Mariners Musings

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

Friday, January 09, 2004

We are not alone in the universe

Deep breaths. I am not Chicken Little. The sky is not falling.

I do like Rich Aurilia. I really do. I'll be rooting for him. Hard. If his quotes in today's P-I are any indication, he's just the sort of character the rabid, subjective fan in me will get hooked into. Bringing in Aurilia is not a bad move. It's just not an improvement, either. And I liked Carlos Guillen, too. I rooted for him, even as he didn't square up to a grounder and it bounded off his glove into left field.

Though, Aurilia has hit .303/.354/.496 in the month of September over the last three seasons. That will prove a welcome sight in eight months.

I'm a little disappointed at the return for Guillen: Ramon Santiago (quite possibly the worst shortstop in baseball last year, worse, though prettier, than Deivi Cruz) and Juan Gonzalez. No, not that Juan Gonzalez, silly. This one. I'm supposing that a team photo of the World Champion 1984 Tigers autographed by the current coaching staff was too steep an asking price.

Take a spin around the baseballogosphere and you'll find we Mariner fans are not alone in our winter of discontent. There are more than a number of teams that either won their division last year or just missed the playoffs that seem to be lost this off-season, patching holes they don't have or simply paralyzed altogether.

Consider Oakland: They're replacing Miguel Tejada with Bobby Crosby. Their wiffle ball outfield of Terrence Long, Chris Singleton and Jermaine Dye is now Bobby Kielty, Mark Kotsay and Jermaine Dye. Closing duties have passed from Keith Foulke to Arthur Rhodes. The A's don't scare me right now. What does scare me is what Billy Beane may yet have up his sleeve.

Consider the Twins: They've lost the backend of their bullpen, and brought in... Joe Nathan. A.J. Pierzynski gets replaced by rookie Joe Mauer. They still haven't addressed the blackhole that is their current keystone combo. They're lucky they play in the AL Central.

Consider the White Sox: They finished four games behind the Twins and have improved themselves by... um, losing Roberto Alomar and picking up Juan Uribe. They have yet to find replacements for Bartolo Colon and Carl Everett. Again, this is the AL Central, but the Sox sure aren't picking up any ground on the Twins, thus far.

Consider the Braves: They won the division by 10 games. Gary Sheffield is out. J.D. Drew is in. Javier Lopez is out. Henry Blanco is in. Greg Maddux is out. Shane Reynolds is out, and only God knows how you replace talent like that. Then again, John Schuerholz is baseball's answer to MacGyver. Give him a box a toothpicks, some silly putty, a banana and Leo Mazzone, and just hand Atlanta another flag.

Consider the Marlins: Derrek Lee and Mark Redman are gone. So is Braden Looper. Pudge Rodriguez and Ugueth Urbina are still available to the highest bidder, but that won't be the Marlins in either case. It's hard to see the current World Champs improved.

Consider Houston: They attempt to gain their one game on the Cubs by losing Billy Wagner and acquiring Andy Pettite. That's basically it.

Consider St. Louis: They finish three games back, and they address their pitching woes by adding Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright. Nobody loves super-subs more than Lou Piniella quite like Tony LaRussa, and Eli Marrero, Eddy Perez and Miguel Cairo are all gone. Reggie Sanders is in for J.D. Drew. Oh, and Tino's gone, but that won't be quite so bad, that is unless Steve Cox really is their answer for first base.

Lastly consider the Dodgers: Did any contender last year have such a lopsided team? And how do they address that issue come winter? Trade the best pitcher to Yankees, which frees up significant payroll, and then... stall in the quagmire of sale red-tape. All the while, the most fearsome hitter on the market is still unattached. It's like you go to a party, and lo and behold, Keira Knightly shows up--alone. An hour into the party, sure a couple of guys have said hello, but she's obviously unimpressed. Hell, go talk to her. You're charming, witty and loaded with cash to burn. What have you got to lose?

So no, Mariner fans, we indeed are not alone. And if you meet up with a Cardinal fan or Dodger fan today, give them a hug. It'll make you feel better.
|| Peter @ 1/09/2004

Thursday, January 08, 2004

[insert clever, witty title here]

It's been brought to my attention that I should avoid borrowing William Safire headlines from the day before. What a tragic coincidence. And I was so proud of that post, too. But love him or hate him, that is a rather humorous, silly slip-up by Howard Dean.

