Easy answers to dumb questions

August 31, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 30 Comments 


Broadcaster Dave Niehaus has done his job so well for so long that he was the recipient of the 2008 Ford C. Frick Award. Can Rick Rizzs make it two Mariners broadcasters to win the accolade in as many seasons?

No. Dear God no.

September Callups

August 31, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 23 Comments 

While the M’s have already promoted most of the Tacoma roster to Seattle this year, it sounds like, despite their earlier claims that they weren’t going to do much when rosters expand, the M’s will be adding both Matt Tuiasosopo and Luis Valbuena to the big league roster, along with the obvious guys (Brandon Morrow, Mark Lowe, Rob Johnson, and Jared Wells). Justin Thomas could possibly get called up as well.

Tui’s had an excellent final three months of the season, growing into his body, adding power, and looking like the prospect the M’s hoped he would develop into when they spent $2 million to sign him as an 18-year-old. He’s not anything close to a finished product, but the M’s are hoping that the .305/.383/.546 mark he’s put up since the all-star break is indicative of real improvement. He won’t play much, but if the team decides to rebuild this winter and trades Beltre, he might actually be in the mix for the third base job next spring.

Valbuena is a bit of an enigma, flashing different skills at different times – he occasionally hits for average and has gap power, but he rarely does both at the same times. He’s not a great defender at second base (that’s being kind, honestly), but he’s a left-handed hitter with a decent approach at the plate. He has almost no star potential, but if he can take some steps forward, he could be a decent role player.

And, for what its worth, Morrow made his final Triple-A start today, and it went well – 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K, 82 pitches. He wasn’t throwing strikes, but he got a lot of outs on balls in play and was able to get through six without having to throw a ton of pitches. He’s still got some significant improvements to make, but there’s no reason to think he’s not one of the five best starting pitchers in the organization heading into 2009.

If you’re waiting out the season, you’re not alone

August 31, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 26 Comments 

I noticed today that USSM visits are down almost to pre-season levels.

Game 136, Mariners at Indians

August 31, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 33 Comments 

RRS v Jackson. 10:05 our time.

Value of starting versus closing

August 31, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

WoTYC, 2, Paul B:

“I’m still curious about how Morrow’s value as a starter compares to his value as a reliever. Potentially, and making appropriate assumptions of course.”

Interestingly, almost two years ago baseball analysts had almost exactly the same argument about Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon stayed a closer. If I can boil the whole thing down, when you account for the value of the innings they pitch, a top-tier closer is worth as much to their team as almost all starters are. That varies, of course, by how the manager uses them. “Only the 9th, only 1-3 run lead” closers end up being a lot less valuable than ones that pitch in ties and can pitch in the eighth.

So take a look at, say, WPA on fangraphs, which is a fair measure of how well a player did when it could most affect the team’s success.

Of the top 30 right now, the breakdown is essentially:
18 starters
7 relievers who’ve closed since the start of the season
5 late-inning relievers.

There are a couple issues to look at then:
– Is it easier to find a replacement for him as a starter or a reliever?
– Is his stuff particularly well-suited to one role or the other?
– If Morrow is better in short stints throwing all out, is he that much better that it outweighs the contribution he’d make in innings as a starter?

In rough order: it’s easier to find relievers who can close. Every year, a bunch of closers and late inning relievers show up and do well without a previous resume. They’re converted starters, failed starters, castoffs, injury recovery dudes, college closers, whatever. Pitchers who don’t have to pace themselves can throw harder, and don’t have to have the multi-pitch arsenal of a starter who’ll have to face the same hitters over and over. Pitchers with huge platoon splits or other vulnerabilities can have a good manager put them in situations where they’re well-suited to succeed, while a starting pitcher can only be so vulnerable in any area before they’re reduced to total ineffectiveness.

Look at the list of relievers in the top 30 WPA pitchers right now. There’s easily a half-dozen names on that list that at least at the start of the year would have drawn blank looks if you’d thrown them out at an average fantasy draft and certainly weren’t household names. This, incidentally, is something the M’s have done really well over recent years — picking guys out of the farm system for an eye towards filling out a bullpen with cheap, young, effective arms.

Then the question of what Morrow is suited for. Durability enters into this: when we compare the relative valuation of relievers against starters, there’s an assumption that the injury risk is the same. Your opinion on this may vary — relievers throw at maximum effort more frequently, but for much shorter times, while starters toss a hundred pitches in a row at a significantly lower exertion. Here, it’s hard to offer outside analysis. This is entirely a judgment call by teams.

Does Morrow, in particular, have characteristics that make him more suitable for relief? He does. One of the things Silver found in looking at successes and failures of relief conversions was that both strikeout rate and walk rate were associated with relief success, as was having a low ISO (SLG-AVG). Groundball rate was not, which surprised me, since that’s so closely tied with not giving up home runs. Morrow’s had some issues with walks, though that doesn’t seem to be an inseparable part of his game in the way that it is for (say) Jenks.

