The Day The Internet Cared About John Buck

Jeff Sullivan · July 8, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

(Note that Marc is working on a simultaneous post on the subject. I think there’s value in having a couple of perspectives, even if they end up being pretty similar. This way we improve the odds of covering all of our bases!)

The Mariners designated John Buck for assignment on his 34th birthday. I haven’t gotten to my own 34th birthday yet, but if there’s consolation here, it’s probably that, by your 34th birthday, you don’t really care about your birthday anymore. The occasion is one reminder that John Buck is getting older. Getting designated for assignment is another reminder that John Buck is getting older. Might as well pile it on. Buck was once a key part of the deal that sent the incredible Carlos Beltran from Kansas City to Houston. He was 23, and that was more than a decade ago.

Though, at this writing, it hasn’t been formally announced that Jesus Sucre is being called up, that looks to be a foregone conclusion. Lloyd McClendon referred to a catcher in Triple-A who’s recently turned the corner, and it ain’t Humberto Quintero. What the Mariners have done is decide to swap backup catchers behind a starter who usually starts, but the process here is more interesting than the move itself, and that’s because Buck and Sucre have very different strengths and weaknesses. Aside from the getting-on-base part. Neither one of them gets on base.

Matthew and I analyzed this immediately in the podcast, but I felt like it also deserves to go in writing. Buck isn’t getting dropped because he’s slugging .286. I mean, it’s not good that he’s slugging .286, but that’s over double-digit at-bats, and it’s not like Buck has lost all of his power. He is what the Mariners thought they were getting. This is about Buck’s defense, and perhaps even more about Sucre’s defense. According to people like Ryan Divish and Shannon Drayer, some of the clubhouse is upset that Buck is gone, but Divish also noted that pitchers have grumbled about Buck’s defense over the course of the first three months.

Buck seems to be a perfectly adequate pitch-blocker, and though he doesn’t have an awesome arm, it’s not like the Mariners have been shredded by the stolen base. It’s possible that Buck and the Mariners’ pitchers haven’t often been able to get on the same page. It’s probable that the pitchers have noticed Buck’s mediocre receiving. Buck has long graded as one of the worst pitch-framers in the majors, and this season’s been no different. Even worse, for him, Buck hasn’t been compared to an average framer; he’s been compared to Mike Zunino, who in a sense has spoiled the arms. They’ve come to expect to be received in a particular way, and Buck’s been poor. Apparently it didn’t take very long for pitchers to notice this. It’s a skill you can evaluate in as little as an inning or two.

Who is Jesus Sucre? This is Jesus Sucre. In no time at all, a year ago, Sucre demonstrated that he’s a terrific pitch-receiver. It felt downright magical to have him catching Mariner pitches, because before him it had been so long since the Mariners had a player of his type. A decade ago or whenever, we made fun of Rene Rivera for being a defensive specialist, but now it turns out Rivera is pretty valuable specifically because of that defense. Sucre is a defensive specialist. At the plate, he puts the bat on the ball and he could conceivably be worse, but Sucre is a guy who could make millions because he handles a pitching staff. To my knowledge he doesn’t have issues blocking, and he’s equipped with a hell of a throwing arm, but mostly, Sucre calls a game and catches a game. Buck’s skill is providing a big home-run boost every so often. Sucre’s skill is about fractional boosts, over and over and over again. You notice Buck’s thing more than you notice Sucre’s thing, but, quietly, Sucre succeeds, helping through strike accumulation and run prevention.

Now, because we’re talking about backup catchers, this isn’t a huge, season-changing decision. As a catcher, John Buck started 19 of 89 games. This is a minor role, and over such a limited down-the-stretch sample, you can debate whether or not, on paper, this is a good call. Buck’s a better hitter than Sucre is. That much is almost certain. How much more valuable is Sucre’s defense? How much more valuable is it, really, over three months or so? If I were to work out all the analysis, we’re probably talking about a difference in some direction of a few runs. This is almost like swapping one reliever for another.

But that’s why this is so interesting. It’s a move that, on paper, makes a small difference. Mariners people keep referring to it as a baseball decision, and it’s evident that Buck was very well-liked in many corners of the locker room. Zunino referred to him as the glue. If you figure that Buck and Sucre are just about a toss-up, the Mariners have chosen the guy with analytical support, and they’ve actively hurt their own clubhouse. You might consider this evidence that the Mariners want to maximize talent instead of maximize chemistry. You might consider this evidence that the Mariners didn’t place a high value on John Buck’s chemistry-building skills.

