Game 128, Mariners at White Sox

August 26, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 56 Comments 

Millwood vs Floyd, Start Time TBD

Lots of rain in Chicago, so the game is going to be delayed at the least. Saunders is still out of the line-up due to tweaking his groin in Friday’s collision.

Ackley, 2B
Robinson, LF
Seager, 3B
Jaso, C
Montero, DH
Thames, RF
Smoak, 1B
Wells, CF
Ryan, SS

Game 126, Mariners at White Sox

August 24, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 160 Comments 

Jason Vargas vs. Jake Peavy, 5:10pm

The M’s march through the AL Central continues tonight in Chicago, as Jason Vargas squares off against Jake Peavy and the Sox.

Chicago’s been in first place for a long time, but they’ve got some incentive as Detroit’s suddenly less than two games back, and the wild card race is pretty tight. Luckily, they look like a very good club, with an excellent offense and surprising pitching. Their run differential is +72, which easily outpaces Detroit’s and the other claimants for the wild card like Oakland and Baltimore…which, how on earth is Baltimore in this thing given that their run differential is -54?

Anyway – Jake Peavy remains a very good starting pitcher, and he’s been healthier this year than he’s ever been with Chicago – he’s already surpassed his innings pitched totals from 2011, 2010 and 2009, and he could surpass his 2008 total tonight. His fastball velocity’s down from where it was in his first few years with the White Sox, but it’s still a very respectable 91.

Interestingly, he’s all but abandoned his cutter this year in favor of a true slider and curve. Even against lefties, he’s using breaking balls more and the cutter less. In 2011, he threw a cutter 15% of the time he faced a lefty, and used his curve ball 8%. This year, the cutter’s down to 4% against lefties, while curve usage is up to 14%. His platoon splits look bad this year, but much of that seems to be BABIP luck – he’s still pretty tough against all hitters.

The M’s have their lefty-heavy line-up out there, and with Montero catching, it’s almost impossible to quibble with:
1: Ackley
2: Saunders
3: Seager
4: Jaso (DH)
5: Montero (C)
6: Thames
7: Smoak
8: Robinson
9: Ryan
SP: Vargas

Tacoma’s home against Las Vegas tonight, and it depresses me to inform you that tonight’s game is Danny Hultzen’s last start in Tacoma this year, and that, including tonight, the Rainiers have three home dates left in 2012. So go.

A Quick Note On Wins Versus The Central

August 23, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 32 Comments 

When you’re looking at any kind of statistic, the context always matters. It’s why we talk about things like park effects, changing league norms, and number of opportunities where a player had the platoon advantage. The environment around you has an impact on your results, and when you’re trying to use results to project future performance, you have to account for those variables.

So, when the Mariners go 25-13 since the all-star break, it’s necessary to point out that those 38 games include seven wins against the Royals and three wins each against the Twins and Indians. Since the All-Star break, the Mariners are 13-1 against the AL Central, and 12-12 against the AL West/East. There’s no question that the team’s recent winning streaks have been influenced by the amount of games they’ve played against bad AL Central teams.

But, adjusting for context doesn’t mean you just throw out the positive results against weaker opponents. After all, everyone gets to play the AL Central at different times of the year, and not everyone goes 13-1 against them over a month’s worth of baseball. So, in the interest of putting these recent victories in their proper context, here is each AL team’s record against AL Central opponents this year:

Seattle: 22-12
Detroit: 26-17
Baltimore: 20-14
Boston: 21-15
Texas: 18-15
New York: 17-15
Chicago: 25-22
Toronto: 18-15
Oakland: 18-16
Anaheim: 16-17
Minnesota: 23-24
Tampa Bay: 13-17
Kansas City: 20-24
Cleveland: 20-27

It should not be surprising that the Tigers have fared well against the Central, as they get the most games against their division rivals and — most importantly — they don’t have to play themselves. While KC, Minnesota, and Cleveland’s match-ups include games against Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder, the Tigers don’t have to play intra-squad games and instead get to beat up on the weaker vessels.

