This Post is not About Adam Jones

January 11, 2008

I promise, besides the title and this sentence I am typing right now, Adam Jones will not appear in this post. Instead, I’ll take a brief sojourn into what adding Carlos Silva likely means for our 2008 outlook.

To start, we expect Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista to return in 2008. The other four guys to get a start last season were Ryan Feierabend, Cha Seung Baek, Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez. All told, they combined for 367.3 innings and 280 runs allowed. Holy batting practice batman, that’s horrendous. How horrendous? It’s 6.86 runs allowed per 9! Replacement level is usually determined to be something around 6 flat, which would have saved us 35 runs all by itself.

Carlos Silva’s last four runs allowed marks are 4.43, 3.97, 6.49 and 4.41. Boy 2006 sure sticks out huh? To get a quick and dirty projection for Silva for 2008, let’s just gaze at a few ways of using these numbers:

1) Straight average of past four seasons: 4.83 RA

2) 50-30-20 weighting over last 3 years: 4.95 RA

3) High and low regressed: 4.69 RA

Based on these, I’d be comfortable penning Silva for a 4.8 RA mark in 2008, were he to be pitching in MIN again. But he’s not, he’s changing parks, and importantly for Silva, changing defenses. Lets examine the park first. Using this article from Greg Rybarczyk we can see that one quirk that will help Silva is that SafeCo is a lot less friendly to yielding homeruns into the right-centerfield gap than the Metrodome.

And, from BBTF, we have these factors from 2003-5:

Team	         R   	 H   	 2B      HR      BB      SO

Minnesota	 1.06 	 1.02 	 1.04 	 0.98 	 0.96 	 1.12

Seattle	 	 0.90 	 0.92 	 0.90 	 0.94 	 1.04 	 1.06 

These show SafeCo as about 15% tougher run scoring environment over the period in question. Now, that doesn’t mean we want to apply a 15% reduction across the board. For one thing, other park factors, notably those at Baseball-Reference, show that scoring is roughly equal in MIN compared to SEA over the past three years. Since SEA’s defense is worse than MIN, (though the Mariners are getting better in that regard with the replacement of Jose Guillen by Ada–err, some new guy), lets just call park and defense a wash for the time being.

Carlos Silva is durable, averaging 193 innings a year over the past four seasons. Lucky for us, that’s about exactly half of the amount of innings taken up by the fearsome (to us) foursome. Let’s translate some of these into runs over a season to get an idea of how much we are improving.

2007: 6.86 RA * 193 innings = 147 runs allowed

Silva 2006: 6.49 RA * 193 innings = 139 runs allowed

Silva Med: 4.80 RA * 193 innings = 103 runs allowed

Silva 2007: 4.41 RA * 193 innings = 95 runs allowed

So we’re looking at around a 40-50 run improvement if Silva stays healthy and manages not to repeat 2006.

For what it’s worth, if we nabbed Erik Bedard and he took over the remaining 175 innings left from the Hindenburg-like foursome above, and notched a (conservative estimate) 4.0 runs allowed mark, he would net us another 55 runs. If he did something insane like repeating 2007, it would jump to 70 runs.

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Morrow or Jones?

December 28, 2007

The opinion has been expressed by some people, notably Geoff Baker, that Brandon Morrow is more valuable to Adam Jones. It is my belief that this statement is false. I think the premise that people who are of this opinion operate under is that Brandon Morrow was successful in relief last year basically right out of college and this portends great things for his future as a starter. I do not buy this.

First off, Morrow was not “very successful” in relief last year. Let us get establish this right away. Morrow may have struck out 66 batters in 63.3 innings, a very good rate, but he also walked 50, a very very poor rate. Morrow did do a commendable job limiting homeruns, but we also only have a small sample on that, so we cannot be sure if this is a repeatable rate or a fluke. Morrow’s low groundball percentage (35.2%) indicates it’s more likely a fluke, though one he could sustain somewhat if he stayed in the bullpen as relievers HR/FB rates are almost always lower than that of their starting brethren.

