Asking The Question Slightly Differently

June 30, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 102 Comments 

I get that a lot of people think the idea of trading Michael Pineda away is crazy. It’s just not something you see teams do – in almost every case, they keep their best young players around and hope for the best. But, let me turn the tables and present the question in a slightly different manner.

Let’s say that the team was in exactly the same position in the standings that they are right now at 39-42, 4 games out of first place. However, instead of Jack Cust struggling at DH, they had 24-year-old Yonder Alonso, a left-handed hitting line drive guy with some upside. Instead of Adam Kennedy and Chone Figgins platooning at third base, they had 25-year-old Todd Frazier adding some right-handed power to the line-up. The rotation featured a 24-year-old lefty in Travis Wood who had racked up +3.2 WAR in 196 innings at the big league level and was a perfect fit for Safeco Field. And, down on the farm, the best prospect in the system was a 22-year-old switch-hitting catcher with patience and power, the fruit of the team’s high selection in the first round a year ago.

Would anyone here really be suggesting that the Mariners trade three guys off their Major League roster and their best prospect remaining in the minors – one of the very best catching prospects in the game, by the way – for a starting pitcher? Anyone?

I’ll suggest that the answer is no, and as evidence, I’ll point to the discussions we were all having at this time last summer. The Mariners were going to trade Cliff Lee and everyone knew it, so the month of July was essentially non-stop speculation about what kinds of players the Mariners should target. The public opinion was nearly unanimous – the package of players coming back should be centered around the best hitter the team could get. The general reaction to a rumored package from Minnesota that might include Scott Baker was “no thanks, we want bats!”

That’s why the focus the last few weeks was on the teams who could offer up a top hitting prospect in return – the Yankees dangled Jesus Montero before the Rangers finally caved on Justin Smoak, but this was the kind of guy the Mariners were after when trading Lee, and the kind of guy that nearly everyone in the fan base wanted to see the team get in return. There just wasn’t any kind of push to use Lee to get a young pitcher in return, even though the rotation was mediocre and in need of some serious help.

Last year, no one wanted to build around pitching when making a trade that would almost certainly bring back an elite young talent. Now, all of the sudden, a premium young pitcher is a more valuable commodity to the team than a position player despite the rest of the rotation getting even better and the team using the #2 overall pick in the draft on a premium pitching prospect?

I get that watching Michael Pineda is exciting, and dreaming of what he could be is one of the most fun things about being a Mariner fan right now. However, if the tables were flipped and Pineda was already in Cincinnati, and the Mariners had Grandal, Alonso, Frazier, and Wood in the organization, I just don’t think we’d be seeing massive support for trading them all away to acquire Pineda and build an uber-rotation. I think the reaction to that suggestion would be something along the lines of “the pitching is already very good, why create huge holes on the roster to upgrade the strength of the team?”

I’m just saying that if you wouldn’t make the trade if the tables were turned, then maybe it’s not such a crazy idea after all.

Trade Michael Pineda?

June 30, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 131 Comments 

Turning comments back on for this post as a test since I know many of you will want to weigh in. Behave.

My newest post is up on the Brock and Salk blog, and in it, I advocate the team exploring a trade for Michael Pineda. Yes, seriously.

I realize that the thought of trading Pineda is going to sound crazy. He’s a 22-year-old flamethrower who is already a quality Major League arm, and the Mariners control his rights through the 2016 season. He’s the leading candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year, and a big part of why the Mariners have been competitive this season. But, for those same reasons, Pineda would attract a ridiculous amount of demand if the organization let it be known that they would move him for the right price.

The list of available starting pitchers this summer is weak and thin. There is no Cliff Lee on the market, and so teams looking to upgrade their rotation will be frustrated by their options. There are also multiple contending teams that are up against their payroll limits, and given their budgetary restraints, they wouldn’t be able to take on much salary even if they could find a player they coveted. Pineda solves a lot of problems for these teams, offering a league-minimum front-line starter who would be with their organization for years to come.

Read the rest over at, and the link to my segment with the guys should be up on that page soon..

