A Quick Note On Chemistry

September 21, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 30 Comments 

By nearly any account you read from someone who spent significant time in the Mariners clubhouse last year, the place was a disaster. The Ken Griffey Jr fiasco turned a significant portion of the roster against the manager, and it was apparently quite a toxic environment. The Mariners ended up firing Don Wakamatsu and replaced him with Eric Wedge, and this spring, we heard numerous reports about the significant change in culture in the clubhouse. People were getting along again. The tension had been removed. According to almost anyone you talk to, the atmosphere in 2011 has been drastically improved over last year’s debacle.

So, given that we’re often told how important team chemistry is to creating an atmosphere where players can succeed, we’d expect to see some players taking a step forward now that the clubhouse had been cleaned up from the poisonous waste of 2010, right?

Err, no. Here are the players who have had significant roles on the team the last two years, and their performance in each year, with 2010 WAR first and then 2011 WAR second.

Felix: +6.2, +5.5
Ichiro: +4.5, +0.3
Fister: +2.9, +3.2
Vargas: +2.6, +1.9
Gutierrez: +1.9, +1.2
Figgins: +1.1, -1.2
League: +0.4, +1.3
Pauley: +0.1, +0.6
Bradley: -0.1, -0.6

Total: +19.6, +12.2

The holdovers from last year’s team performed dramatically worse this year than last year. In fact, the only guys you could say performed substantially better is Brandon League – it’s hard to argue that Doug Fister’s slight improvement is related to the great clubhouse in Seattle when he took it to another level upon being traded to Detroit, after all.

Now, there are certainly extenuating factors that have nothing to do with clubhouse atmosphere or team chemistry – Gutierrez got sick and Ichiro got bad, neither of which you can chalk up to having any kind of causation rooted in how well they like their teammates. However, it is worth noting that there’s just no evidence that anyone on the roster last year benefited at all from the team’s improved clubhouse atmosphere or better culture.

The improvements the team have made this year have everything to do with adding more talented players to the roster. If you take away the likes of Pineda, Ackley, and Bedard, this team is even worse than it was a year ago, good chemistry and all.

I’m glad the guys like each other more, and I’m sure it’s great for everyone that there’s not serious conflict between the coaching staff and the players on the team. But, once again, we’ve seen that an improvement in team chemistry just doesn’t seem to have any effect whatsoever on performance on the field. Good clubhouse, bad clubhouse, it doesn’t really seem to matter. Guys play well or poorly for a variety of reasons, but how well everyone gets along off the field just doesn’t seem to be one of those reasons.

Game 154, Mariners at Twins

September 20, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 18 Comments 

Jason Vargas vs. Liam Hendriks, 5:10pm

The M’s scored 12 runs yesterday to post one of the more unlikely blowout wins in recent memory. Now they head to Minnesota to face the abysmal Twins in a match-up of the two worst offenses in baseball. I’m getting a bit tired of chronicling the M’s offensive futility (which is why yesterday’s win was so welcome) just as we’re all a bit tired of watching it. So I wanted to talk about the fielding column on the WAR chart I linked above – the one with the M’s at -3 runs and the Twins at +9.5.

The M’s position players, not content with sub-replacement-level batting had been below average fielders as well? Even the replacement-level player’s supposed to be able to catch. But then I checked the team Defensive Efficiency, which is basically the percentage of balls in play the team turns into out. The M’s are 5th in baseball, and way down in 29th, in a dead heat with the Alex-Rios-in-CF White Sox. This isn’t a post about competing methodologies in assigning blame/credit to fielders, or about the limitations of UZR or team-level defensive metrics. It just mirrors my own thinking about the M’s fielders. At times, they look amazing – and not just Franklin Gutierrez. Brendan Ryan’s capable of some great plays, Ackley’s been better than pretty much anyone expected, Ichiro’s been much improved after some early season issues. But that -3 in UZR doesn’t seem ludicrous either. This is a team that started Milton Bradley, that saw Ichiro have, er, early season issues, and that’s seen Mike Carp, Mike Wilson, Carlos Peguero and Chris Gimenez play LF. I’ve done Tango’s fans’ scouting report, I’ve looked at DER, UZR, and I don’t really know what I think of the M’s defense this year.

