineup
CF-L Ichiro!
2B-R Lopez
LF-L Ibanez
1B-R Sexson
3B-R Beltre
RF-L Wilkerson / RF-R Morse
DH-B Vidro
C-R Johjima
SS-R Betancourt

I freely admit I’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 I’d still tune in, fuming at myself for not being able to stop. I don’t think there’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, I’m all for it. We’ve seen the Lopez that’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 we’ve seen a wince-inducing Lopez that makes us wonder why the team ever invested in him. I want to think that last season’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 everyone’s cut bait on him he’ll put up an All-Star season playing for some awful .400 team that invited him to spring training on a lark. Baseball’s a weird game. And as much as I resist making any kind of personal judgments of players, I’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. It’s sad he’s out there in left. He’s a DH. Maybe a first baseman, though as I’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 doesn’t get to many balls. He just doesn’t. It’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, he’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 he’s a long way from hitting that well. Here’s hoping. The interesting question may be how long the team waits if he gets off to a poor start. If they’re competing for now, they can’t have a punchless first baseman hitting .205 who can’t play defense striking out in the middle of the order every game. How long will their faith in Sexson’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 team’s perception of roles getting in the way of reasonable decision making. You don’t have to platoon for Wilkerson. He hits lefties okay. Ibanez is the guy who sucks against lefties. But they’re going to leave Ibanez in the middle of the lineup against lefties, because he’s Ibanez, the middle of the lineup presence. Ugh.

Plus, turn Ibanez into Morse in left and you’ve upgraded the left field defense a little while still minimizing Morse’s general defensive badness. Turning Wilkerson into Morse doesn’t help at all. Why do they do this to us?

Vidro. He’s still the DH. Here’s another Sexson-like question. Assume that Vidro’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 he’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 he’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 Vidro’s hitting an empty .280 halfway through the season and the M’s are out of the race. Do they bench him? How?

And what if Vidro’s hitting .300 while Sexson and Lopez both stink up the joint and the team’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 there’s some good evidence that Vidro’s just done, stick a giant novelty fork in his back. Put it at 40%. Maybe 50%. And then there’s a 40% chance he’ll hit .280/.350/.375 and the M’s will wring their hands all year about what to do. And I’ll acknowledge say a 10-20% chance Vidro’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 didn’t get a lot of notice, but getting .287/.322/.433 out of your catcher is pretty sweet. He’s in the top third of catchers offensively, without the Josh Bard defensive liabilities. 40 runners caught stealing last year! And only 46 successful! That’s pretty great. I don’t expect him to repeat that, but he’s solid. I’m glad the M’s have him.

Betancourt. His defense took a huge step back last year, between the throwing issues, which we hope he’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 didn’t happen. I don’t have a good explanation for what happened. I don’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, he’s a quality contributor. If he can avoid throwing the ball away, he’s still better. If he can hit well again and play good defense, well, that’d be great.

C-R Burke
WFB-R Bloomquist
WFBL-R Cairo
OF-R Jimerson
Whatever half of Wilkermouse isn’t playing that day.

And here we reach the single most ridiculous roster choice: Miguel “I can’t believe he’s not Bloomquist” 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, I’ve argued before for Jimerson and Morse on the bench, so that’s fine. As a unit, though, what do these guys offer?

Who Bats C 1B 2B SS 3B LF/RF CF Baserunning
Burke R Avg              
Bloomquist R   Good Avg Avg Avg Good Avg Good
Cairo R   Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Yeaagh Meh
Jimerson R           Good Avg Good
Morse R   Avg   Terrible Bad Bad Horrific Doesn’t

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.


63 Responses to “Derek’s gigantic pre-Opening Day Mariner post-o-rama”

  1. Dave on March 31st, 2008 12:29 pm

    Anyone who ever considered Mike Morse a good defensive shortstop wasn’t worth listening to. If you go back and read what we wrote about Morse when the M’s traded for him and during his time in the minors, it was painfully obvious that he was a 1B/3B from the get go. He’s terrible defensively, and he can play major league SS about as well as I can.

  2. Jeff Nye on March 31st, 2008 12:34 pm

    So I was maybe even a little over-generous in my assessment?

    I really, really don’t understand the sudden Mike Morse lovefest.