That’s…surprising to me, and though I’m biased by my own perceptions of the front office, I didn’t think the Mariners would willingly do something like this in a competitive season. People speak too highly of strong cohesiveness, and baseball people live in fear of clubhouse disruptions. So this is something of a gamble, given the way the roster apparently responded last night, but the Mariners’ decision-makers believe the team will get over it and move forward with a stronger defensive unit. I suppose it’s worth noting that, for however strong Buck allowed the family to become, there were pitchers who didn’t love pitching to him. So he wasn’t exactly revered all-around.

Someone said on Twitter that the Mariners’ clubhouse felt like a clubhouse that had just been through a 12-inning loss. When the Mariners lost in 12 innings on April 3, they won the next game. When they lost in 11 innings on May 2, they won the next five games. The Mariners responded to an eight-game losing streak by winning 10 of their next 12 games. The team’s bounced back from pain before. Some of that, apparently, might’ve been due to Buck’s leadership, but it makes you wonder about something related to chemistry-building.

Let’s just say that Buck had a positive overall impact on the Mariners. Let’s say that he was a strong leader, and let’s say that he helped unite the active roster. Let’s say Buck played an important role in the roster really starting to feel like a team. Basically, let’s say that Buck was as awesome for the chemistry as it’s been alleged. Why should that all now fall apart? Are we to believe that John Buck was the keystone? If everything relied on John Buck, was the clubhouse all that strong, really?

If Buck was an awesome leader, and if Buck really helped bring all the Mariners together, why should we believe those lessons would now be forgotten? If there exist bonds that only exist because of John Buck, well, those bonds exist now, so there’d be nothing left for Buck to do. Maybe Buck had contributed almost all that he could, chemistry-wise. It’s been said that Buck helped this team develop confidence early on that it could really be a contender. Well, it’s a real contender, this team. All the players know it now. So maybe Buck did exactly what he was supposed to do, and he just did it in three or four months. Maybe Buck’s projected chemistry production the rest of the way was low, despite a big first half.

In short, I’m not convinced this’ll actually be that bad for the chemistry. Not that any of us can actually analyze the chemistry, but the Mariners clearly don’t think Buck was going to play a pivotal role down the stretch, and they’ve promoted a better defender. It’s kind of a bold move in that sense, but McClendon and Zduriencik are banking on the team being stronger than a veteran backup catcher, and now the team’s real strength has been bolstered, that being the run prevention. No one would disagree that Jesus Sucre is the superior defender. He’s quieter, at the plate and in terms of his personality, but he sure can catch pitches. He sure will make pitchers feel more content when they’re pitching.

And hell, who knows, maybe that’s better for chemistry. If pitchers are now comfortable 100% of the time, how would that not work to the team’s benefit? Maybe Buck and Sucre are good for chemistry in different ways. Maybe Buck’s strength was the kind of stuff he did in the first half, and now Sucre is more of a chemistry specialist. Maybe Buck helped the team feel like a good team. Now that the team is a good team, Sucre can go in and help the pitchers forget that they’re not pitching to Mike Zunino, when he’s resting on the bench.

I’m not sure this is a good move or a bad move. I lean toward the former, but more than that, this is an interesting move, despite it being a move involving a pair of backup catchers. It’s a move that makes you think about a lot of things, and it’s a move that’s a hell of a lot more complicated than it might seem like at first glance. In the middle of a surprising season, the Mariners have made a small roster tweak that’s been unpopular within a strong and tight clubhouse. The Mariners knew damn well what John Buck had meant. They promoted the defensive specialist anyway, defending the call as a baseball decision. Down the stretch, Jesus Sucre’s unlikely to play all that much baseball.

John Buck and the Quick Hook

marc w · July 8, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Fernando Rodney’s imaginary arrow had barely cleared the foul line when Ryan Divish gave us the news that changed the tenor of the evening. John Buck, seen joking with teammates a few minutes earlier, was dumped by the M’s – DFA’d, after hitting an anemic .226/.293/.286 in just shy of 100 plate appearances. Buck’s never hit for average, but figured to have a bit of power after averaging about 16 HRs over his past four seasons. A back-up catcher who didn’t make the most of his limited PAs is always at risk – ask Kelly Shoppach – but the collapse of Buck’s ISO wasn’t what the M’s pointed to in the aftermath of the move. Instead, the M’s pointed to complaints about Buck’s blocking and receiving.

