Miguel Batista

December 23, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

With Christmas a couple of days away, we’re going to see a lull in terms of news for the next while. So, I thought this would be a good time to take a look at a few players on the roster, and what we should expect from them in 2009 versus what they gave us in 2008.

I’ll start with Miguel Batista, who was about as bad as a pitcher can be last year. He had the worst walk rate in baseball, putting 6.38 men on base via the free pass per nine innings. His terrible command led to a disastrous 6.23 FIP, and he was a failure of massive proportions. He performed worse than what you’d expect by calling up a Triple-A arm and handing them innings.

At 38 years old, coming off a horrible season like his ’08 campaign, most people are ready to chalk him up as a guy whose career is just over. However, I’d like to point out the following.

Miguel Batista, 2000: 65 IP, 5.10 BB/9, 5.10 K/9, 2.62 HR/9 (!), 7.57 FIP
Miguel Batista, 2001: 139 IP, 3.88 BB/9, 5.81 K/9, 0.84 HR/9, 4.48 FIP

In 2000, Batista was the worst pitcher anyone has ever seen. He allowed 19 home runs in 65 innings, walked as many as he struck out, and was a bigger disaster then than he was last year. He rebounded in 2001, became a quality pitcher, and then proceeded to rattle off seven pretty successful season. We’ve seen Batista implode and rebound before. Of course, he wasn’t 38 before, so maybe his decline was age related?

It doesn’t look like it. His average fastball in 2008 was 91.4 MPH, down just slightly from the 92.2 MPH fastball he threw in 2007. Age related decline is usually more about losing stuff than about losing command, and while Batista’s stuff has regressed, it didn’t disappear entirely. Even with shaky command, an average fastball of 92 with decent movement is still a pretty good pitch.

With the glut of starting pitcher options combined with Batista’s experience in the bullpen, I’d say it’s extremely likely that he’s going to end up as part of the bullpen this year. That can only help – most pitchers get a +1 to +2 MPH boost on their fastball when they move to relief full time, so it’s not hard to see Batista getting right back to that 92-93 MPH fastball he had a few years ago if he’s only throwing 20-30 pitches per outing.

Being used in relief will also increase the proportion of right-handed hitters that he faces, as Wakamatsu will have the advantage of bringing him in in situations where there are several RH hitters in a row. As a starting pitcher, he didn’t have that luxury, and left-handed batters have always presented problems for Batista. By using him in situations where he can avoid the toughest LH bats, one of his main flaws will be neutralized.

As a right-handed 7th or 8th inning guy, there are quite a few reasons to think Batista can be an effective pitcher in 2009. There’s no chance he’ll be worth the $9 million the team owes him, but that’s a sunk cost, and is out the window at this point. As a guy with potential to be a league average reliever, he’s still a contributor to the roster. In fact, Miguel Batista is one of the reasons that I’m fairly optimistic about the bullpen in 2009, despite the loss of Putz and Green.

Don’t let 2008’s performance cloud your judgment. Miguel Batista still has some life left in his fastball, and a move to the bullpen could be just what he needed to regain some usefulness.

Another Awesome New Stat Site

December 22, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

Sean Smith, the creator of the CHONE projection system, has built his own site to house his projections, and he’s made it remarkably cool in one week’s time. For instance, check out Raul Ibanez’s expanded player page.

At the top, there’ his offensive projection for 2009. His total line comes out to +7 runs per 150 games played, compared to an average hitter. Below that, he lists the confidence level percentiles, showing a range of potential performances. Below that is his six year forecast. And, my favorite part, his user selected defensive ratings – you simply pick whether you think Ibanez is going to be an Excellent defender, a Good defender, an Average Defender, a Poor Defender, or a Putrid defender, and the corresponding win values and dollar values are listed for you.

Anyway, check it out. Sean’s site has a bunch of cool stuff on it.

Angels Walk Away From Teixeira

December 21, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 27 Comments 

The Angels announced today that they are pulling out of the bidding for Mark Teixeira. They’ll spend the money they were going to give him on, I don’t know, Adam Dunn or something.

This is a pretty big deal, honestly. The Angels just aren’t that good without Teixeira. They weren’t great even with him, and he was an absolute monster for them down the stretch. Yes, they’re getting Kelvim Escobar back and their rotation is still going to be terrific, but their position players leave a lot to be desired.

The AL West doesn’t have a juggernaut anymore.

The pressing question right now

December 20, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 46 Comments 

Are heavily snow-laden trees in frozen turf more or less likely to fall down or snap in a windstorm compared to unladen trees in water-saturated turf?

Well, this is different

December 19, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 90 Comments 

From Hickey’s blog:

“I look at Corcoran, and opposing hitters averaged .283 against him,” Wakamatsu said. “But he had a four-to-one ratio of ground balls (to fly balls). Did they find every hole?

“The fact is that we have to catch more ground balls. I want to bring these kinds of statistics to the coaches and players. It’s a way to get better. Maybe it just means we need to shade the middle more, or maybe we need to focus more on what specific hitters do against each of our specific pitchers.”

