Mariners Musings

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Fun (yes, fun) with numbers

Go read Derek's freebie at Prospectus. Derek gets it. He gets it better than most. He gets it in a way I only wish the dolts in the offices at First and Royal Brougham would.

But if you really want to chase a pitcher out of the game, don't make outs. That sounds stupid, but I'm entirely serious...

If a team's intent is to seize on the minor advantage of facing middle relief, it's important to realize that getting more pitches is never more important than hitting those pitches. And that's what good hitters do: work the count in their favor, so they can reach a favorable hitter's count and whack the ensuing fat pitch. The best-hitting teams are the ones that pile patience together with batting ability. Sounds simple, yet too many teams still struggle with the concept.

Then there's his little impassioned plea on his blog: "A team has 27 outs, and not making outs is how you score runs. OBP is the life of an offense."

Can I hear an "Amen!"? Can I get a witness in the house tonight?

If I'm building a team, I want to know one thing about a player: Does he not make outs?

So on with the fun numbers:

86 days until pitchers and catchers report.

99 days until the first exhibition game (geez, this is like watching water boil).

Mariners catchers combined to hit .235/.276/.354 last year with 34 walks and 33 doubles and 10 homers. Yikes! My lord, and no one's talking about upgrading the catcher. That's just a massive black hole in the lineup. Even if you give Davis four starts a week, is the Davis/Wilson platoon still really worth it?

As a team, the Mariners hit .363/.365/.528 when they swung at the first pitch (652 at bats). Randy Winn was the most successful (.471 OBP, 67 AB). Dan Wilson was the least (.222 OBP, 35 AB). Just for kicks, Ichiro did it the most times (102 AB, .382 OBP).

Swinging 0-1, they hit .324/.333/.469 (537 AB). Ichiro excelled most in this scenario (.483 OBP with 3 homers, 58 AB). Mike Cameron did not (.162 OBP, 37 AB).

However, swinging 1-0, they hit .333/.333/.508 (516 AB). If you are a major league pitcher reading this, do not, I repeat do not, give Edgar a first pitch ball. He will crush you. He will crush like not even Barry Bonds knows how: .515/.529/1.590, 5 homers, 33 AB.

As a team, the M's had little difference in success swinging on the second pitch whether the first one was a ball or a strike.

Swinging 1-2, the M's hit .187/.193/.271 (804 AB). In this scenario, John Olerud comes out on top (if you can really call it that, .244 OBP in 77 AB). Carlos Guillen is the bottom (.100 OBP, 49 AB). Pitchers, get Edgar 1-2 and he's eating out of the palm of your hand: .188/.188/.275 with 2 XBH in 69 AB.

Swinging 2-1, they hit .345/.342/.573 (368 AB, and if anyone can describe the scenario how an OBP can be less than a batting average, I'd appreciate it, my mind's a little stuck on that at the moment.) Mike Cameron loves this scenario: .433/.433/.933 with more than half his base hits for extra bases. Again, Carlos Guillen finds this a bit challenging: .200/.200/.200, but in just 20 AB.

So what are we learning, boys and girls? Odds for success matter more in the first three pitches than just the first pitch. The battle for the at bat is essentially a best-of-three challenge. It would help if ESPN offered the stats for after any given count in addition to just the scenarios of each count. But that's a start, and I ain't complaining.

And to add a little motivation to the Eduardo Perez/Matt Stairs/Brad Fullmer/Pokey Reese (though I'm more interested in Pokey's magic vacuum glove and never-caught-stealing abilities than his bat) hot stove talk, the Mariners bench hit .154/.250/.269. That's a whopping 8 for 52 with just 2 home runs (one by Colbrunn, one by Cameron), 6 walks, 15 strikeouts and 7 RBI. John Mabry was by far Bob Melvin's number one bat off the bench. He received 19 at bats (more than McLemore, Davis and Bloomquist combined as pinch hitters) and hit .053/.217/.053. His only hit was a single.

For comparison's sake, Oakland's bench hit .231/.297/.330 with 1 homer, 6 doubles, 9 walks, 30 strikeouts, 14 RBI in 91 at bats. Ken Macha used a pinch hitter nearly twice as often as Bob Melvin. Billy McMillon hit .360/.429/.520 in 25 pinch hit at bats.

