One tremendous set of sim seasons for your consideration

March 31, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

The Replacement Level Yankees weblog has posted a project-a-palooza. Enjoy.

The M’s come out okay at 78-84, a dramatic improvement given their record of 0-162 last year (that was just my impression). Here’s the good news: the division is so craptabulous that a little luck might be all they need. The AL West is the early favorite for worst in baseball. As much as I expect that the team’s going to punt this year, content with modest immediate improvements while putting pieces together and looking forward to more dead salary rolling off the books, there’s a real chance they’ll be close enough that they’ll hang on to Bedard (and Washburn) for the season and see where it gets them.

h/t to “Dave Cameron” at Fangraphs for the link.

The Measure Of Wakamatsu

March 31, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 65 Comments 

Yesterday, Wakamatsu slotted Ichiro in the #3 hole in the line-up spot, and then said this about it.

“(Ichiro’s) been outstanding, coming in here and saying, ‘Whatever you need me to do to help this ballclub.’ It has been off the chart,” Wakamatsu said. “I’m trying to take the ego out of it with a lot of these guys and say, ‘Hey, whatever we feel gives us our best opportunity to win, we’re going to do that,’ and he’s been outstanding with that.

He talked a lot about mixing things up this spring to prepare guys to be ready to do whatever the team asks of them in order to help the team win. After years of the manager giving the veterans whatever they want for fear of upsetting those with an entitlement attitude, this is nice to hear.

The first measure of Wakamatsu’s ability to actually make this work, though, will be how he handles the Griffey scenario. As you’ll recall, I walked everyone through the math on Griffey as an LF, working on the assumption that the DH on days when Griffey was in the field would be Jeff Clement. Now, Clement is in Tacoma. That leaves Mike Sweeney as the de-facto backup DH. So now, the comparison isn’t getting Clement at-bats and upgrading the defense behind the plate, but instead is simply a straight across comparison of Endy Chavez’s defense versus Mike Sweeney’s offense.

Even if you think defensive stats aren’t accurate, there’s just no way – none, zilch, nada – to believe that the team is better with Griffey in left and Sweeney at DH than with Chavez in left at Griffey at DH.

Mike Sweeney, 2006 to 2008: 677 plate appearances, .322 wOBA
Endy Chavez, 2006 to 2008: 853 plate appearances, .315 wOBA

Over the last three seasons, Chavez and Sweeney have been comparably valuable hitters. The difference between a .322 wOBA and a .315 wOBA is 3.5 runs over 600 plate appearances. We’re talking a remarkably small difference in actual performance at the plate between these two over the last three years. On a per PA basis, the projected wOBA difference between Sweeney and Chavez is .013 runs. One one-hundredth of a run.

I don’t care how much you like Griffey, or how much you think Endy Chavez sucks, or whatever – there’s just no way to think that the defensive gap between those two is anything close to the offensive gap between Chavez and Sweeney.

In order to believe that the Griffey/Sweeney alignment is preferable, you’d have to think that Chavez is no better than +4 runs defensively compared to an average left fielder that Griffey is no worse than -4 runs compared to an average left fielder. Chavez’s career UZR/150 in RF/LF is +23. Griffey’s career UZR/150 in RF/LF is -27. You’d have to regress those back to +4/-4 in order to make the Griffey/Sweeney tandem equally valuable to the Chavez/Griffey tandem. Not more valuable – equally valuable.

There’s no argument to be made here. The team is categorically, undeniably better with Endy Chavez in left field and Ken Griffey Jr at DH than with Ken Griffey Jr in left field and Mike Sweeney at DH.

“I’m trying to take the ego out of it with a lot of these guys and say, ‘Hey, whatever we feel gives us our best opportunity to win, we’re going to do that,…”

Wak, if you’re serious about this, Endy Chavez and Wladimir Balentien will split the innings in left field. There’s no contest here – the team is worse every single time you put Griffey in left. Penciling Junior to start in left field will never give you your best opportunity to win with this roster. Never.

I understand that you’ll feel the need to give him some innings out there occasionally. There will be days when he pinch-hits for Chavez and you’ll have to send him out to left to finish the game. There will be days when one of the regular outfielders are under the weather and you’ll be playing with a 24 man roster. There will be a lot of pressure to stick him out there in the home opener, so the fans can give him a bunch of standing ovations and welcome him back to Seattle. We won’t hold those against you.

