Tag: Baseball

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.

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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."

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Perspective check

TMP327
My standard view when I go to Mariner games. Slightly higher than optimal, but otherwise great for keeping track of everything on the field

I've gone to three baseball games at the Seattle Mariners' home ballpark this month. The park has a corporately-sponsored name, but since the corporation in question isn't paying me anything I won't contribute to the annoying modern-day normalization of branding everything in sight by using the name here. I prefer to think of the place as "Niehaus Park," after the late Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, or as "Griffínezuki Field," after the Mariners' three Hall of Famers (two for now, three as soon as Ichiro Suzuki is eligible in two years).

Anyway, branding aside, the experiences were quite different in that (a) the company varied; (b) the games themselves were rather different from each other; and (c) the vantage point changed.

The first I attended mostly by myself, as seatmate DB had had a bit of a day and showed up a little over an hour late, but I was quite engaged by the masterful pitching performance put on by Seattle starter Logan Gilbert, who had a perfect game going into the 7th inning; sadly, his teammates weren't supporting him and he ended up losing 2-1 to Texas. It was a ridiculously fast game, barely over two hours, giving me a little extra confirmation bias regarding the overreach of the new pitch clock in combination with the new normal of 6:40pm start times. When an alleged night game is over before sunset, maybe things need to be rethought a bit.

Second game was courtesy of KA, who bought tickets for herself, her wife, and me through a promotion that got us some extra swag in the form of "Ty France 'Tye'-dye" T-shirts. We were thus seated in the promotional T-shirt section down low in right field, section 116. Being closer to the field like that is neat and, for me, somewhat novel, but on the whole I found it a lousy vantage for keeping track of the game. I'm so used to the view from section 327—from which the entire playing field is visible and I know how to judge the trajectory of balls off the bat, not to mention having a decent sense of whether the home-plate umpire is missing the mark on balls and strikes—that I had trouble following anything hit to left field and no clue whether a pitch was inside or out or down the middle. It's fun to move around some, though, and I appreciate the variety of perspectives on a game. The game was comfortable, a relatively easy 6-1 victory over the hapless Oakland (for now) Athletics, and being treated to greasy fish-n-chips by one's best pal in her company watching a couple of outstanding defensive plays by fill-in first-baseman Sam Haggerty while basking in a beautiful Seattle evening was delightful.

KT
Karen mugging for the camera, us in our Tye-dyes. And evidence that my chipped front tooth is more noticeable than it used to be. I should make a dentist appointment.

The third game was tonight, in the club level way out in deep right (section 213), with WB. WB has been dealing with some life-things that she is remarkably projecting a glass-half-full attitude about; it's an impressive trait of hers that I can only aspire to as I tend to feel injustices a bit more in the taking-offense part of my brain. Anyway, she and I were able to catch up a great deal while watching—or attempting to watch in the first few innings, as our seats were right in line with the setting sun and glare was a real issue—the Mariners' usually outstanding pitching staff fall to pieces against the surprisingly-over-.500 Pittsburgh Pirates, who hit seven home runs in the game. Seven. And not cheap ones, either, these were bombs, including one off the restaurant windows in the second deck. The first of these longballs came on the second pitch of the game. You're just not likely to win when the opponents hit seven homers, and despite some effort to keep things semi-close, the Seattle lineup just couldn't string together enough hits and Pittsburgh took it 11-6.

fireworks
From what we could see it was pretty.

