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

Saturday, June 05, 2004


Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were General Manager of the Mariners. But I repeat myself.

Whither from here?

I appreciate the expressions of support I've received in comments, e-mails and from other bloggers after mentioning my need to cut back on my Mariners blogging.

I don't intend to stop blogging - I just need to separate myself from the daily blunderings that are the 2004 Mariners. I will probably blog a bit less frequently, and I will focus more on other issues. An example is the piece immediately below this on pitching biomechanics. I'll probably redirect some of my attention to other teams.

And I won't abstain from the occasional sarcastic comment about the Royal Brougham Royal Idiots. (And a thanks to Mark Twain for the title of this post.)


Pitching With Your Eyes Closed

An excellent article at Wired.com about the work being done on pitching biomechanics by the American Sports Medicine Institute in Alabama. The article lists the increasing number of teams that are using ASMI to do injury prevention work for their young pitchers. Of course, the Mariners are prominent by their absence. The actual technical approach used at the Institute is described a bit more fully in this article at CNN.com's Science and Technology section.

The last quarter of the piece (be sure to click through to page 2) features Rick Peterson talking about the difficulties in actually deploying the information effectively with pitchers. As Peterson points out, you can't pitch effectively while you're thinking about your biomechanics. So how do you get a pitcher to correct his delivery if he can't think about his mechanics while he's on the mound.

Peterson thinks he's found the answer in training exercises based on eastern philosophy. I liked the mention of one exercise - pitching with closed eyes, to help the pitcher become more aware of the motions of their body. ("Feel the force, Barry. Let it flow through you. Become one with the ball.")

Which leads to an interesting situation for the traditionalists such as the Mariners. Do they denigrate Peterson because he relies too much on data, or do they dismiss him because he relies too much on philosophy?

And a tip o' the hat to Rob McMillin at 6-4-2 -- an Angels/Dodgers double play blog for pointing out this article.

Friday, June 04, 2004


I Give Up

David Cameron describes the state of the roster far more simply and eloquently than I ever could.

For several months I've been feeling that the quality of this blog has declined greatly. At first blogging the Mariners was therapeutic and fun; now I'm beaten, I'm tired, and I have little to say that I haven't already said. The current management has taken away the joy. I hate that so many of us in the blogosphere were right.

With the callup of Santiago, I think I've had it. I am still a Mariners fan; that part stays. But if I'm going to enjoy the team I've got to put a bit more distance between myself and the current management debacles. And it's not as if I'm leaving a huge void in Mariners coverage.

I'm not going to give up blogging, but I can't be as intense about the Mariners as I've been. I'll probably blog occasionally about other teams or about baseball in general.

I'll talk about the Mariners again when I think there's something new to say. Or maybe when Corey (the Mariner Optimist) comes back - that might do it for me as well.


Bavasi: Baldly Following in Gillick's Footsteps

The Mariners are promoting Ramon Santiago to fill Ibañez's spot on the roster. I guess they don't believe that Bloomquist, Cabrera, and Bocachica don't give them enough infield depth.

Trent (subbing for Jeff at Leone for Third) observes that Leone, Strong, and Lopez are better off playing everyday in Tacoma instead of just sitting on the bench in Seattle. Sherrill and Jacobsen are not on the 40 man roster, so promoting either of them would have required a move on the 40-man roster (and they can't get rid of Ugueto yet).

Of course, that logic simply reinforces that the Mariners management won't admit this season is over. If they accepted that premise, then they would have brought up someone such as Leone and give him significant playing time. Also, as long as the Mariners think they still have a chance to contend this season, don't rule out the possibility of them brining in someone off the waiver wire. This thinking, of course, just continues the "Wishful Thinking" syndrome that has characterized the Gillick's last several years and intensified with Bavasi's hiring.

