Felix Hernandez vs. Justin Masterson, 10:05am
Well this has certainly been a frustrating series. The M’s bats have come alive late, only for the bullpen to cough up the lead again. You’ve got to be confident about this game, though, as the M’s start Felix.
Masterson’s Carter Cappsian arm angle has always produced huge platoon splits. This year he’s been successful against lefties largely due to BABIP and HR/FB luck, and the M’s can trot out several hitters who will get a long look at the ball. Saunders and Seager can hopefully get on base for the incandescent Raul Ibanez. Honestly, match-ups like this are why Ibanez is here. He’s a streaky hitter on an insane tear and he’s facing a pitcher who plays to Ibanez’s strengths.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Ackley, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Morse, RF
6: Ibanez, LF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Montero, C
9: Ryan, SS
James Paxton starts for Tacoma this afternoon in the finale of the 4 gamer against Memphis against ex-M’s fireballer Maikel Cleto, aka the guy the M’s swapped for Brendan Ryan.
Taijuan Walker and Tyler Pike also start in AA and A, respectively, making this a pretty interesting day in the minors.
Joe Saunders vs. Zach McAllister, 10:05am
Tough loss last night, as Jason Kipnis hit a walk-off off of Lucas Luetge. Today’s game starts before some in Seattle have woken up, but as all baseball fans know, you can’t sleep on a pitching match-up like this:
In the baseball mecca of Cleveland, Ohio. You’ll punch yourself in the face if you miss this.
McAllister is a fastball/slider guy with a change to lefties. As I’ve talked about, he’s perhaps best known for massive gaps between his ERA and RA, thanks to a slew of unearned runs. He’s got another 5 already this year, which is pretty remarkable. Still, his ERA is even prettier this year as he’s finally got his strand rate above 70%; even so, his career rate is in the mid 60s. Be patient, get some runners on base, M’s.
Michael Saunders hadn’t had a day off since his return from the DL, so he gets a day today. In his place, Endy Chavez leads off against the righty McAllister.
1: Chavez, CF
2: Ackley, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Morse, RF
6: Ibanez, LF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Montero, C
9: Ryan, SS
Brandon Maurer vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 4:05pm
Dave mentioned it on twitter, and Matthew mentioned it in his series preview, but because the Indians can stack their line-up with quality left-handed bats, this game represents the toughest test Brandon Maurer’s faced since his abbreviated start against Baltimore. Maurer’s last start marked a noticeable change in approach, as he largely ditched his slider to left-handers and instead relied on his curve ball, a pitch without the large platoon splits that sliders carry. It wasn’t a great start by any stretch, but the new strategy looked quite promising. He fanned a few lefties, kept the team in the ballgame, and while he gave up another two homers, he didn’t look completely helpless against left-handed line-ups.
That Maurer’s still in the big leagues, overhauling his approach on the fly, speaks to both how injuries have ravaged the M’s pitching depth and to Maurer’s ability to learn and adapt, perhaps the best qualities a young hurler can have. On the one hand, it seems counterintuitive that this should work – that you could pick up a new pitch, or radically alter your pitch-mix from start to start in the majors. On the other hand, failing on a big stage can be a hell of a motivator. Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez should know – he’s gone from a 6+-WAR pitcher to replacement level in the past three years (!). The prime suspect for this mid-career collapse has been his diminished velocity. In 2010, his two- and four-seam fastballs averaged 97mph. In 2011, that fell to 94. In 2012, 93, and so far this year, he’s between 92-93. That’s a pretty big drop in a short time frame. Sure, King Felix’s velo’s dropped a similar amount, if not more, but it’s happened gradually, and his off-speed stuff and command mean he hasn’t paid a price in terms of results. Jimenez though…Jimenez has paid a price.
Jeff’s piece on him here and Kyle Boddy’s here have focused on the mechanical changes Ubaldo’s made since 2010. I’m not an expert on mechanics, though you can clearly see he’s made some changes. Whether they’ve in some way caused or accelerated the velocity drop, I couldn’t say, but recent changes haven’t (as yet) reversed it. Through most of April, Jimenez’s decline looked to be nearing a terminal phase, as he followed two awful starts against New York and Boston with a just-as-bad-in-context start against Houston. But since then, over the span of all of three starts, he’s been good again. Maybe he just needed Scott Kazmir to talk to him about how far it’s possible to fall, or maybe the raised front-shoulder thing that Jeff’s article mentioned actually helped in some way, but his K:BB ratio in those three starts is 20:6, and he’s given up only three runs.
