It’s probably that this spring training has been a never ending series of bad news for the Mariners, but I have never been this ready for a season to begin before. March took forever this year. It’s finally over, but we still have to wait through one more weekend without meaningful baseball.
With a couple of days left before the season starts, I realized I only have time left for one or two classic too-long-USSM-posts, and so I’ll open this up to you guys – have any last minute things you’d like to read? What hasn’t been written about enough that we really should talk about before the season starts? (If you say Mike Sweeney, I will burn your house down. But don’t worry, Sweeney will buy you a new one – he’s just that nice.)
I’ll go through the suggestions, then knock out the best idea and post it tonight. Expect some kind of season preview thing tomorrow or Monday, once I figure out what I want that to look like.
Oh, and I should mention that if you want to chat on Monday, I’m going to be hanging out over at FanGraphs with a whole bunch of neat people. Jonah Keri, Dan Szymborski, Tim Marchman, Dave Studemund, and others have agreed to swing by, and we’ll be talking baseball all day. I’ll be in and out in the morning, but should be around in the afternoon. Feel free to swing by and talk baseball with us over there.
It’s no secret that a Certain Other Baseball Site Dave Writes For is doing a major series right now that is generating a lot of, uh, discussion. (yeah, let’s call it that)
So, I just wanted to say, on behalf of all of the USSM crew:
Thanks to all of our regular commenters. Sometimes we take you for granted, and it takes something like watching a total trainwreck somewhere else to really make us appreciate what a good overall community we’ve managed to collect here at USSM.
(LL people, you’re awesome too, even if you won’t let me make Carlos Silva fat jokes anymore)
Jon Morosi reports that the M’s have placed Ryan Garko on waivers, finalizing the speculation over the last week that Mike Sweeney took his roster spot. Garko had an option left, so that the M’s put him on waivers tells you just how little they want to keep him around. He didn’t impress anyone in Peoria, and this is the M’s just letting him go.
I’m not a fan of making roster choices based on March, but I already ranted about this last week, so I’ll leave it at that.
Update: It turns out we were all wrong assuming the M’s could just option Garko to Tacoma. I’ve been told that there’s a rule that requires any player to pass through waivers before he can be optioned after the 3 year anniversary of his major league debut. Since Garko debuted on September 18, 2005, he fits the criteria. Even though he has an option left, the M’s were still required to put him on waivers before they could send him down.
The M’s are going to open the season at significantly less than full strength. With Cliff Lee, Erik Bedard, and Jack Hannahan on the DL, the team is going to have to fight through April with a roster that would probably finish below .500 over a full 162 game season. Don’t expect this team to come firing out of the gates and blow the doors off of everyone in the first month of the season.
However, if the M’s had to choose a month in which to be hurting, April may just have been their best bet. While they start the season with ten games against the A’s and Rangers, they follow that with series’ against Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, and Kansas City. There isn’t a likely playoff team in that bunch, and in reality, the last two weeks of April looks like one of the easiest stretches of baseball this team will play all year.
It’s easy to look at the roster and be a little discouraged with how this spring has gone, but the M’s may have caught something of a lucky break in their schedule. Thanks to the weaker opponents they play in the first month of the season, they’re unlikely to get buried early. Even with a lot of question marks, I wouldn’t be surprised if the M’s posted a winning record in April, which should inspire a decent amount of optimism if Lee and Bedard can rejoin a team that’s already over .500.
May to August are going to be tough. The M’s need their big guns back for that stretch. April, though, they may just be able to sneak through with this less than perfect roster.
Thanks for your cooperation. (Complete)
Many people see Casey Kotchman as something of a wild card in the 2010 Mariner lineup. Over at the Max Info blog, Dave mentioned that the hitting staff will be working with Kotchman to start focusing on hitting more fly balls to try and take advantage of the right field porch in Safeco.Â The idea is that with the right adjustments, Kotchman might just rediscover his power stroke and become an impact player.
Looking at his stats, it is very easy to see why people see Kotchman as a high upside guy. A top prospect his entire minor league career, Kotchman broke through with a .296/.372/.467 line in 2007. When a 24-year-old top prospect puts up a .372 wOBA while flashing a plus glove, most people assume he has nowhere to go but up. Even after a couple of disappointing seasons, it’s easy to keep dreaming on that upside and expect a breakout. As much as I would love to be on the Kotchman bandwagon, I’m not so sure anymore.
