World Series Preview

October 21, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

Every year. Except last one? Maybe I forgot last one. Mostly every year.

CONTEXT

The Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants will face each other in the 2014 World Series, which begins on Tuesday. The Royals have advanced this far by defeating the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angeles Angels, and the Baltimore Orioles. The Giants have advanced this far by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Washington Nationals, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Both the Royals and Giants managed to defeat their opponents by outplaying them in a short series.

KEY PLAYERS

Kansas City:

Roster

San Francisco:

Roster

Both the Royals and Giants are filled to the brim with possible difference-makers. The 50 listed above will likely be the most important.

KEY QUESTIONS

Can the San Francisco Giants outscore the Kansas City Royals?

They can.

Can the Kansas City Royals outscore the San Francisco Giants?

They can.

Will one of the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals outscore the other four times?

Most certainly yes!

X FACTOR

The Royals will play a maximum of four games at home, while the Giants will play a maximum of three games at home. The home crowds may or may not help. I imagine there are also intangibles somewhere.

CONCLUSION

Both the Royals and Giants are good teams. The Royals are probably better by a tiny bit. If you re-played the World Series a million times, maybe 50-55% of the time the Royals would be crowned as champions. This World Series will be played once. One of these teams will win four games. The other probably won’t. The outcome will mean everything, and nothing.

Podcast: Stupid Lucky Ugly Royals

October 16, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

Jeff and I muse a bit on our nature of fan-hood and what we want our of sports. Then lament the Royals for a bit, insult the National League (as always), and finally address the one bit of Mariner news since the last pod.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

Welcome Back, Annoying Mariners

October 10, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

Well this is a hell of a lot more like it. The Mariners missed the playoffs by one game. The ALCS currently features the Orioles and the Royals, and I think it’s going to keep on featuring the Orioles and the Royals, and, man, it feels like the Mariners could’ve been there. Somehow, despite coming up just short, we all got to end the season feeling good. I felt good talking about the Mariners last night with Matthew on the podcast. Relative to the rest of the division, we get to feel great! The Mariners missed the playoffs, but they finished all right. The Rangers sucked. The Astros sucked. The A’s lasted two more days and lost in devastating fashion. The Angels got swept by a worse baseball team. We got to feel the best about our favorite team, and now, not two weeks after the last day, well I hope you got to enjoy that little vacation from regular Mariners. Now we’re back to regular Mariners.

Probably, you already know what I’m getting at. We’ve got two separate things that make us all feel quite a bit worse. For one, Jack Zduriencik and Lloyd McClendon were openly critical of Michael Saunders’ preparation in their year-end media session. Which might’ve been okay, if Saunders knew anything about it beforehand, which he did not. So, he heard that stuff for the first time when we heard that stuff for the first time, and that says bad things about organizational communication.

And also, hello there! It’s Bob Dutton! Wrote Dutton:

The Mariners had a deal in place last winter with Cruz, then a free agent, for roughly $7.5 million in 2014 with a club option of about $9 million for 2015…before ownership backed away.

Many of us spent all offseason dreading the inevitable big contract the Mariners would give Cruz. When Cruz finally signed for his modest terms in Baltimore, the consensus reaction was, actually, that’s not bad at all. The Mariners had Cruz for similar terms, despite all the rumors that Cruz didn’t want to play in Seattle, and then nevermind what Cruz actually went on to do in 2014 as an Oriole — the Mariners’ baseball people made a roster decision, and they were overruled on that decision by the Mariners’ non-baseball people. That happens sometimes, but you don’t expect to see it happen on a seven-figure, one-year contract for the exact kind of player the Mariners were in the market for.

So we get to be frustrated with the front office, and we get to be frustrated with the people above the front office. Everything that happened last season happened last season, and everything that made us feel pretty great about the Mariners is still perfectly valid, but it’s a little like eating a doughnut and then researching the nutritional content of a doughnut. In the end, you still enjoyed the doughnut, but you feel worse about the experience in the aftermath because the doughnut is basically trying to kill you.