Since I don’t know about mechanics, I thought I’d talk about his pitches. One way Jimenez has changed since his days as a Rockie is that he’s developed a split-finger fastball that’s all but replaced his change. He had one in 2010 with Colorado, but he started throwing it a lot last year, and that’s continued in 2013. He now throws it about 25% of the time to righties and lefties alike. The other change since 2010 is an increased utilization of his two-seam fastball, and this highlights how difficult it is to isolate variables in something like pitching. Not only did Jimenez use his sinker more with Cleveland, he used it in a specific way. Check it out in his usage tab at BrooksBaseball. Particularly against lefties, he’s used the pitch much more when he’s behind in the count. This may indicate he had more confidence in his ability to command the pitch, or it may be a decision to go for a grounder and not a K. Whatever the reason, it’s produced ugly, ugly results from the two-seamer – results that are ugliest this year. That’s to be expected in a way, though – every pitcher looks bad when they’re behind in the count, and if he uses a specific pitch in those situations, it’ll look like a bad pitch. Jimenez is perhaps more extreme than most pitchers in that the gap in his FIP in PAs that start 0-1 is about 3 full runs lower than it is when they start 1-0.
The M’s needed to make a 40-man move today to get some bullpen help. Yesterday’s spot start by Hector Noesi and 4+ innings of bullpen work that followed hollowed out the M’s pen, particularly righties. Thus, the M’s brought up Danny Farquhar today,* one of the two small righties they acquired in the Ichiro deal last year. Farquhar had a 30:4 K:BB ratio in just 20 innings, numbers which underscore how much he’s thrived since moving to the M’s org. Farquhar can touch 95 and has a funky delivery – something that’s helped him get lefties out as well as righties. But its his improved control since 2012 that’s really helped him get back to majors – he always walked too many, especially lefties, but the walks have dried up since moving to Tacoma (his combined K:BB with Tacoma in 36 2/3 IP is now 46:9). To make room, the M’s moved Stephen Pryor to the 60-day DL. Ryan Divish’s story on the move points out that a big part of his success has been trusting his curve ball more. Pryor was eligible to come back on May 30th, and though this move is retroactive, he’ll be out another month. He may be ready before then, but this allows the M’s to put off some potentially painful decisions – Francisco Martinez still isn’t hitting in AA Jackson.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Ackley, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Ibanez, LF
7: Shoppach, C
8: Chavez, RF
9: Ryan, SS
Michael Morse was scratched with “eye irritation.”
I had a great time in Tacoma last night, but I was gutted that Oscar Taveras didn’t play for Memphis. Sounds like he won’t play again tonight, but if you’d like to catch him, it sounds like he’ll play this weekend. Michael Wacha was really impressive last night, blowing away Mike Zunino with high fastballs. Zunino’s clearly struggled with breaking stuff, but he’s struggled against just about everything at home, fastballs included. He’ll get there, but he’s going to need some time. Stefen Romero impressed me, though, making hard contact a few times when no one else on the team could figure Wacha out. Andrew Carraway looks to quiet Kolten Wong and the Redbirds tonight.
* Full credit to Shannon Drayer for essentially calling this on twitter last night. I was wondering who they’d bring up and what the corresponding move was, and she called both sides of the equation. Again, twitter is awesome.
|MARINERS (20-21)||ΔMs||INDIANS (22-17)||EDGE|
|HITTING (wOBA*)||-7.0 (21st)||2.9||28.3 (2nd)||Indians|
|FIELDING (RBBIP)||7.9 (8th)||-1.8||8.9 (7th)||Indians|
|ROTATION (xRA)||13.6 (7th)||3.4||3.0 (12th)||Mariners|
|BULLPEN (xRA)||4.4 (11th)||2.3||-2.2 (21st)||Mariners|
|OVERALL (RAA)||19.0 (10th)||6.9||38.1 (3rd)||INDIANS|
A team’s record in one-run games is a number worth paying attention to. Vastly outperforming .500 in that regard is often a fluke, but sometimes can be sustained with an especially dominant bullpen staff. Seeing a team that’s run itself well to the positive or negative side of even on those games can be a good hint that the team may not be as good or as bad as their overall record indicates.
