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In God we trust. Everybody else needs data. - Rick Peterson

Saturday, March 06, 2004

 

Random Bits

Not to get left out of the MP3 "Top 20" Game...

Below are the first 20 tunes listed when I loaded my entire on-line music libary into my MP3 player, and did a full randomization of the playlist contents:
  1. Mahalia Jackson - "How I Got Over"
  2. Ella Fitzgerald - "Lullaby of Birdland"
  3. Johnny Copeland - "Down on Bending Knees"
  4. Odetta - "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor"
  5. Mary Mary - "Incredible"
  6. Rolling Stones - "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
  7. Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Sweet Hitch-Hiker"
  8. Blind Lemon Jefferson - "Matchbox Blues"
  9. Ry Cooder - "Great Dream from Heaven"
  10. Neil Young - "Alabama"
  11. Wyclef Jean - "Next Generation"
  12. The Beatles - "A Day in the Life"
  13. George Gershwin - "Rhapsody in Blue"
  14. Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole - "Take Me Home, Country Road"
  15. Jay McShann - "Moten Swing"
  16. Nina Simone - "Sinnerman"
  17. Johan Sebastian Bach - "Trio Sonata V in C"
  18. Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky - "Waltz", from "Sleeping Beauty Suite"
  19. Jubilant Sykes - "At the Cross"
  20. k.d. lang and The Reclines - "Wallflower Waltz"

Friday, March 05, 2004

 

Brief Update

A quick note to let readers know:
  1. Adam Morris at Texas Rangers blog posted his preview of the Rangers starting rotation for 2004. Links to the Blogger All-Star Reviews of the other AL West Teams are:
  2. The next set of reviews by the AL West bloggers is for the bullpens. Look for these to be posted over the next several days.

  3. I've been out of town on work this week and have not had a chance to post until now (not even to note the Texas Rangers pitching update). I will have some items posted this weekend.

Monday, March 01, 2004

 

Mariner Musing's Missing Ingredients

Peter White at Mariner Musings is the chef responsible for this week's entree in the never-ending bloggers' feast that is the Ibañez contract. I would like to observe that Peter left out one essential ingredient in preparing his Ibañez hot dish, ...

... namely, Mariners Wheelhouse Character Factor. None of the comps cited by Peter had MWCF, so for the Mariners it was an easy decision to pick "the world-class human being" over all of the others.

Based on team statements made since we outed MWCF, we have added two more elements to the MWCF guidelines:
    Good character - hitting weak grounders and pop-ups with men on base.

    Bad character - striking out with men on base.
MWCF – if you're a Mariners fan, know it and use it.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

 

Mariners Starting Pitching Look - 2004

As mentioned previously, several AL West bloggers got together to collectively look at the 2004 season and compare how we believe different elements of the rival teams will improve or decline. In conducting this review the participating bloggers are taking a somewhat different approach than is followed by many fans. The basic assumption that most people make when they review teams is to expect a similar output from each player in the coming year as that player produced in the preceding year. Statistics and experience, however, show that it's far more likely that a player's performance will change from year to year than remain the same. Therefore, an alternate way of considering changes is to assume that the contribution from each position will change in the coming year, and focus on assessing whether change is more likely to be an improvement or a decline. ...

... The following links have some background on the approach we are trying to use in this evaluation:As part of the collaboration with Athletics Nation, Texas Rangers blog, and Fire Bavasi, here is my look at the Mariners starting pitching expectations for 2004. Previous Mariners reviews have included MARINERS INFIELD LOOK 2004 and MARINERS OUTFIELD PREVIEW.

MARINERS STARTING PITCHING REVIEW

Assessing starting pitching is difficult because much of a pitcher's record is determined by factors that are beyond his control. Two identically capable pitchers can have different ERA simply due to the abilities of the defenders behind them to field batted balls. Won-loss records, of course, are greatly influenced by the run support a pitcher receives from his offense, a factor over which he has no control.

Sometimes a pitcher is lucky and sometimes he isn't. Luck doesn't always even out over the course of a season, though it usually does even out over several seasons.

What does this mean for our evaluation of pitching? Two things:
  1. We need to focus on factors that are independent of the defense playing behind a pitcher.