2007 was a tale of two seasons for Kotchman, who suffered a concussion in June of that year. Post-injury his power, which finally seemed to be emerging in the first half, dropped off. His .199 first-half ISO dropped down to .138 in the second half,Â stayed at .137 in 2008, and then plummeted to .114 last year.
This spring, I had the opportunity to watch Kotchman in both batting practice and game action down in Arizona. I was accompanied by a friend of mine who was a high school baseball standout and D1 recruit before an injury ended his baseball career.Â Suffice it to say he and I see the game a little bit differently.Â When I mentioned Kotchman’s name as a potential breakout candidate, my friend laughed, remarking “not with that swing he’s not.” Where I saw a 27-year-old hitter with a mature approach who’d hit for average and power in the past, my friend saw a guy who didn’t get the barrel of the bat through the strike zone quickly enough to punish major league pitching.
I was intrigued, and decided to look a little deeper into Kotchman’s offensive profile to see if I could isolate any differences between Kotchman’s 2007 and 2008-09 performances. While there were several small differences, each of which is potentially meaningful, one thing jumped out at me. In 2007, 36.2% of the pitches Kotchman saw were in the strike zone. In 2008, that number jumped to 48.8%, and rose again in 2009 to 49.6%. For comparison’s sake, league average Zone% has hovered right around 50% in those years.Â Unfortunately, rather than punish pitchers for their new-found hubris, Kotchman’s power fell off a cliff.
The only hard conclusion I can draw from this is that major league pitchers have made an adjustment in their approach with Kotchman. Where they used to tiptoe around him, they no longer seem afraid to challenge him. It’s pure speculation I know, but my gut is telling me that major league scouts are telling their pitching coaches something similar to what my friend told me: Casey Kotchman doesn’t have the bat speed to be a threat anymore.
I hope I am wrong, but I am starting to see Kotchman more as a known quantity/solid roleplayer than as a guy capable of returning to his 2007 form.
EDIT: Jeff Sullivan points out that there seems to be a major blip in Fangraphs’ 2007 Zone% Data for the Angels and Dodgers in 2007 which may or may not render this entire post completely moot. Incorrect source data is frustrating.
Last week, many of the beat reporters talked about two developments regarding Shawn Kelley. First, he’d be throwing more pitches/innings in his next few outings to stretch him out a bit, and second, he was going to revive the change-up he used as a starter for the Austin Peay Governors (a pitch he’d shelved after turning pro). He threw ten of them in his abbreviated start against Kansas City – how’d it look?
Pretty darn good. The pitch averaged 83 MPH, or about 7 MPH less than his fastball. Second, its vertical break isn’t all that different from his fastball, which is normal for change-ups, but it still distinguishes the pitch from the ‘change-ups’ with splitter-like sink like Tim Lincecum’s or Zach Greinke’s. His control with the pitch is already exceptional – he’s always around the plate with it (9/10 strikes), and he kept the ball from the top portion of the zone. He gave up one hit on a change, a single to Billy Butler.
Here’s a chart of his location with the change-up, with the strikezone in red (Pitch fx strikezone, not the ‘rulebook’ strike zone). There are some exceptional pitches on the black away from lefties, and there are a few scarier looking pitches in the heart of the plate. To be fair, most of these came against hitters who can’t hit change-ups (Jose Guillen and Josh Fields, I’m looking at you). So the optimistic view is that he was pitching to the scouting report; the negative view is that he made some bad pitches against the right team.
Remember though, this is ten (10) pitches. This means nothing. If you like Kelley, this is encouraging stuff – mostly down in the zone, not hit hard at all, etc. If you think it’s a bit late in the spring to be adding new pitches, you can point to what look like some mistakes. This isn’t all that meaningful, but it’s fun to look at and to speculate about. So far, the quotes from Kelley about having a lot of confidence in the pitch are borne out in his control. We’ll have to see about the results, but so far so good. Incidentally, why on earth did the M’s ever tell him to abandon this pitch?
Last time out, French has been working on his change-up, and ran a 11/1 ground/fly ratio, which is kind of absurd considering that his ratio was at 0.37 in Detroit last year, 0.60 in Seattle, and about 0.71 before Sundayâ€™s game in spring training. More groundballs makes French pretty interesting.
Geoff Baker also suggests that Tuiasosopo has made the team as a back-up infielder and that the team can live with him at short one or two times a week. I’m not really in agreement with the latter part of that assessment.
