A night at the ballpark: The former batting champion strides to the plate. On a low fastball, he uncorks that sweet lefty swing he's known for, meets the ball perfectly, a solid crack issuing through the stadium. The crowd rises to its feet and watches the line drive cut through the night sky ...
... and center fielder Laynce Nix takes four of five steps back, waits, and gathers the ball in just shy of the warning track.
That John Olerud at-bat was the saddest and most harrowing moment from last night's game in my eyes. He took a full, beautiful swing, struck the ball as well as he can, hit a line drive without any loft to it. Everyone was convinced it was a homer. It sounded like a homer. The swing looked like a round-trip swing. Not even close.
This tells me the man's power is gone. And that's very, very bad news.
At one moment in last night's game, The Lovely Wife asked me the following question: "Why are they ahead five runs to zero? They have nine hits, but we have eight."
I replied, "I hope Bill Bavasi is asking himself that same question." And then I explained that the difference was extra-base hits -- we only had one. Uno.
After watching my first in-person game of the season, I'm more pessimistic about this team's chances than ever. They look old. They look deflated. They hit singles. Except for Ichiro, they don't play very good defense.
A few quick thoughts before I get to my running diary of the game:
* The Ibanez deal looks absolutely disastrous. His defensive struggles are well-documented, but his offensive outburst over the past few years looks to be entirely a product of Kaufman Stadium. He's got an uppercut swing that produces cans of corns like a Del Monte factory. And we've got him for two more years, above market value. Someone remind me that lefties are supposed to do well in Safeco Field.
* For a beautiful Friday night early in the season, there were lots of empty seats, much more than the stated attendance of 35,647. I might check attendance figures from last year to see if I'm being alarmist about this, but if they fall out of contention soon, I think this place is going to be pretty vacant in June.
* You almost never see general managers get fired after one year -- but that's because new GMs usually take over rebuilding teams. Bavasi took over a 93-win team. If they finish last, does he lose his job? Unfortunately, I don't think so. And I certainly hope they don't finish last. But if it would get rid of Bavasi, it really might be worth it. Another two years of Ibanez contracts and we'll be in real trouble over the long term. How sad is it that I'm thinking about next year already?
Now, for your play-by-play, here's ... well, me.
6:58: In keeping with their family-friendly policy, we see a video package with various Mariners telling us not to curse, not to reach for balls in play, and to eat our vegetables. "And if you drink and drive," Dan Wilson lectures me, "we'll send you to Detroit."
7:02: It's "Salute to Kids" weekend, and so area poppets get to be honorary announcers, throw out the first pitch, etc. TLW asks me "What's a rosin bag?" I explain that it's the sticky stuff pitchers use.
She looks perplexed. "So, why is that kid the rosin bag? Is he sticky?"
I notice that the video screen lists some poor local youngster as the "Honorary Rosin Bag." Enjoy middle school, kid.
7:10: I tell TLW that Texas can really mash, and Chan Ho Park can't pitch at all, so we're looking at a high-scoring game. I love being half right. Hank Blalock homers to start the night.
7:29: Laynce "My Parents Can't Spell" Nix blasts another longball over Randy Winn's head. One of the drunks behind us, trying to find something positive to say, says "Wow, Winn got a really good jump on that ball." The stink of desperation has already started to creep in.
[And seriously, at least "Chone" Figgins is phonetically close to "Shawn." Laynce? I refuse to call him "Lance." This actually bothers me. Of course, I'm the same guy that reminds my NBA-fan friends that "LeBron" is French for "The Bron."]
7:34: Ichiro makes a sliding catch for a defensive gem, one of three he turned in on the night. The guy's worth the price of admission all by himself. Unforunately, the kid in front of me doesn't think so. He's staring at the food everyone around our section is eating, then asking his harried mom "Mommy, what's he eating? Can I have one?" as nauseum. The mom looks like she regrets not getting the Norplant.
7:35: Gil Meche gives up a double to Hank Blalock. The boo-birds come out. C'mon, people,this is the Rangers -- they can hit. Besides, if we're gonna get negative already, why can't we start a "Fire Buh-Vay-See [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap]" chant?
