The M’s New Addition

marc w · February 25, 2022 at 5:38 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

With the lockout in its third grueling month, it would be easy to miss. At a time when players on the 40-man can’t workout at team facilities, when can’t show player pictures, and when numerous free agents are forbidden to talk with teams, I’d just sort of assumed that the Mariners couldn’t really do anything to improve right now beyond training minor leaguers while not paying them. (Damn it, this is *not* a cynical post).

I’m happy to learn that I was wrong. Yesterday, Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish tweeted that he ran into none other than Dave Cameron on the backfields at M’s camp. The M’s hired Dave away from San Diego, where he’d worked for the Padres since leaving Fangraphs in 2018. Dave Cameron, founder of this site and leader of Fangraphs, works for the Mariners. It’s…amazing.

I think for readers who weren’t around in this site’s – or sabermetric blogging in general – formative years, it’s hard to overstate just how outside the mainstream all of this was. It’s not just that Dave and DMZ presented ideas around player value or team-building strategy or even in-game strategy that was out of step with what you’d hear on a broadcast. It was that all of that strategy was undergirded and supported by equally radical notions about fundamental things like how runs are scored, or how you could evaluate a pitcher’s season. This is just years after Voros McCracken’s defense-independent-pitching-statistics article and around the time FIP was created as a DIPS measure.

If you weren’t on where McCracken first presented his ideas, and where the founders of this blog met and argued about baseball and the Mariner Moose, all of this must’ve seemed pretty weird. But that’s where Dave shined. He was great at laying out the logic behind what he was saying. You didn’t have to agree (and I think most of my initial comments on this site were some small argument or nitpick to a Dave argument), but you always came away seeing how the pieces connected. You could follow the logic in a way that you often couldn’t when the color commentator would assert something on a broadcast.

But what really drew us to it all was not simply that we’re baseball fans. We were *Mariner* fans, and thus the relevant data points, the examples, the decision points all involved our team. Dave presented these interesting new means and deployed them to a great, great end: making the Mariners suck less (this was 2003-2012 or so). But again, it wasn’t just that this was often out of step with how teams were run, and how the M’s in particular were run at the time. Rather, there was a kind of dark comedy in just how FAR out of step it was. There seemed like an innate hostility from baseball lifers whose views were skewered mercilessly by Cameron, and the bloggers, ridiculed as over-confident non-entities not just by teams, but often by the media. This felt like a club. Insular, often absurdly so, but passionate.

That tension was perhaps always overstated. 2003 saw USSM created, but it also saw the Red Sox hire Bill James. Sure, the Bavasi-era M’s didn’t seem to be run the way Dave/DMZ/JMB would want, but the FO was often open to events with the readership – a tradition carried on by his successors. And it wasn’t like baseball – flush with new revenue, and increasingly convinced that ERA wouldn’t cut it – never hired saber/analytic people. Bavasi’s M’s had an analytics group. Still, part of the fun was reading Dave’s offseason plan or how Dave evaluated free agent pitchers all the time and watching the M’s do…something else.

One of the big things I remember, though, went way beyond criticizing the Carlos Silva deal or M’s draft picks. It was the excitement around a teenage phenom dealing in short season ball, and the growing fervor around his progress. JMB gave him a nickname, and it took. By the time of his debut, we were at fever pitch. And in those final years before all games were broadcast, that insular club (er, some of them) got to watch a single static camera broadcast King Felix’s MLB debut in Detroit. He was ours, and he looked every bit the royalty we wanted him to be. And that’s why his 2006 and early 2007 performance was so frustrating. And so, Dave wrote perhaps the most famous post in this site’s history, An Open Letter to Rafael Chaves. We may be coming at this in a different way, but we all want/need Felix to be great. Chaves passed it to Felix, and while Felix had a lot more to do with what happened next than Dave, it was a shocking turn of events for readers here. Insular, passionate, and perhaps able to have a real-world impact on our club?

It feels kind of amazing to think that it’s now Dave’s literal job to have an impact on the Mariners and the players they develop. Things have changed a lot since the letter and since this site began. Not only were some games *gasp* not televised back then, but we couldn’t even conceive of pitch tracking data, that MLB itself would roll out searchable databases with everything from pitch height, release point, movement and spin (what?). Despite the growing influence of data, and despite the massive increase in the volume of data and the concomitant rise in importance of data scientists and database programmers, there’s still a role for people asking really good questions and communicating ideas across an enterprise that probably looks a bit different than an FO looked in 2003. It’s part of why Jeff Sullivan’s with the Rays, or why the MLBPA hired Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards not long ago (give ’em hell, Craig). But there’s something so satisfying, like a multifaceted plot wrapped up *just so* about this hire.

The tension between a place like this and the M’s FO is kind of baked in. It was there more or less explicitly from the start, and the M’s provide so, so many reasons to be cynical. We love the Mariners, but we do not always see eye to eye with the people assembling and/or managing the team. Despite Dave’s presence among them, that doesn’t really change. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that I’m smarter than the FO. That kind of idea can’t survive first contact with some in the M’s analytics group, and, well, that was when I tapped out. But that doesn’t stop sites or writers from pointing out things that need improvement or signs that things aren’t quite working the way we were told. So I wish Dave well, and know that he’s probably more motivated for his new challenge than he’s ever been, or at least since June 27th, 2007. But I know for a fact he’s got thick skin. The development of our long-hyped prospect group is now, at some level or another, in Dave’s care. That gives me confidence. But I’d have more if the M’s seriously improved the line-up for 2022, you know. Just saying.