Morrow’s ISOs, by year: 105, 127 — that’s significantly under the major league average (which stands at 150 right now)

Silver, theorizing on the why:

A relief role emphasizes high-impact pitching and deemphasizes consistency and durability. A low ISO is a good proxy for high-impact pitching, a pitcher who can take control of the at-bat with one or two great pitches. Meanwhile, a low BB rate is a good proxy for mechanical consistency.

How good does Morrow have to be as a starter to make it an even swap, entirely in terms of value contributed? Here’s Silver again regarding Papelbon:

…, and we find that a 2.00 ERA closer is roughly as valuable as a 3.69 ERA, 200-inning starting pitcher.

What we wouldn’t give for a 3.69 ERA, 200-inning pitcher. He’d be the second-best pitcher in the rotation, by a long ways. And again, it’s a lot easier to find a replacement pitcher for the bullpen than it is to find a replacement starter who can put up that kind of line.

Morrow’s stuff may be better suited for a bullpen role, and we know that he’s done well there so far. The determining question seems to be his durability: if Morrow can go 200 innings in a season in the near future without increasing the risk he’ll be injured, then he should be starting.

But here’s the other issue, which hasn’t really been discussed enough yet: over the last two years, we’ve seen Morrow’s development take an odd path, as he’s struggled not only with command but with falling in love with the fastball when he’s experiencing success with it, not mixing pitches, and so on. One of the happy storylines this season was seeing him start to overcome those difficulties. Starting forces him to confront those weaknesses in a way that late-inning relief doesn’t, and in Morrow’s case this makes the decision to try starting him the right one. If Morrow has (say) potentially three plus pitches and relieving means that he relies on two of them, throwing 85% fastballs for the rest of his career, that’s a huge amount of potential wasted. That role can be filled by anyone who can throw fast and has a decent change.

If Morrow’s conversion to starting means that he’s challenged to work on and effectively throw more pitches, work batters better, mix up his stuff and become smarter about pitching, there are a couple of possible outcomes:
– He succeeds, and becomes a more valuable starter than he’d have been a reliever over the long term
– He succeeds, but the durability issues force him back to the bullpen having improved the very things that often have held him back from domination as a reliever
— He fails, and goes back to the bullpen and we get the Morrow we’ve seen of 07-08

Since Morrow’s attempt at starting’s not going to make a difference for this year’s team and the benefits will be reaped by a future club with a shot at contention, starting’s the way to go.

This post was written as one of the requests by a USSM supporter as part of Thank You Content Week. Join them!

Future of Sports Writing

August 30, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 27 Comments 

WoTYC, 1, JMHawkins:

“The future of sports writing? How blogs and the imminent demise of traditional newspapers…”

I don’t think there will be a distinction in a few years. Look at what even our local media’s doing: they all ru Mariner-related blogs. The amount of resources they devote to it vary greatly, but they’re all there. ESPN’s run Neyer and then others as blogs for years with great success. At the same time, papers are seeing their print circulation drop, yes. We’re almost certainly guaranteed to see a one-paper town in Seattle soon, which will be terrible even for sports fans.

We’re going to be at a place soon where the beat reporters and columnists compete with the bloggers almost entirely online, where the daily subscriber count that matters will be RSS and not inked papers tossed on porches (or yards/driveways/so on). The King County Journal’s went this way already — they’re essentially a well-funded, employs-a-ton-of-people blog with a content manager, splintered into community sites and tiny near-pamphlet papers.

Here, this means the M’s will continue to pick and choose the electronic coverage from the press box based on their favor. The Times beat writer has a print column and a blog? Here’s your pass. The Tacoma beat writer has a print column and a blog? Watch from the seats. Everett Herald? In. USSM has a blog read by more people than the Herald’s outlets combined? Out. Some boot-licking blog? In. We see this now: when MLB put out a policy on electronic media, teams needed to give creds to ESPN.com, CBS Sportsline, and MLB.com, and that was it. That’s where the M’s drew the line. I got a press pass once when I was writing for Baseball Prospectus where I had to promise that anything I saw or learned would only be used for the annual, and wouldn’t go out on the website. If you work for a newspaper, you don’t have to make that promise.

That’s not true with other franchises, where teams wave in quality and blogs, do interviews with them, and look at that as an opportunity to reach out to fans that may not be listening if they do 10m on the morning sports talk show, and so on. The M’s aren’t that team, and they’re in good company.

