Friday, September 15, 2006

Eyewitness from 9-15 Game at Kauffman Stadium

Went to the game tonight, and thought I'd jot down a few thoughts:

  • I'm glad the M's are limiting Felix's workload. I'm bummed that the start he skipped happened to be the one game I knew I was going to watch in person this season.
  • Crucetta didn't have a bad inning to start, getting the first batter out and inducing the next two to hit groundballs. The second grounder was part of a hit-and-run, made successful by the inexplicable choice to have Betancourt cover second on the steal instead of Lopez. But Crucetta couldn't keep his head, and fell apart. I'm really ignorant when it comes to pitching mechanics, but it did look like his delivery was way out-of-whack when he went to the stretch, especially when employing the slide step.
  • Snelling had his work cut out for him in right field, and made some solid plays. Ichiro had a nice grab in center, but Ibanez didn't look to great in left, especially when he couldn't come close to throwing a runner out tagging from third on a fairly shallow fly ball.
  • It's fun to watch Betancourt make plays.
  • My dad (in town this week) and I both wondered what the purpose of replacing Snelling with TJ Bohn in what was still a close game at the time (albeit between two last-place teams in September). Bohn promptly hit his first Major League home run. It's fun when baseball surprises you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Beyond identifying the problem

I’ve taken such a long hiatus from this blog because, among other reasons, it’s hard to find something interesting and unique about the M’s these days. The guys at USSMariner and Lookout Landing are my regular reading, and the rest of the blogosphere gives some great perspectives, too.

But another reason I’ve been silent is that I usually like to address a problem with a solution. The Mariners’ problems have been well-documented by the aforementioned bloggers: an organizational approach to player development that discourages a patient, disciplined approach to hitting, a manager prone to obviously ridiculous decisions, poor starting pitching, underperformance by players expected to excel.

Identifying these problems are a good beginning, and it’s most frustrating as a fan to hear and see things from the organization that suggest they aren’t even aware of the magnitude, or even the existence, of some of these problems.

As we head into the off-season, though, simply identifying problems—pointing out actions to avoid—won’t provide a plan for what actions to take. It’s the classic role of the armchair GM: point out the foibles of the existing regime without suggesting a plausible course of action.

For example: most bloggers are pretty tired of Mike Hargrove’s shenanigans. Time and again, he employs strategies that work against his players’ strengths, routinely botches the management of his bullpen, and ignores plains facts. But what are the realistic alternatives? Hargrove himself is a replacement for incompetence, if you can remember far enough back to the Bob Melvin days. I’d love to see Tacoma’s Dan Rohn succeed, but I’m not sure there’s any guarantee that Rohn will be any better. Rohn’s predecessor, Dave Myers, had great success in Tacoma but bombed as a third base coach here. The point is, I think there's a good chance that a Hargrove replacement won't be much better than Grover himself.

Most recently, Dave Cameron reminds us that long-term contracts for veteran pitchers are a bad idea. We all know that the Mariner’s rotation is terrible. Optimists at the beginning of the season saw Joel Pineiro returning to his early success, Felix blowing everybody away, and Washburn serving as a serviceable innings-eater. That hasn’t worked out so well. Many fans are chomping at the bit for some big acquisitions, and Dave says that we’re more likely to be snakebit than strike it rich.

There are two problems with his critique: first, the free agent market isn’t linear, especially for pitchers. To get top quality talent, you have to pay a premium, above and beyond the market rate for pitching. Nate Silver demonstrated this a few years back at Baseball Prospectus, and Jeff did his own analysis at lookout landing a year later. Nate Silver’s graph illustrates how much more premium pitching costs. Contracts for premium pitching are nearly always going to look exorbitant, so in general, you can either “overpay” for pitching (in terms of dollars, duration, or both), or you let premier talent on the free agent market go to the teams that will.

There are some exceptions, of course, which is where Dave wants the team to look. Find the pitcher that won’t take a huge bite out of your payroll for five years straight, but that will help make your team a winner.

This is, of course, easier said than done. I’m not here to pick on Dave Cameron, but he has put forward a proposed plan for the offseason the last several years, and his plans are evidence of just how hard it is to find reasonably priced effective pitching talent. For example, last year, he wanted the team to go after A.J. Burnett. Now? His current contract “doesn’t look so hot” to Dave. He also advocated for Esteban Loaiza and Kevin Brown, neither of whom have impressed (though Loaiza, as it happens with the A’s every season, has looked strong in the second half). The previous year, Dave suggested Matt Clement, who for signed for only three years but has been a disappointment this year as well.

