Mariners Musings

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

Sunday, February 15, 2004

All aboard the A-B train!

So, while the Expos aren't moving anywhere anytime soon, Mariners Musings is relocating to a new URL address:


In the words of culinary wonderbody Emeril, we're taking it up a notch, and I'm downright giddy and damn proud to announce that Mariners Musings is joining the ranks of All-Baseball.com. You may already be familiar with The Cub Reporter and The Transaction Guy by Christian Ruzich, Bronx Banter by Alex Belth, Mike's Baseball Rants by Mike Carminiti and The Will Carroll (and TwinFanDan) Weblog. It's also where you'll now find Dodger Thoughts by Jon Weisman, Wait Til Next Year by Bryan Smith and Baysball.

Two heads are better than one, but with about eight or nine, we just may be able to take over the world. There may be some kinks to be ironed out over the next week or so, but we're all very excited and have some very big plans to deliver the very best, creative and insightful baseball writing you can find in one place on the web.

Many, many thanks go out to Christian Ruzich and Mark McClusky for all of their long hours dreaming, organizing and handling all the technical details.

A pair of new features worth pointing out: You can now search Mariner Musings. Go ahead, try it. "Ron Villone." You can find some goofy things I had to say last summer. Also, each post can now be inidividually referenced and linked by clicking on the time stamp at the end of the post.

Beginning Monday all new content will be found exclusively at the new site. In the meantime, feel free to update your bookmarks and links at your convenience.

And on the topic of Alex getting fitted for his pinstripes, all I can do is channel the spirit of Dignan and echo, "This is unacceptable! This I do not forgive!"
|| Peter @ 2/15/2004

Friday, February 13, 2004

Underneath trivial particulars

I once knew a guy who kept a box of Trivial Pursuit cards in his bathroom. He told us he'd sit there on the john memorizing all the cards. Then, when it came time for the neighborhood Trivial Pursuit game (an odd, little neighborhood if you ask me), he'd collect all his pieces of the pie and clean house as he already knew all of the answers.

So here on this mid-February day, I offer this public service to give the answers to all of those most crucial of questions concerning the Mariners, like who uncorked the most wild pitches in a season (Matt Young, 16, 1990). Now you too can enter into the nearest barroom "discussion" with the full confidence that you are right, that you know more about the Mariners, and that they are wrong and are, at worst, closet Yankee fan spies.

Here we go. We'll start with some easy ones.

Who hit the most home runs in a season?

If you said Ken Griffey, Jr. in 1997, give yourself a gold star. If you said Ken Griffey, Jr. in 1998, you get a gold star, too. He hit 56 in both seasons.

What pitcher stuck out the most batters?

If you considered anyone other than Randy Johnson, then your Mariner fan club membership has just been revoked. Among the top 10 seasons, six of them belong to the Big Unit. His best was 1993 when he sent 308 baffled hitters straight back to the dugout.

Who has had the highest batting average from someone who could qualify for the batting title?

If you think it's Edgar Martinez's .356 in 1995, nice try and thank you for playing. Alex Rodriguez won himself a batting title in 1996 with .358.

What pitcher has posted the best earned run average who could qualify for the ERA title? I'll even offer a hint: It rhymes with Jandy Rohnson.

Bingo. Randy Johnson is the only qualifying Mariner starter to post an ERA below 3.00, and he did it twice. His best was 1997 with 2.28. That top ten is populated by Johnson four times, four Safeco Field-blessed seasons, Erik Hanson in '90 and Matt Young in '83.

Now for some questions for your more serious stat-head conversation:

What hitter posted the highest on-base percentage (has to qualify for the batting title)? Would it help to offer that this individual has seven of the Mariners ten best seasons in this category?

This would be Edgar with .479 in 1995. Eight times Edgar has gotten on base in at least 42% of his plate appearances. Only Alex Rodriguez and Alvin Davis have done that even once while in Seattle.

What pitcher stifled offenses with the fewest baserunners per inning (WHIP) while qualifying for the ERA title?

Randy Johnson in 1995 with 1.07.

And how about slugging percentage?

That would be Junior with .674. All hail the power of the Kingdome. Just two Mariners have posted SLGs above .500 in the three and a half seasons at Safeco: Bret Boone in '01 and '03 and Edgar in '01. That's partly the difference in roster philosophy between homer-happy Woody Woodward and anti-slugger-superstar Pat Gillick and partly park effects.

