Mariners Musings

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

Friday, January 30, 2004

DIPS (not the Super Bowl snack, here)

1) Mathematics is the language of nature.
2) Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.
3) If you graph these numbers, patterns emerge.
Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature (Pi, Aronofsky).

As Dave and Derek have already pointed out, Bob Finnigan has a lesson or two yet to learn about the mathematical language of baseball. If Finnigan writes a baseball fantasy preview, and you wager money in your fantasy baseball league, don't read that preview, that is, unless you do so strictly for entertainment purposes. He couldn't be any more wrong about Ryan Franklin improving on his 2003 even if he windexed his crystal ball.

Jay Jaffe, the mad scientist behind Futility Infielder, has graciously calculated and posted the 2003 DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics). I'll let him explain the background:
The Defense Independent Pitching Statistic (DIPS) system was invented by Voros McCracken. His studies of pitching statistics suggest that major league pitchers do not differ greatly on their ability to prevent hits on balls in play. The rate at which a pitcher allows hits on balls in play has more to do with defense and luck than to his own skill, and can vary greatly from year to year.

This controversial and somewhat counterintuitive way of looking at pitching statistics has its advantages. The chief one is that we can do a better job of evaluating a pitcher's future performance by concentrating on the defense-independent things he does--strike batters out, walk them, plunk them, and give up homers--than we can by considering the effects of the defense playing behind him.

In essence, the pitcher's destiny is in his own hands when it comes to walks, strikeouts and home runs, but once that ball goes into play, it's up to the seven players behind him whether that ball is caught or if it falls for a hit. In theory, these peripheral statistics--walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed--are much more helpful in predicting a pitcher's success than his ERA, which can be influenced by the quality of the defense behind him.

According to DIPS, no pitcher in baseball was aided more by his defense than Ryan Franklin. It's not even close. The difference between his actual ERA and what his ERA should have been given his peripherals is more than a run and a half per nine innings, which is pretty remarkable.

Here's a table of the 2003 Mariners (min. 200 batters-faced)
(BFP=batters faced, ERA=actual ERA, dERA=DIPS ERA)

         BFP  dERA  ERA   Diff

Moyer 897 4.20 3.27 0.93
Pineiro 890 4.05 3.78 0.27
Franklin 877 5.26 3.57 1.69
Garcia 862 4.82 4.51 0.31
Meche 785 4.79 4.59 0.20
Mateo 338 4.10 3.15 0.95
Hasegawa 283 3.93 1.48 2.45
Rhodes 228 3.37 4.17 -0.80
Soriano 201 1.93 1.53 0.40

Team 4.36 3.76 0.60

As a team, the Mariners' defense made the pitchers look better by more than half a run per game, which comes to about 100 runs over the course of a season. With Bill Bavasi completely punting the defense of the left side of the diamond, the Mariners' pitchers are sure to see more of their balls in play drop of hits. No starter will see this more than Ryan Franklin.

Shigethoshi Hasegawa is another who will greater suffer from the weakened offense, and too a lesser extent, so will Jamie Moyer and Julio Mateo. What all four of these pitchers have in common is the relatively low amount of hitters they strikeout and walk, and thus, a relatively high number of balls they allow into play.

Difference for pitchers like Soriano, Pineiro, Garcia and Meche is the fewer balls in play they allow as their strikeouts or walks or both are at or above the league average. We shouldn't expect a whole lot of change next year from them.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, the one pitcher whose ERA was actually greater than what his peripherals show, thus the only one likely to improve in 2004, is the one pitcher the Mariners let walk away--Arthur Rhodes.

Jay provides an exhaustive list of DIPS links across the web if you're so inclined. John and Larry have also touched on the subject this week.

There may be one saving grace to Franklin. In attempting to explain the discrepancy in Barry Zito's ERA and dERA, Ken of the aptly titled Barry Zito Forever explains, "Recent scrutiny of DIPS has found some exceptions. Some pitchers do demonstrate some control over BABIP. Knuckleballers. Extreme flyball pitchers. Lefthanders. And the most recently discovered exception, pitchers who get lots of infield popups." Franklin qualifies as an extreme flyball pitcher. Is he an exception to the rule? We'll certainly see.

|| Peter @ 1/30/2004

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Frigid day blues

From the days of my youth I remember a Calvin & Hobbes strip in which Calvin steps outside into the snow. His face contorts violently and then he remarks how he hates it when his boogers freeze.