If there’s one thing I *do* know, it’s that the Twins will feature a bunch of interchangeable pitchers with very good control and not much stuff. So, hey, meet Liam Hendriks! He’s a righty with a fastball in the 90-91 range, a curve that’s he’s had some trouble locating, and a change-up. You’re probably going to need to sit down for this: he doesn’t miss a ton of bats and he had minor league walk rates under 6%! Liam Hendriks is apparently Australian for “Nick Blackburn.” They have a commitment to a certain pitcher type, and they’re going to find guys that fit the template wherever they can. Someone in Minnesota really, REALLY liked Brad Radke.

The Twins have the worst record in baseball and have lost 9 in a row. The Mariners are better than someone!

1: Ichiro
2: Seager
3: Ackley
4: Carp (LF)
5: Pena (DH)
6: Kennedy (1B)
7: Olivo
8: Liddi
9: Robinson

Forget Prince Fielder – Target Joey Votto Instead

September 19, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 80 Comments 

A lot of people want the Mariners to make a big move to upgrade the offense this winter. Given the ineptitude of the team’s ability to score runs the last two years, it’s an understandable sentiment – no one really wants to see the team struggle to put up three runs a game again next year. Most of the focus on the offense’s weaknesses has been on the team’s relative lack of power, so in general, the expectation has been that the team would go for a guy who can hit the ball to the moon; specifically, Prince Fielder.

He fits a need. Jack drafted him when he was in Milwaukee. With the Red Sox and Yankees unlikely to be in the bidding, this is one of the few off-seasons where the M’s could probably win a bidding war for a coveted free agent hitter. There are reasons why you can make a case for the M’s blowing their budget to bring Fielder to Seattle, but if they do decide to make a big splash this winter (and I’m not sure that it’s the right path, but that’s another post), I’d rather they target another NL Central first baseman. No, not fellow free agent Albert Pujols – Reds first baseman Joey Votto.

Votto is what Fielder is hyped as but is not actually – one of the very best players in all of baseball. Their career WAR totals are actually very similar (22.7 for Fielder, 23.0 for Votto), except Fielder has an extra 1,600 plate appearances in his career. While they are pretty similar types of hitters, Votto is just better, and the comparison becomes somewhat comical when we look at areas like defense and baserunning. While Fielder is a good bat, Votto is an all-around superstar, providing value at every aspect of the game.

Of course, the Reds realize all of this too, and they won’t be in any hurry to move their franchise player. However, they have to see that the writing is on the wall, and Votto’s career in Cincinnati almost certainly won’t extend beyond 2013, as they just won’t be able to pay the market rate for a guy like Votto once he reaches free agency. He’s under contract for the next two seasons, but a talent like Votto is simply too valuable to let walk away for draft picks (which might not even exist by the time Votto hits FA), so at some point in the next 18 months, the Reds are probably going to have to trade him. They don’t have to trade him this winter, but with promising prospect Yonder Alonso looking capable of filling a potential void at first base, they could probably be talked into moving him for the right return.

Now, for a player like Votto, you’re not talking about a collection of prospects – to get him, you’d have to give up significant pieces off your Major League roster. For the Mariners to have any chance of landing Votto in trade, they’d almost certainly have to build a package around Michael Pineda.

I know, the last time I suggested that the M’s look into trading Pineda, a lot of you weren’t big fans of the proposal. He’s a quality starting pitcher making the league minimum, under team control for five more seasons, and is one of the few bright spots in the organization right now. He’s the kind of guy that most organizations won’t part with. And that’s exactly why the M’s could land Votto this winter.

