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

August 17, 2007 at 7:28 AM

Where numbers hide

Looks like a beautiful morning unfolding (though we’ll see in an hour) as the Mariners resume their playoff push. Jose Contreras pitching for the Chicago White Sox tonight and we all know what folks will be saying if he does the job against the M’s. No, you don’t know? Look in the encyclopedia under Ramirez, Horacio.
I’ll get to the morning’s topic in a moment, but answer a couple of questions first.
For “Faceplant” my guess is that veterans only have to prove themselves over a short period to “earn” their playing time back because they’ve done it before. The folks building the team know they’ve done it, expected them to do it and put them on the team in the first place because they needed them to do it. So, when they start doing it again after not doing it, everyone gets optimistic in a hurry. Very relieved too. Sometimes, it’s just false hope and wishful thinking. Other times, it’s just normalcy returning. And the team-builders will take that normalcy over the unknown, especially with six weeks to go in a season and a pennant race looming.
And by the way, folks, Jose Vidro’s slugging percentage has been at .500 for the past month. That’s not a tiny sample size, good enough for a DH and frankly, with only a short amount of season left, what Vidro has done the past month is a lot more relevant to the nightly lineup than what he did back in April, May and June. It’s not about projections when you have just six weeks to go. Worry about numbers declining when they actually decline. It’s about what’s going on in front of a team’s nose with the season winding down. No manager, be they John McLaren or John McGraw, would operate any differently.
For the other questions about Cha Seung Baek, once again, he’s down in Peoria throwing simulated games and doing well at that. But then he still has to pitch in minor league games first and work his way up to a major league level. My guess on him being back in Seattle would be the second week of September at the earliest. He apparently was truly hurt and not impacted by the “need-to-improve-itis” that seemed to land other Mariners hurlers on the DL this summer. Think I’ll spend today checking on whatever became of Sean White. Haven’t seen him in months.
So, we all know Kelvim Escobar manhandled a Blue Jays club that was foolish not to re-sign him after 2003. That $8 million the Jays “saved” over three seasons by letting the Angels outbid them sure looks great now, doesn’t it? Bought them a whole four months of A.J. Burnett. Whoopie! Escobar has a 1.57 ERA over his last eight starts and has thrust himself back into Cy Young contention. End result for the M’s is a 3 1/2 game deficit in the AL West, meaning any more losses to teams they should be beating could push Seattle closer to that four-game threshold in the gap between them and the Halos. You really don’t want to trail anyone by four or more this late in the year. The good news for the M’s is that the Angels play a doubleheader in Boston today. Very unlikely the Angels sweep, with Ervin “The Road Worrier” Santana pitching the second game. Meaning a Mariner victory tonight likely gains them some ground.
The wild-card is looking far better right now, with Seattle now all alone in that race — up by a half-game after the Yankees saw their pitching implode again. Two big opponents for Seattle, two very different ways of self-destructing. The Yanks score runs by the plane load but can’t pitch. And the Angels pitch gems more often than not, but can’t score enough runs.
Some of you have mentioned the “grass isn’t always greener” theory about how the Angels and their fans are panicking about the M’s. Well, you’ll be happy to know insecurity reigns in the Bronx as well. Check out this blog.
Man, he gets to the point quickly, doesn’t he? Not like these rambling posts. Anyway, on to my topic of the day. Some of you may have read today’s Miguel Batista feature penned by yours truly. But I wanted to discuss Batista some more here. Having covered him in Toronto as a starter in a pretty disastrous 2004, I never dreamed I’d see him with a shot at becoming a 15-game winner in the AL.
But that’s a serious possibility now. There are some obvious reasons for it. The infield defense in Seattle is superior to anything Batista has ever pitched in front of. Yes, he had Orlando Hudson at second base in Toronto and Arizona from 2004 through 2006, but the shortstops and third baseman weren’t always major league caliber defenders for him. Not so here, where Adrian Beltre and Yuniesky Betancourt had Batista dreaming of a season like this one way back before spring training.
