Mariners can still Play Spoiler against Rangers

August 26, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 
HITTING (wOBA*) 5.6 (12th) -18.4 -8.9 (18th) Mariners
FIELDING (RBBIP) -28.6 (27th) -3.6 22.3 (6th) Rangers
ROTATION (xRA) 9.1 (14th) -4.5 31.3 (4th) Rangers
BULLPEN (xRA) 1.1 (17th) 4.5 -6 (23rd) Mariners
OVERALL (RAA) -12.8 (16th) -21.9 38.7 (9th) RANGERS

It appears that my strategy of ignoring the Mariners entirely while I was on vacation in the hopes that my lack of attention would free them from an emotional burden and thus allow them to get in a groove failed. Record-wise, the Mariners went 7-11 while I was away. That stretch downgraded them from a 76-win pace to a 74-win pace.

Looking over the hitting numbers from below, it appears that I did not miss much in the way of encouraging performances from the Mariners’ younger hitters.

I did miss Yoervis Medina turning back to the Yoervis Medina we thought we knew and I did miss a domineering stretch from Danny Farquhar. The last unintentional walk or hit batter that Farquhar issued was back on July 27. Since then, 26 strikeouts and just one intentional walk.

Having not seen any game action for roughly three weeks now, I don’t have any more to quip on. So on to the numbers.

Read more

Rethinking the Qualifying Offer for Kendrys Morales

August 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

Back on June 4th, in discussing whether or not the Mariners should offer Kendrys Morales a mid-season contract extension, I wrote the following:

Morales has been excellent for the Mariners this year, no question. He has a 140 wRC+, a mark that would represent a career best if he could keep it up all year long. Other players who have been similarly productive hitters this year: Evan Longoria (144 wRC+), Jose Bautista (141 wRC+), and Prince Fielder (140 wRC+). Yeah, it’s driven a bit by a higher BABIP, and he probably won’t keep hitting at this level over the long haul, but he’s a good hitter who has shown marked improvement from the right side of the plate, which was a real concern heading into the year.

If Morales’ improvements against LHPs are part of a real trend — and Jeff gave us reasons to think that they might be, even before he stated crushing them this year — than it isn’t inconceivable to think that he might very well be headed towards a new, higher level of production. Maybe he’s not a 140 wRC+ guy, but 125-130 doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility given his contact rates, power, and development as a real switch-hitter.

So, yes, the Mariners should be interested in keeping Kendrys Morales. They don’t have enough good players, he fills a need, and it’s nice that he apparently has some interest in returning. However, I don’t think the Mariners need to be too aggressive in pursuing an in-season extension, because thanks to the way free agency works, the Mariners are going to have all the leverage in the world this winter.

Assuming Morales stays healthy and keeps hitting all year, the Mariners can make Kendrys Morales a “qualifying offer” equal to the average of the top 125 salaries in MLB, which will be approximately $14 million for 2014.

Here are Morales’ numbers from when I wrote that post, and then what he’s done since.

Before 236 8% 17% 0.191 0.335 0.299 0.364 0.490 0.375 144
After 290 7% 18% 0.140 0.293 0.269 0.321 0.409 0.321 108

That “higher BABIP” that was referenced in the post has regressed by 40 points, and while his home run rate is similar, his doubles have been drastically reduced as well, leading to significantly lower power output. Over the last couple of months, Kendrys Morales just hasn’t been very good, and that post serves as a nifty reminder of the dangers of assuming that players have made significant improvements on the basis of 250 good at-bats. For the first two months of the season, Morales looked really good, and then ever since, he’s performed below his career norms. There were reasons to think that maybe Morales was getting better, but he’s basically taken the legs out of that argument since the beginning of June.

So, now, we’re left with Kendrys Morales looking an awful lot like Kendrys Morales. Over the whole season, his wRC+ is 120, almost exactly even with the 118 he put up last year, and right in line with his 118 career wRC+. His numbers look even more similar to his career totals when you break down the components.

Season BB% K% ISO BABIP Swing Contact
2013 6.9% 17.6% 0.167 0.320 48.1% 76.6%
Career 6.7% 18.0% 0.200 0.308 47.4% 77.6%

The power is down a little bit and could be expected to tick upwards before the season ends, but that’s basically offset by the fact that his BABIP is still a little higher than usual. Overall, his numbers are almost exactly what you’d expect from a 30-year-old Kendrys Morales, and right in line with what the pre-season forecasts suggested he was likely to do this season. So, rather than having a new and improved Kendrys Morales, the Mariners look like they just have regular old Kendrys Morales, and regular old Kendrys Morales isn’t good enough to be worth the qualifying offer.

As noted in the post from a few months back, making a free agent a qualifying offer means that the team is committed to an offer equal to the average of the 125 highest salaries in baseball that year, which is expected to come out at around $14 million for 2014; it was $13.3 million this year, so it will go up a little bit. The offer doesn’t have to be accepted, but if the Mariners made Morales the qualifying offer, he’d have seven days to evaluate his options in the free agent market before deciding whether or not to take 1/14 instead of what he thinks he could get from another team. Another team that also would have to forfeit a draft pick in order to outbid the qualifying offer.

