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Rangers Sweep Mariners

J.J. PutzAnother night, another painful loss on this road trip that mercifully came to an end tonight for the Mariners. The Blue Jays series was bad, but the Rangers stuck a knife in the Mariners and didn't stop twisting until Kenny Lofton squeezed his glove on the final out of the game tonight. All four games were lost by a lone run, including a doubleheader sweep yesterday, and an improbable (to put it lightly) two-run home run from Ramon Vazquez off of J.J. Putz. Leave it to a former Mariner to end Putz's streak of 31 consecutive saves, even one who now has 12 home runs in his career.

There is no silver lining in a 1-6 road trip, especially one like the Mariners completed, but this is not the beginning of the end for this team either. The best projection I've had for the Mariners all year is 86-76, which is 10 games above .500. With this road trip having been completed, they are now 9 games above .500 at 54-45. The team was still very competitive, as evidenced by all the one-run losses. Really, the M's are victims of some tough luck, which the stats indicated they were likely in store for.

The Mariners didn't catch any breaks on the road trip, but at the very least the Angels did not catch fire. The M's are still only three and a half games back, and they get to play within the division for the next week. This team understands the gravity of this next home stand, and they are far from wilting. To put it statistically, the team just regressed to their mean. This road trip is more indicative of the tough spells that are part of a 162-game season than a collapse. I was hoping the Mariners could keep overachieving, but this road trip brought them back down to earth some. Without a little luck, this team is not making the playoffs. It's still a good team, just not good enough to crack the post-season...yet.

2007 Draft: Early Returns

Tyler MachFor the 2006 MLB draft, I identified 15 prospects that looked very promising to me, and I was encouraged enough by that crop to follow up with a list of 25 prospects this year. I am particularly interested in seeing how this year's group does because I relied heavily on my hitter and pitcher rating formulas, with special adjustments to better suit it for the college game (adjustments were made to include park factors and competition level). My hope is that these rating formulas help me compile a list of prospects as good as, if not better, than any major league team's. Most of the players I had on my list this year were selected early on, so for the most part I am looking at the same guys as everybody else. However, some like Nick Chigges, Josh Collmenter, Bryan Henry, Tony Watson, and to a certain degree Tony Thomas and Tyler Mach, slipped farther than they should have according to my rating system.

The short-season rookie leagues started play only a month ago, so no individual player has played enough to draw any conclusions. However, by combining all of their playing time, a decent sampling size for the entire list is attained. The compiled stats say little about any individual player, but if my ranking system is as good as I hope, the compiled numbers should be good. So, I went and collected the stats for all 25 players on my 2007 list, and crossed my fingers. None of these stats are adjusted in any manner. They are simply a compilation, despite guys playing anywhere from Short-Season Rookie to AA. It's very rough, but like I said, the numbers should look pretty good if my ranking system is on the right track. Here is what I found:

At-Bats: 454
Batting Average: .286
Home Runs: 18
RBI: 91
Runs: 90
Stolen Bases: 18
Caught Stealing: 6
Walks: 66
Strikeouts: 106
On-Base Percentage: .393
Slugging: .513
OPS: .906

Innings Pitched: 174.1
Hits: 153
Walks: 43
Strikeouts: 165
Home Runs Allowed: 15
ERA: 2.78
WHIP: 1.12
K/9 IP: 8.52
K/BB: 3.8/1

Drawing any concrete conclusions one month after a draft is impossible. So, in the grand scheme of things, these numbers don't mean a ton. However, if my system is good, it would be expected that with a proper sampling size the players it identifies as prospects will produce. By combining all the players, I get a sample size equivalent to about a complete minor league season for a hitter and a starting pitcher. It's still not that big of a sample, but big enough to expect some production. Looking at the numbers, there is no doubt that the players on the 2007 list as a collective whole have produced thus far. Furthermore, three of the top four on the list haven't even played yet, which means that they have not contributed to these stats at all. Simply put, these numbers are the most I could have hoped for at this point.

Projected MLB Standings: Review And Preview

Yankee StadiumThanks to the All-Star Break, there's not much use in doing another round of projected standings this week. Instead, I offer an overview of the projected standings for the first half, and what they may indicate about the second half. The data is fairly simple to read, especially if you are familiar with box plots.

The following table includes every MLB team, and a summary of their projected wins for the first half. The first column (7/6) is the projected win total for that team on July 6, the most recent projected standings. The next five numbers are the five used for a box plot: minimum (min), Q1, median (med), Q3, and maximum (max). Maximum, minimum, and median are rather self-explanatory. Q1 and Q3 aren't as well known, but they are just as simple. Basically, if a set of data is split into four equal parts, the median is the number that splits the whole thing in half, Q1 is the number that splits the lower half in half, and Q3 is the number that splits the upper half in half.

