Mariners Musings

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

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

Thursday, February 05, 2004

How the west was won

In a random fit of speculation, perhaps it's the nervous, February restlessness, I cobbled together the following table. These are what the 25-man rosters of the four AL West organizations may be, based upon their current 40-man rosters, a half a cup of common sense, three-quarters tablespoon name recognition (particularly for that Ranger pitching staff), a dash of clairvoyance and a pot of Inspiration Soup.

American League West Rosters
BenchSantiagoMenechinoHalterE. Young
RPHasegawaBradfordF. RodriguezZimmerman
RPJarvisMecirWeberR. Rodriguez

Certainly, much will happen over the course of the next two months. (Opening Day is two months from today!) The final two to three spots on the rosters--the back ends of the bullpen and bench--will likely shuffle around throughout the camps. This is under the assumption that the Angels handle their overloaded outfield by moving Erstad to first.

Just a couple of random thoughts while compiling this:

*Top to bottom, the Angels have a damn fine bullpen.

*As bad as the Mariners' bench is, the benches for each of the other teams are about as spectacular as a frankfurter.

*How would you like Orel Hershiser's job? "You want me to put together a viable pitching staff with that?" While the Mariners roster is pretty much set, one spring story to watch will be what the Rangers do with these pitchers. Seriously, they could make a reality show out of this--"Texas Aces." Get my agent on the phone.

So who enters camp with the advantages? Let's take a look position by position:

Catcher: As much as I've complained about the Mariners' catching assets, or lack thereof, the M's are not alone in that predicament. Come one, come all--the AL West catching out-makers. Put a bat in their hands, and I wouldn't trust any of them to break the pinata. Molina is a gold glove defender, and deservedly so, but he's a blackhole in the lineup. If you were to threaten my life, I would have to with Ben Davis and say that the Mariners have the edge here. However, the question is akin to asking who I'd rather see naked, Barbara Walters or Joan Collins? Yeah, thanks a lot for asking. Seattle.

First Base: If the Angels go with the foolish plan of moving their greatest defensive asset to the least important defensive position, it's not them. Question of the day: Is John Olerud's precipitous drop in power due to an inability to hit the ball as far as he used to or because he's lost a step or two or three getting to second on those shots to the gap? I believe I've mentioned it before, but I swear, Johnny O hits the longest singles you will ever see. He still has the batting eye of a hawk, but I must say, the Rangers now have the most potent first baseman in the division in Mark Teixeira. He'll have no challenge putting the ball over the fence. Just wait and see. Texas.

Second Base: Now that we know 2001 wasn't a fluke, and I can in all confidence that the Mariners boast the best second baseman in all of baseball. This one's not even close. Seattle.

Third Base: As thin as the position is across baseball, the AL West is stacked at the hot corner with arguably the three best in the league. There are three All-Stars and a guy whose played a total of 134 games at third over the last 8 years. It's sort of like that Sesame Street game "Which of these is not like the others?" I give the edge to Oakland. Chavez is a glove wizard and if he could just learn to hit a left-handed pitcher (just even one, it doesn't have to be all of them), I'd be as magnanimous in my praise as Billy Beane. Oakland.

Shortstop: Texas. Why even ask this question?

Left Field: Now this is an amazingly mediocre group of corner outfielders. At least Bobby Kielty gets on base at a respectable rate. Oakland.

Center Field: Now if the Angels indeed move Garrett Anderson, they sport one of the best center fielders in the game, both in offensive and defensive contribution. Mark Kotsay will be a large improvement for the A's, but he is not Anderson's equal. Anaheim.

Right Field: If only every month was May: Ichiro! hit .389/.415/.558 last May. He also hit .242/.287/.333 for the month of August. I blame Jayson Stark as his Ichiro!-for-MVP column eerily coincides with Ichiro!'s 2003 collapse. Otherwise, Ichiro!'s the man. Both Dye and Jordan could make good preseason picks for Comback Player of the Year. They were both once useful players. I'm pretty sure Bob Melvin is the only human being on the planet that honestly believes Vlad Guerrero is not the best right fielder in the game, much less the division. Anaheim.

