Game 1, Mariners at Astros

marc w · July 24, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Justin Verlander, 6:10pm

This is the strangest opening day we’ve ever seen, in the strangest year we’ve ever seen. Felix is gone, the Mariners are terrible, and start the year off facing the Astros, who beat the M’s in 18 of 19 contests last year. There are very good arguments against *having* a baseball season this year, and I don’t blame any of you for taking a year off. I’ve found it hard to think about baseball for several months after the lockdowns started, but I’m shocked to find that I’m pretty excited about it now. Yes, it was cool to watch some KBO games to scratch a baseball itch for a while, but my sleep schedule wouldn’t allow it long term. I’ve really missed the pleasing background hum that baseball adds to summer, even if that hum is made up of the details of yet another M’s loss.

The idea that “people need baseball” was a somewhat grating part of the rancorous dispute between the players’ union and ownership before the season began. It seemed so vain, so clueless, at a time people were dying due to shortages of life-saving equipment in New York and elsewhere. Baseball’s background noise can’t make up for the country’s manifest failures at dealing with Covid, and an institution like baseball sure can’t solve institutional racism. But I’m kind of stunned how good it feels to have it on in the background right now. Is it nostalgia for a time before Covid? Before the myriad horrors the news delivers us each day? Is it just a familiar distraction? I don’t know, and don’t much care. It is not enough, but it’s something. It feels like help, somehow.

In the absence of a playoff chase, we can follow the development of Shed Long, JP Crawford, and the M’s young starters. I’m fascinated by Yusei Kikuchi, and how he’s able to put 2019 behind him and figure out a way to become a consistent starter. Tom Murphy’s follow-up after a shockingly good 2019 will be delayed a bit, but we’ve all got plenty of time. And if the M’s appear ready to have Dee Gordon and Mallex Smith man the outfield corners *simultaneously*, well, hey, why not. In a strange year, I’m fine if the M’s get a bit surreal this season.

The Astros are coming off a very rough off-season that saw them punished by MLB for a long-running sign-stealing scheme. In the Before Times, we speculated how this affect them, and if their players would see a big drop-off in their batting lines. Now, it seems like a hazily-remembered story or rumor. Every team now has a hell of a lot more to worry about, and in any event, the Astros could be significantly worse, and still plenty good enough to make the playoffs (even before yesterday’s random and odd move to increase playoff teams from 10 to 16). They’ve lost Gerrit Cole, Jose Urquidy’s hurt, but it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. With a perennial MVP candidate at 3B, one of the game’s best SS, and Justin Verlander, they’re the easy pick as AL West champs, despite the improvements in Anaheim and Oakland.

Still, they’re going to need to fill the innings Cole gave them, and the easiest thing would be for one of their youngsters to step up and stake a claim on a rotation slot. Josh James seemed like he’d be another perennial All-Star after blowing up the minor leagues and making his MLB debut in 2018, but he scuffled out of the bullpen for Houston last year. Framber Valdez was slightly better despite ugly K:BB numbers, but he’ll have to stop walking so many people to be a long-term answer as a starter. They do get Lance McCullers back, but this would be a great year for perennial top prospect Forrest Whitley to turn his incredible talent into actual, on-field production.

Last year, Marco Gonzales started the year well, going 5-0 by the end of April. However, his velocity was noticeably lower; his 88 MPH average fastball in April was the lowest of any month in his career. He got around it by moving the ball around and keeping his pitch mix unpredictable, but he got hit hard in May. Tonight, I’ll be fascinated to see how hard he’s throwing, and how he adjusts to an Astros line-up that’s seen him a ton these past two seasons.

Your opening day line-up:

1: Shed Long, 2B
2: Evan White, 1B
3: Kyle Seager, 3B
4: Kyle Lewis, CF
5: Dan Vogelbach, DH
6: Austin Nola, C
7: Jose Marmolejos, LF
8: JP Crawford, SS
9: Mallex Smith, RF
SP: Marco Gonzales

The Risks: 2020

marc w · July 24, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Does anyone need pessimism in the year 2020? Do I need to write about it? It’s all we think about when we stop trying – really trying – to think about other things. It seems silly to do a post like this and not just have every item be “Someone dies.” Juan Soto tested positive yesterday, and the Braves lost both of their catchers to Covid as well. This is going to keep happening as we wait for news of Jarred Kelenic’s development or Kendall Graveman’s velocity. It’s hard to tune it all out and just be entertained.

But I’m going to try. Pessimism about everything is easy, and if there’s anything we’ve learned as M’s fans, it’s that there are occasional (bizarre) joys to be mined once you leave the easy path. They take work, they’re not just sitting there on the surface (“we won the championship!”), and experience beats a naive, perpetual hope out of you. But they’re hiding in there somewhere. I know it feels cynical to look for those joys in 2020, I know it feels weird to look forward to fake crowd noise, and radio broadcasters getting surprised by a home run because they’re just watching the game on TV, and I *definitely* know there are more important things going on. We need this because of them, not in spite of them.

So if we’re going to get anything out of this delusion, we have to set aside the sickening feeling that is always just below the surface. We’re going to try and take this seriously, and, for tradition’s sake and because this delusion demands it, let’s think about what would happen if this all goes wrong. But not too wrong.

1: The Mariners’ young core just isn’t going to work out

Going into what was assuredly a non-contending season, the M’s allowed themselves a minor splurge when they picked up Yusei Kikuchi for a multi-year (the exact length of the deal is kind of complicated given the opt outs) contract. He was young enough that he could be around when JP Crawford and Logan Gilbert and Evan White were ready, and he could spend 2019 and 2020 getting used to things and building up his innings. Great idea, great move all around. Kikuchi was essentially replacement level, with a 5.71 FIP and a DRA so bad I don’t want to actually type it here. Sure, it didn’t really matter, and yes, he’s made mechanical changes, and pitchers can surprise you, and maybe he’ll be good in 2021, but we all feel differently about Kikuchi and his role on a hypothetical good M’s team now.

What if that essentially happens to all of the young players we’ll be watching in 2020? I mean, it’s not a crazy thought. The M’s projected record is bad because the M’s individual projections are all…really bad! ZiPS projects Evan White to get on base at a .277 clip. It forecasts JP Crawford to essentially duplicate last year’s disappointing season at the plate, and for Shed Long to regress to a sub-Crawford level of offensive “production.” Somehow, Kyle Lewis’ projections are even worse (.227/.281/.376). ZiPS is actually pretty bullish on Dan Vogelbach, but we all saw Vogelbach’s second half, so we know what’s possible.

They’re only projections. Young players improve, and now they can focus on that improvement without expectations or fans or anything. But, and I know this is crazy for long-time M’s fans… what if they don’t? What if we’re forced to fall into that most familiar of M’s-fan postures and speculate about the NEXT wave? I think many of us are almost primed for it – gun to our head, I think many of us would rather watch the intra-squad games in Tacoma, at least once Julio Rodriguez is healthy and playing again. This club has potential, but right now, on paper, their flaws are so numerous and exploitable that profound, dispiriting, Zunino-in-2015-or-2019 ways. What if the one thing we’re looking forward to – young players improving in a short, meaningless season – goes away, and we end up watching the league humiliate Crawford/Lewis/White/Dunn/Sheffield/Long? Wouldn’t that be the most 2020 thing ever?

