Judge The Performance, Not The Character
The Mariners just had a miserable week, capped off by a listless weekend that saw them shutout on back to back days. As is usually the case when a bad team plays even worse than usual, speculation begins as to the motivation of the players. For instance, here’s a message on twitter via Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
The Mariners are playing like a team trying to get its manager fired. Wakamatsu’s future clearly in doubt.
Whether Wak’s future is actually in doubt is a question for another day. I want to deal with his first sentence.
Playing like a team that is trying to get its manager fired? Because they got shutout by Francisco Liriano, who as we noted before the game, has the best xFIP in all of baseball? No, I’m sure he’ll say it wasn’t just about this one game, but the entire recent performance of the team, but let’s be honest, he doesn’t send that message out if the Mariners would have run up five or six runs against the Twins ace.
But, that didn’t happen, and so writers now play the character assassination game that is so popular in news rooms around the country. Rather than simply sticking with the fact that this offense isn’t good and they faced a guy who should get Cy Young votes, we get questions about their motives, with an underlying insinuation that the team could do have hit better today if they wanted to.
It’s B.S. Know why Liriano shutout the Mariners? Because the team started Russ Branyan and Casey Kotchman as their #4 and #5 hitters against a pitcher who entered the game with a 1.08 FIP (that is not a typo) against left-handed hitters. Those two, not surprisingly, struck out in five of their six trips to the plate while Liriano was in the game. You put two left-handed bats (both of whom have had significant trouble with LHPs in their career) in the middle of a line-up against a guy who no lefty in baseball can touch and you’re going to lose.
In addition to those two, of course, the Mariners started Ichiro and Michael Saunders, also left-handed hitters. Those four essentially comprise the four best bats on the Mariners roster right now, so you can’t blame Wak for putting them in the line-up. It’s not like he has great right-handed hitting alternatives for when the team goes up against a high quality lefty. Of the five righties he started today, only two have major league bats (Figgins and Gutierrez), and both are struggling right now. Josh Wilson, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Rob Johnson are all Triple-A caliber hitters. It would have been a massive upset if any of them could have produced any offense today.
This wasn’t hard to see coming. A great LHP against a team that can’t hit, and especially can’t hit lefties, in a park that has played very pitcher friendly to date? The Mariners weren’t going to score today no matter who was managing. It wasn’t evidence of a lack of motivation. It was evidence that the pitcher was talented and the hitters weren’t.
But, that’s not an interesting story, and so it doesn’t get written. Instead, we get speculation about what the players might be doing to try and sabotage their manager, tea-leaf reading about the interpretation of some comment that was or wasn’t made in a way that some journalist thinks it should have been made, and the results of echo chamber conversations where a bunch of people who all think the same reinforce each other’s biases and then try to pass their opinions off as news.
Ignore all of it. None of it actually contains any kind of insight that you should care about.
The Mariners hitters stink. They’ve run into some really good pitchers lately. The result has been ugly. These are facts – stick to those. Leave the uninformed speculation about the players trying to get their managers fired to everyone else. It’s not worthy of discussion.