It’s totally reasonable for the Mariners to be frustrated with Saunders’ fragility. Saunders is more frustrated than anyone with his own injury record. I mean, he wants to be playing all the time, and McClendon said some good things about his talent level. But the problem with what happened is obvious — you express these concerns via private communication. The Mariners employ Saunders, and they have every right to tell him what they think he should do in order to remain on the field, but as much as the media is a part of the business, it’s not a part of that side of the business. Feelings now are hurt for no reason. Don’t give me any of that motivational bullshit. Saunders isn’t Jesus Montero. Having this aired to the press serves nobody’s benefit but the media’s, where people now get to write about a minor organizational scandal that came out of nowhere.

Maybe the Mariners just didn’t realize what they were saying. Maybe they spoke without thinking, or maybe they thought Saunders wouldn’t be hurt by the comments. But given how guarded Zduriencik has always been with his thoughts, it’s odd that he might just blurt something out, and if he simply didn’t realize the effect this would have on Saunders, then I’m not sure Zduriencik is much of a people person. Which would go along with a lot of what we’ve heard previously. Saunders should be able to put this behind him, and if he’s a starter for the Mariners in 2015 that would be super, but I’m not a fan of where this could be heading. I don’t want to lose Saunders for nothing, and I don’t want a front office that doesn’t understand how human emotions work. This is one of those situations where the process behind what happened is of greater significance than what actually happened.

And the Cruz thing is bothersome, because it’s another indicator of ownership meddling. The actual contract terms would’ve been neither great nor terrible — that was a fair deal for the player in question. The Mariners would’ve lost a draft pick that wasn’t their first. For a while, Ken Rosenthal was reporting that, after the Robinson Cano contract, the Mariners were short on cash. He said they’d need to persuade the owners to spend more on the roster. Pretty much anything and everything of significance gets crossed with team ownership, but you usually don’t see them nix short, small deals. And keep in mind the owners still OK’d the Fernando Rodney deal. That happened in February. I assume that happened after the Cruz deal was agreed to and backed off of. So it wasn’t that the Mariners were out of space.

It seems the Mariners backed off because of steroid concerns. Absolutely, that was a valid question, and every team had it, and Cruz paid the price in the contract he ultimately received. But the Mariners’ supposed baseball experts, the people hired to fill the roles of baseball experts, determined Cruz was worth the gamble. The owners were like, nah, he’s not. The owners don’t know more about baseball than the Mariners’ front office does. And if the owners were wary of bringing a suspended PED user to Seattle, they should understand that fans don’t actually care about steroid users, in that despite all the outrage previously suspended players are supported and fans haven’t been driven away from the game. Cruz made a baseball mistake a lot of players make. The Mariners have paid money to worse people than that. Whatever number of fans would stay away because of the PED user, at least that many people would show up to the park to see some dingers. Nothing drives popularity like winning. Winning means revenue! The baseball people thought Cruz would help the team win. The owners turned them down.

I’d get it if we were talking about something for four or five years, or even like $20 million. But a year and $7.5 million, with a club option? For a player many thought was an obvious fit? In a season that needed to be successful, after the whole Cano splash? Forget Cruz’s 40 home runs. Maybe as a Mariner he hits 20 home runs. Who the hell knows? What I don’t like is this evidence of incomplete trust. You either trust your general manager or you don’t. If you don’t, you get rid of him. Members of ownership are very smart people, because they’ve made a lot of money and that’s hard unless you find it, but not a single one of them is a baseball expert. That’s why, thankfully, there are baseball experts to whom you give jobs. Owners should worry about making money. Front-office people should be in charge of building a roster. They have to have communication, but if there are disagreements, what does that tell you about organizational health?

The Cruz thing, I guess, was a year ago. Maybe that’ll never happen again. And the Saunders thing is stupid, but it seems somewhat less problematic, since sometimes people just say stupid things. If the Mariners keep Saunders and commit to him, this’ll all blow over. It’s not like the Mariners are a massive volcano about to erupt, collapsing then in on themselves and leaving a scar on the earth. But we just got readouts from some of the monitoring equipment, and the plumbing is active. There are rumblings underneath, and most of the time rumblings are nothing, and some of the time they’re not nothing at all.

