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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

June 19, 2007 at 10:02 PM

Six and counting

This is getting very worrisome for Seattle. Six losses in a row for the Mariners to the sub-.500 teams of the National League. So much for that power-rankings jump last week. This week’s new CBS Sportsline rating says the M’s confirmed their fluke staus. Miguel Batista didn’t get it done tonight, lasting only 5 1/3 innings thanks largely to 35 pitches thrown in the first inning. What is it about the M’s and first innings anyway? Batista gave up four runs — only two of them earned. The Richie Sexson error in the first inning gave Pittsburgh an extra out. But Batista hurt his own cause by yielding those two-out singles and then walking consecutive hitters. This is nothing new. Too many baserunners.
Back to that in a second…
First, let me deal with the issue of the posts from this morning and yesterday. You know, when enough people tell you you’re wrong, you start to think that maybe they’re on to something. So, I went back and had another look at those numbers using the suggested ERA+ method to account for park factors. The reasoning I listened to, from “Sammy” in the comments thread, Dave at the USS Mariner site, and others, has convinced me that comparing teams using a statistic that could adapt to changing year-to-year run conditions — rather than a static number that couldn’t change — was the best way to go.
I still believe that Jack Lattemann did some great work with these numbers, but that they are made even more valid by using ERA+ instead of ERA. What sold me was all the earlier years, when few teams ever had an ERA as high as 4.50 — even if that is the average ERA today. So, using that as a benchmark to measure the past just doesn’t work. Using the ERA+ stat, which measures performance comparable to others facing the same run conditions at various ballparks in the same year, you have a floating component that can judge above and below average pitching.
And the park factors do matter. I erred in saying they didn’t. After all, you compete for the playoffs with other teams. The ability of those teams to score and prevent runs, based on the factors in the ballparks of the day, will have a bearing on it.
So, if we look at Jack’s stats, they don’t change all that much. First off, he missed a handful of teams. I went back and double-checked all of the ones with an ERA higher than 4.50 to make the post season since 1995 and found 18 out of 354. Now, take the ones below average in the ERA+ stats and you wind up with 14 out of 354. Not a very big difference.
In fact, it’s a one per cent difference. But it’s a more accurate difference. And it’s a more reliable measurement. One that won’t be thrown off by a year that goes out-of-whack (pardon the pun) hitting-wise. You can use it as a measurement for teams from 1935. You can’t do that with a 4.50 ERA.
As for the Mariners? Way below average in ERA+, something like 13 per cent. And no, based on what I’ve seen, no team doing that poorly below the norm has made the playoffs in the wild-card era.
So, you learn something new every day. Hopefully, we’re all better for this exercise. I know I am and that I was wrong.
Back to the Mariners. The good news tonight, for M’s fans? Both the Angels and A’s lost. Or is that bad news? Yes, the night was there for Seattle to capitalize. I asked Mike Hargrove before Cha Seung Baek’s start last Saturday in Houston about his first-inning vulnerabilities. He told me at the time that the early runs off Baek came from too small a sample size to be concerned about, but that Jeff Weaver’s between-starts program was being looked at to see if there was something to be done with him.
Since then, M’s pitchers have kept getting hurt in the first inning.
Weaver has yielded 19 of 39 earned runs in the first inning, with a .568 batting average against and a 3.00 walks-plus-hits-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio. Ouch! He pitches the next game.
Baek has allowed 12 of his 41 earned runs in the first inning, while opponents have a .389 batting average and a 2.28 WHIP off him that frame.
Jarrod Washburn has allowed nine of 41 earned runs to score in the first. He has a .304 batting average against and a 1.74 WHIP in the first.
Felix Hernandez has given up eight of 28 earned runs right off the bat, with a .368 average against and a 1.98 WHIP in the first.
Miguel Batista is the first inning “ace” of the staff, allowing only six of his 45 earned runs to score in the first. But again, opponents are hitting .339 off him with a 1.86 WHIP in the opening frame.
The first-inning run totals are alarming for some of the pitchers. Tough to tell what they really mean for others. But of serious concern has to be all the baserunners being put on by the five starters in the first inning. They are all trending towards two runners apiece, while Weaver is up at three. Putting runners on tends to drive up pitch counts, regardless of whether earned runs — or any runs — wind up scoring. Batista has been adept at not letting all of his baserunners come back to bite him. But his pitch counts suffer and he rarely gets beyond the sixth inning.
Still, he’s been better than the rest of late. Throwing too many pitches too early has driven up the pitch counts of the entire staff, tiring out their arms in the middle innings and preventing them from going deep. The team is scrambling to find reasons for it. We’ll see in the Weaver outing whether the added work on the problem pays any dividends.
Right now, these are dark days indeed. That “Hot Seat” is starting to smoke again.

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