Sitting in the club level used to have a particular perk to it, in that there are more and allegedly better food options there. The one I was looking forward to tonight was the pasta bar, which prior to this season had been little booth where cooked rigatoni was ready to be covered with the sauce of your choice, heated and mixed in a wok with the protein and veggies of your choice (among just a few options, but still) while you wait. Overpriced, of course, but a way better value than other ballpark concession options and much healthier, and I waited in line for my opportunity to order one such meal. But things have changed, and now they pre-mix all the pasta into a mere two choices that you cannot customize at all: elbow macaroni with meatballs in marinara meat sauce or macaroni-with-chicken alfredo. It felt like a not-at-all subtle middle-finger salute to me and any other vegetarian/pescatarians that (even just  occasionally) pay the premium for club-level seating at games. Even the caeser salad offering was prepackaged with chicken, ruining an otherwise tasty snack. The fallback greasy-fish-and-chips were not a ready option either, even if I'd been inclined to have another jump into seafood town so soon after the last one, as there is no Ivar's concession on the club level and I wasn't about to spend two and a half innings hiking up and down stairs to and from other decks to buy something more expensive and less satisfying than what I was set on getting in the first place. I was annoyed, but my perspective check came in the form of a reminder from my seatmate that the ballpark concessionaires didn't deserve my money and I'd be going home $20 richer because of it.

It was also Karaoke Fireworks Night, which was fun; about half the songs were of too recent a vintage for me to have much awareness of them, but I sang along (poorly) with a few and enjoyed the fireworks, though again our seats were less than ideal for that as some of the display was blocked by the retracted roofing structure and the big scoreboard.

In discussing the difference in vantage points with WB, she related some of her recent drama stuff which involved an only-in-America dilemma about health insurance that, once resolved, put the rest of her drama of the moment into a far less stressful perspective. Nothing like a massive scary thing that is 100% the fault of a group of terrorists known as the Republican party to illustrate how, no matter the stress level of your drama, things could be way worse.

Tomorrow is another day. Go M's.

TMP213Sunset from 213. Ummm...ball? Strike? Did the pitch get hit?

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Mariner musings

CBP
Philadelphia's ballpark is among my most favorites, with all its flats and angles and variety of spaces outside the main seating area. The only drawback is its location amidst a sea of asphalt in south Philly.

So, yeah, there's a lot of important stuff going on in the news—the governor of Florida seems hell-bent on turning his state into a fascist hellscape that somehow relies on tourism; two-thirds of the Supreme Court is more corrupt than Warren G. Harding, Spiro Agnew, Ted Stevens, and the entire Reagan Administration combined; shootings are rampant across America; and so on—but tonight I'm just going to make a few observations about baseball and the Seattle Mariners. Because, hey, you gotta find some balance, right?

The Mariners just concluded a three-game series in Philadelphia, in which they lost two of three at my favorite big-league venue of those I have actually been to personally. (Philly's corporately-branded ballpark has great sightlines, lovely brick everywhere, angles galore—no rounded walls in sight—lots of great spaces, Phillies history exhibits, lots of great stuff. Too bad it's so far from downtown.) When I'm watching games on television I sometimes mix it up and watch the other team's broadcast feed—since we live in the future and that's a thing we can do now—because (a) the Mariners' broadcast team ranges from OK to bad, with color commentator Mike Blowers the only reliably good voice in the booth, and I like to get a feel for what fans in other markets get to hear day in and day out; and (b) it's fun to get the opposition's perspective on what the Mariners do in the way of, er, let's call it "strategy."

So, the Phillies TV team is headed by Tom McCarthy, a consummate pro and one of the best play-by-play guys working today, with sidekick and color commentator John Kruk, a former All-Star first baseman for the Phils and a general goofball on the air. They make a great and complementary duo, with McCarthy effortlessly shifting from accurate game-calling to engaging with Kruk's blue-collar humor and unfiltered observations of the moment. Some of it is just silly, like their banter about Seattle catcher Cal Raleigh's nickname of "Big Dumper" and how completely off-color it can be interpreted. Some of it, as Kruk himself says on air, gets him emailed reprimands from Major League Baseball for not only skirting the language regs but for not towing the Commissioner's party line (this is the best stuff, naturally).