A great FoxSports.com story on the M’s this week — perhaps the funniest and most accurate depiction of this crazy Seattle playoff run by a national media outlet thus far — cited Horacio Ramirez as the “poster child” for this mediocre stats, great results season. I’ll agree that Ramirez’s 7-3 (now 7-4) record at the time with truly sub-par peripherals is a wacky thing to behold.
But Batista has taken some highly bizarre numbers to some stunning win totals. And it isn’t all due to park factors and defense.
Look at Batista’s walks-plus-hit-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) stat of 1.51 and it doesn’t scream 12-game winner. In fact, no other 12-game winner in baseball has a WHIP that bad. Of the 36 pitchers with enough innings logged to qualify for the league’s ERA title, Batista’s WHIP ranks 32nd.
Normally, a WHIP that poor translates to a worse season. Like what? Here are some examples, looking down at the five worst WHIP scores in the AL.
1.49 Boof Bonser… 5-9…4.77
1.51 MIGUEL BATISTA…12-8, 4.13
1.60 Jorge De La Rosa…8-11, 5.46
1.62 Jose Contreras…6-14, 6.24
1.62 Steve Trachsel…5-7, 4.85
1.67 Odalis Perez…7-11, 5.78
Obviously, a better over-all record for Batista than the other guys. No, it’s not all ballpark-related, though Batista has certainly benefitted from Safeco’s status as a pitcher’s park. Here are the ERA+ scores of the pitchers with the five worst WHIP totals in the AL. Remember, a score of 100 is deemed “average” while anything higher is “above average” and below is “below average.”
Boof Bonser — 92
MIGUEL BATISTA — 103
Jorge De La Rosa — 87
Jose Contreras — 73
Steve Trachsel — 91
Odalis Perez — 82
Once again, Batista is the only one even close to being above average. His high-wire act has certainly been a thing to behold. And his ERA really isn’t all that impressive, perhaps hurt by the fact that he rarely pitches seven or more innings. Here’s a look at the AL pitchers who’ve won 12 or more games and the number of outings in which they’ve gone seven or more innings.
C.C. Sabathia — 17
Fausto Carmona — 16
Kelvim Escobar — 16
Roy Halladay — 15
Johan Santana — 15
Dan Haren — 14
Erik Bedard — 13
Daisuke Matsuzaka — 13
John Lackey — 12
Josh Beckett — 11
Justin Verlander — 11
Tim Wakefield — 9
Chien-Ming Wang — 9
MIGUEL BATISTA — 4
Wow. As you can see, Batista’s four outings of seven or more innings is actually five lower than the next-worst total on that list. That’s some pretty exclusive company he keeps for a guy who can’t get beyond the seventh. How would it impact his ERA? Well, let’s assume his stints of seven-plus innings were at the median total of 13 instead of his present four. That’s a difference of nine and if he works an extra inning in each of those, his ERA falls from 4.13 to a much nicer-looking 3.88. Add in a couple of eight-inning starts and the ERA would be in the 3.80 range.
Besides impacting his ERA, the inability to go seven-plus innings would also really seem likely to hurt Batista’s ability to win games. So, how does he do it? Is it all his bullpen? Well, partially, though Seattle starters with near-identical or superior ERA and ERA+ numbers — Jarrod Washburn and Felix Hernandez — both have four fewer victories (possibly five fewer after tonight). It isn’t all bullpen, it isn’t all defense and it isn’t all park factors.
As we mentioned in today’s feature, Batista has an uncanny ability to allow tons of baserunners, while preventing them from scoring.
Opponents have a .344 on-base percentage against Batista with the bases empty, a very good total for the hitters. But with runners at first and second, that on-base total plummets to .257. Opponents’ OPS against Batista with the bases empty is .808, but falls to .728 once runners get on, and .719 with runners in scoring position. The drop in OPS is almost entirely due to slugging percentage, meaning that while Batista still may allow even more runners in such cases, he’s less likely to yield the game-wrecking extra-base hit that someone like Ramirez has all season long.
Now, let’s take one more look at that list of 12-game winners and see how many times they’ve allowed three earned runs or less in a game this season.
Dan Haren — 25
Fausto Carmona — 21
Erik Bedard — 21
Johan Santana — 20
John Lackey — 20
Kelvim Escobar — 19
C.C. Sabathia — 19
MIGUEL BATISTA — 18
Justin Verlander — 18
Daisuke Matsuzaka — 17
Josh Beckett — 17
Roy Halladay — 15
Chien-Ming Wang — 14
Tim Wakefield — 13
As you can see, Batista’s totals fit very nicely on that list of the AL’s top pitchers. A long-winded way of me showing that numbers can sometimes be hidden. Yes, there is nothing spectacular about Batista’s ERA or his ability to go deep in games. But don’t let anyone tell you his season has been ordinary. As you can see, there is nothing usual about the way he has gone about posting his numbers.

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