Game 48, Angels at Mariners

May 25, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 101 Comments 

Sorry, game threads may be sporadic or non-existant this weekend, as I’m not going to be around my computer that much.

Looks like the M’s are winning. And walking. Yay.

Friday Links/Odds and Ends

May 25, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

1: I was going to do a mailbag sort of a thing, but I never solicited any questions, and the whole mailbag metaphor is anachronistic at the best of times, but it’s just silly on a blog. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to talk about some of the M’s issues that you all have been debating in comments and elsewhere.

First up, tonight’s starting pitcher, Blake Beavan. Dave’s obviously not a big fan, but I think the M’s have themselves a reasonably effective back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. He hasn’t missed a lot of bats, but he’s still evolving. That’s not to suggest that he’ll morph into a strikeout machine, but that he’ll give himself more margin for error as he matures. His velocity’s crept upwards this month, and while it’s a small sample, it makes sense given that pitchers velocity tends to be lowest in April. Second, and more important, he’s re-introduced a slider to give hitters something else to worry about.

Here’s a plot of his pitches movement in an April start:

Beavan chart 4-10-12

Note the pitches in the bottom right

Of interest is the small cluster of curves in the bottom right. One’s labeled a slider when it probably shouldn’t be,* but it doesn’t really matter. That cluster of pitches has similar movement and similar speed (you can see more charts from the game here).

Ok, here’s the same chart for Beavan’s last start against the Rockies:

Beavan chart 5-20-12

Sliders/Curves are now two separate clusters

There’s still a small cluster of actual curves that come in around 73-74 mph, just as they did before, but now there’s a cluster of actual sliders that don’t drop nearly as much as the curves. This isn’t surprising, as they’re thrown in the neighborhood of 80 mph. They’re two separate pitches. This is somewhat noteworthy, as Beavan hadn’t shown this until his start in Fenway. He’d broken out the slider against Detroit, but in that game he abandoned the curve. Throwing both may help him disrupt hitters’ timing, especially right handers. Notice above I said “RE-introduce” the slider. When he came up midway through 2011, he would occasionally throw the same slider. This isn’t a new pitch for Beavan; this isn’t something he needs to “master.”

I’m not attributing his success in the Colorado game to the new pitch, but he’s been, by some measures, a better pitcher this year than last. Matthew’s series preview mentions that Beavan’s generated more whiffs this year despite throwing more pitches in the zone – all while throwing with a bit more velocity. He’s been burned a bit by the home run, and that’s always going to be his problem, but he stands a decent chance of adding real value to the club.

2: The big controversy of the day surrounds the Orioles’ 6 year $~85 million contract extension for CF Adam Jones. The ex-Mariner’s enjoying a break-out 2012, putting up nearly 3 WAR already. In this case, I’m completely in agreement with our beneficent overlord: this is a good move by Baltimore. The Bedard trade was about 5 years and 1 GM ago, so it’s not really a surprise that I don’t think about it much anymore. Today, it stings again. I suppose it’s just the contrast between Jones’ great season (and lucrative day) and the positive stories after Franklin Gutierrez successfully ran a little bit an empty baseball field. Sigh.

3: One day after experimenting with Mike Carp at 1B and Alex Liddi in LF, the M’s have adjusted and today have Carp back in LF. As I mentioned in the comments, I’m all for versatility, but it absolutely neuters Liddi’s value (and I’m definitely in the camp that says Liddi actually HAS value) to play him there. This is less about his misadventures last night (although, seriously, look at this) than it is about the defensive spectrum.

Last season, Mike Carp came to the plate 313 times and put up a very respectable .341 wOBA. On the 2011 Mariners, that was astoundingly good offensive production. That half-season was worth 0.5 WAR, thanks in large part to the fact that Carp played LF (and wasn’t particularly good at it). Alex Liddi’s come to the plate just shy of 90 times this season, and has a decent/solid .328 wOBA. Because he’s played mostly 3B, he’s been worth… 0.5 WAR (it was at 0.6 before his forgettable game last night, which would’ve made this paragraph better). Despite fewer batting runs and despite weaker rate statistics, Liddi’s been every bit as valuable as Carp was last season. The numbers and even the specific players don’t matter – the point is that taking a 3B and putting him in a corner chops a full win off of his value. At some point, that may be necessary – to maximize defense, say. Liddi was moved to LF for no reason that I can divine; it sure as hell wasn’t about maximizing the team’s defense.