Put simply, that isn’t happening. In the quoted post, I compared Morales’ situation to Adam LaRoche a year ago, but Morales’ 2013 simply doesn’t measure up to LaRoche’s 2012. LaRoche is considered a terrific defensive first baseman, and he outhit Morales while also spending the entire year playing the field, meaning that his skills theoretically appealed to all 30 clubs. Morales proved, once again, that he’s strictly a DH and emergency first baseman, and he would only solicit offers from AL clubs. The fact that half the league wouldn’t even bother making a bid would significantly hurt his value, and that’s before we get into the draft pick issue.

So, if the Mariners make Kendrys Morales a qualifying offer, they have to do so with every expectation that he’d accept it. And realistically, there are better ways to spend $14 million of the 2014 budget.

For his career, Morales has been worth +1.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances, and that’s with a positive fielding rating from his time at first base. As a DH who provides no real defensive value, Morales is more of a +1 WAR player. I know some people think it’s sacrilege to suggest that a pretty good major league hitter isn’t actually all that valuable, but as the 2013 Mariners have fabulously demonstrated, there’s more to to winning games than assembling a line-up of guys who can swing the stick and suck at everything else. And let’s be clear: Morales is completely useless at every part of baseball that isn’t hitting.

Specifically, Morales’ baserunning is absolutely atrocious. This is the kind of thing that doesn’t get talked about much, because no one really expects much speed from their DH, but there’s still a minimum level of competency expected from a Major League player on the bases, and Morales fails to meet even that low standard.

For his career, Kendrys Morales has attempted 16 stolen bases; he’s been successful on just four of those 16 attempts. A 25% stolen base rate is hilariously bad, and thankfully, he’s stopped trying to steal, as he hasn’t run once this year. But baserunning is more than just stolen base attempts, and at FanGraphs, we track Ultimate Baserunning (or UBR for short), which evaluates a player in runs above or below average based on how often he does things like advancing from first to third on a single, scoring from second base on a base hit, tagging up on a fly ball to the outfield, etc…

By UBR, Morales has been the 5th worst baserunner in the game this year, producing 4.5 fewer runs on the bases than an average baserunner. The only players worse than Morales: Paul Konerko (old DH), Allan Craig (slow-footed 1B), Victor Martinez (old DH), and Jonathan LuCroy (catcher). Justin Smoak is 6th, by the way, right behind Morales. This is the domain of non-athletes who run about as well as the average fan attending the game, and this is one of the reasons why a team full of DHs won’t score as many runs as you might think just from looking at their batting lines.

And no, I’m not just picking on some flukey number that makes Morales look worse than he actually is. Since his rookie season of 2006, Morales’ -28.2 UBR is the 8th worst in baseball. But here’s the amazing thing: that stretch includes a ton of time on the disabled list, and everyone else in the top 10 has at least 4,000 plate appearances since 2006, while Morales has fewer than 2,300. Seriously, look at the list and note the PA discrepancy.

Name PA UBR UBR/600
Paul Konerko 4684 -47.2 -6.0
Prince Fielder 5415 -35.8 -4.0
Ryan Howard 4628 -35.4 -4.6
David Ortiz 4534 -34.3 -4.5
Billy Butler 4064 -31.7 -4.7
Brian McCann 4067 -30.7 -4.5
Carlos Lee 4452 -28.3 -3.8
Kendrys Morales 2284 -28.2 -7.4
Adrian Gonzalez 5349 -27.5 -3.1
Jorge Posada 2605 -27.5 -6.3

I’ve included a rate stat of UBR per 600 PAs as a comparison, and as you can see, no one is even really all that close to Morales in negative baserunning value per plate appearance. Even Jesus Montero, the guy who needed a running coach because he simply doesn’t know how to put one leg in front of the other, has posted a -6.6 UBR in 732 big league plate appearances. Montero was a better baserunner in his first year in the big leagues than Morales has been over his entire career.

And it’s not like he’s going to get any better at this as he gets older. He’s only going to get slower, and there’s not really much reason to believe that this could be mitigated in the future. Kendrys Morales is a terrible baserunner even relative to other DHs, and it takes away from his value as a player.

Toss in the lack of defensive value, and Morales is the epitome of a bat-only player. For a guy to create the entirety of his value at the plate and provide significant value, he has to really be a terrific hitter. Those guys exist, certainly, as David Ortiz and Prince Fielder have been very good big leaguers while also being terrible baserunners and providing nothing of use on defense. But Kendrys Morales is not David Ortiz or Prince Fielder. He has the same career wRC+ as Mike Carp. Mike Carp’s bat with even less defense and league-worst baserunning is not something you spend $14 million on, not even for just one year.

