It is Time for the Payroll to Go Up

October 3, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 59 Comments 

For the last couple of winters, it’s felt like there’s been a bit of a battle for the souls of Mariner fans. On one hand, a handful of people have loudly proclaimed that the solution to all of the organization’s problems was to spend a lot of money in free agency. Sign Prince Fielder at any cost! Prove you actually want to win! Spend money and everything will fix itself! This one-note plan was always foolish, and has proven to be exactly that after the big spenders of last winter generally fell flat on their faces and have been replaced in the playoffs by the likes of the A’s, Orioles, and Nationals.

On the other hand, you had more rational voices arguing for moves that made sense. Last winter, I wanted the team to trade for guys like Angel Pagan and Marco Estrada or sign free agents like Chris Capuano, Ryan Doumit, and Edwin Jackson*. These guys all had pretty good years in the spots they landed, and could have improved the team without the risks that come with overpaying on the free agent market. Instead of simply relying on one pricey player to upgrade the franchise, I argued for smaller moves that add value to the organization at multiple positions in order to make the overall team better.

*I also suggested that the team trade Michael Saunders for Chris Volstad, so not all of my suggestions were good ones. The point isn’t to toot my own horn, but to provide examples of what the opposite strategy might have looked like.

The problem is that the Mariners decided to do neither. As I wrote in the post about the team’s signing of Kevin Millwood, they ended up missing out on good value buys in the market because they decided to cut payroll:

Like with every other move they’ve made this off-season, Millwood’s a nice role player at a good price. These guys make sense and give the roster needed depth, but I can’t imagine that the team is really going to say that they’re good with all of their transactions representing that kind of move. Even while I’ve advocated for a spread-the-money around plan in lieu of throwing a huge contract at Prince Fielder, I’ve advocated for acquisitions that would offer the hope of bringing in players who could be everyday guys both now and in the future.

Millwood is not that. Sherrill is not that. Iwakuma and Jaso might be, but both come with significant question marks. Montero can be that, but he cost the team a similarly useful piece in order to get him, so that was more of a lateral move than an upgrade. Noesi could be that, except signing Millwood now makes it somewhat less likely that he’ll make the team as a starter on Opening Day.

Jack Z has done a nice job of acquiring players who should help ensure that the team won’t suck as badly as they did last year, but he hasn’t really done anything yet this winter that pushes the organizational talent base forward in a substantial way. Given that the Mariners should still have some money to spend, they shouldn’t be content to call Millwood the final off-season acquisition and just go to camp with the roster they have now. They can and should do better.

I wasn’t advocating for rebuilding through a massive expansion of the budget, as my overall plan called for a team payroll of around $95 million. Instead, their opening day payroll was $82 million, continuing a trend of budget cuts that began after the disastrous 2008 season. Including that year, their opening day payrolls since 2008:

2008: $117 million
2009: $99 million
2010: $98 million
2011: $86 million
2012: $82 million

Sagging attendance has been given as the main reason for payroll cuts, and given that the team set a new low for attendance in Safeco this year, it’s possible that the organization could continue with their plan of cutting expenses in order to ensure that the franchise doesn’t lose money. However, just as it was last year, that would be a mistake. It’s time for the payroll to go back up.

This isn’t about some kind of “prove your worth to the fans!” cry for attention, or some need to have the organization show they’re “serious about winning”. Those arguments are hollow, and simply play on people’s emotions without actually considering the practical implications of spending money just to spend money. Instead, this is simply a realistic response to the current economic state of Major League Baseball.

On Tuesday, MLB announced that they had reached new deals with both Fox and TBS to extend their rights to postseason baseball coverage through 2021. Previously, they’d reached a separate agreement with ESPN to continue their coverage of the sport through the same time period. The figures that have been bandied about publicly suggest that MLB is going to double their revenue figures from national TV contracts under the new deals, totaling $12.4 billion over the life of the deals, or about $1.5 billion per year. Split 30 ways, you’re talking an average of $52 million per team per year. Previous national TV deals put something like $25 million per year in each team’s pockets.

These deals don’t kick in until 2014, so it’s not like the Mariners suddenly have $25 million in cash that they can spend on whoever they want, but they — along with every other team — just got a significant infusion of guaranteed future revenues. There’s simply no way for hundreds of millions of dollars to flow into Major League Baseball and not have it affect player salaries. These TV deals means that team payrolls across the sport are going to go up.