7:40: TLW is already asking if we can go home early when it becomes apparent the Mariners have no shot. Not so good.
7:52: Jolbert Cabrera makes a play that's better than the one Willie Bloomquist made a week ago. Somehow, I think the broadcast booth's call of this one will be a bit more subdued.
8:01: Raul Ibanez exhibits warning-track power. I almost say "That ball would have been out of Kaufman Stadium!" but it probably wouldn't have, and anyway, I'm too depressed.
When I'm too depressed to make in-jokes that no one around me will get, it's dangerous territory.
8:19: Actual exchange between me and TLW.
Me: "Chan Ho Park is really mowing us down."
Her: "What does that mean?"
Me: [Surly] "What does it sound like it means?"
Her: "It sounds like he's the lawnmower and we're the grass."
Her: "What does that mean?"
Me: "It's a metaphor!"
Her: "Well, it sounds like that means their feet would be the roots. And that he would be cutting off their heads, but leaving their feet-roots intact."
Metaphors and symbolism, as George Will learned in one of my favorite all-time Saturday Night Live sketches, George F. Will's Sports Machine., are not to be taken lightly when applied to baseball.
8:35: Ichiro makes two more magnificent defensive plays in quick succession -- but we don't get a replay on the big video screen because "Now warming up in the bullpen: Kevin Jarvis" is up there. Talk about your dangerous symbolism.
8:37: Olerud has the at-bat I describe at the beginning of this. People start to file out of the stadium in droves even though it's the end of the fifth inning.
The drunks behind us start to give them static: "Giving up already?" But they stop when it becomes apparent this might not be unreasonable.
8:50: Nix doubles into the right-center gap. I scream at Winn not to pick up the ball, to let Ichiro take it. TLW asks me why.
Me: "Ichiro has a great arm, but Winn, he can't throw at all."
TLW: "Then why is he playing?"
9:00: After Cabrera grounds into an inning-ending double play, "Salute to Kids" continues with our honorary groundskeepers, the Wilsons: seven-year-old Lindsay and 10-year-old Jack.
It'sreally nice that the Pirates let Jack off for the night so he could have this honor. And I always suspected he was only 10, but now I can prove it. I wonder what PECOTA has to say about his improvement curve now.
9:06: This place is quickly emptying. If there are 20,000 people here, I'm G. Gordon Liddy. The two twenty-something women beside us have left.
TLW: "They went out to go clubbing. I ran into them in the bathroom. they came here to meet guys, and weren't impressed with the selection."
The two drunks behind us are silent for the first time all evening.
And that, my friends, is where I'll leave things: It's always fun to watch baseball. But what I saw was an decaying team in front of a fanbase that doesn't appear patient -- not a good combination.
Unless you're the guys at the club those women went to, that is.
... and there was much rejoicing: I'd have entitled this "Joy in Mudville," but the weather's been great lately. It's beautiful outside this morning, which bodes well for tonight's tussle.
I'll be sitting in section 341 if anybody wants to come by and say howdy. Just look for the guy in the Newark Eagles cap.
Later, I'll post thoughts on last night's game. For now, though, I'll say this: woo-hoo! But when you need to string together singles and get errors from the other team to get a big inning, there's cause for concern.
Hopefully, getting Spiezio back will be some kind of power-hitting tipping point.
posted by Jefflink 8:02 AM 
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Whew. False alarm. I can breathe again.
Until Olerud tries a tag-up adventure, of course.
posted by Jefflink 8:33 PM 
"We can just hope there's no broken bones." -- Dave Henderson.
Truer words were never spoken. Without Boone, this might be a last-place team.
Hey, it's nice to be No. 1 in something: A bunch of us, including My Favorite Reactionary, noted the Forbes Magazine numbers showing the Mariners as baseball's fifth most valuable franchise. But do you have any idea what franchise is most profitable?
