Jack Wilson –> Atlanta Braves for a PTBNL

August 31, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

Nothing much to say about this deal – the Braves needed a back-up shortstop/late-game defensive replacement for their playoff run, and the M’s needed to stop paying Jack Wilson so much money. A great trade is one that helps both parties, and if you set the bar for ‘help’ low enough, this afterthought of a move might qualify.

Because it happened today, the Braves could add Wilson to their playoff roster, which would be basically OK for them, and unbelievably awesome for Jack Wilson.

Game 135, Angels at Mariners

August 31, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 35 Comments 

King Felix vs. Dan Haren, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day! I don’t know if I’ve seen as jarring a contrast between consecutive days’ starters since Livan Hernandez followed Stephen Strasburg in July of last year. Haren and Hernandez are so good, so consistently excellent, that there’s not as much to say. They’re not bizarre like Anthony Vasquez, nor is their story as bizarre as Jerome Williams’. They’re just bizarrely talented pitchers, and thus this game holds the promise of genuine excitement, as opposed to the ersatz sideshow kind of excitement I talked about yesterday. I suppose I’ll make do.

In contrast to the heralded pitchers, two of the more important bats in the game were unknown or actively disparaged coming into the year. Mark Trumbo and Mike Carp are playing 1B due to injuries to the incumbents, both played many years in the minors, compiling a good-but-not-great record, and both players enjoyed break out years in the PCL. This isn’t to same they’re the same type of player exactly; they’re not. Trumbo was more of a Peguero type – someone who had great raw power, but couldn’t produce enough in game situations. Carp was the opposite – a patient hitter with gap power that just didn’t work with his defensive limitations.

Prospects change, hitters develop, coaches….coach. But I still can’t get over how *weird* it is that Mark Trumbo’s been one of the Angels better bats this year, or that Mike Carp is essentially tied with Dustin Ackley as the best hitter on the M’s. The Cardinals’ Allan Craig is another guy in this mold – someone with clear talent, but whose performance record never screamed “MLB starter.” If this was as simple as a scouts-vs-numbers argument, that’d be fine: I’d sincerely love to learn more about how to distinguish the Allan Craigs from the John Bowkers of the world (Philadelphia acquired Bowker today to shore up their bench, incidentally). But I don’t think it is. The tools scouts weren’t putting Mike Carp on any top prospect lists, they liked Greg Halman. Craig and Trumbo were rated C+ by John Sickels, and came in at #10/#11 respectively in their team prospect lists (Kevin Goldstein had Trumbo a bit higher, Craig a bit lower). Carp was a C in 2010, and wasn’t ranked in 2011. All of these guys had K rates between 15-20%, solid power numbers, but they tended to move slowly up the org ladder. Why is Mike Restovich bad (one of the better PCL hitters I saw around 8-9 years ago) and Craig good?

Sample size may be the easy answer, and if Trumbo regresses, I’ll be thrilled to revert to laughing at an Angels team with a 1B with an OBP under .300. But now I’m at the point where seeing Trumbo in the box is genuinely worrying. All I can do is hope that Angels fans are similarly troubled by Mike Carp, and hope that they’re as confused by their fear as I am about mine.

Incidentally, Trumbo against the Mariners: .340/.404/.762. Against everyone else? .249/.282/.458.

The line-up:
1: Ichiro (DH)
2: Gutierrez
3: Ackley
4: Carp
5: Olivo
6: Seager
7: Wells (RF)
8: Ryan
9: Robinson (LF)

Jerome Williams: The Angels “Luck” Personified

August 30, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 11 Comments 

Jeff Sullivan distilled the feeling of being an M’s fan looking at the Angels’ sustained run of success perfectly yesterday:
“Why the Angels? Why the Angels, still? Why do they get to be magic? Are they really magic? It has to be luck, right? Why do they get to be so lucky? Why do they get to be so consistently whatever they are?”
Every year, a bunch of smart people write dozens of smart articles pointing out that the team’s core is aging, or that their line-up lacks power, that their defense may be suspect, or any number of perfectly logical reasons why they should struggle. And yet they don’t.

We can’t point to a once-in-a-generation alignment of great prospects, like the Rays in 2008. The Angels’ current crop of young players flew under the radar (Mike Trout excepted), but Peter Bourjos, Jordan Walden and Mark Trumbo have produced nonetheless. But while Bourjos never had the reputation of Trout (or hell, Michael Saunders), it’s not like he came out of nowhere. Everyone knew he’d be a plus defender, just like everyone knew Walden could throw really hard. It’s somewhat annoying that just when M’s fans were getting used to mocking overhyped Angels prospects, we’ve needed to adjust to underrated stars like Bourjos – but it’s not crazy.