Certainly, long-term contracts for veteran pitchers are a very risky endeavor, with more failures than successes. But good alternatives are hard to find, and I don’t see the difference between having the same mediocre pitcher on your roster for five years, versus three mediocre pitchers in those same five years. If avoiding long-term contracts allows you to buy short-term mediocrity, you haven’t accomplished much.

Now, there are bad long-term contracts, including one Jarrod Washburn, whom Dave rightly predicted would be a poor choice. Washburn is not only an albatross on the payroll, he likely will never be a good pitcher for the M’s. But avoiding bad long-term contracts is not the same as categorically ruling them out.

Update: I won't flatter myself by suggesting that Dave Cameron read my post here and decided to respond, but I will give him credit for following up his first post with a concrete suggestion: read it here.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Report from the latest Northwest SABR meeting

My dad sends me this report of the latest Northwest SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) meeting. The report summary is Mike Rice, with my Dad's comments in italics (I interject things in brackets for explanation) . One important thing to note is that the 36th National SABR convention is being held in Seattle at the end of June. Click here for more details.

On Saturday May 20th, over 30 SABR members and guests gather at the Renaissance Madison Hotel, site of SABR36, for the May meeting of NWSABR. As President of the chapter, I have to say it was a great meeting.

Anthony Salazar led off the meeting with a convention update. 6 weeks out and we are ready to go.

Salazar is a great promoter, a researcher of Latinos in baseball. It looks like it will be a fascinating convention, which I hope to attend some of. Not mentioned by Rice is that Mark Armour showed galley proofs of the book he edited, to be released at the convention, titled (wonderfully) “Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest.” Only two of the articles are about major league teams, one on the Pilots and one on the Mariners. The rest is mostly about minor league experiences. I’ve decided I’m going to use it in my baseball seminar next fall. [My dad teaches a seminar on the history of Baseball at Seattle Pacific University, where he is a history professor]

Mike Carter, who has umpired for over 30 years, passed out a very challenging rules quiz. We had till the end of the meeting to work on it and many of the questions left most of us stumped. You realize how little you know about this game, when you get quizzed on the rules.

Some examples: What is the difference between a foul ball and a foul tip? Both starting pitchers throw a complete game and face the minimum number of batters: who won the game and what was the score? When a National League manager turns the order (“double-switch”), when do they go to umpire first to make the change? What defines a catch in baseball? When is a balk ignored? Who was the Executive Officer of Union Forces at Fort Sumter during the bombardment that started the Civil War? There was also one about batting out of order that was too complex to repeat here. I got 5, maybe 5.5. right out of 21.

We then did introductions. Everyone introduced themselves and told the group what their favorite, earliest or most lasting baseball memory. As you can imagine the 1995 Mariner playoff run got several mentions, but what stood out most was just the love of the game that the people in the room shared.

Many started with some quick things they WEREN’T going to mention (wink, wink), so I did likewise. I said I wasn’t going to cite the last game (loss to Cleveland) of 1995 when everyone stayed in the stadium demanding a curtain call, nor my childhood agony in 1964 as the Phillies were losing 10 in a row, tuning my radio to KMOX St. Louis after the Phils lost again to hear Harry Carey describe the Cardinal game to find out if they won again. Cardinals eventually edged the Phils for the NL title, ruining my childhood and warping me for life—at least until the Phils’ World Championship of 1980[My dad grew up just outside of Philadelphia, and yes, he was, incredibly, able to get KMOX out of St. Louis on his old radio. I had a similar experience in Santa Barbara...near the water one evening, I picked up a faint signal of the Mariner broadcast on 710 AM, all the way from Seattle]. What I did relate was the story in September 1998 when Will and I went to Camden Yards, got standing room only seats, and standing behind the right field seats caught a T-shirt fired from a giant slingshot that went a little farther than intended. It was a Cal Ripken T-shirt, and the next day we read that Cal would sit, i.e. the game we saw was the last of the Streak. (I also jotted down but didn’t mention: seeing my first MLB game—an 8-1 Robin Roberts victory over Pittsburgh--in stunningly green Connie Mack stadium with my father--and Griffey making a home-run-preventing catch in the very last game at the Kingdome.)

Alex Cartwright (yes, of the baseball Cartwrights) then talked about his efforts to get a Vintage Baseball League going in the Northwest. This league will be playing 1880's rules. See if you want more information.