  2. We need to try to distinguish whether a pitchers success was due to luck or skill.
At present, there isn't a good way to do this without resorting to numeric data, so this review is going to involve some work with numbers.

In addition to some of the pitching data familiar to most fans (such as ERA, H, SO, and BB), I'm going to use three other interrelated measures that many fans may be less familiar with: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), defensive efficiency, and Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS), particularly dERA.

Because many people may be less familiar with these measures, I'll explain what they are and how they help our assessment of pitching. If you're familiar with them already, you can skip directly to the reviews.

BABIP

As noted before, BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls in Play. Balls in Play are the sum of:

  1. hits other than home runs

  2. batted ball outs (including foul outs)
BABIP is "hits other than home runs" divided by "balls in play". Think of it as a batting average based on batted balls that involve plays by fielders. Plays that are strictly between the pitcher and the hitter (strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitch, and home runs) do not factor into BABIP.

BABIP is a picture of what happens when a batter makes contact with a pitch, and does not hit either a home run or ground ball foul. Let's see how BABIP varies among pitchers.

The table below shows BABIP for selected pitchers for the years 1999 through 2003. I imposed a minimum requirement of 150 innings pitched in any year to qualify, so not every pitcher is represented in every year. I used the 150 inning threshold to ensure that the data all involved pitchers who had faced a significant number of batters in the year. I selected some pitchers who are the best in the business, as well as some that are barely managing to hang on, so that we can easily compare BABIP between good and bad pitchers.
  Pitcher    Year    IP     BABIP

----------- ---- ----- -----
J Baldwin 1999 199.3 0.289
2000 178.0 0.279
2002 150.0 0.311

R Clemens 1999 187.7 0.306
2000 204.3 0.277
2001 220.3 0.305
2002 180.0 0.316
2003 211.7 0.291

R Helling 1999 219.3 0.275
2000 217.0 0.269
2001 215.7 0.320
2002 175.7 0.273

R Johnson 1999 271.7 0.292
2000 248.7 0.326
2001 249.7 0.315
2002 260.0 0.289

G Maddux 1999 219.3 0.324
2000 249.3 0.274
2001 233.0 0.286
2002 199.3 0.282
2003 218.3 0.282

P Martinez 1999 213.3 0.323
2000 217.0 0.236
2002 199.3 0.273
2003 186.7 0.292

C Schilling 1999 180.3 0.263
2001 256.7 0.307
2002 259.3 0.297
2003 168.0 0.297

J Suppan 1999 208.7 0.281
2000 217.0 0.294
2001 218.3 0.282
2002 208.0 0.283

B Tomko 1999 172.0 0.279
2002 204.3 0.278
2003 202.7 0.314

Source: The Lahman Baseball Database, Version 5.0.
http://www.baseball1.com.
Data are not corrected for team defense or park factors.
As the table indicates, there's virtually no difference between good pitchers and bad pitchers in their abilities to control what happens to a baseball after a batter hits the ball, as long as the ball stays in the yard. BABIP does change from year to year for a given pitcher, but overall there are no real observable differences in BABIP between good pitchers and bad pitchers.

I suspect that some of you may find that conclusion incredibly hard to believe. Rest assured, I am not manufacturing this information. This has been well studied, and continues to be looked at by statisticians. And the conclusions are clear that, with limited exceptions (such as knuckleball pitchers and extreme fly ball pitchers), pitchers have relatively little ability to control BABIP. And even for those who do have some control over BABIP, their amount of control is suprisingly low, probably .030 at most (e.g., the difference between .250 and .220).

Let me be clear – I am not saying that Rick Helling and James Baldwin are the equal of Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. The table merely shows that once a batter manages to hit a ball, and that ball stays in the park, there's not much difference after that. Obviously, then, the chief differences among pitchers lie in what happens in the at bats that do not result in a ball in play.

Let's extend the table above to include data involving balls that are not put into play. At bats that do not involve a ball in play are essentially a one-on-one battle between the pitcher and the batter. Let's look at how often the pitcher wins his one-on-one war with the batter. I'm going to say the pitcher "wins" when he strikes out the batter, and he "loses" whenever the batter hits a home run, walks, or is hit by a pitch. Balls in play are a "tie" in the pitcher-batter battle, the outcome of which is determined by the fielders.

