Mariners Musings

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

Friday, November 21, 2003

Can he play the guitar, though?

The world weighs in on Raul Ibanez: There's Aaron Gleeman (in the second half of the post), Seth Stohs of Seth Speaks, Bryan Smith of Wail 'Til Next Year, David Pinto of Baseball Musings and Christian the Transaction Guy.

Let's get a couple of things straight on Raul Ibanez and the Mariners. As a club, the Mariners are after a certain culture, shall we say, with their ballplayers. Solid character. Community involvement. Family guy. Toes the company line. Also, local ties are a big plus. See Jamie Moyer. See Dan Wilson. See John Olerud. See Mark McLemore. See Willie Bloomquist. See Jeff Nelson shipped out.

Look me in the eye and tell me the Mariner PR department did not hit a home run with the signing of Raul Ibanez. He loves Safeco. His wife loves Seattle. Raul Jr. sat on dad's lap for the press conference. Now just what message does that send to Mariner fans?

There's a niche of fans who want to see a World Series in Seattle, that want to see the team improve on the field with every transaction with numbers to back that up. Cost be damned. Image and tools and chemistry, clutch and batting average be damned.

There's another niche of fans who simply want a wholesome entertainment option for the whole family, who want to point their kids to noble role models. It should come as no shock to day-in-day-out Mariner fans who Howard Lincoln & Co. are catering to.

Oh the Mariners know where the money is. And it's not in the pockets of the twenty-something, single, stathead guy (or gal) with season tickets. It's in the pockets of every mom and dad with jelly-faced T-ballers.

Don't get me wrong. I admire ballplayers of integrity and character, who involve themselves in the community, who can be role models for kids. I think the ability the clearly articulate oneself tactfully with a horde of media microphones in one's face is a crucial talent in the culture of baseball. But if all that does not translate onto the ballfield and the win/lose column, there's a problem. It's perfectly fine for nice guys to perform well. It's not fine for critical fans to sit back and watch as your team hands out ludicrous contracts to nice guys while ignoring their performance on the field, sacrificing quality of the product for the image of the organization. Come on, Bill Bavasi, this isn't a Sunday School softball league. This is Major League Baseball.

Do you really think Miguel Tejada, who screams the f-bomb every time he strikes out, loud enough to hear on a nationally televised game, fits the Seattle Mariner culture? We'll see.

Certainly Raul Ibanez does. And while it's a poor acquisition in the short-term, for the simple reason there is other, cheaper and equivalent to better talent available, it's also a disappointing acquisition for the long-term. It greatly disrupts the career of Chris Snellling in a Mariner uniform. Snelling is the top hitting prospect in the Mariner system, and while he's just about to turn 22, he's less than the 3 Ibanez years removed from being major league-ready. I was hoping they could start to break Snelling in at some point mid-to-late next year, but that doesn't look too likely with the current logjam in the outfield. He'll be turning 25 when Ibanez's contract expires, so his Mariner career may not be completely wasted. He could just be hitting his stride by then, but it's a shame if he has to sit and twiddle his thumbs for three years in Tacoma.

Wouldn't it be great if in three years we could look back and say, "Boy, were we ever wrong about Raul Ibanez. That was the greatest free agent signing in franchise history." It's nice to be wrong sometimes. A year ago, I was convinced the Marlins were looney to bring in Ivan Rodriguez. Now, the definitive image of the 2003 season is J.T. Snow facedown on homeplate, Pudge pumping that ball and fist triumphantly in the air. It's kind of nice when Baseball gives the stathead pundits the finger. It's nice to see something extraordinarily unexpected. It's nice to be surprised. Sometimes it's nice to be wrong, but at this point for me it's little more than wishful thinking. Come back in a year, better yet, three years.

At this point, all eyes need to be turned to the Mike Cameron front. He is their #1 free agent to acquire now. Contrary to popular belief, his hitting is not deteriorating in Safeco. Over the last three years, his OPS in Seattle has gone from .669 to .704 to .758 last year. He's actually getting better at home. If you remember, in 2002 Cammie was suffering an adverse reaction with his contact lens, which the Mariners took their sweet, blessed time in addressing, and this inhibited his ability to see the ball, especially at home. Cameron was also one of the biggest critics of the hitters' backdrop in centerfield. Perhaps his increase in production at home had something to with that changing in mid season last year. I don't know. That's a question only Cammie can answer.

