Game 76, Mariners at Yankees

June 30, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 250 Comments 

Morrow vs Chamberlain, 4:05 pm.

Brandon Morrow is an extreme flyball pitcher who gets torched by left-handed batters. New Yankee Stadium is turning more fly balls into home runs than any other park in baseball this year, and the benefit is going almost entirely to left-handed hitters pulling the ball over the closer, shorter right field wall. The Yankees have a bunch of good left-handed power hitters.

This is a really bad match-up. And, Wak just made it worse.

Ichiro, RF
Branyan, 1B
Lopez, 2B
Gutierrez, CF
Woodward, 3B
Johjima, C
Cedeno, SS

I’d give the M’s about a 5% chance of winning tonight. This is something like the worst line-up that Wak could put on the field, and he did it on a night where Morrow needs every single piece of help he can get. Way to give your pitcher the least possible chance for success tonight.


The Bedard/Washburn Myth

June 30, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 72 Comments 

Whenever the discussion of what the M’s should do in terms of trading this summer comes up, inevitably, someone will make the point that this team can’t trade away Erik Bedard or Jarrod Washburn and hope to keep contending because “those guys are the reason the team is where they are”. The belief is that the team can’t trade either of their left-handed free agents to be without sinking the 2009 season, because those two are pitching so well that the team would experience a sudden collapse if either of them left.

The problem, however, is that the facts don’t support that belief.

Mariners record when Bedard or Washburn start: 12-13, .480 winning percentage
Mariners record when anyone else starts: 27-23, .540 winning percentage

67% of the Mariner games this season have been started by pitchers other than Bedard and Washburn. We’re supposed to believe that the M’s aren’t contenders without either of those two, yet the team has done just fine with those guys acting as spectators. Why? Because the reasons this team is winning go far beyond an old cliche that overvalues veteran starting pitching.

This team is winning because of Felix Hernandez, Ichiro, Russell Branyan, Franklin Gutierrez, David Aardsma, and Sean White, among others. They’re getting ridiculously good performances from that group, all of whom are producing all-star caliber results.

This isn’t to disparage Bedard or Washburn. Both guys have pitched well this season, and both are valuable members of the club. The team is better with them than without them, certainly. However, the reality of baseball is that starting pitching isn’t as important as most people think. Bedard and Washburn are not critical pieces that this team can’t live without. Felix, Ichiro, Branyan, Gutierrez, this version of Aardsma… those are guys the M’s can’t replace. Washburn and Bedard can be replaced.

If Bedard is healthy enough to rejoin the team before the all-star break, the M’s will have seven candidates for their starting rotation – Felix, Bedard, Washburn, Morrow, Vargas, Olson, and Rowland-Smith. Even though RR-S and Olson aren’t that good as starters and profile better out of the bullpen, that’s still a surplus. For a team with some gaping holes on the position player side of things, running a surplus of pitching when other major league teams are dying to trade for a starting pitcher isn’t a very good idea.

Even if you think the M’s should be going for it this year, you should still support the idea that the M’s should look to trade Bedard or Washburn in an effort to upgrade other parts of the club. The dropoff from either of those guys to Garrett Olson is smaller than the difference between Chris Woodward and a major league infielder. Or Yuniesky Betancourt and a big league shortstop.

Position players matter more than pitchers. It’s a sellers market for pitchers, and the M’s have starting pitchers to trade, while they have position players they need to buy. When people start busting out the old cliches about not messing with the rotation because “that’s why they’re winning”, don’t listen to them. The Mariners have options open to upgrading the team by trading Bedard or Washburn. They can deal one of the two and still get better this year.

Dual Minor League Game Thread

June 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

No M’s game tonight, so two options for your listening pleasure this evening, both starting at 7:05 pm.

Tacoma at Reno, Seddon vs Petit Etherton.
Everett at Eugene, Stanton vs Greenwood.

There are more prospects on the Rainiers squad (Everett should get a boost when the M’s start signing some of their draft picks), but Northwest League action is always fun to listen to as well, and Pat Dillon does a great job on the call for the Aquasox.