Morales isn’t without use, and I wouldn’t suggest that the Mariners just cut him loose without making an offer to re-sign him. But that offer shouldn’t be a $14 million offer. $14 million should buy you a lot more than a mediocre DH on the wrong side of 30. I think at this point, realistically, Morales is probably worth something like $8 or $9 million for one year, maybe with some kind of vesting option for a second year if he wants a chance to play his way into a guarantee for 2015. He’s a better player than Mark Reynolds, who got $6 million from the Indians last winter, and the lack of good hitters in free agency will serve to drive his price up closer to $10 million, especially if he agrees to settle on a one year deal.

But the qualifying offer should be off the table at this point. Morales isn’t a $14 million player, and they shouldn’t be interested in him at that price. No one else is giving him $14 million for 2014, and even if the Mariners really want him back, they should simply let him hit free agency and let the market tell Scott Boras what it thinks of aging DHs who can’t run. And if some team out there wants to give him a two or three year contract, let him walk. His skillset is not that hard to find, and there’s no reason to pay a premium to get it in a certain package.

Game 129, Angels at Mariners

August 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 58 Comments 

Aaron Harang vs. Jered Weaver, 1:10pm

There’s something about the way the M’a raise expectations and then methodically smash them again. It’s been the story of 2013 – maybe longer, depending on your expectations. The M’s returned from a good road trip against great teams. They came home to face the reeling Angels, a team sunk by poor pitching (except Jason Vargas), and they’ve scored one run through two games. It’s like they detected excitement, and instinctively reacted until nice, comfy apathy returned.

Jered Weaver’s still the nominal ace of the staff, and while he’s been hurt for a chunk of the season, his FIP is right where it was last year. That said, his velocity continues to decline each year; it was 90-91 in his excellent 2010, down to 88-89 last year, and 87-88 this year. His strikeouts are still at career norms, but his HR rate is creeping up. And let’s face it: injuries and velo losses aren’t great signs. He’s facing the M’s in Safeco today, but who knows. Maybe the team that was baffled by Garrett Richards will find Weaver more to their liking.

1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Morse, RF
8: Ackley, CF
9: Blanco, C
SP: Aaron Harang

After some bad starts, Harang’s been solid of late. Similarly, Hector Noesi’s pitched two consecutive good games for Tacoma. I.. I have no idea.

Welcome back, Nick Franklin.

Tai Walker, Anthony Fernandez, and Eddie Campbell start today in the minors.

Game 128, Angels at Mariners

August 24, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Jason Vargas, 6:10pm

*Note the hour-early start time*

Well last night’s game certainly was disappointing. Felix labored early, but aside from a bad pitch to Chris Nelson, looked capable of subduing the Angels’ B-team even without his good stuff. The M’s bats, however, looked incapable of dealing with Garrett Richards. Raul Ibanez still plays LF for this team. I feel like I need to write that every once in a while, just to remind myself that it’s happening.

Erasmo Ramirez is coming off his best game of the year, a 7IP, 2R performance in Arlington. It was, not coincidentally, the first time he appeared to have the feel for his change-up that he demonstrated late in 2012. The pitch was great against a good line-up with plenty of lefties, and he’s enticing swings on it again. While working his way back, he relied more on his slider, and for what ever reason, that pitch has been his worst thus far. The sample is tiny, but batters (righties, really, since he’s got the change-up to use on lefties) are putting it in play and pulling the ball. His change and fastballs get grounders, but the breaking balls get hit in the air, and that’s part of the reason he’s been homer-prone this year. Some of it may be bad luck and rust, but I’d like to see more of his curve, and even more sinkers and four-seamers to righties as his command comes back.

Jason Vargas is still Jason Vargas. At this point, he’s clearly been better than Ramirez, though Ramirez’ pure stuff make him a decent bet to exceed Vargas’ value in the years ahead, though with two DL trips in two years, that’s not exactly a guarantee.

1: Miller, 2B
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Morse, RF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Chavez, RF
7: Quintero, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Ryan, SS
SP: Erasmo

Hector Noesi starts for Tacoma in Tucson, Jimmy Gilheeney goes for Jackson, while Tyler Pike heads up the prospects, as he’ll toe the rubber for Clinton.

Game 127, Angels at Mariners

August 23, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 23 Comments 

King Felix vs. Garrett Richards, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day. In isolation, it’s a great day to be an M’s fan. The team’s returning home from a tough road trip (to Tampa, Texas and Oakland) with a 5-4 record, they give the ball to their ace today, and they welcome Eric Wedge back to the dugout. Danny Farquhar’s looking like an excellent late-inning reliever, the team’s battling at the plate, and they come in with a better record than the Angels. M’s fans are good – maybe TOO good – at selective end-pointing, or excising chunks of the season from their mental record, but who am I to tell you how to be a fan? The M’s are at least as good as the Angels, that team that most experts thought would be playing in October. The M’s get two Felix starts on this brief homestand.

