The Mariners have lost six straight and have been absolutely pounded the last two nights. The back end of the rotation has performed even worse than usual, putting a significant strain on the bullpen. The offense is struggling again, scoring just 16 runs in those six games, half of those in one contest. After a couple of weeks of more encouraging signs, the glaring weaknesses of the roster are being exposed again.
With Thursday as an off-day, expect the front office to take advantage of the respite and decide whether it is time to make some changes. I think there are some changes to be made, but before I make any suggestions, I think it’s important to again lay the foundation of what should drive decisions to make roster moves.
As I wrote a week ago, you can’t replace past performance. There’s a school of thought that suggests that people’s job status should be evaluated on a pass/fail basis, and they be replaced when their performance crosses some arbitrary line of unacceptability. You’ve heard this with Brendan Ryan — “they can’t keep running out a guy hitting .150″ — and now you’re going to hear it with Aaron Harang, who has an 8.58 ERA and is probably the most likely player to not make the trip to Safeco Field on Friday night.
I find this entire mindset unproductive. It’s a relic of grade school education, substituting test scores for actual evaluations of ability. The job of the front office and coaching staff is not to pass judgment on what players have already done, but to forecast what they are capable of in the future. The primary determinant of a player’s role on a team should be his expected future production. The idea of playing time being available to be earned like a treat for doing ones chores simply serves to relieve the decision makers of the burden of having to make decisions. It’s much easier to simply act as performance judge rather than skilled forecaster, but good teams are built by people who have the ability to see what lies ahead, not those who rely on grading what has just happened.
Aaron Harang’s 2013 performance to date has been unacceptable, but you can’t replace Aaron Harang’s past performance; you can only replace Aaron Harang’s future performance. And you should only replace Aaron Harang’s future performance if you actually think that there’s an alternative that presents the probability of improvement. Saying that Harang’s replacement “can’t be any worse” is not only an untrue simplification, it’s an absolutely terrible way to make decisions.
The Mariners shouldn’t ship players out because they’re unhappy with how they’ve performed. They should ship players out because they believe that the person replacing them is better suited for the job that the incumbent is currently holding. But now there’s a complicating factor, because at 20-27, the 2013 Mariners season is no longer worth saving.
The Mariners have 115 games left to play. If we thought they were the best team in baseball, we might project them to win 60% of their remaining games. A team that wins 60% of their games all year goes 98-64. That’s kind of the ceiling for rational projections. Teams aren’t built to play better than .600 baseball, not in this age of parity.
If the Mariners played .600 baseball the rest of the way, they’d finish with 89 wins. Last year, the two wild card teams each won 93. Even with the addition of the second wild card, the bar to reach the playoffs is 90+ wins, because the second wild card incentivizes more teams to keep their rosters together and try to steal a playoff spot. There’s one more playoff team now than there used to be, but the barrier to entry to play in October hasn’t been lowered that much. 89 wins is not going to get the Mariners to the playoffs.
And, remember, that’s if we decided that, starting Friday, the Mariners were going to instantly transform into the best team in baseball. That’s kind of an absurd notion, because this team isn’t very good. It’d be an accomplishment if this team played .500 baseball the rest of the way. Expecting the Mariners to win 60% of their next 115 games is not quite lunacy but something close, and it still wouldn’t be good enough.
So, no, moves should not be made to try and “right the ship” or “save the season”. The season is lost. The Mariners are 10 games behind the Rangers in the AL West, and there are six teams currently ahead of them in the wild card race, each of whom should be expected to outplay the Mariners over the remainder of the season. Toss in the Angels and Blue Jays, both on their heels in the standings and both with better teams with better expected records over the rest of the season, and the Mariners are something like ninth in the AL Wild card pecking order. The Astros and Twins are the only two teams in the league that you can make any kind of compelling case for having worse playoff odds than the Mariners.
Even in the age of parity, the 13th best team in a 15 team league shouldn’t have any delusions of grandeur. The Mariners should make roster decisions based on what is best in the organization’s long term interests, not trading long term development for short term bandages. The Mariners already tried to rush Brandon Maurer to the big leagues because of a need, and you’re seeing how well that’s worked out. They shouldn’t be in the market for any more of those kinds of promotions.
So, no, Mike Zunino should not come up from Tacoma. He’s not ready. Nick Franklin should not be shoved into the shortstop job; he’s not likely to succeed there. The goal shouldn’t be to just find the best alternatives because an alternative is needed, but to look for alternatives that actually make more sense than the players currently on the roster.
In my view, there are a few such alternatives. So, with that long setup, here’s what I would suggest in terms of roster changes.
Option Brandon Maurer, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero to Tacoma.
Recall Hector Noesi from Tacoma. (Can’t actually do this for a few more days, due to 10 day option rule.)
Purchase the contract of Nick Franklin and Jesus Sucre.
Designate Francisco Martinez and Vinnie Catricala for assignment.
Noesi replaces Maurer in the rotation.
Nick Franklin takes over as the everyday second baseman.
Jesus Sucre becomes the new backup catcher.
Martinez/Catricala are removed from the 40 man roster to make room for Sucre/Franklin (and also because Martinez is terrible and isn’t a good use of a 40 man roster spot).
Maurer just needs more work in the minors before he’s a big league pitcher. His non-slider secondary stuff isn’t there yet. That’s okay. He wasn’t supposed to be ready. He’s not ready. It’s not a crime. He just needs to work on some stuff.