During these three games, Seattle manager Scott Servais was the indirect subject of criticism by McCarthy and Kruk, though they were generously giving the benefit of the doubt, expressing puzzlement. On Monday the Mariners' starting pitcher was Marco Gonzales, who, as McCarthy helpfully told everyone, was coming off one of the best games of his career in his previous start, one in which he was snakebit by his relief. (Marco had thrown six brilliant innings against Milwaukee, shutting them out on just two hits and an umpire-aided walk; Servais let him start the seventh inning, but then pulled him after just four pitches because the first one was dribbled weakly past the shortstop for a cheap hit and the fourth—which was precisely the type of pitch and in the precise spot catcher Tom Murphy called for, on purpose—was struck for a standard run of the mill big-league single. This was panic time for Servais, who went to the bullpen because, oh my god we're in the 7th inning and we've yet to use a reliever!! and oh my god, Gonzales is nearly at 90 pitches and must therefore be losing it!!! Matt Brash came in to allow both baserunners to score and the score went from 2-0 in favor of Seattle to 5-2 Milwaukee before the inning was over, and there was Marco leaning on the dugout railing, thinking "good grief, I'd have gotten out of that with one run scoring at worst, but nooooo, Scott has to be a slave to the fucking pitch count." I mean, probably. He should have been thinking that if he wasn't.) Anyway, here in Philadelphia, Marco was once more cruising through the game, retiring one Philly batter after another with only one real blemish, a solo home run by Edmundo Sosa. Then in the top of the sixth frame, as Teoscar Hernández is circling the bases on his two-run homer, McCarthy notices activity in the Seattle bullpen. "What's that about?" he asks. Kruk concurs. "Why? Gonzales is only at, what, 70 pitches?" (It was 75, but still.) "There didn't appear to be an injury of any kind, he's not on short rest," McCarthy added (I'm paraphrasing). They were genuinely perplexed.

I, however, have observed Scott Servais manage the Mariners for years and I know what McCarthy and Kruk did not: Servais makes a game plan ahead of time and doesn't let pesky things like what happens in the game deter him from sticking to it, and he's a slave to pitch counts. God forbid a starter goes over 90, it's as if that would bring the horsemen of the apocalypse riding in to rain destruction on all the land.

Tuesday saw the M's start Logan Gilbert on the mound. He too was pulled from the game after just five innings, and once again McCarthy and Kruk were befuddled. Gilbert hadn't been as sharp or as economical as Gonzales had been, but was still in the lead and pitching well. Continuing to puzzle over it, McCarthy seemed to be starting to catch on, opining that perhaps this was just how the Mariners do things because they've had such good relief pitching the last couple of years. I'm not sure how much I agree with the "good relief" part of that, but yeah, that's totally it. The ’pen blew it in this case, though, as Philadelphia came back to win in the late innings.

Then came today, when the starter for Seattle was George Kirby, who, as McCarthy once again told us all—the guy really is a pro, he does his homework—constantly throws strikes and should generate a lot of contact. Which was true, and lo and behold we get to the seventh inning and what's this? Kirby is back out on the mound. McCarthy and Kruk are confused again. McCarthy looks it up: this is the first time Kirby's ever pitched beyond the 6th inning. Is there something different about today? Kruk starts to suggest that since the pitch count is low—still under 70—that's why, but McCarthy reminds him (and us) that Gonzales got pulled with roughly the same count and he was pitching at least as effectively. Confusion reigned again.

For the record, Kirby completed the game. Only eight frames, but still, it's a CG in the books, a rarity in today's game and a near-unicorn-level rarity on a Scott Servais team. Still lost, though, as Philly took it 1-0.

Kruk was also entertaining to me as a critic of the new rules, specifically the pitch clock. There was an issue with time-outs and a clock violation in yesterday's game and Kruk said, "what a great game this used to be." He also remarked that he'd better stop saying such things if he didn't want another email from Major League Baseball. Come on, Kruk, you know you want to say it: Manfred sucks.

 

Seattle finds itself in fourth place in the standings as the first month of the season draws to a close, three games under .500 and three back of first-place Houston. Not great, but not that bad either, and things still look quite promising despite Scott Servais' inability to think on his feet. One reason they do is the Mariners' third baseman, Eugenio Suárez. Geno has completely changed his approach at the plate from last season. Instead of the uppercut swing of prior years, he's swinging more level and thus hitting more liners and base hits. Compared to this time last year, his batting average is up 30 points and strikeouts are down. Fewer home runs, but more runs batted in. It is exactly the kind of thing I gave up on ever seeing from the Mariners, who for so long have been champions of the "go deep or go home," "launch angle is all" school of dumb hitting coaches. Keep at it, Geno.

