Tag: Baseball

Opening Day

openingnightTMP

Lots going on of late. Most of my free time has been occupied with a project I'll post about later, plus I've been doing the umpire thing, and all kinds of news has been noteworthy, and I've been mildly under the weather since Sunday and binging a rewatch of Enterprise.

But for now, TODAY IS OPENING DAY and I'll be heading down to the ballpark in an hour or so.

In years past I'd have been doing a lot of writing and editing of season preview stuff relating to Your Seattle Mariners, but as we all know, the website that stuff was for and its antecedent publication are both gone the way of the dodo. Thus, I haven't been paying nearly as much attention to the doings of the baseball world in the preseason; I didn't watch a single spring training game or renew my subscription to The Athletic or even pony up to get the everyday newsletters from Joe Pos or Craig Cal. (Craig, I may well take you up on your Opening Day discount offer, but I'm still wavering.)

But the season is here now. Time to buckle down.

The hometown Mariners are not a group that inspires a great deal of confidence, but you know what, they could be really good. They just need to overcome their manager, their lack of depth on the bench, the inconsistency of their ace starting pitcher, the rawness of the rest of the young rotation, a questionable third-base platoon, and an untried relief corps. Otherwise, they look great.

New to the club this year are second baseman Jorge Polanco, who we hope will resemble the Jorge Polanco of 2019 more than the Jorge Polanco of 2020-2023; third baseman Luis Urias, whom I expect nothing from; corner OF/1B Luke Raley, who so far has looked like a Quadruple-A type player, but maybe?; DH Mitch Garver, who actually could be really good; and the welcome return of Mitch Haniger, who we all hope can stay off the injured list.

With that crop of newbies, how can we contain all the excitement?!

Game 1. 7:10pm PDT. I'll be up in section 339 (not my regular seats) keeping score.

No Comments yet

So long to a Mariner who deserved better

Marco
The Rodney Dangerfield of pitchers

The baseball winter meetings are in full swing, and Your Seattle Mariners were among the teams to make some news with a big trade.

The other day, the Mariners dealt outfielder Jarred Kelenic, first baseman Evan White, and pitcher Marco Gonzales to Atlanta for two formerly highly-touted pitching prospects that now have questionable abilities. On its face, it makes no sense and I can't yet figure what part this plays in the alleged master plan for the 2024 season.

I'm unhappy with this trade mostly because I am a huge Marco Gonzales fan. I might be Marco's biggest fan that isn't related to him. I say that because Marco has been, as I've long described him, the Rodney Dangerfield of Major League pitchers—he gets no respect.

Local fans soured on him over the last couple of years, and frankly they weren't that high on him to begin with, which doesn't really speak well of local fandom. The team itself seemed to think poorly of him—the club's former CEO referred to him as a "boring" pitcher; his manager seemed not to trust his ability to navigate baserunners; he was even left off the postseason roster in 2022, which was a huge metaphorical slap in the face.

That all annoyed me, to put it mildly. Marco is the sort of pitcher I love to watch; rather than rely on sheer muscle or wacky breaking stuff, he succeeds by spotting the ball and mixing pitches and being smart. When healthy—and he hasn't been for much of the last two seasons—he's just sneaky good, good enough to be a 20-game winner if only he had an offense behind him that could score more than a couple of runs for him and/or a manager that didn't panic when two runners get on with two out in the middle innings. He should have won 20 in 2019 but had to settle for a 16-13 campaign that included six losses in which he posted a quality start (6+ innings and no more than 3 earned runs allowed), including a 1-0 game and two 2-1 contests.

After dominating in the 2020 mini-season (3rd in the league in WHIP, 8th in ERA, 1st in K:BB ratio), he had to deal with forearm problems in ’22 and ’23, plus personal traumas that by his own admission took his focus off the game. Still put up decent numbers, though. And, through it all, Marco Gonzales remains a top-notch human, dedicated family man and proud local resident and generally good-natured guy.

But he's not flashy and his recent injury troubles contributed to a lot of negativity from the aforementioned local fandom. The guy deserves better.

Hopefully he'll get better respect with his new team, whomever that turns out to be.

For now, that's the Atlanta Braves, but the rumor is that the Braves intend to flip him elsewhere. Seeing that caused me to revise my initial impression of the trade—at first it appeared that the M's representative, be it operations chief Jerry Dipoto or new "general manager" Justin Hollander, started things off by shopping Kelenic and his massive whiff rate and after back-and-forth got snookered into a bad deal.

Now it appears that getting rid of Marco was the real goal in order to dump some salary. He's on the last year of his contract and is owed a sizeable-but-not-upper-echelon chunk of change in ’24. Atlanta wanted Kelenic, Seattle said, "OK, but you also have to take Gonzales," and Atlanta countered with, "well, that doesn't help us, throw in something else maybe," and Seattle said, "well, we have this first baseman we thought was going to be a star before we rushed him to the bigs too fast and then had to have a bunch of surgeries." Which Atlanta replied with, "OK, but you already gave him a big contract, so you'll have to cover most of that," and Seattle said, "fine, what do we get in return," and Atlanta said, "you can have this former 2nd-round draft pick that just had Tommy John surgery and hasn't thrown a professional pitch yet and another former top draftee reliever that's stunk it up since turning pro and that we just took a flyer on." Seattle replied, "So, two big unknowns that won't likely do anything for us right away if ever? Sounds good! Let's sign it."

At least, that's how I picture it.

Fitting, really. Even after being traded Marco is dissed by his new team, they don't even want him. The injustice of it all.

Meanwhile, I'm fine giving away Kelenic. He was a bust, and though he could turn it around and live up to his top prospect status at some point, he probably wasn't going to do that here. White I'm sorry to see go, but he's kind of like the pitcher the M's got in return, a former top prospect coming off of surgery and a big question mark for the future. He's an elite defensive player, but given how the M's botched his development years who knows if he'll ever hit.

With the Mariners having previously traded third baseman Eugenio Suárez to the Diamondbacks (also for not much return in a salary dump) and letting right fielder Teoscar Hernández go via free agency, they've rid themselves of three of the worst strikeout offenders in the Majors as well as about $50M in payroll obligations. It remains to be seen what they spend that savings on or who will fill the resulting holes.

Good luck, Marco. I hope wherever you end up you have a decent manager and get your 20-win season.

UPDATE

As I was writing this, Atlanta flipped Marco to the Pittsburgh Pirates. For basically nothing. More disrespect. Atlanta offloaded him in exchange for merely the ever-popular Player to be Named Later or Cash Considerations from the Pirates, and Atlanta will end up paying most of his salary.

No Comments yet

Playoff upsets

AZD

The 2023 World Series begins in a little over an hour as I type this. It's not the World Series I anticipated, far from the one I wanted, and the second consecutive one featuring a team that would not have made the postseason at all under rules that existed before 2022.

Depending on your point of view, this consequence of expanded playoffs is a travesty or a brilliant jewel of success. Or, I guess, you're indifferent; I do realize there are people out there that just don't get worked up over baseball.

Once in a while, a less successful team bests a bigger season winner and advances past them. It happens, especially in short series, and is a fun aberration from time to time. But it's no longer an aberration, it's a feature. And it should change.

You'd think this view would mean I am rooting against the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series this week. Well, no, I'm rooting for them. Because their opponent is the Texas Rangers, a team I've spent a lot of years disliking and rooting against. This week I'm a Diamondbacks fan, a partisan for my former home state. Nevertheless, their pennant is something less than deserved, a bit tainted by being a sixth-seed in a postseason format that rewards mediocrity over excellence.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred likely sees this as a feature rather than a bug in his new system. But his focus has always simply been on revenue; competitive issues just aren't important to him. Which means there's a small chance the system can be tweaked to improve things.

I've opined on this before, so rather than rehash all the details of my pre-2022 suggested playoff plan I'll skip to the end.

