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

Saturday, May 01, 2004

 

Place Your Vote - Will the Mariners be Buyers or Sellers at the Trade Deadline?

As stated above, I set up an on-line poll in the right sidebar for voting on whether you think the Mariners will be buyers or sellers at this years trade deadline. I also included some background options for each alternative.

If you want to add any comments on the voting options or on your vote, use the "comments" link below this post.

Friday, April 30, 2004

 

Forget Kendall - the Mariners need John Russell

From PittsburghLIVE.com: Kendall's throwing noticeably improved:
It hasn't gone unnoticed in manager Lloyd McClendon's office that Pirates catcher Jason Kendall has improved his throwing this season.
Kendall threw out both runners attempting to steal Wednesday night and has thrown out five runners in nine attempts this season. Last year, Kendall threw out only 23.9 percent of all would-be base stealers (16 of 67).

"Jason's defense has improved immensely, particularly with his throwing," McClendon said. "The program he was on in spring training has paid dividends for us. He's throwing the ball extremely well."


Kendall worked regularly in the spring with catching instructor/third base coach John Russell. It's a routine they have carried into the season. They worked on Kendall's defense three times on the 10-day homestand and have sessions scheduled this weekend in Milwaukee and next week in Houston.

One of the goals has been to eliminate the slight hitch in Kendall's motion.

"He's worked on me with everything," said Kendall, who did not start Thursday as a concession to playing in Wednesday night's game. "Throwing is like hitting, you're going to feel good sometimes and other times you're going to feel like crap. J.R. has helped me tremendously."

Kendall also was quick to point out that Pirates pitchers have done a better job of holding runners this season. At this rate, Kendall shouldn't have to face 67 steal attempts this year.

"If they don't do their job and hold guys on, it doesn't matter how good I throw," Kendall said
It seems to me that if the Mariners were to deal with Pittsburgh, the guy we should get is John Russell, not Jason Kendall. First we could use Russell to straighten out Dan Wilson. After that we could sic him on Randy Winn.

 

Mariners Management by Wishful Thinking

Jeff Angus at Management by Baseball uses the Mariners cascading decisionmaking, starting with the trade for Cirillo and concluding with the release of Kevin Jarvis, to illustrate Management by Wishful Thinking. Jeff and I corresponded (commiserated?) about this several days ago.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

 

How the Mighty Have Fallen

From the Baltimore Sun article on Thursday's 9-5 Orioles win over the Mariners:
The Orioles will have tougher homestands this season. There will be dogfights with the Boston Red Sox and grudge matches against the New York Yankees that will truly measure their resolve.

But no matter what happens, they can look back at Thursday as a moment they proved something to themselves. At the end of a nine-game homestand against a trio of bottom feeders, the Orioles showed they could take a punch in the gut -- or, in the case of shortstop Miguel Tejada, a baseball in the eye.
There it is. A series with the Mariners is no longer regarded as a tough series; the Mariners are now "bottom-feeders", one of the clubs to which a rising team such as the Orioles can't afford to lose a series.

How the mighty have fallen.

 

Open Season for Melvin Second-Guessing

Today Melvin shows that he is willing to use Guardado in a non-save situation, using him in the 8th inning with the Mariners down three runs. So why not use Guardado in the seventh inning when the Mariners are down two runs, before the game has gotten out of hand? Instead, Melvin sends out Myers, Putz, and Villone. When the dust settles, the inning is over the Orioles have five runs across.

And is there a team left in the American League that doesn't realize they should test Winn's arm whenever the opportunity arises?

 

Strike Up the Band?

As the Mariners' losses mount, the pressure increases on the Mariners to make a "big" move. Lincoln appears to be sensitive that fans think the Mariners are unwilling to be serious competitors - responding to such perceptions seemed to underlie Lincoln's "decisive" action to get rid of Jarvis. I think Lincoln correctly realizes the team faces a big problem if fans believe that management did nothing more than direct the band as the SS Mariner sank.

The Mariners, no doubt, have already identified various options for reworking the roster, ranging from minor tweaking to major overhauls. If the team doesn't show signs of improvement soon, I believe Lincoln will give Bavasi a mandate to make changes, with authority to complete one or more major deals.

How intelligently will the Mariners proceed if they make a move? Will they panic, and bring in fading vets with albatross contracts? Will they desperately start throwing top prospects into deals? Bavasi's trading history is not encouraging.