Or, you could always check out the Lake Elsinore-High Desert game and see if they can score 51 runs again tonight…

The Third Base Situation

June 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 45 Comments 

So, Adrian Beltre’s gone for at least the next two months. That sucks. For a team with a lot of holes, losing a +3 win player that they don’t have any good internal candidates to replace is a pretty significant problem. Even those that are optimistic about this team’s playoff chances are hoping to steal the division by a game or two, and losing Beltre for two months takes a couple of expected wins from the team’s tally that they can’t really afford to lose.

Right now, the M’s are looking at replacing Beltre with Chris Woodward, either sticking him directly at third base or having him play second and shifting Lopez to third. Unfortunately for the Mariners, Woodward isn’t really a major league player.

In 2006, he got 253 plate appearances with the Mets and posted a .265 wOBA. In 2007, he got 151 plate appearances with the Braves and posted a .237 wOBA. In 2008, he split time between the Phillies and Brewers Triple-A squads, and posted a .312 wOBA. League average wOBA in the majors is about .330. Woodward couldn’t even match that against Triple-A pitching.

There’s a reason ZIPS projects a .274 wOBA from Chris Woodward over the rest of the 2009 season. That would maybe be an acceptable level of offense if Woodward was the best defensive shortstop in baseball, but unfortunately, he’s just a solid glove at 2B/3B, which makes the lack of offense a pretty significant problem.

As a team already running out replacement level players (or worse) at shortstop and catcher, and getting barely above replacement level performance from left field and designated hitter, the M’s can’t really afford to punt third base too. You can’t have five of your regular positions be offering performances that are Triple-A level in quality and expect to make a serious run at a playoff spot.

So, if Woodward’s not the answer (and he’s not), then what? Sticking Lopez at third could work if the team had a legitimate replacement at second base, but they don’t. The organization is bereft of talent at 2B-3B-SS, so shifting Lopez to third is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. It doesn’t fix anything.

That leaves the Mariners with three choices, essentially.

1. Move Russell Branyan to third base and play Mike Carp at first base. Branyan has significant experience at third base and hasn’t embarrassed himself there (though he’s far from good at the hot corner), but the team is reluctant to mess with the good thing that Russ has going right now by asking him to transition back across the diamond in mid-season. And, while it’s nice to see a kid come up from Tacoma who knows how to draw a walk, we also have to realize that Carp’s not likely to produce at a level much above replacement level either. ZIPS had him projected for a .315 wOBA before the season started, and while his strong performance in Triple-A should bump that up a bit, you’re still looking at a .320 to .330 expected wOBA from Carp. He’s not much of a defensive player either, so you’d be downgrading two infield defense spots in order to get a below average hitter in the line-up. It’s understandable why that’s not a very appealing option to the M’s.

2. Trade for a player who can handle second or third base for a couple of months. The guy they need isn’t in the organization right now, so if they want a credible replacement for Beltre to help the team stay in the race, they’ll have to go acquire him. This can be done, as they showed with the Langerhans deal after Chavez got hurt, but there isn’t quite as obvious a solution to the 3B problem as there was to the LF problem. The guys that I would recommend the M’s take a look would include guys like Bobby Scales (Cubs), Eric Patterson (A’s), Kevin Frandsen (Giants), Ruben Gotay (D’Backs), and Scott Moore (Orioles). All of them are more useful than Woodward, and none of them should cost too much to acquire (though more than Langerhans did, certainly), but the expected level of performance isn’t going to be particularly high, either. These guys are all replacement level or slightly above, so while they’re improvements over Chris Woodward, we’re talking about a magnitude of less than one win. How much should the team give up to add half a win to this season’s roster? Not much, I’d argue, and the cost for these types of players might be too rich considering the likely return.

3. Hope and pray for a fluke. Right now, this sounds like the way the team is leaning. Woodward and Wilson aren’t likely to hit, but in 200 at-bats, anything is possible. Bad hitters have good months. It happens. So, while it’s not a very good strategy, the M’s might look around and decide that the probability of adding a legitimate 2B/3B type isn’t very high, and they’ll just have to roll the dice with what they have and hope for the best. The problem with this scenario is that the team is simultaneously trying to win as many games as possible to stay in the AL West race, and the dropoff from Beltre to Woodward is going to be obvious very quickly.

