Calling For A Moratorium

Dave · February 8, 2010 at 10:47 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Over the 15 months or so, we have certainly said our fair share of positive things about Jack Zduriencik and the job he’s done since taking over as the M’s GM. We all watched the franchise turnaround first hand, and it was amazing to see how quickly the team was able to get back on track. The turnaround was a great story.

That great story has now been written about, oh, everywhere. A google search for “Jack Zduriencik” + “turnaround” returns 2,900 hits. Name a national outlet, and they’ve done a feature on Jack Z recently. The off-season moves have people gushing. Pretty much every move the team makes is well received, both locally and nationally. The team is being held up as the poster boys of stats and scouts converging, and how well a team can be run when they listen to both sides.

I’m not here to say any of it is wrong. I am here to say that it may be time to move onto another subject of discussion, though, because I’m beginning to get the sense that it’s all getting to be a bit much for non-Mariner fans. All the stories, all the raves, all the hype… it’s starting to feed a backlash, and perhaps, setting the club up as an unnecessary litmus test for the current sabermetric beliefs.

As much as we like what the M’s have done in the last year and a half, there’s still a really good chance that this team is not going to make the playoffs. There are a lot of things that could go wrong with this team. Felix could get hurt. Lee could regress. Bradley could get injured/suspended/arrested. Wilson could pull something, and Jack Hannahan would be the team’s starting shortstop. Aardsma could forget how to throw strikes again. Kotchman could continue to not live up to his talent level. Bedard’s rehab could go badly.

Some of those things will happen. In a worst case scenario, almost all of them could happen at the same time. And if those downsides all happen to occur at the same time, this team could suck. They could win 70 games. The whole thing could fall apart.

It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Baseball’s weird. Good teams have bad years. “The best laid plans” is only a cliche because of how often well laid plans go awry.

I’d rather not have that kind of result lead to a larger, anti-stathead movement, where all the hard work done by so many to better understand the game is devalued because the 2010 Mariners were made the proxy for everything that we stand for. We think they’ve made a lot of good moves. We like this team. We think they have a chance to contend. But they might not, so in the way we talk about the franchise, let’s leave some room for the fact that the 2010 Mariners could finish in last place.

The M’s are a lot of things, but they’re not a litmus test for sabermetric theory. We’ve made the point clear that we’re extremely happy with how the team is being run, and I think the world has gotten the message. So, let’s lay off for a while, eh?

Comments

47 Responses to “Calling For A Moratorium”

  1. 92-93 on February 8th, 2010 10:56 pm

    You can’t have it both ways, applauding the process but not holding it accountable if it fails. Good teams overcome injuries/suspensions/regressions. The 2010 Mariners are most definitely the litmus test for sabermetric theory.

  2. Dave on February 8th, 2010 10:57 pm

    Yep… you’re why this post was necessary in the first place.

  3. Sportszilla on February 8th, 2010 11:01 pm

    I completely agree that it would be the height of stupidity to draw some sort of sweeping conclusion about sabermetric though based on the performance of one team in one season. People are still going to do it.

    However, I would expect the Mariners (and other teams) to draw some judgments based on this season. The Mariners have taken on a fair amount of risk, and while most of that is because Zduriencik and crew have had to dig themselves out of the Bavasi hole, I still think we’ll see the team try and move away from players like Bradley/Byrnes/Garko down the road (assuming they can, of course).

  4. Liam on February 8th, 2010 11:01 pm

    Didn’t Oakland go through the same thing with Moneyball? They haven’t had a winning record in three years and the sabermetric movement is as strong as ever.

  5. _David_ on February 8th, 2010 11:05 pm

    I don’t know…I loved Fire Joe Morgan. I love reading media figures (and fans) make asses of themselves by attacking sabermetrics with boneheaded criticism. The “hard work done by so many to better understand the game” cannot in and of itself be diminished by anything. Smart teams aren’t going to question their methods if the Mariners win 80 games instead of 88, and frankly, its teams putting the best players on the field that really matters, not outside opinion. However, I understand that someone on the inside of the sabermetric community doesn’t want the hard work of themselves and many others incorrectly rejected and unfairly ridiculed. I just think that public opinion will catch up to the truth soon enough regardless of what happens in the short term. For every hypothetical scenario where the Mariners suck this year, there could be another “sabermetric” team that vastly outperforms their projections and upholds the “movement.”

