Game 153, Mariners at Indians
Charlie Furbush vs. David Huff, 1:05pm
The M’s final road trip kicks off with a make-up game in Cleveland; the M’s and Indians were rained out a couple times in May, and while they made up one with a double-header, they’re making up the other one today.
Shifting a game from May to September seems like an easy upgrade in watchability; the M’s in May were often difficult to watch. Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson job-sharing left field. Jack Cust’s DH death-rattle. Chone Figgins. The M’s position players, collectively, put up -0.3 fWAR in May, with a wOBA of .271 and below-average fielding. Their strikeout rate was the worst in the AL, and their walk rate was below average, and they had the worst ISO in baseball.
Flash forward to August/September, and the team looks a lot different. Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells are the rookies now, and the team’s ISO’s up substantially from May. But while this team is better, it’s got a long ways to go to get to something like “decent.” Over the past 30 days, over 1,000 plate appearances, the M’s team wOBA is .292. Their strikeout rate is the worst in baseball, easily worse than every NL team. Their walk rate’s gotten worse, and while their ISO’s better than it was in May, it’s still terrible.
This isn’t to say that they’ve made no progress. Their fielding certainly looks a bit better, but let’s be honest: the move that helped the M’s defense the most was DFA’ing Milton Bradley. It’s also completely true that bad young/developing players are preferable to bad aging players. I’d much rather watch Mike Carp at DH than Jack Cust (or Adam Kennedy). But this is the insidious thing about the M’s of 2010-2011: they’ve been so bad, they make you conflate incremental improvement with radical transformation. This team is much, much better to watch, and they’re better in an absolute sense. They’re also baaaaaad.
The strikeout issue is significant. It was easy to explain away the whiff problems when Carlos Peguero was an everyday player, but all of the non-Ackley newcomers have major contact issues as well. This isn’t news; Dave’s mentioned it, and everyone identified contact as a problem for guys like Trayvon Robinson and Casper Wells before they played an inning for the M’s. But what to make of Mike Carp’s transformation from patient, unexciting gap hitter to a free-swinging slugger? Mike Carp’s contact rate is well below league average; it’s almost as bad as Wily Mo Pena’s. Sure, Carp is much, much better at laying off pitches out of the zone, but he’s also worse at making contact with strikes. What problem’s ‘better?’
In the end, I think the M’s are now much more talented than they were (though I admit that the team’s relative youth might be skewing my perception of their talent), but to become an average baseball team, they need to develop. That is, the player development group now has the responsibility to turn a group of players with horrific approaches at the plate into a true major league offense. Jack Zduriencik did what he could to improve the org’s talent, but it won’t mean anything unless Pedro Grifol’s staff and the M’s coaches can transform the hitters.
That’s fine; that’s what they’re paid to do, but from here, the task looks monumental. Part of the problem is that I don’t have a good sense of what’s reasonable to expect from a player development group. How much of a player’s approach is teachable? When is it too late? What’s an ‘average’ level of improvement? Who are the major success stories? I don’t know. I just know it’s imperative that they have some success, because the M’s don’t have anywhere near enough money to patch their holes through free agency, and counting on Zduriencik to make organization-changing trades yearly seems like asking a lot. Please get better, Trayvon, Casper, Mike, Justin, Kyle, Alex.
Today’s line-up features Chris Gimenez in left field because why the hell not? It doesn’t feature Dustin Ackley, so if you were worried that you couldn’t catch this one, well, don’t.
6: Pena (DH)
8: Robinson (CF)
9: Gimenez (LF)