If Seattle manages to crawl back into this, and we have a shot to add a player at the deadline, I don't think I'm alone in saying I don't wanna hear a plea of poverty.
Has Bob Melvin already been fired?: It's no surprise that USA Today lists the Mariners as opening week's biggest disappointment. But it is something of a surprise to see who has taken over the managerial responsibilities for the team.
"We'll get better," Mariners manager Bob Brenly vowed.
It's not like Brenly could have done any worse.
Pre-panic alarmism: I've been watching the Rangers' series against the A's this week, and let me tell you: this team can hit. Rich Harden isn't one of the big three, but he's no slouch, either, and they just blistered him today.
Before the season, I seriously considered the Rangers as a team that could make a leap forward. Their pitching stopped -- and still stops -- me from making this bold prediction. Now, though, I'm afraid that one major injury to an M's regular could put us in a dogfight for third place this year.
posted by Jefflink 2:20 PM 
Grace and Disgrace: The Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance of Carmina Burana looks to be epic. I went to the dress rehearsal last night (if you donate money, they let you sneak a peek), and was amazed by the athleticism of the dancers, the precision of the choreography, the grace of their movements.
And then I went home and watched Mariners highlights.
I'll be at Friday's game. Chan Ho Park v. Gil Meche. I figured I'd be watching a team with a 1-8 record, but I didn't think it would be the Mariners. Yowza. I'll look at my tickets tonight and post where I'm sitting, so interested folks can come over and say hi, buy me a beer, or throw eggs at me.
I'd like to sport one of these shirts, but the delivery won't happen in time. Oh well. Next game.
Manageria: Especially after last night's play-for-the-tie, then let-the-Angels-run-all-over Dan Wilson debacle, I'm no Bob Melvin booster. But hey, Mariner fans, it could be worse. I've watched two games on MLB.tv that Ozzie Guillen tried extremely hard to lose for the White Sox.
Case in point: yesterday's game. With a lineup full of mashers, he runs them out of not one, not two, but three innings, including inexplicably sending Frank Thomas -- Frank Thomas -- on a steal attempt. And I thought John Olerud was slow. In a foot race between those two guys, you know who would win? Gravity.
Then, with Damaso Marte all warmed up -- but, again inexplicably, never called in to relieve -- Guillen watched Billy Koch serve up four, count 'em, four runs to the Royals in the ninth, getting only one out. He gave up a screaming line-drive homer to Carlos Beltran before giving up a moonshot to Mike Sweeney for the go-ahead run.
"Obviously, he's not throwing the way he'd like to or we'd like to. But I'm not going to criticize my players when they do something bad. I don't want to hurt his confidence," said manager Ozzie Guillen.
I don't think his confidence is the problem, Oz. I think it's his Straight Ball. Like Pedro Cerrano, big leaguers hit the straight ball very much.
Luckily for Ozzie, his team can rake, so they rallied to win in the bottom of the ninth. But it never should have gotten to that point. No matter how bad Bo-Mel gets, it doesn't appear likely he'll top the South Side Saboteur.
posted by Jefflink 9:34 AM 
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Good news and bad news?: Break out the champagne -- it seems World Series hero and clutch hitter extraordinaire (heh heh) Scott Spieziois getting close to returning. While Spiezio isn't going to set the world on fire with his bat, he's an important piece, if for no other reason than his bat is so much better than any alternative.
The Mariners will have a difficult choice to make when Spiezio is activated, assuming no injuries occur. If Rafael Soriano's arm strength still isn't up to par after a long spring injury, he could be sent to the minors until he improves. Another might be to trade Cabrera, but he's a favorite of GM Bill Bavasi. The Mariners might re-explore a trade of Kevin Jarvis, the long man in the bullpen. A long shot would be the temporary demotion of Willie Bloomquist.
The choice they end up making won't really impact the club much in the short term, I don't think. This is another case, though, of me being shocked and dismayed at the corner Bill Bavasi has painted the team into -- and the opaque thinking about how we're going to get out of it. A few examples:
* When did Kevin Jarvis go from being "an expensive disaster that we're actively showcasing so we can shop him" to "the long man in the bullpen"? We're carrying 12 pitchers here, and 11 of them belong in the major leagues. Kevin is the worst 12th man this side of the crowd at Eagles games.