Very weird to be sitting next to the great-great grandson and namesake of the man who wrote the first set of rules for the game of baseball for the NY Knickerbockers club in 1845. He passed out equipment; the glove looked and felt like biker leather gloves. There are enough of these vintage leagues, especially in the Northeast, that there are specialty manufacturers that make the equipment.

We had a very special guest. Mariner General Counsel Bart Waldman spoke. Bart gave a talk about what his duties are, how he got to be General Counsel and how much he loves his job. Bart them took questions from the group and was very candid and open with the group.

I’ve had Bart guest-speak in my class; he’s very articulate. He also is a pitcher in a local senior hardball league that reached the national championship tournament last year.

Jeff Angus spoke about his new book, "Management by Baseball". It is a book where Jeff shows how the worst MLB Manager (say Don Zimmer) is a better manager than 95% of the top managers in Fortune 500 companies. It seems like a very interesting topic.

There’s mention of this book in the PI, apparently ( He’s a consultant, and this is actually a serious book on management. His line, which he says baseball has long known and business is just now discovering, is that “talent IS the product.”
[The general premise of this seemed absurd--the worst manager is better than 95% of the top business managers? Jeff Angus obviously hasn't been paying attention to Hargrove. Here in Kansas City, we've seen some pretty dumb decisions by Buddy Bell, too. In both cases, these managers have been inhibiting the talent they've been given (see Jose Lopez and Justin Huber). How is that a good model for business? It's like promoting your 65-year old chief mechanic a database administrator, while telling your 24-year old assistant database admin that the copiers out of toner, and could he please figure out how to make the coffee pot brew automatically in the morning?]

Jeff Bower then spoke about the demise of minor league baseball in Buffalo, New York in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Jeff grew up in that area and had always wondered what the story was. Jeff did a great job and it is now safe to say that NWSABR knows more about the history of Buffalo baseball than we thought possible. The best is that Jeff has promised to give a talk in November about the return of minor league baseball to Buffalo.

This was a lot more interesting than it sounds. Buffalo was a possible choice for the expansion team that went to Montreal.

Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus spoke briefly to the group about BP latest book, "Baseball Between the Numbers". As with all BP efforts, this book is very well researched and very well written. The book answers questions like, "Why Billy Beane's Stuff Doesn't Work in the Playoffs" and "Is A-Rod Overpaid?" among other questions.

Saving the best for last, The Savvy Girls of Summer, Jackie and Diedre gave a very entertaining and informative talk about their project to write a book about baseball that is directed to women on an intelligent and entertaining level. As it has turned out, they have had such great response form women just wanting to do baseball related events and talk baseball that they are having a hard time actually writing the book!!!!

These are savvy girls of marketing. Seattle women and long time friends, they have been juicing up the attention to their project with press kits, interviews etc as a way to attract a big publishing house when (and if) they finally get their book written. And of course they have a website: Despite the orchestrated approach, they were interesting to listen to, as much for their stories of winning the attention of the Mariners and other groups as their insights about what women want to know about baseball.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting, and thought I'd share it. It's tough finding things to say about the M's these days in part because they're so confusing due to their inconsistency.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Surprises/Frustrations so far

Usually we think of pleasant surprises, but some of the surprises for the M's at this early point in the season are far from pleasant. The fact that they are problems we've had before makes them not only disappointments, but frustrations.

But first, the good surprises (from my subjective point of view, of course):
  • Jose Lopez can actually hit at the major league level
  • Joel Pineiro has stopped getting worse (thanks in part to an improved GB/FB ratio)
  • Raul Ibanez hasn't fallen off the table (let's hope the M's can still realize that he's about at the end of his productive career, and follow Branch Rickey's advice that it's better to lose a player a year early than a year late)
  • Kenji Jojima is all that we hoped for and more. There is no curse of the Mariner catcher
  • Betancourt isn't completely futile at the plate, though his OBP is still below .300.

Disapointments and Frustrations:

  • Where did the Ichiro that we all know go?
  • Let's hope Richie Sexson is getting back on track. He's in the second of four years on his contract.
  • Can we say Carl Everett is a disappointment, or did we expect him to be this far below replacement-level DH?
  • Adrian Beltre. Let's play "Which one of these is not like the others?"
    • 835, 721, 729, 714, 1017, 716
    Those are Beltre's OPS numbers starting in 2000. The good news is that his current OPS of 417 isn't going to stay that low. The bad news is that he could improve a lot and still be way overpaid at ~$13M. Unfortunately, the curse of the Mariner third baseman is alive and well.
Not having been able to watch or listen to many games, I'm going to leave the critique of strategies of Mike Hargrove to others, but from all accounts, he's been quite frustrating as well.

