Results tagged ‘ Seattle Mariners ’

Can You Live With a Bad Defensive Backstop? The Jesus Montero Question

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Originally posted on High Heat Stats.

Back in 2010 the New York Yankees were in possession of a pair of talented minor league catchers by the names of Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Both players were considered top-100 prospects by Baseball America and both players appeared to be on their way to long, prosperous careers. Romine was considered the finer defender of the two, topping out at #86 in Baseball America’s rankings while Montero was thought to be a powerhouse offensive force, ranking among the top 5 minor league players in the game. While Yankee fans spoke well of Romine they positively salivated at the idea of putting Montero’s prodigious power behind the plate as visions of 35 homer seasons danced in their heads.

There was a catch however. Montero’s defense was considered to be so shaky by the Yankees brain trust that rumors of him becoming a full-time DH were already circulating before he could even advance past Double-A Trenton. Scouting reports pegged Montero’s glove work as shoddy and his throw times to 2nd base as well below Major League average.

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What Happened to Philip Humber?

iJust one April ago Philip Humber threw the game of his life against the Seattle Mariners, requiring just 96 poised pitches to complete a perfect game, the 19th in baseball history. Humber, then a member of the Chicago White Sox, was brilliant that day. His 2-seam fastball was darting all over the zone, dancing away from Mariners’ hitters as Humber racked up 9 total strikeouts.

Oh, what a difference a year can make. After taking the loss against the Yankees on Tuesday night, Humber became just the 2nd pitcher since 1900 to lose 6 games in the month of April and his ERA on the season now stands at an unsightly 7.58 on the season.

Ever since that perfect game Philip Humber has been unable to get even the easiest of hitters out. His ERA since that fateful April 21st game has been an almost unbelievable 7.52 in 131.2 innings, which far and away stands as the worst in the Major Leagues. Opposing batters have hit a ridiculous .309 off of Humber since last April 21st and those aren’t just cheap hits either. The right-hander has also given up 26 homers and 26 doubles, which basically factors out to one extra base hit every time a lineup turns over.

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Jack Z: Seattle’s Man Without a Plan

Morse_Zduriencik_640_tx8txvrf_zavmy7cdHow many 1st base/DH types does one team need? Well according to Mariners’ general manager Jack Zduriencik, it’s mathematically impossible to have enough . Over the past 12 months, the Seattle Mariners have gone from a team that was chalked full of speedy, defensive-type players to one that has an alarming logjam of 1st base/DH types. Zduriencik swapped for Jesus Montero, a catcher whose size and skills with the glove are more suited for DH work, Kendrys Morales, a 1st baseman/DH, and Michael Morse, a 1st baseman/DH who was poorly concealed in the Nats’ outfield a year ago. And if you do roll the calendar back a little more you find Zduriencik swapping Cliff Lee out for Justin Smoak, a 1st baseman who’s swing is too slow to hit big league pitching with feet too slow to play another position.

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King Felix Reigns Supreme

Yesterday Felix Hernandez threw the 23 perfect game in baseball history, dispatching the Tampa Bay Rays with a variety of perfectly located fastballs, earth-shattering sliders, and mind-bending curveballs. Watching him dispatch one Tampa Bay hitter after another was akin to watching Van Gogh paint his starry night or catching the Beatles during the recording of the White Album. King Felix turned one afternoon in Seattle, in front of his adoring court, into his personal thesis on pitching. Here’s just a few thoughts on what I saw: (more…)

The King Holds Court in New York

Felix Hernandez threw one of the easiest-looking, most dominant complete games of the season, taking down the New York Yankees 1-0 by allowing only 2 hits while striking out 6. His performance was efficient, with only 102 total pitches thrown, and appeared so effortless because only one solitary Yankee got to 2nd base (Cano in the 1st) and no one advanced passed there.