The Yankees entered the series against the Mariners with a 7-2 record in one-run games. Additionally, the Yankees had had the benefit of playing the incredibly underwhelming Blue Jays seven times, during which they racked up a 6-1 record. Still — and even though the above ratings spit out a comparison that favored the Mariners before the series started — it’s hard not to have watched those past three games and wondered exactly how it is that the Yankees accrued so many wins this early into 2013. They don’t look particularly formidable.
In contrast, I think the Indians are a mixed bag. On one hand, they’re perhaps ripe for a similar regression in their record as it’s been bolstered by a very high 10-3 record in one-run games. The Indians’ pen has run themselves a very good ERA so far, but it’s also 0.75 better than their xFIP and much better than their xRA is saying they’ve independently performed.
On the other, their crop of position players have been excellent of late and their overall record is fair given the entire team performance.
The Mariners are about to get underway in New York, and starting for Seattle will be Hector Noesi. The last time Noesi started in New York, he gave up five runs in seven innings, with five hits in two-strike counts. That was a game that got a hell of a lot of people frustrated. But this isn’t by design — Aaron Harang is a little bit hurt — and this also isn’t a post about Hector Noesi. Because another guy starting today for the Mariners is Brendan Ryan, at shortstop.
It was early on April 24 that Brendan Ryan was benched in favor of Robert Andino. From the linked article:
Just to clarify, I asked Wedge point-blank whether the pair were flip-flopping roles — Andino the starter and Ryan his backup.
“Yeah,” he said. “What I’m going to do is take it day-by-day, week-by-week and month-by-month, quite frankly,” Wedge said. “And I’m going to give Robert a chance to play and see where he takes it. I liked what I saw with his work and his approach this spring. I don’t feel like it’s been as good here in-season.”
The news caused a stir, because Ryan is better than Andino is. They’re basically identical hitters, in that they both suck, but Ryan’s a spectacular fielder while Andino’s an okay one, so in terms of overall value, Ryan comes out ahead, almost unquestionably. A lot of people didn’t understand why the Mariners were going to make themselves worse. It’s not like Andino is some kind of prospect. He’s 29 years old. He hasn’t been a prospect for more than half a decade.
This is going to be the Mariners’ 19th game since that news was delivered. Over that course, Andino has started at shortstop seven times, while Ryan has started at shortstop 12 times. The day-by-day breakdown, from oldest to newest:
It’s not like Andino’s been hurt. He just started a couple times in a row in place of Dustin Ackley, who might be working on something on the side. But where it looked like Andino might take over as the Mariners’ regular shortstop, Ryan looks like the starter again just a few weeks later. He hasn’t earned it by hitting. Ryan hasn’t started to hit. But Andino also hasn’t hit, and this was probably more about trying to get Ryan to relax and take a step back.
Which is fine. With this move in particular, it’s not necessarily like the Mariners were ignoring Ryan’s defensive value. If the Mariners didn’t realize how much Ryan can do in the field, he wouldn’t still be on the team. I think the Mariners just wanted to give Ryan a break, which would be in their longer-term best interests. Ryan gets frustrated easily, and the Mariners don’t need for that frustration to consume him. Picking Robert Andino over Brendan Ryan for a little while isn’t the same as picking Andino over Ryan, just.
More generally, I think it’s important not to overreact to news like this. Sometimes a player needs to be dealt with, even if his numbers are better than those of his backup. I think a common, kind of similar issue is the matter of the opening-day roster — people spill a lot of emotion over who does and doesn’t break camp, even though the roster is constantly changing. A guy who makes the bullpen might be out of a job a week and a half later. It’s good to have opinions, it’s good to have analysis, but it’s important to be patient. Criticize what you want to criticize, but don’t get overly critical until it’s actually warranted. Until a bad situation has played out for too long.