  6. Liam on February 8th, 2010 11:09 pm

    You can’t have it both ways, applauding the process but not holding it accountable if it fails.

    No team stays on top forever; whatever the secret to their success is.

  7. diderot on February 8th, 2010 11:17 pm

    The numbers aren’t foolproof–the M’s showed that last year.
    Can’t we just relax and enjoy?

  8. schachmatt on February 8th, 2010 11:29 pm

    One of the great things I see about the way Jack Z is building the Mariners is that he does not seem to be placing all his bets on the 2010 team making the playoffs. I don’t view this year’s club as a litmus test for sabermetrics at all; just a well put together ball club that is positioning itself to have a realistic shot at postseason play without selling the future of the franchise to do it. What could be wrong with that?

  9. schneidler on February 8th, 2010 11:52 pm

    I understand that someone on the inside of the sabermetric community doesn’t want the hard work of themselves and many others incorrectly rejected and unfairly ridiculed. I just think that public opinion will catch up to the truth soon enough regardless of what happens in the short term. For every hypothetical scenario where the Mariners suck this year, there could be another “sabermetric” team that vastly outperforms their projections and upholds the “movement.”

    I was listening to XM Radio the other day, and Kevin Kennedy was criticizing Bill James because “He said that the 8th inning is more important than the 9th [and they tried a bullpen by committee and it didn't work].” He went on to talk about how once they got Keith Foulke, an established closer, they took off and found success. This was quite a while ago, and people within baseball still point to it as a triumph of hidebound traditional reasoning over creative, sabrmetric analysis.

    I don’t share your optimism about the truth winning out in the short term. I hope I’m wrong.

    As for first commenter: “You can’t have it both ways, applauding the process but not holding it accountable if it fails.” The failure of the product does not mean the process itself was flawed. The greatest hitters fail most of the time. A failed result is not the same thing as a failed process. Having any single team, in a single season, be the litmus test for anything isn’t very smart. And isn’t it obvious that this site certainly will talk about what went wrong if the season doesn’t go well. So there WILL be accountability, as you put it. But it doesn’t mean the process was wrong.

  10. _David_ on February 9th, 2010 12:21 am

    I didn’t say the truth would win out in the short term, and I’m already starting to rethink my optimism. Not to introduce politics, but public opinion seems to change really slowly and only mildly correlates with truth. I’m reminded of those who looked at the Rays 2009 and saw it as regression and evidence that their emergence was too good to be true.

    I’m confident that people will tend to excuse things like major injuries. Of the potential disasters listed in the post, injuries were the most prevalent and likely events. For example, the Mets collapse is still blamed on injuries to stars rather than the failure to acquire depth on the roster. Cliff Lee is kind of cemented as a star by his playoff performance and Cy Young, so any kind of regression probably won’t be blamed on the front office. If he doesn’t pitch like an ace, I’m positive the narrative will be that he was so jolted by the trade and the change of scenery that he never really got confortable in Seattle, was never really happy here.

    The really dangerous scenario, is a massive regression of defense because of age/randomness. Gutierrez could have a nagging injury etc. etc.

    If a team performs vastly different than their projection, even the most casual observer should be able to see at least on the surface why that happened, and excuse the team if there were a lot of surprises.

    I’d also like to point out that sure, some people would look at a 2010 70 win Mariners team and just conclude that it refutes everything smart analysis has wrought, but how influential can someone like that really be? If someone is so lazy or uncurious that they would accept a conclusion like that on its face without digging any deeper for the truth, does it really matter what they think?

  11. amnizu on February 9th, 2010 12:24 am

    Overall I would call the current method by which sabermetrics predicts performance imperfect, or simplified.

    I mean, who knows the charter plane could wreck (heaven forbid) leaving the M’s to field their AAA club for 3/4 of the year. It not fair to hold the process accountable for unpredictable events.

    However, it’s also not fair to say the process couldn’t get any better. I think that’s the big difference between the “traditional” way and the sabermetric way. The old way is fairly inflexible and unchanging where as sabermetrics is always getting better.

