Carl Willis Will Remain M’s Pitching Coach

October 31, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

Ken Davidoff tweeted the news, and there are stories throughout the M’s blogosphere. Willis was Eric Wedge’s pitching coach in Cleveland from 2003-2009, and served as the M’s minor league pitching coordinator until the firing of Rick Adair pushed him to Seattle as the interim PC.

With the hiring of Wedge, this move became all but inevitable. What it means is a bit more elusive. It’s always difficult to disentangle a pitching coach’s contribution from the pitchers themselves. Does Rick Adair get ‘credit’ for Felix’s growth the past few years? How about Jason Vargas? Does he lose ‘points’ for Brandon League’s pitch mix or Ryan Rowland-Smith’s…everything?

After taking over from Adair, the M’s seemed to throw fewer fastballs. Perhaps that’s to be expected after Adair’s fastball-first philosophy, but while the M’s led the league in FB% in 2010 at 63.6%, they dropped a bit in August, then dropped out of the top 10 in FB% in September. The sample’s tiny, it’s affected by the pitchers on the staff (David Aardsma’s not going to turn into a junkballer because he gets a new pitching coach), but it shows he may not be quite as FB-centric as Adair.

Willis drew complaints from some Indians fans after several young pitchers failed to develop under his tutelage. Fausto Carmona is the most-cited piece of evidence for this charge, though pitchers from one-time Mariner Rule 5 pick Jason Davis to Jeremies Sowers and Guthrie failed to impress. Of course, if having pitching prospects fail to develop (or get hurt) was enough to disqualify a pitching coach, there’d be no one would be left to hire. Again, it’s impossible to know how to assign credit. Did Willis help CC Sabathia develop, or was he simply nearby when a 6’8″ freak of nature with great stuff from the left side showed up? Can he be blamed for Jeremy Sowers’ failings, or should we focus more on his abysmal stuff?

In the end, there’s very little evidence that pitching coaches can help improve a staff’s performance. They may exert tremendous influence over one or two pitchers, but it’s basically impossible to say if Willis will have any impact on the M’s in 2011. That won’t keep people from trying, but beware of pundits claiming that this move is ‘proof’ of anything.

Bring Back Jamie Moyer

October 29, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 82 Comments 

Jamie Moyer turns 48 in a couple of weeks. He’s a free agent, and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro announced that they’re not going to re-sign him for 2011. Given his age and the fact that he ended the season on the disabled list with a sprained elbow, he’s unlikely to get many offers this winter – so the Mariners should make him one.

This isn’t a nostalgic suggestion, where they bring Moyer back for one last hurrah at Safeco Field. No, it’s because Jamie Moyer can still pitch. A quick comparison:

Jamie Moyer, 2010: 1.61 BB/9, 5.08 K/9, 44.1% GB%, 4.49 xFIP
Doug Fister, 2010: 1.68 BB/9, 4.89 K/9, 47.1% GB%, 4.27 xFIP

Yes, Moyer pitched in the National League, so you’d have to adjust his numbers accordingly, but the no-walks, pitch-to-contact, keep-hitters-off-balance skillset still works. Moyer’s been defying expectations for a couple of decades now, and there’s no real evidence that he’s any more finished as a major league pitcher now than he was a year ago. In fact, his xFIP this year was actually the lowest he’s posted in a season since 2002.

The Mariners are going to run Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, and likely Michael Pineda out in their rotation behind Felix Hernandez. They’re going to need a guy on the roster who can step into the rotation when one of them falters. Moyer, who took full advantage of Safeco Field the last time he was a Mariner, could be an effective innings sponge whose skills are perfectly suited for the park. He’ll cost next to nothing, and would offer the kind of veteran experience that the pitching staff isn’t likely to have much of, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Even in a rebuilding year, you need to have some stopgaps around to fill voids so you’re not thrusting kids into roles they’re not ready for. That is especially true on the pitching staff – you don’t want to have to rush someone up from Tacoma when a member of the rotation needs a breather, and given the guys that will follow Felix next year, you can count on needing extra starters throughout the year. Just from a baseball perspective, he provides a lot of what this team needs to acquire this winter, and he’ll do so for next to no cost.