The fact that Buck’s defense received poor grades from M’s pitchers, defensive stats and the eye test really shouldn’t be that shocking. As I mentioned back in the spring, Buck was the worst framer in baseball in 2010, and was 3rd from the bottom last season. What would be more interesting, if also worrying, is if they picked him up for his defense and then found it lacking in his 20-some games behind the plate. That’s not the only explanation, of course, but this is becoming something of an annual tradition. Kelly Shoppach only got until June last season, and Jesus Montero started the long walk from C to 1B last year as well. The M’s – at least under Zduriencik- haven’t found a back-up catcher they truly felt comfortable with. It’s an interesting, if not all that important on the field, problem to have.

It’s possible that Buck’s defensive shortcomings were just the final straw; that the move wouldn’t have been made absent a sub-.600 OPS. It’s also possible that the M’s *real* issue is that Buck simply wasn’t suited to this back-up role, and that it affected his offense and defense much more than they assumed. Remember, Buck got at least 100 games in each of the past four years, and eight of the past nine. From an on-the-field standpoint, the M’s may have improved. Jesus Sucre appears to be both a good framer and someone who can control the running game. He’s also hit surprisingly well this year in AAA, though his rest-of-season projection is still slightly below Buck’s. It’s close enough, however, that Sucre’s defensive advantage may make him the better player overall. Unless you put a lot of weight on Buck’s contribution to clubhouse camaraderie, it’s unlikely that the move will hurt the M’s playoff chances. But like a true baseball nerd, I’m always trying to glean the principles that underlie roster changes like this, and I have to say I’m nowhere closer to discerning them than I was in March.

Welcome, Jesus Sucre. Best of luck wherever you turn up, John Buck.

Podcast: Sell-luh-bray-shun

Matthew Carruth · July 8, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Monday Tuesday Morning Podcast!

Opening music today provided from Kungs

Podcast with Jeff and Matthew: Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner work in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated.

Game 89, Twins at Mariners

marc w · July 7, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Kevin Correia, 7:10pm

Just before and after I got back from abroad, everyone talked about how well the M’s were playing and the fact that they jumped to the top of the wild card race. Sounds great! And then the team scores three runs in three games on the south side, getting blanked by Hector Noesi. I…are you sure it’s…they’re really leading the WC standings? The team with Endy Chavez starting? I’m not unhappy, I’m just confused.

The M’s get another chance at a weak AL Central team as the Twins come to town. Today’s starter, Kevin Correia, is like the platonic ideal of a Twins pitcher, and now that he’s pitched for a season and a half in the Twin cities, you have to admire their work in getting Correia to strike out even fewer, to generate nearly no whiffs. I have no idea *why* the Twins seem to hate strikeouts – this pathological need for their sub-par defense to make plays on every plate appearance – but they picked up the right guy in free agency. Correia now has the lowest K/9 of any starter this year, and none of Correia’s pitches have a whiff rate above 10%.

I find that latter figure absolutely incredible. Mark Buehrle has one, Kyle Gibson (the guy one spot above Correia on the K/9 trailerboard) throws two, as does Chris Young. Even bad, show-me sliders and change-ups get a few whiffs, especially if they’re thrown in the zone reasonably often. Henderson Alvarez managed to throw a season without any pitch with a 10% whiff rate back in 2012, when his K/9 slipped below 4, and his FIP crept above 5. It’s clearly possible, it’s just really, really ill-advised. There’s often beauty in simple, clean design, but this whole pitching without stuff or deception isn’t beautifully simple (shaker furniture), it’s naive and limiting (microwaved french fries as dinner). It’s actually funny to remember that Correia came up as a guy with nearly-league-average K rates. He seemed to *choose* to pitch this way when he moved from the Padres to the Pirates, and once you’ve chosen not to strike anyone out, it’s only a matter of time before the Twins pick you up.

Correia signed a 2-year, $10 million deal before the 2013 season, and has been a decent #4-or-so starter for them thanks to good control and good health. He’s odd, but he’s not without his uses; he seems to be roughly worth that contract, and if you’re going to complain about odd Twins signings, the Kendrys Morales deal was stranger (and the results have been uglier, at least so far). Partly because everyone can make contact, and in part because his breaking stuff eschews sharp, er, breaks, he has small platoon splits.

