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

Thursday, September 09, 2004


All the cunning of a dairy cow

We get a double whammy today from Mariners Notebook in the P-I, by Andriessen and Hickey:
The Mariners already have had left fielder Raul Ibanez working out at first base. The plan was to work him in some at first base in the next week or so, but the timetable might be moved up without Jacobsen available.

Ibanez, who has caught and played third base in the past, has played left and right field for Seattle this year. But seeing him at first base now will help Seattle management settle on what the Mariners will want to do in the offseason.

Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, center fielder Randy Winn and Ibanez are all locked into contracts for at least two more seasons. That would make it hard for the Mariners to go after a big-name free agent outfielder like Houston's Carlos Beltran.

But if Ibanez can play first, or even serve as the designated hitter -- Martinez is retiring at the end of the year -- that opens up Seattle's options.
Well, isn't that cute? That comment about it being hard to go after Beltran because of existing contracts sure reeks of Mariners mumbo-jumbo. So here we are with a month to go in the 2004 season, and the Mariners office is already prepping us with reasons why they won't be able to sign big free agents this winter. This time it's not because the team doesn't have money, and it's not because players don't want to come here. It's because the Mariners are already committed to the players they have, so there just isn't room to add a free agent.

Needless to say, the notion that the Mariners can't go after Beltran (or other free agent outfielders) because of existing contract committments is totally absurd; the very mention of such idiocy illustrates the depth of the problems in the Front Office.

If the Mariners were absolutely serious about fielding the best team they possibly could, they would approach every transaction asking, "Will this make us a better team?" If the answer is "yes", than team management would find a way to make it happen. They wouldn't wring their hands and say, "oh, we can't upgrade that position because we've already got guys under contract at that position. And we like the guys we've got so there's no reason to change personnel."

Billy Beane and the Oakland A's have been the Mariners principal competition in the AL West for the last five or so years. There's a reason why the A's are more successful than the Mariners. It's because Billy Beane and the A's are more committed to winning than are the Mariners. Because they are more committed to winning, they don't let things like contracts with existing players prevent them from making moves to improve the team.

Now for the second whammy. The Mariners apparently think the solution to this dilemma is installing Ibañez at first base to open up a spot in the outfield. Wouldn't you think it's worth asking whether Ibañez would actually be an asset to the team at first base?

Well, we at Mariners Wheelhouse are glad you asked the question, and we've got some answers. For 2004, a league average 1B has a line of .278 (BA)/.363 (OBP)/ and .479 (SLG). Ibañez's line for 2004: .277/.335/.448, which is pretty close to Ibañez's career line of .278/.334/.461, most of which was compiled in the hitter friendly confines of Kaufmann Stadium.

And does Ibañez make up for this with his glove? (Ok, you can stop chuckling now - that was rhetorical.) Ultimate Zone Rating is one of the best measures of overall defensive performance, as it compares defensive players on the percentage of plays they make on balls hit in their area of the field. UZR credits Ibañez with a negative 24 runs defensively per 162 games. How bad is that? Among players with more than 50 games at first base between 2000 and 2003, the first baseman closest to Ibañez in defense is Mo Vaughan, at negative 25 runs per 162 games. And the only one worse than Mo Vaughan is Adam Dunn (34 runs per 162 games). Think of that - after this year of horrid defense, the Mariners plans for upgrading include putting the equivalent of Mo Vaughan's glove at first base. [added note: the UZR data for Ibañez are for his play at first base.]

So we have the Mariners solution to the dilemma, they'll put a guy at first base woth league average production, and who blows defensively. Who blows big!! Who could easily be the worst defensive first baseman in the league. And that is how they will make the team better.

Again, folks, teams that are committed to winning simply wouldn't consider that an acceptable strategy. If the Mariners were truly serious about winning, they would be looking for ways to make both the outfield and first base into significant assets.

Creative thinking is clearly a precious and rare commodity down on Royal Brougham. I suggest the Mariners stop wasting it devising excuses why they can't make major improvement to the team and instead use it to figure out how to make the team as good as it can possibly be.

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