* We could trade Jolbert Cabrera ... who we just acquired ... but Bavasi likes him, so that's out.
* It's a "longshot" to demote Bloomquist, even though we now have Cabrera, who fills the utility player role better than he does. And if we did demote him, it would be temporary. Why? Because Melvin likes him? If so, I think management has to pick one waste-of-space pet player instead of two. This would make roster management much easier.
The smart money is on sending Soriano to the minors. Why? It makes the least sense.
posted by Jefflink 9:23 AM 
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Here's how bad this team's bench is: Dan Wilson stays in to bat against Francisco Rodriguez down three runs in the eighth inning. Miraculously, Wilson walked. If Melvin sent him up there with strict orders not to swing at anything, I approve.
In the past two days, I've heard a caller to KJR and Dave Neihaus each describe Dave Hansen as "one of the best pinch-hitters in the business." As Trident Fever ably notes, shouldn't he have been able to crest a .170 average as a pinch-hitter the last two years?
Not only is this team losing, they're looking pretty bad in doing so. They need other teams to make errors to score runs; they're one Eric Karros misplay from being winless, and to manage a run with two on and nobody out tonight, they needed a bad throw from Adam Kennedy. They look old and slow. Their pitching has been so bad, a pair of Molinas has been beating them. I said 82-85 wins at the beginning of the year, and now I think that might be optimistic.
To be fair, I think both the A's and Angels are pretty good -- I figured they'd both be better teams than the Mariners. If we continue to look this bad against Texas this week, though (and I'm going to Friday's game), it may be panic button time.
I'm depressed. Let's talk about something else.
Not only do they have the Internet on computers now, they have baseball there, too: Given that I’m working from home this afternoon (Tuesday), just signed up for the MLB.tv service, and am doing a guest post over at Mariner Musings, this seems like a good time to do a quick-and-dirty formulaic “diary” entry.
With a lunch hour to check out the White Sox-Royals game, I feel comfortable enough to review this new toy. If you're interested in whether Bret Boone has a shot at the Hall of Fame in my eyes, check out Musings. If not, let's strap in for an hour of MLB.tv viewing …
I’ve got some genmaicha tea, miso soup and a seaweed-and-rice cracker snack called ochazuke, so it’s gonna be an All-American afternoon here at Chez Shaw. If only there were a Matsui playing, I’d have to write this bad boy in hiragana and run it through Babelfish to complete the experience. As it stands, though, you’re stuck with English. Here’s my report:
11:10 a.m.: I’m not having the hangs and freezes that others have reported. My only complaint so far: the resolution isn’t as clear as I’d like, especially when I kick it up to the full-screen. Anybody got a clue on how to clear that up? Don’t suppose it’s possible, but if it is …
11:15 a.m.: Juan Uribe drops a sure out, a Mike Sweeney pop-up, for an error. It’s bad enough that he can’t hit outside of Coors Field - now he can’t catch, either?
11:22 a.m.: Jose Valentin ropes an apparent double off of the wall in right, but Juan Gonzales fires a spot-on throw to second base, where the non-switch-hitter is called out. Valentin was almost certainly safe, but this was one of those “the throw was so perfect, I have to give the outfielder some love” calls by the second-base umpire.
11:24 a.m.: Magglio Ordonez, one of my favorite players to watch, sizzles a rope into left-center for a single. He looks locked in, which is great news for my fantasy team, but not such great news for Darrell May. Maggs is now 8-18 off of him with three home runs.
11:33 a.m.: Benito Santiago looks like the villain in “The Mummy” after he has begun to dissolve at the end. Maybe he should consider a luchador mask.
11:40 a.m.: Darrell May is not fooling anybody. Paul Konerko taps one to right for the Pale Hose’s fourth hit, putting runners at the corners for Joe “Rhymes With Greedy” Crede. This brings out Tony Pena, who could have a lucrative career as a motivational speaker if this whole managing thing doesn’t work out.