Bench: Barbara Walters or Joan Collins? Yuck. Karros, Byrnes and McMillon are at least useful parts. Oakland.

Starting pitching: Texas... just kidding. Hershiser might just have to take the mound himself. Seattle had one of the strongest rotations last year, but their three youngest pitchers set career highs in innings pitched, so we'll have to see how they recover the season after. Their protecting defense is a mere shell of its former self, and Rafael Soriano hangs in the balance. Meanwhile, down I-5, there's the Big Three. Aw heck, call them the Big Guys, Big Staff, whatever. You'd think ace pitchers grew on trees in Oakland. Oakland.

Bullpen: Texas... just kidding. This is another strength of the division. Again, Soriano matters to the Mariners, as moving him to the rotation weakens the bullpen. Much talk will be made in the next months over a lefty for the Mariners. With a relief corps of Guardado, Hasegawa, Soriano and Mateo, the last two slots are inconsequential, really. Billy Beane seems to have acquired every left-handed reliever. Conspiracy theorists postulate this is to keep opponents from neutralizing his pet third baseman in the late innings. Meanwhile, Bill Stoneman should write the textbook on bullpen construction. Anaheim.

For those keeping score, that's Oakland 3, Anaheim 3, Seattle 2, Texas 2. A crude methodology, I most readily admit, and it proves nothing but that there is no front-runner in the division at this point. Perhaps we should revisit this again sometime. So can we start playing the games already?

In the meantime, try some of Marcy's Enchilada.

(html credits to Weisman).
|| Peter @ 2/05/2004

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Vlad: The now only slightly less intimidating impaler

In perusing Jeff Sullivan's Angels in the Outfield preview over at Fire Bavasi, this little bit jumped out at me at slapped me around a bit:
At the same time, it needs to be pointed out that there is a 96-point difference between Guerrero?s career OPS on turf and on natural grass, and also that he?s been 70 points worse away from home. This isn?t to say that he?s a bad player, of course, but rather that his days of near-.600 SLG and 1.000+ OPS figures are likely gone for good, as he?ll regress from Ubermensch level to just really, really good.

Lost in all the Angels-as-World-Series-favorites hoopla is how playing away from Olympic Stadium is going to affect Vlad Guerrero. Typically a players grass/turf split isn't going to matter significantly. The AstroTurf stadium seems to have died along with the careers of Kevin Costner and Hootie and the Blowfish. The SkyDome in Toronto, the Metrodome in Minnesota, Tropicana Field in Tampa and Olympic Stadium in Montreal represent the last remnants of the carpeted-baseball fad. With the close of Veteran Stadium in Philadelphia last season, there are now only four turf stadiums. Of those five most reason turf stadiums, two have been located in the AL East, two in the NL East and one in the AL Central. Thus, the analysis of grass/turf splits or even inside/outside splits, particularly to west coast teams like the Mariners, becomes nearly irrelevant.

Exceptions, however, are Guerrero and those like him who have spent their entire career playing baseball in a concrete sarcophagus such as Olympic Stadium. Guerrero has played more than half of his career inside and on turf, and so a careful look at how these situations affect his hitting is important.

           AB   H XBH  BB   K  AVG  OBP  SLG

Turf 2272 751 320 243 290 .331 .400 .616
Grass 1491 464 174 138 194 .311 .375 .545

Indoors 2041 675 295 196 262 .331 .394 .619
Outdoors 1722 540 199 185 222 .314 .386 .550

Essentially, the two above scenarios are the same. Baseball indoors equals baseball on turf, and vice versa. The exceptions, of course, are the Vet and Skydome, which account for the 200 AB difference for Vlad.