But, notice that even with that advantage, no team has performed better against the AL Central than the Mariners. The Mariners are 10 games over .500 against that division – the Rangers, Yankees, White Sox, and A’s are a combined 11 games over .500 against the Central. The Rays are four games under .500 against the Central. The Angels are a game under .500 against the Central.

Put simply, the Mariners just beat the brains out of three teams that are not good baseball teams, but no other AL team has exploited those three to the same effect. Even if we just limit the records to vs CLE/MIN/KC, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

SEA: 16-6
DET: 19-13
CHW: 21-15
NYY: 9-5
TEX: 8-6
BAL: 14-10
TB: 11-9
OAK: 13-11
LAA: 13-11

Every team in the playoff race (and no, I don’t count the Mariners among those teams) in the AL has a winning record against MIN/CLE/KC, but no team is even close to the Mariners mark against them.

So, yeah, the quality of competition lately hasn’t been very good. But, no, the way in which the Mariners just ran through the weaklings of the American League is not normal. And a big part of being a legitimately good team is beating legitimately bad teams.

Remember how we said the Mariners are 13-1 against these three clubs since the All-Star break and 12-12 against everyone else? Well, in this case, everyone else is Tampa Bay (six games), New York (six games), Texas (three games), Anaheim (three games), Baltimore (three games), and Toronto (three games). In other words, the Mariners held their own against five of the better teams in the American League and (and one mediocre team), and then destroyed the bad teams they played.

That’s exactly the Yankees do most every year. Last year, when they 97-65 and won the AL East, they went 25-27 against the other four 90 win teams in the AL (TB, BOS, DET, and TEX) and 72-38 against everyone else.

The reality is that no one really runs over other good teams. Whenever you see a team on a prolonged winning streak, odds are really good that there were some bad opponents involved. Winning records are produced by holding your own against quality competition and then beating up on inferior clubs. And that’s exactly what the Mariners have done since the All-Star break.

What A Contract Extension for Felix Might Look Like

August 22, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 54 Comments 

For the last year, the Mariners have made it very clear that they weren’t interested in trading Felix Hernandez. People kept calling and Jack kept saying no. He wanted to build around Felix, not use Felix to get new building blocks. Now that Felix has thrown a perfect game, is turning into a local hero, and the team is playing quality baseball, that plan no longer looks so far fetched. And so, it’s time for the organization to finally put the Felix trade rumors to rest, and sign him to another long term contract.

He’s said he wants to be here. The Mariners want to keep him, and rightfully so. Any thought of trading Felix should be dismissed at this point – it would undo all of the good will the organization is rebuilding with the fan base right now. No amount of prospects are worth telling your fans to stop being excited about the franchise and go back to ignoring baseball for a few more years. Winning with Felix is the best plan the Mariners have, and they can start their off-season shopping by getting their franchise player locked up beyond 2014.

So, what would it take to get him locked up? Maybe not as much as you might think.

Felix is currently owed $39.5 million over the next two seasons before he’d be eligible for free agency. To figure out how much the M’s would have to tack on to those two years, we can look at what other pitchers have gotten when they’ve decided to re-sign with their clubs in recent years. Using MLBTradeRumor’s Extension Tracker, and filtering for pitchers who have gotten extensions with between 3-6 years of service time, we get the following contracts for premium young pitchers:

Cole Hamels: 6 years, $144 million, limited no-trade
Matt Cain: 5 years, $112 million,
Jered Weaver: 5 years, $85 million, full no-trade
Justin Verlander: 5 years, $80 million
Felix Hernandez: 5 years, $78 million, limited no-trade

Hamels and Cain were both just a few months away from achieving free agency, Weaver signed his deal with one year and a couple of months left on his contract, and Verlander and Felix both signed their extensions when they were two years away from hitting the market. As you can see from the difference in salaries, the size of a player’s extensions is heavily determined by how close he is to being a free agent. Hamels and Cain are very good pitchers, but they got more than Verlander and Felix by waiting longer to sign their contracts, thus taking on more risk and gaining more leverage in negotiations. Once you start getting close to the point where you can let the market dictate your price, you can demand a significant amount more than if you’re several years away from that position.

