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

Saturday, May 15, 2004

 

Double Clutching

David Cameron, ever the optimist, thinks that Spiezio has worn off his clutch hitter label.

I beg to differ. Today's game will actually cement Spiezio's reputation.

Most fans will forget all of the failures preceding his last at bat today. Finnigan's column tomorrow will tell us how Spiezio, true to his clutch hitter reputation, came through in extra innings to win the game that stopped the Mariners losing streak. Hendu/Valle will comment that only a veteran would shrug off all of the previous frustrations and come through when needed. Rizzs will add that Spiezio was signed just because he's one of the best in baseball in situations like the 12th innining of today's game.

And Bavasi will sleep better tonight, reassured that the veteran experience made the difference in today's game.

 

Saturday Afternoon in Savannah

It's a glorious Saturday afternoon here in Savannah. This has been a wonderful time to take a trip, as I've been spared watching the Mariners play by play for most of the current skid. I'm getting by on ESPN.com game updates and the occasional Sports Center update. I think that's for the best.

Today Donovan Osborne continues to look like Jarvis - so bad that even the Mariners can score runs off him. Today he even has some carryonver to the bullpen, as Wilson comes up with a double off of Quantrill. But now in the bottom of the fifth, it looking like deja vu all over again as Matsui brings the Yankees back within one on a homerun.

The Mariners thunderbats go down in the sixth, following the familiar script in which the Mariners offense shuts down, while the Yankees push across a few more runs against the Mariners bullpen. And Hasegawa is in to make sure that happens.

I hope I'm wrong.

And in the time it takes me to type that sentence, Bernie Williams homers to tie the game. Sighhhhhhh......



Now it's the bottom of the 9th. Putz is in trouble, and the heart of the Yankees order is coming up. What a perfect time to use Guardado. Oh, I forgot, the Mariners don't have a lead. So if Putz gives up a sac fly or a hit, the game is over.

And Melvin doesn't believe he should use the best relief pitcher to try to win - Guardado can only be used to prevent a loss.

Putz escapes, with the inning complicated by Wilson apparently making an unsuccessful attempt to get Flaherty at third on a bunt. Congratulations to Putz. His last couple of outings have been more in line with what we should expect from him, but it's good if Melvin starts giving him high leverage innings instead of Hasegawa.

I think it's easier to deal with this via game log than actually watching the game on television.

And Torre brings in Rivera in the top of the 10th, using his best reliever to play for a win instead of to prevent a loss. It's too much to expect that Melvin is taking notes from a manager with a long history of success.

Putz works his innings, and Melvin brings in Mateo. Unlike Torre, Melvin is quite willing to lose a game without using his best relief pitcher.

And finally Melvin goes to Guardado in the bottom of the 12th.

When did Melvin develop this idea that it's good strategy to have his most dangerous hitter intentionally walked in all critical game situations? How many Winn bunts followed IBB-Martinez will it take until Melvin catches on?

And finally a hit by one of the Mariners "clutch hitters" in a key situation. The Mariners offense, sparked by Ramon Santiago. That's probably good enough to keep him on the roster the rest of the season.

The Mariners bat around in the top of the 12th and have a 6 run lead!!! Now to the bottom of the 12th, and Guardado is still pitching. It's actually looking as if the Mariners will pick up a win despite the bumbling and stumbling.

The Mariners pick up the win!!!!!

Also a thank you to reader Pete Meighan for letting me know that Melvin got tossed. I'm only keeping up via espn.com game updates, and Melvin's ejection wasn't in the game log. I suppose that also explains why Guardado was used in a non-save situation.

 

More Veteran Nonsense

Today we get another update on the Mariners' overvaluing of "veteran experience". In his column today, Art Thiel quotes Bob Melvin:
Manager Bob Melvin alluded to the problem before the game. Talking about the devastating outcome in Seattle Sunday in which the Mariners lost to the Yankees 7-6 after leading 6-0, he said, "That loss took its toll more than the one game. There's a lingering effect from that game."
Didn't the Mariners stock up on veteran players instead of younger players last winter and spring because veteran players know how to play the game and how to adjust the frustrations and problems that occur during the season?


I suggest that Derek add "overestimating the value of veteran experience" to his list of Bill Bavasi weaknesses.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

 

Don't the Mariners Already Have Enough 30-Year Old .270 Avg. Slap Hitters with No Power?

More from Hickey's May 14 P-I column:
Bavasi said no deals are near, but rumors are circulating the Red Sox and Royals are trying to entice the Mariners into a three-way trade. Boston would trade pitcher Byung Hyun Kim and, possibly, outfielder Johnny Damon to the Mariners in exchange for pitcher Freddy Garcia and minor league starter Cha Seung Baek.