 

Jarred Kelenic is another bright spot on this so-far underachieving team. The former top prospect has learned well from the brutal dose of humility dumped on him in both of his attempts at a rookie season in 2021 and ’22 and is currently the team's best hitter by a mile at .313 (no one else is over .260, though J.P. Crawford has come on strong in the last two weeks). Is he finally going to be the guy that the team brass thought they were getting when they traded Edwin Díaz for him? Is it ridiculous that the word "finally" is in that sentence, as had he not been rushed way too soon to the bigs this is basically when he'd be coming up anyway? (Answers: Maybe, and yes.)

 

That relief corps that Servais seems to love so much continues to trouble me, but left-hander Gabe Speier has been terrific. Everyone else, well, my confidence is not inspired.

 

Oh, and last year's big free-agent add, former Cy Young Award winning pitcher Robbie Ray, is this year's James Paxton: One start and done. He'll miss the remainder of the year with a flexor tendon injury. Not great for the M's, but the balance of the starting rotation is really, really good, save Ray's current fill-in (Chris Flexen), who's been pretty brutal. My opinion is that they can weather the loss fairly easily, maybe by taking a flyer on someone recently cut by another team (probably not Madison Bumgarner, though), maybe by recalling Tommy Milone again, who did great in his one chance this year despite being a victim of Servais' absurd proclivities. There's really no one else on the farm that's ready to get a shot. It'll be interesting to see what they choose to do.

 

The M's go north of the border for their next series, and I look forward to learning how the Toronto Blue Jays' broadcast team handles things and seeing graphics with Canadian spellings like "defence."

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Sponsored by Acme Anvils

DeanP
Don't be a level 7 susceptible

The other day I was at the Mariners game with my friend Mack. He and I were discussing the various things, good and (mostly) bad, that have changed in baseball since Rob Manfred took over as Commissioner of Baseball and eventually we got to advertising. The Manfred era has brought more ads to the baseball consumer, including ads on the field of play at some venues (on the back of the pitcher's mound for the TV cameras and on the grass in foul ground along the baselines) and even ads on the players' uniforms.

Thankfully, not even half of the teams have instituted the uniform ads (yet). But there doesn't seem to be enough of an outcry among fans of those teams that have; I suppose our culture has just become so conditioned to accept being inundated with branding and commercialism in every moment of existence that we're kind of numb to it.

Which brings up the meat of my conversation with Mack: What's the point of it all?

Obviously, the point to Manfred and company is revenue; advertisers pay for the opportunity to plaster their logos on spaces that will get exposed to our eyeballs and MLB and the teams rake in some dough. But what's the point to the advertisers? Do they get any benefit out of this, really?

A prominent software company based in the area has an ad on the outfield wall of the ballpark (and on the rotating billboards on the wall behind home plate). Everyone knows what that company is, we see it and register "that's an ad for the software giant we're all familiar with," but does that translate somehow into more money for the company?

Mack listed off all the ads visible from our seats. We know all of the brand names. We may even associate those brands with memorable marketing, e.g. the Bob Uecker ads for a certain beer brand back in the day. We may do business with those companies, we may not. But the fact that they advertise at the ballpark means nothing to us.

If I get on an flight offered by Airline X it's because their schedules and pricing were more advantageous than those of competing airlines, not because they put their logo on the outfield wall or sponsor the Mariners' pregame show on the radio. I suppose if I had never heard of Airline X I might go "hm, they sponsor the Mariners, I will add them to the list of options I look at when booking flights." Maybe. But what percentage of the audience is going to fit into that scenario? Does this bank or that gasoline brand get more business from people that go to baseball games because they put their logos on the stadium wall? Do San Diego Padres fans all now flock to buy the sponsored brand of phones because the Padres wear that company logo on their sleeves? I rather doubt it.

