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

Friday, April 16, 2004


Whiffs of Panic in the Mariner Clubhouse?

I'm confused. This winter the Mariners told us that they were acquiring veteran players because veterans have the discipline and experience to control their impulses in pressure situations. But now I see this quote from Melvin in the P-I:
"We have had some strike-throwers coming at us,' Melvin said. 'In spring training, our on-base percentage and our walks were way up. It really hasn't transferred to the regular season, and the pitching had a lot to do with that. We've also been behind a lot, and guys get a little antsy at times when you're under the gun." [emphasis added]
So what's happened to the Mariners veteran leadership? Shouldn't the Mariners, of all teams, have the least problems with players getting "antsy" and feeling "under the gun"?

Let's grant for a moment that veteran players with "character" are as important in riding out rough patches as the team has been telling us. In that case, if the Mariners grizzled, playoff seasoned vets are shedding basic disciplines, aren't "antsy" and "under the gun" just euphemisms for "starting to panic"?


A Quiet Day today in the Wheelhouse

Don't know if I'll have a chance to get anything posted at the Wheelhouse today. I did make a post pinch-hitting for Peter White at Mariner Musings

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


Lutefisking with Dad and Uncle Aloysius

The following story was written by Bucs fan Tom Brenholz, a cyberfriend who hangs out on a BBS I visit. A thread started that wandered into the proper way to barbecue lutefisk. (I suggested that the best approach was to soak the lutefisk in lighter fluid for three days, and then throw it on a huge pile of coals while making penance to the deity of your choice.)

Tom, not wanting to be left out of the group venting their childhood memories of lutefisk, contributed the following piece.

Lutefisking with Dad and Uncle Aloysius

by Tom Brenholz

I remember the first time my father took me lutefisking, when I was 8 years old. It was the opening day of lutefisk season in Western PA, Feb 11th 1963, lutefiskerfirstday.

I was trembling with excitement; I barely slept at all. We had spent the entire week before tying lutefisk flies and winding our reels with lutewire. I had my lutepole well oiled, and my father had his old BAR loaded with .30 cal tracer rounds.

At 4AM, my father knocked on my bedroom door; my brother and I jumped out of bed! We had slept in our long underwear and overalls, and all we had to to was wolf our breakfasts of grits and johnnycakes as we pulled on our coats and mittens and boots; we helped each other wrap our leggings, and we completed our ensembles with the traditional pink taffeta tutus and honking red clown noses... how we had yearned to don the ceremonial garb of the lutefiskerman, and now the time had finally come!

We carted our equipment and tackle down to Dad's Studebaker Lark wagon, and as Dad hooked up the jumper cables from the Country Squire to the Stude, my brother Jimmy and I secured the acetylene torches and the portable arc welder in the back. Finally the Stude clattered to life, and we drove the backroads to my uncle Aloysius' house. There he stood in his driveway, bald, the ugly red axe scar behind his left ear, holding his Lewis Gun, proudly alert in his pink tutu and clown nose and leggings... and as we drew closer we could see, through the thick cloud of cigar smoke, his rosy red cheek makeup, the mark of a Lutefiskerman First Order!

Aloysius crawled into the rear of the Studey and let out an ear-splitting whistle. Around the corner his lutefiskerdogs came running, Markie and Wilson. The two dogs were known around the patch as expert lutefiskerdogs, not unusual for AKC bred Yorkies; the ony better breed for lutefisking is the Basenji, and Basenji are notoriously skittish in the cold, so for Aloysius it was Yorkie all the way. Markie and Wilson (or Mark and Will, as we affectionately called them) had been raised from pups to go wild in the presence of lutefisk. I'd heard tales of Mark and Will jumping into the water and doing backflips as large schools of lutefisk swam near shore! (Later, a movie was supposedly made about Wilson, called "Good Will Hunting"; I haven't got up the nerve to see it, though, thinking about that little doggie always makes me cry.)

