Olivo Injury Forces Roster Decisions

April 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 23 Comments 

If you missed it, Miguel Olivo left tonight’s game in Tampa Bay with what has been called a strained groin, but he had to be helped off the field and almost certainly looks bound for the disabled list. Let’s just get this out of the way – I’m not celebrating Miguel Olivo’s injury, nor do I encourage anyone else to find joy in his personal pain. That said, there’s an old saying about silver linings, and this cloud may be a little less toothsome than most.

With Olivo likely DL bound, the Mariners are going to have to make a decision on a replacement, and in reality, they have two options.

A. Call up Guillermo Quiroz to serve as the emergency catcher, use Jaso/Montero as a C/DH platoon.

Against RHPs, this probably makes the Mariners better, as Jaso would essentially substitute into Olivo’s line-up spot regardless of which of the two was actually behind the plate on any given day. This would allow Wedge to continue to use Montero behind the plate at the same pace he’s been using him while still getting him at-bats at DH and not put the team in another situation where they had to forfeit the DH if one of the two catchers went down with an injury.

Against LHPs, its a bit more of a problem. Quiroz is a right-handed bat, so Wedge could use him behind the plate and Montero at DH to maintain the mostly RHB-heavy line-ups he’s been favoring, which would probably be the best option. The other option would be to start Montero behind the plate and use Liddi at DH, keeping Seager on the field at third base. Seager’s not very good against LHPs, so the team might actually be better off with Quiroz, but you can make an argument that Seager getting at-bats against lefties is more important for the franchise than getting a marginal upgrade by having Quiroz’s right-handed bat in the line-up.

Neither solution is perfect, but my guess is that Wedge would go with Quiroz behind the plate, as it wouldn’t force him to have Montero catch more than originally planned.

B. Call up Mike Carp, have Montero/Jaso split time behind the plate, and have Carp DH until he shows he’s ready to resume regular OF work.

To me, this is probably the right call. Yes, Carp’s been lousy down in Tacoma and his shoulder may still be bothering him, but he was down there to get his hacks in, not try to earn his way back to the club. By having him come back and DH, the team could get a better look at where he’s at and try to inject a bit more offense into the line-up without forcing him to rush back to the outfield upon his return. The offensive upgrade of going from Olivo to Carp could be substantial, and would force the team to give Jaso and Montero regular time behind the plate. It’s obvious that Wedge doesn’t yet trust Jaso to catch, but that fear isn’t based in any kind of reality, and keeping another catcher off the roster would force him to actually watch Jaso play and hopefully realize that he’s a Major League quality catcher who deserves more playing time than he’s gotten so far.

This option doesn’t come without its risks, however. On days when Jaso catches and Montero DHs, the team runs the risk of losing the DH spot if Jaso gets injured, and they also forfeit the ability to pinch-hit or pinch-run for him in any late game situation. Since he’s slow and lousy against lefties, he’s a late game match-up weakness, and opposing managers would exploit those issues. But, those risks are outweighed by the upside of Jaso showing Wedge that he actually can catch and offer some more offense against right-handed pitching from behind the plate, which could lead to a more optimal playing time distribution even after Olivo returns from his injury.

My guess is that Wedge is going to push for option A, and we’ll see Quiroz joining the team tomorrow. It’d be nice if Jack told him it was time to see what Jaso could do behind the plate and didn’t give him the option of using Quiroz as the new crutch, however. Option A is easier. Option B is better. Let’s hope the team goes with better.

Game 24, Mariners at Rays

April 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 232 Comments 

Hernandez vs Hellickson, 4:05 pm.

Happy Felix Day!

M’s go back to the standard line-up against a righty, so you can probably guess the order below by now.

Figgins, LF
Ackley, 2B
Ichiro, RF
Smoak, 1B
Montero, DH
Seager, 3B
Saunders, CF
Olivo, C
Ryan, SS

Quick Note on Alex Liddi

April 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 18 Comments 

Everything at this point is still small sample, so you can’t read too much into any player’s 2012 line to date. However, I did want to point out one somewhat encouraging trend.

