Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Dave · February 22, 2012 at 7:32 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

(Yes, I’m back. Vacation in Colorado was awesome, thanks for asking. I’m still traveling, but I’m working while I travel rather than last week’s enjoy-the-snow trip. We’ll resume normalcy next week, at least until I head down to Arizona on March 8th, at which point I might disappear for a few days again.)

So, we’ve known something like this was coming for a while, but yesterday, Eric Wedge made it official – Ichiro is not going to begin the season as the team’s leadoff hitter. In the current iteration of the plan, in fact, he’s being moved to the #3 spot in the batting order. This move has several ramifications, so let’s deal with each of them in order.

What This Means For Ichiro

He’s going to come up to bat less often. Seriously, that’s about the only thing we can really know right now. By dropping down two spots in the batting order, Ichiro will hit about 35 fewer times than he would have if he was still leading off. If we think that Ichiro is still one of the best hitters on the team, that’s bad, because now we’re giving fewer at-bats to one of the team’s better offensive players. If we think that 2011 was the beginning of the end of Ichiro as a good hitter, though, that’s good, as the team is now going to give fewer at-bats to a guy who is headed for the end of his career and was pretty lousy last year.

But, the Mariners aren’t making this move to give Ichiro fewer at-bats. That’s a byproduct of the decision, not the motivation behind it. The M’s are doing this for a couple of reasons – some that have nothing to do with Ichiro specifically – including the need for teams to make changes when things aren’t going well. And let’s be honest, the offense hasn’t gone very well the last few years. Two years ago, it was pretty easy to say that wasn’t Ichiro’s fault, as he was just playing with awful teammates. Last year, though, Ichiro was part of the problem, and the team is hoping that moving him from first to third in the order can help bring about some change that will improve his production.

Will it work? I have no idea, and neither does anyone else. Yes, the change has resulted in Ichiro adopting a new stance at the plate, in which he spreads his feet further apart and barely lifts his leg off the ground. It’s possible that he’s also going to take a new approach and attempt to drive the ball more to the outfield now, rather than relying on beating the ball into the ground as often as he has in the past. Maybe these changes will make him better. Maybe they’ll make him worse. There’s no way to know. Different doesn’t always mean better, and of course, there’s the very real possibility that Ichiro would have just performed better than he did last year even if the team sent him back out there to do the exact same thing he’s always done.

That’s the thing about baseball – the old cliche about the definition of insanity being an expectation of a different result from doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t apply. In baseball, you absolutely can do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. In fact, in many cases that’s exactly the right thing to do when you get bad results – just keep plugging away until the results change. Players regularly get themselves in trouble when they let a slump convince them that they need to tinker with the things that got them success in the first place. In baseball, randomness happens, and good processes won’t always lead to good results. The right approach is often to continue right along with the good process, knowing that the results that are out of your control will eventually change.

But, then, we dont’ know if Ichiro’s old process is still a good process. He’s older now, so it would make sense that the approach he took as a 27-year-old won’t be as effective now that he’s 38. He very may well need a new process in order to adapt to his new physical skills. If he’s not as capable of beating out grounders as he used to be, maybe he should look into hitting fewer ground balls. And maybe he will. And maybe it will work. But now we’re just down the speculative rabbit hole so far that we can’t even see facts anymore, and we’re just living in the land of guess work.

This is, for all intents and purposes, what the Mariners are doing with Ichiro. They’re guessing (and hoping) that by moving him down in the order, it will have some kind of positive impact on his results. It might, it might not. No one’s really seen Ichiro do things any differently than he’s always done them, so there’s no way to know if that Ichiro will actually be better or worse. He’ll be different, but whether that’s a positive or a negative, we’ll just have to wait and find out. For now, the Mariners are essentially just doing something because they had nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work, well, he’s a free agent at the end of the year and at least they can say they tried. If it does work, huzzah, they “fixed” Ichiro. This is why managers tinker with the line-up; you’re a genius if the results change, but it’s the player’s fault if they don’t. So, we’ll try Ichiro as the #3 hitter, at least for a while. Eric Wedge has nothing to lose by doing things this way.

What This Means For Chone Figgins

In reality, the bigger news isn’t that Ichiro is now the #3 hitter, it’s that the team was willing to proclaim Figgins the lead-off hitter – a role he can only fill if he’s playing everyday. And, really, the only spot for him to play everyday is at third base, so the de facto result of this announcement is that Chone Figgins has come to camp as the team’s starting third baseman. If he hits .150 during March, they’ll probably abandon the experiment, but right now, we should probably assume that third base belongs to Figgins, and Kyle Seager is going to head back to Triple-A to form the world’s biggest positional logjam.

This is the part of the news that you probably shouldn’t be thrilled with. The team tried to move Figgins all winter and couldn’t find any takers – not surprising, considering just how bad he’s been the last few years and that he’s still due $18 million over the next two seasons. So, rather than have him just serve as the team’s 25th man, they’re opting to give him the start of the 2012 season to try and rejuvenate himself as a leadoff hitter again, and hopefully convince a scout or two that he’s got something left in the tank so the Mariners can ship him somewhere else and save a few million dollars in the process.

Make no mistake about it – this move is more about Figgins than it is about Ichiro. He has no real chance of finishing his contract as a Mariner; the only question is whether he relocates because someone else decides they want him or the Mariners just get tired of him taking up a roster spot. By opening up the leadoff spot in the order again, the team is hoping to take advantage of the fact that people still believe that part of his struggles in Seattle are due to being moved to the #2 spot in the batting order after succeeding as a lead-off hitter in Anaheim.