There’s a certain way we’ve often felt about the Mariners, that we didn’t get to feel for a number of weeks. That feeling is back, in all its itchy warmth. We love this old blanket. It’s ratty as all hell, but we’ve had it forever.

Podcast: Hello, Offseason

October 10, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

The no longer baseball season podcast debut! The Mariners are still playing, unfortunately just not baseball.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

This Offseason’s Mariner Inevitability

October 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 51 Comments 

If you’ve ever read any of my posts before, you know I don’t feel certain about very many things. It’s probably one of the things I most believe in — essential uncertainty, I mean. I don’t know what I want to fix myself for lunch. I don’t know if I should go to the gym or go for a jog. At this present moment I’m not entirely certain where I put my car keys. So when I get a really strong gut feeling, or something along those lines, I pay attention to it, because those moments are unusual. And the gut feeling I’ve developed that’s grown impossible to ignore is that the Mariners are a couple months away from signing Billy Butler to an eight-figure contract.

My track record with these things is spotless. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would sign Barry Zito. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would get Corey Koskie. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would get Jeff Conine. I thought it was inevitable the Giants would sign Bronson Arroyo. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would sign Nelson Cruz. Remember that? None of those things happened, which tells you all you need to know about my feelings. But they all seemed so obvious, until something very different happened. Butler seems so obvious. We’ll see if something very different happens. But it’s obvious.

Point No. 1: the Mariners want a right-handed hitter. They’re prepared to raise payroll, and they want someone to slot in between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, and they have an opening at DH on account of Kendrys Morales was several piles of crap and he’s a free agent anyway. Butler has plenty of experience batting cleanup in Kansas City, that being his most common placement the last handful of years.

Point No. 2: I have to believe Butler’s going to become a free agent. People have loved him in KC, and he’s loved KC back, but he’s got a 2015 club option worth $12.5 million, and he just slugged .379. The only guy the Royals paid more than that this year was James Shields, and he made just an extra $1 million to be the staff ace. From the sounds of things, Butler would be willing to negotiate a smaller deal to stick around. The Royals might raise payroll because of their success and developing playoff run. But they’re going to remain a lower-budget operation, and they can’t afford to spend that much money on an aging and potentially declining DH, and as much as Butler says he loves it there, he’d probably leave for a multi-year guarantee.

Point No. 3: this should be obvious, but the Mariners have been all over Butler in the past. The Mariners showed “strong interest” early in the 2012 offseason. The Mariners were said to “covet” Butler in November 2013. This past July, even with Butler’s numbers down and the Royals contending, the Mariners checked in as they searched the world for offensive upgrades. The Royals coveted Yuniesky Betancourt, and eventually got him. The Mariners, with this front offices, have coveted Billy Butler, and it feels like they’ll eventually get him. He’s still the same kind of player, if maybe a worse version, and while Zduriencik might be turned off from having acquired Kendrys Morales when his numbers were down, that’s one case, and he sat out for several months, and Butler was a little hotter at the plate down the stretch.

So the Mariners have money and an opening. A player they’ve loved in the past is likely to become a free agent, which means they don’t have to negotiate any kind of prospect exchange. The Mariners aren’t the only team that’s liked Butler, but they’re forever looking for a reliable DH and Butler won’t be considered by half the teams in baseball, at a minimum. Some teams already have DH candidates. Some teams will try like hell to sign Victor Martinez, and some teams will be scared off by Butler’s statistical drop-off. The Mariners might be too in love, and while Martinez would obviously be the bigger upgrade, he’s probably going to get a bigger contract than the Mariners want to hand someone his age. Martinez has his own risks, and that market will dwarf Butler’s.