SS Jack Wilson
LHP Luke French
Baker and others have the news of the day, and it ain’t great. Cliff Lee is going to take five days off before throwing again, so realistically, his entire spring training is gone. He’s definitely going to need a DL stint, and by the time he gets stretched out enough to pitch in a big league game, it’s going to be the end of April or early May.
Beyond that, Wak comes pretty close to confirming the growing suspicion that the Mariners are going to make room on the team for Mike Sweeney because of how he’s hit this spring. Sweeney will displace Ryan Garko on the 25 man roster and serve as a part-time DH against lefties and play first base sparingly, as Kotchman will not be platooned.
Put chemistry and feeling goodness aside for a minute – this creates all kinds roster problems for the M’s. Now, against LHPs, you’ve got Sweeney, Bradley, and Byrnes for two spots – DH/LF. Bradley kills lefties, so you don’t want to take him out of the line-up against southpaws, but Byrnes’ role on the team is lefty mashing outfielder, and pushing Bradley to LF against LHPs takes away his playing time.
So, not only is Sweeney going to remove Garko from the roster, he also is going to take playing time away from Eric Byrnes and force Milton Bradley to play the field more often. Neither of those are positives. Plain and simple, Mike Sweeney makes this team worse.
Now, if you want to argue that the pies in the face and the jokes and all that stuff make up for it, fine, make that argument. But remember, Mike Sweeney’s been the best guy in baseball forever, and teams he’s been on have finished over .500 twice in his 15 year career. Last year’s 85 win Mariner team posted the best record of any team that Sweeney has ever played for. If his personality was vital to a winning team, don’t you think he may have actually played on one or two of them?
Of course, it’s not fair to blame Sweeney for having lousy teammates in Kansas City, but I’ll still suggest that you can’t make an argument that having Sweeney on the roster leads to lots of wins that we can’t measure when there’s no history of teams he’s been on playing better than you’d expect. He might be a lot of fun to be around and great for the clubhouse, but in the end, good teams win and bad teams lose. Mike Sweeney hasn’t made any bad teams good by hitting his teammates in the face with pies.
The Mariners have already wasted one roster spot on Griffey in the name of clubhouse chemistry. Now, it sounds like they’re going to waste two roster spots on clubhouse chemistry. When Kotchman is facing a tough lefty in a high leverage situation or the team can’t pinch hit for Jack Wilson with the bases loaded, you can thank the team’s desire to have both Griffey and Sweeney around. There are consequences to carrying these guys, and you’ll see them play out on the field.
Let’s hope the M’s can win a lot of games in spite of Sweeney’s presence, because otherwise, we may look back at the way the end of this roster was put together with an awful lot of regret.
1: Ken Rosenthal writes a fairly level-headed piece on why the M’s might face some trouble in 2010. This won’t be a shock to anyone here (Bedard is hurt? Wha?), but the article seems designed as a response to some of the plaudits the M’s have received in the national print media. Mind you, this article now finds its place amongst an equally voluminous collection of “the M’s haven’t won anything yet” pieces – like this one. I don’t think anyone here had the idea that the M’s are a 100-win true-talent team, so the article is fine as far as it goes.
One thing that caught my eye though was the quote from an unnamed scout about Milton Bradley. According to whoever it was who talked to Rosenthal, Milton Bradley doesn’t look so hot this spring. “I’m afraid he can’t play anymore,” says Scout X. This is the spring training yin to “He’s in the best shape of his life”‘s yang. For every hot-shot pitcher turbo-charged by some unexplained mechanical tweak (which scouts think will make him unhittable) you’ve got the guy with a hole in his swing, who fights what seems to scouts like a quixotic battle. Someone needs to track these assertions. I don’t mean to suggest that the scouts are wrong – if they’re right, this is really important info. If you can always find one guy who thinks he’s found a flaw in Pujols’ swing, well, that’s interesting too, but I’ll take these reports with a grain of salt. In this case, the scout is helpfully specific: Bradley apparently has trouble with pitches up in the zone (“above his hands’). It’ll be fun to see if this holds true.
2: How can fans keep track of something like that? Well, you could make heat maps with MySQL and R. That’s laudable. Alternatively, you could outsource that work to Craig Glaser and friends. Sabometrics has a new iPhone app that gives you a heat map for every player in baseball using 2009 pitch fx data. It’s called Batting Goggles, and it just came out this week. So, how does that scout’s observation about Bradley look through Batting Goggles? Actually, it looks pretty good – Bradley struggled with pitches up in the zone in 2009 (but killed pitches anywhere in the middle third). What does Ichiro look like in this view? Still amazing!