Franklin Gutierrez is Baseball, All Right

June 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

I’ve watched the play so many times – Alexi Casilla lining a ball into the left-CF gap in the old Metrodome, April 9th, 2009. I remember watching it in slow motion and stopping the video at various points, trying to see at what moment a catch looked likely, or even possible. My honest answer was never. At the start of the video, Franklin Gutierrez wasn’t on the screen, and while he comes flying over to his right, his stride seemingly at a different frame rate than the rest of the video, as he begins his dive, the whole thing still looks ludicrous. “Why is he diving at thaOH MY GOD!”

Baseball is so good at delivering moments like this, and stories like Franklin Gutierrez’s 2009. It’s why Jeff’s piece from April is still 100% true- MLB serves up so much greatness, so much upside, that the whole thing can get dizzying. It’s why M’s fans have convinced themselves they could compete in 2006, 2007, 2010, OK, 2013, maybe 2015. Taijuan Walker’s pitching tonight in Tacoma after slicing through the Southern League this month. No one can get Brad Miller out. Jesus Montero’s the best hitting prospect in the minors. Franklin Gutierrez is the guy you build a dynasty around.

In 1940, 21-year old OF Pete Reiser was hitting .378 and slugging .618 for Elmira of the Eastern League. After a one week dip in Montreal, the Dodgers called him up in late July and watched the youngster hit .293, and post a 104 wRC+ in 58 games. He had a lot of speed, and covered a lot of ground in CF, and obviously had some ability at the plate, but I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted Reiser’s breakout 1941 campaign. Reiser hit .343/.406/.558, playing in 137 games. He was robbed of the MVP award, which went to his teammate, Dolph Camilli, a 1B with a lower slugging percentage than Reiser’s. Reiser’s 7+WAR led all position players in the NL, despite missing several games due to injury. Reiser’s all-out style made him a stellar defender, but he was never able to hold back, to keep a hitter to a single. Fans probably loved it, if fan reaction to Ichiro’s lack of dives is anything to go by. The next year, the 23 year old was building on his jaw-dropping 1941 season, and was sitting at .366/.423/.564 in mid-June. A little later, Reiser crashed face-first into the OF wall in St. Louis, trying to catch a drive off the bat of Enos Slaughter. Another great effort, he’s just 23, give him a day off and send him out there. That’s just the way he plays, kid can’t help it. Reiser was never the same, slumping through the end of 1942, and then getting injured again while playing for a US Army team during WWII. He was selling cars in his early 30s, and managing in the minors through the 1950s (including a stint in Spokane).*

Upside is probably why a bunch of us are still here, still following this team. We put downside and risk out of our minds because it’s not terribly fun, and if a player flames out, well, that just opens up a spot for this guy they haven’t had room for, the guy who’s tearing up the PCL/SL/whatever. Upside is preferable to downside, and it is *everywhere*. And thus, I think we miss what baseball’s doing at the same time it’s presenting all of this upside. It’s brutally, mercilessly, hunting down and attacking greatness. Injuries are always a great way to lay a pitcher low, but simple regression can be just as effective. The Jeremy Reed career trajectory is familiar to many M’s fans, but we just sort of look past the Raul Mondesi/Tim Salmon career paths – guys who were very good and looked like they could take the leap to great, and just didn’t, because it’s ridiculously hard to do and truly great players are rare. It’s why the transcendent stars like Trout/Cabrera/A-Rod/etc. are so incredible. They fight regression to a draw for a while – their true talent so incredible, random variance can’t obscure it – and then, hopefully, age gracefully. Fighting age is particularly impressive – I think this is huge reason why fans love and overrate Nolan Ryan, and it’s a big reason why Raul Ibanez is perhaps more popular now than he was in 2006. But sometimes, baseball doesn’t wait for age. Sometimes the initial volleys are enough.