The principal problem with the current setup is that two of the division winners—the winningest ones—sit around for a week after the season ends while everyone else plays in "Wild Card games," even the other division winner who is not a Wild Card team. Which is doubly unfair. The secondary problem is that Wild Card teams are not penalized for not finishing first and there's a good chance that, as was the case in the last two National League Championship Series, the last two standing will be WC teams. If you're going to allow teams in the postseason that haven't won anything, make it a disadvantage.

So, oddly the way to fix this that might make it palatable to Manfred and company is to add yet another playoff seed. Make it four Wild Card berths rather than the current three and have them play one-game-and-done advancing games the day after the season ends. Then the next day have the victors play each other. The winner of that game then advances to the Division Series as the LONE Wild Card entrant to the main playoff tourney, which begins THE NEXT DAY. Also, the Division Series, which has been a best three out of five format since its inception, is expanded to best four out of seven, just like the League Championship Series and World Series. This allows Manfred to retain his extra playoff games—even gives the possibility of a couple more—and thus the TV revenue he so lusts after, as well as the hype potential of another WC berth, while at the same time restoring some balance and fairness to the competitive side of the postseason.

All three division winners get placed on the same footing. WC teams are disadvantaged not just by having to run a mini-gauntlet of winning two extra games before making the Division Series, but by having no off days after the season. Division winners have two off-days (perhaps three for one of them, depending on how the TV schedules work out) instead of the five-plus they currently suffer through. Two days is enough to catch your breath and reset your pitching rotation, but not enough to get stale and lose your timing at the plate.

Right now the lesser clubs are advantaged in the DS. Somehow the hated Houston Astros have not been hurt by it either last year or this, but every other "favorite" has looked bad against upstarts. The Goliaths are meek vs. the Davids.

In the history of postseason baseball, there have been 16 teams to make the playoffs with a season win total below 90 and advance beyond one round by defeating at least one 90+ win team, be it in the LCS or Wild Card game/series. Five went the distance to become World Series champs. Five. That goes back to 1973, the first time such a team got in—and to date the one with the fewest wins, the 82-80 New York Mets. But the Mets won their division in an era when teams played 60% of their games within their own division, so they got where they got plenty legitimately. With Wild Card teams there is no schedule equity. 

The Diamondbacks are the fourth Wild Card team under 90 wins to win a pennant. If the system stays the way it is, look for a whole lot more of them going forward.

Stupid Manfred.

No Comments yet

Baseball notes

mlb

The baseball playoffs are in full swing, so I am, of course, preoccupied with them over the more important things in the world. I mean, I'm paying attention to all the Congressional chaos and I have deep, deep concerns about the fascist plans of the so-called Republican party, but I'll save that stuff for another post.

Right now, the playoffs.

I've never been a fan of the Wild Card concept. I think winning a division should mean something, and the existence of even one Wild Card team in a league devalues the accomplishment. Having said that, I realize it's never going away. Rob Manfred and company want the extra playoffs and the TV money that comes with them. And I admit, despite the competitive inequities, I do enjoy having more baseball. So as long as we have them, the format needs some refinement.

Before last season, when the current playoff format began, I wrote a piece for that other website that is no more proposing a playoff system that would be more acceptable. Obviously, no one in Manfred's office listened to me, because it's not what we ended up with. I'm reproducing it below just to get it back on the Interwebs and reiterate the point. (Though in retrospect, it's not the playoff expansion that will hurt teams' TV contracts, it's cord-cutting.)

But the system as it stands now has problems. To wit, the division winners are not rewarded for finishing first. Two of them do get to rest up for a week or so and nurse little injuries and set their pitching rotations, but they also lose momentum. And the excessive number of days off doesn't give that much downside to the Wild Card clubs. So, let's cut out some off days. There should be zero off days between the WC series and the LDS. Then tighten up the calendar during the LDS; the first day all four series are on, then they alternate. That's obviously for TV, and it's hard to argue with that; I have no solution. But fewer off days are better in that a team can't jumble its pitching rotation. A WC team should have to use their top two or three starting pitchers in the WC round, then immediately travel to the LDS town with no off day. So, assuming the now-customary four-days rest rotation, their top two pitchers would not be available for LDS Game 1 or 2. If the WC series went the distance, neither would their third starter. But if there's an off day between LCS 1 and 2 then the ace can go in Game 2; not nothing, but not as much of a handicap.

And the third division winner gets no recognition at all, they're on the same footing as the WCs. Not cool.  Thus, even though it involves creating yet another Wild Card team, I much prefer my proposal from two years ago. (Of course, if MLB expands soonish as it appears it wants to, the system would be screwed again as expanding from 30 to 32 teams likely means a realignment from six divisions of five into eight divisions of four. Perfect for zero Wild Cards, e.g. the best way, but problematic for having any at all.)


Expanding playoffs again is a bad plan, but here’s an OK way to do it

December 8, 2021

Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association have a lot on their plate right now. The lockout continues with no apparent progress and the matters under alleged discussion are many. One of those matters is the structure of MLB’s playoffs.

 Manfred was so enthralled by the extra round of playoffs in the abbreviated 2020 season that he wants that system to be the norm from here on out. He doesn’t seem to care that it only made sense to do it that way in 2020 because of the short season played that year; 60 games was not a fair test of a team’s mettle, so making the playoff tournament pool bigger was a way to compensate. So what, Manfred seems to think, it meant a bigger influx of TV money! MORE TV MONEY! BWAAH-HA-HA-HA!!!!! In the tiny mind of Manfred, there is no balancing argument, no down-the-road obstacle that would counter this. It’s merely “more playoffs = more TV money.” No doubt with the evil laugh, too.

He’s probably wrong, of course—the way he wants to set things up, the regular season would be so further devalued that teams’ individual broadcasting contracts would inevitably shrink, relatively speaking, and there would be no net gain of TV money. (To say nothing of the fact that today’s cable/satellite broadcast model is fast becoming obsolete.) But that’s a long-view argument that can’t penetrate the commissioner’s meager and myopia-addled perceptive powers. He’s going to insist on more playoffs and the union is going to give them in some fashion in order to reach agreement on other issues. The question is, what form will they take?

Manfred wants essentially the 2020 model: Three division winners and three second-place finishers and one Wild Card (or just four Wild Card teams regardless of division/finish, unclear which he proposed) in each league, where the club with the top record gets a bye on the first round and everyone else plays a best-of-three series to advance to the second round, which we now know as the Division Series. This is terrible, as it makes winning your division unimportant. With the exception of the bye team, whether you finish first or not is just a matter of seeding; it is a more widespread reintroduction of the problem that the addition of the second Wild Card slot in 2012 successfully rectified—finishing first has to be substantially better than finishing second or lower. More broadly, the regular season must remain important and not merely a warmup for the playoff tournament.

If we are to be saddled with more playoff teams, the only way in which I’d be OK with it is if finishing first is maintained as a matter of significant import. We have a six-division structure and not enough clubs to comfortably break into more, so six first-place teams is the most we can have (with a two-team expansion, MLB could break into eight divisions of four, but that’s off in the future a ways and wouldn’t help with this anyway). With the four Wild Card clubs (two in each league), we have ten playoff teams, a full third of the MLB complement, but for Manfred that’s not enough. He wants fourteen.

Can this be accomplished? 14 clubs in the tourney while still retaining the importance of first place and the full season? Not entirely, no, but adding more Wild Card slots can still be done without totally FUBARing things. Right now each league has a Wild Card game as a play-in to the Division Series. If we limit additional Wild Cards to that tier, we’re still in the same general realm of acceptance.

Rather than make division winners play in this new introductory round, you leave them be. Win your division and be guaranteed a seed in the Division Series, just like now—three division champs and a single Wild Card club play on from that point. Before that, though, instead of having two Wild Card teams play for that one Division Series berth, you could have four.