Now, let’s be honest, there’s no real reason to believe this is true. Last year, Figgins led off an inning 55 times, and he hit .173/.218/.231. In 2010, he led off an inning 119 times, and he hit .233/.336/.272. Despite all the talk about different mindsets and approaches that come with hitting first rather than second, we’ve seen Figgins be the first guy to walk up to the plate in Seattle a lot, and he’s been just as terrible in those situations as in any other. The idea that just naming him the “leadoff hitter” will cause him to become good again is just wish-casting. It has no basis in fact. It’s just as likely that Figgins would benefit from rubbing Felix’s left toe in between at-bats. There’s just no real evidence that batting position has any real tangible effects on a player’s ability to hit a baseball.

But, from the Mariners perspective, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what they can sell to other teams, and there are still enough people in decision making positions in Major League Baseball who do believe that batting position matters that the M’s can sell a good start to the season as being the result of having Figgins back at the top of the order. Actual causation here is irrelevant – if the team puts Figgins back in the first batting position and he hits better, there will be other teams who believe that A and B occurring simultaneously must mean that A caused B, and will believe that Figgins could continue to hit well for them as long as they let him hit leadoff for them too.

The Mariners don’t need to peddle the truth here. If May rolls along and Figgins is hitting .300 and drawing walks again, they are under no obligation to try and explain to potential suitors that correlation does not equal causation, and that Figgins may very well revert back to pumpkin form at any minute. The fact that other teams might make the causation leap themselves means that a good start to the season does present the M’s with some chance to actually trade him without assuming the entirety of the remainder of his deal.

They’re never going to get anyone to take the whole contract. But, if they just ate the contract now, they’d be out roughly $17 million of the remaining $18 million on the deal (someone would sign him as a free agent for the league minimum, and then they’d be on the hook for that part of his contract). If Figgins hits well in April and May, they’ll have paid down about $2.5 million of the contract already, and might be able to convince someone that taking $5 or $6 million of the remaining $15.5 million is an okay investment for a rejuvenated leadoff hitter.

Maybe you don’t care if the team lowers their 2013 expenses by $5 million, but if it gives them the budget room to bring in a player who better fits into the future of the team, then it’s a decent reward for pushing forward with this experiment. That’s essentially the best case scenario here – Figgins plays well enough to generate a modicum of trade value and the team dumps him in the early summer for some cash savings for 2013.

There’s also a pretty good chance that he’s still pretty lousy and spends the first few weeks of the season just making a ton of outs at the top of the batting order. In that scenario, he’s probably DFA’d by May 15th, and the team can say they gave him every opportunity to succeed here. They tried him at second base and he failed at that. They tried him at third base and he failed at that. They tried him at leadoff and he failed at that. At that point, Figgins will be out of excuses, and the team will just dump him and move on to Plan B.

Either way, I don’t see Chone Figgins on this team much past June. He’ll either be good and traded or bad and cut. No matter how you look at it, Figgins-as-Mariner-leadoff-hitter is a short term thing.

What This Means For Everyone Else

We mentioned this briefly, but the biggest ramification of this announcement is that Kyle Seager is probably ticketed for Tacoma. The team probably won’t want him sitting around not playing, and if Figgins is going to be the regular third baseman, then they’d likely rather give Carlos Guillen the backup 3B/1B job and let Seager play regularly in Triple-A. Of course, that creates a problem, because the working assumption before this news was that Francisco Martinez was going to be the Rainiers third baseman, a decision that had already pushed them to move Alex Liddi to first base for this year. Sending Seager down means that Martinez could be headed back to Double-A to repeat a level. They could also have Seager play second base down in Tacoma if they want Martinez to still be able to play third, but having Seager get reps at second with Dustin Ackley entrenched at the spot in Seattle isn’t all that useful to the team. As weird as it sounds, the team doesn’t really have room for Seager back in Tacoma. Sending him down creates some problems, and even if it’s just for 6-8 weeks, the sooner they can end the Figgins-as-starting-3B experiment, the better off the guys with an actual future in this organization will be.

In terms of the line-up, Figgins at #1 and Ichiro at #3 means that Ackley is almost guaranteed to be slotted into the #2 spot in the order, followed by some mix of Smoak-Montero-Carp as the 4/5/6, and then Olivo-Gutierrez-Ryan as the 7/8/9. It also means that the line-up isn’t likely to very much from day to day, as Wedge is opting for more “set roles” than “platoon advantages”. Rather than taking advantage of left-right match-ups, the team is putting their faith in the magical power of players knowing what they’re going to hit everyday, and hoping that brings them out of their multi-year doldrums. Wedge is an old-school guy and this is old school thinking. It’s something we’ll just have to deal with as long as he’s in charge.

What happens to the line-up once Figgins is traded/dumped? It depends a bit on everyone else, but my best guess is that Ackley will get bumped up from #1 to #2, and then his spot will be filled by either Franklin Gutierrez (if he’s hitting well) or Kyle Seager (if Guti’s not). They’re the guys who most fit the mold of a typical #2 hitter besides Ackley, and neither one runs well enough to convince a traditional manager like Wedge to hit them leadoff. So, my guess is that come June, the line-up is Ackley-Guti-Ichiro or Ackley-Seager-Ichiro, whether Figgins-as-leadoff-hitter was a success or not.

And that’s why, in the end, this Big News isn’t really big news. It’s one last chance for redemption for Figgins. It’s an experiment with Ichiro. And it’s a chance for the team to try and dump some portion of the money that Figgins is still due for 2013 on someone else. Given that the cost isn’t super high – yes, Seager’s probably a better player and the team is probably making themselves a bit worse with this move, but the gap between them over 200 PA is small and the team probably isn’t contending this year anyway – it’s not that hard to see why the Mariners are going in this direction. I don’t think it will work, but it’s a move without a ton of downside and at least a little bit of upside if you squint hard enough.