I’m not giving up on Dustin Ackley, but he’s a mess right now. A break from constant failure could do him some good, and give him a chance to work on getting his swing back to what it was when he was able to drive the ball to all fields. He needs to stop pulling everything, and he needs to cover the outer half of the plate better. This is fixable. It’s probably easier to fix it in Tacoma.
Jesus Montero just isn’t a Major League player. The catching experiment should end, and he should go down to Tacoma and just try and start hitting again. Let him DH everyday and try to remember that he used to have a lot of promise as a guy with power to all fields. Release him of the burden of being the worst defensive catcher on earth and let him focus on getting back to being an interesting offensive prospect. Let him take some reps at first base while he’s down there and see if he can be not horrific at the easiest defensive position on the field. More than anything, though, tell him to just remember how to hit, and he can come back to the majors when the bat is ready to carry the rest of his skills.
Noesi probably isn’t going to be any better than Maurer would be, but he’s also not as important a piece to the team’s future as Maurer, so letting him be the one to take some lumps in a role he’s not cut out for is better for the organization. And, you know, maybe his command takes enough of a step forward to be mediocre enough to not kill them every five days.
Sucre is a nothing player, but he can catch the ball and play once a week while Kelly Shoppach takes over the regular catching duties. Shoppach isn’t good enough to play everyday on a team trying to win, but he’s by far the best catcher the organization has right now, so he’s the best choice. It wouldn’t hurt to look outside the organization for a better fill-in to share time, but Sucre will have to do until or unless one is identified.
As for Franklin, Ackley’s struggles present the opportunity for the team to see if he’s part of the long term infield solution. I’m not convinced he’ll be a dramatic upgrade, but this would be a promotion to evaluate his progress against better competition, not a move made to try and turn the season around. If Ackley’s going to get a few months to try and figure things out in Tacoma, that’s the best possible time to give Franklin a half season of big league time and see what he can do. They can even stick him at shortstop occasionally if they want to see how he is on that side of the bag, but by having him replace Ackley at second, he won’t have to be good enough at SS to play regularly.
In each case, the moves are made not to satisfy the need to do something, but to try and give the players their best chance to succeed in Seattle long term. Maurer, Ackley and Montero shouldn’t be given up on, but they don’t need to be in the majors right now. Franklin is worth looking at in an extended trial. Noesi and Sucre aren’t super important pieces, so if they are overmatched, it’s not the end of the world.
Yes, this means that Harang and his 8.58 ERA stay. 28 innings of a high BABIP and HR/FB ratio are not enough to decide that a guy who succeeded almost entirely through BABIP and HR/FB suppression last year is cooked as a big league pitcher. He’s not great, certainly, and the team needs more than he’s given them so far, but logic suggests that he’s still capable of giving them better than he’s given so far, and there’s no one else in the minors who is any better.
I know there’s some call for Jeremy Bonderman, just because he’s a familiar name and in Tacoma, but he hasn’t been very good for Tacoma, and hasn’t been a good big league starter in a very long time. If Noesi bombs in his next big league start, maybe you go with Bonderman just to try it out, but I don’t think there should be a strong priority on giving him a look. If he opts out of his Tacoma contract because the team didn’t give him a look, so be it. He’s not a piece I care much about.
So, that’s what I’d do. It wouldn’t fix the team, certainly, but this team isn’t fixable in-season. It’s a roster that makes some necessary adjustments, and then can get back to hoping that Felix and Iwakuma can pitch like inner circle hall of famers often enough to keep the rest of the roster afloat.
Brandon Maurer vs. CJ Wilson, 4:05pm
The M’s of the Zduriencik era will be remembered for many things, most of them bad, but I don’t feel like their volatility gets enough attention. It’s remarkable, in hindsight, that the team was .500 in JULY of 2011 before they went on a losing bender for three weeks. Last year’s team excised any trace of drama well before the all-star break, but then had long spells of solid play in the second half. A week ago, this team was on the upswing, taking 2nd from the free-falling Oakland A’s and beginning to scan AL Central box scores in the hope of moving up in the wild card standings. Now, they look lost again, with a tired, shell-shocked bullpen, a frustrated offense and a defense that’s dealing with some spectacularly poorly timed miscues. They weren’t as bad as they looked when they were 8-15 (easy to say, because they looked baaaaaad), and they weren’t as good as they looked in the Yankees series.
That’s part of the problem, really. Five years into the rebuild, we know intellectually that a bad week or two doesn’t mean the team is Astros/Marlins bad, but we’ve heard so much about guys like Smoak and Ackley that we look for hope in the periodic upswings. Ackley just needed to ditch the pre-swing alterations! Smoak is walking! Jason Bay, you guys, Jason Bay! At some point, the team has to get better, so every time they win a few games, it’s easy to slip on that narrative – contention is nigh, we just needed to be patient. So it’s always that Mariner-y combination of dispiriting and expected when that excitement is buried by a stretch of awful games like last night’s. You don’t need to content this year, M’s, but don’t make games like last night’s a habit.
So, Brandon Maurer. He’s used his curve more in his last two starts, especially the Oakland game, either because he knows it can be an effective pitch to opposite-handed hitters or perhaps because it’s something he can go to if he doesn’t feel he has great command of the slider on a particular day. In his last outing, he eased back on the curve, and threw a ton of sliders at Cleveland’s lefties. He mixed in the change and curve, but definitely relied on his slider more than he had against the A’s. So we’re still seeing Maurer’s approach evolve – he and Shoppach seem to tailor his pitch mix to specific teams or to specific conditions. And I think it’s worth noting that this’ll be Shoppach third consecutive start for Maurer. I know Montero’s clearly in more of a back-up role now, and it seems like they’re going to want to pair the veteran backstop with the young right-hander.