Last year, 602 players came to bat at least 40 times. This total includes a bunch of starting pitchers, since I don’t have a quick-and-dirty way to filter them out, and also because their existence here makes the following point funnier. Of those 602 players with 40+ PA, Alex Liddi’s 59.6% contact rate ranked 596th, and four of the six players who posted lower contact rates were pitchers. Among position players, only Chris Carter and Blake Tekotte – both rightfully back in the minor leagues this year – swung and missed more often than Alex Liddi in 2011. For reference, Liddi’s contact rate was significantly worse than the mark posted by Carlos Peguero, who put bat on ball 64.4 percent of the time he swung. Liddi made Peguero look like a good contact hitter. Enough said.

2012, though? Alex Liddi’s contact rate is at 80.0%, slightly higher than the league average of 79.8%. There was a lot of talk in spring about Liddi shortening up his swing and doing a better job of making contact, and the early returns suggest that he’s actually taken a step forward in that area. We’re still dealing with less than 100 career plate appearances, and Liddi’s true talent contact rate was almost certainly better than he showed in the big leagues last year, but contact rate is a thing that stabilizes fairly quickly, and Liddi’s ability to post an 80% contact rate in any kind of sample is encouraging, as that was something he just couldn’t do last year.

Don’t go overboard with Liddi love just yet. After all, his rest-of-season ZIPS projection still calls for just a .301 wOBA, which would make him a below average hitter, but contact has always been Liddi’s fatal flaw, and if he can keep hitting for power while also improving his contact rate, then he could develop into something better than we had hoped for. He’ll need to take several more steps forward before he starts getting penciled in as the future at third base, but hey, baby steps are better than no steps.

Minor League Wrap (4/23-29/12)

April 30, 2012 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 13 Comments 

In this one, we have two hitters of the week in Jackson, a walk-off from Carlos Triunfel, mention of Lansing’s bizarre mascot, a seven-inning complete game in the Cal League, Anthony Vasquez’s new nickname, four dingers by one hitter in the span of twelve innings (his week is even more interesting than just that!), a pitcher that has more walks than either hits or Ks, continued Cerberus-related dominance, a batter that accumulated half his hits for the year in the past week, and various other things to shock and educate you in how amazing and dumb baseball can be.

To the jump!
Read more

Game 23, Mariners at Blue Jays

April 29, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 157 Comments 

The rubber match of this series in Toronto features a moderately interesting pitching match-up as Jason Vargas squares off against Henderson Alvarez. The hard-throwing righty faced the M’s in his 2nd MLB start last year and much of what I said then still applies. There are some out there who think he could take a step forward and become something approaching an ace – velocity that touched 97mph and a lot of ground balls tends to inspire rosy projections. But he’s still not missing many bats, and despite the flurry of worm-burners, he’s yielded 5 homers in 23 innings so far.
Jason Vargas is an almost perfect inverse of Alvarez – lefty, instead of righty. Fly-baller instead of GB guy. Tops out around 88 and often works slower than that. If only Vargas got more whiffs….
With the day game after an afternoon game after a night game, the M’s are actually starting John Jaso. This doesn’t mean Olivo gets a day off, however. The M’s have their lefty-heavy line-up in, minus Justin Smoak who’s apparently getting a “mental” day off. This means Alex Liddi gets his first start in the clean-up spot, right-handed starting pitcher be damned.

1: Figgins (LF)
2: Ackley (2B)
3: Ichiro (RF)
4: Liddi (!) (1B)
5: Seager (3B)
6: Saunders (CF)
7: Olivo (C)
8: Jaso (DH)
9: Kawasaki (SS)
SP: Jason Vargas

Game time is 10:07am

The other news of the morning is that George Sherrill’s likely done for the year, as he’s slated to have elbow surgery soon. This isn’t a huge surprise, but I feel bad for Sherrill, who’s always been one of my favorites. With Lucas Luetge’s solid start, the M’s aren’t likely to suffer from Sherrill’s absence, but it’s never good to see an injury like this.