This is a problem with no easy solutions. Despite the desire by many to see the Branyan shift enabling Carp to play, there’s less upside and more downside with that move than you’d think. Ideally, the team would be able to go get a guy like Scales or Gotay for cheap in order to hold down the fort for a while, but that might not be possible. And if the other teams won’t cooperate in helping the M’s improve their roster, the team might just be stuck with a hole at third base.

We said before the season that Beltre, Ichiro, and Felix were the three guys this team couldn’t afford to lose. They just lost one of those three, and the options for filling the gap show why Beltre was so valuable to this particular team.

Adrian Beltre, Retrospective

June 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 61 Comments 

Now that Adrian Beltre is scheduled for surgery tomorrow and is looking at a 6-8 week recovery time, there’s a legitimate chance that his season, and maybe his Mariner career, is over. A two month recovery estimate would theoretically get him back for the month of September, but there are all kinds of potential issues that could arise – the surgery could be more complicated than expected or the rehab could hit a snag, and if his returns gets pushed back even a week or two, the minor league season will be over before he has a chance to go out on a rehab assignment.

Let’s hope Adrian comes back for the final month of the season, but I wouldn’t advise counting on it. Given that he’s a free agent this winter, that his offensive skillset is a bad fit for Safeco Field, that his agent will almost certainly try to guide him to a spot that would be more conducive to putting up offensive numbers to re-establish his value, and that the M’s were pretty impressed with Matt Tuiasosopo in spring training, there are a lot of reasons to think that Beltre and the Mariners might decide to part ways after the season.

So, if this is it, and we’ve seen the last of Adrian Beltre as a Mariner, we need to make one thing perfectly clear – his signing was a complete success and he’s been worth every dime the Mariners paid him. He’s in the conversation for best free agent signing in franchise history. He’s been a terrific asset to the team and a shining light through some really rough seasons.

You’re not going to get that perspective from the mainstream media, however. The first thing that is always brought up when people talk about Beltre is the big contract signed and his 2004 numbers, and how he’s never been able to replicate that performance. Of course, lost in that ignorance is that no one expected Beltre to repeat that performance. His 2004 season was worth 10.0 wins – the only other guys to post a +10 win season since 2002 are named Bonds and Pujols. If people were expecting Beltre to perform at his 2004 levels going forward, he’d have signed for about $200 million more than he actually received.

The fact that Beltre’s 2005-2009 performance never got near his 2004 performance wasn’t a disappointment – that was totally expected. What the M’s were paying Beltre for were an average to above average bat combined with a great glove, and that is exactly what they got. Over at FanGraphs, we have a system for translating on field performance into deserved salary. Here’s Beltre’s Actual Value and Contract Value for each year as a Mariner.

2005: $8.6 million in value, $11.4 million in salary
2006: $17.2 million in value, $12.9 million in salary
2007: $12.4 million in value, $12.9 million in salary
2008: $18.5 million in value, $13.4 million in salary
2009: $5.7 million in value, $13.4 million in salary

Total: $62.4 million in value, $64 million in salary

After a tough adjustment year, Beltre’s been worth his salary and then some for each of the last three years. He was going to easily justify his paycheck again this year until this trip to the disabled list. Even with missing half a season due to an unpredictable injury, his total value is basically dead even with what the Mariners decided he was worth originally.

Beltre has been a rock for the Mariners since he got here. He’s been a consistent +3 to +4 win player, and the kind of guy that every championship club would love to have. If Adrian Beltre’s career with the Mariners is over, it should be remembered as a good one. We hope you come back, Adrian, but if you don’t, thanks for everything. You were awesome.

Minor League Wrap (6/22-28/09)

June 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 11 Comments 

There are nine affiliates playing now that I’m having to keep track of through the dailies, but I’m only going to be keeping up with the top six here because summer league stuff, in Arizona or Latin America, is not something that’s worth paying a great deal of attention to. I’ll get rehab notes in from Peoria when I need to, but I’ve seen so many hitters/pitchers over the years do almost nothing after a tour of the Arizona League to put much stock in it.

To the jump!
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This Will Make You Laugh

June 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 22 Comments 

The Mariners High-A affiliate in the California League, the High Desert Mavericks, have scored 14 runs tonight in the same game that center fielder James McOwen set the league record by getting a hit in his 36th consecutive game. McOwen also homered, as did two of his teammates, as the Mavericks lit up Lake Elsinore’s starter for 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings.