  3. msb on March 31st, 2008 12:40 pm

    Hit ball. In Peoria.

    A lot.

  4. joser on March 31st, 2008 12:43 pm

    It’s all about Morse’s unearthly (and irrelevant) batting average in spring training. Outhitting a record held by Edgar, even a completely meaningless one, gets some attention. It’s Bloomquist all over again. When Morse falls back to earth, we’ll be hearing how it’s because he’s being platooned, and if he got “regular playing time” he’d still be hitting .400 with power, or something. Any goofs on defense will be explained the same way (“he’s not getting regular playing time” / “he’s still young and learning the position”). Yadda Yadda Yadda.

  5. Jeff Nye on March 31st, 2008 12:44 pm

    Right, but he’s sucked for what, four years prior to that?

    Are people’s memories really that short that a month of lucky hitting (while still being awful defensively, mind you) have made people forget that?

    I actually probably don’t want the answer to that question.

  6. JMHawkins on March 31st, 2008 12:48 pm

    I really, really don’t understand the sudden Mike Morse lovefest.

    Simple. If this team is going anywhere, someone is going to have to play way above any reasonable projections. Probably a few someones. So, pick who you want to root for to win the Mr. Outlier award. Morse seems like as good a candidate as any. Personally, I’m torn between Lopez and Johjima.

    Mike Snow, thanks for the info on Beltre. Thumb injuries seem to kind of suck.

  7. fermorules on March 31st, 2008 12:51 pm

    Congratulations on your fine website and even finer analysis of the 2008 Mariners. It’s a pleasure to read such an intelligent examination of the club! Jayson Stark had a very interesting note on the Seattle Mariners this morning on radio. He said the Mariners are the most polarizing club in MLB this season. Generally speaking, he said that scouts love the Mariners while people who use PECOTA find them an average team at best. Here’s my 2 cents on Bavasi: The guy is pretty good at talent evaluation but lousy at configuring a roster. As for McLaren, he reminds me of Jim Lefebvre. That is, a guy who will just manage in all the cliche ways: play for a tie at home and win on the road; lots of talk about “making things happen” on the basepaths, etc. Nothing new or innovative, but at least it seems like the players like him.

  8. discojock on March 31st, 2008 1:07 pm

    For what it’s worth, I agree with you DMZ, and appreciate your analysis. Don’t let all the “anti-negativity” negativity get you down.

    -not looking forward to another year of Ibanez in left, Sexson at first, and Turbo on the base paths.

  9. Zero Gravitas on March 31st, 2008 2:22 pm

    Thanks for the great season-starting post. After a few years of reading this site I am looking forward to the USSM Game Threads almost as much as the actual games. Here’s hoping for another year of overachieving.
    Go Mariners!

  10. LoydKristmis on March 31st, 2008 2:54 pm

    I am not trying to explain anyone else’s love for Morse, but count me among his supporters. I like him, for no other reason, than the look of his swing. I thought the same about Carlos Guillen’s swing, and Adam Jones’.

    I realize this is not any sort of predictor of future success. I just enjoy watching him hit. That is all.

  11. Jeff Nye on March 31st, 2008 2:58 pm

    See, that’s cool. Just having an affection for a guy based on how he looks swinging the bat is kosher, as long as you realize it doesn’t have any predictive value in regards to his performance. The part that really puzzles me is when people start positing Morse as the savior of the 2008 season based on a hot streak in spring training.

    Heck, for a while I was a big Byung-Hyun Kim fan just because of his crazy looking delivery. It didn’t take very long for him to become a very mediocre pitcher once the league was able to pick up his release point, but man it was fun watching him almost leave knuckle prints in the mound.

  12. cjdahl60 on March 31st, 2008 7:30 pm

    All: I apologize for comment 12 in this thread, which was deleted. It was not my intent to question the fanhood of anyone, especially the authors on this blog.

    I was just trying to say that although I appreciate the constructive criticism/analysis on this site (why else would I be here?), I personally preferred to go into Opening Day with a little-kid-like, blind faith optimism.

    Again, apologies.

  13. bigdad03 on April 1st, 2008 3:11 pm

    [sorry, your post has been eaten by the most positive ponies ever]

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