You put Pineda on the table (and realistically, to get a deal done, you’d probably have to include a couple more players as well) and the Reds will listen. There aren’t many other teams out there who could offer up that kind of high ceiling talent who could also be a difference maker for the 2012 Reds. They lack high-end talent at the front of their rotation, and you could make a pretty decent case to Walt Jocketty that he wouldn’t be that much worse off with Pineda in the rotation, Alonso at first base, and $10 million extra to spend in free agency than with the configuration he has now, and Pineda would give the Reds the kind of long term value that two more years of Votto just can’t offer.

At the least, the Reds would be forced to consider a deal. Maybe you have to put Brandon League in the package as well. Maybe you have to add in a prospect or two. But if Jack Z calls and says Pineda is in play if they’ll talk about Votto, Jocketty isn’t hanging up.

I know many of you will say that giving up five years of Pineda is too high a cost to pay to acquire Votto when you can just sign Fielder as a free agent. But, in reality, I’d argue that the cost to acquiring and keeping Votto might very well be lower than signing Fielder.

Fielder is a Scott Boras client, and they’ve made no secret of the fact that they are looking for a contract that would pay Fielder like he’s one of the game’s elite. The Brewers reportedly offered a five year, $100 million extension and were told that they weren’t even in the ballpark, at which time negotiations ended and haven’t resumed since. Boras has instead made comparisons to guys like Mark Teixeira, who got $180 million over eight years from the Yankees, and given that he was able to get $126 million for Jayson Werth, it’s not hard to see Boras getting into the Teixeira/Gonzalez neighborhood for Fielder. In other words, you’re looking at something in the range of $25 million per year for the next 6-7 years.

Votto, on the other hand, is scheduled to make just $9 million next year and then $17 million in 2013 before he reaches free agency. Retaining him beyond those years will take a Fielder-sized contract (the differences between the two are primarily in things that the market doesn’t value, so Votto probably won’t get a significantly larger deal than Fielder as an FA), but having an MVP-caliber player at significantly discounted rates for two years gives the Mariners an opportunity to do something they probably wouldn’t be able to do if they just signed Fielder – potentially contend in 2012.

Yes, they’d lose Pineda, but they’d save $10 to $15 million in 2012 salary by paying Votto instead of Fielder, and that money could then be allocated to upgrading the rest of the roster. Yes, you’d have to use some of it to acquire a starting pitcher to replace Pineda, but Safeco Field gives the Mariners a huge advantage in acquiring useful pitchers for below market rates. Maybe you won’t get a power arm who racks up the strikeouts, but the M’s could replace Pineda’s actual on field production without blowing all of the cost savings and have enough left over to upgrade several of the other holes on the roster.

With Ichiro’s contract coming off the books after 2012, the M’s could afford to give Votto a monster extension next winter without having to massively expand the payroll. They aren’t in that position this off-season, as signing Fielder would essentially be the only thing they could afford to do, and they might even have to cut payroll in other places in order to fit him into the budget. By himself, Prince Fielder doesn’t make the M’s a good team next year, so just adding him to the current talent in the organization isn’t enough, but it probably is all they could realistically do this winter.

Votto, though, opens the door for real substantial improvement. By bringing in a lower priced superstar, the team would give themselves the flexibility to make real substantial improvements across the roster. They probably can’t catch up to Texas in one off-season, but there’s enough young talent in place that a few key upgrades along with Votto would give the team a chance to win next year.

And, in reality, this organization needs to start winning sooner than later. The fans continue to avoid Safeco Field (they’re down 200,000 in attendance compared to 2010), and engaging in another non-competitive season is likely to cut into revenues to an even greater degree. The M’s just aren’t in a position to bet the farm on the most unreliable asset in the sport – young pitching – but right now, that’s the area that the team has gathered the most talent. It might be fun to dream of a Felix/Pineda/Hultzen/Paxton rotation, but that’s the kind of dream that can blow up really fast, and an arm injury here or regression there, and all of the sudden, the team is in both short term and long term trouble.