This means that half of the data lies between Q1 and Q3, so calculating the Inter-quartile range (the difference between Q1 and Q3) is a simple way to analyze variance in the data (more on inter-quartile range later). Also, I should note that maxes and mins with asterisks are ones that were adjusted. If the true min or max of the data was an outlier (which I defined to be farther than twice the inter-quartile range from either Q1 or Q3, depending on whether the min or max was being evaluated), then it was thrown out of the data set. Without further ado, here is the table:

Blue Jays816976798384
Devil Rays615758616566
Red Sox102100102105109114
White Sox706668748085

First of all, the table gives a nice summary of the first half of the season. However, it also lends some insight into what might unfold in the second half. To start with, I will focus on the inter-quartile range (from now on abbreviated IQR). As previous stated, the IQR quantifies the variance in a set of data, which in terms of the projected standings shows how consistent or inconsistent teams have been. Teams with a small IQR have been very consistent, while ones with a larger one have been more up-and-down. The average IQR was 8. The Indians had the smallest IQR with 1, which means they are about the safest bet to win 93-94 games that you'll ever see. Other teams with low IQRs were the Marlins, Twins, and Yankees, all with four. So, don't expect any of those teams to make big runs, even though many expect to see the Twins and Yankees surge.

On the flip side, there are plenty of teams with large IQRs, led by the Washington Nationals with a whopping IQR of 20! Unfortunately, they are a really bad team, so it's pretty much the difference between 100 losses and 120 losses in their case. On the other hand, the Mets (IQR 19) are a good team most likely heading to the playoffs. However, it will be interesting to see if they just squeak into the playoffs, or if they are the class of the National League by the end of the year. Based on their first half, they could be either. Making matters even more interesting in the NL East is the fact that the Braves, with an IQR of 11, are also hard to predict. So, as of now, the Braves could end up winning the East if everything fell just right, or the Mets could run away with the division again, or anything in between could happen. Other teams with high IQRs are the Brewers, Giants, Mariners, Reds, Rockies, and White Sox.

Of course, all this analysis is dependent upon teams not changing much in the second half. Between injuries and the trading deadline, that is unrealistic. Really, the statistics show just how beautiful baseball is. Without trades and injuries, the variance that teams show makes the season unpredictable. Add in trades and injuries and it's a recipe for great intrigue and drama.

Mariners First Half Review

IchiroNobody can be disappointed with the first half the Mariners just turned in. Between snowouts, struggles at the back end of the rotation (to put it lightly), injuries to Felix and several bullpen arms, and the stunning resignation of Mike Hargrove, the first half wasn't particularly easy. Yet somehow, through all that, the Mariners find themselves only two and a half games behind the Angels for the AL West lead. The team should get a collective pat on the back for a job well done, and that's largely what this post is going to be. Using my hitter and pitcher rating formulas, I have rated every player who has appeared for the Mariners this season. They are listed in order from best to worst.

Ichiro (95) - What more is there to say? Ichiro is at it again. Despite all the great seasons he has had, this is arguably his finest offensively, and defensively he is amazing. I know Ichiro has six gold gloves, but he's not getting the credit he deserves this year. He's right there with Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Cameron in their best years in Seattle. Really, he is that good. If the M's get into the playoffs, only Magglio Ordonez can stop Ichiro from being the AL MVP.

Jamie Burke (88) - Once again, what more is there to say? In limited action, Burke has been sensational. To properly estimate Burke's value I should include AAA and/or MLB at-bats from previous years (which would knock his rating down considerably), but this is the M's first-half review and this is what he has done when he has played. I hope McLaren plays Burke a little more and gives Kenji more rest. It wouldn't hurt Kenji, and thanks to Burke it won't hurt the M's.

J.J. Putz (85/95) - J.J.'s "true" value is an 85, but an average reliever is a 65 instead of a 75. So, basically, Putz in his role is a 95, and there is no better closer in baseball. I never thought he could live up to last year, but he might be even better. Make no mistake, Putz is the best closer in Mariners history, and there is nobody else in baseball I'd rather hand the ball to in the ninth inning right now.