Click on the comments link below to add your thoughts.

 

Melvin's "Q" Factor

Jeff Shaw at San Shin cites Melvin's non-use of Quinton McCracken as evidence that Melvin and the Mariners front office are not in synch. As much as I would like to agree with Jeff, I'm not sure McCracken works as an example. McCracken's situation seems like Colbrunn last year before his injury; afeter lobbying to have Colbrunn added to the roster, Melvin let Colbrunn sit when he was available to play.

Since there's no question that Colbrunn was imported last year at Melvin's request (costing the Mariners a draft pick that the Diamondbacks put to good use), I think we are simply looking at a Melvin peculiarity here. Melvin lobbies to obtain certain players, then for unknown reasons, lets them languish.

 

"It's a veteran club, and older clubs take a longer time to get going."

In yesterday's column by Times reporter Larry stone, Bavasi discusses the Mariners' slow start. Stone provides this Bavasi quote:
"…As long as they're busting their backsides, and making the effort to improve fundamentally, they'll get there."

"Bavasi added, 'It's a veteran club, and older clubs take a longer time to get going.' "
[Start: Style=Sarcasm] We are all too familiar with the Mariners strong first half starts and late season collapses the last several years. And once again Bavasi's genius is revealed. If the Mariners had only had more veterans these last several years, they would have started slower, but finished stronger. Fixing that situation was obviously one of Bavasi's priorities last winter.

Many bloggers, including me, have criticized the Mariners for loading the roster with old vets on the downside of their careers instead of trying to infuse some young blood. All of us ought to feel pretty stupid right now.
[End: Sarcasm]

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

 

Am I Being Too Optimistic? - Reader mail

I got an e-mail from Jeff Angus of Management by Baseball:
You were too kind; it wasn't even drawing to an inside straight. There are actually odds of possible success. It was more like keeping a 3 and tossing in four cards.

It's not like Jarvis was going to recover form that would justify him being a $4.5MM or even $2.25MM or even $1.13 MM pitcher. That would have been a gamble with possible reward.

But what was the possible reward, the upside if Jarvis, injured, matched the best year of his 10-year career to date -- what was the upside? …The highest upside one could draw to here would be mop-up man, a role there are, as you already noted, a whole bunch of $300K guys around to fill and actually benefit from.

 

It's Like Wearing a Black Brassiere Under a White Blouse

This from Finnigan's story today:
Thus ended suddenly what had been a gamble on the Mariners' part for a month, to hold Jarvis although it appeared he was not going to make the club in spring training. The front office imposed the decision on manager Bob Melvin.

"We wanted to try on two fronts to make something of the Jarvis situation," a Seattle club official said yesterday. "We wanted to see if we could get something out of him for ourselves, find a niche for a guy who had success in the past with the Padres. And along with that, find out if some other club would have interest in him."

The idea was to include the pitcher in a deal and have another team pick up a chunk of his salary.
So the Mariners front office made the decision to keep a guy that Melvin and Price didn't want, in the vain hope that some other team might be induced to pick him up. A guy that San Diego had already peddled unsuccessfully to every team in baseball and had only been able to get rid of by taking someone else's Jarvis. And, not stated but clearly implied, is that Jarvis logged as many innings as he did because the front office ordered Melvin to showcase him.

Classic, classic "Management by Wishful Thinking" stupidity!!
As I posted yesterday, this is exactly like the desperate gambler who draws to an inside straight when one of the other guys is showing a pair.

Let's take a step back and look at this for a moment. The team thought they had a chance to salvage a million or two of salary - a chance that any rational objective thinker could have told them was slim at best. Chasing that chimera they accomplished the following:
  • Cost the team a likely two or more games by putting a player on the roster who they knew did not belong and dictating that he be showcased.

  • Sent a message to the team and fans that management will jettison it's "commitment to excellence" if presented with a chance to save a million or two in salary.

  • Screwed a minor league pitcher deserving of a promotion to the big leagues for the second year in a row.

  • Alienated enough fans to cause a probable minimum $5 million hit to revenues, compounding the financial debacle.
What a stupid, stupid, stupid management decision this was! This is not the case of making an intelligent gamble that didn't work out; this is an idea that had virtually no chance of succeeding. It's the baseball equivalent of wearing a black brassiere under a white blouse or, to use to a more masculine example, of starting a land war in Asia (and a tip o' the hat to John Cleese for those splendid metaphors).

