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

September 18, 2007 at 11:51 AM

Mailbag time

Lots of questions, so few answers so I thought I’d take a run at some of them today. It’s the busy time of year for us writers, preparing our year-end profiles for the newspaper, doing the daily games and trying to make sense of topical issues for the blog. Some of you ask why I spend so much time debating Jose Vidro/Raul Ibanez/Adam Jones and questioning the thinking found within the blogosphere. Well, for one thing, I believe those topics to be important because they define the very essence of the disconnect I see between the team and some segments of the fan base.
There are some fans who believe there is a right way and a wrong way to approach every decision and that unless that way is followed, any results garnered are automatically wrong. That’s a pretty comfortable position to be in. It guarantees that any argument you make will be right if the results turn out correct. And even if the results don’t go the way you anticipate — meaning you were, for practical purposes, wrong — you can still say you were right because of the methodology.
Well, I can tell you, that’s not how the reality of major league baseball works. This is a results-oriented business. And even if a certain statistical approach is scientifically the best way to go, no GM will automatically go that route without considering the peripheral factors. Just ask ex-Los Angeles Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta about that. On paper, his 2004 trade of Paul LoDuca, Juan Encarnacion and Guillermo Mota to the Florida Marlins for Hee Sop Choi and Brad Penny looked like the “smart” or “correct” statistical decision. Still does, in large part. Except that it alienated the team’s manager and — several Dodgers will still swear to it — tore the heart out of a club that was quickly eliminated in the playoffs. That team missed the playoffs the next year and DePodesta was out of a job almost as fast as he’d been given one.
So, to ignore the human element is done at one’s peril. A look at Vidro’s numbers since July 1 — a 10-week stretch — sees some pretty compelling surface reasons why he should be in the lineup. Sure, if I break it down into components, I can find a block of games where he slumped. But numbers can be arranged in many ways. The USS Mariner yesterday pushed the argument that Vidro’s post-All-Star numbers can be broken down into three blocks:
July 12th to August 15th: 125 plate appearances, .413/.484/.500
August 17th to September 5th: 86 plate appearances, .263/.326/.395
September 7th to September 15th: 34 plate apperances, .464/.559/.679
Fair enough. But what happens when I slide the dates around a bit?
July 12th to August 25th, 165 plate appearances, .391/.457, .507
August 26th to Sept. 5, 45 plate apprearances, .214/.267/.310
September 7th to September 15th, 34 plate appearances, .464/.559/.679
So, it appears from that table that Vidro produced quite a respectable slugging percentage for a six-week period right after the break. All singles and bloopers? Hardly. Not at .507 in slugging. Yes, there was a pretty bad 10-day downturn beginning Aug. 26. It’s called a “slump” and every hitter goes through them for periods that small. Since that time, he’s put up better slugging numbers than before over virtually the same period as the slump he was in.
Believe me, I understand the USS Mariner argument about predictive analysis and that it feels the team was taking a crapshoot in choosing Vidro and Ibanez over Adam Jones when the Class AAA numbers do indicate the odds are Jones will be the better player over the long haul. Is he “the better player” right now? No, he isn’t. He is the player with “the most potential” or “upside” of the three. But he will still have adjustments to make as a full-time major leaguer.
Again, the trouble is, this isn’t the long haul we’re talking about. And if it’s a short, two-month, or six-week period we’re debating, it comes down to who do you roll the dice with? Two guys who have been there, done it before and are still “doing it” for whatever reason you think, or a guy who has also done it before and was still doing it at a lower level? For a short-term fix, many brilliant leaders in many different business arenas will always go with the guys who have been doing it at the higher level to that point. Every young worker in every arena has stuff he can learn. Hey, I was a pretty darned good young writer at age 22 and the odds said I’d be better than plenty of colleagues “ahead” of me at that stage. But man, did I have plenty to learn. Stuff I never even thought about writing-wise. Still do and am amazed at how much it changes daily.
