There are way too many things to talk about, but I’m under the weather, it’s 1:30 in the morning, and there’s another game in a few hours. I’ll do a longer recap tomorrow.
Let’s put it this way, though – here are the main problems we have with this team right now.
1. The bench is a joke, and forces the team to continually face bad match-ups late in games, making it easy for the opposing manager to make decisions.
2. The line-up doesn’t make any sense, and bad hitters constantly have to try to drive in the few guys that have the ability to get on base.
3. The catchers are fundamentally awful behind the plate.
4. The starting shortstop can’t hit, and regularly gets pinch hit for, but the backup shortstop can’t play the position.
5. The team’s third best relief pitcher just got optioned to Tacoma so the team could keep a guy they don’t use.
6. Okay, this is really #1, but we’ve beaten the drum enough, so I buried it down here – the organization chose two designated hitters who can’t hit because they’re fun to be around. It was a terrible decision.
All of those things manifest in critical situations tonight, and conspired to cost the team the game. The team has a tiny margin for error, and the roster and line-up decisions swallowed all of it tonight. Fix any of the above problems, and the Mariners probably win this game. These are not hard changes to make – the Mariners just need to man up and make them.
Screw team chemistry. Give us a team that can play baseball.
Lee vs Lewis, 7:10 pm.
Cliff Lee makes his much anticipated debut tonight against a somewhat depleted Rangers team. Nelson Cruz is on the DL, and due to the struggles of their two young catchers, they are going with career backup Matt Treanor behind the plate. They do get Ian Kinsler back tonight though, and he’s hitting clean-up in his first game of the season.
As for the Mariners line-up, well, you already know what it looks like. Can’t wait to see Lopez and Griffey try to drive in the top of the order, only followed by the excitement of Adam Moore and Jack Wilson trying to drive in the other two guys on the team that can get on base. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to when Wak pulls the plug on Lopez hitting clean-up – three weeks of him hitting like a pitcher haven’t done it, yet five games of Milton Bradley struggling were enough to get him moved down in the order. It’s almost like a dare – how long can the team keep winning with no bench and a line-up that makes no sense?
I guess we’ll find out. It doesn’t look like we’ll see the obvious changes until the team starts losing. Which, with Tampa Bay rolling into town on Tuesday, may happen sooner than we’d like to see.
Kelley went eight days without pitching from the 19th to the 27th. Despite having a pretty ERA, his walks are up a bit and his FIP is around what it was on average last year. His slider has also been a bit inconsistent at times. Considering how quickly he shot up through the system to get to the M’s (he has 80.1 innings in the minor leagues, total), there are worse things in the world than having him go down to Tacoma to work on a few things.
Based off the move, one might suggest that the M’s still value Jesus Colome from his spring training performance and aren’t willing to give him up quite yet. Take from that what you will.
Dave adds: Jesus Colome has pitched one inning in the last 18 days. This team does not need seven relievers, and they certainly don’t have seven relievers better than Shawn Kelley. This is just dumb.
It’s become a fairly common question in the comment threads – what should the batting order look like right now, given the roster the Mariners have put on the field? To me, it’s a pretty easy call.
1. Ichiro, RF
2. Figgins, 2B
3. Gutierrez, CF
4. Bradley, LF
5. Kotchman, 1B
6. Lopez, 2B
7. Griffey, DH
8. Catcher, C
9. Wilson, SS
1. Ichiro, RF
2. Figgins, 2B
3. Gutierrez, CF
4. Bradley, DH
5. Lopez, 2B
6. Kotchman, 1B
7. Byrnes, LF
8. Catcher, C
9. Wilson, SS
There are five hitters on this roster that are pretty clearly better than the other four. Especially against RHPs, those five should be stacked together, giving the Mariners the best chance possible to get multiple hits in an inning. Bradley and Kotchman are the guys who should be trying to drive in the top of the order, and hopefully Wak makes that call sooner than later.
As you know, the M’s enter the final game of April with an 11-11 record, and they’ve done so without the benefit of Cliff Lee or home runs. All in all, that’s not bad.
Much has changed since last April, but looking at the overall numbers, you’d be hard-pressed to see it. For the 2009 season, the M’s made contact on 79.6% of their swings. So far in 2010, they’ve improved that mark to… 79.8%.(1)
For the 2009 season, the M’s were 0.18 runs below average per 100 fastballs – 5th worst in the majors. Thus far, the 2010 team has slumped to 0.72 runs below average per 100 fastballs, or 2nd worst in the majors. All in all, the M’s posted a .301 wOBA so far, as opposed to their .300 mark in April last season. Plus ca change…
This seems meaningless until you consider the moves the M’s made in the offseason. Amongst hitters with at least 50 PA in 2009, 8 of the bottom 10 in contact% haven’t played this year: Russ Branyan, Adrian Beltre, Bill Hall, Wlad Balentien and Ronny Cedeno have moved to other teams while Saunders, Carp, Hannahan and Langerhans all play in Tacoma.
