A quarter down, three quarters to go
Before the season started, I said that we’d learn a lot about the M’s in the first month – that big questions like whether Sexson would rebound would be answered pretty quickly, and those answers would determine the course of the year.
We’re over a quarter done with the year now, and the team is 15-26, the worst team in the majors.
We have some answers. For instance:
Is this the year the M’s get back to the playoffs?
Offense: they stink
Pitching: pretty good. Well, it’s okay. It’s not horrible. It could be worse.
Defense: they stink
The Mariner team OBP is .309. That’s second worst in the majors. MLB average is .332.
Stat, rank in MLB
Batting average, 23
Their team line of .250/.309/.385 is like having nine 2007 Corey Pattersons, except they don’t play good defense.
Vidro’s done. Sexson’s rebounded a little, but he’s gone. His agent may already be working the phones looking for possible 2009 spring training non-roster invites. And in absolute terms, this shell of Sexson is the fifth-best hitter on the team so far. A .202/.294/.420 hitter is the fifth-best hitter.
They don’t hit for average, take walks, or hit for power. They have a couple players who can steal bases at an effective clip. They’re a lot like the wretched offenses we’ve seen the last couple of years, where a rally was three singles in an inning, scoring one run.
Offense, fortunately, may get better. Clement’s a helpful bat. Wlad’s an improvement over Wilkerson. Johjima’s not going to hit this badly all season. It may not ever be great, but the team they’re fielding a week from now is a lot better than the one they went into the season with.
It’s horrible. Before Tuesday’s game, the M’s were turning 68.7% of balls in play into outs. That’s 28/30th in the majors, dead last in the AL. I know that some people thought that Yuni would rebound, not making so many errors, but last year they were 27/30, at 67.8% — I never understood why the M’s had a good defensive reputation.
Defensive improvements are cheap, effective, and can turn a team around so fast analysts will be scraping for explanations. Take the Orioles, at .500. Baltimore’s defensive efficiency last year was middling – 18 out of 30 teams at .691. This year so far they’re 1st at .734.
There are three major defensive changes:
- Luis Hernandez replaces Miguel Tejeda
- Luke Scott replaces Jay Payton (who is still managing to rack up a lot of at-bats).
- Adam Jones replaces Corey Patterson, who was no slouch in center
Now they’re turning hits into outs, the pitching staff looks stronger, and they’re playing over their heads (or at least over expectations).
And it’s worth noting that it’s not enough to pick on, say, Raul, for his horrible defense. It’s been a team effort. Even when you can’t point at an error that costs a run or a game, poor defense has a cost. Every ball that drops in is important. The pitcher has to get another out, if nothing else, and that’s extra pitches that have to come from somewhere, so the bullpen’s ever so slightly more worn. It turns the lineup over again. Poor defense is death by paper cuts: singles into doubles, outs into singles, double plays broken, stolen bases into advancing to third on an error.
They should get a little better swapping out right field, but not that much. They’re not going to go worst to first in-season without a massive tear down. We have to bear this.
I wrote a lot about this as we went into the season, but this bench sucks, and it’s worse with Mike Morse out. Cairo sucks. Vidro’s not much better. There’s no good backup outfielder. They don’t offer McLaren good in-game options, not that he’d — I’m getting ahead of myself.
I haven’t done this a while, and this is always a useful baseline.
Name IP H% HR% BB% K% Green 21.1 17% 1% 13% 21% Corcoran 10.2 18% 0% 9% 16% Morrow 8.2 18% 6% 6% 39% Rhodes 8 19% 0% 16% 24% Hernandez 55.1 23% 2% 9% 20% Bedard 33.2 19% 4% 12% 19% Rowland-Smith 16.2 21% 1% 10% 21% Silva 52 26% 3% 5% 9% Lowe 14 24% 0% 17% 18% Baek 25 19% 3% 12% 13% Batista 40.1 25% 1% 14% 16% Putz 8 26% 2% 17% 26% Washburn 44.1 27% 4% 5% 14% Dickey 7 26% 0% 6% 10% O'Flaherty 6.2 40% 5% 10% 10%
(updated to fix a calculation error)
An average pitcher is ~16% H, 3% HR, 11% BB, and 16% K
Surprisingly, the only pitchers really above average in all of the good pitcher-controllable categories are:
Or, to review quickly:
Bedard’s gotten some strikeouts but has not been as advertised.
Felix is Felix, for all that entails.
Washburn is slightly below average but not by much, which means he’s below average at being bad
Silva is Ryan Franklin redux.
Batista has been better than Washburn except for the walks… oh, the walks
Putz hasn’t been himself at all.
Morrow’s looked good but been homer-prone.
Green’s been good.
Baek’s mopping up for the starters and he’s been serviceable for that role.
Rowland-Smith’s been good when McLaren remembers to call him in.
Lowe’s been decent.
As a unit, though, wow, if there’s ever been a condensed argument in favor of bullpen roles and cohesion to refute my general skepticism, well, here you are. Putz went down and they all seemed to catch fire. It felt like a blessing to get a night when they could bring in more than one reliever without torching the game.
I know that every manager has flaws — Lou Piniella’s in-game tactics were quite predictable in some situations, for instance — that make their fans want to tear their hair out. They redeem themselves in other ways, though, that make them worth employing.
Here’s my question: what’s McLaren’s strength? What’s he doing well that makes him a better option than any randomly selected grizzled minor league manager with a couple thousand games of managerial experience?
What makes up for batting Cairo second?
The good is they cut bait on Wilkerson pretty fast. The bad news is that this is their team, constructed to their specifications and whims, just like the last couple of disaster teams. They thought this team was a couple of pieces away from contending for a pennant, and they traded the future on that premise. The farm system is in far better shape than it was a few years ago, and player development far more productive, but I don’t see how that can make up for what’s gone wrong, and if they’re just going to trade those players for the wrong veterans at the wrong time, rather than build around them, their success their means little.
I want more than anything for them to learn, to turn this around, but what have we seen of that in years? Veteran signs fail, veterans are signed. Talent is badly valued, and then badly valued the next year. The defense is degraded and then we see bafflement over poor pitcher performances. What reason do we have to think that they can, or will, make progress on the problems that have cost the franchise so many losses these years?
If you only listen to us once, just once, take this advice: the next time you’re looking to hire a general manager, at least interview smart people who disagree with you and weigh their approach and plans against what you’ve reaped from the strategy you’ve used for so long. Give them a fair shot, because they’ll win the job and win with the team if given the chance.
You don’t like me and I don’t like you. You want to market to women and children instead of baseball fans? You own a baseball team. Trying to please particular demographics with distractions, promotions, and playgrounds might work for a while until someone else finds something shinier to dangle in front of the babies. Put a good baseball team out there, and you’ll get women fans and men fans and you’ll turn children into lifelong fans.
Do it. Do it or hand the team over to people who can. There are some good candidates in your minority owners. If you want to run a daycare or a Body Shop, go rent some retail space and knock yourself out. If you want to run a successful baseball team, figure out how to do that.