Fangraphs Does the M’s Prospecting Thing

February 26, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 21 Comments 

Early on in my blogging career, I paid attention to a lot of the national outlets when they published their prospect lists. The bigger operations that everyone recognizes as institutions like Baseball America, the one-man operations that were about a half-step up from Geocities site design, I published and discussed all of them, perhaps in a desire to present as much information as possible and use it as a venue to talk about why x-source over y. In time, as my own knowledge of the system deepened and the Seattle blogosphere developed their own cadre of analysts, I stopped looking at 95% of them. Most of them failed to do much more than look at numbers, which ended up with ludicrous claims like Bryan Lahair as the team’s #1 prospect, or more recently, putting Erasmo Ramirez in the top ten. Others tried to get clever by putting the top dollar signing of the last international period in their listing, which was often based more in hope than reality. Among the better ones, there were still those that would make claims that general scouting knowledge of the system might otherwise eliminate. Given that background, the number of national outlets one reasonable should be looking at, you probably don’t need your whole hand to count through.

With that in mind, I’m going to bring to the table a new national resource, FanGraphs, which is not terribly new to most of you, but new insofar as it doesn’t have a lot of top ten prospect lists under its belt. Marc Hulet’s meandering tour of the league has finally arrived in Marinersland, a rather dangerous ground for a national analyst to be treading on these days. Hulet opted to exclude international signings of the past season, a defensible move, but he also decided that ’09 draftees would not be part of the discussion, which is a bit bolder. The list he provides looks like this:

#1 OF Michael Saunders
#2 C Adam Moore
#3 IF Carlos Triunfel
#4 3B Alex Liddi
#5 RHP Michael Pineda
#6 IF Matt Tuiasosopo
#7 LHP Nick Hill
#8 SS Gabriel Noriega
#9 RHP Maikel Cleto
#10 OF Johermyn Chavez

The overall effect is not a bad one. The top three is logical and respects Triunfel on scouting details where others threw him out for numerical ones, and Liddi at four, while not ideal, is okay given the parameters he outlined. Hulet also earns some points for putting on Tuiasosopo on merit of him being a reasonably good prospect on the fringe of the majors, which is something that BA flubbed on two years in a row, and coming to reasonable conclusions on Pineda. He deserves credit for hitting those points.

The back four are more easily disputed. I’m with Dave on the matter of Nick Hill and think he’s made enough progress to have some kind of major league future ahead of him. He also hits the groundball point, which is important because the lower velocity might otherwise be misinterpreted. The suggestion that Hill would make the club as a left-on-left reliever is a more questionable analysis. Hill, like a lot of southpaws who partially rely on the strength of their change-up, has some issues with left-handed hitters. While he did have a higher BABIP contributing to that this past season, his career numbers read the same way. Left-handed batters just hit him more easily, and harder as well, particularly last season. It’s not that Hill “isn’t helpless against right-handed hitters”, it’s that he’s provably better, and has been every season since he debuted. This means that his value as a pure “left-handed reliever” is questionable, so much of his value ends up tied into starting, where he’s had few opportunities to prove himself as of yet. I would be hesitant to put him as the next pitcher after Pineda.

As he comments on Noriega, he narrowly skirts an issue that many national sources have had by mentioning his bat without using his slugging as a springboard to make predictions about his future power, which most scouts seem to doubt will become average. He does, however, raise another issue in raising the possibility that he may fill out and move to third, as he’s acknowledging the fact that he’s the system’s best infielder right now. This is a bit of a leap, as it’s something that hasn’t really been mentioned so far as I know since his debut year. There were rumblings as to whether or not he would be a shortstop initially, but I would attribute that to sketchy international scouting information more than any flaws in Noriega himself, so the conclusion is a bit out of date.

Cleto is a player that made a number of top ten for a lot of people, a testament to the abilities that brought him into the organization in the first place. It pleases me to see that people have still remembered this even as his visa issues limited him to less than thirty innings in his new organization. From a physical aspect, I would count him among the more talented pitchers in the organization, and his fastball is easily one of the top three on the farm, but I find it difficult to avoid comparing him to fellow trade acquisition Mauricio Robles who, while not as big (and ergo, a little riskier), is left-handed, has run better FIPs thus far, and provides better secondary offerings, and those last two come in spite of his inconsistent mechanics to date. I’d slot Robles above Cleto right now, though I know not everyone would agree with that assessment.

