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Friday, November 21, 2003

I’m tired of beating the Ibanez argument into the ground, so it is time to look back at the other big controversy: did Grady Little err in keeping Pedro in the game too long in the 8th inning of game 7? Through the magic of www.mlb.com, I re-watched the 8th inning. It’s a tough call. The question is: Do you prefer to go with Pedro Martinez who is topping off at 95 mph? Or do you insist on him topping off at 97 in order to stay with him? I still think Little’s decision was entirely justifiable based on statistics, and since the stat heads are running the Sox, I’m not sure why he got the axe. Where did Grady Little fail the stat heads?

The Red Sox, remember, have Embree, Timlin and Williamson to finish the game. The Yankees have a very versatile lineup, a deep bench, and you gotta assume that if Pedro doesn’t go into the 9th, you will want to use all these guys available – you may start an inning with Timlin, and go to Embree to get the lefties out, and then you’ll need to go with Williamson for the righties. If Williamson is wild – always a real possibility – you’re kinda stuck at that point. Still, it’s a good bunch to have for a ninth inning, if Pedro can pitch the eighth. If Pedro has to be removed in the eighth – you may really find yourself strapped for options. So there will be a strong desire to go with Pedro in the eighth, but watch him carefully.

Another thing a manager has to consider is that not every reliever comes in sharp. It may take him a while to find the plate, and the Red Sox relievers are certainly no exception. I personally think that when you are talking about relief pitchers who are not known for pinpoint accuracy, you have to assume chances are good the reliever will take the first batter to a 2-0 count. So you have to consider this: are you willing to remove a sharp Pedro Martinez in order to go to a second tier reliever who may not be sharp and fall behind 2-0 in the count? A tired Pedro, probably. A sharp Pedro? Probably not.

So it’s 5-2 and Nick Johnson leads off the 8th, and things look really good. Pedro falls behind 3-1 but comes back strong and induces a pop up from a very patient hitter on a 93 mph popup. If Pedro walked Johnson, Little is off the bench for certain.

Jeter is next. Jeter hits .312 vs. righties, but remember, this is Pedro on the mound. A pair of well placed 91 mph fastballs puts Jeter in the hole, and Jeter hits .225 with the count 0-2. The Yankee bench looks rather worried at this point – Pedro is in control. Pedro looks sharp. Had Jeter been facing a 2-0 count, he would be hitting at a .571 clip. But Pedro has him at 2-2. Pedro then throws one high and outside, 93 mph and Jeter goes with it and hits it the other way to right deep. Trot Nixon misplays a catchable fly and instead of out #2 Jeter is on second base.

Williams is next. Should Little get Timlin at this point? Bernie hits .256 against all right handed pitchers, and Pedro is still throwing 93. Little sticks with his ace and Pedro demonstrates he is maintaining excellent control from the start with a low inside 92 mph strike, an unhittable pitch. Pedro works him to a 2-2 count and after fouling a 90+ pitch, Pedro throws one 95 and Bernie hits a routine single to center. What are the chances of Bernie hitting a single after the count is 2-2? He hits .213 in that situation. Williams makes his living on staying ahead of the count. Hitting 2-0, Williams is a .300 hitter. Tough break. These things happen, as Beano Cook would say.

Matsui is next. Little goes to the mound. Pedro says he’s still good. Matsui hits .287 against righties, but .389 when the count is 2-0. Will Embree come in sharp? Matsui also hits .287 against lefties. But Pedro looks real tough. Strike one is called, a 90 mph, low and outside – unhittable unless your name is Ichiro Suzuki. Strike 2 is and unhittable curve on the inside – 77 mph. Pedro is working both sides of the plate and has impeccable control, and changing speeds. It’s 0-2 and Matsui hits .238 when it’s 0-2. Keeping Pedro in to face Matsui looks like the absolute right move at this point.

But bad news. A 93 mph heater on the inside is ripped to right and is just barely fair. Jeter scores and it’s 5-3. It’s a good piece of hitting and probably a mistake. Why not hit the outside corner again? Why not make Matsui chase? Still, 93 mph suggests Pedro still has good stuff.