As we know, in 2021 Boston hosted New York for the American League Wild Card entry to the Division Series, while Los Angeles hosted St. Louis for the same in the National League. With additional Wild Card teams in play, this is what we’d have had in ’21:

AL EAST AL CENT AL WEST   NL EAST NL CENT NL WEST
TB CWS HOU   ATL MIL SF
BOS CLE SEA   PHI STL LAD
NYY DET OAK   NYM CIN SD
TOR KC LAA   MIA CHC COL
BAL MIN TEX   WAS PIT ARZ

Unlike what Manfred wants to do, in our case the four Wild Card teams in each league would get pared down to one before any division winners get involved:

AL WC  1 AL WC  2   NL WC  1 NL WC  2
SEA (90-72) @ BOS (92-70) TOR (91-71) @ NYY (92-70)   PHI (82-80) @ LAD (106-56) CIN (83-79) @ STL (90-72)
AL WC  3   NL WC  3
ALWC 1 winner vs. ALWC 2 winner   NLWC 1 winner vs. NLWC 2 winner

Then things proceed apace with the Division Series and League Championship Series as we know them now.

You can do this with single-game Wild Card games, three per league total, or you could make it a best-of-three series first round and then a do-or-die single game. Single games would be best, as that only adds one day of idle time for the division winners, but Manfred would whine about how he wants more TV money than that. So to get him to stop throwing his baby tantrum, we say best-of-three for WC 1 and WC 2, then single deciding game for WC 3, giving MLB a “Wild Card Week” between the end of the season and the Division Series (season ends Sunday; day off Monday; best-of-three Tue-Wed-Thu, 2-1 home/away format with no travel days; single-gamers Friday; LDS starts Saturday). The drawback is that doing best-of-three means the division winners all sit on their hands for six days (more if any off days get shoehorned into the WC round). That’s not a good thing, though some might welcome it; any hot-streak momentum might go away, but being able to reset pitching rotations regardless of how down-to-the-wire your season was would be appealing, as would extra rest for any banged-up players.

But, you say, all that downtime for division winners makes things uneven and unfair! Well, under the current system division champs wait up to four days already, and even Manfred’s way has two clubs waiting around for a week; doing single-games for all the Wild Cards would have division winners idle for only a few days. But that really doesn’t matter. If we really cared about equity and fairness and what’s good for the sport, we wouldn’t be adding more playoff teams to begin with. No, this is nothing but an attempt at a cash grab, and that needs to be acknowledged. Accepting that, we mitigate the fair and equitable thing by keeping the regular season and finishing first as meaningful as we can and make it a true disadvantage to advance as just a Wild Card team.

A better compromise would be to do all Wild Cards as single-elimination, win one and move on, and make the Division Series best-of-seven instead of best-of-five. Then you still get your “extra” playoff teams, you don’t have anyone sit around for an entire week, and you get your added games for playoff TV. Either way the World Series starts nearer to the end of October (in 2021 it would have started October 30 instead of October 26).

The whole thing is, of course, colossally dumb. But so long as Rob Manfred is Commissioner of Baseball, the best we can hope for is to limit the scope of the dumbness and keep as much integrity in our great game as we can in the face of his myopic agenda.

No Comments yet

The season is over. Bring on the postseason.

23post

The baseball season is done, and Your Seattle Mariners finished in disappointing fashion. But not surprising, right? I mean, the way the year started did any of us really think they'd make the postseason? There was real hope after that fantastic August, sure, but they never got smarter about things. Anyway, there's lots of points to make in a future 2023 Mariners dissection post, but tonight I'm going to look ahead to the ’23 postseason, which begins in about 9 hours.

Tomorrow's full slate of games is courtesy of Commissioner Manfred's new Wild Card Series, which, OK, I don't really support, but it's here so we'll roll with it. Doubtful it'll ever go away now that it's in place. I'll save my screaming into the wind rants about such things for the Designated Hitter rule and the Manfred Man zombie runners in extra innings (thank god there are none of those in the post).

Anyway, here's the bracket:

bracket

My rooting interests, such as they are, are:

In the AL (a) for Toronto, just because, y'know, yay Canada (although nothing against Minnesota, so that one can go either way for me); (b) against Texas, so go Rays despite your ugly, ugly ballpark; (c) against Houston in the ALDS (obvs) and (d) for Baltimore other ALDS. The nightmare scenario is the Astros and Rangers both advancing.

National League (a) for Milwaukee, but not with much fervor; (b) for Miami, just because the Phils won last year's pennant when they didn't deserve it; (c) probably against the Dodgers in a kind of support-the-underdog way, though I imagine LA will walk all over whoever they draw in their NLCS; and (d) against Atlanta, though likewise they'll probably win big.

Mostly I just hope for dramatic games and series. And/or humiliating losses for the Astros and Rangers.

Now, for those wondering which team to root for based on their connection to the Mariners—i.e. Karen—or for those who subscribe to the Seattle version of what Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko used to call the "Ex-Cub Factor," here are the playoff teams featuring former Seattle Mariners. (Royko described the ex-Cub Factor, or ECF, as a debilitating pathogen that is inescapable for any team once three ex-Cubs are on the roster: "When there are three, this horrible virus comes together and multiplies and becomes so powerful it makes the other players weak, nearsighted, addle-brained, slow-footed, and lacking in hand-eye coordination." Even if a team has less than three, it might not be safe: “A team with no ex-Cubs probably has the edge on a team that has even one.” Adapting the Cubs' futility of Royko's day to the Mariners' haplessness of, well, nearly their whole existence, you can apply the formula to ex-M's.)