We drove down along the Mighty Monongahela River, laughing and singing lustily along to the radio as it played traditional lutefisk music; "O here we go a lutefisking", and "I love to go, a lutefisking" (these songs were later bastardized into "The Wassail Song" [whatever THAT is, probably something disgusting like spiced fruit and brandy] and the absurd "The Happy Wanderer" [yeah, dude, wander around with your knapsack all you want, you ain't got no lutefisk tho]). We finally got to Dad and Aloysius' secret lutefisking spot, down by the USSteel Clairton Works, where the water from the battery quenchers discharged into the river, next to where the slag barges were moored, where the heat from the acid kept the ice from forming at the outlet tube. It was bitter cold, no more than 8*, but we were so excited that it felt like midsummer. Jimmy almost tore his tutu on the door handle as he raced for the shoreline to set up his pole; Uncle Aloysius tossed his whiskey bottle into the ice and laughed maniacally as he discharged the BAR toward the river, and the tracer shells ricocheted among the barges in the pre-dawn darkness. It was magical. We felt the love, like real family does.

My Dad and Jim yanked the arc welder and the torches from the car, and they started to work cutting up the nearest barge and welding the pieces into a lutefiskerform (the traditional platform on which all respectable lutefiskerman sit as they lutefisk). Im the gloaming across the river I saw a security guard point at us and shout something; Uncle Al let loose a whoop and a burst of .50 from the Lewis, and we were left alone and in blessed peace. I looked around me then, as the day slowly dawned, and marveled at the beauty of the spot where lutefisk gathered to frolic; the frozen rat carcasses, the globs of coal tar littering the river banks, the old tires and broken glass... I'd never seen such a pastoral marvel. It was like being inside one of those ten thousand piece jigsaw puzzles, you know the ones, with the paintings of the impossibly beautiful scenes from some imaginary world!

So then we hunkered down to lutefisking. Dad always said that if you want to catch a monster you can't use a minnow for bait, so we had tied lutefisk flies the size of bullfrogs, the size of rock cornish game hens (we'd read about those in Look magazine), the size of baseballs, some of the largest lutefiskflies I'd ever seen... until Uncle Al reached down into his pants and pulled out what looked to be a basketball, it was so big! He brought it over to us, giggling madly like the escaped mental patient that he was, and as he got closer we saw that it was a huge lutefly, or better said, luteFLIES! Uncle Al had spent the entire previous year sitting on his back porch staring at the insect strips dangling from the porch ceiling, and now we knew why! As the flies had become trapped by the sticky glue of the strip, Uncle Al had been carefully collecting them with tweezers and putting them in the crisper section of his old Crosley refrigerator, thereby keeping them nice and meaty, just for this day; and now, he had taken one of Aunt Marnie's stockings and carefully crafted an orb of fly carcasses, enmeshed in nylon, for our lutefiskefirstday!

We stared slackjawed as he jammed the lutelure over the barbs on the grappling hook. "Dis be how da pros do dis," he said sagely, with a raised eyebrow and a hiccup. Jim and I couldn't even speak, we were so in awe of the power of my uncle. Dad, meanwhile, was so proud, his boys lutefisking, with him, on lutefiskerfirstday! He opened his flask and took another long hit of whatever it was that made him so happy on those days that we could get him out of bed before 3 in the afternoon.

Uncle Aloysius finished securing the lutefiskeflyball to the grappling hook, and then hitched the hook to the wire rope with the 4-bolt clamp; he looked at it for a minute, then spat, and let out about 50 yards of slack from the winch next to the long metal lutepole holding the line. He took the lure over to the Stude, and jammed in inside the back window; then he rolled the window up until thewire was trapped inbetween the window and the frame. "Watch this,", my Dad whispered, quivering himself with excitement. "Al figgered this'n out all by hissef."

Al got in the Studebaker and put it in gear, and started driving sloooowwwwwwwly away from the river. As he drove, the slack came out of the line. He drove a little farther, and the lutefly came up snug against the back window of the Stude. He drove a little farther, and the lutepole started to bend. He drove a little farther, and the lutewire started to stretch. He drove a little farther, and the wire streeeeeeetched a lilttle bit more, and my Dad started to snicker, and then started to laugh uncontrollably, because he knew what... BANGZZZZSZZZZIP! The back window BLEW out of the Stude, the pole snapped upright, the wire SHOT out across the frozen river, and the lutefiskefly went SOARING in a great big beautiful arc across the rising sun, landing right smack dab in the middle of the biggest ice floe on the mighty Monongahela, almost a hundred yards away! Uncle Al staggered out of the car, laughing so hard I thought he was going to die, he was turning almost black with laughter then breathing in HUGE amounts of air with that asthmatic wheeze of his; my dad couldn't keep it anymore, he was crying and laughing and rolling on the ground. You'da thought both Uncle Al AND he were certifiably insane, and maybe they were, y'know, maybe they were; after all, they were lutefiskermen, teaching kids to be lutefiskermen!