Another Cameron fallacy is he's not "clutch." Hey, I get nervous seeing Cameron come up with runners on base in a game-crucial situation. And I'm heart broken watching him work the count 3-0, then watch strike three roll right over the plate to end the inning. But let's not forget April 22, when Cammie took Denys Baez deep for a walk-off grand slam to beat the Indians. The fact of the matter is Mike Cameron hit .293/.401/.503 with 17 XBH in 147 AB with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Mariners hit .297/.381/.453. So Cammie was better than the team average with runners in scoring position. Edgar, Ichiro, Boone and Winn also posted +.900 OPS in the same situation.

Make the situation scoring position with 2 outs and Cammie hit .288/.382/.379 with just 5 XBH in 66 AB. That's below the team average of .287/.398/.410, and just a tad below his total 2003 line. But it is just 66 at bats.

In Close and Late situations--"results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck," which is the best standardized "clutch" definition I know--Cammie hit .246/.346/.464 with 7 XBH in 69 AB, better than the team .243/.318/.374, and better than his total averages from 2003. Only Edgar had a better OPS for the Mariners in that situation (.831 to .809) than Cammie.

The statement "Mike Cameron is a poor clutch hitter" is a false one, and the Mariners need to make him an offer he can't refuse. Now.
|| Peter @ 11/21/2003

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head

I survived yesterday's nor'easter. The floodwaters are waning. The sun is back out today.

All that to segue to the raindrops, a sabermetrically-inclined Mets blog, where well over a week ago the idea of attrition rate was introduced. Pitches per plate appearances is a statistic that intrigues me. I love the chess match of every at bat. Attrition is the best word for it. First to make a mistake--hang a curveball, swing at a pitch out of the strike zone--loses. The ability for a hitter to control the at bat, to be patient for his pitch, to not give in to a pitcher's bait, to force the pitcher to give him what he wants--that I think is the skill I most admire in a baseball game. Watching at bats by guys like Edgar Martinez and Nick Johnson are the highlight of a game for me.

After Moneyball, one of the great misunderstandings of Oakland's hitting philosophy, that I saw, was the emphasis on walks. I don't think Beane & Co. are about walks at all. A base on balls is simply a by product of the hitter controlling the at bat and waiting for the pitcher's mistake. A hitter either waits for four pitches outside the strikezone or just one misplaced fastball grooved over the heart of the plate.

While P/PA has a general correlatiion with OPS, you run into a problem with guys like Pat Burrell and Robbie Alomar, who saw more than 4 pitches per at bat but posted OPS's below league average, and guys like Garrett Anderson and Vernon Wells, who are at the bottom of the pack in terms of P/PA but were some of the league's best hitters.

Attrition rate seeks to represent just how many pitches it would take a pitcher to record 18 outs (a typical 6-inning appearance by a starter) against a lineup of one single hitter. In other words, it would take 124.56 pitches to get through 6 innings of Edgar Martinez. Mr. Raindrops calculated the attrition rates of 240 players for last year, the max being 147.65 (think Barry Bonds), the minimum being 74.61 (think Deivi Cruz), and the average just below 100. He also gives the obvious disclaimer that this number is more interesting than useful, at the moment, but interesting it is.

Here's how our Mariners fared in 2003:

Edgar Martinez - 124.56
Bret Boone - 106.77
John Olerud - 106.59
Carlos Guillen - 104.78
Mike Cameron - 104.12
Randy Winn - 95.06
Ichiro - 94.74
Rey Sanchez - 81.46 (with Mets & Mariners)

Everyone's favorite new Mariner [sound of various office supplies crashing against the wall] Raul Ibanez records a 104.95.

I'm on my own calculating the rest of our cast:
Jeff Cirillo - 90.72
Willie Bloomquist - 94.14
Ben Davis - 87.84
Dan Wilson - 84.06

Essentially, the Mariner lineup featured one superb patient hitter, four (now five) that clumped together just above average, one just below average, one pretty far below average, and one very poor. The options off the bench were inexcusable.

