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Eighty Five Ballots Say Plenty

This morning I ran across a cool post called the Hall of Fame ballot collecting gizmo. It's simply an amalgamation of Hall of Fame ballots that have been made public. There are 85 as of the time I write this post (and the gizmo updates frequently).

I could debate who should or should not be in, but instead I'd rather offers some cold, hard facts to wrap up 2013. It turns out that we can figure out quite a bit from only the 85 ballots the gizmo has so far. The data already suggests a couple surprises to me at least.

Masahiro Tanaka's Value

Masahiro Tanaka is coming to the states and promises to get the biggest free agent contract of any pitcher this offseason. Some of his value has to do with how young he is (just 25 years old on opening day), and more has to do with how good he has been in Japan.

How good will he be in the majors though? Time will tell, but teams have to take a crack at a valuation of him right now.

This post is my crack at figuring out what Tanaka is worth.

2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

I have the pleasure of casting an unofficial Hall of Fame vote through the Baseball Bloggers Association. I look forward to seeing who bloggers would put in the hall this year. For the record, the BBA would have actually inducted someone last year (Jeff Bagwell), unlike the BBWAA.

Before revealing my ballot, I should say a few words about how I think about Hall of Fame voting. Everyone has their own twist on the Hall of Fame, which is why voting generates such heated and interesting debate. You deserve to know my own views.

First and foremost, I see the Hall of Fame as the physical manifestation of Major League Baseball's ongoing narrative. It should capture what it means to experience the game at its best through every generation. This view has some significant implications on this year's ballot:

  • Steroid users should enter the Hall of Fame. Steroids were a part of a whole generation of the game at the turn of the millennium. The Hall of Fame should capture the best of every generation, regardless of how good or bad the generation was. I wouldn't say that I want to celebrate PED use, but letting steroid users in the hall is necessary to treasure the best the 1990s and 2000s had to offer. PEDs tarnished the generation, but rendering all accomplishments and memories for an entire time period meaningless is excessive.
  • Designated hitters should also be in the Hall of Fame. The DH isn't an experiment anymore. It's been around for 40 years now. Like it or not, the DH is part of the game, so it demands some recognition in the Hall of Fame. It is part of MLB's narrative.
  • Narratives are about more than performance. The best players tend to produce the best the game has to offer, but there is some wiggle room in my view. The absolute greatest of all-time transcend no matter what context they played in. However, the interesting Hall of Fame cases involve the tier of players below GOAT status. I'd rather enshrine a borderline player who contributed to some larger piece of MLB's narrative than a player who did not. This makes my Hall of Fame a bit less scientific, but welcome to reality. The best moments tend to be a combination of skill and good fortune. I'm okay with a Hall of Fame that embraces that reality.

Without further ado, my selections this year.

Please, Mariners, Use the Cash You Have

I generally enjoy Keith Olbermann now that he's back in sports, thanks to his vicious (but justified) commentary on a regular basis. The vicious style doesn't feel so good when it's directed at the Mariners though. Here's what he had to say about Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln last night:

Ouch. It hurts in large part because Olbermann speaks the truth.

The Mariners have about $68.3 million in payroll commitments for 2014 as of right now. That figure will go up once the Smoak, Saunders, and Logan Morrison arbitration cases are figured out, but all of them are in their first years eligible. Let's say that they make $10 million total between them. Let's also assume that both Corey Hart and Franklin Gutierrez reach all of their incentives. That's another $10 million or so. That brings the payroll to around $88-90 million.

I guess, theoretically, that's why the Mariners say their payroll is about spent. They had an $84 million team last season, though apparently budgeted $95 million. If the Mariners want to pinch back the payroll a bit further because of sagging attendance and assume all possible extra payments happen, then perhaps they've hit their limit. It would be a very conservative approach to payroll budgeting.

You know what isn't conservative though? Spending $240 million on Robinson Cano. I really hope the Mariners are simply posturing to gain some bargaining leverage with free agents. The front office has used this tired line of "extra money available for the right player" for years now. It would seem to me that Robinson Cano is the "right player," and intelligent budgeting at this point would suggest that the Mariners should extend the payroll some more - so that, you know, Cano's massive deal has a chance of working. The team already has the exception under contract that justifies deeper pockets!

The Mariners stopped being fiscally conservative the instant they inked Cano. Their window of opportunity needs to be now. Cano isn't getting any younger. Neither is Felix. Young guys like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brad Miller, and Mike Zunino aren't as good as they will be (hopefully), but they are also only going to be league-minimum cheap for the next 2-3 years. It is painfully obvious that the Mariners would be wise to overextend RIGHT NOW, because this is when they will get their best bang for the buck with the roster they have.

At the absolute least, I would hope that the Mariners see the $10 million they saved last year as money they can tack on to this year's payroll. I would also hope that they consider Hart and Guti's incentives as non-factors; if they reach those incentives, the team is better and likely earning more money. Just looking at the budget with those two tweaks opens up $20 million to spend. Pretty much anyone still available (with the possible exception of Shin-Soo Choo) can be signed, or fit within the budget, with that kind of cash. I wouldn't even consider that outlook very aggressive. I see room to be much more aggressive, particularly with the regional sports network revenue just around the corner, and the new MLB national deal that doubles payouts to each team starting this year.

The Mariners better still have payroll room. They are in the midst of their latest tactical blunder if they don't. They really are the worst if they opened up their pockets for Robinson Cano and then shut them again, leaving Jack Zduriencik to scrounge for pennies behind the couch.

The Hot Mess At The Top

I am guessing that, by now, if you read this blog you have read Geoff Baker's investigative report into the Mariners front office. It reads somewhere between therapeutic and sobering for Mariners fans. Therapeutic to put words and quotes to many of the common grumblings around the the M's leadership from fans. Sobering sure seems like the team is a hot mess with no end in sight, despite Robinson Cano signing (or perhaps confirmed by the 10-year, $240 million contract).

Baker sheds a critical eye toward the Mariners, to say the least. Could the truth be as bad as Baker portrays in his article?

Rule 5 Draft: Moranimal Gets His Chance

If you are a die-hard reader of the Musings, you may or may not have noticed that I wrote about Brian Moran from time-to-time. Truth is, I love the guy, and will never understand why the Mariners never gave him a chance. He mostly tore up the minor leagues, maybe on smoke-and-mirrors, but he more or less destroyed hitters. I loved watching Moran in Tacoma. He was a pitcher - constantly evading bats with a bit of a funky wind-up, a mid-80s fastball, and slurvy breaking stuff. I also saw hitters hammer Moran pitches when they guessed right, but the guesses were few and far between.

Watching Moran pitch reminded me a bit of Jamie Moyer from a decade ago - it just seemed like Moran should be hit harder than he gets hit. There's something electric about watching a phenomenal arm like Taijuan Walker toy with inferior talent - but on the other end, there is something charming about watching a guy like Moran fool guys with stuff that seems like an approximation of the slop you or I would throw at the plate. Maybe that is the real magic of Moran - his way of pitching seems so approachable and tangible, in a way most professional pitching is not.

Brian Moran is now Angels property, via the Blue Jays, thanks to the Rule 5 draft conducted today. The Rule 5 draft is a chance for teams to comb over players left off of 40-man rosters that are three years removed from their draft class, or five years removed from signing as international free agents. The intent of the draft is to give polished players a chance to make the majors if they are stuck behind a glut of other players in an organization. Brian Moran is the perfect example of this. He stayed buried behind the likes of Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez, and even Bobby LaFramboise. The Mariners decided they only needed so many bullpen lefties on the 40-man roster, which might be a smart decision.

Still, at the end of the day, Moran was one of nine players picked in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 draft. The Mariners are a team that's lacked talent for several years, as evidenced by all the losses they have piled up. They shouldn't have the kind of loaded roster that produces excess players that other teams covet. Yet here they are, a franchise that had one of nine players plucked away, by a division rival no less.

I get that there's a non-zero chance Moran's deceptive style doesn't fool MLB hitters at all. He could get tattooed. What irks me is that the Mariners never found out for themselves. They had more than enough lost games in lost seasons the past few years to take a gander. Brian Moran earned his chance. He might not make it out of spring training with the Angels, but I'd say he's more likely to make the team and make some appearances. I guess, as a fan, I'm in a win-win situation - he either gets drilled and helps the Angels lose, or does well so all of us Moranimal fans can say to the Mariners "I told you so!"