What pitcher put together the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio?

Qualifying only starters (min. 162 innings), that's again Johnson in 1995 with 4.52 strikeouts for every base on balls. Qualifying the specialty, flame-throwing relievers (min. 40 innings), that's Arthur Rhodes in 2001 with 6.92. By the way, Rafael Soriano's 2003 ranks 3rd on the list with 5.67 and Julio Mateo's 2003 5th with 5.46. Talk about control freaks.

Now, here's the questions that separate the men from the boys (or the women from the girls, depending on your gender). These are the really critical ones that will help you discern friend from foe when you find yourself deep behind enemy lines. These are the ones that really mean something.

What Mariner hitter has been hit with the most pitches?

For the majority of his Seattle career, Dave Valle wore the number 10 on his back. Turns out in 1993 that "0" was actually a target as Valle led the major leagues 17 free passes from getting plunked. The next closest in Seattle history was Phil Bradley in 1985 with 12.

What Mariner pitcher drilled the most batters?

This is Randy Johnson during his Wild-Thing-era. And ten years ago, he wasn't pitching odor-eating dodgeballs. In 1993, Johnson near mortally wounded 18 hitters. This was also the same season as the classic John Kruk at bat in the All-Star game.

What Mariner has been caught stealing the most times in a season?

The answer is everyone's favorite ex-Mariner Baseball Tonight correspondent Harold Reynolds. After leading the league with 60 stolen bases in 1987 (with an excellent 75% success rate), Reynolds was caught a league leading 29 times the next year while only stealing 35 bases, which makes for an unproductive 55% rate. It's the sixth highest caught stealing total in all of baseball since integration.

What pitcher committed the most balks?

Curiously, eight of the top ten occurred in 1988. Anyone know if there was a rule change, sudden enforcement, something in the Puget Sound water or maybe Dick Williams and Jim Snyder plain didn't care? In any event, the leader is Rod Scurry with 11. Steve Trout and Jerry Reed both had 7. Gene Walter and Mike Jackson both had 6. Four of those five were relievers. And this was all in 1988. The Year of the Balk.

What Mariner grounded into the most double plays?

Not only did Jim Presley create in out in 78% of his at bats, he doubled the fun for the defense grounding into a double play 29 times in his utterly miserable and in every way forgettable 1985 season.

What pitcher served up the most home runs?

Loook no further than Scott Bankhead, who coughed up 35 home runs in 1987. Interestingly, if you choose to look closer, number two on the list is Ryan Franklin with 34 in 2003. In fact, two other pitchers from last year--Freddy Garcia and Gil Meche--place in the top ten, with 31 and 30, respectively. Go figure.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an essay entitled "Experience" that "underneath the inharmonious and trivial particulars, is a musical perfection, the Ideal journeying always with us, the heaven without rent or seam."

Who did what the best in what year are all inharmonious and trivial particulars, especially as time marches on. And yet, it is such detailed minutia that makes the musical perfection of baseball. I'll bet good money that not only do they play baseball in heaven, but Saint Peter keeps score and counts everything. Even the little things that don't matter.

And if you yourself want to answer these questions as well as any other one who could imagine in this life or the next, such was who is the greatest hitter ever born in the state of Washington (John Olerud, and you can make a good case for Snohomish-native Earl Averill) or the greatest left-handed Canadien pitcher (John Hiller), then hurry yourself over to Lee Sinnins Sabermetric Encyclopedia. There is no better distraction for the February blues. At the very least, sign up for his free daily Around the Majors reports. It's indispensible stuff.
|| Peter @ 2/13/2004

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Retrosheet is a big liar-head

I fell in love with Retrosheet a month or so ago. I'd known it was out there, but I'd never taken time to just get lost in it. I keep meaning to write up a piece on the worst pitchers of Mariners of history, but then I seriously get lost in Retrosheet and time's up. As The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to the Silmarillion so is ESPN to Baseball Reference to Retrosheet. It's the Old Testament of baseball: epic history, heroic battles, the source of why the world is, all in every last gory detail.

Then I discovered the site has a serious credibility gap. It's a big liar-head.