Felix is several years away from free agency. That doesn’t mean the Mariners can low-ball him, but it does mean that they don’t have to guarantee him the same money he’d get if he was a free agent this winter. When you think about what Felix is worth, and what he might get as a free agent, you probably start thinking that he would have a shot at being the first pitcher to get $200 million. Two years from free agency, however, it’s a good bet that he’d settle for half of that.

Using the previous history of guys two years from free agency, the M’s could offer Felix an additional $105 million over five years, and it wouldn’t be insulting in the least. That would bring his total guaranteed compensation to $145 million over seven years, making it the second largest commitment a team has ever made to a pitcher, behind only the contract CC Sabathia got from the Yankees, when he was a free agent and was negotiating with significant leverage. Adding 5/105 to his current deal would push him past Hamels, so everyone could accurately call it the largest contract extension ever given to a pitcher. And it would blow away what Weaver and Cain got, even though both were closer to free agency when they signed their deals.

Honestly, if Felix doesn’t care about getting past Hamels, it might not even take that much. The gap between what that offer would guarantee Felix and the comparable extensions for other high quality pitchers is really large, and would put Felix in a class by himself. Depending on how comfortable they are with making an initial offer that is a bit lower, they might even be able to get something done by adding on something like 4/85, which would push his total guarantee to 6/125 and still have him come out ahead of Cain, Weaver, and Verlander. And, if Felix’s words are to be believed, he cares more about making sure he’s in Seattle than he does about collecting as much money as possible, so the team could offer him a full no-trade clause to buy down some of the price. No-trades are of significant value to players, and they often take significantly less money to get them. Since the Mariners plan is essentially to sink or swim with Felix, giving him a no-trade is worth considering, especially if he’ll knock $10-$15 million off the sticker price to get one.

If Felix was just interested in maximizing his total income, then he might say he’s better off waiting until he gets to free agency, but if Felix was about maximizing total income, then he wouldn’t have forfeited the right to become a free agent at age 25 to begin with. The Mariners can make Felix a legitimate offer in the 4-5 year, $85-$105 million range tacked on the end of his current deal, and everyone can just cement this as a relationship that is built to last.

This should be step one of the team’s off-season plan. Tell every prospective free agent that you’ve just committed to build around your franchise player, and that Seattle is a team on the upswing with an ace that isn’t going anywhere. Any kind of long term deal for a pitcher is risky, but not keeping Felix is an even bigger risk. He’s bringing respectability back to Seattle, and re-energizing a group of fans that needed something to grab onto. Felix is what they’re grabbing onto. Let them keep hanging onto Felix for the foreseeable future.

Game 125, Not Felix’s Team at Felix’s Team

August 22, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 49 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs Zach McAllister, 12:40pm

Dave’s summed up last night’s celebration well, but I wanted to echo something that Jeff Sullivan mentioned – last night’s game was probably the best promotion in M’s history (and I say this as someone who looked forward to bat night as a child like other kids looked forward to Christmas). The execution was perfect, the sea of yellow providing the backdrop for some of the best Felix photos I’ve ever seen. But the promotion would’ve fizzled without the Safeco crowd’s enthusiasm. I pretty much expected a happy, content crowd last night – like a larger, yellower version of any other M’s game crowd. That’s not what happened; the crowd took the set-up of the promotion and absolutely ran with it, and it was something to see. Well done Felix, well done M’s, and well done to everyone who attended last night’s game.

Ok, let’s talk about a mid-week game featuring Hisashi Iwakuma and Zach McAllister! This is actually going to be fun, if your idea of fun is wandering down the rabbit hole of rWAR vs fWAR. Yeah? All right!