The M’s acquired Kotchman and Figgins who were solidly above average in contact%, while Milton Bradley was quite close (above average in some years, below in others). So why hasn’t the M’s contact% gone up? I have no idea, but the M’s are swinging and missing like crazy this year. Of the M’s hitters, only three have a lower whiff% in 2010 than they had in 2009. Those three are Ichiro, Matt Tuiasosopo and Rob Johnson. Tuiasosopo and Johnson had poor marks in 2009, and Tuiasosopo’s 30%+ mark in 2010 is still a cause for alarm. Ichiro is Ichiro, a player who seems to toy with sabmetricians with bizarre small-sample variations.
For the others, though, the difference is striking, particularly since contact rate is amongst the first statistics to stabilize. Milton Bradley’s whiff rate (the rate at which a batter swings and misses) is up over 30% from 2009, and well above his career average. Eric Byrnes, for all his faults as a hitter, always made contact… until this year. Franklin Gutierrez’s rate is slightly higher than 2009 or his career average, as is Jose Lopez’s, Jack Wilson’s, Casey Kotchman’s and the two-headed hugging machine at DH. The player with the biggest divergence from his average to date? Chone Figgins.(2) For the past several years, Figgins annoyingly made contact on 88-90% of his swings. This year, that’s down by 10 percentage points. I wouldn’t expect this to last, but it’s something to watch, and it’s about as weird as Kotchman’s improved fly-ball rate.
Whatever their projections about the offense, not many analysts would have thought the M’s would make contact at similar rates this year. The M’s quite clearly traded power potential for contact skills, as exemplified in the swaps of Branyan for Kotchman and Beltre for Figgins. While that swap hasn’t gotten the M’s what they wanted, it also hasn’t hurt the team that much (as seen in the similar wOBA figures).
Drilling deeper, the 2009 team struggled mightily against fastballs, according to Fangraphs linear weights by pitch type. Exit Wlad Balentien, Yuniesky Betancourt, Mike Saunders, Adrian Beltre, Endy Chavez and Kenji Johjima and you’d expect the team’s performance against non-bendy stuff to improve. Sure, Rob Johnson was still around, but he couldn’t possibly be as hopeless against FBs again, could he? In 2010, the M’s have actually fared worse against fastballs. Jose Lopez, Griffey/Sweeney, and Chone Figgins have both performed significantly worse against fastballs, and nobody’s annihilating fastballs the way Branyan did last year. The M’s best hitter against fastballs this year? Uh, Rob Johnson.
Pitch values are always of dubious value with full-season samples, as a player’s BABIP can contaminate the data. Cut the sample down to a month, and it’s of less use. But as with contact%, this offense is simply much, much better on paper than it’s shown to date. Many continue to point to a lack of power as a major problem, but the team would look a heck of a lot better with a BABIP that’s more in line with their abilities and contact rates that line up with career averages (except Sweeney and Griffey).
As is so often the case early in a season, the numbers will confirm whatever conclusion you wanted to come to. If you thought Kotchman was a bum, you’d say his ISO is flukish and he’s making contact less. If you thought Figgins got lucky in 2009 and the M’s bought high, you’re probably boring your friends with ‘proof.’ On the other hand, if you think the M’s offense has been remarkably unlucky, you’ll probably point to regression in the M’s HR/FB rate, their contact rate and their performance vs. Fastballs (especially since Brett Anderson won’t be throwing any FBs to the M’s in the near term). Essentially nothing that’s happened to date should markedly change our projections of the offense, but man, are small samples fun or what?
(1) – Yes, Jeff Sullivan and Matthew Carruth touched on this in their podcast. Dave Cameron’s been complaining that he and Jeff share a brain. I’m new here, but I’m already feeling that just being under the USSM aegis means you’re unwittingly tapped into the hive-mind. Hockey is suddenly more appealing to me than it’s been since 1994, and I think my knee acts up whenever thunderstorms hit North Carolina.
(2) – Most of us were fans of the Figgins pick-up, but you can’t help but notice that Figgins seems like a guy Bill Bavasi would just love. You know Figgins name was mentioned in the war room when Vidro was acquired. “He’s like Chone Figgins, only without the health, defense and overall value. But he’s *partially* like Chone Figgins! High five!” This highlights that whatever issues I and USSM may have had with Bavasi’s overall approach, the biggest problem was talent evaluation. I’ve got no problem with contact hitters per se, I have a problem with Jose Vidro, starting DH. I don’t have a problem with low-K, low-BB pitchers like Doug Fister, Cha-Seung Baek, or Sean White (yes, I said it) – I have a problem with Carlos Silva at 4/$48m.