It was 1981, and M’s phenom Edwin Nunez headed back to Wausau in the Midwest League. He’s pitched there the year before, at age 16-17, posting a credible ERA even in the pitcher-friendly league. He’d pitched for Bellingham in 1979, as a brand-new 16-year old. If the Northwest League wasn’t a short-season league, he’d have begun the year at 15. So, in 1981, at age 17 but with considerable professional experience, the Puerto Rican began laying waste to the college kids in the Midwest league. Nunez went 16-3 with a 2.47 ERA, striking out 205 in 186 innings, and giving up just 143 hits. His walk rate, which was fairly high the year before, was now pretty good. His K rate was ridiculous, especially in the pre-K boom 1980s. Thus, it wasn’t ridiculous when the M’s had him start the 1982 season in the major league bullpen. He was 18 when he made his debut against Minnesota, pitching 3 1/3 IP against the Twins, and giving up just one run. He was even better in Anaheim a few days later. The M’s and Angels were locked in a 2-2 tie in the 12th inning, and the 18-year old needed to sop up some innings as he was the sixth pitcher used that day. He couldn’t hold a lead in the 14th (giving up hits to Rod Carew and Don Baylor…NUNEZ WAS 18, REMEMBER), but he kept the M’s in the game through the 17th. They eventually suspended the game after the 18th inning, and the Angels won the continuation the next day, because of course they did. Nunez’s line was 6IP, 2H, 1R, 2BB, 5Ks. The M’s moved him into the rotation for a couple of starts, then sent him back to Salt Lake in the PCL to get stretched out. Partially due to the M’s indecision around Nunez’s role, and partially due to some lingering soreness, the M’s kept him in relief for much of the next few years. He pitched 90 innings in 1985, but his shoulder continued to bother him. Nunez complaints of injury were ignored or refuted by the team, who told him every pitcher is sore now and then. This battle between Nunez and the team reached a boiling point when the M’s sent him back to AAA during his poor 1986 season, and Nunez refused to report, and then accused the team of racism in their treatment of him. Somehow or another, GM Dick Balderson and Nunez made peace, and Edwin bounced back in 1987 to some degree. In 1988, the M’s traded him to the Mets for Gene Walter, who the M’s released not long after.

Anyone who watched him in 2011 could see it wasn’t the same Franklin Gutierrez. He looked hollowed out, and when he was diagnosed with IBS in April, we at least knew why. Now we had a cause of his terrible second-half in 2010. Now, with management, he’d be back to 2009-level! The more they managed the disease, the more Guti looked like a shell. His K% was lower than it was in his good year, but the ball made a different sound off his bat. He limped through a rehab stint in Tacoma, but he couldn’t hit at all once he was back in Seattle. His defense still looked OK, at least visually, but my relationship to it had changed. That old feeling of anticipation when a ball went into a gap was replaced by apprehension. The possibility of seeing a diving play was replaced with the sincere hope that I wouldn’t. Since then, the glimpses that we’ve gotten have been great, but we know what they are and what purpose they serve.**

As Larry Stone wrote, none of this is Gutierrez’s fault, just like none of this was Nunez’s fault or Reiser’s fault. This is baseball’s fault. Almost every nail that sticks up gets hammered down, so we resume scanning for other protruding nails, and we cheer for them even as the hammer falls again and again. It’s awesome when someone upsets the natural order and Ryan Vogelsong’s, or Tom Wilhelmsen’s their way to something approaching greatness. It’s fun, and it shows a range of possibilities beyond another setback with Franklin Gutierrez’s leg or another 4-3 groundout by Dustin Ackley, but it doesn’t change the game. The hammer’s still falling.

Look, I know he just tweaked his hamstring and he’ll be back in a day or two. He isn’t dead, and his career’s not over. But I could’ve written this any of a half a dozen times over the past 12-18 months. The more we learn about Gutierrez’s struggles, the more we see them as potentially unique and the more we see Franklin as a tragic figure. This probably isn’t the injury that marks the end of his M’s career. The problem’s that we’re all waiting for the one that does. Imagine trying to play with that over your head.*** You were amazing, Franklin Gutierrez.

* Just saw someone with SBN did a Reiser-Bryce Harper piece. It’s good, and the link to Bryce Harper makes more sense than to Franklin Gutierrez DNA-level maladies, but the point of all this is to show the range of baseball’s cruelty.

** Not “this is a player you build a dynasty around,” kinds of purposes.

*** I always imagine specialists trying to contain their enthusiasm around Guti. “This test revealed a bizarre genetic malfunction that’s caused the tendons to seat the bones in the joint under stress. But the weirdest part is that the malfunction may be preventing the tendons from adapting and rewiring. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so cool.”
“Horrible. So horrible. Didn’t I say horrible?”

