Off-day Stuff: Leonys, Pitcher Value, Segura’s Return

marc w · April 24, 2017 at 5:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

No M’s game today, as the club travels to Detroit and a series with the Tigers, but there’s still things to talk about.

1: The biggest news of the day yesterday wasn’t the recall of Dan Vogelbach, another El Motterdor homer, or even Nelson Cruz getting his first HR of the year. Instead, it was the unexpected jettisoning of their starting CF, Leonys Martin.

Martin’s season started with a new swing, a move that only in hindsight makes it reminiscent of Dustin Ackley’s 2013 and not like Mitch Haniger’s 2016. Baseball is about adaptation, but it’s difficult to select for adaptability itself as a skill. We all know that, say, Daniel Murphy’s swing changes turned him into a completely different player, or that Haniger/Motter or doing similar things for the M’s. On the other end of the scale, we’ve got Ackley or Brendan Ryan trying something – anything – to unlock the mystery of hitting at the highest level. Some of these changes work, and some don’t, and I don’t think anyone really knows why. Being coachable doesn’t seem to be enough; Eric Wedge once blamed Ackley’s struggles on too MUCH willingness to change, and Scott Servais clearly thinks Leonys was willing and able to implement changes – but nothing worked.

And it really has been a while since Martin was a competent hitter. Since July 1 of last year, Martin’s batted 390 times. His slash line in that time frame is .220/.252/.294. It’s also been falling throughout that time period. When the Mariners acquired Jarrod Dyson, they had to see this move as a possibility; moving Dyson to CF makes better use of Dyson’s range, and both are left-handed bats. While the move to grab multiple “athletic” outfielders could be framed as a way to help the pitching staff (“three CFs out there!”), it also sets up an implicit competition, in which the M’s could move on from whoever didn’t work out.

You can see the move as a results-trump-culture statement by the front office, and that no amount of personality can make up for 4-6 months of abysmal hitting. That frame gets the coaches off the hook, though. Not only are the coaches the ones supporting and embracing the team’s loose, positive culture, they’re supposed to be the ones using it to drive development and improvement. And Martin may be their highest profile failure. When Martin looked reborn in April-May of 2016, the coaches got a fair amount of credit. It seemed to make sense – new batting coach, plus a reunion with Servais, who’d worked with him in the minors – but I think there’s probably a little too much credit given to coaches when players take off, and too little blame applied when players falter and fail.

Ultimately, I don’t really care about apportioning blame in this situation. I just want the organization to succeed with, say, Dan Vogelbach, or Yovani Gallardo. Martin’s poor start would’ve cost him his job at some point, and if the M’s really thought they couldn’t do any more for him, then DFA’ing now may be everyone’s best interest (particularly as clubs are looking for defensive help in the OF). I hope the M’s understand what went wrong with Martin, and how they can help avoid it in the future.

Many M’s fans lament the 8-man bullpen and argue that the preference for carrying so many arms made Martin’s DFA possible. My bias is that no team needs an 8 man pen, particularly if you have long-relievers you can switch in from AAA, just the way the M’s are doing. I don’t know if this is a lack of faith in a bullpen that’s gotten off to a rocky start, or if it makes them feel more confident given their slightly banged-up rotation, but I think it’s hard to justify logically. That said, the point of a bench is to give the manager something different from his starting line-up, and I have no idea how Leonys Martin, bench bat, was supposed to work. He could be a late-inning defensive replacement! But in LF, where he hasn’t played? Or would he bump Dyson to a corner? What if Dyson’s the superior defender at this point (as I kind of think he is)? Do you bump Mitch Haniger? He’d be a good pinch runner, I suppose, but even cutting the bullpen down by 1 or 2 players doesn’t create space on the bench for THAT specialized a skill.

2: In late November, Sam Miller penned a great article about WAR using Arizona lefty Robbie Ray as an example of how different WAR frameworks saw pitcher skill. By Baseball-Reference RA/9-based WAR, Robbie Ray was a bit below average, harmed by a sky-high BABIP-allowed (which RA/9 WAR included). By Fangraphs’ FIP-based WAR, he was slightly better than average thanks to a really good K rate (which is included in FIP, unlike BABIP). By Baseball Prospectus’ DRA-based WARP, Ray was a minor star with a sub-3 ERA-equivalent. All told, the gap between the three was pretty large, at 2 runs per 9 innings, and a handful of wins above replacement (I can’t see his DRA-based WAR now; DRA was updated this spring, and his DRA changed from 2.90 to 4.33).