The cost of acquiring Votto might be a prized young arm, but the cost of signing Fielder and hoping all the young pitching pans out is even greater – if the guy who is already too big to play an adequate first base begins to have health issues, or if any of the young pitchers feel pain in their arms, there’s no safety net in place, and it’s organizational suicide for the next decade or so. The Mariners can’t survive Fielder turning into Mo Vaughn – they don’t have the kind of budget that would let them build a winner around that kind of busted contract.

Betting on a 300 pound DH and a bunch of young arms to develop is a strategy fraught with risk – even more risk than trading Pineda away and watching him develop into an ace somewhere else. Yes, you might be giving up some long term potential by moving Pineda, but getting a true superstar in Votto would be enough to justify pulling the trigger.

If this team decides the 2012 roster needs a big shot in the arm, I’d suggest that Fielder isn’t a big enough boost. He’s a nice player, but he’s not really a superstar, and he’s going to be drastically overpaid this winter. If the M’s are in the mood to make a big splash, they’d be better off paying the price to acquire Joey Votto, and then using the money they saved to build out a competitive roster and make a real run at winning in 2012. Give Votto a good experience in his first year in Seattle, let him play with Felix Hernandez and Dustin Ackley, show him how beautiful the area can be in the summer, and you might even be able to extend him next winter for less than what Fielder would cost you this winter.

Prince Fielder would make the M’s offense better, but he wouldn’t make the M’s contenders. If they want to really push this organization forward in a hurry, Joey Votto is the man to target this off-season.

Game 153, Mariners at Indians

September 19, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

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.

1: Ichiro
2: Rodriguez
3: Carp
4: Olivo
5: Seager
6: Pena (DH)
7: Liddi
8: Robinson (CF)
9: Gimenez (LF)


Game 152, Rangers at Mariners

September 18, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 23 Comments 

Felix Hernandez vs. Matt Harrison, 1:10pm

Happy Felix Day!

The rubber match of this game series features the Rangers’ Matt Harrison, a lefty with a plus fastball, a curve, change and cutter. Harrison’s the latest in a string of Ranger players to suffer from thoracic outlet syndrome, in which the nerves leading from the arm (or the subclavian artery/vein) are compressed by the rib and collar bone leading to numbness and pain. Like Kenny Rogers, Hank Blalock and others, Harrison had his first rib removed in 2009. And, like Rogers, when he came back, he’s had noticeably better velocity. He averaged around 91 before the surgery, and he’s up to 93 now.

He came back in 2010, and while his velocity was better, his command was terrible – his K% was 12.9% and his BB% was 11%. This year, he’s greatly improved his walk rate, and that’s helped him post a 3.64 FIP and 3.4 WAR so far. He’s still not a guy who misses a lot of bats; he’s got a below-average contact rate and swinging-strike rate. But he’s got enough stuff that he’s not just grooving fastballs. His two-seamer and change-up help him post solid GB rates (and keep his HRs under control). Add it up, and he’s an exceptional 3rd starter by pretty much any metric you want to look at.

Felix is better, though.

Today’s line-up:
1: Ichiro
2: Rodriguez (SS)
3: Ackley
4: Olivo
5: Carp
6: Pena (DH)
7: Robinson
8: Liddi
9: Saunders

Game 151, Rangers at Mariners

September 17, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

Anthony Vasquez vs. Colby Lewis, 1:10pm uh, 4:10pm? Wha?

I’m out today and posting this on my phone, so this will be brief. The M’s celebrate their fans with Vasquez on the hill and Adam Kennedy at DH. Thanks for your support!

I was happier after last night’s shutout than I had any right to be; there’s something about stealing a win like that, and about getting an unlikely pitching performance, that makes for great TV. I think it’s because it so often happens against the M’s, but in any event, I’d love to see the M’s make it two today.

The line-up:
1: Ichiro
2: Seager
3: Ackley
4: Carp
5: Kennedy (DH)
6: Bard
7: Ryan
8: Robinson
9: Wells (CF) scratched, Saunders instead

Game 150, Rangers at Mariners

September 16, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

Blake Beavan vs. CJ Wilson, 7:10pm.