I think Keith Woolner would agree with me. Maybe not publicly. But that's the gist I get from his latest Aim For The Head column. Keith reminisces with his romantic New England fatalism on his first game in Fenway Park on his birthday back in 1979. As Keith recalls vividly, Joe Rudi hit a 3-run homer to win the game for the Angels.

That is, until Woolner recently looked up the game on Retrosheet and the Red Sox actually won that game. (That just sounds like a Red Sox fan, doesn't it, remembering your first game as a loss when it was really a win?)

Keith blames the wispy nostalgia of memory lane. Yeah, I saw Memento, too. Subjective, creative memory. Yada, yada, yada. I don't buy it. Joe Rudi runs Retrosheet, Keith.

My own experience is eerily similar. There's not a lot I remember about the first game I ever attended. I know it was 1987 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Thus, I was 8. It's all a blur now, but I remember the Tigers were in town, the Royals lost and Alan Trammell had a big game. Oh, and that Kauffman Stadium was like some big, green, beautiful sanctuary with effervescent fountains in right field and that enormous scoreboard in center in the shape of the Royal crown.

As I comb through the box scores, it has to be this one: August 16, 1987. Family summer vacation to KC. Tigers 10, Royals 6. Alan Trammell went 3 for 5 with a double and triple, two runs scored. Trammell sealed the game with an RBI-double that broke a 4-4 tie, as Detroit scored 5 runs in the 7th inning.

I'll have to run this by Mom, though, who was keeping score and surely still has that scorecard tucked away in some corner of a closet back home. But this isn't the game that concerns me.

What concerns me is my very first baseball memory--the first game I ever watched on TV. It would have been the spring of that same year. The universe of baseball opened itself to me through a single pack Topps baseball cards in the green wrapper that I iniquisitively and fatefully picked up at the corner QuikTrip. Believe me, it's nothing short of Providence that an 8-year-old should discover Major League Baseball in the quaint Midwestern town of Sand Springs, OK.

I decided, all by myself (with perhaps a nudge from Providence himself), that I would watch a ballgame. So, with my entire baseball card collection spread out before me--all 15 of them--I sat down on a Saturday afternoon and watched the Game of the Week on NBC with Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola. Eerily similar to Woolner's baseball initiation, I witnessed the Boston Red Sox versus the California Angels. The memory permanently stamped in my head, so crystal-clear, like it happened just yesterday, is that of Jack Howell hitting a pinch-hit, broken-bat home run to win the game for the Angels and Vin Scully going bananas over this game-winning, pinch-hit, broken-bat home run. As Scully so poetically intoned, those don't happen everyday.

So several weeks ago, for some reason these events replaying in my mind, I set out into the vastness of Retrosheet to re-discover this foundational moment of baseball-hood.

But guess what. According to Retrosheet--yep, you guessed it--that never happened. Not once. Not ever. No game-winning, pinch-hit, broken-bat home runs.

Apparently, the Angels hosted the Red Sox over the weekend of May 1-3. On Saturday, the Angels emerged victorious, 4-2. Dick Scofield hit a home run. Jack Howell started in left and went 1 for 4. (Wow, Mark McLemore started at second in that game.)

Maybe it was the next weekend when the two teams again faced off, this time in Boston. Nope. The Angels clobbered the Sox 9-1 with home runs from Wally Joyner and Devon White and a complete game, 5-hitter by Willie Fraser. Jack Howell started and went 0 for 4.

The two teams later faced off again in July, but both of these series took place during the week, so it couldn't have been then. Thus, I'm left with the grim reality that game-winning, pinch-hit, broken-bat home runs do not exist. It's like I'm in second grade again raising my hand when the teacher asked who believes that unicorns are real. I honestly believed Noah just forgot to get them on the ark. I'd still like to think so. But in second grade, Mrs. Hooper ruined that one for me. Now Retrosheet is telling me game-winning, pinch-hit, broken-bat home runs do not exist.

Now, I'm left with two roads:

1) My foundational childhood memories are a figment of my imagination. (This supposition is rather unsettling as that would also preclude that my ever being a Jedi Knight is at stake.)

2) Retrosheet is wrong. (This, for obvious reasons, is a much more comfortable way to go.)