The obvious conclusion is that Vlad has been a better hitter on turf indoors. Whether the difference is the indoor air or the carpet is nearly impossible to differentiate. What is significant, however, is the fact that Guerrero will be playing rougly 110 games in the outdoor grass parks of the AL West in 2004 (unless it's a drizzly early spring day in Seattle).

A more careful inspection reveals that there is essentially no difference in Vlad's game regardless of the stadium. He hits for extra bases in 14% of his at bats both on turf and indoors, 12% outdoors and 11% on grass. He walks in 11% of his at bats both on turf and outdoors, 10% indoors and 9% on grass. He strikes out in 13% of his at bats in each circumstance. The differences are negligible. The difference in his batting average between turf and grass is .020. That's 20 more hits in 1000 at bats, or 10 over the course of a typical 500-at bat season, or roughly one every two weeks.

Unfortunately for the Mariners and the rest of the AL West, an outdoor stadium on grass isn't Vlad's kryptonite.

Amazing, isn't it, how one lousy hit every two weeks creates a .096 difference in OPS?

And, if Gary Sheffield at third warrants the title "Infield of Doom," then Mark McLemore at third in Yankee pinstripes makes their infield "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."

I have now found my new daily first stop on the web: Dead Reckoning. I think you may agree.
|| Peter @ 2/04/2004

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Oh be careful little ears what you hear

From Sunday's Boston Herald:
Flush with about $8 million in cash now that closer Kaz Sasaki flew the coop, the Seattle Mariners are weighing trading away outfielder Randy Winn and some pitching for either the White Sox' Magglio Ordonez or Milwaukee's Geoff Jenkins (Silverman).

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times reports Magglio Ordonez isn't going anywhere:
For fans still holding their breath waiting for [General Manager Ken] Williams to pull the trigger on a last-minute trade, it now would be time to exhale. Williams isn't shopping his players. He told Saturday's crowd that Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez aren't going anywhere, and unless somebody knocks his socks off with a deal he just can't refuse (equal or better talent that make less money), the Sox are set for Opening Day.

But really, what do you expect Williams to tell White Sox fans--"Say, what do you guys think of Randy Winn?"

Magglio Ordonez will not be a Mariner for two reasons. Reason #1: Ken Williams wants a deal that "knocks his socks off." The only sock-knocking deals Bavasi has shown to be to capable of go along this line: "Hey Mr. GM, what will you give me for Ben Davis?" "Uh, how about nothing?" "Cool, it's a deal!" Reason #2: Magglio Ordonez plays right field. Ichiro! plays right field. Bob Melvin has all but said Ichiro! ain't movin' to center. And that, my friends, would leave the Mariners with two right fielders and no center fielder. That is, unless you want to see Quinton McCracken everday in center.

Speaking of the above-mentioned White Sox FanFest... It sure sounds a bit more electric than the one in Seattle last weekend, don't you think?
About 2,500 Sox fans were given the chance to ask questions of a five-person panel that consisted of manager Ozzie Guillen, general manager Ken Williams, announcers Ken ''Hawk'' Harrelson and Darrin Jackson, and assistant general manager Rick Hahn.

It didn't take long for the pessimists to surface, obviously committed enough to brave frigid temperatures to attend the evening gathering but not willing to supply any warmth.

Anger was vented in many forms, from the team's inability to make a significant offseason move to the sense of going public with Frank Thomas' decision to not return phone calls to the hiring of an inexperienced manager in Guillen, who no longer could believe what he was hearing.

When a series of somber questions bombarded the panel, Guillen had heard enough.

''Why are you so negative?'' Guillen implored into his microphone, his face turning red.

Harrelson interjected, lashing out at Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti.

Fireworks night never was this spectacular.

When one fan tried to lighten the mood by taking the microphone to ask Williams if he wanted to go get a beer afterward, Williams' response was quick: ''After this session, I'm going to need more than a beer.''

It was about the last lighthearted thing Williams said as his mood turned aggressive, inviting everybody to come to the microphone to get issues off their chest.