Game 22, Mariners at Blue Jays

April 28, 2012 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 62 Comments 

Morrow vs. Millwood, 1:07 pm

Probably the only thing that I don’t like about baseball’s rigorous schedule is that we don’t get much time to sit around and marvel over how awesome last night’s performance was. We only got seventeen hours or so and then it’s on to more baseball which does not carry with it the promise of similar fulfillment. Baseball, you are such a chore. I have things I should probably be doing and you won’t let up. And day games? Where do you get off? I bet Wedge won’t even let us see Jaso tomorrow.

LF Figgins
2B Ackley
RF Ichiro!
1B Smoak
3B Seager
DH Montero
CF Saunders
C Olivo
SS Ryan

Pineda: Pinstripes Passive-aggressively Pissed in Press

April 27, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 41 Comments 

The Yankees believe the Mariners screwed them in the Pineda deal, or, at the very least, they suspect it and want everyone to know. I would be extremely surprised to see future trades between the teams with the same people on the phone.

I’m going to quote a lot from one Espn article, because you’ll see how the Yankee story and their approach is coming together a week later.

“This is a massive decision gone wrong right now,” Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com on Friday. “So all scrutiny is fair.”

Gone wrong? Why put it like this? If trading for Pineda was the correct decision, knowing the health risks of pitchers, then the outcome is bad, but the decision would still be good.

All scrutiny is fair? That’s certainly generous, as Cashman endures a level of criticism that would make normal people break down weep in moments, much driven by professional rabble-rousing figures of the New York sports press who compete outrage-trolling for audiences. Not all scrutiny is fair.

As a whole comment, though, Cashman’s comment leads towards the “all scrutiny is fair” where the assumptions underlying the deal should be looked at. Like whether Pineda was damaged goods.

“Right now, our hopes and dreams for this player are in jeopardy,” Cashman said of Pineda. “Hopefully, someday, our fans will get to see what we expected to see from him for many years to come.”

This also seems weird to me – that now they’re hoping fans will get to see what the Yankees expected. Not what the Yankees hoped. And I understand here there’s a little “we wouldn’t have traded for him if we didn’t expect greatness”.

All of this plays in front of the larger rumor mill, too, and so the Yankees win this semi-absolution:

Cashman has asserted the Yankees had subjected Pineda to an MRI before the trade became official, but doubts linger whether the Mariners and their GM, Jack Zduriencik, knew the 23-year-old right-hander was damaged goods when the Yankees made the deal.

“How can you not ask a question like that?” Cashman said. “It’s a fair question, but I can tell you we did everything possible to be sure Michael Pineda was healthy.”

See, he’s not saying they weren’t sold damaged goods. He even says that’s a good question. What he wants to tell you, though, is the Yankees tried to guard against that. And if they did their due dilligence, either they screwed up, it was unforeseeable, or something really nefarious went on. 

To answer his question, though: you wouldn’t ask that question if you were entirely sure that the other side was totally honest and forthright, and you’d done such thorough examinations that you were as sure as you could possibly be that he was healthy when he came over. And given the detail Cashman’s about to describe, you soon wonder why he’d think anything but “how did he get injured so quickly after joining totally healthy?” would be a waste of time.

Cashman said Pineda passed his Yankees physical within 72 hours of the deal having been agreed upon, a physical that included an MRI.

As he had on Wednesday, Cashman absolved the Mariners and Zduriencik of any blame in the matter.

“The focus should be on me and the New York Yankees, not the Seattle Mariners,” he said. “I’m responsible. I’m the decision-maker.”