For now, I'm going with the latter. Game-winning, pinch-hit, broken bat home runs really do exist, and Retrosheet is a big fat liar-head.
|| Peter @ 2/12/2004

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Wanderings in statistical nihilism

There's a scene in that movie about the club you're not supposed to talk about where the narrator complains, "It's just, when you buy furniture, you tell yourself, 'That's it. That's the last sofa I'm gonna need. Whatever else happens, I've got that sofa problem handled.'"

I thought I had that platoon split thing handled. Then I remind myself it's freakin' February and I need to get a grip. Fifty-five more days until serenity.

Thomas Ayers over at BallparkAnalysis.com attempts to distill the essence of the Primer conversation in a column titled Myth of Lefty Mashers. He boils the argument down to two assertions: 1) To best predict how a right-handed batter will perform against left-handed pitching, don't look at his past performance against LHP. Rather, observe his performance against RHP and multiply by 1.09. 2) The converse is not true regarding left-handed batters against right-handed pitching.
The reasons for this probably stem from the fact that, since RHP are predominant at any level of baseball, it is all but impossible for a RHB to reach the major leagues without developing the ability to hit RHP to a degree acceptable in the major leagues. Players who simply cannot hit RHP get left behind at college or in minor league baseball at some point. However, LHB are in a different scenario, as it is quite conceivable that, because they face limited LHP, they could simply never develop the ability to hit LHP, but can still hit RHP. A RHB who can't hit RHP will never make the majors, but its very conceivable that LHB who can't hit LHP could make the majors, and it happens all the time. In other words, while Toronto fans can expect Vernon to hit LHP better next year, Minnesota fans shouldn't expect anything but sucking from Jacque Jones against southpaws.

I'll have to stew on this for awhile. The more I learn about baseball, the more I learn I don't know. I love it.

Now, with the Mariners bringing in yet another ex-Mariner lefty in Terry Mulholland, my question comes back to: Just how important are left-handers in the bullpen?

Conventional wisdom dictates they are necessary to neutralize the Carlos Delgados and Jason Giambis of the league, those Herculean left-handed sluggers that cause crusty, old baseball managers to soil themselves in the late innings of a close game. Sometimes I wonder just how much of the righty/lefty effect is psychological.

According to Michael Wolverton's Adjusted Runs Prevented, the five best bullpens last season were found in Los Angeles (96.4), Houston (87.0), Anaheim (66.1), Seattle (61.6) and Arizona (54.1).

The Dodgers used lefties in 91 of 472.2 relief innings, or 19%. Tom Martin saw the most action in 51 of those innings, Steve Colyer pitcher 19.2, Troy Brohawn 11.2, Victor Alvarez 5.2 and Scott Mullen. In the NL West, these are the poul souls fed to Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez and Todd Helton like Christians in the Coliseum.

The Astros utilized lefties in 148.1 of 581.1 relief innings, or 26%. The Astros had the rare privilege of sporting a left-handed closer in Billy Wagner, who pitched in 86 innings. Beyond Wagner, though, they had no true left-handed setup man. Mike Gallo saw 30 innings of action, Nat Bland 20.1 and Bruce Chen 12. In the NL Central, that crucial left-on-left matchup wasn't near as a factor where only Jim Edmonds and Brian Giles appear among five teams, and Giles was traded at the deadline.

The Angels used lefties in 42.1 of 503.1 relief innings, or 8%. Scott Schoeneweis pitched 38.2 innings and then was traded to the White Sox at the July deadline. Rich Rodriguez pitched in 3.2 innings. This in a division featuring Ichiro!, Erubiel Durazo, Eric Chavez, Hank Blalock and Rafael Palmeiro.

The Mariners used lefties in 56 of 414.2 relief innings, or 14%. Arthur Rhodes would be the lone representative with 54 innings if it were not for those two innings of Matt White we'd all love to erase from our memories. Whiles the M's didn't have to pitch to Ichiro!, as the Angels staff did, they did see Garrett Anderson.

The Diamondbacks used lefties in 170.1 of 462 relief innings, or 37%. Present Mariner Mike Myers was used in the LOOGY (lefty-one-out-guy) role seeing just 36.1 innings in 64 games while Stephen Randolph pitched in 60 innings in 50 games. Eddie Oropesa saw 38.2 innings, Chris Capuano 33 and Dennis Reyes 2.1. While seeing some of the same brutal lefty opposition as the Dodgers, they would have also faced Fred McGriff, Shawn Green and Jeromy Burnitz. But seriously, I wouldn't have been too concerned with anyone carrying a bat and wearing Dodger blue last season.

