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June 19, 2013 at 6:13 PM

Get ready for Mariners first base job-sharing and Morse…in outfield

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 6.14.26 PM

Throw Justin Smoak back into a first base/DH mix that was already crowded for the Mariners and you get…some overcrowding.

That’s why Smoak is on the bench tonight — despite three well-hit balls last night, including a home run — and Michael Morse is at first base. Kendrys Morales is the DH. There’s a lefty on the mound, so the right-handed bats are trumping Smoak’s switch-hitting abilities.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he’s going to give subsequent time off to Morse and some to Morales in order to help them recover from injuries. That means Smoak will get his turn on those days.

But I asked Wedge how it’s going to work once the Morse and Morales injuries are done. In other words, is he going to keep this merry-go-round going between the three with one guy sitting every three days?

“You’ve got to just get Morse into the outfield,” Wedge said. “That’s what we’ve got to try to do. He did some work yesterday. He’s going to do a little more today. For a first day in the outfield yesterday, (trainer) Rick (Griffin) felt pretty good about it. So, it was a good first day.”

As a follow-up, I asked Wedge how comfortable he was with Morse as an outfield defender. His advanced defensive metrics aren’t very good, though it’s never a great idea to look at those in two-month samples. The metrics of past years suggest Morse is a below-average defender, though they said the same thing about Jason Bay and he’s looked very good playing in left field this year.

We’ve all seen Morse make some gaffes with our naked eye and take some long routes to balls. But how much of a factor is that when offset by his healthy bat? Even unhealthy, he’s still one of the team’s most dangerous hitters. And can we say — based off 2 1/2 months of Ultimate Zone Zone Rating (UZR) or Defensive Runs Saved  (DRS) metrics — that his defense offsets his offense? No we can’t. Those metrics are not reliable over such short terms and can fluctuate greatly. We don’t know whether he’s just a little below average or really, really bad out there.

And thus, if we don’t know, we can’t say how much WAR (Wins Above Replacement) value he has been worth, as I’ve seen some try to argue.

So, as I said, I asked Wedge what he thought.

“Right now, he’s still limited,” Wedge said. “I’m not comfortable putting him out there right now. He’s just going to have to continue to get better before he can get back out there.”

The implication being that Wedge is comfortable enough with Morse out there when he’s healthy. Question answered.

Now, before anyone goes throwing any WAR numbers at me, please, just remember, there is not enough info to make a 2 1/2-month WAR argument. Not if you’re using defensive metrics as a component that are nowhere near reliable in such a small sample.

If the defensive number is tainted, the WAR score will be tainted.

Seriously, we had this discussion over the winter and many folks wrote in saying that people who use WAR would never stoop to making small sample arguments involving less than a full season of numbers. Well, guess what? I see people making those arguments nightly, whether on Twitter, in the Lookout Landing blog and comments section, our own comments section and other places when it comes to Morse and Raul Ibanez.

Again, to those people making such claims: you don’t know whether the WAR numbers have any real accuracy this soon into the season. Please stop throwing them out there to suggest Morse’s glove and baserunning overrides his bat. You don’t know that they do.

Putting Morse in the outfield may very well be a not-so-great idea from a defensive standpoint. But nobody out there has any evidence his defense negates his offense. A flawed, short-term WAR sample does not constitute evidence.

In the end, if he does play the outfield, the people running the Mariners had better have some proprietary information that suggests his bat can more than offset his glove. Otherwise, the team will lose more than it wins and those making the decisions will pay for it dearly.

That’s how it works.

In other news, Bay is again out with a hamstring issue. Wedge said he’s have liked to have hi in there against lefty C.J. Wilson tonight — which is why the Mariners kept Bay’s right-handed bat in the first place — but his leg is not healed sufficiently.





Comments | More in pregame | Topics: michael morse; justin smoak; kendrys morales; eric wedge


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