Baltimore Orioles (1)
  • Adam Frazier (2B): Frazier spent one year in Seattle, 2022, when he posted an unremarkable line of .238/.301/.311. He did slightly better this year in Baltimore, .240/.300/.396.
Houston Astros (2)
  • Kendall Graveman (RHP): The Undertaker was great in short relief for the M's in 2021 until he was dealt (with Montero) to Houston as the trade deadline approached. He moved on to Chicago, then was traded to Houston again almost two years to the day later. He had an OK year between the White Sox and Astros.
  • Rafael Montero (RHP) : This guy was gawd-awful for Seattle. Then he was good as an Astro last year, this year he regressed to resemble the guy we knew as a Mariner. Not as bad, but bad enough: ERA over 5.00 and WHIP above 1.500.
Minnesota Twins (1)
  • Emilio Pagán (RHP): Pagán came up in the Mariners' farm system and had a decent rookie campaign in Seattle in 2017. He was then traded to Oakland for a lousy corner infielder. This is his second year in the Twin Cities and he's done quite well in short relief appearances.
Tampa Bay Rays (1)
  • Shawn Armstrong (RHP): Armstrong only played in 18 games with the M's (2018-2019) and was pretty bad. He was great out of the Rays' bullpen this year, though (52 IP, 1.38 ERA, 0.904 WHIP).
Toronto Blue Jays (2)
  • Erik Hanson (RHP): Traded to the Jays after last season for Teoscar Hernández, Swanson had himself a pretty good season as a setup reliever north of the border. He still hasn't been given the chance to close, but he's good enough to do it.
  • Yusei Kikuchi (LHP): Yusei's second year in Toronto was significantly better than his first; he posted career-bests in basically everything. Which isn't to say he was the kind of ace he was back in his Seibu Lions days in Tokorozawa, he still only managed about five innings per start and served up too many homers, but he more than held his own as a mid-rotation fixture.
Texas Rangers (0)
  • No ex-Mariners active here, although infielder/outfielder Brad Miller is on their Injured List. 
Atlanta Braves (0) 
Los Angeles Dodgers (2)
  • Kolten Wong (2B): As predicted, Wong caught on with another team shortly after the Mariners released him this past August. As predicted, he was much better with the new team than he was with the M's (.300/.353/.500 in 20 games with LA).
  • Chris Taylor (IF/OF): In just one of many lousy trades made by the Mariners, Taylor was dealt to LA in 2015 for a guy named Zach Lee. Who? Exactly. Taylor has been a solid utility player for the Dodgers ever since, even making the All-Star team in 2021. This year his numbers aren't anything special, and he still strikes out too much, but you never know when he's going to deliver the big hit.
Milwaukee Brewers (4, 1 active)
  • Carlos Santana (1B): Santana started the year as a Pittsburgh Pirate, but was traded to Milwaukee near the trade deadline to shore up a Brewer lineup plagued with injuries. He did OK (.249, 11 HR).
  • Jesse Winker (OF, injured): Winker had a terrible season, batting under .200 and spending the bulk of it on the shelf. He hasn't played since just after the All-Star break.
  • Abraham Toro (IF, inactive): Fatty Tuna spent most of the season in the minors, getting into only nine Major League games in 2023. He's not likely to be on the playoff roster, but could be used if someone gets hurt.
  • J.B. Bukauskas (RHP, inactive): This guy made one relief appearance with Seattle before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Brewers. He spent most of the year in Triple-A and is unlikely to be on the playoff roster.
Philadelphia Phillies (1)
  • Taijuan Walker (RHP): A two-time Mariner—traded first to Arizona with Ketel Marte for Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, then after returning years later to Seattle traded again to the Blue Jays for minor leaguer Alberto Rodríguez, Tai signed as a free agent with Philadelphia prior to this season. He had a serviceable year in the Phillies' starting rotation, but nothing to write home about other than posting a career high in innings pitched.
Miami Marlins (1)
  • J.T. Chargois (RHP): After a decent half-season in Seattle, J.T. was traded to the Rays for Diego Castillo. He moved downstate to Miami this year and put up OK numbers as a middle reliever. 
Arizona Diamondbacks (3, 2 active)
  • Paul Sewald (RHP): Traded from the M's to the Snakes this past July 31st, Sewald saved 13 games for Arizona, but his ERA and WHIP got considerably worse in the desert (2.93, 1.023 in 43 IP as a Mariner, 3.57, 1.472 in 18 innings as a Diamondback).
  • Ketel Marte (IF/OF): Perhaps the best of today's Diamondbacks, Marte's year wasn't as good as his All-Star campaign of 2019, but still plenty good. He gets on base, hits for average, hits for occasional power, can steal a base once in a while, and can play a decent middle infield or center field. Ketel was last with the M's in 2016 and the trade he was in (with Taijuan Walker for Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura) was one of those good-for-everybody deals.
  • Kyle Lewis (OF, inactive): Mister Streaky was Rookie of the Year in the truncated 2020 season as a Mariner, and I'd bet real money had that been a regular-length season that he wouldn't have been in the top three. He won the award based on a fantastic three week stretch that preceded three weeks of futility. He followed that up with two injury-hampered seasons, got dealt to Arizona for C/OF Cooper Hummel, was briefly hurt again after a disappointing first few weeks of this season, then came back and was optioned to Triple-A. In the minors he tore the cover off the ball. Called back up to Phoenix mid-season, he stank again. Sent back down, he raked again. The Snakes have five outfielders on the active roster, so odds are there won't be room for Lewis unless they go deep into the tournament and/or someone gets hurt.

So, depending on how you reckon things, the Diamondbacks or the Brewers have the most ex-Mariners. Or the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Blue Jays tie with two each. I have a kind of weird desire to see Kolten Wong have a spectacular playoff run, just to prove he's better than he got much chance to be here.

1 Comment

I'm really tired of this, baseball edition

JPC
JP's expression says it all

Last night I attended the Mariners game with my good friends K & E, hoping for a nice pick-me-up for the team after their lousy road trip to Cincinnati and St. Petersburg. You can almost excuse dropping three of four to the Rays, they're a really good team. But now they were playing the Angels, who are, let's see, what is the technical term... oh, yes, they're bad.

Having fallen out of first place and clinging by a thread to a Wild Card position, the M's needed to come out strong. And so they did: a three-run first inning, and with Logan Gilbert on the mound, things were looking good. Until the Angels' catcher, promoted from the minors 2½ weeks ago, clubbed a home run to make it 3-1. OK, still not bad. His next time up, that same newbie hit a nearly-identical home run, this time with a runner aboard. Mariners 3, Logan O'Hoppe 3. Meanwhile, after that first-inning performance, the Seattle lineup could do nothing against the suddenly formidable Reid Detmers, who was 3-10 with a nearly 5.00 ERA. It was beginning to look like extra innings.

Then came an interesting ninth. The M's brought in their supposed closer, Andres Muñoz, who was somehow named AL reliever of the month for August. Seems to me whoever made that decision didn't see him pitch; I mean, a 1.4 WHIP isn't exactly stellar, but OK. Which isn't to knock Muñoz. I like Muñoz, but in my opinion he's not ready in the head for the pressure of the closer role. He's still pretty raw; someday he could be an elite reliever, but right now he's still learning on the job. E and I were talking about how Muñoz makes us nervous these days, and I mentioned that he's got great stuff but doesn't make good choices when he has a batter on the ropes.

337
A retro view of the game last night, as we sat in row 3 of section 337, one row forward of what had been my original Safeco Field season seats for several years. Though I'm happy in 327 row 9, I've missed you, 337! Especially the distance from the PA speakers there. Much less of an aural assault.

Mike Moustakas led off with a smart base hit against the limited defensive shift the M's were employing, just chopping a grounder toward third where nobody was playing. Not Muñoz's fault, his manager's, but OK. Then that O'Hoppe jerk is up again. Muñoz gets to a 1-2 count despite some poor home plate umping, but then tries to be cute. Does he buzz in that 100mph fastball above the letters? No, he throws the same pitch he just threw for strike two, which is nearly the same pitch he threw for ball one (it was in the strike zone, I could even see it from up high), and O'Hoppe said "thank you very much" and blasted it into left for a double. Next batter, Eduardo Escobar, gets in the hole at 0-and-2, but again Muñoz doesn't realize he's in charge. Escobar is a .230 hitter with a high K rate, at 0-2 he has to protect the plate. Muñoz can reach 102mph, but instead he throws the same slider he threw to O'Hoppe and Escobar hit it hard on a line, but the M's were lucky: it was hit right at Jarred Kelenic, who was shallow enough that the guy running for Moustakas at 3rd didn't try to tag up and score. Muñoz then hits the next guy with a fastball to load the bases. Now Brett Phillips and his .188 average is up. Could still get out of this if nothing goes wrong, and Muñoz has seemingly learned from his mistake and is pounding in 100mph+ fastballs. Phillips takes two quick strikes, then a third—except, no, called a ball. Next pitch also called a ball, but looked good from where we were. The next pitch was certainly strike three—except this umpire had dirt in his eye or something, because it's called ball three, and now the crowd is letting the ump have it. Phillips has gotten better timing on the fastball, but he's still fouling them off. Finally he swings and misses and there are two out. Next guy grounds out harmlessly to short and we're still tied. Whew.

Bottom half started out nicely. Cal Raleigh leads off with a base hit. Geno Suárez follows with another single. With Raleigh now at second base, manager Scott Servais smartly elects to replace him with a pinch-runner in José Caballero. Not the ideal choice, but the best one available. Ty France then lines a hit into left-center field and this looks like it! A walk-off victory! Except, what's this? Caballero is being held at third base??! Wait, didn't he just get put into the game for this exact scenario? Run, go for it, make them make a play at the plate. But no, Servais and third-base coach Manny Acta play it conservatively because, hey, there's nobody out and now the winning run is at third with no outs and that's easy to drive in, right?

Well, yes, unless you're the Seattle Mariners.

As I pointed out a while back, the M's suck at this. They only convert that runner at 3B with 0/1 out into a run scored about 40% of the time. Because they strike out. The team's overall 26% K rate actually gets worse with a runner at third and 0/1 out. Worse! Insanity.

To the surprise of no one in the stadium, Jarred Kelenic struck out. And the next guy up was Dylan Less-is-Moore, who despite playing above my expectations of late is still not a good Major League hitter and tapped a weak roller to the shortstop playing shallow, easy forceout at home. Now it was up to Dom Canzone, who just missed squaring up a pitch and rolled it to first. Extra innings. K & E both groaned in unison and I did a riff on the old Cars song "Moving in Stereo": M's are the same, we're groaning in stereo/M's are the same, they can't score from third...

