Draft Preview with MLBDraftInsider.com

May 31, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

Baseball amateur draft is coming up this Monday, June 4th. If you’re an avid follower of draft prospects, mock drafts and the like, then you’re no doubt already familiar with Chris Crawford of MLBDraftInsider.com. If you’re one of the many fans that thinks that the Rule 4 draft gets way more ink than it deserves and that it’s all a crapshoot, well, this post isn’t for you.

As you probably know, the M’s have the third pick in Monday’s draft, along with pick #64 in the second round. While this year’s draft class is a clear step behind 2011’s, the M’s will add a top 10 prospect to the fold in a few days time. What makes this year’s draft so hard to handicap is the new slotting system or draft caps that the new collective bargaining agreement imposes. I talked about the new rules before the season started, and Baseball America has done great work with a series of articles on the changes.

So who will the M’s take? How good are the big three college right-handers that most have going in the top 10? What about Buxton/Correa/Almora? The high-school arms like Giolito and Fried? Well I don’t know, so I asked draft guru Chris Crawford, whose website MLBDraftInsider.com is focused on answering such questions. If you need a quick rundown on the candidates for the #3 picks, check out Matthew Carruth’s post here. Lots more after the jump:
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Delabar Optioned, Pryor Coming?

May 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 19 Comments 

After the game, the Mariners announced they were optioning Steve Delabar to Tacoma, but did not announce a corresponding roster move. With the day off tomorrow, they don’t have to make one until before the game on Friday. However, you can pretty much bet that the team is bringing up Stephen Pryor, the flamethrowing relief prospect who has been destroying the minor leagues this year.

It’s interesting timing, given that Brandon League has been temporarily removed from the closer’s role. Tom Wilhelmsen will probably get first crack at saves until League is reinstated as the closer, but if Pryor comes up and starts blowing people away with 100 MPH fastballs while the team is going with a closer-by-committee approach, it’s not impossible to think that he might just grab the job and run with it.

For Delabar, this is a chance for him to go down and work on his slider. He’ll be back as soon as the team trades League, and if he can get his slider to be a legitimate weapon against righties, he could be a good big league reliever.

Update: Confirmed – Stephen Pryor is getting called up. He’ll join the team on Friday.

Some Context

May 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

May 20th to May 28th: 314 PA, 12 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 33 BB, 75 K, 29 runs
May 29th to May 30th: 94 PA, 10 2B, 0 3B, 5 HR, 10 BB, 14 K, 31 runs

The Mariners scored more runs in the last two games than they did in the eight games leading up to yesterday’s outing.

The Mariners line for the night: .426/.481/.830. That’s a .545 wOBA and a .261 wRC+. The best single season wRC+ of Babe Ruth’s career was 235.

The average leverage index of pitches thrown by Beavan and Iwakuma tonight: 0.18. 1.00 is average.

Michael Saunders was the Mariners fifth best hitter tonight – he hit .500/.500/.833.


Game 53, Mariners at Rangers

May 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 172 Comments 

Blake Beavan vs. Derek Holland, 5:05pm

Blake Beavan’s always looking over his shoulder at one of the horde of pitching prospects gunning for his spot in the rotation. Derek Holland’s spending his lucrative extension on the finest moustache products money can buy and relishing his status as a “proven winner” in October after his WS Game 4 gem. Blake Beavan’s given up 4.31 runs per 9 innings in his brief career, while Holland’s given up 5.08. Ok, Ok, we’ll toss out Holland’s terrible first season (which did include a brilliant start against the Mariners) – now his RA/9 stands at 4.51. Is Holland overrated? Is Beavan underrated?

Er, no, not really. I think I’ve been more supportive of Beavan than most, but this goes beyond his HR/FB ratio. As you probably know, Fangraphs uses FIP as the basis for pitching WAR. Beavan’s HR problems thus tarnish his FIP, as his career ERA/RA is around 0.3 lower than his career FIP. Based on his FIP, Beavan’s essentially right on replacement level.