Is that absolution? That he, Cashman, made the decision? This almost reads like “it’s my fault, I should have known that an Omega watch at that price on Craigslist was likely to be stolen, and then, sure, when I saw there was still blood on it, that should have tipped me off, but yes, I made the decision, and I intend to cooperate with authorities.”

Then there’s this odd bit:

“I asked him several times through an interpreter if he had ever been in an MRI tube at Seattle,” Cashman said. “Each time, the answer was the same.



Why is Cashman calling out that he asked Pineda repeatedly if he’d been in the tube while with Seattle? That might be a standard question, just a normal double-check, but Cashman asked several times. Why? Is he emphasizing how little he believed the M’s medical records or assurances? Why make the point that Pineda’s repeated response was never?

Then, on the call to Hal Steinbrenner:

Cashman (…) said he could not tell if Steinbrenner also wondered if the Yankees had traded for an injured pitcher.

“He just listened,” Cashman said. “He was obviously disappointed, but if he has the same kind of questions, I couldn’t tell.”

Probably, though. I mean why wouldn’t he? I just said i’s a fair question and How could you not ask a question like that?

At the least, the Yankees are using their skill with the media to keep the rumors going so their fan base puts some portion of the blame on others. And more likely, they’re really pissed about this and trying to be civil while making their displeasure clear to anyone paying attention.

Game 21, Mariners at Blue Jays

April 27, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 189 Comments 

Blake Beavan faces off against Ricky Romero and the Jays today at 4:07, the first of a three game series at the Rogers Centre. Coming into the season, we knew Beavan had plus control, but wondered how far his walk rate might regress. So far, he’s doubled down on being a pitch to contact guy, with a walk rate that’s actually under 3%, a K rate that’s under 10% and a ton of fly balls. Beavan’s curve’s looked better this year, though he’ll have to be careful in a domed stadium that plays HR-friendly.

Ricky Romero’s a lefty, so Wedge trots out the standard righty-heavy line-up. This means Alex Liddi’s in again and Kyle Seager sits until tomorrow. The “versus lefties” line-up hasn’t been bad, per se – they’ve got a better wOBA vs southpaws than righties – but they’re prone to K’s. Facing a guy with a great change-up, the M’s might swing and miss liberally, but a HR or two would help. The Blue Jays currently have the best team defensive efficiency in baseball, at 76%. The M’s just swept one of the most defensively-challenged squads in baseball and now face what may be the best defense around. All the more reason to take defense out of the equation and put a ball in the seats.

The big news of the afternoon is that Franklin Gutierrez has been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. I swear he and Adam Moore are having some bizarre sort of competition. Chagas’ disease is unclaimed, guys.

The line-up:
1: Ackley (2B)
2: Ryan (SS)
3: Ichiro (RF)
4: Smoak (1B)
5: Montero (DH)
6: Liddi (3B)
7: Saunders (CF)
8: Olivo (C)
9: Wells (LF)
SP: Beavan

Go M’s!

Luetge and Leverage

April 27, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

This morning’s game in Detroit featured an appearance by the M’s 2011 Rule 5 Draft pick, Lucas Luetge. And not just typical mop-up duty – Luetge came in with the tying run in scoring position and one out in the 7th. As if that weren’t enough, Miguel Olivo upped the ante by allowing the runner to move to 3rd. This isn’t a spot I figured we’d see Luetge, even if Charlie Furbush had already pitched. I suppose I’m too used to Luis Ugueto and Sean White so the idea that the M’s might treat this year’s Rule 5 kid as a full-fledged member of the pen and not just the designated garbage-timer caught me by surprise. de

Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference both track the average leverage of every appearance by a pitcher. This measures how important the situation (or group of situations) is; essentially, it uses Win Probability to show which plate appearances or situations most affect the outcome of a game. Given the nature of the beast, the later in a game, the higher the leverage. The closer the score, the higher the leverage. This is one of the handy statistics that essentially gives a number to something that any casual fan can see; this is operationalizing common sense. We know that a reliever getting out of a bases-loaded, 1 out jam in the 7th inning of a tie game has done more for his team than a pitcher who comes in with a three run lead to start the 9th, but everyone loves saves, and teams still pay handsomely to those who’ve racked them up.