Here are quick looks at the other MLB Rule 5 picks, plus one minor league pick of local (and national) note:

Mariners Sign Hart, Acquire Morrison

This year's winter meetings were very slow. The Mariners turned out to be one of the most active teams, thanks to a pair of deals today. I don't have much time to write, and thought I would touch on Geoff Baker's damning report before anything else Mariners, but the M's are just doing too much too fast right now for me to keep up. So I'll stay focused on today's moves.

Mariners sign Corey Hart to the Mike Napoli deal - Hart has a one-year deal with a $6 million base that can jack up to $13 million with incentives. It's very similar to what Mike Napoli signed with the Red Sox last year. Hart is a mediocre contact hitter with limited on-base skills, but he's got real good power. Perhaps that sounds like Mike Morse all over again, but Hart has a longer track record of success and didn't cost John Jaso.* Instead, Hart costs money, which might now grow on trees with the Root sports acquisition. I'm a big fan of the Corey Hart deal, particularly with the way it is structured. If Hart hits dingers he gets paid, and he should get paid if he can jack the ball out of Safeco.

*Jaso admittedly had his own deficiencies as a player, but was the M's best hitter the lone season he was with them. The Mariners actually had the audacity to say they traded Jaso in an effort to improve the offense. They really, honestly believed that.

Mariners trade Carter Capps for Logan Morrison - In general I'm okay with this deal too. Capps has a great arm and supposedly some really bad luck. His home run rate seems unsustainable. However, he's also a young player that throws a ton of fastballs in most counts with somewhat limited command. Capps could figure a few things out and become very, very good. He could also stay a flame-thrower without much further growth. In return, the Mariners get a former top hitting prospect - former because, quite franky, LoMo hasn't done a ton of hitting the last few seasons. That's thanks in part to a few knee operations. His knee is apparently healthy, and hopefully that's true. I also hope the knee zapped some of Morrison's power. He is a bit of a reclamation project, though still young. Ultimately, the M's had bullpen depth and I will take a hitter with upside over a reliever with upside.

The Hart and LoMo deals together worry me though. Both Hart and Morrison have outfield experience, but neither should play in the outfield. They might both be best at DH, and play first base if they must take the field. That's where they compete with Justin Smoak as well. There should be 1,200-1,400 plate appearances between both first base and DH, so splitting the time three ways might not be so bad. There are enough plate appearances to go around, particularly because I'm not sold on either Smoak or Morrison as an everyday player at the moment.

These are the Mariners though, and they deployed such "defenders" as Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay in the outfield last season. I doubt they'll have any qualms placing Morrison or Hart in the outfield, in the process taking away a good portion of their value. It would be very Mariners of them and also would explain why they are reportedly turning down teams asking about Smoak.

All I'll say is that the Mariners better not be done. It doesn't look like they will go after Shin-Soo Choo simply because he is left-handed, which is a shame. Nick Franklin is supposedly going to be a utility player, which again, would be a shame. Hopefully they are doing some bluffing to try to build leverage for some trades. A starting pitcher and center fielder would be nice.

2014 Offseason Plan: The Cano Variant

I made an offseason plan when the offseason began, but it is obsolete with the Robinson Cano signing. I predicted the Mariners would need to add somewhere around 18 WAR to contend for a Wild Card spot. I looked for players that might be interested in the team, and didn't worry about the budget because I figured the Mariners would struggle to find players who would take the cash.

The picture looks much different with Cano in the fold. I'd say the Mariners should shoot more to acquire 25 WAR (with Cano included), and the budget should swell to meet the demands. The roster's best days are no longer ahead of them. Cano is as good as he will ever be right now, and his contract probably won't age well. Moreover, the Mariners have some young talents (like Kyle Seager and Brad Miller) who are as cheap as they will ever be right now, and are good enough to fill some starting slots. Therefore, it now makes sense to go gangbusters.

So how do the Mariners add 25 wins?

Cano Says Yes

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There's nothin' you can't do
Now you're in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let's hear it for New York, New York,
New York
-Chorus from "Empire State of Mind"

Here's what you can't do in New York: Get $240 million, at least if you are Robinson Cano. But Cano can get that kind of cash in Seattle.

2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

The Hall of Fame ballot came out earlier this week, and thanks to a whole week off from school I've had lots of time to dig into it. This ballot stands out as a particularly important and invigorating one thanks to a confluence of factors. There are several first-time names on the ballot that are very sexy (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas come to mind). There are holdovers like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Mark McGwire that continue to make voters think about the legacy of PEDs in the 1990s. Then there are also a few long-time ballot members that seem to be on the fence of induction. Chief among this final group is Jack Morris, who is on the ballot for the 15th and guaranteed final time. He earned over 67% of the vote last year, and needs to be named on 75% of ballots for enshrinement.

In other words, pick your favorite debate on this ballot. There are lots of fun ones, which is why this ballot might mean more than most. People are even debating the voting process itself. In fact, Deadspin has even purchased a ballot this year, presumably from a disgruntled voter. Literally any and all debates are on the table this year.

At some point I will offer my own Hall of Fame ballot on this blog, but this post isn't about who should be in the Hall of Fame. I decided it would be more interesting to ask who will make the Hall of Fame. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that the voters and the voting process are more predictable than many believe - or at least I believed.

McClendon Sets Coaching Staff

I thought about rolling discussion of the coaching staff into the Chuck Armstrong post, but decided Check deserved a post of his own. The Mariners announced their 2014 coaching staff mere hours before they announced that Chuck Armstrong would retire. Both of these news items continue the Mariners crusade to make news without doing anything to the roster.

Here's the coaching staff:

Bench coach - Trent Jewett (already announced a few weeks ago)
Hitting coach - Howard Johnson
Pitching coach - Rick Waits
First base coach - Andy Van Slyke
Third base coach - John Stearns
Bullpen coach - Mike Rojas
Infield coach - Chris Woodward

The staff is surprising, mostly because McClendon blew up the staff (as expected) but not in the way most new managers do. He ended up promoting lots of coaches already in the organization. Both Johnson and Stearns were in AAA Tacoma, while both Woodward and Waits were roving minor league instructors. Rojas was the Tigers bullpen coach while McClendon was there, and Van Slyke has been out of coaching for a few years but is another McClendon connection from Detroit. Jewett and McClendon know each other from their time together over a decade ago in Pittsburgh.

If nothing else, McClendon clearly went into the staffing process with an open mind. The Mariners fired Carl Willis, seemingly to give McClendon the last bit of freedom he needed to hire whomever he wanted. Maybe the staff is a sign that McClendon has few connections across baseball, or that he couldn't lure anyone else to join him in Seattle. I hope neither is the case but they are possibilities.

Regardless, I kind of like the mix, in particular since so many coaches got promoted. The minor league coaches know the Mariners on the roster better than anyone else, given that most of the current Mariners are so young and inexperienced. They've simply spent more of their pro careers in the minors at this point. Perhaps this coaching staff has the right balance of familiar faces and new ones to develop guys like Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, and Nick Franklin in ways that previous coaching staffs have not.

The Mariners, I think, have run out of moves they can make without acquiring different players. At the very least they have surprised me by finding a manager outside the organization willing to take the job, and surprised me again by promoting so many minor league coaches to the majors. Here's hoping for some more surprises over the winter.

Happy Trails, Chuck Armstrong

Chuck Armstrong will leave the Mariners at the end of January. He has worked with the Mariners for 28 of the past 30 years. If you read some of the comments across the internet, you would think the baseball gods have sent the angels of justice down with harps, singing pristine melodies and making the universe right again. Armstrong doesn't leave under duress from other leadership in the Mariners organization, but he has been a target of the team's woes, along with Howard Lincoln, for some time.

But nothing is ever all that black-and-white, particularly when someone hangs around in a high leadership position for three decades, which so happens to be about three-quarters of M's entire existence. Yes, everything you hate about the Mariners has something to do with Chuck Armstrong. This might be a newsflash though: everything you like about the Mariners has something to do with Chuck Armstrong too.