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Problems with WAR II: The Brendan Ryan Issue

A month or so ago I wrote about some of the discrepancies I was seeing between the listed WAR (Wins Above Replacement) totals of some players, in that particular instance Brett Lawrie, with their actual play on the field. To reduce the piece down to it’s simplest form, I made the claim that Baseball-Reference.com’s WAR was overcompensating for Lawrie’s defense and inaccurately rating him as the best player in the American League. An in-season adjustment has been made to the bWAR formula to attempt to correct this issue, and Lawrie has since fallen to 9th overall in the American League at 3.2 WAR, which is more accurate but still lacking in truth for a player who has been around league-average at the plate (OPS+ of 97 exactly at the league average). Lawrie isn’t the only player with a questionable WAR and will I was perusing Baseball-Reference.com I noticed another inconsistency that seemed a little bit severe: Brendan Ryan and his 2.7 WAR ranking him as the 19th best player in the American League. This also puts him above every single other shortstop, including the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Elvis Andrus, Derek Jeter, and Alcides Escobar. And that’s just a sample of some of the American League players. Again this post isn’t intended to pick on Brendan Ryan, who is a very, very excellent defender, nor is it designed to pick on Baseball-Reference.com (which is my favorite baseball website, by the way). It is intended to point out some inconsistencies in WAR and an attempt to make the statistical world a safer, more accurate place.

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Thoughts on the Ichiro Trade

If the rumors that Ichiro has indeed been sent to the New York Yankees for a package of minor league pitchers (DJ Mitchell and Danny Farquhar), it signals a significant change in the Mariners front office, as well as their clubhouse. Ichiro has been a staple in Seattle since his MLB debut in 2001, delighting fans with his unorthodox batting stance, fantastic speed, and rocket launcher arm. As a life-long Yankee fan and a long-time Ichiro fan, I’m personally thrilled to watch him man the outfield and step into the batter’s box in Yankee Stadium using his trademark speed on defense to take away hits, while annihilating runners with his arm on the base paths. But what does this mean for both teams? Let’s take a look at the Mariners’ takeaway first:

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What Does Seattle Have Going Forward?

The Seattle Mariners, as currently constructed in the AL West, sit a miserable 16.5 games out of 1st place in their division and they are 10 out in the Wild Card race, possessing the worst record in the American League at 36-51. They once again are last in the American League in runs scored, having only mustered an anemic 3.87 per game, making Seattle the only team on the junior circuit scoring less than 4 per game. This is a problem, because this puts Seattle on a pace to finish last in the AL in runs scored for the 3rd consecutive year, and there doesn’t appear to be much hope on the horizon, because the youngsters who were supposed to turn the M’s offense around have already arrived, and they have hardly made a dent. What can Seattle do? They haven’t made the playoffs since 2001 and have only had 2 winning seasons since in the last 10 years. This is a team stuck in mediocrity and with division rivals Texas and Los Angeles at the peak of their success cycles, it looks like a very long road to the top for the Mariners. Should they trade off what they have and try to start over again, or should they keep the course and hope that this is a learning year for many of their young players? Let’s take a look, staring with 1st baseman Justin Smoak.

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Struggling Sluggers at 1st

With a quarter of the 2012 season in the books, many teams around the league are having an issue with the play of their 1st basemen. Over the past decade 1st base has been the strongest position in the Majors, boasting MVP candidates annually in both leagues. But this season many of these players have been black holes in their respective lineups, sucking up and wasting at-bats, contributing to losses. Lets take a look at some of the biggest culprits of bad play so far.

Eric Hosmer

Hosmer has been terrible at the plate this season, ranking as the worst everyday 1st baseman in the American League thus far. He is still hitting under the Mendoza line, and none of his triple slash stats (.191/.260/.333) are even league average. A big part of Hosmer’s problem has been a drop in his line drive rate from 17% way down to 11%. Line drives drop for base hits more frequently than any other kind of hit, and having a rate 7% below league average makes keeping a decent batting average tough.

There is some good news for Hosmer however. His walk rate, which was elite for a rookie, has jumped again, to 8.5% of total at-bats, which is above the league average, and is a very difficult skill for a hitter to master. His BABIP is .191, which is almost criminally unfair and should come up with normal regression. Hosmer has been making solid contact but hitting the ball straight at fielders. Once some of these hard hit balls start dropping for hits, his average will come up. Hosmer is excellent at pitch recognition and has a good knowledge of the strike zone. His play will eventually improve and the Royals are wise to let him work out his issues.