All told, Morrow had a 4.12 ERA and a 4.09 FIP in 2007. Those aren’t bad numbers by any stretch, but they are not spectacular either. I bet a lot of people are suffering from first impression syndrome. Morrow’s first 20 games at the big league level resulted in a 2-0 record, 22.2 innings pitched and a sparkling 1.59 ERA. Problem is, even then his walks were a huge problem; he had 19 over those first 22.2 innings.

The more pertinent question is: what is Morrow’s future? For that, there’s three separate paths to consider.

PATH ONE: Morrow Stays in the Bullpen

This is basically stasis. Present Morrow stays at 2007 Morrow level, with perhaps a touch of experienced-related improvement, and Future Morrow’s whole development curve is flattened down to whatever improvement Morrow can find while pitching sporadically out of the bullpen in high leverage innings. In effect, very little can be done here. Future Morrow’s value tops out as a very good relief pitcher (nothing to sneeze at in today’s markets) and Present Morrow stays the same as 2007 Morrow, so not much improvement there to the 2008 squad.

PATH TWO: Morrow Learns to Start in Seattle

This would almost certainly be disastrous in the short-term, and likely long-term. Dave Cameron at USS Mariner wrote a post just today outlining Morrow’s deficiencies as a starting pitcher. It is important to hammer home one of Cameron’s main points; starting is vastly different from relieving. I’ll leave it up to the reader to go over to Cameron’s post for a more thorough understanding of why, but if you do not accept that premise then you might as well leave this site, head over to Baker’s blog and join in on the commenting fun there where you can be around people that think like you do.

All in all, Morrow as a starting pitcher in 2008 is going to be bad, like Jeff Weaver bad. So that is not going to net us any improvement. It also begs the question of what struggling this much will do to Morrow’s development as a starter. He needs to be developing offspeed pitches and command in order to reach his full potential, but if his offspeed stuff and slower fastball are getting shelled in the big league rotation, he might resort back to throwing pure gas as long as he can, burning out around 75 pitches but at least being somewhat more effective at getting outs. Problem is, that leaves Future Morrow in the same position as Present Morrow; worthless to the Mariners as a starting pitcher.

PATH THREE: Morrow Learns to Start in Tacoma

He gets a chance to work on all the things he needs to: better command, and improving his offspeed offerings, away from the pressures of attaining good results all the time. This is the best option for Future Morrow, but obviously reduces the value of Present Morrow to 0.

What we end up with is no rational way to expect Brandon Morrow to provide more value in 2008 than he did in 2007 and his future value added is directly tied to him being able to start games somewhere, be it Tacoma, Seattle or Baltimore. Brandon Morrow will not learn how to start by pitching out of the bullpen. The preceding sentence needs something stronger than bold to emphasize it enough. The pitchers that are able to make successful transitions from the pen to the rotation (e.g. Liriano, Santana, Pineiro when he was on the juice) all had massive amounts of experience starting in the minors. Brandon Morrow has none. That’s the key point to remember. It’s so important I am giving it its own paragraph like a newspaper sports writer would.

Brandon Morrow has practically no experience being a starting pitcher.

The only way Brandon Morrow provides significant future value is if he goes back to the minors and works his way back up as a starting pitcher. And that is not going to happen under this regime. Morrow is staying on the active roster come hell or tradewater. That is precisely why Morrow is expendable in the pursuit of Erik Bedard.

If we acquired Bedard, our rotation (Felix, Wash, Batista, Silva, Bedard) would be set for 2008-9. So you’d be keeping Morrow in the pen until 2010. By that point, Morrow has 3 years of service time and still has zero starting experience. The idea that he’ll make a flawless transition to the rotation is retarded no matter if it’s 2008, 2010 or 2015. You can almost surely chalk up 2010 to growing pains, meaning, if everything breaks right you get Morrow as a good starting pitcher for 2011-2 before he hits free agency. Two years. The same two years you get out of Bedard right now.

I have covered Jones’ value in a previous post, but to reiterate, Adam Jones provides an immediate value to the 2008 Mariners (mostly in the form of his defense) and is under club control for six seasons. Removing Adam Jones from the picture means we are certainly doomed to Raul Ibanez’s continued existence in left field and we also have to either use Wladimir Balentien in right field or go find a free agent. This is a tremendous hit to our outfield defense for 2008. (In fact, Bavasi should be looking at a free agent outfielder anyways [Kenny Lofton FTW!] to put over in left field so that we can move Raul’s decaying husk off the field entirely.)