Put simply, if the Mariners decide to keep the payroll at around $80 million next year, they’ll probably find themselves in the bottom third of MLB teams, and this is not a market that should be settling for bottom third budgets. While the fans haven’t been banging on Safeco’s doors, the market is clearly willing to support a winner, and revenue growth is easily within reach if the team puts a better product on the field. With a cash infusion from MLB’s national television deals, the organization has a chance to put a better product on the field, which could lead to future revenue growth from increased attendance and potential playoff appearances. Investing in the on field product is a good idea.

As I wrote on FanGraphs a few weeks ago, my instinct is that we’re about to see some salary inflation that’s driven from the bottom-up rather than the top-down spending pressure we’ve seen in the past. With the luxury tax proving to be a legitimate deterrent for every team besides the Dodgers, top end payrolls are coming closer towards the league average, and the infusion of television money across the board is pushing up revenues for the lower revenue clubs, leading to a smaller disparity between the highest and lowest payrolls within the game.

The Mariners can’t simply spend $80 million again and hope that they can find enough value buys on the market to make it work. Even with attendance dropping, the positive economics of the sport as a whole have put the organization on solid financial ground, and they can afford to expand the payroll back to something closer to $100 million. It doesn’t mean that they should just get stupid and start throwing money around to guys who aren’t likely to produce at a level that justifies the expense, but the team shouldn’t just sit out the free agent market like they did last year, bypassing legitimately useful guys at reasonable prices simply because attendance had kept going down.

If they want to get fans back at Safeco, the way to do that is to win. Spending money doesn’t equal winning, but spending money in an intelligent way certainly doesn’t hurt. The A’s are where they are in part because they saw Coco Crisp as a free agent value last winter, and they gave him $7 million a year even while “rebuilding” because he was undervalued by the market and they knew he could improve their on field product at a reasonable price. The A’s just ended the season with a division title in front of a sellout crowd, and now they’re going to get some playoff revenues from at least one playoff home game, and potentially much more than that.

The Mariners need to put themselves in a position to be next year’s A’s. They’re not going to go into the season as projected contenders no matter what they do, but they can put enough pieces in place to make things interesting and safeguard against too many things going wrong all at once. And they can get some of those pieces by spending some money this winter. Money that they now have more of, thanks to MLB’s overall success even as their own franchise is struggling.

The organization’s issues won’t simply be solved by wading into the free agent market and signing a marquee hitter. Rebuilding through free agency doesn’t work, and the franchise is best served by continuing to build around young, cost-controlled players who can form a core of a contending team for years to come. But they don’t have enough of those pieces to win, and they can supplement those pieces with good additions this winter, especially now that MLB has given them extra revenues with which to play with.

You should still be happy the team skipped out on Prince Fielder and his onerous contract. You should be less happy that the organization skipped out on making other useful upgrades last winter when those opportunities presented themselves. They shouldn’t make that mistake again this winter. There will be smart ways to increase the payroll this winter, and the organization should take advantage of them. They can’t sit on the sidelines and watch other teams upgrade in an intelligent way again. It’s time to take advantage of those opportunities and give the roster a real chance to win in 2013.

Game 162, Angels at Mariners

October 3, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 40 Comments 

Blake Beavan vs. Jered Weaver, 3:40pm

At about the same time this game kicks off 12:35, the A’s and Rangers essentially have a one-game playoff series to determine who wins the AL West and who has to play a play-in game in order to join the real playoffs. 20 minutes after this one starts, the Orioles (!) turn to their ace, Chris Tillman (!), and try to pull off the unthinkable and move into a tie for the AL East title. The Yankees face the atrocious Red Sox and atrocious starter Daisuke Matsuzaka to try and hold on to the divisional crown. This has been a strange season, and it just feels right that so much comes down to the final day, as people like AJ Griffin make the most important start of their lives. [UPDATE: It did not go well for Mr. Griffin, but the A’s still lead thanks to Ryan Dempster and sunlight] Meanwhile, the Angels and M’s play a meaningless game 162 featuring what looks like an incredibly lopsided match-up. The Angels have the best offense in the AL, and they’re starting Jered Weaver, who’s gone 20-4. By FIP, he’s not had his best season, but against this team in this park, 80% of Jered Weaver’s best still seems like overkill.