If the Red Sox could get the Mariners to bite, Garcia would then be shipped to Kansas City, with outfielder Carlos Beltran going to Boston.
The Mariners would deal for a centerfielder, helping Beltran to go to another team while the Mariners get Damon. This makes perfect sense. For the last three years, Damon has a .271/.341/.403 line. He's a hitter of modest average, hacks at pitches instead of taking walks, doesn't hit for power, and at 30 years old he's past his peak. Exactly Bavasi's type of player.

 

I still don't think it works that way

From Hickey's column in the May 14 Seattle P-I:
"You can kind of feel the negative," Franklin said of the Seattle clubhouse. "And you've got to get that out of your head. You've got to think positive."
Part of the Mariners strategy last winter was to build a team with chemistry, expecting that winning would follow. I commented that this was backwards, because chemistry is the outgrowth of winning. Below is an excerpt from that post:

Chemistry belongs to someone else, and his name is Winning. When we were hanging out with Winning, Chemistry started coming around at the same time. But if Winning goes away, some morning we wake up and discover that during the night Chemistry grabbed her things and left. We miss her and want her back. We believe that if she came back, things would be like they were before, and Winning would come back also. But Chemistry won't come back until we first bring back Winning.

So, I understand the Mariners front office "character" strategy. I agree with them that chemistry propelled the 2001 team to heights of overachievement. I share the belief that if they could recapture that chemistry, the team would take the division in a cakewalk and go deep in the post-season. And I can relate to how much everyone in the organizations, players and management, want to rekindle that magic.

But because Chemistry still intoxicates them, they've got the formula wrong. They're trying to woo back Chemistry, expecting that Winning will follow.

It doesn't work that way, though.
And I still don't think it works that way.

 

Don't Hold Your Breath for a Bavasi Dismissal

During Bavasi’s hiring process, Bavasi and team ownership undoubtedly discussed their perceptions of the team situation last winter and what needed to be done in the coming years. Of course I wasn’t privy to those discussions, but I think it’s a reasonable guess that Bavasi presented a plan that ownership liked and that included the following elements:

  • Embarking on an overhaul of the team over the next several years, particularly taking advantage of the freeing up of salary after the 2004 season and the development of projected talent in the minor league system.

  • Continuing to field teams that would be competitive during the makeover through free agent acquisitions. Some free agents would just be short term gap fillers to enable the team to be competitive, and others would be expected to contribute immediately as well as integrating into longer range plans.

  • Shoring up recent weaknesses in the minor league system.
Think of this as similar to the situation a company faces when it has a product that has had a successful run, but clearly needs some significant retooling. Concurrently, the product manager who was responsible for the product has retired. As the chief executive, you need to hire a new manager, and you naturally ask the candidates to describe their plans are to develop the next generation product. One of the candidates presents a plan that you particularly like. He will approach the new product development situation in the same way as the retiring manager did so successfully with the product that is now being phased out. He also includes a strategy to transition from the old product to the new, by installing some patches to the old product and making some upgrades that will also integrate with the new product. So now you see the company getting another year or two of profit from the old product with a seamless transition into the rollout of the new product.

We also know that Mariners ownership operates carefully and deliberately, as indicated by the hirings of Melvin and Bavasi, and the deliberate approaches taken to free agents. All of my observations of Lincoln and Armstrong indicate that they will not be swayed by short term pressures – they simply do not make knee-jerk reactions. Lincoln’s action on Jarvis does not contradict this; since Lincoln already knew that he and Bavasi had foisted Jarvis on an unwilling Melvin and Price, he was merely correcting something that had proven to be an obvious mistake.

If my perspectives are reasonably close, this year’s implosion is simply not enough to cause Lincoln, et. al., to jettison the longer range strategy. In the scheme I outlined above, 2004 is almost a throw year anyway – it’s just the last year of the Martinez-Olerud-Moyer-Wilson core. Moreover, if the team collapse continues for another month or so, Lincoln and Bavasi might see it as a fortuitous opportunity to jump start the longer range plan and get a return on some players by trading them instead of letting them walk or retire at the end of the year. The only big downside is that nasty PR aspect; the team might lose fan support that will need to be recaptured as the team rebounds after restructuring.

Perhaps, if enough of Bavasi’s player acquisitions flounder, ownership might also begin to develop some reservations about Bavasi’s judgment in free agent acquisitions and player signings. But at this point those doubts are not sufficient to backtrack on the longer range program; the real assessment of Bavasi’s skills in this area will come as the longer range plan is implemented.