1: Bay, LF (!)
2: Saunders, CF
3: Morse, RF
4: Morales, 1B
6: Shoppach, C
7: Ackley, 2B
8: Andino, 3B
9: Ryan, SS
That’s…that’s a new line-up. Seager gets a rare day-off, necessitating the always-painful bottom of the line-up pairing of Andino and Ryan (can we add Ackley to that?).
The Angels have five lefties in their line-up, including J.B. Shuck, who they promoted when they realized that it’d been a while since they had Reggie Willits, and wasn’t that Reggie Willits something? Shuck can take a walk, slap grounders, and he never, ever Ks. Just throw strikes, Brandon.
Tacoma won its fourth straight yesterday on a Stefen Romero walk-off hit. They’re now 28-18. Andrew Carraway starts tonight against Nashville.
The M’s continue to scout Brazil fairly heavily, as they signed 17yo Daniel Missaki, who pitched (at age 16!) in the WBC first-round pool for team Brazil this year.
Aaron Harang vs. Jerome Williams, 7:05pm
Aaron Harang’s ailing back is all better, so he’s back in the rotation tonight in Anaheim. That’s great news for Aaron Harang, I guess. Opposing him is Jerome Williams, meaning I’m obliged to link to this, from back when he first completed his journey from broken/ex-ballplayer to MLB swingman.
Scott Kazmir’s in the major leagues, and Ubaldo Jimenez is suddenly kind of good again, so it’s not like baseball’s short on these longshot comeback stories, but there’s still something about Williams that makes me do a double-take every time I see his name in the probables. It’s not like he, or Kazmir, or Jon Garland, or Jeremy Bonderman, is legitimately awesome again. Over three partial seasons adding up to just over 200IP, Williams has been worth 1.5 WAR, or 1.7 RA-WAR, if that’s how you roll. That’s a touch below average, thanks to some home run problems and a so-so strikeout rate, but…Jerome Williams gave the Angels, a team that famously has zero rotation depth thanks to the Dan Haren trade, a perfectly acceptable 200 IP after washing ashore in 2011. Every team gets production from unlikely sources (Jason Bay?), but Jerome Williams was so-so with the Uni-President Lions in 2010.
There’s some evidence to suggest that Williams isn’t content with just making it back and being a nice story. His fastball velocity is up markedly this year (just shy of 1.5mph over last year), which is remarkable given that velocities are lowest in April/May. Since 2007, Williams arm slot has made the opposite journey of Danny Farquhar, going from a standard 3/4 to very low 3/4/sidearm. But as he’s further and further from rotator cuff problems, he continues to gain velocity, going from 88-89 in 2007 to 91-92 in 2011 to near 94 this year. Williams has pitched in relief a bit this year, so I initially figured the velo boost was just the result of shorter starts, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. He’s averaged about 94 in his three starts, touching 95 in two of them. I know you’re probably sick to death of my enthusiasm for Jerome Williams, but listen: Williams is a living, breathing, pitching reset button on pitcher attrition, “TINSTAAP”, and prospect flameouts. I’m a Mariners fan. You do the math. If Williams can make it back, can we *really* close the book on Chris Snelling? I mean, how closed *is* that book, and how hard is it to open again?
Williams is using his sinker and cutter a bit less frequently this year, and that’s caused his GB% to drop a bit. Still too early to know if that’s just an early season blip, or if he’s trying something new. He’s benefited from some luck in his HR/FB%, as his HRs allowed has dropped thus far despite the increase in fly balls. In any event, he’s sporting a decent RA and FIP, which is something noteworthy on an Angels staff that’s essentially being carried by Jason Vargas at the moment. The M’s start Aaron Harang who’s in the perfect ballpark to ease his home run problems, but we could’ve said the same when he faced the Halos in Safeco, and that didn’t go so well. Still, I’m moderately excited to watch a ballgame that doesn’t take place in Cleveland, so Harang’s got that going for him.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Ackley, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Morse, RF
6: Ibanez, LF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Shoppach, C
9: Andino, SS
SP: Aaron Harang
The Rainiers host Nashville and ex-Angels prospect Jonny Hellweg tonight. Hellweg’s 6’9″ and throws 99, but hasn’t yet harnessed that stuff and become as frightening as he could be. He’s got poor control and doesn’t miss near as many bats as you’d think, but he’s 6’9″ and throws 99mph and so the Brewers hope he’s one mechanical tweak away from dominating. Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Tacoma, who won the first game of the series yesterday. Mike Zunino hit his first home run at Cheney Stadium over the weekend, bringing his SLG% at home up to .193.
John McGrath had a nice story on Tacoma utility IF/OF/anything Nate Tenbrink.
The Yankees are partnering with English club Manchester City to purchase an expansion team in Major League Soccer, to be based in New York. Manchester City’s the majority owner, but the Yankees will own about a quarter of the club, which still needs to find a stadium to play in (cross-town rivals NY Red Bulls just built one, but it’s not clear they want to share with the upstarts). The Times story notes that the tentative plan is to build a stadium in Flushing Meadows park. Many of you don’t follow soccer, especially English soccer, but let me just say that this new team is about as easy to hate as any expansion team in any sport. City have the highest total salary in England (the only team over $200m GBP in 2012), and the Yankees have had the highest in baseball for years (until now). Now, two of the richest clubs in the world want to start a new team and eliminate a public park to do so. If you don’t hate this club, you probably don’t get irate about random sports business news, and you are well adjusted with blood pressure readings in the normal range. Good job.