But what about that nice RA? Certainly baseball-reference’s non-FIP based WAR can appreciate the subtle charms of Blake Beavan. The problem is that bbref had to spoil the fun and adjust the league RA by opponent and by park. The result of these adjustments is what the average pitcher in these parks against these teams would give up. For Beavan, that RA is 3.88. That takes some of the luster off of his 4.38. In fact, it puts him at 0.1 WAR. Two very different methodologies, two very similar answers.

Again, I like Beavan but he’s got to figure out a way to keep the ball in the ballpark. He’s given up 8 HRs this season in 9 starts, or at least one in every game except his injury-shortened start against Detroit…and his season opener against the Rangers in Arlington. Rooting for Beavan is, in some sense, rooting against DIPS theory. Why not add rooting against the natural outgrowth of being a fly ball pitcher in Arlington?

Derek Holland, meanwhile, looks much better both by FIP/fWAR and rWAR/baseball-reference. The average pitcher facing Holland’s opponents this year would give up 4.85 R/9, so his 0.6 WAR isn’t too bad. It’s not as good as his 1.2 fWAR, driven by a 3.68 FIP. The low FIP perhaps isn’t a huge surprise given Holland’s above average K rate. But one thing is, especially given his FB/Slider/Curve repertoire.

Throughout his career, Holland’s struck out more righties than lefties. In his breakout season last year, he had a K% of under 15% against lefties but over 20% against righties. He’s a three-true-outcome guy against righties, with lots of Ks, more walks and some HRs, but he’s more of a pitch-to-contact guy against lefties, with a huge platoon split in his ground ball rate as well as Ks. I don’t know that I’ve seen this before. It’s hard to see what’s going on via pitch fx, as the system’s had some problems differentiating his fastballs as well as his curve and slider.

Using BrooksBaseball.net’s pitch IDs, it looks like he uses his fastball, curve and change against righties, and uses his sinker and slider against lefties. The magnitude of these shifts is very small though – it’s not like he never throws a curve to lefties, and the FB picture is murky due to ID issues. What I can say is that Holland’s fastball has an absurd amount of run to it, and I wonder if that might be part of the explanation.

Today’s line-up is noteworthy in that Ichiro’s not in it. Replacing him in RF is Chone Figgins, and….wait! Come back!

1: Ackley (2B)
2: Figgins (RF)
3: Seager (3B)
4: Montero (DH)
5: Smoak (1B)
6: Liddi (LF)
7: Olivo (C)
8: Saunders (CF)
9: Ryan (SS)
SP: Beavan

Game 52, Mariners at Rangers

May 29, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 139 Comments 

Jason Vargas vs. Scott Feldman, 5:05

The Rangers signed Roy Oswalt today, so despite the injury to Neftali Feliz and the time Oswalt will need to build his strength, you’ve got to figure Feldman’s moving back to the bullpen in a month or so. Perhaps that would’ve happened anyway, as he’s given up more walks than K’s so far. He’s presumably still smarting from his loss to the M’s in Seattle – the Liddi Grand Slam game.

Because Wedge is so fond of match-ups, not even an ugly slump is going to keep Alex Liddi out of the line-up today. In fact, the line-up is pretty similar to the one that beat Feldman a week ago. The downside is Liddi’s back in LF, with Seager at 3B. Jaso catches today and Jesus Montero gets a start as the DH.

Jason Vargas is enjoying his best season in the majors, with an improved strikeout rate, low walks and a career-low xFIP. At the same time, he’s giving up more contact than he ever has – it hasn’t hurt him thanks to an absurdly low BABIP. Why so much contact? I really don’t know, but it looks like he’s using his change-up a bit less this season. The change-up is, of course, his best pitch by some margin.

So he just needs to throw it more? No, not necessarily. We don’t (ok, *I* don’t) know many change-ups are too many. We don’t really know how to game-theory his arsenal and what percentage would lead to the best overall results. I think too often fans just want pitchers to throw their best pitch, and the logical extension of that argument is that everyone should throw their best pitch 100% of the time. That’s only worked for Mariano Rivera. Really, I’d just like to understand the thinking and what Vargas wants to achieve (this doesn’t seem to be related to catchers, as his CH% is about the same whoever’s behind the dish). This isn’t just an attempt to placate the regression monster – I think this is an interesting research area, albeit one that may be best left to teams with their proprietary data and access to players and coaches. Is Vargas trying to limit pitches per plate appearance to get deeper into games? If so, it doesn’t appear to be working. Is Vargas trying to generate more weak contact? Tough to say if it’s working, but the folks who pay for Hit FX might know.