If you weren’t already convinced, this organization understands the value of defense now.

“We’re looking to see if there is a plus-plus defensive second baseman out there,” Wakamatsu said. “Then if we move Jose to first base, and he can defend there and make us above average on the right side, that would be good. That’s the whole focus — can we defend?

“Look at Tampa Bay. Look at what (shortstop Jason) Bartlett did for that team last year. They had some phenomenal players already, but sometimes it’s that one player in a key position that makes things work.”

Obviously, I love the fact that our new manager thinks like this. This is a huge step forward in analytical skills from the bench. That said, I don’t think I’m on board with Lopez as a first baseman. Let’s break it down.

If we assume that Lopez is below average at second base (UZR has him at average-ish the last three years, but trending worse), then we’d call him -5 at the position. If he moved to first base, he’d certainly be one of the better defensive 1B in the league (thanks to the fact that the comparison group is full of immobile stiffs), but would also have decreased opportunities. Let’s call him +5 at first base, though, since we’re running through Wakamatsu’s scenario here.

Now, the team wants a “plus plus defender” at second base if they’re going to move Lopez, so we have to assume that new guy would be +10 or so. Adam Kennedy would be a pretty good example of a +10 defensive second baseman, and he’s not exactly happy in St. Louis, so let’s just pretend the M’s could go trade for Kennedy to make this all happen.

With Kennedy at 2nd and Lopez at first, you’d have a +15 defensive right side of the infield. With Lopez at second and a Branyan/Shelton platoon at first, you’d have something like a -7 defensive right side of the infield (Branyan’s below average, Shelton’s above average, but Branyan will play more, so I call that platoon -2). So, the positive defensive result would be +22 runs. That’s a lot.

However, the M’s would be filling the last remaining spot in the line-up with Adam Kennedy. Remember when I projected the position players last week? I assumed the team would find a cheap, .340 wOBA DH. That guy would be out, replaced by Kennedy’s bat, and because the Branyan/Shelton duo would be DH’ing, there’d be less at-bats for Clement at DH, so we’d have to adjust his PA’s downward a bit.

The 1B/2B/DH spots are good for about 1850 plate appearances. Right now, I have those allocated as something like 600 for Lopez, 50 for Corona, 450 for Branyan, 200 for Shelton, 500 for random DH, and 100 for Clement. A weighted average offensive value for that group at those PA levels would be +6 runs. You replace Random DH with Kennedy and shift 50 of Clement’s at-bats to Kennedy, and the weighted average offensive value for the new group would be -11 runs.

If we assume that the M’s were going to get a generic, below average DH (Griffey, for instance), and that this strategy would result in them acquiring a top notch defensive second baseman, and that Lopez would adjust to first base without any problems, the overall net gain to the team would be something like 5 runs.

That’s not a big enough deal to justify upsetting Lopez, nuking his trade value as a second baseman, and giving up something to get a guy like Kennedy. I’ve been pushing this team to improve their defense for years, but clearly, it’s a balance – if the offensive trade-off is nearly as large as the defensive gain, then you’re not improving the roster (and vice versa).

And in this case, it creates some long term issues as well. Say Adam Moore or Rob Johnson develop and Clement shows he just can’t hack it behind the plate, so you want to move Clement to DH. Now you’re benching Branyan, because you’ve blocked off first base, and you’re taking one of the better bats on the roster out of the line-up. You’re also putting Lopez in Mike Carp’s way, and with the Luis Valbuena trade, the organization doesn’t really have a long term replacement at second base anymore.

I’m thrilled Wakamatsu recognizes that the defense was a problem, and that it really messed up the pitching staff the last few years. I love the fact that our manager is going after knowledge that could improve the club, even if it’s not conventional, by-the-book stuff. I love that he’s publicly quoting Roy Corcoran’s ground ball rate.

But, I don’t think I’m on board with Lopez as a first baseman. If the team wants to improve their infield defense, they should be looking to trade Lopez, not move him to first base.

Let me be a little more specific about Ibanez’s suckiness

December 18, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 62 Comments 

Ibanez is essentially making an argument that for a set of reasons, the systems are stacked against him. That it’s based on probability, doesn’t consider defensive positioning, that people doing the stats are evaluating it off TV, and that they don’t do enough on how hard balls are hit.

All of which is fine. These are flaws in the system that we can consider.

How is it, though, that these flaws have conspired year after year to show Ibanez as an increasingly crappy fielder? Wild coincidence? Horrible luck?

Ibanez mentions the ballpark factor. But as Dave’s alluded to, if there’s any bias in measurements of outfielders at Safeco Field it’s in their favor, as the wind hangs up balls for easy outs. And again, there’s no reason why this factor makes Ibanez particularly look bad and didn’t make (say) Randy Winn equally bad.

He mentions that people are prejudiced about him. This is — frankly — bunk. If there’s going to be a strong perception bias, what you’d see is that defensive stats wouldn’t disagree so vehemently with Gold Glove voting (which Ibanez thinks suck too). Defensive stats showed that a number of guys who have media perceptions as good defenders stink. Michael Young is awful out there, for instance — but if there was a bias in the measurement of stats based on how he was perceived, you’d see the defensive stats agree.