Toss in the intangible stuff that we can’t really measure, and this should be a move supported by all sides. Bring Jamie Moyer back to Seattle.

Winter League Update (and yet more odds and ends)

October 28, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

As you know, the M’s have seven prospects currently suiting up for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. And as you’re no doubt well aware, they’ve got several more playing in Caribbean leagues in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. JY’s keeping track of all of them in his weekly winter league wraps at Mariners Minors, so you’ve probably already heard about Dustin Ackley’s solid line (capped by a game this week in which he drew 5 walks) and Josh Lueke’s 7 Ks and 0 BBs in 6 innings.

Two pitchers who don’t get quite as much attention are Tom Wilhemsen and Maikel Cleto.
1) The former’s generally seen as the feel-good story of the system, while the latter’s high on the list of the biggest disappointments. Wilhelmsen famously retired from baseball at 20 after two drug suspensions and has spent years bartending and travelling before getting a tryout with the M’s (he’d been drafted by Zduriencik’s Brewers in 2002) and enjoying success in Everett and Clinton this year. I was excited to see if the velocity he had as a teenager was still with him, or if it was a casualty of aging and hard living.
In his initial outing for Peoria, his fastball sat between 93-95 MPH and his curve was right around 80 MPH. Just weeks after throwing 74 innings in his first season since 2003, Wilhelmsen was able to generate plus velocity – velo on par with Lueke or Josh Fields. However, that velocity didn’t stick around. Wilhelmsen last pitched on Monday, and sat 90-92 with his FB and 75-77 with his curve. On its own, there’s nothing particularly worrisome about this. He’s been just as effective, and given the sample, the variance may not mean anything. Still, it’s something to watch given that we just don’t have many comparable pitchers to look at. What should we *expect* velocity to do in a postseason league for a pitcher in his first year back after five years slinging Mai Tais in Tucson?
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Quick Update

October 27, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 52 Comments 

I know the site has been thin on content lately – sorry about that. As you can probably guess, I’m pretty busy with the playoff coverage over at FanGraphs, and I’ve got a few other things going on as well that have kept me from being able to keep the site humming along. This isn’t a permanent situation, however, and I expect to have more time to devote to the site soon, and I have a nice little queue of articles to knock out.

That said, I thought it might be a good idea to see what you guys would like to see posted over the next few months. Yes, there’s an Offseason Plan post coming, and we’ll definitely cover all the moves the M’s make throughout the offseason. However, I don’t want to limit the site to just roster speculation posts, and am open to other kinds of things if there’s interest.

So, consider this something of a suggestion thread. If there’s something you’d like to see us write up this winter, leave it in the comments, and we’ll see what we can do.

Also, I’ll be liveblogging a decent amount of the World Series games over at FanGraphs, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Brief Update From Peoria

October 26, 2010 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 39 Comments 

Dustin Ackley in the Arizona Fall League last night: 1-2, R, 2 RBI, 5 BB, K.

Ackley now leads the AFL with a .556 on-base percentage. He has three more walks than Ks and half of his hits have gone for extras. He’s pretty good.

Watch The World Series With Edgar

October 25, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

Friend of the blog Pete Livengood passed this along, and it sounds like a cool opportunity.

World Series Viewing Event, Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bring friends and family to watch World Series Game One at Elysian Fields Stadium District Brewpub in Seattle! ALL AGES WELCOME!
Special Appearance by Edgar Martinez!
Wednesday, October 27, 2010*

Elysian Fields Stadium District
542 – 1st Ave. S. Seattle, WA

World Series Game One begins at 4:30pm

No Tickets Necessary: Show up anytime that evening, and have fun! Elysian Brewing Company will donate a portion of proceeds from the evening’s food and drink sales to The Martinez Foundation.

Autograph Session with Edgar, 6-7pm:

Edgar Martinez will sign autographs for a $25 donation to The Martinez Foundation.
Authentic MLB baseball and display cube available for additional $20 purchase.
100% of autograph fees will be donated to The Martinez Foundation.

Throughout October and November, Elysian Brewing Comp;any will donate $1 for every purchase of Edgar Martinez’s Mezcal import, El Zacatecano, to the Martinez foundation.