Blake Beavan remains one of the most consistent – and least surprising – pitchers in recent memory. Like his peripherals, that’s not entirely bad, but he’s going to need to improve if he wants to remain in the 2013 rotation. Beavan’s problem is the same as it was last year. His K rate’s a bit better this year, but since so few of his PAs end in a walk or strikeout, the final numbers don’t really matter – he pitches to contact essentially every time, and it’s the nature of that contact that needs to change. He’s a fly-ball pitcher who throws fastballs in the zone on nearly every pitch. To succeed with this kind of approach, you need to do *something* to limit home runs. Beavan hasn’t quite figured out what that is; I hope he finds something during the offseason.

Bartolo Colon had a very similar approach, and very similar walk rates. He had a similar HR/FB ratio last year, and this year’s wasn’t *much* better than Beavan’s. Though he wasn’t a GB guy by any stretch, he wasn’t as fly-ball dominant as Beavan, and that made quite a bit of difference. In roughly the same number of innings pitched, he gave up 6 fewer HRs and ended his season (not by choice, of course) with a FIP over one full run lower than Beavan’s. AJ Griffin’s every bit the flyball pitcher that Beavan is, and his fastball’s even slower. He too is always around the zone, but a good slow curve, a solid change and a funky delivery mean he’s able to get far more strikeouts. Fewer balls in play, fewer home runs. He’s either got to figure out a way to become more like Mark Buehrle/Bartolo Colon (without all of the cheating) and get a few more Ks and a few more GBs, a way to become more like Jose Quintana/Kevin Correia and get quite a few more GBs, or a way to become more like AJ Griffin/Wade Miley/Dan Haren and get significantly more Ks. The latter seems totally improbable to me at this point in Beavan’s career, so he needs to really work on his sinker (which he throws already) or perhaps throw a lot more offspeed pitches (he toyed with this approach at times, particularly in his start in Baltimore). If he doesn’t, he’s going to have a hard time holding off the M’s prospects for the 5th slot in the rotation. Give him this, though: he’s clearly got the inside track over Hector Noesi.

The line-up:
1: Ackley
2: Wells
3: Seager
4: Jaso (DH)
5: Smoak
6: Montero (C)
7: Saunders
8: Robinson
9: Triunfel
SP: Blake Beavan

I do think it’s significant that the AL Cy Young debate centered around Justin Verlander and Felix for a while, and that it now seems like it’s Verlander’s almost by default. Maybe I’m still scarred by 1993, but I have to say I’m heartened that the guy with the most pitcher wins and the best winning percentage isn’t a shoo-in. By FIP, he’s been worth less than half of Verlander. By RA, it’s closer, but Verlander’s huge lead in innings-pitched still make for a clear, sizable gap. If Verlander wins (and I think he will), it’ll be further proof that the BBWAA has truly dropped pitcher wins as the most important pitcher stat, and that’s great. I mean, it was only 7 years ago that Bartolo Colon won the Cy Young on the strength of his win total and essentially nothing else.

I’m going to miss baseball season, but I’m pretty ready for the M’s 2012 season to be over. I’ll be honest: I feel a lot better at this point than I did a year ago, or two years ago. That’s a mighty low bar to clear, but it’s still worth clearing it.

Winter Ball this season seems more important than most. Guys like Mike Zunino can really help their case to make the 2013 roster by excelling in the Arizona Fall League, and Franklin Gutierrez really needs to show he can play baseball for a month without hurting anything. Hector Noesi needs to…do everything better. Stefen Romero can go from nice story to a legitimate 2013 option if he can continue to hit and land at a particular position. It’ll be fun to watch, and the AFL starts in less than a week. More to come, obviously, but it always helps to remember that while the M’s are done, baseball doesn’t actually stop.

Colin Wyers at Baseball Prospectus performs a quick and dirty regression to get a first stab at quantifying the impact of the Safeco fence realignment ($). The M’s estimate that 30-40 more HRs would be hit, while Wyers regression comes out with about 22. This, Wyers estimates, would increase the M’s runs per game between .11 and .20 per contest, which isn’t nothing, but would not – by itself – be enough to move them out of the AL cellar in scoring. Wyers’ work was based on a database of all parks, and specifically looked at the impact of every park that’s changed its dimensions. I’m tempted to say that the M’s change may be greater than an overall estimate given that the biggest moves are targeted at one specific, HR-suppressing area. But that’s probably been the case in most previous realignments, too. In any event, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, and it’s great to get two concrete estimates for additional HRs, one from the M’s themselves and one from the sabermetric community.