So, Figgins is the leadoff guy, Ichiro is the #3 guy, and Seager is the Triple-A guy. Don’t get too used to this arrangement – it won’t last long.

Comments

68 Responses to “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes”

  1. henryv on February 22nd, 2012 7:37 pm

    What this also means for Ichiro:

    The rare opportunity to be stranded at second after a double by a whole new set of players. Imagine the joy Ichiro will have when he is stranded by the #6 hitter, rather than the #4!

  2. stevemotivateir on February 22nd, 2012 7:48 pm

    I still wouldn’t be surprised if he (Figgins) was moved or dumped before the season starts, making this more of a spring experiment/showcase.

  3. djw on February 22nd, 2012 8:08 pm

    This is the part of the news that you probably shouldn’t be thrilled with.

    You have a gift for understatement.

  4. henryv on February 22nd, 2012 8:13 pm

    It’s not like Figgins is a body or an ugly orange couch. You can’t just drag him into the woods and get rid of him.

    Someone actually has to want him. This is how I envision this going:

    “Houston Astros baseball.”
    “Yeah, we have starting third baseman who can play all over the field, if needed.”
    “Is this you, Jack?”
    “Yeah.”
    “You know, we have a new GM, right?”
    “Oh, shit. Right. Sorry, I’ll try calling the Royals.”

  5. groundzero55 on February 22nd, 2012 8:14 pm

    Great write-up, Dave. I really enjoyed the read.

  6. Leroy Stanton on February 22nd, 2012 8:21 pm

    Sounds about right to me, but it could also sort itself out during spring training.

    Dave, you have a typo with Ackley’s lineup spot, post-Figgins. It should read: #2 to #1. It’s reversed.

  7. TherzAlwaysHope on February 22nd, 2012 8:22 pm

    Shannon Drayer reports today that Ryan is still having trouble with his shoulder.

  8. MrZDevotee on February 22nd, 2012 9:04 pm

    Welcome back, Dave… Sorry the (M’s) house is a mess.

  9. stevemotivateir on February 22nd, 2012 9:20 pm

    I like the Bowie-inspired title as well. Maybe something from The Stooges can be used for a future post -Raw Power perhaps, if some bats come alive?

  10. davepaisley on February 22nd, 2012 9:50 pm

    “Shannon Drayer reports today that Ryan is still having trouble with his shoulder.”

    Guillen and Ryan for the most injury prone SS job share ever. Oh wait, Pokey Reese. Forgot about him.

  11. Dobbs on February 22nd, 2012 9:54 pm

    Big “What If” here, but what if Figgins is hitting well *and* we’re in playoff contention as a result of his (and others obviously) play?

  12. Longgeorge1 on February 22nd, 2012 10:29 pm

    Whatif? Whatever! This team will finish 4th in the division and that’s a sure bet. Probably odds on favorite to have the worst record in the AL. Your gonna pay Figgins his money. At best maybe save 1 or 2 mil. In the mean time you’re creating a mess at third and screwing the kids you need to develop. Cut Figgens and move on.

  13. Mariners35 on February 22nd, 2012 10:55 pm

    I’d like to think Guillen won’t be healthy or productive enough to clog that spot, and Seager will make it as a 25th man.

    Having both Seager and Kawasaki is likely a bit too redundant. But it’s better than Seager in no-man’s-land while Figgins is given a month or so to work with that full-time role that he hasn’t earned in any way, shape or form.

  14. xeifrank on February 22nd, 2012 10:59 pm

    Ichiro lineup shuffle loaded in to my simulator.

    http://dodgersims.blogspot.com/2012/02/ichiro-lineup-shuffle.html

  15. just a fan on February 22nd, 2012 11:04 pm

    I’m sure there’s more mentalness involved in the game than generally acknowledged on USS Mariner, but if Chone Figgins suddenly becomes a decent player again because his ego is leading off, well, what a little prick.

    How often is a guy hitting .150 in spring training better news than him hitting .250?

  16. greymstreet on February 23rd, 2012 1:54 am

    Great article! Also I hate to do this (feel free to delete, mods) but in one place you wrote very when you meant vary. I had to read it a few times before I figured it out because very half made sense in the situation but then the sentence was no longer a sentence…

  17. crazyray7391 on February 23rd, 2012 2:24 am

    “It’s not like Figgins is a body or an ugly orange couch. You can’t just drag him into the woods and get rid of him.”

    Are we sure this wouldn’t work? What if they took him far enough away he just couldn’t find his way back?

  18. UofWAlum on February 23rd, 2012 6:41 am

    Great article that was a fantastic read.

    The “wish-casting” part of slipping Figgins in the lead-off slot and him doing better, reminds me of one of my favorite quotes–Grandpa Gustafson from grumpier old men—”Well, you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets filled first.” Still think it is a decent move and if it works out for something, then great. If not they can pull the plug early and confirm Figgins retired right after signing the deal.

    Thanks again for the great read—you are keeping this “Seattle-born-and-raised-kid-but-now- transplanted-in-Philadelphia-area” updated and engaged in Mariner talk

  19. WhyOWhy on February 23rd, 2012 7:06 am

    Once they get rid of Figgins, is there no possibility of Ichiro moving back into the leadoff spot? That seems like the most obvious thing for a conventional manager to do.