14 Responses to “The M’s New Addition”

  1. kmsandrbs on February 25th, 2022 6:04 pm

    Big props to Dave! Thanks for sharing the info.

  2. 3cardmonty on February 25th, 2022 7:09 pm

    God this news made me so giddy when I saw it last night. Just utterly delightful. This place was really special at its peak (no shade Marc, your contributions are still very much appreciated).

    Also check out Sullivan’s reply here:

    Man oh man. I’m still catching feelings from this news a day later!

    Remember the Dan Devone interview? “STATHEADS!”

  3. californiamariner on February 26th, 2022 9:26 am

    I just had to come here to say that this is so awesome!

  4. Sportszilla on February 26th, 2022 11:14 am


  5. Goob on February 28th, 2022 9:56 am

    Thank you so much for writing this and putting the larger Mariner historical context out there! When I first saw the news, I was practically speechless while thinking about & reliving everything you laid out here, Marc.

    Congrats to Dave and here’s to helping build their first championship roster!

  6. Stevemotivateir on February 28th, 2022 4:22 pm

    That ‘Open Letter’ post was one of the first, if not the first, I read on this site. I had just returned from life in Australia (the best!) and heard about USSM & its uniqueness. Curious, I thought I’d check it out, and here I am 15 years later. Like many, I learned a lot from this site–not just from the authors, but from the interaction with other commenters as well.

    I don’t know what the rules are for organizational employees regarding posting/writing/whatever, but it would be cool to see an interview type of post if possible. A Q&A would be great, too.

    Call it ‘[USS] Mariner FanFest’.

  7. schneidler on March 1st, 2022 2:55 pm

    Awesome! I stumbled onto USSM from reading Derek and Dave’s stuff at baseball prospectus, which I was obsessed with. I found BP from reading Rob Neyer at ESPN, equally obsessively from 1996-2001. During the brutal Bavasi years I remember daydreaming and wishing we could somehow link Microsoft money with Dave, and let him run the team. I know he’s not running the team, but this is still pretty incredible. I remember family and friends SHUDDERING at the thought of implementing ideas from a blog with a real MLB team. Dave’s writing “voice” sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, but it always made me think and question my assumptions. Derek’s writing often made me laugh out loud (one of my favorite lines of his was about Ichiro’s well-placed dribblers causing opposing infielder’s heads to explode with frustration). It was a part of my daily life. I think I was reading USSM before they had their own URL. Was it blogspot? Or wordpress? I can’t recall, but I was refreshing multiple times a day for at least 10 years there. Congratulations to “our” very own Dave Cameron for the hire!

  8. Westside guy on March 2nd, 2022 12:37 am

    Cool beans, Mr. Cameron! And thank you to Marc for this post.

    BTW @Sportzilla, I believe BA actually has the Mariners farm system ranked as #1org? So maybe FanGraphs will finally (and obviously quite belatedly) be vindicated… or at least the joke might be laid to rest soon.

    Anyway, let’s hope the (MLB) owners decide not to drive a final nail in baseball’s coffin so that Dave gets to do some meaningful work in the near future.

  9. JMB on March 2nd, 2022 11:58 am

    Thanks for remembering me, Marc. It all seems like a lifetime ago.

    And I’m so freaking proud of Dave.

  10. Shizane on March 3rd, 2022 11:28 am

    Very long-time reader here….we’ll never forget you Jason!

    Also excited for Dave and to see the impact he can make, which hopefully he can share if they reboot those pre-game meetup sessions! I still remember talking about Johjima’s framing (he would stab down at the ball) and how it was impacting the M’s…good times!

  11. GarForever on March 4th, 2022 6:03 pm

    Excellent. Welcome home, Dave!

  12. MKT on March 15th, 2022 3:48 pm

    “those pre-game meetup sessions”

    Yes! I only attended one of those (partly because I haven’t lived in Seattle for decades) but the one I went to was great, it was Zduriencik’s first year when, for a season, the M’s future looked so bright. Dave and Derek were still running USSM. It’s the only time I’ve seen either of them in person.

    To have those meet-ups happen again, with Dave on the other side of the microphone, would be a closing-the-circle-of-life scene worthy of a Hollywood movie.

    I can envision the closing scene of the movie, with Dave in the front of the room orating to the USSM crowd, and Derek and Jason standing in the back nodding approvingly.

  13. 3cardmonty on March 17th, 2022 7:46 pm

    Wow MKT, I didn’t even think of that possibility. What an awesome idea and comment.

    I was at the first Q&A with Bavasi the year he signed Carl Everett. Ah, C-Rex. I remember Dave asking Bavasi why he didn’t acquire Carlos Pena (this was right before Pena broke out) for a fraction of the cost and Bavasi said some nonsense like Everett has experience hitting in the middle of the order. Different times.

  14. SeasonTix on August 1st, 2022 11:33 am

    Is Dave Cameron still with the Mariners? He is not listed on their website and I have heard nothing about Dave and the Mariners since this was posted back in March.

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