Moving in the Fences Will Help the Mariners

October 2, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 23 Comments 

News broke this afternoon that the Mariners were going to reconfigure Safeco Field right as I was getting on an airplane to return home from a combo wedding/vacation weekend in New York, so I realize that my reaction isn’t all that timely any more. In fact, better writers than me have already weighed in on the issue. For instance, here’s Jeff’s take over at Lookout Landing. You should read that. It’s good. It says all the stuff I would have said. Except, it also says one thing I wouldn’t have said, and that one thing is why I think this move is a net benefit to the organization:

Of course, any ballpark adjustment is neutral, in that it has the same effect on visitor batted balls as it does on host batted balls. The Mariners and visiting teams have both long struggled to score in Safeco, and these adjustments aren’t going to make the Mariners better on the field.

This might be dabbling in semantics, since Jeff notes the roster construction issues in the same paragraph, but I do not think this is a zero-sum trade-off where the hitting will improve by the same amount that the pitching gets worse. I think the offense is going to benefit more than the pitching will be harmed, and perhaps significantly so.

As everyone knows, Safeco isn’t just a straight up pitcher’s park that affects everyone the same way. It’s asymmetrical dimensions have skewed the affects to directly affect certain types of players far more than others – specifically, the ball doesn’t travel out to left field at all, and the dimensions there simply compounded the inability for hitters to be rewarded with a well struck ball to left center field. Anyone who regularly drove the ball to right field could do just fine in Safeco for the most part, which is why pull-power lefties (Raul Ibanez being the prime example) weren’t all that harmed by the park. Right-handers with opposite field power (like Bret Boone) were also able to survive, while anyone who tried to hit the ball in the air to left center with any regularity just saw their production pummeled by the atmosphere and the alignment of the fences.

These changes cut right at the heart of these issues, and almost exclusively work to make the park more fair on fly balls to left and left center field. While we don’t know how all these moves will affect wind patterns — it is possible that this will all have some influence on how the ball carries to RF too — it seems likely that the most significant changes are going to come in the form of helping right-handed pull power hitters and hurting left-handed fly ball contact pitchers. That might be an overgeneralization, as everyone hits the ball to center field on occasion, but LHBs and RHPs probably won’t see the same kind of change in environment behind them as RHBs and LHPs will.

And, if you look at the 2013 roster, it’s pretty clear that the team should gain an advantage from a shift towards helping RHBs at the expense of LHPs.

The first name everyone talks about with these changes in Jesus Montero, because he’s a right-handed hitter who was supposed to hit better than he did, and his home/road splits were pretty large this year. Montero will probably see improved numbers from this change, but he’s not the only interesting right-handed bat in the organization. Mike Zunino is a pull-power right-handed hitter with significant long term value to the Mariners, and this move just made it more likely that he can come to the Majors and succeed at some point in 2013. Casper Wells is a pull-power right-handed hitter who profiles as a pretty useful outfielder, and has played like one when not in Safeco. Franklin Gutierrez, for all of his injury issues, is still a significant part of this team’s construction, and most of his power is to left or left center field. This team has some interesting right-handed bats who have been neutered by the park to a large degree, and they’ll now be in a position to come up with a more fair estimate of their abilities next season.

On the flip side, the guy who is going to take the biggest hit is Jason Vargas, but the team doesn’t have any kind of commitment to him beyond 2012. While his numbers are probably shiny enough to attract some trade interest so this isn’t a likely outcome, the organization doesn’t have to tender Jason Vargas a contract for next year if they don’t want to. His home/road splits are well known around the sport, and if the team decides that the new dimensions are going to hurt Vargas to a significant degree, then they could just let him hit free agency and replace him with a pitcher who doesn’t rely as much on having a deep left-center field power alley to knock down his mistakes. If they bring back Iwakuma, their top three starters next year are all going to be right-handed groundball pitchers – the type of pitcher who should be hurt the least by these changes.

Yes, they have Danny Hultzen and James Paxton coming, but both are high strikeout pitchers with command problems, so the park has less to do with their outcomes than pitch-to-contact strike-throwers like Vargas. While they may now be somewhat less likely to succeed in Safeco going forward, they possess skills that are somewhat park neutral, and the organization doesn’t really have an army of left-handed fly-ball arms waiting to crack into the Major Leagues. If Vargas is shipped off or non-tendered over the winter, they could theoretically go into next year with only Charlie Furbush as a left-handed fly-ball pitcher on the opening day roster, and since he’s often used as a match-up lefty, the park effects aren’t as big a deal for him as they are for a starter who faces 80% right-handed batters.