They’re losing by 18. I’m not kidding. Here’s the box score. Lake Elsinore is up 32-14 as I type this. Thirty-Two to Fourteen.

Gotta love baseball at altitude.

Update: They weren’t done – the final score was 33-18.

Game 75, Mariners at Dodgers

June 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 169 Comments 

Olson vs Kuroda, 1:05 pm.

First, the news of the day. Mike Morse won’t be coming up to join the Mariners in place of Adrian Beltre, because they’ve traded him to the Washington Nationals for Ryan Langerhans. Yes, the same Ryan Langerhans I was publicly lobbying for a few days ago. I love our new front office.

Secondly, Beltre’s going to play today, so he’s in the line-up. He’ll go on the DL tomorrow, making room for Langerhans (or a pitcher, depending on Sean White’s health) on the roster. The team needed a LH outfielder more than they needed another infielder, with Carp/Wilson/Woodward already around as infield reserves.

Thirdly, wooo. It’s so awesome having a GM who knows what he’s doing.

Ichiro, RF
Branyan, 1B
Beltre, 3B
Griffey, LF
Lopez, 2B
Gutierrez, CF
Johjima, C
Cedeno, SS
Olson, P

Game 74, Mariners at Dodgers

June 27, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 185 Comments 

Hernandez vs Milton, 7:05 pm.

Happy Felix Day, sort of. Because….

Larry LaRue delivers the bad news – Adrian Beltre will have surgery on his shoulder in the next week or so, which will put him on the shelf for 6-8 weeks. That puts him out until September, realistically, and even his performance then would be a question mark, given the missed time.

This, obviously, is a huge blow to the M’s. Even with his offense struggling, he’s still an elite defensive player who has been playing at a +3 win level so far this year. The M’s don’t have a capable replacement in the organization, and the options for how the team will replace Beltre range from bad (Mike Morse) to experimental (Branyan to third, Carp at first).

And, obviously, this eliminates any chance of the team trading Beltre at the deadline. This also should push the M’s heavily towards sell mode, as the team had a slim chance of winning the division with their star third baseman, but this puts a pretty serious crimp in those plans. Minus Beltre, and with Bedard’s health a question mark, this team just isn’t that good.

Zduriencik confirms, via Baker, that tonight is Beltre’s last game. Jack mentioned Chris Woodward and Jose Lopez as options to replace Beltre, but not Branyan. If Lopez moved to third, Cedeno/Wilson would probably share second base after Yuni came back, which would make the dropoff from Beltre to his replacement probably something like two wins over the rest of the season. Those are two wins the M’s couldn’t afford to lose. Sell, sell, sell.

Time To Say Goodbye To Roy Corcoran

June 27, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

Last year, the Mariners got 73 good innings out of Roy Corcoran. He was a poor man’s Sean Green, throwing a nasty sinker that got a ton of groundballs and allowed him to pitch his way around some command problems. However, very few pitchers can survive a pitch to contact strategy if they don’t have the ability to pound the strike zone, and Corcoran is feeling the swift kick of regression to the mean.

After last night’s struggles, his season line now stands at 13 2/3 IP, 22 H, 15 BB, and 5 K. His FIP is 6.79. The M’s hoped that a trip to the DL would solve his early season command problems, but he’s been just as bad since coming back a few weeks ago – 6 walks and 1 strikeout in 5 innings of work. Groundballs are great, but if you can’t throw strikes or miss bats, you’re in trouble. Corcoran is in trouble.

Shawn Kelley should be back off the disabled list in a week or two, and Corcoran is the obvious candidate to lose his roster spot when that happens. I’d suggest they not even wait that long, however. There are other options – the Rays just designated Winston Abreu for assignment, so he’ll on waivers shortly and could be had for nothing. The M’s are already giving themselves the short end of the stick by playing with a bunch of Triple-A backups as they head out for their toughest stretch of the season. They don’t need to take Corcoran to Boston and New York and let him continue to prove that he’s incapable of getting major league hitters out.

The upside of Corcoran pitching this badly is he’d almost certainly clear waivers, so the M’s could send him to Tacoma and see if he gets himself straightened out. He’s not helping the team, or himself, turning deficits into blowouts. It’s time for a change.

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