Statistically, it’s likely that a few of them will blow those projections out of the water. But some won’t even reach the low bar that ZiPS (or PECOTA, or Steamer, etc.) set. Maybe it’ll be easier to set that kind of public failure aside in this weird season, but it’s got to hurt psychologically. Not only that, but many of the standard ways to fix a young player in a horrible slump aren’t available. Remember Mallex Smith’s jag where he was so lost at the plate that he forgot how to catch baseballs? He worked with coaches and got right by playing for the Rainiers for a while. Well, no one can play for the Rainiers in 2020. Many of the coaches are working remotely. Maybe a few Zoom meetings would’ve worked just as well for Mallex Smith last year?

2: Injuries!

It’s baseball, people get hurt all the time. But the M’s progress towards contention depends so powerfully on development, and 2020 is doing everything it can to make that impossible. You could argue that the loss of the minor leagues and the chaos of 2020 has hurt the M’s more than just about any other team. What does losing your age-18 season *do* to Noelvi Marte, long term? What about Logan Gilbert?

One thing that I’ve been worrying about after Tom Murphy, Julio Rodriguez, Austin Adams, Mitch Haniger, Sam Haggerty, and Gerson Bautista got hurt is a wave of injuries hitting the M’s. It makes sense: the season’s a short 60-game sprint, and everyone wants to impress the front office. Pitchers know they won’t be logging 200 (or even 100) big league innings, so why not air it out like every start’s a relief outing? The M’s are doing everything they can to care for pitchers – going to a 6-man rotation, or exploring piggy-back starts, etc. But what if creating entirely new routines doesn’t put the players at ease?

The strange rules around the 60-man player pool makes things difficult, too. Without the minor leagues, the M’s brought essentially every top prospect to Tacoma to monitor their development/ensure SOME development would take place. They did this without regard to when a player (Mr. Marte is the best example) would be ready for the majors. It took some getting used to, but I think that was the right decision. Having near-to-the-majors talent ready to step in is vital for contenders, but doesn’t mean much to the Mariners. But seriously: what happens if the M’s need real help in the outfield? The worry isn’t so much that Jose Marmelojos or Tim Lopes can’t hang out in LF, but that players will be hesitant to admit that they need a break, or that the little ankle injury may be more severe than it seemed. Players probably never want to go on the 10-day IL, but now that 10-days is a solid chunk of the season? I think we’re going to see a lot of minor injuries turn into bigger injuries this season.

To be fair, small injuries aren’t going to tank a season that was tanked before it began. But what about a big injury? What about a TJ surgery or shoulder trouble from one of the M’s young starters? What about another injury to Julio? The M’s have been living this with Haniger, who had a series of small injuries followed by a cascade of big injuries that sunk his 2019 and threaten to take the entirety of 2020 as well. Opportunities for development are so rare, so precious right now. Losing that opportunity to injury would be a cruel blow. There’s never been a season like this where injuries could be both more common and more harmful.

3: The M’s player development settles in around the middle of the MLB pack

It’s the one thing we’ve been legitimately excited about: the M’s took two solid prospects into 2019 and finished it with three of the games’ best. Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic became top-10-in-MLB prospects, and Logan Gilbert flew through three levels looking like a potential ace. For so long, M’s player development lagged their peers in Houston and Oakland, and it killed their chances to build a dependable, consistent contending club. 2019 offered hopeful signs that that flaw had been remedied.

What this post presupposes is…maybe it wasn’t. What if the team had great years from three very well-thought-of prospects, and there’s no magic at work – no game-changing processes or cutting-edge theories. Let’s say Kelenic/Rodriguez/Gilbert are in the league in ’21, and are pretty good in ’22. If the M’s player development group is merely average, this rosy scenario isn’t going to be nearly enough, not when the Astros are still the Astros and the Angels have Trout/Rendon/Adell in the middle of their line-up. The beauty of a year like this is that we get to cheer on development without worrying about the standings. But what if it becomes clear that the Mariners are losing at *that* too?

Jesus Luzardo wins Rookie of the Year (which I picked in Baseball Prospectus’ Staff Predictions), maybe Forrest Whitley puts it all together, maybe the White Sox contend thanks to Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. None of these things are all that outlandish. Individually, they don’t threaten the idea of a contending M’s team in 2022 or your year of choice. But taken as a whole, they’d be a pretty concerning sign that other teams – who are, to put it mildly, a bit better than the M’s right now – are developing great prospects, too. The M’s need to develop prospects, but because of the whole zero-sum nature of sports, they need to develop more and better prospects to win. If their rivals have as many hits and as many failures as they do, it’s hard to see how things materially change.

We’ve been so focused on the Astros that the Twins’ remarkable turnaround caught us (or at least me) unaware. I’ve been mocking the White Sox player development for years, but they’re beginning to look a bit scary. The Indians keep turning boring minor league arms into Shane Biebers and Mike Clevingers, and I have no idea how they’re doing it. That’s just one division! The A’s and Astros have been doing this for years, and as a fan of a divisional rival, it sucks. If Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn struggle – meaning if they put up similar seasons to their 2019 campaigns – while the likes of Jose Urquidy or Griffin Canning or Kolby Allard succeed, it’s going to make wishing on 2022 pretty hard. It’s all we’ve got, and I’m very worried it’ll get yanked away.

Bryan Shaw? Bryan Shaw.

marc w · July 23, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

The M’s picked up former Indians and Rockies righty reliever Bryan Shaw. Shaw was most effective with the Tribe from 2013-2016, with 2.1 fWAR but 5 bWAR thanks to a much lower ERA than FIP. Some of that may have been luck, but it also reflected the fact that Shaw’s game was based on inducing weaker contact with his hard cutter. His K rates were never all that high, especially for a reliever in this day and age, but he was fairly effective thanks to his reliance on that hard, heavy cutter – a pitch that enabled him to be effective against lefties as well as righties. From 2013-2016, Shaw posted an ERA of exactly 3 (his FIP was 3.59), with 236 hits and 28 HRs allowed in 282 innings.

While he showed *some* platoon splits, he limited lefties significantly, with wOBA-against under .300 in two of those seasons. But thanks to his slider, he was able to absolutely dominate right handed bats. Because of that track record, the Rockies signed him to a three-year, $27 million deal. It…it did not go well. With the Rockies, Shaw was below replacement level by both fWAR and bWAR, sunk by lower K rates and sky-high hit rates. In 126 2/3 IP, he allowed 139 hits, 57 walks, and 21 HRs. Was this all Coors Field related? No, not really – in his first year in Colorado, he was much *better* at home than on the road. What’s going on?

Lookout Landing’s Michael Ajeto posits that a drop in velocity and (possibly related?) changes in movement on his cutter sapped his effectiveness. While his velocity is down a bit, it’s not actually all that different from his big years in Cleveland – it went up a bit in his final year in Cleveland, and it’s down from that, but it’s not different from, say, 2015. And it’s not just his cutter – his slider’s effectiveness has been going down for years, and became a serious problem in Colorado.