As I’ve mentioned probably too many times before, Garrett Richards really ought to be better than his stats indicate that he is. The righty throws a 96mph four-seamer, along with a 96mph sinker, as well as a sharp 87mph slider. He’s got the occasional change and curve, though these don’t figure much in his arsenal. He’s not a command guy, but….two 96mph fastballs. An above average o-swing rate. Decent HR rates. This year, just to collect pretty much the entire saber-fanboy set, he’s running an extremely high ground ball rate. Finally, years after it seemed he was a shoo-in for the 5th rotation spot, is he finally a decent MLB pitcher?

I can give only that most common answer of the saber-inclined baseball fan: maybe. After another lackluster spell as the long-man in the Halos bullpen, he’s made five consecutive starts, throwing 32 IP with 23 Ks to just six walks. His 3+ RA in that time period matches his 3+ FIP on the year, so he’s got that going for him. At the same time, that K% just doesn’t match up to someone throwing 96 and getting batters to chase a bit more than the norm and posting a better-than-average contact rate over all. It’s not that he’s trading Ks for ground balls, either. He uses his four-seamer to righties and throws lefties a steady diet of sinkers, but his K rate is actually better against lefties. If anything, this is due to his shocking inability to strike out righties, but it’s worth mentioning that lefties are no longer destroying him.

Last season, he walked as many lefties as he struck out, while yielding a .482 slugging percentage to them. This year, the walk rate’s under 6% and lefties have been hitting grounder after grounder – a Brad Ziegler-like 63.5%. Instead of putting the ball just off the plate to lefties, he’s bringing the ball into the zone and letting his fastball’s movement help him.

So why is Richards able to use his slider to get Ks (and grounders) against lefties while Brandon Maurer got annhihilated? Well, it’s taken Richards years to get to this point, and by “this point” I mean a fill-in starter on a crappy team, so let’s not get carried away. But Richards made adjustments after lefties drove the ball on him, and after coaches noticed he was tipping his pitches. He’s also changed his horizontal release point, moving over on the rubber to limit his extreme 3B-side arm angle. I’m not sure which of these changes helped and which are baseball placebos. I’m not sure if Maurer was tipping his pitches, or just giving lefties too good of a look, but it’s good to be reminded that young pitchers with a lot of talent make adjustments, and that your first few views of a pitcher aren’t dispositive. Unless that pitcher is Felix Hernandez, who came up in 2005 looking like some sort of God-Man and continues to look like that today. All hail King Felix.

1: Miller, SS
2: Saunders, CF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Chavez, RF
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Blanco, C
SP: El Cartelua

A very warm welcome back to Eric Wedge. Brain injuries are terrifying, and it’s great to see that Wedge has progressed enough for a return to the dugout so soon. We’ve all had our differences with Wedge from time to time, but I can honestly say I’m very glad to see him back tonight. Not a bad guy to have on the mound for your first game back, either.

Andrew Carraway starts for Tacoma tonight, while King Felix’s older, less royal, brother Moises gets a spot start for AA Jackson. Victor Sanchez is the big prospect name to watch, as he pitches at home for Clinton. Lars Huijer’s starting in Everett tonight, too.

M’s first rounder DJ Peterson was hit in the face by a pitch last night and was taken to the hospital for monitoring and a concussion test. The blow didn’t knock him out, but it did fracture his jaw, and today we get word via Shannon Drayer that he’ll need surgery on it. That’ll end the promising IF’s 2013 season.

Speaking of injured M’s, Mike Zunino looks close to returning soon; he’ll begin a rehab stint with Tacoma soon. I mentioned in my radio hit today w/KGA Spokane that I really hope they take it easy with Zunino. There’s absolutely no sense in rushing the rookie catcher, as hand injuries can linger. Remember too that the minor league season is almost over, so while he’ll rejoin the M’s when rosters expand, there’s no sense in trying to maximize his PAs in September. The M’s really need a 100% healthy Mike Zunino in 2014.

Great article from our fearless leader on the results of a poll asking what you’d pay for one year of Mike Trout. To play baseball for your team, I should clarify, not what you’d pay him to do your job or to be in your entourage or whatever.

Jason Cole of BP had some nice things to say about Tacoma righty Taijuan Walker here ($), though again I’m struck by how much Walker’s cutter seems to differ from night to night. When I’ve seen him, he simply hasn’t had great command of it and used it somewhat sparingly. In the game Cole saw, he used it a lot, perhaps in part because rain made it tougher for Walker to get a feel for his curve. In any event, Walker’s progress with the cutter this year makes MLB success more likely; I love it when I’m not sure which offspeed/breaking pitch to pick as a prospect’s best.


