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The Mariners Woeful "Supporting" Cast

What started as a little investigation I found tweet-worthy has ballooned into a full post. I take glances at the Fangraphs WAR leaderboards from time to time, and noticed a pair of Mariners ranking highly, Franklin Gutierrez and Cliff Lee. In case the acronym WAR doesn't mean much to you, it stands for wins above replacement. In theory, it is a measure of a player's overall value. The player with the highest WAR is arguably the most valuable player in all of baseball.

Then I got to thinking: It has to be hard to be as bad as the Mariners with a couple elite talents, doesn't it?

That's where the tweet barrage comes in. Here are some fun little factoids I threw out there this morning:
  • As of today, only four teams have a top-10 WAR position player and pitcher - the Phillies, Red Sox, Twins, and Mariners
  • As of today, seven teams have two top-10 WAR position players or pitchers - the four aforementioned teams, plus the Blue Jays (two top 10 pitchers), Rays, and Tigers (for Tampa and Detroit, two top 10 hitters)
  • Two more teams, aside from the ones already mentioned, have at least two players who have posted a 2.0 WAR or better this year, the Cardinals and Nationals
I mentioned a total of nine teams in the three bullet points above. Seven of them have winning records. Of the two with losing records, the Nationals are 25-26, and the Mariners are 19-30. Moral of the story: a baseball team is 25 guys, but if you have a couple of great players, it is hard to be bad.

Yet the Mariners have found a way to be bad with a couple great players, and watching the team, it doesn't seem like an anomaly. Shockingly, the Mariners have had 11 players play for the team so far this year that have posted a negative WAR so far this year. Here are the numbers (for position players and pitchers).

Negative WARs are really, really bad. A 0 WAR player is in theory the kind of guy that is a dime a dozen in AAA; far from an average MLB player, and not even a real valuable bench player. In other words, according to WAR, the numbers suggest that the Mariners have had 11 players play that would not even round out a AAA roster all that nicely.

If all the negative WAR performances were replaced with 0 WAR players, the 2010 Mariners would be 3.6 wins better, in theory. That puts the team at 22-27, or 23-26, and only 3 or 4 games back in the AL West.

For me, everything that is so frustrating about this team is illustrated by the WAR numbers. The Mariners have a legitimate core group that a successful team can be built around. However, the supporting cast has been so laughably bad. It takes a catastrophically horrible group of players to drag down this team's core, and that's what the Mariners have.

The 2010 Mariners should not be this bad, but they are. It is hard for so many players to be so horrible, especially when most of them have given positive contributions with their gloves. It is inevitable that, one way or another, the team's negative contributions will eventually get at least to zero. When they reach that point, this will be about a .500 team. The Mariners will get better, but not better enough, and certainly not soon enough.

Moving forward though, there is a silver lining. The core of this team is producing, and aside from Lee, it is locked in place for several more years. On top of that, guys like Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley are not too far away in the minors. The Mariners do not need a full-blown overhaul to be respectable by as early as the end of this year, and the future is still bright.

Mariners Finished; Time For More Changes

Today's game left me irate. It is the angriest I have been at the Mariners in a long, long time. I will admit that I am as irrational as they come when I get angry, and I feel like that's even a trait of what makes me angry in the first place. So this afternoon's game probably wasn't the type that should set me off.

Still, 2010 is over. This was a game the team needed to get, especially with how it unfolded. The Angels were down Kendry Morales and Torii Hunter, and they tossed Joe Saunders on the mound. He looked awful, and the Mariners offense beat him up pretty good. Not only did that spot Ian Snell a big lead, but it gave the Mariners five innings against the worst bullpen in baseball.

Meanwhile, out in Detroit, the AL West leaders, the A's, were in the midst of getting shellacked, 10-2.

Then the roof fell in. The Mariners let the Angels back in the game with atrocious pitching. They never took advantage of the shoddy bullpen arms they faced for the majority of the game. The game was mercifully over when Howie Kendrick hit the latest dagger of the year.

I wish I never would have written that the Mariners could get back in this thing. I only wrote that yesterday. This team had a glimmer of hope, and what's so infuriating is that it is gone, and should not be gone. The M's got a killer start from Felix yesterday, and beat around a bad starter today. The rest of the west is playing poor enough right now to allow a team to gain ground. Everything was in place for the Mariners to make the run that I sensed they were about to get on.

Well, everything was in place but the Mariners themselves. They got so many breaks in the last few games, yet took advantage of almost none of them. Fielding miscues, baserunning miscues, and freak injuries should have derailed the Angels in this series. However, the M's found ways to out-miscue them.

If you want a more rational recap of today's game, check out Jeff Sullivan's thoughts at Lookout Landing. In fact, I recommend always checking his game thoughts. He is one of the bigger reasons I rarely recap games here.

This game is different because I need to get out the fury it caused. This is baseball, and you win some and lose some, but you can only flush so many games down the toilet before the whole season flows out a pipe into Puget Sound. That is certainly part of the fury - the realization that this season is over on May 30.

Part of the fury is how horrible the game was, purely from an aesthetic standpoint. Both sides pitched horrendously. The game moved along at a glacial pace, and it was only my dedication to this team and the game of baseball that kept me watching. As a reward, I feel like I got a bar of soap stuffed down my throat.

Part of the fury is how bad the offense continues to look. Today, the memorable hits came from Eliezer Alfonzo and Josh Wilson; both of whom are the definition of replacement level players in my book. Given with the M's current injuries and organizational depth, I have no problems with either of them being on the roster playing. I certainly root for them too. However, the offensive "surge" has come largely from fringy dudes the M's stashed away in AAA, and the regulars should be ashamed of that.