The Rangers come to town this week looking to stay in control of the suddenly tight AL West. Their appearance also serves as a handy reminder of just how much better they are. The last time they were here, they systematically took apart a terrible M’s offense and left with a sweep. They’ve beaten the M’s in all five game started by either Felix Hernandez or Michael Pineda, and their position players have been worth about 30 wins more than the Mariners’ group.

They are a measuring stick, and comparing the two teams can get a bit depressing. They had great pitching depth in the minors back in March/April, and they’ve seen injuries and trades essentially wipe out that depth. But here’s the problem: they’ve still got a better farm system than the M’s. That’s subject to debate and all, but while I might give the M’s the edge for pitchers right now (in an inversion of the rankings back in the spring), pitching isn’t really the problem here. The M’s have been worth 30 wins less this season, and whatever you think of Mike Carp, Dustin Ackley, UZR ratings, wOBA, etc., any true talent estimate is going to show the Rangers in the lead. And the Rangers have the superior hitting talent in the minors. The M’s front office has been a strength, but I’m not sure it’s better than the Rangers’. I’m sorry, I’m not being very uplifting here, but I’ve grown to hate playing the Rangers because it’s depressing.

Michael Young’s lion-in-winter season is one of the more unlikely of 2011, especially given how publicly he expressed his desire to have a lion-in-winter season somewhere else. Colby Lewis was expected to regress, and has, but it doesn’t matter. Neftali Feliz has gone from the top pitching prospect in the league to a poor man’s Mark Lowe, and it doesn’t matter. They got essentially nothing from CF Pedro Borbon, so they picked up Endy Chavez and promoted a defensive specialist in Craig Gentry, and they’re great. This isn’t to say that they’ve been lucky or unlucky (it’s tempting to call the Mike Napoli acquisition lucky, but they didn’t sign him; they had to make a trade, and they did), it’s to say that they were prepared.

The M’s have added Pete Vuckovich to the Front Office as another special assistant to the GM. Vuckovich and Zduriencik worked for Pirates GM Ted Simmons in the early 90s, and Simmons is now the senior advisor to the GM in Seattle. They’ve also made Roger Hansen, the long-time player (esp. catcher) development specialist, a special assistant to the GM. It’d be tempting to play office kremlinology and speculate on what it means for the team or Tony Blengino, but I haven’t a clue. I’d just love to hear from the M’s how they see the situation vis a vis Texas and how more assistants will get them what they need.

CJ Wilson’s now the ace of the staff, with a low 3’s FIP and 5+ wins under his belt so far. While he’s had significant platoon splits over his career, part of what’s made him an effective starter has been his ability to get righties out. He’s still better against lefties, but by improving his command (giving up fewer walks to lefties AND righties), he’s become a very effective starter. His struggles against righties in the past are the primary reason he’s faced nearly four times more right handers than lefties this year (180 to 673), but it hasn’t hurt him.

Opposing him is Blake Beavan, who’s in a dead heat with Brad Penny and Tyler Chatwood for the highest contact rate in baseball at 89%. When the Twins staff is laughing at your contact rates, you may want to think about trying to miss a bat or two.

The line-up, now with Brendan Ryan!
1: Ichiro
2: Ryan
3: Ackley
4: Olivo (nooo not cleanup noo)
5: Carp
6: Pena (DH)
7: Seager
8: Robinson
9: Wells (CF)

A Suggestion For Dumping Chone Figgins

September 15, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 65 Comments 

Like Jeff Cirillo, Carlos Silva, and many others before him, Chone Figgins came to Seattle with some fanfare and a pretty decent sized contract… and promptly fell flat on his face. To say that he’s been bad would be the understatement of the year, and at this point, it’s hard to see Figgins having any significant role on this team going forward. The team could keep him around as a super-utility guy, but he can’t really play SS/CF, so he’d be a reserve 3B/2B/LF, which just isn’t all that valuable or all that hard to find.