Ike Davis

According to the statistic Wins Above Replacement, Ike Davis has been the worst player in baseball this season, worth -1.2 wins. His problems are abundant so far this season, but his biggest issue is his 44-10 strikeout to walk rate. This issue has led to a triple slash of .164/.218/.295,, all of which are absurdly low for a 1st baseman. In addition to being abysmal with the bat, Davis has made 4 errors, which is 2nd most out of NL 1st baseman, and has otherwise looked mediocre with the leather as well.

Until Davis stops striking out in 28.2% of his at-bats and begins to draw more walks he will not improve much at the plate. Like Hosmer he has also been hurt by a BABIP under .200, but when you’re giving away more than a quarter of your at-bats, it’s tough to hit for average or power. So much has gone right for the Mets this season, leading to a 24-21 record in a tough division, but Davis has been a disappointment. The Mets considered demoting Davis a couple days ago, but have decided against the proposition, and will continue to give him chances at the plate.

Adam Lind

For the most part the Toronto Blue Jays have enjoyed a successful start to the 2012 season, with the noted exception of Adam Lind. Lind was off to a putrid start, hitting .186/.273/.314, accumulating only 37 bases in 118 at-bats. Lind has never been the same player who won a Silver Slugger award at age 25, and he has declined each season since. Lind was demoted nearly 2 weeks ago, down to the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s, and got off to a nice start, hitting .500 in his first 3 games.

Lind’s biggest issue has been his complete inability to hit left-handers. At the time of his demotion he was only hitting .129 in over 30 plate appearances with just 1 extra-base hit. The Toronto 1st baseman has never exhibited more than the normal, league-average platoon split, but this year it’s been severely noticeable. Hopefully he can get his issues corrected in Las Vegas and become a contributing member of the Blue Jays, rather than a black hole in the lineup.

Mark Teixeira

The $180 million dollar man has only been worth his defense so far this season in New York. Teixeira is a notorious slow starter; with a career batting average 42 points lower than his norm in April. Unfortunately for the Yankees, those struggles have continued into May this season. Tex is hitting an anemic .226/.291/.381 with an OPS+ nearly 20 points under the league average. Part of this issue may be due to a bronchial infection, but it’s more than likely that some of Teixeira’s problems have to due with a drop in bat speed as well as walks.

The Yankees 1st baseman is picking up fewer free passes than at any point in his career, walking only 8.1% of the time, the 1st time he’s been under 10% since 2005. His line drive rate has also been steadily dropping since 2010, and now it’s at a career low 14% this season. While Teixeira is still playing his trademark Gold Glove defense, the reason he is so highly compensated is that he is expected to drive in runs and slug the ball. If he can get his bat going again, the Yankees could evolve into a legitimate threat to the Texas Rangers for AL supremacy, if not, they may struggle to get to the playoffs in a deep AL East.

Justin Smoak

Justin Smoak has now accumulated over 1000 career major league plate appearances and is a .224/.306/.373 hitter, good for an 89 OPS+. His best batting average in any of his major league seasons has been an anemic .239. He has only hit above the league average in OPS+ once in his career and is having his worst season in 2012 by far, hitting only .209/.251/.316 with 5 homers and 15 RBI. Smoak doesn’t draw walks, receiving only 9 this year in 167 plate appearances, and whiffs a ton, going down swinging in 24% of his at-bats.

Its worth asking if the Mariners should move past Smoak and begin looking for another 1st baseman, because he doesn’t look like he will ever develop into a league average player. The Mariners don’t have many options in at the big league level or in the minors. Dennis Raben has hit well in the low minors, but its tough to project a hitter that hasn’t been above high-A ball yet, and is so far away from the Major Leagues. Smoak will probably be given many more at-bats, because he is only 25, but he needs to start producing soon, especially if the Mariners want to turn around their losing ways.