As much as I enjoyed the team making Joe Saunders look bad, I hated how they looked from the 5th inning onward. Jesus Colome came in and looked like Jesus Colome, further making me wonder why he is on the team. For the record, I was not irritated that Wak brought him in, but I was irritated to see him in there, because I am irritated that he is on the roster in the first place. Then, Kanekoa Texeira came in and threw balls over creation. I chalk that up to more of a bad outing of sorts, which isn't shocking from a young guy that hasn't pitched in a week. It's as if Jesus Colome takes away from appearances he should be making, and Colome sucks when he steals them to boot.

The hitting against the Angels bullpen was pathetic too. I distinctly remember the M's going 1-2-3 in the sixth inning against Trevor Bell, in particularly depressing fashion. Franklin Gutierrez fouled off one fastball down the heart of the plate, and then missed another for strike three. Milton Bradley followed up by breaking his bat on a 2-1 fastball, a count where he should have still been in the driver's seat. Then, after watching Bell struggle to throw anything but a fastball over the plate to Guti and Bradley, Mike Sweeney popped up a first pitch breaking ball down in the zone to end the inning.

That's awful hitting, and I am tired of watching it. Granted, the three hitters I just singled out have been among the better ones this season, so I was unfair. However, it's the kind of inning that has played out way too many times. We don't need to imagine what such an awful approach looks like when the hitters are awful too, because that's what we saw for the majority of this month.

The catcher's interference made me furious too. When will the Mariners find a catcher that can just catch behind the plate? The blown save was the ultimate dagger, though calmer heads have noted how impressive Kendrick's home run was. I wasn't in a mindset to be rational by the time we had hit the ninth inning anyway.

It felt like a game that the M's were destined to blow from about the 6th inning onward, and they did...with a walk-off home they do at least a couple times a week on the road. It was so predictable, so depressing, so everything that makes me want to throw the remote right through the television.

That's why it is time for change. This is what this roster does. It is time to look towards 2011, and in the process, the team might stumble upon better performances this year. Here is the collection of moves I would make:

  • Move Shawn Kelley to the starting rotation. Supposedly, Kelley has a change-up in his hip pocket that he hardly shows in relief work. That, with his slider and fastball, gives reason to think he has a repertoire that could power him multiple times through a lineup. More than that, I love his aggressive, strike-throwing mentality, with solid stuff. I want to find out if he can be a starter. I wouldn't even send him down to Tacoma to stretch out. Kelley replaces Snell immediately, and his pitch count works up on the fly. The move would leave Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell in the bullpen, so it could handle short outings as he builds his stamina.
  • Send Casey Kotchman to AAA. Either that or cut him loose completely; I don't really care all that much at this point. His glove is as good as advertised, but he can't hit, and his overly timid approach locks him out from realistically improving. Ryan Langerhans could play first base, where he would be as patient of a hitter with more power, average, and much better baserunning. I think all that offsets whatever is lost defensively, and it also frees up more playing time for Michael Saunders in left field (assuming Bradley DHs more and Sweeney plays first more).
  • Fire Mike Brumley. He never should have sent Josh Wilson home today. I think there is a good chance he had something to do with Eliezer Alfonzo's farce trying to make it to third base today. Unlike Allen Cockrell with the M's hitting, there is a legitimate argument to be made that Brumley's third base coaching has something to do with this team's atrocious baserunning. If the team doesn't want to can him, at least have Ty Van Burkleo, or even Don Wakamatsu himself, go out to the third base coache's box instead.
  • Ditch Jesus Colome. And I want the official release from the M's to say they "have ditched Jesus Colome." No DFA'd, "moving on," or "going in a different direction," etc. I watched where Alfonzo set up for Colome today, and he consistently missed his spots today by a good foot to foot and a half. Low and away? I'll pitch middle in! He has no command whatsoever, and that's par for his career. The stuff is tantalizingly good (it's the only thing that keeps his ERA around 5.00), but he is 32 years old. He is what he is, and that isn't all that good, and it's likely to get worse as he ages out of his prime.
My moves leave two 25-man roster spots open, and at least one 40-man slot. One of them goes to a bullpen guy, and I would let Wak call up whomever he wishes. I am guessing that man would be Sean White, but perhaps Garrett Olson and Luke French also get consideration. The other spot would preferably go to a middle infielder. I would give it to Ramon Vazquez for the time being, until Jack Wilson is back. Vazquez would need to be added to the 40-man roster, but there is room with my moves.

Looking down the road, I have no issues shopping all sorts of pieces on this ballclub. Cliff Lee, Erik Bedard, and David Aardsma are all available for the right price.

Maybe all the moves I have in my head are cosmetic. They could even hurt this year's team, but after today, all that matters to me is change. This roster doles out painful loss after painful loss, and it just slammed the door shut on a season that practically begged them to be in contention. No organization that claims to care about winning can watch a team do what this one has without reacting somehow.

Perfect Pair

Perfect games are amazing. They are never expected, and to me, arguably the most perfect feat in all of sports (mild pun perhaps intended). That's not to say that a perfect game is the hardest or greatest spectacle to accomplish. However, how many other things in sports are so staggeringly unlikely, yet approachable by just about anyone if it is their lucky day?

One perfect game in a year is amazing enough. After Roy Halladay's gem last night, we have witnessed two this month. With only 20 perfect games thrown in the last 120 years of Major League Baseball, I find that stunning.

What are the odds of that?

Actually, not too hard to figure out.

The odds on a perfect game are pretty simple to calculate, assuming a game goes nine innings. It is simply the chance that a pitcher retires 27 batters in a row. On-base percentage measures exactly how likely a pitcher is to get a hitter out, and how likely a hitter is to record an out. It is the only statistic we need. For our purposes, we will assume the defense never makes an error, which is rather reasonable, because reaching base on error is included in on-base percentage.