Talk to young Class AAA hitters making the jump to the majors and many will tell you that the biggest difference is the major league pitchers can get their off-speed and breaking balls over at any point in the count. That can throw a young hitter off balance and take time to get used to. Time the M’s decided they didn’t have. That’s all part of the decision-making process a team must make when choosing whether to throw a young hitter out there during a crucial short-term stretch.
If every trade by every team was made based on the numbers already out there, be they past MLB production, Class AAA numbers that project greatness, or whatever, there would be very few surprises to be had. And frankly, the surprise element is useful. Did anyone know midway through 2006 that Jeff Weaver was going to win a bunch of World Series games last fall? No, but the Cardinals had a plan — a project if you will — for Weaver and won the World Series. This isn’t a flukey poker hand. It was a thought-out plan, going partly on a hunch, that, if things played out a certain way, Weaver could be useful and he was. You cannot simply toss that out the window as being akin to a lucky poker hand.
You do have to take educated guesses and even roll the dice every now and then in this game. The educated “guess” by the Mariners was that even a hurting Vidro had high enough on-base numbers and that, with rested legs, could get his slugging up to a decent enough level to balance out the hitting on this offense.
In their eyes, he’s done that in the second half. And it isn’t all bloopers. Plenty of it has been line drives to the gaps.
So, to shrug that off as flukey guesswork seems a little too convenient. And how exactly do you sell a clubhouse on bringing up a rookie player when two veterans are putting up the numbers they have been — flukey or not? Despite what you read, precious few major league teams would take that step. As Paul DePodesta found out, doing the “right” thing is not always the best thing. Major Leaguers do not think and act the same way most of you and I do. The egos inside a clubhouse can be like nothing you’ve ever encountered before. A different animal.
What if the statistical “guess” on Adam Jones did not pan out? How much clubhouse damage would have had to have been repaired? To minimize the potential impact is to not understand the dynamics being dealt with. Could DePodesta have anticipated that his manager — the very likeable Jim Tracy — would be devastated by the loss of a team leader like Lo Duca? That Tracy would take to wearing Lo Duca’s number and bench Choi for his short term — hear that, short-term — ineffectiveness? Well, DePodesta should have anticipated it. This is Major League Baseball, with real human beings and real, often fragile egos. I guarantee you, if DePodesta ever becomes a GM again, he will think long and hard about making such a trade.
Is this to say that USS Mariner is out to lunch? Absolutely not. They do show the value of predictive statistics in a very compelling way that make you think. The stuff about “random variation” in hitters and why they can slump at any given moment absolutely has to be considered. We actually agree on a whole lot of Adam Jones related stuff and about the moves Bavasi has made on several levels. And this by no means absolves Bavasi of some of his other decision-making as a whole. All I’m saying is that there is more that goes into these decisions than strict numbers analysis. And those other factors cannot be minimized as inconsequential. If anything, they are of equal consequence. Any consultant can walk into a company and tell you what can be minimized and made more efficient by following a specific formula. But if the employees revolt because too many of them lose their Saturdays off, or have to be shuffled off to a position they don’t like, even the best plan can fall to pieces.
The bottom line is to win, any way possible. And nobody has cornered the market on how to do that — unless you’re the Yankees and make the post-season every year by outspending your rivals and acquiring so much depth that your margin for error becomes exponentially higher than your opponents’. But that’s a topic for another day. I know some of you are tired of this discussion, but believe me, it’s an important one to have. If anything, it will help not set you up for unrealistic expectations from the next GM — if there is to be a new one — because they will undoubtedly disappoint you in a hurry if these are the parameters you expect them to work within.
On to your questions:
Any word on Guillen’s extension? He has been pretty silent lately.
Posted by Brett W. at 09:04 AM, Sep 18, 2007