Restricted Free Agency

Major League Baseball features a bizarre system for determining player salaries. A player goes through three phases in their MLB career:
  1. Glorified indentured servitude - For three years a player must take whatever the team gives them. Most teams offer the league minimum, unsurprisingly.
  2. Arbitration - For three years a player can go to arbitration to increase their pay. The stated intention of arbitration in the collective bargaining agreement is to gradually increase a player's salary up to their anticipated open market value in free agency. The general rule of thumb is that a player earns 40% of what they are worth the first year, 60% the next year, and 80% in their final year.
  3. Free agency - This is where players finally go on a completely open market.
No other sport has a salary system like this. MLB's became this way largely thanks to a history filled with rampant, overt collusion that got challenged by an aggressive players union back in the late 1960s though the 1970s. It used to be that players had to take whatever the team handed them forever (in other words, phase 1 was the only phase for a player in their career). That changed when the reserve clause got challenged in court, and reinterpreted as binding a player to their team for only one year, instead of forever.

The reinterpretation forced the MLB and MLBPA to the bargaining table, as neither side really wanted all MLB players hitting the open market. Interestingly, MLBPA leader Marvin Miller was the one that suggested the modern system. He realized that limiting the free agent pool would create a more competitive open market, and figured MLB owners' desire for top free agents would trump their seemingly innate habit to collude and keep prices down. Miller turned out to be right, and I think even he would be surprised at the massive contracts doled out these days.

The current system, as odd as it is, more or less served its purpose for a long time. However, over the past decade, there are obvious signs that its time has come and gone. It's time to update the system again.

2013 BBA Award Results

The totals are in and counting for this year's BBA Awards. I've summarized the AL picks below, with my selections in parentheses:

Connie Mack
John Farrell, Red Sox (Terry Francona, Indians)

Willie Mays
Wil Myers, Rays (Wil Myers, Rays)

Goose Gossage
Koji Uehara, Red Sox (Koji Uehara, Red Sox)

Walter Johnson
Max Scherzer, Tigers (Max Scherzer, Tigers)

Stan Musial
Mike Trout, Angels (Mike Trout, Angels)

We shall see who the BBWAA chooses for their awards. The BBA vote wasn't close for the Musial, but I expect the BBWAA to have a tougher time choosing between Trout and Cabrera.

15 Wins (The 2014 Offseason Plan)

The Mariners were 71-91 last year. If they win 15 more games they go 86-76. That's simple math. I picked 15 games because it is a rather round number, and 86 wins likely gets them within 5 games of a playoff berth. 86 wins doesn't sound like a particularly interesting win total, but staying within five games of a playoff spot means staying in the playoff hunt into September. How refreshing would that be?

So here's my crack at gaining 15 wins, listed out for easy reference:

Lloyd McClendon, Mariners Manager

I'll be honest, I'm only posting about this topic for two reasons:

1) I'm a Mariners blog, and when the Mariners hire a manager, it seems like the kind of news a Mariners blog is obligated to talk about at some point on some level.

2) Lloyd McClendon, if nothing else, was the only managerial candidate the M's interviewed who has stolen first base*.

* He steals first around the 1:00 mark. I argue this is the greatest MLB manager meltdown to date in the 21st century.

For real reporting on McClendon, I'd recommend Larry Stone's piece. McClendon was liked and respected by Jim Leyland and the Detroit Tigers leadership, for what it is worth. For my spin and quasi-rant on the whole situation, keep reading.

Red Sox Revival

First of all, before digging into how the Red Sox made the World Series, I feel obligated to share a few graphs after yesterday's post on the Cardinals. Boston's roster is constructed quite differently:

The players developed through Boston's farm system are still a cheap and cost-efficient commodity, but not to the same degree that is seen on the Cardinals roster. Relying on free agency is a luxury that big-market teams enjoy though.

Still, the real story of the 2013 Boston Red Sox is just how much they transformed their roster in the past season, and how much they improved. Also, lost in the massive Beantown shuffle, is that they ended up reducing their team payroll about $20 million while adding 28 victories, winning their division, and now returning to the World Series. Alot went right, to say the least.

So what exactly did they do? Here's a look, position group by position group:

The Cardinals Way

The St. Louis Cardinals made it to the World Series last night in stately fashion. They bludgeoned Clayton Kershaw, who should go on to win the NL Cy Young Award, to make it to the fall classic for fourth time in the last decade. A couple of their runs to the World Series seemed lucky in recent memory, but as they continue to make it back, now including once since Albert Pujols left town, there's a growing consensus that St. Louis has a dynasty of sorts going on at the moment.

It's painfully easy to get romantic about the Cardinals. The "Cardinals way" is often characterized as "the right way" to play the game, and the roster is filled with a bunch of no-names who know how to come together and compete towards a common goal. It's a nice narrative that seems to pair perfectly with a city that's often characterized as having the best fans in baseball.*

*And they might be the best fans in baseball. More on that later.

Jayson Stark wrote an article arguing that the third inning of last night's game epitomizes the 2013 Cardinals. His article is exhibit A for the romanticized "Cardinals way." In particular, I'm fond of these couple lines from Stark's article about Cardinals game 6 winner, Michael Wacha:
Two weeks ago, most of America was wondering who the heck he was and where he came from. Next thing we knew, he was out there Friday night, outdueling Kershaw for the second time in this series, spinning seven more insanely dominant innings of two-hit, shutout baseball and winning an NLCS MVP award. At age 22.
 Wacha outdueling Clayton Kershaw twice is a fantastic story, and the kind of story that makes baseball beautiful.  Stark is good at what he does, and he has sniffed out a great storyline for sure. Michael Wacha is the Cardinals way embodied, but to write off who the heck he is and where he came from as a side story to build up the "some-nobody-versus-The-Greatest-Pitcher-In-The-NL" as a storyline is to miss the Cardinal way completely.

2013 BBA Awards

It's that time of year again, to make my picks for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance awards. I only vote on the AL, since I am a Mariners blog. Without further ado, my picks:

Connie Mack Award (Manager of the Year)
Terry Francona, Indians - Cleveland's stunning run to a playoff berth in September made Francona a pretty easy choice. Cleveland spent some significant money in the offseason, signing both Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, so I don't want to make it sound like Francona willed this team to some sort of miraculous new level. However, neither Swisher nor Bourn lit the world on fire. Most of Cleveland's improvement came from players within, perhaps most notably from Jason Kipnis taking a step forward and possibly becoming this generation's version of Chase Utley. The Indians somehow believed that they belonged with the likes of the Rangers, Orioles, and Yankees down the stretch when the wild card race got tight. They literally didn't lose when the wild card spots when wild card spots were up for grabs at the end of the season. Plus, by picking Francona, I have a vaguely good reason to link to a couple great videos and say go on down to Cleveland town!

Willie Mays Award (Rookie of the Year)
Wil Myers, OF, Rays - Frankly, peaking at the NL rookie class this year, there's an argument that the AL should donate this award to the NL so that they can have two recipients. It's remarkable how different the rookie classes are in both leagues. However, since I have to pick a rookie, I'll go with Myers. He was quite good, and would have run away with this award quickly if he had started the year in the majors. He turned out to be a key cog in the middle of the Rays order, and the Rays were were a playoff team this year too. David Lough of the Royals and Brad Miller of the Mariners might have been able to catch this award too with more playing time.

Goose Gossage Award (Reliever of the Year)
Koji Uehara, Red Sox - I was very tempted to go with Mariano Rivera, because he was good this year, but really I would have handed it to him more as a lifetime achievement award. I decided I would do that if there were no stand-out relievers. The problem is that Uehara's season is unlikely to be duplicated, like, ever. He retired 37 consecutive batters at one point this season, which is insane considering 27 in a row is a perfect game. Uehara was probably the beneficiary of several lucky bounces, but he combined that with some serious talent. It all added up to a magical season in relief, particularly once he took over as Boston's closer. Greg Holland also doesn't get enough credit for how good he is, and I gave some serious thought to handing him this award too.

Walter Johnson Award (Cy Young)
Max Scherzer, Tigers - It doesn't matter your favorite stat, Scherzer is the obvious choice in the AL this year. Wins? He got 21, the only 20-game winner this year. ERA? Sub-3.00. Strikeouts? Over 10 per 9 innings. Innings pitched? Over 210. WAR? Leads pitchers in that category too. Scherzer is in the top 5 of virtually every pitching category that could possibly matter, though perhaps there is an argument that he was somehow propelled by the rest of the Tigers staff. Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander also populate the leaderboard with him in all sorts of stats. Yu Darvish would have been a very serious contender for this award without his mid-season injury.