Finally… Johermyn Chavez. Those of you who have read my piece (I can’t reiterate too much here) would know that I have legitimate concerns about his future and think the comparisons to Wlad Balentien were often unfair to Wlad. To add to that, Wlad was a fringe CF throughout the minor leagues and as he’s improved over the years has gotten to the point where he was above-average corner outfielder this past season, and can expect to stay there in the future. Even though the projections of him may have been a little ambitious this year, it’s really unfortunate that he’s losing time to Johnny Gomes in Cincinnati. But to get back to Chavez, acknowledging his flaws, would you put him over a much more physical player like Halman, or a less talented player that’s almost certain to have a major league career, like Carp? I can’t say I would, but Hulet acknowledges that he’s a long-time Chavez fan, so to each their own.

These are all details that you would probably get out of local coverage over national coverage. This is not to really diminish the scale of Hulet’s undertaking, which is incredible as a one-man operation, but to do this level of coverage leads to inevitable sacrifices. Still, if you’re looking to see how the prospecting world at large views our system, you could do a lot worse than Hulet, and I’d number him among the better analysts out there for the depth he’s willing to go into.

Training Regimen

February 25, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 54 Comments 

Geoff Baker did a nice profile of the team’s change in the way they are handling the conditioning of their players today. It’s worth a read, but the bottom line is that the M’s have essentially abandoned the normal strength training, and are now using resistance based exercises to attempt to develop the muscles the players use while playing baseball.

There is apparently no area where the M’s will not look for a competitive edge. I love rooting for this team now.

A few links

February 24, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

Here’s a cornucopia of links for you guys.

I did a Q&A with Patrick Sullivan over at The Baseball Analysts. I don’t say anything too earth-shattering that I haven’t said here, but I think it’s a fun interview.

I also did a phone interview with, where we spend 30 minutes talking about the M’s off-season and how different roster stuff will shake out.

And, on a slightly more random note, those of you who want to see Dan Wilson play hockey should check out the Thunderbirds game on Saturday. He’ll be competing in a celebrity all-star game that takes place after the T-Birds game. The press release is here if you want more information.

Overwhelmed or Overjoyed?

February 24, 2010 · Filed Under General baseball, Off-topic ranting · 39 Comments 

Hello – I’m marc w, a frequent commenter here and at Lookout Landing. Dave asked to help out at USSM as the blogging equivalent of a utility player – I’ll be discussing the minor leagues with JY a bit, debating the positional battles with Dave, and discussing sabermetric research in a Mariner context. Hopefully a bit more ’01 McLemore than ’05 Bloomquist.

Like a lot of you, I’ve been interested in the discussion prompted by Minor League Ball’s John Sickels’ post a week or so ago. In it, Sickels expressed some frustration with sabermetrics – essentially saying that reading many sabermetric articles now felt like more of a chore thanks to increased ‘granularity’ that, in his mind, obscure the beauty of the game behind an array of formulae and esoteric math.

While I understand that feeling at some level (I’m more comfortable talking about Marco Scutaro than Markov chains), it’s important to point out that fans with 7th grade math and some curiosity not only have access to more information than ever, that information describes more facets of the game, in more accessible ways than ever. That is, people are doing more than squeezing another percentage point in accuracy (however you define it) from pitching metrics, they’re providing entirely new ways of looking at pitching.

Ten years ago, stats began changing the way I thought about what kind of players good teams needed (why choosing a lead-off hitter based solely on speed or batting average might be counterproductive), but struggled to give a fuller picture of any given lead-off hitter’s overall value. They could tell me that ground ball pitchers had certain advantages, but couldn’t tell us which fly ballers might be worth a risk in certain contexts. They were valuable in using larger sample sizes to temper enthusiasm about a random ‘hot streak’, but couldn’t pick out when a pitcher learned a new skill.

All that’s changing now, thanks to Pitch FX and an army of amateur analysts who’ve provided pitch databases to anyone who feels like poking around in them. We can guess why Joel Pineiro succeeded in 2009 without resorting to short-cuts like ‘Dave Duncan is magic.’ Going beyond an increase in GB rate, we can say what changed about his sinking fastball. We can say why Yuniesky Betancourt was one of the worst position players in baseball without limiting the discussion to his on-base percentage. Instead of talking about his declining range in isolation, we can talk about the impact of that decline on the M’s pitching staff.