I guess this is along the same lines as the post I wrote the other day, about young players getting days off. I don’t really trust baseball managers on their strategy, and I don’t really trust them on their analysis or interpretation of statistics. If there’s one area where I do most trust managers, it’s on the day-to-day handling of personalities. They have to decide when a guy needs a day and when it’s right to push him, and while they won’t always be right in what they do, that’s where they have the biggest information advantage over an outsider. That can’t be ignored, or overstated. There’s a reason I seldom complain about lineups.
Too often, people act like a controversial bit of news is a big deal. Few things are big deals. It’s always fine, and downright encouraged, to think critically, but try to save the strong words for when they most make sense. Have patience, in sports and in everything.
Aaron Harang whoops Hector Noesi vs. Andy Pettitte, 4:05pm
Your Mariners begin play tonight tied for second place with the free-falling Oakland A’s. With the A’s off, the M’s have a great chance to wrest control of 2nd and jump into the fringes of the wild card chase. It’s somewhat funny that we all thought the addition of the Astros would give the AL West an advantage in the wild card hunt, but instead the AL Central has four teams ahead of Seattle, with one (the White Sox) only a game or so back.
Speaking of somewhat funny, tonight’s pitching match-up would have been a must-see game in 2006. Aaron Harang peaked with a pair of five-win seasons in 2006-07, while Andy Pettitte sandwitched five-win seasons around an injury year in 2003/2005*. While Pettitte’s had an up-and-down campaign thus far, he’s coming off a bizarrely effective 2012 (after retiring in 2010), and he claims to have made mechanical adjustments that led to a successful start five days ago. We’ll see. Aaron Harang has *really* been up and down, and apparently, it doesn’t matter, as he’s been scratched with back stiffness. The thought of skipping Harang’s spot in short-porchy Yankee Stadium is a great one, but be careful what you wish for, M’s fans. Today marks the 2013 starting debut for ex-Yankee Hector Noesi.
This is the spot where’d I’d point out that Pettitte, especially during his comeback, has been death on a stick against lefties, largely thanks to an effective cutter. I’d also point out that Hector Noesi is HECTOR NOESI, and that his lack of HRs allowed is just sitting there, taunting me and muttering about the Gambler’s Fallacy. On paper, this is just a weird, weird looking game. If the past few days are anything to go by, Noesi will throw a shutout and Ibanez will homer off of a Pettitte cutter.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Bay, LF
3: Seager, 3B
5: Morse, RF
6: Ibanez, DH
7: Montero, C
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Ryan, SS
SP: :deep breath: Hector Noesi
While it’s tempting to gorge on the incongruity of it a game like tonight’s M’s game, I’m going to head to Cheney Stadium for the first of a four game set pitting the Rainiers against the Memphis Redbirds. Before the season started, I targeted this series as the match-up of the two potentially most prospect-laden teams in all of minor league baseball. If you think I’d like to backpedal from that statement now, well, thanks, that’s very kind of you….just a little…yeah, there we go. I thought Taijuan Walker would be assigned to Tacoma, that Hultzen would be healthy and that Carlos Martinez would be in Memphis. But Walker’s in AA, Hultzen’s in the training room and Martinez skipped AAA and is in the Cardinals bullpen. Still – these games feature two of the absolute best position-player prospects in all of baseball in Mike Zunino and Oscar Taveras. Pitching for Memphis is another top prospect, RHP command-artist Michael Wacha, who would probably be in St. Louis now if the Cards rotation wasn’t already incredible. If you feel like getting out to a game this weekend, you should probably head down to Tacoma and check it out. Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Tacoma in Hultzen’s place tonight, but the whole series has a lot of interesting match-ups to watch as MLB’s #1 and 2 (or thereabouts) minor league orgs face off.
[Edit to add: another reason to check out the game tonight? Franklin Gutierrez will DH in his first rehab start.]
* Pettitte’s biggest WAR year? Way back in 1997, when the M’s were setting HR records, making the playoffs, making regrettable trades for Heathcliff Slocumb, and when a young Andy Pettitte put up a 7 win season for a solid team but lost to Jaret Wright and the Indians in the ALDS.
Jeff was otherwise occupied, but I wrangled Jay (aka JY) into my digital audio lair and held him hostage to talk about the minors. We touch on both a high level overview of the minor league philosophy of the Mariners and their player development and also get into some specific player details. I hope you enjoy.