To tally this, I'm going add together HR, BB, and HPB, then subtract that sum from K. That tells me how me how many times the pitcher "won" his battle with the batter, and recorded an out without any help from fielders, after netting out the number of times the pitcher allowed a batter to get on base without hitting the ball. If I then divide the net number of pitcher wins by the total batters faced, BFP, I'll have the overall frequency of at bats in which the pitcher "wins" the matchup with the hitter. I haven't seen that number defined elsewhere, so I'm going to call it the "PO%", for pitcher out percentage:

So now let's see that extended table:
  Player     Year   BFP   H   HR  BB   K   HBP    PO%*

----------- ---- ---- --- -- -- --- --- -----
J Baldwin 1999 886 219 34 81 123 7 0.11%
2000 758 185 34 59 116 8 1.98%
2002 662 179 26 49 88 7 0.91%

R Clemens 1999 822 185 20 90 163 9 5.35%
2000 878 184 26 84 188 10 7.74%
2001 918 205 19 72 213 5 12.75%
2002 768 172 18 63 192 7 13.54%
2003 878 199 24 58 190 5 11.73%

R Helling 1999 943 228 41 85 131 6 -0.11%
2000 963 212 29 99 146 9 0.93%
2001 941 256 38 63 154 4 5.21%
2002 751 180 31 48 120 6 4.66%

R Johnson 1999 1079 207 30 70 364 9 23.63%
2000 1001 202 23 76 347 6 24.18%
2001 994 181 19 71 372 18 26.56%
2002 1035 197 26 71 334 13 21.64%

G Maddux 1999 940 258 16 37 136 4 8.40%
2000 1012 225 19 42 190 10 11.76%
2001 927 220 20 27 173 7 12.84%
2002 820 194 14 45 118 4 6.71%
2003 901 225 24 33 124 8 6.55%

P Martinez 1999 835 160 9 37 313 9 30.90%
2000 817 128 17 32 284 14 27.05%
2002 787 144 13 40 239 15 21.73%
2003 749 147 7 47 206 9 19.09%

C Schilling 1999 735 159 25 44 152 5 10.61%
2001 1021 237 37 39 293 1 21.16%
2002 1017 218 29 33 316 3 24.68%
2003 673 144 17 32 194 3 21.10%

J Suppan 1999 887 222 28 62 103 3 1.13%
2000 948 240 36 84 128 7 0.11%
2001 946 227 26 74 120 12 0.85%
2002 912 229 32 68 109 7 0.22%

B Tomko 1999 172.0 175 31 60 132 4 4.97%
2002 204.3 212 31 60 126 2 3.79%
2003 202.7 252 35 57 114 5 1.88%

*PO% = [K-(HR+BB+HBP)]/BFP

Source: The Lahman Baseball Database, Version 5.0.
http://www.baseball1.com.
Data are not corrected for team defense or park factors.
That table tells the story pretty well. The difference between good and bad pitchers is that bad pitchers barely eke out an advantage in their war with hitters, whereas the great power pitchers generate many outs without any help at all from their fielders.

To wrap up our discussion of BABIP, let's reiterate, pitchers have little control over BABIP. As we saw in the first table, however, BABIP does vary a lot from year to year for a given pitcher, even though he can't control it. So, when we see variations in a pitcher's BABIP, those variations are probably just random fluctuations in a pitcher's luck. This leads to a very important point: if a pitcher has a low BABIP in one year, the chances are very good that his BABIP will rise the next year. Conversely, a high BABIP in one year has a good chance of going down in the following year.

With those points having been made, I must add that some of the people who study these things closely believe that some extreme fly ball pitchers consistently post lower BABIP numbers. I think there is a logical reason for this. Consider two pitchers of equal ability, differing only in that one is a ground ball pitcher and the other is a fly ball pitcher. Both pitchers induce the same number of weakly hit foul balls. For the fly ball pitcher, a higher portion of these weak fouls will be popups, leading to outs. Thus everything else being equal, the fly ball pitcher should have lower BABIP than his ground ball counterpart. Effectively, in comparing the fly ball pitcher with the ground ball pitchers, those extra foul outs recorded by the fly ball pitcher are like extra strikeouts.