All of this has played havoc with his platoon splits. When he was good, he dominated righties (as a cutter/slider reliever, he really should) and was good against lefties. In Colorado, he was utterly destroyed by…righties. In two years, he faced a righty 324 times, and they hit .314 with a .578 slugging percentage and 17 HRs. This seems pretty dramatic.

One thing that jumps out is how he *used* his cutter. He didn’t use it any more or less than he had in Cleveland, but he did become hyper-focused on *where* he threw it. Here’s where he threw his cutter from 2014-2016 in Cleveland:
Cutter strikezone map 14-16
He used it up in the zone, but it wasn’t limited to one particular side of the zone. He typically like to keep it away from righties and lefties, but it was thrown in a different spot than his slider, which, in typical right fashion, he buried low and away from a RHB. Ok, so here’s where he used that cutter from 2017-19:
Shaw cutter 17-19

This looks like a slider heat map. It looks like *Shaw’s* slider heat map. Shaw kept it low and away pretty much all the time. My hunch here is that righties knew pretty much exactly where each pitch was going to go, and even if they didn’t know what type it’d be, that’s still a pretty big advantage.

The M’s bullpen looks pretty dire, and there’s no real risk in picking up Shaw. Fellow Rockies FA reliever bust Jake McGee was also released by the Rockies last week and ended up signing with the Dodgers. If he’s bad, he’s probably not going to be as bad as the back end of the M’s bullpen, weakened by Gerson Bautista’s injury, Yoshihisa Hirano’s late start/injury, and Austin Adams’ injury. There are some clear steps the M’s could take to see if he was telegraphing his pitches or his approach, and if he’s just done, there’s no harm in kicking the tires. He gives the ‘pen some experience, and that’s in pretty short supply. Shaw may be relieved to be pitching at sea level again, too. All in all a pretty harmless depth move, and one that might give the M’s a minor trade chip at some point.

The Upside: 2020 (?)

marc w · July 22, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

It feels profoundly strange to write “Upside” and “2020” in the same sentence, but this is what must be done given the format I set for myself several years ago. This has been the strangest, ugliest several months any of us can remember. The news has been bleak since March, and with a Covid-19 increasing again, the news figures to stay bad for a while. It is, in a very real sense, absurd that baseball season is upon us again, even in this abridged format. But you know all of this. We’ve all gotten used to living through absurdity; I think it’s what keeps us sane. And if some of that absurdity wears Mariners uniforms, well, that’s an improvement, I guess. If sports have any power to distract (“heal” is a stretch at the best of times, and a bad joke now), it’s because we collectively give it meaning, and that delusion decision binds us together. We get to take what we want from this bizarre pseudo-season, and, critically, we can decide what we feel about it. The tacit compact that makes all of us baseball fans, and the compact that keeps all 3 of you continue reading this site, is that baseball’s pretty great, and that the Mariners – even the Mariners – are our conduit to this shared meaning. We will watch the M’s not only attempt a full-fledged rebuild, but hope everyone stays free of Covid, hope that a year without the minor leagues won’t doom many, many prospects, and wonder what :gestures: ALL of this will do to the game and the team in a few years. And we can decide that this is entertaining.

It’s with that as a backdrop that we can just sort of skip over the news that today, about 24 hours before the season kicks off, no one really knows how many playoff spots there’ll be. Could be 10! Or up to 16! We’ll know tomorrow, I guess. I also hope that Toronto knows where they’ll play their “home” games, now that Canada has officially ruled out, uh, Toronto. It may be Pittsburgh, because why not, but New York is lobbying for Buffalo. We’re good at dealing with absurdity now, right? Compared to all of this, the M’s situation is downright boring. They’ll play in Seattle, and will face teams in the AL and NL West. That gets them facing two of the premier teams in the game in Houston and the LA Dodgers, and the A’s and Angels seem like formidable opponents as well. But they’ll be playing something like real games, and we can again turn our attention to the now-officialy-acknowledged rebuild (the term “step back” was a silent casualty of 2020).

This is supposed to be the optimistic post, and however good we are at dealing with absurdity, being optimistic in 2020 is still a bit hard. But in many ways, this figures to be an easier season to enjoy and follow than 2019. Last year, the M’s identified Marco Gonzales and Mitch Haniger as their veteran stars their prospects would learn from. Gonzales had a superficially solid year, but with declining velocity and K rates, it provided red flags along with a decent ERA. Haniger’s year was worse – undone by a ruptured testicle and then with what seems like a botched surgery on his core, followed by back issues. He’s still on the IL, and is facing another lost year of development. But despite this, the team really did identify a core group of players who could be the heart of a contending team. It just wasn’t who we thought it’d be. While Justus Sheffield, JP Crawford, Shed Long, and Justin Dunn had some mixed results – really solid play at times, and some struggles in others – Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez made the leap from exciting youngsters to two of the top prospects in baseball.

Perhaps even more encouraging was real improvement in the M’s pitching development. Logan Gilbert is now one of the better pitching prospects in the AL (though the league has quite a few gems near the majors right now), and the other first-rounders (George Kirby and Emerson Hancock) looked solid in Summer Camp. The development of Austin Adams after a mid-2019 trade, the development of Brandon Williamson and Isaiah Campbell and even Ljay Newsome has helped provide potential answers to the question that the M’s pitching woes have been asking for the past few years.

Last year at this time, the M’s started Domingo Santana and Jay Bruce in the outfield. Ryon Healy was the 3B, Tim Beckham the SS, while Edwin Encarnacion DH’d. By early June, Tommy Milone, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc anchored the rotation behind Gonzales. Sure, sure, JP Crawford arrived before too long, and by the second half, you had a team that was much more similar to the 2020 line-up. But last year was a profoundly transitional team in the first half, one that no one – not the M’s, certainly – expected would play a part in 2020. The usual parade of waiver moved through, but given the roster rules this year, I think we’ll see less of that and more of the young players that the team hopes can lead them to contention in 2022 or so.

To be clear, that could be ugly from a win-loss perspective, as the second half of 2019 shows. But the first half was plenty ugly too, and worse, it was pointlessly ugly. This year, we can tell ourselves that the losses build experience and character, the sporting equivalent of kale or arugula. And it may even be true. While we’re very unlikely to see the likes of Jarred Kelenic (and Julio Rodriguez, thanks to his hairline fracture as much as team control concerns), we could see some of the young hurlers before too long.

So there figure to be good things to watch, and expectations are suitably low. That’s a pretty good way to summarize the Mariners, and I’m finding myself pretty excited to see how it goes. Given all of this, what would be clear, unambiguous signs of progress? What would we all see as obvious victories in a season that probably won’t feature a lot of on-field victories?