Royals color man Paul Splittorff, who must be KC’s equivalent of Ron Fairly: “Darrell May needs to make a pitch right here.” Does he have an alternative? He can’t just scratch himself out there, can he? Sure enough, May does make a pitch, but Crede laces it to center, driving in the game’s first run with nobody out.
11:45 a.m.: Ozzie Guillen sure is putting his stamp on this team - and not in a good way. With May giving up frozen ropes right and left, Guillen has Aaron Rowand bunt the runners to second and third. You give up an out in the second inning when you could blow the game open?
Then, ninth-place hitter Miguel Olivo blasts a two-run double - but is thrown out by five feet trying to stretch it into a triple with the top of the order coming up. Instead of a runner on second with one out, the bases are empty with two out. But at least they’re being aggressive, right Oz? Putting pressure on the defense?
11:50 a.m.: When Angel Berroa hits a home run, as he does here, I think Bob Davis should make his call “An-gel if you’re gonna catch that one!”
See, ‘cause it’s pronounced “An'-hell” … yeah. Deep in my heart, I know I am funny.
11:54 a.m.: OK, I cursed myself earlier by saying I wasn’t experiencing hangs. The buffered video costs me a clear look at Beltran’s double. At least the audio is real-time. And the smooth video is back for Mike Sweeney’s two-run bomb to tie the game a minute later.
11:59 a.m.: They cut away from an Ordonez at-bat to pimp the Royals History Calendar. I nearly treat my monitor like the world’s most expensive Frisbee.
12:05 p.m.: I’m loving the little floating alert ticker at the bottom of the broadcast window. “Teammates in awe of Bonds” is the top story. I wonder if that’s because he tied Willie Mays with 660 homers or because they’re impressed with the 100-pound “training supplements” briefcase he has chained to his wrist at all times.
12:06 p.m.: Paul Konerko swings at ball four in the dirt, ending the inning and leaving two runners stranded. I have flashbacks from last year’s fantasy baseball season, when Konerko singlehandedly murdered my offensive categories.
12:08 p.m.: I’m left speechless by a Royals TV ad where a father flies into a rage after catching some young scalawag sleeping with his daughter. Dad picks up a weapon to beat the boy with. There’s shouting. The young man reaches to cover himself with a Royals t-shirt.
At which point, the father calms down, asking “What do you think our chances are this year?”
The kid responds “Pretty good,” which placates the previously-murderous patriarch.
I can’t imagine your family-friendly Seattle Mariners approving an ad like that. Which is probably for the best, since the dad might have said “Hey now, get all of it” to the kid.
I’d like to see a commentator use this commercial to give advice to youngsters in the same way that they use certain plays to illustrate baseball fundamentals - you know, along the lines of “block the ball with your body, just like Boonie did there.”
In this case, it might be “Note to all you kids out there: if you’re planning illicit sex, make sure you have some gear from her dad’s favorite team at the ready.”
12:10 a.m. When this broadcast team does an “AFLAC Trivia Question,” they have a sound effect of the AFLAC duck quacking. They play it not once, but twice.
Next time a Mariner broadcaster hears the train whistle and is coincidentally “reminded” of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, remember, it could always be worse.
… Looks like that’s all the time we have today, kids. I’m off to do some actual work. General verdict on MLB.tv: Thumbs up.
Just call me Dave Hansen ... or, on second thought, please don't: Peter White at Mariner Musings has graciously asked me to pinch-hit for him while he's away tomorrow, Wednesday, so I'll do a guest post or two there.
Thanks for the shot at the big time, skip. I'll do my best not to play McCracken while the Edgar Martinez of the blogosphere is absent.
At the next Halloween party I attend, I'm going as Obsesso The Clown: Apparently, the fellas at USS Mariner and other baseball bloggers are obsessive about this National Pastime of ours. Why, just ask Slate.
Shameless Jeff-promotion: Some articles I did a while back are on the Web now.