Sometimes marketing has a clear purpose. Like the scenario of never having heard of Airline X, getting the name recognition out there so your company will be thought of and considered, that makes some sense. Big well-known outfits can do well with great commercials; the prominent software company's principal competitor has had some genius ads over the years that have undeniably been very successful. But those tend to be funny commercials or ads that make an impact through the accompanying message, not just a wordmark or a bit of iconography. Don't get me wrong, I love good iconography, and I guess if all else were equal and I was choosing between two brands I may well go with the one with the better design sense. But generally a great logo isn't enough to make me choose Brand X over Brand Y, and the fact that Brand X is in my face every time I watch a ballgame is not necessarily going to help their cause.

I was at another game more recently with another friend, one who still works tangentially in the advertising world, and brought this up. She was of another mind about it altogether, citing various psychological/sociological theories about what are effectively subliminal connections people can make with brands because of the repetition of seeing the names and iconography in circumstances they associate with good times. That sounded a bit too "big brother" to me for comfort, but she's probably right. People are, indeed, sheep in may ways.

I then recalled an episode of the late great sitcom Community, wherein the character of Craig is targeted by a guerrilla marketer because Craig is discovered to be "a level seven susceptible." It's pretty funny as over the course of the half hour we see Craig surrounded by more and more products from the guerrilla marketer's employer corporation. (Also a very creative way to get some product placement bucks while mocking things like product placement. Community was awesome.)

So I guess ballpark ads are like junk mail. There's a relatively tiny rate of return on them, individual consumer-wise, but of those few perhaps enough of them are level seven susceptibles to make it profitable. Kind of like the MAGA problem.

So...humanity is probably screwed.

 

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New Season Primer

SEAlogo2

For the benefit of the few of you that were loyal readers of the now-defunct site I used to run about the Seattle Mariners, here is a much-abbreviated version of what might have run there as we approached Opening Day last Thursday.

Keeping track of the offseason player movements is sometimes a challenge, and as you tune in or go to the ballpark in 2023 you may wonder, "What happened to so-and-so?" and "Who's this guy that I never heard of before?" Well, fear not, I'm here for you. And after last season's playoff run, the team was already in pretty decent shape, so there's not a ton of new faces to learn. We'll miss some of the guys who have left Seattle, but welcome the new additions to the fold.

Here goes:

Gone from 2022 New in 2023
Player New team   Player Former team
Adam Frazier (2B/OF) Baltimore (free agent)   Trevor Gott (RHP) Milwaukee (FA)
Mitch Haniger (RF) San Francisco (FA)   Teoscar Hernández (OF) Toronto (trade) 
Kyle Lewis (OF) Arizona (traded)   Cooper Hummel (C/OF) Arizona (trade) 
Carlos Santana (DH/1B) Pittsburgh (FA)   Tommy LaStella (IF) San Francisco (FA)
Erik Swanson (RHP) Toronto (traded)   A.J. Pollock (LF) Los Angeles Dodgers (FA)
Abraham Toro (IF) Milwaukee (traded)   Gabe Speier (LHP) Kansas City (waivers)
Luis Torrens (C) Chicago Cubs (FA)   Kolten Wong (2B) Milwaukee (trade)
Jesse Winker (LF) Milwaukee (traded)      
Curt Casali (C) Cincinnati (FA)      
Matthew Boyd (LHP) Detroit (FA)      

 The big moves were the trade of Winker and Toro to the Brewers for Wong and dealing Swanson and a minor-league prospect to the Blue Jays for Hernández. The rest of the shuffling was fairly minor, though Pollock could become an important piece and I'm intrigued by Hummel.

With Frazier leaving, the Mariners needed someone to hold down second base, and though I'd have preferred it if they gave Sam Haggerty a chance to claim the spot, Wong is a proven hitter and defender (though he played below expectations in Milwaukee). Losing Haniger is a bummer, but Hernández is a terrific pickup to take the right field job. Cutting ties with Kyle Lewis wasn't popular, but I like it—he may well turn into a fine hitter, but aside from being injury-prone, he only showed three weeks of solid production for the M's; it was just magnified because those weeks came in the mini-season of 2020. There wasn't room for him in the outfield mix anymore anyhow, and Cooper Hummel was an on-base machine at all levels of the Diamondbacks' minors and put up decent defensive marks as a catcher while capable of playing the corner outfield as well, so I like the trade.