I looked up the box scores for both Dallas Braden's and Roy Halladay's perfect games, to figure out their odds of throwing perfect games against the hitters they faced. I compared each pitcher's opponents on-base percentages (essentially WHIP, but in OBP form), to the league average to figure out how above or below average both pitcher was, compared to the league average. Not surprisingly, both are well below league average. I then took the factor I had created through the comparison, and multiplied each hitter's on-base percentage by it. In theory, the resulting number was the expected on-base percentage in the matchup between the pitcher and hitter.

Since I was digging this deep into the calculations, I decided to go a step further. Both of these games were pitched early in the season, particularly Braden's. So, instead of using each hitter and pitcher's numbers at the time of the perfect game, I decided to go on their projection for the full season at this point, according to ZiPS. This brought regression into play, and should capture the true talent levels in the games better than the limited numbers accumulated had.

Bringing regression into play passes the eye test. It made Halladay's perfect game more likely than the raw numbers suggested, and Braden's four times less likely than the raw data implied.

Without further ado, the numbers:

  • Odds of Dallas Braden throwing his perfect game: 11,402 to 1
  • Odds of Roy Halladay throwing his perfect game: 5,938 to 1
  • The Rays lineup Braden faced would have to play 373 seasons before it would be expected to have 1 perfect game thrown against it by an average pitcher
  • The Marlins lineup Halladay faced would have to play 306 seasons before it would be expected to have 1 perfect game thrown against it by an average pitcher
  • Odds of Braden throwing a perfect game this year: 296 to 1
  • Odds of Halladay throwing a perfect game this year: 182 to 1
  • Odds of Halladay and Braden both throwing perfect games this year: 53,936 to 1
  • Odds of Halladay and Braden both throwing perfect games this year, within three weeks of each other: 3,545,976 to 1
I think the numbers illustrate why this hasn't happened before. Thanks to expansion, increasing strikeout rates, and better defenses, perfect games are more likely than ever before. Perhaps putting a more concrete number on how much more likely is a good topic for another post. How counterintuitive is it to think that perfect pitching is easier in an era where baseball offenses are understood better than ever before?

Still, perfect games in today's baseball world, however more likely they may be, are not that likely. A couple in a month, when it historically takes 15 or 20 years for a couple to get tossed, is beyond something we will never see again. It is something we never should have seen in the first place.

The Worst Jump Of All Time

Kendry Morales

Kendry Morales is done for the season - again. While his leg has healed from the broken leg he suffered last year, significant scar tissue remains. The surgery required puts him out for the entire 2011 season.

Of course, this story isn't that far separated from the Mariners. Not only are the Halos a division rival, but it's hard to forget how Kendry broke his leg in the first place - on a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners. At the time, I found the broken leg a little fluky, and in a morbid way, humorous.*

*Not to be confused with humerus, ironically enough an arm bone

While I felt somewhat bad for Kendry, a broken leg on such a fluky "play" didn't seem like too big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Sure, Morales would have to rehab, but baseball is now a full time job, and he had access to professional trainers. In today's sports world, with today's medicine, it seemed to me like he would recover and go on with his baseball career. I hate the Angels, but even I have my limits. I wasn't vicious enough to laugh at a debilitating injury. It was funny to me because I knew it would hurt the Angels.

Now I'm having second thoughts.

Mariners Heating Up?

Ichiro (via
The Seattle Mariners are now on a three-game winning streak. The character of the games in the winning streak are worth noting too. In all of them the Mariners had to erase deficits. Last night, they erased it rather quickly. Against the Tigers, the comebacks were more dramatic.

Bottom line, the Mariners are playing much better, and the past three games smell a bit like the start of a hot streak to me. The team is loose right now, and they can't help but feel like they can win games, even if they get in some bad situations from inning to inning. They have been getting the big hits the past three days, and the bullpen seems to be stabilizing. The team's demeanor seems to have relaxed as well.

From a theoretical standpoint, there are a couple of ways to look at the Mariners at this point in the year. We can look at the past as the past, and only worry about projecting the future. In other words, we only look at what's remaining, and if we think they are a little better than .500 team (or whatever you think), that's what we project them to be the rest of the season. Tack the projection on to what is already done, and you get a finished product. This approach is probably the most accurate, and theoretically sound - and why the team's playoff hopes look so dim right now.

However, what if we look at the 2010 season more like a population? We have 162 games to choose from, but we have only picked ones in April and May. That would be a bit like all United States population statistics being based only on people that live in states that the Mississippi River runs through. There is a clear bias in the sample, so there is a realistic chance that the data does not fit the overall picture we want to get.

I tend to keep the population conception of a season in the back of my head. Much like Nebraska looks different than Florida, there are parts of a season that will look different from others. So, if we thought the 2010 Mariners were a pretty solid team at the start of the season, and we have already seen a horrible stretch, why can't we hope for a hot stretch? In theory, if we look at the season as a population, and we think it is most likely the M's are a .500-ish team, isn't a hot streak probable?

The Mariners play two more against the Angels, then come home for four against the Twins, three more against the Angels, and then hit the road for four in Texas. This is a critical stretch, given how far the team is back, and how many games they have in the next couple weeks against division foes. It is easy to look and see the disaster factor inherent in the upcoming games, given how awful the team looked most of May.

What if the M's are at the start of a hot stretch though? Let's pencil them in for 2 out of 3 against the Angels (so a split over the weekend), and a 5-2 home stand. Let's say Texas goes .500 over the same time period. That would put the Mariners 5.5 games back going into a four game series against them in Arlington. If the Mariners can win 3 out of 4 in that series, they are suddenly only 3.5 games back.

I haven't dialed out the most likely scenario. However, it was not likely that this team stopped scoring for about three weeks, so if this season is to get back to what was expected, there needs to be an unlikely good streak at some point. With the way the Mariners have started to play as of late, and the upcoming schedule, this is one of the more opportune times to hope for - and maybe on some level expect - a hot streak.