Z Magazine lets you read articles for free after they're four months old, so you can check out my interview with The Weakerthans there. The Multinational Monitor, for whom I'll be doing a few more stories in the next few months, also just put up my update on the Free Burma movement, "Out of Burma," from Jan-Feb 2004.
posted by Jefflink 9:52 AM 
Griffey watch over?: It's a couple of days old, but this Oregonian article from April 10 has the strongest-worded denials I've seen from Bill Bavasi about the Junior rumors.
Check out these gems:
As Griffey's name pops up in occasional trade rumors involving the Mariners, general manager Bill Bavasi strays from club policy to put the rumors to rest.
"It's impossible for us to talk about possible deals and non-deals," Bavasi said. "But since this is such an important issue locally, I'll tell you there's nothing to it." ... "They're not trying to dump him like some people think," Bavasi said ...
"It's hard to make a deal for a guy who's not healthy now and hasn't been for a few years, and maybe in the future," Bavasi said.
When you call somebody damaged goods in the media -- especially a hypersensitive type like Junior -- I think it's safe to so you're really not interested.
Watch for the three-player monte sharks, Bill: Hidden in a Bob Finnigan notebook article from last week is something that I'm glad I missed while I was on vacation. It might have ruined my good time.
Before they settled on acquiring Jolbert Cabrera as a backup infielder, the Mariners had talked with teams in case they needed a regular third baseman.
They spoke with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays about Geoff Blum, but the asking price reportedly was a young major-league reliever, which could have meant Rafael Soriano or Julio Mateo — a deal Seattle was very reluctant to make.
The Cabrera trade suddenly looks much better to me when the alternative might have been Geoff Blum for Rafael Soriano. It scares me enough that when the front office thinks "we need a starting third baseman" that they think of banjo-hitting Blum. But doesn't the fact that teams feel comfortable approaching Bavasi with deals like this truly shock you? Isn't this like everybody circling that one guy in your fantasy league who has no clue, offering two players from his favorite team for Albert Pujols?
Speaking of fantasy leagues ...
Fantasy baseball update: I've been advising my buddy Norm on his fantasy team since it's his first year playing roto baseball. Today, he IM'd me to complain about how some of the players I touted -- David Riske, Greg Maddux -- were stinking up the joint.
The first rule of April, I told him, is not to make a hasty trade.
"Didn't you just make a trade in your AL-only league?" he retorted.
And he's right. And it could either work out great or blow up in my face. We'll see. But at least I didn't make it out of panic.
The trade was Troy Glaus (who I got at a bargain-basement $20 price) for Mike Mussina. I desperately needed a second starter, since the guy filling that role for me was Kurt Ainsworth.
[Speaking of Ainsworth and not panicking in April, how brutal is it that his first two starts are against the Red Sox, who had a record-setting offense last year? Hey, it's a long season.]
Besides my desperation to add another starter, I made the trade since this is a five-category league. Hitters score based on runs, RBI, homers, average and steals. Pitchers score based on wins, ERA, WHIP, saves and strikeouts-minus-walks.
I made the move for four reasons: first, the Ainsworth Factor; second, Glaus doesn't hit for a high average -- he's a career .254 hitter in almost 3,000 at bats; third, the Moose has been a remarkably consistent and injury-free player, Glaus less so; and fourth, because Mussina will hopefully score well in four categories as opposed to Glaus' three. It didn't hurt that I also have Aubrey Huff, who will be eligible at third soon.
Sure, it was tough giving up a guy who is off to a hotter-than-Arizona-asphalt .391 start with three homers. It was equally difficult to give up a guy whose home town is "Tarzana." Tarzana!
The move is also a risk for me because Glaus is a 27-year-old who could break out with a monster year. Holding onto him, though, was also a risk, since he's playing with a bum shoulder. (He just tweaked his hammy, too, though that happened after the trade.)