  20. tewminator on February 23rd, 2012 7:21 am

    How you think about something does have a real effect on performance, see the placebo effect. Some people do in fact cure themselves of their ailments when they get the medicine they perceive will heal them.

    It is entirely possible, though unlikely, that Figgins slumped upon initially coming to Seattle and mentally associated this with not being in the #1 spot. I beleive this could have had a real impact on his mentality and approach.

    I don’t think this is perfect fit with Figgins but I think it is a possible explanation, in which case it is a better reason to try this switch-a-roo than a simple “wish cast.”

    And while it may be true that for the average big leaguer your batting position doesn’t affect results, that doesn’t mean it is true for all.

    Here’s to hoping Chone is an outlier!

  21. deflated on February 23rd, 2012 8:14 am

    stevemotivateir, I think an Iggy Pop-themed post would be a lot less optimistic; “The Passenger” or “Some Weird Sin” seems obvious for Figgins as a starter.

    More seriously how much of this is Wedge and how much is Jack Z? Does Wedge have a history of using veterans over kids if at all possible? I’m interested as my hopes and expectations for whoever is pushing this just got a whole lot lower. Holding back development to play Figgins on the remote chance that Figgins comes back strongly enough that other GMs can be convinced that the last couple of years are a mirage would seem to be wildly optimistic.

  22. vertigoman on February 23rd, 2012 9:15 am

    One positive thing in all this, Figgins has said his job is to get on base any way possible including (gasp!) taking a walk.
    He’s decided the aggressive approach isn’t working and since there is a law written somewhere that a 2 hitter has to be aggressive a move to lead off solves that problem.

    Players obviously believe in these roles. Let’s hope Ackley doesn’t buy into his new role.

  23. stevemotivateir on February 23rd, 2012 10:02 am

    @deflated

    Not talking about a Figgins-based post, I was referring to another hitter, any hitter, who is far more likely to hit well!

    I don’t want the focus of spring to be on what Figgins does or doesn’t do though. I’m more interested in Kawasaki, Seager, Montero, etc. Can’t wait for the 3rd!

  24. rickyabc on February 23rd, 2012 10:04 am

    The scenario that you left out is Figgins hitting well and the Mariners winning. Then they keep Figgins.

    Oh wait, Figgins sucks, nevermind.

  25. kinickers77 on February 23rd, 2012 10:39 am

    Dave, this was a great way of saying a bunch of words leading to no conclusions. I alway enjoy reading your analysis even if it leaves me with nothing to believe in or bark about. I do have one question, though:

    Isn’t there a big psychological piece in the success of a baseball player? I know there’s no way to “quantify” that and maybe that’s why you ignore it, but its seems as though it is a real thing. And it may be what the M’s are trying to stimulate in the right direction by giving Figgins the leadoff spot.

    Also, could another factor in this change be marketing purposes to sell tickets? The front office thinks, well we didn’t make enough big splashes this off season to spike ticket sales so let’s manufacture other “new” and “possibly exciting” changes to our team that spark interest. People may be willing to come to games early on just to see how Ichiro does in this new slot, with this new approach.

  26. Dave on February 23rd, 2012 10:51 am

    If these psychological effects were “real things”, there would be evidence of their existence. For instance, players hitting worse when they DH rather than playing the field – that’s a mental thing that there’s evidence to support. For whatever reason, it apparently is harder to hit when you just sit around for an hour between at-bats.

    Real things leave evidence of their existence. Just making up a theory and saying “you can’t quantify this, but it exists” is how fantasies come into being.

  27. LanceWWU on February 23rd, 2012 11:27 am

    “There’s also a pretty good chance that he’s still pretty lousy and spends the first few weeks of the season just making a ton of outs at the top of the batting order. In that scenario, he’s probably DFA’d by May 15th”

    God, that will be painful to watch, I can just imagine it now. I hope that if he’s hitting below the Mendoza line at May 1st they will cut him by then.

  28. goat on February 23rd, 2012 11:27 am

    “It also means that the line-up isn’t likely to very much from day to day, as Wedge is opting for more “set roles” than “platoon advantages”. -There should probably be a vowel in there somewhere.

    A future Hall of Fame candidate changing his batting stance after 11 years is probably a bigger deal than who is batting 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.

    Another month in AAA isn’t likely to hurt Seager, and he probably has more value as a 2nd baseman anyways, so I don’t see that as much of an issue.

    If one considers the field of science as a a decent model of where one might find “evidence for real things”, then the past two hundred years provides ample evidence for the value of intuition in that process, as well as how silly one looks when they dismiss things out of hand a few years before that evidence shows up. Granted, some intuitions will be way off base, but saying everyone else should ignore something because you don’t understand it isn’t really helping the progress of the systematic study of baseball.

  29. greentunic on February 23rd, 2012 11:40 am

    Rather than taking advantage of left-right match-ups, the team is putting their faith in the magical power of players knowing what they’re going to hit everyday

    Does this mean you would also be in favor of two closers if they had compatible splits? I’ve never heard you promote such a strategy, but from this statement, it appears you place no stock in “team role” and all stock on utility or functional role.

    If a player tells me he’s uncomfortable in a role and he’s not lying, then he’s uncomfortable (*takes a bow* thank you, thank you). And obviously your comfort level DOES affect your performance in any thing, be it sports or any other job or situation. I don’t have a mathematical report on this, but I think we can see this so far as common sense.

    You present to us that data illustrates that there is no change in players’ ability to hit based on their lineup spot. However, not many players come out and announce their discomfort at different places in a lineup. While the data you’ve produced is likely a large sample of players that supports your hypothesis, we cannot apply these terms absolutely to every player, especially when mentality plays a role in players’ performances. Not every case can be predicted through the analysis of what is commonplace.