More Podcasts

Two more podcasts I recorded with Tim Kelly over at Sports Experience are now up and posted. Each runs around 45 minutes, so perfect for an underwhelming, drizzly commute up or down the I-5 corridor, right? Seriously, Memorial Day weekend is supposed to kick off summer, not chuck a day-old sponge at us, like it seems to be today.

I digress. Click here for the podcast where Tim and I take a whirlwind tour through the Mariners minor league system. I mostly gave limited reports off the top of my head, so not surprisingly I left some guys out. The big guys are there though, and it's a good sign that there is enough depth to forget a few guys in a whirlwind tour.

The last podcast (for now) covers some general talk about general managers, and the kickoff of my MLB draft coverage. The podcast can be found by clicking here. Faithful followers of the musings know that the draft is a big deal here, but don't worry, no need for a spoiler alert with the podcast. I will still come out with my top 25 list, and there are only a few glimpses at what it may look like in the podcast.

Lastly, here's an Easter egg for you faithful readers. The kiddy gloves are coming off with this year's draft preview. High schoolers will be discussed, and on the list.

Zduriencik Still The Right Man

Since the Mariners are off today, I want to try to push something out to think about. I could count the podcast (and you should listen if you are interested in getting another take on this team's struggles), but we might as well make today a double feature.

It has become apparent that the 2010 Mariners aren't as good as the 2009 Mariners. Considering how much worse they are, and all the new faces, it is easy to presume that some moves made by Jack Zduriencik have backfired badly. In fact, it is logical to presume that.

So, what if Jack Z hadn't made any moves this offseason? Would this team be in better shape? Time for some bullet points...

  • Kenji Johjima would still be catching - Is there much doubt that Kenji would be the best catcher on this team right now, or at least giving Josh Bard a run for his money? Hard to argue against that, offensively and defensively. However, is it fair to pin Kenji's sudden retirement on Zduriencik? I don't think so, and it did free up some money. It might be fair to criticize Z for not replacing him, but I still think Josh Bard was the right type of guy to target. The real problem to me is trotting out Rob Johnson so often because A) he isn't that good and B) it did Adam Moore's development no favors before he got hurt (though admittedly he looked totally lost at the plate). I think Don Wakamatsu shares some of that blame though.
  • Russell Branyan would still be at first base - The team seemed concerned about Branyan's back, and their concerns were warranted. Guess what? He wouldn't have made much of a difference because he missed the first month of the year. Since coming off the DL, he has a .219/.301/.438 line, which is definitely better than what we've seen, but noticeably below his production from last year too.
  • Bill Hall would still be on the bench, or maybe playing regularly somewhere - Who would you rather have, Bill Hall or Casey Kotchman? So far, Hall has accumulated a .188/.282/.333 line in Boston, though with only 79 plate appearances. However, his combined line last year was .201/.258/.338 with the Brewers and M's, and in 2008 he batted .225/.299/.396. I don't think his production will get much better with more time. Granted, Hall brings some defensive versatility, and a little more thunder in his stick, but it's hard to argue this offense or defense is in better shape with him over Kotchman.
  • Adrian Beltre is still at third base - This is another obvious spot where things would be better if they had stayed the same. Beltre is having his best season so far since his massive NL campaign that netted the big contract from the M's. However, is it really Z's fault that Beltre moved on? He offered Beltre arbitration, and I wrote about how Beltre would have earned more by accepting it. There is nothing more Zduriencik could have done to keep him around, so I have a hard time pinning this one on him. It's hardly like Beltre was just shown the door.
  • Carlos Silva is in the rotation - ...and we don't have Milton Bradley. Even with as surprisingly good that Silva has been so far, is this team better with him? With the hot starts by Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, I don't think so. Furthermore, is this offense worse with Milton Bradley? Again, I don't think so. Bradley is one of the better hitters in the lineup, even with his slow start. As much as the national media has some fun with this deal at the M's expense, I wouldn't ask for a mulligan.
  • Miguel Batista is still around - ...and I'm guessing that means Kanekoa Texeira or Jesus Colome is out. Texeira has been inconsistent, but that beats consistently horrible. Batista versus Colome...yeah, I'll admit, that's a tougher call.
  • Brandon Morrow is still around - ...and Brandon League is not. Certainly, League has been inconsistent, but is he really more inconsistent than Morrow? So far, in 9 starts with the Jays, Brandon has averaged exactly 5 innings a start, and sports a 6.80 ERA. He strikes out almost 12 batters per 9 innings, but almost walks 6 at the same rate. There are some numbers (particularly a high BABIP) that suggest he will get a little better, but you would hope so with those horrendous numbers. Would the current M's be better if they didn't make the deal? I'm going to say no. Besides, even with some anticipated regression, Morrow is still the maddeningly inconsistent Morrow we loved and hated the past couple seasons.
  • No Cliff Lee - Zdurienciek didn't give anyone up on the 25-man roster for Lee, so he was simply added to the roster (for the sake of what this post is exploring). This team is better with him, and I don't think I have to build much of a case for that.
  • No Chone Figgins - This is the fairest move to criticize. Figgins has clearly been a bust to this point, and the contract may lock the M's in to several more years of this. Especially with other, cheaper alternatives like Kelly Johnson and Orlando Hudson doing better, this does not look like the move that was best for the ballclub.
Where did Jack Zduriencik fail? For the most part, the moves he made still look neutral or like improvements, even with this team falling well short of expectations. The DH slot is the easiest to pick on, and I missed it with the way I looked at things in this post, but would a guy like Edgar Martinez in his prime solve all the offensive woes?

For all that Jack touched that turned to gold last year, the same kind of breaks haven't been there this year. I don't see any catastrophic moves made by Z as of yet though. Maybe one bad one (the Figgins signing), but when put in the context of all the great ones he made last year, and the promising talent quickly accumulating the farm system, I still see a process heading in the right direction.