Dave’s recent post on Hisashi Iwakuma performance as a starter talked about his very good xFIP – which is now 3.93. This fielding-independent metric strips out luck and defense and attempts to measure a pitcher’s true talent. One of the ‘luck’ elements it removes is a pitcher’s actual HR/FB rate; the metric uses a league-average figure instead, under the theory that HR/FB is volatile and not entirely controllable by the pitcher. That’s important, because as we’ve talked about, Iwakuma’s *actual* HR/FB has been terrible, and it’s led to quite a few HRs. Thus, his FIP – which assumes strikeouts, walks and HRs, are more or less under the pitcher’s control, is pretty bad: it’s at 4.92. Thus, his WAR at fangraphs, which is based on his FIP, is 0.0. If you think his HR/FB is a worthwhile piece of information, if you think it illuminates some aspect of Hisashi Iwakuma’s true talent, you might think he’s been fairly lucky. If you think it’s a tiny sample and that pitchers can’t really control their HR/FB, you’d think his results match up pretty well with his true talent. His rWAR (Baseball-reference’s WAR implementation based on RA) is 0.5 in his 71 innings, meaning he’d be a decent back-of-the-rotation starter. This is the mystery of Hisashi Iwakuma, and something that the M’s have a short time to ponder before they decide to re-sign him.

Zach McAllister’s another pitcher whose rWAR and fWAR diverge dramatically, but in his case, it’s not about homers. Instead, the key is unearned runs. McAllister’s K:BB ratio this year is somewhat absurd. It’s over 3.5, as he’s posting a higher K% than he has since short-season ball, and his walk rate’s below his career average, and below what he put up in the minors this season. He hasn’t given up too many home runs, which means his xFIP and FIP are pretty close, and both are excellent: they’re at 3.91 and 3.45, respectively. Thus, by fWAR, McAllister’s nearly notched 2 WAR already, despite only pitching 84 innings. These figures match his ERA, too, which stands at 3.64; by most measures, McAllister’s been one of the best pitchers in an Indians uniform this year. And yet his rWAR is…-0.4?

McAllister’s given up 34 earned runs, and a staggering *18* unearned runs, for a total of 52. His ERA’s 3.64, but his RA is 5.57. The culprit has been a terrible strand rate (56.9%), which is the worst in baseball among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 80 innings. Ultimately then, McAllister’s either been fantastically unlucky on balls in play, and his “true” talent is closer to his FIP, or, you could argue that McAllister’s never really learned to pitch from the stretch, and you could find evidence to support that. As is so often the case, it’s really up to you to decide what you want to do with these stats. What do YOU think a pitcher controls? How important are a pitcher’s splits with men on? How many innings does a pitcher have to throw before you’re comfortable saying that he’s got a gopher-ball problem?

These are really interesting questions, and there’s ultimately no right or wrong answer. They’re things we can debate, or they’re things to look at and forget. I’m not here to say that I think one WAR implementation’s definitively better – I (obviously) like looking at both. What I’m here to do isn’t argue for or against McAllister’s quality using WAR, I’m here to argue against McAllister’s quality because in McAllister’s 2nd major league appearance, he gave up 10 runs (including 2 unearned ones!) against the M’s and essentially gifted Anthony Vasquez a win in his major league debut. This is the sort of thing that sticks with you. As first impressions go, it’s a pretty forceful one. Who is Zach McAllister? Oh, you know, the guy who was out-pitched by Anthony Vasquez. I believe his RA is “true” and his FIP is “LOL” because of what happened one year ago tomorrow. This is not how baseball analysis is supposed to work, but it’s how it’s going down today.

The M’s line-up looks like this:
1: Ackley
2: Saunders
3: Seager
4: Jaso (DH)
5: Montero (C)
6: Thames
7: Smoak
8: Robinson
9: Ryan
SP: Iwakuma


This Feels Like a Turning Point

August 21, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 48 Comments 

I don’t want to make too much out of one win, at home, against a bad Cleveland team. Especially with Felix on the hill, this is a game they win most of the time.