Now just a thought or two as I ponder just how much Aurilia for Guillen really is a wash. Carlos Guillen made 485 trips to the plate last year. He averaged 4.0 pitches per plate appearance and posted an on-base percentage of .359. His ground ball/fly ball ratio was 1.23, and he further grounded in 12 double plays. Rich Aurilia made 545 trips to the plate last year. He averaged 3.5 pitches per plate appearance and posted an on-base percentage of .325. His ground ball to fly ball ratio was 0.88, yet he still managed to ground into 18 double plays, just out of the top ten in the National League.

If my ever so subjective memory serves me well (and that's ever so debatable), I often remember Carlos having Edgar-like epic 10-12-pitch at bats, working the count full, then fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch, as Ron Fairly gushing over how what marvelous at bats Carlos had.

Unless one of Bob Melvin's New Year's resolutions is being more creative and flexible, Rich Aurilia will be the Mariners #2 hitter in 2004. Because, in Melvin's world the 2-hole is for shortstops and only the shortstop. This means we can expect Aurilia to be hitting behind Spiezio (?), whatever hacktastic catcher starts that day and Ichiro. As Aurilia sees fewer pitches per at bat than Carlos, I expect Ichiro to have less stolen base opportunities. His double play scenarios will be less hitting behind Ichiro rather than JT Snow, but his fly balls will die in Safeco Field. The evidence suggests Aurilia is not a 2-hole hitter, and certainly not a prime hitter to sandwich between Ichiro and Edgar or Boone. I much prefer a batter who sees a lot of pitches and makes a lot of contact, who moves the runner on base along and avoids getting himself out as well, in the 2-hole. But then, I'd rather see those guys up and down the lineup.

While no one expects Guillen to play everyday, Rich Aurilia himself is three years removed from his last 150-game season. Today, John Hickey informs us that Rich Aurilia suffered a condition last year known as "dry eye," and that Aurilia is fully recovered as evidenced in his .242 batting average the first half of the season and .312 the second half.

But wait just a minute. If I'm going to stop and say everything's a-okay just because of his batting average, well then, as Steven Goldman writes, "I'm a macaw named Doris."

Before the All-Star break, Aurilia collected 316 at bats and hit .256/.307/.402. None too pretty at all. He struck out 42 times (once every 7.5 times), while walking 23 times (once every 13.7 at bats) and hit 28 extra base hits (one every 11.3 at bats). After the All-Star break, Aurilia collected just 189 at bats and hit .312/.355/.423. He made more contact with less power. He struck out 40 times (once every 4.7 at bats), while walking only 13 times (once every 14.5 times) and hit 12 extra base hits (one every 15.8 at bats). So after the All-Star break, when Hickey asserts Aurilia's eye problem had resolved, Aurilia's strikeout rate increased dramatically, his walk rate dropped, and his rate of extra base hits dropped. Only his batting average rose dramatically (which further increased his OBP and SLG), but that difference is 60 more singles in 1000 at bats, or 1.5 more over the course of a single week. More strikeouts, less walks equals bad eyes to me. From the evidence of his All-Star break splits, I can't justify asserting that Aurilia's eye problems are resolved.

One further trivial aspect of Aurilia that gives me the willies is this: Away from Pacbell the last three years Aurilia has hit .267/.317/.460. Color me not overwhelmed.

At best, these moves are a wash. More realistically, however, it's a downgrade. And what's the point of consistently making moves that are at best a wash? *sigh*
|| Peter @ 1/08/2004

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Who is this who darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?*

In considering the Mariners front office moves this winter, why do I feel like Job? If you know your Hebrew poetry, Job was a guy at the top of his game--wealthy, successful. You might say he'd just won 116 games in the regular season with a World Series ring to boot. Then all of a sudden, Job experiences the mother of all bad days. His friends come around and encourage him by telling him it's all his fault. He deserves his misery for some reason or another. If he'd just be honest with himself, he'd see the truth. Job instead wallows in his misery (in true Mariner fan style), defends his own innocence and blames Yahweh. If only Yahweh would give him a face to face, he'd give him a piece or two of his mind. Thirty-eight chapters into the poem Yahweh shows up and does his best Bobby DeNiro Taxi Driver impression: "You talkin' to me?" The all-powerful deity gives the whiney, pithy man some cosmic perspective.

The deal sending my favorite Mariner to hate Jeff Cirillo and Tacoma setup man Brian Sweeney to San Diego in exchange for Kevin Jarvis (a pitcher the Mariners don't need, who now becomes baseball's second highest overpaid long-relief swingman behind Jose Contreras), Wiki Gonzalez (a catcher the Mariners don't need, whose bat matches his first name like none other), Dave Hanson (yet another feather-weight pinch hitter the Mariners don't need), a football player and roughly the gross national product of a small, third-world nation has been completed. [Yes, I too can write Gammons-esque paragraph-sentences!]