That was me this morning as I waited for an hour on the train platform in the 5-degree dawn air--the kind of arctic air that lights your lungs on fire while at the same time freezing your boogers.

I feel I can't help pointing the following comment out. I know he's a Padre now, but for some reason my heart is still in denial. It's like we've broken up and I'm having trouble letting go. Come on, Pete, just let go. Or better yet, "Run, you fool!" Steven Goldman, in his latest Pinstriped Bible column, contemplates the conundrum the other Boone has brought upon the Bronx:
Third route is to trade for an expensive vet who isn't much use to his present team, such as Adrian Beltre, Phil Nevin, Jeff Cirillo, or Shea Hillenbrand. Beltre is young but consistently awful. Nevin's best days are likely past, but he would still be an offensive upgrade on Boone. Cirillo, like Gandalf, has fallen into darkness while crossing Moria. If a player hasn't shown up since 1999 it's probably safe to call back the St. Bernards. [emphasis added]

And if ever there was a day that our nation yearned for a hero, that day is today. Chris Snelling, arise, for this is your hour.
|| Peter @ 1/29/2004

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The ruling passion conquers reason still

Do you follow hockey? I don't. Well, I didn't.

During my formative years in northeastern Oklahoma, I can't exactly say hockey was on my radar screen. Like sushi, public transportation and the $10-movie, it was a rumor of some other planet. Even in Seattle--no hockey. But things are different now for me. I've had an epiphany of sorts. I live in Northern Virginia, and there's this team called the Capitals. And here I thought they were talking about that domed building downtown.

But I digress... Unless you follow hockey or are a general sports fan within the Beltway you may have missed this little story from Sunday evening:
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was involved in a physical altercation with a season ticket holder at MCI Center on Sunday night after being taunted and jeered by fans during the team's loss to Philadelphia, the Capitals' first home game since Leonsis traded all-star winger Jaromir Jagr to the New York Rangers.

The fan, Jason Hammer, 20, a resident of the District, said Leonsis grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground after he had led a mocking chant of Leonsis during the game and hoisted a sign chiding him. Some witnesses explained the confrontation differently, offering varying accounts of the severity of the clash (LaCanfora, Post).

Now, there's plenty of he-said-he-said, kiss-and-make-up going down. Leonsis, who is also the vice chairman of AOL, has publicly apologized to Hammer and invited him to enjoy a game in the owner's box, and Hammer will deny pressing charges. However, the NHL will still investigate the matter and may fine or suspend Leonsis. Thomas Boswell today writes that these are just the fans the Caps should be embracing. Fellow DC blogger and rabid hockey fanatic Eric McErlain has been all over this story both today and yesterday.

I'll readily admit to being naive to specific details of the Washington Capitals and the NHL, but I can't help but feel a wee bit jealous. I mean, think about this. Can you imagine Mariner CEO Howard Lincoln coming to blows with a fan at Safeco Field? Can you imagine Bill Bavasi answering 100 emails a day from critical fans explaining why he signed Raul Ibanez and not Mike Cameron?

Now, absolutely not am I advocating physically attacking Mr. Lincoln nor any member of the Mariners syndicate management. It was a pretty stupid move by both Jason Hammer and Ted Leonsis. And maybe Ted Leonsis deep down really is a bad man of the cookie-cutter sports owner variety.

I just wish the Mariners were run by people that passionate about their team and their fans. Art Thiel in his book records then-Nintendo-CEO Howard Lincoln's response to Nintendo's interest in buying the Mariners a decade ago as, "What the f*ck are you thinking?" Now that is a man in touch with the intangible passions of local professional sports. And he's running my team.

Where are the executives who are warm-blooded, frenetic fans?

Elsewhere, Bob Finnigan reports that Bill Bavasi has discussed Pudge Rodriguez with Scott Boras. The golden question is, though, have they discussed the future of Carlos Beltran? One name Finnigan drops is Ron Villone, who might be an effective lefty swingman. However, last year Villone was one of those rare cases being more effective against righties than lefties, though his 3-year splits don't bear that out. Eeh.

For once, though, John Hickey outdoes Finnigan in the game of ridiculous name dropping: Raul Mondesi and Travis Lee. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Raul's a rightfielder, right-handed hitter who gets on-base just one-third of the time. Lee's a left-handed first baseman who finds it a challenge getting on-base against left-handed pitching. Neither fills an emergent need. Which probably makes them items #1 and #2 on Bill Bavasi's to-do list.