Still, this feels like a potential turning point for the relationship between the Mariners and the fan base. The Mariners got 39,000 people into Safeco on a Tuesday night against the Indians, and they gave those folks who don’t usually come to the park a reason to come back. This is the Mariners second seven game winning streak of the month, and they now have a reasonable chance at finishing the season around .500.

You don’t always have to be great to get the fans back – you just have to offer them some real hope. The Pirates have been baseball’s worst franchise for the last 20 years, but last year, they offered Pittsburgh some hope by staying in the race longer than usual, and their attendance went up by 300,000 fans even though they finished the year 72-90. Now that they’re showing that they can put a legitimately competitive team on the field, they’re going to add another 100,000+ this year. The Orioles are giving their fans a good product again, and even though they won’t win the AL East and might not make the playoffs, they’re still up 250,000 fans already, and will probably end the year with a 300,000+ attendance gain.

Long droughts without a competitive team drive away fan interest, but they don’t kill it. The flame smolders, waiting for something to blow on it and give them a reason to care about their baseball team again. Felix gave them a reason to care last Thursday, and they responded by coming out to the ballpark. If the team keeps winning, they’ll keep coming.

No, they’re not going to get 40,000 every Tuesday night, but this team is in the process of breaking off the negative cloud that has hovered over this franchise for the better part of the last decade. Even when Junior returned and the 2009 team played unexpectedly good baseball, it was still an older roster that needed a lot of things to go right in order to finish over .500.

As we talked about this morning, a lot of stuff has gone wrong for this team, and they’re still playing pretty good baseball. There are legitimate reasons to think that Jesus Montero is going to get better. That Dustin Ackley is going to get better. The organization’s five best prospects – all five are likely top 100 prospects in baseball – are all in Double-A or Triple-A, and each one could conceivably spend time in the big leagues in 2013. This is a young team with a wave of talent coming, and they’re already giving the fans some reason for hope.

They won’t keep winning 14 out of every 15 home games, but if they can finish the season anywhere close to .500, if they can get some progress out of Ackley and Montero, if they can point to what Zunino is doing in his professional debut in Double-A, if they can continue to establish John Jaso as a legitimate offensive threat… all of the sudden, this is a team worth paying attention to.

And just like there’s a death spiral that comes from bad teams cutting payroll and driving fans further away, teams can and do get their fans back. Seattle is willing to support the Mariners if they put an entertaining product on the field. This city wants to be a baseball town again. If they keep playing like this, it might not take as long as everyone thinks.

2013 might be too soon to expect everything to come together, but the Nationals were supposed to be a year away from contending this year, and they currently have the best record in baseball. No, the Mariners don’t have Strasburg and Harper, but they have pieces in place, and they have pieces coming, and they have a fan base that is ready to come back to Safeco Field if the team gives them a reason to show up.

We got our hopes up a few years ago and the whole thing crashed and burned, so you shouldn’t start printing 2013 playoff tickets just yet. But, when you watch this team play right now, and you see 40,000 people at Safeco, and you see Felix on the mound, you should realize that this team isn’t that far away from getting the city back on their side.

Game 124, Indians at FELIX

August 21, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 99 Comments 

Happy Felix Day. Perhaps the Happiest Felix Day. Last Wednesday, we didn’t know how awesome the game was going to be. Today, we’re pretty sure that it’s going to be awesome.

No, not because we know Felix is going to pitch really well again. I actually did a piece for the Wall Street Journal today that demonstrates that it would be historically unique if he does pitch well. Pitchers coming off perfect games have been largely terrible, and that held true this year for both Philip Humber and Matt Cain as well. Whether it’s just small sample size or some real effects from the distractions that come from throwing a perfect game, the reality is that no pitcher has ever followed up his perfect game by even throwing a shutout. Only Tom Browning allowed one run. So, yeah, Felix might not be great tonight. That is an unfortunate but distinct possibility.