1: Saunders, RF
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, LF
9: Miller, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Speaking of Morales, he spoke (through an intepreter) about contract negotiations with Seattle to Todd Dybas of the News Tribune here.

Tyler Pike, Lars Huijer, Matt Palmer and Rigoberto Garcia are on the hill for M’s affiliates today.

Game 88, Mariners at White Sox

marc w · July 6, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Taijuan Walker vs. Hector Noesi, 11:10am

This isn’t the first time the M’s have faced Noesi, and it’s not the first time they’ve seen him since enthusiastically cutting him back in April. Still, this is his first start against his former team/enabler, and it’s M’s fans first chance to see him since he hooked up with pitching coach/reclamation guru Don Cooper. Many of you will remember that it took Cooper something like 25 minutes to turn Matt Thornton from homer-prone, fungible M’s reliever into one of the premier left-handed relievers in baseball. Could the same thing happen again?

If it does, it’s obviously going to take longer than it did with Thornton. Noesi’s improved a bit with the Sox, but that’s regression for you: he had nowhere to go but up. He’s still yielding too many HRs for a guy with his stuff, and while his K rate’s gone up, he’s both too hittable and too wild for that to matter too much. When the M’s acquired him, he looked to have the makings of a formidable sinker; even if he didn’t strike many out, the sinker should’ve allowed him to get grounders and avoid 0-2 HRs. Instead, he’s become an extreme fly ball guy, and his “sinker” now gets fewer grounders per ball in play than his four-seam fastball. The root of Noesi’s problems has always been the fastball. Batters have hit a remarkable 25 HRs off of his four-seamer in his career, including seven in two-strike counts. Coupled with that below-average sinker, and Noesi’s simply not able to get to his breaking stuff. He’s experimented with a cutter this season, and there may be something salvageable in his change-up, but for them to play, Noesi needs to spot his fastball far better than he has.

Cooper’s done some amazing work in the past, but his record isn’t exactly perfect. The fix with Thornton was a mechanical one, and that doesn’t appear to be Noesi’s problem. For whatever reason, Noesi likes to pitch up in the zone, but he hasn’t had the command to either get whiffs or avoid mistakes while doing so. That’s something Cooper could help with, but it’s probably not exactly news to Noesi.

Taijuan Walker makes his second start of the year for the M’s. He’s still throwing 95, still has the good slow curve, but he pitched a bit differently in his first start than he did last season. The story of 2013 was the development of Walker’s cutter, a hard (91mph) pitch with slider-like horizontal movement. Some scouts who saw it raved about it, while I never saw it when it was “on.” In any event, he threw very few (if any) against the Astros – the pitches coded as “cutters” came in with horizontal movement almost identical to his four-seamer. Maybe he saw that and ditched it in favor of his splitter/change, or maybe the M’s are making a conscious decision to have him go with the splitter against lefties instead. We’ll learn more today.

Line-up:
1: Chavez, CF
2: Saunders, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Buck, C
8: Ackley, LF
9: Miller, SS
SP: Walker

The M’s have moved Felix’s next start to Friday, so he’ll face Oakland instead of Minnesota, and potentially lining him up to start against Jeff Samardzija. No word yet on who’ll actually start that Thursday game in Minnesota.

Starting today in the M’s system are Erasmo Ramirez, Victor Sanchez, and Lukas Schiraldi.

Game 87, Mariners at White Sox

marc w · July 5, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Jose Quintana, 11:10am

Happy Felix Morning!

There’s nothing better after a night of parties, over-indulgence and explosions than watching Felix continue his run of dominance. His FIP is now below 2, driven by a remarkable walk rate and an even-more-remarkable dearth of HRs. Felix’s ground-ball tendencies have always helped him keep the ball in the park, but he’s refined his approach, and if this is evidence of a real skill, then Felix really has re-fashioned himself into a Kershaw-style uber-ace. Tony Blengino talked about this in a great post at Fangraphs last month. The gist is that while production on balls in play is much more volatile than the trusty three true outcomes, some pitchers show a clear, repeatable skill in minimizing damage on balls in play – they generate weaker contact than others. For many years, Felix was decidedly not one of them – it didn’t matter thanks to a great K rate and high grounder rates. This year, Felix is putting it all together and the results have been astonishing.