Links for an Evening Without Baseball

June 29, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on Links for an Evening Without Baseball 

The M’s got swept this afternoon, and the PCL’s off tonight (thanks for letting us borrow Mike Curto, Tacoma!), so here’s what I’ve been reading while I drift in and out of consciousness due to sleep deprivation:

1: Taijuan Walker had one of his poorer outings on Monday, giving up 5R and 5BBs to Beloit. He’s still striking out over 30% of hitters facing him, and he’s still putting up an absurd GB rate. But the pure ground/air out ratio obscures something: Walker will end the month of June with just two outfield putouts behind him. He could end the year with his first baseman making more putouts on fly balls/popups/whatever than his LF/CF/RF put together. There are two things to take from this, both of them good: first, he’s had bad BABIP luck in the OF, and this could regress when he moves up the ladder. Second, he’s getting a high percentage of infield fly balls, a stat which stabilizes relatively quickly for pitchers. Speaking of which….

2: Many of you probably came across this seminal article by Russell Carleton aka ‘Pizza Cutter’ a few years ago measuring when various statistics “stabilized,” defined as an R^2 of .50. That is, how much *information* – as opposed to small-sample noise – do you see in a pitcher/hitter’s GB rate over a given number of plate appearances. Derek Carty’s just updated it with a small but important tweak to the methodology: instead of having a common denominator for each statistic (plate appearances), the denominator shifts based on the metric in question: balls-in-play for balls-in-play stats and plate appearances (or something close to it) for things like K rate. Just using PAs works fine for the majority of players, but consider how many balls in play Ichiro and Jack Cust would put up in any given number of plate appearances; if we’re trying to figure out each player’s ground ball rate, for example, it’s probably significant that Ichiro will have vastly more balls in play than Cust. This is really, really useful stuff even for the 99% of us that won’t use these figures, apply the proper amount of regression, and create new player projections. It’s handy simply as way to rank the various factors that pitchers or hitters control/influence – strikeout rate stabilizes first, walk rate stabilizes a bit slower, and things like HR rate and BABIP don’t stabilize for years.

3: I feel like I should link to this whenever a pitcher has a slight drop in velocity, or every week, whichever is soonest. Amazing.

4: SS prospect Nick Franklin saw his hostile takeover of AA cut short by a freak batting practice injury this week. Larry Stone spoke with M’s head of Player Development Pedro Grifol about it here. Sounds like a concussion; here’s hoping Franklin’s able to heal and resume play quickly.

5: A’s manager Bob Melvin’s seen his injury-ravaged line-up score 9 runs in 7 games, all while bat-first prospect Chris Carter (brought to Oakland on 6/23) perfects his seed-spitting skills on the bench. Carter has one at-bat over the past week, as the vets in front of him continue to struggle. Susan Slusser touches on this apparent incongruity in this post, which leads off with the news that RHP Tyson Ross will make a rehab start this week. Ross injured his oblique on May 19th, which underlines how long these injuries take to heal. Tough break for Chris Gimenez, and a decent opportunity for Josh Bard.

6: Former Rainier Dan Reichert never really lived up to the expectations many had of him, but he’s now given the world this, and that’s OK in my book. All is forgiven for ditching the 2005 R’s after 4 awful innings, Dan. Good look in any future Garrison Opportunities.

7: Bill Petti wrote an interesting article on the drop in runs scored this year, and may have identified an explanation: pitchers entering MLB this year have been really, really good. As a fan of Michael Pineda, I can only say that this hypothesis makes a great deal of sense to me. To be fair, there’s a sizeable drop in FIP for veteran pitchers, so this isn’t the *only* explanation, but for M’s fans who’ve seen Pineda replace Ryan Rowland-Smith/Chris Seddon/David Pauley, it’s quite a plausible one.

Game 81, Braves At Mariners

June 29, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on Game 81, Braves At Mariners 

Hernandez vs Lowe.

Happy Felix Day!

First things first – a huge congratulations to friend of the blog Mike Curto, who gets the call-up from Tacoma and will be calling a few innings on the radio with Rick Rizzs. Curto does yeoman’s work for the Rainiers, and while he might not have the dulcet tones of Vin Scully, few announcers work harder or are more prepared to give their listeners interesting insights about the game itself. I’m thrilled personally for Mike, and look forward to listening to him this afternoon.

In other news, Josh Bard has been called up from Tacoma to replace the injured Chris Gimenez, who was placed on the 15-day DL. Edward Paredes was DFA’d to make room for Bard on the 40 man roster. It was always a mystery why Paredes was on the 40 man to begin with, and if he gets claimed on waivers, it will just mean that we don’t have to talk about him anymore. Win win!

Line-up today includes Cust again, so that’s a win, and he even gets to move up from 8th after showing he’s not dead last night. That said, the Ryan/Kennedy experiment as the #2/#3 hitters is killing the team right now, and so this line-up is still problematic.