Posada is next. If Little brings in a reliever and he falls behind Posada 2-0, Jorge threatens to mash the ball at a .480 clip. Posada hits .276 against righties. But if the count falls to 2-2, Jorge has a .175 chance of getting a hit, .189 if it goes past 2-2. The key to Posada is to stay ahead of the count. Pedro went 0-2 against the previous hitter, also batting from the left, which the switch hitting Posada will do against Pedro. Mike Timlin throws a decent sinker, but suppose Timlin struggles early with control? And if he doesn’t, suppose Jorge finds a hole with a routine grounder? With runners now at 2nd and 3rd, both score and the game is tied. Here’s a good place for a K or a popup. Who gives you the better chance at either? Probably Pedro. Should you walk Posada and face Giambi with Embree? Giambi hits .192 against lefties. But that will put the go ahead run on base, still with only one out.

Pedro is still in the game, Posada is the hitter, and the numbers look real good against Posada. They still favor Pedro. Pedro has good stuff, good control, and thus perhaps the best odds of getting Posada out. All Pedro needs to do is keep the count even and the odds fall dramatically in his favor. Then bring in Embree to get Giambi.

Pedro backs him off the plate with an inside fastball, perhaps a purpose pitch. Then a lovely 77 mph curve brings the count even. Another breaking ball misses and the count falls to 2-1. Pedro comes back with another curve, a very nice one on the outside corner and the count goes to 2-2.

At this point, Pedro has Posada at 2-2 where he hits .175. He has thrown 3 straight breaking balls. The only fastball he has thrown Jorge was tight and inside and backed him up. What is Jorge thinking? Pedro has himself in a very good situation and comes in with a 95 mph heater on the inside corner. It’s an excellent pitch, further in and lower than the one Matsui stroked to right. Guarding the plate, Jorge pops it up to shallow center and two runs score. Game is tied and eventually is lost.

And the rest, they say, is history.

I don’t see where Little totally screwed this one up. What do Pedro’s numbers say? Well, so long as Pedro gets the count at 2-2, the league can hit no better than .179 against him. If he takes the count to full, the league hits a measly .164 against him. Are there relief pitchers better than this available? If that guy has control, I want that guy pitching my eighth inning, regardless of what his name is. Pedro was keeping the count in his favor. Sabermetricians should have been impressed.

But the numbers also point to danger: Pedro is at his weakest when the pitch count is between 106 and 120, where hitters hit .370 off him. But between 91 and 105, they hit .231. That’s quite a discrepancy. Is Pedro performing closer to the .231 or the .370? Pedro was in the danger zone in pitch counts. So what to do at this point? Which numbers overrule which in this case? Is Pedro losing effectiveness in this zone because he’s falling behind? Or is he ineffective at this point, regardless of the count, because he’s tired? Without all the numbers, all I could conclude is that if there are situations in the game that suggest he’s tired: loss of accuracy and velocity, then you have a double whammy – a high overall pitch count and bad at bat count situations. In that case you have a situation in which Pedro Martinez is no longer Pedro Martinez but a Paul Abbott. So watch the at bat count, watch the velocity, and be ready with a hook if needed. The problem was that Pedro looked too much like Pedro and not enough like Paul Abbott in that inning.

It’s interesting that Pedro was hurt most when he came in on the hitters. How often do we hear that you need to come in on hitters to be effective? Perhaps Pedro should have pitched more away against Matsui and Posada. But when Pedro came in, he came in hard. And he was getting his breaking ball to fall for strikes to offset any drop of velocity – if you call 93-95 a drop.

In the end, you had a great pitcher get beat by some pretty good hitters who also got a bit of luck to fall their way. It was a great performance by Pedro, to the bitter end, and it’s too bad the game will be remembered because a manager didn’t yank him and because some over-rated 3rd baseman hit a fat lazy slow knuckleball that didn’t knuckle.

Is Ibanez worth $4 million a year?

Ibanez's 3 year OPS (the KC years) is .839. In 2003, that number would have put him 28th in the AL - between Mienkiewicz and Salmon (and ahead of Carlos Lee). I think that is what we can reasonably expect from Raul. It is very interesting how well he has hit at Safeco.

Is Ibanez unduly helped by Kauffman stadium? His 3 year .828 road OPS would put him at #31 in the overall AL rankings this year, between Pierzynski and Jody Gerut and ahead of Tejada. Tejada will not suffer unduly for being merely the 37th best hitter in the AL last year. That may work in arbitration, but in the open market, people will look more at what Tejada did the previous year. Ibanez's .883 mark in 2002 would have put him at 17th this year (his 2002 .847 road mark alone would have placed him 25th in the overall standings this year, between Koskie and Soriano). It's not that hard to imagine general managers in an open market thinking likewise regarding Raul.