George Sherrill (84/94) - J.J. has turned games into eight-inning affairs, and George Sherrill has turned them into seven-inning ones. Hargrove used him pretty much solely against lefties, and admittedly that is tempting because nobody is tougher on lefties in all of baseball than him. However, it looks like McLaren knows that George is also pretty darn effective against righties too. Hideki Okajima got the All-Star nod, but Sherrill was just as deserving. Sherrill and Putz have re-captured the Rhodes-Nelson-Sasaki magic, if not taken it a step further.

Jarrod Washburn (83) - Rather quietly, Washburn is putting together a really good year. On a starting staff that's had consistency issues, Jarrod has really been a rock. He's no ace, but he's going to go six innings and keep the team in the game. Washburn has really earned his money this year, and should get a little more credit for the M's success this year than he has.

Felix Hernandez (80) - Felix's rating is adjusted to reflect his time on the DL, and with no adjustment it would've been 86. It's really amazing how off his game he can be and still end up being a really good pitcher. Felix looks like he has regained his form, and he could be heading for a monster second half.

Ben Broussard (79) - Relegated to the bench by Hargrove but called upon when injuries mounted, Broussard has been another real bright spot on the ball club. I hope McLaren gets Ben on the field more, because he's a more than adequate fill-in for Ibanez, Guillen, or Sexson.

Kenji Johjima (78) - Kenji has really trailed off in the last month, but he still had a great first half, especially for a catcher. I think a little more rest would be good for him, and luckily the M's have a surprisingly great back-up in Jamie Burke.

Adrian Beltre (78) - Beltre was red-hot as the break hit, and with the M's he has tended to put up much better numbers in the second half. This is the best first half he has had since being a Dodger, and it will be interesting to see if his surge continues.

Jose Guillen (77) - The Mariners took a risk when they signed this guy, but so far it could not have turned out any better. Guillen's range in right field leaves much to be desired, but he has provided some needed punch to the lineup.

Jose Vidro (75) - Vidro doesn't supply any power, but he does still know how to hit. He's not the most inspiring DH, but thanks to him the position is no longer the black hole that it was the last couple years.

Cha Seung Baek (74) - Baek's ERA doesn't show it, but he was really a solid starter for the M's. His rating would have been higher if not for going on the DL too. Baek is no ace, but he stepped up when Weaver was horrible and Felix went down with the arm injury. Baek also deserves more credit for the M's first half success than he has received.

Raul Ibanez (74) - After a career year, it should have been expected that Ibanez would regress some, but not this much. He's been a little banged up the whole year, but seems to be getting healthier, and with improved health his power seems to be returning. The offense will be even better if Raul can return to his career averages in the second half. Even if he duplicates his first half though, he's still serviceable.

Jose Lopez (73) - Jose's production doesn't match his talent, and it's because he still isn't very selective at the plate. He's slowly improving, but until he gets better this is about what to expect.

Eric O'Flaherty (73/83) - The whole bullpen is filled with unsung heroes, and O'Flaherty is another one of them. I thought he needed more seasoning in AAA, but he's proven me wrong. He's tough on lefties, but can also be stretched out and go multiple innings. His emergence has provided depth in the bullpen that wasn't expected.

Miguel Batista (73) - He isn't worth the money, but he continues to get better as the season wears on. He's now a consistent bet to pitch six innings and keep the M's in the game.

Ryan Rowland-Smith (70/80) - Surprised to see this guy so high? Granted, the vast majority of his innings are with the Rainiers this year, so this rating is pretty much a reflection of his AAA stats adjusted. However, The Hyphenated One has looked good in the limited chances he has had, and I hope the M's strongly consider keeping him in the bullpen for the remainder of the year. A trio of lefties like Rowland-Smith, O'Flaherty, and Sherrill could give the team a huge advantage.

Sean Green (69/79) - I also included Green's AAA numbers for his rating, and adjusted it accordingly. However, he has seen extended action with the Mariners this year and has forced himself into later roles thanks to the job he has done. His ERA is deceptive because it should be higher, but that doesn't take away from the really good job he has done.

Brandon Morrow (68/78) - I'm interested to see what the ballclub does with Brandon as other pitchers get healthy. He probably does have the best stuff of anyone down in the bullpen, but he's easily got the worst command. It all adds up to about an average reliever right now, though as he learns to harness his stuff he'll really be something. Personally, I would send Morrow down once Mark Lowe is healthy and start to develop him into a starter.

Yuniesky Betancourt (68) - Of the position players, Betancourt is the biggest disappoint this side of Richie Sexson. He's young though, and he was in a slump at the plate to end the first half. By the end of the year, I think his throwing problems will be mostly hammered out, and his batting average will be approaching .300.