This draws an artificial distinction in which the press pass is a license to print money in many ways. If I can’t go ask Riggleman to talk about his bunting strategy, you can’t get that post here. But you can get a ton of player and manager quotes where the M’s deign to grant access, and that makes those places more popular, and in turn (whether recipients like to admit this or not) the more restricted the passes are, the more it gives the M’s leverage over the outlets granted passes.

It also entirely destroys that category of story, which is unfortunate. One of the great current advantages of blogs over print coverage is that we’re free to explore topics in a level of depth a print reporter can’t today and has not incentive to in today’s environment. A beat reporter’s life right now is being beat up by the schedule, trying to turn around game stories and other notebook content. It’s pretty easy to see where both of those get wiped by a future without print deadlines, of course. But they’re already busy enough without having to take time to research injury rates for minor league prospects over the course of an entire season to try and find out if their team has a real problem.

When we write the bunting strategy, there’s no quote from Riggleman on the subject that doesn’t come from a game story or other content written up by people with no interest in the bunting strategy question, and those quotes end up being without a larger context that might be the most enlightening thing we discuss all year.

I’m not sure that’s worth the price, though, for two reasons. If you read Tracy Kidder, who wrote Soul of a New Machine, House, you may note that in the books, the point of view is far, far more sympathetic to certain parties than others, and you realize it’s because Kidder spent weeks on house-building, so those guys come off with their point of view fully explained. Similarly, repeatedly this season we’ve seen that access can reduce the amount of truth in an article.

Moreover, though, if the only thing that distinguishes a credentialed reporter from the hordes of bloggers is the access they have to get player and manager quotes, then they’re much less likely to endanger their livelihood by angering the players who’ll talk to them, much less the team. It doesn’t even have to be a conscious choice. If there’s a player who talks to a writer all the time and sucks horribly, they’re going to get a lot longer to turn it around before being torn into compared to a sullen kid who skips interviews. Beyond which, it’s human — who wants to walk into a locker room filled with people who hate them?

All of this is multiplied by who writes the checks. A beat reporter for a paper writes a nearly-daily game story, some additional content, and every two weeks has a check cut from their publisher, while Dave and I make some fraction of that amount by people hitting a Paypal button and sending us a couple of bucks (or dropping us a line with an extra ticket, or buying me a beer when we run into each other pre-game). As a result, we’re fitting writing around everything else in our lives, researching the things that interest us, knowing that for the most part, the comparatively fractional reward we receive is a direct validation of what we’re working on.

Right now, that imbalance means that there’s a vast swath of content you need to go off-paper for. If you want to read about how Ibanez sucks, or some serious analysis into in-game strategy, you have to go to the blogs. If you want a seriously considered lament about the state of the franchise, you have to go to the blogs.

And this is all dwarfed by the power of the television behemoth. Pre-and-post-game analysis of wretched quality, unparalleled access to players and coaches, and the broadcast crew which can entirely dominate the way everyone who follows the team talks about it. I’d love for there to be alternate broadcast tracks out of FSN control, but that’s never, ever going to happen under current licensing terms. The power of all the beat reporters pales in comparison to that crew in painting the perception of the game, the players, on up through the whole organization. We’re all small bugs playing in their shadow.

I don’t see that changing. The market for people who want to read game stories and box scores is a lot less lucrative than the broadcast itself. The market for a long discussion of in-game strategy is a lot more limited than I’d like it to be. I don’t know if it’s large enough to sustain full-time writers in the best of circumstances, and I’ll skip the USSM viability question here.

At the same time, we see the lines blurring. Geoff Baker’s blog contains video snippets, random photos, and other content that you don’t see in a traditional beat column, the kind of thing that’s taking the press pass and using it to expand coverage — which, to circle back around, is exactly the kind of thing the M’s press office won’t allow people who aren’t Geoff Baker to do, which in turn makes it even more unique and interesting. But there’s no way to look at that kind of work and say that Baker’s strictly a print reporter any more.

I don’t think things will change in Seattle in the coming years unless there’s an ownership shakeup that results in tech-saavy people gaining control and changing policy. But in other places, there’s a very real chance that the average fan will get to pick the flavor of coverage that most suits them, and it won’t be a choice between the traditional coverage of the papers and the no-access outsider analysis of blogs, it’ll be between dozens of smaller, non-professional outlets and a few well-equipped and probably personality-based outfits offering multimedia coverage, some of which will rise from the masses and others representative of more traditional media outlets.

I’m looking forward to the chaos.

This post was written as one of the requests by a USSM supporter as part of Thank You Content Week. Join them!

Game 135, Mariners at Indians

August 30, 2008 · Filed Under Game Threads · 30 Comments 

Take the Bus to Cleveland! 12:55 our time! Not on television!

Anthony Reyes takes the mound for Cleveland.