But, given the comments about ego taking a back seat to the team’s best chance to win, you have to limit Junior’s innings in left field. He really shouldn’t get more than 100 the whole year, and that’s generous, honestly.

So far, I’m extremely encouraged by what Wakamatsu has said. But, when the rubber meets the road, he has the chance to back up his words with one tough action. That action – make Ken Griffey Jr a full time DH. It’s the right move for the team. It gives them the best chance to win.

Going South

March 30, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

One of the rites of spring in some circles seems to be the riot over who will break camp in the 24th and 25th roster spots. All too often one factor or another, be it minor league options, veteran presence, pinch-running, grit, or bullpen handedness, figures a little more prominently than we’d like and leads to a suboptimal decision. And yes, Clement being sent down, while it increasingly appears that Sweeney has beat out Shelton, contributes to a brief spurt of depressing news. It’s not the end of the world.

The Billy Beane notion of breaking the season into thirds for roster-construction purposes gets cited often enough to be a tad cliche, but the Opening Day roster is not carved in stone. Here are some players who have graced it in years past:
Kevin Jarvis
Brad Wilkerson
Guillermo Quiroz
Joe Borchard
Charlton Jimerson
Matt Lawton
Roberto Petagine
Anthony Sanders

These are varying degrees of mistakes and guys who weren’t necessarily bad ideas but didn’t work out. If you’ve forgotten them, it’s partly because they weren’t around long enough to do as much damage as the Everetts and Vidros of the world. Once the games start, there’s still time to fine-tune things and let people play themselves into or out of their roles. Part of that process is that some players will always end up with a few more times at bat or on the mound than they should, and others a few less. In the big picture, it may make a difference of a run here or there at most, the front office will still have the same challenge of balancing small sample size performances against projections and scouting, but at least it’ll be small sample sizes that counted for something.

This isn’t the end

March 30, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 50 Comments 

To answer the question “are you still on the bandwagon?” I roll my eyes at the implication there is a bandwagon while sighing heavily, and yes, sure, for purposes of the question, why not.

I don’t know what’s going on with Morrow, and it’s a loss for the team if he’s not in the rotation (where he’d be the #2 starter following a future Bedard trade). What’s going on with Morrow though is the previous administration’s fault, and particularly their desire to improve the bullpen to compete immediately at the cost of player development. We don’t know how much they could have influenced Morrow, or if they’re conceding this battle now to make him happy with the intention of continuing to work on the issue

I clearly prefer Shelton over Sweeney, but I don’t think it’s that huge of a difference, and Dave (and everyone else) doesn’t see much of a difference at all. I’ll shrug and concede.

I’m disappointed about Walker: I thought that was a nice little move I wanted to see work out, it was good to see him pitch this spring, and I hope he can work his way back to the majors this year.

And on Clement, yeah, this sucks. For all the blathering about failing to prove himself at the major league level blah blah blah, no one seriously doubts he can hit, and the challenge is figuring out how to get his bat into a lineup. The team as constructed with Griffey (and, I should note, this should be an indication that they’re going to be parking Griffey at DH) didn’t leave Clement a lot of at-bats to pick up anyway. But going to Tacoma’s not going to help his development.

Look at this in contrast to last year, though: Silva and the Bedard trade. Huge, fat disasters, ones the team’s going to pay for for seasons to come, absurd on their face. As much as yesterday’s news isn’t happy fun time, they’re bad outcomes of close and difficult decisions. The smarts of the Branyan pickup isn’t lessened by whether they go with Shelton/Sweeney.

Last, on the same theme, there’s no chance the team’s not exploring options to clear up some of this. We saw with the Putz trade how highly they value proven closers: if that’s all Morrow wants to become they’re already pondering pump-and-dump schemes. Clement may have more value to a team willing to accept a defensive upgrade to get his bat, maybe betting he’ll listen to reason over the long term. If this all ends up kicking off a couple of huge trades that net the M’s a haul in prospects, in a couple of weeks none of this will have mattered and everyone decrying the awfulness of the front office yesterday will be asking for a hand back up onto the wagon, which we’ll helpfully provide.