Stan Musial Award (MVP)
Mike Trout, OF Angels - Trout is a total package unlike any other in the AL. Both Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis had phenomenal power seasons, but it's not like Trout doesn't bring power to the plate (with 27 dingers), and he brings just as much hitting ability and patience with way more speed, baserunning, and defense. He was worth 10.4 WAR according to FanGraphs, which is over 2.0 WAR ahead of anyone else in the AL. Kyle Seager was the only Mariners position player to rack up more than 2.0 WAR on the season, just to put into perspective just how big the gap is between Mike Trout and everyone else*. Mike Trout should be an easy, easy choice for the AL MVP race, but there's little doubt in my mind that the big home run totals from both Cabrera and Davis will steal some (most?) of the votes away.

*And also put into perspective how putrid the improved Mariners offense (and it was improved) still was.

Check the Baseball Bloggers Alliance website to see who wins these awards as votes get tallied up, and compare them with the BBWAA awards to find out how badly they mess up this year.

Beyond Howard and Chuck

It's easy to find folks ripping apart the M's right now. The M's make it too easy, with all the losses and a manager like Eric Wedge quitting before he can be fired. Mind you, Wedge insisted on finishing his tenure in Cleveland after he was fired, and was given the chance to do that. Eric Wedge isn't a quitter, to say the least, but something happened in Seattle that made him do that.

Personally, I had grown tired of the way Wedge used his bullpen. I also wonder if his constant mantras about working and grinding inhibited the production of guys like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero. I don't see much room to grind out hits if you are a good hitter spraying the ball around the ballpark. Then you're just getting good hits. Maybe the players internalize grinding differently than I do though.

So I am stuck in an awkward place as a fan. Maybe you are too. One one hand, woohoo! New manager on the way! Lots of money to spend in the offseason! Young players doing interesting things! On the other hand...the manager just quit...the young players have lots of room for growth...what manager will take a job from a GM in the final year of his deal...what player would want to come to Seattle right now?

Pessimism reigns supreme, thanks to another losing season that extends the M's current run on irrelevance. It's natural to point fingers at suspected culprits, and when the players, coaches, and front office executives completely cycle through without the on-field product changing all that much, it's pretty obvious the fingers will point at the folks not moving around.

Ownership. Or, in the case of the Mariners, the chairmen who represent the ownership, Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong.

I don't know if I have much of meaning to say. I don't know how much Lincoln and Armstrong do (or don't) interact with the M's players and leadership. I'm not exactly sure what it means to be a good sports owner, either. Something seems systemically dysfunctional with the Mariners, given how much they've lost over an extended period of time, but pointing at ownership without solid reasons besides screaming, more or less, "I'M TIRED OF LOSING GO AND FIX IT BECAUSE YEAH" isn't very productive. The problem is likely more complicated than ownership, and I'll my case with a couple simple examples.

Zduriencik Staying

Well, lo and behold it has been over a month and a half since I posted! This was mainly caused by two forces:

1) Moving/new full time job. The major life transitions put the blog on a hold for a bit. But then again...

2) What exactly was there to write about in the last month and a half?

It's hard to separate one from the other. The Mariners know how to bury their very existence in the dog days of August, followed by irrelevant Septembers. 40+ year-old Raul Ibanez chasing down 40+ year-old Ted Williams is pretty cool, and I'm rooting for one more dinger, but that's about it as far as newsworthy things I feel I've missed in the past month and a half or so. That and Taijuan Walker's MLB debut I suppose. But there we go! All caught up. That wasn't hard, for better and for worse.*

*Mostly worse. The Seahawks and their relevant games have reminded me just how irrelevant the Mariners are right now. Sigh.

Today a few newsworthy items broke about the Mariners, one piece of news clearly better than the other. We'll start with the bad. Danny Hultzen's shoulder is apparently ailing again, and the M's team doctor thinks his labrum is torn. Hultzen will get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, a legendary sports doctor who doubles as the grim reaper for pitching arms. This story isn't likely heading for a happy ending.

So, on to the better news! Jack Zduriencik is staying for another year! You can't deny that Z staying is better than the impending doom around Hultzen at the moment, but there is a pretty wide margin on just how much better the news might be. Many (including yours truly) have soured some on Z, and as 2013 comes to a close it's easier to see a dark rain cloud than the silver lining that might lurk beyond it.

Decide which narrative seems more likely...

Junior And What Baseball Is All About

 I made it to the Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners Hall of Fame Ceremony (and "game" afterwards), courtesy a spare ticket from a good friend. The picture to the right is from my seat. The oft-desolate upper deck in the outfield was filled, I promise. I know because I was there. The game was the first sellout of the season for the M's - opening day included.

So Seattle really loves Ken Griffey Jr. That's not news. Still, the atmosphere was even more electric than the explosive front that blew through Puget Sound the night before. Griffey jerseys of all vintages littered the ballpark. I was amazed that, not only so many people had Griffey jerseys, but that so many people knew where they were. There were some serious blasts from the past in the stands. You'd think some of those shirts and jerseys would have been in storage, and maybe they were. However, apparently, if Mariners fans know one thing, it's where they last put their Ken Griffey Jr. jersey.

Fans made it clear why they showed up at the game too. Safeco was steadily vacated once the Brewers erupted in the seventh inning. I even turned to my good friend and asked him how he thought Lucas Luetge felt, considering it looked like about 25,000 people had left since he took the mound. My friend's response? "He's probably used to it, since he always comes in when the Mariners are down big."

Lucas Luetge, it turns out, is no Ken Griffey Jr. In a backwards way, the 10-0 drubbing the M's took made it clear just how much Seattle loves the Kid, even in retirement. The empty stadium in the ninth inning made it so obvious that the vast majority of folks came to the game just for Junior.

The most interesting, and by interesting I really mean awkward, part of Griffey's speech was when he defended the M's leadership. He let the fans know that he hears the criticism that they don't want to win, and he assured us that they absolutely want to win. Nobody booed him, and several gave a nice golf clap, but it was a surprising twist in his meandering, surprisingly long speech.

Lincoln and Armstrong are often criticized, and I think it's silly to say they don't want to win, but I've often wondered how much winning matters in balance to other factors. In their defense though, winning isn't all that matters.

Bio Nemesis

The Biogenesis hammer finally came down in baseball yesterday and it packed a rather mighty punch. A dozen players were suspended, including A-Rod's whopping 221-game ban, and not including Ryan Braun's 65-game plea bargain announced weeks ago. The ruling resulted in a flurry of writing across the internet (here are a few) and part of me feels sheepish adding to the pile. So much has already been said, and so much can be said in general. There are lots of players involved, plus some deep ethics about the integrity of sports. Add in some star power, courtesy Braun, A-Rod, and the uncaught juicers of a previous generation, and there is simply a large swath of material to write about.

I could go with a Mariners focus and talk about Jesus Montero. However, that's not a blog post. It's a paragraph. How much is there to say? Jesus had a deflating, though not terrible, rookie campaign in 2012. He opened up this season as the starting catcher, got demoted to Tacoma after a few months of poor hitting to go with his poor fielding, injured his knee and missed a few months, then made it back to Tacoma for a little while before getting suspended yesterday for the rest of the season. There are failures and then there is Montero's 2013 campaign. He has hit rock bottom. He will rebound. I don't know how much he'll rebound, but my goodness have things gone wrong for him this year. I wouldn't say Montero is the victim of any bad luck, but things have certainly gone wrong in 2013. Here's hoping he puts 2013 behind him by learning and maturing some.

The most interesting angle of the Biogenesis story, to me, has been the rush to define legacies. Many pieces written in the last few days read almost like eulogies for Alex Rodriguez. I am curious to see how editorials from significant sportswriters like George Vecsey and Tom Verducci age as they looked to place A-Rod's career in perspective in the immediate wake of the Biogenesis ruling. The reality is that yesterday was the largest suspension for off-field activities since the Black Sox scandal in 1919, and that places Biogenesis in a stratosphere that I, frankly, never expected to see in baseball again.

Four-ish Mariners Worth Trading

I am enjoying the M's youthful surge towards .500 as much as the next fan, but I'm also realistic. This team isn't going to contend this year. They might not be that far away though. Next year doesn't seem like as big of a stretch these days. Still, the Mariners can sell at the trade deadline and feel fine about their decisions. It looks like few teams are willing to sell, and asking prices are high, so perhaps the Mariners could swing some nice deals in this market.

With that said, the Mariners don't have to make any moves. Their roster is already in decent shape for the offseason. The Mariners basically have veterans with expiring contracts, rookies under team control for multiple years, and King Felix. In other words, they will have money to spend in the offseason, and because enough of the rookies look pretty solid, only a handful of positions to fill.