Defensive Efficiency

Defensive efficiency flows directly from BABIP. Defensive efficiency is simply the percentage of balls in play that are converted to outs.

In 2003, the Mariners had the highest defensive efficiency in baseball at 73.12%. In other words, 73.12% of the time when the pitcher-hitter battle was a "tie" and the batter put the ball in play, the Mariners defense came to the rescue of the pitcher and converted the batted ball into an out.

The average defensive efficiency in the American League was 70.95%, so the Mariners converted 2.17% more balls in play into outs than the average AL team. That may not sound like much, but it is significant – it probably reduced the ERA of Mariners pitchers by about 0.27 runs, and contributed about 5 additional wins to the team season record. In my discussions of Mariners pitchers, I will refer back to this, assuming that their actual ERA was defense-aided by about 0.25 runs.

DIPS

DIPS (Defense Independent Pitching Statistics), is a method to adjust a pitcher's ERA to what his ERA would likely have been had he received league average defensive support and pitched in a league average park. DIPS is a convenient tool that attempts to remove team defense from a pitchers record. DIPS gives us a defense independent ERA that we can compare with a pitcher's actual ERA. DIPS also gives us a basis to evaluate a pitcher who is switching teams (and home field) on an even basis. DIPS is not perfect, but it's a lot better than other measures of pitching that are available. For more information on the DIPS method, Rob Neyer's column of January 24, 2001 (after clicking on the link be sure to scroll down to January 24) provides a good, non-technical introduction. Additional information can be found at the following, much more technical, references: The DIPS stat that we will work with is defense independent ERA, or dERA. DIPS builds on the notion discussed above that a pitcher has relatively little control over BABIP; this provides the basis for adjusting the actual data to a defense independent basis. With DIPS, when a pitcher's actual ERA is less than his dERA, this is considered a signal that the pitcher was lucky the previous year. As we use dERA, however, we need to remember that dERA assumes a league average defense and adjusts for a league average park. If the pitcher received above average defensive support, and played in a pitchers park, his actual ERA ought to be lower than his dERA. And if he will pitch next season in the same park with similar defense, we should again expectr his actual ERA to be less than his dERA.

In addition to BABIP, defensive efficiency, and dERA, we will also look at some more common pitching stats such as Hits/9 innings, K/9 innings, and Home runs/9 innings.

With this background, we can move on to our review of Mariners pitchers.

Jamie Moyer

Relevant stats for Moyer that we will be considering are presented below:
Stat   2001    2002    2003

----- ----- ----- -----
dERA 4.28 4.34 4.20
ERA 3.43 3.32 3.27
H/9 8.03 7.72 8.29
BB/9 1.89 1.95 2.76
K/9 5.11 5.73 5.40
HR/9 1.03 1.09 0.80
BABIP .249 .244 .267
G/F 0.80 0.80 0.80
IP 209.7 230.7 215.0
BFP 851 932 899
PO% 4.8% 6.4% 4.0%
After making a +0.25 defensive efficiency adjustment to ERA, Moyer's ERA in 2003 was still more than 0.5 lower than his dERA. While this would normally be attributed to luck, for the last three years Moyer has consistently posted an actual ERA lower than his dERA, even with a higher BABIP. Moyer is a consistent fly ball pitcher, of the type that dERA may not properly evaluate. Moyer has also been specifically cited as an example of a pitcher who consistently posts a lower than average BABIP ( Can pitchers prevent hits on balls in play? - Tom Tippett, July 21, 2003) In other words, the difference between Moyer's ERA and dERA is probably not entirely due to luck.

In 2003, Moyer's walk rate and H/9 were higher, but his HR rate declined. His BABIP was higher, which is reflected in the higher hit rate. His PO% was strong, below power pitcher levels, but in the range typical of successful "finesse" pitchers.

What might we conclude in projecting to 2004? First, it would be hard for Moyer to improve on his 2003 campaign, except through better luck. His higher BABIP in 2003 does offer the opportunity for some slightly better luck. Of greater concern, however, is that the increased walk rate may be the early signs of age finally catching up with Moyer.