[Added Note]: It's equally plausible that the Mariners are making roster moves without having any overall plan. The Mariners also clearly prefer to promote players who already have some big league service time, probably as an outgrowth of their belief that minor league performance can't be used to predict performance in the big leagues.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


P-I Potpourri

In Andriesen's P-I column today, a Benny Looper quote indicates the Mariners will fill the Ibañez's roster spot from Tacoma instead of the waiver wire:
We've got a lot of quality pitching and some quality position players,' Benny Looper, Mariners vice president for player development and scouting, said. "There's not going to be room for all of them (at the big-league level), but there certainly is room for some of them."
A few more tidbits from the article:
  • Melvin says the player they bring up will not necessarily be an outfielder: >
    Manager Bob Melvin said with Hiram Bocachica being called up Wednesday, and Jolbert Cabrera and Willie Bloomquist capable of spot work in the outfield, it would not necessarily be an outfielder who would replace Ibanez if he goes on the disabled list.
  • A nice quote from Bucky Jacobsen:
    "If I got a chance to play there [Safeco], they'd have a guy up there swinging hard, to say the least," Jacobsen said. "I'd like to think of myself as more than a power guy, but there's no doubt that when I step up to the plate, my team, the other team and everybody in the stands knows I'm not up there to bunt or steal bases."
  • The Mariners are still ignorant about evaluating replacement level talent. This time it's Looper claiming that you can't translate minor league statistics to major league performance:
    "Whether (his stats) would translate into producing at the major league level, we won't know, nor will anyone know, until someone gives him a chance," Looper said of Jacobsen. "That's something we'll have to evaluate."
    As has been pointed out before, this is simply ignorance of the highest order. If the Mariners don't understand how minor league statistics can be used to predict major league performance, they will always be blowing money on fading veteran players. Teams that have command of this information will continually pick the Mariners pockets in making deals. The Mariners will continue to underperform in the free agent drafts.

    Needless to say, Looper's comments confirm that McCracken-Bocachica isn't going to teach the Mariners anything about freely available replacement level talent.

  • Some bloggers recently criticized some Bavasi comments about not promoting players based on need. I thought then that Bavasi's comments were removed from a context - obviously promotions are based on need at the major league level. I thought it more likely that Bavasi was saying that it doesn't make sense to promote a player just to fill a hole on the major league roster, if the player is not ready to play in the Big League. Andriesen's article has a fuller quote from Bavasi that says exactly that:
    "If you have a prospect who is clearly one of your top prospects, the long-term picture is your priority," general manager Bill Bavasi said.

    "If he's not ready to come to the big leagues, but you need somebody to fill the position that he plays, you shouldn't bring him up. Prospects should not be brought up to the big leagues based on need. They should be brought up based on being ready.

    "Just because there's failure at the big-league level, it does not mean you should bring up a prospect that's not ready and put him in position to fail."
    The sentiment is good and laudable. The real problem, though, is execution. Because the Mariners don't know how to use minor league data to project big league performance, they don't know when players are ready to be promoted. With the uncertainty about whether a player is ready, they have consistently opted not to call up players until forced by circumstance.


Tucker Gets a Sombrero

Michael Tucker of the Giants gets a "Golden Sombrero" in the Giants 11-5 loss to the Diamondbacks today, fanning in the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th innings. Webb had 5 K's in 6 innings, and three of them were courtesy of Tucker.

Bonds was to the plate four times; Torrealba pinch hit for him in 9th when the game was essentlally over. He walked three times (once intentionally), and grounded out to short. Right now Bonds' OBP is 0.612 and his SLG is .815, giving him an ungodly 1.427 OPS.


Taking A Chance Pinch Hitting

Derek at USS Mariner comments on Jack McKeon using Dontrelle Willis as a pinch hitter for his pitcher- fifth inning, two outs.

Growing up watching the Minnesota Twins, I recall that pitchers were occasionally used as pinch hitters. The Twins, in particular, occasionally pinch hit with Jim Perry or Jim Kaat when the team was short of position players or a normal pinch hitter would create an awkward substitution.

The Twins were most apt to use Kaat as a pinchitter when when Dean Chance was with the Twins, from 1967 to 1969. Chance was probably the most inept batter in the history of baseball. His batting average of .066 is the lowest batting average recorded in the modern era by any player with at least 500 plate appearances, and during his three years with the Twins he posted averages of .033, .054, and .042. Many of his hits came when he bunted a ball too hard and it got past the first or third baseman or he swung away and got the ball past the first baseman. (When Chance was batting, the first and third basemen always played about halfway up the line because Chance was always ready to bunt, even with two strikes; his chances of getting on base by bunting were actually better than if he swung away because he was more likely to at least put the ball in play. If he did swing away, he was always late and hit the ball to the right side.) Somehow, Chance actually managed to draw 30 walks during his career!

