Saturday, October 16, 2004

There has been a lot of talk about who the next manager is going to be, about how {insert name here} is or isn’t a good manager or strategist, and so on and so forth. Honestly, as long his last name isn’t Bowa, Williams or Baylor, I could careless who the new manager is. If you look at the teams in the playoffs this season, Phil Garner and Terry Francona led their respective teams into the playoffs after previous years of mediocrity. Mike Scioscia, Jim Tracy, and Rod Gardenhire were relatively “new” managers, who at the least are still with the team who first gave them a shot. Joe Torre suffered through years of mediocrity until 1998 when he became one of the greatest mangers of all time. While it is hard to accurately gauge a manager’s worth to his ball club, some studies believe a good manager is worth 3 to 4 games a year. In short, I’m ambivalent to the whole situation, but I think when all is said and done, Joe Maddon, Grady Little and Mike Hargrove will emerge as the finalists.

There have been some rumors stirring in south Florida that have the Marlins considering dealing third baseman Mike Lowell. Lowell would be eligible to exercise an option in his contract on November 1st that will allow him to become a free agent if the Marlins are unable to secure the proper funding for a new stadium. The Marlins are currently $30 million short in funding. Obviously, the Marlins are trying to trade Lowell because they believe he will exercise his option and will be playing elsewhere in 2005, so they want to get whatever they can for him instead of letting him walk for nothing. Lowell, who will be 31 when the season starts, currently has three years left on his current contract that will pay him $8 million per season. Lowell, who is no slouch with the glove, has been one of the leagues more consistent third basemen over the past three years, posting terrific first half numbers, only to struggle in the second half. The M’s should at least be interested, but they should be very interested in Beltre as well. The top of the Marlins wish list? A left fielder. The Mariners have two.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Given recent managerial speculation (on which an update may be found here, courtesy of John Hickey), I decided to do a little historical reading. I came across a section that seemed particularly relevant to the current situation - Baseball Prospectus 2003's Seattle Mariners team essay. The organization was in an almost identical position prior to hiring Bob Melvin as they are now, so check out what they had to say:

The search for a replacement to lie in Piniella's bed revealed a lot about Mariners management. They really weren't interested in putting together a team that could win in the playoffs, they were interested in getting another name, someone who knew how to glad-hand the press. They didn't care about ability, or record, when they made up their list. They interviewed guys as favors, or on whims. Besides cursory interviews with internal candidates like Tacoma manager Dan Rohn, third-base coach and Snelling Crippler Dave Myers, part-time coach Lee Elia, and M's pitching coach Bryan Price, they flew in a who's who of managerial disappointments of the '90s: Don Baylor, Tony Muser, Jim Riggleman, Terry Francona, and Buddy Bell. There were also some interesting candidates: Willie Randolph, Ron Roenicke, and lastly Bob Melvin (the book had a typo, referring to him as Doug, teh GM), who was added to the interview list on a whim. Melvin so impressed the Mariners in his initial interview that he was put on the short list for callbacks, and ended up winning the job over Sam Perlozzo, Buddy Bell, and Jim Riggleman.
Managers don't necessarily have to have previous managerial experience, but seriously, given the choice between a guy with a killer resume and a proven record of doing the same job somewhere else, and a guy who's been around the job as it was done poorly, but has never really done the job in question, but hey, at least he's great in the interview, who's the better choice? This is not to suggest that Dan Rohn or Dave Myers would do a better job than Melvin might, but they've been managers before, and they've done a good job at it.

Now, two years later, we're doing the same thing, with a few of the same names even being included. Look at the names cited in the Hickey article:

  • Joe Maddon

  • Don Baylor

  • Jimy Williams

  • Grady Little

  • Terry Collins

  • Art Howe

Now insert that list of names into the Prospectus piece. Maddon takes Melvin's place as the interesting name with no experience. Baylor, Williams, Little, and Collins are the managerial disappointments with name value. Howe is just...Howe is Howe, a run-of-the-mill manager who doesn't have a net positive or negative influence, and who isn't a particularly strong candidate at this point in time anyway.

Baylor, Williams, Little, and Collins are all bad managers (to varying degrees) for their own reasons. Baylor is a poor in-game strategist who overuses some pitchers - while completely ignoring others - and badmouthing certain problem players to the press. Jimy Williams is an irrational octogenarian who flys by the seat of his pants, making decisions on a whim, shuffling his lineups around with no rhyme or reason, and struggling to make a choice of who to start at certain positions despite the presence of a player who may be much more qualified than his competitor (Bill Simmons has suggested that Williams' decisions were dictated to him by a Mr. Weebles, a microscopic man who lives in his mouth). Grady Little is a nice guy who avoids conflict by letting his players make the difficult decisions - DMZ stated that " Sox fans will be happy to tell you, Little made many mini-Martinez Mistakes all season long." He was handed excellent teams and guided them to two excellent records, for which he deserves only a little credit. Finally, Collins is a guy who had a knack for finishing second in the division (five years in a row) with talented rosters before he was run out of town in 1999 after his players turned against him.

Bad choices, all of them.