But at least I have a solid story to tell Norm: stick to your pre-season evaluations. Don't freak out because one of the best pitchers of his generation gets knocked around by the lowly Devil Rays a few times, and don't go trade .241-hitting Bret Boone for .429-hitting Ronnie Belliard. The Tigers are rolling and Carlos Delgado is hitting .130. It's early.
That's the theory, anyway. Let's see if it works.
Random music notes: Some time ago, Peter asked people to perform an experiment where they'd put their MP3 player on random and report what popped up. Well, months late, I finally got shuffle play to work on my MP3 player, and here are the first 10 tracks that played:
1. The Weakerthans, "Left and Leaving."
2. Golden Smog, "Jennifer Save Me."
3. Mazzy Star, "So Tonight That I Might See."
4. DJ Danger Mouse and Jay-Z, "Justify My Thug."
5. Jawbreaker, "Caroline."
6. Fugazi, "Margin Walker."
7. Elliott Smith, "No Name #3."
8. A sound file of Ric Flair's "Fire Me! I'm Already Fired!" pro wrestling promo
9. Wilco, "Nothingsevergonnastandinmywayagain."
10. Uncle Tupelo, "Graveyard Shift."
posted by Jefflink 7:08 AM 
It does costs in the neighborhood of $80, but to say you get value for your money would be an understatement of Stephen Wright proportions. A few years ago, I went to one of these in Portland and left with many more writing tools in the ol' toolbox -- and a new sense of motivation and purpose.
No matter what kind of writing you do, there's something for you here. For pure wordsmithing, go see Timothy Egan, author of the genre-defining The Good Rain, which is sometimes called the best book written about the Pacific Northwest. Another of my personal favorites is Paula Bock, who writes for the Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine. She's a superb writer and a supremely nice person.
More in the market for the research side of things? Try Duff Wilson and/or Eric Nalder, two award-winning investigative reporters. I learned a ton of research and computer-assisted reporting techniques from Wilson, whose Reporter's Desktop is a great one-stop place for public records access.
Often, they'll bring in first-rate sports journalists as well: Art Thiel, who spoke at the Portland workshop, was articulate, thoughtful, and considerate. He stayed after his speech and made sure every single person got every single question answered.
Sad news, though: No truly frontline sportswriter is in attendance this year. Of course, you could just show up and heckle the curmudgeonly anti-DePodesta Bill Plaschke.
Okay, there's no poetry track -- but hey, that's what I'm here for, right?
Poetry watch:Poetry Daily is a must-visit spot if you're interested in checking out new authors. Today's poet, Victoria Chang, is very impressive. [More about Chang here. Note: those last two links will change daily. Info about a book she edited here.]
The Missouri Review, a fine literary magazine, also has a fine blog I just discovered. Multiple contributors and some interesting content. Worth a look.
Went to a great reading a week ago that I'm going to blog about soon. It's gotten me much more fired up about writing. Onward!
Off-day thoughts -- or, the Projection Project: After yesterday's win, I'm actually more pessimistic about the Mariners' chances now than before. It's the manner in which they're losing games, which showcases their lack of depth.
The offense is anemic, and the excuse we keep hearing is the absence of Scott Spiezio. Fortunately, Spiezio might debut next week. Unfortunately, contending teams should be able to handle injuries to middle-tier players like Sand Frog. The drop-off from him to either Willie Bloomquist or Jolbert Cabrera, though, is substantial. Imagine the drop-off from Edgar Martinez to Quinton McCracken.
It isn't just the injury concern, though. I already pointed out how frightening it is that we don't have anyone to pinch-hit for one of the Outamatics from seven to nine in the order when a lefty is on the mound. The bottom of the order (game six notwithstanding) is a black hole, and there's no one available to wield a bigger stick when we're a couple of runs down.
Upshot: I think this team has to get hot and get ahead early in games in order to win them. Add in a bullpen that's looked shakier than we expected, health concerns about the best righty and lefty relievers (Soriano and Guardado), and I'm officially nervous.
But what disturbs me more than anything is this: Even assuming the best-case scenarios -- we stay completely healthy, and everyone, I mean everyone, has a great year -- this offense looks like it could be much worse than we planned.