I don’t know the money, and I don’t know how much money I’d be comfortable with. Not a lot, but I’m conservative, especially with designated hitters who can’t field or run or apparently hit a lot of the time. Butler last season started swinging more than ever, in the zone and out of it, and that means fewer walks, and he’s also hit for a lot less power than he did in his peak. When you put it that way he’s a disaster, but he’s somehow still not even close to 29 years old, and there still is very real power in his bat. It just hasn’t manifested very often. Last season Butler was a below-replacement player, but the five seasons previous he was an average contributor, so, what do you do with that?

I think what the Mariners do with that is sign the guy and see what happens. Jack Zduriencik has loved Butler in the recent past, and the more distant past, and he’s presumably about to become available. Lloyd McClendon saw a lot of Butler in the AL Central, and he saw the least of Butler in Butler’s worst season. All the pieces fit just so, and just because Butler isn’t yet thinking about his offseason doesn’t mean the Mariners aren’t. It’s the most obvious move I can think of. It’s a splash without taking up all of the team’s remaining resources, and it’s something the organization would feel really comfortable with, even though Butler does not have a very comfortable profile. There’s a reasonable gamble on Butler, and there’s a too-expensive gamble on Butler, and a year ago I would’ve assumed the Mariners would pay way too much. Now they’ve earned more benefit of the doubt, but Butler still seems like the easiest thing to predict on some terms.

Billy Butler will be a Mariner, just like Nelson Cruz was going to be a Mariner. I don’t feel certain about things very often. This one’s hardly even a gut feeling. This one makes me feel like I’m a man from the future. So, Mariners fans, get ready for a DH nicknamed after a breakfast. How many times could a man possibly be wrong, you know?

2:46pm PDT

September 28, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 57 Comments 

On so many occasions of brilliance in the past, Felix has required some run support from one team. On this particular occasion of brilliance, he required run support from two. So we shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t think anybody is surprised. Even the way things played out was a miracle.

An important, fundamental point to understand is that we aren’t really in this for championships. That would be stupid — if we were in this for championships, there wouldn’t be sports fans. That’s always a losing gamble. We aren’t in this for the ultimate triumph, in that the benefits are separate, but at the same time, what drives us is the belief that there could be a championship, sometime kind of soon. It’s all an exercise in misleading ourselves. Think of it like projections. We aren’t trying to get perfect player projections, and we wouldn’t want those anyway, because they’d ruin everything. We like that we’re wrong, all the time, but we always have to believe the projections are getting better, that we’re all getting a better idea of the future.

All we need is to be able to dream that good things are coming. It’s that simple, and we’re all dreamers, which is why everybody loves April. Teams are always in it in April. It’s acceptable if you feel like good things are coming a year or two or three down the line, but of course the priority is the most immediate season, and you want to be able to dream that your team can win the World Series. The 2014 Mariners allowed us to dream that dream, until the dream died on the last day of the regular season, at 2:46pm local time. It was a much later time of death than for dreams previous.

The disappointment is that the Mariners fell short of the playoffs. In that way, they’ve extended a too-long streak. The disappointment is that they had opportunities to do better, as if every team in baseball doesn’t have its share of heart-breaking or uninspiring losses. It’s so easy to look ahead. They definitely could’ve won tomorrow. At home? Please. They definitely could’ve handled Kansas City. And then to have Felix available in the ALDS…I mean, once you’re in, you’re in, right? No reason the Mariners couldn’t have gone all the way. Just needed to get there. They didn’t get there.

But what are the playoffs? The playoffs are just more baseball, where more fans of more baseball teams get to experience a final disappointment. The playoffs allow you to extend the dream, a day or a week or as much as a month. All but one of the dreams die. A dream will die Tuesday. Another dream dies Wednesday. Of the eight dreams then remaining, four are dead by the 9th. That’s a week and a half from now. Another two die by the 19th. Then two dreams remain. The Mariner dream was alive until the end of September. The Mariner dream was alive longer than most. A selection of more blessed dreams will last all of a few more days before fizzling out. There is a difference, but it’s hardly as stark as missing the playoffs suggests. The Mariners came up just short of a handful of teams who will come up just short. Think about it like that and I swear it’s not so bad.