Today, I stumbled upon an even bigger discrepancy. A pitcher for the Cardinals in the 1960s named Ray Sadecki had a solid career, logging 2,500 IP and going 135-131 with an ERA and FIP in the high 3’s. He started at 19, though, and things were a little hit and miss early on in his career, but by and large, he settled in fairly quickly, and while he pitched in a low run-scoring era, he doesn’t seem out of the ordinary at all. In 1963, he gave up a number of unearned runs, and the combination of environment, park, and defense meant that by BBREF’s WAR, he was just slightly below replacement level. By Fangraphs’ measure, he was getting the hang of things, and his FIP was far better than his RA/9, so he accounted for a below-average-but-not-bad-at-all 1.2 WAR. By WARP, though, Sadecki was abominable. At a staggering *NINE WINS* below replacement, Sadecki’s normal looking season is by far the worst on record at Baseball Prospectus. I have no idea why; I’d love to see it apportioned out by defense, park, or what have you, but even since seeing it, I’ve been trying to envision what *NINE WINS BELOW REPLACEMENT* would even look like. Murdering a teammate on the field? Collapsed in a heap on the mound, sobbing uncontrollably, while the umpire calls automatic balls for hours on end? The closest I can get is to assume me, right now, starting 32 games in the majors. That might do it.

Not far below Sadecki on the list of worst seasons ever on this questionable but fun leaderboard sits Dave Fleming‘s 1994. Fleming was an unheralded lefty who threw in the mid-80s and who’d somehow been the M’s most valuable pitcher in 1992, when Erik Hanson had a down year and Randy Johnson was still trying to figure out how to be RANDY JOHNSON, something he’d figure out the next year. But in 1992, Fleming’s rise kind of made up for the disappointment of Hanson, who’d bounce back the next year. For a while there, despite the presence of the most electifying position player to ever wear the uniform, you could squint and make out a contending M’s team that focused on run prevention. Johnson/Hanson/Fleming would combine for nearly 14 BBREF WAR in 1993 (fWAR has it about the same). The next year, the ill-fated 1994, told a different story. By then, Jay Buhner had broked out, Edgar was Edgar, and Junior had become the greatest player in the game. They had A-Rod laying waste to the minor leagues. And what of the rotation? Hanson was traded for WITH Bret Boone and for Dan Wilson and Bobby Ayala, but Randy had made the leap and was worth 7 WAR in 1994. But beyond that…devastation. Fleming’s ERA ballooned to 6.46, and he was never the same again. Chris Bosio, who’d been very good for the M’s in 1993 suffered a down year as well. Top prospect Roger Salkeld made 13 regrettable starts that were somehow worse than Greg Hibbard’s 14. The M’s, despite a having 4 starters with SLG% over .500, saw their winning percentage tumble nearly 70 points from the false-dawn of 1993. 1995 made up for things, but 1994 was tough for baseball fans everywhere, but *especially* in Seattle.

BPro’s WARP stat declares that Fleming’s 1994 season was 5.1 wins BELOW replacement level, a figure that doesn’t seem logical, but is emotionally on the money. Even as the promised prospects began to deliver, and began to blow away the already sky-high expectations we had, the key supporting cast members were falling like flies. That’s the way it’d be in Seattle for the next few years, as the offense became a historical juggernaut, and occasionally found ways to bail out a pitching staff that was Randy Johnson, maybe one other good player, some random guy who’d get hot for a year, and then an absolute nightmare. In 1994, Bobby Ayala looked like a star. In 1995, it was Norm Charlton. In 1996…no, just checked, everyone was bad that year (RJ was hurt). In 1997, Jamie Moyer joined RJ and propelled the M’s to the playoffs. It’s in that context that Fleming’s 1994 *felt* disastrous, when a look at the stats wouldn’t make it jump out at you (there were a LOT of higher-than-6 ERAs back then). He was emblematic of the M’s inability to hold on to the key secondary pieces that could’ve made the difference for them. It’s in that spirit that I embrace the figure of 5 wins below replacement, even if I cannot really accept it.