Winker is apt to have a great year now that the M's have dealt him away, but I don't mind shipping him off in the Wong trade. One year of Winker for one year of Wong, contractually speaking, plus the addition-by-subtraction of unloading Toro in the process. If spring training is anything to go by—and it rarely is, so who knows—Jarred Kelenic might just be ready to come into his own, making Winker eminently expendable. And if Kelenic still can't cut it every day, Pollock can step in beyond a strict platoon, and there's some outfield depth in the minors/coming off of injury.

On paper, you'd think the guy the M's will miss most is Swanson, but Swannie's better off with the Blue Jays. Manager Scott Servais never seemed to know how to use Swanson in a way that played to his strengths, so getting traded might be how he gets to finally be a go-to 8th- or 9th-inning guy.

 Anywho, the ’23 Mariners will feature a very strong starting rotation, even though Robbie Ray is on the injured list after just one game. With Ray out for likely a month or more, it'll be Luis Castillo, Chris Flexen (in Ray's spot), Logan Gilbert, Marco Gonzales, and George Kirby. It's not often that the number two spot is the weak link, but weak is relative here. These guys could all go deep into games if their manager would allow it, but as it's Scott Servais we're talking about, they'll get shortchanged some innings in favor of an overstuffed bullpen more often than is ideal.

That ’pen is a bit of a crapshoot, too. One of the club's strengths the past couple of years, the relief corps strikes me as the Mariners' biggest potential trouble spot. There's a lot of upside in youngsters Andres Muñoz and Matt Brash, but they're both still a bit raw; Diego Castillo was great a few years ago, but not lately; Gott seems like your average middle-relief guy. It just seems iffy to me. Is the Paul Sewald of 2022 for real or will he regress? Matt Festa and Penn Murfee have looked great from time to time, but they've also looked awful on occasion; Speier has been hit-and-miss, both literally and figuratively, in his time with the Royals, and he's the only southpaw in the group. Of course, if Servais let his starters pitch seven-plus on the regular, this would be less of a deal; why, they might even realize that carrying eight relievers is kind of bonkers! Yeah, yeah, I know. Never happen.

But with that pitching staff and a lineup that features Ty France, Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez, and Hernández, this looks to be a fun season. Wong and J.P. Crawford up the middle are among the best defenders at their respective positions, and thanks to the (dumb) rule that caps the number of pitchers on the roster, the team will have a workable bench complement. I mean, it'd be better to have five than four, but Servais has to have his extra reliever. Thankfully the bench has a lot of versatility—Haggerty can play six positions; Dylan Moore, when he gets healthy, can play seven; Hummel can spell the catchers or let one of them DH without courting the disaster scenario of having a catcher get hurt and no one left to put on the gear; and whichever outfielder isn't in the lineup (most often Pollock or Kelenic) figures to be the go-to pinch-hitter.

Got all that? See, not much different from 2022. It's not like being a Reds fan, for whom only every fourth guy is a name you might recognize; or a Marlins fan, where every other name prompts a reaction of, "wait, he plays for Miami now?" (Did you know Jean Segura is a Marlin now? See, you didn't, did you.)

Batter up.

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Bullpen Bulletins

Back in the day, Marvel Comics all had a page in them near the back that was for their little promo blurbs of various kinds that they called Marvel Bullpen Bulletins. In that vein, a few things to blurb about today...