I don’t know a damn thing about Preston Claiborne. Never heard of him in my life. Until today, anyway, and now I can tell you that he’s a pitcher on the New York Yankees. A few years ago he was drafted in the 17th round. Today he retired Dustin Ackley for the third out of the top of the first inning. Another thing I know about Claiborne is that he wasn’t today’s scheduled starting pitcher for New York. That was Phil Hughes, and Hughes didn’t get scratched shortly before game time. He took the mound, and he yielded to Claiborne, after having registered two outs. He did not leave hurt.
Hughes was pulled after allowing seven runs on six hits, two walks, and a dinger. He faced ten batters and got two of them out. The dinger was a grand slam by Raul Ibanez, as he followed up yesterday’s also-impressive dinger, and though I’d rather have Ackley dingers than Ibanez dingers, I’d rather have Ibanez dingers than no dingers, and I’m not going to allow myself to overthink this. Instead of playing favorites, I’m just going to settle for the fact that the Mariners hit a grand slam and knocked out the Yankees’ starting pitcher in the first. That’s a good way to recover from last night’s crushing disappointment, or what must have felt like a crushing disappointment to the players. Seven runs in an inning for the Mariners is more than they’ve scored in all but six full games.
If the Mariners win — and they’re in good shape — they’ll catch the A’s for second place in the AL West. Of course, a better way to put it might be that the Mariners would catch the A’s for fourth place, with the Rangers occupying the first three places, but at least the Mariners are more or less meeting expectations, while the A’s and Angels are falling short of them. If you can’t climb the tree, maybe the tree will fall down. In a wind storm. This wasn’t well thought through.
It’d been a while since the Mariners knocked a pitcher out in the first inning. You have to go back to August 28, 2007, when the Mariners blitzed Ervin Santana. In the span of seven batters, Ichiro and Adrian Beltre tripled, Jose Guillen doubled, Kenji Johjima singled, and Jose Vidro and Raul Ibanez walked. That game was part of Lollablueza, and I remember standing and cheering in my room as Santana trudged slowly to the Angels’ dugout. That was one of the last times the Mariners played a truly meaningful baseball game with real playoff implications. Of course, after the Mariners went up 5-0, they scored one run the rest of the way, while the Angels scored ten. The Angels won 10-6, they swept the Mariners on the Mariners’ own field, and the Mariners found themselves in a tailspin that got humiliating before it ever mercifully ended. There are a bunch of ways to fall out of a playoff race, and the 2007 Mariners might’ve found the quickest. Because of course a seven-run first inning in New York had to come back to Lollablueza. You just couldn’t let me fully enjoy this, baseball.
This was the first time the Mariners have knocked a pitcher out in the first inning during the Jack Zduriencik Era, if you have a thirst for symbolism.
Somehow even less importantly
On April 9, Brandon Maurer got knocked around by the Houston flipping Astros, facing ten batters and getting two of them out. That was the 53rd time in Mariners history that a Mariners starting pitcher failed to make it out of the first. Today was the 54th time in Mariners history that an opposing starting pitcher has failed to make it out of the first. The Mariners are winning statistical competitions you didn’t even know existed. Granted, some of these were due to injuries, and not performance, but don’t examine too closely. Just be happy with the broken deadlock in the Mariners’ favor. Think about this the way you think about a Raul Ibanez grand slam. Which is to say, smile, and think about it only very briefly.
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Phil Hughes, 4:05pm
So, last night’s game sure was a kick in the mouth, wasn’t it? Felix dominated, but came out with a classic Mariner no-decision. In addition, he tweaked his back and had to come out after the 6th. Then, the bullpen self-immolated with a big assist from the home plate umpire. And of course, Raul Ibanez decided to kick Dave and I extra hard by putting up two hits including a homer. People asked me what I thought of the home run off of CC Sabathia, and honestly, I thought it was awesome/hilarious. To be honest, I was still giggling a bit from Ibanez’s 2nd inning infield single (!). I mentioned it on twitter, but Ibanez’s performance last night was the greatest troll in this blog’s long history. I’m sorry Mr. Unethical!!! pizza dude, you’re now in second place.