This post might meander a bit. I have a lot of disjointed thoughts in my head, most of them tangentially related to each other, but haven’t yet figured out how to make them into one cohesive post. Hopefully, it happens as I write. We’ll see.
Don Wakamatsu says the words belief system so often that it’s become a punchline, but he doesn’t care. He keeps repeating the phrase, using it as an explanation for why he does things the way he does, even those things that appear quite curious on their face. But while this Wakism might not be the verbiage that most people use, he’s really just describing a trait that most good leaders have – confidence.
The man has the courage of his own convictions. When he believes in a player, he goes out of his way to let everyone know that he has confidence in him in an effort to transfer some of his own confidence to the player himself. He carefully protects the minds of the core players on the team, creating an atmosphere where they believe they can fail without being punished. By allowing room for failure, he believes that he is actually cultivating success, and he has a lot of successes he can point to where his belief system in a player has paid off.
This steady brand of leadership is a really good trait to have in a manager. While some react to every perceived problem, tinkering with roles or jerking players around, Wak holds true to what he believes, even if the present results aren’t necessarily a match for what he expected. We’re big process people around here, and constantly talk about not judging players on small sample sizes or results they can’t control. Wak might not use the same words, but his belief system is essentially the same philosophy.
It’s one of the main reasons why I believe he’s one of the better managers in baseball. Steady decision making and the ability to instill confidence in a player can create an environment where players can develop into more than what they’ve been before. We saw that last year with Branyan, Gutierrez, and Aardsma, and may be seeing that now with Kotchman. A manager who can help players improve their talent levels is far more valuable than one who makes the right strategic decisions or uses his bullpen perfectly. Wak’s belief system, as cliche as it may be at this point, is a boon to this franchise.
However, it’s not just enough for a manager to believe in a player – there has to be underlying truth in the belief to begin with. Believing in Gutierrez’s defense, Branyan’s power, or Aardsma’s fastball is one thing, as they all have plus plus tools that are among the best in the game in a particular area. The things that Wak believed in were real, and his beliefs were vindicated by their natural abilities when he gave them a chance to shine.
It’s when he starts believing in things that are not real that the belief system becomes something of a problem. A leader with the courage of his convictions is a double-edged sword, because while he has the ability to stand his ground when the results are not matching the process, so too can he rely too heavily, and for too long, on something that is not able to justify the faith.
His belief system in the ability of Ken Griffey Jr and Mike Sweeney have led to the team placing two bad hitters in the middle of a line-up that is struggling to score runs, while his lack of belief system (to date) in Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman have left the team with two of their best hitters setting up RBI opportunities for the catchers and Jack Wilson. His belief system in Sean White has led him to put an inferior reliever into high leverage situations while better pitchers sit as leads disappear. And it can be highly frustrating to watch. Believe me, I feel it too.
But if I had to choose between a manager who showed too little patience with good players or too much patience with bad ones, I’d go with the latter every time. And so, while the batting orders can be frustrating and we all sit around and wonder how much longer the team will put up with a DH platoon that can’t hit, keep in mind that this is the downside to a philosophy that brings with it more good than bad.
We can get caught up in the minutia of the day day to aspects of line-up construction, bullpen usage, and things of the like that we miss the big picture. This is why almost every single fan base has a problem with their manager. It’s much easier to focus on the things they do wrong, that we’re confronted with everyday, than those things that they do right, which only get born out over longer periods of time.
Wak does some things that frustrate all of us, but he’s an excellent manager. I have a belief system in the man, and I hope that we don’t take him for granted.
23-year-old manchild Carlos Peguero’s line tonight at West Tennessee: 4-5, 3HR.
Peguero’s now hitting .378/.452/.797 so far this year, with 9 home runs. He’s also striking out at a far lower rate than he did last year (21.6% of his ABs this year v. 35% last year). The past few years, Peguero’s been a lefthanded version of Greg Halman without the athleticism. So far this year, he’s done everything you could possibly hope for out of a young slugger.
Credit to Jay for never fully giving up on Peguero. For my part, I’ll admit I had more or less written him off before the start of this year. It’s early, but he’s back on my radar in a big way.
Pretty interesting game today. I’ll see if I can cram it all in without being too wordy.
The most encouraging sign of the day had to be the way Kotchman and Figgins were stinging the baseball. The triple by Figgins was as hard as he can hit a ball, and Kotchman was hitter lasers the entire day. Toss in Bradley’s double to the opposite field, and the new guy bats were providing some needed power. Now, if we can just get Wak to hit them closer together, so there aren’t some lousy hitters coming in between those three, that’d be nice.