This is in no way a disaster on the scope of previous off-seasons. Don’t freak out. If they make a series of huge bonehead moves, trust us to point that out.

Defensive Stats In The Times

March 30, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

This got lost in the shuffle with all of yesterday’s news, but Baker wrote a long story on defensive statistics and their use in evaluating fielding prowess. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth checking out.

Baker did a ton of work on this piece. He spent 45 minutes on the phone with me, and I’m a sidebar to the real story. He also talked to Dewan, Lichtman, and Blengino, and he made sure he had as much information as he could get. He does a pretty good job giving an overview of what +/-/UZR/PMR do without making the barrier for reading the article too high. It’s certainly an entry level piece, but that’s where 99 % of the Times readers are at.

Baker also wrote a supplemental blog post where he adds a little context to the article, explaining that he just didn’t have the space to fit in every angle. Defensive statistics are complicated, and he’s right – you just can’t sum them up in 2,000 words without leaving out a lot of stuff.

One of the things I told Geoff in our phone conversation is that I tend to look at the advanced defensive statistics much like ERA. ERA measures pitching ability, teammates fielding ability, scorer bias, park effects, and luck. It includes a bunch of stuff that pitchers have no control over, but most casual fans have no problem accetping ERA as a measure of pitcher value. Likewise, UZR and +/- measure range and instincts, but also positioning (is that the player or the coach?), pitchers ability (not all balls in play are equally catchable), scorer bias (line drive or fly ball?), park effects (do fly balls in Safeco’s LF hang up longer than in other parks?), and luck (did you get a bunch of weakly hit ground balls that were easier plays that they looked on paper?).

We’ve moved beyond ERA for evaluating pitchers because we have better metrics now – things like FIP strip out a lot of the non-pitcher stuff and give us a better tool for just evaluating the pitching aspect of run prevention. We’ll have better things than current UZR and +/- shortly, once Hit F/x is introduced and we have speed/trajectory/hang time of batted balls. But, until then, UZR and +/- are better than anything else out there right now, and they’re good enough as long as the issues with the stats are accounted for.

The shortcomings that Baker (and Ibanez) point to are real, and that’s why we talk about players fielding in terms of ranges. We say that a guy is a +10 to +20 fielder, for instance, and we won’t argue any number in that interval. He might be +11 or +19 – we’re not sure. There’s noise in the data. We know that, and we account for it.

Do you ever hear people do this with ERA, though? The same noise (probably more, actually) exists in ERA, but you never hear someone say that a pitcher is a 4.25 to 4.75 ERA guy. They’ll say he has a 4.36 ERA, and that’s what’s used to evaluate his past performance – the noise is ignored and the entirety of the number is attributed to the pitcher.

In most ways, I think people like us who are pushing the value of advanced defensive metrics have been far more honest about the quality of the metrics we’re using than those who reject our numbers as not good enough but cling to Batting Average, RBIs, and ERA.

Current advanced fielding data, such as UZR, should be looked at much like you do ERA. It’s got some problems, no doubt, but we don’t have a FIP for fielding just yet, so until we do, it’s a good enough proxy if you acknowledge the flaws. We’ll have a FIP-like fielding metric soon enough. Until then, UZR is better than anything else out there, and using it to make decisions will lead to more correct decisions than ignoring it entirely.

Suggested additional Mariner mantras

March 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 31 Comments 

The irony of having Jarrod Washburn talk about how bad the stress of playing while behind goes unmentioned, but look at how Jim Street milks a whole article out of those quotes and manages to end up somehow talking about team chemistry and Street-endorsed Griffey/Sweeney presence.

Scoring early could go a long way toward removing some of the stress that comes from playing from behind so darn often — something that happened way too frequently a year ago.

The Mariners were outscored, 296-224, in the first three innings last season.

Sure, that’s a team winning one in five games. But the team went 61-101 last year. If you want to find splits that the M’s should be looking at, you might also consider shooting halibut in a barrel you’ve drained of water. And here at USSM Labs, well, if we’re not in on fish-shooting action, well, we create our own.

