Once again, no Mariners game means we give you a chance to talk Tacoma baseball. Garrett Olson takes the hill against Matt Kinney, but in more important news, Michael Saunders is playing his first game with the Rainers. He’s been activated from the DL and is starting in LF and batting leadoff. He’s been recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but is apparently 100% again.
Mike Wilson will be back shortly too, so the Triple-A team is about to have too many outfielders. We’ll let you know when they announce who is going away.
The M’s have placed Roy Corcoran on the 15 day DL with
bad control a sprained neck and replaced him with Jason Vargas. Vargas was pitching extremely well for the Rainiers in the rotation, and has a history of getting LHBs out. It will be interesting to see how Wakamatsu uses him.
13-9, first place in the AL West at the end of April. Everyone in Seattle would have taken that if offered at the beginning of the year. The first month saw more good than bad, and the M’s have put themselves in a position to be contenders for the division this year.
As contenders, then, the requirements change a bit. If you’re serious about winning, then you don’t get to wait until problems manifest themselves as huge black holes before you fix them. You have to be ahead of the curve, acting before disaster strikes rather than trying to react after it sinks your season. Contenders have proactive mindsets when it comes to shaping their roster. So, if the M’s are going to take a run at the AL West this year, they have to be willing to adjust some preseason plans in order to maximize the team’s chances of winning.
For me, the biggest glaring flaw with this team is the quintet of right-handed bats that all have the same basic approach at the plate. Adrian Beltre, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Franklin Gutierrez, and Kenji Johjima/Rob Johnson occupy five positions as everyday players, and they’re all cut from the same cloth – right-handed, aggressive gap power guys who can hit a fastball if you make a mistake but are more than willing to get themselves out by chasing pitches out of the zone. There are different levels of abilities within these five, but they’re all the same type of hitter. And they all struggle to hit right-handed pitchers, especially righties who have a decent sinker/slider combination.
It doesn’t even have to be a good pitcher. Jered Weaver and James Shields shut us down, but so did Rick Porcello, Edwin Jackson, Bartolo Colon, and Trevor Cahill. When the M’s run into a right-handed sinker/slider pitcher, they’re in trouble, because odds are they aren’t going to get much from the Beltre-Lopez-Betancourt-Gutierrez-Joh/Johnson part of the line-up.
That leaves an enormous amount of pressure on the four LH bats, one of whom isn’t much of a hitter. Two of the LH bats are vulnerable to left-handed relievers as well, so our offense can be fairly easily neutralized by any team with a right-handed starter and a halfway competent left-handed reliever. That’s a big problem.
In addition, the entire bench is right-handed. If any of the four left-handed bats need a day off, they get replaced with a right-handed bat. If you want to inject Balentien into the line-up to add some more power, you’re simply adding yet another hitter who struggles against that same pitcher type. The M’s just have too many right-handed, free-swinging, fastball-oriented hitters.
If they want to win this year, this is going to have to be addressed. One of the five is going to have to surrender their everyday spot in order for the team to get a more patient left-handed bat in the line-up and give the offense some balance.
What are the options? I see three, personally.
1. Try to trade for a middle infielder who bats left-handed or switch-hits. There aren’t a lot of them, and most of the good ones just aren’t available, but you might be able to talk the Braves into a deal that involved Jose Lopez and Kelly Johnson. Maybe. Probably not, but it’d be worth exploring, at least.
2. Bring up Jeff Clement and give him significant time behind the plate. This is almost certainly not going to happen, as the M’s have made a conscious decision to value defense over offense behind the plate. If Clement can’t get out of Tacoma when Johjima’s on the DL, he’s certainly not going to take over the job when both Joh and Rob Johnson are healthy. We can complain about this one all we want, but Clement doesn’t have a future behind the plate with this organization.