Teams also someimes used a good running pitcher as a pinch runners. Again, I remember Jim Kaat occasionlly being used as a pinch runner.


Thesis-antithesis or Yin-yang?

The stress around the Mariners blogosphere is getting intense. The latest to crack is Jeff Shaw at San Shin, who's gone Hegelian on us. With a blog title such as San Shin, shouldn't he be drawing his inspiration from old dead Asians instead of old dead Germans? With both Jeff and the Mariners so proudly straddling the east-west cultural chasms, shouldn't Jeff's synthesis combine Hegel and Musashi, and thus provide a true, enlightened course of action for Mariners front office?

Maybe Jeff could even broaden the synthesis to incorporate some Chinese thought. Personally, I think a Feng Shui critique of the Mariners is long overdue - maybe the fix Bavasi is looking for is as simple as rearranging the bats or having Bob Melvin and Brian Price stand in different locations in the dugout.

Jeff discusses using money to obtain better prospects in a deal. That's an excellent way to convert the unspent payroll from this year into useful talent, especially with the dearth of strong position prospects in the minors. There are a couple of additional factors to consider though:
  1. Cash in a transaction has different value to different teams. For a small market team, cash is scarce and has more value than for a large market team. If that small market team has a lot of prospects, then it should be straightforward to convert that cash into prospects. Minnesota looks like a promising trade partner to me.

    The reverse situation is a large market team bereft of prospects (such as Boston or New Yark); getting cash from the Mariners doesn't nean much unless they can flip that cash to a samll market team for additional players.

  2. This is all well and good in theory, but do you really trust Bavasi to spend payroll money any more wisely than he has done so far in his tenure? If Bavasi has a $90 million payroll, the best I can see him doing with it is producing a $60 million value team - i.e., not much different from what we have seen this year.

    Based on past experience, "younger and more athletic" probably means speedy slap hitters who have good scouting reports and little performance to validate their reports. As I mentioned several days ago, I can easily see Bavasi loading up the roster with Luis Rivas types of players.

    In fairness, though we should note that Bavasi also has some history of signing big names to long contracts. For example, he was the one who brought Mo Vaughan to Anaheim.
Side note: Aren't the Hegelians one of the civilizations visited by Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise? You know, one of the many planets where Kirk ignored the Federation Prime Directive to not interfere with or alter the normal course of civilization, flirted with the women, presumably left behind progeny, and generally showed why promoting him to Admiral was as obvious a mistake as hiring Bavasi? Which just goes to show that Hollywood's view of future management is no better than your 2004 Mariners.


He's got more power than anybody they've got up there

From Jim Moore's column today:
Jacobsen launched a first-inning rocket yesterday against the Sacramento River Cats that bounced off the Aamco sign between the 385- and 425-foot markers in left-center field, resulting in a run-scoring double that would have been a home run at Safeco Field. "He's got a lot of power," Rohn said, "more than anybody they've got up there."
Too bad for Bucky. The Mariners like tools, but all Bucky offers is a big bat. The Mariners offense sucks, it doesn't have any bangers, and the only consistent semblance of power (Ibañez) looks like he's headed to the DL. But that doesn't mean we're likely to see Bucky promoted soon (or Justin Leone either).

Bob has his roles already defined. Since Bucky and Leone do not fit into one of those defined roles, I'm not expecting to see them promoted anytime soon. The role that opens if Ibañez goes on the DL is left handed hitting outfielder. No left handed outfielders are ready in Tacoma, though, so that means Ibañez's role will go to a right handed hitting outfielder, most likely Bocachica. Strong then gets called up to fill the reserve outfielder. Bucky and Justin get to continue to prove that they don't need to prove much more in AAA.

Far be it from Bob to rework the roles to find a way to move some offensive power from Tacoma to the big club.