I expected that to be that. The Angels would score their Manfred Man and the M's would not and it'd be over. And indeed, the Angels belted a homer to score two. Bottom 10 would surprise me when Julio Rodríguez crushed his own 2-run homer (his 30th of the season, congrats, Julio) to retie the game. Did we have hope? Not really. The Angels singled their Manfred Man to third in the 11th, then singled him home to go up 6-5, then Geno Suárez made an uncharacteristic error on a hard grounder that scored another run, then another hit and another run before Servais goes and gets Isaiah Campbell from the bullpen, who throws one pitch to end the frame and stop the bleeding. But the M's went down 1-2-3 in the home 11th. 

Was this the game that effectively ends the Mariners' postseason hopes? We'll see; given the struggles the Astros and Rangers have both been having, and given that there are still a bunch of games to play against them, there's still a way to pull it out. But after this, my belief that the M's will never win a title so long as Scott Servais is their manager is solidified even more.

EKT2
The "V"s were, perhaps, premature.

3 Comments

Grid geeks

IG0730

As I mentioned a while back, I've been doing the Immaculate Grid thing for a while now. So has Erik, and we were emailing each other almost every day about our Grid selections and such. Now we're bringing our ridiculous musings on obscure and world-famous baseball players to the masses! Just started today, we're at section327.substack.com. As Erik said in our introductory post, "If we’re going to waste this much time, we might as well waste it out in the world." Come see, and if so inclined, share your own Grid thoughts in comments.

I'm not that familiar with Substack as a platform, though I do follow a couple of substackers via email. I'm figuring it out as we go. I didn't know, for instance, that it has its own Twitter-like space (called "Notes"), which seems redundant to me. I'm on Spoutible now, I still have a Facebook account (mostly for promoting this, now that I'm no longer running the now-defunct grandsalami.net) though I rarely look at it, and that's plenty social media for me.

I do wish there was a bit more customization available there, but I suppose the whole point of Substack is to keep things simple and accessible. I can live with it.

No Comments yet

More baseball

rojasbunt
Josh Rojas uses his head and his skills against the White Sox

My last post recounted how my hometown Seattle Mariners had climbed the standings here in the second half of the season in spite of their strategically-challenged manager and an affinity for striking out at the plate—to the tune of ten times per game on average. They've played two games since—won one, lost one—and are even closer to the top of the heap in the American League West.

Yesterday they lost to the hapless Chicago White Sox in extra innings, with the winning run scoring in the form of the Manfred Man who ran home on a throwing error. The M's had come back in dramatic fashion with even more late-inning heroics to take a one-run lead in the 9th, then once more blew the save in the bottom half before giving up the ghost in the 10th. In isolation this would probably feel like a heartbreaking loss, but I found it to be the most encouraging game the Mariners have played in ages because for the second game in a row the team scored a runner from third base with 0 or 1 out in the inning.

Duh, you say. That's a gimme RBI, of course they did.

Except before yesterday they almost never did that.* The Mariners lead the Majors in being inept when it comes to scoring in that situation: they score the runner from third 42% of the time. They've also had the most such opportunities in the American League, second in the Majors only to the LA Dodgers, meaning they have that many more failures than any other club. The MLB average is, as one might expect, about 50%, with the Chicago Cubs leading the way at just over 57%, but with 18 fewer chances. A team can only get away with this level of ineptitude if they outscore the opposition by tons anyway and don't have a lot of close games (the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves don't have a great success rate at this, but they have run differentials of +149 and +214, so no big deal). The Mariners, though, have played a lot of close games. A third of their games thus far were decided by one run and they've lost 56% of those, and that doesn't count extra-inning losses by more than one run, something the zombie Manfred Man makes more common than it would otherwise be.

Situational success, playoff contenders
Team Overall
Wins
Run
Dif
Overall
K%
3B <2 out
K%
3B <2 out
RBI%
Wins in
1-run Gms
Seattle 71 +86 26% 27% 42% 18/41
Texas 72 +179 22% 19% 54% 9/26 
Houston 72 +71 21% 19% 53% 17/34
Minnesota 66 +40 27% 24% 48% 16/36
Baltimore 79 +85 22% 19% 56% 22/33
Tampa Bay 78 +172 23% 22% 53% 18/38
LA Dodgers 78 +149 21% 20% 46% 14/26
Atlanta 82 +214 21% 20% 49% 19/34
Milwaukee 70 +10 24% 18% 49% 26/37
Philadelphia 69 +49 24% 21% 51% 23/41
Chicago Cubs 67 +67 23% 20% 57% 17/32
Arizona 67 -7 21% 16% 53% 17/34

The M's strike out a ton in all situations, with an overall K rate of 26%, and it doesn't change much (it's actually a little worse) with runner at 3rd, 0/1 out. It's fairly consistent across the board. Which tells me that the team makes no adjustments for the circumstance, there is no directive to treat those easy RBI ABs any differently than any other ABs. Which is just dumb in a close game.

So if the season ends with the Mariners three, four, five games out of first place, it will be because they were unable to execute this incredibly basic baseball maneuver so very, very often.

Thus, they cannot afford to compound the matter by losing more games that way, which is why yesterday's loss was so encouraging. Their blundering manager didn't make any mistakes, his in-game moves were all fairly logical; the tying run in the 9th scored off of Andres Muñoz not because of a bad managerial move but a bad pitch location in a critical at-bat from Andrew Benintendi. Muñoz missed his target and Benintendi connected, just one of those things. Shikata ga nai. But the M's were in the position to have a 9th-inning lead because Josh Rojas laid down a fantastic bunt in the 7th inning with José Caballero on third base (and Caballero was on third because he had walked, stolen second, and stolen third; it was so my kind of run scored I couldn't have drawn it up any better). Even better, Rojas' bunt was so good he was easily safe at first, turning a would-be safety squeeze play into an RBI base hit.

That was fundamental baseball strategy that the Mariners seemingly never, ever employ. Maybe it was only possible because it was Josh Rojas, someone who came up in another club's organization and has only been with the M's for a few weeks, who might have actually had instruction in old-school things like bunting and squeeze plays. I don't know if he did that on his own, but I assume so since I can't picture manager Scott Servais ordering a squeeze play on purpose. I'd love to be wrong on that. But at least guys aren't prohibited from doing such things so evidence that at least the batters are thinking strategically is outstanding.

Was it a one-off? A unicorn in the world of a Scott Servais-managed team? God, I hope not.

Back at it tomorrow night at home vs. Kansas City, which is a fun team to watch despite their terrible pitching staff. Looking forward to it.

 

* Well, "never"; I mean, anything under 50% of the time is a problem, so "never" in the sense of "usually not."

No Comments yet

Baseball notes redux

julio
Julio Rodríguez was AL Player of the Week, having set a Major League record for hits within a four-game span with 17.

We're now into the final quarter of the baseball season, when things get tense and scoreboard-watching becomes a bigger part of the ballpark experience. Thus, posts here aboard StarshipTim will possibly get even more hardball heavy. I mean, this is the third straight baseball post. So, apologies if you prefer to read about politics or cats or TV or whatever. Maybe I'll try to mix it up a bit as we go through September.

Anyway, last time I posted here it was to rake the manager of Your Seattle Mariners, Scott Servais, over the coals for being a strategic moron. His decisions arguably lost three in a row for the M's and blew a lead in a fourth, losses that came in a critical point in the pennant chase as the team was starting to finally get their act together and deliver on the promise of preseason expectations. I stand by those criticisms as all three of those were eminently winnable games, but what's happened since then has been fantastic.

Maybe losing three (nearly four) winnable games in a row lit a fire under the whole lineup. The Mariners have won seven straight since then, scoring 55 runs in the process and climbing into a Wild Card position and within two games of the division lead. Had they won those three winnable games Scott Servais' dumbness may have lost them, their winning streak would now stand at 18 games. This team is hotter than the sun.

