Ballparks and Starting Pitching

This winter the Mariners will be looking to improve the roster in many ways as they attempt to become a playoff team. Of particular concern should be the starting pitching. We’ve already touched on the problems here at the Hardball Review, but I’m going a little further.

The back of the rotation was terrible. Ramirez/Feierabend/Weaver were a combined 45 runs below REPLACEMENT level. They sucked; the M’s are looking for new guys.

Check out these numbers I stole from Studes.
Type Avg Slg OPS RC/G
FB .265 .720 .978 6.70
GB .236 .259 .495 1.44
LD .719 .948 1.663 63.62
K .000 .000 .000 0 (actually, probably negative, I made up the last row)

If it isn’t already obvious to you, this should remedy that. As far as pitchers go K>GB>FB>LD. Line drives aren’t a particularly repeatable skill compared to the other three, so I’ll focus on the other 3. I don’t think this is private information. I am pretty sure most GM’s have figured this out by now. The Mariners face a scarcity of talent with limited resources. They can’t sign everybody they want. Some teams have more resources, some have less. Players are not equally valuable to all teams. Baseball is not a zero-sum game.

The M’s need to take on a moneyball strategy. First of all, moneyball DOES NOT mean walks are good. The Oakland A’s for many years felt that walks were an undervalued skill in the market for baseball talent and they exploited that to their advantage. When teams realize how important walks are, they become less exploitable and you have to move on to a different undervalue skill. If they continue to just get all the high OBP guys they would not be successful. Moneyball means taking something undervalued and using that for your benefit in baseball. For the Mariners, I would argue that we should be able to find pitching that is more valuable to us than other teams. Let’s start with what we know.

1) The Mariners play in Safeco Field; it is a bad park for RH Hitters, averageish for LH Hitters.
2) We have a bad defense. Maybe getting rid of big Richie and Ibanez will help, but it is still not good. Both our outfield and infield were second worst in the AL.
3) The Mariners have lots of money.

To address the first issue, build your staff to your park. Washburn is a perfect example of a guy who will pitch worse in every park but ours. Left handed flyball guys are more valuable to us than the Rangers. Guys like that can be had for cheaper since other teams do not find them as valuable as we do.

Secondly, the defense sucks, a lot. The team’s FIP was better than league average (what!) The team got screwed on defense where ineptitude cost the team .25 runs a game, or 40 runs and 4 wins over the course of a season.

So what they should is obvious, either upgrade the defense or make it so they hurt you less.
Upgrading the defense almost certainly will result in a degrading of the offense, potentially a wash. However, there is a simple way to keep the ball away from them. Strikeouts. I am not saying that we are the only team that wants strikeouts; I am saying a strikeout is worth more to the Mariners than almost any other team. Any team with below average defense benefits more from strikeouts than teams with above average. Again, strikeouts are good, we know this, but they are marginally better for the Mariners than anybody except the Devil Rays. Overpaying a bit for them is fine. But do you trust Bavasi?

Remember, every pitcher benefits from Safeco. A guy with a 4.51 era (league average) will see his ERA drop to 4.37, the equivalent of a couple of wins. Their run support, however, also falls. Some pitchers, (left-handed flyball types) are better here than anywhere else and would expect an even larger reduction in their eras. These guys should perennially be high on the teams list. Strikeout guys are marginally better here than elsewhere, but are so valuable elsewhere that any front office, especially ours, is going to have some problems acquiring that talent. Until we leave Safeco average LH flyball types should be high on the priority list. The team has holes. The key to overcoming those holes is to zero-in on our competitive advantage, right handed hitters are worse in Safeco, and exploit it to free up resources for say, competent 1B/DH production. The reverse is that left-handed hitters are far more valuable than right-handed hitters. Hopefully the FO realizes this.

 -Ken

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One Response to Ballparks and Starting Pitching

  1. brentschwartz says:

    Great article.

    Finding players who give you the most bang for your buck is a critical strategy in roster construction. Getting an improved defense might be nice, but the club should not do it at the expense of the offense.

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