  • ITEM: Trump indicted! (Or "indicated," as he wrote on his knockoff social media platform.) About frakking time, but also, not nearly enough. It's a good start, and with luck the media will remind everyone that, though this is a relatively trivial case amongst the many criminal acts of former president VonClownstick, it was the one that conceivably allowed every subsequent one to happen and is of a kind when it comes to motive: to hoodwink the public and rig an election. May it be the first of many indictments and may it serve to lead to eventual justice being done, or at least a significant measure of it.
  • ITEM: Yesterday was opening day of baseball season! I did not attend the opener for Your Seattle Mariners as I have been wont to do, but I will attend many games this season as per usual. I watched the game on the telly, though (after the fact), and thankfully the new rules Commissioner Manfred forced upon us didn't play much of a role. There was one pitch clock violation by a Cleveland reliever, who looked uncomfortable as all get out anyway, and one play at second base on a Ty France double that might have resulted in an out instead of a safe call if the old standard bases were in use. Otherwise, you wouldn't notice much change. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the pitch clock itself is not placed in a spot that the TV cameras can see with the usual camera angles. Good—I don't want to see the damn thing, it's too distracting.
  • ITEM: Speaking of Opening Day, in years past I would have been spending a great deal of time writing up season preview articles and delving into all the player movement over the offseason and consulting my peeps for their season predictions. This all for the website I used to run based upon the magazine I used to do production for, which I finally got burned out on last summer. I gave it a go for several years, but it never made a dime and its audience never grew beyond a smattering. But I know some folks still want to know about my opinions regarding the Mariners in particular, so I'll run down some of that stuff over the weekend.
  • ITEM: As some of you know, I have a side gig umpiring rec-league softball. I was working a few games last night, one of which featured two of my favorite teams to ump for, a good crop of guy and gals that keep things fun and don't take it too seriously. One of those teams is The Leftovers, who mark their softball journeys on Instagram. I even got namechecked in one of their videos. Their captain suffered a freak injury in winter league, so he's not playing for a while, but he's always there with his camera to document all the good stuff and post it. I appreciate that when he posts a video of a close call with the question "safe or out?" that he doesn't overtly second-guess me. :)
  • ITEM: I bought my new bike finally, and gave it a bit of a shakedown ride the other day. It needs a little bit of adjustment, which I've not managed my time well enough to finish doing yet, but so far I'm pleased and not regretting the almost-$700 purchase.
  • ITEM: The Mariners are playing! I must go now to tune them in on the TV machine.

More later. Excelsior!

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A WBC game for the books

Murakami Semis
Munetaka Murakami is mobbed by teammates after delivering the winning hit

Holy moly but that was a thrilling end to the WBC semifinal game between Mexico and Japan this evening, 180 degrees from the other semifinal (wherein the US trounced Cuba by 12 runs in a dull dramaless pounding). I know most of y'all don't care about such things and fewer still watched along with me, but I was into it and this is my blog, so I'm gonna tell you about it anyway.

Boosting Japan all the way, I was, naturally, feeling a bit frustrated at how things were going. Starting pitcher Rōki Sasaki, he of the 102mph fastball, devastating forkball, 2022 perfect game, and heartbreaking personal story—he's from the Tohoku region near Fukushima and lost everything including his father and grandparents in the 2011 tsunami—had been burned by a successful two-out hit against an infield shift that should not have been employed (I know Team Japan's manager, Hideki Kuriyama of the Hokkaido Fighters, is one of those sabermetric types, but when your pitcher is throwing 100+, do you really think batters are going to pull every batted ball?) and a popup that fell in behind the third baseman before his one hiccup of the game—a hanging forkball that got crushed for a homer. 3-0 Mexico. Meanwhile, Mexico's pitching was unexpectedly sharp when it needed to be and Japan's star third baseman, triple-crown winner Munetaka Murakami, continued his tournament-long slump by failing to cash in with runners aboard (three more Ks with runners on tonight).

By the 7th inning it was looking pretty bleak and I was resigning myself to the idea that at least I wouldn't have to worry about the championship game tomorrow being spoiled for me (I will be umpiring while it's being played and planned on watching it after the fact, and softball players have a tendency to look at their phones in the dugout and gab about scores they look up, heedless of my DVR no-spoiler lockdown).