So, we need to balance the likelihood of Moyer having a better season (largely due to only to the possibility of better luck), against the prospect that he will have some erosion of skills due to age. While I expect another strong performance from Moyer this year, I think it more likely that he will have some skills erosion.

Overall assessment: I believe Moyer's 2004 season is likely to decline (albeit slightly) in comparison with his 2003 season.

Freddy Garcia

Relevant stats for Garcia that we will be considering are presented below:
Stat   2001    2002    2003

----- ----- ----- -----
dERA 3.56 4.22 4.82
ERA 3.05 4.39 4.52
H/9 7.50 9.13 8.76
BB/9 2.60 2.53 3.17
K/9 6.15 7.28 6.44
HR/9 0.60 1.21 1.39
BABIP .255 .292 .273
G/F 1.40 1.06 0.94
IP 238.7 223.7 201.3
BFP 972 925 862
PO% 7.5% 8.6% 3.6%
After making a +0.25 adjustment to ERA for team defense, Garcia's dERA and ERA for 2003 are very close. During Garcia's 2002 season, DIPS says that he had some bad luck to contend with.

Garcia's troubles since 2001 are evident in the increases in his hit rate, walk rate, and home run rate, and in his declining PO%. The combination of increased walks and more home runs has been particularly devastating, since his BABIP was actually significantly better in 2002 vs. 2003. He is also dominating hitters less frequently, with a PO% that is far too low for a power pitcher.

The change in Garcia's GB/FB ratio also appears significant. As Garcia's effectiveness has declined, he has become more of a fly ball pitcher. Presumably, batters are getting on top of Garcia's pitches to a greater extent, so that some of the soft grounders of 2001 are becoming hard grounders and line drives, and the line drives of 2001 are now heading into the gaps and over the fence.

Garcia clearly has opportunities to improve in reducing his walks and home runs. BABIP and dERA indicate he was not particularly lucky or unlucky last year, so swings in luck can go either way. Garcia certainly has talent to be a better pitcher. Since 2004 will be his age 27 season, he is still at an age at which pitchers continue to improve.

Garcia is in his walk year. He turned down a multi-year contract in the hope of posting better numbers this year and getting a larger contract. So he probably has some additional motivation this year.

Garcia has gotten progressively worse three years in a row. He is at an age where he should still be developing and improving as a pitcher, and he clearly has the talent. It's also possible (probable?) that his punctured ear drums affected his pitching the last two years. (Does anyone else wonder why the Mariners medical team has a hard team diagnosing player medical problems? Or is just Venezuelans that are challenging for them?) In 2003 Garcia performed so far below his potential, that I find it difficult to believe he will decline further.

Overall assessment: Given his age, motivation, and degree of underperformance in 2003, I believe Garcia's 2004 season is likely to better as compared with his 2003 season.

Joel Piñeiro

Piñeiro's stat summary is below.
Stat   2001    2002    2003

----- ----- ----- -----
dERA 3.03 4.38 4.05
ERA 2.03 3.24 3.78
H/9 5.98 8.75 8.16
BB/9 2.51 2.50 3.23
K/9 6.69 6.30 6.42
HR/9 0.24 1.11 0.81
BABIP .232 .279 .271
G/F 0.73 1.22 1.13
IP 75.3 194.3 211.7
BFP 289 805 890
PO% 10.4% 6.3% 5.6%
After making a +0.25 ERA defense adjustment, Piñeiro's ERA was in line with his DIPS dERA. Note his heavy workload last year as a young pitcher.

According to DIPS, Piñeiro had significant good luck in 2002, and the increase in his ERA from 2002 to 2003 can be largely attributed to a return to normal luck. Note that DIPS says he pitched better in 2003 than in 2002, even though his ERA was higher in 2003.

Piñeiro is entering his age 25 season, and everything being equal, can be expected to improve. Reducing his walks is the most obvious area for him to improve; by reducing his walks he could also drive his PO% back higher.

Overall assessment: Given his age and opportunities for improvement, I consider that Piñeiro's 2004 season will be better than his 2003 season.