Anaheim's bench hit .330/.392/.466 with 9 doubles, a homer, 7 walks, 23 strikeouts, 17 RBI in 88 at bats. Mike Scioscia used a pinch hitter nearly twice as often as Bob Melvin. Jeff DaVanon hit .375/.412/.500 in 16 pinch hit AB, and Shawn Wooten hit .500/.538/.583 in 12 pinch hit AB.

Texas's bench hit .177/.292/.226 with 3 doubles, no homers, 9 walks, 14 strikeouts and 6 RBI in a Melvin-esque 62 at bats. The Rangers have a bench of pinch hitters I can look at and not feel so bad.

Memo to Bill Bavasi: Buy some professional hitters for a bench, please. No, Willie Bloomquist doesn't count.

Memo to Bob Melvin: Use that bench. You have a 25-man roster for a reason, and it's not so Edgar can have a different pinch runner for each day of the week.
|| Peter @ 11/26/2003

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Land of the rising sun

The hype machine continues. Seattlite Masayoshi Niwa has provided a special column to ESPN on Kaz Matsui. Niwa points first to the Mariners as a fit for Matsui:
If he sticks to his desire to play shortstop, the Mariners are a front-runner and talk about moving oft-injured Carlos Guillen to third base where he played the final month of the 2003 season.

When alerted to the availability of the Mariners shortstop position during the Japan-U.S. All-Star game, Matsui replied without a moment's hesitation: ''How about Guillen?''

That's a strong indication he knows and cares about the Mariners.

Without a doubt, the Mariners want to have Kazuo too. I met a Nintendo executive in August and while he had no power for scouting and recruiting, we discussed Matsui. He worried about having four Japanese players on the same team (Ichiro, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa also play for the Mariners), but that probably won't be an issue as long as the team wins. It seemed that they were ready to consider it.

Niwa also drops the Dodgers and Yankees as definite suitors, but it's certainly nice to know Kaz cares about the Mariners. If Art Theil's portrayal of Mr. Yamauchi is an accurate portrait (and if you haven't picked up Out of Left Field yet, it's time to go shop for an early Christmas present for yourself), then filling the shortstop hole is out of Bill Bavasi's control and Miguel Tejada is not an option.

Color me skeptical, but I find it hard to get worked up about the inevitable sight of Matsui in a Mariners uniform. I'm going to start counting the times I see quotes linking the phrases "Kaz Matsui" and "real deal." I could have sworn I saw it in this column, but I was wrong. I guess it's become some sort of Pavlovian response for me. Fill in the blank: Kaz Matsui is ______, and the first thing that's pops into my mind is "the real deal." And just what does that quantify? Anyway, back to Niwa's column.

To me, the most entertaining point is the quotes given by Robert Whiting, "the widely respected author of the definitive book Japanese baseball, 'You Gotta Have Wa.'" Apart from coming up with great book titles, Mr. Whiting makes some rather intriguing comments about Kaz the ballplayer:

"If he wants to, he can hit home runs, and if he wants average, he can hit around .350."

God, I love the power of positive thinking. Ichiro had a .353 career batting average in Japan. In three years in Seattle, it's .328. His last season with the Blue Wave he hit .387 and then hit .350 for the Mariners the next season, a 10% drop. Hideki Matsui hit .304 for his career in Japan. In his final Japanese season, he hit .334, and then in New York last season he hit .287. That's a 14% drop. Kaz Matsui has a career .309 batting average in Japan. Last season he hit .305. If he can will himself to .350, I'd love to see him give that a shot. But seriously George, that just ain't gonna happen. A 10-15% drop in batting average for Kaz means .260-.275 is a realistic hope.

But it gets better. I would actually nominate this for most nonsensical quote of 2003.

As for his fielding, Whiting says, ''He reminds us of Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez. They are all powerful and speedy.''

So is Kaz a defensive black hole and severe liability? Or is he multiple gold glove potential? Or are Jeter and Rodriguez the only American League shortstops you've heard of, Mr. Whiting?

In other news, Bob Finnigan reports the rumor that the Yomiuri Giants are desparate for bullpen help and may inquire as to the availability of Kaz Sasaki, even the possibility of a trade. Now before my mind starts racing to possible scenarios ("Do you think they have an availabe decent, breathing, third baseman?"), there are several keywords in just the opening of this article, among them "published report... suggested," "either have called the Mariners or intend to do so." In other words, nothing has happened. In other words, it's a slow day for Mariner news. Bavasi's take: "We are not shopping him around."