The usual course of these things is to present facts, followed by interpretations. Let’s begin with some facts.
Justin Smoak hit a home run against the Indians on Monday.
According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, said home run left the bat at 113.0 miles per hour.
According to same, that is the hardest-hit home run of Smoak’s big-league career, beating out a 111.5 from May 2010. His previous fastest as a Mariner was 110.4. The league average is about 103 or 104. Smoak’s career average is 104.
Naturally, there are some caveats. First of all, the Home Run Tracker calculations are somewhat inexact. It’s not that they’re not to be trusted, but there are unseen error bars. Secondly, Smoak pulled his homer right down the right-field line, so it would’ve left the bat when it was traveling with maximum speed. Thirdly, the pitch was right down the middle of the plate.
Fourthly, it was thrown by a side-arming righty reliever.
So that’s that. But personally, I’ve been waiting for Smoak to show some more signs of actual, legitimate power. There are home runs and non-home runs, but there are barely-home runs and serious home runs. Smoak hit a serious home run, and it might tell us a little something about his power potential. What we know, now, is that Smoak is capable of a dinger that flies at 113 miles per hour off the bat. He hadn’t done that before in a game, and while that doesn’t mean it wasn’t possible, now we know for sure. Smoak’s been demonstrating improved control of the strike zone. He’s been demonstrating an ability to hit the ball hard on a line. It can’t be considered a bad thing that he just launched his fastest career homer. Even with all the caveats, this was something he hadn’t done before. This is more a sign of progress than not a sign of progress.
And Smoak can certainly look the part of a power hitter:
Since April 22, spanning 86 plate appearances, Smoak’s batted .314/.442/.526, with 16 walks and 17 strikeouts. Just yesterday, he hit the fastest home run of his major-league career. As such, I’m upgrading Justin Smoak’s alert level from Normal to Advisory.
Performing at or around usual level, to be considered the background state. Features insufficient quality of contact, unacceptably high rate of swings at wrong pitches. Sometimes attacks warning track.
Exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above established background level. Demonstrates strike-zone competence, reasonable contact over dozens of plate appearances. Looks like big-league hitter.
Exhibiting escalating or sustained unrest, over longer period of time. Looks like good big-league hitter. Begins to regain lost trust and faith, laying off wrong pitches while punishing right ones. Power, patience, contact all simultaneously present.
Breakthrough imminent, underway, or suspected. Productivity sustained for long period of time, with slumps forgotten and approach embraced. Walk, strikeout numbers similar, power unmistakable. Widely considered dependable.
We aren’t to the point where we can say that Justin Smoak is breaking out. He did this last September, which was followed by this April, and he did this in April 2011, which was followed by gradually worsening misery. Smoak hasn’t broken out yet, despite his previous bursts, so we need to wait and see with this latest burst before we get carried away. What we don’t know is whether Justin Smoak is taking his game to a real new level. What we do know is that these days we’ve had no reason to complain about Justin Smoak, and that’s one of the steps in the right direction. If Smoak were to be headed in the right direction, we’d have to pass through our current state of being. So, be advised. Be nothing more, and nothing less.
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Current Justin Smoak Alert Level: Advisory
|MARINERS (20-25)||ΔMs||ANGELS (17-27)||EDGE|
|HITTING (wOBA*)||-5.6 (19th)||1.4||4.4 (14th)||Angels|
|FIELDING (RBBIP)||2.3 (16th)||-5.6||-17.1 (27th)||Mariners|
|ROTATION (xRA)||11.0 (7th)||-2.6||-24.4 (29th)||Mariners|
|BULLPEN (xRA)||5.6 (8th)||1.2||-7.5 (28th)||Mariners|
|OVERALL (RAA)||13.3 (14th)||-5.7||-44.5 (27th)||MARINERS|
Heartbreaking. It’s the word easily at hand for such a series as the one the Mariners just experienced. It’s hyperbolic, of course. Nobody’s heart was literally broken, I hope. Figuratively? I don’t know. Those weren’t the results that most of us were daring to think of after the Mariners seemed on the verge of .500 and had just reached second place in the division.
One thing I wonder is how it might feel to be an Indians fan right now and gone through that series. Have the Mariners had such a series go in their way? They must have, at some point, but if so it’s faded from my memory. This will fade too. Baseball is a long haul and in a sport where they say that failing 7 times out of 10 is a success, at the end of the year there aren’t a whole lot of people celebrating. So go find your light where you can. I’m sad the Mariners were swept. But I’m sad because I cared, so that’s something.