More later this weekend, I hope. If you’ve got burning questions (I think we’re going to touch on the two Tacoma Carloses), put ’em in the comments.

4: Max Marchi’s** got a great series of articles at BP on how pitchers’ velocity changes during a plate appearance and when runners are on base. Today’s post is free, so check it out. Many have suggested looking at how a pitcher’s movement changes when they work from the stretch/wind-up, so hopefully we’ll see that next. I checked Hector Noesi’s movement given his problems with men on, but didn’t see anything. Just as Max’s model suggests, Noesi’s velocity goes *up* with runners on. The stretch seems like it should reduce velocity, but pitchers are able to reach back for a bit more more when runners are on. In addition, they seem to throw a bit harder with two strikes.

*Brooks Baseball, which classifies the pitches by hand, has him with zero sliders in April.
** Not only does baseball have a 3B from Italy, but now we get Italian sabermetricians. Awesome.

Game 47, Angels at Mariners

May 24, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 121 Comments 

Vargas vs Haren, 7:10 pm.

So, remember how I wrote that there’s no way that Wedge would play Liddi in left field with Jason Vargas – a flyballing left-hander – on the mound against the Angels, a line-up of right-handed pull hitters? Well, yeah, my bad. Liddi is back in left field tonight, and the odd part is that he’s not even taking Mike Carp’s spot, as Carp is playing first base and Justin Smoak is the one sitting. So, basically, Wedge went with option #2 from last night’s post, but instead of playing Liddi at first, he’s playing Carp there and Liddi in left. Carp’s a pretty lousy defender in left too, but at least he’s got a few months of experience out there and knows where the wall is. Poor Jason Vargas – I hope he’s got his change-up working tonight.

Oh, and everyone’s favorite catcher is back behind the plate as well. I’ll hold off on any kind of reaction given that Jaso may very well still be feeling the effects of that foul ball off his shoulder the other night, but, yeah, the Olivo-free roster was nice while it lasted.

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

M’s Make Bad Decision, Keep Figgins

May 24, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 33 Comments 

The title says it all. Faced with the logical choice of dumping Figgins or the less logical choice of sending Casper Wells to Tacoma, the Mariners went with door #2. So, now, Alex Liddi is your right-handed hitting reserve outfielder. Here’s to hoping that Jason Vargas doesn’t end up pitching against too many other left-handers, or this could get ugly.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that big of a deal – Wells isn’t a great player and the difference in performance between him and Figgins in a reserve role won’t add up to a big difference. But, really, there’s nothing Chone Figgins can offer the Mariners that Casper Wells can’t offer in a better package. There’s no reason that a Major League team should choose Chone Figgins over Casper Wells. It’s just not a good decision. It’s a bad decision that won’t end up having disastrous consequences or anything, but it’s still a bad decision.

Miguel Olivo to Rejoin Mariners

May 24, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

Per Mike Curto on Twitter, Miguel Olivo is not with the Rainiers for their game this morning, and Tacoma will be playing with just one rostered catcher. This means that Olivo’s rehab assignment is over, and he’ll be rejoining the Mariners before their game against the Angels tonight.

That also means that a roster move will need to be made to open a spot for him. As we talked about last week, there are essentially two options: the team can send Casper Wells down to Tacoma and let Alex Liddi take his place as the right-handed hitting part-time outfielder, or they can release Chone Figgins.

Sending Wells down won’t do the team much good. He’s 27 and he’s not going to improve much down in Triple-A, so there’s no real benefit to him to go back to the minors. Liddi’s a work in progress (at best) as an outfielder, and Wells is still the better option to play left field against left-handers, and despite his continuing struggles making contact, he has enough power to be a useful part-time player.

Wells isn’t anything special, but he’s a decent contributor who can help the team. Figgins is, well, not. The only reason he’s still here is his contract, and after a third attempt to try to justify the money he’s making, the reality is that he’s never going to amount to anything in Seattle. The organization isn’t actually gaining any benefit from paying him to sit on the bench, so they might as well use that roster spot to try and extract some value – they’re going to be paying Figgins the same amount regardless.

It’s the only logical move. They could justify sending Wells down, I guess, but by all rights, this should be the end of the Chone Figgins era in Seattle. It was a decent idea that flopped, and now its just time to move on. The M’s need a roster spot and Chone Figgins doesn’t deserve one. This should be the end of the road for him in Seattle.

