Plenty of discussion about the missed pop-up by Nick Franklin and Brad Miller last night. Much of it taking place in the the Mariners’ own clubhouse, as is to be expected in situations like these. Look, this stuff is going to happen when you’re breaking in young players, espeically at the skill positions up the middle. It wasn’t always going to be sunshine and roses with Franklin and Miller, even though they could seemingly do no wrong back in June.
Now, the reality of their learning curve is setting in and that’s got some people upset. But it happens to every young guy, which is why you rarely see championship teams stocked full of home-growns in their mid-20s or younger.
So, let’s not crucify the pair. We won’t truly know how good — or bad — they will be until they get a few seasons under their belts and right now, the good has still outweighed the bad.
That’s said, it’s important not to coddle them either. By that, I’m not talking about fans. I mean the people around the two players in the clubhouse and in charge of them in the coaching ranks.
Last night’s one error may not seem like a big deal to some watching from a distance, but these things typically do not go over well at all with the professionals whose livelihoods are impacted by wins and losses. I thought manager Robby Thompson struck the right tone with his criticism through the media and — I’m sure — in private with the two players. Allowing a routine pop-up like that to drop in cannot happen in the big leagues. This isn’t high school, travel ball, or college ball. This isn’t even Class AA or AAA.
In the majors, every out is critical. The hitters are too good at this level to afford them extra outs. For those still not quite clear on the concept, set your video baseball game to the highest level possible and see how tough it can be to make outs and what happens when you give them away.
Thompson knows this because he played the game — very well — at the major league level for over a decade. He knows the chain reaction of events that can happen when a routine play is missed and how it can impact the rest of a team and cause lingering problems.
Take pitcher Joe Saunders last night, for instance. Saunders may not have Felix Hernandez stuff, but he’s done enough to stay in big league rotations going on several years now and had battled through the first four innings last night with just one run allowed.
All of a sudden, a screaming comebacker deflects off Saunders’ glove and into center field for a hit. Next thing you know, a dropped pop-up and there are two on and none out instead of a runner on first with one out. Changes the entire complexion of the inning. And as we know, that inning rapidly went downhill. Should Saunders have pitched better? Sure, he probably could have, which is why he wasn’t happy with himself. But the giveaway out changes things. It puts a runner in scoring position, impacts the pitcher’s psyche and likely changes how he approaches a guy like Wil Myers.
A guy with Saunders’ limited strikeout ability can’t afford to have multiple runners on base with no outs very often, especially with bigger bats due up.
Saunders is on a one-year, $6.5 million deal (with incentives) with the Mariners and has an option that could, in theory, be picked up by the team. For those pitchers in his position — not guaranteed the nine figures of future money given to the Hernandezs of this world — every start matters. When Saunders signed, the Mariners had two Gold Glove finalists up the middle with shortstop Brendan Ryan and second baseman Dustin Ackley. Now, both of those guys have been replaced by Miller and Franklin and more balls are getting through the infield than before.
Will the subbing out of Ryan and Ackley be for the team’s long-term good? Probably.
Are the Mariners right to do it now that their hopes of a longshot playoff bid and .500 season have been dashed? Probably.
But that doesn’t help Saunders any. His livelihood is at stake.
It doesn’t help Thompson, either. Nor Jack Zduriencik or anyone else charged with running a team that now sits 10 games under .500.
Nor does it help any borderline players who may have hoped to stick with the Mariners had they finished .500, but who now might be pounding the pavement looking for a job next winter.
Once again, this isn’t high school. Players, coaches and front offices at the big league level are paid for production and results. They are paid for winning. And flubbing routine pop-ups does not lead to winning. It leads to young players getting thrown into walls and occasionally assaulted beyond that if the mistakes continue.
That’s what livelihoods and seven-figure contracts do to people. Tends to make them more upset about losing than the average fan drowning their sorrows in a bar.
As Thompson and regular manager Eric Wedge are fond of saying, this is a game for “men”. Everything at the big league level is magnified tenfold in front of thousands of fans live, millions on TV and a media trained not to play favorites between rookie and veteran players.More