Anyway, here’s a line-up for you:
1: Ackley (2B)
2: Liddi (LF)
3: Ichiro (RF)
4: Montero (DH)
5: Seager (3B)
6: Smoak (1B)
7: Jaso (C)
8: Saunders (CF)
9: Ryan (SS)
SP: Jason Vargas

Batter Pitcher Match-Up Data

May 29, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 27 Comments 

Yesterday, the Mariners faced a left-handed starting pitcher, and one who is traditionally very tough on left-handed batters. Opposing LHBs are hitting .149/.171/.216 against Harrison this year, compared to the .343/.387/.537 mark that RHBs are putting up, so he basically turns lefties into the equivalent of an average hitting pitcher. So, Eric Wedge put both Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp on the bench, and after the game, he noted that he was trying to put the team on the field that gives them the best chance to win. Giving them a day off against a very tough left-hander is entirely defendable, even in a rebuilding year, especially when you’re trying to stop a losing streak.

So, I don’t have any problem with Wedge deciding to rest those guys yesterday. It’s just that the rest of his decisions make no sense.

Miguel Olivo, right-handed hitter, was on the bench. Left-handed hitter John Jaso started at DH and hit leadoff. John Jaso, he of the career .172/.301/.247 line against southpaws, was chosen to get the most plate appearances of anyone in the line-up against a guy who is absolutely murder on left-handed batters. Obviously, we’ve been asking for more playing time for Jaso and less playing time for Olivo, so it might seem weird to point out displeasure with Wedge deciding to play Jaso over Olivo, but a major league manager should understand basic things like platoon advantages.

Instead, it appears that Wedge was paying attention to a different kind of number – batter/pitcher match-up data. Here’s Greg Johns, before the game, on his blog:

Interesting lineup today for the Mariners against the Rangers, with John Jaso leading off and Chone Figgins batting second and playing left field, while Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp have the day off.

Why? It appears manager Eric Wedge is playing the percentages, with Ackley 0-for-15 in his career against Rangers starter Matt Harrison and Carp 0-for-10.

Figgins is 4-for-14, while Alexi Liddi is 3-for-6.

Here’s Wedge’s quote about why Ackley’s not playing:

It’s just a matchup situation,” Wedge said. “And he’s still trying to find it. We’re trying to put the best lineup out there to win. When this kid throwing against us is on, he’s pretty good. So we want to give ourselves the best chance to win today. That’s that fine line that you’re walking.”

And finally, here’s Dustin Ackley talking about why he thinks he was on the bench after the game.

“I’m just playing it day by day,” Ackley said. “I know Harrison is throwing today and I haven’t had much success against him. I’m sure that’s a lot of the reason. I know [Wedge] likes the matchups a lot and what you’ve done off guys in the past.”

When a strange looking line-up was posted, Johns looked at the batter/pitcher match-up data and realized that the decisions looked like they were influenced from those numbers. When asked about it, Wedge cited the match-up. When Ackley was asked about it, he referenced that he knew Wedge puts a lot of stock into specific batter/pitcher history.

This is a problem, because specific batter/pitcher match-up data is worthless. It literally has no predictive value whatsoever. This isn’t just some gray area where Wedge is referencing information that outsiders don’t have access to that might not line up with the numbers – this is the Mariners manager relying exclusively on numbers, but not understanding which ones matter and which ones don’t.

This issue has been extensively studied. There’s an entire chapter devoted to it in The Book, much of which is available for you to read through Amazon without even going through the hassle of buying a paper copy. This is freely available information, and the conclusion is indisputable – knowing what a hitter did against a pitcher in the past will tell you nothing about what a player will do against that pitcher in the future. You can argue against it all you want, but the data is overwhelmingly conclusive – batter/pitcher match-up data is useless.