Every day of this regular season, we got to give a shit. More than that — we got to feel like every day of this regular season mattered. And every day did. They mattered after the early eight-game losing streak, where a lot of people sensed the seemingly inevitable darkness. They mattered during every slump, and they mattered during every hot streak. God knows they mattered this week. I felt like the five-game skid killed my dream, and I swear I felt it die when Ryan Goins doubled home Munenori Kawasaki, but I kept on paying attention, because, what if? It isn’t final until it’s final. I thought it was final on Wednesday, but it wasn’t really final until Sunday at 2:46. The Mariners didn’t completely turtle, and the A’s treated a wild-card berth like an angry beehive. I’m not sure the A’s even want to be in the playoffs, but you can only lose to the Rangers so much unless you’re actively trying.

The Mariners kept us occupied all summer. Is it fall? The Mariners kept us occupied all summer, into or almost to fall. Last season they bid farewell to .500 on April 9. The year before, April 29. The year before that, July 6. The year before that, April 30. They wound up with a fine record in 2009, but they weren’t really in the thick of things so much, so that season had a different feel. This year’s Mariners, finally, held up their end of the bargain. They fulfilled their obligation. It felt like there was a return for our investment, which is the point, and which hasn’t often been the case. This was a team it was actually a pleasure to root for, even when we hated it. We all hated watching Fernando Rodney walk in the winning run against Oakland, but I love that I got to hate that so much. I love that it was a different hate — it was missed-opportunity hate, as opposed to why-are-we-doing-this hate. That second kind of hate, the more familiar hate, is in part just us hating ourselves. The former — that’s pure sports emotion. In all its beauty and pointlessness, that’s the sort of emotion sports fans want to experience.

At the best of times, being a baseball fan doesn’t have to be philosophical. It gets that way in the hard times so we can maybe try to learn something and better ourselves in the process. It’s a way to try to squeeze some water out of the stone of a godawful season. At the best of times, you feel good when the team wins, and you feel bad when the team loses, and when the team loses, you want to feel good about the team winning the next day. At the best of times, you have a very different relationship with players like Endy Chavez. It’s a relationship founded 100% less on snark. Even if you don’t like that he’s on the team, you like him on the team, and you want him to do well because you want the team to do well because you believe in the team as it’s constructed.

What the Mariners didn’t deliver was a playoff berth. They didn’t bring home a title, or even a won series. Yet they generated playoff atmospheres. They generated memorable moments. They ended on a far better note than they could’ve, and don’t underestimate the significance of ending like this, instead of ending with the four wins and the five losses swapped around. That’s a marketing thing more than it’s a baseball thing, since baseball-wise it doesn’t matter, but our emotions are easily manipulated and in this way the Mariners get to head into the offseason as having won at the end. The Mariners didn’t provide everything they could’ve. Rather, they provided enough. Maybe more than enough. Maybe you think I set my standards too low, but how seriously do you really want to take this? The game’s entertainment, and the Mariners entertained, and the show’s over, and it was a good show. Could’ve been better, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse, and overall that was a fine way to pass the time.

We all get about a month of reflection, if we want it, while the rest of baseball sorts itself out. The stage is set for October’s title dream battle royale, and we’ll watch without caring, or we’ll watch something else. And we have a month to look back on 2014 before we think about how to bring the dream back to life for the season and seasons to come. And the dream will come back to life, because it always does, every November, or December or February or March. I don’t know when next year’s dream is going to die. The dream about the dream is it won’t. The last time we felt this good about the Mariners, they came back and lost 101 games. But, the Pirates built on the dream of 2012. The Royals built on the dream of 2013. Maybe the Mariners build on the dream of 2014. That dream is dead, and it died today, but there’s another version of the dream to come, because there always is. You might already feel it stirring.

Game 162, Angels at Mariners

September 28, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 128 Comments 

King Felix vs. Cory Rasmus, 1:10pm

It is the happiest Felix Day Ever. I don’t need to tell you to watch, and I don’t need to strain for a reason you should care. I have no idea how we got here, but this is incredible. Enjoy this, no matter what.