I’m not sure it’s going to matter much, though. Tonight is less about the game than it is about giving Seattle something it hasn’t had in a long time – a reason to be excited to go to Safeco Field. Tonight’s event is the opportunity to give Felix Hernandez the ovation of his life when he comes onto the field, and a chance to create a special memory with a guy who will probably go down as the best pitcher in franchise history. Tonight is about showing Felix what Seattle can be when the Mariners give the city a reason to respond, and to show him that this is a relationship that should continue for years to come.

You’ve probably heard by now that Felix “promised” Mitch Levy that he wasn’t going anywhere this morning, in response to a question about his next contract. I doubt that his agents will consider that a binding agreement to end his career with the Mariners, but Felix has made it very clear that he loves Seattle. Seattle has not always loved him back. Sure, we’ve liked having him, but he pitched in front of 18,672 people against Texas on a Monday night in May, in front of 13,084 people against San Diego on a Tuesday in June, in front of 20,692 people against Boston on a Thursday in June, and in front of 21,889 against Tampa Bay last Thursday.

Since Felix has been a Mariner, they’ve almost exclusively been bad, and the park has been getting emptier and emptier. Most of the memories Felix has had of pitching huge games in front of packed crowds have come on the road, when he travels to New York or Boston or Texas and shoves the ball down their throats. Giving him that kind of atmosphere in a home game is the right way for the fan base to say thank you, and that’s what the Mariners are doing tonight.

As of this afternoon, reports had the M’s selling 35,000+ tickets for tonight’s game, and there’s probably going to be a decent walk-up crowd. You’re looking at potentially having 40,000 people in Safeco Field on a Tuesday night to watch the Indians. This is not going to be your normal Safeco Field crowd. There’s going to be yelling. There’s going to be cheering. There’s going to be a lot of “K, K, K, K” chants.

It’s going to be awesome. And it’s the kind of night that can convince everyone that this is a good thing that should continue. This is the kind of night that could re-energize portions of the fan base that have been more or less ignoring the team for the last five years. This is the kind of night that could remind people that coming to Safeco Field can be a great sporting experience.

Felix doesn’t have to throw a perfect game tonight. The Mariners don’t have to win. Tonight is about appreciating Felix, and showing him what Seattle can be again. Tonight is about convincing Felix to sit down with the Mariners and say “hey, sign me”, just like Jered Weaver did with the Angels. He already loves the city, but he could use a reason to love the atmosphere at Safeco.

Felix loves big crowds. For the first time in a long time, the Mariners are going to give him a loud, enthusiastic crowd. If he destroys the Indians and throws another gem, it will go down as one of the best moments in Mariner history. If he doesn’t, it will still go down as one of the best moments in memory, because it will be a celebration of the fan base’s appreciation for an all-time great.

If you’re in Seattle tonight and you don’t already have tickets, you should really go to Safeco tonight. This is one of those days when I’m really annoyed that I live 3,000 miles away. I briefly thought about flying across the country just to be there. Safeco hasn’t been raucous in a long time. Safeco is a lot of fun when it’s raucous.

Felix has given the city a reason to make Safeco a fun place to go again. Put 40,000 screaming people in the seats tonight, and remind everyone about what Seattle can be. Remind ownership what the place could feel like. Remind everyone that this place can support their baseball team. And show Felix just why he should spend the rest of his career in a Mariners uniform.

I talk about baseball in a very numerical way, but baseball is best when it’s emotional. Tonight is going to be emotional. Tonight is going to be what baseball in Seattle should be.

The Value Of Quality Role Players

August 21, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

The Mariners are 59-64, and have the best record in the American League since the All-Star break. They’ve scored as many runs as they’ve allowed on the season. The’re playing baseball in a way that has to encourage you about the improving state of talent on the franchise.

And in the midst of it all, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak have combined for +0.8 WAR this season.

Seriously, that might be the most amazing part of the team’s improvement. Those three guys came into the year as the core of the offense, the guys who were going to make this team go. Ackley was the best position player on the team, and the one young guy who didn’t come with many question marks about his performance. Smoak was more of a lottery ticket, but there were reasons to think he could take a step forward offensively. Montero was a right-handed bat with opposite field power who could drive the ball out of Safeco. Everything else about the line-up was concerning, but if those three hit, then we thought the team could take a step forward.