There are still some Mariners I would shop around, including one surprise option that I doubt many would agree with. Without further ado, the M's I'd shop around:

More Swing Analysis: Chris Davis vs. Yoenis Cespedes

I had some fun with the swings at the Richard Sherman celebrity softball game, particularly as celebrities participated in a home run derby. So, I had some more fun, this time with the MLB home run derby.

The short version of my analysis: MLB sluggers are very good at hitting home runs, and exponentially better than local football and basketball stars.

The longer version of my analysis: I don't feel like going swing-by-swing through all eight derby contestants. However, Chris Davis and Yoenis Cespedes are a fun pair to contrast. Davis is a Paul Bunyan-esque 6'3" and 225 pounds from the left side of the plate, in the midst of a breakout season (after 2012 looked like a breakout season for him). Cespedes is a 5'10", 210-pound chiseled specimen from the right side of the plate struggling in his second season as a pro, though he far from struggled in the home run derby. Davis and Cespedes are both sluggers, but how similar are they? And why would the winner of the derby be the one struggling much, much more during the regular season? I delve into the swings and data searching for answers.

Richard Sherman Celebrity Softball Game: Scouting the Swings

Today I have a legitimate reason to talk about the Seahawks on this blog. Make no mistake, I am a Mariners fan first and foremost, but the Seahawks are very exciting team these days. They have talent and personalities. None are arguably bigger (by either of the previous measures) than Richard Sherman, who this afternoon at Cheney Stadium hosted what he is calling his annual celebrity softball game. Being a Tacoma resident, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch local celebrities try their hand at whacking dingers in a slow-pitch game.

The game did not disappoint. It was tied at 20 a side (after 7 innings), and decided by an impromptu home run derby. Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond hit the deciding blast. He, along with several other local sports stars of now and yesteryears competed in a home run derby prior to the game. I used my camera phone to take snapshots of as many of the stars as I could to evaluate their swings. What I offer below are my scouting reports on celebrity swings, based on what I saw (with pictures included). I have listed in them in reverse order from worst to best stroke:

9. Kam Chancellor

Chancellor is known for punishing receivers, and he tried to punish softballs with similar fervor.  It didn't work out though. His two main mechanical flaws can be seen here. First, Chancellor steps in the bucket to a degree that's hard to fathom. He started with a pretty straightaway stance, but look at where his front foot is as he begins to swing - it's nearly out of the batter's box to the third base side! This cuts off the entire outer half of the plate and sets him up to be a dead-pull hitter. The second big flaw is in Chancellor's hands. We can see that they are nearly belt level as he sets to swing, meaning anything in the upper half of the strike zone is impossible for him to get to. That leaves Chancellor with a small zone down and in where he can hit the ball. Predictably, he struggled to square up the pitches, despite his obvious strength and intent to hulk smash anything that crossed the plate.

Worldly Currency

Today has been an especially busy day in baseball, with the Cubs at the center of some wheelings and dealings. A recap of the Cubs morning:
  • Cubs acquire RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Pedro Strop, and international bonus money from the Orioles for RHP Scott Feldman and C Steve Clevenger
  • Cubs acquire RHP Matt Guerrier from the Dodgers for RHP Carlos Marmol and international bonus money
  • Cubs acquire international bonus money from the Astros for 2B Ronald Torreyes
There are multiple layers to each deal (the first two in particular), but the common thread can't be ignored. The Cubs have added almost $1 million in international draft bonus money to their allotted signing pool today, conveniently the first day international free agents can sign with MLB teams.

International free agency used to be a free-for-all with no regulation whatsoever until the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kicked in a few years ago. Now each team is given a series of international bonus slots - one step sort of a draft, but certainly parallel to the recommended slot system MLB uses in the amateur draft. The common wisdom is that this is a transition step from an open market to an international draft.

The reality is that an international draft is likely in the next CBA. However, I think MLB might have stumbled into a pretty cool system.

The Next Wave

The recent wave of promotions from AAA Tacoma has altered the M's farm system as much as the MLB roster. There aren't many of the M's top prospects that haven't been in the majors at this point. We are down to the big three - and of those three, I don't think Danny Hultzen stays down in AAA the whole season.

So who is worth watching in the M's farm system at this point? I have compiled a starting lineup, along with a left-handed and right-handed pitcher, with the following conditions:
  1. No 2013 draft picks included
  2. Nobody in AAA Tacoma included
The Mariners still have talent in the farm system, even with the limitations I've put on my search. Here are some players worth keeping an eye on, because some of them are bound to make the majors. Consider them the next wave of Mariners prospects:

Raul Ibanez, Aged Wonder

Who expected Raul Ibanez to be leading the Mariners in home runs on June 24? Anyone? If I had told you that Ibanez would be leading the team in dingers at this point, would you expect Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge to still have their jobs? Wouldn't that be a sign of disaster with the likes of veteran addition Mike Morse, and youngsters like Jesus Montero?

To a degree, it is true that the offense has experienced a mild implosion (at least mild by recent Mariners history). Zduriencik and Wedge are on hot seats too, though people disagree how hot they are. There are problems with this season that have let Ibanez rise to the top of the home run leadersboard.

However, just citing the shortcomings of others sells Ibanez short. He is in the middle of an unexpected season that could be borderline historic.

Mariners Losses Harder Than Wins (Graphic)

Last night was close to perfect, then came crumbling apart.

I watched game 7 of the NBA finals, rooting for the Spurs. The game was tense and close throughout, though Tim Duncan, the Big Fundamental, couldn't get a tying layup or tip-in to go, so the King James version of the ending (a 17-foot jumper) won out.

The basketball game disappointed me, but Kyle Seager kept cutting through my twitter feed. It seemed the Mariners were thrashing the Angels early.

I changed the channel just in time to watch Peter Bourjos take Felix Hernandez deep. It turned out to be the first of seven consecutive hits for the Angels.

I thought I was going to watch the Spurs win a hotly contested game seven, then enjoy a rare Mariners rout - of the Angels no less, the team I hate more than any other! Instead, I got a Heat victory, and the worst inning of King Felix's career.

So last night went from nearly perfect to utter disaster.

I knew I had to write something about last night's Mariners game, besides how soul-crushing it was. Part of me thought that I had a skewed view of the game, given that I only saw the Mariners score 1 run, and the Angels score 8. It was one of those weird games with a big swing in the middle, and I only saw the latter half of it. So, it felt like a rout for the Angels as I watched it, even though most of the innings I caught featured a close score.

That got me thinking about the nature of painful losses, and thrilling victories. They are the ones that live on the edge between glory and disaster, the games that could easily go either way. Sabermetrics has a nice way of gauging these situations, through a stat called Win Percentage Added (WPA). It is quite simply a way of calculating the odds of a team winning a game, given the current game situation. Each event changes the odds, so WPA is a calculation of how much the odds changed for or against a team winning.

I had a simple idea this morning: why not take the absolute value of each WPA in a game's play log, then add them all together? In theory, games with big momentum swings would have higher sums, because one team would go from heavily favored to the other. That swing would take lots of changes in WPA, though if I didn't take the absolute value, I wouldn't see the big fluctuation. Most of the WPAs would cancel each other as the pendulum swung back and forth.

I've decided to call the sum "net WPA." Below is a chart summarizing the net WPAs for every Mariners game in June. The 'W's and 'L's show Mariners wins and losses:

Last night's net WPA was 3.99, which means it is the game fourth from the left. The crazy high net WPA came in the 16 inning game, where Seager hit a grand slam to tie the game in extras, only to have the Mariners ultimately lose. It makes sense that that game was so brutal by net WPA standards.

The M's losses this month, according to WPA, are more painful than their victories are satisfying. An average loss this month has a net WPA of 3.16, and an average victory has a net WPA of 2.35. I decided to see if the median net WPAs told a different story, given that the crazy 16-inning game might have skewed the results. Medians told the same story though. The median net WPAs for wins and losses were 2.58 and 1.94, respectively*. The extra inning game had skewed the results some, but not enough to change the story.

*The fact that both medians were lower than the means suggests that WPAs are skewed in general. A logarithmic scale might be more appropriate, though this is also a very small sample size.

Higher WPAs tend to correlate to more memorable moments in a game, because they are attached to moments that greatly alter a game's outcome. So, it follows that the higher net WPAs in Mariners losses makes their losses more memorable. Tack on the fact that the Mariners lose more often than they win, and it's easy to see how losses are the dominant story in June.