“M’s look to get season off to good start… last year, the Mariners were outscored 437-374 before the All-Star break”

Get some more quotes from Washburn about how hard it was to pitch in the second half when his team was out of contention… you’ve got another column. Or pick a bad month and “M’s seek to avoid early/mid-season/late-season swoon.”

Like: “M’s seek to avoid road trips… the Mariners were outscored 433-224 while on the road.”

And “M’s look to improve on performance on turf after being outscored 54-48”

Wait, even better: “Vampiric Mariners learn to tolerate sunlight”. “The Mariners were outscored 286-217 during day games. When asked if this could be because of the notoriously weak sun quality in the team’s home city, manager Wakamatsu said ‘Potentially there could be some Vitamin D deficiency issues, but we’d see that across performances. Unless other teams get better at generating it and day-of… but then why was Texas so bad in day games?” Asked it the team was considering additional sunglass training, Wakamatsu said it was something his staff would consider.”

As if that wasn’t enough

March 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 35 Comments 

Washburn’s pitching

Lots Of News: Morrow, Clement, Walker

March 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 113 Comments 

Baker fills us in on a busy day in camp.

First off, Brandon Morrow has decided that he doesn’t want to be a starter anymore. He’s going back to the bullpen, full time, and presumably for the rest of his career. Baker has some quotes (including audio), where Morrow explains that he feels more comfortable in relief, especially with his diabetes. This is, obviously, bad news for the M’s. Morrow converting back to starting was the best case scenario for this franchise, and that hope is now out the window. This is yet another byproduct of the horrible way Morrow has been handled since being drafted. The Bavasi regime screwed the pooch on this situation from day one, and it continues to hurt the organization even after he’s gone.

This, obviously, effects how the pitching staff will shake out. With Morrow headed back to the bullpen, Tyler Walker was released, as the team had an abundance of right-handed relievers. Ryan Rowland-Smith will stay in the rotation. The team is now running low on right-handed starting pitching depth – of the top seven or eight starters in the organization, only Felix and Silva are right-handed. Look for the M’s to try to address that weakness via trade.

Who would they trade? That brings us to the second piece of news – Jeff Clement has been optioned to Triple-A, where he’ll begin the season. Rob Johnson has presumably made the team as the back-up to Kenji Johjima. Clement will continue to work on improving his defense behind the plate in Tacoma. As we talked about the other day, this is the option that I hoped the team would ignore. Clement’s been working on his catching for years. He’s already 25 and has had two surgeries on his knees. That he’s been judged as an inadequate defensive catcher at this point should be a hint that it’s just not going to work. If another organization still views him as a catching prospect, they should explore dealing him, because he’s just not going to ever live up to the defensive standards that this organization has for it’s catchers. Especially with how high they are on Adam Moore, 2009 stood as Clement’s last shot to prove he was a viable option going forward behind the plate for the M’s. That he’s not going to get a shot to do it at the major league level speaks volumes about his long term future here. Unless he’s willing to move off catcher, he doesn’t have one in Seattle. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was traded before opening day.

All in all, a day of news that can only be construed as not good. Morrow’s move to the bullpen downgrades the organization’s potential, and Clement’s days as a catching prospect in this organization are basically over. We’d been the leaders of the “this team isn’t that bad” bandwagon for the last few months, and I’d projected the team for about 79 wins. With these moves, that’s probably more like 77 now. This is a step back for the team both in ’09 and beyond.

Tough day.

Edit: And the news just keeps rolling in. Divish says the M’s just bought Chris Burke from the Padres for cash considerations. Burke’s a second baseman by trade, but has experience at pretty much every position and is well qualified for a utility infield position, and as I wrote over at FanGraphs, he’s a great rebound candidate. He was in camp with the Padres on a minor league deal, so he can be assigned to Tacoma to start the season. I’d call this move insurance in case the team trades Betancourt – they’d need a new utility guy if Cedeno became the starting SS, and Burke is a better player than Corona right now.

Today’s red hot spring training action

March 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 52 Comments 

Newer Slimmer Carlos Silva pitches against the Angels at 1:05. We’ll see if Ichiro accidentally brains him on a throw to third, or if he’s a better man. If you remember last year they made a huge deal about spring games against their divisional rivals. This year they’re not coming out and saying “we don’t care and it was silly to build that up” but they’re certainly not making it into a playoff game come early.