First Podcast!

For those of you pining to hear my voice, this is your lucky day! I don't think it adds anything, but now you can be the judge of that. I recorded my first podcast with friend and fellow hardcore sports fan Tim Kelly. You can check out all his podcasts at There will be two more with me after today's, and I will link to them as they hit the world wide web. The first is on the state of the Mariners, and available for download here.

A Little Bad Luck and Lots of Bad Offense

Josh Wilson misses
The Mariners do not look good right now. At least Milton Bradley is back, and the bullpen is back down to six men. Bradley is the best hope to jump start the offense.

It is easy to look at the numbers and say the M's aren't this bad. The hitters are bound to regress towards their career averages, which in this case means they will tend to improve. The team's one-run losses are well documented too, and it feels like the M's have lost more than their fair share of soul-crushers.

I won't regress the M's offense, partly because I'm crossing my fingers that it would be pointless. I'd like to believe that we will see different players in different spots in the lineup, making it very hard to project who gets playing time where and when.

Instead, I took a look back at the season so far, in a simple but scarcely used way. Here is a table with the frequency of times the M's have scored and allowed different run totals so far this season:

With a distribution like the above table, we can project expected winning percentages differently. We can randomly select a total of runs scored, and a total runs allowed, and count the game as a win or loss accordingly. There a few logical kinks in projecting a record this way, but I would argue that they are less than using run differentials.

Anyway, with the above run frequency distribution, the Mariners have gone 14-25. If the M's really have had more then their fair share of heart-breakers, they should project to have a better record.

I projected the M's record, based on the above table, using a couple simple methods. With both, a combo where the M's score more runs is a win, and where they score less is a loss. One method counted ties as games where the M's had a 50/50 shot of winning. The other method ignored ties altogether, having them count neither for nor against the projected percentages. The methods led to a projected 16.2 and 15.8 wins, respectively, through 39 games (like the M's have played so far). I could come up with more intricate methods to break ties, but I think it's safe to say it wouldn't change the projected wins much.

In case you are wondering, the M's projected record based on the whole season's run differential is also in the 16 win range.

Based on what we've seen so far, it is safe to say that the Mariners should be 16-23 instead of 14-25. Indeed, they have had some tough luck.

However, the Mariners haven't had that much bad luck. This is hardly a news flash, but their biggest problem is easily their offense. Not only has it averaged a meager 3.3 runs a game, but its median runs per game is 3, and the mode a paltry 2.

What's most depressing is how good this pitching and defense is. Their median and mode are also 3 and 2, respectively. In fact, the M's are theoretically more likely to win than lose once they score 4 runs. I haven't run the numbers for other teams, but I'd anticipate that many of their "break-even" points are at 5 runs.

Four runs isn't much to ask for. 26 out of 30 MLB offenses averaged more than 4 runs last year. 26 out of 30 also did in 2008. Every team averaged more than 4 runs in 2007. The distribution table above shows the possible shortcoming of averages, but the point is clear: It's not hard to score 4 runs in a game. Most below-average offenses still score four runs a bunch of the time.

Seriously, if the M's had maybe the 23rd best offense in baseball or so, they would probably be within a few games of the division lead. I don't know if that's a reason for hope, or the most depressing part of their struggles.

Z's First Disappointment

I got a weird feeling yesterday morning, when I read that the Mariners had "relieved Alan Cockrell of his duties." I guess I should not have been surprised that the hitting coach got fired as the hitters continued to not hit at a historic rate. That's how baseball works.

I could not get around a faint, uneasy feeling in my stomach though. It was a feeling I had forgotten about. Slowly, faded memories came into focus: Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard, Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez, three-year deal for Miguel Batista, four-year deal for Carlos Silva, Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto for Jose Vidro.

It's the feeling I get when my team makes a bad decision. Again, it was faint, but it was there. If Bavasi moves were heartburn, letting Cockrell go felt like a really nasty burp.

Still, this is the first time the Z administration has made a move that gave me that feeling in my gut. I was so caught off guard that I decided to take a step back, and wait to pass judgement. And by wait, I mean that I furiously refreshed Twitter until some quotes about the move started coming out. There had to be more to the story.

In some ways, it was exactly what it looked like at first glance. Jack Z called change "inevitable" with how the offense has performed, and I give him credit for being so transparent. Clearly, Cockrell was let go because the hitters have stunk, whether he is at fault or not. Most teams try to put some lipstick on the situation, and I guess the M's tried by saying they "relieved him of his duties." However, the quotes from Z and Wak made it clear: Cockrell didn't do anything wrong. In fact, he was called away from studying tape of the M's hitters to be told he had been axed. Cockrell is a scapegoat.

What surprised me even more were player reactions. They seemed genuinely shocked and disappointed. I expected quotes to the effect of, "well, it's too bad, because it's our fault, but that's how the game works, and we have to be professionals," and so on. Instead, the players that spoke up stood behind Cockrell. Jose Lopez said it hurts. Mike Sweeney was the most outspoken, calling Cockrell one of the best coaches he has had, and saying that there were several players that deserved to get fired before Alan - including HIMSELF.

Now, I do not want to go overboard with this move. I don't think hitting coaches have much of an impact on MLB hitters, particularly veterans. This is not like all those bad Bavasi moves I cited, where there were clear impacts on the on-field product. Furthermore, by all accounts, Alonzo Powell is a great guy, and a deserving replacement.

However, I thought this organization was above naming scapegoats. With the way the Mariners have gone about evaluating its players, and all of Wak's talk about "belief systems," I thought this leadership was a rare breed that could see beyond slumps and hot streaks. They seem to balance past performance with probable future returns quite well. They have also shown genuine care for the people within the organization, a type of compassion that other organizations do not exhibit. We saw this in the past week as the Milton Bradley situation unfolded.