Game 78, Pirates at Mariners

June 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 75 Comments 

Joe Saunders vs. Jeff Locke, 7:10pm

Matthew mentioned Jeff Locke’s very low BABIP in the series preview, and ID’d Locke as a prime regression candidate. That’s quite true, as it’s difficult to sustain this level of run prevention without a real put-away pitch. Locke’s a rare pitcher who’s achieved better results on his fastball than he has on his curve or change-up. Think about how weird that is – you typically throw your fastball when behind in the count, and batters typically hit really well when they’re ahead. If you’re pitching and you’ve got two strikes on someone, a curve or change doesn’t need to be in the zone, and you might get a stay-alive swing – swings that almost never result in hard contact. But there’s Locke, throwing a 90mph fastball no matter what the count and getting away with it. How?

Locke made a small adjustment that’s paid off thus far. Here are Locke’s “zone%” numbers for his three partial seasons – see if you can spot the outlier:
2011: 52.6%
2012: 53.5%
2013: 40.8%

Here’s the 2013 leaderboard for starters. There’s Locke, second from the bottom in zone%. Why? How can, er, NOT throwing strikes work for a 90mph ground-ballish lefty? I think it’s working, so far, because the magnitude of the change isn’t all that big. In 2012, he went after righties by throwing fastballs at the bottom of the strikezone. So far this season, he’s peppering the area just below the strikezone. I’m not sure if he’s getting more called strikes or hitters still perceive the pitch as coming in within the zone, but he’s getting some o-swings. Not a ton, mind you – his o-swing% is still below average. But if he gets ahead, maybe a pitch that a hitter would’ve laid off earlier in the AB becomes too close to take. Maybe it’s just something the Pirates have learned (the Pirates are an excellent team, and are dead last in MLB in pitches thrown within the strikezone).

This approach seemed to work for Pirates’ reliever Jared Hughes who turned not a ton of stuff into a brilliant 2012 season by throwing an absurd 35.5% of his pitches for strikes, the lowest zone% in baseball. Hughes may have helped the Pirates (and baseball) the lower bound, however. In 2013, Hughes is throwing an absurd 27% of his pitches for strikes, and while he gets more o-swings than Locke does, *twenty-seven percent.* His walks are way up, and his results have been terrible. Still, I appreciate any ballplayer who does something really weird, and I’d submit that this Pirates tendency to throw balls all the time qualifies as weird. They think you’re suckers, M’s! They may be right!

1: Chavez
2: Franklin
3: Seager
4: Morales (DH)
5: Ibanez
6: Bay
7: Smoak
8: Zunino
9: Triunfel
SP: Safeco Joe Saunders

Perhaps fewer eyes than normal will be on this game, due to it being a midweek contest between the M’s and Pirates, but even more than that, today marks Taijuan Walker’s AAA debut. The 20-year old phenom will pitch for Tacoma against the Fresno Grizzlies starting at 7, assuming the weather allows. We had wet weather in the morning, some sun in the early afternoon, and some massive showers in the south sound in the late afternoon. We’ll see.

Even younger phenom Victor Sanchez continues his 2013 season for Clinton today. He’s been sidelined since May 30th, so it’s good to see the 18 year old back on the hill.

Dustin Ackley’s been recalled, and Franklin Gutierrez has been placed on the -sigh-15 day DL.

Mariners Face Should-be Natural Rival Pirates

June 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 
HITTING (wOBA*) -13.8 (19th) 2.6 21.5 (6th) Pirates
FIELDING (RBBIP) -19.4 (26th) 2.1 23.6 (2nd) Pirates
ROTATION (xRA) 14.2 (9th) -1.5 -7.4 (18th) Mariners
BULLPEN (xRA) 3.2 (12th) 2.7 8.0 (6th) Pirates
OVERALL (RAA) -15.9 (18th) 6.0 45.7 (6th) PIRATES

By mascot, what’s more feared to a Mariner than a Pirate? I’ll tell you what isn’t the answer to that is a Padre. Unless the Mariners is like, enough with the missionaries already! But that hardly seems relevant to today’s age. Pirates still exist. Do you ever stop and realize that? Pirates still exist and are still terrorizing maritime trade. Yet we treat them as protagonists in multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbusters and millions dress up as them for Halloween. America once fought an entire war against pirates. The way history ends up getting treated is so weird.