Ichiro, RF
Ryan, SS
Kennedy, 3B
Smoak, 1B
Ackley, 2B
Cust, DH
Gutierrez, CF
Peguero, LF
Bard, C

The Massive Blunder

June 28, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on The Massive Blunder 

This is being written under the assumption that the double steal in the 7th inning was called for from the bench. That assumption could be wrong – if so, just replace “Eric Wedge” with whoever decided to try this. Of course, you can also make a very valid argument that it’s the managers responsibility to make sure that the people under him aren’t stupid enough to do something like this without his consent either…

Tonight, Eric Wedge made one of the worst tactical decisions I’ve seen from a manager in a long, long time. Down by two runs in the 7th inning, the Mariners had managed to get the tying runs on base, and Justin Smoak had worked a 3-0 count from George Sherrill. This was an amazingly great situation for the M’s. Sherrill is a left-handed specialist who is mediocre against right-handers, and he was now pitching in the best possible hitter’s count to a right-handed batter who could sit on a fastball and try to launch it over the fence for the lead.

Instead of getting to see what the team’s clean-up hitter could do in the best possible hitting situation you could imagine, the M’s attempted a double steal. Smoak took a called strike, and Brian McCann threw out Adam Kennedy at second base for the second out of the inning. All of the sudden, Smoak was the tying run instead of the go-ahead run, and any out would end the rally and let the Braves turn the game over to the vaunted Venters/Kimbrel duo in the 8th and 9th inning.

So, yes, the result sucked, but what’s maddening about this play isn’t even that it didn’t work. It’s that had it worked, it still wouldn’t have helped the team. Even if Kennedy is called safe and the team moves the tying run into scoring position, it’s an automatic intentional walk for Smoak to load the bases. There’s no way Fredi Gonzalez would continue pitching to Smoak with first base open when he could simply put him on, get the platoon advantage against Dustin Ackley, set up the double play and a force at home. It’s the easiest IBB call ever.

And so, the best possible outcome if the double-steal is successful is bases loaded, 1 out, and Ackley at the plate against Sherrill. But guess what? Had the M’s not sent the runners, they almost certainly would have had that outcome anyway.

Justin Smoak has had 21 plate appearances this year where he’s worked a 3-0 count (before tonight). He’s gone on to draw a walk 15 times, giving him a .714 OBP after getting to that spot. The AL average this year is .746. When a pitcher falls behind a hitter 3-0, they usually just end up walking them.

The outcome the M’s were willing to risk the tying run for was the most likely outcome if they did nothing. To do anything other than have the runners stand and watch Justin Smoak either get a fastball to try and thump or take his base is just craziness. Absolute insanity.

That double steal call was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on a baseball field, rivaling Eric Byrnes famous pull-back-the-squeeze last year. Whoever called for it needs to take Baseball Run Expectancy 101. That Smoak did walk and then Dustin Ackley immediately singled up the middle for a hit that would have tied the game just makes the mistake all the more obvious, but it was a mistake from the minute it was conceived.

Whether that was Wedge, one of his coaches, or the runners themselves, the person who made the decision to try and steal there owes the team an apology. They may have very well cost the Mariners a win.

Game 80, Braves At Mariners

June 28, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on Game 80, Braves At Mariners 

Pineda vs Hanson, 7:10 pm.

Since comments are off for now, this is more of a game preview than a game thread, I guess. But, look, I just don’t have the time or the desire to spend time cleaning up things like people wishing Chone Figgins would kill himself – yes, that’s an actual comment from yesterday. Derek, Jason, and I started this blog as an outlet for ourselves to share our thoughts on the franchise, and I just don’t have a desire to let it become an outlet for the immature and ignorant. If I can figure out a way to have comments on the site that reflect that at least a little bit of thought went into it, we’ll bring them back. But, if they do come back, know that you guys need to do better. The status quo recently just isn’t acceptable.

Jack Cust makes his return to the line-up tonight, but due to his struggles, he’s hitting 8th. Wedge might as well be drawing names out of a hat at this point.

Ichiro, RF
Ryan, SS
Kennedy, 3B
Smoak, 1B
Ackley, 2B
Olivo, C
Carp, LF
Cust, DH
Halman, CF

Turning Comments Off For A Bit

June 28, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on Turning Comments Off For A Bit 

They might come back. We’ll see. For now, we’ll just go without comments for a bit.