It would appear that the significance of the left-handed reliever varies from organization to organization. Among these five, little seems to connect them other than their dominance. One team used lefties more than one third of the time; another spent half the season and enters the next without one all together. One used a lefty closer and no setup man; another used just one setup man all season. In the Angels case, one could say that good pitchers, and not necessarily left-handed ones, dominate right-handed batters.

Steve over at the Wheelhouse provides the splits versus left-handed batters of the Mariners' key bullpen arms going into Spring Training. It leaves me scratching my head wondering why the M's have been so hellbent on acquiring every thirtysomething, retread, ex-Mariner lefty reliever when Hasegawa, Mateo and Soriano have been so dominant against lefties.

With two-thirds of their competition this year involving bats like Anderson, Chavez, Durazo, Blalock and Brad Fullmer, the Mariners really shouldn't be that concerned with stocking mediocre left-handed arms just for the heck of it.

So does it matter that Anaheim doesn't carry a single lefty for their bullpen going into spring training? Not if those right-handers are every bit as effective.

Then again, with the recent sabermetric buzz on platoon splits and Oakland stockpiling their bullpen almost exclusively with left-handers, one has to wonder what Beane, DePodesta and Co. know that they're not sharing.
|| Peter @ 2/11/2004

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Heresy, statistics and other profound questions of the universe

A question has been ruminating in my brain the last week or so. You see, for the over a year now I've endured the pining of the Mariners for a second left-hander out of the bullpen. Yesterday, satisfying the suspense of all these long months, the Mariners signed lefty Ron Villone. (Doesn't that headline make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside on such a cold February day? Yes, the prodigal son returns, and I missed him so. Gag.)

But does the conventional wisdom that requires two left-handers in the bullpen really matter?

Then I read Rob Neyer's column about Eric Karros. Then his follow-up reply to email. Then the deluge of a Primer thread on the topic. And Jon Weisman trembles in his own crisis of faith. A part of me thinks Rob is just being contrary. It was through him, after all, some years ago that I first learned to think that this platoon stuff was important. A part of me cries, "Foul heresy!" I feel like I've been told that the earth is not really flat and not the center of the universe. My head hurts.

Here's the crux of the process for me:
Let me be very clear about this: Yes, there most certainly is a difference to hitting against righties and lefties. As a group, right-handed hitters fare roughly eight percent better against left-handed pitchers than they do against right-handed pitchers...

Why would this be? Here's one theory (not my own, by the way) ... Growing up, right-handed batters face mostly right-handed pitchers, and so they get used to them. When they reach the minor leagues, it's not easy to hit a curveball or slider thrown by a right-handed pitcher ... but at least they've seen those pitches before. But there are very few left-handed pitchers in Little League, and few even in high school. So when a left-handed hitter enters professional baseball, having already spent many years learning to hit, he will probably have faced very few left-handed pitchers. And very few good left-handed curveballs and sliders.

Makes perfect sense, and it fits precisely into my own limited baseball playing experience. I see no reason to believe that hitting a baseball against a right-handed person and a left-handed person are one and the same skill. They are two separate and distinct skills. My childhood included three years of organized Little League baseball. I saw but one left handed pitcher in one game. Freaked me out. Never seen anything like that arm angle and motion before. I struck out looking. Not that that was unusual for me, though. It's an extremely limited experience, but it's my experience. I'd love to ask someone with college or professional experience what theirs has been on the subject.

Here's what makes my brow furrow, however:
Now, here's the hard part ... All (or almost all) right-handed hitters innately have that 8-percent edge against left-handed pitching. No matter what a right-handed hitter did last year against left-handed pitching, or even over the last five years (or more), it's highly likely that he's innately 8 percent better against lefties than righties.

All? What first pops into my mind is a quote from the late paleantologist Stephen Jay Gould dealing with means and medians. I couldn't remember it exactly, only that Nate Silver used it in last year's Baseball Prospectus introducing his PECOTA system. With a little help from the leprachauns that shovel the coal into the seach engine of the interweb thingy, I found The Median Isn't the Message.