3: Mike Freeman’s been optioned to AAA Tacoma, where he’s in tonight’s line-up against Albuquerque. That means that Jean Segura’s back from his rehab assignment in Arkansas, and the M’s will now need to get creative in order to keep the un-benchable bat of Taylor Motter in the line-up. As a righty, he could spell Dan Vogelbach at 1B against lefties, but they could also use him in LF. None of these options are ideal. The M’s don’t want to freeze out Danny Valencia entirely, I don’t think, and they also may want to see how Vogelbach responds to same-handed pitching. Guillermo Heredia’s in LF, and he’s a right-handed bat who’s come on in recent games; can’t imagine they’d love to bench him at the moment. Kyle Seager’s ailing hip will buy them some time, but they’ll either have to sit a starter once a night or under-utilize Motter as a bench bat.

I’m sure the M’s want to see what they have in Heredia, but in the short term, LF seems like the path of least resistance for Motter. Cutting loose Danny Valencia would also ease the roster crunch, but I can’t see Dipoto waiving his self-identified key free agent target from the off season so soon. Whatever they decide to do, Motter needs to stay in the line-up. Statcast has just completely re-done their data pages, filling in missing data that Trackman missed for one reason or the other. Most of these “misses” are on very weak contact like pop-ups and grounders, so some average exit velocities have come down as a result of the changes. Motter, of course, hasn’t changed. He’s still in the top 10 in MLB this year, and has yet to make any sort of “weak contact” according to Trackman. He’s elevating the ball and hitting it very, very hard. Look:
Taylor Motter, 2017
Taylor Motter

You can see a somewhat similar approach in his 2016 data, but with far, far less pop:
Taylor Motter, 2016
Taylor Motter(1)

Last year, only 8% of his balls in play were “solid contact” or better. This year, he’s already got 12 such balls in play, or 32% of his balls in play. This is why Motter has 11 extra base hits on the year and only 2 singles.


11 Responses to “Off-day Stuff: Leonys, Pitcher Value, Segura’s Return”

  1. Steve Nelson on April 24th, 2017 5:29 pm

    Are the Mariners truly giving up on Martin? Or are they hoping that with his contract he’ll pass through waivers so he can be sent to Tacoma to try to get things figured out?

  2. Rossco on April 24th, 2017 7:15 pm

    I grew up as a San Francisco Giants fan in the 60’s. That was the era of listening to the games on the radio! When you mentioned Ray Sadecki, I instantly remembered when the Giants traded Orlando Cepeda for Ray Sadecki and we were all very upset! Part of it was that Orlando Cepeda was very popular. ( His name alone is so cool!) He had a tremendous amount of pressure on him to do well, but sadly it did not work out well for him or the Giants and became known as the worst trade ever! Whenever the Mariners have done a poor trade, I always think of Ray Sadecki. A side note: his cumulative salary over 18 seasons was $147,000.

  3. marc w on April 24th, 2017 10:36 pm

    That’s a good question Steve, but given the needs in Pittsburgh, SF, elsewhere, the question may be are the M’s willing to eat a bit of it if they can work out a trade?

    The M’s already have a lefty CF with a plus glove, plus solid defenders in the corners. They also have Motter, who they’ll need to give OF starts. If you’re Leonys, do you really want to come back here and tough it out in the PCL for a while?

    If no one shows any interest, he and M’s wouldn’t have any choice. But if someone wants to give him a big league opportunity and pay half his salary, wouldn’t that be best for all parties?

  4. marc w on April 24th, 2017 10:43 pm

    Whoa, I had no idea he was traded for Cepeda, Rossco! Looks like he was later traded for Joe Torre, too. He got to play with Willy Mays in SF, and was then reunited with him in New York as Mets teammates in 1972.