1: Justus Sheffield or JP Crawford (or both!) takes a major step forward

The two prized prospects in the series of trades before 2019 had odd seasons, and are almost afterthoughts when people discuss the M’s young talent. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, I know, but readers may remember I had something like this about JP last year, and, well, he slashed .226/.313/.371, which lowered his career OPS to .687. It’s easy to forget he’ll be 25 this season, and was once every bit the prospect that Kelenic/Rodriguez were. His defense was better than advertised, and his batting eye remains keen. He just needs to hit more. He’s young enough that this isn’t crazy, but experienced enough that this would be something of a player development coup.
Sheffield’s in a similar position. His first half in Tacoma was utterly dispiriting, with serious control issues and poor results all across the board. He found himself in AA, and made seven starts for the M’s down the stretch, with a Crawford-like mix of encouraging signs and concerning signs. His K rate rebounded, and his slider showed that it could be a weapon against right-handed bats. But he was extremely hittable thanks to a low-spin four-seam fastball that didn’t have enough velo or movement to avoid barrels. He’s toyed with a change that could really improve his stock, but the most pressing need is to improve his fastball to the point that batters can’t simply ignore every slider he throws. The M’s know this, and have worked with him on his fastball pitch design – I saw a bit of him in the broadcast Summer Camp intra-squad games, but that can’t tell us much. Is it a true sinker? A more traditional four-seamer with added spin and angle? Any change to the arm angle? Soon we’ll find out, and that could help Sheffield regain the prospect sheen he had when he was traded from the Yankees.
Neither player needs to be a star – we’re not asking Sheffield to be an ace, or Crawford to be the best SS in the AL (again, the AL is just loaded at the position right now). But 3.5 WAR seasons from one or the other would be extremely helpful to the Mariners cause. Only Marco Gonzales got there by fWAR/bWAR, but he was replacement-level by Baseball Prospectus’ formula. With so many holes to fill, and with plenty of time before the likes of Noevi Marte are ready, having more solid, above-average regulars would help cut the deficit the M’s face with their rivals.

2: Logan Gilbert succeeds in the Majors from day one.

This is really two nested goals in one. First, that Gilbert’s development in Tacoma is so obvious that he forces the M’s hand, and gets promoted relatively quickly. And second, that Gilbert doesn’t flail for a while like so many M’s pitching prospects have done (Sheffield, Erik Swanson, Justin Dunn) in recent years. Gilbert’s stuff is the most ace-like of any pitcher in the system, and there is no reason it shouldn’t help him succeed. If the M’s pitching development really has turned a corner thanks to their heralded Gas Camp and the like, this should be an easy win for the team. Keep him healthy, and point him at the enemy line-up, and things should go great.
It’s not so easy, of course. The trick here is that Gilbert won’t be getting real game situations until he’s promoted, meaning he won’t have faced someone on another team since last year in AA. He’s had very little exposure to high-level hitting, and the M’s Tacoma player pool has some great prospects, but may not be what he needs to prepare for the Astros and A’s. However, given the situation we’re in, there’s no way to know until we try it out. I understand starting him in Tacoma for a little bit, but Gilbert (and Kirby, and so many others) desperately need to play actual games. As those are only going to happen at the big league level, the M’s need to get him up and involved.
The M’s using a six-man rotation is the kind of thing that could help ease that transition. With so many players needing to watch innings limits, the M’s were kind of forced into it (though I said last year that they should try it). But an extra day of rest could help protect or even enhance velocity, and it’s a great way for Gilbert and his teammates to gain critical experience together; it’s less of a zero sum game when Gilbert’s presence doesn’t have to mean that Dunn or Sheffield sits.

3: Everyone stays healthy.

This is obvious, but we need to mention it given the fact that several players and some Mariners tested positive. The overwhelming majority of the players who’ve tested positive have had minor cases or been completely asymptomatic, but the Freddie Freeman story shows that some get very, very sick. Contending teams are already saying that the teams that an outbreak or a key player testing positive would throw a race into chaos, but luckily we don’t have to worry about anything so small over here. I don’t want any players, staff members, or their families to have to go through a serious illness whose long term effects we still don’t really know.

I know they’re doing everything they can to keep T-Mobile Park as Covid-free as they can, but this shortened season will still result in a lot of travel, including to places like Houston that have been the epicenters of this second surge. The M’s head there on Thursday evening. Fingers crossed, I guess! For sports to actually have the salutary effect of distracting our addled, anxious, on-edge nation, we need to avoid more players – or groups of players – getting sick or spreading the virus. Sure, it’s obvious, but there is probably no more important goal for this team in 2020.

Baseball is Back. For Now.

marc w · June 24, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Baseball is back. There will be a 2020 season, albeit a weird, short, tournament in which teams don’t play outside of their west/central/east zones. I don’t think anyone really expected this announcement – coming as it did after months of public and acrimonious debate – would make fans feel better about :gestures grandly: all of this, but it feels especially small and tenuous right now.

First, I think it’s demonstrated that owners are willing to take short-term hits if they think they can roll the player’s union. I think we always suspected that was the case, but the drawn-out dissemination of several proposals that all rejected paying players 100% of their pro-rated salaries (depending on the length of the season) resulted in a much shorter season than was technically possible (I say technically, because I’m not sure the virus would’ve allowed the 114-game season the players proposed).

In an environment in which so many teams have a stake in regional cable channels, that could sting. Owners argued that not having fans in stadiums made the agreement they reached with the union in late March unworkable, but that seems strange in a game now dominated not by gate revenue, but by local and national TV rights. Despite this, several owners seemed to argue to cancel the season entirely, not because of Covid fears, but out of a seeming desire to break the union ahead of the critical CBA negotiations next year.

Second, the past few days have demonstrated that even if the owners and players can come to a grumbling agreement, Covid-19 continues to threaten the game. Charlie Blackmon was the highest-profile player to test positive, after he and two teammates worked out not in Arizona or Florida, but at Coors Field…you know, where they Rockies are supposed to start playing in a few weeks. He’s hardly alone, though. The Phillies, Yankees, Blue Jays, and presumably more teams have had minor outbreaks at their Florida facilities, highlighting that a lot can happen between a proposal to send players to spring training facilities when Florida and Arizona had few cases and when a deal is reaches, when Florida and Arizona ICU space is suddenly in short supply.

Players will be thoroughly checked when they report to modified camp in a week-10 days from now. That’ll presumably pick up more asymptomatic cases, and from there, the league will have a really hard time figuring out what to do. In a short season, with a virus that takes this long to become symptomatic (if it ever does), teams face losing a good chunk of their roster for significant fractions of the season. This is not just injurious to competition – it’s a significant risk if those players have or come into contact with immuno-suppressed family or fans. Playing sports at all entails risk, and we can’t drive it to zero, but the national nightmare of Covid-19 response is now reflected in baseball’s preparation for the season. I understand the idea that MLB would provide a distraction or sense of normalcy, but these team camp outbreaks aren’t doing the trick.