    If the M’s lay an egg next year it’s no longer okay to chalk it up to clubhouse chemistry and make the same mistake next season. You figure out what happened, learn from it and get better.

    That to me is holding the process accountable, not scraping it because one part failed. That’s like saying “the gas pedal sticks better rebuild the Toyota factory”

  12. Pete Livengood on February 9th, 2010 12:39 am

    92-93 wrote:

    You can’t have it both ways, applauding the process but not holding it accountable if it fails. Good teams overcome injuries/suspensions/regressions. The 2010 Mariners are most definitely the litmus test for sabermetric theory.

    I won’t call this “the height of stupidity” because there is a grain of truth here. The key is, you need to give the Mariners 2-5 years first. Then, if it consistently doesn’t work well, some reassessment might be in order. Before that – small sample size, subject to far too many variables outside of the team’s (much less the front office’s) control, and expectations need to be tempered by just how far this team needed to go to even become competitive – what Jack Z’s front office has done so far to put the Mariners in the position they are is remarkable.

    And even 3-5 years is SSS and not entirely germane to the “litmus test” in question. Even if they did everything perfectly, each year, sometimes circumstances just conspire against you in ways that say nothing about your decisions, or decision-making process.

    But…I will be more comfortable letting the 92-93s of the world say their piece after 2013 or 2014….

  13. johnfree63 on February 9th, 2010 12:56 am

    Dave,

    I think you screwed the pooch on this post. How are you going to able to come out and say “HAHA We Told You So” if the M’s win the World Series? This post may have set the Sabermetric Theory back 10 years. Now when Felix and Guti are holding up the trophy in October (well November I guess), its not going to be because Jack Z and Co. are great at stats and scouting but because of fluky sabermetric Vodoo. I hope you are proud of yourself.

  14. _David_ on February 9th, 2010 1:07 am

    John, Maybe Dave meant not to get carried away with gushing optimism.

    If we continue to honestly evaluate the moves the team makes and the position they’re in, and if that assessment is optimistic and turns out to be true, we will then still be in a position to say “I told you so.”

  15. johnfree63 on February 9th, 2010 1:15 am

    I was joking. Sarcasm is hard for me to do in text but I was trying to go for it.

    I just hope that this season is just as entertaining as last season with all of the walkoffs and close games. Hopefully more wins too. Its not every year that your favorite team gets two aces to go back to back and a top of the order with two of the best leadoff hitters in the game.

  16. _David_ on February 9th, 2010 1:34 am

    No, my bad, “set the Sabermetric Theory back 10 years” clearly indicated sarcasm.

  17. maqman on February 9th, 2010 2:39 am

    The sabermetric community is not responsible for the Ms successes or failures, it’s nothing more than a contributing factor, one among many. If the Ms fail this season most fans who are into the game enough to read blogs will be able to discern if it was caused by injuries, poor performances or unpredictable misfortune. I seriously doubt if anyone is going to blame a lack of success on a quantitative system or elements thereof. I respect the sabermetric contributions to understanding the game better but the game isn’t dependent upon them. If it was we could simulate the outcome on a computer based on metric input and not have to bother playing the games. The Ms may not win the division, we get that and if they don’t it’s not your fault.

  18. 14limes on February 9th, 2010 5:50 am

    Bradley could get injured/suspended/arrested.

    Possibly even all in one act. That’s called a Milton Bradley triple play.

  19. Mekias on February 9th, 2010 5:58 am

    I could care less what the mass media outlets and the anti-statheads say. Seriously, we had so many holes in our team in November and a modest amount of money to spend. Almost any team in our situation would have been the story of the offseason simply due to the amount of activity we’ve had. If the media want to jump on the bandwagon, there’s nothing we can do. And that sort of attention is always going to bring out the haters. I say let the media have their story and let the haters hate.

    I hope this site continues to write what it feels like writing and doesn’t alter itself to appease the masses or avoid ruffling any feathers.

  20. B.W.Marx on February 9th, 2010 8:19 am

    Does this mean I have to cease building the statue?

  21. IwearMsHats on February 9th, 2010 8:33 am

    I solemnly promise not to write any articles in regards to how well of a job Jack Zduriencik is doing. I promise to not write any article, whatsoever, on any subject!

