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September 14, 2007 at 11:15 AM

Memorable moments

Quite the late-inning ride at the ballpark last night. It continued for me afterwards as I went home and wound up watching “61” for the umpteenth time. Hadn’t planned on doing it, but just kind of got hooked. They make the reporters look really bad in that movie, sort of like cartoon caricatures of what real baseball writers are like. It is true, though, that some writers do hold grudges against certain players who stand them up, treat them poorly and such. One writer I used to work with made it a habit of bragging in public that he’d never vote Gary Carter into the Hall of Fame because he just didn’t like the guy. Actually went on radio and TV saying this out loud. Not sure whether he realized what a fool he sounded like. I think he was trying to come across as cool.
Anyway, I can assure you that the majority of folks I work with try to take the job a little more seriously than that. They don’t take themselves seriously, only the job. If you can’t respect what you do for a living, it tends to say a lot about you as a human being. In that spirit, I got to thinking: are there any Mariners performances getting lost in the shuffle of this daily grind? Are there any players who have produced, day-in and day-out, something noteworthy that just doesn’t get the recognition it deserves for whatever reason?
Two of them come to mind for me:
Ichiro and Yuniesky Betancourt
We’ve all talked about Ichiro as a possible AL MVP candidate, but I tell you, it’s just uncanny how he goes about his business. It becomes so routine to see him collect two hits per game that sometimes I don’t even realize he’s out there. He had another big hit in a key situation last night, driving in the third run for Seattle with a base-hit in the seventh inning.
Ichiro doesn’t get that hit, it’s 7-2 going into the eighth and maybe, just maybe, the D-Rays get a clue on how a bullpen is supposed to work and manage to get the third out before their night comes unglued. Maybe not. I thought second baseman Brendan Harris got let off-the-hook a little easily on that base-hit to right field that prolonged the inning. Harris dove to his left for the ball and I’ve seen a number of second basemen make that play. But the ball somehow shot underneath him for a two-out hit, with the game 7-4 at that stage, and the wheels came off after that.
Back to Ichiro, though. He’s on-pace for 239 hits, his third-highest total since joining the major leagues. A batting title might be on the way as well. Has played Gold Glove caliber defense. He’s come through in the clutch all year as well. While the team was frittering away games the past three weeks, Ichiro continuously came up with big hits to tie games, or get the M’s close enough to have a shot at winning.
Ichiro hit .369 in August and is at .313 this month. The one thing the “61” movie demonstrated was how difficult it can be to maintain excellence at a consistent level. Especially when the pressure is on. To continuously hit .300, especially with the team floundering as it did, requires focus and dedication. Power? That’s Richie Sexson’s job, not Ichiro’s. What the center fielder has provided is exactly what is expected from him at the best of times. It gets taken for granted in Seattle, I know. Ichiro won’t be the league MVP, though he might crack the top three. But his performance should be saluted.
Same goes for Betancourt. If I had to build a team right now, one I wanted to make a playoff run with, it would start with Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Jose Guillen and Betancourt. Without a doubt, the most improved player on this team. Perhaps the MVP if not for Ichiro. Betancourt doesn’t get interviewed as often as some other players strictly because he can’t speak English. But he’s an engaging personality who brightens up the clubhouse. His bat brightens up the field, as does his Gold Glove caliber defense. I give him — and coach Carlos Garcia — tremendous credit for fixing that serious problem Betancourt had earlier this year when it came to making routine throws to first base. I’ve watched similar problems absolutely ruin young infielders, but Betancourt appears to have eliminated them from his game without missing a step.
His one drawback? Swings at just about everything. That too, can be improved with time. But look at what he’s done offensively. A second-half batting average of .319 with a .512 slugging percentage? Do that over a full season and he’s Derek Jeter with twice the glove. Never mind Jeter. This team can very much live with a shortstop that’s producing an .842 on-base-plus slugging percentage in the second half and providing a highlight reel of defensive wizardry each week. That OPS will rise as well with just a tad more plate discipline. Like I said, we’ve barely even scratched the surface at seeing how far Betancourt can go. He should win the Gold Glove this year. If he doesn’t, don’t despair. He’s just emerging on some people’s radar screens. It usually takes a year or two of Gold Glove play before you actually win it. The tradefoff? Once you win it, it’s the gift that keeps on giving — even in years when you don’t deserve to win.
And no, you can’t blame the reporters for that one. It’s the managers and coaches who vote on Gold Glove recipients. At times, their choices and the logic behind them (see Rafael Palmeiro winning at first base in 1999) can mirror that of my Gary Carter despising ex-colleague.
I’ll leave you with that for now. One more item crossed my desk this morning that I thought I’d share.
It comes from Bill Arnold’s “Beyond the Box Score” column in San Francisco. Arnold was musing about the quality of teams’ farm systems and how the overall won-lost record for an organization’s affiliates can potentially spell out the quality level of what’s coming up through the pipes. Potentially, but not all the time. There can be a handful of phenomenal players a major league club can build off of for years to come who might not be able to singlehandedly overcome the mediocrity of their minor league teammates. But overall, this is a pretty quick gauge and Arnold has crunched the numbers. So, here they are. The first number on the far left is the number of minor league affiliates for each AL club, followed by the total won-lost record and winning percentage.
Yankees 8 484-351 .580
Twins 7 421-339 .565
Tigers 8 454-380 .544
Angels 7 405-359 .530
Indians 7 398-364 .522
Devil Rays 7 393-377 .510
Red Sox 7 387-378 .506
Blue Jays 8 424-418 .504
Royals 8 416-411 .503
Rangers 7 373-387 .491
Orioles 8 397-430 .480
A’s 7 390-427 .477
MARINERS 8 388-440 .469
White Sox 8 382-459 .454
Kind of a sad picture. Some of you will be surprised, but I have a feeling quite a few of you won’t be.
Oh and “Adam” included this link in the previous comments thread to show that young players can impact playoff races. I agree, they can. The Mariners have relied on Brandon Morrow, Sean Green and Eric O’Flaherty as key bullpen fixtures all season the same way the Yankees are now using Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes et al. to aid their pitching woes. Morrow, Green and O’Flaherty all had less than a full-year’s big-league experience prior to 2007. So, they count as youngsters. And they’ve pitched in high leverage situations down the stretch.
And yes, Jacob Ellsbury has been producing for the Boston Red Sox in left field. But that’s also because Manny Ramirez got hurt. It’s not like the Red Sox decided to platoon Manny in the heat of a pennant race. Not sure this compares to the Adam Jones situation. I know “Adam” didn’t bring Jones up, but I kind of figure he linked to this article with the purpose of alluding to it in a more subtle way. I do read this blog, after all.
All I can say on that topic is:
Last Two Weeks
Raul Ibanez .306/.352/.842
Jose Vidro .361/.465/.993
Jose Guillen .313/.365/.803
Who are you going to bump from the lineup? Sure, you could make something of a power case with Guillen, but his average and on-base numbers are excellent. Power will fluctuate over shorter periods, but all three guys are hitting the ball. So is Ben Broussard, also hitting above .300 in September. Not sure where you clear the room? Not sure the Red Sox would do things any differently. Honest, I’m not. Same with the Yankees. The lineup isn’t why the team has been losing.
If you want to make a case for why Ryan Feierabend should start at some point in the next week, I’m right behind you. Not so much on this point.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan

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