    You hit the nail on the head when you said none of us know how this affects Ichiro. I think the same can be said of Figgins. Not saying he will perform, just saying we can’t rule out the possibility that this helps him.

  30. BLYKMYK44 on February 23rd, 2012 11:48 am

    Question…

    For the people who believe that the psychological effect does exist and that Figgins would hit better at lead off. Why are you not applying the same rationale to Ichiro?

    If said rationale exists…does it make sense to make one of your top 2 or 3 hitters worse so that Figgins could get better?

  31. BLYKMYK44 on February 23rd, 2012 11:50 am

    “as well as how silly one looks when they dismiss things out of hand a few years before that evidence shows”

    - We’ve only had evidence for baseball for a few years? I’d hope the people that say line up doesn’t matter are using data from the entire history of baseball and not just the the last “few years”…

  32. Xteve X on February 23rd, 2012 12:48 pm

    “Once they get rid of Figgins, is there no possibility of Ichiro moving back into the leadoff spot? That seems like the most obvious thing for a conventional manager to do.”

    If this move has been in the works long enough for him to work on a new batting stance, I doubt Ichiro is going back to leading off any time soon.

  33. tewminator on February 23rd, 2012 12:50 pm

    “For the people who believe that the psychological effect does exist and that Figgins would hit better at lead off. Why are you not applying the same rationale to Ichiro?”

    When exactly has Ichiro batted anywhere but 1st? He may in fact bring more value to the team batting 3rd.

  34. dantheman on February 23rd, 2012 12:58 pm

    Let’s see. The number 3 hitter in the Mariners lineup next year ranked 143rd in slugging percentage last year behind such heavy hitters as Jamie Carroll and Mark Ellis, and ranked 137th in OPS which was lower than Yuniesky Betancourt.

    A much bigger issue, though, is that while we wait ever patiently for the rebuilding program – if you can call signing Kevin Millwood, George “My Arm Hurts Too Much to Throw on the First Day of Spring Training” Sherrill, and Carlos Guillen “rebuilding” – to actually produce something called “wins”, Texas and LA are spending money to build teams that will leave Seattle far behind for many years.

  35. kinickers77 on February 23rd, 2012 1:08 pm

    Sorry, confused on the DH thing. Are you saying that this instance has evidence versus batting leadoff or not has no evidence? Or that neither have evidence?

    What about the idea of trying to motivate. For example, I’m also a Portland Trailblazers fan and we recently had a shift in the starting lineup. Coach McMillan said his goal is to motivate players to perform better by showing that their chance to start must be earned. Is there any evidence that things like that work in baseball and if so, isn’t that a “psychological thing?”

  36. BLYKMYK44 on February 23rd, 2012 1:08 pm

    “Texas and LA are spending money to build teams that will leave Seattle far behind for many years.”

    - That is exactly how the Rangers made it to the WS the last two years…outspending everyone…

  37. Jamison_M on February 23rd, 2012 1:23 pm

    if you can call signing Kevin Millwood, George “My Arm Hurts Too Much to Throw on the First Day of Spring Training” Sherrill, and Carlos Guillen “rebuilding” – to actually produce something called “wins”, Texas and LA are spending money to build teams that will leave Seattle far behind for many years.

    Millwood is on a minor league deal, Guillen came extremely cheap as a vet backup and George Sherrill was actually a pretty good and low-cost signing as a solid lefty setup specialist. Yeah, the team has bigger needs, but that doesn’t mean they have to ignore smaller needs such as needing a left handed reliever, a veteran backup and an almost-free trial run with a vet starting pitcher. If you choose to spin this in a way that makes it look like these were the M’s big deals of the winter then I can see how you have such a pessimistic view of this team.

    They also acquired one of the hottest prospects in the game, who is major league ready. They also brought in a couple starting pitchers with some upside. All while they still have a farmload of prospects that still need another half-year to a year to develop.

    And Texas got to be as good as they are by building their team wisely and NOT spending a ton of money.

  38. Sports on a Schtick on February 23rd, 2012 2:56 pm

    Logjam notwithstanding I wouldn’t mind seeing Seager get more seasoning in the minors. Kyle has a combined 416 plate appearances in AA and AAA.

  39. Badbadger on February 23rd, 2012 3:12 pm

    >If a player tells me he’s uncomfortable in a role and he’s not lying, then he’s uncomfortable (*takes a bow* thank you, thank you). And obviously your comfort level DOES affect your performance in any thing, be it sports or any other job or situation. I don’t have a mathematical report on this, but I think we can see this so far as common sense.<

    People have a strong tendency to create post-hoc theories about things they can't explain. It's not lying necessarily, but it's also not necessarily true.

    People make a big deal about lineup order, but past the first inning so-called leadoff hitters aren't necessarily hitting first anymore and are still expected to hit.

  40. MrZDevotee on February 23rd, 2012 3:18 pm

    Goat-
    You said “saying everyone else should ignore something because you don’t understand it isn’t really helping the progress of the systematic study of baseball.”

    This is a bit shallow, in my opinion (not in intellect, but in how deeply it sums up the topic)… I mean, no one really “understands it” or we would just psychologically make everybody play their best everyday.

    So to suggest someone (like Dave) should take into consideration a notion he doesn’t believe, and no one else can prove to him, just seems like bad judgement on his part. No one makes important decisions based on things they don’t understand, and can’t find empirical evidence to support (we’ll leave Religion way off to the side, for this topic- which is sports).