Also, what? The Pirates are ludicrously good this season. Coming off a three-game sweep of the Angles (ha), the Pirates come to Safeco for the first time in six years.

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Promote Brad Miller

June 24, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 69 Comments 

Tomorrow marks the one month anniversary of Brad Miller‘s promotion to Tacoma. Given what he’s done in the 23 games he’s played down there, it might be time for another one. Take a look at his consistency as he’s climbed the ladder in the minor leagues.

Season Level Age PA BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2011 (A) 21 59 7% 15% 0.113 0.415 0.458 0.528 0.447 182
2012 (A+) 22 473 11% 17% 0.185 0.339 0.412 0.524 0.408 143
2012 (AA) 22 170 13% 15% 0.156 0.320 0.406 0.476 0.407 151
2013 (AA) 23 175 11% 17% 0.176 0.294 0.379 0.471 0.386 146
2013 (AAA) 23 109 13% 15% 0.217 0.348 0.422 0.565 0.427 154

Miller has hit at every level he’s been at, and he’s done it with basically the same set of skills and minimal variance. He draws walks, makes contact, and hits a ton of line drives. Don’t pay too much attention to those slugging percentage numbers, as they’re inflated both by minor league BABIPs and some hitter friendly ballparks. He’s got some gap power, but he’s not going to be a huge home run guy in the big leagues. That said, the rest of the package looks like it might be good enough that his home run total won’t really matter.

Miller is often compared to Kyle Seager, because they were both high performance/moderate tools guys in college, and they didn’t profile as impact players based on their athleticism. Both just started hitting better than expected when they became professionals, though, and Seager has developed into the Mariners best everyday player. Seager is an easy comparison for Miller because of their similar pedigrees, but it also misleads in some ways.

The primary difference between them is on defense. Seager has always been an average to above average defender, both at second and third base, and his glove was probably the one thing you could point to as a college player and say “that will get him to the Major Leagues”. Miller, though, is a bit of a question mark defensively. From a physical standpoint, he can handle shortstop. He’s not Brendan Ryan, but he moves well enough to cover the necessary ground and has a good enough arm to make throws from deep in the hole. However, Miller is extremely prone to making errors on routine plays. And not just the once-in-a-while variety. He makes a lot of errors.

In 212 minor league games, Miller has made 55 errors, which works out to a pace of 42 errors per full season. Error rates are higher in the minors than they are in the majors for various reasons, including lower quality infields, and it isn’t that strange for minor leaguers to make a lot of errors. Back in 1993, Derek Jeter made 56 errors in one season, and his career minor league fielding percentage of .934 is lower than Miller’s .942. But Jeter was a teenager coming up through the minors, spending his final year in Triple-A at age 21, and this is a more common problem for very young players.

Miller is 23, and he played three years of high level college baseball at Clemson. You don’t generally see a lot of players at his age and experience making this many mental mistakes. And that’s really what they are. He’s not just butchering plays left and right because he is being asked to do something he physically can’t do; pretty much everyone who has watched him on a regular basis has said that the errors come as the result of simply whiffing on routine plays when he has plenty of time to glove the ball or make the throw. He makes his fair share of difficult plays; it’s the easy ones that tend to give him problems.

There’s actually a pretty decent Major League player with a similar problem right now; Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals $100 million third baseman. Zimmerman was a defensive wizard in college and drew comparisons to Evan Longoria, but a combination of shoulder problems and getting in his own head have made routine throws from third base to first base an adventure. The Nationals might have to eventually move Zimmerman to first base just to take the pressure off of him making the throw across the diamond.

This isn’t to say that Miller has “Steve Sax syndrome”, but from most accounts, his defensive problems are mental, not physical. This is either something you beat and it goes away, or it beats you and you change positions. In other words, there’s no real reason to treat Miller like Seager or Franklin — guys who just didn’t have the physical skills necessary to play shortstop and were moved to 3rd and 2nd respectively to compensate for their lack of range — because he’s either a shortstop or he’s an outfielder.