The Mariners just have more guys on the roster who should benefit from this change than guys who will be harmed. We can’t just look at fence dimensions and say “they’re the same for both teams, so there’s no advantage”, because the reality is that both teams aren’t playing with the same roster. And while you don’t want to design a park to take advantage of a temporary roster, the simple structure of the sport made the old dimensions less than ideal.

Because Safeco currently is so favorable to left-handers, the park incentivized the team to build around southpaws, both on offense and on defense. That’s the main reason the team has given 62% of their plate appearances to left-handed batters this year. That presents a significant problem when shopping for new talent, however, as left-handers are the minority population. In the Majors this year, 57% of all plate appearances went to right-handed batters, so the Mariners skewed heavily in the opposite direction of most Major League teams, which means they’re buying hitters from the shallow end of the talent pool. If the park forces you to focus on left-handed hitters, and there are fewer left-handed hitters in the sport, you’re naturally either going to end up with fewer good hitters than most teams or you’ll end up paying a higher price to get good hitters (both left-handed and right-handed) because of the scarcity of players who fit the park’s dimensions. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen.

This isn’t even so much about getting players to sign here. The organization was always capable of just throwing a lot of money at a right-handed hitter to convince them to overcome their fears, as we saw with both Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. The problem was that the park made overpaying for those types of hitters more likely to fail, leading to bad outcomes for both the player and the team, so it was a deal that neither side was incentivized to enter into. Committing large amounts of money to a player who is quite likely to underperform in front of the home crowd simply isn’t a good use of resources in most cases, and this is the situation that Safeco forced the Mariners into.

Now, the team can broaden their scope of players to pursue, both in trade and free agency. Rather than looking at a guy like Ryan Ludwick and saying “strictly RH pull power, probably not a good fit”, the Mariners can actually consider him as a possible outfield option this winter. And it doesn’t even really matter if they sign Ludwick or not – the fact that they can now consider signing players like Ludwick alleviates the urgency to acquire a hitter who fits a specific mold, so they can avoid situations where they have to choose to overpay for a certain hitter or simply be left without an alternative who fits the right mold. Even if they still end up signing a left-handed hitting outfielder instead — the park is still likely to be more favorable for LHBs because of the closed off nature of RF — they won’t have to do so over a barrel, as they can shop from a larger pool of potential options this winter instead.

And that kind of roster flexibility is significant. The team is giving up benefits from left-handed, fly-ball, pitch-to-contact starting pitchers (of which there are few) and gaining benefits from right-handed pull-power hitters (of which there are many). Even a guy like Josh Hamilton — who has power to all fields and regularly drives the ball to left center — could see a significant boost in performance from these changes if the Mariners decided to take the plunge and make him a big offer this winter. It simply expands their options in a dramatic way, while benefiting more players than it harms.

While this is all still speculative and park effects could turn out to be quite different than we think, my expectation is that this will help far more Mariners than it hurts, both in the short term and the long term. This is not a zero sum move where the gains in offense will simply offset the losses on the mound. Ball in play distributions are not fixed, and this is an organization that has had to focus for too long on getting guys who can hit fly balls to right field. Being freed from that bondage will be a legitimate advantage, and should serve to push the offensive improvement forward faster than it hurts the team’s development of young pitching.

Game 161, Angels at Mariners

October 2, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 50 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Dan Haren, 7:10pm

Welcome to the final night game of 2012, a contest between two teams just playing out the string. This year’s been terrible for Seattle, but I bet last night was difficult for Angels fans – Pujols and Wilson brought in, Greinke acquired, Mike Trout having an historic season – and they’re knocked out of the (expanded) playoffs by the Oakland A’s, a team that could make its annual payroll with whatever’s in Vernon Wells wallet right now.

I think this hypothetical Angels fan would console himself with the fact that their team has the aforementioned Trout, Greinke, Pujols and Wilson and the cable TV revenue to keep them happy and surrounded by a talented supporting cast. But for an evening, they may have felt as snakebit as one of us. They just get to forget about it the next day, and get to think about how to improve a 90-win roster. We…uh…Justin Smoak looks better, and you know, Hisashi Iwakuma’s outpitched Dan Haren, and…ah, nevermind.