    It doesn’t mean a psychological aspect is wrong, it just means their isn’t enough known about it yet to use the idea wisely. And the results are too random to have fundamental expectations about what will result (ie, what works for one guy, might hinder another, etc.– or, see “why we don’t rush young guys to the majors”).

    Certainly some guys are psychologically more complex than others, and some are oblivious to the emotional tediums that stress presents (aka “freaks of nature”)– but just as Dave said, DH’ing is rather difficult for the average Major Leaguer, as stats can show, so he’s not ruling out psychological aspects (in fact, he pretty much admits he doesn’t UNDERSTAND that one either), he’s just not relying on those that don’t have any evidence that actually supports the claim.

    No one has found a link for:

    batting order impacting offense
    “protecting a hitter” helping his performance
    sacrifice bunts being a smart move

    Many of us will still believe in them, sure. And many managers will use these strategies. Hell, in most instances it doesn’t do any harm, even if it doesn’t really help- so knock yourself out.

    But others want evidence before they give credence to things that can’t be proven repeatably.

    Pretty simple really. Just a bit frustrating to those of us who wear our emotions on our sleeves, and want to up our perfomance by a good ol’ pat on the butt.

    (Speaking of… anyone seen Mike Sweeney?)

  41. smb on February 23rd, 2012 5:06 pm

    Is a player with decent career offensive stats coming to Seattle as a FA and then totally falling off the map (i.e. suddenly playing way below RL for the M’s) an established pattern, or just another psychological effect I’m imagining? It feels like a pattern. Is it just correlation without causation? If I understand you correctly, it’s mostly a fantasy…it can’t all just be park effects, though, can it?

  42. dantheman on February 23rd, 2012 5:25 pm

    “Is a player with decent career offensive stats coming to Seattle as a FA and then totally falling off the map (i.e. suddenly playing way below RL for the M’s) an established pattern, or just another psychological effect I’m imagining?”

    No, you’re not imagining it and it’s not a “fantasy”. Something is wrong with the dynamic of this organization and it’s pretty clear where the problem rests. Add to that the fact that the Mariners are only one of 6 teams who have failed to make the playoffs since 2002 and you have to wonder – why are Chuck and Howard still here?

  43. qwerty on February 23rd, 2012 6:02 pm

    Seems Seagers highest value to the M’s is as a utility/MI. Some more time at 2nd in Tacoma may be a good thing in his development.

  44. make_dave_proud on February 23rd, 2012 11:20 pm

    Wow, now I can’t wait for the season to start. Mostly just because I have zero faith that the Figgy-leadoff experiment is going to result in any positive change to his output, and I just want to get it over with.

    > “protecting a hitter” helping his performance

    I was in St. Louis in 1998 and gladly followed Mark McGwire chasing 70 home runs (I was a sucker). That season, McGwire usually batted third, with Brian Jordan and/or Ray Lankford batting fourth (trade-off for handedness, IIRC.) During the entire 1998 season, McGwire would consistently mention how important it was that he batted in front of either Jordan or Lankford (they both put up 900+ OPS that year.)

    McGwire was acquired late in the 97 season, and was hitting dingers(!) at the rate of about 1 every 7.5 at-bats. He maintained that pace in 1998. He occasionally hit cleanup in 1997, and when he batted third it was usually in front of Lankford.

    Not sure why I’m sharing, other than to point out that in many local media interviews, McGwire often referenced batting order as key to his incredible output. Impossible to measure any batting-protection-effect, as well as impossible to measure any psychological effect. Nonetheless, I found the story interesting in light of the conversation here.

  45. BLYKMYK44 on February 23rd, 2012 11:51 pm

    “No, you’re not imagining it and it’s not a “fantasy”. Something is wrong with the dynamic of this organization and it’s pretty clear where the problem rests.”

    - Are you making the implication that the ownership group makes players worse hitters??

  46. vj on February 24th, 2012 12:57 am

    Both Figgins and Ichiro have hit significantly worse last year than they should have if one takes into account things like BABIP. I suspect there’s a significant chance of them improving their performance simply due to regression. If that happens, Wedge, the MSM and the average fan will see this as strong evidence in favor of the theorie that roles and lineup spots matter and help players improve.

  47. rsrobinson on February 24th, 2012 5:21 am

    I wish we could fast forward to the part of this scenario where Figgins goes away.

  48. Badbadger on February 24th, 2012 7:30 am

    [quote] Maybe you don’t care if the team lowers their 2013 expenses by $5 million, but if it gives them the budget room to bring in a player who better fits into the future of the team, then it’s a decent reward for pushing forward with this experiment. That’s essentially the best case scenario here – Figgins plays well enough to generate a modicum of trade value and the team dumps him in the early summer for some cash savings for 2013. [/quote]

    I do have some arguments against this move.

    1) there is a non-zero chance that the M’s contend this year. Granted, it’s a very small chance, but allowing a crummy player to start in hopes of a miracle that will save money smacks of giving up before the season starts.

    2) If this plan is going to work, there needs to be a team who a) needs a third baseman and b) has a stupid enough GM to pay $5 million for a guy who has had a hot month after two crummy years. I know there are a couple of dumb GMs out there, but It doesn’t seem to me that there’s that many and do any of them need a 3rd baseman? The Royals probably aren’t going to give up on Mike Moustakas a month into the season.

    3) This plan is always an option for bad players. If he sucks for a month, why not fiddle with his batting stance in hopes that his second months is strong and you can sell him based on that? At some point you have to accept that te’s a bust and move on. We gave him a second chance last year, how many chances does he get?

  49. PackBob on February 24th, 2012 8:52 am

    It seems that any individual player could have psychological effects that affected performance that would not be measurable in a collective sense, particularly when combined with individual physical problems, simply because of the range of applicability of a circumstance to the individual.