|Batter||PA||P/PA||Slash line||nBB||K (sw)||1B/2B/3B/HR||Sw-||Ct+||Qual+|
|K Seager*||53||4.1||.227/.340/.409||8||9 (8)||6 / 2 / 0 / 2||91||104||115|
|M Saunders*||50||3.7||.178/.280/.222||5||16 (14)||6 / 2 / 0 / 0||101||92||80|
|K Morales^||48||3.9||.295/.354/.523||4||9 (7)||7 / 4 / 0 / 2||91||98||140|
|M Morse||41||3.8||.289/.357/.421||3||11 (8)||8 / 2 / 0 / 1||104||87||90|
|J Smoak^||40||4.5||.303/.425/.545||7||11 (10)||6 / 2 / 0 / 2||93||101||84|
|D Ackley*||40||4.1||.171/.275/.200||5||10 (4)||5 / 1 / 0 / 0||75||108||110|
|B Ryan||38||3.3||.250/.289/.361||2||8 (7)||7 / 1 / 0 / 1||124||94||108|
|R Ibanez*||33||3.1||.333/.333/.909||0||5 (5)||4 / 1 / 0 / 6||120||92||126|
|J Montero||30||3.5||.222/.300/.333||3||5 (4)||5 / 0 / 0 / 1||103||93||119|
|J Bay||27||4.4||.182/.333/.364||5||7 (7)||2 / 1 / 0 / 1||86||78||123|
It’s hard for me to write about the Mariners’ offense and not go down roads that come off as overly negative. Part of it is because the offense, as a whole, is not very good. Part of it is because most of the bits and pieces that have had positive story lines this year aren’t the bits and pieces that I care about when it comes to the future of this team.
I believe that I will take a middling team over an absolute train wreck like 2008 or 2010, but I was really hoping that this season wouldn’t be kept afloat by the performances of Jason Bay, Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez. I have nothing against those four, but they aren’t among the four that I wanted to see success from this year.
|Batter||PA||P/PA||Slash line||nBB||SO (sw)||1B/2B/3B/HR||Sw-||Ct+||Qual+|
|M Trout||57||4.3||.289/.439/.556||11||11 (6)||7 / 3 / 0 / 3||72||107||99|
|A Pujols||56||4.0||.250/.339/.442||4||9 (5)||7 / 4 / 0 / 2||104||105||77|
|M Trumbo||56||3.7||.216/.304/.431||5||16 (13)||4 / 5 / 0 / 2||107||91||99|
|A Callaspo^||53||3.6||.256/.302/.419||5||3 (1)||8 / 1 / 0 / 2||85||118||100|
|H Kendrick||52||4.0||.340/.396/.520||2||12 (12)||12 / 3 / 0 / 2||122||96||111|
|J Hamilton*||50||3.9||.239/.333/.500||4||10 (8)||5 / 3 / 0 / 3||116||90||97|
|E Aybar^||38||3.1||.167/.184/.222||1||3 (1)||4 / 2 / 0 / 0||116||116||101|
|C Iannetta||38||4.7||.208/.526/.208||14||7 (5)||5 / 0 / 0 / 0||67||89||82|
|J Shuck*||38||3.4||.273/.342/.364||4||3 (2)||6 / 3 / 0 / 0||83||116||88|
|B Harris||20||4.2||.263/.300/.579||1||7 (5)||3 / 0 / 0 / 2||95||102||71|
It’s easy to point to the Angels’ disappointing record and focus about Pujols and Hamilton. I’m content to do that. Not even counting the rest of this season, the Angels owe $106 million over the next four seasons to Josh Hamilton. Hamilton has played 2013 below replacement level so far.
Not counting the rest of this season, the Angels owe $212 million over the next eight seasons to Albert Pujols. Pujols has not been as bad as Hamilton though. He’s been one run better according to FanGraphs, and still below replacement level.
|INFIELD||3.1 (13th)||-1.6||-18.5 (30th)||Mariners|
|OUTFIELD||-0.9 (19th)||-4.1||1.4 (13th)||Angels|
|RBBIP||0.304 (16th)||+.007||0.327 (27th)||Mariners|
|OVERALL||2.3 (16th)||-5.6||-17.1 (27th)||MARINERS|
21 MAY 19:05 – JEROME WILLIAMS vs AARON HARANG
Jerome Williams has had no problems with the Mariners in the past. That doesn’t mean much, or anything, or maybe it means everything. Maybe confidence is what separates the best from the “average” once you reach the stratospheric level that is Major League baseball and maybe William’s past success has him overflowing with confidence right now. I’m skeptical such a mindset matters in baseball but it sure would make all our wrangling with numbers and projection models really funny in hindsight.
You ever stop and think of just how much effort, physical and mental, goes into baseball? Baseball! Of all things. Gosh we’re weird.
22 MAY 16:05 – C.J. WILSON* vs BRANDON MAURER
Pujols and Hamilton are obviously the big financial weights on the Angels’ payroll for the future, but C.J. Wilson was also a big signing and upon donning the Angel uniform rather immediately went from All-Star-level pitcher to ho-hum around league average pitcher. He hasn’t been a complete disaster obviously, and has a relatively short term of three years left after 2013, but boy the Angels sure haven’t gotten their money’s worth yet.
|C Capps||47||105||1||93||16 (13)||68||3||88||0.4|
|T Wilhelmsen||41||110||1||96||10 (8)||128||0||125||1.5|
|O Perez*||39||102||5||81||17 (13)||106||1||101||0.3|
|Y Medina||37||94||3||102||9 (5)||117||0||78||0.5|
|C Furbush*||33||103||2||82||13 (8)||63||2||124||0.8|
|H Noesi||28||103||2||108||4 (2)||51||0||140||0.4|
|B Beavan||27||101||2||95||6 (4)||95||1||161||0.3|
Yoervis Medina has quite impressed me thus far, flashing a mid-90s fastball and generating lots of ground balls. And although so far he’s actually had better control with the big club, he’s still well below average. Which made Eric Wedge’s decision to turn to Medina on Saturday with the bases loaded, nobody out and a tie game in the bottom of the ninth all the more curious.
