Saturday, March 28, 2009

Batter up: Seattle Mariners

It's that mystical, wonderful time of year where you commit to a team which you know fully well won't win. This season, in honour of an popular Internet meme that's probably been around for 25 years, we'll present 25 things about each team. Here's the Seattle preview, in which we rely on U.S.S. Mariner for almost everything.

  1. Slogan for 2009: "A New Way. A New Day." I give it a B-. They do, legitimately, have a new way about them this year (read on) but the creativity isn't there, guys. At least it's not "Our Team. Our Time."
  2. 2008? Not good. They had one hitter with an OPS+ substantially above 100, and he couldn't catch a cold in a Grade 1 classroom in December. Second-worst offense, fourth-worst defense. Fifty-four starts, most of them awful, from Carlos Silva and Miguel Batista and Jarrod Washburn, who collectively received $30M for that fine work.
  3. Newer Slimmer Carlos Silva is down 30 pounds this year, apparently. I'll spare you the list of players who said they were in the best shape of their life in spring training this year.
  4. And even when they won last year, they didn't do it very well. The best example is June 9 at Toronto. Down by one in the seventh with two on and the, er, heart of the Blue Jays order coming up, they call for Batista. We'll get to Batista in a second, but two days before that game, he was bombed out of Fenway, so any manager worth his sunflower seeds should recognize he wasn't the ideal choice to handle a high-leverage situation against Scott Rolen and Vernon Wells.
  5. Related to the last point: Any lineup that allows the other team to intentionally walk Ichiro in a tie game in the ninth... wow.
  6. The best way to build a bullpen is to grab a bunch of cheap pitchers who can't start, tell one of them he's throwing the ninth, and see who in the group isn't terrible. Which makes one wonder where Batista, owed another $9 million this year, fits in. A sunk-cost-ish argument from U.S.S. Mariner says he should be released; the value put on his first two Seattle years at Fangraphs (paid 15.5 million, worth about four) doesn't disagree.
  7. Roy Corcoran, Mark Lowe, David Aardsma, Tyler Walker, Jesus Delgado, and Chad Cordero. All making less than $1M in 2009, all likely to be just as good as more expensive pitchers.
  8. Okay, so they lost 100 games in 2008. But this year should be better: not only do they have simple regression on their side, but they've actually put some effort into their manager, GM, and player acquisitions. When Don Wakamatsu, hereafter referred to as Wak, was hired in November, USS Mariner (not known for being optimistic about the local nine) said: "There’s no way to describe the last month as anything but total and utter change of direction. And that, in and of itself, is encouraging."
  9. Wak comes from the A's, where he was their bench coach, and he's probably a little more prepared to be a manager than other bench coaches. Not that a manager matters that much, but any small advantage is still not a disadvantage.
  10. Another good decision was the hiring of Jack Zduriencik. No, I don't know how to pronounce that. This isn't an A's/Red Sox stats thing, but rather a Twins/Braves development thing. For nine years or so, he was the Brewers' scouting director and/or assistant to the regional general manager and has been in similar positions going back to 1990. Back to USSM for their opinion: "If you want to know why the Brewers were in the playoffs this year, it’s because Zduriencik hit home run after home run in the draft. This is a good hire."
  11. Can't find the link where it's discussed, but the Mariners are perhaps uniquely positioned to build a terrific analytical department: the Seattle area is one of the most-educated in the country and has long had a computer science-y background, so it shouldn't be too hard to set up an office, steal some Amazon workers, throw them doughnuts every four and a half hours, and get some terrific results.
  12. Outside King Felix and The Interview, the rotation isn't pretty. Their improved D, with Franklin Gutierrez out there and Raul Ibañez not, will help the 3-5 guys. Phillippe Aumont is a few years away.
  13. If there was one good moment in Canada's second-straight first-round exit in the World Baseball Classic, it was Aumont. I had the good fortune to see him live against the U.S., and the power he puts into his fastball is simply without peer. The noise it produces is unlike any other ball-meets-glove sound you've ever heard before. (For baseball nuts, try to catch Aumont at a Clinton-Lansing game in the Midwest League this summer: Lansing is only five hours from the Centre of the Universe and is the Jays' affiliate.)
  14. We have a CIS connection! Seattle Times baseball reporter Geoff Baker, formerly of the Toronto Star, was cut by the Concordia Stingers football team several years ago after five knee operations.
  15. More on Baker. His Mariners blog is probably the best one out there in pure output. USS Mariner has long been the king, and the best in terms of value, but as they'll tell you, they work their 9-5 and then blog about the M's. Baker's blog is part of his job and he does it well: pictures, video (a short daily show, it appears), audio, and regular old text.
  16. Geoff Baker Live or Ron Livingston Live? You decide.
  17. Adrian Beltre, possibly remembered among casual fans for riding a big 2004 with the Dodgers into a bigger contract with the Mariners, is actually a very very good player. His defense at third has been near the top in the majors in 2008, 2006, 2005, that enough? Should I go on?
  18. So the big contract doesn't matter much for Beltre: he's been worth $45M or so since 2006 and has been paid just $35M mostly because of his D. This is not a mundane detail, Michael!
  19. If you cheer for the M's before they do well, you can be one of those people who claims to be ahead of the bandwagon: they're 19th, or were 19th on Thursday afternoon, among teams at Ballhype's most popular rankings. (Toronto: 16th. Hooray.)
  20. Ken Griffey, Jr. is back. But it's not 1993 Junior, so he should be kept away from an outfielder's glove. From's Jim Street: "He said that he never saw any of the balls that were to left field until it was too late for him to catch any of them." Rest is fine.
  21. Did it really take this far to get to Ichiro? Well, everyone knows him. He knows Griffey, too.
  22. Tommy Lasorda now knows Ichiro's got some wit, or maybe not, unless the joke was explained to him.
  23. Here's how old Griffey is: his most recent good performance was in Little Big League.
  24. Safeco Field turns 10 this year, making it older--yes, older--than the AL stadiums in New York, Chicago, Detroit, St. Petersburg, and soon enough, Minneapolis.
  25. Letterman disappoints: the best Top 10 involving Seattle in any way is "Top Ten Ways Charles Kuralt Will Spend His Retirement." Too soon.

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