Rookie Report: Mid-May Edition

I want to take a look at some of the most intriguing rookies that have made their debuts during the 2012 season. This is the first Rookie Report, because now that we are in mid-May, many rookies are beginning to establish themselves in their club’s lineup and many new players are just being called up to the majors. Players are ranked in order based on who have been the most impressive to date.

1.    Yu Darvish

No rookie has made more of an impact than Yu this season. Darvish has immediately stepped into the role of staff ace for the Rangers, pitching 52 innings, compiling a tidy 6-1 record, while striking out 58 with a 2.60 ERA. He has been utterly dominant, baffling AL hitters with a wide variety of breaking pitches complimenting an excellent 95 mph fastball. If Yu has one issue, it is his propensity for walking batters. The rookie ace has walked 26 batters, 3rd most in the American League, which could be a problem later in the season. The strikeouts help to balance out the walks, and prove Yu’s ability to be a bona fide ace of a playoff team. His teammates also rave about his commitment to the team, and the game, which was shown last weekend, when he went out and returned to the game after a long rain delay, getting the win against the Angels. Right now he is a mortal lock for AL Rookie of the Year, which is somewhat unfair because he is an accomplished professional ballplayer already, and a top-5 contender for the Cy Young award. Darvish has been worth every penny the Rangers spent so far.

For more on Darvish’s performance this season, click here.

2.    Lance Lynn

Lynn, much like Darvish in the American League, is the early frontrunner in the Rookie of the Year race because he has pitched very well and compiled a 6-1 record. His peripheral stats are also outstanding: 44.2 innings with 44 k’s, 14 walks, and a 0.89 WHIP for a 1.81 ERA. Opposing batters are only hitting a puny .171 off of Lynn, due in part to his excellent 93-95 mph fastball. He’s throwing his 4-seamer for 54% of the time, and generating a lot of swings and misses with the pitch. He also has the advantage of pitching in front of one of the most supportive offenses in the National League, with an average of 6.86 runs per game of support. It will be interesting to see if this kind of run support keeps up, and if the Cardinals don’t score a lot for Lynn, how will he pitch in a tight game? We’ve seen him pitch in high-pressure situations out of the bullpen, and he performed well, but I want to see him tested in a tight game as a starter.

For more on Lynn this season click here.

3.    Wei-Yin Chen

Chen has been one of the many revelations for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012. He has a shiny 4-0 record over his 44 innings pitched with 32 strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA. He’s coming off his best start of the season, a 7 inning, 2-run, 4-strikeout gem against the powerful Yankee lineup. He really displayed a lot of his strengths against the Yankees, keeping hitters off-balance by locating a variety of pitches well. He threw his fastball, slider, and change-up for strikes more than 56% of the time, pounding righties inside and lefties away. Chen will never be a dominant strikeout pitcher like Darvish or Lynn, but he has the ability to be a successful mid-rotation pitcher and an excellent find for the Orioles.

For more on Wei-Yin Chen’s pitching against the Yankees, click here.

4.    Yonder Alonso

Alonso has probably been the most consistent rookie hitter in the National League during the early part of the 2012 season. He’s hitting a solid .296/.369/.416 clip for an above average 123 OPS+. The spacious confines of Petco Park have limited Alonso to only 1 homerun, but he has 12 total doubles, which is 3rd in the National League. He is also very patient at the plate walking in 10% of his at-bats, just a tick above the league average of 9%. This is an important skill for a 25-year-old slugger to grasp early in his career, because it will allow Alonso to command the strike zone better, which will lead to a higher on-base percentage and better contact at the plate. Alonso’s biggest issue right now is staying focused on defense. He leads all 1st baseman with 5 errors committed, but has shown good range outside of a few mental lapses. If he cuts down the errors Alonso has the potential to develop into a plus defender, in addition to being the middle-of-the-order bat that San Diego so desperately needs.