Or if you want to argue there’s some bias effect, then it wouldn’t explain how Ibanez, who is not the marquee name other fielders carry and is certainly not well known as a defensive butcher in the Manny mode, has been so consistently rated poor and gotten worse over the years.

That’s the big thing. Also,

But if you go around the game, and you ask the players, you ask quality major league scouts, you ask managers, they’ll tell you I’m the type of player they want on their team.

Ibanez never says he’s good defensively, we should note. Or, to be snarky, why they want him on their team or in what role. He’s taking offense at the suggestion that he’s one of the worst fielders in baseball, which he is. And I don’t blame the other players and managers and whoever he’s talked to for not breaking the news to him. It’s not polite.

But if Ibanez seriously believes that if I went out and asked a couple of quality major league scouts who’d seen him play left field for a couple of games what they thought of his defense that they would rave about it, well, he’s delusional. Remember Peter Gammons quoting someone describing Ibanez’s routes in the outfield as someone being chased by a swarm of bees? That was years ago. He hasn’t gotten faster, or better. He’s older, slower, and worse.

I like Ibanez as a guy, and he’s been one of the few offensive threats on this team over the last few years except when he wasn’t pretending he was healthy but actually injured. I don’t blame him for wanting to try and maintain some dignity about taking a huge deal to play the outfield every day. But I really think that he might have been better off looking for a DH job, because he wipes out so much of his contributions by being worthless with the glove that it’s going to become a big deal at some point, and all the animated GIFs and whatever other mockery he’s endured so far will pale in comparison to what they’ll dish out in Philly.

Ibanez is not good at defense

December 18, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 19 Comments 

Much goodness in this Baker discussion with Ibanez on his departure.

To sum up: Ibanez doesn’t believe in defensive stats.

His specific arguments are notable for being surprisingly cogent. Most players dismiss defensive measurement with a much broader brush (“dumb kids in mom’s basement hurr hurr hurr”).

He’s also wrong, of course.

Save The Date

December 18, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 36 Comments 

Saturday, January 10th, 2009. It’s the next USSM event. It’s going to be awesome. It will include 100% less of me, but that just means that Derek will finally have a chance to get a word in since I’m not hogging the mic.

Seriously, you’re not going to want to miss this one. Details will be forthcoming, but don’t plan anything for the 10th.

Random snow day post

December 18, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 47 Comments 

My commute runs ~4 miles. I take the bus. On the way in early this morning (I had a presentation to give to a bunch of execs, who generally drive huge SUVs and come in on snow days) I saw five crashed or stranded Metro buses, and a dozen stranded/crashed cars including the highlight of my morning, a red Camaro someone managed to put head-first into a concrete bus shelter.

Good times.

That’s okay, I’m optimistic

December 17, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 202 Comments 

Building on Jason’s post below, I figured I might as well throw this out there – I couldn’t be any more thrilled with how the Mariners are being run right now than I currently am. I know, most Mariner fans see 2009 as a lost year with no hope of contention. They see Washburn and Silva and Batista and Bedard and Johjima and are reminded of just how badly this organization was run the last few years. They see a big payroll, a bad offense, and a pitching staff with a lot of questions.

Not me.

I see a roster full of hope. I see two brand new tremendous defensive outfielders and realize that we no longer have to beg the team to understand that running down balls in the gaps is just as valuable as hitting balls in the gaps. I see a $1.9 million first base platoon of undervalued players who could produce league average production while holding down the fort until a long term replacement can be found. I see a potential long term replacement in the 22-year-old with a .400 OBP that just got acquired. I see two other intriguing young talents being added to the farm system in Ezequiel Carrera and Mickael Cleto. I see the team filling the holes in the bullpen with buy-low, solid upside guys like Jason Vargas and Jose Lugo.

If people want to call it rebuilding, that’s fine. I’d say it’s more of an overhaul, though – a complete teardown of the old processes and in importation of new, better processes. Not everything Zduriencik and crew do is going to work, but there’s a mountain of evidence that shows that they understand how to build a good team, and that the moves they make will be built on solid logic.

I see a team that has moved away from ERA, RBIs, and chemistry, and is marching towards actual wins. Yes, Raul Ibanez and J.J. Putz are gone, and the local media will tell you that those guys are humongous losses to a roster of bad players. I will tell you that this team, right now, is better than the one that went to spring training in March. Franklin Gutierrez is a better player than Raul Ibanez. The M’s aren’t rebuilding by getting worse and hoping kids develop – they’re rebuilding by bringing in better players than the ones that were previously.

The Mariners are going the right way. They’re building for the future and the present at the same time, and they’re implementing processes that will lead to long term sustained success. I haven’t been as optimistic about this organization as I am now in… probably forever. Let the pessimists wail about the losses of guys they know, and watch as the Mariners win with guys they don’t.

Go Z. Go M’s.

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