I hope there was a reason beyond “it wasn’t a save situation” but I have my doubts. I imagine the question was posed to Wedge in the post game media conference and I imagine that Wedge gave some sort of answer I could go refer to. But I’m not really interested in it. I’m sure there are some cases where mathematically-seeming sub-optimal bullpen usage is the best bet because of factors we’re not privy to including how pitchers are feeling that particular day, but I am convinced that substantial portion of the time it’s because managers are slavishly devoted to predefined roles for each reliever.
I find it so odd that there’s so much reverence given to these roles, as though they were commandments passed down from on high instead of a system that developed and now calcified only in the past 20 years or so.
|D De La Rosa||58||101||4||99||13 (11)||132||1||73||0.8|
|E Frieri||55||98||11||83||17 (13)||33||2||102||2.2|
|M Kohn||42||96||7||90||12 (10)||49||1||124||0.7|
|G Richards||39||100||3||114||3 (2)||143||1||86||0.4|
|J Williams||36||102||3||100||4 (4)||105||0||92||2.0|
|S Downs*||30||99||1||100||5 (5)||169||0||92||2.0|
|M Roth*||28||98||0||111||5 (4)||127||0||124||0.7|
|R Coello||23||102||0||87||12 (9)||82||0||39||-0.3|
|M Lowe||20||90||2||126||1 (1)||119||0||89||1.1|
These guys walk a lot of people. The Mariners have become suspiciously adept at taking walks. It the games get into Anaheim’s bullpen, we might see some drawn out finishes. That’s great news if you like baseball on!
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Huzzah, More Baseball as Mariners Travel to Anaheim
As a sports fan, you can’t just look at a season as championship or bust. Maybe in select cases that makes some sense, but we’re all still here, and the Mariners have never won a championship. It’s about the experiences along the way, the things that lift your spirits, even if hope for a title has long since deteriorated. Approaching things as championship-or-bust isn’t sustainable. There have to be other upsides, other things that make it all worthwhile, and usually, there are. We’re all rational enough that we would’ve abandoned the Mariners entirely if we weren’t getting anything out of it. There’s something there, even if it too often feels like a barren emotional hellscape.
What is a baseball game but a baseball season crammed into three hours? Just as a season shouldn’t be winning-or-bust, a game shouldn’t be winning-or-bust, because of the same principles. A single baseball game is a collection of hundreds of individual events, all stringed elegantly or inelegantly together. Even if the ultimate event is a disappointing one, there can and often will be preceding events of worth. Moments that you’re glad you watched, in a game you sometimes wish you hadn’t. Moments you remember longer than you remember the final score.
Early Monday, the Mariners lost to the Indians. That much is typical, and that the Mariners lost in devastating fashion also seems typical. They wasted leads in the ninth and the tenth. Errors were committed in the bottom halves of both. Tom Wilhelmsen had the game in his glove, and he dropped it on the ground. If the Mariners were contending for the playoffs, this would’ve been a heartbreaker. As is, it just sucked. This game will subconsciously contribute to your negative impression of the city of Cleveland, even if you’ve never been for a visit. Ten years from now you’ll be in the Cleveland airport on a layover, and you’ll just feel kind of agitated, and you won’t be able to put your finger on why. There are much more palatable ways for a baseball team to lose.
But though the Mariners lost, this game came with particular moments of worth. There was Endy Chavez’s miraculous pinch-hit home run. There was Justin Smoak’s extra-innings home run. And there was a curveball. A curveball I’ll remember as long as I remember Tom Wilhelmsen dropping the baseball at first. An element of sports fandom is wanting to feel superior to other fans. A big part of that is a team seeming superior to other teams. A big part of that is a team making another team look feeble and stupid. In the bottom of the ninth on Monday, Tom Wilhelmsen made Asdrubal Cabrera look feeble and stupid. Wilhelmsen, of course, would look stupid himself moments later, but by that point the curveball was seared into my memory. You don’t soon forget a batter looking like this:
Baseball players, almost all of the time, manage to look like legitimate, talented baseball players. Tom Wilhelmsen threw a curveball that could make a man wonder what he’s doing. Yes, absolutely, the Mariners would lose the game. But they sure as hell didn’t lose all of it.
So much of baseball writing, it seems to me, ends up being the act of finding new ways to say the same thing as before. I don’t know how many times I’ve prefaced a post by saying something along the lines of “you already know this.” There are a lot of people writing about baseball, and things in baseball tend not to change that quickly. So there’s a lot of repeat coverage, with the challenge being to keep people interested. It’s not always easy, but it’s fun to feel tested, and let’s get this out of the way: you already know the gist of what’s going to follow. But, a list, of four numbers:
Those are four wRC+ numbers, through today. In case you’re not aware, wRC+ is basically OPS+, for smarter, smugger people. Now, a list, of four names, to whom those wRC+ numbers belong:
- Justin Smoak
- Munenori Kawasaki
- Jesus Montero
- Dustin Ackley
I’ve jumbled everything up. Try to match the number to the name. When you’re ready, proceed, for the answers:
- Justin Smoak
- Munenori Kawasaki
- Jesus Montero
- Dustin Ackley
This is why I said you already know the gist. You already know that Ackley is a huge disappointment, and that Montero is a disappointment of some other but similar magnitude. Whenever the Mariners lose, people get to talking about the letdowns on the team, and Ackley and Montero are two of the bigger ones. It’s not just that Ackley and Montero are failing to establish themselves as members of the Mariners’ core — it’s that, when you watch them, it can be hard to believe they were thought to be core components in the first place. They play bad and look bad. It’s like the Mariners wanted to make enchiladas, so they bought Quikrete and fabric.