Given Miller’s potential at the plate and the organization’s hole at shortstop, having him stop making these routine mistakes would be in everyone’s best interests. Having a left-handed hitting shortstop who can provide some real offensive value would be a big boost to the team’s talent level, and the best case scenario involves Miller and Franklin teaming up to be the long term double play combination for years to come. Moving him to the outfield might make the defensive issues go away, but that decision should only be made once the organization is convinced that Miller’s error issues aren’t fixable.

And, really, they probably won’t be able to make that determination while he’s in the minor leagues. The only way to judge whether Miller can avoid the routine mistakes under the pressure of a Major League game is in a Major League game. And really, they should be incentivized to give him as a long a look at shortstop as they can afford to.

The 2013 season affords them that chance to take a look. The Mariners season isn’t going anywhere, so if they stick him at shortstop and he makes 25 errors, it’s not going to be the difference between a playoff berth and watching October baseball on TV. You can take some flyers in seasons like this, because the downside if they don’t pay off aren’t as low as they are when you’re trying to win.

The working assumption is that Brad Miller will be called up once the Mariners trade Brendan Ryan to a contender in order to free up a spot for him in the line-up, but I’m not sure I see the point of waiting. Teams know exactly what Brendan Ryan is. They don’t need to watch him play for the next five weeks to know that he’s a plus glove/no hit player who fits perfectly as a part-time player and defensive replacement on a contender. You’re not going to hurt Brendan Ryan’s (minimal) trade value by making him a part-time player now, letting him teach Miller the fundamentals of the position, and serve as a mentor to the kid on defense.

The Mariners already committed a roster spot to Henry Blanco for the sole purpose of having a guy who can teach Mike Zunino the finer points of catching. Ryan might not be the same kind of respected veteran leader, but if you had a young shortstop with defensive issues, who else is better equipped to show Miller how to field the position? Give Miller a month with Ryan around to help him conquer the mental side of playing shortstop, plus give yourself another month to evaluate whether or not he can be your everyday shortstop in 2014.

If you wait until after the trade deadline when Ryan is no longer an impediment, you’re reducing your evaluation time by 30%, and for what gain? Miller’s spent the better part of two years in the minors after spending three years playing high level college baseball. He doesn’t need to spend any more time in Tacoma. He’s not getting fooled by Triple-A pitchers. At this point, it’s not so much about Brad Miller learning as it is the Mariners learning about Brad Miller.

Can he play shortstop? That’s the question that will hang over his head until he’s called up and we see how he responds to the pressures of making the routine play in front of a large crowd. If he’s not a shortstop, better to learn that now and make the OF conversion next spring than to have to figure that out in-season next year and then try to make the IF-OF conversion while meaningful games are being played.

And if he is a shortstop, and he keeps hitting like he’s been hitting since he became a professional, then it helps the 2013 Mariners too. So, let’s not bother waiting until some contender gives the Mariners a C- prospect in exchange for Brendan Ryan. Just make the move now and give Brad Miller three months to show whether or not he can be the long term answer at shortstop.

Game 77, Athletics at Mariners

June 23, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 103 Comments 

Jeremy Bonderman vs. Jarrod Parker, 10 minutes ago (sorry)

Parker was brilliant in his rookie campaign, but he’s regressed quite a bit this season. Jeremy Bonderman’s BABIP’d into quite a run of late.

1: Chavez
2: Franklin
3: Seager
4: Ibanez (DH)
5: Gutierrez
6: Smoak
7: Zunino
8: Saunders (LF)
9: Ryan
SP: Bonderman

Game 76, Athletics at Mariners

June 22, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 54 Comments 

Aaron Harang vs. Dan Straily, 7:10pm

The M’s playoff chances are no better today than they were yesterday, but I can’t muster any cynicism. It’s a perfect day in the Northwest and Everett, Tacoma and Seattle are all playing at home. Stop reading this and go catch a ball game.

M’s 2nd round pick Austin Wilson’s signed and in uniform for Everett’s double header against Hillsboro. Looks like he’s not in the line up for game 1 (though 1st rounder DJ Peterson’s starting) but may play game 2. The M’s *other* Brazilian hurler, Thiago Vieira starts game 1 with Tyler Olson pitching game 2.

Tacoma kicks off a homestand tonight with James Paxton on the mound. Looks like Erasmo Ramirez is still slated to start tomorrow.