Not useless, though, are platoon splits. Left/right match-ups are probably the most significant type of split data, and a manager could do a decent job of selecting who to play on a given day by simply maximizing the platoon advantage. If you literally just started all of your right-handers against a lefty and vice versa, you’d probably do a better job of setting line-ups than a human looking at batter/pitcher match-up data. Of course, the ideal is to incorporate all information and not just select on one variable, so we’re not arguing that every batter should be platooned every night, but if you’re going to choose between an LHB and an RHB against a guy like Matt Harrison, you better have compelling reasoning for why you’re choosing the lefty. And then, if you choose the lefty, you should probably hit him ninth. Instead, Wedge hit Jaso first, essentially giving Harrison three or four free outs at the top of the order.

Miguel Olivo wasn’t going to win the game for the Mariners yesterday, so maybe this seems like a minor issue that didn’t actually have much of an influence on the outcome of the game. But, it’s impossible to look at the stated reasons for making out yesterday’s line-up and not realize that Eric Wedge’s decision making process is completely broken. There are some basic truths about the sport that he’s unaware of. Eric Wedge stated with a straight face that he was trying to put the best team on the field to win yesterday’s game, and then proceeded to put John Jaso in the line-up against a southpaw and hit him at the top of the batting order. This is Mike Hargrove bringing in Julio Mateo to get a groundball all over again. This is the kind of decision that is just blindingly wrong, and the organization shouldn’t have to put up with.

The M’s need more talent, but they also could use a manager who actually understands how to play the percentages. When they get around to trying to win games every night, Eric Wedge should not be the guy deciding who gets to play.

Game 51, Mariners at Rangers

May 28, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 48 Comments 

Kevin Millwood vs. Matt Harrison, 5:05 pm

The M’s face lefty Matt Harrison this evening for the 15th time. As you might expect, the M’s have the lowest OPS of any team that’s faced Harrison more than once (ha Pirates). Harrison’s win over the M’s on the 22nd came with 12 swinging strikes, his season high.

The M’s are coming off a disheartening sweep at the hands of the Angels, which is all but expunged the positive feelings so many had after the M’s took the series against Texas. This remains a streaky, inconsistent team, and it’s not clear when or if that’s going to change. Kevin Millwood’s been as streaky as any of the young kids (well, at least his results have been), and he gets the start tonight, trying to extend a scoreless innings streak that’s reached 17 innings.

Miguel Olivo caught three of the four games in the Angels’ series, so we haven’t seen much in the way of a new/altered role for the veteran. Part of this may be due to John Jaso’ nagging injury, and it’s possible they wanted the better catch/throw guy to deal with the steal-happy Angels, so this series may offer a chance to see a bit less Olivo and a bit more Montero and Jaso. The M’s send their right-handed line-up to the plate today with Liddi at 3B and Dustin Ackley getting a day off. Ackley’s 2 for his last 19 with no XBH and 7 Ks, though to be fair, Liddi’s 0 for his last 11 with 8 Ks, so, uh, turn it around, Alex. So who gets Ackley’s spot in the line-up? John Jaso will DH and lead off against a southpaw, which isn’t what I expected.

The M’s now have the 2nd worst team wOBA in the American League, ahead of only the hapless Athletics. Let’s go Arlington park effects?

1: Jaso (DH)
2: Figgins (LF)
3: Ichiro (RF)
4: Montero (C)
5: Smoak (1B)
6: Seager (2B)
7: Liddi (3B)
8: Saunders (CF)
9: Ryan (SS)
SP: Millwood

Erasmo Ramirez is on the hill in Tacoma today, hoping to erase the memories of his 11-R disaster start in Iowa.
Danny Hultzen’s currently throwing against Pensacola. ROOT sports is apparently sending Jen Mueller to the game, so we’ll see if they show highlights or interviews during the M’s broadcast.

Go M’s!

Minor League Wrap (5/21-27/12)

May 28, 2012 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 27 Comments 

To address something I haven’t really mentioned yet, this time next week, we will be readying ourselves the draft. The first round of the draft will occur on Monday at 4 pm our time. I’m not preparing for it in quite the same way as last year, when I was burned by the unexpected pick. There are really too many variables to try to guess at, particularly in this draft. Does Buxton slide because the Astros want a near-term contributor and the Twins need pitching far more than they need toolsy outfielders? Do the M’s still consider Zunino even with Jaso and Montero and all the other catchers they drafted last year? [The answer to that is probably “yes.”] What happens if both Zunino and Buxton are gone within the first two picks? What weird effects are we going to get from the new CBA? Factors like these make the whole thing a pain. I’m hoping for the best and not preparing at all.