Cory Rasmus was excellent against the M’s for four IP 10 days ago, but even if he’s great again, he’s not going more than 5. This could be a bullpen battle, and I like our chances if it is.

Go Mariners. Go Rangers.

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS

Game 161, Angels at Mariners

September 27, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 276 Comments 

James Paxton vs. CJ Wilson, 6:10pm

Hisashi Iwakuma did his part. Now it’s James Paxton’s turn to shake off a terrible start and keep the M’s slim playoff hopes alive.

I wrote a bunch about Wilson the last time he faced off against Paxton, ten days ago. I had a well researched story of decline and aging, and he went and shut the M’s out for seven innings, out-dueling Paxton and getting the win. But like the M’s, my narrative isn’t technically dead: in his next start, Wilson faced the A’s and didn’t make it out of the first, yielding six runs on two hits and four walks (no Ks) in 2/3 of an inning. Since August 1st, Wilson’s given up 34 runs and 34 walks against 42 Ks in 53 1/3 IP. This is a sustained, sustainable slump with a weird, unfortunate seven inning blip against the M’s. No more blips, M’s.

The Angels wrapped up the best record in the AL the other day when Toronto beat Baltimore, and Mike Scioscia mentioned that while he’s not going to turn the line-up over to AAA call-ups entirely, he will get his starters out of the game earlier to get some rest. The big game to watch today is the A’s/Rangers tilt in Arlington, where Jeff Samardzija faces off against Derek Holland, who’s been sharp since coming off the DL a month or so ago. [EDIT]. Awww, c’mon Texas. The Rangers scratched Holland and start Scott Baker instead.]

1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Denorfia, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Paxton

If you’re heading to the game, it’s going to be a bit crowded. The Sounders have a game at 1 across the street, and then the Huskies/Stanford game starts at 1:15. It’s a night game, I know, but I imagine there’ll be some traffic from fans leaving those two events. Not a great night for a 6pm start, but hey, go M’s.

Game 160, Angels at Mariners

September 26, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 46 Comments 

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jered Weaver, 7:10pm

It’s game #160, the final series of the year, at home, and the M’s technically haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention. The Mariners DHs, as Jeff just pointed out, have been historically awful again. Their opening day CF was gingerly dumped on the trash heap like something both foul and volatile, and after a surprising trade got them a veteran CF, the new guy underperformed that low bar. We all know this team’s all-too-visible holes. To their credit, they played well in spite of them throughout the summer. In all likelihood, their pitching can’t recapture this level of performance in 2015. But despite it all – despite the Brad Miller faceplant, and the realization that Kendrys Morales of all people desperately needs spring training – the M’s go into next year as a contender. A lot can happen in an offseason, but man, the gap between the M’s and A’s looks a hell of a lot smaller now, and the Angels don’t have that untouchable feel that the Rangers had as recently as 2012. I like this, as much as it hurts watching Hisashi Iwakuma slump or Chris Young’s inscrutability suddenly turn hi-def, 1080p scrutable.

Today’s game pits Iwakuma against Jered Weaver, the Angels shorter, healthier version of Chris Young. As you all know, Weaver’s ridden a slow fastball with plenty of backspin to a remarkably consistent career. He’s lost some velocity over the years, but he’s topped 200 IP again in 2014 for the fourth time, and first since his excellent 2011. He uses a four-seamer to righties, a “sinker” to lefties that has essentially zero sink, but a bit more armside run, a change-up, a curve and a slider. As a pitcher who throws plenty of high fastballs, he gets very few ground balls, but that doesn’t matter, as he’s consistently kept his HF/FB ratio under 10 (though Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle’s parks certainly help with that), and thus he’s a rare right-hander with a .270 career BABIP in over 1,600 career innings. Pop-ups are clearly a big part of that equation, as all of his pitches – not just the four-seamer – get more pop-ups than average. But he’s also able to get more strikeouts and whiffs than Young or other pitchers with this MO. This is why he’s been a borderline ace and not just a surprisingly effective middle or back-of-the-rotation guy – he manages contact well AND he’s able to get outs on his own. Finally, his approach and arsenal works for lefties as well as righties, and thus he has essentially no platoon splits in his career. It all adds up to a guy whose ERA is significantly lower than his FIP, and who seems to have earned the right to ignore the fielding independent stats.