In short, at age 40 Gould was diagnosed with abdominal mesothelioma, a rare, terminal form of cancer that stamps its host with an eight-month expiration date. That's the average, according to statistics. Rather than succumb to the enivitability of the average, Gould understood that statistical averages simply do not exist in nature, and he lived another 20 years.

We still carry the historical baggage of a Platonic heritage that seeks sharp essences and definite boundaries. (Thus we hope to find an unambiguous "beginning of life" or "definition of death," although nature often comes to us as irreducible continua.) This Platonic heritage, with its emphasis in clear distinctions and separated immutable entities, leads us to view statistical measures of central tendency wrongly, indeed opposite to the appropriate interpretation in our actual world of variation, shadings, and continua. In short, we view means and medians as the hard "realities," and the variation that permits their calculation as a set of transient and imperfect measurements of this hidden essence. If the median is the reality and variation around the median just a device for its calculation, the "I will probably be dead in eight months" may pass as a reasonable interpretation.

But all evolutionary biologists know that variation itself is nature's only irreducible essence. Variation is the hard reality, not a set of imperfect measures for a central tendency. Means and medians are the abstractions. Therefore, I looked at the mesothelioma statistics quite differently - and not only because I am an optimist who tends to see the doughnut instead of the hole, but primarily because I know that variation itself is the reality. I had to place myself amidst the variation.

Can I really believe that all right-handed batters have an 8% advantage against left-handed pitchers than right-handed ones? I don't think I can. The only thing I can say with certainty is that if I take any particular hitter, he most certainly will not have an 8% advantage in any specific at bat. But if it were true, does 8% really matter?

Further, as Jon on his Dodger Thoughts comments that as he understands, "over time, the ratio between a right-handed batter's OPS against righty and lefty pitchers is consistently 1.09 to 1" (emphasis added).

But if I'm a General Manager piecing together a roster, I'm not interested in a batter's specific skills over time. I'm interested in what his skills are right now today and what they will be tomorrow. Eric Karros's split tendencies his rookie season are irrelevant to what he offers Oakland off the bench next season. Over the course of his career, Karros may (or may not) reflect an 8% difference in his splits. But in all likelihood, he won't next season, and next season is what specifically concerns Billy Beane and the Oakland A's.

I can wrap my head around the strategy in baseball of specialists and exposing platoons. I see the method in playing to the averages. It doesn't mean I like it; but I understand it. As a fan, my biggest pet peeve about watching ballgames is seeing multiple pitching changes in a half-inning. I see the necessity in a dire situation, but certainly not for the sake of "protecting" a 6-run lead. (Twice last year Bob Melvin used Arthur Rhodes to face one batter with a 6-run lead.)

Wouldn't a better strategy be to simply acquire the best hitter/pitcher available regardless of their handedness?

And the million dollar question still stewing in my crumpled and cramped head, that will have to wait for it's own post tomorrow, is how can it matter when two of the best bullpens last year were Seattle and Anaheim and they sported a grand total of approximately 90 innings of lefties between them (out of about 1000 total relief innings)? Does Anaheim enter the season with the best bullpen in baseball despite no left-handers at all?

Stay tuned...

In the meantime, go check out Only Baseball Matters. A year ago, I was reading this blog everyday, and I came to the conclusion that the Mariners needed some representation in this here blogging thing. With the spiffy new redesign, I hope this means that the stint in the witness protection program is over and John's back to regular posting.
|| Peter @ 2/10/2004

Monday, February 09, 2004

Tick, tick, tock

One day closer to Opening Day.

One day closer until Ron Villone is a Mariner.

Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi would not confirm the signing, which would fill the 40-man roster, saying only, "We're working on things" (Finnigan, Times).

And just like that, the chunk of change that materialized from the remains of Kaz Sasaki has been spent on office supplies and Ron Villone. David Andriesen of the P-I plays devil's advocate in response to the vitriolic tantrums on the P-I's fan forum for I-want-a-superstar-and-I-want-it-now. I say bravo to Dave for attempting to counter that movement, but he's plain wrong. His argument is six-fold:

1. "There is no $9.5 million."

Andriesen is like Spoon Boy in the Matrix: "Do not try to spend the $9.5 million. That's impossible. Instead, only realizie the truth." Wait for it. "There is no $9.5 million."