What To Do With Alex Liddi

May 23, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

Eric Wedge has been talking about trying to get Alex Liddi into the line-up more often, even experimenting with him in the outfield – a position he had never played before this season. Today, Liddi was inserted into left field even with a right-hander on the mound, and he rewarded the team with a grand slam, essentially ensuring that he’ll be in the line-up again tomorrow.

But the question is where? Once again, the Mariners are going to be facing a right-handed pitcher, so giving Seager or Ackley a day off (which opens up third base and is the simplest way to get Liddi at-bats) is probably off the table. With Jason Vargas on the mound, playing left field should be a non-starter, as Vargas needs all the outfield defense he can get – especially in Safeco – and as Liddi showed today, he’s an adventure out there right now.

So, in reality, there are three options:

1. DH him. This is the easy answer, as it doesn’t require any kind of defensive gymnastics in order to get him in the line-up, and with John Jaso taking a foul ball off his shoulder on Monday, the team has a built-in excuse to give him another day off and keep Montero behind the plate. Of course, they may not want Montero to have to catch a third straight game, and Jaso has been the team’s best hitter against right-handed pitchers this year. If Jaso is physically able to play, the team would have a better chance of winning with him in the line-up. Benching Montero is an option, but he’s supposed to be a franchise building block, and he just got a couple of days off last week. So, while this is the easy option, it doesn’t come without its own set of problems.

2. Play him at first base. While Justin Smoak got a few hits in New York last week, he hasn’t done a whole lot since, and he’s still looking pretty lost at the plate on most nights. Liddi has experience at first and another night off wouldn’t kill Smoak, especially against a guy who throws a lot of bendy pitches that Smoak has so many problems with. I don’t think the club is near giving up on Smoak yet, but he’s played poorly enough that taking him out of the line-up for a night isn’t a big deal.

3. Play him at shortstop. Wedge has talked about getting Liddi some time at short, but this isn’t the night to do it. With a left-handed starter facing a predominantly right-handed line-up, there are going to be a lot of ground balls to the left side, and replacing Brendan Ryan with Alex Liddi is just not fair to Jason Vargas. If you’re going to start Liddi at shortstop, you need to do it when a righty takes the mound. I know there’s still a few of you out there who think Ryan’s offensive struggles mean he should be on the bench, but in reality, his defense at shortstop is valuable enough to support even a weak bat, and his ability to draw walks means that he’s not the offensive liability that his batting average suggests. If the team ends up trading Ryan, then maybe you experiment with Liddi there in the second half, but right now, the team is best served with Ryan playing shortstop – especially when there’s a lefty on the mound.

So, it’s 1B or DH, with either Smoak or Jaso being the most likely to be displaced in order to give Liddi another shot. However, that’s just one game, and doesn’t really answer the question about what the team should do with Liddi over the rest of the season.

I’m sure there’s going to be some sentiment that he’s done enough to earn regular playing time, regardless of who has to sit in order to make it happen. After all, he’s hitting .273/.333/.455, good for a 120 wRC+, which would make him the team’s best hitter if he could sustain that kind of performance over the whole season. However, despite his strong overall line, Liddi’s performing pretty much dead on preseason expectations in the core metrics that project future performance.

Here’s what the ZIPS projections forecasted for Liddi before the season began:

7.6% BB%, 29.5% K%, .158 ISO

Now, here’s what Liddi is actually doing in those three categories:

8.3% BB%, 29.8% K%, .182 ISO

Liddi’s walking and striking out at almost exactly the rates that ZIPS suggested we should have expected, and if that fly ball to left today would have hit the top of the wall instead of going over it, his ISO would be almost exactly the same as well. ZIPS has basically nailed Liddi’s skillset to a tee. So, why is he posting a .341 wOBA instead of the .298 mark that ZIPS projected? His BABIP is .367, the highest mark on the team by over 50 points.

Hitters have more control over their hit rates on balls in play than pitchers do, but there’s still no real predictive ability in a hitter’s BABIP over smaller samples. We saw this exact same thing from Mike Carp last year, actually, as he posted a 117 wRC+ on the strength of a .343 BABIP that masked a poor BB/K rate. While people tried to justify the mark as evidence that Carp just hit the ball hard a lot (the standard explanation for any BABIP variance), there wasn’t much evidence to suggest that Carp would be able to keep hitting balls to fall in that often, and sure enough, he’s been bitten by the regression fairy to start the 2012 season.