We can’t chalk it up to an elite GM; this is the team that turned Mike Napoli into Vernon Wells. This is the team that’s obsessed with Jeff Mathis (and, to a lesser extent, Bobby Wilson). A little earlier, they were renowned for building a great farm system and scouting group, but most of those vaunted prospects flamed out, or turned into unlikely contributors in Tampa. They’ve not been above petty in-fighting either: they fired the scouting director who found most of their young stars (including Trout) last year. There’s crazy here, but not the kind that would explain sustained success.

Tonight, we saw something pretty crazy. Jerome Williams made his second consecutive solid start, tossing a great sinker, a change-up, a curveball and a cutter. The M’s scored two runs in the 4th on a series of slow ground balls and an opposite field double, and got a couple of consolation runs in the 7th when the game was out of reach. Williams wasn’t overpowering, but he generated 10 swinging strikes, got six strikeouts and a flurry of ground balls. This is the guy who last pitched in the majors in 2007, and who tore his rotator cuff before getting released by the Nationals. Time, indy-league bus rides, some valuable experience in the Taiwanese league and now he’s throwing nasty 92mph sinkers, and beating the M’s at Safeco? What? I’m still adjusting to the fact that Jerome Williams is playing baseball at all.

Go back and look at that BA Top 100 prospect list from 2002 or 2001 – both had Williams at #19. Several players on it went on to have full, fairly normal MLB careers – they broke in, bounced around a bit, had some good years, then declined, and ultimately retired. Guys like Jack Cust, who appears with Williams in both 2001 and 2002 and looks to be about done now. Or Brad Wilkerson, who had a decent run with the Expos before crashing out with the M’s (and that was three years ago). Marcus Giles, Joe Crede, Kevin Mench, Ramon Vasquez!

Williams came up with the Giants as one of three feared pitching prospects (Kurt Ainsworth and Jesse Foppert were the others) who all suffered serious arm injuries. Jesse Foppert had Tommy John surgery, then knee surgery. Williams had shoulder surgery in 2007. Ainsworth outdid his teammates, suffering a broken shoulder blade, a torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum before retiring in 2006. The point of this isn’t to point out that other teams have seen their pitching prospect depth wiped out in quick succession, it’s that Williams pitching well for the Angels in 2011 is roughly the equivalent of Jesse Foppert pitching well in the majors in 2011.*

Perhaps worst of all, I can’t root against him. The whole thing is so ludicrous, it almost transcends the rivalry. It’s quite easy to say that now that the M’s are out of it and that Williams started opposite Anthony Vasquez, but I think I might cheer for Ryan Anderson or Clint Nageotte if they pitched for the A’s next year. Williams isn’t a difference-maker in the 2011 AL West race; he’s a talisman. The Angels roster includes Vernon Wells, Mike Trout, Bobby Wilson, Peter Bourjos, Jered Weaver and Jerome Williams. The Angels keep shooting themselves in the foot, but they’ve had enough prospects to overcome that. Now, apparently, they can raise the dead.

*We must keep the Angels away from Jesse Foppert.

Game 134, Angels at Mariners

August 30, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

Vasquez vs. Williams

In an about-face from last night, I don’t think I’ve been as excited about a pitching match-up all season. Well, at least not since the M’s were completely out of the race. If I can’t get hall-of-fame quality, I’ll settle for hall-of-fame weirdness.

Anthony Vasquez makes his home debut, giving the local fans an opportunity to say, “No, seriously, I could do that.” I’m excited to see some more data on his change-up, which may be the slowest in all of baseball. There’s just something compelling about watching Vasquez start Mark Trumbo off with a 79mph two-seamer, then go with a 70mph change-up, then try to put him a way with a 66mph curve.

Jerome Williams makes his second start for the Angels, after being essentially out of affiliated baseball for years. After getting released by the Twins, he played indie league ball in 2008, then played in Puerto Rico to try to win a contract, and finally got one in Taiwan. This all makes him sound a bit like ex-Mariner Jeff Harris, but Williams was an uber-prospect with the Giants back in 2002. Baseball America ranked him the #19 prospect in baseball that year, right between Josh Hamilton and Brandon Phillips (and a few slots below the M’s Ryan Anderson). I’ll talk more about Williams later tonight, but for now, check out Mike Fast’s pitch fx overview here.