Adam Jones is as essential to our 2008 squad as Jarrod Washburn. Brandon Morrow is as essential to our 2008 squad as Sean Green. Tell Baltimore they can Morrow (and Wlad and Chen and Saunders and Butler and Feierabend and Tui), but they cannot have Jones under any circumstance.


Stick Your Head in the Sand

December 21, 2007

So, as I am sure is common knowledge at this point, the Mariners are signing Carlos Silva to a 4yr, 48m deal, and the Phillies signed Geoff Jenkins to a 2yr, 13m deal.

Let’s start with Silva. Silva projects by Bill James, Zips and some DIPS formula I have on my computer to be a guy with an ERA in the upper 4’s. He really is just not that good. His K:BB last year was 3.91:1.6, a lot of balls in play. The M’s defense was second worst in the AL last year (as measured by DER) and hasn’t really upgraded a ton. There is Adam Jones in left but older and presumably worse versions of Ibanez and Sexson to take away some of that improvement. The point of bringing up defense is that as USSM pointed out, he really isn’t a good fit for the Mariners. The park isn’t going to help him, the division isn’t going to help him, and the Seattle defense isn’t going to help him. If you’re going to sign below average pitchers, at least have some reason to believe (as with Washburn) that they might become average.

As I said, projections have Silva at an upper 4 ERA. A guy named Chone who writes a blog for the Angels has released some Minor League Equivalencies. Chone has a projection system that is up there with the rest and is a decently respected guy, so these equivalencies are probably pretty close to what any other MLE report will give you. These are the guys the Mariners have in their system that project to have an ERA under 5 based on last years Minor League stats:
R.A. Dickey 5.06 (I don’t even know what is up with that number being so high)
Jorge Campillo 4.01
Ryan Rowland-Smith 4.05 (as a reliever)
Justin Lehr 4.43
Robert Rohrbaugh 4.80
Ryan Feierabend 5.00

These aren’t to be taken as a declaration that Jorge Campillo is going to have a 4.01 era in the show next year. The goal is to show that between these 6 guys, one of them could have an ERA that is close to or even better than Carlos Silva. These guys are free; Silva is going to be taking in 12m a year. Why must this franchise so ardently resist youth? I don’t know the scouting reports on all these guys and I’m sure there are logical reasons to rule out one or two, but come on, give the kids a shot.

Geoff Jenkins annoys me, but I never got my hopes up to begin with. To start off with, as far as I know the M’s never said they were looking to upgrade their LF. Basically a guy on a blog said “get Geoff Jenkins and move Ibanez to first” and we all agreed it made sense. For whatever reason they were clearly dedicated to Ibanez in left so I really don’t think this was ever going to be a potential solution and we all should have known he wasn’t coming here. He would have been an upgrade. His offense is merely average, but he would have set off a great chain. Getting Ibanez out of left, getting Sexson off of first, and the slight improvement between Jenkins and Sexson/Vidro (whoever we could get rid of) would have probably netted a couple of wins.

Both of these indicate organizational philosophies that sadly are not likely to be corrected as long as the present regime is in charge of the club. Silva obviously doesn’t make sense. He is a below average pitcher who is really not helped at all by Safeco and spectacularly more expensive than any number of options (I listed in house guys, Lookout Landing has a guy, there are probably more out there that are cheap and as good as Silva). Brent astutely said a while back that free agency is paying for what you cannot develop, and the M’s are paying.

Jenkins made so much sense. He was cheap, born in Olympia, clearly an upgrade at multiple positions. The organization though decided that Ibanez wants to play left, so he gets to, regardless of if it hurts the team. The franchise overlooks potential improvements for the massive value it apparently finds in known commodities. It’s been a frustrating off-season.


Erik Bedard, Pros and Cons and Strikeouts

December 10, 2007

Here is a quick list of what I find positive and negative about the possibility of Erik Bedard in a Mariner uniform.