Some of the names being tossed around the Mariner rumor mills/wishlists:
Matt Stairs - 116.20 (still an awesome bench/platoon option - what're you waiting for, Bill?)
John Vander Wal - 112.46
Trot Nixon - 111.94
Carlos Beltran - 109.71
Jose Cruz - 106.68 (pipedreams now, I know)
Joe Randa - 103.88
Geoff Jenkins - 103.73
Miggy Tejada - 101.27
Vlad Guerrero - 96.25 (sigh)

Couple notes on Tejada: The Coliseum was a much more severe pitcher's park even than Safeco. That's something to think about. I say Tejada's a better option than Matsui, but both will be priced far beyond what their actual value will be. I say keep Guillen at short, sign a defensive specialist like Pokey Reese to spot him 40 games (he'll come cheap) and think about Joe Randa on a two-year lease. It's far more cost-effective than either Matsui or Tejada. Then again, the M's have a poor track record with .290-hitting third-basemen from severe hitter's parks.
|| Peter @ 11/20/2003

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"My name's Bonds... Barry Bonds."

"This is a stem
Of that victorious stock; and let us fear
The native mightiness and fate of him" (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 2, scene IV)

Six Most Valuable Player awards. For crying out loud. Has anyone in history had a three-year span on par with Barry Bonds from 2001-2003? I don't know, but I do know that his numbers are truly awesome (National League average based on 858 outs in parentheses).

Batting average - .345 (.268) Todd Helton is 2nd at .341.
On-base percentage - .542 (.340) Jason Giambi is 2nd at .441.
Slugging percentage - .808 (.433) Helton and Sammy Sosa are 2nd at .631.
On-base + slugging - 1.349 (.773) Helton is 2nd at 1.071.
Isolated slugging - .463 (.165) Jim Thome is 2nd at .335.
Secondary average - .894 (.276) Thome is 2nd at .549.
Home runs - 164 (36) Alex Rodriguez is 2nd with 156.
Extra base hits - 254 (102) Helton is 1st with 265, while Bonds is 4th.
Walks - 523 (113) Giambi is 2nd with 367.
Runs created - 599 (164) Helton is 2nd with 481
Runs created/game - 18.85 (5.17) Helton is 2nd at 10.72.
Offensive winning percentage - .923 (.500) Giambi is 2nd at .791.
Stolen bases/caught stealing - 29/5 (19/9)

It's remarkable that Barry Bonds has dominated each these categories. What's absolutely jaw-dropping is how much better Bonds has been than the 2nd best guy. You take an entire lineup of Barry Bondses and play them against a lineup of league average, not replacement level, league average National Leaguers (against league average pitching), and the Bondses beat the tar out of them 19-5 on average. Take that same team and play them against a lineup of nine 2001-2003 Todd Heltons, the 2nd best player, and the Bondses win 19-11.

His OPS is 26% better than the next guy. He created 25% more runs than the next guy. Not only that, he created 25% more runs for his teams while consuming nearly 400 outs fewer (Bonds 858 vs. Helton 1211), or 29%, than the 2nd best guy.

Barry Bonds is good. Very good. Victorious stock indeed.

I couldn't resist Sports Nation's poll. And these are the thoughts that trickles through my brain:

"1. Do you like Barry Bonds?"

Well, I guess so. I can't say I really know the guy. He looks genuinely irriated by the media, and I know I would be, too, if I was asked those same insipid questions. Is he a guy I'd shoot pool with, down a couple of cold ones and go see the latest Will Ferrell flick with? I can't honestly say.

"2. Do you want Bonds (658 career home runs) to break Hank Aaron's career home run record (755)?"

Absolutely. I want to see remarkably accomplishments in my lifetime. No disrespect to Mr. Aaron.

"3. Which is the most impressive single-season HR mark?"

Compared to the outs used up, Bonds's 2001 was 58 above league average, McGwire's 1999 was 56 above league average, and Ruth's 1927 was 55 above league average. Compared to plate appearances, Ruth's 1927 was 54 above average while with Bonds, McGwire and Ruth's own 1921 were all 52 above average. I go with Bonds 2001.

"4. Which Bonds stat is most impressive?"

Bonds is third all-time in home runs above average. He's fifth all-time in on-base above average. His slugging is sixth all-time above average. He doesn't even show up in the top 10 in stolen bases. It's the home runs, man. Chicks dig the long ball.

"5. What about that earring?"

What kind of question is this? Can you even imagine Bonds without that earring?

"6. When it's all said and done, whose career will be more impressive?"

Alex's batting line at age 28 is .308/.382/.581 with 345 home runs and 559 walks. Through age 28, Bonds was hitting .283/.391/.526 with 222 home runs and 737 walks. Alex is a shortstop and Barry is a leftfielder. And Alex got a 3-year head start.

"7. Are Bonds' accomplishments tainted by the suspicion that he has used performance-enhancing drugs?"


"8. World Series, Game 7, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, and your team is leading the Giants 5-3. Bonds comes up to bat. What do you do?"