To see if the Baseball Prospectus' forecasts bore out my speculations, I decided to play with the PECOTA projections and with last year's numbers.
Here are last year's EqA numbers for the Mariners' starting lineup. Remember, .260 is a league-average player. That's the first number.
Now, the 90th percentile projection is the cream of the crop. It should be noted that for some players, the projection takes a dramatic plunge from cream of the crop to cream of the crap -- Winn's next step down, his 75th percentile number, is .281. Spiezio faces a similar cliff, dropping 23 points to .289. And much as we all love Edgar, I think everyone would be pretty shocked if he put up a Pujols-esque year.
I was mildly surprised at how high Olerud's number was last year -- but really surprised that his 90th percentile number and even his weighted mean forecast (.290) were so high. Any optimism from that is offset by how he has looked at the plate this year. I don't know if he is done, but his power seems to be. And note that, if Dan Wilson exceeds all expectations, he'll be about average.
So, this looks a little freaky -- but how worried should we be? Everyone knows the Angels can mash, but in order to make a point of comparison, I decided to check out a team that the baseball press seems to think will have trouble scoring runs -- the Oakland Athletics.
But here's the thing: I decided to compare our 90th percentile projections to their 75th percentile projections. Again, the first number is last year's EqA.
The total projected EqA points for Seattle at 90 percent: 2,752. For Oakland at 75 percent: 2,600 even.
The only positions we'd have clear advantages at if this bears out are second base, DH, and one outfield position. And this assumes Scott Spiezio comes within three EqA points of Eric Chavez at third base.
Okay, I know this is a ham-fisted, inelegant way to look at things. Even if you buy into PECOTA 100 percent, lots can happen in a baseball season -- trades, injuries, flukes, and the like. Also, we aren't comparing pitching staffs here -- though I don't think anyone expects the M's to get better pitching than Oakland. Ditto, we're ignoring benches because this post is long enough anyway.
Still, seems to me this means if every starter we have plays the full year and has a career season, and Oakland's bats merely have very good to excellent seasons, we can expect the M's offense to be marginally better than the A's. In the best-case scenario.
My take: this is an old team with very little upside, but quite a lot of downside. To compete, they'll need just about everything to go right.
I'm probably going to be diversifying the blogging over the next few weeks, adding more regular posts about writing. Call it an April Fool's Day resolution. Anyhow, I'll begin with a big writing post -- and hopefully a post about an M's win -- tomorrow.
posted by Jefflink 11:10 AM 
Sunday, April 11, 2004
Back to regular blogging tomorrow, but a few quick thoughts on today's game.
* Basically, a lot of forehead-slapping moves by Bob Melvin worked out, against all odds, and the M's still almost lost, and probably should have. They needed Dan Wilson to beat out an "infield hit" on a ball Eric Karros should have caught to tie the game in the ninth. They also needed, along with numerous other breaks, two hits from Willie Bloomquist. That's not a good day for Willie, that's a good week.
* Why allow righthanded Shigetoshi Hasegawa to face Eric Chavez in the bottom of the ninth and the winning run on first? And if you weren't going to bring in Eddie Guardado to face Chavez, why have him warm up in the top of the ninth? Who else was he going to face? A pinch-hitting Scott Hatteberg?
* Though we got away with it this time, why would you bring in Kevin Jarvis to pitch when you were still within striking distance? As it stands, he lucked into a double play, but really wasn't near the plate in walking Damian Miller -- who you really, really can't walk -- and looked as awful as I expected.
* The reality of the bench really hit me today. We do not have anyone to pinch-hit in a late game situation for Dan Wilson or Willie Bloomquist when a lefty is on the mound. That is grim.
* Jolbert Cabrera had a day of shame: in four at bats, he made four outs on 13 pitches, striking out three times. In those three strikeouts, he fanned on three, three, and four pitches respectively.
* Clearly, the "Jeff not in Victoria" factor was what pushed the M's over the top for their first win. I'm never going back, at least not during baseball season.
posted by Jefflink 3:31 PM