  22. Paul B on February 9th, 2010 8:35 am

    I’d also like to point out that sure, some people would look at a 2010 70 win Mariners team and just conclude that it refutes everything smart analysis has wrought, but how influential can someone like that really be?

    re Sabermetrics, the genie is out of the bottle. Too many teams are using the newer measures.

    The M’s are just one team. A poor year by the M’s would no more stop the advance of sabermetrics than having a team like the Phillies win the World Series would.

  23. e poc on February 9th, 2010 9:00 am

    The Mariners could finish in last place without anything going wrong. That’s what both CHONE and PECOTA project. Toning down the praise/expectations is probably a good idea, whether the future of sabermetrics depends on it or not. I’d hate for the Mariners to win 78 games and finish last and have non-statheads say, “See, that stuff doesn’t work.” But I’d hate even more for the Mariners to win 78 games and finish last and have statheads say, “The process was right, they were just unlucky.” Basically, I think Dave is very right. GMZ and the 2010 Mariners are being overhyped, and it would be wise to cool off a bit, for everyone’s sake.

  24. bookbook on February 9th, 2010 9:45 am

    As moneyball taught, and the big lies of politics the past decade, truth doesn’t reliably win – and we’re not terribly capable of changing that reality.

    Dave, this post will not have any effect in terms of tamping down expectations or the consequences of them not being met. But you’re right to post it now, so you can point to it a year from now if the M’s win 70 – which is certainly in the realm of the very possible.

  25. fiddlepimp on February 9th, 2010 10:03 am

    One thing I have thought over the last few years is the Mariners were not as bad in 2007 as their record, nor as good as 08. Baseball is completely unpredictable except for one thing. The Yankees will outspend you 2-1. The thing I love the most about this team is the coaching staff. Wakman keeps drilling home the point we need to stay in the NOW. His even tempered approach to managing in my opinion will be the number one reason why a slide into the basement wont occur while he is at the helm.

  26. lailaihei on February 9th, 2010 10:25 am

    The Mariners, right now, are probably somewhere around an 88 win team and have a good chance to win the division, but if they don’t that doesn’t mean that the current analysis is wrong.

  27. Paul B on February 9th, 2010 10:53 am

    Mariners were not as bad in 2007 as their record, nor as good as 08.

    I think that is reversed.

    Although I suppose a case could be made that the M’s weren’t good enough in 2008 to expect to win even 61 games.

  28. Statsfreak on February 9th, 2010 10:56 am

    Dave, keep the faith. Process matters and saber makes the process better by adding an element of science. If we are busy doing what we do, do we really give a rat’s winker what the flat earther’s say? The fun of all this is merely trying to tilt the probabilities to our favor. No guarantee’s regardless of the process. Kevin Kennedy might still be managing if there were.

  29. Rick Banjo on February 9th, 2010 11:03 am

    While I agree that you can’t measure a true “turn-around” simply by paying attention to offseason moves, hope springs eternal if you are a Mariner fan, especially when you see an effort being made to build a solid, high-integrity baseball team. I don’t mean to say that Z is Einstein or anything, but I am heartened by the idea that I won’t second-guess our front-office moves if we don’t make the playoffs. Is anyone as relieved as I am that Betancourt is gone? That’s what I’m talking about.

  30. Statsfreak on February 9th, 2010 11:10 am

    Off subject but [off subject]

  31. Oolon on February 9th, 2010 12:15 pm

    Dave wrote:

    As much as we like what the M’s have done in the last year and a half, there’s still a really good chance that this team is not going to make the playoffs. There are a lot of things that could go wrong with this team.

    We need to also remember that a lot of things went incredibly right for last year’s team to give us as much hope as we now have for 2010. For instance, they were 35-20 in one run games (which are basically a coin flip) and they scored 52 fewer runs than their opponents but still ended up with 85 wins. Let’s hope we don’t have to duplicate those two feats to continue our improvement in 2010!

  32. Pete Livengood on February 9th, 2010 12:30 pm

    Oolon wrote:

    “We need to also remember that a lot of things went incredibly right for last year’s team…. For instance, they were 35-20 in one run games (which are basically a coin flip)….”