I’ve eaten at the Elysian a few times, and I’ve always had a good time. My drinking friends are fans of their beers as well. Check it out.

Rookie Pitchers

October 22, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

I’m working on a piece on what to expect from Michael Pineda next year, but it started to get overly long, and so I’ve decided to break it up a little bit. Today, we’ll just look at some data on how starting pitchers have performed in their first year in the majors over the last decade. From 2000 to 2010, there have been 148 starting pitchers who have thrown 50 or more innings in their first year in the big leagues. The results vary, as you would expect, but you may be surprised at how they’ve done overall. Here’s the median performance for the group.

20 GS, 112 IP, 115 H, 60 R, 42 BB, 77 K, 14 HR, 4.59 ERA, .267/.335/.436 opponents line

That’s almost exactly an average line for a pitcher over the last 10 years. That’s 3.37 BB/9, 6.18 K/9, and 1.1 HR/9, if you’re used to single game rates. Perhaps that performance will be a bit of a surprise to you if you’re used to the narrative that you can’t trust young pitchers, but in reality, there are nearly as many successes as failures in the group.

Greg Reynolds, Brad Lincoln, Aaron Heilman, Rick Vanden Hurk, and Charlie Morton failed spectacularly in their first trip through the big leagues, but on the other end of the spectrum, there’s Zach Duke, Barry Zito, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, and Brandon Webb. In fact, if you begin to restrict the list to guys who were considered high quality pitching prospects, you get an even more optimistic view about the potential results for talented rookie arms.

Jered Weaver, Barry Zito, Brandon Webb, Felix Hernandez, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad, Tommy Hanson, Stephen Strasburg, Dontrelle Willis, Mark Prior, Yovanni Gallardo, John Lackey, Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, and Rick Porcello all posted an ERA under 4.00 in their first year in the big leagues, living up to the hype right off the bat in each case.

The list of guys who got bombed as rookies, and were highly thought of coming up through the minors, is much shorter. There’s Matt Garza, Jeremy Bonderman, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Chris Tillman, John Danks, and Mark Mulder, but that’s about it. Most of the guys who really got torched were considered mediocre prospects before they even got to the big leagues. And, as you probably noticed, most of these guys turned out just fine eventually, even if they didn’t have a great first season.

There’s a stigma that comes with rookie pitchers, as if they are some kind of disaster waiting to happen. The reality is much different. Good pitchers are good pitchers, and experience is not as big a deal as is generally assumed.

The one area where you can temper your expectations significantly is in quantity of innings. Of the 148 pitchers on the list, only one threw 200 innings in his first year in the big leagues, and that was Daisuke Matsuzaka, not your typical youngster. Excluding him, only Greg Smith was able to top 190 innings, and just five more were able to break the 180 innings barrier. When we estimate innings pitched for Pineda, we’re going to have to be pretty conservative. He’s almost certainly not going to be allowed to throw a full year’s worth of starts, no matter how well he pitches.

However, when it comes to how he’ll pitch, history suggests some optimism.

Odds and Ends (10/20/10)

October 20, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

Various minor newsbits are filtering out, none of which are worth a separate post. Consider this a catch-all for the past few days.

• Wedge was introduced yesterday, now sporting a handsome mustache, but no bolo tie to complete the ensemble. Larry Stone has started a celebrity look-alike contest which presently features Stacy Keach, Captain Leland Stottlemeyer, recent Bradley Whitford, Ron Swanson, and Ron Burgundy, but surprisingly, no Wyatt Earp (an earlier popular suggestion) or Daniel Plainview.

• Actual news from the conference ran about in the expected manner. Milton Bradley says “I’m over it,” Wedge says “I don’t hold any grudges,”, and adds that he’ll reach out to Milton and others in the coming days. Carl Willis is likely to provide some continuity at the pitching coach position, though nothing is yet certain. Wedge came off as intense and organized; the kind of guy who won’t stand for mental errors. These statements mean things.

• Felix Hernandez was named Sporting News’ AL Pitcher of the Year. It’s not the Cy Young, but could be a precursor to it.