Let's get the Tacoma guys up and see what they can do. Bucky's 28; it's now or never. Platoon him with Olerud.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Finding Humor in Any and All Circumstances

We know that throwing a baseball is inherently an unnatural motion for the human arm and shoulder. Thus, given the similarities in motion with pitching, it's clear that the windmilling signal made by a third base coach when he signals a oncoming runner to continue to home is also an unnatural action for the shoulder.

This poses an interesting question. As long as Winn plays centerfield for the Mariners, are the third base coaches of opposing teams in jeopardy for a labrum tear?


Order? Or Merely the Prevailing Chaos?

Mike Thompson at the Seattle P-I blog is reporting that the Mariners optioned Meche to Tacoma and called up Bocachica. So going back to the release of McCracken, the Mariners have replaced Meche with Nageotte and McCracken with Bocachica. Derek Z at USS Mariner also has a brief comment. I'm sure that more will follow.

While I am often critical of the Mariners decision-making, my criticisms usually involve my belief that the Mariners operating philosophy is outdated. It's like IBM continuing to sell and service main frames as PC's begin intruding on the margins of their business. I generally give the Front Office the benefit of the doubt that decisions are being made in the context of a coherent, longer range plan, but I condemn them for not recognizing that the times have changed.

Nevertheless, I'm straining to understand these moves myself. Nageotte does not seem to me to be the most ready arm to call up from Tacoma, and now the arbitration clock has started ticking on Nageotte (same thing that cost the Mariners one year of service time with Alex Rodriguez). And if the Mariners wanted to swap Bocachica for McCracken, why all the monkeying around with the pitchers? This certainly does appear that the team is simply careening from one ad hoc roster move to another.

There is another way of looking at this, however, that does give some more credit to the Front Office. Suppose they finally figured out that blowing out the arms of minor league prospects was a big waste of effort and money. So new they've decided to get the best young prospects on the big league roster quickly, before their arms fall off. Thus, anticipating that Nageotte is destined to have a typical Mariners pitching propsect career-ending labrum tear, they realized they were gambling by keeping him in Tacoma. By bringing him up now, the team gets some use of him at the Major League level before the inevitable visit to the orthopod.

Don't laugh, it should be as good an explanation for the roster moves as anyone else can offer.

Update. Additional USS Mariner commentary:David also makes the comment:
By bringing up Bocachica, they've essentially swapped him for McCracken. They got Bocachica on a minor league contract, and paid $2 million for McCracken. Think anyone in the front office might learn the value of replacement level talent from this?
I doubt it, because the "IBM-type" model the Front Office uses doesn't see Bocachica and McCracken as comparable players. McCracken is a veteran with playoff experience, the type of player that "makes a difference" on a contending team. Replacing McCracken with a Bocachica is an admission that the team is not in contention, and the mission has changed to evaluating fringe players such as Bocachica.

But even with this move, we're still left wondering why Bocachica instead of Leone, Jacobsen, etc. Is Bocachica considered more worthy of a look because of he already has some big league service time? If you wanted to know more about the capabilities of the players at Tacoma (and you don't believe that minor league stats have any relevance), wouldn't it be more prudent to bring up players who don't have any major league track record?


Jays Fans Should Worry?

From the Toronto Star:
Halladay will be examined by a doctor in Seattle but is expected to make his next scheduled start, Sunday at Oakland.
If I were a Toronto fan, I would hope that he's not being examined by one of the Mariners skilled orthopods.

Thanks to Mariners Intelligence for the link.


Random Noise

Dave Pinto at Baseball Musings wrote a script that simulates the results of playing 45 games in 16 team league, each team playing every other team three times. The kick is, the teams are evenly matched, so in each game, either team has a 50% chance of winning. The script shows the won-loss record after playing the 45 games. You can refresh the page over and over to see what the ordinary, totally random spread is among teams that are perfectly matched.

Pinto makes the point that a singe 45-game stretch is not as defining as many fans want to believe.

Inspired by Dave, I did a similar effort looking at 150 ABs for a .300 batter. I ran 50 sets of 150 ABs; in each AB there was a 0.300 probability of getting a hit. When I did this , the maximum batting average out of the 50 sets was .380, the minimum was .227, the lower Quartile was .283., and the upper Quartile was .332. (Lower quartile means that 25% of the sets had a lower batting average than .283; upper Quartile means that 25% of the sets had a higher batting than .332. So 50% of the sets gave a batting average between .283 and .332; Similarly, in 50% of the sets the batting average was either higher than .331 or lower than .283.) You can download the spreadsheet here (100 kb zip file) if you would like to try it yourself. Each refresh or recalculation (press the F9 key in Excel) will produce a new set of results.