When one young adult fan started a question about raised ticket prices by stating he was a recent college graduate with a new job but still on a tight budget, Williams fired back: ''Good for you. What is your question?'' (Padilla, Sun-Times).

Can you feel the love? I wonder (wink, wink) why the Mariners didn't host a similar town-meeting-style panel discussion with Bill Bavasi, Bob Melvin, assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas, Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs?

My top ten questions to such an imaginary panel:

10. Mr. Rizz, how do you muster the same intensity for a first inning infield pop-up that you do for a 9th-inning, game-winning home run? Have you considered decaf?

9. Mr. Melvin, you used only five starters all season despite the fact young arms such as Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro were clearly fatigued in the second half. How did you justify this while the Mariners were in the heat of a pennant race?

8. In three of the last four seasons, the Mariners have finished behind the Oakland Athletics, a team of vastly inferior resources. Why is this? Have any of you read Moneyball? Why do you feel the A's have reached the playoffs for four consecutive years with the Mariners watching them on TV for the past two Octobers?

7. Mr. Bavasi, you traded Jeff Cirillo's albatross salary and wasted roster spot to San Diego for three of Kevin Towers's salary albatrosses and wasted roster spots. Why did you let Mr. Towers bully you like that?

6. Is there actually a Plan B should Edgar's quirky hamstring act up again? Will his legs be wrapped in duct tape all season long or will he be provided with a specially designed wheelchair so that he can still bat in the lineup should his legs give out?

5. The Braves of the 90's effectively integrated home-grown talent into their pennant-winning teams year in and year out. What keeps the Mariners from adopting a similar organizational philosophy? Do Rafael Soriano and Chris Snelling have any future whatsoever with this club?

4. The Mariners have collected a plethora, sorry, I mean, a lot, of pitching talent in the farm system. How long will it be left to rot there while every lefty thirty-something retread is brought in to patch up the bullpen? And if torn labrums are so contagious, shouldn't some kind of quarantine be put in effect?

3. What is the Mariners backup plan should Ben Davis fail to live up to his "Mariners Catcher of the Future" label?

2. Mr. Bavasi, you've been quoted as saying the Angels are the best team in the division. How did this happen, as the Mariners finished 16 games ahead of Anaheim last season, averaged 2,500 more fans per home game than Anaheim last season and are spending more than $10 million more than the Angels (according to ESPN)?

1. Mr. Bavasi, I'm a recent college graduate. I double-majored in communications and Russian poetry with a minor in basket weaving. Furthermore, I have no experience whatsoever in baseball. How might I go about applying for your job?

On a more technical note, I have repaired the rss feed for the site, so it is once again operational. Additionally, Mariners Musings now has an Atom feed available. Oh the joys of syndication.
|| Peter @ 2/03/2004

Monday, February 02, 2004

Don't mess with me, porkchop. What day is it?*

Another six more weeks of winter and I'm going to crack.

No joke.

And please don't tell me that pitchers and catchers report this month. This month?! Are you serious? Three measly weeks until... ?

Please don't say the S.T. words around me. My baseball-fan-co-worker described those activities of March baseball best when he said to me the other day they are "worse than nothing." When Julius Caesar is warned about the Ides of March, 'tis not a forewarning of his expiration date. Rather, 'tis a premonition against that flirtatious, lusty blonde that poses as spring baseball.

For that's all it is. A cruel tease. A vile flirt. There's something about it that's so fake. A mirage in the desert. It doesn't count. A hollow imitation. Something like when you're 14 and the hottest girl in junior high smiles and waves your way. You freeze. Shyly acknowledge and wave back. Only to find her pack of friends right behind you. It's such a tease.

Tuesday, April 6: Anaheim at Seattle. That's the only day that matters.

In the meantime, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning. They don't postpone Opening Day for that, do they? Do they?

All work and no baseball makes Jack a dull boy. Man, I'm going to crack. What do you think, Tony?
|| Peter @ 2/02/2004