From MLB.com:

Jarrod Washburn has consistently given the Mariners a chance to win in most of his starts this season, but the run support is generally lacking when he’s on the mound.

Or… “They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time it works, every time. ”

I could flog that write-up for a while, but I’ll let it go. It’s too easy.

Thank you content week woooooo!

August 29, 2008 · Filed Under Site information · 19 Comments 

Last night, I spent a good chunk of time catching up on USSM emails, in particular, writing a ton of thank-yous to people who’ve tossed some money in the tip jar (and I think I caught up). I try to write a note to everyone, and if you didn’t get one, thank you and apologies that it bounced, or got tagged as spam for having a title like (“Re: Payment…”) which happens more often than it should, or, probably most likely, I screwed something up. So I was filled with gratitude and wanted find something to write.

At the same time, I have to admit that I’ve been a little at a loss for ideas for things to write about. Until the season ends and the rumor mill for GM candidates cranks up, there’s not a lot for us to do but watch the season wind down. Even the September call-ups will be a welcome infusion of possibilities and things to watch (including Morrow, Starting Pitcher!).

So here’s the scoop: if you’ve donated, whatever the amount, and there’s something you’d like to see me write about in the next week or so, either drop us an email or comment here. I’ll try and cover as many as we can, but no less than 1/day, for the next week or so. I might batch short questions up or whatever, but we’ll see how it breaks out.

And yes, we’ll be finishing the All-Mariner All-Time series.

I’ve always been sensitive to concerns around having subscriptions, and I’m a little wary of setting a precedent for abusing us as organ-grinder monkeys, but this seems like a cool way to return the good turn many of you have done us. If it turns out to be a bad idea, well, it was worth trying.

And if you haven’t donated and there’s a topic you’d like to see us write about, as always, we’re happy to take suggestions.

Or you could join your peers in supporting the site:

And please keep in mind: I am not Dave. This may affect your suggestions.

Game 134, Mariners at Indians

August 29, 2008 · Filed Under Game Threads · 42 Comments 



That is all.

The Groundballingest Groundballer Who Ever Groundballed

August 29, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 18 Comments 

You know, I need to apologize to Roy Corcoran – I don’t know that we’ve said more than 20 words about you on the blog this year, and your performance deserves recognition. In a season where few things have gone right, you’ve been a shining beacon of success, and I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to write about you. So, mea culpa, Roy – here’s your post.

Corcoran, a career minor leaguer, has a K/BB rate of 1.27 – that’s not good at all. Anything below 2.00 is usually a problem, and for a quality reliever, the general expectation is closer to 3.00. Shut down late inning pitchers generally throw strikes and miss bats, while Corcoran doesn’t do either. His command isn’t good and he’s a pitch to contact guy, which is generally a terrible combination. However, Corcoran has been extremely effective this year, thanks to one special skill – ground balls.

Corcoran is a ground ball machine. His 70.2% GB% is the highest of any pitcher in baseball with at least 50 IP this year, and it’s not close – Brandon Webb is second at 65.5%. He gets more ground balls than Brad Ziegler, the A’s rookie side-armer who made national news by not allowing a run for the first few months of his career. In fact, the only pitcher who can compete with Corcoran in ground ball tendencies is Chad Bradford, also a side-armer, who is barely edging out Corcoran with a 70.6% GB% (but in fewer innings).

Corcoran gets so much sink on his fastball that the only guys in the majors who induce the grounder as often are guys who release the ball from as close to their shoes as possible. There isn’t another traditional pitcher alive who gets hitters to pound the ball into the dirt with the same frequency. Considering that the average AL hitter has a .499 OPS on ground balls (compared with a .782 OPS on fly balls and a 1.727 OPS on line drives), it’s easy to see why Corcoran has been able to rack up so many outs through sheer quantity of grounders.

Now, like pretty much every other sinker/slider right-handed pitcher, Corcoran isn’t nearly as good as left-handed hitters, and his skill set basically makes him a Sean Green clone – a few more ground balls, a few less strikeouts, but overall, the same package. It’s not the traditional relief ace package, but it works wonders against RHBs, and as part of a bullpen that has situational specialists, it works great.

Corcoran isn’t going to be a star, and because of his lack of a weapon against lefties, he’s always going to be better suited to a role where the manager can use him to face a run of right-handed bats, but don’t let the high walks and low strikeouts fool you into thinking that Corcoran’s getting lucky. He really can get outs with his sinker, and he’s just more evidence that you simply don’t need to spend any real resources to build a bullpen.

With Corcoran, Green, and Putz, the M’s have a very good collection of RH relievers. Don’t let all this talk about them missing Morrow fool you – this organization doesn’t need a classic strikeout reliever who dominates with a high 90s fastball. Just get a good lefty to complement the groundball twins, and you’ll have a great bridge to Putz.

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