Today’s appearance by Luetge came in at 3.42, compared to an average of 1.0. As you’d expect, this was considerably more tense than most relief appearances, and certainly more tense than anything Luetge’d faced before. For reference, his appearance in yesterday’s blowout registered a 0.03, and his first major league win (in Texas) came in at just 0.29. He’d had two higher leverage, late-inning appearances, but nothing on this level (both were below 2.0). This got me to wondering which Rule 5 picks had faced situations like this before; which guys were entrusted with crucial plate appearances instead of being saved for blowouts. I decided to look at the highest pLI (the average leverage index of each plate appearance in a pitcher’s outing) for all Rule 5 pitchers since 2000. This is somewhat tricky, as I don’t have a PBP database, and I’m not sure how to flag Rule 5 guys if I had one. So I’ve tried to do this manually, which is why I stopped relatively recently, and why I may have missed someone who may have been pressed into duty in a 16 inning game and who I’ve unfairly overlooked. If you find some, let me know. If you know of others from the 80s/90s, say so.

From what I can see, Luetge’s 3.42 ranks a mere 20th in the highest leverage appearances for Rule 5 pitchers since 2000. That’s pretty surprising to me, actually, and I can’t even blame it on a peculiar Mariner penchant for keeping Rule 5 guys in the back of the pen: it’s not the highest LI for a MARINER Rule 5 guy since 2000. When I mentioned my question about Rule 5 pitchers and high-leverage appearances on twitter, Kenny Ocker immediately came up with Joakim Soria, who became the Royals closer in his Rule 5 year in 2007. Indeed, Soria’s high of 4.8 came in a save situation in May – a save that Soria blew. That’s easily higher than Luetge’s, but it’s not as high as Aquilino Lopez’s 5.91 in May of 2003. Lopez was a Rule 5 pick by the Blue Jays from the Mariners, and you may remember Lopez from his great 2002 season with Tacoma. Lopez had a great 2003, and actually racked up 1.1 WAR with a sub-4.0 FIP for the Jays, but never recaptured that form again. On August 8th, he entered a game against the Rangers with 1 out in the 9th with a 5-3 lead, the bases loaded. A strikeout and a groundout later, he had himself a save and the second-highest leverage appearance for a recent Rule 5er.

The top spot belongs to another Royal, Sammamish, WA. product Andy Sisco. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a team that would give the closer job to a Rule 5 guy a year later would entrust Sisco with so many high leverage appearances, but Sisco had 3 3.0+ LIs by the the time April was out, and it was barely May when he entered a 1-0 game against the White Sox with two on and one out in the 8th. He got a groundout that moved up the runners, then walked the bases loaded….and then walked in the tying run. He was pulled, and the next reliever walked in the go-ahead run and a Zach Greinke gem turned into a very Royals loss (every M’s fan shakes their head knowingly). The pLI for that appearance? 6.34.

I mentioned earlier that Luetge’s escape wasn’t even the highest leverage appearance for a Mariner Rule 5 reliever. I’d completely blanked this, but just ahead of Luetge in 19th spot sits Kanekoa Texeira who put up a 3.51 pLI in his very first appearance in an M’s uniform. Texeira got the loss in a 2-1 defeat to Oakland on April 6th, 2010. He was the 4th pitcher for the M’s, and the game went to extras, so the M’s didn’t have a whole lot of choice, I suppose. He came in to start the 9th in a 1-1 game and escaped trouble after allowing a single and a double. The A’s got to him in the 10th, however, with three singles – the last of which was a Mark Ellis walk-off. I think what makes this particular game so hard to remember is the fact that the M’s starter – the guy who gave up 1 run in 6 solid innings – was Ian Snell. I’m sure I watched this game, and I’m looking at the box score which I don’t think’s been altered, but I literally can’t imagine an Ian Snell start so efficient and effective. When I think of Ian Snell, he’s looking hard-done-by and handing the ball to the manager. I know he had talent and I remember watching his first Seattle appearance excitedly (it was after a USSM event at Safeco, I think), but I simply don’t remember anything good coming from his time in this organization. I seriously have trouble imagining him getting a routine fly ball. This is my problem, not yours, and I’ve already sullied a rather focused piece with this nonsense. I’m sorry.