5.    Drew Smyly

Smyly has proven to be quite the find at the bottom of the rotation in Detroit, providing the Tigers with 39 mostly quality innings so far. Though he only has 1 win to show for it, Smyly has a nice 2.31 ERA, and an excellent 1.103 WHIP. In the 39 innings he’s thrown the lefty has compiled 38 strikeouts to go against only 11 walks. His ERA is 3rd in the American League, and his WHIP 8th. If you go in terms of WAR, Smyly has put up a nice 1.6 total so far, good for 4th among all AL pitchers. The lefty quite as good as he is cracked up to be however. Smyly averages just over 5.1 innings per start and has yet to make it past the 6th inning. The Tigers are being very cautious with him, only letting him throw a maximum of 101 pitches, pulling him after an average of 92 pitches. Smyly only has 1 win because he doesn’t go very deep into games, which allows his bullpen the opportunity to snatch victory away from him. Until he starts going deeper into ballgames, the Tigers’ rookie will not be able to compete for the ROY award in what is becoming a loaded field.

6.    Jesus Montero

Montero has had a bit of a rollercoaster season during his 1st year in Seattle. The Mariners have given him just under half of the Major League catching duties, more than he ever was going to see with the Yankees, and he has struggled mightily so far. Montero was never going to be a Gold Glove winner and he is in the majors on the strength of his bat, not his catching ability, but he still needs to be a passable catcher if the Mariners want to be competitive. Right now he leads the Major Leagues in passed balls with 4 and had a particularly ugly inning last night in Cleveland. Montero allowed 1 run on a passed ball and then compounded his error with more errors. On a double steal by Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, the Mariner catcher threw the ball away into left field. When Cabrera came home to score, Chone Figgins fired the ball back in from left, but Montero could not come up with it, and the runner originally on 1st, Santana, was also able to score. Montero struggles may prove the Yankees right that he would be best served at DH, where he can focus on hitting. Major league catching is the toughest job ot master in all of sports, so we should cut Montero some slack as he learns the tools of the trade. While he strikes out a little too much, Montero does have excellent power, and is 2nd on the Mariners in homers with 5 and is slugging an excellent .675.

7.    Mike Trout

Trout has been on fire since his call up to the big leagues, showing a variety of All-Star level skills. He has been hitting .333/.391/.567 over the 16 games he has played, with 3 homers, 5 doubles, 8 RBI, and 3 steals. Trout has also shown solid outfield instincts and good range, due to his excellent speed. Trout has also improved his plate discipline from his call-up a year ago, drawing 7 walks already. He only had 9 in twice as many plate appearances a year ago, which means he is making excellent progress as a hitter. This kind of patient approach and the potential for him to have a 20-20 season, make Trout one of the strongest competitors for Rookie of the Year. Darvish may have too much of a head start, but some voters may not be inclined to vote for him, due to h, but he is professional experience and Trout could be the benefactor. The only reason the talented outfielder isn’t ranked higher on the list is because of his lack of playing time, due to the fact he began the year in the minors.

8.    Wade Miley

Another rookie pitcher off to an excellent start this season, Miley has been one of the best in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. In 39.1 innings he’s 4-1 with 27 strikeouts, 12 walks, and a 2.52 ERA. The 25-year-old began the season in the bullpen for Arizona, pitching well enough to earn a call up to the rotation. Like the Tigers with Smyly, the Diamondbacks are being ultra-conservative with the youngster, only allowing him to top 100 pitches once this season. Until we see Miley go deeper into ballgames, it’s going to be tough to figure out just how effective he can be.

9.    Kirk Nieuwenhuis

The 24-year-old outfielder has been somewhat of a surprise for the Mets this season, emerging to become a reliable everyday player. He’s batting .293/.367/.407 and has 9 extra-base hits. Nieuwenhuis doesn’t have a ton of power in his bat, but he knows how to draw a walk, and he has the ability to steal bases. His outfield defense has been great so far this season as well, and he shows good instincts to go along with plus range. Even if Nieuwenhuis’ performance stumbles over the next couple of months, if he can finish hitting around .275 with 10 homers and 15-20 steals, it would be a good year for the rookie.

10. Best of the Rest.

Randall Delgado, Atlanta Braves. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals. David Phelps, New York Yankees. Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox, Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox.

Note: Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland A’s would have been on the list, but he is injured, so I decided to highlight some other players instead.

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