The result is that the M's are neither hopeless or dominant, teasing us with excitement and ability at times, while aggravating us with incosistency and blown opportunities. (Four walks, Eddie? Ouch.) Every year in Kansas City, however, reminds me that it could always be worse--all I have to do is look at the local team.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"If he were just given a real chance, he'd be able to prove himself."

It used to be said about Willie Bloomquist. Maybe it's time we pick up that mantle for Jose Lopez. Bloomquist has had his shot at the major leagues, and has proven quite conclusively that he is a great 25th man. But let's be clear; for every ten plate appearance, Willie will average an out in more than seven of them. He's had four years and over 700 P.A.s.

It's time Lopez got his shot, an extended one (see: starting role, full season), if for no other reason than we need to know how soon we'll be in need of a good second baseman. If Lopez is the guy for the next four plus years, then we can turn our attention elsewhere.

But we hear from the skipper that there are three candidates for second?

The definition of insanity is to repeat the same behavior and expect a different outcome. How many hapless seasons will it take for the M's to question their approach instead of their luck?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Soriano: a starter or a reliever?

With Soriano signed for the year, the question remains what role will he play? In his debut in 2002, when he was only 22 years old, he started 8 games, got hurt, and has pitched only in relief. He's coming off surgery, so he hasn't pitched competetively in some time, and is entering his prime, physically.

His track record seems clear at first: he struggled as a starter, but has done well as a reliever. In 42 innings as a starter (all in 2002), he compiled a 5.10 ERA, striking out 14% of batters faced and walking 9%. For comparison's sake, the 2005 Joel Pineiro struck out 13% of batters he faced and walked 6% (The league average is about 16% for Ks and 9% for BBs). One big problem for Soriano was facing lefties (.870 OPS allowed).

Conversely, in 69 2/3 career innings as a reliever, he has a 2.07 ERA. His K% is 16% and his walk rate is 6%. He still was more successful against righties, but he was still good against lefties.
Most qualitative observations I've heard note that Soriano lacks a good change. Conventional wisdom (and I've heard little dispute from even the most die-hard statheads) is that pitchers with two good pitches excel in relief roles, but struggle as starters, because hitters adjust to a smaller repertoire after fewer innings. Once Soriano makes it through the lineup twice, so the story goes, he has run out of things with which to fool batters.

This is a broad generalization of Soriano's performance so far, however. It's normal for a younger, inexperienced pitcher to struggle at first, especially if his development has been quick (as Soriano's was). Moreover, his 2002 season ended with injury, suggesting that he was not only young and inexperienced at the time of his starts, but also may have been hurt. Comparing his starts to his relief appearances may be comparing apples to, you know, that other thing.

Furthermore, it's not entirely clear that Soriano was less effective the longer he stayed in the game:
Situation     Batters   K%      B%   Balls in
faced play%

Pitches 1-15 34 15% 6% 79%
Pitches 16-30 40 18% 13% 65%
Pitches 31-45 34 12% 9% 76%
Pitches 46-60 29 21% 14% 66%
Pitches 61-75 30 10% 0% 90%
Pitches 76-90 20 25% 5% 50%
Pitches 91-105 11 9% 9% 73%
Inning 1-3 102 11% 12% 75%
Inning 4-6 74 18% 5% 72%
Inning 7-9 9 22% 0% 67%

If Soriano were easier to figure out after a couple times through the rotation, we'd expect his numbers to get consistenly worse the longer he pitched...but that's clear from these numbers. You might say that he stopped missing bats after about 60 pitches, but then he looks unhittable after 75 pitches. There's probably not a large enough sample size to draw many conclusions.

In the context of the Mariner's current rotation, Soriano could be one of the better starters, but only if he performs as well as his career reliever numbers, not his career starting numbers. As a starter, he had similar numbers as Gil Meche's last three years--both have K% and BB% of 16 and 9 respectively, and Soriano actually gave up HRs more frequently as a starter (4.7% to Meche's 3.5). As a reliever, Soriano's HR rate plummets to .4% (yes, that's right: a tenth of his % as a starter), and his K rate a walk rate improve significantly, too. But can Soriano bring his more recent effectiveness into a starting role? I don't think his numbers can tell us.

That leaves us with qualitative rather than quantitative analysis. Soriano does have electric stuff, but does he have enough pitches to make it as a starter? If Soriano makes an okay starter but a dynamite reliever, which do we want?