That said, he’s clearly not what he used to be. Not only is he not striking out a batter an inning, he’s walking more than he has since 2009 – back before he was *Jered Weaver* and was more the guy who’d fluked his way to a great rookie season. His o-swing, or the percentage of swings on balls outside of the strikezone – tanked this year; as I mentioned before, it’s the 2nd lowest figure of any qualified starter, behind only CJ Wilson. His BABIP and FB%, the two things that define his ability to generate weak contact, aren’t quite in Chris Young’s league, and thus, on a rate basis, Young’s essentially matched Weaver’s (good) 2014. They’re not equally valuable, and honestly, Young was incredible for a while there, but Weaver’s less an ace and much more of a very nice complementary piece. For most of the year, that’s all he needed to be: Garrett Richards was the team’s unlikely ace, and Weaver and CJ Wilson were the handsomely-compensated veteran “presences” that stabilized the rotation. With Richards out, the team might seem to be at a disadvantage in the playoffs, except that no one really knows WHAT makes for a great playoff team. The Angels have been incredible this year, and if their pitching can’t quite line up against the A’s or even the M’s, they probably won’t be too concerned thanks to their best-in-baseball line-up.

1: Jackson (C’mon, man)
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Morales ( )
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Grant Brisbee’s guess/approximation of AC/DC’s new song “Play Ball” – the song that’ll be featured on every commercial break for the upcoming postseason – was surprisingly soulful.

The Royals face Hector Noesi and the Sox tonight, while the A’s will lose in excruciating fashion to Nick Tepesch of the Rangers. The A’s managed to get six hits and six walks last night, but only scored one run in a walk-off loss in Arlington. Coco Crisp was on base five times himself, but never scored.

Go M’s!

Logan Morrison And Justin Smoak, Who Is A Player On The Team

September 26, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

So the current Mariner we get to think is newly good is Logan Morrison. Morrison’s the guy we can choose to focus on, if we want to not focus on the various other disappointments. The way this usually works, there’s a handful of semi-interesting young players, and one of them will be performing well at a time, and when that one starts to slump, another one’s getting hot, kind of like young hitter Whac-A-Mole. Morrison’s had himself a wonderful September, and he’s just been pretty solid in the second half, suggesting that maybe he can be a first baseman for a while. I mean, one worth having, too. The guy’s only newly 27.

It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Morrison and Justin Smoak. The Mariners once traded for the Rangers’ Justin Smoak, then last winter they traded for the Marlins’ Justin Smoak. I don’t need to review the similarities. The Mariners were either doubling down on their investment, or they were emplacing an identical safety net. Morrison, if nothing else, was an interesting young player. There are worse things to stockpile.

And, look at that, Morrison has a 107 wRC+. An average first baseman this year has a 111 wRC+, which is basically the same. Morrison seems like maybe he can be an average type. He played most of the year at age-26. As encouraged as you want to be, though, you can’t help but think of something, like that damned comparison between Dustin Ackley and Jeremy Reed. A year ago, Smoak was 26. He posted a 111 wRC+. Some walks, some power, some defense, some promise. Everything we think now about Morrison, we thought then about Smoak. Following here, a Lloyd-McClendon-on-Justin-Smoak opinion montage.

March 2014

“For me, Smoak is a guy who should hit 40-45 doubles and 20-25 home runs. Not the other way around.”

May 2014

“I like what I see,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said of Smoak earlier this week. “[He's] probably going to cost me a lot of money, but I hope he does, if he keeps hitting this way.”

July 2014

McClendon says Smoak is a Major League player, but needs to work on things.

July 2014

“He’s swinging the bat well,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, he can give us a little lift from an offensive standpoint. And, obviously, his glove work around first base is a little smoother than LoMo (Logan Morrison).”