It highlights that everything we talk about – from Nick Franklin’s possible promotion, to Tai Walker’s chances of making it a MLB starter to line-up decisions – comes down to probabilities. The people who say that you can’t know anything, and that baseball’s too unpredictable to be reduced to a spreadsheet are completely right, of course. None of us would actually like baseball if this truism wasn’t, er, true. So while it’s frustrating to see a team put out a sub-optimal line-up, reducing their chances of winning from, say, 55% to 48% or whatever, that doesn’t mean we can’t root like hell for an anomalous event. If Brendan Ryan hits three home runs tonight, I think I might actually, physically die, but if he hit two home runs tonight, I’d find it hilarious and welcome and beautiful. I would not like to build a team that depended on such rare events, however.
So let’s talk a bit more about Nick Franklin and his chances to outhit RyAndino. Dave’s post below is well-reasoned, and the overall point is clearly, clearly right: you need to regress Ryan/Andino’s performance before you can figure out how much better/worse any replacement (Triunfel, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin) would be. The problem is that projections have a narrower spread than actual MLB players. There are perfectly valid statistical reasons for this, and it’s one reason you essentially never see anyone forecast to hit 40-45 HRs. Projections are going to have a higher floor than baseball players, and some of that is because part-time players won’t get the opportunity to regress towards the mean, and some of that is because teams find a few guys on their midst who are, in fact, *ex*-baseball players.
I’m not ready to say that Brendan Ryan is totally kaput as a major leaguer. The man still appears to have good range in the field. But is it crazy that a 31-year old with a best-part-of-a-decade long career of having a bat that *nearly* outweighs his amazing glove may have tipped over the line and become replacement level? The two players I associate with Ryan most are Jack Wilson and Adam Everett, two amazing fielders and not-so-hot hitters who had long careers thanks to their defensive exploits. Everett was beset by injuries at 30, but stuck around to have a half-decent half-year at age 32 in Detroit, but was done as a regular at 29. And even at 31-32, Everett made much more contact than Ryan. At 31, Wilson had a great year in the field and a bad-but-acceptable year at the plate (split between Pittsburgh and Seattle). The following year, his performance in the field and the plate slipped, and he only got into 61 games. In 2011, at 33, he was essentially done. Here’s the funny thing though: you know what his ZiPS/Steamer projections are? For this year, 2013? About a .254 wOBA. Essentially right at Brendan Ryan’s rest-of-season projection. Brendan Ryan’s ROS projection essentially ties him with retired, formerly awful hitters. The Wilson Line is basically the projection system’s floor.
The point here is that we need to know what mean to regress Ryan/Andino’s toward. This is where scouting could help, but there’s probably no way to definitively resolve the question. It’s possible, and it’s looking more possible each day, that Brendan Ryan just isn’t an everyday player anymore. That’s tough, because he’s still likely an asset in the field, but it’s possible that the non-slumping version of Ryan just isn’t worth waiting for. Robert Andino is younger, but offers less defense, and his declines in contact and K% are starting to become concerning. In any event, he’s a replacement level player, and not getting younger. Nick Franklin likely isn’t a SS, but at this point I doubt his lack of range is going to be the difference between the M’s finishing at .500 or not. At some point, the M’s need to figure out who *can* play SS going forward. No matter how they do from now through September, Ryan and Andino are not in the running.
The M’s face Phil Hughes tonight, a fly-balling righty. As you’d imagine, a guy who pitches in New Yankee Stadium and has ground ball rates right around 30% has a bit of a home run problem. He’s got decent stuff, however, so he’s managed to carve out a frustrating but decent career. He’s been a fastball-curve-change guy his whole career, but seems to have switched to a slider thus far in 2013. That hasn’t helped his platoon splits, and it’s a bit early to know what to make of the change. It’s clearly something he worked on; this isn’t a pitch fx algorithm glitch, he made this change deliberately. He’d had a cutter for years that wasn’t quite MLB-caliber, but he’d all but abandoned it by 2012. The change in 2013 is using the slider in lieu of his hook – particularly to righties. In any event, he’s got to worry about his fastball, as he gave up 25 HRs on the fourseam last year, and he’s at 6 so far this year in just over 40 innings. Let’s go Seager/Saunders.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Ackley, 2B (!)
