Rob Neyer is chatting right now on ESPN, and he's got good news: he thinks Joel Pineiro has just had terrible luck thus far. And yes, it was me that asked that question.
posted by Jefflink 10:05 AM 
Thursday, May 06, 2004
A quick note: No, I haven't been trapped beneath a fallen vending machine the last two days. I've been trapped beneath a hail of writing projects, each one sounding a steel drum note on my head.
Speaking of writing, here's a new short hiking column about Raptor Ridge, a great place to see giant birds near Bellingham. I just finished a fun story about disc golf that should run in June along with a ton of stuff for the Multinational Monitor.
Really excited about a new series related to Okinawa, though. More on that soon.
By the way, if anyone out there has ever written a screenplay and has a readily available example for formatting purposes, could you drop me a line? Thanks!
Regarding the Mariners: a nice win tonight, but it still scares me that we can't muster more than two runs on a night Brad Radke starts -- and that we needed help from the Twinkie defense to get that second run.
posted by Jefflink 10:57 PM 
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Truer Words Were Never Spoken: A direct quote from Willie Blomquist:
"I'm worthless right now. I can't pinch run, I can't pinch hit, I can't play defense."
Sure, he was talking about being injured. But they should put that in the media guide's description of him anyway.
posted by Jefflink 3:14 PM 
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
To finish out my "Underperforming or Overperforming?" post from yesterday, let's check in on Mariner pitching.
Jamie Moyer: Has Father Time finally knocked Jamie Moyer out of the box? If so, the numbers don't indicate it -- yet. While his ERA's higher than average, his secondary statistics are right in line with where they were last year. A flag that isn't quite red -- call it burnt orange -- is his strikeout rate. Last year he almost doubled his walks with Ks, 129-66. This year he's walked 16 batters -- and only whiffed 20. Gulp.
Verdict: Even, with age a concern.
Freddy Garcia: We all know about Dr. Freddy Jekkyl and his Mr. Hyde Garcia alter ego. Good Freddy has been in full effect this year, though, and here's some more encouraging news -- while you might expect his ERA to rise a bit, his WHIP, strikeout-to-walk ratio and batting average against numbers are almost exactly what they were in 2001. We know he can sustain this pace over a full season, because he has. Whether he will or not, well, that's another matter. I'm rating him "even" despite the fact that he's not likely to pitch better than he is right now.
Verdict: Even; potential blowup a concern.
Joel Pineiro: I'm going to invent a word for how bad Joel has been so far -- "Jarvisian." His ERA is more than double his career number, his WHIP almost twice as high, and he's getting hit harder than Edward Norton at the end of "The 25th Hour." I'm officially worried. You'd ordinarily expect a massive bounceback. Unless he's injured. If he's not, he'll improve. If he is ... well, I've already said the season might turn on that.
Verdict: Underperforming; last year's innings a concern.
Ryan Franklin: Say what you will about our Cameron-deficient defense's potential effects on Spiro's Own, but the guy has a career WHIP of 1.24 and a career batting average against of .254. His numbers this year may suffer, but the swelling will go down from where they are now (1.42, .281). Not convinced? He does have a career two-to-one strikeout to walk ration, Mr. Defensive-Independent-Pitching-Stats.
Verdict: Slightly underperforming.
Gil Meche: Almost a mirror image of Moyer, his ERA's slightly higher than last year, with WHIP and batting average against holding steady. And as with the crafty lefthander, the Bayou Boy Wonder just isn't striking people out much more than he's putting them on for free. In fact, those numbers are eerily similar to Moyer's. 2003: 130-63. 2004: 19-14. You have to wonder if his arm is hurting.
Verdict: Even; injuries always a concern.
Eddie Guardado: Two high-profile blown saves aside, he's pitched great. While you've got to expect some slippage from a 1.50 and 0.75 WHIP, Everday's legit. We wouldn't even be talking about the blown games if they hadn't subsequently stretched into the wee hours. He'll continue to succeed.
Verdict: Even, with a lean to slightly overperforming.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa: Yes, Shiggy's WHIP this year (1.89) is higher than his ERA was last year (1.48). Yes, that's brutal -- he's actually allowing more runners to reach base this year than he allowed to score last year. And yes, that decision to let Rhodes walk and re-sign Hasegawa is looking worse all the time. But he's not this bad. Hasegawa's been a solid, if unspectacular, reliever throughout his career, and we can reasonably expect a return to his career norms of a 3.54 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.