3. Trade Beltre, move Russ Branyan to third, and replace him with a left-handed hitting first baseman. This one is extremely unlikely and probably wouldn’t work anyway, because Beltre is one of the reasons this team has a chance to make the playoffs. But, if we’re throwing out ideas, it’s at least in the realm of possibility. As a free agent at the end of the year, the M’s could conceivably get an offer for him that they felt was worth pulling the trigger on, and then attempt to patch the hole they just created by acquiring someone like Nick Johnson and shifting Branyan across the diamond. It’s almost unheard of for teams in contention to make radical shifts like this, which would involve getting away from the defense-first orientation of the roster, but it’s at least possible. A ridiculous longshot, yes, but maybe one worth exploring if the right situations present itself.
As you can see, of the three options that I can come up with, two of them are basically non-starters. That leaves the M’s shopping for a middle infielder who can bat left-handed. That doesn’t seem particularly likely either, honestly.
That’s why this is such a problem. It’s not easily resolved. This team was constructed poorly by the last administration, and it leaves the current front office in a predicament. Perhaps the best test yet of Jack Zduriencik’s abilities as a GM will be to see if he can solve this rubix cube.
The M’s have bunted way, way too often so far this season by any reasonable measure. But here’s the thing… let’s say Wakamatsu has two and only two things to do in a day: fill out a lineup card and make a decision on whether to sacrifice two runners over.
Wakamatsu’s frankly amazing ability so far to keep Griffey at DH and seemingly happy about it, run out not-insane lineups far outweighs the bunting.
Take the Endy Chavez/Griffey in left scenario. Defensively, every time he runs that out instead of Griffey in left and Sweeney at DH, he’s come out in the good. I did some rough calculations and it’s like a quarter of a run a game so far, and that’s without punishing Sweeney for looking pretty helpless at the plate so far.
That buys him two bad bunt-the-runner-over decisions. Or a really bad steal decision. And it doesn’t incorporate, as Dave said, how well he’s been managing the pitching staff.
Really: think about the effect of batting Vidro in the middle of the order. Wouldn’t the team have been better off trading a competent hitter against an extra hit-and-run call?
The most important part of a manager’s job, game by game, is putting the right players in the right positions. Before the season I was desperately worried about how they’d defuse Griffey (and the media’s) expectation of playing left every day (and Dave, presciently, was talking some sense). But they’ve managed the lineups well, especially considering some of the strange injury constraints. And that’s a lot more important than anything else so far.
11:05 our time, FSN. Bedard versus Floyd.
For me, Bedard’s been one of the unexpected pleasures of the season. I looked forward to seeing the improved defense, and Felix’s development, Beltre, the interesting possibilities of Branyan and the other smaller moves (and my appreciation for Ichiro! is so well documented people complain). But watching Bedard these last few starts, I feel like I’m a little closer to understanding why the previous regime made the trade for him. When he’s working it, his stuff is tremendous, strikes with great movement only a little bit away from unhittable.
If you believed that your team was one good starter away from winning a pennant, and you’d need another top-shelf ace to get through the playoffs, well, I get it. I do. It’s still a terrible trade, but I sympathize in a way I didn’t last year. Part of it’s likely that we didn’t get to see much of this version last year, but it’s been great, and I hope he keeps it up today.
He’s not bad. 73 of 100 pitches for strikes… and he got screwed by a ridiculous strike zone at times. Take a look at the Pitch F/x strike zone data from tonight’s game:
Two green squares in the upper central area show balls that are, for all intents and purposes, right down the middle and below the belt. Five more on the lower line that are borderline are balls, as are two that are just a fraction outside and are usually called strikes. He threw 73% strikes on a night where the strikezone was smaller than usual. Yea. All hail the king.
Also, I wonder what the probability of Branyan and Betancourt combining to go nine for nine (to start with, I know Yuni finally made an out) in a game started by John Danks was. We could take a crude stab at it with a binomial distribution and a guess at their combined “true average” against this particular medley of pitchers… ah, heck, why not.
Nine hits in nine at-bats for hitters with a .260 true talent batting average, the odds of it happening are .000005. That would be one in every 200,000 or so. So, yea, don’t count on ever seeing that again.