September 2014

“Smoak, no, I’ve never heard that name before in my life. Do you mean Smock? No, I’ve never heard that, either. Who’s named Smock? That’s a thing for wearin’, not namin’. People still wear smocks?”

Smoak was all promise a year ago. There was a time McClendon thought it was possible for him to lead the damned league in doubles, which often require running. Smoak sucked in the first half, and he’s barely played in the second. He’s a forgotten and useless instrument, like a lot of the things I put away in my kitchen, and considering Smoak this year cost nearly $3 million, it’s unlikely he’s coming back. He’ll end up a free agent, and someone will hope for his upside, because these players are always more appealing if you haven’t actually had to watch them all the time.

None of which is to say that Logan Morrison is just going to go the way of Justin Smoak. They are very literally different people and different players, and if one of them has an X% chance of succeeding, you have higher chances of one of them succeeding if you have two. Just because Smoak seems like a letdown doesn’t mean Morrison can’t even improve from here, but Smoak’s just going to be linked, because he’s a hard guy to unremember, and it’s a hard player profile to trust. Morrison, in a way, is likely to pay for the constant Smoak teases; we’re going to be more cautious with him, because of the defects of his predecessor. Hey, a hugely productive September! Haven’t seen that one before.

Compared to Smoak, Morrison’s probably the worse defender, but not by too much. Neither is an asset on the bases, nor would you expect them to be. They’ve hit for similar power, but Morrison seems to have a higher power ceiling, which is a good thing. They’ll both pop the ball up. One separator is that Morrison seems better about line drives. And discipline? Morrison makes more contact. And, interestingly, Morrison has gotten a lot more aggressive over the course of his young career. Between 2010-2012, Morrison was a patient type. He’s since doubled his rate of swings at first pitches. And, hell, I found 226 players who’ve batted at least 250 times in 2014, and who also batted at least 250 times between 2010-2012. The biggest overall swing-rate increase? A hike of ten percentage points, belonging to Logan Morrison.

He’s significantly more swing-happy now. That’s a big reason why his walks have gone down. He’s also managed to avoid a strikeout increase, so Morrison is basically betting more than ever on the quality of his batted balls. We know he’s not going to depend on his legs, so Morrison goes as far as his power and line drives can take him. When he’s on, he’s a terror, as he’s been the last month or so. When he’s off, he’s worthless, because he doesn’t do anything else, so it’s about maximizing the “on” time. I can’t pretend to be able to predict this.

What are some of the details behind Morrison’s aggressiveness increase? Used to be, he swung at about a quarter of first pitches in the zone. This year, he’s swung at nearly half. And while he’s swung more at pitches in all places, he’s paid particular attention to pitches up near the belt. His swing rate against pitches around the bottom half of the zone has increased from 48% to 56%. His swing rate against pitches around the upper half of the zone has increased from 59% to 77%. Morrison seems to believe his happy place is in the upper reaches of the strike zone. Most pitchers these days are trying hard to work to the bottom of the strike zone, where the zone keeps expanding every year, but then pitchers do make mistakes. Breaking balls get hung. Fastballs try to get blown by. Morrison’s done what he’s done this year with this approach.

So we wait and see and do nothing else. There’s nothing else that can be done, from our end. Morrison’s earned an opportunity next year, just like Smoak earned an opportunity this year, and Smoak wasted his opportunity, but Morrison isn’t Smoak, even if Morrison is a lot like Smoak. We’ll be nervous, because of the memory of Smoak. We’ll be nervous, because of the limitations of the Morrison profile. But, maybe he’s actually blossoming somewhat. Or at least producing like he used to, if through an adjusted process. You can see how he could belong, even as a 1-2 win player, because it’s been hard to find decent hitters and his defense isn’t humiliating. I can talk myself into Logan Morrison. It’s not hard, when he’s hitting dingers.

But I could talk myself into Justin Smoak. I did exactly that, several times, somehow. The dream is that you have star players, but you can’t have stars everywhere, and below the level of stars, you get this uncertainty. We’d like for the Mariners to have a decent first baseman, and maybe they have one. We know they have Logan Morrison, whatever he is.

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