Mariners Musings

Musings about, um... well, the Seattle Mariners as well as a love affair with this game baseball. By Peter J. White

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


It's pop quiz time. And in your favorite multiple choice format, too.

You are the General Manger, and you have just lost one of your promising starters for the next 4-6 weeks. You choose to fill the 5th spot in your rotation with: (Choose only one of the following)

Pitcher A - ERA 3.84 H/9 9.06 WHIP/9 12.30 SO/9 4.57 BB/9 2.99 SO/BB 1.53 HR/9 0.89
Pitcher B - ERA 2.99 H/9 6.98 WHIP/9 11.13 SO/9 11.38 BB/9 4.07 SO/BB 2.80 HR/9 0.58

The above are 2002 stats. Which one did you choose? Was it the pitcher with the lower ERA, who gives up fewer hits, allows fewer baserunners, strikes out more than twice the number of batters, and gives up fewer home runs? Did we mention you only have to pay Pitcher B the minimum salary? Well, it seems Terry Ryan, GM for the Minnesota Twins, has chosen Pitcher A, better known as the 38-year-old Kenny Rogers, for a one-year $2 million contract, over Pitcher B, 24-year-old Johan Santana, to fill Eric Milton's shoes for 4-6 weeks, thus bumping Santana back to the pen where he was last year. Something is wrong with this picture. The best I can figure is the Twins are trying to pull a Joel Piniero with Santana, the old "he's more valuable in long relief than in the rotation" crap that the Mariners pulled with Piniero for the first month of last year. Maybe there's something with Johan the Twins just don't like (health issues, attitude), but being just a year removed from the contraction scare and the supposed financial restrictions of the Twin Cities market, this is exactly the kind of move the Twins can't afford to make, paying 10 times the salary to bring in a "proven veteran" when you've got young talent that's twice as good already in the system. The best Santana can hope for is to prove his worth in the bullpen and fill in when the next Twins starter goes down, like Piniero last year. And if they're still drinking the same water they were last year amongst the Minnesota pitching staff, he may still be in the rotation come Opening Day.

|| Peter @ 3/12/2003

Monday, March 10, 2003

Preseason Predictions: Part 3 – NL West

The NL West featured the best penant race in the National League last year, the Cy Young and runner-up, the MVP (not to mention the most superhuman baseball player of my limited lifetime) and the Rookie of the Year. What wasn’t to like? 2003 should bring more of the same, though I believe that Arizona’s age and San Francisco’s changes, they should flip-flop in the standings this year…

Step with me if you will into the WayBack Machine to, oh, let’s say Last Tuesday, March 4. Here’s what Will Carroll of Under the Knife at Baseball Prospectus had to say about Phil Nevin:

“I'll either look like a genius or moron with this, but I expect Nevin to have some sort of season-ending injury in the early stages of the season.” (http://premium.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1680)

I’ll have to go with either genius or Voodoo witch doctor, Will. Because just three days later, Nevin dives for a sac fly from the bat of Brian Daubach and dislocates his left shoulder (luckily, he is a righty). According to ESPN.com, he is out indefinitely. Reports now sound like the whole season. Not good one bit for the Padres. This comes while Bochy and Co. are still reeling from the news that Super Closer Trevor Hoffman is out till the All-Star break and probably for the season. This is not a good start, to say the least, for a team that finished 2002, ranked 27th in run differential, behind the lowly Royals. How’s that for perspective? The offense scored 662 runs, 27th place between the Orioles and Pirates. Nevin only played 107 games, mostly hurt. Ryan Klesko proved steady as ever. He posted a .925 OPS. That’s 4 years straight of .900+. Behind that, the lineup was nil. Ready for the good news? The farm system is stocked like my mother-in-law’s Y2K pantry. Sean Burroughs’s 2002 campaign was an aberration. Xavier Nady will see at bats in Nevin’s absence. And remember the names Tagg Bozied (dare you to forget it), Khalil Greene (SS) and Jake Gautreau (2B). They are the future of the Padres, probably 2005, maybe they’ll get call ups by the end of this year.

The pitching is the same sad story. They allowed 815 runs, 22nd between the White Sox and Brewers. Most notably, they sent… hold on I’m counting… I’m running out of fingers and toes… 37 pitchers to the mound in 2002. I think I remember reading that was a record. Hoffman’s gone for the season, and the rotation is looking like Brian Lawrence, Adam Eaton, Jake Peavy, Oliver Perez and Kevin Jarvis. Every hear of them? Well, you will. Think Zito-Hudson-Mulder. Led by Peavy (age 22, 4.52 ERA, 8.52 SO/9 in 97 innings last year) and Perez (age 21, 3.50 ERA, 9.40 SO/9 in 90 innings) the Padres are set dominate, just not this year. But mark my words, with this talented, young core-and-a-half and the revenue stream of Petco Park in 2004, San Diego is set to conquer their geriatric NL West for the later half of this decade and into the next.