"Oh aitch ee double hockey sticks, Aloysius, let's set up the artillery; you don't want these little minnows thinking that lutefisking is like a circus, do ya?" Dad said, as he reattached his rubber nose that had fallen off, and he and Uncle Aloysius set up the .50 Lewis gun and the BAR to wait. I started to say something, and the grownups SSSSSShhhh'd me, so we sat there and waited in the 8* cold dawn, in our tutus and clown noses and mittens, the glass from the back window of the Stude sparkling among the rat carcasses as the ice floes in the river moaned and groaned as they shifted. And we sat. And we sat. And we sat....

Suddenly Markie's ears perked up. Will started barking. I'd never seen them like that! They both were jumping up and down, turning in circles, whimpering, running up to the water and running back to us! Dad and Al looked at us, at the dogs, and then at each other. They smiled, and Al said, "You ready, Felton?" (My dad's name was Felton. He invented felt, and the past tense of the word "feel", but you probably figured that out from his name.) And Dad answered, "Shut up and lutefisk, Al..." and just then, the biggest... the biggest THING I ever saw, before or since, came SMASHING up through the ice! I had to invent the word LEVIATHAN to describe it! It was huge, and it was gray, and it quivered like jelly! It had thousands of tiny little bones all through it, and it had no eyes and no mouth, no discernable features at all, really! It lunged toward the lutefiskfly sitting on the ice floe!

I instinctively reached for the lutefiskpole, figuring to egg the monster on, then hook it and reel it in to us, thus capturing the first lutefisk of the season; but Uncle Al shoved me down and out of the way, as he and Dad opened fire on it. They raked the lutefiskeflesh mercilessly, the rounds whacking into it like bbs into jello, and pieces of lutefiskemeat tore off and littered the ice like in a bad slasher movie. A deafening roar rent the sky as the lutefisk flopped about, writhing, looking for safety. Suddenly I felt sick; this wasn't what I had expected! This wasn't sporting at all! The firing stopped, and the air was full of the smell of cordite and lutefiskeflesh. I wanted to run somewhere; I wanted to go home, to my bed and my dimestore comics, anywhere but this, this lutefiskekillingfield! I looked around; Jimmy was in the car, crying. I stood there, transfixed, as Dad and Uncle Al shouldered their weapons, and started moving towards the river with their lutefiskesacks, to harvest the rewards of their spree. My dad walked over and put his arm around me, and straightened out my tutu. "So, son, now you know. Or, at least now you THINK you know." I looked at him. His eyes were watery, and glazed over. "Son, you think this is bad. But now... now we have to EAT it."


Baseball Prospectus Prophecies Fulfilled

I had some papers stacked on my copy of the 2004 Baseball Prospectus for several weeks, and I just cleared them off. As I was doing so, I noted that my Prospectus was opened to the Mets page that has BP's writeup on Marco Scutaro. I thought the BP commentary on Scutaro was interesting, as Mariners fans have certainly become more familiar with Scutaro recently:
These are the kinds of players teams should be looking for to fill holes. Scutaro is too old to be a prospect, but he can hit a little, takes his walks, has some limited power, and plays passable defense up the middle, making him a useful piece as a spare or part-time player. Guys like this are all over the minors, so when your team instead plays Tony Womack every game, you should really be angry, because a guy you never heard of like Scutaro is worth a game or two in the standings more than Womack over the course of a year. Claimed by Oakland, who should find a use for him.
Looks as if BP nailed that one.

Oakland's pickup of Scutaro illustrates one of the big difference between the A's and the Mariners. When Billy Beane is filling a roster hole, he considers freely available, minimum salary players who can be projected to provide average or better performance. As in the case of Scutaro, Beane acquires players that cost almost nothing, and are more capable than the fringe veteran players most clubs acquire to fill their roster.

The Mariners, in contrast, look exclusively for veteran talent, and make a trade. In the process, the Mariners give up talent to acquire a veteran off of someone else's roster, and accept a contract that exceeds major league minumum salary. The Mariners approach probably is related to their belief that minor league stats are not useful for assessing major league contributions. Bearing that attitude, the Mariners view all minor leaguers as risks, whereas the fringe vets are valued as "proven performers". The rare times when the Mariners do acquire a young player, they trade for "tools" players, while totally discounting the players statistics.