Richie Sexson (67) - Here's the biggest disappointment on the team, and even Richie is showing signs of life. He's still got his power, and if he can have a second half as good as last year's, this offense could be really dangerous. I'm not sure he will rebound, but there is reason to believe he will.

Julio Mateo (64/74) - At this point, Mateo's adjusted AAA numbers have more weight than what he has done with the Mariners. It looked like Seattle had a hard decision with what to do with him after his assault charge, but thanks to the emergence of so many guys in the bullpen he shouldn't be with the team right now, even if he did not have any legal troubles.

Jeff Weaver (62) - How can Weaver's first half be summed up with one rating? Really, it can't, but given his horrendous start it's hard to fathom that his rating is even this good. I really have to give the M's credit for sticking with him.

Willie Bloomquist (62) - Willie's .272 batting average and two homers are much nicer to look at, but he's still a bench player, though a valuable one thanks to his versatility.

Jon Huber (62/72) - The focus is on Ramirez and Lowe as they rehab, but Huber's close to returning too. He's likely to stay in AAA once completely healthy, but he's another solid option to call up if someone gets injured.

Sean White (58/68) - White's injury has dampened his rating some, but at this point he shouldn't be with the team once he's healthy. The only problem is he'll have to be returned to the Braves if not put back in the bullpen. Maybe Bill Bavasi can go to the Braves and work out a "trade" that allows the Mariners to send White to Tacoma.

Horacio Ramirez (57) - The Ho-Ram era has been far from glorious, but he's a better option than Feierabend as the fifth starter. Plus, he has been much better than this over his career, so there is reason to believe that he can bolster the rotation in the second half.

Ryan Feierabend (51) - Speaking of Feierabend, here he is. His adjusted AAA numbers are factored in for his rating too, which really works in his favor thanks to some really rough outings he has had recently. The bottom is that he's just not ready right now, no matter how much departed manager Mike Hargrove likes his competitiveness and grit.

Chris Reitsma (50/60) - This isn't a very fair rating thanks to two DL stints, and trying to pitch through arm problems. Chris is another candidate to do much better in the second half, and I'm glad McLaren has decided to make him the primary set-up guy instead of Morrow.

Jason Davis (49/59) - Davis just got DFA'd, so the chances of him ever wearing a Mariner uniform again are pretty low. He was ineffectively wild in his brief Seattle tenure, but he did eat up some innings, which was worth something with how the first half schedule unfolded.

Jake Woods (46/56) - Woods was up at the beginning of the year for a little bit, and he's a far cry from what he was last year. He may get called up with the expanded rosters in September, but he shouldn't be before that.

Jason Ellison (45) - This isn't a fair rating at all since the guy never gets to hit, but maybe he'll get a few more opportunities with McLaren. Mac is already using him as a defensive replacement more, which is good to see. Ellison does get big props for sprinting in with his fists clenched to defend Ichiro from Joe Blanton yesterday. Plus, Ellison and Willie Bloomquist were great friends in high school, so it's nice that the two of them can keep each other entertained while they sit around.

It's nice to write about a bunch of bright spots and pleasant surprises. Here's hoping that the second half is just as good, if not better.

McLaren Gets Win #1

John McLarenI hinted at this post on Monday, but thanks to the holiday did not sit down to write it until now. However, this is much better timing. It's much funner to write about a manager after a win, and especially nice when it's a guy like John McLaren.

There is no doubt that McLaren is the right man for the job right now. Hargrove's shocking resignation had the potential to ruin this increasingly promising season, but that's just not going to happen under Mac's watch for several reasons. First, he was the bench coach, so he's been around the team since day one, and been assisting in the managerial decisions since day one. McLaren already knows the abilities and limitations of the personnel, which makes the transition exponentially easier. Even though a mid-season managerial change creates a sense of upheaval, promoting McLaren maintains maximum stability, which is valuable to the Mariners right now. Also, McLaren does not have to earn the respect of the players. It is clear that he is respected already, thanks to his experience and communication skills (both of which are footprints of his days being Lou Piniella's bench coach). So, between already knowing the players and having the respect of them, McLaren's transition to manager is unique in a very good way.

However, the reason I'm most excited that the reigns have been handed over to John McLaren is because of his love for Seattle and the Mariners organization. McLaren was offered two positions this past off-season: Mariners bench coach, and Cubs bench coach. In Seattle, McLaren would be returning to an organization that he coached in for a long time, but really he would be working with almost entirely different coaches and players. As for the Cubs, he would be coaching under Lou Piniella, whom he followed to Tampa Bay from Seattle, and he would become a part of one of baseball's storied franchises. For most coaches, the decision wouldn't be that difficult. For McLaren, it was, and he ultimately went against the decision most would have made in his position and returned to the Mariners. When McLaren was announced as the M's bench coach, he said that it was hard to turn down Sweet Lou, but a chance to return to Seattle and the Mariners was something he couldn't refuse.