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Morse, RF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Ibanez, LF
8: Montero, C
9: Ryan, SS
One of the most common questions I get asked is why won’t the Mariners bring up Nick Franklin to play shortstop, considering how poorly Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino are hitting right now. This seems to be the primary question Mariners fans are asking every writer, as Larry Stone also tackled this subject yesterday, noting that the Mariners SS tandem is hitting worse this season than the average NL pitcher. As Stone notes, even if Nick Franklin were the worst defensive shortstop in baseball, the upgrade from his offense over what the Mariners have gotten would more than outweigh the drop-off in glove work.
But here’s the thing – when you exchange one player for another, you are not replacing what they’ve already done, but you’re replacing what they’re going to do in the future. It’s one thing to note that Ryan/Andino have hit like pitchers in the first six weeks of the season, but that’s not the future baseline you work from. No matter how down you are on these two, there’s no reason to think that they’re going to keep hitting this poorly.
Ryan is truly one of the worst hitters in baseball, but that’s been true of him for basically his whole career, and he’s had extended slumps not that different from the one he’s in right now. For instance, from June 25th to September 20th of 2008, he hit .145/.244/.171 over 86 plate appearances, then had a few good games right before the season ended and followed up the second half collapse with the best offensive year of his career in 2009. From June 6th to July 22nd in 2010, he hit .141/.196/.192 over 111 plate appearances and nearly lost his job as the Cardinals everyday shortstop. They stuck with him, though, and he hit .266/.307/.320 over his final 219 PAs during the rest of the year.
Hitters as bad as Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino are going to have long stretches where they look totally helpless at the plate. They’re scraping the absolute minimum acceptable offensive line for a Major League player, so when we watch them hit and then watch other big league hitters actually do some damage, it can be easy to suggest that Ryan (and Andino) will never hit any better than they are right now, because of their total lack of offensive skills.
The reality is that terrible hitters can underperform too, so right now, Ryan and Andino are underperforming even their own low level of expectations. And it won’t last.
What you actually want to compare Franklin against is what you’d get from Ryan and Andino in the future, not what they’ve done in the first month and a half in the season. You’re replacing future production, not past performance. And while Ryan and Andino are terrible hitters, they are terrible hitters who should be expected to hit better in the future than they have so far.
You can see daily updated forecasts for every player on the Mariners roster at the new FanGraphs Depth Chart page. From now through the end of the season, the forecasts call for Robert Andino to post a .269 wOBA, while Brendan Ryan posts a .258 wOBA. Those numbers suck, but Nick Franklin’s forecast wOBA is .298, a 30-40 point improvement, not the 100-150 point improvement you’d get if you ran the calculation versus past performance.
The easiest way to translate wOBA into runs produced is that two points of wOBA equals one run per 600 plate appearances. So, 30-40 points would be 15-20 offensive runs over the course of a full season. We have less than a full season remaining, so now, the gap is more along the lines of 10-15 runs.
Do you really think it’s unlikely that a guy who scouts think belongs at second base really can’t be 10-15 runs worse with the glove a guy who is among the best defensive shortstops in baseball? Even if we think Ryan has declined some defensively, or is taking his offensive issues into the field with him, you’re looking at a guy who is probably at least still above average, so conservatively, you could call him +3 to +5 runs over the rest of the year. Do you really not think Nick Franklin might be a -10 shortstop over four months? Do you remember Yuniesky Betancourt?
I know it’s frustrating to watch Ryan and Andino make outs, and having a complete offensive black hole at the bottom of the line-up is the kind of thing that makes you think that anything would be better than the status quo. But, in this case, I think the Mariners have made the correct evaluation . Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino aren’t this bad at the plate, and the offensive gap between their current tandem going forward — the only time period that matters — and what Franklin would provide in the future isn’t nearly as large as you might think.
If the Mariners had a time machine and could go back to Opening Day, then yeah, they should use it to swap out Franklin for Ryan or Andino, and the upgrade they’d get from making that move would be substantial because of how bad the veterans have been. But that’s not how things work, of course, and no change now can undo what has already happened. You can only evaluate what you expect to happen going forward and put the players you expect to perform the best in the future on the field. Right now, the reality is that the future offensive production gap won’t be nearly so large as the current one, and given the defensive difference, there’s not really a huge upgrade to be made by making the switch.