• If you didn’t have enough indications recently that we’re going to be stuck in the mid-90s for at least another few years, the Mariners are bringing back the “Northwest Green” (read as: teal) alternates, used earlier this year on a Turn Back the Clock Night. Ichiro can be seen rocking the teal uni here. No word on possible returns of teal caps or Turn Ahead the Clock black and pink. Ichiro’s sentiments on those are presently unknown. Felix will be wearing the jersey when Wedge does his Q & A though.

• You’re not getting through a post by me without some prospecting news. On that note, Ackley is still out, but should be back any day now. Nate Tenbrink is playing third base again for Peoria after working out mostly in the outfield for West Tenn. Matt Lawson is at short a lot of the time. All the pitchers are making progress, measurable or not, but of particular note is Tom Wilhelmsen recording eight strikeouts in four innings. Down in Venezuela, there’s not much worth talking about yet, but to be clear about one issue, Robles is relieving, but not being viewed as a reliever.

Quick Reaction To Eric Wedge’s Hiring

October 18, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 62 Comments 

I’m traveling through Wednesday, so I don’t have as much time to write as I will towards the end of the week. I don’t want to rush through a post on Eric Wedge just to have something up, but I figured I could sketch out an outline of my thoughts, and then expand on them later. Consider this a Cliff’s Notes version of my feelings on the hiring.

We probably should have seen this coming. Of the five candidates they interviewed, he’s the one who makes the most sense. He got his managing chops in Cleveland, a similarly minded front office, and has experience in dealing with GMs who aren’t putting together traditional rosters. There were problems between the field staff and the front office this year, and I have no doubt that Jack was looking for someone who would be more willing to work with them on things they wanted to accomplish. He might not be a stats guy himself, but knowing how to work with an organization that uses sabermetric thinking was one of the things that Wedge offered that none of the other candidates did.

Also, with Carl Willis finishing the season as the pitching coach, Wedge’s hiring likely provides some continuity at the most important position on the coaching staff. Willis and Wedge worked together in Cleveland, and all signs point to him sticking around in that role. Given the issues they had with Brandon League’s pitch selection this year, I would imagine that having a pitching coach that is on board with the organization’s philosophy is a big priority. Hiring Wedge meant that they didn’t have to give him carte blanch to bring in a pitching coach that they weren’t familiar with, and that had to be a point in his favor.

As for whether this is a good or bad hire, I maintain my position that we have no idea how to evaluate managers, and so much of whether one is good or bad depends on the context of the situation. If Wedge works well with Jack and gets along with this specific group of players, then it was probably a good hire. How would we even begin to know whether that will be the case? I have no clue. We can look back at Wedge’s time in Cleveland and make some guesses about his on-field strategies, but those are a minimal part of a managers job, and they don’t really matter all that much. As long as he doesn’t ask Felix to throw 120 pitches per start or hit Jack Wilson lead-off, his moves won’t matter all that much. What will matter is getting the guys to respect him, and we don’t have any idea whether that will happen or not. Any opinion about his personality and how it will fit here is just a wild guess.

The most interesting question at the press conference, whenever that turns out to be, will almost certainly be about Milton Bradley. His time in Cleveland ended badly when he and Wedge ceased to be able to coexist in 2004. The breaking point was Wedge pulling Bradley from a spring training game for not hustling, but that was hardly the only time they butted heads. You’ve almost certainly heard the infamous story by now, but there are reports that Bradley wore a t-shirt in the clubhouse that read F— Eric Wedge. Maybe Wedge is the most forgiving person ever and the new and improved Milton Bradley is willing to give that relationship another chance, but, I wouldn’t bet on it. Wedge’s hiring almost certainly increases the chances that the M’s just cut Milton loose this winter. Maybe they would have been willing to take a shot at getting some production out of him with another fresh start, but Wedge does not qualify as a fresh start for Bradley.

Overall, I mostly defer to the M’s on this one. They know more about what kind of guy they want to work with than I do.

Eric Wedge To Be Mariners Manager

October 15, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 59 Comments 

And just like that, the pieces have fallen into place. Jon Heyman says that the Mariners have settled on Eric Wedge to be their next manager. They won’t be able to officially announce it until they get clearance from the commissioner’s office, given that the ALCS starts tonight, but I’d expect them to get some kind of okay in the next few days. Expect a press conference next week.

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