Franklin Gutierrez Needs To Be Less Aggressive

June 28, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 23 Comments 

The M’s offense has problems – that’s no secret. Most of the focus has been on Chone Figgins and the black holes at LF/DH, but right alongside those issues is the fact that Franklin Gutierrez has hit like a pitcher since returning from the disabled list. He was never an offensive force, but as he showed the last few years, he could at least hold his own at the plate and earn his money in the field. As good as Guti is defensively, however, it’s hard to be a real contributor when you’re hitting .197/.230/.248, which is Guti’s line over his first 123 plate appearances in 2011.

One of his problems is obvious and likely related to the stomach issues that sidelined him for most of the spring – he’s lost a lot of his prior strength. He shed weight while he was unable to keep food down, and it’s being reflected in how hard he’s hitting the ball. He only has four extra base hits in the 34 games he’s played this season, and just watching him make contact, you can see that there just isn’t a lot of juice behind his swing. Even when he squares a ball up, it doesn’t jump off the bat. Guti just doesn’t have his prior strength, and until they figure out how to get weight back on his frame, that might not be a fixable problem.

However, that isn’t the only reason Gutierrez is struggling. In addition to a lack of strength, he’s also adopted a different – and markedly worse – approach at the plate so far this year. Gutierrez has always been a patient hitter who worked counts and forced pitchers to throw him strikes before he’d swing the bat, but this year, he’s taken a significantly more aggressive approach to hitting.

For the season, Gutierrez has swung at 48.9% of the pitches he’s been thrown, well above his career averages and putting him closer to the likes of guys like Jose Lopez and Ronny Cedeno. He’s chasing pitches he just didn’t swing at previously, both in and out of the strike zone. Perhaps buoyed by the fact that he’s making contact with these pitches, Gutierrez just keeps swinging at pitches he used to let go by. The result? Lower rates of both walks and strikeouts and weak contact that just makes him a useless hitter.

So far in 2011, Gutierrez has essentially become Jack Wilson at the plate. He’s been an aggressive hacker with little power, and that’s just not at all what he was previously in his career. Maybe it’s just a small sample. Maybe his timing is off after missing all of spring training. Or maybe it’s counter-productive to have a manager who believes that you can fix every problem on earth by being “more aggressive”. We don’t know enough to pinpoint the exact cause of why Gutierrez’s approach is so different this year, but we know this – it’s made him a much worse player and needs to change sooner than later.

Just like Aggressive Chone Figgins is a terrible hitter, so too is Aggressive Franklin Gutierrez. They both derive value from not swinging the bat, and the sooner they get back to that approach, the better.

Game 79, Braves At Mariners

June 27, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 184 Comments 

Bedard vs Beachy, 7:10 pm.

The M’s face one of my favorite pitchers in baseball tonight, but the Braves offense has been scuffling nearly as much as the M’s offense has, so either team could take a 2-1 victory in this match-up.

Unfortunately, even though the M’s get the DH back tonight, they’re not really using it, as Adam Kennedy has shifted to DH with Chone Figgins back in the line-up at third base tonight. For all intents and purposes, this means that the M’s are choosing Figgins to DH instead of Jack Cust, which is just… just release Cust at this point. Eric Wedge obviously has zero interest in using him, and there’s no point keeping a DH in reserve. He can’t pinch run, can’t act as a defensive replacement, and Wedge doesn’t like using him as a pinch-hitter due to his propensity to strikeout. If they’re not going to use him, at least use the roster spot. Bring back Mike Wilson so you’ll have a right-handed DH option against southpaws – that’s a better option that just having Cust sit around and watch baseball games.

Ichiro, RF
Ryan, SS
Kennedy, DH
Smoak, 1B
Ackley, 2B
Olivo, C
Carp, LF
Gutierrez, CF
Figgins, 3B

Minor League Wrap (6/20-26/11)

June 27, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 18 Comments 

We have reached the point in the season where I am now doing dailies for nine teams and covering six and a half affiliates here. Suffice to say, things will be a little crazy from here out.

Some important notes to start things out: Seager and Franklin were both promoted after their minor league all-star breaks, Paxton and Liddi were both named to the Futures Game, we signed twice-drafted RHP David Holman of the pitching Holmen and Steve Kelley did a feature, and the 60-day DL at present includes RHPs Danny Ayala Cruz, Yao Wen Chang, and Richard Vargas along with 3B Jose Flores. The only one of those that’s really upsetting is the loss of Vargas. I honestly thought they had released Chang already.

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