The season-long problems haven't really improved, though; the M's still can't score a runner from 3rd with 0 or 1 out, they still rack up strikeouts at the plate at an alarming rate and, relatedly, rely far too much on the home run. But they've simply been overcoming those deficiencies, delivering the two-out hit after failing to get the easy RBI or picking up a bad bullpen inning with shutdown successor relievers. Just like the Toronto Blue Jays of 1992-1993, a talented lineup can win even when its manager checks his brain at the clubhouse door.

AL West, August 22
Tm W L Pct GB
TEX 72 53 .576
HOU 71 55 .563
SEA 70 55 .560 2
LAA 61 64 .488 11
OAK 35 90 .280 37
AL West, July 20
Tm W L Pct GB
TEX 58 39 .598
HOU 53 43 .552
LAA 49 48 .505 9
SEA 47 48 .495 10
OAK 27 71 .276 31½

When the sun rose on Moon Day, July 20th, the Mariners were a game under .500, 5½ games out of a Wild Card slot and ten games behind division-leading Texas. From Moon Day forward, they've played 30 games and won 23 of them, a .767 winning percentage, and of the seven losses, six of them—SIX!—could have been won if not for striking out with runners at third base with 0/1 out and/or manager malfeasance with the bullpen. The seventh saw Seattle one run down in the bottom of the 9th with runners at second and third with one out, but guess what happened: strikeout. Just think how good this team would be if they weren't whiffing all the time and/or their manager knew how to handle relievers?

All seven of those losses are going to loom gigantically large when we get to late September and the American League West standings are tight at the top. Particularly since the Mariners close the regular season with ten games against the two clubs in front of them, the Rangers and Astros.

Regardless, though, it does make for a fun and exciting stretch run for the Northwest baseball fan. I'll start saving for playoff tickets.

 

Also, a while back my friend Dave turned me on to this thing called Immaculate Grid. It's a daily game wherein a nine-square grid requires a ballplayer from any point in the history of the Majors that meets the criteria given in both the row and column. It's a real challenge to the memory. Erik and I have had a semi-daily correspondence about it, comparing our respective successes and failures and musing on why we chose this guy for the Angels/Pirates square or why we remembered that guy at all, let alone for the Reds/Marlins square. And, of course, how dumb we felt by not remembering so-and-so, who should have been bloody obvious because hey, remember who he was traded for and how he was on that playoff team?

The goal with the Grid is to get the lowest "rarity score" you can, which is to say, pick the players least likely to be picked by others that still fit the criteria. My best score thus far is somewhere in the 20s; it's in my wheelhouse when there's a Cardinals row and/or a Mariners column and/or something like a stolen base total or a Hall of Fame stat. It's interesting in part because you access things in your memory from different points in your life. As Erik said (paraphrasing), things you learn when you're 14 are there forever; things you learn at 41 are buried under tons of detritus.

One day there was a Giants/Twins square and immediately the name Dan Gladden sprung to mind. Not sure why, but I think it has to do with a computer baseball game I had as a teenager that malfunctioned one time and had Gladden batting in every position for a Giants team. I recall the screen. I used Don Slaught a couple of times because I remember getting his baseball card. The ones I really like come up when I can use my knowledge of the various trades the Mariners have made over the years—Mariners and Twins? Why, Dave Hollins, of course, the guy the M's got in return for David Ortiz! What a great deal that was (ugh)—or my deeply ingrained memories of all things 1980s Cardinals—who played for the Cardinals and the Braves? How about Bob Horner, one of the worst free-agent signings the Cards ever made, to replace Jack Clark at first base after the pennant-winning ’87 season.

It's a hoot. Even when I feel incredibly stupid when I come up with nothing for Cleveland/Texas and then remember Shin-soo Choo, Milton Bradley, Julio Franco, Toby Harrah, Cliff Lee, and Omar fucking Vizquel only after I've gotten it wrong with a guess based on nothing more than "well, this guy played for a ton of teams, let's try him. Nope, oops."

ig
Best score yet (21.3), thanks in part to a pair of truly awful trades made by former Mariners GM Woody Woodward (Hampton and Felder to the Astros for Eric Anthony; Spoljaric and Timlin from the Blue Jays for José Cruz Jr).

No Comments yet

Bullpen follies

servais
Scott Servais making the move for the wrong reliever feels like the rule, not the exception

When I first became enamored with baseball, in the late 1970s, I gravitated toward the part of the game that relied on speed, defense, and strategy. Likely this is because the first game I remember seeing on television was a St. Louis Cardinals game (probably on ABC's Monday Night Baseball, for you olds who remember) featuring Lou Brock, who was on split screen every time he reached first as everyone anticipated him stealing second. Which he did, because, hey, Lou Brock. Also, in those days the Kansas City Royals were always playing the Yankees in the playoffs, and the Royals played like that too (awesome), and then, hey, the Royals' manager, Whitey Herzog, moved across the state and started managing (and General Managing) the Cardinals, and I was hooked forever on Whiteyball.

Thus, the Herzog Way is my standard for baseball managers. I can appreciate other styles—though the Earl Weaver Way is antithetical to that standard and I won't abide that—but every decent manager I can think of (even old Earl) used his brain. The wheels turned in his mind as the game unfolded.

Then there are/were managers who did nothing, or did worse than nothing, because they weren't using their heads. I speak of those like Cito Gaston—indelible memory of Gaston comes from the 1992 World Series TV graphic denoting "Jimmy Key: First MLB at-bat" because Cito had never heard of a double-switch—and, sadly, Scott Servais, current skipper of Your Seattle Mariners.

As I've said before, Servais must be brilliant at off-the-field stuff. I mean, he has to be, otherwise how could he keep a job? During the game he's an idiot.

When I ran that other website about the Mariners for several years, I wrote several headlines like "Scott Servais and Dodgers defeat Mariners," or, because it seemed notable when no bonehead moves were made, "Servais Does Nothing Wrong in Loss to Astros." If I were still running that site, the theme would be getting pretty old as I would be chastising the guy day in and day out, at least lately.

Whitey is known for using steals and hit-and-run tactics and contact-hitting and frequent double-switching in the lineup, but what's sometimes overlooked is how good he was at handling a pitching staff. He knew each pitcher's strengths and weaknesses, could tell if someone didn't have his good stuff, and could adapt if something went awry because he knew not only statistical details but could read a guy's body language or quiz his catcher on how well pitches were hitting targets. Ken Dayley was Whitey's go-to lefty out of the bullpen in the late innings for a while, but if Dayley wasn't on his game, right away Ricky Horton would get up and throwing behind him (or Jeff Lahti or Bill Campbell if a righty was coming up). Danny Cox was a solid mid-rotation starter that could rack up innings, but if he started to lose his feel for the fastball he was out of the game. On the other hand, Joaquin Andujar might get a little more slack since he was fiery and emotional ("one tough Dominican," as he called himself) and might only be losing his cool momentarily and would be back to normal the next inning.

Scott Servais does not adapt. He chooses his go-to relievers based on some would-be logic that befuddles all (I remain convinced that some of the team's personnel moves over the last four years or so were made in order to remove certain pitchers from Servais' menu of options since he kept using them poorly). He leaves some starters in too long, hooks others too early. The situation on the field rarely appears to play into his thinking. Except when it comes to pitch count, he's often all about that regardless of other factors. He is the Un-Whitey.