Until the Mariners show good faith in their accounting practices, I say, yes there is. As Dave Cameron has noted before, "The Mariners have historically counted contract buyouts against their previous years payroll, so you have to state Sasaki's guaranteed 2004 money as $9 million." Then there's that pesky half a million in incentives Andriesen remarks that Mariners might or might not have awarded Sasaki. Doesn't matter. If you offer incentives you have to budget for that. That half a million doesn't just appear out of nowhere at the end of the season when the player has met the criteria. I'm not buying the these-aren't-the-droids-you're-looking for mantra from the M's here.

2. "It's the worst time of the year to shop."

Every day is the worst time of the year to shop when Bill Bavasi is the one with the shopping list. Yes, with catchers and pitchers reporting in mere days, Management is staring at the free agent leftovers, and that's not entirely their fault.

The gross misconception here is that not even close to 30 of the teams think they've improved themselves. I guess Mr. Andriesen doesn't know any Dodger fans. He must have missed the White Sox Fanfest. Last time I checked the Marlins have yet to replace their Division Series MVP. Have even the reigning champs improved? The hapless Reds of Cincinnati look to have even less hap. And those Rangers that Andriesen jabs at look a heckuva lot better than that triple-A team in Milwaukee. If every team thinks they've improved, then the world is an obscenely rosy place and I'm missing out.

3. "The Mariners don't know what they need."

"What if Scott Spiezio hits 12 home runs in April? What if Joel Pineiro can't throw a strike to save his life?" What if monkeys fly out of my butt?

I can tell you what the Mariners need. Position-player depth. 'Cuz right now, they got nothing. Noth-thing. This is a team one key injury away from irrelevancy. No Edgar or no Ichiro! or no Boone equals no runs.

4. "What if the Mariners stink?"

There's the pink elephant in the room. Worse than that, what if the Mariners stumble out of the gate, attendance drops precipitously by the All-Star break and the M's can't meet their budget? How dangerously close is the breaking point for this team? What is the worst worst-case-scenario the Mariners have planned for?

5. "If the Mariners don't stink, somebody will."

Pundits are never perfect, but if your best hope as an organization is in the bad luck of your competition, that's a sad, sad state and a ridiculously awful strategy for an organization with every resource, save desperate urgency, at its disposal to be a cutting edge franchise .

Andriesen makes a point here that I haven't seen volleyed about save an email: A midsummer trade makes the team responsible for only a fraction of said player's contract. With $9.5 million, a sprinkling of creativity and all the stars aligning just so, you can afford to pick up Ordonez and Beltran at the deadline. Vegas sets the odds much, much more likely on my allegiance changing to the Yankees before the Mariners dream up a scenario that radical.

6. "The Edgar Factor."

That there is no plan B for Edgar is all the more reason to spend the money rather than sit on it. It should be the #1 priority for the Sasaki fund rather than scrambling to replace Sasaki's mere 30+ innings in the bullpen last year.

So what does Bavasi currently have up his sleeve?
"We're not so much looking for an outfielder as guy who can protect Edgar (Martinez, designated hitter) and maybe play some first base," Bavasi said. "Burks would have been perfect, but we couldn't move on him until Sasaki left, and by that time he was far down the road with Boston. So we'll just keep looking around" (Finnigan).

Under rocks. Behind trees. In dumpsters. At the Goodwill. No worries, Bill. You'll find something. Maybe you can trade Quinton McCracken to Arizona for that Greg Colbrunn guy. Oh wait...

Anyone want to suggest an over/under on the days until Bob Finnigan name-drops Andres Galarraga?

First base? Bing!

Designated hitter? Bing!

Right-handed complement for Olerud? Bing!

Nice guy, feel good story, veteran presence, Seattle "face"? Bing!

Now do yourself a favor check out Baseball Outsiders, which looks to be a rather diverse gathering of independent baseball writing on the web. Nick Stampfli currently has a thorough (and giddy, I might add) review of the Mariners FanFest from a week ago.
|| Peter @ 2/09/2004

Friday, February 06, 2004

Did I do that?