Rafael Soriano: Will Carroll says oblique injuries linger. Bob Melvin says he's not going to put Raffy in the rotation. These are the two things that concern me most. If he's right, he'll blow hitters down; if he was in the rotation, he'd do so for six or seven innings a night instead of one-third to one. Sadly, both of those factors are beyond our control.
Verdict: Has underperformed due to injury; injuries a concern.
Mike Myers: Sometimes he gets out lefties. He never gets out righties. Sounds like par for the course. If he ever pitches more than an inning in a game, I'll rent "Wayne's World" again.
Julio Mateo: He doesn't have an extended major league body of work, but last year was so much better than this year (.96 2003 WHIP versus this year's 1.46) and he's still at that correct age (turns 27 this year) to say he's gonna get at least a bit better. The ERA's almost exactly the same, though.
Verdict: Slightly underperforming.
Ron Villone: While a pretty easy pitcher to get a hit off of, he's not as easy to figure out this year. Most of his primary and peripheral numbers are much better than his career average (2004: 3.79 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .200 batting average against; Career: 4.89/1.49/.257), but his strikeout to walk ratio may be a harbinger of nightmares to come. He's never had a great ratio (601 K's, 403 walks career), but this year it's 12-10. Suffice it to say, if that doesn't change, Villone could go south faster than a freezing mallard duck.
Verdict: Slightly overperforming. Shudder.
Upshot: As you'd expect, some pitchers and hitters are playing above their heads, others below sea level. Where players are underperforming, though, it's generally minor, and the improvement we can expect to see from them is unlikely to be significant.
The only pitchers we can really hope to see a dramatic, give-the-squad-a-lift turnaround from are Joel Pineiro and Rafael Soriano. Given that they won't use Soriano as a starter, where he could really make a difference, it seems that all roads to victory start with Jo-el.
Unfortunately, even if he turns into Kal-El, I see his improvement as being necessary, but not sufficient, to make the team a contender. Depressing, but it's been that kind of month.
I was going to hash out Bo-Mel's bullpen blunders from last night, but ...: Jeff Sullivan did a fine job already.
Also, mea culpa: I was wrong about Bill Bavasi running Bob Melvin out of town.
Completely unrelated: After donating blood yesterday, I'm the proud owner of a gallon pin. Yes, that means I've oozed eight pints into the donation plastic, and somewhere out there, various folks have sundry O Positive from yours truly.
If you're looking for something quick, easy and relatively painless to do for your community, give the Puget Sound Blood Center a call and let 'em drain a little bit out of you. The lancets are almost pain-free these days.
posted by Jefflink 6:22 PM 
Joe Sheehan, one man predictotron: We know David Andriesen reads blogs because of the snarky comments directed toward them that he oh-so-furtively places in a host of his stories. One relevant instance, from today:
Despite some grumbling over offseason changes, anyone who claims they looked at this roster before the season and saw one of the worst teams in the American League is lying (or at least an extraordinary pessimist).
I know "third place" might not automatically qualify as "one of the worst teams in the American League," but a whole lot of people saw that coming. The vast majority of predictions had the Mariners there. Most of them also had a metaphorical arrow-pointing-down (the opposite of "with a bullet") next to that prediction.
Mariners: I may not seem far off on the general opinion about the Mariners when presseason predictions come out. I'd imagine I'll have them coming in third, behind the Angels and the A's, and that's where I expect the consensus to leave them. Honestly, though, I see them as a 75-80 win team, one kept out of last only by the Rangers, rather than the 85-90 win team stuck in a tough division.
Where will the runs come from? The Mariners have gotten by the last couple of years by having a handful of great hitters, but how much longer will Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone be among the league's most productive players? Replacing Mike Cameron with Raul Ibanez isn't a upgrade; Ibanez's apparent edge at the plate is entirely a function of park effects. The left side of the infield should be a little better than it was last year, but how productive are a 32-year-old Rich Aurilia and a 31-year-old Scott Spiezio going to be?