The one negative heading into today is the park. Felix has given up more HRs at US Cellular field than any other road stadium except Anaheim. He’s pitched eight games on the South Side and has given up more HRs than he has in *19* games in Arlington, or 17 in Oakland. It’s a HR-friendly place, as Roenis Elias can attest, but so’s Arlington. Felix just hasn’t fared particularly well there.

The M’s face Colombian lefty Jose Quintana, a completely uninteresting but remarkably effective starter. Originally signed by the Mets, and then released, then signed by the Yankees and released, re-signed, and re-released, he shot through the White Sox system to post a decent half-season in 2012. His K% improved markedly last year, and he’s maintained those gains this season. He too has cut his HRs-allowed, and has helped stabilize the Sox rotation behind Chris Sale. He uses a four-seam fastball at 92-93mph, along with a curve ball and change. The curve’s his best – he uses it against lefties and righties, and it’s an effective put-away pitch, and it’s helped him minimize his platoon splits.

The line-up:
1: Jones, CF
2: Bloomquist, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Saunders, RF
9: Miller, SS
SP: King Felix

The big news of the day is the blockbuster trade between Oakland and the other Chicago team. The A’s are sending their TWO top prospects, SS Addison Russell and OF Billy McKinney, along with SP Dan Straily to the Cubs in exchange for SPs Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. The A’s have some room at the top of the division, but they’re clearly looking to fashion themselves into a dominant playoff team. Gray/Samardzija is a formidable twosome in a short series. But the price they paid was pretty high – Russell’s easily a top-20 prospect in baseball, and McKinney was their #1 pick in the 2013 draft. This is as big a trade as we’ve seen in some time. The obvious comparison is the Wil Myers-for-James Shields swap, but this one is both bigger and features teams in very different circumstances. Neither Russell nor McKinney is as MLB-ready as Myers was, but to be blatantly obvious for a minute, there are two of them.

Starting today in the M’s system are Jimmy Gilheeney, Stephen Landazuri, and Scott DeCecco.

Game 86, Mariners at White Sox

marc w · July 4, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Roenis Elias vs. Chris Sale, 4:10pm

Happy Fourth of July. I’ve been away for several weeks wandering through a baseball desert, trying to bring the good news of Felix Hernandez to those who have never heard of, let alone been redeemed by, the Change-up Celestial.* It’s tough, but like any journey worth its own cost and hassle, that’s OK. I’m returning to an M’s team that’s 9 games over .500 – a record they’ve not seen since the end of the 2007 season. There are familiar issues; the team is hitting better, but they still can’t, you know, HIT the way other teams can. They brought up and then sent down Jesus Montero. They’re still playing a lot of Endy Chavez. But they’re winning, and they look like a team that can stick around the playoff race this season, and while it’s actually pretty great to just wake up and hear that the M’s won again, I’ve missed watching this team play.

Today, the M’s head to Chicago to take on Chris Sale and the White Sox. Jeff had a great post at Fangraphs talking about Sale’s evolution following some injury scares (including a DL trip that cost him a month earlier this season): he’s throwing a lot more change-ups and fewer sliders. What’s interesting is just how little it’s mattered. He still strikes out plenty, still shows good control, and is still devilishly hard to square up. That Sale is still an elite pitcher can’t be a huge surprise, but it highlights something that we M’s fans have known for a while. Great pitchers can throw any number of pitches and be successful. Young Felix was at least partially defined by the Royal Curve, the inhuman bender that hitters couldn’t adjust to after watching 97mph four-seamers. After his injury scare in April 2007, Felix hasn’t thrown THAT curve, and he hasn’t thrown as many overall. It didn’t really matter. Likewise, that Sale’s still Sale despite fewer sliders shouldn’t be that surprising. He still throws very hard and from a strange release point. He still faces overwhelmingly-right-handed line-ups, so you could argue that such a shift is overdue.