The line-up:
1: Ichiro
2: Gutierrez
3: Ackley
4: Carp
5: Olivo
6: Seager
7: Wells
8: Pena
9: Ryan

’11 Arizona Fall League Rosters Announced

August 30, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 2 Comments 

Or at least the Mariners part is, i.e. the only part we care about. Hit it, Twitter.

The four pitchers we’ll be sending are LHP Danny Hultzen, LHP Brian Moran, RHP Forrest Snow, and RHP Steven Hensley. For catcher, we have C Adam Moore, on the infield, SS Nick Franklin, and OF Chih-Hsien Chiang in the outfield. Since someone asked yesterday, that means I got two names right. Thinking about mentioning Chiang accounts for nothing.

Hultzen would figure to be a member of the rotation down there, which would mean about six starts or so. I’d say he’s getting his feet wet, but in Arizona the term isn’t especially applicable. I can’t say he’s getting his uniform dirty either because as a pitcher he’d probably be doing something wrong if that were the case. The broader strokes we’ve already talked about here: Hultzen was regarded as perhaps the most major league-ready talent in the draft, commanding a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and throwing quality change-ups and sliders in addition to that. While the secondary offerings can be improved a little, the breaking ball notably, there isn’t a lot that is holding him back right now unless you want to talk about arm slot consistency or some such thing. The Mariners said when he signed that Hultzen would be given the opportunity to compete for a job in the starting rotation, and with Fister and Bedard gone, he’d figure to have a legitimate shot. However, if he doesn’t light the world on fire down there (we’ve been spoiled by Ackley in the AFL the past couple of years), it’s not going to hurt his case much. Arizona is a bad place to pitch and it’s only a few games.

Snow would probably be the surprise pick for me though not because he’s not talented. If we pointed out something like “most improved player” after a draft class got its chance to settle in, Snow would be at the top of the list for the 2010 crop, adding velocity and moving rapidly through the system, even pitching so well in spot starts in Tacoma that they allowed him to stick around full-time. No, what surprises me about it is that the past week or so, Snow hasn’t been in the rotation, losing his starting spot to Luke French of all guys. I would view that kind of move broadly as something to be done to limit innings, but now they’re sending him to the AFL and I don’t know what that’s supposed to signal. Do they intend to start him down there, or will it be more relief and bullpen work, trying to refine command and secondary offerings? I guess we’ll know once they get rolling.

I highlighted Moran a couple of weeks ago as a relief prospect that I had been tracking a bit and seemed to have put things together in the second half. Right now, we’re looking at a .195 average since the all-star break compared to a .337 before, a 10.42 K/9 compared to 7.77, and a 2.94 BB/9 to 3.70, and that doesn’t even get into him chopping his HR rate by more than a third. The perplexing thing for me is that left-handers are having a much easier time hitting him and drawing walks when before he was regarded as a left-on-left guy, and because I can’t avoid repeating myself, left-handed relievers who can only get right-handed bats out aren’t so valuable. He didn’t pitch much to start the year, so I’d say this is more about innings than anything.

For Hensley, it’s also about innings, and regaining command, and demonstrating that he’s healthy, and other things that come accompanied by innings. He pitched 28.0 through six starts spanning the first three months. That’s pretty weak. He also had a rough time in July, but his command has started to clean up a bit in August, while still not being at acceptable levels. Hensley’s due to need to be added to the 40-man in the offseason. This might make an impression to the higher ups, but I wouldn’t have him on the short list at this point. Injury history and all, plus any team that would want to take him only has 2009 as the really strong year to go off of with him, and there would seem to be better investments.

I don’t know what to say about Moore that hasn’t been said already. He’s been up the high minors for what feels like forever, wrecked his knee in the early part of the season, and somehow in spite of these realities may be one of the better options we have internally, in the high minors or elsewhere (because, you know, Marder is hurt and Baron still can’t hit). This will be a glorified rehab assignment after the minor league season for a guy who has reportedly been working on the side with the major league club for some time now. Will he hit? Will his knees not explode? Will we have to go another year with a tandem of Miguel Olivo and either Chris Gimenez or Josh Bard? All of these are relevant question for a team that has a history of terrible hitting catchers.