This is not the year the Rocks figure out how to win in mile-high Denver. Last year they finished 24th in run differential, comparable to the Pirates and Orioles. The offense scored 778 runs, 12th place, which puts them about even with the Giants and Twins where it comes to the bat. Now, when you think about it, 12th place when you play half your games in Denver just doesn’t cut it. The good news is they featured two 1.000+ OPS hitters in Larry Walker and Todd Helton. The bad news is the next highest OPS on the team (with at least 300 at bats) was Todd Zeile (.778), then Brent Butler (.699) and Juan Pierre (.675). Heck, among all the Rockies with any at-bats Mike Hampton ranked fifth at .869. Maybe they should’ve tried to make him a third baseman. Luckily, changes have been made and this lineup will no not be Walker, Helton and the 7 Dwarves. Zeile is gone. Preston Wilson, Jose Hernandez and Charles Johnson are in. Now if the Rockies can give up the infatuation with Juan Uribe at short, play Hernandez there instead of third, and Greg Norton at third, then the offense is significantly upgraded. Hernandez and Wilson are notorious for striking out, but when they make contact, they make contact.

Now on the mound, it was business as usual for the Rockies. The defense allowed 898 runs, 29th in baseball; just 7 better than the Royals inexperienced staff and merely 20 better than Tampa Bay. The good news is that Mike Hampton is gone. That’s addition by subtraction. The big surprise of course was Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings. Who knew the Rockies could develop pitching talent? Denny Stark was also impressive going 11-4, coming over in the Jeff Cirillo trade. It was enough to make us wince here in Seattle every time Cirillo grounded out or James Baldwin took the mound. Still, Stark’s SO/BB ratio is alarming at 1.00, so don’t expect a repeat performance this year. Like some many other comparable teams, the Rockies have no plan, just seeming to grab a collection of players, throw them against the wall and see what sticks. With San Diego’s youth movement, Colorado should avoid the basement for one more year. That’s really too bad for Helton and Walker.

Is there any greater oxymoron in baseball currently than “Dodger Tradition?” Amazingly, the Dodgers ended the season ranked 10th in run differential, and stayed in the wild card race until mid September. How, only Jim Tracy knows. I wouldn’t pin it on the offense, which scored 713 runs, in league with the Expos and Phillies. Shawn Green hit four homers in a game and compiled a season of .285/.385/.558. However, Green is the only scary bat in this lineup. Dave Roberts came out of nowhere to post a .353 on base percentage and provide spark at the top of the lineup. Fred McGriff, though past his prime, is now in town, and even an average season from him will be a mountain improvement over Eric Karros since shipped to the Cubs. At the hot corner, Adrian Beltre posted a .646 OPS the first half, survived the trading deadline, and finished strong with a .829 OPS. This may finally be the year Beltre breaks out, maybe. He is only 24.

The Dodgers’ strength last year surprisingly was one the mound, where they only allowed 643 runs, 3rd in all of baseball, behind only the Giants and Braves. That despite losing their #1 and #2 starters for pretty much the entire season. Odalis Perez, acquired in the Gary Sheffield trade with Atlanta, won 15 games, posted a 3.00 ERA and struck out batters at a rate of 6.27 per 9 innings. Moved from the rotation the bullpen, Eric Gagne was the story of the year, with 52 saves, a 1.97 ERA and 7.13 SO/9. It is yet to be seen how Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort will rebound, but even a shell of the former Brown will be dominating. The Dodgers can compete in this division. That’s just not a promise.

Riding on the backs of the two best pitchers in baseball right now, the Diamondbacks finished the season 7th in run differential, tied with St. Louis behind the Athletics. Their offense dominated the National League with 819 runs, ranking 6th in baseball between the Rangers and Mariners. Luis Gonzalez again carried the punch of the lineup, though his home runs dropped from 57 to 28. You could easily say that his late season shoulder injury cost Arizona their chance of repeating their 2001 champion status. Junior Spivey broke out batting .301/.389/.476. Not bad at all for a second baseman not named Jeff Kent. The Diamondbacks had one of the better benches in baseball with Erubial Durazo (.944 OPS in 222 at-bats) and Greg Colbrunn (1.004 OPS in 171 at bats). But they traded Durazo to Oakland where he’ll play everyday, and Colbrunn left with bench coach Bob Melvin to Seattle where he’ll beef up the Mariners’ anemic bench and be Edgar Martinez’s heir apparent. So now the Arizona bench consists of the ghosts of $10 million Matt Williams and Mark Grace. Didn’t they play against each other in the ’89 playoffs? Then there’s Steve Finley who hit 25 home runs last year at the age of 36. How long will he last?