Third, as always, it’s the minor leaguers who get hurt the most. Each team will have a “taxi squad” of 30 players that they can call up as needed, and teams will start with 30-man rosters, which are gradually reduced through the first month. The M’s taxi squad will be based in Tacoma, and can presumably train at Cheney Stadium. Jerry Dipoto’s indicated that many of the M’s top prospects, from Logan Gilbert to Julio Rodriguez to Emerson Hancock, may be a part of it. But players won’t be on the 40-man roster unless they’re selected from the taxi squad, and the M’s may be loathe to start the service clock on players in a 60-game season in which the prospects have no real game experience.

And for those NOT on the taxi squad, it’s worse. There may be extended spring training opportunities, but just like regular spring training, players aren’t paid for it. The M’s extended minor league salaries pf $400/week to non-40 man players, but that’s less than they’d make if the season happened. I’m hopeful that the league might expand the Arizona Fall League into a longer, larger event, but again, it’s precisely in the spring training facilities of the sort that the AFL uses that we’ve seen some outbreaks (mostly in Florida, but still). For those who stay healthy, 2020 is looking like a lost year of development.

Teams have to finalize their 40-man rosters and 60 total players who’ll be split between the active and taxi squad rosters by this Sunday. Only the lucky 60 can participate in the weird summer camp that will take place at T-Mobile field before the season starts, and teams can start to make moves/trades/releases on Friday. Players on the outside looking in will be in a tough spot, and those who DO make it will congregate together for several weeks. Good times.

Look, I love baseball, and as awful as a lot of this looks, I’m excited to see the team, or rather, I’m excited to try and follow the development of the taxi squad. I’m glad we’re finally getting real games, but the way this has all happened leaves me more exhausted than relieved or excited. The drip of positive tests from baseball or the rest of the sports world (looking at you, Novak Djokovic) means I’m worried that some team will have to forfeit games or end up playing their taxi squad in “real” MLB games. I am very excited to see Gilber, Kelenic, Rodgriguez, and company, but not playing their first game of the year after half the M’s come down with Covid-19. I don’t envy the M’s having to decide that Gilbert or Hancock is “ready” after watching them do simuluated ABs at Cheney, either.

I appreciate that the league and players are attempting to find solutions in a fast-moving, fluid situation, and that I’m perhaps overly focused on the problems here. But as happy as I’m going to be to have the rhythm and sounds of the game back in my life (at more agreeable times than the KBO/NPB offer), I’m just worried that it could get yanked away again, or that the playoffs will feature whatever teams that had the cleanest clubhouses or best luck with health and safety. I can’t quite imagine getting too emotionally invested in the “postseason” after this sprint of a season, either, not if we’re seeing an uptick in cases, and not if it’s played by random prospects who dodged an outbreak that felled the starters. Go Mariners, and stay healthy. I’ll be here to talk about them, because I can’t quite stay away, but I feel like the weirdest season in MLB history has a few more twists and turns to come. And given that this is the year 2020, I doubt we’ll love any of them.

2020 MLB Draft Day 2 Thread

marc w · June 11, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

The second and final day of the abbreviated 2020 MLB draft just kicked off. You can watch at ESPN, MLBNetwork, or follow the various draft trackers on line.

I’ll try and post the M’s selections here, with a comment or two about each. Remember, the M’s pick at #43, the 6th pick today, and then have a pick in the Competitive Balance B round between rounds 2 and 3. The draft wraps up after the 5 round.

#43: OF Zach DeLoach, Texas A&M.
A star in the Cape Cod league and the Northwoods league, he struggled in his first two years in College Station. Hit just .200/.318/.294 for A&M in 2019, which came after a successful stint in the (wood bat) Northwoods League. He followed up that poor Sophomore season by going nuts for Falmouth on the cape, slashing .353/.428/.541, which gave him some momentum in 2020. In 18 games, he was torching the SEC, with a season high in HRs despite making just 77 plate appearances. MLB Network mentioned it, but he’s somewhat divisive, given the volatility in the numbers. Defensively, he’s primarily played in the corners, so he figures to be a bat-first LF/RF.

#64: RHP Connor Phillips, McLennan CC
A former LSU commit, sits low-mid 90s from the right side. Real smooth, quiet delivery. More over the top than first-rounder Hancock, though that’s perhaps a low bar. High-70s/low-80s curve.

#78: 2B Kaden Polcovich, Oklahoma State
A 5’8″ (or 5’10”?) switch-hitting 2B, Polcovich hit .344/.494/.578 in the abbreviated 2020 season, his first in Stillwater after a couple of years in a Florida Juco. He too played in the Cape Cod league in 2019, hitting 5 HRs and hitting right around .300. His patience boosted his OBP in both the Big XII and the Cape; he’s drawn more walks than DeLoach. The University and “grinder” comments make me think of Donovan Walton, though Polcolovich hasn’t played much SS. MLB’s draft preview says he profiles as a utility man, but the M’s may think he has the power to be a regular despite his size.

#107: 3B/1B Tyler Keenan, Ole Miss
Chris Crawford calls this: “

At 6’4″ 250, he’s a got a powerful build, and hit over 30 HRs in 2 full years plus the shortened 2020 season. He had some swing and miss, but drew plenty of walks as well. MLB graded his power 6th in this draft class. Defensively, I think most expect him to land at 1B, but we’ll see. Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball (and an ex Baseball America writer) says that he had him as a 2nd-3rd rounder.

#137: RHP Taylor Dollard, Cal Poly SLO
Pitchability righty with a sinker in the 88-91 range. Slurvy slider in high 70s and a curve in the low 70s. He’d been a reliever his first two years in college, so he doesn’t have a ton of innings – just over 110 in total. In that time, he’s been great, limiting hits, and putting up a career 121:27 K:BB ratio in that time. You’ll never believe this, but Dollard was also a standout performer in the Cape Cod league, going 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in 11 games out of the bullpen for Yarmouth-Dennis. He had 27 Ks to 1 BB in 17 1/3 IP. The raw stuff will make him a guy who has to prove it in the high minors, but you have to like the raw results.

The Strangest Draft Preview Yet: MLB 2020 Amateur Draft

marc w · June 10, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

It’s not really a full draft, more of a draftlet, a somewhat immoral amuse bouche, a well-produced spectacle and haphazard “we’re making this up as we go” event. Instead of 40 rounds, this year’s draft will span just 5, with 160 picks in total. Still, this is an influx of new talent to the league, and as we’ve done since 2012, I’ll preview the draft at a high level with old friend Chris Crawford of NBC Sports and Rotoworld (follow him on Twitter for draft info, Sonics nostalgia, and more). The world is on fire, there’s no baseball season, many of these draft prospects had their seasons wiped away. This is uncharted territory, but it feels almost comforting to ask draft questions in June, so let’s get to it:

1: What was the thinking on the depth/quality of this draft class back in the before-times before the pandemic?

On paper, it looked good. I still think it looks good. This is one of the better groups of collegians I can remember; maybe the best since 2011. The prep side is considerably weaker, and unfortunately, those preps didn’t really get a chance to prove much because of the pandemic. That’s not to say it is barren, but it’s definitely one of the weaker groups I can remember — particularly in terms of pitching. Having said that, this is still a strong group because the college side is good enough to make up for the lake of high school upside.