One thing Jeff pointed out in that article was that Sale’s generating a lot more foul balls this season. This has helped him pitch from favorable counts more than he has in previous seasons, and thus it’s not surprising to see that he’s posting his lowest walk rate. An underrated aspect of this development has been his sinker. He’s throwing fewer sinkers than ever in 2014, and it was never his main fastball. He’s throwing his change-up more, and he’s also throwing it harder than he has in previous seasons, all while his four-seam fastball velocity drops slightly. At this point, his sinker and change-up have essentially identical movement – both have tons of horizontal movement and very little vertical rise. The only difference between the change and sinker is velocity, and while it’s still substantial, it’s no longer the 10-11mph it was in 2013. With batters now expecting more change-ups, Sale’s used his sinker as a get-ahead pitch, throwing it first-pitch much more often than he does in any other count. And it’s his sinker that’s seen the biggest increase in foul%, moving from 16% fouls last year to over 20% this year. That’s still a tiny sample considering Sale’s missed time this year, but it’s an interesting adjustment, and it’s one we’ve seen from a few pitchers this year (Hisashi Iwakuma among them).

Roenis Elias has made his own adjustments. The first time we saw him in Spring Training, the thing that jumped out was his variable release points, especially against lefties. Versus righties, he was almost traditional, with a 3/4 to high 3/4 delivery. Against lefties, he’d occasionally drop down to an almost Sale-esque low 3/4 release. At the time, the M’s talked about how they’d clean that up and have him use the same delivery to everyone…and then Elias ignored that and maintained a couple of discrete, identifiable deliveries against lefties. But over the last month, he’s looking more and more, uh, normal. The gap in vertical release to lefties and righties is all but gone, and while there’s still a gap in horizontal movement, that looks more like a shift on the rubber (ie. moving towards first base a bit vs. lefties) than a change in his motion. I’m not even going to speculate why he’d do it, but while repeatability and consistency are prized by scouts, I love seeing pitchers adapt and react. It seems to me like a separate skill or tool, and while you certainly don’t want a pitcher to overhaul his delivery or pick up a new pitch every time he has a so-so start, when guy like Felix or Sale have fundamentally altered their approach, it’s important to demonstrate the ability and willingness to evolve.

Finally, I’m not the only one returning today. DH Corey Hart’s all better now, and will probably think twice about attempting a stolen base the rest of the year. LF Cole Gillespie was DFA’d to make room on the 25-man roster.

Go M’s! Baseball! America!

1: Bloomquist, SS
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Saunders, RF
9: Ackley, LF
SP: Elias

Tacoma heads to Fresno for the 4th of July Game – Andrew Carraway starts tonight. Last night’s big fireworks show at Cheney Stadium was preceded by a brilliant start from Jordan Pries, who’s come out of nowhere to be an important prospect for the M’s. The Rainiers won 5-1, as Pries went 7IP giving up 1R with 7Ks.

Other starters tonight include Tyler Olson for Jackson, David Holman for High Desert and Jefferson Medina for Everett – Everett’s the only local team playing today, so if you want to push your intake of America to its fullest, check out the AquaSox.

* “Wait, so he plays in the city where DeAndre Yedlin plays? Right, so, uh, can we talk more about Yedlin again?”

Game 85, Mariners at Astros

Jay Yencich · July 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Chris Young vs. Brad Peacock, 11:10 am

How about them ‘Ners, right?

I had intended to use the bulk of this preview space to talk about Chris Young, and how what he’s doing is bonkers, but I woke up yesterday morning to find at Fangraphs Tony Blengino’s “Chris Young: Is it Real or is it Safeco, which goes into far more detail than I had intended to myself. The summary is that Young is off on his own little island in the middle of the ocean. Among the other things I could add or find interesting, his BB% is higher than league average by 1.5%, as well as being above his career marks, though he has multiple full seasons in double-digits. His K% is also about 8% off league average and close to 7% off his career norms which, granted, were mostly pre-surgery. And his BABIP is eighty points lower than the league partly because of all those infield fly balls. That said, it’ll be harder to get the ball to stay in the park in Houston.

As much amusement and intrigues as there are in trying to analyze High Mariner, I suppose there’s the other guy on the mound to consider, though Marc has probably covered all the basics before. The White Sox series will be more relaxed. Brad Peacock, in his 72.2 innings has the same xFIP as he did last year in 83.1 innings and that’s not something you see every day. Ks, BABIP, and walks have all trended in the wrong direction, but he’s stranding more and not allowing as many home runs. He’s scaled back the fastball this year and increased usage of both of his breaking balls and the results, I suppose, are all right. Despite the fact that he throws two breaking balls and doesn’t show much of a change-up, he’s had reverse splits in the majors, contrasted with his minor league work, which ran as expected. I was prepared to complain about the knee-jerk “play the splits” lineups, but I suppose this one could be excused.