August 22, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

On September 11, 1985, Pete Rose broke the all-time hits record before a packed house at Riverfront Stadium. He broke Ty Cobb’s record in his first plate appearance of the game, and in the 15,550th plate appearance of his career. The crowd went wild, and Rose’s teammates poured out of the dugout to congratulate him on his accomplishment. The game, understandably, had a bit of a delay. Rose was up to 4,192 career hits. Cobb was dead and stuck at 4,191 career hits. Cobb got to his total in 2,468 fewer plate appearances.

Sources actually disagree now on Cobb’s real career hit total, and Baseball-Reference puts it at 4,189. That would shift Rose’s real record-breaking day to September 8. In 1979, Rose batted .331 at the age of 38. He kept playing through 1986. Over those final seven years, he was a win above replacement, or a win below replacement, depending on your source. He played in almost 900 games. I’ll also mention here that Rose accumulated 86 career hits in the playoffs. Cobb had 17. Cobb debuted in the year Jules Verne died.

Just yesterday, Ichiro reached something of a milestone — 4,000 combined career hits between Japan and the major leagues. The milestone was long anticipated, and Ichiro did it in front of Munenori Kawasaki. He also did it in front of the world, and after Ichiro reached first base, his teammates poured out of the dugout to congratulate him on his accomplishment. The fans gave him a standing ovation and Ichiro tipped his helmet and bowed. The Ichiro hit meter lady was there.

Of course, you can’t just combine big-league stats with Japanese stats. I mean, you can, it’s easy, they’re numbers and numbers are easy to combine, but they’re numbers without the same units. Japanese baseball is worse than major-league baseball. It’s also different from major-league baseball. These points are inarguable. In Japan, Ichiro faced inferior competition, and he played a slightly different game. If you’re going to combine the numbers, then it follows that you recognize Sadaharu Oh as the all-time big-league dinger king. So what if he didn’t play in the big leagues? He had more homers in Japan than Barry Bonds had here.

You can’t combine the numbers, but then the numbers don’t matter in the first place. Not the specific numbers, anyway. Numbers only exist so we can keep track of what’s happening in the game, and while we like to see them with precision, the numbers are just stand-ins, they’re indicators. Numbers tell you who’s good and who’s not. Numbers tell you who’s been good for a long time, and who’s been a flash in the pan. That’s the greater purpose, and when you argue over a specific number, you’re usually missing the point, because these numbers aren’t being put up in controlled, identical environments. Eras are different. Rules are different. Players are different, nutrition is different, exercise is different, ballparks are different. The hell with the numbers, specifically. That’s not where the significance is.

The point of 4,000 isn’t 4,000. The point of 4,000 is that Ichiro has had a really outstanding and lengthy career as a professional baseball player. That wouldn’t be any less true at 3,998, and nothing’s going to change at 4,001. From the number, we know a few things: Ichiro has been really good. Also, Ichiro has been really good for a while. He’s one of the most talented all-around players of the generation, even if his style has been unorthodox, and even if he’s been a lightning rod for criticism with occasionally racist undertones. Yeah, he’s been a slap hitter, and those hits he’s slapped have been valuable hits. He’s slapped a hell of a lot of them. He also hit that homer off Mariano Rivera. Pity the people who haven’t seen the magic for what it’s been. That’s not Ichiro’s problem.

The number 4,000 mattered because it represented a specific opportunity to recognize Ichiro for all that he’s done since he was virtually a kid on another continent. When a player is piling up impressive statistics, you want there to be a chance to honor him, to appreciate him. The fact of the matter is that we don’t appreciate elite-level talent on a daily basis. We don’t really have the capacity. We need to schedule these things, and so records and round numbers are arbitrary but necessary. In that sense, people got to look forward to their designated moment of Ichiro appreciation. There was a target, and so upon Ichiro’s 4,00th hit, or 2,722nd hit, everybody agreed that was the time to honor his career. If not at 4,000, when would Ichiro have gotten his due? Ichiro deserves these moments — he’s earned these moments — and you have to choose some number, or else the moment won’t ever happen. This number was easy.

Earlier this season, Felix Hernandez picked up career win number 100, and I think I wrote a pretty similar post. It wasn’t about career win number 100 — it was about what that kind of number meant, and what it took to reach that number in so little time. This is about what 4,000 means, and what it took to reach that number over so many years. Ichiro actually has 27 career hits in the playoffs. (Ichiro has been in the playoffs.) So 4,000 isn’t even necessarily accurate. But boy is that ever not the point. This is about taking a moment to appreciate one of the most electrifying players the game has ever seen. There was no mandate to do that right at 4,000. Just make sure you do it sometime, because this is for your benefit, not his. We’re kind of the point of the whole damn thing.

One More Year, Or More Or Less Than That

August 22, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

Jack Zduriencik has alluded to how long it can take a new general manager to make a stamp on an organization. The big-league roster can turn over in a hurry, but an organization runs deep, and it takes a while to fill a system with new and promising talent. This year, more than any other, has been about the Mariners becoming the Zduriencik Mariners. We’ve seen young talent graduate to the majors, sometimes faster than expected, and the hyped pitchers are still down in Triple-A. This year has been about sampling the fruits of Zduriencik’s labor, but it’s also been about wondering whether Zduriencik would even stick around to see this all through. We understood this to be Zduriencik’s contract year, and the Mariners are still well under .500.