Really, the Angels playoff hopes have been materially harmed by the following, which I will enumerate because schadenfreude’s all I have for game 161:
1) Starting Mike Trout in AAA. This was undoubtedly a move based on his team control, but man did this blow up in the Angels’ face. Trout first suited up for the Angels this year on April 28th. On April 27th, the Angels were 6-14 and had lost 5 straight. Since his call-up, the Angels are 81-57. Before his call-up, Vernon Wells was the starter and compiled a .696 OPS over that stretch (as a left-fielder). The Angels didn’t miss by much, and replacing a, er, replacement-level player with a 10-win one, even for just a month, would’ve been huge.
2) The Angels play in the AL West. OK, this isn’t their fault, but in all the MVP debate about Cabrera willing his team to the playoffs, people have tended to overlook the fact that the Angels are, by pretty much any measure, *better* than the Tigers. It’s just that playoff spots aren’t awarded to teams that excel in stat-nerd/philosophical nonsense like “having more wins” or “being better” but in the concrete currency of being the best amongst one of two loose geographical groupings.
3) Horrible luck in the bullpen. I don’t mean that their ERAs were worse than their FIP; as a group, the reverse was true. But this was a group that the Angels counted on, especially after 2011’s solid season (especially after jettisoning Fernando Rodney, who was clearly past his prime. I bet that guy’s not even in baseball anymore). Sure, Ernesto Frieri has been solid, but Jordan Walden, Scott Downs, and LaTroy Hawkins have had down years, and the bullpen’s WPA’s tumbled. As many have pointed out, this highlights how hard it is to build a consistently great bullpen, and how volatile individual bullpen arms can be.
4) Homers have killed them. The Angels have the best position players in baseball, but they’ve given up the 5th most HRs in the league. This is why their FIP-based WAR is the lowest in the division, despite having what looked to be a historically awesome rotation (before adding Zack Greinke). This can’t happen when you play half your games in a ballpark that limits HRs, and then you play intra-divisional games in Safeco and the Oakland Coliseum. Ervin Santana’s astonishing late-season run pushed him past Jason Vargas for the most HRs allowed, and tonight’s starter Dan Haren’s tied for 13th.

Since this match-up just happened a week ago, I’m not going to rehash what I’ve said about Harenthe last time he faced off against Iwakuma or the time before that. Both Iwakuma and Haren are slightly homer-prone starters in homer-suppressing environments. Iwakuma’s kept that particular problem under control recently, and he’s quietly putting together an excellent rookie season. Here’s hoping he sticks around, and that the new Safeco dimensions don’t trouble him.

The line-up:
1: Ackley
2: Wells
3: Seager
4: Jaso (C)
5: Smoak
6: Montero (DH)
7: Saunders
8: Robinson
9: Kawasaki
SP: Iwakuma

Still no Gutierrez, which is sadly unsurprising. Shut him down and tell him to avoid strenuous activity, sharp things, large people and dogs, cooking utensils and anything capable of producing heat above 100 Fahrenheit this offseason. In a chat this morning, Jeff Sullivan idly wondered how much his UZR would suffer if he played in full football pads. Something for Tony Blengino’s group to take a look at, I think.

I suppose I waded into it above, so I may as well come out and say that if I had an MVP vote, it would go to Mike Trout. I can’t imagine that’s too controversial at a site like this, but the debate’s certainly been as contentious as I can remember. I think writers as diverse as Geoff Baker and Colin Wyers have tried to stress that both are deserving – Baker’s pushed the view that the writers themselves determine how to measure “value,” and that seems true enough. But I think too often this debate has been about the decimal places in WAR, or about those communist defensive ratings, or the differences between Fangraphs’, Baseball Prospectus’ and Baseball-Reference’s WAR stats. As of today, Mike Trout has produced more batting runs than Miguel Cabrera. Put defense aside – put your own numbers to it, throw them out, whatever. Just looking at batting, Trout’s had the superior season. That’s because Trout’s numbers have been compiled in a pitcher’s park whereas Cabrera’s have been racked up in a hitter’s park. This isn’t just some Fangraphs thing, either. BPRo’s stats show the same thing, as do BB-Ref’s. Adding defense to the equation just stretches Trout’s lead, and the argument that Cabrera carried his team to the playoffs while Trout didn’t doesn’t hold much water with me given the strength of the two divisions.