Boring wins coupled with painful losses. Is it much of a wonder that fans aren't flocking to Safeco Field these days?

Stay the Course

The blog is going to come back to life in the near future. It helps that the Mariners are a bit more interesting, though sadly not much more relevant, as they call up prospects. It also helps that I get some breathing room in my own life, after a bewildering blaze towards long-term employment (which was successful!)

So as I get back to obsessing over the Mariners, I might as well start at the top. Jack Zduriencik has to stay.

2013 Mariners Draft Recap

The 2013 MLB Draft is in the books. It is a marathon, and thanks to the sheer volume of picks the draft gets tedious with brief moments of sunshine. There are things that happen in the MLB draft that are unlikely to happen in any other draft.

This year's crazy story goes to the Diamondbacks and Corey Hahn. Arizona took Hahn in the 34th round, even though he was paralyzed two years ago on a slide into second base. 34 was his jersey number, so the move was symbolic. They apparently have plans to involve Hahn in their front office too, so the move is a bit more beyond symbolism. Regardless, a cool story that just about no other draft besides baseball's would produce.

Meanwhile, closer to home, my alma mater had a player drafted! PLU pitcher Max Beatty was taken by the Padres, which is cool enough, but even cooler since he is already a cancer survivor. Again, name another sport that gives a Division III cancer survivor a chance in the pros.

The draft also had its share of famous names (at least in baseball circles) pop up. Verlander, Yastrzemski, Clemens all heard their names called. However, my favorite connection this year is The Citadel's Joe Jackson, picked in the fourth round by the Rangers. Jackson is a descendant of Shoeless Joe Jackson, and actually a pretty solid catcher. We will find out in the years to come if the current Jackson makes the majors, but he has a chance, and it would be cool to see a living connection to one of the more compelling characters in MLB history make the big leagues.

Enough about some league-wide happenings. Here is my recap of all the M's picks, 1 through 40:

2013 Draft - Day 3 Preview

The pomp and circumstance from the draft is definitely over by now, and most of the MLB prospects have been found. There are occasional diamonds in the rough, but most of the third day is about grabbing minor league depth.

This is my once-a-year soapbox rant for productive college seniors to get drafted. Most of them aren't MLB material, but who cares? They contributed to the game at a high level, and they deserve at least a victory lap as a professional for one summer in some league. I wish more teams thought this way. Plus, at this point in the draft, it is rare to find MLB talent, so why not draft great production in bulk and see what happens?

Here is the reloaded board going into the last day of the draft. As usual, the new names are productive college seniors. Take some time to look them up and see their accomplishments. At the very least, I salute these young men for the love of the game.

2013 Draft - Day 2 Preview

There weren't a ton of surprises in the first day of the draft, aside from the Royals saving slot money with Hunter Dozier, and the Giants going off of everybody's board the entire time. The Mariners made a pair of nice picks in DJ Peterson and Austin Wilson that provided good value and the chance for some bats in needed positions.

Thanks to a late run of players I was set to preview, the reloaded list is shorter than I anticipated. Time is running thin before I need to go to bed though, so this list will have to suffice. There is plenty of talent yet to be picked.

2013 MLB Draft - Top 33

The MLB draft is almost here, with the first round on Thursday, and the final rounds finishing on Saturday. Every draft is an exercise in endurance, and no matter how thin the talent pool seems there are talented contributors to be found. However, some drafts it is easier to find contributors.

This is one of the tougher drafts.

The primary culprit is a thin college hitting crop. College hitters are the safest bets to develop. There are some college guys with good sticks, and they rank in the top 10 (as they should), but the next tier of college hitters is virtually non-existent. The trail off is fast and noticeable.

So who do you draft without many safe bets? Well, you either reach for guys without much upside, or you roll the dice in hopes of reaping a bigger reward.

I chose to go for bigger rewards on my list this year. As a result my list features a whopping 19 high school seniors, as well as one JUCO player. This is easily the youngest list I've ever compiled. The days where I only rated college prospects are long gone. The list is still certainly mine though, for better and/or for worse. Even among the prep ranks I have some players lower on my board than most anywhere else, as well as others I am higher on than most. See what you think of my top 33:

SeaDog Pressbox Podcast 9

I was a guest on the SeaDog Pressbox Podcast for the second time! Eric and I talk Mariners (obviously), but also a bit about the MLB draft. No worries, faithful Musings readers, I will have my usual draft coverage. I also don't spill too many beans on the podcast. Enjoy!

Future Is Almost Now

The Mariners went farther than sending Jesus Montero down and promoting Jesus Sucre. They also DFAd Robert Andino and promoted Carlos Triunfel to the majors. I'd imagine Triunfel will take some playing time away from Brendan Ryan, but now that Ryan's batting average is over .200 who knows! Anything is possible.

What's most interesting about all these moves is who took Triunfel's place in Tacoma. Brad Miller got promoted from AA Jackson, and will presumably be the new starting shortstop for the Rainiers.

Media attention in Tacoma will probably swirl around Montero's transition to first base, but I'm here to tell you there are way, way more interesting scenarios brewing in Tacoma right now.

Montero Down and Out

The inevitable finally happened. Jesus Montero got sent down to Tacoma to convert into a first baseman and designated hitter. Really, he's converting to anything but a catcher. Things might have turned out differently if Montero was hitting, but he wasn't, to say the least.

Absent Ownership Only Goes So Far

I haven't forgot about the Musings, I promise. Long story short, there isn't much free time for me these days with some significant commitments related to the whole "real life/career path" stacking on top of each other through mid-June. What free time I have is getting sunk into draft prep, because nothing says relaxation like pouring over a spreadsheet filled with juniors and seniors from across campuses that some day a new acquaintance in my life will be impressed I've heard of.

That's not entirely true. The college campus thing is totally true, but the free time thing is a bit extreme. I'm also catching parts of M's games here and there, until I hit my bedtime. I am also interested in the NBA for the first time since the Sonics left - thanks in large part to the idea that the Sonics might come back.*

* Though I also watched an entire Grizzlies-Thunder game, probably the first whole NBA game I've watched in at least five years

This is a baseball blog, so I won't spend much time talking about the Sacramento Kings situation, even though it is the topic I'm most interested in at the moment. Long story short, Chris Hansen wants to bring the Sonics back badly, but unlike 99% of Sonics fans as passionate as him he's got some deep pocket$$$ and a chunk of land he can build an arena on, along with plans for said arena and thumbs up from the local government (more formally referred to as a memorandum of understanding).

However, Chris Hansen's offer isn't enough to bring the NBA back to Seattle - at least yet. Seriously, the situation is crazy, and I hope you have been paying attention to it. The bidding war for the Kings is unprecedented.

Personally, I wish every sports owner had a little more Chris Hansen in their soul. Hansen seems to view a professional sports franchise as a civic entity, which is rare in today's more corporate sports world.

In fact, a part of me wants Chris Hansen to somehow take over the Seattle Mariners.

SeaDog Pressbox Podcast

I was on with fellow Mariners fan and all-around good guy Eric Wahlquist for the SeaDog Pressbox Podcast. They will be doing weekly Mariners podcasts, and I doubt this will be my last time joining him for the show. Enjoy!

Opening Road Trip Decent, All Things Considered

Chicago is a house of horrors for the Mariners. It makes some sense. U.S. Cellular Field is the antithesis of Safeco Field. It's among the most home run happy ballparks in the majors, and a team built with Safeco in mind will probably always look out of place against the White Sox on their home turf.

Still, it was too predictable that Dayan Viciedo would hit a walk-off home run in the tenth inning. I wasn't even disappointed, not because it wasn't disappointing, but because I had already resigned myself to the outcome. It came as no surprise. Boo.

Viciedo's home run was the difference between a winning and a losing road trip for the Mariners, and it is about the most sour note the road trip could finish on. All things considered though, this road trip was neither good nor bad - which as far as I'm concerned, is ultimately good.

Jumbo Wagner's Record Total Destined to Last

I dabbled in card collecting as a child, starting around 1996 or so. I sporadically bought packets in check-out aisles (and by bought I really mean I threw them in with whatever my Mom was already buying). I remember one year, maybe 2000 or so, Score made the wrappers so thin you could see through them. I would stretch the wrapping as much as I could to see if I could get a glimpse of a Mariner behind the allegedly opaque veneer.