Letting go of Cockrell seems to go against so much of what the M's have been building. It sounds to me like Zduriencik even acknowledged that this was a move simply for the sake of change.

Sure, this is the type of move that is acceptable in the baseball culture. However, the hitters seemed to believe in Cockrell, and this organization has made such a big fuss over developing belief and trust. Why risk organizational principles over a brutal eight-game stretch, especially when the move is not very likely to make a tangible difference in on-field performance?

Without a doubt, something had to be done. There had to be consequences for the lack of production. However, Mike Sweeney hit the nail on the head. It is up to the players to produce. Guys failing to hit should sit on the bench for a few days (that's easier to do with an actual bench, but that's a tangent for another post).

We will never know if the M's would have scored eight runs yesterday with Alan Cockrell still employed. However, I can't help but notice that yesterday's lineup featured contributions from Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders, and Josh Wilson - all guys called up recently, getting a chance to play.

I don't care that Ken Griffey Jr. is the best Mariner of all time. He has popped out enough to warrant a seat on the bench.

I don't care that Chone Figgins was our big free agent signing. It is time to drop him to the bottom of the lineup.

Josh Wilson, Ryan Langerhans, and Michael Saunders will probably never be a murderer's row, but if they are the ones actually getting hits, they should move up in the order. If the other guys are actually better than them, then they will wake up and force them back down in the lineup.

It is called healthy competition, and it would have been a much better and safer approach to solving the offensive woes than ditching the hitting coach.

Time To Panic

At least the slogan this year isn't a new day, a new way. That would be mocking the M's skid right now. Though, with this offense, Believe Big isn't much better, if better at all.

The Mariners are yet to win a game this homestand, and they have one more chance this afternoon. I think this is a must-win game. If they lose, they end up with an 0-9 homestand, including sweeps by the Rangers and Angels, two of their three in-division rivals. In particular, an Angels sweep would sting the rest of the year. They came into this series reeling, looking for their first win on their road trip.

Even more frustrating, we saw last night why the Angels have been bad early on this season. Joe Saunders looked terrible. He issued five walks, and that was plenty indicative of his command. To the M's credit, they got some runs off of him. Three to be precise, which is a full-blown eruption for this team right now.

As it turns out, all that uncharacteristic running around the bases for the M's offense left them dead in the water the rest of the way. The Angels bullpen "held" them scoreless the final four and a third innings in the game. I put "held" in quotes because the M's left 10 men on base over the final 4 stanzas, most notably the 3 men stranded in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Really, the Mariners had no business losing last night's ballgame. They should have beat up Saunders for more runs than they did; but, to their credit, they got some runs off him, and chased him before the sixth inning was over. That brought LA of A's (I still hate that they won't pick a city) atrocious bullpen in for three innings, in a tie ballgame. This was a recipe for success!

It continued to look like a recipe for success as Angels relievers started looking like...well, the 2010 Angels reliever that have posted an ERA well north of 5.00 so far this year. On top of that, the M's got some lucky breaks in the late innings too, most notably the really awkward hop Josh Wilson's grounder took past Howie Kendrick for a single. The Angels bullpen looked as bad as advertised, and on top of that the Mariners got an odd bounce or two in their favor.

Yet the Mariners still couldn't score, and they still lost.

Things will get better. Much like the start of the season, the offense is bound to get better. However, the first road trip was more or less a scuff on the season. This homestand is at best a gauge, and at worst a dagger. The Mariners have racked up five losses (and counting) against divisional foes, and now face a hole that they have to get out of.

If the M's lose today, I don't think that they recover. With a loss this afternoon, they would be at least three games behind everyone else in the division, and potentially as many as six and a half games back of the lead. Even if it only takes around 85 wins to grab the division title, the Mariners would have to go 74-57 the rest of the way to make that happen, and leapfrog three teams in the process.

Seattle is not 11-20 kind of bad, but on the flip side, is this team 74-57 kind of good? If the pitching and defense stay about as good as they have been so far, the offense will have to score about 4.75 runs a game the rest of the way to expect a 74-57 record. They are averaging 3.13 right now.

Maybe it is already too late.

Milton Madness

Milton Bradley
And we thought the opening road trip was bad. The Mariners are in a bad free fall right now, and they are bound to hit rock bottom soon. The offense is failing spectacularly, the bullpen blew the one lead handed to it in the losing streak, and as of last night, the defense isn't so sure-handed, and players are leaving mid-game.

Or, at least Milton Bradley left mid-game in one of the more puzzling moves you'll ever see. Although Don Wakamatsu did not say why Bradley was pulled, it is clear that it was not an injury.

Let the speculation begin. There are reports that Milton just left, but the honest truth is that we will never know exactly what happened beyond that. As far as I'm concerned, we have no right to know either. There is a reason fans can't buy tickets to go in the clubhouse.

Obviously, we don't see ballplayers leaving like Milton Bradley did last night, and there aren't other ballplayers with a well documented past like Milton's either. It is easy to say this is the latest meltdown of his, and who am I to say it isn't?

I have a sneaking suspicion this one is a little different though.

We don't know what happened last night, but we know that Milton Bradley was at a team function today. He went to an elementary school, as scheduled, with Sweeney, Griffey, Ichiro, and Wak. By all accounts, Bradley gave a moving speech about what motivates him. According to a tweet by Jim Caple, Bradley said that his mother growing up put bills in two piles - bills she could pay, and bills she couldn't. That is what motivates Milton Bradley, according to the man himself.

There were also conversations today, in which Bradley asked for help with something "very personal and emotional."

That's where things get mysterious, and I doubt we will ever know more. However, I think it is safe to say that whatever Bradley is fighting had something to do with his disappearance last night.

More importantly, Milton's actions last night had nothing to do with the media, his teammates, or the organization. The facts that Bradley still showed up for a team function, and also asked for support from the organization, both assert that there are no riffs between him and the organization.