Ryan Rowland-Smith didn’t pitch great, but he was better than the final line indicates. He used his breaking ball a lot more, and with success, and got a decent amount of swinging strikes by burying the change-up down and away from right-handers. The 6th inning rally was made possible by a high sun that gave outfielders fits the entire game – Kendall’s bases loaded pop fly is an easy out on most days, and without that ball dropping in, Hyphen probably goes six innings and only allows one run. There were encouraging signs today, even if he still wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him before.
Nice to see Brandon League be the first guy out of the bullpen and just slam the door on the Royals to keep the game winnable. That’s the guy the Mariners traded for right there.
Jose Lopez saw 13 pitches in five trips to the plate. It is way beyond time to move him down in the order. He’s not swinging the bat well, having good at-bats, or generally doing anything to help the team score runs. He should hit no higher than 6th or 7th in this line-up.
In the 8th inning, Jason Kendall hit a groundball into the hole between SS and 3B. Jack Wilson did his best Derek Jeter impression, only he added actual range to the formula as well. It was, quite simply, an incredible play, and the kind of play that is easy to point to and say “yeah, that’s why he’s on the team.” You will see hundreds of replays of Wilson’s play, and deservedly so.
Yuniesky Betancourt ended the game by swinging at a pitch that was nowhere close to the strike zone. While we’ve all seen this 100 times, it was nice to be the beneficiary of his ridiculous approach, rather than the victim. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I don’t have to watch him anymore.
Another walk today for Rob Johnson. This deserves its own post, but the drastic change in approach that he’s taken on so far this year is nothing short of shocking.
The next time the Mariners play, Cliff Lee will be on the mound. With a .500 record, Friday night will feel like Opening Day 2.0. The first 22 games didn’t really change too many things, as the Mariners survived a depleted roster and head into the next five months with a pretty decent shot at the playoffs.
Rowland-Smith vs Meche, 11:10 am.
Hyphen takes the hill trying to get the team back to .500. He could use a good performance, as this hasn’t been his finest month. At least he won’t be seeing an all RHB line-up for a change. Also, the Royals double play combo today: Bloomquist and Betancourt. Yep.
For the M’s line-up, Sweeney is the DH and hitting 6th. At least he’s behind Milton, but ahead of Kotchman against an RHP? I sense at least one soul crushing double play.
Was that the least impressive three run rally in team history? Gutierrez’s RBI single was well hit, but Lopez had an infield double thanks to Tejeda’s white man hops, and then back to back walks force in the go ahead run. Yeah, they all count the same, but those were some sissy runs right there. As for the rest of it…
It’s funny how context changes everything. Had the Mariners come into this game on a four game winning streak and put up a whole bunch of runs in Chicago, no one would have thought anything of the offensive performance tonight. It was Zack Greinke, with the benefit of a ridiculous Tim Tschida strike zone; of course they didn’t score any runs. But, since they got came in with a four game losing streak and got shutdown by Kyle Davies yesterday, the seven shutout innings appear to be the continuation of a pattern. But don’t make more out of this than you should. Very few offenses can do much with Greinke’s pitches, and when he’s got an extra foot on both sides of the plate to work with, forget it.
Snell benefited from Tschida’s strike zone as well, getting some generous calls that helped him rack up some big strikeouts. Hard to believe that you can say this about a guy who put about 45 guys on base and only got 16 outs, but he didn’t pitch as well as his final line may indicate. If Snell was going to give Wak any second thoughts about putting him in the bullpen, that performance won’t do it. He showed all the same problems he’s always had – can’t get lefties out, struggles to command his fastball – and will now have to try to salvage his season in relief. We’ll talk about why he’s the kind of guy who might benefit quite a bit from moving to the bullpen later, but for now, let’s just say that I’m pretty happy that Snell won’t be starting again in five days.
Snell’s first inning jam wasn’t really his fault, though. After DeJesus started the game with a solid single, Snell got Scott Podsednik to hit a weak ground ball right to Chone Figgins. Except, Figgins was covering second base, because DeJesus was running on the pitch. I know Podsednik isn’t a pull power guy or anything, but I have no idea why Figgins was the guy covering in that situation. You generally have the middle infielder the hitter’s opposite side cover the base on a steal, and the M’s decision to have Figgins cover there cost them an easy out. We’ll have to watch to see if they do that with other slap hitters throughout the year, or if there’s a post-game explanation for why Jack Wilson wasn’t covering on that play.
The Royals really are the Mariners of a couple of years ago. Even their good hitters are swing-at-anything hacks, and the line-up doesn’t have very many good hitters. The Royals swung themselves right out of a bunch of rallies, and should have ran up a much bigger lead on Snell, given all the opportunities they had to score. If you want to remember how bad the organization was a couple of years ago, just watch the Royals play.