On the mound, the Diamondbacks are nothing but dominant, if only 2 out of 5 slots in the rotation. But hey, having the 4-time reigning Cy Young champ and his runner-up on the mound for 40% of your games is a pretty dang good thing. The Diamondbacks allowed 674 runs, 8th in baseball, between Boston and Houston. Randy Johnson posted his best season at the age of 38 with 24 wins, a 2.32 ERA and 11.56 SO/9 winning his fourth consecutive Cy Young award. Interestingly, his strikeouts per nine figure was his lowest since 1994. Curt Schilling, matching him start for start, had otherworldly control as he flirted throughout the season having more wins than walks. He seemed to tire in September and finished with 33 walks and 23 wins. The rest of the rotation was merely human. Rich Helling ate his usual 200 innings and then they let him go. Byung-Hyun Kim was very effective from the bullpen with a 2.04 ERA. There’s talk of moving him to the rotation, and personally I think he’ll be much better than Elmer Dessens as the third starter. You can’t ask for more from Johnson and Schilling, but the rest of the staff can certainly improve. Age is the worrisome factor, as it was last year. This is the year the bolts start to rattle unmercifully before the wheels fly off the cart in Arizona. Hopefully, the Diamondbacks will hold it together through most of the season.

Was there anything more exciting than the first 7 seven innings of Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. It was in the bag. A mere nine outs in the hands of one of the strongest bullpens of the game last year. It was a great game. Even greater for Anaheim fans, though. The Giants finished the season 4th in run differential between the Yankees and Braves, despite finishing second behind the Diamondbacks in the standings. The Giants scored 783 runs, ranked 11th between the Cardinals and Rockies, all thanks to one man: Barry Bonds. As mentioned in my Pirates note about Brian Giles, Barry Bonds created 206 runs himself, so 26%, or a little more than 1 in every 4, of the runs the Giants scored were a direct result of Barry Bonds. Over the last 3 years, Bonds has posted an OPS of 1.295, 200 points higher than #2 Jason Giambi. After breaking the records for home runs and slugging percentage in 2001, he broke the record for walks in a single season and hit his 600th career homerun. Did I mention he won the batting title? What’s next, the ERA crown? Barry makes me think of that X-Files episode “The Unnatural” where Mulder investigates whether the greatest players in baseball history were really aliens. Come on, just go ahead and give him the 2003 MVP. As for the rest of the lineup, major overhaul from 2002. Gone are 2000 MVP Jeff Kent, Reggie Sanders, Kenny Lofton and David Bell. Come to town are Ray Durham (perhaps the single most underrated second baseman in baseball), Marquis Grissom, Jose Cruz, Jr., and Edgardo Alfonzo. Not to mention the exchange of Dusty Baker for Felipe Alou. Depending on how Alou fashions the lineup, this could be a better offense team than last year. Durham posted a .374 OBP last year so should have plenty of scoring opportunities provided the guys between him and Bonds don’t make outs. And if Alfonzo bats behind Bonds instead of Santiago, he could very well lead the league in RBIs.

Perhaps overshadowed by the presence of Bonds, the Giants pitching staff allowed only 616 runs, 2nd only to the mighty Atlanta Braves. Unlike the Diamondbacks, the Giants had a very balanced rotation and staff. Kirk Rueter, Jason Schmidt and Russ Ortiz all posted sub 4.00 ERAs, and Robb Nen, Tim Worrell and Jay Witasick anchored a very strong bullpen. Ortiz is gone to Atlanta for Damian Moss. The Giants have two excellent pitching prospects in Kurt Ainsworth and Jesse Foppert to round out this year’s rotation. Livan Hernandez is the weak link. Everything hangs on how Felipe Alou handles a revamped team that was mere outs from being the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Despite all of the talk these past years from Bud Selig about competitive balance, the National League has been represented by a different team every year since the Braves in 1995-96. The league is wide open in 2003, but in my opinion the Giants are the team to beat in the Senior Circuit.

Next week… AL East
|| Peter @ 3/10/2003