Well, those three haven’t hit. In 1,328 trips to the plate, those three have hit .230/.289/.353, good for a 77 wRC+. They haven’t walked, they haven’t made contact, and they haven’t hit for power. You have to squint really hard to find any positives in their performances this year. They’ve all been pretty bad.

And yet, the team is still competitive. With the three most important position players all falling on their faces, they’re still winning games. This is the value of building a roster that produces value from all corners, and isn’t simply a bunch of big named, high-priced guys whose performance dictates all.

The team is winning because they picked up John Jaso over the winter, and he’s been one of the best left-handed hitters in baseball this year. He’s at +2.4 WAR in part-time duty, and has basically provided the offense that the team hoped they would get from Ackley.

The team is winning because they picked up Brendan Ryan the winter before, and they had the fortitude to stick with him during his early season slump. While he’s not a big offensive contributor, his defense at shortstop is invaluable, and he’s been worth +1.7 WAR in 364 PAs, again displaying that he’s an above average Major League shortstop.

The team is winning because they kept Michael Saunders around for one more year, giving him one last chance to show that his tools could turn into big league performance. While he’s had his ups-and-downs, Saunders has played a quality center field this year and provided more offense than anyone expected, producing +1.7 WAR while filling in admirably for Franklin Gutierrez.

The team is winning because they signed Kevin Millwood and Hisashi Iwakuma to stabilize the back-end of the rotation and provide quality innings that allowed them to not rush the kids too fast. Between them, they’ve thrown 217 innings and produced +2.3 WAR, essentially teaming up to make one league average starter for a fraction of what solid, healthy innings eaters sign for every winter.

The team is winning because Tom Wilhelmsen and Charlie Furbush have turned into lights out relievers, giving the team a dynamic late-inning shut-down reliever from each side. While relievers are often overrated, these two have combined for +2.3 WAR in just under 100 innings pitched. They’re really good.

Jaso, Ryan, Millwood, and Iwakuma were all the product of dumpster dives, where the team identified potential value in a player that the rest of baseball had little interest in. They’ve produced the kind of value that essentially makes up for the fact that Ackley, Montero, and Smoak haven’t hit. You can’t win it all with your core players slumping and the role players carrying the load, but these guys are showing just how valuable building a complete roster actually is.

Baseball is a team sport. It might be more flashy to land a guy like Prince Fielder, but building a team through finding value at multiple positions is a better way to go. The Mariners didn’t make the splashy moves last winter, but they made a lot of good moves that flew under the radar. And those moves have essentially saved the franchise from another disastrous seasons, since the big moves the team has made simply haven’t worked.

Pretty soon, Jack’s going to have make some big moves that work. You can’t just rely on dumpster dives to provide value. But, as this team is showing, these kinds of small acquisitions can really make a difference, and they shouldn’t be ignored simply because they’re not headline grabbers. Role players matter, and good teams find useful bit pieces by hunting around and finding value. The Mariners deserve credit for doing exactly that last winter.

Game 123, Indians at Mariners

August 20, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 85 Comments 

Kevin Millwood vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 7:10pm

Ubaldo Jimenez was once a Cy Young candidate with one of the best fastballs in baseball. His dazzling 2010 season seemed to prove that his control problems were abating, and that he’d become one of the elite pitchers in baseball. He suffered through sub-par results in 2011, and his velocity seemed to be down, but as we’ve seen with Felix Hernandez, that’s not always a kiss of death. His FIP and xFIP were worse than his stellar 2010 season, but not by much, and the Indians paid dearly to get him as they attempted a late charge at the AL Central crown last year.

I think this move could get painted as a decisive victory of old-school scouting over “stats” guys who still bought Jimenez’s solid FIP. It was the new-school GM Chris Antonetti who pulled the trigger, and scouts had been grumbling for a bit about Jimenez’s lower velocities. In point of fact, just about *everyone* panned the trade, as Cleveland seemed to pay for an ace, and even assuming his ERA would drop down to his FIP, he wouldn’t be producing like one. Cleveland gave up what many considered its best prospect, along with a few more not-too-shabby ones, to get Jimenez, and the results have been stunningly bad.