DH Endy Chavez
CF James Jones
2B Robinson Cano
3B Kyle Seager
1B Logan Morrison
C John Buck
RF Michael Saunders
LF Dustin Ackley
SS Rad Miller

Your other news: Jarred Cosart, on twitter, described his performance as “[running] into a buzz saw.” Jeff wrote about Taijuan Walker this morning. Mavericks pitcher and local product Andrew Kittredge struck out five in an inning, which was neither the first time it has happened nor the only time recently. Paxton threw on flat ground today, is still alive, should get another bullpen and then a sim game shortly.

Another thing I’ve thought about recently: Minute Maid Park, Tropicana Field, two AL stadiums that you could nickname “The Juice Box.”

Game 84, Mariners at Astros

Jay Yencich · July 1, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jarred Cosart, 5:10 pm

Driving home from work last night, I realized that the Young vs. Bauer game in the last homestand marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Mariners playing their last game at the Kingdome, and while I had known about it, I had completely forgotten to mention it. I apologize for this regrettable omission.

Writing up intra-division pitching match-ups can be a bit of a pain. I know that if a guy hasn’t pitched against the M’s this season, I can talk a little bit about his arsenal, what he’s been up to relative to prior seasons, various introductory level bits of data. With the teams that we see with unbalanced regularity over the course of a season, writing up pitching match-ups in that style is like bumping into someone for the third or fourth time and realizing that you’re still trying to get their name down. In my defense, this isn’t my regular shtick and I’m not accustomed to thinking about major league players on other teams except as names to attach to the game I’m listening to.

Cosart is a late-rounder who did all right by himself in spite of that. Classic “put it in play” groundballer whose weakness is not so much elevating pitches to where they’re hit out of the park, but missing too often and not inducing enough swings to compensate for that with Ks. He’s basically a fastball/curve guy too, whereas groundball-oriented pitchers usually prefer sliders as their breaking pitch. There are splits from left to right, but left-handers tend to lose a little bit in average and make it up in power numbers. To no real surprise, he allows a greater slugging at home, so we could have another dinger-tastic game in the offing. I could be down with that.

Of course, it could also be a bad thing because ‘Kuma hasn’t been ‘Kuma the last couple of outings. Was it the neck thing lingering? Is it something else? What we’ve had the past couple of times out is a lower groundball and strand rates than we’re accustomed to seeing and a higher BABIP. Home runs have been allowed each time, but unlike the Erasmo Ramirez variety of home run, they have not been preceded by multiple walks. He’s also had a rather short leash, not exceeding 80 pitches either time out. Naturally, my distracted brain was drawing conclusions and saying “yeah, he was throwing too many pitches and that’s why he was pulled,” but nope, wasn’t happening, and you look at his strike% and it really isn’t all that bad. He was at 71% in Kansas City and 67.5% against Boston, both better-than-league-average marks by a sizable margin. The problem has more been a good amount of not-good contact. I wish I had something more substantive than that, but I’m radio-only for most of my baseball consumption and that makes objectivity a more difficult task. I try to visualize what’s happening on the field and all I get is the South Side of Chicago and Southern League baseball centering around Memphis.

DH Endy Chavez
CF James Jones
2B Robinson Cano
3B Kyle Seager
1B Logan Morrison
C Mike Zunino
RF Michael Saunders
LF Dustin Ackley
SS Rad Miller

Go ‘Ners!

The Mariners Tried To Trade Dustin Ackley

Jeff Sullivan · June 30, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners

That’s the headline I would use, were I a worthless sensationalist. Odds are, you’ve seen this by now, but not too long ago the Astros had their internal data system hacked, and where a few years ago that would’ve meant we’d get our eyes on hand-drawn sketches of a flying giraffe in a baseball cap, these Astros actually keep track of relevant baseball conversations, so we get to consider nuggets from what were supposed to be private exchanges. We get to see, for example, how Jeff Luhnow tried to market the exhaustingly mediocre Bud Norris. We don’t get to learn all that much, to be honest, and this is the sort of thing that could happen to almost any organization, but there is a little bit where the Mariners play a role, so, we’re going to do this. We’re going to turn this into a story that’s Mariners-relevant.