Over the last four games, the M's have:

  • Lost 1-0 in 10 innings, having early on failed once again to score a runner form 3rd with 0/1 out because of strikeouts, an ignominious category of ineptitude that the Mariners lead the Majors in; then after surrendering the zombie Manfred Man run in the top of the 10th, failed to advance their own, quite speedy, Manfred Man in the bottom half in favor of trying to hit a two-run homer and struck out three times to end it.
  • Tied going into the 10th, Servais calls on Trent Thornton, against whom lefties had batted .429 and righties .100, to face three left-hand batters, two of whom connect for extra-base hits to score two runs including the Manfred Man for the loss.
  • Wasted a fantastic comeback after being no-hit for 623 frames and rallying to take the lead in the 9th by going to Matt Brash to close it out despite Brash having terrible lefty-righty splits and a penchant for wildness while other, better options (Topa, who had faced just 3 batters in the 8th, Speier) remained. Brash serves up consecutive base hits and a hard line-drive sac fly to blow the lead; with runner at 3B and 1 out, does not walk the pinch-hitter that everyone except Servais expects to bunt; bunt laid down, run scores, game over.
  • Brings in Andres Muñoz, who was wild and blew the save two days before, in the 8th inning to hold an 8-5 lead, then leaves him in to pitch the 9th despite clearly not having his good stuff—both velocity and control of both pitches lacking. Muñoz walks two and serves up two hits to lose the lead, and not until the sixth batter of the inning does Servais get anyone throwing behind Muñoz in the ’pen. M's would win it in the 10th thanks to a great defensive play by Dom Canzone that ended the KC 9th before a fourth run could score. (Also: first time I've ever seen a manager argue for interference on a play that ALREADY WENT HIS WAY. What are you doing, dude?!!)

In isolation, not a big deal. Shit happens. But this is a constant, almost everyday issue for the Mariners and has been for years. Mismanagement of the bullpen. Failure to deviate from your pregame plans and adapt to circumstance. Failure to recognize when a pitcher is in trouble and when he isn't. Failure to know who has success against what type of hitters. Failure to teach contact when you've got an easy RBI at third base, and relatedly, tolerance for enormous strikeout totals from batters.

It makes me think the M's will never win a pennant so long as Servais is the manager, but then I remember: Cito Gaston won two and he didn't even know what a bench was for.

So, you know, still a chance.

No Comments yet

Baseball notes

bsaeball1

Prior to last year, when I chose to abandon it mid-season, I was running a website all about Your Seattle Mariners baseball club. If it was still up and running, this would have been a full couple of weeks of posting there thanks to the annual Major League Baseball trade "season" that came to a close on August 1st. A lot of movement there to cover.

For better or worse—mostly better, as the work-to-benefit ratio at that site was pretty sad—I didn't pay as close attention to such things this year since I didn't feel a need to cover it online, but I have been involved in conversations as well as observed other comments regarding the trades made and not made by the Mariners.

Since July 1st, the M's traded away outfielder A.J. Pollock, pitchers Chris Flexen and Trevor Gott, and five minor leaguers of little impact (the most highly regarded of which is OF Jack Larsen, traded to San Francisco for a Player to be Named Later or other compensation to be determined); no one, including me, seems to think those deals are particularly notable. Pollock was a bust on a one-year contract, Flexen had pitched himself out of a job, Gott was expendable to get Flexen's contract off the books, and no real depth was lost from the minors.

They also released second baseman Kolten Wong and traded reliever Paul Sewald to Arizona. Those are the ones people talk about.

Wong was a disappointment with the M's after coming over in an offseason trade with Milwaukee, but to be fair, he was only given one chance, right at the beginning of the year. He started out slow, hit his high-water mark on May 10th (.195, .287 OBP), and then was given an average of 1.7 PAs per game the rest of the way. He might have fought his way out of the slump, he might not have. We'll never know. He hasn't caught on with another team yet, but I'm sure he will before long, and I'd bet he bats better than .250 with that new club. Still, his departure doesn't hurt the Mariners at all.

The Sewald trade is the one people question. Some think it was throwing in the towel on making the ’23 postseason. I disagree, I think it was a great move, selling high on a player who'll never be more in demand and improving the team long- and short-term.

The return for the M's in these deals was two minor-league pitchers of little consequence, a big-league reliever in Trent Thornton, two PTBNL or cash, and the three guys from the Sewald deal with the Diamondbacks: IF Josh Rojas, OF Dominic Canzone, and Triple-A 2B Ryan Bliss.

Rojas is no help. He basically replaces Wong with worse defense. He's versatile, can play four or five positions adequately, but the M's already have a better player like that in Sam Haggerty, currently toiling in Triple-A with a .321/.406/.580 slash line that makes me shake my head—why is he still down there while the M's keep trotting out Dylan Moore and Rojas? Even José Caballero hasn't been that productive, batting just .188/.275/.250 with a near-30% K rate since the middle of June. I'd much rather have Haggs on the roster than any of those three.

Anyway, though Rojas is meh at best, Canzone and Bliss are good players that just need a chance to prove themselves, and they play positions of need for the Mariners. The Seattle outfield is a mess, with last year's Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez the only solid everyday guy in the mix. Teoscar Hernández has been disappointing—though he's shown signs of being his old self of late (batting .302 over his last 10 games)—and Jarred Kelenic got mad and broke his foot while having a tantrum after striking out a while back. Canzone had a traditional development period in the minors, not skipping levels like the Mariners tend to do, and tore it up in Triple-A the last couple of seasons (.939 OPS in 588 ABs) before his recent callup and just needs an adjustment period to find his way in the bigs. Bliss needs a full year at Triple-A to gauge his readiness; he mashed at Double-A, which is promising, but skipping Triple-A is usually a bad move. Still, there's upside to the guy and he should either be a 2B candidate in ’25 or mid-’24 or a good trade chip.

More to the point, relievers in general and closers in particular are, in my view, tremendously overvalued. The number of truly dominant, sustainably effective closers in baseball since the save became a thing is small. There have been maybe a dozen. Half that if you're really strict in your metrics. Every team would like to have Mariano Rivera or Dennis Eckersley at the back end of the ’pen, but plenty of very good teams get by with the sort of effective late-inning relief that lasts for a year or two and/or that is found on some other club's scrap heap. Lots of guys can rack up saves. You know who's 21st on the all-time saves list? José Mesa. Yes, that José Mesa. There are 17 guys that have had 50+ saves in a season and I bet you can't name them all.

The list of relievers the Mariners have used as closers—effectively!—includes names like David Aardsma, J.J. Putz, Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, Steve Cishek, and Mike Schooler. Even Bobby Ayala was decent at it in 1994. Paul Sewald is not out of place on that list, guys that were good for a while then flamed out or just had a couple of fine years in otherwise average careers. Point being, closers are easily replaced and Canzone/Bliss/Rojas is a more than solid return for a name from that list in general and Canzone is more important to the team right now by himself than was Sewald.

Sewald himself was a scrap-heap find. Picked up off the Mets' discard pile, he'd been a middling to poor relief option in New York, 14 losses and a 5.50 ERA over 147 innings. In his first opportunity with the Diamondbacks, Sewald blew the save while surrendering a pair of homers. The Mariners will plug someone else into the role—likely Andres Muñoz, who fits the classic closer "profile"—two-pitch type with fastball near or at 100mph and a favored breaking pitch—a lot more than Sewald did, but scrap-heap pickups like Justin Topa or Thornton might do just as well.

Seattle is now eight games above .500 and a better bet to make the playoffs now than they were a week ago. Good job.

Elsewhere in the baseball world, I happened on a section of baseball-reference.com that attempts to track the effects of Commissioner Rob Manfred's rule changes that went into effect this year. To my great non-surprise, so far the results are not such that it makes me change my opinion on them—on the whole, I still think they do more harm than good.

The pitch clock has shortened the overall time of games. To date in 2023, the average time of game is two hours and thirty-eight minutes. To my mind that's an overcorrection—2:45-2:50 seems about right for an average to me, and that was the norm from 1998, when MLB expanded to its current 30 team structure, through about 2011. From 2012 through last year it hovered around the three-hour mark. So Manfred has cut 22 minutes or so from the typical game, the most significant effect of his changes, mostly by reducing the time between the start of one plate appearance and the start of the next by 15-20 seconds. (The most striking number might appear to be the percentage of games over 3.5 hours—a minuscule 0.3% this year—but some of that is because of the inane, detestable zombie-runner-in-extra-innings rule that should be excised from the game immediately if not sooner, along with the at-least-equally detestable designated hitter rule. The zombie runners were a thing in 2020-2022 also, and there were a lot of 3:30-plus games in those years, so one could infer the pitch clock to be the primary factor, but I'd need to see data on the number of extra-inning games in each year.) I submit that this can be tweaked to make the change less severe by making the pitch clock a standard 20 seconds, not 20 seconds with runners on and 15 without.