With the Indians, Jimenez has pitched 203 innings, or about one full season. He’s given up 214 hits, 132 runs on 106 walks and 174 strikeouts and he’s served up 28 HRs. His RA over that “season”? 5.85, good for a -1.1 rWAR. Perhaps upset that his results were a bit worse than his peripherals, Jimenez now has ghastly peripherals as well. Since 2010, his average fastball velocity has gone from 96.3 to 93.9 to 92.5, and his swinging strike rate has fallen in lock-step with his velocity.

There are a number of theories about why he’s tanked – from mechanical to overuse. He appeared to be bouncing back earlier this season, with a string of solid outings in June/early July, but that hopeful sign’s gone, as he’s given up 35 runs in his last 7 starts (35 2/3 IP). Jimenez has cratered along with his teammates, who were once 11 games over .500 (they’re now 13 games under). It’s a stunning reversal, and no matter what Drew Pomeranz does in Colorado, this trade will be mentioned as the downside risk any time a big-name pitcher’s on the block; a ghost story for GMs.

Lefties have inflicted quite a bit of damage against Jimenez this year, which means the M’s have their lefty-heavy line-up on display today. Miguel Olivo’s something of an oddball here, though the team may have wanted to give Montero a break, and at least Jaso’s in the game as the DH.
1: Ackley
2: Saunders
3: Seager
4: Jaso (DH)
5: Smoak
6: Thames
7: Olivo
8: Robinson
9: Ryan
SP: Millwood

This article on Greg Halman’s murder is amazing, and crushingly sad. The Halman brothers evidently felt perceived slights very keenly, and there was pain and anger behind Greg’s wide smile, but I can’t get over how universal this story could be. We love that MLB is the very top, the tiny cap, of the talent pyramid, and we understand at some level that this entails thousands of broken dreams. The lucky ones will have their dreams end in placed like Altoona, Bradenton, Clinton, Springfield, and they’ll start to formulate new dreams, and a new life – perhaps beginning with how to pay off their debts, or how to get out of the lease on their apartment. I don’t want to make too much of this, because most of us think we’d love the chance to fail publicly as long as we could do it in a baseball jersey. But it’s still surprising that the anger engendered by failure, by misunderstandings between players and coaches (“he’s laid-back” versus “he’s lazy and disrespectful”) spills out so infrequently. Ultimately, the anger in Jason Halman may have come out no matter what; if he hadn’t been cut in the Netherlands, he’d probably have been cut in Everett, or Peoria, or Pulaski. This game is humbling, but only for those who allow it to be.

I never really got why Mike Carp and Greg Halman bonded, or why Halman *needed* someone as much as he apparently did. That story really explained a lot. Carp’s t-shirts honoring Halman went on sale to the public this week.

The Rainiers game looks intriguing tonight as Erasmo Ramirez faces off against Reno’s Charles Brewer (who’s a better prospect than his ERA might imply). The Jackson Generals are playing a doubleheader, with James Paxton starting in game 1. Everett and Tacoma are both at home, so if you’re in the Puget Sound region, you’ve got three chances to see a game tonight.

Minor League Wrap (8/12-19/12)

August 20, 2012 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 24 Comments 

In a special edition of this intro, we have reactions to Felix’s perfect game, from other teams in the Mariners minor league system. For example, you had the Jackson Generals flipping out, note Felix’s brother wearing 45, and you have the Peoria Mariners celebrating in the way that a bunch of teens or near teens are inclined to do. It’s not something that I usually think about because we’re drawing in players from all around the country and indeed the world, but when something major like this happens in the organization, everyone is on board completely, and it’s awesome to see.

Speaking of awesome things, Zunino and Landry were both mentions on BA’s Prospect Hot Sheet.

To the jump!
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