And again the nonsense about taking a financial hit by releasing Jarvis. The financial risk was keeping him on the roster. Replacing him was only a $300,000 venture. The most optimistic upside scenario with Jarvis was that they might find someone to pick up $2 million of his salary - and $1 million was more realistic. And even the chances of that happening couldn't have been any more than 20%. So the maximum expected value of their strategy would have been $200,000 to $400,000, and it had a downside risk in the millions of dollars. And we're supposed to respect these guys.

 

Example #65892 of Critical Thinking by Seattle Baseball Beat Writers

From John Hickey's Mariners Notebook this morning: M's make costly decision:
The Mariners decided to take a $4.5 million hit yesterday when they put relief pitcher Kevin Jarvis on the designated-for-assignment list"
I don't understand this statement. The Mariners released Jarvis and will be replacing him with a player earning the $300,000 minimum, pro-rated. The additional salary obligation incurred by the Mariners as a result of releasing Jarvis is less than $300,000. So where is the big hit??

Isn't the bigger, more important question why the team kept Jarvis on the roster coming out of spring when it was clear they have five minor leagures more capable of pitching than Jarvis? There are really only two options here:
  1. They are so stupid that they don't know what a sunk cost is or how to use sunk cost in decision making.
  2. They let their pride and ego about "getting something" for Cirillo keep them from putting together the best possible squad.
Oh, I suppose there's a third question here. Why don't beat writers ever question the pablum fed them by the team?

Monday, April 26, 2004

 

This LIttle Piggy Went to Market ...

Jeff Shaw at San Shin is really on a roll. Maybe Melvin and Bavasi can't inspire the Mariners, but they sure can roil the bloggers.

First, Jeff and Jon Wells (at Grand Salami) are both posing the scary question of whether the M's might actually be sellers instead of buyers come the July trading deadline. Jeff comments:
Jon's post actually gives me comfort, if nothing else. Since it's early, I've been trying not to appear alarmist -- but I'm not the only one thinking this way,
Well, Jeff, I've been feeling the same way as well. I've also not posted my thoughts because I don't want to seem alarmist, but I sure have been thinking about it.
But I also know that the more my guts get wrenched, the more important I know it is to take a step back, collect data, and proceed as objectively as possible.

The fact is, the Mariners are 5 games behind, and it's not even the end of April. There is plenty of time to make up ground. Others have been raising questions about when is it "too late to say it's early" or how many games need to be played before we can stop talking about small sample sizes. For myself, I've set that point at about 20 per cent of the season, 32 games. (See Corey - I'm not a hopeless pessimist.)

Nevertheless, the thought that the Mariners might be July sellers has been rolling around in my head since December. Perhaps Derek remembers - at the USS Mariner pizza feed last December he passed out a list of questions for everyone to answer. When Derek came around to my table, I told him he had left one question off of his list - "Would the Mariners be buyers or sellers at the deadline?"

If you had asked me to lay odds on that question then, I probably would have put 1:3 odds on the Mariners being sellers. It looks as if I should have tried to get some action.

Second, after reading Jeff's post I started digging around for this old post about Bavasi's trading history. I put that link up on December 25, and commented "There doesn't appear to be a single player he added via trade or signed as a free agent that played a role in the Angels' World Series victory. It appears that one thing the Mariners could do to improve the teams fortunes is to simply not allow Bavasi to make any trades or sign any free agents.

I thought halofan's review of Bavasi's trade history was pretty good, but before I could get it up today, Jeff comes back with this masterful vivisection of Bavasi's history of wheeling and dealing. Go read Jeff's review, then go rent Full Metal Jacket to soothe yourself afterward.

 

Frank Discussions about Franklin

Yesterday I dashed off a quick comment as I was watching the Mariners game that "Ryan Franklin [was] looking much more like the Franklin of his career through 2002". Nate over at Hope Springs Eternal took issue with that comment. Nate agrees that Franklin is struggling this year, but asserts Franklin's struggles are not indicated by his pre-2003 numbers.

I appreciate Nate challenging my statement. When I made my post, I was mostly thinking of Franklin's batting average on balls in play. But that's not what I said, instead I was sloppy and made an unsupported general comment from a bit of specific data. I can offer an excuse that I just dashed off that post as I was trying to keep up with the game, but that's not a reason to be sloppy. I strive to consistently draw conclusions from objective data, and that post fell short of my standards. Thanks for calling me out, Nate.