Scutaro has played both second and shortstop. Oakland acquired Scutaro off waivers on October 9, 2003, so the Mariners could have had him had they wanted. Instead the Mariners have Santiago and Bloomquist, so let's look compare the recent offensive stats for all three players.

Year Team League (Level) OBP SLG
---- ------- --------------- ---- ----
2001 Indpls Intl (3A) .382 .432
2002 Nrflk Intl (3A) .375 .475
2003 Nrflk Intl (3A) .401 .520

Year Team League (Level) OBP SLG
---- ------- --------------- ---- ----
2001 Lklnd Flrda St (Hi A) .361 .331
2002 Erie Estrn (2A) .375 .475
2002 Detroit MLB .306 .365
2003 Detroit MLB .292 .284

Year Team League (Level) OBP SLG
---- ------- --------------- ---- ----
2001 Sn Antn v Texas (2A) .296 .310
2002 Tacoma Pcfc Cst (3A) .333 .383
2003 Seattle MLB .319 .321

Data from Baseball Prospectus 2004
Note: I've omitted stats from short callups
to the majors for Scutaro (75 AB in 2003)
and Bloomquist (33 AB in 2002).
I've seen comments from some fans asserting that, because a bench is composed of players who can't hold down regular positions, we should accept that a weak bench is inevitable. I think Scutaro belies that claim. The Mariners do not have a stong bench because they don't know how to identify and acquire the best bench talent available. With acquisitions such as Scutaro, Beane has shown repeatedly that such talent is available, and it can be acquired for next to nothing if you know where to look for such players and how to evaluate them.

With Ellis out for the year, Scutaro should get significant playing time in 2004. As you watch Scutaro play, consider that he could have been on the Mariners roster instead of Bloomquist, Santiago, or Cabrera. The Mariners, though, operate with a mindset that causes them to fill the roster with players such as McCracken, Bloomquist, Santiago, and Cabrera, when more capable players are available for league minimum and little or no loss of talent in trade.


Roster Moves, Get Your Roster Moves. 2 For 1 Deals Available Now! Act Now or They Might Be Gone!

In addition to his side gig at Mariner Musings today, Jeff Shaw at San Shin also discusses possible roster moves that would be required when Spiezio comes off the DL. Jeff nicely discusses many of the options. I think, though, that there is one possibility that he misses - one that has not been discussed in the press very much recently.

As this season has unfolded I have a had a deepening sense that a trade for Jason Kendall was becoming more likely. The Mariners dissatisfaction with Davis has been well-addressed, and we also know that the Mariners discussed a Kendall deal with the Pirates earlier this spring.

The Mariners slow start, however, may put some urgency in the team's thinking. Yes, you can add a dose of "panic" into that, which probably means doing dumb things with salary. I think the most likely deal involves the Mariners sending Jarvis and Davis to the Pirates for Kendall and money. In previous trade discussions involving Kendall and San Diego, the Pirates were reportedly willing to eat half of Kendall's salary, without taking on any burdensome contracts in return. In a deal involving Jarvis, we could expect that the Pirates will consider taking on Jarvis' salary as part of their contribution to the trade, and reduce the amount of Kendall's salary they are willing to assume correspondingly.

A trade such as this wouldn't be the worst thing the Mariners could do, but the salary obligations would be quite burdensome in a couple of years. At that time, Kendall will likely no longer be able to catch, and will be a $10 million singles hitter. With luck, the Mariners would only be paying about $5 million of that, but if Bavasi gets into his "gotta make a deal mode", I suspect the Mariners will wind with most, if not all, of Kendall's salary in the last two years of the contract.

I've received mail from readers before on this topic, so let me be clear. Yes, making this deal would improve the team now, because Kendall would be an improvement at catcher. My problem comes, though, from the salary committment and the length of the contract. There are simply better ways to spend that money that would have bigger impact, especially in seasons beyond this one.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


Super Subs

Jeff Shaw can be Dave Hansen if he wants to be, as he substitutes for Peter White at Mariner Musings for a couple of days. Peter, being the savvy manager that he is, knows that when a manager sends up several pinch hitters in a row, he needs to save the big bat for last. Peter's asked me to fill in on Friday, so I'm the Greg Colbrunn "ought to have been" to Jeff's Dave Hansen. Of course. considering my record, that most likely means that I'll just hit into a game ending 6-4-2 double play.