How many outs, and who's on deck? Zero outs, you have to pitch to Bonds. You don't put the winning run in scoring position with no outs. One or two outs with Benito Santiago coming up, no doubt, you walk him. Heck, with Edgardo Alfonzo or A.J. Pierzynski coming up, you still walk him.

"9. Who is the greatest player ever?"

Ruth. That is until Bonds wins a Cy Young Award.

Oh, and Raul Ibanez is a Mariner again. Whoop-de-friggin'-do. I expounded my opinion of Ibanez last Thursday. Maybe Bret Boone can sprinkle some second-time-around-pixie-dust on him.

If you haven't seen it already, Mike Thompson has an excellent comparison of Ibanez and Randy Winn. I can't help but echo Bremertonian Dave's sentiments: "Why can't a bunch of Mariners go to a Vlad Guerrero party and try to get him to come to Seattle?"
|| Peter @ 11/19/2003

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Lil' Matsui's comin', lil' Matsui's comin'

It’s a gray, foggy day and I’m waiting for a muse like lightening to strike. It’s not too unlike how I remember Seattle, though it seems a bit darker. No rain, yet. Though the weatherman says all hell is supposed to break loose tomorrow. Rain in sheets. A billowing, blustery "Winds"day, just like from Winnie the Pooh. It’s 8:30 and the lights in the parking lot across the street are still on.

Kaz Matsui has officially thrown his hat in the free agent pool. It’s a mere formality to what’s been assumed for sometime now. Finnigan seems to be quite pessimistic. The M’s are mum.

Now, would I rather have a 28-year-old, switch-hitter with a solid glove and some speed who will be on the Nintendo payroll and making league adjustments? Or a 28-year-old, switch-hitting, consistent but slap hitter with a rusty glove and a penchant for nagging injuries at a price of $2.5 million plus arbitration? Or a “28-year-old” slugging, right-hander with no patience at the plate, superb glove, seeking a long-term contract at probably no less than $8 million a season?

I think I’d like to take my chances with option #1. I reserve the right the change my mind, though. And of course, ESPN provides all the hype money can buy. (“One MLB executive: He's the real deal”) Yeah, okay. Good to hear he’s not a “fake deal.” Probably one of Peter Gammons’s sources.

Here are Matsui’s rate stats (AVG/OBP/SLG) the past three years:

Age 25 - .308/.365/.496
Age 26 - .332/.389/.617
Age 27 - .305/.368/.549

To compare here’s Ichiro’s three last seasons in Japan along with his first one in Seattle:

Age 24 - .358/.414/.518
Age 25 - .343/.412/.539
Age 26 - .387/.460/.539
Age 27 - .350/.381/.457 (USA)

And then there’s Godzilla:

Age 26 - .316/.438/.654
Age 27 - .333/.463/.617
Age 28 - .334/.461/.692
Age 29 - .287/.353/.435 (USA)

Ichiro’s batting average dropped nearly .040. His on-base dropped about .080, and his slugging dipped about .080. Like Ichiro, Godzilla’s numbers dropped across the board, but they didn’t just drop, they jumped off a cliff. His average was down about .050. He lost nearly .090 on his on-base and .160 in his slugging. That’s huge. Think of a universe where Barry Bonds turns into Tino Martinez. That was the difference between Hideki Matsui’s power in Japan and the US. Now, whether that was an aberration, just adjusting to American baseball, or a beginning of a career decline, it will take several years to see.

So what is reasonable to expect from Kaz Matsui? Well, he’s a year older than Ichiro was when he came to America and a year younger than Hideki. As far as skill sets go, he’s far more similar to Ichiro than Hideki. He’s a flashy defender with speed. Hideki’s game is power, so I wouldn’t imagine such a dramatic falloff for Kaz. Contrary to all the reports, his power is pretty comparable to Ichiro’s, with the exception of his 2002 season when he slugged .617 with 36 homers. Last year he slugged just .549 with 33 homeruns. He had 14 fewer hits, so I’m guessing his doubles dropped by a bit as well.

So, just non-scientifically, eye-balling the numbers, I think .270/.320/.450 is a reasonable expectation. I know, it’s not overwhelming. It’s not what the hype would have us believe. I wouldn't use him as a leadoff hitter. I wouldn't let him near the top of the lineup with that on-base. I would almost rather keep Mr. Glass, as he’s pretty much guaranteed to post similar numbers with a higher on-base. Guillen AND a defensive sub like Pokey Reese will both come much cheaper than the inevitable auction for the services of Mr. Matsui.