    Even if a general statement can be made that shifts in line-up position don’t affect players, an individual player could still be affected. I’m not saying that Figgens’ poor play is the result of switching him out of lead-off and to 2nd base, but you really can’t unequivocally rule it out either.

    I think it’s much more likely that Figgens just isn’t a good player any more, but I can see the move to lead-off, 3rd base, and everyday play as a valid attempt to provide the best circumstances for a potential resurgence of his skill.

  50. goat on February 24th, 2012 11:18 am

    Mr. Z, I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you say here, but it doesn’t get at my initial comment, which perhaps could have been stated a bit more clearly. “real things leave evidence of their existence” contains an unstated assumption that we are both able to measure that evidence as well as interpret in meaningfully.

    If we consider whatever each of us does in a typical day, it would be ridiculous to say that psychological affects don’t influence how well those things turn out. But these are unique to individuals, and will become lost in the noise when looking at an aggregate sample. There are decades of studies in the field of education on the affective domain (google it if you are curious) and no real conclusions, yet we could all probably name a teacher who had a profound affect on our learning at some point in our lives. If we look back on the experience, it’s not something we could have tested experimentally (by both taking and not taking her class at the same time, for example) or that someone could have “projected.” But it would be difficult to say that is was not real. Professional poker players have an intuitive understanding of simple statistics that allows them to make correct choices, but sometimes they make the correct choice instinctively without knowing why. Yes, sometimes that is luck, but sometimes for the really good players, they subconsciously put together clues in order to make the right choice.

    In the realm of baseball, I think this means that if the people who actually are involved in the process_ the players, the managers, etc._ believe that something affects their performance, whether it’s line up position or protection, then maybe they know something intuitively that those of us who look at pictures of what they do and look for trends are not able to figure out. If there hasn’t been a study yet that finds significance in these areas, one has to wonder if it’s an indictment on the people who play the game for not understanding how it works, or if it’s an indictment on the rigor of the studies that have already been done.

    Do I think Figgins will hit like it’s 2009 if he gets moved to the leadoff spot? No. If, at the end of spring training, Wedge thinks he should let Figgins bat first, maybe he knows something by being in the game that those of us who watch it don’t.

  51. Gormogon on February 24th, 2012 12:20 pm

    No one is talking about what it means for the young guys and how the FO is going to address that.

    I see this move as more of a throwing down the gauntlet to the young 3B prospects to see who can step up in the first two months of the season and secure Figgins’ spot. Not only that, but it gives those prospects some extra time to prove that they are the player to take Figgins’ spot, instead of trying to prove it in ST. Lastly, it takes service time away from those players.

  52. MrZDevotee on February 24th, 2012 12:31 pm

    Goat-
    Agreed, on almost all counts. I would even go so far as saying “if a player believes it helps, there’s a good chance it could have a positive effect”, the problem is with extrapolating it to a larger degree– we just don’t know who’s gonna benefit, and who’s gonna suffer, which is why I think folks like Dave aren’t comfortable relying on those ideas… (We’ve all seen Ichiro play at a Hall of Fame level for 10+ years, as consistent as anyone in the game until last year, and have a pretty good handle on his “makeup” as a person– but none of us have any idea if moving him in the lineup will make him flourish, flounder, or stay the same…?)

    On a more personal level, many of us who’ve played sports know the guys on our teams who “choked” under pressure, and also those who somehow seemed most composed and, oddly, calm, in the most “pressure cooker” situations.

    I believe 100% that psychology is a major player in sports, especially at the professional level. I just don’t know why, or how, or the way to take what works with player A and have it apply to players B-Z with the same level of effectiveness. I think just the “idea” of a manager is that you’re paying somebody big money to do that better than the players (or owners) could do it themselves, even if there’s no proof that managers actually have that ability.

    Unfortunately, that TOO is something that can’t really be measured and applied to other teams.

    Was Joe Torre (Sparky Anderson/Connie Mack) an amazing manager… or, did he just have the best talent in baseball during the particular years he managed?

    Whatever makes players perform great, in whatever circumstances, somebody’s gonna make a LOT of money when they find those genes, and can regenerate them and put them into 14 year olds.

    But until they do, folks into the stats side of things aren’t gonna really be interested, because the idea here is to deal with things at a level that can be quantified, presented and repeated, and more importantly depended upon (as much as can reasonably be expected in baseball).

    It’s just not part of their conversations (though other folks certainly carry on those conversations). Doesn’t mean anyone is saying it’s not an important topic. I think sometimes we can confuse the notion of “Prove it” with someone saying “Wrong!” A lot of guys here would be as excited as anyone if someone discovered the answer to a question the majority of us viewed with skepticism. Heck, that’s the entire reason people are into neo-stats, you can learn stuff you never knew was there before, that was always right before your eyes.

    That’s my intrigue anyways, even if in my own sports life I enjoy the psychological aspect of things more than the analytical side.

  53. BLYKMYK44 on February 24th, 2012 1:29 pm

    You can only make a decision with the data you have available. The vast majority of players have not seen an effect when they get changed…therefore that is the assumption you have to make.

    To do it the opposite way: test out every scenario because MAYBE the unlikely conclusion happens…just doesn’t make sense.

  54. BLYKMYK44 on February 24th, 2012 1:30 pm

    And BTW, the comment about how we all know a player that chokes in pressure situations is usually not true either. Perfect example is the concept that LeBron isn’t very good in the clutch while Kobe Bryant is great in the clutch. The numbers just don’t bear that out.

