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Mariners blog

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

September 3, 2008 at 10:02 AM

“Earning” playing time

This one’s in honor of Joe Jones, from the previous comments thread, and his critique of my ability to gab with Mitch Levy on KJR. Yes, Joe, I read your second comment. Thank you. Enjoy.
Enjoyed reading your thoughts yesterday when it came to Larry Stone’s question about whether the Mariners should be playing the younger September callups at the expense of other players who have been here for most of the season. There aren’t very many of those even left, by the way. But your answers, in general, tended to side with using the younger players. Can’t say that I disagree.
My first reaction was: this is a team vying for the worst overall record in baseball. Who are these players who have earned the right to be in the lineup day after day? Has anyone really contributed all that much that they are worthy of a pass when it comes to bench time?
Anyone can look at season ending numbers and draw conclusions. But what do they really mean? Should we really be looking at the overall body of work? Or taking a closer look at how it was achieved?
After all, this season is a train wreck. Regardless of what happens over the final month of the season. September is the month (and August, in some cases) where teams that are out of it see players go on “stat drives” to bolster their numbers as best they can. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little self improvement. But too often, you see players able to hide their true body of work with a couple of huge months. Many of you, in 2006, pointed to Richie Sexson in this regard. You noted, correctly, that his .842 OPS was not indicative of his overall contributions. Let’s look:
Pre-All Star: .706
Post-All Star: 1.112
For more than half a season, Sexson’s numbers were borderline disastrous and no better than they were this year. And it was in the final four weeks that he truly salvaged his year, posting a 1.124 OPS in September of that year. His team, needless to say, was long out of the race by then.
So, the point, for those of you who opposed Sexson’s numbers that year, is simple. You believe hitters should be producing their numbers with greater consistency if they are to be truly useful to a team. And I believe that as well. A guy who hits 40 home runs by swatting 20 of them in September when a team is out of the race is not going to be as valuable as the guy who can produce between six and eight per month, each month of the year.
When a player piles up the bulk of contributions over one or two months, the team only gets maximum benefit a third of the time at most. And when that third of the time is the one third that is meaningless, well, that won’t do. I know without even crunching the numbers that some Mariners have done a better job than others at contributing — really contributing — this year. Let’s see who they are.
We’ll do it, month-by-month, with OPS+ stats that relate to all major leaguers, so that ballpark factors are taken into account. And interleague play. Yes, this will look only at offensive contributions. We know the guys expected to bring defense to the table. Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez, for one. And Adrian Beltre and Ichiro. Betancourt and Lopez have not done a stellar job defensively. Beltre and Ichiro have done a good job. But they are expected to. It’s why they are being paid eight-figure salaries. But they have to produce the better-than-average offense to go with the defense, or else they are being overpaid for their gloves.
Now that we’ve set the guidelines, let’s take a look:


Remember, anything higher than 100 is above the major league average. Anything lower is below major league average.
Raul Ibanez
April — 124
May — 83
June — 121
July — 138
August — 201
Total — 133
Ibanez is the gold standard by which all offensive players for the Mariners should be judged. He has been above average — and not just slightly — in four of the first five months of the season. His only “down” month did come in May, when the team fell out of it completely. So, he shares some blame. But he is not alone in that regard. The bulk of the drop from contention also occured in April, when he was scorching hot. Nobody on this team has shown his consistency day-in and day-out. And he’s gotten stronger as the season winds down. Considering his lofty numbers early on, that’s not easy to do.
Adrian Beltre
April — 155
May — 67
June — 95
July — 109
August — 90
Total — 107
Though he’s been scorching of late, giving him the second best offensive totals on the team, a more-detailed look at the consistency behind his work leaves something to be desired. Fell off the map far more in May than did Ibanez, though his bat also helped carry the team in April. Has been a below average major league hitter in three of the season’s five months. Unlike the middle infield, his position requires above average production a majority of the time and it has not been delivered.
Ichiro
April — 83
May — 114
June — 93
July — 118
August — 108
Total: 100
So, Ichiro has been an average major league hitter overall. He’s been above average in three of five months, but below average in two of the first three months, including the crucial month of April. Like Ibanez, he bears some blame for the team dropping out of contention. As a centerfielder, he isn’t expected to produce as much offensively. Since the move to right field, his offensive numbers have improved. But more is expected out of a right fielder.
Jose Lopez
April — 99
May — 80
June — 114
July — 116
August — 87
Total — 98
This one surprised me a bit. Lopez has been slightly below the major league average as a hitter. Month-by-month, he has been above average only twice out of five. Although, turn that 99 into 100 in April, and he’d be either at or above average in three of the first four months. And, he is a second baseman. Of all the positions, second base is generally one of the weakest offensively. So, don’t forget. He’s being compared with all of the hitters in the majors. And he’s close enough to the average that his bat isn’t the liability here. But his glove is not a strength. And that means, unless his hitting numbers shoot well above average, there’s always room for an upgrade.
Yuniesky Betancourt
April — 102
May — 90
June — 40
July — 27
August — 99
Total — 78
If you look at his first two months, he bears little of the offensive blame for this team falling out of the race. His defense is another story, however. He was attrocious. But we’re talking about offense here. Betancourt has been below average in every month but April. If his defense was what it’s reputed to be around the league — instead of attrocious — his offensive numbers have been something you can live with in three of the five months. He obviously fell off the map mid-summer, but rebounded in August. A middle infielder doesn’t have to be an above average hitter most of the time. Only when their glove stinks. There is some hope for him offensively.
Kenji Johjima
April — 27
May — 86
June — 64
July — -4
August — 76
Total — 50
The words “unmitigated disaster” come to mind. Yes, his playing time was cut. But nobody can afford to have a negative score on their resume like he did in July. Forget his defense. This is not major league level production. It cost the team big-time when it fell out the race.
So, those are the guys who have been here all year. I’ll leave the Class AAA callups out of this for now. They are still feeling their way, as is to be expected with any rookie player. I’m also not getting into backup players, an entirely different conversation. But of these regulars, frankly, I see only one guy — Ibanez — who has performed at a consistent enough level to have “earned” any playing time above a newcomer. Maybe some of that is at DH. But if anyone deserves to play, it’s him. As for the rest, Ichiro will get time to collect his 200 hits. Once that happens, I wouldn’t mind seeing him rest up a bit. He has not looked the same physically — to me at least — since early June. I don’t see anything wrong with the team letting him chase his historic milestone, given his past contributions. The Orioles did it with Cal Ripken long after he ceased to be the player he once was. Ichiro has fallen off a bit this year. But he hasn’t crashed like some other guys. He’s earned the shot at the milestone.
For everyone else, it’s been an up-and-down (largely down) year. I don’t see where anyone has earned an everyday shot. I’m sure Beltre will produce better numbers overall once his thumb/wrist completely heals and yes, he has been playing in pain. But if that’s the case, why force him through that pain when the season is already shot? I’d like to see him sit and give someone else a look at third. If there was a shortstop to look at, I’d like to see that as well. At catcher, we’re going to see it. Already have been.
In short, this notion of guys having “earned” something is a bit laughable. On a winning team, perhaps. Not on this squad. The fact that some guys are still in the majors should be reward enough.
Great to be back.

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