After the first round is done, the whole thing will break up and we’ll get round 2-15 starting at 9 am on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it’s round 16-40 at the same hour. Yes, the draft is only forty rounds now. Since I don’t have a regular “blog” anymore, I’ll probably just be covering it here as much as I can or feel like doing. I’ll probably have to take off at some point during the Wednesday picks as I have other matters to attend to, but Tuesday I should be around throughout, commenting or at least making stupid remarks on the picks as they’re made.

To the jump!
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Game 50, Angels at Mariners

May 27, 2012 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 67 Comments 

Noesi vs. C.J. Wilson, 1:10 pm

Last season, Fangraphs had Noesi at a 1.22 GB/FB ratio in his limited time with the Yankees. If this was something that he was consciously working on, knowing the conditions he was going to be facing in Yankees Stadium, then that was probably a good idea, but it is not representative of his career arc. According to MiLB.com, Noesi never managed a full season with more ground outs than air outs (MiLB.com includes pop ups, etc with their air outs). The closest he got was 0.93 in 2009. The worst he had was his brief stint in the International League last year when he was at 0.67, which is the same mark that he sits at right now (48.7% FB, if you prefer that metric). Given that the Angels have been knocking the ball over the fence a few times in this series, there’s a legitimate concern that this could turn ugly in a hurry. You’d also presume that with such tendencies, the Mariners would really want to bring their “A” outfield out to give themselves as much of a chance as possible.

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

Oh. Ohhhhh.

I guess for this game, we’re going to have to hope that C.J. Wilson doesn’t have his good command and that the Mariners are able to draw some walks against him and do a bit of damage. His ERA right now is much lower than his tRA or FIP, so there is a chance for some kind of regression. On the other hand, Mariners.

In rare good news, Guti has been cleared to go down and work out in extended spring training, and will get his rehab assignment sometime after that. Don’t expect anything soon. He didn’t really get spring training the first time around, so this could take a while.

Game 49, Angels at Mariners

May 26, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 61 Comments 

King Felix vs. Jerome Williams, 4:15pm

After last night’s crushing collapse, the M’s send King Felix to the hill to try and get a win. Jerome Williams is a fascinating story, and he’s shown signs of improvement this year. He doesn’t strike many people out, but he’s cut back on walks while increasing his ground ball rate. It’s not sexy, but it’s been enough to run a FIP just under 4 in 53 innings. Garrett Richards, one of the Angels’ better prospects, looked set to take the #5 spot in the spring, especially after Williams suffered an injury in March, but instead Williams has been solid and Richards continues to be both extremely talented and somewhat frustrating in the PCL.

The M’s send their lefty line-up out today which is fine, but Williams has essentially no platoon splits. In over 500 innings, lefties have hit for a .328 wOBA off of him while righties are hitting….328. Righties have hit for more power while his K:BB ratio is nearly even against lefties.

1: Ackley (2B)
2: Saunders (CF)
3: Ichiro (RF)
4: Seager (3B)
5: Smoak (1B)
6: Jaso (DH)
7: Olivo (C)
8: Carp (LF)
9: Ryan (SS)
SP: Felix Hernandez

The big story today is that Brandon League’s lost his job as closer after last night’s meltdown. Doesn’t sound like they’ve named a replacement, but expect to see plenty of Tom Wilhelmsen and/or Steve Delabar for a while. No roster move of course as League’s just bumped to a set-up role, but you’ve got to like Stephen Pryor’s chances to head north in the coming months.
Carlos Peguero hit his 9th HR last night, and Casper Wells went 3-4 with two doubles and a HR against Tucson. The Rainiers are hitting the crap out of the ball, but pitching remains a problem.
The Mariners are playing today in the uniforms of the old Seattle Rainiers – part of “Turn Back the Clock Day” at Safeco. The retro-styled King’s Court adds another section today as well.
James Paxton couldn’t get anything going yesterday against Montgomery and then came out of the game with what’s being called a knee injury. Sounds like it may have been bothering him in several of his recent starts.

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