So, with Nate's prodding, let's delve into Franklin's performance so far this year. The table below updates the data I presented for Franklin in my starting pitching review back in February:
Stat   2001    2002    2003   2004

----- ----- ----- ----- -----
dERA 4.55 4.36 5.26 5.24
ERA 3.56 4.02 3.57 5.56
H/9 8.74 8.87 8.45 9.5
BB/9 2.76 1.67 2.59 3.6
K/9 6.90 4.93 4.20 3.6
HR/9 1.49 1.06 1.44 1.19
BABIP .270 .265 .245 .272
G/F 0.61 0.80 0.63 NA
IP 78.3 118.7 212.0 22.7
BFP 334 491 878 99
PO% 5.7% 4.8% -0.6% -1.0%
Just a quick refresher for some of the less common data in that table.
    dERA is defense independent ERA. It assesses what a pitchers ERA would look like with league average defensive support.

    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 critical because, if you're good enough to be a major league pitcher (i.e., pitchers like Jarvis and Carrara do not belong in this discussion), you have relatively little control over this factor. Low BABIP generally means a pitcher has been lucky.

    BABIP and dERA are closely related; usually low BABIP leads to a dERA that is higher than actual ERA, indicating the extent to which a pitchers appears to have been the beneficiary of luck and above average defensive support.

    PO%, pitcher out percentage, tells how often the pitcher recorded an out without any help from fielders. It's calculated as:

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

    Most pitchers have a PO% of at least several percent. As this PO% climbs, the pitcher becomes more dominant. Anything about 10% is very good, and totally dominating pitchers climb over 20% in their best years.
I discussed these pitching performance measures in more detail in my February 29 review of Mariners starting pitching.

My observations of Franklin's 2004 to date are as follows:
  1. Franklin has not been more taterific this year. That's about it for the good news.

  2. As I indicated in my bad, hurried post, Franklin's BABIP has returned to more typical levels, typical both for him and for most pitchers. Despite the wishful thinking of many fans, Franklin has not found some secret potion for making batters consistently hit weak pop flies. In that sense, we are seeing the Franklin of his career through 2003, and this is what I should have referenced when I made my post yesterday.

  3. Consistent with the more normal BABIP, Franklin's dERA and actual ERA don't differ very much. In other words, Franklin has not been plagued by bad luck or significantly bad fielding this year. His ERA is pretty close to what his peripheral numbers say it should be. The differece seems so much worse, because he has pitched worse this year, but he is also not getting the lucky breaks and sterling defense this year that he received last year.

  4. Most seriously, Franklin's strikeout rate is continuing to decline, and this decline looks steady and progressive. This is very ominous.

  5. Franklin's walk rate has spiked up this year, by almost 40%. Ughhh!!

  6. With the reduced strikeout rate and increased walk rate, Franklin's PO% is even more negative. Again, this is not a good sign.
I didn't put 2004 G/F data in the table because I use the Baseball Prospectus G/F data, which reflects all balls in play. The G/F data maintained by STATS (used at ESPN and MLB) are only for outs. But using the ESPN/STATS data, so far Franklin is just as much a flyball pitcher this year as previous years.

Nate wraps up his post by saying we didn't expect this because of Franklin's pre-2003 numbers. I disagree.

While Franklin's 2004 peripherals to date do not mimic any specific pre-2003 year in all respects, the peripherals are consistent with the trends and norms of his career. His performance so far in 2004 is pretty close to what could easily be projected from previous years performace, assuming random factors returned to central values and observable trends continued uncorrected.

Below are my conclusions about Franklin's 2004 prospects from last February:
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.
Of the factors I thought were critical for Franklin, he has maintained his fly ball tendencies and is not surrendering more home runs. But his strikeout rate has decreased, and his walk rate has increased. So I think his performance this year was predictable from his 2003 and earlier years.

The season is still early, he has had only four starts, so there is opportunity for him to change his season around. His history, though, indicates we should not ever expect him to be more than a back of rotation starter.

Were I in a position to dictate, I would immediately put Franklin on the trade block if he posts a couple of good starts after this. But then, I also would have traded him last winter for someone such as Kevin Mench or maybe Adrian Gonzalez..

 

Free at Last!! Free at Last!! Thank God Almighty, We're Free at Last!!