And while he’d be an upgrade on defense at short, if the Mariners remain such an extreme flyball pitching staff next year, upgrading the infield defense is just not that important.

If the Angels want to sink payroll into Matsui, I think I’d just as soon let them.

It’s not what I was expecting to conclude, either.
|| Peter @ 11/18/2003

Monday, November 17, 2003

A Case of the Mondays

There is no new Mariners news this morning. Not a drop. Thus, the cold reality of winter slaps me in the face. How many more days until pitchers and catchers report? 94?

On Friday, Edward of Bambino’s Curse offered up the following:

On this subject, do you ever reflect on what kind of player you'd be if you were gifted enough to make the Show? I bet you do. I do it all the time. And I don't mean so much imagining what kind of player you'd be physically or technically but rather how would your demeanor, attitude, quotes to the beat reporters etc. be perceived by the fans?
While I'm certain we all like to envision ourselves as the ultimate team player and all around good guy and fan favorite, I suspect that really wouldn't be the case for many of us and I certainly include myself in this latter grouping.

Me too. Without a doubt. In fact, I’ve been churning through Jim Bouton’s Ball Four this past week and one anecdote especially jumped out at me.

But before I share that, here’s a little insight into my own baseball career to give you some context. My first season of Little League was at the age of 9. I didn’t get “drafted” (however that system worked), so I didn’t join a team until about midway through the season. Tt was a 10-year-old team at that, and they’d been together since the 6-and-under T-ball league. When you’re 9, those 10-year-olds are huge, and they might as well be throwing 100 miles per hour.

I remember my very first at bat. I dug in. Tapped the plate with the bat. Took a couple of practice half swings. Imagined I was Pete Incaviglia. The pitcher hit me square in the back. He must have gotten the memo I was the rookie. I stole second. Getting the uniform dirty was the best part of little league. Then I scored on a grounder between the shorstop’s legs that I made some awkward hurdle-style leap over on my way to third.

That entire first year I only made contact with the ball once. It was a check swing foul ball. It sailed far past the infield. If only I’d followed through on that swing. For the entire season I only walked, or I struck out. As I progressed, though, I did finally get a hit, maybe a couple. I never did hit a home run. Even after they moved the fences in. My budding dream to be a major leaguer ended at 13 when I actually had to try out for the 14-and-under league. I hit like Rey Sanchez and ran the bases like John Olerud. I was the fifth outfielder, the 11th man on an 11-man team.

Not soon after came the realization that for those who can't hit the long ball, chicks also dig a guitar player.

So that’s where I’m coming from when I share this. While I might first imagine myself as some clone of Michael Lewis’s portrayal of Scott Hatteberg in Moneyball, trying to intellectualize every at bat, I think deep down I imagine myself a ballplayer like Ted Williams.

In the bullpen tonight Jim Pagliaroni was telling us how Ted Williams, when he was still playing, would psyche himself up for a game during batting practice, usually early practice before the fans or reporters got there.

He’d go into the cage, wave his bat at the pitcher and start screaming at the top of his voice, “My name is Ted f**king Williams and I’m the greatest hitter in baseball.”

He’d swing and hit a line drive.

“Jesus H. Christ Himself couldn’t get me out.”

And he’d hit another.

Then he’d say, “Here comes Jim Bunning, Jim F**king Bunning and that little shit slider of his.”


“He doesn’t really think he’s gonna get me out with that shit.”


“I’m Ted f**king Williams.”

Sock! (p. 232)

So I planned to visit the batting cages over the weekend. I had this routine planned out. I’d wave my bat at the pitching machine: “I’m Peter f**king White and I’m the greatest hitter in baseball!” I’m sure the kids would love that. “Billy Wagner thinks he can sneak that 100-mph heater by me, I’ll yank it foul.” Wham! Line drive. “Here’s Barry Zito. I’ll take that 12-6 curveball and cram it right back up his ass.” Blam! Shot up the middle. “And Pedro Martinez? I’ll show that scrawny prima dona what tired feels like.” Sock! “I’m Peter f**king White and I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” Ker-plowie!

I chickened out, though. Too cold for batting cages. I’m a wus when it comes to cold. I much preferred November in Seattle to that of the east coast. Maybe when it warms up.

But yeah, I’d be Ted motherf**king Williams.
|| Peter @ 11/17/2003