My card collecting faded away with MLB Showdown, a short-lived modern version of Strat-o-matic baseball. I enjoyed Showdown, although got frustrated with how limited cards were. I wanted to be able to play players at any position, have hitters pitch, etc. So I started working on my own card game. I even put card stalk on my Christmas list one year to get some needed supplies, and to my surprise Santa listened.

I haven't bought any baseball cards in at least a decade, but they have been back at the front of my mind as of late. The T206 "Jumbo" Honus Wagner just sold for $2.1 million at an auction. T206 Wagners are far and away the most valuable baseball cards on the planet, and no other card will ever rival them. A recent 30 for 30 short tells about their value much better than I could in the same space it takes to embed the video:

The Jumbo Wagner is the first baseball card to sell for more than $2 million at an auction, a breath-taking pile of cash to trade for a really old hunk of cardboard originally stuffed in a pack of cigarettes. There's something incredibly American about the whole thing. However, a closer look at the $2.1 million says something else. The baseball card industry is almost dead.

2013 Minor Leaguers Under the Radar

The minor league baseball season opens up tonight, and the Mariners announced their affiliate rosters yesterday. Click here for all the rosters. Or, alternatively, you can scan top prospect lists to know who to keep tabs on, and also keep reading on as I pick a hitter and pitcher under the mainstream radar on each team:

Perfect Problem

Yu Darvish nearly pitched a perfect game last night. Here's the evidence that he wasn't perfect:

Perfect games haven't quite become common place, but they are more common now than ever before. There had never been more than one perfect game in a season before 2010. Last year, there were three. For some perspective there weren't any perfect games from 1968 to 1981, a stretch of over a decade. Yu Darvish nearly pitched the sixth perfect game in the last two seasons, plus two games (and that total doesn't count the one Armando Galarraga lost on a blown call at first base).

On some level, perfect games are fluky. They are extreme outliers by definition, with them being perfect and all. Looking for patterns in extremes is a bit destined for failure for a number of reasons (sample size being one of the biggest). Still, it certainly seems like there is something about the modern game that allows for more perfect games. I decided to look for an explanation.

2013 Preview: The Case for Contention

The blogosphere lights up with season previews on this day, and why not? It is Opening Day. I ought to continue to knock out this major paper that my future career and livelihood depends on, but I have enough time to say a few words about how the next 162 games will hopefully turn out for the Mariners.

The 2013 Mariners are a bona fide sleeper team. They need a few breaks to contend, but not that many. Allow me to make my case.

Maurer a Mariner

This month promised to have lots of commitments outside of blogging, and it did not disappoint. Part of me hoped that the Mariners would make me feel better about this by silently waltzing through spring training in a bland, unassuming manner.

Early on the M's hitters were dinger-happy, and they are yet to stop. No Mariners team has hit more dingers in spring training than this one, for what it is worth.

Today the Mariners announced the juiciest news yet: Brandon Maurer made the starting rotation.

I haven't heard any of Maurer's starts on radio, or seen him pitch on TV (much less in person). I, like every blogger and most reporters, have no knowledge of all the work Maurer does behind the scenes too. I have no real good angle to provide insight on this decision - but I do have a blog about the Mariners, so there shall be an opinion.

Confessions of a Die Hard Fan

First off, I'd like to say that I am not Tim and I hope that doesn't disappoint you loyal readers. My knowledge of baseball—and most subjects—is inferior to his, but when Mr. Chalberg invited me to write for his beloved blog, I was honored. I've been reading SMM for a few years now, and as it's one of my most trustworthy and interesting sources of baseball-related information, I'm a bit nervous about seeing my own name among its posts. But enough of that. My flattery is probably embarrassing this blog's aforementioned creator, so I'll get on with it.

My name is Ben and I've been a Mariners' fan since the legendary 1995 season, when Seattle was ecstatic with the spirit of 'Refuse to Lose.' Like Tim, baseball and the Mariners have been of a part of my identity since I first heard names like Ken Griffey, Jay Buhner and Randy Johnson. I played baseball growing up on Bainbridge Island, Washington and spent many summers listening to the voices of Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs while sorting my thousands of baseball cards in countless three-ring binders. It was around this time I declared Field of Dreams my all-time favorite film—big surprise. I worked at a fledgling (and eventually, bankrupt) baseball statistical analysis company as a teenager, sold t-shirts at the Mariners Team Store during one summer in college, and even got to be a broadcaster for the PLU Lutes for a couple of seasons. Now, I work as a teacher in Hong Kong and have spent the last six months working with grade school kids on beginner baseball after school. I have my own blog all about my life out here, and it's called A Mariners Fan in Hong Kong. Ironically, after nearly two years, this will be the first post to appear there that mentions anything about the Seattle Mariners.

Tim asked me to write here after I posted on my own blog about wanting to branch out from my usual topics of travel, teaching and cultural observations. I wasn't sure what to write at first, and to be honest, I'm still not sure where this is going to go. Nonetheless, I feel I have a lot to say considering I haven't written much about the topic that consumes my brain on a daily basis. The biggest question regarding baseball for me personally is this: What is it about the sport that has made it so important to myself, Tim and millions of others?

I can't speak for Tim or the legions of baseball fans around the globe, but I can at least try to sum up why it's essentially the only part of my life that's just as present as it was eighteen years ago, excluding my family. As yet another season is two short weeks away, it seems appropriate to delve into the very bests parts about the game so dear to my heart.

Working with six-year-olds in my job, I've come to notice that they can be like goldfish, forgetting much of what happens to them on a daily basis. For example, "What did you do this weekend, Daniel?" "Ummm...I don't remember." So my vivid memories of Edgar Martinez' Double and the ensuing euphoria eighteen years ago become even more meaningful due to the young age I was at the time. This strong emotional connection to the game is part of what makes baseball so special. I've been nearly brought to tears watching old highlight movies of Cal Ripken's record breaking streak or Luis Gonzalez walk-off bloop single in 2001. These weren't even players on my favorite team but just watching them, and knowing the context of the moment, I can truly feel the power of the event.

Some may call this irrational but I prefer John Sexton's term, ineffable. He uses this word as a foundation of his recent book Baseball as a Road to God when finding similarities between religion and baseball. The word doesn't simply mean 'impossible to explain' or 'unknown'; it means, according to Sexton, something we do know profoundly but is just too overwhelming to properly define. To some, this is a copout to really digging deeply into the psychological draw to the game but I personally like this ineffable description. Or perhaps this quote from Tom Hanks' character in A League of Their Own can capture it. “Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.”

"America's Pastime" has been held on a pedestal by countless authors, moviemakers, journalists and musicians. This mythical nature is certainly a big part of the appeal. But part of the game's intrigue comes from the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of approaching ballparks as cathedrals, hosts to countless heroes and villains, one can take the game under a microscope. Study its intricacies like the living organism it is. If ineffable is the first word, the second word is: statistics.

Another memory I have of my earliest days of baseball fandom was asking my dad and other grownups to explain to me what 'AB', 'ERA', 'HR' and all these acronyms on the back of my baseball cards meant. I eventually found the answers and have been studying the numbers attached to them ever since. As I got older and started to become aware of the changes in the game, I embraced sabermetrics, though again, my knowledge is at a very basic, Moneyball-level. Bill James is my Charles Darwin, and the knowledge he's devoted his life to sharing is as revolutionary as it is provocative as it is complicated. Baseball has its division between old-school and new-school and while I fall into the latter category, I get annoyed by both sides at times. The old schoolers call the sabermetricians geeks who've never known what it's really like to play the game. The new schoolers sometimes reduce baseball's magical moments to intangible flukes that distract from the cold, hard facts and equations. For me, and I know Tim will agree, the grandeur and the statistics are not enemies, they are complementary. Like yin and yang. Or science and religion! After all, many of baseball's most hallowed moments come from statistical records being broken.

To try to reel this meandering Marlin in, let me segue into my third and final reason for my love of baseball. Though I can get frustrated by the people whose opinion is miles from mine, e.g. managers, reporters or even friends, these endless debates are an integral part of the fun. Who is the best second baseman of alltime? Should the All Star Game decide home field advantage in the World Series? Why did the Mariners trade John Jaso for Michael Morse? Should Edgar Martinez be in the Hall of Fame? Why have there been more perfect games pitched in recent years? Which team has the best uniform? And on and on and on. For many, these questions mean next to nothing. It's the way I feel when my English colleagues discuss European football: no attachment whatsoever. But to those of us who have had baseball as a contant in our lives since before we lost our first baby tooth, it's these debates and conversations that give us common ground, a community of sorts, for even though we disagree, we both care so much about the topic at hand.