Is this a case of star-power at the top, or just depth from 1 through, uh, pick 160? And this relates to the prep weakness: would we expect very few preps to sign?

A combination of both. Spencer Torkelson and Austin Martin are both legit 1.1 guys and there are several college hurlers not far from that. And yes: I’d expect very few preps to sign.

2: If you were working for a team, how do you even approach this? You’ve had scouts not scouting for a while. I assume this tilts things towards college players, where at least there are a few years of stats? Or not really?

It’s a tough question to answer. I’d definitely lean heavier on college with a track record, but it would probably depend on where I’m picking. It could be a chance for teams picking later to procure those prep talents that would have gone higher if there were more looks. Ultimately I’m still going to take best player available — goodness knows how many times I’ve used that phrase in these previews — but there’s a good chance that my BPA might be a college guy if only because I know more. Sometimes mystery is overrated.

You’ve probably seen the report from RJ Anderson who said some teams may punt the draft, and pick a HS player they have no intention of signing. Is that one response to the uncertainty around this draft, or does that have more to do with teams suddenly crying poverty ahead of CBA negotiations?

It’s probably a combination of both. Owners have a hard enough time paying players who won’t contribute a couple years from now; paying them with this much uncertainty probably ruffles some feathers. Ultimately I don’t think we’ll see any team actually punt, but, it can’t be completely ruled out.

3: There are a few players whose stature has risen due to social media, especially Pitching Ninja. How has his viral fame boosted Luke Little’s draft stock, and how do teams deal with pop-up guys who get internet famous like this?

I haven’t heard much about Little in this last month. As to your larger question, I think there aren’t as many “pop-up” guys on the internet anymore, just because these area guys are able to see most of the prospects. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but these men/woman are really good, and they generally find what is out there with a few exceptions. The pop-ups are really for us common folk, but the area scouts usually know who is out there.

4: We’ve talked a bit about sports tech like Rapsodo, but how is it changing the draft? Is sharing data from wearable tech or other devices helping teams discover talent, or is it just providing more detailed info on the players teams were already following?

Probably closer to the latter, but it’s certainly playing a part. Spin rate is becoming more and more important with pitchers, and of course being able to more easily quantify stuff like bat speed and angle all matter, too. It’s still mostly about if a kid can play or not, but having some data to back up an opinion certainly doesn’t hurt; especially with kids facing off against lesser competition.

5: What will be the impact on college baseball of this draft? We’ve seen some programs eliminated, but there should be a lot of seniors (hopefully) playing next year.

It’s hard to answer that question, but it’s going to be fascinating — for lack of a better term — to see what happens here. There are only so many spots in the draft, and those who aren’t drafted can only sign for $20,000 this summer. There’s also only so many spots for these players to come back as you mention because of scholarship limitations and just the flat-out elimination of programs. Simply put, this is going to be rough, and it’s not just the pandemic that created this situation.

6: Showcase events for high schoolers have been proliferating, another thing we’ve talked about in the past. Those, too, have been shelved this year. What can scouts do to find or evaluate HS talent in the absence of these high-profile tournaments/showcases? What sorts of networks (coaches? training facilities?) can scouts rely on this year?

It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be based a lot on the small amount of information they have, and a lot of networking, as you mention. It just can’t replace the feeling of seeing a player participate in a “real” situation, however, and it’s why several prep players that likely would have been first-round picks end up going the junior college route or signing with four-year schools. It’s hard to get a feel for a 17-18 year old player anyway. With this little of a look? Best of luck.

7: The Mariners pick 6th, and have about $10 million to spend. Who do they target in the first round?

College, college, college. The Mariners are college-heavy early on, anyway. That’s certainly not going to change. The name I hear most often talked about is Nick Gonzales; a middle-infielder who has put up monster numbers at New Mexico State that probably needs to move to second base at the highest level. Max Meyer and Reid Detmers are also strong possibilities; Meyer is a right-hander out of Minnesota who has outstanding stuff but size concerns, while Detmers is your atypical left-hander who shouldn’t need much time to develop. If someone like Emerson Hancock or Asa Lacy slipped, those are possibilities, as well. One way or another, Seattle should get a good one.

How do guys like Lacy and Meyer compare to the top college arms of recent years, like Casey Mize, Alek Manoah, Nick Lodolo, and maybe Logan Gilbert?

I don’t think any arm in this class is as good as Mize. but I would take those arms along with Hancock over the arms you mentioned. At least without the benefit of hindsight. I may be overselling it, but I am a big fan of this group of pitchers.

8: The M’s have preferred pitching in recent drafts. Do you expect that to continue?

Yep. I think part of that has to do with it being the strength of this draft? But also I just think it’s the organizational mantra right now. Even if they do take Gonzales in the first round, I would imagine it won’t take them long to add a pitcher or three to this limited class.

9: Forget this year’s draft class: the suspension of the season seems like it’d have a big impact on young players for many years. Everyone, from HS underclassmen to young players at the big league level are losing out on important development due to Covid-19. What does this do to a player 5-6 years down the road? Are these worries overblown – is playing actual games less important than other aspects of training/preparation?

I don’t think it can be overstated, to be honest. Look, there’s a lot of things you can simulate now, and training regiments get better and better. You cannot replace the experience that comes from games. You just can’t. It’s not a death sentence, but prospects are going to be behind the eight ball because of this, I don’t think there’s any question. Allow me to be unprofessional for a moment: This all sucks. It really, really sucks.

10: Any local players who figure to hear their name called this year?

I can’t see any preps from this year going in the first five rounds, but could see a couple of local college arms. Stevie Emmanuel from UW is a 6-foot-5 right-hander who can get his fastball into the mid 90s and shows a pretty good breaking-ball when he’s at his best. The guy I’d target from the Huskies, however, is Braiden Ward. Some questions about how much offensive upside he has, but think of a faster Braden Bishop. A much faster Braden Bishop, in fact. Scouts are mixed on him as a pro prospect, but I could see him being a very solid fourth outfielder — maybe a starter if the hit tool can be even average.

The MLB draft kicks off today at 4pm, with the first round (including the first Competitive Balance round) today on MLB Network, and the balance coming tomorrow. The M’s have one pick today, the #6 overall pick (you could, if you wanted, say that the M’s are the #6 org today), and then the #43 pick tomorrow along with pick #64 in the second Competitive Balance round, compensation from their trade of Omar Narvaez.

Finally, Black Lives Matter.

[Edit to add: the M’s first pick, and #6 overall, is U. of Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock.
Check out the FB/CH combo here. Touches high-90s. Great sophomore season last year, and had 34 Ks to 3 BB in 24 IP this year.]

CoronaVision: M’s at White Sox, 4/16/1992

marc w · March 14, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

On Friday, I watched the Governor’s press conference closing schools in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. As a Thurston County resident, we weren’t mentioned, but we all knew it would only be a matter of time. Everything moved quickly, the way the sports world dominoes had fallen the day before. I was set to take my youngest to her first soccer practice of the year, but the league cancelled all practices about 90 minutes before it was set to start. A few hours later, we were notified: schools were closing, effective Monday, until late April. It was an odd end to an unforgettable week, as we went from thinking Covid-19 might not impact our lives very much, to getting used to the idea that sports would take place in empty stadiums, to basically all sports leagues postponing or cancelling their seasons, a grim procession described here by the Ringer’s Michael Baumann. I’m going to be working from home and simultaneously trying to be a teacher.