Summing all of this up, barring some major calamities, I think Bavasi is pretty secure in his job at least until the 2006 season is well underway. If the 2006 All Star Break arrives and the team has been well under .500 for 2004, 2005, and the first part of 2006, I think the team would reconsider Bavasi’s position. But under almost any other scenario, Bavasi would likely be secure at least into 2007.

Now I know the USS Mariner folks will think I am giving the ownership too much credit for having a plan such as I outlined above when they hired Bavasi. Perhaps so – they do have some sources inside the Mariners organization whereas I have none. My thoughts are formed from general impressions gleaned from team activities and from my experience working with successful companies in somewhat similar situations. While I might quibble with the baseball operations, I do believe the Mariners are reasonably well run as a business organization.

If you like Bavasi and think he knows what he is doing, you can consider this an optimistic post. If you think Bavasi is hopelessly muddled and inept, this has got to seem pretty pessimistic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

 

Incredible At Bat by Alex Cora

I was watching the Dodgers and Cubs on ESPN 2 as I was composing the previous post. Just as I clicked the button to publish, Alex Cora ends an 18-pitch at bat against Matt Clement, with a 2-run homer. Cora fouled off 14 consecutive pitches with a 2-2 count.

 

We're Gonna Be 10 Games Back of the Angels ...

As the losses mount, the Mariners blogosphere is reeling like a broken-masted sloop battling a north Atlantic gale. Gabriel and John at the Safe give it up. At The Mariner Optimist, pessimism spreads its deathgrip. The normally diplomatic and gracious David Cameron develops a decidedly caustic edge.

And now this: Jeremy at Sports and B's is babbling Neil Sedaka. Worse yet, it's infectious. The following was scribbled on a scrap of Bill Bavasi stationary retrieved from a Pioneer Square trash can:


10 games back of the Angels

We’re gonna be 10 games back of the Angels and I just found out today
We’re gonna be 10 games back of the angels and it’s not even the end of May
They used to be such a mediocre team
But then I left and they made their dream
We’re gonna be 10 games back of the Angels
And there’s still one hundred-thirty left to play.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

 

Hard Luck is not the same as Hard Headedness

From an article in today's P-I by Joe Kaiser (Mariners hoping Jones stops run of draft misery):
Perhaps more than any team in the majors, and through little fault of their own, the Mariners know how much luck can play into the June amateur draft.

Since taking Gil Meche with their No. 1 pick in 1996, the Mariners haven't had another top pick appear in a big league game.

Injuries have slowed the progress of Ryan Anderson (1997), Matt Thornton (1998), Ryan Christianson (1999) and Sam Hays (2000). Michael Garciaparra (2001) has yet to show that he's capable at Class A, and John Mayberry Jr. (2002) never signed, choosing to play for Stanford instead.

The Mariners hope that hard luck will stop with 2003 first pick Adam Jones.

[Emphasis added.]
The Mariners drafts have not failed because of hard luck, but because of hard headedness. Anderson, Thornton, and Hays were high school pitchers. Christianson was a high school catcher. Those are the two positions that have the highest failure rate for high school draftees. If you now factor in the Mariners' inability to keep young pitchers arms from falling off, the failure of those guys to progress isn't bad luck, it's predictable.

Garciaparra was simply a blown pick. It looked bad at the time, and that assessment has since been confirmed.

Mayberry didn't sign because the Mariners tried to lowball him. Failing to determine the signing requirements for a prospect before drafting him isn't bad luck; it's bad scouting.


Although the article doesn't mention 2003, readers should note that the Mariners gave up their 2003 first round pick to Arizona when they signed Greg Colbrunn. With the Mariners having now traded Colbrunn + money to Arizona for McCracken, the Mariners have traded that draft pick plus more than $1 million cash for McCracken. And with that pick the Diamondbacks selected Conor Jackson, a prospect about whom I have previously blogged. And here is an updated line for Jackson, through 30 games with the Lancaster Jet Hawks:
 AVG   AB   H  TB HR BB  SO   SLG   OBP

.307 114 35 60 5 23 15 .526 .424
Swapping Jackson and $1 million for McCracken is also not hard luck.

Hard headedness is not the same as hard luck.

[Update]J at Mariner Minors reminded me that Matt Thornton was not a high school draftee, drafted out of Grand Valley State in his junior year. So he wasn't quite the risk that the others were.

 

even lightning knows not to hit the same dead tree stump twice

Many Mariners bloggers (including me) have criticised the Mariners front office for not being able to grasp the concept of replacement value players. By that, we mean that the Mariners fill the roster with veteran players on million dollar contracts, when those players are no better than freely available replacement talent available for major keague minimum salary in the high minor leagues and over the waiver wire.