But as you’ve read by now, it hasn’t actually been a contract year, because as it turns out, the Mariners extended Zduriencik through 2014. And they didn’t just do it, they didn’t do it as a response to the action on the field — apparently this was finalized last offseason. It was kept quiet, successfully, in just another indication of how this organization is basically leak-free. That is, until the information was leaked, but by and large these people don’t talk, especially when there’s uncertainty regarding the on-field coaching staff. Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik have a close working relationship, but right now a big priority is making sure Wedge doesn’t die as a side effect of his job.

There’s not actually much we can take away from this. Extensions for executives don’t work quite the way they do for players. People can still wonder about possible Zduriencik successors. This doesn’t have to be interpreted as a ringing endorsement, because the extension is only for one year, and since it was signed we’ve seen the Mariners play mediocre baseball for five months. Probably, the Mariners didn’t want Zduriencik to feel like he was a lame duck, but now they’re coming up on another identical situation, where Zduriencik will be faced with the final year of his deal. Maybe there’ll be another short-term extension. Maybe there won’t, and maybe we won’t know either way for a very long time.

An important thing to understand is that one-year extensions aren’t one-year guarantees. General managers can get fired, and a fired general manager is a general manager still under contract. The Cubs fired Jim Hendry when he had more than a year left on his deal. These same Mariners fired Bill Bavasi when he was still on the payroll. The Mariners’ present leadership has dismissed an under-contract GM in the recent past, and it’s not out of the question they could do it again. I thought for a while earlier this year that Zduriencik could be shown the door. Within baseball circles, there was plenty of speculation and more than a little prep.

We should, though, operate under the assumption that Zduriencik will remain in charge for at least a little while yet. I don’t feel about him, personally, the way I used to. We’ve written about the changes here in the past, and the front office now isn’t the front office the Mariners had in 2009. It’s a different sort of person wearing Jack Zduriencik’s skin, and the advisors around him have changed. I’m not wild about the Mariners’ present philosophies, and I wasn’t wild about their last offseason. I didn’t care for Plan A, I didn’t care for Plan B, and I didn’t care for Plan C. Josh Hamilton looks like a disaster. Michael Morse has sucked. The price for Justin Upton was steep, although Upton, at least, is playing well again. When I daydream about the Mariners being competitive, it isn’t this front office I imagine being in charge. I want some of them cookie-cutter analysts. Or I at least want Zduriencik the way Zduriencik used to behave.

But no matter how pessimistic you might be, you do have to acknowledge that it isn’t all bad. These guys have strengths, or maybe they have non-weaknesses, and winning GMs don’t have to be young, brainy, Ivy League GMs. This team can scout, and though the major-league moves have left us all wanting, we could always depend on luck. A winning team depends on a whole lot of luck. Luck and talent and good decision-making, but luck plays a role. The Giants won two World Series during the Barry Zito era. I realize I’m talking about luck in a paragraph that began by wanting to talk about organizational strengths. I guess my point is that this team could be run by better personnel, but this team also isn’t a complete disaster. I’d be more concerned if, again, there were a longer-term commitment or guarantee. Zduriencik still has a pretty warm seat.

And this might be his attempted home-run offseason. This might be the winter that Zduriencik really goes for it. You could argue he tried last winter, what with the Hamilton and Upton things, but now there’s another opportunity. There are obvious parallels between the Mariners and the Royals, and last offseason, the Royals tried to go for it. Now the Mariners will have a ton of money to spend, because there aren’t many commitments on the roster, and the free-agent market includes area guys like Tim Lincecum and Jacoby Ellsbury. They’re obvious fits, both of them, and they’ll be available, and the Mariners don’t even have $35 million in 2014 commitments. This could actually be a make-or-break offseason. This could be when Zduriencik goes to town and really tries to make this team good, now.

Or maybe that won’t happen. And Zduriencik has tried to make this team good before. The big takeaway is that Zduriencik will probably be the Mariners’ general manager through this offseason. The one after? That’s not my problem to figure out. You have to figure, at some point, there will need to be results.

Danny Farquhar’s Hugs

August 21, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

Danny Farquhar is a closer, now, and closers, when successful, are on the field for the final out. If the score’s close enough, the closers are credited with a save, and if you look around the league you’ll see a variety of different save celebrations, from the modest to the relatively outlandish. Farquhar’s been modest, at least so far, possibly because he’s just a modest little guy, and possibly because he doesn’t feel like he’s an established closer yet. After Farquhar records the final out, he simply engages in physical contact with the catcher before turning to interact with the rest of the team. Danny Farquhar, then, is a hugger, and so far he’s demonstrated five different hug types. Talented and versatile(!).