Dan Straily, the great out of nowhere story for the A’s last season, tore through the minors piling up absurd strikeout totals. His cup of coffee with the A’s was underwhelming given his MiLB numbers, but promising despite his HR/9 coming in at 2.5. A 90% strand rate helps make up for a multitude of sins, I guess. This year, the HR rate is normal, so his FIP looks ok, but an equally absurd strand rate of under 60% means he’s given up a ton of runs.

He throws a rising fastball at about 91, a slider (to righties) and a change (to lefties). The latter’s been ok, but he’s prone to hanging
it. His major problem, especially against lefties, is that MLB hitters are barreling his fastball. He may have made some adjustments, but he’s still a fly balling righty throwing 91.

A year ago, AJ Griffin followed right in Straily’s footsteps: late round pick tearing through the minors and putting in some credible work for a playoff A’s team. Griffin was also a flyball pitcher with a rising fastball and even less velocity. Straily got more K’s in the minors, while Griffin’s been better in MLB. If you’d like to work in MLB, definitively answer why Griffin’s done well, why Straily’s been up and down, and, for good measure, why Blake Beavan has been so much worse than both.

1: Chavez
2: Franklin
3: Seager
4: Morales (DH)
5: Ibanez
7: Smoak
8: Blanco
9: Ryan
SP: Harang

You read that right, Guti’s off the 60-day DL and playing CF. See what I mean about cynicism being essentially futile today? To make room on the 40-man, the M’s DFA’d Eric Thames and placed Mike Morse on the 15-day DL retroactive to Friday.

A Moment In Time

June 22, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 48 Comments 

Fewer things in this world are certain than you think. At least, I think so, but I’m not certain of that. Right now, though, at this writing, I can tell you with certainty one thing that’s certain: we’re into the last third of June. And I can tell you another thing that’s certain: at this writing, Munenori Kawasaki owns a higher wOBA than the Seattle Mariners.

Some people might read that and think, yep, that says it all. It doesn’t say it all — it doesn’t say close to it all — but it says a lot more than your average sentence. The Mariners are in a bad situation these days, and it’s unclear what’s going to happen to the people in charge, meaning it’s consequentially unclear what’s going to happen to the roster. How bad is the Mariners’ situation? The priority, last winter, was to beef up the team offense. The team offense isn’t beefed up. The team offense is being out-wOBA’d by Munenori Kawasaki, who we all thought of as a mascot.

This is two stories. This is the story of Kawasaki, and this is the story of the 2013 Mariners, and this is where they come together. I don’t know where things are going to go henceforth. Kawasaki might lose all his playing time to the returning Jose Reyes, and the Mariners might do, I don’t know, anything. But this is what’s true after almost three months. It’s laughably inconceivable, we thought. Funny thing about certainties.

Kawasaki just hit his first big-league home run. It could easily be his last big-league home run, and it wasn’t by any means a moonshot, being measured as the shortest home run of the day. But what matters isn’t that Kawasaki didn’t hit the ball 450 feet; I didn’t know if he could hit the ball 350 feet, and in Toronto, Kawasaki has become a different sort of icon. He was beloved in Seattle for his antics. His personality was unlike anything we’d ever seen. They love his personality in Toronto, too, and that part of Kawasaki hasn’t changed, but he’s also produced as a real-life ballplayer. The Jays could’ve been devastated when Reyes got hurt. Kawasaki hasn’t been Reyes, but he hasn’t been last year’s Kawasaki. Last year’s Kawasaki was so bad Eric Wedge couldn’t bench Brendan Ryan even when he wanted to, because he felt like he didn’t have a backup.

Going deep at home gave Kawasaki an opportunity for a curtain call. It gave him an opportunity to feel appreciated as a player, and not just as a sideshow. They love him there, they love him to death. There are a lot of comparisons made between fandom and relationships. Lose a superstar and it can be hard to watch him succeed somewhere else, because that was your partner, and now he’s happy on greener pastures. I don’t find it at all weird with Kawasaki. I’m thrilled for him and I’m thrilled for Toronto, because it was never a serious thing between us. Kawasaki was a one-summer fling, and there wasn’t long-term potential. You don’t miss that without long-term potential, and it’s great that he’s delighting a new audience. It’s great and it’s great in part because of the improbability.