But then came the bottom of the 7th. After a frustrating strikeout by catcher Takuya Kai and a lineout by Lars Nootbaar (yes, he's on Team Japan with that name, his mom's Japanese and his dad's Dutch-American), Kensuke Kondoh delivered a base hit to generate a little hope. Mexico went to the bullpen for a lefty to face Shohei Ohtani, but Ohtani took five pitches and walked. That brought up former Osaka Buffallo and new Boston Red Sox OF Masataka Yoshida, who leads the entire tournament in RBI. Hope welled some more. Yoshida ran the count to 1-2, but I'd seen enough of his at-bats by now to know he's a bit like Edgar Martínez in that two strikes doesn't faze him. He got a changeup falling into the lefty low-inside happy zone and golfed it over the wall a couple of feet inside the foul pole to tie the game. SUGOI!!

But then Mexico retook the lead immediately in the 8th as Japan's pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, was missing with everything. Yamamoto had been brilliant in his start against Australia and for two innings tonight, but here in the 8th he couldn't seem to locate any pitch. He got Austin Barnes to strikeout on fastballs out of the zone, but Randy Arozarena creamed a hanging forkball for a double and on the next pitch Alex Verdugo bashed a fastball down the pike for another double. It was time to pull Yamamoto, but no relief was ready yet, so Joey Meneses got to whack another hanger and now runners were on the corners. Too late, Yamamoto is relieved by the young setup man for the Hanshin Tigers, Atsuki Yuasa, and order seems restored when Rowdy Tellez strikes out; but Isaac Paredes still has something to say about it and grounds one through the hole into left field. That plated one run, but Japan escaped further damage when Yoshida threw a missile in from LF to cut down Meneses on a play at the plate and end the inning. Whew, and yikes.

Down two runs, Japan puts their first two batters on in the bottom of the 8th via a hit batter and base hit. Unfortunately, the bottom of the order is now up, but in true NPB fashion, shortstop Sosuke Genda, broken finger and all, squares to bunt and lays one down to advance the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Hokata Yamakawa is summoned from the bench to bat for Kai and hits one hard to left, but it's caught by Arozarena so all Japan gets out of it is one run on the sacrifice fly. Nootbaar follows with a walk, but reliever Gerardo Reyes gets Kondoh on strikes and things go to the 9th with Mexico still ahead.

In the top half, new pitcher Taisei Ota makes short work of Mexico so when Japan comes up in the last of the 9th it's still a one-run deficit. Mexico goes to its closer, Giovanny Gallegos, a solid Major Leaguer with St. Louis during the regular year. Ohtani leads off and doubles on Gallegos' first pitch to get the crowd and his dugout (and me on my couch) excited. Yoshida gets nothing good to hit and walks, which may have been a pitch-around situation—Yoshida has been Mr. Clutch all tournament and the next guy is Murakami, mired in a slump. So now 1st and 2nd, nobody out. Yoshida's no slowpoke, but still Japan goes to the bench for a pinch-runner, the very fleet-of-foot Ukyo Shuto, in case there's a need for speed. Nevertheless, this is a good double-play opportunity for Mexico and Murakami's slump might be exploited here. And he does foul off a pretty juicy fastball to go 0-1, then lays off a breaking pitch that gets buried at the plate. But this is still the guy who just won back-to-back Central League MVP awards, slump or no slump, and the next delivery is a fastball much like the first one and this time Murakami doesn't miss: he squares it up and drives it all the way to the center field wall, scoring Ohtani easily while Shuto kicks it into warp drive and slides home well ahead of the throw in from center. Game over. Japan wins. Much jumping around and screaming. The players seemed jazzed by it, too.

Really, one of the best finishes to a game I've ever seen; it sparked memories of the 1995 ALDS, even though the stakes in a short tournament aren't nearly the same. Mexico manager Benji Gil may have the quote of the night, summing things up thusly: "Japan moves on, but the world of baseball won today."

So, tomorrow we get the WBC finale we deserve, the two most established and historic baseball nations going at it, USA vs. Japan. Should be fun.

Now, if only I can get the softball players to keep their yaps shut so I can watch late tomorrow night unspoiled by "future" knowledge.

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