For over 20 years, McLaren has dreamed of managing in the major leagues. He's clearly got the passion to manage. He turned down Lou and the Cubs in favor of Seattle because he loves the city and the organization. He's clearly dedicated to the Seattle Mariners. On paper, John McLaren has all the experience that anyone could ask for from a man who was yet to manage in the major leagues until now. More importantly, I doubt there is any other person qualified to lead this team that has as much loyalty to the Mariners as McLaren already does. It's why McLaren should have been offered the job when Lou departed.

Baseball managers aren't like football and basketball coaches. They don't impact the game as directly. Most managers are smart enough to figure out how to field their nine best players, and put them in a decent batting order. A great manager's impact comes in the clubhouse, and a guy that communicates as well as McLaren does, is as respected as McLaren is, and believes in an organization as strongly as McLaren does, is going to have a hard time not succeeding. Mac's deal only runs through the end of this year, but I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be a long-term fixture.

Hargrove Finished For Good

HargroveI had this weird dream last night. It was about the Mariners (that's not the weird part). It started normal enough with the front office talking about how great the team is and everyone not believing them. Willie Bloomquist had this great spring training (that's the part where I knew I was dreaming). Then, once the season started, they had this whole series snowed out in Cleveland, which made them play games for two months in a row. Then, Ken Griffey Jr. returned and hit some homers, and then the Mariners started winning lots of games and lots of fans kept coming to Safeco Field every night, and then Mike Hargrove quit!

Oh wait, never mind about the dream. For two and a half years Hargrove's moves as manager have been questioned, but thanks to a seven-game winning streak and admirable managing of the bullpen through the brutal stretch caused by the snow-outs, he was getting some credit for the M's success. Apparently, the questioning had ceased for too long, so Dudley made an unprecedented move in Major League history - he benched himself, or I guess more literally un-benched himself, in the midst of a long winning streak. Simply put, he said he had "lost the passion."

Understandably, many are questioning Hargrove's true motives. Quite literally no manager has ever left a team as hot as the Mariners. Really, how could anybody lose their passion watching this team right now? The whole fan base has been energized by the recent surge, but apparently the man pushing all the buttons just didn't get nearly as enthused. Something just doesn't add up. Really, Mike? You just lost your passion?

This is such a baffling move that I think there's only one logical conclusion: we've got the whole story. There are no secrets or hidden scandals. This man really just did not want to manage any more. As bizarre as this story is, it's what Hargrove says happened, and it does make the most sense.

Mike Hargrove has been in baseball for over 30 years. He has seen a lot and experienced a lot. He's been to game seven of the World Series, and he's been axed by a moribund franchise like the Orioles. Hargrove knows when things are good, and when things are bad. I've doubted his problem-solving methods as a manager, but he does know when times are good and when they are bad.

Apparently, Hargrove went to Bavasi two weeks ago and told him that he felt a loss in his passion to manage. Given that Bavasi has stuck with Grover this long, it wasn't surprising that he wanted him to stick around. The M's were on a six-game losing streak at the time, so it was quite plausible that once they got back Hargrove would feel just fine again. Of course, the Mariners rebounded and proceeded to catch fire. Dudley knew that things were really good right now, but his feelings still hadn't changed. Even though the plan was apparently to wait until the All-Star Break, he was smart enough to realize that if this homestand didn't pump him up, nothing was going to.

No doubt, this will stand as the oddest move Mike Hargrove made as Mariners manager. However, I think it will stand as his best. There's no glory in walking away from such a great thing. There was no friction forcing Hargrove out either (in fact, all indications are that quite the opposite was true). This is the story of a man who knew with all his heart that he was done, because nothing besides that strong of conviction would have taken him away from the current situation. So, I really have to applaud the man for being true to himself. Thanks to his integrity, he'll be a happier man, and the Mariners will be a better organization. As tempting as it is to keep things status quo when they are so good, the situation would have quickly turned sour with a manager that doesn't want to manage. Plus, it doesn't hurt that John McLaren is a great replacement (I'll save talking about Mac for tomorrow though).

Hargrove couldn't have found an odder way to leave. It is perfect timing though. Though Dudley made many wrong decisions as the M's skipper, this one without a doubt was right.