Ryan Franklin

Franklin's stat summary is below:
Stat   2001    2002    2003

----- ----- ----- -----
dERA 4.55 4.36 5.26
ERA 3.56 4.02 3.57
H/9 8.74 8.87 8.45
BB/9 2.76 1.67 2.59
K/9 6.90 4.93 4.20
HR/9 1.49 1.06 1.44
BABIP .270 .265 .245
G/F 0.61 0.80 0.63
IP 78.3 118.7 212.0
BFP 334 491 878
PO% 5.7% 4.8% -0.6%
Among the Mariner starters Franklin is the most fly ball prone of a fly ball happy pitching staff. The data above indicate that Franklin had an extremely lucky year last year, one that he is not likely to repeat.

The first factor of concern is the large difference between his dERA and his actual ERA. The gap is large, even after crediting him for being a fly ball pitcher. The difference suggests that Franklin gave up many fewer runs than his stats would suggest, apparently due to his unusually low BABIP in 2003. In 2004 this figure is likely to increase. Franklin's strikeout rate has also been declining, meaning there are more opportunities for runners to get on base when he gives up home runs.

These considerations are reflected in his declining PO%, which dipped into negative territory. If pitcher out percentage is a valid measure of pitching performance, this is a very bad omen.

Every indicator for Franklin indicates that he had extremely good fortune last year. He had a huge gap between dERA and ERA, his BABIP dropped from his usual levels even with a similar G/F ratio as in 2001, and his PO% sunk to very bad levels. There is almost no way that Franklin can be expected to match his 2003 season in 2004. The only question is how much of a decline Franklin's 2004 season will be.

Many observers who pay close attention to differences between dERA and actual ERA are very negative on Franklin's potential this year. Because of Franklin's extreme fly ball tendencies, I am not as pessimistic about Franklin as many of these observers, provided Franklin can get his K/9 rate back above 5 and reduce his walks. But if he fails to do this, I don't think it will be a long season for Franklin; it will be a short season.

Franklin will be 31 in 2004, so there is no reason to expect any improvement in his overall physical abilities. If he is to thrive, Franklin will need to increase his strikeout rate, maintain his extreme fly ball tendencies, do a better job of keeping the ball in the park, and reduce his walks. In other words, at 31 years of age, he needs to significantly improve in three key peripheral measures just to sustain his performance from last year. That is not likely to happen.

Overall Assessment: Given his age and the extreme good luck than Franklin had in 2003, Franklin is almost guaranteed to decline in 2004 in comparison with 2003.

Gil Meche

Meche's stat summary is below:
Stat   1999    2000    2003

----- ----- ----- -----
dERA 5.61 4.51 4.79
ERA 4.73 3.78 4.59
H/9 7.67 7.88 9.03
BB/9 5.99 4.20 3.04
K/9 4.94 6.30 6.28
HR/9 0.95 0.74 1.45
BABIP .244 .266 .281
G/F NA NA 0.83
IP 85.7 85.7 186.3
BFP 375 363 786
PO% -5.6% 3.3% 4.3%
Meche last year had the highest ERA among Mariner starters. DIPS had his dERA comparable to Garcia, and ranked him ahead of Franklin. After making our 0.25 upward adjustment to Meche's ERA to account for Mariners defense, Meches' actual ERA corresponded closely with his dERA.

Since Meche was also a fly ball pitcher last year, this suggests he might have actually have not pitched as well as his numbers. Some of Meche's peripheral stats were not very good last year, particularly his BB/9 and HR/9 ratios – Meche was actually as taterific overall as Franklin. He also had the highest BABIP of any Mariner starter. He did show some control of batters in his PO%.

Meche started the season strong last year, but endured a brutal second half. Immediately after his start against Oakland on July 1, his performance declined dramatically. Going into that game, Meche had a 10-3 record with an ERA of 3.27. The July 1 game was a no decision for Meche; he went 7 innings, gave up one run (earned), and threw 112 pitches. He lost his next four starts, going 4, 5, 6, and 6-1/3 innings, respectively, and giving up 4, 5, 5, and 3 earned runs, respectively.