That doesn't excuse what Bradley did last night, and it doesn't make him any less of a headache or distraction. However, if a riff was forming, this situation would be toxic. It isn't. It's challenging, and unfair to the rest of the team, but I think this clubhouse is capable of handling it.

What happened last night was bad. Whatever Milton is going through is bad. The situation isn't cancerous though, and that's what I think makes it different (especially from Chicago).

As an M's fan, I know enough now to breathe easier than I was late last night. The situation, both on and off the field, has to get better. It can though.


Doug Fister
What if I told you that a Mariners starter would carry two no-hitters into the sixth inning in April? That would have been exciting. I'm sure we all would've picked the obvious candidate too.

Doug Fister.

I didn't even want Fister in the rotation until Cliff Lee got hurt, so I am shocked by the way he has started. Fister's burgeoning collection of called strikes and tappers around the diamond have added up to unlikely domination. Much like Cliff Lee, he did not allow a Texas Ranger past first base in the first seven innings of Sunday's ballgame. That is not a typical smoke-and-mirrors act from a finesse pitcher. Usually those involve jams.

However, Fister is still a smoke-and-mirrors kind of guy. He doesn't strike many guys out, and more than his fair share of his K victims are caught looking. In other words, THE FIST (as I like to call him at least) is among the least likely guys in all of baseball to punch anyone out. He doesn't miss bats. In fact, watching him pitch, it is pretty evident that he pitches to contact.

Conventional wisdom says that Mister Fister will cool off. His ERA is under 2.00, and there are the two aforementioned bids for no-hitters. He also is yet to allow a home run. No pitcher is that good.

However, how good is THE FIST? He has 15 major league starts under his belt now, and included in them are four noteworthy gems: ones against the Angels and Yankees last year, and the couple no-hit bids this April. The more he turns in these elite kind of performances, the less fluky they appear to be. Perhaps Fister, at his absolute best, is about as effective as anyone in baseball, and he can reach that level multiple times in a season.

Still, I thought Fister was lucky last year, and something had to change to make him a lock in the starting rotation this year. Obviously, he is a lock with the way he has dazzled thus far, but digging deeper into the numbers, he isn't the same pitcher he was at the end of 2009.

Doug Fister's PitchFx data starts to tell the story. The first thing that jumps off the page is something we have easily seen watching his starts: THE FIST is throwing his fastball a ton more. Combining two-seem and four-seem data, he has gone from throwing a heater 50% of the time, to throwing it 80% of the time. That's a shocking difference. Obviously, that means other pitches are not getting thrown as much. The big dip is with his change-up, which he threw about 33% of the time last year, and he throws only 6% of the time so far in 2010.

The results Fister has generated with the pitch selection change are counterintuitive. 2009 data suggests that his most effective pitch was his change-up, and both the data and naked eye also suggest that his fastball was extremely mediocre. You would think THE FIST would be worse now that he relies so heavily on one pitch, and a very blah one at that. However, early returns say that his fastball has become devastatingly effective. The difference is too drastic to ignore, even with only 10 starts last year, and 5 this year.

What on Earth happened between last September and this April?

So far, while Fister's four-seam fastball is still clocking in around 89 MPH on average, it has slightly different movement, according to PitchFx data. It is straighter, both horizontally and vertically. Along with that, Fister's curveball has exhibited a little more downward break, while maintaining a similar velocity. This seems to imply that it has "tightened," to use a more conventional scouting term. Rounding out the look at Fister's slight differences, his change-up is about a mile slower yet is straighter, which is an odd combination. The two-seamer exhibits a similar trend, with a little straighter movement at the same velocity.

Physically, what would cause this borderline phenomenon in the vertical movement is more spin on the ball. In other words, Mister Fister appears to be digging into the seems a little more. I also think he is coming slightly more over the top this year too, because more rotation from the same arm slot should cause more lateral movement, not less.

Between straighter pitches, and heavily relying on one in particular, it appears that Fister has improved on already exemplary command. His walk rate was already low (again, based on limited numbers last year), but it has cut in half in the early going this season.

Improved command not only means fewer walks; it should mean better placed strikes as well. Early returns on Fister's plate discipline data back this up. Hitters are swinging at fewer of Fister's strikes, perhaps because they are exquisitely placed. However, the change is small (only a 5% difference), so it could just be noise from limited sample sizes.

The same cannot be said about the pitches out of the zone that Fister is throwing though. Hitters are swinging at 31% of them, up from 23% a year ago. This is a small enough change to again chalk up to small sample sizes. However, then I looked at the contact rate, and that is where the numbers are astonishing. Batters are making contact a staggering 86% of the time they swing at a ball from Fister, well up from the 61% rate posted a year ago. Even more interestingly, the contact rate against strikes between this year and last are virtually identical (92% versus 91%), and the overall swing rates are even more nearly identical (43.6% this year, 43.5% last year). The overall contact rate has risen, but it is all on contact made by swinging at balls. Predominately balls low in the strike zone, I might add, at least if Fister's increased ground ball rate is any indication.

Indeed, Doug Fister is generating lots of contact, and that generally is considered a bad thing for a pitcher. However, a closer look at the numbers reveal contact on Fister's terms. He is throwing stuff close enough to the strike zone to make batters chase. The tighter spin on his pitches this year has also made the difference in movement between his fastball and curve more dramatic, which perhaps explains why the change-up has melted into the background, and maybe also why hitters don't square up the ball on Fister as much as it seems like they should.

Fister's success still baffles me, and the groove he is in is bound to end. However, if he continues to command his fastball like he has, and batters continue to beat balls into the ground against the serious defense the M's have, THE FIST is going to rack up a ton of outs more often than not. Until hitters adjust, Fister can be counted on for 6 or 7 quality innings every time his turn comes up - and I am not sure there is an effective adjustment hitters can make on the command Fister is showing right now. Taking a look at how hitters have gone after Mark Buehrle over the years, it's not wildly different from what they have done against THE FIST in 2010.