The Mariners let Cameron go because they couldn't see past his strikeout totals. They're going to miss his terrific defense; the park cuts down on doubles and triples, but Cameron's great range did as well. Sliding Randy Winn to center field and putting Ibanez in left will chip away at a competitive advantage--cutting off extra-base hits--that kept the Mariners in contention the last two years. Signing Speizio to play third base is also going to take a chunk out of the Ms defensive performance. There's just too many ways in which this team made itself worse--and virtually no players on the team who they can expect to be better--to predict even a wild-card push.
Days later, in his April 3 AL preview, Joe ranked the M's ninth out of 14 teams in the AL. Their actual place in the standings, as of today? 11th out of 14 teams.
The beauty of this Internet machine is that writers and bloggers can be held accountable for their statements and predictions. I can look back at my archives in October and marvel at my omnipresent errata. Likewise, people can check out where they were right as well. Given these two articles -- which took me about five minutes to find -- if Joe Sheehan (whom I've never met) were to stand up and say "I thought the Mariners would stink," well, you can't really call him a liar, really.
Is Joe an extraordinary pessimist? I don't know. But I do know that the P-I ought to let David Andriesen expense a subscription to BP Premium.
posted by Jefflink 12:57 PM 
Off Days Are Taking Stock Days: Without the M's to watch, I decided to have a look at the sum of the Mariners' parts; you know, check out the team under the hood, kick the tires a bit, and try to see what's gone wrong.
In the first of a two-part post, I'm going to look at the offense and rate each player's performance to date based on their career numbers and recent production. Can we expect this player to get better? A lot better? Worse? A lot worse? I'll give a brief rationale followed by whether I think the player's performance has been "even" (i.e., we can expect similar things the rest of the year) or whether he's underperformed or overperformed. Pitchers tomorrow.
First base: John Olerud, .250/.374/.368. While still a defensive force, Johnny O's bat appears to have gone the way of the dodo. He still gets on base, due in large measure to strike zone control, but that .368 slugging percentage is a real cause for concern in light of last year's .390 mark. It's looks like the good-field, no-hit Olerud of last year wasn't an anomaly. Keep getting those bases on balls: it's the only offensive value you're likely to generate consistently.
Second base: Bret Boone, .267/.308/.495. I was all ready to write "underperforming" without even looking due to Boone's highly publicized struggles, but the fact is his .803 OPS isn't at all far from his 2002 season performance. That year, he went .278/.339/.462/.801. And, of course, both of those sets of numbers are better than his career OPS of .777. Now, we can assume that we've still got post-2000 Boone with us, but if we're expecting any more than his current level of production, it seems there could be a one-way trip to disappointment city in our future. I expect a slight bump in his on-base numbers, but no more than that.
Shortstop: Rich Aurilia, .231/.283/.297. No way around it: Aurilia's been a disaster so far at the plate and in the field. He's got the range of Adam Sandler at short and he was supposed to make up for that by wielding a big stick. At this point, we should forget about getting 2001's Richie "Rich With Extra-Base Hits" Aurilia and just hope he approaches his career numbers of .277 .330 .441. The 32-year-old slugged .410 last year in San Francisco, hardly a hitters' haven, so this isn't a Cirillo-esque case of Coors Field masking a decline in skills. He's got to rebound at least a little, and probably quite a bit.
Verdict: Seriously underperforming.
Third base: Scott Spiezio, .311/.377/.525. Some predicted a breakout year for Spiezio, and so far he's delivered. But while you'd have to say he's overperforming, he's not playing above his head. Spiezio's gotten on base at this rate for a full season before (.371 in 2002), though those power numbers are likely to slide a bit. His OPS has approached .800 in most of the last five seasons, so he'll continue to be a valuable player if that back stays healthy. That, too me, is the biggest cause for concern with The Speez.
Verdict: Slightly overperforming; potential injuries a concern.