Liddi’s performance so far this year is a near mirror for what Carp did last summer, and just like that performance shouldn’t have gotten you too excited, neither should this one. That’s not to say that Liddi’s not useful, or that he should never play, but he’s not really doing anything that should make us rethink our opinion of his ability to produce at the big league level. After showing some better contact rates in April, he’s been the same swing-and-miss guy that he’s always been in May, and there’s not enough there to offset the lack of contact to make him an impact bat.

Liddi should play against left-handers and perhaps pinch-hit for Brendan Ryan in certain situations, but he’s not a guy that the team should be looking at rearranging the roster to get into the line-up everyday. Unless he can significantly increase the rate at which he puts bat on ball, he’s probably going to top out as a nice role player, and right now, he’s just stuck behind players who are simply better than he is – or, in Justin Smoak’s case, should be.

Grand Salami

May 23, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

In case anyone was wondering, Reno Bertoia hit one off Camilo Pascual on May 7, 1958, scoring Charlie Maxwell, Gail Harris, and Al Kaline. Hopefully it will not take 54 more years before we see another grand slam hit by an Italian-born player.

Game 46, Rangers at Mariners

May 23, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 113 Comments 

Millwood vs Feldman, 12:40 pm.

The M’s face Scott Feldman today, who is a sinkerballing right-hander, and those guys usually have pretty significant platoon splits. But Feldman’s a little weird, because he actually has a small reverse platoon split for his career, perhaps because of how good his split/change can be at times. This isn’t the kind of thing you really want to react to, but it’s worth keeping an eye on, and might be a reason why Alex Liddi is playing while John Jaso is on the bench. Against most right-handers, that would be a bad idea. Against this right-hander, maybe not so much.

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

Game 45, Rangers at Mariners

May 22, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 57 Comments 

Hector Noesi vs. Matt Harrison, 7:10pm

Lefty Matt Harrison was a big part of the Rangers pennant-winning staff last year. He put up a 4 WAR season, going 14-9 with a low 3 ERA. Armed with a plus fastball and a good curve, he’d struggled at times against right-handers, but the development of a solid to plus change-up took care of that. Instead of ugly platoon splits, he was actually better against righties than lefties in 2011. It goes for anyone hoping to survive the Ballpark in Arlington, but Harrison was able to keep the ball in the ballpark last year, hence his tidy FIP. He was more than just a HR/FB mirage, as his xFIP wasn’t too shabby either.

This year, his K:BB’s about the same, his ground ball rate’s exactly the same, but his ERA’s over 5. First, his great HR/FB ratio’s regressed and it’s now about where it was when he was seen as an enigmatic, injury-prone youngster. Second, he’s getting torched by righthanders – righties have a .406 wOBA off of Harrison, with extra-base hits in over 11% of their plate appearances and they’ve got a .368 BABIP off of him.

He’s lost about 1mph off of his fastball compared to last year, but so have a lot of pitchers. His change-up doesn’t look any different from a movement perspective, and his curve’s generated better results. He’s shifted to his two-seam FB more than his four-seamer, presumably to boost his grounder rate, but the shift isn’t massive. So is he a regression candidate? Well, yes, sure.

The problem is knowing what mean to regress him towards. Some might look at his career HR/FB and say that his 2011 was a fluke, and that he’s always going to have a bit of a HR problem. Others might weight 2011 much more heavily given that it’s more recent and he pitched so much more. Some might argue that Harrison can’t survive with an average fastball against righties – that he doesn’t use the offspeed pitch enough to prevent hitters from sitting on his fastball. Others might say that it’s absurd to use 2012 splits to argue that he’s got a “problem” against righties and that a handful of balls in play can be spun into a grand narrative; and that evidence to support that narrative can be gathered after the fact.

Pitchers are weird. We talk about three true outcomes, and we should, because pitchers control them so much more than they do their BABIP, say. But everything we have is a sample of someone’s true talent – and true talent is always changing due to age, to a new pitch, or to something called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Matt Harrison is a pitcher; that we still don’t quite know what to make of him is *normal*. Part of what makes Felix (or Roy Halladay) so amazing is that the rules governing other pitchers just don’t seem to apply to him. Cherish this as much as you cherish Felix’s change-up.

Uh, but tonight we get to watch Hector Noesi. Go Hector Noesi!

The M’s line-up tonight has Wells, Ryan, Liddi and Montero in it because, y’know, Harrison’s getting torched by righties this year.

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

The Felix/Beltre Thing, GIFfed

May 22, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

If you missed the game last night, you also missed some classic Felix/Beltre verbal jousting, which lasted for most of the eighth inning. Eno Sarris has captured some of their back and forth in GIF form. It’s worth checking out.

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