Indeed, just how do you shop a soon-to-be 36-year-old closer, coming off an injury-plagued season, and on the books for $8 million?

And go say hey to Steve. He blogs. He likes the Mariners. He's not a card-carrying member of the Freddy Garcia Fan Club.
|| Peter @ 11/25/2003

Monday, November 24, 2003

Hot corner blues

Third base was my absolute favorite position to play in Little League. Third base was where the action was. You see, I had started my budding baseball career as a corner outfielder. A couple of years later, Coach decided to take a look at me at third. It was beautiful. During baseball practice, Coach would seemingly forget about us outfielders, hitting double play grounders to the infield for what seemed like hours. There was nothing to do but kill grass, kick ant-hills and sweat in the Oklahoma heat. But graduation to the infield--that was action; that was baseball. The only problem was I had the arm of Kenny Lofton at third base. If you can imagine these lofty, slow-motion, rainbow-arched throws across the diamond, you can see why my career at third base ended at the age of 13.

With that said, though, I'm staring at the hitting line for Mariners' third basemen, and it's slowing motivating me to check into the price to Greyhound tickets to Peoria come February. But it could just be the November-withdrawals starting to get to me.

.243/.321/.340 with 64 walks and 38 extra base hits in 573 at bats.

Jeff Cirillo wasn't even half the problem. He accounts for 45% of the at bats by Mariners' third basemen. Carlos Guillen acounts for 21% and had a .749 OPS at 3B. Willie Bloomquist saw 18% of the action with an .824 OPS as a third baseman. Mark McLemore accounts for another 16% and had an OPS of .624. And for some reason, Pat Borders collected two at bats at third base. He hit a double, which gives him an OPS of 1.500.

Now who do you want to see man the hot corner in 2004? McLemore is gone. Cirillo is guaranteed to be gone. Guillen should be at short if cooler heads prevail over those that would break the piggy bank for Kaz Matsui or Miguel Tejada. Bloomquist is a part-timer at best. So if you're Bill Bavasi and Bob Melvin, what do you do? Sign Joe Randa? Vinny Castilla? Tony Batista? Robin Ventura? Man, oh man, is the third baseman market thin.

I know I'll be rooting for Justin Leone in spring training. The Mariners last week placed Leone on the 40-man roster, protecting him from next month's Rule V draft. I'm hoping this means he'll get a hard look in spring training. He was last year's Texas League Player of the Year as he hit .288/.405/.541 with 92 walks, 38 doubles and 21 home runs in 455 at bats for Double-A San Antonio. At first glance, one sees those numbers and the voice-in-the-head screams, "What was he doing in AA all that time when Willie Bloomquist is starting at third? Why, why, why?" I tell you why: Justin Leone was 26 last year, and you downright expect major league talent to blister Texas League pitching at the age of 26.

What other ballplayers were born in 1977 (Justin's birthday is March 9 if you want to mark your calendar and send him a card come spring training)? Maybe some guys you've heard of: A.J. Burnett, Jay Gibbons, Ben Davis, Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran, Roy Halladay, Kerry Wood, Mark Mulder, Eric Hinske, Juan Pierre, Roy Oswalt, Eric Chavez. Imagine just what any of these guys would have done against AA competition last year and you can see why Leone isn't heralded as the second-coming of Mike Schmidt or George Brett. He's just too old.

Maybe last year was a fluke season for him. Who knows. He was the 13th-round pick by the Mariners in the '99 draft. He has a career batting average in the minors of .259 and career slugging percentage of .487. His second pro season looked promising with Rookie-ball Wisconsin in 2000 at age 23 (.267 AVG, .513 SLG with 79 walks, 32 doubles, 18 homers in 374 at bats). That earned him a promotion to A-ball San Bernadino, where he hit more home runs (22) but struggled to make contact. His batting average dropped to .233 while his strikeouts leaped up to 158. This doomed him to repeat A-ball again in 2002 at the age of 25--an age at which most major leaguers have already made their debut.

Maybe last year was a breakout season for him. Who knows. Expecting him to be the savior for the Mariners at third base is wild, wishful thinking, though. But perhaps, in a situation with no better options, the Mariners will take the risk of giving Leone every chance in spring training. Maybe, just maybe, they'll take a hard look at internal, cheap alternative instead of throwing money at another aging, overpriced, mediocre veteran.

It almost sounds like the tagline of B-movie trailer: Coming this spring... Root for the little guy!

I know I will be.

|| Peter @ 11/24/2003