The table below shows some statistics for his season divided by his start on that fateful July 1 day:
            thru    after

Jul 1 Jul 1
------ -----
Games 16 16
Innings 101 82.3
# Pitches 1587 1475
H/9 8.11 10.50
BB/9 2.85 3.39
K/9 6.42 6.34
HR/9 1.07 1.97
OBP 0.297 0.349
ERA 3.21 4.59
dERA 4.21 5.49
PO% 6.4% 2.8%
As indicated, after his July 1 start all of Meche's peripherals declined significantly except for his strikeout rate. While Meche logged 20% fewer innings in the second half of the year, he logged only 7% fewer pitches. That means he was using more pitches to get out of innings, reflecting that he was pitching in trouble more often.

I think the Mariners management of Meche last year was abominable. Meche was coming off two arm surgeries, and hadn't pitched in two years. There was an immediate and abrupt decline in his performance as soon as he crossed the 100-inning threshold in that July 1 start. Given Meche's declining performance, his history of injuries, and the fact he was coming off rehab, the Mariners should have been tracking his perforamance closely, and should have shut him down immediately, or at least decreased his workload greatly, at the first signs of stress or declining effectiveness. Despite Meche's obvious loss of effectiveness after reaching 100 innings, the Mariners continued to send Meche to the mound every fifth day, and let him run up his highest pitch counts of the season in the second half of the season.

Many people concerned with pitcher health believe that when considering pitch counts, the stress of the pitching situation is also important; pitches made when a pitcher is in a jam are significantly more stressful than pitches made under low stress conditions. Meche was obviously pitching in high stress situations much more frequently in the second half of the season. So even as Meche was obviously tiring in the second half of the season, his effective workload and stress levels were increasing.

As I have posted previously, the Mariners have one of the highest rates in baseball of blowing out young pitchers arms. The team's management of Meche last year is a disgrace, and indicates that the Mariners medical and pitching development still didn't "get it", at least through the end of last season.

This now brings us to the question of what we can expect from Meche's spot in the rotation next year. Meche features a good assortment of strong pitches. Since he is only 24 years old, he is still developing and his pitches can be expected to improve. In addition, coming off surgery, from two years ago, he should continue to recover and build arm strength. This would ordinarily lead me to conclude that a player will have a better year.

Given the Mariners history, however, it's a long shot to assume that they will go through two seasons in a row without losing a starting pitcher to a major arm or shoulder history. With his history of injury and abuse, Meche is by far the most likely Mariner starter to go down, and, if he does, it will likely be career ending.

Since I think the odds that the Mariners will lose a starting pitcher to arm or shoulder injury are higher than the odds that Meche will perform better in 2004 versus 2003, and since Meche is the most likely injury candidate, I conclude that it is likely that Meche will perform worse in 2004, due to arm injury, than it is that he will perform better. And if I'm wrong about Meche being injured, it will probably be a different starter (Piñeiro, most likely) and will cause a similar loss in performance.

Overall Assessment: Given his injury history and the pitching abuse that was heaped on him last year, I believe that Meche will not perform as well in 2004 as he did in 2003.

Wrapping It Up:

Overall I believe that the Mariners starting pitching will be worse in 2004 as compared with 2003. That conclusion, however, reflects my assumption that one of the Mariners young pitchers will have a significant arm or shoulder injury. If the Mariners avoid injury, the expected improvements from Garcia, Piñeiro, and Meche will offset the likely declines by Moyer and Franklin.

As I write this, spring training is just beginning. So far the Mariners have indicated that the most likely players who would be called on to fill any holes in the starting rotation are Ron Villone or Kevin Jarvis. Should either of those players be inserted into the starting rotation, that spot in the rotation will perform substantially worse in 2004 as compared with 2003.

Links to the Blogger All-Star Reviews of the other AL West Teams

 

Baseball Prospectus is running a two-part interview with Bavasi

Baseball Prospectus is running a two-part interview with Bavasi ...

... the first installment of which was posted today. Bavasi does discuss many of the issues he has been criticized for, including the Ibanez signing and thinking about the changes in outfield alighment.

It's a BP premium article, so you need to be BP Premium member to access it. The $39 for a one-year membership in BP Premium is money well spent for even a casual fan.

 

Now why did I immediately think of Sports and Bremertonians when I saw this?


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