PRO

  1. 4:1 K to BB ratio in 2007
  2. Jump in 2007 K rate
  3. Not flyball heavy
  4. Pitches with his left hand
  5. Steadily decreasing walk rates
  6. Perennially low home run rates

CON

  1. Only under team control for 2 more seasons
  2. Turns 29 next season, will be 31 for his first free agent season
  3. Seems determined to hit the free agent market no matter what

Overall, the pros outweigh the cons by a healthy margin. Some of these points deserve further fleshing out though. While often cited for durability concerns, has pitched 190 innings on average the last 2 seasons. While that’s not a workhorse by any means, it is not a problematic total. If we traded for Bedard and got 380 innings and roughly 60 starts out of him before 2010, I would be pleased with that.

The main elephant in the room Bedard’s K rate and it’s heliumitic rise last year. Bedard was always a solid pitcher who ran mid 7 K rates, a sub 1 home run rate and had high but declining with experience walk rates. All in all, it was the profile for a high 3/low 4 FIP pitcher. What would be considered a solid #2 in the American League. But in 2007, while the walks continued to fall, the home runs picked up a skosh and the strikeouts went nutso up from 171 in 196 innings in 2006 to 221 in 182 last season. That’s a rise from 7.8 Ks per 9IP to a staggering 11.7. People are justifiably worried that we’d be acquiring Bedard expecting him to repeat an unrepeatable 2007, much like Beltre after 2004 and Washburn after 2005.

Well, those people are right and wrong. They are right that 11.7 strikeouts per 9IP is not sustainable. It just flat out isn’t in the AL these days. There’s also considerable worry as to how much of an impact pitching guru Leo Mazzone had on that, and what kind of residual you could expect Bedard to keep up leaving Mazzone behind as he would be if he headed to Seattle. Those are both valid points. However, here’s the counterpoint and it’s a biggie: Bedard’s swinging strike percentage jumped three points in 2007; up to a delicious 18% of all pitches thrown. Bedard did pretty much nothing different in 2007 than he did in previous years, but suddenly batters were missing his stuff much more often. He didn’t throw more first pitch strikes, get more strikes called, induce more foul balls, throw less or more balls or even induce more swings in general. No, the only thing that happened was that of the pitches that batters swung at, they missed a lot more of them.

The reason that is the key is that the percentage of swinging strikes is the best indicator out there for predicting future strikeout rates. Swinging strikes is to a pitcher’s strikeout rate as line drive percentage is to a hitter’s batting average. When you see a pitcher gain or lose strikeout rate and don’t see a corresponding change in swinging strike percentage, you’re better off betting for a regression next season back towards a pitcher’s career norm. But when you do see an increase (or drop) in swinging strike rate, the possibility that pitcher has taken a step forward (or back) is much more likely and that the new strikeout rate has a higher chance of holding.

An example of this would lie in J.J. Putz, who in 2006 exploded on to scene, going from a middling relief pitcher into closer extraordinaire and doubling his strikeout rate. Entering 2007, many analysts predicted a fallback for Putz, because they were spotting what they felt was a fluke. However, what most Mariner fans knew was that Putz’s success was driven by the mastering of a new pitch; the splitter. This pitch turned Putz into basically a completely new pitcher, giving him something other than the mid to high 90s fastball to occupy the minds of opposing batters. Writing back in the Spring, I noted that Putz’s 2006 swinging strike rate jumped from hovering around 15% all the way up to 23% in 2006. It was a mind boggling jump and there was almost zero way that it was a fluke. Even if I had not spent all summer watching Putz in 2006 and knew about the new pitch, knowing what I did about the driving factors in his increased strikeout rate I would have, and did, predict continued success in 2007. We all know how that worked out.

It should be noted that this is not a catch all statement, like everything in probability. And there’s nothing to say that Bedard doesn’t take a step backwards in 2008 and lose those extra swings and misses. All I know is that the best evidence I have available says that Bedard was a sustainably better pitcher in 2007 than he was previously.


R.A. Dickey

December 7, 2007

All I wanted from the winter meetings was an ace and all the Mariners gave me was a lousy knuckleballer.