What's the point?

Small sample size - any 150 AB stretch is not enough to evaluate a hitter. Without being in either a slump or a hitting streak, a .300 hitter can reasonably be expected to post a BA anywhere between .260 and .340.

Looking at the data a bit differently, there is roughly a 1-in-4 chance that our .300 hitter will have an average below .270, as well as a 1-in-4 chance that his average will be over .330.

And a bigger point. Ordinary dumb luck plays a large role in the fortunes of a team. The Mariners of 2004 are really not as bad as their record to date. This year the Mariners are simply on the lower side of a number of random factors. Similarly, the Mariners of 2001 were not really a 116-win team; that season the random factors aligned in the Mariners favor.

How good (or bad) are the Mariners really? At the beginning of the season, in Mariner Musings Pick 7, I picked the Mariners to win 85 games, and the M's blogosphere overall predicted an 88-win season. Diamond Mind Baseball and Baseball Prospectus PECOTA predicted 87 and 85 wins, respectively. In reflecting on early season predictions, and where the Mariners have not met expectations, I think the overall predictions were a bit optimistic. If we were to restart the season now, knowing what we do now about the team, I would peg them at about 77 wins - 4 games under .500.

That also means that if the Mariners maintained essentially the current roster and had average luck from here forward, I would predict them to finish this season 72-90.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Frying the Clutch

Renowned clutch-hitter Scott Spiezio, takes a called third strike with a man on and one out, bottom of the ninth, Mariners down 6-5.


Many Rivas To Cross

I grew up a short distance from the old Met Stadium in Bloomington, MN, so the Twinkies are my #2 team. I try to keep up with them, mostly via Jon Bonnes (the TwinsGeek), Seth Stohs (of Seth Speaks), and Aaron Gleeman.

Both TwinsGeek and Gleeman are rejoicing that the Twins are giving Michael Cuddyer an extended look as second base. As Bonnes and Gleeman have mentioned at every possible opportunity, Rivas has pretty much sucked his entire career to date, but Gardenhire has played him everyday, and has used him extensively at the top of his lineup (about one-half of his PA's have come in either the #1 or #2 positions).

So how bad has Rivas been? First, let's look Rivas's offensive efforts. The table below shows his offensive output for his career:

Luis Rivas Batting Stats – 2000-2004

To put this in context, here are the league average offensive numbers for 2001-2003 for second basemen in the AL, and, for humor, the 2004 Mariners (through the first 50 games):

League Average Offense by AL Second Baseman: 2001-2003 and 2004 Mariners (through the first 50 games)
AL Average Second Baseman – 2001-2003.265.324.394.718
2004 Mariners (first 50 games).261.325.380.706

So we can see that Rivas has consistently been a crappy hitter, even as a second baseman. He hits about like the 2004 Mariners - mediocre average, no power, and little discipline.

But, you ask, doesn't Rivas make up for this with his great glove work and athleticism around second base? To get some grasp of Rivas's defensive prowess (or lack thereof) let's consider his UZR information. UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) determines an individual player's defensive efficiency from the number of plays made by a player and the number of balls hit in that player's portion of the field. UZR then compares that player's defensive efficiency with league average defensive efficiency. The player's defensive efficiency is then converted to runs saved per 162 games, as compared with the league average player at that position. A negative value for runs saved means the player is costing his team runs due to bad defense, as compared with a league average defensive second baseman. As with all data (including scouting reports), UZR has limitations, but UZR is probably the best objective measure of defensive capability. For a more complete explanation of UZR, see these references: What does UZR tell us? Rivas's year by year UZR rankings are below:

YearUZR Runs (per 162 games)

The following site, UZR, 2000-2003, has a weighted average of these UZR data by fielding position, with a minimum requirement of 120 games played at the position. The data are weighted as follows:
    2003: 1.0
    2002: 0.8
    2001: 0.6
    2002: 0.5
With this weighted average, Rivas's UZR score is a stunning -25 runs per 162 games, making him by far the worst defensive second baseman in the rankings. The next worst is Robby Alomar, at -14 runs per 162 games. So Rivas costs a team almost twice as many runs as the second worst defensive second baseman. Rivas has the same relative defensive craptitude as Mo Vaughan, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Ramon Santiago, and Travis Fryman.