(1) The bro tap


Take a screenshot carefully and precisely enough, and you might make this hug out to look like a close double two-armer. But you can tell from Farquhar’s right arm what’s going on. This is the type of hug that’s often exchanged between grown men, where you get the quickest of embraces, followed by a tap or two or three on the back. To the eye it’s impersonal, an empty custom, like the cheek-kiss greeting. This is the hug of uncomfortable huggers.

(2) The no-arm Neddy


They say it takes two to tango. You know they say that, because Jack Zduriencik says that, almost exclusively. But while it takes two to tango, it really only takes one to hug. Not that one can necessarily hug oneself, but in a hug between two people, one can be a passive participant. A hug needs but one aggressor, and here we see Danny Farquhar getting hugged. He is not hugging — he simply put himself in position for a hug, and was enveloped. In most situations this can be an awkward hug.

(3) The hey-there-pal


The no-arm Neddy is a hug with two arms, total. This, also, is a hug with two arms, total, but in this hug the arm involvement is more evenly distributed. This is for those who aren’t quite comfortable with the intimacy of a locked embrace, but who still want to convey a sense of personal affection. This is a hug you often see between uncles and nephews, or older brothers and younger brothers. Given a height difference, the advantage of this hug is that the shorter participant is left vulnerable to a noogie. This hug can easily morph into a headlock.

(4) The fly-by


You can usually see hugs coming. There are signals — there’s the approach, there’s the spreading of the arms and sometimes the beckoning of the fingers. There’s the eye contact. Hugs tend to be agreed to by both parties prior to the initiation of the hugging process. But sometimes you just want to hug someone walking right by, so you skip the foreplay and seize what opportunity you’re given. Here, Humberto Quintero was walking right past Danny Farquhar, but that didn’t stop Farquhar from staging an adorable ambush. Sometimes you can pull this hug off and it’s no big deal. Sometimes this is a really terrible idea, like with joggers in the park.

(5) The heart-healer


This is a hug most intimate and somewhat somber. In that sense it’s a little out of place following a baseball save, but this hug involves a slow approach, complete arm wrap, and a hint of lingering. This is a hug with lasting power, the kind of hug you give a significant other after a long day, or a hug you give a family member at a memorial service. So many other kinds of hugs are intended to convey meaning without actually possessing it. They’re formalities. This hug is a legitimate difference-maker, drawing out either tears or a smile depending on the circumstances. This kind of hug represents a moment; this kind of hug is remembered. You might hug someone because you feel a certain way. This kind of hug will make you feel a certain way. Or at least, it’ll bring it to the surface. This kind of hug should, realistically, more often follow a blown save than a successful one.

Game 126, Mariners at Athletics

August 21, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. AJ Griffin, 12:35pm

It’s refreshing to be reminded that other bullpens implode from time to time as well, and that the M’s are at least capable of being on the other side of someone’s painful late inning loss. It’s bittersweet to be reminded that while high-leverage relievers are always one outing away from serious decline, random waiver-wire or trade fill-ins are one outing away from becoming high-leverage relievers. Danny Farquhar looks amazing, and while sure, Tom Wilhelmsen looked amazing and Carter Capps looked amazing, the M’s are going with the amazing du jour. Oliver Perez was seen as a great lefty-killer for a contending team a month ago. He’s given up 13 runs in his last 6 1/3 innings. Maybe you’re only allowed one weird come-back/out-of-nowhere story at any one time.

AJ Griffin is an empty vessel in which debates about sabermetrics and pitching can play out. Let’s all take the AJ Griffin analysis quiz!

1: AJ Griffin is a right-hander who pitches off an 89mph four-seam fastball, a slow curve and a change-up around 81. If you think this sounds like someone who coached you in high school or the purported repertoire of 225 drunk guys in the bar who swore they were “this close,” then you’re probably a fan of pure stuff. Don’t talk to me about BABIP, tell me if he can blow fastballs by big league hitters. Sure, things look bad right now, but if you needed to close out a game 7, are you sure you’d take this 13th rounder over Carter Capps? Plenty of guys can post superficially decent numbers here and there if everything goes right. The Twins have one or two every year that turns into a pumpkin the next. Nick Blackburn, Scott Diamond, Scott Baker, etc. are all crappy now, and Francisco Liriano’s perhaps the most important signing of the off-season. Gee, I wonder who could’ve predicted something like that? It’s like batters not being able to hit a pitcher’s offerings are important or something.