Ibanez seems to fit comfortably as a $3 mil player - an everyday player who probably ranks somewhere in the top 28-40 hitters in the AL (his 2003 OPS ranks 40th, just a tad below Tejada). Now, it is possible you can lowball him in a soft market. But the market is fluid, and it seems to me that left handed hitters are in short supply this year. Ibanez is a free agent, so there will be competition - bringing his value up - others are competing for him (Seattle
Times mentioned Atlanta for one). If we goes elsewhere, there's not much more on the market, forcing the M's to go the trade route. Add to that Ibanez's history of crushing the ball at Safeco.

In Bavasi's mind, those two factors add another $1 mil per year to the $3 mil per year he can reasonably expect to get.

If Ibanez were a right handed hitter, say Carlos Lee or Tim Salmon, I'd be screaming for Bavasi's head. We don't need another right handed hitter with an average glove who will be hurt by Safeco. The fact that Ibanez hits lefties well, has power, loves Safeco field, all adds value to Seattle beyond what he may be worth to others. And remember that just because a player is worth more to you than another team doesn't mean you'll outbid another team for him. Who among us doesn't wish Gillick had gotten a little extravagant and offered SF pitcher Dave Schmidt a couple extra million two years ago? Remember Schmidt was supposedly a local boy - and that that should have given us a leg up. That, and a few million more than what the Giants were offering, perhaps.

What Ibanez is worth to Seattle is more than what he may be
worth to others, and in the final analysis, that is what really matters - what is this guy worth to you? Four million a year for the next three years? It can be a tough sell, but I can justify that. Going through 2004 like we did in 2002 and 2003 without adding a lefty hitter who loves Safeco in the lineup? No, that wont wash. That would be an incredible waste of money, the money we're paying to put the rest of a high priced but obviously incomplete team on the field.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Noel in Vancouver provided me the complete Safeco numbers of Ibanez since leaving the M's:

At Safeco in 2003 he hit .455/.538/1.273/1.811 (including 3 homers) in 11 at-bats. For the period 2001-2003 he hit .381/.435/.881/1.316 in 42 at-bats at Safeco.

I wonder if he isn't confusing Raul with Rafael. ;-) It does seem the guys who crush the ball in Safeco tend to be lefty hitters. Are there any right handed hitters who have similar gaudy numbers in say, 50 or more at bats? It may make for an interesting winter project.
Ibanez's 2002 year was 42.6 points above replacement value (by comparison, Beltran was 58 above). His 2003 year was significantly lower and it is possible the ballpark hid it, like it did Cirillo. But I kinda doubt it. Rather, I think he wore down, playing 157 games and having 608 official at bats. Smart management, and Safeco Field should bring him closer to the 42.6 than the minus 11 of last year.

I hope.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

More on why Ibanez is a good signing:

The crying need for this team is for someone who can shoot for the Safeco right field launching pad on an everyday basis against right handed pitchers (who pitch roughly 80% of the time). If not Raul for $4 million, who do we seriously expect to put into this *everyday* lineup who will hit with authority against these righties at Safeco? And how much are we going to spend to get him and where are we going to put him?

In constructing this team for 2004, if we are going to keep Cameron and Edgar and Olerud, we desperately need a left handed bat in the lineup. Ibanez's .319 .371 .485 .856 against righties is fairly close to what we need, although I'd like to see more - like the .945 (!) Ibanez hit in 2002. In either case, its much closer than Winn's .288 .337 .399 .736. We'll never see Winn come close to .850 against any side pitcher - ever.

Ibanez played in 157 games with 608 ABs last year. He probably needed a rest here and there, but with the Royals in a race, apparently he rarely got it. Give him some rest, and you'll probably see those numbers rise to 2002 levels again.

I don't necessarily see age 31 as hitting the downward side of the career. It's more of a plateau - often the Career Year is still to come, and interesting things can happen for players who can hit and take care of their bodies at that age. Ibanez is 34 when his 3 year contract is up. Mariner management tends to sign players at 34 these days, for what they did the last 3 years (e.g., Olerud, Wilson, Sasaki). As far as long term contracts go, I see this as a minor improvement over Gillick on Bavasi's part. They're getting younger!

But where else do we get left handed power in 2004? 3rd base? Can't find any there on the market. Shortstop? Nothing there. Catcher? Maybe Ben Davis. It would be nice to plug a slugger in the dh spot, but that's Edgar's spot. Olerud is locked in and we want his defense. David Cameron's proposed lineup with Vladimir is seriously missing left handed power. I like it - but it wont work at Safeco without a lefty "power" bat (25+ homers) somewhere. Sure, if we were daring, and creative, we could maybe steal a Aubrey Huff. But this is the Mariners. We hoard our young pitchers, we overpay for our veterans we like. We don't have lefty hitters in the system.

