Interesting weekend with the Mariners repatriating Russell Branyan from the Cleveland Indians in order to salvage some respectability for this offense.
If there’s one thing these first three months should have taught us, it’s that there is no “myth” associated with the need for “big bats” in major league baseball. The need is quite real. It’s why winning teams have sought them for decades.
The Mariners didn’t pick up any this past winter. But we now know, it’s not because they didn’t want any. Not that they thought they’d discovered a better way to do things. It’s simply because they could not afford what was out there. Or, let me rephrase. They did not set a budget that allowed them to get what was out there. There is a difference between the two, of course, for a team that turned a profit last year and told fans to buy tickets and “Believe Big” in 2010.
Yes, Jason Bay — warts and all — would be a welcome addition to this lineup. So would Adam LaRoche, or Johnny Damon, Aubrey Huff, Curtis Granderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Hudson, and any number of bats the M’s were linked to, or had a crack at last winter via free agency or trade. In the end. the M’s did not pick up anybody I just mentioned. Not because they didn’t want to. But because, they now say, they either did not want to give up the required players or spend the cash.
That’s a big difference from going a different route because you think it’s better. Or that your new route is just as good.
Jack Zduriencik now says he’d been trying for a long time to pick up more power. Not just once the season began, but before it started. Zduriencik knew his “plan” going into the season was dubious at best. And for good reason. Baseball is a game played by human beings. So, you can make individual projections for how you think players should perform statistically. But put undue pressure on them and they suddenly turn human on you and defy the odds.
Both Zduriencik and Don Wakamatsu now admit that the players under their control likely had too much pressure put on them because of the lack of a power bat in the lineup. That’s a huge reason why Zduriencik went out and re-acquired Russell Branyan. I suspect the M’s miscalculated last winter by assuming, as all of us did, that Branyan was a sure-thing to re-sign here. When that didn’t happen, all of a sudden the team was stuck with Ken Griffey Jr. as it’s top DH candidate. For the life of me, I refuse to believe that was ever the initial plan.
In the end, with the Mariners trying to cut payroll and refusing to go up in dollars,even in January, all of the remaining free agents who were any good essentially told them to take a hike.
And so, you saw the Ryan Garkos and Eric Byrnes of the world brought in. It wasn’t because the team was looking to be shrewd. It’s because nobody else was desperate enough to take their lowball offers.
Zduriencik knew this. I’ll say this for him; for all the pom-pom wavers I saw out there trumpeting how this “daring” and “bold” approach to offense could make the calls for a “big bat” look silly, he wasn’t one of them. He wisely kept quiet on the hype, realizing, we now know, that he probably didn’t have enough. He crossed his fingers, of course, hoping and praying that his dazzling pitching and defense could save the day. But it didn’t.
So, again, there is no “big bat” myth. The need is real.
Not convinced? Here are some stats about how bad the M’s have been at the plate. Not what you’ve heard before, trust me.
We keep hearing that the M’s have scored only around 3.5 runs a game and all they need to do is get another run better and all will be solved.
While it’s true the team has averaged 3.4 runs per game most of the season, that doesn’t mean they can count on scoring three or four runs most nights. No sir. What the average is and what the team actually scores every night are two very different things.
The Mariners have scored two runs or fewer in a whopping 45 percent of their games already. Almost half! That means, unless a starter pitches the game of his life just about half the time out, he will not get a decision, or will be tagged with a loss.
Last year, when Seattle had one of the worst offenses in baseball, they scored two runs or fewer only 30 percent of the time. So, it’s gotten 50 percent worse. And the bar was set very low to begin with.
How about three runs or fewer?
The team has managed that 58 percent of the time.
So, while the team might average close to 3.5 per game, it only gets more than three runs 42 percent of the time.
Last year, the team scored three or fewer only 46 percent of the time. So, this year’s 58 percent is way worse, yet again.
How about four runs or fewer?
That happens 76 percent of the time. Last year? Only 61 percent.
In plain english, this team scores more than four runs only 24 percent of the time. In less than a quarter of its games! That’s simply not acceptable for a major league team.
Even the Houston Astros have passed the Mariners for total runs scored and that’s a horrible club. The ever-rebuilding Pirates are the only team in baseball with slightly fewer runs.
So, no. This whole idea of heading into 2010 with fewer power bats than in a terrible season last year has failed miserably. Anyone suggesting otherwise just hasn’t been paying attention to the real, live games.
One reason Branyan was brought back is so the team can figure out what it has to work with in 2011. You’ll remember, back in 2008, how three hitters — Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro and Brad Wilkerson — virtually dropped off the cliff and out of baseball. Team officials had figured out by spring training that year that all three were in serious trouble bat-speed wise and might be done. They kept quiet about it, crossed their fingers, but were out of luck. All three were finished.
Going into next year, the team would rather have that knowledge before spring training.
You have four players on the current team who have massively underperformed their stats projections heading into the year — Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez and Casey Kotchman.
Here are their actual on-base-plus slugging percentage numbers (OPS) versus the three projections they’d been given by the ZiPS, Marcel and CHONE systems respectively.
Bradley .644 (.792, .853, .795)
Figgins .615 (.735, .759, .728)
Lopez .598 (.738, .748, .765)
Kotchman .561 (.747, .766, .734)
A huge discrepancy. And if you’re an MLB team, you can’t just shrug, flip your pigtails and go “Oh well, bad luck!” You have to figure out why they are performing so poorly. Is it really bad luck? That bad? With all four guys? Of varying ages and skill sets? All at once? Or is the lack of a power bat in the lineup putting too much pressure on everyone, forcing them to see fewer hittable pitches from pitchers now taking more and more liberties?
Now that Branyan is here, we might have a better idea.
In Kotchman’s case, he’s only under contract this year and Branyan has supplanted him as the everyday first baseman, so it’s not as big a concern.
But the other three are still going to be here, most likely, so you have to know what you’ve got. Are two or more of them “done” as ballplayers? It’s possible. Maybe all three are fine and will start hitting better. But you have to figure this out. Because instead of needing two more bats next winter, you might need three or four. You have to know how the lack of power could impact a lineup as a whole — rather than just the individual — before you set about constructing future versions. Well, at least I think you do.
So, Branyan was the first step. And we’ll see. They may need additional steps. But standing still, relying on dogma, and treating the need for a power bat as “myth” just to avoid spending money was no longer an option. It wasn’t going to make the team any better. And now, with some better evaluation and additional knowledge possibly made available in coming weeks, the M’s will maybe avoid making the team any worse.