They’re both being out-hit by Munenori Kawasaki. Kawasaki is basically the starter in Toronto right now with Jose Reyes injured, and while Kawasaki hasn’t been good, he’s been passable, and he’s been better than Ackley and Montero. The team didn’t even give serious thought to retaining Kawasaki on a minor-league contract last offseason. This was justifiable, because based on the observations, he did not look good, or even mediocre. There’s a reason Kawasaki was considered something of a mascot last summer. His one skill was his personality. He looked like one of the weakest-hitting position players in Mariners history, and I found it impossible to believe he’d homered before in Japan. I saw video and still I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that Kawasaki possessed some sort of offensive competence.
He’s slugging .301. He’s Reggie Willits. He just hit maybe the deepest batted ball of his career, and it came down in front of the track. Kawasaki’s offense is funny, even when it isn’t absolutely dreadful. But, at varying points, Dustin Ackley was considered automatic, Jesus Montero was considered an elite-level future slugger, and Munenori Kawasaki was considered perhaps baseball’s least threatening bat. It’s May 20, 2013, and Kawasaki’s out-producing the other two. Maybe it isn’t going to last this way. But it shouldn’t be this way at all.
Thankfully, there’s Smoak, and Smoak’s improvement. Smoak’s improvement allows us to try to reconsider Smoak, and it also allows us to be a little more patient with Ackley and Montero, perhaps. For the first time all season, Smoak’s slugging percentage is ahead of his OBP, and his OBP is good. He’s been swinging at more strikes and fewer balls, and there are signs the power is coming along, trailing the improved command of the zone. If you arbitrarily select April 22 as a starting date, here’s Smoak since then, including Monday:
- 86 plate appearances, .314/.442/.529, 16 BB, 17 K
That right there is a hell of a hitter. A better hitter, naturally, than Justin Smoak actually is, but if Smoak’s greatest ability is keeping people from completely giving up on him, then he’s putting on another classic display. Yes, we’ve all been tricked by Justin Smoak in the past, but stretches of trickiness are stretches of productivity, proofs of concept that Justin Smoak can be a legitimate major leaguer. Where Smoak once again looked dead, now Smoak once again looks promising, and because he’s in the midst of a hot streak, we get to daydream again, like we have so many times. Sure, he won’t actually bat .300. But Smoak, in the past, showed great command of the strike zone. He lost that, and now he might be getting it back, since part of the reason for his batting adjustments was allowing him to wait a little longer to commit. Drawing walks goes a long way toward making a hitter acceptable. Ask Munenori Kawasaki.
I think it’s easy to look at Smoak’s .320 BABIP, and compare it to his .263 career BABIP, and conclude he’s just riding a fluke. But on the contrary, I’m encouraged. Smoak’s actually hitting the ball harder, and better-hit balls are more difficult to turn into outs. Smoak’s always going to be slow and he’s probably always going to be shifted in the infield, but there could be some legitimacy to this. While I know I’ve been fooled before, at least he’s showing the potential progress that Ackley and Montero aren’t. And that makes me think that Ackley or Montero might still figure it out after they work through a few more kinks.
A month or so ago, Justin Smoak looked awful, Dustin Ackley looked awful, and Jesus Montero looked awful. Relative to March, the fact that one of them is showing signs of life is a great disappointment. Relative to April, I’ll take it. Munenori Kawasaki is presently out-hitting two presumed parts of the Mariners’ long-term core. But at least he’s not out-hitting Justin Smoak. It could always be worse. We know this, because it has been.
Danny Farquhar is only in the majors because the Mariners needed an extra arm for the bullpen after Hector Noesi had to be used as a spot starter because of Aaron Harang‘s aching back. Noesi obviously wasn’t optioned to Tacoma because they wanted to get him off the team, and he’ll likely be back as soon as he’s fulfilled the 10 day requirement that goes along with getting optioned out. However, Danny Farquhar might have shown enough in his one outing on Saturday to not be the one headed back to Tacoma when Noesi returns.
No, it’s not because he struck out five of the eight guys he faced in low leverage mop-up duty; it’s because of what he was throwing.
That’s a PITCHF/x plot of the 34 pitches Farquhar threw on Saturday. Forget the labels, as there’s basically three pitches there: a bunch of fastballs from 92-96, some cut fastballs from 89-92, and a few curveballs at 79.
Now, here’s a PITCHF/x plot of the 43 pitches Farquhar threw in the Major Leagues back in 2011, when he was a member of the Blue Jays.
There are three pitches there too, but as you can see, they are not the same three pitches. In 2011, he threw a fastball at 88-92, a slider from 80-84, and a single change-up at 79.
And now, here are those two charts overlayed on top of each other, and you see the changes by moving the mouse over or off the image.
Basically, the Farquhar who pitched in Cleveland on Saturday bears no resemblance to the one who pitched in the big leagues with Toronto, besides the fact that it is the same human being, anyway. That Farquhar was a garden variety sinker/slider minor leaguer, a guy who could get some ground balls against right-handers but was otherwise ill equipped to pitch in the majors. If you’ve ever watched a Triple-A game, you’ve seen 100 relievers just like him. This is the kind of pitchers that make up PCL pitching staffs.