There were people who wanted the Mariners to hang on to Kawasaki, but almost none of those people cited actual, legitimate baseball reasons. He seemed, to me and to so many, like a simply inadequate baseball player. There was nothing in his bat and his glove wasn’t special, so he had an 80 personality and a 20 skillset. No part of me figured to miss Kawasaki’s on-field ability, and I was pretty surprised when he wound up with a major-league job. Then he wound up starting. Then he wound up being fine, mostly because he stopped swinging, but also because the swings were better. This is another case where I don’t know why we even bother. Last year I evaluated Kawasaki as one of the worst players in baseball. I was so sure of myself, and I loved the guy anyway. It was meaningful to me, that I could love him despite the complete lack of anything valuable. He’s out-hit the Mariners. He’s out-hit some presumed core Mariners. When Kawasaki left, I knew at least he wasn’t good. Turns out he’s less not good than I thought.

Early last year, somebody dropped by Lookout Landing and claimed that Kawasaki would surprise everybody and bat something like .300. It was laughable, and it became even more laughable in retrospect over the course of the season. The idea of Kawasaki batting .300 was like the idea of Jesus Montero batting .400. Kawasaki now is nowhere in the vicinity of .300, but the more general point is that someone saw skills. Skills exist in there, to the extent that he could be out-hitting the Mariners.

So it’s sweet, to see Kawasaki deliver. It’s sweet to know he’s thought of highly, because he deserves it and because baseball is better with Munenori Kawasaki playing a part. It’s bitter when you drag in the Mariners comparison. You want to feel good about the baseball toy that came to life, but you can’t help but notice your assortment of broken machines.

It gets said every year that the Mariners underwhelm, but this team is approaching unwatchable, if it’s not there already. There are, of course, bright spots, and this isn’t, of course, as dreary as 2008, but baseball games are an investment and there are so many of them and the Mariners are bad in so many of them, too many of them. I know I personally don’t remember the last time I wanted to watch the Mariners, and any viewings have been out of some sick sense of obligation. You can tell yourself you’re watching for the prospects, and there’s a lot of youth going around, but that gets tired. You can tell yourself you’re watching for entertainment, for simple good baseball, but that gets tired. There’s no substitute for baseball that matters. The Mariners don’t matter, again, and teams that don’t matter are hard to watch for the season’s last months. At least on a regular basis.

I used to wonder how people graduated to the point of no longer having a one favorite team. How people just tracked all of baseball, picking a bunch of rooting interests, instead of focusing on one club. I focused on the Mariners, primarily and almost exclusively. But it’s a funny thing that happens when your team sucks. Teams that suck are dreadfully off-putting almost all of the time. So you’re left having to make a decision: either you step away from baseball, or you search everywhere for what might be rewarding. It becomes less about getting something out of your investment in a team, and more about getting something out of your investment in a sport.

This is what leads people to bandwagon. They don’t want to say goodbye to baseball — they just want to distract themselves from a team that’s not good. And it’s not always about cheering for other teams. It can be about cheering for other specific players, players you might find curious or interesting or delightful. I’m searching for reasons to give a hoot. Munenori Kawasaki has been one of them. Kawasaki hasn’t made me feel good about the Mariners, but at least he’s made me feel good about baseball, which is the next-best thing. The Mariners, this season, have drained my interest. Kawasaki has busily poured water into the bucket. Or probably energy drink. Or perpetual-motion cocaine. It’s cocaine, except instead of the come-down, more cocaine.

At this moment in time, Munenori Kawasaki has a higher wOBA than the Seattle Mariners. That sentence is why I hate baseball. That sentence is why baseball’s all right.

Game…sigh…75. Athletics at Mariners, I guess

June 21, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Bartolo Colon, 7:10pm

He looked again at the 8.5×11″ sheet that functioned as his ticket. “I miss old tickets” he thought, the latest in a litany of complaints he’d considered because he didn’t want to come out and say the real reason for hesitating. Iwakuma’s great, he thought. 2nd best pitcher on the team, having an incredible year. And Bartolo Colon. Could be a pitcher’s duel. Nothing like the tension of a pitcher’s duel. Offense held in check for 5, 6 innings, every at-bat, every ground ball or can of corn bigger than it should be – like every event is wearing a crisp charcoal suit.