Jose Guillen was working on a deal with the front office that would have been for a minimum of three years. But things have changed in the past few weeks, as the team plunged through a horrible collapse. Both sides, the front office and Guillen, have been preoccupied with getting things back on-track and the priority for this deal being done was pushed to the back-burner. Remember, Guillen doesn’t have to rush to do any deal. He’s set to hit the open market with some pretty good numbers and little outfield competition in free agency. Given the holes in this club that have been exposed the past three weeks, this team may have to redefine some of its priorities moving forward.
Wow. Has any team ever hit for the cycle in one half-inning before? It was one triple shy of two cycles inone half-inning!
Posted by scottM at 08:23 PM, Sep 17, 2007

Plenty of times. Happened to the M’s at least once this year. I’ve been scouring my past stories to find it but have been out of luck so far.
Geoff – Can you give us some insight into why none of the rookies are getting into the starting lineup? Seems to me that the M’s should be looking at these young guys in major league games against major league pitchers.
Posted by GeoW at 10:07 PM, Sep 17, 2007

The team feels that as long as it is still in contention, it should be rolling out the lineup it figures can win every night. I don’t agree with that. I think any last hope of a miracle comeback was snuffed out against the Devil Rays over the weekend, when Seattle should have dropped three of four and was fortunate to split. This is the time to expose some guys to day-to-day playing time. I don’t expect anyone to come right out and admit “Hey, we’re toast” but that’s different from giving the components of your future plans a chance to show what they can do. Not doing it smacks of a team trying to pad its win total for off-season PR purposes and — possibly — to save jobs. I can’t fault the human element in that line of thinking, but I don’t think it’s objectively the right course for this team to follow. If Adam Jones is part of your future, what’s the harm in playing him now?
I am a huge Kenji fan and I think he’s better than Faceplant does, but I still don’t think he’s a gold glove. I do, however, hope he’ll be back for several more seasons. And I wish we’d hear more from Geoff about his (Kenji’s, not Geoff’s) sense of humor. We keep getting glimpses, but it sounds like he’s a crack up.
Posted by oregongal at 10:44 PM, Sep 17, 2007

I think Johjima is an hilarious guy with a very easy-going, engaging personality. A couple of times this year, when my girlfriend gets mentioned in a conversation, he’ll bulge his eyes out wide and go “You’re not married yet?” That bandage stunt he pulled in Detroit was priceless — wrapping his entire head in an ace bandage right after a game in which he’d been plunked on the helmet by a pitch. One of the funnier moments for me came last week, standing between him and Jose Guillen alone in the clubhouse. Guillen began playfully — in his cutting way — getting on Johjima for not being in the lineup after being hit on the wrist by a throw the previous night. Johjima stared at him and also responded with a quip. Back and forth the two of them went — in English. I wish I had audio of that. A guy from the Dominican and one from Japan having an English back-and-forth.
On the subject of his “framing” of pitches — I don’t see anyone on this blog naming this as the reason the team’s pitchers have largely fallen off the map the past month. But it’s one reason why “Gold Glove” talk is premature. Nobody is saying Johjima’s been a disaster. Remember, looking at a player is not always an “all or nothing” equation. It’s not a “love him or hate him” thing. It’s possible to enjoy a player while admitting he has some shortcomings. It doesn’t require taking an extremist position on one side or the other.
I have an Adam Jones question: Has he ever played right field? Stats I have found on don’t differentiate outfield positions. Posted by DT at 01:09
PM, Sep 17, 2007

Before his call-up in August, Jones had actually never played left field in a game before. So, that’s been an adjustment for him. He’s far more used to playing in right field. In fact, he could still wind up there next season if Guillen is not kept on.
I know that you have to be careful with this, but it seems you are writing a bit more about McLaren’s future here…and I am wondering if you can share a bit more about your assessment of Bavasi as compared to his peers.
Posted by tommyt at 10:34 PM, Sep 17, 2007

I don’t have to be careful with anything. I wrote before the season that the Mariners are not getting very much bang for the bucks they’ve spent on payroll and that falls into Bavasi’s lap. This is showing itself to be a .500 team and I think you have to expect more than that from a $107 million payroll. I don’t think this team uses its utility players enough. That the Richie Sexson debacle cost this team some wins earlier this season when Ben Broussard could have been playing. That was a hunch the organization went with and it didn’t pan out. Other hunches/analysis/strategies did pan out, with Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen providing a more balanced offensive attack. By and large, though, the starting pitching was a liability. This team left itself exposed with too many rotation holes at too crucial a time last winter in a tight market. Other franchises did not leave themselves so vulnerable and that must be considered. The Horacio Ramirez-Rafael Soriano trade was a poor one and has hurt the club this season.
I’m not a fan of using season-end win totals to evaluate a team. So, if the M’s finish with 81 wins or go on a roll and win 87 when it means nothing, it won’t matter much to me. Management will see that this team was a playoff contender until early September, which constitutes an improvement over past seasons. What they will have to decide is whether this was a fleeting moment, or the next step in a building process. Considering how this team has crash-landed, with the same pitching woes that existed a year ago, that “building” argument sounds like a stretch. If all of this is about waiting until Felix Hernandez becomes a 20-game winner, that’s a strategy any GM could employ, good or bad.
Email question: I’m really worried the team is about to make a mistake by dumping Jose Lopez the way it made a mistake with Carlos Guillen. What’s your take?
Name witheld

Relax, Lopez isn’t going anywhere. He’s had a terrible year offensively and had mental lapses in the field. But he’ll get next season to sort that out. I’m sure his brother’s death had something to do with it. There’s just too much of a connection in dates between the death of his brother and his statistical slide. But Lopez will have to work his way out of this. Jose Vidro is a non-factor in this discussion. The team feels he can’t play more than once or twice a week if his legs are to stay healthy.



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