Apparently the Mets may be as inept as the Mariners in this regard, being unable to even discriminate intelligently about below replacement level talent. For Exhibit A, we present the case of the Mets starting James Baldwin tonight against the Diamondbacks. This was Baldwin's first appearance of the year, and the results were totally predictable. He was removed after facing three batters in the third, with no one out, and producing the following line:
 IP H R HR BB SO BAA  WHIP ERA 

2.0 7 6 2 2 0 .538 4.50 27.00
Note that the Mets could have easily filled that roster spot with Jarvis instead of Baldwin. As critical as I have been of Jarvis, I think that Baldwin is less deserving of a roster spot (barely). In fact, if I were forced to choose between Baldwin or Jarvis, I think I would choose Jarvis, then immediately shoot myself.

Prior to tonight, I might have put the Mets and the Mariners at about the same level with regard to comprehending replacement value players. The Mets, after all, were sufficiently oblivious to put Marco Scutaro on waivers, and the Mariners (along with many other teams) elected not to claim him. But, now I think Mariner fans have reason to hope that maybe we're not as bad as the Mets.

But don't get carried away; after the Baldwin debacle I thought the Mariners would know better than to expect anything useful from a pitcher who built a reputation on one year of mediocre pitching tucked in the middle of a crappy career. After Jarvis, though, we know that lightning is at least as smart as the Mariners office, since even lightning knows not to hit the same dead tree stump twice.

Monday, May 10, 2004

 

Traveling this Week

I will be traveling this week, so blogging will be less frequent. Given the current state of the Mariners, perhaps that's just as well.

With luck I'll catch the Astros and the Marlins Wed night.

 

But he calls a great game and works well with young pitchers

Dan Wilson can't hit much anymore. He can't stop opponents from stealing second base. He doesn't sacrifice well. But, the Mariners assure us, he's still one of the best catchers in baseball because he calls a great game and works well with young pitchers.

So what should we make of Bryan Price's comments, from today's P-I?
Mateo threw the pitch Wilson called for, an inside fastball, but it was neither inside enough or fast enough to elude Jeter's bat. The shortstop crushed a game-tying two-run home run to center. An inning later, Hideki Matsui hit a tiebreaking sacrifice fly and the Yankees completed a rally from six runs down to beat Seattle 7-6.

The inside fastball was, in fact, the pitch the Mariners wanted to make to Jeter in that situation. They'd been busting the All-Star shortstop inside for 2 1/2 games, and he'd had an unremarkable series to that point.

It was the pitch Wilson wanted, and it was the pitch he called.

In retrospect, however, pitching coach Bryan Price said it might not have been the right pitch.

"I'm not disappointed in the job Julio did," Price said. "But I don't think he had the conviction he needed in throwing the pitch. And what happened was the result of that."

Price and Mateo talked after Mateo came out of the game. The second-year right-hander was having trouble with pitches on the inside to right-handed hitters. The pitch that Mateo wanted to throw could have been either a fastball or a slider. More important from Mateo's point of view, it needed to be down and away.

He threw the pitch Wilson called for, but it didn't have that certain something.

"Danny and I believed in the inside fastball," Price said. "We'd had success there with (Jeter) all series. But what is more important is what the pitcher believes. If he's not convinced it's the best pitch, that matters."

And that led Price to what he believes is one of the primary truths of the game of pitching.

"It's better to throw a pitch you believe in," he said, "even if you're throwing it into the teeth of the strength of the hitter."

There have been many weaknesses in the Mariners' bullpen this season, and strength of conviction of pitches would be at or near the top of the list.
Since Wilson is charged with calling a game and particularly with helping the young Mariner pitchers with their pitch selection, this is exactly the type of situation Dan is supposed to prevent. And if "strength and conviction of pitches" is a recurring problem with relief pitching, we should add questionable gamecalling by Wilson to the long list of Mariner problems this season.

If Wilson can't call a game anymore, will anyone tell me what strengths he still has? Ok, he does a good job deking umpires on close plays at home plate - anything else, though?

 

Just Curious

Has there ever been a losing team where the coaches and players didn't say, "We know we're not this bad."?

Just curious.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

 

Quiet Thunder

Well, the Mariners hitters established today that they are capable of mashing against a Jarvis equivalent, nailing Osborne for six runs in two innings. But, as soon as Torre brought in some real pitchers, reality returned.

At this point in the season, though, I do need to admit that some of my offseason skepticism about Bavasi was unfounded and off-base. I believed that all of the moves that he made were destined to fail. It is clear, though, that he did successfully execute at least part of his offseason plan. As Baseball Prospectus noted recently:
…one of Bill Bavasi's stated off-season objectives was to give up some defense in exchange for some offense. It would appear he has accomplished half of that goal.

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