It’s a daunting task, and one I don’t really feel equipped for. I’ve been trawling twitter and youtube for lesson ideas, particularly in math. Luckily, my twitter feed of nerdy baseball people overlaps with math twitter, and I’ve got some ideas, though admittedly, I’m not sure my best laid plans can survive first contact with frustration, boredom, or elementary-age attention spans. Teachers are trained for this, and I’m…not. A part of me wants to really dive into the surreal nature of our present moment, and get them to journal this stuff – the frustration of missing out on anticipated field trips and just the routine of school. It’s why I’m doing this (don’t worry, I’m gonna get to baseball in a bit). I think there are object lessons in why we teach kids math all around us, and how you evaluate arguments and claims. But I’m also cognizant that they may want a break from all of that, from this unseen enemy that’s taking all of their favorite activities from them, and leaving them with an unprepared pseudo-teacher and his scrawled math problems.

When my oldest was very young, she watched whatever I watched on TV. Not having any idea of the choices on offer, she took interest in what interested me, and baseball was familiar and soothing, as I’d taken her to countless Rainiers games from the time she was a baby. I’d thought that perhaps she’d grow up with baseball as a way to mark time, the way it is for so many fans. If I see an old box score, or scroll to the right baseball-reference page, I often get little memories coming back about thinking so-and-so was going to lift the M’s to glory, or what a calamitous trade had brought us whatshisface, and in the process, memories of what it was like to be the kid thinking those thoughts. Of course, my kid eventually found other, less Dad-ish, forms of entertainment, and she’ll mark time some other way.

But for me, this game brings back a flood of memories:

The M’s open the 1992 season full of promise. They’d just had their very first winning season in 1991, as Ken Griffey Jr. had made the leap from potential star to the undisputed face of baseball, and Edgar Martinez turned in his second consecutive 5 WAR season. The pitching staff was rounding into shape following the franchise-altering Mark Langston trade, and 2nd round pick Erik Hanson had established himself as the ace of the staff in 1990, only to lose much of 1991 to injury. With Hanson back, with Randy Johnson’s ascent in progress, and with what would be the first of many transcendent Edgar seasons ahead, the M’s had to like their chances in 1992. One potential issue was their new manager, Bill Plummer. After contract negotiations broke down, the M’s parted ways with Jim Lefebvre, their most successful manager in their short history. Plummer’d been the third base coach and had been in the M’s system since his playing days, so while it wasn’t exactly encouraging that Lefebvre was gone, they had an inside man to keep things on the right track.

The season started inauspiciously. Opening day saw the M’s blow an 8-3 lead when the M’s bullpen gave up *9* runs in the 8th, capped by a pinch-hit three-run HR by Gino Petralli of the Rangers. Mike Schooler, who’d been lights out in 1990, and battling through injury in 1991, was in the death throes of his career, but no one knew it yet. The M’s would go on to start 0-4, but they were trying to turn things around: they’d swept the Royals in 3, and headed to Chicago to take on the Sox. In the first game, they lost 1-0, but shut out Chicago in game 2 behind 7 2/3 scoreless from their out-of-nowhere rookie, Dave Fleming. This is the rubber game of the series, with the Sox coming at at 5-3 and the M’s at 4-5.

Back in Tacoma, the spring of 1992 was an exciting time. I’d just received something I wanted desperately, but thought I’d never actually get. Metallica’s “Wherever We May Roam” tour was winding its way across the globe, having spent the latter part of summer 1991 in Europe and then the winter in the US. They played in Hartford as this game was going on, then took a break to fly to London for the Freddie Mercury tribute concert – Mercury died of AIDS-related illness in late 1991. But they’d be back to play Seattle in May, and I’d just received a ticket and permission to go with my friend. Not only my first big concert, but my first big concert on my own, without parents. It wasn’t exactly a window into adulthood, but it was a vision of what teenage freedom could be, when the amps were cranked loud enough. My parents told me to be worried of crowd behavior, but the crowd was remarkably civil. The night of the show, my friend and I filed in to Seattle Center towards the Coliseum, while a very different crowd went to the Seattle Opera House.

Back on the south side, things had gotten off to an inauspicious start. The M’s new manager had somehow filed a line-up card that had not one but two first basemen. Both Pete O’Brien and Tino Martinez were listed at 1B, meaning that the M’s had to make one a DH *and* then lose the DH for the rest of the game. Pete O’Brien became the DH, popped out with the bases loaded and no one out, and then was lifted for pinch-hitters the rest of the game, as the M’s had to make an unplanned bullpen day. This is the same Pete O’Brien who started the famous Brian Holman game at DH back in April of 1990. With Holman carrying a perfect game late, the M’s somewhat inexplicably moved O’Brien to 1B for defensive purposes, replacing Alvin Davis. They’d lose the DH, but that wasn’t really the point. Unfortunately, the M’s had a long inning in the 9th, and Alvin Davis’ spot in the order came up again. Brian Holman, three outs from immortality, had to grab a bat. He slapped a grounder to 2B that Tacoma Tigers legend Mike Gallego misplayed, so Holman had to run the bases. The M’s scored 4 runs in the inning, but Holman was taken out of his routine and plunked into a warm-up jacket. In the bottom of the inning, the A’s pinch hit for Gallego with ex-Mariner Ken Phelps.

The M’s line-up was:
1: Harold Reynolds
2: Edgar Martinez
3: Ken Griffey Jr.
4: Kevin Mitchell
5: Pete O’Brien
6: Tino Martinez
7: Jay Buhner
8: Dave Valle
9: Rich Amaral

That’s an impressive line-up, even if Amaral was still a year away from his break-out/only good season. The M’s would finish 4th in batting WAR, per Fangraphs, but they couldn’t overcome a disastrous pitching staff – one which led the league in walks by a mile thanks to Johnson, Schooler, and young righty Jeff Nelson. We think of the late ’90s as the height of the steroid era, but the early ’90s show why chemical enhancement proved so attractive: the M’s were one of only four teams with a SLG% above .400, and the league as a whole slugged .377, easily lower than the nadir of our recent little batting ice age in 2014, when the league slugged .386. And because both base hits and were less prevalent in 2014, the league’s ISO was lower still back in 1992. HRs were rare, even for Griffey, who’d soon begin a historic HR tear, but set a then-career high in HRs in 1992 with just 27.

In the second inning, the Sox broadcast discusses Bill Swift, who’d earned his third win for San Francisco that day. Swift was the centerpiece of the trade that netted the M’s Kevin Mitchell, the 1989 NL MVP. After hitting 47 HRs for San Francisco, his dinger production dropped a bit as the league must’ve changed the baseball following the spike of 1987. Mitchell would spend one injury-plagued and largely ineffective season in Seattle, while Swift followed an encouraging 1992 with a brilliant 1993 that saw him finish 2nd in Cy Young voting.