Stamina would be one concern of mine in sending Franklin to the AFL, since he was out with mono for a while after getting a concussion. This seems like a very Mariners thing to have happen to a prospect, but hey, I don’t pay all that much attention to other team’s farm systems and it’s still got nothing on Grant Desme leaving for the priesthood. Franklin opened the season hitting .275/.356/.411 with half his games in High Desert, the same place that saw all the insanity last week that I already addressed and a game back in 2009 in which fifty-one runs scored. We’ve never seen a good prospect not hit in Adelanto, so it was a little disturbing for us, even if his plate discipline was improving greatly. Since rejoining the Generals he’s been hitting .280/.308/.440, which is still lacking somwhat in power and discipline, but not half bad considering. I could see Franklin opening next year in Jackson, but the org has been aggressive with him and other prospects in the recent past and for all I know this is a Rainiers audition.

Chiang is a guy that I sort of anticipated going to the league so I’ll just explain why right now. Chiang has been horrible since arriving in the Southern League. The broad strokes would be that he went from .340/.402/.648 in Portland to .211/.269/.275 in Jackson. The micro stuff is that he went from 54% of his hits going for extras to 27%, a .376 BABIP to a .275 BABIP, 17% of his plate appearances resulting in strikeouts to 21.7% Ks, and roughly 7% walks in his plate apperances to 5.2%. Everything has gotten worse since he got here and I haven’t heard any reasoning yet for why. One would think that if he had the nutritional information to work with and that was what had previously held him back, he’s just adhere to that gameplan and be aces from here out, but something is obviously amiss here. I don’t know what they expect to see out of him, but I hope they figure something out.

Overall, it’s a good crop of mostly interesting players some of whom will be playing nearly every day. If the playoffs aren’t your thing, feel free to partake in one of the other joys of October baseball.

Arizona Fall League players identified

August 30, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Update: Or, if you want real in-depth analysis, see Jay’s post above.

When he finally signed his contract, all indications were that Danny Hultzen would make his debut in the organization with the Peoria Javelinas in the AFL. Today, we find out who gets to join him. The complete list:

Adam Moore
Nick Franklin
Chih-Hsien Chiang
Brian Moran
Steven Hensley
Forrest Snow

With Moore, it sounds like they want to take it easy and rather than trying to push him back to the majors in September, will use this venue instead to get him some work on the road to recovery. Franklin is an understandable choice as a top hitting prospect, and could use the extra time also, since he just recently returned to AA to pick up where he left off with first a concussion and then mononucleosis. And since Chiang is new to the system, I think the front office may want a longer look to figure out what they have in him.

In the hitter-friendly environment of the AFL, who gets assigned to pitch is kind of a grab bag. It occasionally includes star prospects – Hultzen, #1 overall pick Gerrit Cole is a possibility, and even Strasburg pitched there two years ago. But because teams are leery of damaged psyches, or they’ve already shut down prime arms to protect against overuse (Paxton, Walker), it can often skew toward a random assortment of arms. In this case, though, there’s at least a legitimate reason to be interested in the remaining guys.

Moran is the last former Tar Heel from the 2009 draft and could be a lefty specialist out of the pen. Hensley is a starter who has missed some time with injuries, meaning this is a chance for some additional work and to see if he can reach his potential. Forrest Snow (no relation that I know of) is a local kid from UW who was taken in the 36th round, which would seem to make him just filler, yet since then he’s moved from the bullpen to the rotation, picked up velocity, and jumped from low-A Clinton to AAA Tacoma this year. Some of his numbers are ugly because of the California League and PCL environments, and the AFL may not be any better in that regard, but it seems the front office wants to see more of what he can do.

Game 133, Angels at Mariners

August 29, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 48 Comments 

Beavan vs. Pineiro, 7:10pm

Okay, I generally try to find something worth watching in every pitching match-up, but this is just… this is tough. The series itself is critically important to the Angels, which is why Mike Scioscia’s probably not that thrilled that injuries have forced him to turn to Joel Pineiro again. We’ve all seen Pineiro for years and we know what he throws. Age and injuries have messed up a fascinating sabermetric research project that someone could’ve done with Pineiro: how long does Dave Duncan’s magic fairy dust last? Pineiro’s clearly used up his entire supply, but thanks to his shoulder issues, we’ve got a confounding variable. Joel’s annoying at everything.

Blake Beavan is the ultimate pitch-to-contact guy. On the year, he has Fister-esque whiff rates on his four- and two-seam fastballs, and over his past few starts, they’re going lower. I like the look of his two-seamer on pitch fx; his height and the sink on the pitch gives it a great downward plane, but it certainly doesn’t get more whiffs than his four-seamer. On the other hand, it seems like it should be able to generate some grounders – and if all he’s going to do is watch batters put it in play, then improving his GB% would be nice. It’s been fairly effective against righties, but the fact that he doesn’t like to use it make the sample sizes too tiny to mean anything.