2: AJ Griffin is an extreme, EXTREME, fly-ball pitcher. He’s given up a lot of home runs, but 20 of his 28 this season have been solo shots, and the upside of this batted ball profile is a very low BABIP. Not only are fly balls more likely to turn into outs (well, the ones that don’t become souvenirs), pitchers like this generally get more infield pop-ups, which are essentially as good as strikeouts. If low walks, “weak” contact (except when it’s not weak at all) and low BABIP sounds pretty good to you, you probably loved Barry Zito and thought Ryan Franklin never got a fair shake around here. You’re a BABIP fan, and just know that he’ll continue to post ERAs lower than his FIP, confounding all of the…

3: …FIP fans. He throws 89mph and gets ~30% ground balls. The counterargument seems to center on his ability to choose WHEN to give up his dozens and dozens of dingers, which, I mean, if he could CHOOSE, why wouldn’t he throw his allocation of meatballs in pregame warm-ups? There’s a reason FIP is a better predictor of next year’s ERA, and while there are reasons everyone else claims that this time, thisguy’s “different,” it hardly ever works out that way. Pop-ups are great, but Griffin’s aren’t extreme enough to overcome the innate disadvantage of throwing 89mph fastballs up in the zone. Griffin is some sequencing luck (and a better curveball, to be fair) from Blake Beavan. Remember how people used to say that Beavan’s 2011 was “real” (quality starts! Look at the quality starts!) because he just knew how to pitch to the score, or knew when to challenge, or whatever cliches otherwise-intelligent fans cling to when they’re pleading the case for an exception to a well-known rule?

4: AJ Griffin knows his home park, and the A’s knew how to wring value out of someone with his skillset. He’s striking out 7 per 9 for his 240-inning career, so this stuff about how he throws 89mph fastballs and hopes they’re hit 250 feet instead of 450 feet is a bit much – he can miss bats, and he can spot his fastball. He has essentially no platoon splits, and strikes out lefties and righties at ~ equal rates. Yes, he’s given up more HRs on the road, but batters are getting on base against him at a .277 clip on the road. The batted ball profile is a choice, not some sort of fatal flaw. He *chooses* to pitch up in the zone, and most batters have a hard time with that. It’s a way for his stuff to punch above its weight class, and instead of being derided for that, we should acknowledge it for what it is: smart pitching. The cookie-cutter approach “get grounders, keep it down” works well for a lot of people, but have you considered the prospect that it wouldn’t work for someone with Griffin’s stuff? Would an 89mph fastball at the knees be less likely to get hit out than an 89mph fastball above the hands, just out of the zone? If the preceding has you nodding your head, you’re an A’s fan. Er, a “pitchability” fan.

5: AJ Griffin was 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 2012. This season, he’s 10-8 with a 3.76 ERA. We don’t have the entire picture yet, despite what the stat-heads might tell you. But we’re getting there; the picture that’s emerging is that Griffin’s a more than solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, with an ERA under 4, and whose big body can withstand the grind of a big league season. He’s not flashy, he’s not an ace, but he’s *good*. He’ll give up home runs, but so did Bert Blyleven. Ervin Santana’s a guy who used a different approach to get to the same basic results for the Angels for years, then they let him walk when his HRs spiked. This year for KC, his ERA’s back under 4, and he’s been a great pick-up. Forget HOW the runs scored, just count the runs that scored. Except the unearned ones, because they’re gross. Does this sound like what you start thinking when you peruse Griffin’s stats? OK, you’re…uh, I’m not exactly sure how you found this website. Here you go.

(I’m actually a weird combination of 1,3 and 4. Yes, 2 and 4 are eerily similar.)

1: Miller, 2B
2: Saunders, CF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Morse, RF
7: Ackley, LF
8: Ryan, SS
9: Blanco, C
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma

Sounds like Nick Franklin will mis 5-6 games or so while recovering from a gash in his knee he picked up on a play at the plate. That same, relatively minor, collision resulted in a fractured toe for A’s catcher Derek Norris.

The aforementioned Blake Beavan starts this evening for Tacoma. Taijuan Walker had his best outing in a while last night in front of Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara, throwing 5 shutout IP with 3H, 4BB, 6K. The control still isn’t dialed in, but he’s pitching out of jams instead of letting one bad inning ruin his night.

Trevor Miller and Cam Hobson get the starts in Jackson’s doubleheader today. It’ll be Hobson’s AA debut. Hobson’s spot in the High Desert rotation’s taken up by Scott DeCecco, who moves up from Clinton to start tonight in Adelanto.

Zduriencik may have received a one-year extension, apparently signed before the season. No one’s commenting, and of course a contract extension doesn’t necessarily mean the M’s will keep him, but that’s…something.

Game 125, Mariners at Athletics

August 20, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 89 Comments 

Joe Saunders vs. Sonny Gray, 7:05pm

Sonny Gray, the A’s first-rounder out of Vanderbilt a few years ago, is a short righty who’s faced skepticism about his durability and effectiveness in part because of his height. He’s shown a 95mph fastball and a solid curve. He’s been very effective thus far against lefties and righties thanks largely to his big fastball and solid control. Go lefty line-up:
1:Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Morse, RF
8: Saunders, CF
9: Quintero, C
SP: Joe Saunders

The Rainiers game tonight features Taijuan Walker, new 1B Ji-Man Choi, and perfect weather in Tacoma. GO.

« Previous PageNext Page »