  55. MrZDevotee on February 24th, 2012 3:11 pm

    BLY-
    I stand corrected, I was using the stereotype of the choker, when really I meant there are guys on teams that you want with the ball in their hands and 10 seconds to go, when you combine their skillset and confidence. And, then there are guys whose skillset and lack of confidence don’t warrant risking that moment. I was really alluding to guys whose lack of confidence grows under pressure, and guys who already have confidence and who aren’t affected by the pressure as much.

    I’m sticking Albert Pujols at the plate in the bottom of the 9th, game 7 of the World Series, not Michael Saunders.

    And to bring it all the way down to Little League– please God don’t let the game be on the line when Billy the RF who can’t catch, and bats 9th because you can’t bat any lower, is up.

    (Whereas “Choking” implies two players with similar skillsets who tend to fail or succeed differently during similar high pressure moments– your Kobe and LeBron example– not what I meant, so poor word choice).

  56. terry on February 24th, 2012 4:38 pm

    I’m completely down with Figgins leading off if they make sure to keep his bat off of his shoulder. He shouldn’t need more than three pitches to get on base.

  57. Hammy57 on February 24th, 2012 9:26 pm

    I’m not the greatest at sensing sarcasm over the internet, but someone please tell me Terry (post above mine) is joking!?

  58. downwarddog on February 25th, 2012 11:55 am

    Riddle me this: If Chone Figgins is so mentally fragile that moving to lead-off will get him back on track, then he’s not mentally tough enough to be a major leaguer in the first place.

  59. MKT on February 25th, 2012 3:16 pm

    “he’s not mentally tough enough to be a major leaguer in the first place”

    Mental toughness in a player is certainly a desireable attribute, compared to mental fragility. But there’ve been plenty of players with frail psyches, who had to be coddled somewhat, but who could be successful even though it was a nuisance to have to coddle them. Jose Guillen was a time-bomb waiting to go off, but the Mariners got a useful year out of him. Milton Bradley, not so much; but when not self-imploding he was a decent player (again, for the M’s not so much). Josh Hamilton. Jimmy Piersall. Etc.

    Mentally fragile players should be avoided when building a roster, but so are physically fragile players and the reality is that there are plenty of both in the major leagues.

  60. Breadbaker on February 25th, 2012 9:01 pm

    I don’t get the whole thing. If Chone Figgins needs to lead off he had a simple expedient taken care of by his free will and the gift of Marvin Miller, Andy Messersmith, Dave McNally and Peter Seitz: not sign with the Mariners, who had a leadoff hitter who wasn’t going anywhere. Figgins appears to be an intelligent man who understood this. Once he agreed to come here, he was going to hit anywhere in the lineup other than first that the manager asked him.

    I’m sure I can prove psychologically that I’d perform better with Bill Gates’ bank account instead of my own. I don’t think anyone is going to let me prove this empirically.

  61. MoreMariners on February 26th, 2012 10:03 am

    I don’t necessarily think this will magically fix Figgins, but if he’s willing to be more patient and less aggressive, I am all for that approach.

  62. John D. on February 26th, 2012 11:49 am

    “Players regularly get themselves in trouble when they let a slump convince them that they need to tinker with the things that got them success in the first place. In baseball, randomness happens, and good processes won’t always lead to good results. The right approach is often to continue right along with the good process, knowing that the results that are out of your control will eventually change.”

    Right on!
    HENRY AARON was about 0-20 once, and a reporter asked him what he was gtoing to do about his slump.
    “I’m not in a slump,” he answered, “I’m seeing the ball well, and I’m hitting it well; unfortunately right at someone. They’ll drop in.”
    They did.

  63. qwerty on February 26th, 2012 7:54 pm

    Can we trade Figgins for HENRY AARON?

  64. goat on February 27th, 2012 10:41 am

    Fair enough. Though I think there is the danger of being so focused as to lose sight of the bigger picture. And I think the onus should be on the relatively new statistical crowd to provide evidence against traditional views and not the other way around. They’ve done this in some areas, and should be commended for that. But the areas in which nothing has yet been found doesn’t necessarily mean the prevailing views are incorrect.

  65. Steve Nelson on February 27th, 2012 11:24 am

    @goat on February 27th, 2012 10:41 am

    Fair enough. Though I think there is the danger of being so focused as to lose sight of the bigger picture. And I think the onus should be on the relatively new statistical crowd to provide evidence against traditional views and not the other way around. They’ve done this in some areas, and should be commended for that. But the areas in which nothing has yet been found doesn’t necessarily mean the prevailing views are incorrect.

    This is absolutely and totally incorrect and completely fallacious.

    In any argument, the burden of proof always lies with the person advancing the position. If you want to argue for prevailing wisdom, then you bear the burden of proving that prevailing wisdom is correct. If you want to argue in favor of a counter position, then you bear the burden of that argument. If neither side can support their argument than the conclusion is that we can’t know given current information. But it no case is it ever correct to say that prevailing opinion is correct simply because it’s prevailing opinion.

    Whether it is prevailing wisdom or not is irrelevant to any analysis of whether or not something is correct.

  66. MrZDevotee on February 27th, 2012 11:34 am

    (Mr. Positive with breaking news)

    Franklin Gutierrez in instrasquad game Sunday:

    3-for-3, including a bomb off King Felix

  67. henryv on February 27th, 2012 9:22 pm

    Did Dave pull down his twitter account? I can’t find it at d_a_cameron any more.

  68. georgmi on February 27th, 2012 9:57 pm

    Yeah, it looks like he changed it. It’s currently @dcamreonfg, but I suspect he’ll be fixing the typo soon.

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