Perhaps more importantly, these sorts of stats have begun to break down the supposed dichotomy between scouting and statistical analysis. Now, both sides can help illuminate what makes a pitcher’s ‘stuff’ so effective (as an aside, I’ve always loved the broadness and imprecision in the word ‘stuff.’ It’s the perfect umbrella term encompassing a pitch’s velocity, break, deception, consistency and degree of wiggle. No other term could describe Felix’s arsenal as well as Tim Wakefield’s.). As you can tell, I’m incredibly excited about sabermetrics right now, and I think we’ve only scratched the surface.

As Mariner fans – and as USSM readers – much of this may sound obvious. We’ve seen first-hand what can happen when a team marries new-fangled analysis with great scouting, and many of you have been in the room when the front office explains why there isn’t some adversarial relationship between their scouting department and Tony Blengino’s shop. Has seeing Franklin Gutierrez made it more difficult for me to really ‘get’ John Sickels’ complaint? Probably. Dave Allen’s graphs here or here help too. What do you think? I know this isn’t a representative sample, but do you think stats are continuing to change the way you watch the game, or have we entered a period of diminishing returns? Has watching the M’s success in 2009 (or watching a panel discussion including Tony Blengino AND Carmen Fusco) made you more likely to pay attention to new developments at Fangraphs or the Book Blog, or are you perfectly content to outsource that work to Jack Z and Tony B? Are you overwhelmed by the information available these days, or do you get just the right amount from gatekeepers (whether Fangraphs, USSM, Lookout Landing or others)?

Jose Lopez, Third Baseman?

February 23, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 53 Comments 

Well, it didn’t take long, but we now have an actual story from spring training. When the team took the field for their first full workout today, Jose Lopez headed to third base, while Chone Figgins went to second. Obviously, it’s just one day of practice, but the team knew that this was going to get a lot of media coverage, given that it’s the first workout of the spring. If this was just a “wonder how Lopez handles the hot corner” curiosity, they could have done this a week from now at a minor league field with no one around. That they started off this way suggests that there’s more to this than just a casual experiment.

Geoff Baker gets some quotes from the involved parties.


“I’ll try to catch ground balls at third base and see what happens at spring training, play in a couple of games,” Lopez said. “If i like it, I like it. I’ll try.”

And if he doesn’t like it?

“Then I’ll go to the manager’s office and tell him I don’t like it.”

Lopez added: “If we like it, we talk. If we don’t like it, I’m going to play second base.”


“We’re going to look at it and see,” he said, as Lopez scooped grounders a few feet away. “There’s nothing etched in stone right now. We’re just looking to see what our different options are.”

The idea behind this is that Figgins has more range than Lopez, while Jose has a better arm and a body type more typical of a third baseman. When you look at the two of them, you’d certainly expect Figgins to be the 2B and Lopez to be the 3B.

However, I don’t know that appearance should override experience. In his career, Figgins has less than half a season of major league playing time at second base, and Lopez has a half dozen games at third base. Figgins has over 4,000 innings at third base, while Lopez has over 5,000 at second base. There is no way around the fact that the team would be surrendering quite a bit of experience, and the benefits that come from repetition. Lopez isn’t the rangiest guy in the world, but he knows how turn a double play. Figgins doesn’t have a cannon arm, but he’s learned how to charge a bunt. These things aren’t developed overnight.

Even if they commit to this alignment right out of the gate, there’s going to be adjustments to be made by both players. It’s pretty common for guys to move between second and third base, so this is one of the easier adjustments around, but there’s still an adjustment period. Even if both guys take well to the switch, I’m not sure how much of a positive impact it would actually have on the defense, once you factor in the learning curve.

And, then, there’s another factor. Dustin Ackley. The M’s have been thrilled with how quickly he’s taken to second base, and he’s the future at the position in Seattle. So, no matter how this switch goes, it’s a short term thing for Figgins. He’ll be back at third base in a year or so. Moving him to second for 2010, then moving him back to third for 2011… this all seems like a lot of movement for a very marginal gain, if any.

I can see why the M’s would want to take a look at this alignment. There are natural tendencies to think that this is a better use of of their particular skillsets, and had they been developed differently, it probably would be. But Figgins knows how to play third, Lopez knows how to play second, and throwing out that knowledge seems unnecessary to me.

We’ll see how this develops. Right now, this isn’t my favorite idea ever, but it’s still February, and there is a lot of time left to see how this plays out.

Mobile theme issues

February 23, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 11 Comments 

1. Some people are seeing the mobile theme while on normal browsers
2. Some mobile users aren’t seeing the mobile version

I can’t troubleshoot at least until tonight. Sorry.