So, despite being owed another $17 million in salary for 2012 and 2013, Figgins probably needs to go away this winter. The team could just release him and eat the cost of his salary, but teams are often reluctant to make that kind of maneuver and essentially admit that a move was a total failure. More often, they look for some other team’s overpriced underachiever and try to make a “change of scenery” swap, hoping both players will do better in a new location with a fresh start.

My guess is that’s exactly what the M’s will try to do with Figgins this winter, and in that vein, I’d like to offer up a suggestion on one particular team to call – the San Francisco Giants. They are the unfortunate rights-holders to one Barry Zito, who has two years left on the $126 million contract he signed as a free agent in the winter of 2006. That contract was one of the biggest disasters in baseball history, and because they misjudged his talents, the Giants are still on the hook for a whopping $46 million over the next two years (including the obvious buyout of the 2014 option). That money is essentially going to be wasted, however, as the Giants crowded rotation has pushed Zito out and Bruce Bochy wouldn’t even commit to him as a starting pitcher next year. Best case scenario for the Giants, they’d have the world’s most expensive left-handed specialist on their hands.

That’s not a good situation for anyone, and if they can convince Zito to waive his no-trade clause (which shouldn’t be that hard if he’s staring at a relief role for the next two years), shipping him to a team that would give him a chance to start would probably be best for everyone. Enter the Mariners.

Right now, the M’s have three decent Major League starting pitchers in the organization – Felix, Pineda, and Vargas. Blake Beavan doesn’t miss enough bats to be more than a replacement level placeholder, while Charlie Furbush belongs in the bullpen, where he can be used situationally to match-up against left-handed batters. Yes, there are some good arms in the farm system, but counting on Danny Hultzen or James Paxton to make the rotation out of spring training is asking too much of them, and the organization is best served by not rushing its best prospects to the majors too quickly.

Zito isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of an ace anymore, but he is a left-handed fly ball guy whose skills are fairly well suited to Safeco Field, and before this season, he’d been one of the game’s most durable pitchers. Having a guy who can soak up innings at the back of the rotation, even if they aren’t the highest quality innings around, has some usefulness for a team with as little high level pitching depth as the Mariners.

If nothing else, the M’s have the ability to find out if Zito is finished as a Major League starter or not. They could give him 10-15 starts next year to see if he’s got anything left, and if not, replace him come summertime with a guy like Paxton or Hultzen. If he manages a career rejuvenation, you might even be able to move him at the trading deadline and get the buying team to pick up some of the salary the Mariners are on the hook for, thus defraying some of the cost of the original Figgins signing.

There’s basically no chance that Figgins undergoes that kind of career revitalization in Seattle. It’s unclear how he’d even manage to get on the field regularly enough to get his career going again. However, the M’s would have a use for a veteran back-end lefty who could fill a rotation spot for the first few months of 2012 at the least.

For a National League team like the Giants, Figgins’s versatility would be more significant, and they have enough question marks on the position player side of things to give him a look at various spots on the field. At the least, he’d provide more value to their team than keeping Zito around in a relief role would.

With the $29 million difference in salaries over the next two years, the Giants would have to eat a lot of cash to make an even one-for-one swap, but they’re not going to be able to move Zito without picking up nearly all of the money he’s due anyway. At least in a Figgins for Zito swap, both teams can give themselves a chance to salvage something from a free agent signing gone wrong.

Game 149, Yankees at Mariners

September 14, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 21 Comments 

Jason Vargas vs. Ivan Nova, 7:00pm (ESPN telecast, so note the change in start time).

You may have seen Jeff Sullivan’s post on Jason Vargas’ recent mechanical tweak, or Kyle Boddy’s follow-up at The Hardball Times – essentially, Vargas added an Eric Bedard/Felix Hernandez-style “twist” in his delivery to add a bit of velocity while improving his deception. (Kyle discusses how a twist might produce such results in his article).