The one that pitched for the Mariners on Saturday, though? A totally different guy. The fastball averaged 95, as he’s mostly swapped out his two seam for a harder four seam fastball — note that his fastest fastball in 2011 was still slower than his slowest fastball in 2013 — while the cutter sat at 91, and he mixed in few curveballs just for fun. And the entire delivery is just completely different.
As you can see, the release point has gotten much, much higher, and he’s now releasing at something close to 3/4 rather than side-arm. Basically, he’s gotten more vertical, and his stuff has taken a big leap forward in the process.
Not only is he throwing four or five miles per hour harder, the cut fastball is just a far better second pitch than anything he used to have, and unlike the slider, it’s not a pitch that has a huge platoon split. On Saturday, he threw eight cutters to right-handers and six of them to left-handers, and it was actually more effective against LHBs, getting two called strikes and a swinging strike.
A guy throwing 95 mph four-seam fastballs, mixing in a 91 mph cutter, and throwing the odd 79 mph curve just to throw hitters timing off – that’s not the stuff of some random dude called up from Tacoma to eat some innings in a pinch. Farquhar was destroying the PCL before he got called up, and after seeing what he was throwing, his dominance down there suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Basically, we can take Farquhar’s mediocre track record and almost entirely toss it out the window. You might look at him as a journeyman who pitched for four different Triple-A clubs last year, but there’s no way anyone would have tried to sneak him through waivers throwing what he’s throwing right now. What he showed on Saturday was the kind of stuff that good relief pitchers are made of. And, perhaps most importantly to the Mariners, he showed that he might be the kind of reliever that doesn’t have to be pulled whenever an opposite handed hitter comes to the plate.
For better or worse, the Mariners have built a bullpen full of slider-throwing specialists. With the exception of Tom Wilhelmsen, pretty much everyone else down there comes in and pounds opponents with sliders, leading to some crazy platoon splits. Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez, and Lucas Luetge all lean heavily on their slider and are best used situationally. The same is true of the returning soon Josh Kinney and Stephen Pryor. Whether it’s intentional development or not, the Mariners have seemingly turned out an endless supply of slider specialists the last few years.
Farquhar and Yoervis Medina are exceptions. Medina throws an 85 mph curve as his second pitch, but relies primarily on his fastball to go after hitters, as his curve isn’t a great weapon yet. Farquhar’s cutter looked like a real asset on Saturday, and he was throwing just as hard as Medina, whose velocity kept him on the 40 man for years even when he couldn’t get anyone out in Double-A.
With Farquhar, and maybe Medina to a lesser extent, the M’s now have two guys in their bullpen who might be more than just a platoon match-up specialist. Farquhar showed flashes of being a true middle reliever, the kind of guy the M’s could give multiple inning runs to without worrying about who is due up further down the line-up. Farquhar is much more interesting, and potentially much more valuable, than a redundant left-handed specialist.
If it’s me, Lucas Luetge is the guy heading back to Tacoma when Noesi returns to take the long man spot in the bullpen, and to be honest, I wouldn’t be in a huge hurry to replace either Medina or Farquhar with Josh Kinney any time soon. His rehab assignment is set to expire in 10 days, but I don’t know that adding a 33-year-old who throws a slider 50% of the time is actually going to help a bullpen that needs a real middle reliever. If Kinney throws decently in Tacoma, maybe you make the switch because it’s not a big harm to option Farquhar or Medina back to Triple-A and give the veteran another look, but Farquhar showed more interesting stuff on Saturday than Kinney ever has, and for a team building for the future, it’s probably worth getting a longer look at a kid who might have taken a big step forward in his career.
As a 5’10 26-year-old, Farquhar’s not exactly a franchise building block, but in his first outing, he showed the stuff of a guy who could fill a void in the Mariners bullpen, and maybe be a key middle reliever going forward. While the team didn’t get the results they wanted in Cleveland, Farquhar’s debut couldn’t possibly have been any more impressive.
Over the last four games, the Mariners launched eight home runs, getting two each from Smoak and Ibanez and one home run from Seager, Morales, Ryan (!), and Chavez (!!!).
Over the last four games, the Mariners scored a grand total of 15 runs, and went 0-4.
The Mariners entire plan to turn the team around in 2013 revolved around “hit more dingers”. They’ve succeeded in that goal, as with 53 home runs, they are now 6th in the majors in total home runs hit. They are 25th in the majors in runs scored, and are 20-25, on pace to win 72 games. Trading pitching, defense, and on base percentage for home runs has made them no better.
There is more to winning baseball than hitting home runs.
Iwakuma vs Kazmir, 9:05 am.
Scott Kazmir is healthy again, and is currently throwing as hard as he did when he was a top prospect. Don’t think of Kazmir as the broken terrible pitcher of the last few years. His fastball has been up to 96 and his slider has some bite again, so the M’s will have their work cut out for them today. As always, the key with Kazmir is to not give him free outs, and make him throw strikes consistently. Patience, not aggressiveness, should be the trait of the day.
1. Saunders, CF
2. Bay, LF
3. Seager, 3B
4. Morales, DH
5. Morse, RF
6. Smoak, 1B
7. Shoppach, C
8. Andino, 2B
9. Ryan, SS