All of that said, I think a vote for Cabrera isn’t the end of the world. I think some writers legitimately feel that Miggy’s 2nd half stats and what he did during the Tigers’ run to pass the White Sox should be a thumb on the scale and overcome the clear and nearly-universally acknowledged performance gap he faces. The question is how heavy is that thumb? How much do we want to weight 2nd half performance, and will we do so consistently in the future? In the end, I think Cabrera wins the award going away, and I won’t whine too much if the same writers saying that Cabrera’s batting stats in August/September give him the edge turn around and make the exact opposite argument next year.

I’m just glad that we’re not going to have an actual travesty of an MVP winner. We debate these things openly now, and beat writers lay out their reasoning ahead of time, which is actually quite cool. I grew up in the 1980s, when we got a series of bizarre awards, like George Bell in 1987, or Don Mattingly in 1985 and almost no one saw that as weird. This continued into the mid-90s with the notorious 1995 AL MVP award to Mo Vaughn, a player transparently worse in every way than Albert Belle and Edgar Martinez (both of whose teams made the playoffs). The excuse in 1995 was that Belle was kind of a jerk to the press sometimes. Seriously. At this point, I was about done with the MVP, but the following year A-Rod was snubbed because Juan Gonzalez had more RBIs and that was essentially that. It’s the nature of the internet that the debate’s gotten so loud (and so intemperate), but I can’t fathom ‘outrage’ about the outcome of the 2012 AL MVP.

It’s Official – Safeco Fences Moving In for 2013

October 2, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 41 Comments 

Today the M’s officially announced that they’ll be moving Safeco Field’s fences in for next season. Greg Johns has a story with a graphic highlighting the changes here. As you’d expect, the big change will occur in the left field power alley. While most of the fence in RF and the LF corner will come in by just 4 feet, the fence in left center will move in from about 12 to 17 feet. In addition, the hand-operated scoreboard that forms part of the wall in the LF corner will be moved, giving the wall a uniform height of 8′ – the scoreboard made the wall 16′.

The M’s apparently tired of playing in an extreme environment, and while I’ve generally been supportive of the current/’old’ dimensions, this year has offered a powerful argument for change. The park factors for RHB at Statcorner are amazing. For righties, Safeco is playing like a perfectly inverted Coors Field, circa 1998. That’s not good, and it was starting to impact the M’s ability to build a competitive team. Beatwriter emeritus Ryan Divish said this on twitter: “It’s a well known fact that right-handed hitters didn’t want to come Seattle. Word of mouth from former players (Beltre) spread quickly.” If true, and I can’t believe it isn’t given that Beltre is alive and can speak, that’s the sort of thing that swing the argument. Yeah, yeah, Jason Vargas probably isn’t too happy right now, but I understand the move, and I certainly can’t argue against it.

Game 160, Angels at Mariners

October 1, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 95 Comments 

King Felix vs. CJ Wilson, 7:10pm

The baseball playoff races could all be decided tonight, or we could continue to bask in chaos for another few days. The Angels essentially need to win out, as the A’s sweep of the M’s means they’ve got more of a shot at passing the Rangers than they do of being caught by Anaheim. This would all be thrilling for the general baseball fan, and enjoyable for those who hate the Angels specifically, but its hard for many M’s fans to summon much emotion right now.

The team has essentially played spoiler by getting shut down by the Angels and A’s in succession. Its bullpen, one of the remaining interesting things about the 2012 team, is limping towards the finish line. The offense picked itself off the canvas and made a run at being merely ‘below average’ after 2.5 years of being hilarious. But a succession of close, winnable games against good teams makes the real improvement feel a bit hollow.

There have been signs of progress, and the team could surprise next year with a solid pick up or two and some luck, but the best farm system in baseball can’t make late-September baseball featuring a last-place team watchable. You know who can?

I feel all of us lean on Felix’s transcendent talent as a reason to watch/care, but in our defense, have you thought about how special his multi-year run is? Felix needs no projection. Felix doesn’t need luck to even out. Felix doesn’t need a veteran presence, he doesn’t need protection, he doesn’t need to make a few simple adjustments. He’s essentially the only part of this organization that doesn’t need more time. For that, Felix deserves every accolade he gets from M’s bloggers, writers, fans and even opposing batters. Tonight’s the final King’s Court of 2012. We’ll talk about 2013 tomorrow. Tonight, go to the game and yell. Watch it and remember what it feels like to care.

The line-up:
1: Ackley
2: Wells
3: Seager
4: Montero (DH)
5: Smoak
6: Saunders
7: Olivo (C)
8: Robinson
9: Ryan
SP: King Felix

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