But, you say, he is still only 24 years old, so his peak years are still ahead of him. Allowing for normal progress, shouldn't he project as a solid contributor? Using that approach we would expect to see continuing year-over-year improvement while the player in his early and mid-20's. As the offensive and defensive tables above show, however, Rivas has flatlined since he came into the big leagues. Because Rivas has not matched the normal pattern of progress for prospects since entering the majors, it's risky to assume he will suddenly switch to that pattern. Even so, if he did suddenly begin to follow that path at this point in his career, he probably wouldn't project as any better than average offensively, while still being a major defensive liability.

Rivas's only real asset is his ability to steal bases; in his career he has stolen 63 bases with a 74% success rate, which is probably why the Twins have given him so much time at the top of the order.

This is Rivas's fifth year in the big leagues. (2004 is either his fourth or fifth season of service time, depending on whether his 2000 activity counts as a year of eligibility. I don't know immediately what his status is.) He is on a $1.5 million one-year contract this season, and will probably get a substantial raise over that in arbitration. The Twins, at the least, are hedging against continuing to rely on Rivas. More likely, though, Terry Ryan is considering Cuddyer as a longer term, cheaper solution at second base.

Why am I spending so much time reviewing Rivas? It's because I have a bad feeling about this. Bavasi has gone on record as saying that the he wants the Mariners to get "younger and more athletic". Bavasi loves players who have tools, and disregards performance data that show a player can't do anything with those tools. Speed and stolen bases fit right into the "little ball", "playing the game right" philosophies of the Mariners brain trust. Bavasi does poorly at evaluating defensive values and contributions, as indicated by the mess he made of the Mariners defense and his belief in the defensive worth of similar toolsy players (such as Ramon Santiago). The Mariners Front Office also has a track record of obtaining similar young players whose teams are ready to dump them after losing patience (see Davis, Ben).

Rivas seems to align almost perfectly with Bavasi's preferences and the team's weaknesses in evaluating players. If Bavasi is going to stop signing veteran players and get younger and more athletic on the 25-man roster, Rivas appears to be the type of player Bavasi would want.

Trade speculation involving the Twins and the Mariners has started. There are certainly good fits between the teams, with the Twins glut of good hitting outfielders/corner infielders matching with the Mariners pitching depth. But what if Terry Ryan asks for Bret Boone, and dangles Rivas as part of a package? Might the Mariners be interested in picking up Rivas in a package?

As I said, I've got a bad feeling about this. Instead of riffing Jimmy Cliff in the title, perhaps I should have used some CCR "Bad Moon Rising".

Added Note:

My comments about Rivas are, of course, pure speculation. But with the Mariners emphasis on tools over performance when evaluating young players, Rivas appears to be exactly the type of player connoted by “younger and more athletic”. Astute GMs will use this as an opportunity to relieve themselves of toolsy players who they’ve concluded aren’t ever going to pull it all together.

Monday, May 31, 2004


Bring Back Kaz!

Here's the roster change most Mariner fans should be hoping for - Bring Back Kaz!

Most of us in the blogosphere completely misunderstood the impact of Kaz returning to Japan. As long as Kaz was around, he was the closer. Since Kaz was only the third or fourth best relief pitcher, that meant that the good relief pitchers (for the previous several years that was Nelson and Rhodes) were used in critical situations in the 7th and 8th innings. Because Kaz's return to Japan made Guardado the closer, Guardado does not get used in critical situations except when Melvin feels he doesn't have a choice.

Imagine how today's game plays out if Kaz is still around. Instead of Hasegawa starting the 8th, Guardado comes in. Guardado takes care of the 8th inning, and Kaz merely has to hold onto a two run lead in the ninth to record his save.

How about that? With Melvin's bullpen management, bringing back a worse pitcher might actually make the team perform better.

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