A quarter down, three quarters to go

DMZ · May 13, 2008 at 10:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

horsies! yay!

Golden girls” by Kvetina-Marie, cc-licensed

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 offense
The Mariner team OBP is .309. That’s second worst in the majors. MLB average is .332.

Stat, rank in MLB
Batting average, 23
OBP, 29/30
SLG, 22/30

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:
Ryan Rowland-Smith

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?

Front office
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.


108 Responses to “A quarter down, three quarters to go”

  1. Adam S on May 14th, 2008 4:24 pm

    Firing Mac might make a game or two difference at best. Managers just don’t matter that much.
    So which way is it? I keep hearing managers don’t matter. And it’s true if you mean relative to star players. Bedard and Felix contribute a heck of a lot more to this team than any manager. Or if you’re talking to fans who think bringing back Piniella would be a cure-all.

    But two wins over the season is a lot — if the Mariners could upgrade half the roster by 2 wins, they’d go from sucky to best team in baseball. The manager of the Mariners matters a lot more than the guys on the bench (unless we had an effective platoon), the 5th starter, or the pitchers in middle relief. None of those guys are worth two wins. The difference between a bad manager, and McLaren seems pretty bad to me, and a neutral one could certainly be 3 or 4 wins.

    As well, firing a manager is one of the few ways you can upgrade during the season. Balentin for Wilkerson is a small tweak (is it 2 wins over the season?). If you cut Sexson, and replaced him with waiver wire fodder, it might feel good, but it probably makes the team worse.

  2. Captain_Obvious on May 14th, 2008 5:50 pm


    I’ve never posted here before – and may never again – but this piece of writing is so spot-on that I felt compelled to register here so that I could thank you personally for sharing it at this site.

    Denial will inevitably be rampant amongst a fan base of a team so hyped as the 2008 M’s when said team is their respective league’s piñata throughout the first 1/4 of the season. That being said, you are obviously on the right side of the bell curve on this one – several S.D.’s above the mean if you ask me – and clearly don’t buy into the “we didn’t play over our heads last year and, in fact, we added the one piece (TOR pitcher) that should put us over the top” B.S. that most media and the F.O. believe (want us to believe?). I also happen to be in the camp w/ those who think that the M’s were overachievers last year as opposed to underachievers so far this year and – as I am sure you are already aware – most stats seem to confirm this hypothesis.

    I especially like how you point out the importance of a good defense in fielding (you decide whether pun is intended) a good team, despite its stats not being as easy to interpret as offensive stats. Very true.

    …and with stats to back everything up (vs. the subjective approach), man I am going to keep my eyes on this place for a while:)

    Buy the author a refreshing beer? Man, that is simply not enough. How about a nice piece of real-estate?


  3. terry on May 14th, 2008 6:08 pm

    Thats why they play the games.

  4. smb on May 14th, 2008 6:22 pm

    Amen, Derek, Amen…I put another beer in your queue.

    From Jesse Sanchez’ (who?) mlb.com article:

    Either way, Bavasi said he stands by the leadership and personnel on the field and in the dugout, but is simply not pleased with the way his club has performed.

    This is the equivalent of the captain of the Titanic saying, “I stand by the course we plotted and the deckhands’ ability to keep the deck free of gull shit, but I am simply not pleased with the ship’s insistence on running into that iceberg.”

  5. John D. on May 15th, 2008 12:39 am

    Re: # 81

    the whole going-on-contact tactic with a runner on third.

    [I’m a day late.]
    Someone: what’s the deal here ? Usually with a man on 3rd, and less than two out, the broadcasters will say that either a long fly ball or a grounder to a middle infielder will do it. http://tinyurl.com/5wrn6b
    Should Balentien’s grounder have done it ?

  6. currcoug on May 15th, 2008 9:40 am

    Great work DMZ. I really enjoyed that one.

    In regards to the McLaren interview, his comments on a potential Reed call up were confusing. McLaren immediately brought up Balentien in the Reed context. McLaren stated the M’s are not going to platoon Reed and Balentien, with Wlad getting the chance to prove he can play everyday in RF. Fine.

    Reading between the lines, however, the Mariners’ thinking seems to be installing Reed in RF, if Balentien flops. Does this make sense? Shouldn’t Reed (or Saunders) be called up to play LF, with Balentien staying in RF (with all the required moves in regards to Ibanez, Vidro, Cairo and Sexson)?

    Did anyone else come to the same conclusion as I did in regards to McLaren’s comments?

  7. IllinoisMsFan on May 15th, 2008 3:22 pm

    Not to put a damper on the whole “Pony Fest” but that’s not a pony in the picture, it’s a horse. There’s a difference between the two. For example, a Thoroughbred is a type of horse breed, while a Shetland or a Welsh is a type of pony breed.

    Calling a horse a pony is simlar to thinking that a wolf is a dog, or calling a boat a ship – there might be similarities but they are not the same.

  8. Jeff Nye on May 15th, 2008 3:31 pm

    Sometimes, a pony is just a pony.

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