  5. Steve Nelson on April 25th, 2017 1:52 am

    [quote]If no one shows any interest, he and M’s wouldn’t have any choice. But if someone wants to give him a big league opportunity and pay half his salary, wouldn’t that be best for all parties?[/quote]
    I’m inclined to think that the best thing for him is spend some time away from a MLB club to fix his hitting as much as possible. Going to another MLB team and getting regular playing time seems like it’s not going to help him. Rather there’s a good chance it would just continue the spiral and makes things even worse.

    Assuming he clears waivers, there’s probably someone that will pick him up for something near MLB minimum. But I suspect no team is going to want to take on much more than that. If that’s correct, there isn’t any real salary relief for the Mariners. So why not keep him around and see if some improvements can be made? At that point he would have more value.

  6. stevemotivateir on April 25th, 2017 7:46 am

    We’ve heard Dipoto drop Martin’s name in interviews more often than probably any other player when asked about the type of players he wants on the team and details the little things that have value. He has praised Martin enormously, so I would assume he isn’t eager to trade him and more hopeful he can clear waivers and figure things out in Tacoma.

    Getting his job back may be an uphill battle, but he’s not likely going to last long on any other major league roster without major adjustments. I would argue that the minor leagues should be in his best interests right now, and I think there is an emotional attachment to this organization, for whatever that’s worth. Heck, they had a mariachi band brought in for his birthday just a couple of months ago!

  7. stevemotivateir on April 25th, 2017 8:10 am

    One of the biggest question I have now is what to do with Valencia. If they DFA him, there will be a lot of youth in demanding positions, unless they go shopping. If they keep him, are they going to use him against lefties only? Are they going to face enough lefties to justify keeping him around? I’m more interested in O’Malley or Freeman than Valencia, but wonder if an external alternative should be in the works.

    And that relates to the possibility of Martin being claimed. If Pittsburgh were the claiming team, might they be interested in a swap for Jaso? He’s off to a slow start himself, but he represents a veteran LHB that can cover 1B and the difference in salary is minimal.

  8. Jeff Tolin on April 25th, 2017 10:06 am

    “Hanson was traded for Bret Boone and Dan Wilson”

    — actually Hanson was traded *with* Boone for Wilson and Bobby Ayala.

  9. marc w on April 25th, 2017 2:43 pm

    Steve Nelson –

    I just think he’s going to drum up some interest. We’ll see if teams wait until he’s released, but I think someone might jump at a discounted (as in, not completely free) Martin even as a defensive replacement/baserunner. It might be good for him to work on his hitting in Tacoma, but I also don’t know if the M’s really want that (I know Servais does, but does Dipoto).

    If more than 1 or 2 teams kick the tires, then I’m assuming the M’s can get some kind of salary relief. Not all of it, but a portion. I can imagine Martin’s agent directing him to a team that has more playing time available in CF, too; the M’s currently have Dyson, Heredia, Haniger (in a pinch), and Boog Powell.

    The culture was great, but the culture didn’t save his hitting ability from falling off a cliff, and if he went outside the org for hitting advice in the off-season, that’s not exactly a vote of confidence that THIS is the org that can bring him out of this tailspin.

    Damn it, Jeff, you’re right. Should’ve looked that up to confirm it,but you’re of course correct that Boone and Hanson went in the deal for Dan Wilson and good ol’ Bobby Ayala.

  10. marc w on April 27th, 2017 12:32 pm

    Score one for Steve:
    Martin cleared waivers and will head to Tacoma.
    I’m surprised, obviously, but credit where it’s due: very good call, Steve.

    I’m guessing the M’s weren’t interested in shaving a couple of million off the payroll, and if no one wanted him at full price, then they’d try and work out the kinks in his swing themselves. I’m still surprised that’s what HE wanted to do. Guess as an arb-eligible player, his wishes may not count for much.

  11. Steve Nelson on April 28th, 2017 1:48 pm

    I’m still surprised that’s what HE wanted to do. Guess as an arb-eligible player, his wishes may not count for much.

    My understanding is that as an arb-eligible player, if he declined the assignment, his contract would be terminated. But if he accepts the assignment, he continues to receive his MLB salary. So declining the assignment if he cleared waivers was never a possibility.

    I think the Mariners were expecting all along that no one would claim him, so they would be able to send him to Tacoma.

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