Let’s wrap up with a couple of leaderboards. First, here’s the top 5 (that I found) leverage appearances for Rule 5 pitchers since 2000:
1: Andy Sisco, 5/5/05 – 6.34
2: Aquilino Lopes, 8/2/03 – 5.91
3: Joakim Soria, 5/20/07 – 4.80
4: DJ Carrasco, 4/30/03 – 4.67
5: Jay Marshall, 5/15/07 – 4.49

And here’s the highest average LI over the course of the season for Rule 5 relievers- here’s who was trusted in key spots consistently, as opposed to pitching solely in blowouts:
1: Joakim Soria, 2007 – 1.64
2: Andy Sisco, 2005 – 1.29
3: Aquilino Lopez, 2003, 1.24
4: Pedro Beato, 2011, 1.23
5: DJ Carrasco, 2003, 1.15

2003 really was a great year for Rule 5 pitchers. Lopez had the biggest year, but two Rule 5 pitchers are still (somewhat) active – Carrasco’s on a rehab assignment in the Mets system and Javier Lopez is a key member of the San Francisco Giants bullpen. What about the most famous Rule 5 pitcher of his generation, Johan Santana? Well, Santana was used pretty much the way I expected most would be used – he got garbage time relief appearances before making a couple of starts late in the year. Starts generally have lower LI, so Santana ends up with a very low average LI and a very low high pLI game. The average high pLI game was 3.22, and the average season gmLI was 0.77.

Seriously, Ian Snell? 6IP, 1R, 4H? Really? This really happened?

Game 20, Mariners at Tigers

April 26, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 128 Comments 

Noesi vs Porcello, 10:05 am.

After hitting home runs in each of the team’s first two games in Detroit, you had to be pretty certain that Alex Liddi was going to find himself in the line-up once again. And, so, Kyle Seager gets another day off, with Liddi getting the start at third base again. I know there’s going to be some outcry about both Olivo and Figgins getting playing time while Seager sits – and trust me, I’d rather see Seager in there too – but the reality is that, for one game, it’s not a huge deal. For all the talk about Kyle Seager’s “strong start”, he’s not really doing any better than he did last year, producing at a slightly below average rate. He’s gotten even more aggressive, swinging at 52% of the pitches he’s been thrown, and as a result, he’s drawn just one walk in 61 plate appearances. For a low-power guy, that’s not good, and the Seager’s absence from the line-up isn’t going to cripple the team’s offense today.

Seager sitting while Figgins plays isn’t going to be a regular occurrence. When asked about Figgins this morning, Wedge said this:

“We’re still giving Figgins an opportunity, but he has to do it, simple as that. I mean, if he does, we’ll keep him in there. If not, we’ll make a change.”

Mike Carp’s lingering injury and struggles on his rehab assignment bought him a little bit of extra time, but the leash on Figgins is tightening, and the batting order excuse is out the window now. If Liddi keeps swinging the bat well, Figgins will find himself on the bench sooner than later. Even when Liddi cools off, Carp’s return is going to force someone out of the line-up more often, and right now, Figgins is the guy on the chopping block. He probably has a few days left to get hot and save his job, but he’s clearly on the chopping block.

Figgins, LF
Ackley, 2B
Ichiro, RF
Smoak, 1B
Montero, DH
Liddi, 3B
Saunders, CF
Olivo, C
Ryan, SS

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