    While I agree with the sentiment you express, Oolon, I don’t think the 2009 Mariners record in one-run games is the product of luck. When you have an outstanding defense that is heads and tails better than the nearest competition, and you have a good bullpen (as the M’s did), I think your chances in one-run games are much better than 50-50. I believe this is one reason why 1st order pythag underestimated the 2009 Mariners, as Dave has pointed out, and more recently, Tom Tango has addressed.

  33. Kazinski on February 9th, 2010 12:45 pm

    I think it will still be tough for the Mariners to even win the division, let alone go deep into the playoffs. Pitching has been improved, but the biggest change is basically replacing Washburn with Lee in the starting rotation. Washburn was very lucky last year (for the Mariners) so it is conceivable that Lee could pitch much better than Washburn and not see any better results. The offense has been slightly improved, but it is hard to put your finger on any huge improvement we are going to get scoring runs. Figgins is great, but we lost Beltre. Bradley should be an improvement at DH, but it is going to be hard for Kotchman/Garko to match what Branyan did last year. I certainly hope we get better production out of Moore/Bard than we did from Johjima/Johnson last year, but it isn’t going to be a huge improvement. And I am not optimistic that we will get any better production out of Byrnes/Langerhans/Bradley in left than we got out of Balentien/Langerhans/Saunders/Hall. And to top it off Gutierrez could regress a little and Ichiro is over 35 and could start to slip a little.

  34. Andy Weber on February 9th, 2010 12:56 pm

    If the Mariners were allowed to play the next season out 100 different times, then you could use it as a litmus test. But using one season as such a small sample size is just bad science.

    So much of what is done with sports cannot be extrapolated out with a success = smart team management formula. You can make great moves, put the team in a spot where they can succeed, and then get railroaded by bad luck. Conversely, you can make dumb Bavasi-like moves and strike gold. Just because the outcome is good or bad doesn’t mean it was a poor plan/formula that got you there. Even in a 10-year span, it is still feasible for great planning and top-notch moves to yield on the field failure…

    Whether or not the Mariners make/miss the playoffs this year, Jack Z and co. have made good moves and put this team in a position to succeed. In sports, that is all you can ask for, the rest is up to the players on the field and good ole’ lady luck.

  35. Pete Livengood on February 9th, 2010 1:35 pm

    Kazinski, I think you are ignoring a slight upgrade in run prevention. Beltre > than Figgins, but not by much. A whole year of Jack Wilson at SS should be a significant upgrade over Yuni for most of the first half, and Josh Wilson for the last month or so. Kotchman is a defensive upgrade over Branyan, even if Garko may mitigate that somewhat (though I doubt Garko is that much worse than Branyan). Our LF platoon this year should be no worse than it was last year (Balantien/Chavez/Saunders/Langerhans/Hall). On the pitching side, Felix should still be Felix, we (hopefully) get a full year of RRS, and there is no question (luck or not) that Cliff Lee is better than Washburn. I think the rest of what the team has assembled, after it shakes out, will be an improvement over our #4/#5 last year. Believe it or not, run prevention should be even better this year.

    I’m not really sure I agree with your premise that we haven’t upgraded offensively, either. The loss of Branyan is mitigated by an improvement at 3B, and a huge improvement at DH. And I’m not sure that a Kotchman/Garko platoon is going to be less productive than Branyan was.

    The Mariners should be better.

  36. marinermandy on February 9th, 2010 1:58 pm

    As several posters have pointed out, there is always a human element. No matter how precise the formula becomes, baseball players are not robots and baseball games are not played on paper.

    Sabermetrics developed in the shadows for years before anyone took it seriously enough to apply to real baseball teams. To use the As or the Mariners as the sole litmus test is just plain ridiculous. Several teams over several seasons is the only way to get a good idea of how well it works.

  37. ideat on February 9th, 2010 2:19 pm

    In the spirit of a local (crappy) sportswriter’s apology, I will say this about Jack Z:

    I will withhold further worship of the M’s amazing General Manager; the man who has gotten me so excited about the upcoming season that I pee’d a ring around myself. I won’t mention how I’ve enjoyed listening to his sound wisdom and uncanny common sense. I will stop calling the M’s the M’z, and will patiently await the results of his awesome off-season moves. I will stop fantasizing of rubbing his bald head after the upcoming 4 game world series sweep. Oh God, help me! I can’t stop!

