Thursday, August 18, 2005

What happened to Joel Pineiro?

Two years ago, Joel Pineiro was going to be the linchpin of our future rotation, backed up by a plethora of young arms nearing the majors. Those young arms haven't worked out so well for mostly medical reasons. Besides, young pitchers are risky commodities, being so prone to injury. But Pineiro was a good bet. What happened?

Why have we gone from extolling his virtures to calling for his outright release? He's been a lousy pitcher this year, mostly because of he's lost the ability to strike batters out. Look at this:

2000 5.59 19.1  4.7 6.1  .333  .481
2001 2.03 75.1  6.7 2.5  .235  .263
2002 3.24 194.1 6.3 2.5  .285  .411
2003 3.78 212.2 6.4 3.2  .276  .359
2004 4.67 141.2 7.1 2.7  .299  .442
2005 5.56 139.1 4.8 2.8  .319  .468
We can see that, in 01 and 03, he did a better job (if we're going to give him credit for it) keeping hitters from making solid contact. Batting Average on Balls In Play and Slugging Allowed were both down those years. He walked more batters in 03, but took care of that in '04. This year, however, the big change is in his inability to strike batters out. Coupled with a much higher BABIP, it has spelled disaster.

The best theory I've heard to explain this is that Pineiro's health isn't at 100%, and he doesn't quite have the velocity he once did. Batters put the ball in play when they use to miss entirely, and are making solid contact when they didn't before, because they have a little bit longer to adjust. Or, a lingering injury is compromising his control.

Either way, the cause would be an injury--which is far different from saying that he simply lost the ability to pitch. If Joel is injured, then that problem needs to be diagnosed first, before we give up on him. We need to know if this is an injury that will keep him from being good again (see "labrum, torn"), or one that, once healed, will not prevent him from returing to form. Calling for Pineiro's release now is absurdly premature.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Middle Infielders, Musical Chairs

Tonights lineup includes:

3B - Bloomquist
LF - Ibanez
DH - Beltre
SS - Morse2B - Betancourt

If you patrol any of the comments over at USSMariner, you'll see that a lot of folks wonder what the point of sacrificing your infield defense when Hernandez--an extreme groundball pitcher--is on the mound. Beltre and Betancourt are clearly the superior defenders for the left side of the infield. Furthermore, they muse, why isn't Jose Lopez, he of the .911 OPS at AAA, up to play second anyway? It would be as simple as releasing Speizio, who's not doing anything for anybody right now.

It's fashionable to pile on the M's these days, and it's easy to take pot-shots at the management and roster construction with the team playing so poorly. But there are legitimate explanations for tonight's lineup:

Hernandez, of all M's pitchers, relies on his defense the least. If you're going to give Beltre a break, get Morse some at-bats, let Ibanez remember what a glove feels like, this is the night to do it. As David Cameron pointed out on tonight's game thread at USSMariner, Morse has never played anything except shortstop, and Betancourt will still be very effective at second.

And there are legitmate reasons for the current roster:

Lopez played very poorly in his audition in the majors this year. He didn't get a long look, but what opportunites he got, he squandered, managing a microscopic .545 OPS in 24 games (80 plate appearances). Lopez clearly is the future at second, so the M's should be thinking about his developmental first and foremost. That likely means getting him regular plate appearances and not messing with his psyche nor ruining his confidence. Tacoma is the best place for this.

Even if regular major league at-bats were desirable for Lopez, he'd have to displace Betancourt or Bloomquist, neither of which are going to appeal to the Mariners. Bloomquist, for all the moaning at USSM, is having a fine second half (coincidentally hitting a triple in tonight's game), and is a fan favorite. He'll be on the roster next year, and he provides some measure of offense, so he does help keep a few more fans trickling in. Replacing Betancourt compromises your defense by requiring either Bloomquist or Morse to man short, and either pushes Betancourt to the bench or back to Tacoma. Exchanging one future regular infielder for the other isn't much use. Finally, replacing Speizio means somebody has to go to the bench.

Tonight's lineup is unusual, for sure, but it's hardly evidence that the M's don't know what they're doing. I look forward to see Lopez next year, but nobody needs him to displace one of the current regulars only to struggle at the plate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Recent Games

Day1: Snelling ignites a comeback.
Day 2:Felix shows why he's the heir apparent.
Day 3:Willie Bloomquist boots it.

Top of the Ninth, with Guardado going for his 29th consecutive save, and Bloomquist throws the ball away, giving the Twins' Michael Cuddyer an extra base to add to his infield single. That extra base would prove critical, as Cuddyer's pinch runner would score on the next play, a left-field single.

Betancourt gets on base to lead off the ninth, and Chris Snelling, of all people, bunts, so that the fearsome Wiki Gonzalez can drive Betancourt in. I can understand playing for one run in this situation generally, but you don't have Snelling bunt when he's followed by Gonzalez. Really, why is Snelling down there in the order anyway? Especially when, after a groundout and an intentional walk to Ichiro, Willie Bloomquist is up to bat?

"Time for him to redeem himself," says Dave Valle. "The hottest hitter on the Mariners for the last six weeks," says Rizzs. "That can't be right," I say to the TV. Yes, I talk to the TV. You gotta problem?

Since the beginning of July, Bloomquist actually has done very well. But he hasn't been the best hitter on the M's during that time. He is tied for second in average (.314), with Sexson, over that period, trailing Ichiro (.324). Sexson blows everyone else out of the water in OBP (.407) and SLG (.645). So while Bloomquist has hit for a good average over the last six weeks, he certainly isn't the guy you want when you can't afford to make an out. No, for that you'd want Ibanez, Ichiro, or--you guessed it--Chris Snelling, all of whom have a better OBP.