The Mariners blogosphere continues to swell to potentially world dominating proportions:

Sons of Buhner articulately contrasts the off-season strategies of both Bill Bavasi and the Padres' Kevin Towers and Bavasi and the Royals' Allan Baird.

Mariner Minors: A little over a month ago I pined for a Mariners blog in the flavor Brad Dowdy's excellent Atlanta-themed No Pepper. I got my wish, and I'm so happy.

San Shin takes it's name from the Japanese term for "three strikes." Author Jeff Shaw astutely points out just how clueless the Seattle GM is. Might I add that Sasaki pitched only 33 innings last year. I believe that hole you speak of, Bill, has already been patched.

Unfortunately, the ruling passion of the Seattle Mariners conquers reason, and it's name is not "Baseball."
|| Peter @ 1/28/2004

Monday, January 26, 2004

Snow day! (and some unforgettable Mariner moments)

I can't remember the last time I had one of these (the snow day, that is). Snow, ice, blech. I have cabin fever as it is.

Pardon the narcissitic aside here, but I just noticed the total number of visitors to this site since last May. According to MLB.com, Safeco Field seats 47,116. That means there have been enough visitors of this blog to just about fill Safeco Field to capacity. And that, my friends, is a surreal thought. Thank you one and all for visiting and visiting again and again. Then again, it could just be my enthusiastic kid sister racking up the hits just to boost my ego. I gotta love her.

So I thought I'd follow up the list of Worst Mariner Non-Pitcher seasons with a reciprocal list of Best Mariner Non-Pitcher seasons. I did the research, and you know what I found? That was a boring project. No kidding. The top ten seasons are all Junior, Alex and Edgar. That's it. Now don't get me wrong. Those are three of the four greatest Mariners ever. I just find Leroy Stanton and Juan Bernhardt more interesting to write about.

Maybe it's me, but I'm more often than not drawn to the villain rather than the hero. I don't think I'm the only one. I mean, the name of the sequel to Silence of the Lambs was not Clarice. George Lucas did not choose to write a trilogy explaining the origin of Han Solo. Apparently I'm not the only one who finds Judas Iscariot the most fascinating character of the Gospels, from a strictly literary perspective.

Yeah, so Cirillo-sized tragically flawed Gollum-villains. Fascinating. Griffey-sized superheroes. Boring.

But here's that list, just for kicks, if despite the these Bavasi Dark Ages, one can remember those golden days of Seattle baseball past:

10. Alex Rodriguez, 1998.

Alex hit .310/.360/.560 with an EqA of .307. He became baseball's second 40/40 player when he slugged 42 home runs and stole 46 bases (in 59 tries, a 78% success rate). He led the league in hits with 213 while scoring 123 runs and driving in 124. Meanwhile, his defense was worth 23 runs above replacement, and overall, he was worth 9.8 wins above replacement to the third-place Mariners.

9. Edgar Martinez, 1995.

Edgar's 1995 just edges Alex's 1998 on the basis that Edgar put together the best purely offense season in Seattle history. He hit .356/.479/.628 with an EqA of .366. He led the league in batting, on-base percentage, on-base plus slugging (1.107), games played (believe it or not, 145 in the strike-shortened season), runs scored (121), doubles (52), adjusted OPS (183, despite playing in the Kingdome) and times on base (307). He was worth 9.8 wins to the first-ever pennant winning Mariners.

And what self-respecting Mariner fan can forget October 8, 1995? American League Division Series. The evil Yankees. Deciding Game 5. Eleventh inning. Yankees score in the top of the inning. Ace Black Jack on the mound for New York. Cora leads off and bunts a single, eluding the last second swipe-tag from Mattingly. Junior singles to center. Cora scurries to third. Strike one on Edgar. Edgar drives the next pitch to the leftfield corner. Cora scores. Tie game. Carom off the wall. Junior screams around third. Williams throw. Junior scores. Absolute delirium. Mariners win. The defining moment in Seattle baseball history. Edgar went 12 for 21 (.571/.667/1.000) in that series with 5 extra base hits, 6 walks and 10 RBI.

8. Ken Griffey, Jr., 1998.

Junior hit .284/.365/.611 with an EqA of .318. At the age of 28, he led the league in home runs with a career-high 56. He also added 33 doubles, 20 stolen bases, 76 walks, while scoring 120 runs and driving in 146. He finished fourth in the MVP vote and won a gold glove with his defense that was worth 27 runs above replacement. Overall, Junior was worth 10.9 wins above replacement to the third-place Mariners.