Tonight’s a great opportunity to see how well the new approach works – can he maintain the velocity increase? It’ll be especially valuable since it’ll be his second straight start at home, so the impact of pitch fx calibration will be moderated. For an example of what I mean, check out his last road start here compared to his start in late August here. They look like two different pitchers – the movement’s different, the speed’s different, even the spin rate’s quite distinct. Now compare them to his start with the new mechanics. Clearly, he picked up some velo, but we need to figure out how much of the improvement carries over, and how it might be impacted by his pitch mix too.

I’m biased, obviously, but I find this fascinating. We’re able to watch a pitcher evolve with such focus. It’s not perfect; that Oakland start can realllly throw off a trend analysis. But we learn from the player what he’s trying to do, and now we’ve got all this data to illustrate it and to show how it impacts his effectiveness. Again, just like with Phil Hughes, we’ve got a pitcher who’s constantly tweaking his mix, his pitches themselves, and his delivery to stay in the rotation, and we’re perhaps more aware of it than ever before. Maybe it’s a lot of heat and not a lot of light, but as a Jamie Moyer fan, I’m just fascinated as to how guys throwing 86-88 can survive in this league – by what separates Vargas from Vasquez, or Travis Blackley. Deception and command are huge, but I do wonder if constantly evolving and adapting isn’t part of it as well.

The Yankees send out Ivan Nova, who’s had a very effective year for New York. He’s got a fastball in the 92mph range that looks quite straight, but gets a very good number of ground balls. He also throws a curve and change-up. I’m fascinated that a pitch with very little horizontal movement and an fairly normal amount of sink can produce the GB rates that Nova’s put up. But there, just ahead of Nova on the fangraphs leaderboard, is Zach Britton, who throws a 92mph FB (from the left side) with similar sink and gets similar results with it. I don’t know enough about either to really push this as a comp; Britton’s is a two-seamer and it has much more horizontal movement, but there’s certainly a precedent for Nova’s GB ability. Speaking of precedents, Britton shut out the M’s in May. On the plus side, Nova gets comparatively few whiffs and few strikeouts, and I’m getting fairly sick of the M’s striking out so much. However, the line-up includes Wily Mo, Olivo, Trayvon Robinson and Luis Rodriguez, so…maybe next game.

The line-up:
1: Ichiro
2: Seager
3: Ackley
4: Carp
5: Smoak
6: Olivo
7: Pena
8: Rodriguez
9: Robinson

Game 148, Yankees at Mariners

September 13, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 55 Comments 

Charlie Furbush vs. AJ Burnett

AJ Burnett’s a frustrating enigma with a massive contract and stuff that looks better to TV viewers than opposing hitters. Sure, his fastball’s no longer 95-96, but it’s still good. The curve’s no longer a challenge to conventional aerodynamics, it’s just a solid pitch that he uses too much because his FB’s not fooling anyone. In short, he is the Yankees’ Miguel Batista – a guy who people detest for a variety of (generally good) reasons, but who isn’t as out-and-out bad as his reputation implies. I don’t know if Burnett’s tempo on the mound is as glacial as Batista’s, but this ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is the Yankees have a Batista. I cling to this.

This is perhaps the least-satisfying schadenfreude around. The Yankees have more than enough money to swallow a bad contract or two. They *always* have a Batista around who’s making way too much money, if only because so many of their players are signed to huge contracts. They shrug off the Javier Vasquez’s and they still win. They breathe life into the bloated corpse of Bartolo Colon, and they ride it past the Red Sox (incidentally: John Lackey! Ha!). When even King Felix gets pounded by the Yankee dreadnought, the only thing I can do is point at their Batista and laugh a knowing laugh.

The line-up:
1: Ichiro
2: Seager
3: Ackley
4: Carp
5: Smoak
6: Olivo
7: Kennedy (DH)
8: Wells (CF)
9: Ryan

« Previous PageNext Page »