I love that one of the excuses for still carrying 12 pitchers is that cold weather in April can force you into unexpected doubleheaders which burn through the pen quickly… and the bullpen threw one inning.
Also, on the heels of my “I like Wak” post from this morning – Chavez starting (and hitting 2nd!) against an LHP while Gutierrez sits on the bench? I get that Endy’s been having better at-bats lately, and that Gutierrez looked bad on some hacks in the first game, but if you want to get Gutierrez’s bat going, let him build up some confidence by whacking lefties. And Chavez isn’t exactly still on fire; going into the second game, he was 8 for 36 with a .592 OPS in his last 10 games. We knew the Chavez hot streak wasn’t going to last, and it hasn’t – he shouldn’t be playing over Gutierrez against an LHP unless there’s an injury or something.
In reality, it’s time for the M’s to start giving Chavez a bit less playing time. We’re obviously huge proponents of the new and improved outfield defense, and Chavez should still get the majority of the innings in LF, but it’s okay to pinch-hit for him in high leverage situations, and he shouldn’t be starting against an LHP unless Washburn is on the hill. Everything is a balance – Chavez is a valuable player in certain situations, and in others, the team is better off with Balentien. We’d do well to get back to more of a 70/30 playing time split between Chavez/Balentien, rather than the 95/5 it’s been so far.
Dave adds: You know what would have been nice last game? A left-handed bat off the bench. I’m just saying.
Double-header! Woooo! 2:05 our time.
Jakubauskas v Colon in the first, and I’ll probably try to throw a second game thread up later for #21.
Also, read Dave’s post below if you haven’t already.
When you have a rookie manager, your expectations have to be toned down, because what a manager says he’s going to do and what he actually does are often quite different. Wakamatsu said a lot of intelligent stuff during spring training, and he impressed a lot of smart people, and I had hopes that he’d be a pretty good manager, but there was always that nagging feeling of “you never know”.
A few weeks in, and while we still don’t know, we actually have some evidence of what Wak values and what kind of manager he is. And I couldn’t be any happier.
At the end of March, I wrote that the measure of Wakamatsu would be how he handled the Griffey situation. It was an exaggeration, but not a huge one. In seeing how he dealt with a beloved superstar who the fans adored, who simultaneously had an inflated sense of his defensive value, was a pretty big litmus test for what kinds of things Wakamatsu valued. As we wrote about extensively, Griffey could help the team as a DH vs RHP, but would hurt the team in pretty much any other capacity. Whether Wak would be able to convince Griffey of that was going to tell us a lot about him.
He gets two thumbs way up on that so far. Junior played 23 innings in the outfield while Ichiro was on the DL and hasn’t touched a glove since he returned. Despite telling the media that he wanted to play the OF regularly and would only DH once in a while, Junior hasn’t said one peep about his relegation to bat-only player, and has reportedly been nothing short of fantastic in the clubhouse. For those that were afraid Griffey’s return would lead to Ibanez 2.0 in left field, I think those have been chased away.
While the Griffey scenario was the biggest challenge, he’s also proven adept in other areas. His handling of the bullpen has been very good so far, finding the right options for high leverage situations and relegating Batista to a back-up role despite his vast experience lead over the rest of the relief arms. He’s shuffled the line-up depending on opposing pitcher handedness, something the previous managers simply weren’t willing to do. He’s stuck with struggling starters when the team needed innings and managed the workloads without riding anyone excessively hard.
He hasn’t been perfect – the team is bunting too much for my tastes, especially Lopez and Gutierrez, and I’d like to see him be a bit more willing to pinch hit for platoon advantages late in games – but he’s been very, very good. After a short period of reservation when Zduriencik was hired, we all justifiably got excited when he gave us reasons to. I think it’s time to get excited about Wakamatsu as well. It’s hard to think of anyone I’d prefer as manager of this team.
Since the M’s are rained out, here’s a game thread for the Rainiers match-up against Colorado Springs. Chris Seddon vs Jason Hirsh, with Jeff Clement playing first base for the first time as a professional.