Bill Bavasi is quoted in the AP article as saying, "We think this deal gives us flexibility in 2004 and 2005 that we did not have with Jeff on the roster, and helps fill some needs on our big league club" (emphasis added).

Just what "need" does Kevin Jarvis fill? Including Rafael Soriano, the M's already have six starters. There are adequate arms galore in San Antonio and Tacoma. The only need pitching wise that the M's have is an inexpensive, effective left-handed reliever.

Just what "need" does Weaky Gonzalez fill? He's under contract for $1.7 million and has a career on-base percentage of .312. The Mariners already have three catchers under contract for next year. None of them can hit, either.

Just what "need" does Dave Hansen fill? He has a career .365 on-base percentage, but he's 35 years old--13 years of big league experience--with a grand total of 122 at bats against left-handed pitching. Hello Jarrod Washburn, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Mark Redman, Arthur Rhodes and the rest of the A's bullpen.

Just what "need" does Vince Faison fill on the big league roster? In 2002 Baseball Prospectus said, "A tools draftee, Faison is [a] great athlete who has problems with virtually every phase of the game and is in danger of falling off the radar." That was two years ago. Last year in Double-A, at age 22, he slugged .298 as a corner outfielder and struck out 116 times in 119 games, or once every three at bats.

Like Job, I shake my fist at the heavens, crying out "Where is the justice? What is the method in this madness?"

For some reason, there is a corner in my mind that refuses to surrender to the negative pessimism that comes so naturally in the face of such nonsensical front office blundering. There is this small corner of my mind that still clings to hope in some Master Plan, some sort of Masterpiece, that resides under the tightest lock and key in the offices at First and Royal Brougham, too genius for my puny fan mind to comprehend. The Smeagol in me wants to be good. The Gollum in me says Management is a bunch of fat, stupid, lazy hobbitsess. Why, oh why, do I do this to myself? Why do I half expect to receive an email one day from Bavasi beginning with, "Who is this that darkens my counsel..."?

Some other gem quotes:
"There is cash involved," said Bavasi, who did not give a figure. "It is a financial wash for us. The settlement does not affect us one way or another in our 2004 or 2005 budgets. I prefer not to get into specifics, the figures can be confusing" (Finnigan, Times).

Humor me, Bill. I'm a big boy. The scary part is it sounds as if he's the one confused by the finances, and he's the general manager.

On a completely different topic all together, but certainly belongs in the most-bizarre-turns-of-phrase category of quotes:
"We're edging, ponderously edging closer," [Rich Aurilia's agent Barry] Axelrod said last night. "We've agree [sic] to what we want to do. But we got off to a slow start" (Hickey, P-I).

According to Merriam-Webster, "ponderous" means "of very great weight" or "unwieldy or clumsy because of its great size" or "oppressively or unpleasantly dull; lifeless." So, I really have no idea what Axelrod is saying here.

But back to the Padres deal, again in the AP article, San Diego GM Kevin Towers says:
"I think this is a great gamble," Towers said. "This guy [Cirillo] has a chance to turn his career around and maybe create value. The guys we traded, we didn't see future value."

Now that just sets my heart aflutter with rays of hopeful sunshine. Fat, stupid, lazy hobbitsess.

Padres blogger Geoff Young over at Ducksnorts has this to say:
I could understand looking to shed Cirillo's contract, but they didn't even manage to do that. And for whatever else anyone may think of Cirillo, at least the guy used to be good. Kevin Jarvis and Wiki Gonzalez used to be, um, Padres...

I don't know what to say. I didn't think the trade looked that great from the Pads' perspective, but looking at it from the other side, I'm a little horrified by this. I would like to offer M's fans some words of comfort here, but I really can't. So I'll be graceful and say a quiet thanks.

He's horrified? What about poor, little me? Um, your welcome, I guess.

Updating the WARP Table of Doom, here's where the Mariners stand today prior to any inevitable shortstop shenanigans:
Player lost    WARP  Player gained     WARP

John Mabry 0.5 Raul Ibanez 3.7
Rey Sanchez 1.3 Scott Spiezio 3.7
Mike Cameron 8.3 Quinton McCracken -0.8
Greg Colbrunn 0.3 Wiki Gonzalez 0.1
Mark McLemore 1.8 Dave Hansen 0.9
Jeff Cirillo -0.2
--- ---
TOTAL 12.0 7.6


So, the 93-win 2003 Mariners are now the 88-and-a-half win Mariners. And that doesn't account for the rich man's version of Giovanni Carrera now set to pick up Gil Meche's starts once his arm falls off.