So, the Mariners finally realize the salary commitment made when they picked up Cirillo is a sunk cost that needs to be eaten.

By postponing what needed to be done, we got 19 games with Jarvis on the roster, while at least five better pitchers sat in the minor leagues. It's probably cost the team at least two games in the standings.

Back when the Cirillo deal was taking shape, I commented that I thought it was a simple decision. Look at the 25-man roster at that point, with Cirillo on it. Now remove Cirillo from the roster. Which option is better:
  • Option A: The remaining 24 plus the best player from either Tacoma or San Anotonio?

  • Option B: The remaining 24 plus Jarvis?
I thought it was a no-brainer then. For his career, the average hitter facing Jarvis has an OPS comparable to Miguel Tejada's in Tejada's MVP year. To think that somehow Jarvis was going to be a useful pitcher at age 34 after that record was a conclusion that could only be reached by a person substituting wishful thinking for objective thinking. I understand the human desire to try to salvage something, but gambling that Jarvis was going to yield something positive was like drawing to an inside straight when your opponent is showing a pair and pushing the limit. Every now and then it works, but the odds are stacked mightily against you.

The next phase in this debacle is probably going to be the Mariners telling us how the continuing salary commitment to Jarvis is limiting the team's ability to take on salary in a trade. I would not be the least surprised to hear the team telling us that the $5 million of salary available after Sasaki left (down from the $8.5 million actually due Sasaki using the Mariners accounting magic) is consumed by the $4.5 million due Jarvis ($4.25 salary plus $500,000 buyout in 2005).

Of course it's illogical, if they had $5 million of space with Jarvis on the roster, they still have $5 million with him off the roster. But the Mariners have a history of playing similar games with payroll nunbers and budgets. Then when the Mariners do make a deal, using the surplus that really is there, they will tell us how the owners are so dedicated to the fans and to winning baseball that they are willing to dig into their pockets to make it happen.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

 

My Oh My - Do We Miss Cammy

Bottom of the third. Mench up against Franklin.

If Cammy were in center, Winn would be in left.

So now we've got one "Cammy would have had that" and one "Winn would have had that".

It's almost time for Jarvis to start warming up.

Nope - Villone gets the call. Part of me wants to believe that Melvin thinks the game is still in reach since Wasdin is pitching for Texas. The realist, though, recognizes that if Melvin thought the game was salvageable, he would have gone with Jarvis.

--
Top of the fourth.

Edgar gets a double (#499!!) after a solid single by Boone.

Wasdin's not fooling anyone anymore. Here's the test for Wasdin - bases loaded and Davis to the plate. If I were a Rangers fan I would feel optimistic right now - and as Mench moves under Davis' weak fly, my optimism would have been well rewarded.

--
Bottom of the fourth. Villone hits Mench. Mench has a shot today at the 5-cycle (1b, 2b, 3b, HR, HBP, ).

This game is looking so bad that Niehaus and Fairly are filling air time talking about the kids chasing after Nix's home run.

On the good side, a great play by Spiezio on Barajas' grounder. But on the bad side, Barajas, a guy who would make you long for Mendoza, has been smoking the ball all day.

--
Top 5.

Edgar up again with Boone on first after Spiezio picks up Winn from third. Edgar just misses the double again, foul down the third base line. Gar singles, and Ibañez is up. Ramirez replaces Wasdin - probably the Mariners best chance to get back into the game. But it's not to be.

--
I need to do some chores now. No matter how the game comes out ultimately, it displayed most of the elements causing pessimism in the Mariners blogosphere:
  • Weakened outfield defense with a pitching staff dependent on outfield defense.
  • Ryan Franklin looking much more like the Franklin of his career through 2002.
  • Veteran pitchers confirming that their careers are continuing to decline.
  • An aging team that appears to be showing it age.
The only thing we haven't seen yet is Melvin not having a right handed bat to send up to pinch hit.

The Mariners also continue last season's tradition of making mediocre and worse pitchers look like Cy Young. Although Wasdin is removed before finishes five, the Mariners should have been able to touch him for more than three runs in five innings.

 

Missing Cameron

Bottom of the second. Adrian Gonzalez at bat against Franklin.

Anyone care to guess how much the Mariners weaker OF defense will add to Franklin's ERA this year?

 

Synaptic Flatulence

Synaptic Flatulence, a new blog worth checking out. Tip of the hat to David Pinto at Baseball Musings for the link.

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