Byrnes Is Gone, More To Come

That was fast. I was hoping for some action tomorrow, but it happened tonight. Eric Byrnes has been released, and Matt Tuiasosopo sent down. Taking their places are Ryan Langerhans and Josh Wilson.

These are both good moves. I was a fan of bringing up Langerhans a couple hours ago, and I still am. Josh Wilson is a fine addition for now as well. He was hitting in Tacoma (though I doubt he can keep it up), and I like the message being sent that production matters. However, even when Wilson proves he can't hit all that much, his defense at shortstop allows the M's to pinch hit for Jack Wilson in crucial situations late in ballgames.

The only minor problem is that neither Langerhans nor Wilson are on the 40-man roster. One of them will take the spot cleared with Byrnes's release. The other we don't know about yet. Lookout Landing tweeted that Ricky Orta recently had Tommy John surgery, and transferring him to the 60-day DL would do the trick. I also think they could get away with transferring Erik Bedard to the 60-day DL if they wanted to, given that they are targeting a late May return for him as of now. However, Shannon Drayer is reporting that the move won't be transferring anyone to the 60-day DL.

Who knows. This is obviously unfolding as we all digest it. Personally, I think a DL move is likely. I could also see Jesus Colome getting DFA'd, which would require another player to get promoted. Heck, Mike Sweeney came up with a stiff back today, so maybe he lands on the DL.

Something else must happen, we know that for sure. The Mariners don't have anything internally that can change the whole complexion of the offense; but, the roster just got a little better, and the M's aren't done tinkering yet. Zduriencik also made little moves for Ryan Langerhans and Jack Hannahan last year, and for all we know he has another trick up his sleeve.

For now, this is certainly good news. Something had to be done, and the obvious move was made.

Byrnes Needs To Go

I don't even want to talk about the series the M's just completed with the Rangers. Any sort of competent offense at all, and Seattle gets two out of three. The extra inning games were baseball played at its most futile levels. I'm thankful for an off day to recover. This team really needs one to do some soul-searching.

It is also a perfect opportunity to ditch Eric Byrnes. It's time for him to leave. It isn't fair to pin the team's offensive woes on him, given the limited at-bats he has received, but he clearly is not an answer in any sort of capacity.

To start with, Byrnes is batting under .100, again, in limited opportunities. However, watching him, he is completely lost. The failed suicide squeeze is of course the crowned jewel of Eric's epic failures, but his approach at the plate in general is horrible. He routinely watches fastballs go down the middle, and opts to swing at garbage. Shockingly, his approach has yielded an unfathomable number of strikeouts and pop-ups.

Defensively, Byrnes isn't that bad. He looks somewhere between adventurous and awful, but it all adds up to something I would take out there. To his credit, he grades out well in his limited opportunities thus far.

However, that is not enough, especially with the way Byrnes has been flailing at the plate. The Mariners have Ryan Langerhans in AAA, who nobody doubts is the superior defender, and I have a strong belief that he can pull a bat back on a suicide squeeze every bit as well as Eric Byrnes too.

It's far from a secret that the M's offense must get better. Furthermore, I'm not certain that Eric Byrnes can be called the problem, or Ryan Langerhans the solution. However, sliding Milton Bradley into more of the regular DH role, and giving Langerhans a chance to play every day in left field makes sense right now. It would be a defensive upgrade, and Langerhans would essentially be taking Ken Griffey Jr.'s spot in the lineup. Griffey would become the primary pinch-hitter off the bench, and I think that's a role he could succeed in.

Langerhans at least marginally improves the offense (over what we have seen), and certainly improves the defense, so he makes the team better. I think the message sent would be important too. It's time to put up or shut up. The guys on the field are clearly trying, but this is the major leagues. Production is needed, and healthy competition is good. Guys that aren't pulling their weight need to see their playing time go away.

For me, the changes start with Eric Byrnes, and they start tomorrow.

Through With The Offense

I'm going to be out and about today, so I can't write much more than a rant. I watched last night's game, and was giddy for the first 9 and a half innings. Cliff Lee was unbelievable, the bullpen looked great, and Brandon League started looking like Brandon League. I was willing to tip my hat to Colby Lewis for the M's struggles at the plate.

Forget it. This offense is terrible. We've seen rock bottom. The 10th and 11th were atrocious. Eric Byrnes's failed suicide squeeze in the 11th was called by Gregg Bell (of the AP, not even a beat writer for either team) "the worst at-bat in Major League history." It might have been too. Ron Washington got ejected for arguing that Byrnes should have strike two on him because there was no way he would've pulled the bat back on a suicide squeeze.

I can't blame Ron Washington for being so flabbergasted. Everyone was. Byrnes only entrenched the claim by whiffing horribly on a fastball down the middle, and then watching one go by for strike three.

The Rangers never got a hit with a runner in scoring position, and didn't hit any home runs. The pitching staff was sensational. The defense made a couple nice plays too. There is no getting around who lost the game last night, and how ugly it looked.

The M's offense broke the WPA formula, which measures what percentage of a win or loss is contributed to players. The M's lineup accounted for over 100%. They were that bad.

Granted, obviously, the M's offense is better than they showed last night. Any offense is. But I keep telling myself that, and at some point it rings hollow.

Last night is when it finally rang hollow.

I'll suggest answers later, but something must be done. I think it involves ditching Eric Byrnes, and maybe Mike Sweeney too.

The Mariners offense will look better today, because they can't look any worse than they did last night. Seriously, I think an offense looks better when they are no-hit, because at least then they can't think up incomprehensible ways to fail with runners in scoring position.

Still, I don't care if the M's score 25 runs today. There need to be consequences after the egg they laid last night.