On the Defense

I've been enjoying the discussions on outfield defense. I'm frustrated that my work schedule has prevented me from digging into the data more, as that is a favorite topic of mine. So just a few quick comments:
  1. Fielding percentage is worse than worthless as a statistic. Worthless would mean it is irrelevant. FPC is worse than worthless because not only does it not measure what it purports; it actually leads to making wrong conclusions. (Defenders who are reliable but don't cover much ground and don't try to make questionable plays will rank higher than defenders who cover ground and try to field everything they can get to.)

  2. Zone rating, as a counting stat, is meaningless unless GB/FB ratio is presented. Without knowing opportunties, evaluating players based on zone rating is like evaluating hitters based solely on number of hits wtihout considering plate appearances.

  3. UZR corrects zone rating to a percentage stat, but it's still to early in the season to conclude anything meaningful from it (small sample size, etc).

  4. The stuff that has been going on at USS Mariners is excellent work.
FWIW, my impression is that the Marienrs outfield defense is notably weaker this year, but I'm cautious until there is enough information to calibrate that.

Also, weakened outfield defense will reverberate through the team's defensive performance. It's not just a matter of more balls dropping in. More balls dropping in means more batters faced, which means higher pitch counts, and fewer innings pitched by starters. Fewer innings from starters means the bullpen isn't as fresh, which leads to less effective outings by relief pitchers.

To catch the main discussions, start here and scroll down to continue reading through several posts. Jeff Sullivan's also made a nice contribution here. And Gabriel makes a contribution here.

Monday, April 12, 2004


Loop the Looper

I suspect that the Mariners' reacquisition of Looper may have been part of the original deal with the Dodgers. With the Mariners wanting to complete a trade immediately, either or both of two subplots may have been working related to the Mariners need to clear space on the 40-man roster for Cabrera.

The context that seems most likely to me, is that with the trade for Cabrera taking shape as quickly as it did, the Dodgers weren't ready to decide what player they wanted out of a group the Mariners made available. To accommodate the Mariners need to complete the deal immediately, the Dodgers agreed to take Looper temporarily so that the Mariners would have space on the 40-man roster for Cabrera. The Dodgers then had a period of time to decide what player they wanted from the real list of available players. Having selected Bott from that list, the Dodgers are now sending Looper back in exchange for Bott to complete the transaction.

The second possibility I see is that the Mariners weren't ready to decide whom to clear off of the 40-man roster upon acquiring Cabrera, so the Dodgers agreed to take Looper while the Mariners decided how to proceed with the 40-man roster. Having now decided to cut Christianson to open space, the Mariners reacquire Looper for Bott. This seems less likely because Christianson is an obvious selection to remove from the 40-man roster.

In terms of overall value, Bott and Ketchner for Cabrera isn't quite as bas as Looper and Ketchner for Cabrera.

Christianson is also example #68943 of why drafting high school catchers in the first round is a bad idea.

Sunday, April 11, 2004


Derek and the Dark Side

Derek Zumsteg wishes he could unleash The Force on Rick Rizzs and Dave Hnderson:
... if you pay attention to the broadcasts -- and I mean really pay attention -- you'll be amazed at the number of things they (and I've been listening to Rizzs/Henderson a lot so far) say that are flat wrong. I don't mean 'you have to be aggressive early in the count' or that kind of air-filler: I mean flat mistakes, and if you're willing to extend it to logical leaps, it's crazy-bad. It makes me wish I could do the Darth Vader force choke through the TV.
    The M's teams that have scored the most runs haven't hit home runs... gaaaaaaakkk--akkkk--ppttthhhhhh...'
Though that would be wrong, and I strongly discourage our readers from using force powers against the broadcasting crew.
Derek should take heart; other Jedi have confronted similar urges: Sith Academy: Darth Maul vs. the Fox Network.


Bob Melvin - Creative Thinker Extraordinaire

Bottom of the 7th, Villone pitching. The Mariners go 3-0 on Dye and put him on to bring up left-handed hitting Durazo. Hasegawa is warmed up and ready to go the in the bullpen.

Melvin, creative thinker that he is, decides to stay with the lefty vs lefty matchup by keeping Villone in the game.

Except that Hasegawa has a significantly better record over the last three years vs. lefties:

Record vs Left-handed Hitters
Dye hits the ball on the screws, but right at Cabrera. About two feet further to Cabrera's right and the ball is into right field.

It's clear that Melvin doesn't believe that statistics have anything to add to "conventional" baseball thinking. As I've posted previously about Melvin, You can lead a man to data, but you can't make him think.

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