Sometimes I think Job would have felt right at home amongst a group of Mariner fans.

UPDATE: I just found this analysis by Geoff on Faison from two years ago:
Offensively, the big leaguers he most reminds me of are guys like Terrance Long, Al Martin, and Michael Tucker. But he's got a lot of work to do before he reaches their levels.


|| Peter @ 1/07/2004

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Hall of Fame: Hot Corner

So today's the big day that the writers' association announces to the rest of the world whose careers they deem worthy of immortalization. Yesterday, Baseball Prospectus announced the results of the Internet Hall of Fame voting: Eckersley and Molitor. Today, Larry Stone offers his ballot, and like me, he maxed it out with a full ten names. However, I find choosing Andre Dawson over Alan Trammell and Jack Morris over Dave Stieb just a tad dubious. But thus is the nature of and beauty of baseball discussions. One name surely to be announced today is...

Paul Molitor

CAREER 1978-98

2683 10835 .306 .369 .448 234 953 1094 1244 504 131 79% .626 1869
10286 .268 .341 .417 305 866 1111 1669 170 85 67% .518 1479

For the record, Molitor played 1174 games at designated hitter, 791 at third base and 400 and second. Yeah, yeah--3000 career hits. How about 500 career stolen bases at nearly an 80% clip from a fragile designated hitter? And did you know that only eight designated hitters have stolen 20 or more bases in a single season? Molitor did it four separate occasions.

Ed. note: This is as far as I got this morning. I missed my usual train, making me 45 minutes later than usual to work. I'm behind on my current project. I was going to wrap it up this evening. Meanwhile, Molitor and Eckersley have been announced as the 2004 Hall inductees, and Jay Jaffe, of the Futility Infielder has written a fantastic article for Baseball Prospectus, applying BP's metrics to this year's ballot's hitters. I tend to write what I like to read. So, I'm out; I'm done. Jay does an excellent analysis considering park factors, era and league adjustments, versus the average Hall of Famer by position--all more thorough and succinct than I've been doing.

So tomorrow I return you to our regular scheduled Mariner acquisitions (as the writer's shoulders slump in resignation).
|| Peter @ 1/06/2004

Monday, January 05, 2004

Hall of Fame: Shortstops

Dave Concepcion

CAREER (1970-88)

2488 8723 .267 .322 .357 101 538 736 1186 321 109 75% .425 999
8584 .249 .305 .325 61 454 685 1041 238 105 69% .365 862

Can you remember when shortstops were not expected to hit? Can you remember a day when shortstops were 98-pound weaklings and not $252-million-men? Can you remember when Roy Smalley, Garry Templeton, U.L. Washington, Craig Reynolds, Rick Burleson and Ozzie Smith turned two? Yes, there was indeed a day when Deivi Cruz and Neifi Perez might not have been punchlines but simply just below the norm.

In an era when an offensive behemoth like Alex Rodriguez rules the position, Concepcion's career batting line looks mighty puny. Yet, in light of his own contemporaries, Concepcion not only did everything well, he was a more than adequate offensive force. He hit for a higher average, got on base more often, hit for more power with more home runs and extra base hits, walked more often, was a better baserunner stealing more bases with a better success rate and created 16% more runs than his contemporary shortstops. Moreover, in nine postseason series including four World Series, Concepcion hit .297/.333/.455 in 101 AB. Subjectively, in his 19-year career, he was elected to nine All-Star games (starting five), won five Gold Gloves and finished in the top ten of MVP voting twice.

160 594 .281 .335 .397 14 40 44 79 41 6 87% .530 80
567 .248 .305 .311 3 25 46 65 17 6 74% .349 55

At his best, Concepcion provided power and speed at a position requiring little more than a glove. He hit nearly five times as many home runs and stole twice as many bases (at a much higher success rate) than the average shortstop. And Riverfront Stadium was ever so slightly a pitcher's park. Only Bert Campaneris had a better season at the plate for a shortstop, but Campaneris wasn't near Concepcion's equal with the glove.
3-YEAR PEAK 1977-79 

153 576 .284 .343 .397 10 41 54 78 24 8 75% .505 78
557 .258 .306 .337 3 32 38 62 18 8 70% .371 58

Concepcion's three-year peak occurred during the waning years of the Big Red Machine. His baserunning had slowed a bit by this time, but he was still outperforming his fellow shortstops while providing golden defense. By the late seventies, Riverfront was a neutral park slightly favoring hitters. During this period, only Garry Templeton put together better offensive numbers, but like Campaneris, he was not Concepcion's equal defensively.
5-YEAR PEAK 1974-1978 

152 563 .282 .335 .386 8 39 46 71 29 8 79% .493 73
541 .250 .304 .322 3 28 42 61 16 6 72% .360 54

During his five-year peak, Concepcion was arguably the best hitting shortstop of the day. Of course, that is about on par with choosing the best boy band of the late nineties. The standard just isn't that high.