Early spring is among the best times for baseball fans. Everyone can feel optimistic about the near future, no matter what their team might be. When the Mariners commence the season on April 1st, I'll be somewhere near Kunming, China on my spring vacation, trying yak butter or steam pot chicken. No one there will speak much English, let alone know anything about baseball, but it'll be another season nonetheless and once I find Wi-Fi, I'll be temporarily transported back to the world of the Bambino and UZR, knuckleballs and grand salamis. To slightly modify a song from the musical Shenandoah, "Baseball ain't a state like Maine or Virginia, baseball is a state of mind." And that is why I like, no, love, no, live for baseball.

2013 Mariners Commercials

The Mariners unveiled their 2013 commercials today, complete with a new slogan for the year - "True to the blue." The slogan is neither bad nor good in my book, but the commercials are worthy additions to the anthology of M's ads. In fact, do you want to know how big of a deal today's release was? The Catholic church elected a new pope in their wake. 'Nuff said.

Below are the new Mariners commercials, ranked in reverse order of how much I like them. See if you agree or disagree with me (although, quite frankly, there is no way to argue that my top two are the top two this year. They are head and shoulders above all the others.)

6. The Lineup

The most interesting thing to me about this commercial is that it probably goes down as the raciest ad to date in Mariners history. I wouldn't go as far as calling it inappropriate, but by Mariners standards it is past what I am used to seeing out of their image and brand.

5. One Wish

I feel as if this ad tries to punch a little fun at all the losses the past few years. I'm not sure why they cut the final wish off mid-sentence (avoid a jinx?) The ended with Raul is quite nice though. I feel like this ad could age disgracefully if the M's flounder, thanks to the ending.

4. Fan Mail

The creators/directors missed an opportunity in this commercial. Eric Wedge is a stealthy supporting actor. It's his responses to King Felix that made Larry Bernandez an all-time classic. His banter with Felix and "little Larry" last year also made that commercial work. Why didn't this ad have Wedge stop Ackley in the clubhouse hallway, and give him a chance to deliver his deadpan "you've got to be kidding me" line for the year? In fact, why couldn't Ackley and Wedge have some sort of contest where they see who can be more emotionless with their delivery of lines?

3. Focused & Relaxed

The silk pajamas are pretty awesome, although I think I would have cast someone different in Seager's role. The only problem is that just about anyone else in Seager's role would seem like the butt of the joke with all the terrible hitting we've seen in the past - oh, I guess decade or so at this point :( Now that I think of it, I feel like Morse's personality would have filled out the silk PJs better, and Seager could have worn the zen t-shirt.

2. Hottest Thing in Town

King Felix delivers another strong effort. Kudos to the M's for not running Larry Bernandez into the ground, and going in a different direction this year. My favorite part of the whole commercial is how shot after shot shows the San Diego Padres suffering. The Mariners and Padres will be better interleague rivals yet! My only qualm with this ad is that there is no Felixing. I am surprised and a bit disappointed that Felixing is nowhere to be found in any of the commercials this year.

1. The Wise Ol' Buffalo

I saw some photos of the buffalo hit Twitter as the Mariners filmed commercials, so I had high hopes for whichever commercial featured it. This one did not disappoint. The ad is random, clever, and somehow fits the personalities of Wilhelmsen and Ryan (at least how I imagine them as a fan with a Mariners blog).

Overall, I like this group of commercials. It seems like a few get played much more than the rest every year, and I know which ones I hope I see the most.

Spring Dingers Almost Meaningless

If you are an optimist, the word "almost" probably jumped out at you in the title.

The Mariners have hit more home runs than any other team in spring training so far. The Mariners made a concerted effort to beef up their offense with some power hitters, so the early onslaught seems like a promising sign.

I decided to see if spring training dingers have translated into regular season dingers in recent history. Below are team home run totals in spring training vs. team home run totals in the regular season for the past four seasons, 2009-2012. I stopped in 2009 for no great reason; it gave me over 100 data points and was also the season Jack Zduriencik took over the Mariners.

Here's the data (click for larger image):

Correlation coefficient: 0.18

The data points look more or less like a random blob with perhaps a slight upward trend. The correlation coefficient confirmed what is obvious to our eyes - there is a slight positive correlation (suggesting teams that hit more home runs in spring do hit more home runs in the regular season), but it's impossible to stress slight too much. Barely any of the variation in regular season home runs is explained by spring training home runs in theory.

I got to thinking about the Mariners situation though. They go from playing in the warm, dry air of Arizona to the cool, damp confines of the Pacific Northwest. I wondered if park factors were obscuring a more noticeable trend in the data.

Dramatic Transaction Reenactments - Episode 3: The Prodigal Trio

Perhaps you have never seen the first two episodes of Dramatic Transaction Reenactments, because the last episode was created over two years ago. They are back though, with a touching recounting of the three-way trade that brought Mike Morse back to the Mariners. It's quite a bit shorter than previous DTRs, and maybe some day I will come up with a more powerful ending, but for now enjoy 1 minute and 40 seconds of how I dramatically interpret the Morse trade going down:

Animated Presentations - Powered by GoAnimate.

Does Loe Have a Look in his Eyes?

I listened to my first Mariners game of the year on Sunday, which was awesome. The first action I catch is always soothing and refreshing to my baseball-starved ears. It was even nicer that the Mariners battered an aged Freddy Garcia and dispatched the Padres handily.

I also caught some of the pre-game show, where Rick Rizzs asked Eric Wedge about Saturday's ballgame. In particular, he asked about the pitchers, which included Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen looking quite good, not to mention starting rotation candidate Blake Beavan rolling out a new-look windup with success.

Yet the pitcher that Wedge described as most impressive was Kameron Loe. I'm dead serious. Wedge couldn't get enough of the action on Loe's sinker. Wedge talked about that more than Hultzen throwing seven pitches (all strikes) in an inning of work that included two strikeouts. He about talked about Loe's sinker more than the easy 97 miles per hour that Walker popped on the radar gun.

I'm Finished Being Productive For A While

Major League Baseball has added lots of classic highlights to their online video database. What a beautiful excuse to relive the double.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Imagine Blake Beavan as Rainiers Closer

An interesting metamorphosis may have happened in Baltimore near the end of the regular season. We will get confirmation this season. Tommy Hunter starting throwing really, really hard. Below is a graph of Hunter's average fastball velocities in every appearance his whole career to date. Notice the spike at the tail end:

image from Fangraphs

Hunter made the majors only a year after the Rangers made him a supplemental first round draft pick. He looked like a solid starting pitcher, but then he didn't seem to progress. Hunter was eventually traded to the Orioles last offseason, where it was expected he would begin to bounce between AAA and the majors as an insurance policy at the back end of a rotation. He had been, in essence, pigeon-holed as a replacement-level innings-eater.

Then Baltimore stuck Hunter in the bullpen, and his velocity increased about 6 miles an hour. It took his average velocity from the 90-91mph range, to 96-97mph. The spike completely changed the nature of Hunter's fastball, which in turn changed his approach. He can overpower hitters he used to have to out think.

Tommy Hunter may or may not have everything to do with Blake Beavan. I'd like to find out if Beavan can follow Hunter's example or not.

SBG 1913 on Religion

I am always combing the internet for free stuff. Most of it is trash, but every now and then a gem can be found - particularly when looking for content where copyright rights have expired. This is the perfect batch for hidden gems; things are free and readily available simply because they are so old!

Such is the case with the 1913 edition of Spalding's baseball guide. It can be found for free on the internet in all sorts of formats. This is part two of an ongoing series in which I will investigate excerpts of this hidden treasure.

Spalding's Baseball Guide - 1913: on religion
The Bible is the Spalding book of rules for the game of life. James B. Sullivan, beloved by all athletes, gave me these rules for athletes: "Don't drink, use tobacco, or dissipate. Go to bed early and eat wholesome food!" The boozer gets out of the game as certainly as the bonehead. 
I have interviewed scores of the most noted players. Every one had a religious training. Many are church members. All avoid old-time drinking, as our fathers did smallpox. 
Mathewson belongs to the high type now generally being duplicated. He is a modern masculine Christian. Base Ball demands brains as well as brawn.