7. Ken Griffey, Jr., 1993.

At the age of 23, Junior hit .309/.408/.617 with an EqA of .337, the best offensive season of his career (sans an EqA of .341 in strike-shortened '94). He hit 45 home runs to go along with 38 doubles and led the league in total bases (359) and extra base hits (86). For the only time in his career, he walked (96) more often than he struck out (91). He finished fifth in the MVP voting; Frank Thomas won unanimously in a rather dubious selection in the scathing light of advanced metrics. Griffey won his fourth consecutive gold glove with a defense worth 17 runs above replacement. Overall, he was worth 11 wins above replacement for the as usual third-place Mariners.

5. Bret Boone, 2001/2003.

Take your pick, really. Boonie had essentially the same season in both '01 and '03, so he gets #5 and #6. His offense is just a shade better in '01, and his defense is just a shade better in '03. In 2001, Boone hit .331/.372/.578 with an EqA of .317. Since chicks dig the long ball so much, Boone clocked a career-high 37 of them and led the league in runs batted in with 141. He finished second in the league in hits (206) and total bases (360). He finished third in the MVP vote behind Ichiro! and Jason Giambi. His defense was worth 33 runs above replacement, and his overall worth was 11.1 wins above replacement for the historic, 116-win Mariners.

Two years later, proving '01 was not a fluke, Boone hit .294/.366/.535 with an EqA of .311. How might his '01 season not be better than that? As one may note, his on-base percentage was essentially the same despite a .040 point drop in his batting average. He had 20 fewer hits in '03 but still sluged the same number of extra base hits, walked 28 more times and stole three times as many bases. He won his third gold glove with a defense with 37 runs above replacement. Overall, he was worth 11.1 wins above replacement for the second-place Mariners, yet he managed only 10th in the MVP vote.

4. Ken Griffey, Jr., 1991.

In his third professional season, just old enough to drink, Junior hit .327/.399/.527 with an EqA of .325. He slugged 22 home runs with 42 doubles and 71 walks. Nothing too jaw-droppingly spectacular, really. Except that he was just 21. It's his defense that makes this Junior's second best season--a career best 35 runs above replacement. Overall, he was worth 11.2 wins above replacement to the fifth-place, yet first ever over-.500, Mariners.

3. Alex Rodriguez, 1996.

In just his first full season in the big leagues, the 20-year-old Alex hit .358/.414/.631 with an EqA of .334. Yes, the Kingdome was such a friendly park for hitters. He finished runner-up in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting by a mere 3 points. He led the league in batting, runs scored (141), total bases (379) and doubles (52). And if a 20-year-old shortstop hitting 36 home runs doesn't make you exclaim, "Hot dog!", I don't know what does. At shortstop, his defense was worth 32 runs above replacement, and overall, he was worth 12.0 wins above replacement to the second-place Mariners.

2. Ken Griffey, Jr., 1997.

Winning the first Most Valuable Player Award in Mariner history, Junior hit .304/.382/.646 with an EqA of .332. He led the league in slugging, runs scored (125), total bases (359), home runs (56), runs batted in (147) and extra base hits (93). He won the award unanimously, and rightfully so. He also won his eighth consecutive gold glove with a defense worth 29 runs above replacement. Overall, Junior was worth 12.3 wins above replacement for the pennant-winning Mariners.

1. Alex Rodriguez, 2000.

While Alex's raw numbers are slightly better in '96, his 2000 season is even better given the fact he was hitting in Safeco Field, rather than the Kingdome, and also because he doubled his walk total. He hit .316/.420/.606 with an EqA of .337. With 41 home runs, Alex topped 40 for the third consecutive year, and he was still just 24. He reached a career high in bases on balls with 100. His previous high had been just 59, the year previous. He scored 132 runs, drove in 134 and finished third in the AL MVP vote. You can certainly argue that Alex was more valuable than 2nd place DH Frank Thomas, but good luck arguing he was better than Jason Giambi that year. Tough call. Alex's defense was worth 34 runs above replacement, and overall, he was worth 12.4 wins above replacement for the pennant-winning Mariners.

Someone explain to me please how only in 1998 could these guys have overlapping great seasons? (Please don't tell Junior he's not #1).

Now, let's see if I can dig up anymore villains...
|| Peter @ 1/26/2004