Yesterday, I drove up to Bellingham to watch the Cougars play Gonzaga and see one of my fellow bloggers (who just so happens to be my brother in law). The Cougars didn’t play their best game but they beat a good team on the road. I was hoping that the Mariners would make a splash move for Bedard (or Santana) to make it a truly great day for my fandom. Unfortunately, the only player the M’s have acquired has been from the rule V draft.

I’m of the opinion that knuckleballers haven’t caught on because you don’t know what you are getting pitch to pitch. When I play catch, I’ll break out the knuck from time to time. Sometimes it dances and hits the person I’m throwing to, other times it’s the juiciest meatball you’ve ever seen in your life. Imagine being a manager watching Tim Wakefield give up 7 runs in the first two innings: Do you pull him or do you leave him in? With a traditional pitcher, a manager goes to the pen to clean up the mess. With Wakefield (or any good knuckleballer) they can put it together on any given pitch. The other dilemna is when to pull a knuckleballer. Managers don’t like making those kind of decisions.

R.A. Dickey must pass two tests for the M’s to profit big from this move. First, he must play well in the small sample size theater known as spring training. Dickey will need to impress in this brief audition, even though his success will largely hinge on where batted balls drop. A few balls bounce the wrong way for Dickey and he’ll be blocked in the Twins system. Second, Dickey needs to actually be good. Depending on who he matches up against in spring training, he may face a bunch of kids who have never seen a knuckleball before. Hard to tell from a month.

 If Dickey is good enough to survive in the major leagues, he will be a no. 3 starter. If not he will be worthless. Should be fun to watch.


Santana and Bedard (and Kuroda)

December 6, 2007

I’ve enjoyed watching Johan and Erik revitalize the blogosphere in the last few days. It’s nice to see the Mariners on the move and seeing them, if only in theory, get carried away in an attempt to bring one of baseball’s best pitchers to Seattle.

The (potential) Kuroda signing is a relatively safe move for the Mariners. In the 30 year history of Mariners baseball, the Mariners have had 20-30 pitchers on the level of Kuroda or better. I’d take him, but the fact of the matter is that pitchers of his caliber are availible on the market almost every year. All a team needs to do to acquire such a pitcher is to be willing to fork out the cash to sign him. Kuroda can help a team wins but he isn’t a piece that you build a playoff team around. Still he would improve the ballclub considerably and it opens up the possibility of trading Washburn or Batista next season, in the final year of their deals. It’s not like these two guys are impossible to deal.

Edwin Jackson, Bartolo Colon and every other pitcher who has been sold to the fanbase by the blogosphere falls into the category. They are guys who fill holes. Teams acquire a Bartolo Colon to plug a hole that could prevent them from winning a championship. Ditto almost everyone else. Except two.

Johan Santana and Erik Bedard are pitchers that create a window to win a championship.

In the Mariners 30 year history the Mariners have had exactly one pitcher on the level of Johan’s preformance. Players like Johan are rare and the opportunites to acquire such a player are few and far between.

If you want to argue that Erik Bedard has only had one good season, I will conceed that. Even if you bump Bedard down a notch the M’s have maybe had 3 pitchers at, or above, his level in 30 years . Randy Johnson and maybe Mark Langston or Jamie Moyer (during his better years with the club). I’m projecting Bedard to be an all star pitcher for the next few years. Given the way Bedard dominated his opponents last year, the biggest risk associated with Bedard is injury. I’ll take it.

Adding Bedard or Santana to Felix would leave the Mariners in the position of finding someone who isn’t horrible to be the 5th starter. Now you can add Bartolo Colon or JP Howell and magically the rotation is awesome.

Right now the Mariners have no window to win the division. Gripping about the “mortgaging the future” would make sense if the Mariners had the prospects in place to make a serious run in a couple of years. Unfortunately, we have a front office that has said it won’t rebuild so that means we won’t see an extreme youth movement. We also lack the prospects for such a youth movement.


The State of Play

November 29, 2007

First off, sorry for the lack of posting. It’s been a difficult term at school. Now it’s the holidays, and I’ll be good.

The Mariners, as things stand, are not a good team. They might not even be an OK team – they fluked their way into a nice little season last year, but now the big worry is that the front office sees us as a true 88 win roster that needs minor tinkering to make the playoffs. This would be a pretty horrific mistake to make.

Where are the problems with our roster?