From the Prospectus metrics, Concepcion put together a career EQA (adjusted for all-time) of .257, contributed 94 wins above replacement level (again, adjusted for all-time) with 168 fielding runs above average. Against the context of his era, an argument for Dave Concepcion can be made, but depending on my mood and day of the week, I could argue either side of it. Today, while he was a fine shortstop, All-Star caliber, and he should be remembered as such, his production above the league average doesn't quite justify Hall of Fame status.

Alan Trammell

CAREER 1977-96

2293 8288 .285 .352 .415 185 652 850 874 236 109 68% .558 1246
7944 .257 .311 .354 107 505 611 1029 156 93 63% .401 884

No one suffers more from the modern offensive redefinition of shortstop than Alan Trammell. Barry Larkin will suffer the same fate. Mark my words. There's no reason we should even be having this conversation, really. Alan Trammell is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Ozzie Smith is in the Hall. Robin Yount is in the Hall. No one's going to give Cal Ripken any grief on the way to the Hall. Alan Trammell is in the same company. So where's the noise for his support? Because I'm just not hearing it.

Trammell hit for a higher batting average, got on base 13% more often than his peer shortstops. He hit for more power. He stole more bases with a better success rate. He walked just as often as he struck out and at a much superior rate than his contemporaries. Most importantly, he created 41% more runs than the league average shortstop over his career. You like clutch? He hit .303/.444/.588 in three postseason series--51 AB. He drove in all four of the Tigers' runs in Game 4 of the 1984 World Series and won the Series MVP that year with a record 9 hits in a five-game series. Subjectively, he went to six All-Star Games, won four gold gloves (mostly with his bat, though) and finsihed in the top ten in MVP voting three times.

151 597 .343 .402 .551 28 65 60 47 21 2 91% .757 137
527 .272 .328 .388 10 37 43 69 15 7 68% .446 68

Quite frankly, Trammell was robbed of the most valuable player by George Bell. It was a mighty close vote. Both Trammell and Bell garnered first place on every ballot. Bell had 16 first place votes and 332 total points to Trammell's 12 first place votes and 311 total points. Bell hit .308/.352/.605 and led the league in RBI and extra base hits while hitting in Exhibition Stadium, a ballpark that slightly favored hitters. Trammell hit .343/.402/.551 in Tiger Stadium, which was most certainly a pitcher's park. Bell created 43% more runs than the league average left fielder. Trammell created 101% more runs than the average shortstop. Bell was worth 7.9 wins above replacement; Trammell was worth 11.3. Have I beaten the horse dead yet? Who would you have chosen? Oh, and anybody who steals more than 20 bases at a rate of better than 90% is really, really good.
3-YEAR PEAK 1986-88

143 546 .311 .375 .497 21 55 55 50 18 6 75% .691 104
508 .264 .320 .373 8 35 40 66 12 6 65% .435 61

Well, not every year is 1987, but '86 and '88 aren't too shabby either. Trammell's offensive numbers are excellent by even the league standards, much more so the position league average. No either shortstop comes even close to that production over that three-year period, and Trammell easily was one of the top ten best hitters in all of baseball.
5-YEAR PEAK 1984-88

144 559 .300 .363 .466 18 52 55 57 17 7 70% .643 97
527 .261 .315 .363 7 34 40 68 12 6 65% .420 61

Trammell was a .300 hitter over his five best seasons with an on-base percentage above .360. He hit more than twice as many home runs, walked more often and struck out less than his contemporary shortstops. He did this in a ballpark that played neutral through the middle of the decade but favored pitcher's to an extreme degree starting in 1987.

While his defensive was never outstanding, it was never a liability to his team. His career EQA is .280 (adjusted all-time). He was worth 106.3 wins above replacement (adjusted all-time) to his Tigers, and his defense was worth 62 fielding runs above average. Please, justify to me why Alan Trammell is not already in the Hall of Fame.
|| Peter @ 1/05/2004