Catcher: Dan Wilson, .298/.339/.404. Admit it: you expect me to shriek "overperformance!" with Dan-O, don't you? I'll go first: I admit that I was ready to do so. But other than that gaudy batting average, so dear to the hearts of Mariner broadcasters (who can't believe USA Today didn't list Dan as among the best catchers in baseball!) he's not that far off his career numbers (.264/.311/.389) or even 2002 numbers (.295 .326 .396). No, it's last year's miserable, disastrous .241/.272/.339 debacle that, coupled with advancing age, caused most of us to see the fork in Dan's back. Looking over his career numbers, Wilson's been up-and-down, sometimes valuable, sometimes a millstone. Contrary to my expectation, though, he might well continue to perform at near this level all season -- Greg Myers had a great year as an old catcher last year, after all. Or he might totally collapse and finish with an OPS around .600. To hedge my bets, I'll take "slightly overperforming," betting on marginally lower all-around numbers.
Verdict: Slightly overperforming.
Right Field: Ichiro!, .270/.325/.333. Much has been made of Ichiro's early-season funk. Some say the league has adjusted to him. I say there is no way he finishes with an OPS south of .750, given his career .805 OPS in the states and record of performance in Japan.
Center Field: Randy Winn, .247/.319/.341. You'll find me a Randy Winn Unbeliever on nine out of 10 points, but he is eighty points south of his career average in OPS. I don't expect a major rebound, but he will get on base more and offer a few more long hits. Now, as for that defense in center field ...
Verdict: Slightly underperforming.
Left Field: Raul Ibanez, .279/.357/.570. Bluntly, there;s no way he keeps this power up. Not only is Raul dancing in the stratosphere compared to his career slugging number of .469, he's soaring fifty OPS points above his best year ever, even since he turned from Bad Raul into Super Royal. His career batting average and OBP (.278 and .335) are pretty close to what he's doing now, but I'd suspect he's blown his homer wad for a while.
Designated Hitter: Edgar Martinez, .275/.371/.396. Now this is an interesting case. Edgar's slugging numbers are way down from his career rate of .523, and even from .485 and .489 the last two years. He's still getting on base well, though those numbers have taken a dip, too. I think this may be the year that age and lost speed really diminishes Edgar's production. A guaranteed double for another player not named Olerud is a chore for 'Gar. Given he's Edgar, I'm going with slightly underperforming, but what we see may be what we get.
Verdict: Slightly underperforming; potential injuries a concern.
So what do we see here? A mixed bag with some food for pessimistic thought. The bad news as I see it is that there's little reason to expect an explosion from anyone. Some mainstays (Ichiro, Aurilia) just haven't gotten it done yet, and are almost sure to improve -- but beyond those two, nobody's getting much better here.
What this means to me: the M's have scored just over four runs per game on average so far, comparable to last year's average. This scoring rate might improve, but is not likely to improve significantly enough to make a real difference.
If there's any cause for optimism, it'll have to come in a trade -- or from the pitchers.
posted by Jefflink 12:57 PM 
Monday, May 03, 2004
I think I speak for most everyone when I say it's nice to get a comfortable win for only the second time this year, and a wire-to-wire win for the first time.
If someone told you before the year began that the last-place M's would get a much-needed win against the resurgent Tigers, you probably wouldn't have believed them. But there we are.
It's ironic, but I find myself thinking more positively about this team's fortunes. I still think the most likely scenario is a third-place finish, and I still think we need a major move to really compete -- but I don't think Rich Aurilia's OBP will hover around .300 all year, and I don't think Joel Pineiro will pitch this poorly all year. Given that no AL West team looks likely to blow away the others, a run is not out of the realm of possibility.
Of the previous two statements, though, it's the Pineiro one that worries me the most. Peter White points out that hits are falling in at alarming rate against him, indicating that the defensive dropoff might be impacting Joel quite a bit. I'd add that Joel's defense-independent numbers aren't exactly great shakes, either, with 13 walks in just over 28 innings and six homers allowed. He allowed 19 homers in all of last year.
Could the 211 innings he threw last year be weighing on that magical right arm? The 25 Ks in 28 innings cuts against that theory, but I can't help but wonder.
Without Pineiro, this rotation looks mighty iffy -- a plus-40 magician, an enigmatic firebrand, a hittable journeyman and an injury waiting to happen. While I love Gil Meche, he's always a breath away from the trainer's table.
The plus side: it looks like Good Freddy is showing up this year. With Moyer's teeth growing ever closer to jackalope territory, though, the rotation's fate may hinge on Joel Pineiro.
posted by Jefflink 9:45 AM