Overall, Beavan’s K rate/whiff rate is so insanely low, you don’t really watch Blake Beavan pitch – you watch what happens *after* Beavan pitches. He’s been a pleasant surprise, but I feel like I should be talking about Brendan Ryan or the day’s outfielders or something.

Speaking of which…

1: Ichiro
2: Gutierrez
3: Ackley
4: Carp
5: Olivo
6: Kennedy (DH… sigh)
7: Wells
8: Seager
9: Ryan

Justin Smoak’s in Tacoma tonight for a rehab start with the Rainiers, who open their last homestand against Tucson.
Hunstville’s taking on Jackson, and why yes, Vinnie Catricala DOES have a double already. How did you guess?

Minor League Wrap (8/22-28/11)

August 29, 2011 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 13 Comments 

Second to last wrap of the year! The wrap next week will probably come on Wednesday because the regular season schedule won’t end until Monday for the full-seasons. The short-seasons will be cutting out early with Everett ending on Saturday, Pulaski ending on Tuesday, and Peoria ending today. Anyway, this week I have a lot of unusual things from High Desert hitters, a few names that I haven’t brought up before or at the very least often, and a half-blind stab at DSL happenings.

To the jump!
Read more

Game 132, White Sox at Mariners

August 28, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

Vargas vs. Floyd, 1:10pm.

Predictably, after I questioned how the White Sox ever saw themselves as contenders, they’ve throttled the M’s in the first two games of the series. I pointed to the gaping, expensive holes they have in their line-up, but the story with the Sox has been their rotation. They don’t have a real ace, but every starter’s been above average. Today’s starter, Gavin Floyd’s been the worst among them (now that Edwin Jackson’s elsewhere), but that’s hardly a slight on the righty. He’s got a FIP of 3.73 thanks largely to a great strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.16:1).

Floyd went 17-8 with an ERA under 4 in 2008; it was his worst season by fielding independent metrics. He’s cut his walk rate, increased his strikeouts and even cut his home run rate since 2008, and his ERA’s gotten worse (as has his W/L record). Looking at traditional stats, he’s been something of a disappointment. By fielding independent stats, he’s turned himself into a very good #3 starter who’s been worth over 4 WAR for two straight years (and he’ll be over 3 this year). But even as his FIP’s stayed below 4, some factor’s pushed his ERA up. In 2009, his BABIP increased and he pitched much worse with men on base. In 2010, he was great with men on, but his BABIP shot up from .285 to .325. In 2011, he’s again having trouble with men in scoring position. He uses a fastball and a cutter to righties, along with a curveball (he throws an occasional change too). He uses his curve a bit more against lefties, but his best pitch seems to be his cutter. He’s got platoon splits, but they’re nothing special (especially from 2009-2011).

Jason Vargas looks to build on a very good start against the Indians, when his change-up looked a lot better than it had in his previous starts against Texas and Toronto.

Today’s line-up:
1: Ichiro
2: Gutierrez
3: Ackley
4: Wells (DH)
5: Kennedy (1b)
6: Ryan
7: Seager
8: Bard
9: Robinson

Mike Carp gets an off-day, which makes this line-up look a bit off. Carp is a better match-up against Floyd than Wells, but the real issue is Kennedy at first. With Smoak still healing (sounds like he may make a rehab start with Tacoma tomorrow), they don’t have a lot of good options, but…Kennedy at first in late August. Hmm.

2011 Fans Scouting Report

August 27, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

This blog has been exhorting you all to fill out Tango’s Fans’ Scouting Report since 2006, and we’re not going to stop now. Seriously: if you’ve watched a decent number of Mariner games either in person or on TV, please go here and rate the M’s defensively. The more people who fill it out, the more useful the data. The FSR data ends up, as data is wont to do, at Fangraphs, where it sits alongside UZR, DRS, etc. in the fielding section. If you’ve ever complained about the limitations of UZR to a friend, if you’ve ever laughed at the limitations of fielding percentage to a coworker, if you’ve ever questioned batted ball data, you MUST fill out the scouting report. Tango and Dave will know if you don’t, and they will shake their heads disapprovingly in your direction.

Tango’s metric analyzes each defender by a series of specific skills – this is both the greatest strength of the metric, and the greatest challenge for all of us who fill out the survey. (The second biggest challenge? Keeping a player’s position from subconsciously altering your rankings). But there’s no right or wrong answer, so take 10 minutes, give it some thought, and send in your ballot. Thanks!

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