You can put a charcoal suit on yet another three-pitch K (last pitch a foot outside) if you want to, he thought, just make sure you put it underground next. Didn’t we just do this? Iwakuma pitched, too. Extra innings without runs. Every event not magnified, not greater than itself – every event just *tired*. It was an ode to sleep, performed by the exhausted. “Excitement” doesn’t just rise over time in a game like that. It rises for a while, and then you get a bit restless, and then it’s all you can do to stop yourself from hating them – you’ve grounded out weakly four times and the fact that it’s close, the fact that this game is statistically improbable, doesn’t make me feel any better when you do it a fifth time.

Colon doesn’t miss bats. Puts the game in motion. Lots of chances. They can play spoiler a bit, with Oakland and Texas in a real race. Always liked Jaso. I’m still really curious to see what Kyle Seager’s ceiling is. I wonder if Nick Franklin will hit 20 HRs one year. How is it that a player can go from high-K to low-K in one year while moving up to the majors? The M’s had prospects, we were just confused over which ones they were. No matter. Montero can’t catch? Zunino can. Ackley can’t be a centerpiece middle-infielder? OK, we’ve got Franklin. The plan’s delayed, that’s all. A’s and Rangers were always going to be tough in 2013. And what can you say about Iwakuma?

Nothing that we haven’t said about Felix. The only good thing about last night was that it wasn’t at home. I hated seeing the crowd in a frenzy after seven straight hits, but I will have nightmares about that happening here. King’s Court stunned, K cards half lifted, hanging around the midsection like a shield. One kid near a field mic still yelling because she’s too young to understand that the M’s aren’t going to come back, that while Felix may not do this again for a long time, we just caught a glimpse of the end. The only thing to do is to be quiet. We go to games to *stop* seeing glimpses like that. That’s what we’re here for, unless Franklin Gutierrez is playing, and then we have an odd kinship with the glimpses – like we have something in common with someone as extraordinary as Franklin Gutierrez. And anyway, Felix has his Mark Trumbo. We hate Trumbo for it, but at least we know it, and we know his role, and hope any of his successes are short-lived and not-enough. We don’t know who Iwakuma’s Trumbo is yet, and that just makes it worse.

1: Chavez
2: Franklin
3: Seager
4: Morales
5: Ibanez
6: Smoak
7: Zunino
8: Saunders
9: Ryan
SP: Iwakuma

Taijuan Walker’s performance last night earned him a promotion. He’ll pitch Tuesday evening at Cheney Stadium.

In other heralded-prospect news, Brazilian lefty phenom Luiz Gohara makes his US debut tonight for Pulaski.

Last night, Edwin Diaz struck out 9 in 6 scoreless innings (giving up just one hit), but the game went scoreless into extra innings, where the P-M’s lost. A fitting introduction.

Mariners Fandom Continues to be Emotionally Abusive

June 21, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 
HITTING (wOBA*) -16.4 (20th) -8.2 17.5 (10th) Athletics
FIELDING (RBBIP) -21.7 (26th) -11.5 19.4 (4th) Athletics
ROTATION (xRA) 15.7 (7th) -5.8 12.3 (10th) Mariners
BULLPEN (xRA) 0.5 (15th) -2.8 4.1 (9th) Athletics
OVERALL (RAA) -21.9 (19th) -28.3 53.4 (5th) ATHLETICS

What a disaster of a series performance! And versus the Angels no less, a team I think I despise over all else in baseball, though that’s a variable and subjective assessment.

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In Happier News

June 21, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 36 Comments 

Taijuan Walker last night: 26 batters faced, 6 hits, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 12 K

Taijuan Walker, last three starts: 72 batters faced, 12 hits, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 28 K

That’s a 39% strikeout rate over his last three outings, way up from the 25% strikeout rate he was posting in his previous 11 starts. And, obviously, the one walk in three starts is terrific for a guy who has had command problems.

I think, in general, the Mariners pitching prospects have been overhyped. James Paxton is probably a reliever if he’s anything in the big leagues. Danny Hultzen is not a sure thing from a health or performance standpoint. Brandon Maurer needs to develop his curve or change-up or he’s going to profile as a bullpen piece. There’s not a lot of good pitching depth behind those guys, as you’ve seen at the big league level.

Walker, though, is legit. The Mariners should resist the urge to rush him, but I wouldn’t be surprsied if he was pitching in Seattle early next year.

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