A blockquote of a note from last November:

[Luhnow] spoke with [Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik]. Jazk Z said he’s getting a lot of calls from Clubs asking him if he can get Castro from us. Jack Z asked if we would do Ackley for Castro. JL said no, we wouldn’t do that. Jack Z asked if there was someone he could add to Ackley. JL said he would take a look.

That’s basically it. If Luhnow took a look, there’s nothing else on the matter in the data dump, and obviously the Mariners never added Jason Castro. Based on the wording, and based on Mike Zunino, it’s not that the Mariners were really trying to acquire Castro so much as they were trying to facilitate a three- or four-way trade that would bring Castro to Seattle and then move him somewhere else. The Mariners were involved with teams interested in Jason Castro, and from those teams the Mariners would’ve wanted help, but we can’t identify the desired help, so this doesn’t really go any further.

Why would teams ask the Mariners to get Castro, instead of get him themselves? Maybe, based on the conversations with the Astros, the Mariners seemed like a better trade fit. Or maybe teams just felt better trying to take advantage of Jack Zduriencik than Jeff Luhnow.

GM: Luhnow’s driving a hard bargain.
GM: He’s probably not going to let up.
GM: Let’s try to get our guy from Jack.
GM: Let’s go ahead and try to involve Jack in this.

The meat: the initial offer. If this is all true, Jack Zduriencik tried to get Jason Castro for Dustin Ackley. It’s not a bad attempt, in that Jason Castro is a lot more valuable than Dustin Ackley is. Luhnow, naturally, turned the offer down, and it doesn’t seem things went much further. A year ago, by WAR, Castro was four wins better than Ackley, and while Ackley had a successful second half, and while Ackley is under team control a year longer, Castro’s a catcher with skills both at the plate and behind it. It’s evident that Zduriencik valued Ackley quite a bit lower than Castro, given that this was offer No. 1. It’s evident that Zduriencik isn’t totally committed to Ackley in the present or the future, which is wise given that Ackley looks more and more like a total bust with every passing day. Maybe what he needs is a different organization, or maybe what he needs is just more time, but the best thing about Dustin Ackley is what he’s done in Triple-A, and he’s approaching 2,000 trips in the bigs. Over this season’s last month, he’s slugged .227.

There are a couple more things we can take away from this that are at least somewhat relevant to the Mariners:

(1) The Mariners aren’t totally opposed to a move of significance within the division. I guess we already knew that, based on the John Jaso/Michael Morse three-team trade, so this isn’t major news, but while a lot of people like to think that dealing within a division is a non-starter, that doesn’t hold up to reason and it doesn’t seem to bother the Mariners all that much. Unless, of course, Zduriencik doesn’t value Ackley at all, and he was just trying to rip the Astros off. But if that were true, Ackley wouldn’t be starting for the Mariners right now. Zduriencik might value Ackley too much. The point — the Mariners were willing to send Ackley and more to the Astros, and the Astros play in the same division as the Mariners.

(2) The Mariners aren’t the only front office that makes laughably lopsided trade proposals. Something I’ve heard multiple times before is that Zduriencik has a habit of making offers that are borderline insulting. And that, of course, can be off-putting, but it can also be a way to kick off a negotiation, given that you have to start somewhere and you might as well factor in some ground to give. Luhnow was acting kind of crazy about the Bud Norris sweepstakes, in that he figured there was even such thing as a Bud Norris sweepstakes, but Norris still ultimately got moved, and not for very much. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do to make lopsided offers, but the Mariners aren’t alone on that island. Truth be told, it’s probably pretty common. It might just be a way to start a dialogue. Maybe it even lightens the mood! I don’t have a good gauge of general manager senses of humor.

Something we learned about the Mariners today: early last offseason, they expressed interest in trading a not very good player for a considerably better player. Those trade talks didn’t go anywhere, and so Dustin Ackley is still here and still disappointing. There’s something to be said about the fact that, this quickly after being drafted, Ackley wasn’t good enough to land Jason Castro on his own, but whatever would be said wouldn’t be new and it wouldn’t be surprising. Dustin Ackley’s kind of been crap. Especially lately, but even several months ago, he was a man with a fading memory of excellence.

A big big part of me is glad this didn’t happen to the Mariners’ front office. An equally-sized part of me is sad.

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