Update: I turned the mobile theme off for now.

BA Top 100

February 23, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 26 Comments 

Baseball America just released their annual Top 100 prospects list today, with contributions from former USSM writer Conor Glassey. The world is full of prospect lists, but no one has as much information as Baseball America, and this is the ranking you should take the most seriously. The list is free, by the way.

Rankings of note for the M’s:

#11 – Dustin Ackley
#30 – Michael Saunders
#83 – Adam Moore

#94 – Phillippe Aumont

Oh, and if you want to know why the Rangers are scary, they have the #9 (Neftali Feliz), #13 (Justin Smoak), #17 (Martin Perez), and #43 (Tanner Scheppers) prospects on the list.

Sabermetric Library

February 22, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

A month or so ago, I posted a link to the Lookout Landing thread that categorized and linked to information on most of the different sabermetric numbers out there. Well, now, a couple of Rays fans have taken it up a notch – The Sabermetric Library. If you’re new to the site and are intimidated by the numbers we’re throwing around, you now have a nice, easy place to get an overview of what they are, with links to more helpful articles written elsewhere. Here’s wOBA, for instance.

It’s Sabermetrics 101, and it’s long overdue.

On the RSS feed problems

February 20, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

So after a couple days of trying to figure out how to get one of the articles to stop throwing invalid token errors in the RSS article feed, I pulled it, and the RSS feed appears to work just fine, minus that article.

I want to thank the people who sent really specific repro cases, particularly the two people who offered feed validation advice — part of the trouble early was figuring out what exactly the complaint was, and as it worked on Google Reader there was a huge chunk of USSMers who didn’t see anything wrong. Thanks much.

The World’s Most Important Utility Player In The World

February 20, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 56 Comments 

Sorry for the headline. I hate that commercial too.

But, while its kind of hyperbole, with the way the roster is currently setup, the performance of Jack Hannahan is far more vital to the team’s success than an ordinary reserve infielder. As Geoff Baker noted, he’s already in camp, and the team is having him work out as a catcher, which he hasn’t done since high school. The M’s want him to provide as much versatility as possible, and getting some work behind the plate will help if the team ends up needing to use him as an emergency catcher at some point.

But, it isn’t Hannahan’s ability to catch that will matter much to this team. It’s his ability to play shortstop.

As we’ve talked about, Jack Wilson is not exactly Cal Ripken. Over the last three years, he played in 67 percent of the Pirates games, and its only 60 percent if we just look at the last two years. Heading into his age 32 season, coming off a couple of seasons where nagging leg problems have regularly kept him off the field, you have to be pretty conservative with his playing time projections. Even if he’s totally healthy, we probably can’t project him for more than 70 to 75 percent of the team’s starts at shortstop. He’s just not durable enough to handle more than that.

That leaves approximately 40 starts at the position unaccounted for, and Hannahan is the only guy on the roster who can credibly be asked to start those games. Despite only playing three games at the position in his professional career (2 in the majors, 1 in the minors), Hannahan has the physical skills to handle the job. He’s proven to be a quality defender at both second and third, and has enough range and arm to handle the SS spot.

But, while he has flashed SS skills at other positions, he hasn’t yet had to play the position regularly, and the M’s will need him to be able to do so this year. Given Wilson’s health track record, Hannahan is not so much a reserve as he is a part-time player. Between playing ~30 to 40 games at short and the starts he’ll pick up when Figgins or Lopez need a day off, Hannahan’s probably in line for 300+ plate appearances this year.

If he can hit at anything close to a league average rate, he could really be an asset for the M’s. If he hits like he did a year ago, then he’ll be a problem, as a Wilson-like offensive player without the same defensive skills. Given the patience he’s shown and a swing that should generate some power, I think he’s a better hitter than we’ve seen, but it’s certainly a gamble. The M’s are currently counting on a guy who has almost no experience at shortstop and hasn’t hit in a couple of years to play at least a couple of times a week.

How he performs is going to have a pretty significant impact on how the team does this year. If he can hold down SS while Wilson is on the bench, and provide some offensive punch, the team can pinch-hit for Wilson more frequently, and not burn resources trying to fill the hole when he inevitably lands on the DL. If Hannahan flops, though, then SS could become something of a sinkhole, and there just isn’t much depth at the position in the organization, so they may have to expend some resources to fix the problem from the outside.

While his official title of utility infielder makes him sound like a minor part, in reality, Jack Hannahan is a pretty important player for the M’s this year.

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