There’s also some college basketball of some kind, I’ve heard.

And the Sounders FC plays at 7:30.

Ichiro returns to fetid odor of Silva suggestions

March 27, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 54 Comments 

With the return of our Japanese contingent, Baker at the Times finally got to ask Ichiro about last year’s chemistry questions. Ichiro: Time to act like “professionals” is the result, a long piece including much Ichiro-ness.

But I want to take a second and question the premise of this:

There’s been a whole lot said since Ichiro was last here and he had to be asked for a response to all of it. Doesn’t matter whether it makes us feel uncomfortable asking, or whether the timing would have been better two months ago. Ichiro wasn’t here two months ago. He was here today.


he had to be asked for a response to all of it.

Does he? What happens if he isn’t?

Now, this is a fine follow-up, in which a story which was built, briefly caught fire, and was rekindled this spring is continued.

But at the heart of this is the fundamental disagreement I’ve had with the whole thing: that it must be reported, and followed. The whole thing operates on the premise that it’s important, which I obviously disagree with, and moreover that it was a cause of rather than result of the team’s poor fortunes last year. We’ve talked about that a lot: clearly Geoff believes that this was a key factor in last year’s failure, and it’s been something he’s talked about over and over (and included his reasons, so I’ll refer you there).

What you get then is this:
* Clubhouse chemistry is an important factor in a team’s success
* Therefore, clubhouse chemistry is an important story to cover
* Therefore, there’s a need to report stories which allege clubhouse factions, threats of violence averted by clubhouse * meetings, etc, even if that means using and protecting blind sources, and itself creates controversy
* When clubhouse chemistry is an ongoing controversy and topic of discussion, further stories following up on it are called for

Which made this exchange stand out

After asking me for specifics about what Riggleman had said about the other players, he then immediately asked if I had any specific examples of what he could do differently to make the situation better.

Since he seemed to be waiting for an answer to his question, I shrugged and said: “Talk to them?” (Refering, of course, to anyone with a beef). [sic]

Not really my place to be telling anyone in that clubhouse how to go about their business, but he was asking and someone had to fill the void, so I put it out there. Once I did, Ichiro finally did answer the initial question., but he was asking and someone had to fill the void, so I put it out there. Once I did, Ichiro finally did answer the initial question.

Wait, what?

Not really my place to be telling anyone in that clubhouse how to go about their business

This is where it all led. It is, by this logic, okay to judge that chemistry is bad, to advance the opinion that chemistry is important, use that to justify covering and later actively building a story from blind sourcing (later found to be of particularly dubious quality), creating a nationally-covered controversy about Ichiro’s safety in the M’s clubhouse, cover it through spring training again as a possible risk to this year’s team and so on.

Since he seemed to be waiting for an answer to his question, I shrugged and said: “Talk to them?”

I don’t want to get into the absurdity of that response, since obviously Geoff wasn’t prepared to offer a cogent analysis. I want to get into what went into that response:

In all of the reporting done on this, in all of the interviews named and unnamed, nothing came up?

Really? At no point in talking to Carlos Silva about what a jerk Ichiro was did the question “what do you want him to do?” come up? Or Putz? Or, assuming there were additional sources, those guys?

And if that was it, if the only thing Silva wanted was for the cool guy to come over and talk to him more often — doesn’t that destroy the premise of the whole thing, from start to finish? If the people who are complaining so long and so vociferously have complaints so trivial that they don’t even have a way to be resolved, there’s no reason this should ever have been a story unless it was one about what a moron the complainer was.

If someone’s leaving their towels lying around, that’s a specific complaint that can be covered and addressed. And maybe there’s even a harm we can address.

That’s not what’s going on here. Again, Silva and Putz and whoever else might have been in on this were anti-Ichiro for no reported reason, their complaints unaddressable. And yet the stories written weren’t “Carlos Silva is a jerk” but “Ichiro selfish”.

And we still don’t have an answer to the question of what Ichiro is supposed to do to heal a rift that may not exist now and which he never created.

I cannot wait for the season to start in the hopes that we can get past this.

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