November 1987 was the month before my 9th birthday. The line in the local baseball card shop meandered around the room like a snake. When my turn finally came, I slid my '87 Topps Traded Ellis Burks card across the table. "What's your name?" the smiling, college-aged, extraordinarily normal looking ballplayer asked me. My card came back to me with the words, "To Peter, Ellis Burks." The blue sharpie letters were in an abnormally legible handwriting--his first name crafted into a series of loopy ringlets. That's my memory of Ellis Burks.

This morning I read that Burks has returned once again to the Red Sox despite receiving a more lucrative offer from Bill Bavasi and the Mariners. According to David Andriesen of the P-I:
Burks told reporters in Boston he spent a lot of time on the Internet comparing the two teams. The research and discussions with Red Sox GM Theo Epstein convinced Burks he had a better chance to win a championship in Boston.

Oops. Am I culpable here?

First it's Curt Schilling checking the pulse of Red Sox Nation at SoSH before committing to his trade. Now there's Ellis Burks surfing the web comparing two teams when one offer nearly doubles the other in monetary value. Theo Epstein seems to be cornering the market on internet savvy ballplayers--or at least the inquisitive-minded with a burning, competitive nature and an internet connection. In the back of my mind I really can't help but wonder if Pudge Rodriguez has heard of that interweb thingy.

But is that mean-spirited, Bavasi-bashing, Mariner blogosphere to blame for Ellis Burks choosing Boston over Seattle? The answer is clearly no. All responsibility falls at the feet of this man who has no plan B should the most critical piece of his offensive attack breakdown, a piece that also happens to be the oldest and most fragile one on the roster. All responsibility falls at the feet of this man who has piddled around the past three months, whittling his manager's necessary 25 roster spots into 18-20 useful major leaguers. All responsibility lies at the feet of this man who has performed the once thought impossible task of transforming an irrelevant bench corps into an even more severe liability.

After three months on the job and a whirlwind of transactions, has Bill Bavasi addressed the weaknesses of this team? At this point in the winter, is he just now expecting the fill them? Does he see a useful piece of the puzzle out there?

"We hope so," Bavasi said. "If there is, we'll try to find one" (P-I).

We hope... If there is... we'll try... 1... 2... 3... 4... AAAAAHHHHH!!!

First question: Would Burks have been actually useful to the Mariners or is this another knee-jerk attempt such as the Omar Vizquel fiasco? No doubt, Burks would have become the best hitter period coming off the Mariners bench. He missed most of last season due to a pinched nerve in his elbow, and he's played just 28 games in the field the last three years, which would have given the M's two one-dimensional players in Ellis and Edgar. But that's a scenario the M's should have jumped on months ago given Edgar's injury risk.

Over the last three years, Burks has no significant splits to speak of. He's a better hitter than most of the hitters already in the M's everyday lineup against righties and lefties. PECOTA projects Burks to hit .261/.344/.449 in 297 at bats. Tone that down just a wee bit for Safeco Field. It also predicts a 58% chance for Burks to improve from last year (it really wouldn't take much) and just a 17% chance for his skills to drop off the face of the planet, a la Cirillo.

He would have been a perfect piece to substitute those Mariners (I'm talking to you, Ibanez and Olerud) who turn into pumpkins against lefties. I'm imagining late innings against the all-lefty-relief-corps of Oakland. Bob Melvin decides to take the bat away from Raul Ibanez for... Willie Bloomquist. Bavasi's had all winter to deal with this gaping hole, and so far, his strategy seems to be "If I ignore it, it will go away."

Which leads to second question: Why did Bill Bavasi wait to negotiate with Ellis Burks until the first week of February? And don't tell me that the M's didn't have a spare million in change until now. That's not a good enough answer.

No doubt, if I'm a productive hitter with maybe one last chance at a championship run, money is no option, and my choices are to play for a team run by Theo Epstein or one by run by Bill Bavasi, I'm going to Boston. No doubt.

Clearly, for ballplayers like Burks and Schilling, players curious enough to do their homework, it's about more than money. The sentimental 9-year-old in me wants to say I could have told you that about Ellis Burks just from the way he looked at me 16 years ago.

This post has been corrected. Thanks to Tribe Fan Dave for pointing out that Burks's '03 injury was a pinched nerve in his elbow that caused numbness and weakness in his hand rather than a knee problem.
|| Peter @ 2/06/2004