Rumors of the market collapsing are still just that - rumors. Certainly we see evidence of a leveling of top market - no one is touching Arod or Ramirez at their salaries. Remember, only a year ago we saw David Bell go for, what? $4 million? I'll reserve judgement when I see actual signings take place.

Are we really sure 31 year olds who are in good shape and hit .290+ with power are REALLY going for under $4 million? We've heard these stories before. Last time we heard them and saw evidence of it, the owners were slapped for collusion before prices went up again. And remember, for the last three years we DIDN'T EVEN ADDRESS the need for left handed power on this team.

In our situation, you gotta expect the Mariners to pay above market price for lefty hitters.

I think we can find another $1 million to get a Matt Stairs for the bench if the USS Mariner wants him. It would be a great move. But Matt Stairs cannot be expected to play everyday in Safeco field. He's 35. Great hitter, but he wasn't that great an athlete in his prime. Cameron can cover a lot of ground, but c'mon.
Watching Bavasi right now is kinda like watching off season elections to try to determine whether the trend is in your favor or not. So far, with the imminent signing of Raul Ibanez, I am encouraged by the trend.

The USS Mariner blog (you all should have it linked as a favorite site by now) points to the PI web blog for a breakdown in statistics showing that Ibanez is not much of an improvement over Winn. I can’t speak for the first round compensation rules and the possible mistake we are making by signing Ibanez now rather than after arbitration deadlines or whatever, but I don’t think these statistics show the complete story. Ibanez brings things to the table Winn cannot, and these things are badly needed by the M’s. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of good affordable/cheap lefty sluggers available this year. Ibanez may be the best available at his price.

The M’s needed more lefty sock. We saw that last year. On the surface, Winn and Ibanez look too similar. But look at the breakdowns by who they face:

Ibanez vs. right handed pitchers in 2003:


.319 .371 .485 .856

Over three years 2000-2002:

.304 .364 .523 .887

Winn vs. righties in 2003:

.288 .337 .399 .736

over 3 years 2000-2002:

.279 .338 .411 .749

That’s quite an upgrade. The platoon possibilities alone look interesting should we keep Winn - which I think would be a mistake at this point. I would prefer we give the 4th outfielder spot to Snelling/Strong.

But the bigger question may be, how will Ibanez hit in Safeco compared to Winn. There is a lot of talk that Ibanez was helped by Kauffman stadium. But Ibanez has done quite well on the road as well.

3 year Ibanez OPS at home 2000-2002: .850

3 year Ibanez OPS on the road 2000-2002: .828

Ibanez in 2003 hit .843 at home and .755 on the road. This suggests Ibanez may have been helped by Kauffman stadium. But the real question is, how much will Ibanez be helped by Safeco?

We can expect Ibanez to hit very well at Safeco – an .850 OPS should be expected at a minimum with the potential of even more. We all know how he normally hits at Safeco – he kills us. I don’t have the Safeco numbers, but Ibanez hit an OPS of 1.268 (!!!!) last year vs. Seattle, and an OPS of 1.109 in 2000-2002. How did Winn do at Safeco last year?

Winn at home in 2003:

.284 .335 .407 .742

Ibanez has mashed a highly regarded Seattle pitching staff in the last 3 years, in a pitcher’s ballpark. At 31, he’s a natural hitter who will quite possibly add power in the coming 3 years. If he doesn’t, he’s still an excellent hitter going to a ballpark well suited for him. It’s a very good move. I’d rather pay Ibanez lots of money over the next 3 years (which is still half of what we’re paying Cirillo) than give it to Winn. $4 million per year isn’t bad for what we’re getting. A lot of people pay a lot more for a lot less.

This is the first time I’ve seen the Mariners look for a hitter with Safeco Field in mind. I like that.

It addresses an important need for our ball team. If we are going to cross our fingers and trot Edgar out there for one last year, and hang onto Olerud and possibly Cameron or their defense, then we need to back these guys and Boonie up with a solid-to-dangerous left handed bat like Ibanez’s.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Bill Bavasi is now the Mariner GM.

He does not come with a very impressive record. It's hard to get excited about the pick. But I suppose the M's could have done worse.

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