The White Sox and M’s each scored in the first. The M’s starter Rich DeLucia, a righty, had a sinker, curve, slider, and change, and threw from a whippy, low-3/4 arm angle. He didn’t throw particularly hard, though, while the Sox Alex Fernandez was something of a fireballer for the time. In the second, the Sox push across another 2 runs on a double from Ozzie Guillen (who’d see his season end in about a week) and a sac fly/error on a bad throw by Griffey. They’d add to it in the third on a two-run HR by George/Jorge Bell, the 1987 AL MVP with Toronto.

The top of the fourth saw Pete O’Brien’s spot in the line-up come up again, and thus it was DeLucia’s time to hit. The M’s pinch hit with Dave Cochrane, who doubled to right, but was stranded there. Jim Acker would take over on the mound for Seattle after that – a guy I must confess I’d forgotten completely. 1992 was the end of his career, a career that began back in 1983 with Toronto. He’d walk 12 and K 11 in 30+ innings for the M’s in 1992.

The M’s close the gap to 5-2 in the 6th on a solo shot by Tino Martinez, but Fernandez managed to go 7 IP yielding only the two runs. Acker kept the Sox scoreless through 2 1/3, and with the pitcher’s spot coming up, was lifted for the lefty Dennis Powell in the 7th. Powell wasn’t exactly a LOOGY, though guys like Jesse Orosco were already bringing that concept to the league. He struggled mightily for the M’s from 1987-1990, and then was sent down to AA by Milwaukee, who picked him up after the M’s let him go. Coming back to the M’s in 1991 on a minor league deal, he worked as a starter for the M’s AAA affiliate in Calgary, but didn’t get back to the big leagues until 1992. Still, pause a while and reflect that Plummer brought in Powell, a lefty with large career platoon splits, to face lefty Ozzie Guillen, but also Tim Raines, a switch-hitting star. It worked out, but it’s not shocking to me that Plummer would not manage again in the big leagues.

In the 8th, the White Sox go to young righty reliever Scott Radinsky, who’d later pitch (well) with the Dodgers. Radinsky was great when healthy, but lost a lot of time to injury. That gave him some time to devote to his other occupation: punk singer. His bands Pulley and Ten Foot Pole got a lot of attention, with both releasing music on up and coming label Epitaph (soon to be a giant label thanks to Rancid, NOFX, and the Offspring, then pivoting to post-hardcore and emo). Take a listen here.

With one out in the 9th, the Sox turn the ball over to their closer, Bobby Thigpen. Thigpen set the all-time single-season record for saves in 1990, a record that would stand until 2008 (and would be equalled in 2018 by the M’s Edwin Diaz). But after that breakout year that got him Cy Young and MVP votes, he was only above-average in 1991. And as we saw in this game, things’d get worse in 1992. With one out, he’d give up hits to Dave Valle and Greg “Pee-Wee” Briley. After getting the second out on a Harold Reynolds on a fielders choice, Edgar doubled. Thigpen then intentionally walked Ken Griffey Jr., leaving the game up to Kevin Mitchell with Edgar on 3B (after a WP). Mitchell got a center-cut fastball and smashed it to 3B, but right at gold glover Robin Ventura, who threw to 2B to end the game. In the first, Mitchell struck out with the bases loaded and nobody out, then grounded out with the tying run on 3B.

1992 turned out to be one of the low-key depressing years for the M’s, with the promise of their young rotation spoiled by too many walks and the ominous decline of Hanson. The bullpen was a mess, as Schooler would be sent packing at the end of the year. So too would Plummer, replaced by the fiery former Yankee player and manager, Lou Piniella. Edgar would be lost for most of 1993, but a huge trade involving Hanson would get the M’s Bret Boone, Dan Wilson, and new closer Norm Charlton. Griffey would hit 45 HRs, sparking a HR revolution in the game. He’d lead the league in 1994, but the strike wiped out much of the second half of the season, and reduced the length of 1995, an M’s season you may have heard about. It was the last time before right now that we’d be without regular season baseball for any long stretch of time.

Remainder of Spring Training Cancelled; Opening Day Delayed 2 Weeks

marc w · March 12, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak – and then the suspension of the rest of the NBA season – MLB has postponed Opening Day by at least two weeks and cancelled the rest of Spring Training. Following some cancellations of spring sports in the NBA, the NCAA announced today that there would be no championships held for spring sports, meaning the College World Series is off (which makes sense given how few teams may have wanted to compete for it).

Minor League Baseball, an operation that relies so much on gate revenue from opening day, is also postponing its season. I would imagine we’d see MLB and MiLB trying to align their moves going forward, and I’d imagine that cancelling the entirety of the 2020 campaign is on the table given the spread of the virus.

With news that NBA players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell have tested positive, the NBA now has the task of tracking down who all they may have come into contact with. One such person may be Mitchell’s father, who works for the New York Mets. With reports continuing to come in about people who’ve tested positive, it’s almost certain that at least a few MLB players already have it, or at the very least, will get it soon.

In a time of unease and crisis, we used to come together around sports. I’m not really sure what can fill that void right now, but I will say I’m going to enjoy watching March Madness, empty arenas and all. For years, people told us sabermetrically-inclined bloggers to get our heads out of a spreadsheet and watch a damn game. We always loved watching games; the critique was always wrong from the start. But just remembering those arguments feels surreal now. We’d ALL love to watch a damn game, and then some of us would like to glean what we could from data produced in that game. I really don’t know what we’ll do for a while. Any suggestions are welcome.

Weird Cactus League: M’s vs. Padres

marc w · March 11, 2020 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Dinelson Lamet, 6:40pm

Today we learned that the M’s won’t be making their season-opening homestand. They’ll be somewhere else, maybe in Arizona. It’s like an extended version of the Cactus League, I guess? But the games count? It’s going to be seriously weird, but hopefully it might play some small role in getting Covid-19 transmission under control in King County.

Shed Long summed it how everyone’s feeling in a two-word tweet: This sucks.

It’s so strange to focus on baseball right now, and stranger to focus on spring training. It’s done what it needed to do, which is to supply some optimism to a fanbase that needs it. Justus Sheffield’s looked great, Kyle Lewis has hit bombs, Jarred Kelenic did well, and Logan Gilbert was sharp the other day. The team’ll be bad this year, but the Cactus League isn’t about that: it’s about giving fans a glimpse of what a good M’s team might look like. I’m still somewhat skeptical that the M’s can keep up with their rivals, who, let’s remember, have prospects of their own to dream on, and whose big league roster is a little less, uh, bad. But that’s for another day, when we can go to a game and have a beer and argue about Sheffield’s new sinker, or Kyle Lewis’ strike rate, or JP Crawford’s ceiling.

1: Long, 2B
2: White, 1B
3: Vogelbach, DH
4: Lewis, RF
5: Marmolejos, LF
6: Nola, C
7: Crawford, SS
8: Smith, CF
9: Lopes, 3B
SP: Marco Gonzales

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