The larger bases and the restriction on pitchers keeping runners close to the base has resulted in an uptick in stolen base attempts to roughly 0.9 attempts per game, or about what it was in 2012. The big difference is in the success rate: 80%, or about 10% higher than used to be the norm when attempts were that frequent. (Even my favorite team of all time, the 1985 Cardinals, which has that honor in part because they stole tons of bases, had a then-elite success rate of 77%.) This I attribute to the bigger bases and I feel like it cheapens the play. (Although, it may also be attributable to the newish more-common practice of catchers resting on one knee; the traditional catcher crouch is faster when it comes to getting a throw off to second base.) I love me a stolen base, don't get me wrong, but it loses something when it's not just the speedy guys that can get them.

The change that netted almost zero change is the ban on defensive shifts. Maybe a few individual players have benefitted form this, but overall it's been a big nothing:

Defensive Shift
YrGmsBABAbipH/91B/9HR/9K/9R/9Ground Ball BALHB Ground Ball BARHB Ground Ball BALine Drive BALHB Line Drive BARHB Line Drive BA
2023 3364 .248 .297 8.52 5.44 1.21 8.73 4.66 .248 .240 .253 .642 .648 .638
2022 4860 .243 .290 8.29 5.41 1.09 8.53 4.35 .241 .226 .250 .631 .628 .633
2021 4858 .244 .292 8.34 5.28 1.26 8.90 4.65 .241 .232 .248 .637 .636 .637
2020 1796 .245 .292 8.40 5.28 1.34 9.07 4.85 .237 .215 .255 .643 .637 .647
2019 4858 .252 .298 8.71 5.38 1.40 8.88 4.86 .242 .233 .247 .632 .633 .632
2018 4862 .248 .296 8.49 5.45 1.16 8.53 4.48 .246 .235 .253 .626 .627 .624
2017 4860 .255 .300 8.78 5.60 1.27 8.34 4.70 .249 .241 .254 .632 .632 .632
2016 4856 .255 .300 8.79 5.72 1.17 8.10 4.52 .249 .238 .257 .659 .654 .662
2015 4858 .254 .299 8.73 5.81 1.02 7.76 4.28 .249 .241 .255 .644 .643 .645
2014 4860 .251 .299 8.58 5.87 0.86 7.73 4.08 .252 .244 .258 .657 .648 .664
2013 4862 .253 .297 8.68 5.86 0.96 7.57 4.18 .244 .238 .248 .674 .674 .673

The ’23 numbers are more than ’22's, sure, but you only have to go back to 2016-2017 for higher ones across most columns (or lower in the case of Ks per 9 innings). Was the shift really that big a factor from 2017-2022 or is that dip within a statistical expectation?

Obviously, less than one full season's worth of stats isn't going to be definitive of anything, we'd need to see a few years' accumulation to really see if anything really changes much.

No Comments yet

Junior grades

robert jr

Last night I went to the Mariner game with my friend Dave. Dave is from Chicago, so every year when my group does its season ticket draft, I try to snag a game against the White Sox for him and me to go to. It's cool under those circumstances, because whatever happens, one of us will be going home happy.

It was a good time, mostly—I had some issues on the way down that hindered things a little, but overall it was a fun evening getting to talk and visit with Dave as well as watch the Mariners bungle their way into a skin-of-their-teeth victory (3-2 final after a solo homer in the 7th).

Frist issue was traffic. I was intending to pick Dave up a good hour-plus before game time, which normally would allow plenty of time to get to the ballpark area and park, but some stuff must have been going on as the freeway was backed up for miles and reportedly alternate routes were similarly clogged. It was all I could do to meet Dave at a rail station and take the train down in order to get there on time. The train was packed tight and I was dressed for rainy-evening chill, so by the time the train arrived at Stadium Station I was pretty badly overheated and a little nauseous. I needed a couple of minutes in the fresh air once we got off before I could resume hurrying to the ballpark. Then we had e-ticket issues with our phones while at the gate. I hate being late to games, so things were adding up, but nothing we could do about it really, and we still got up to the concourse at 7:12 for the 7:10 first-pitch. Success, we thought! But, thanks to the new pitch-clock rule and Rob Manfred's jihad against fun time, we'd already missed two-thirds of an inning.

"What?" Dave asked, rhetorically. "We missed two batters already? Seriously?" Stupid Manfred.

Then we had to ascend to my season seats in section 327, so we missed a couple more batters, but hey, we got there and it was mercifully not one of these ridiculous two-hours-and-done games like I'd had the misfortune to attend a couple times already this year. By the time I'd gotten to sit down, shed some of my layers to vent heat, ingested some soft drink refreshment and some chowder that Dave thoughtfully gifted me, I was feeling better and able to enjoy the Mariners' apparent futility as they left more and more runners stranded on base. By the middle innings Chicago was ahead 2-1 and they only had three hits; Seattle had six hits and had left 10 aboard. Thus:

Fortunes reversed by the end, but I have no "after" photo. Oh well.

Anyway, I've a pet peeve with some ballplayers in recent years that one of the White Sox players was participating in, and that's certain players who are "Juniors" wearing their surname plus "Jr." on their backs. It's totally unimportant, of course. But it's grammatically wrong and thus irks my English major nerddom.

Players traditionally have their surname above their number on the back of their jerseys. "SMITH / 12," that sort of thing. The custom the last few years is for guys with names like "Joe Smith, Jr." to wear "SMITH JR. / 12." Now, I would understand this if it was to make a distinction from, say, Joe Smith senior. So far as I know, though, such a circumstance has only existed once in the Major Leagues, and for a rather brief period, when Ken Griffey, Sr., and Ken Griffey, Jr., were simultaneously Seattle Mariners, but they simply each wore "Griffey" above their number 30 and 24, respectively. But in any other circumstance it's just weird.

The White Sox guy in question is Luis Robert, Jr. His surname is not "Robert Jr," it's "Robert." He's Luis Junior. The Tampa Bay club had a pair of brothers a while back, Melvin Upton, Jr., and Justin Upton. They each just wore "Upton," like the Griffeys did, but under today's common usage, Melvin would be wearing "Upton Jr." and Justin merely "Upton." (Only Melvin is older, so Justin is actually junior to Melvin, just to make it weirder.) It's everywhere. Houston manager Dusty Baker, known throughout his long career as simply "Dusty Baker," now wears "Baker Jr." on his back. You've got "Acuña Jr.," "Guerrero Jr.," "Tatis Jr.," "Witt Jr.," "Sousa Jr.," and on and on. Guerrero and Tatis are each not only juniors, but second-generation big-leaguers following their dads, so you might be able to sway me with a case for them; but on the other hand, Guerrero's teammates Bo Bichette and Cavin Biggio are also big-league sons of big-leaguers, and there's no distinction there, so on second thought, no, you wouldn't sway me. Now, if these guys wanted to wear their first names—only done by two players that I can think of, Ichiro Suzuki and Chili Davis—then appending "Jr." would make sense if one was, in fact, a junior. "Vlad Jr. / 27." It could work.

Like I said, totally unimportant. I just had to get that off my chest. :)

Sadly, on the way home from the game I lost my scorebook. We think I must have tucked it under my arm while waiting for the train and with my various layers impeding my ability to feel it there it dropped to the platform without either of us noticing. I didn't realize it was missing until we were halfway to the Capitol Hill stop. Oh, well, not a big deal—though it did have my record of games I'd been to over the past couple of seasons, including the playoff game last year—but I really liked the pen that was clipped to it. I'll need to make a special trip to get a replacement, it's not the sort that can be found at a drug store or something.

No Comments yet

1 2 3