  38. ChicoRuiz on February 9th, 2010 3:10 pm

    Dave, you sound like a front office executive who can say many of the same things most every spring. No team in this day and age relies entirely on any one tool, everyone should know that. Even the best fits analytically boil down to a hunch and/or a price tag. So to the critics of sabermetrics, or scouting, or even JZ, I would remind them of Teddy Roosevelt and “The Man in the Arena” speech. Welcome to the world of sticking your neck out–it’s tough out there!

  39. thegroovewrangler on February 9th, 2010 3:15 pm

    Does this mean I have to cease building the statue?

    No, no… you just might want to wait and make sure the right year is inscribed on the plaque!

  40. Boy9988 on February 9th, 2010 3:18 pm

    No team stays on top forever; whatever the secret to their success is.

    Not unless your the New York Yankees and have exorbitant amounts of money and buy whatever pieces your missing.

    That’s what bothers me about the Yankees. They build just as many players as everyone else, but they can pay them stay around (ie. Jeter and Mo) and then they buy everyone else good players. And the Yankees weren’t always good when they didn’t have the highest payroll, but since they have, starting in about ’98, they ALWAYS have been there. And as long as they continue to have such an outrageous advantage in payroll, they will always be good. Money is the one strategy that will always work.

  41. PackBob on February 9th, 2010 3:30 pm

    When did the Mariners become the Saber-Dream-Team of the future? All this is saying is that if things go badly, don’t blame us, but if the Mariners do well, it’s a victory for sabermetrics.

    It feels like religion.

  42. thegroovewrangler on February 9th, 2010 4:12 pm

    Sabermetrics, as I see it, should be considered first and foremost a way to understand why things in the past happened the way they did. Then, taking that knowledge, you try to figure out what might happen in the future. As I understand it, just about every team in the AL West projects to be around 78-86 wins, with the Mariners holding about a half-win edge over the next-best team. Right? Nobody projecting a 100+ wins to my knowledge…
    I don’t see how the Mariners winning the division could be anything OTHER than a victory for sabermetrics.
    If, on the other hand, everybody on every team performs to projections and somehow we manage to win only 70 games, you’re better off developing better statistcal analysis rather than deciding it’s time to go back to ignoring everything but batting average and ERA. Think of it as a “we’ll try harder” instead of “don’t blame us.”

  43. Mike Snow on February 9th, 2010 4:45 pm

    I don’t see how the Mariners winning the division could be anything OTHER than a victory for sabermetrics.

    I believe that’s exactly the sort of simplistic approach that Dave is complaining about.

  44. e poc on February 9th, 2010 5:00 pm

    As I understand it, just about every team in the AL West projects to be around 78-86 wins, with the Mariners holding about a half-win edge over the next-best team. Right?

    No. The first part of that first sentence is correct, but not the second part. I’m not aware of any formal standings projections other than CHONE and PECOTA, but both of those systems project the Ms as the worst team in the division, not the best. The sabermetrics/Zduriencik hype has now overwhelmed itself, to the point where some statheads are preferring optimism to data. This is why we should all take a step back and inject some critical thinking into the hype machine.

  45. thegroovewrangler on February 9th, 2010 5:37 pm

    I believe that’s exactly the sort of simplistic approach that Dave is complaining about.

    You are right, it is simplistic. I might be swimming in the deep end of the cold medicine pool right now.
    However, unless I’m reading into things that aren’t there, it seems that some posters have the view that being excited by the direction the team has taken is foolish (which I guess would be the backlash Dave warned about), and that the point of this post was for Dave and other stat-heads to “have it both ways” at the end of the season. I don’t agree with either opinion.

  46. Paul B on February 9th, 2010 7:00 pm


    but both of those systems project the Ms as the worst team in the division, not the best. The sabermetrics/Zduriencik hype has now overwhelmed itself, to the point where some statheads are preferring optimism to data

    I’m assuming you think this article by Matthew over at Lookout Landing is invalid?

  47. e poc on February 9th, 2010 10:42 pm

    Paul: I don’t think it’s invalid, per se, but it’s not a rigorous projection. There’s no uniform standard for the WAR projections, and the depth charts are pretty casually constructed. There’s no reason to take it seriously when there are more rigorous projection systems out there.

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