LF, 1B, DH, and 2 starter slots. If we accept Jose Vidro as essentially unmovable, we then have 4 problem spots on the roster. Not good.

Raul Ibanez is a liability in left field. He makes the occaisional spectacular (looking) play, sure, but he’s not very fast and takes some Byrnesian routes out there. Most defensive metrics have him as one of the worst left fielders in the game (and we’re talking Adam Dunn/Manny Ramirez territory). Replacing Ibanez in left with a merely average defender is probably a two win move by itself. However, rumours of the demise of Raul’s bat were heavily overstated. He absolutely carried the team from early August onward, and he’s exactly the sort of hitter that can thrive in Safeco – left handed and with reasonable pop, helped out immensely by the short porch in right. The Mariners really cannot afford to lose that from the lineup, unless someone seriously thinks Ben Broussard is the left handed sock for which we’ve been yearning.

At first, we have the much maligned Richie Sexson, who had the misfortune of slumping for the entire season, whilst playing first like his feet had been nailed to the ground. Will he bounce back offensively next year? Yep. He might even put up an OPS+ of over 100. But he’s being paid like a star, and if we’re really lucky he might end up as a below average first baseman next year.

As for the starters, is there anyone who wants Jeff Weaver or Horacio Ramirez back next year? No? Well, let me make a few points in their favour. Weaver first.

Jeff Weaver is a known commodity, and historically bad start aside, he was a decent #5 pitcher for us last year. Another point in his favour? He’d come really cheap, which is always nice.

Horacio Ramirez is young, relatively cheap, and left handed. If he magically acquires some talent this winter, I’d be all in favour of bringing him back. As it stand right now, he’d make an excellent ligament bank in case some of our players get hurt.

So what do we do?

Here’s my ideal scenario:

Milton Bradley on a 2 year deal, with Jeremy Reed/Wladimir Balentien as injury backup. When healthy, Bradley’s an excellent defensive outfielder with a good arm, and a very solid switch hitter. Unfortunately, he’s crazy and has a habit of breaking all the time, most recently while being tackled by his own manager. I still think he’s worth the risk: getting three centrefielders in one outfield would give us a defense the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2003, and they can all hit a bit too.

Richie Sexson to San Francisco, with us eating $8M of the contract, for whatever we can get. I know there’s a lot of scepticism around the blogosphere about Richie’s trade value, but if Brian Sabean doesn’t jump at the chance to add Sexson to his team for $6.5M, I’d be really surprised. That frees up some payroll to play with and also opens up first base for Ibanez to slot into. One think we have to watch out for here is getting a bad contract back – if you can’t completely get rid of him without getting something useless in return, keep Sexson on the bench and let him walk at the end of the season. Ibanez is a terrible defensive outfielder, and he’ll probably be a pretty bad first baseman, but that’s still a better package than Big Richie.

Re-sign Jeff Weaver for to two year $4M deal. No, I’m not insane, or at least I don’t think I am. This isn’t a huge investment. If he sucks again (I don’t think he will with the defense improved), just DFA his sorry ass and make him go away. If he doesn’t, well we’ve just bought low and patched up a spot in the rotation in an offseason where everyone’s clamouring for pitchers. RRS would be my first choice to replace him if things go pear shaped, and to that end he’d assume the long-guy role in the ‘pen. Morrow’s in AAA in this little dream-world of mine.

Explore some trade possibilities with the Rays (have you seen their new stadium, by the way?It’s absolutely gorgeous). Dave Cameron favours J.P. Howell, and I agree. I’d love Sonnanstine too, but that would be a bit of a stretch. The Devil Rays have a lot of starting depth, but they need a bit more bullpen help and perhaps a catcher too. I’d start at Eric O’Flaherty and Rob Johnson and see where that ended up (Clement, however, is off limits).

On paper, that’s a much better team than last year, and done without mortgaging the future away. We’d still be relying on Ichiro, Beltre, and Felix (and now Bradley’s health) to get us into the postseason, but I reckon that if Bavasi could execute the plan above, it’d be a very successful offseason.

Will he? Of course not. Hopefully nothing goes too badly wrong.

Feel free to flame me over the Weaver thing.

-Graham