Which brings us to Maddon, who - by process of elimination - looks like the best remaining candidate for the job. He doesn't have any managerial experience, but he's served under Mike Scioscia for a little while, a pretty good manager himself. He's said a lot of the right things, and is considered to be a sharp young mind with a bright future (like assistant GM's Ned Coletti and Chris Antonetti), but before we advance any further, I'd like to remind you of something that Bob Melvin had to say upon his hiring:

I'd rather see a guy hit .260 with a .360 on-base percentage and doesn't run very well, than a guy who hits .300 with a .310 on-base percentage and runs well.

Seems like a smart thing to say, right? Well, that same guy fell in love with worthless utility men, irrational sacrifice bunting, abusing young starters, and playing the Matchup Game with the bullpen. Which is to say, what Melvin told the media that winter said nothing of his managerial style, strategy, or tendencies.

And really, who can really say that they're surprised? Melvin had never managed before, and rather than wrack his mind trying to think outside the box for nine innings a day, he found it much simpler to play by the book. In short, he became a typcal, boring manager. This was disappointing, to be sure, as many of us entertained daydreams of an enlightened individual changing the face of the organization from the inside, but it happens to the overwhelming majority of coaches in baseball, as can be inferred from the following chart:

It is my opinion that, as a general rule, managers have a negligible impact on the field, that - over the course of a full season - the good and bad decisions will balance out to create no net effect. This isn't enough to satisfy fans who want a guy to squeeze every last drop of production out of the roster (Jim Tracy has been rumored to possess this ability), but it's usually the best you're going to get. The truly brilliant coaching minds have, for the most part, fallen by the wayside, and the best organizations have compensated by handing good rosters to their managers and expecting them to lead the team to a good season, rather than delivering an average roster and hoping for a miracle.

When looking to hire a manager, one should obey a strict set of guidelines:

  • Create list of intriguing candidates

  • Contact the candidates to gauge level of interest

  • Interview interested candidates

  • Eliminate the ones that suck

  • Hire what's left

By following these rules, an organization can sleep easy with the knowledge that it hasn't put Jimy Williams in charge.

If Mike Scioscia has rubbed off on Joe Maddon at all, then we can expect that Maddon will exhibit some of the following qualities:

1) Won't fall in love with playing lefty/lefty and righty/righty matchups with the bullpen (Anaheim hasn't had a decent southpaw reliever in years)
2) Won't be afraid to play a little smallball (Anaheim was second in the AL in sacrifice bunts and productive outs)
3) Will appreciate intense players who play with heart
4) Will be popular with the players

If you recall, the Angels also kept their best defensive center fielder at first base and left Scot Shields in the bullpen, suggesting that Maddon may not be willing to move Ichiro to CF or flip-flop certain starters and relievers as performance dictates.

Sound familiar?

Joe Maddon is an average baseball mind, and - if he's hired - will likely become an average manager, leading the team to a W/L record that reflects the level of ability of the roster. Everybody wants something better, but truth be told, they should be happy that they didn't get something worse.

Whoever managers the Mariners in 2005 is going to be hailed as a superior coach than Melvin, due simply to the fact that we'll be a better team next year than we were this past summer. The truth of the matter is that we'll probably have the same kind of mind running the clubhouse, only this one will go by a different name than the last.

With that, I'm away for the weekend. I'll see you Sunday evening.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Mariners made a few minor moves today, optioning Jeff Heaverlo, Hiram Bocachica, BJ Garbe and Mickey Lopez to AAA Tacoma. Only Hiram Bocachica opted for free agency.
Tonight's TV schedule for sports channels:

FOX: MLB Baseball, Red Sox @ Yankees
FOX Sports: NBA Preseason Basketball, Celtics @ Pistons
FX: Behind Enemy Lines, Owen Wilson @ Bosnia
ESPN: College Football, West Virginia @ Connecticut
ESPN2: Soccer, Panama @ US, followed by reruns of the World Series of Poker
NESN: Back-to-back rerun episodes of Adventure Hawaii
YES: This Week In Football (which, I believe, is a rerun of Last Week In Football)
Fox Sports en Espanol: BĂ©isbol de las Grandes Ligas, NLCS Partido 1
ESPN Deportes: FĂștbol, Eliminatorias al Mundial 2006: Holanda vs. Finlandia
Fox Sports World: Premiership Soccer, Chelsea @ Liverpool
Madison Square Garden Network: Premiership Soccer (repeat)

So, in order for me to watch the NLCS, I either A) must live in St. Louis or Houston, or B) watch the broadcast in Spanish on a channel that I don't get.

You'd think that, after we were given the opportunity to watch each and every division series game, showing the LCS would be a no-brainer. Think again.

Sometimes I wonder why we even bother with the other 28 teams.
I should add that I do agree with Jim Street on one thing in the Mariners Mailbag:

Bob Melvin did the same job last season as he did in 2003, but the players did not produce the same way, and therefore 2004 was a poor season...Unless a manager has good players, he won't win, and that is plain and simple. Joe Torre didn't have the talent to win until becoming the Yankees manager. Dick Williams once told me that the best manager in the game is only worth four to five wins a year.

And also, check out the sponsor on Willie Bloomquist's Baseball Reference page.
Contradiction in the Mariners Mailbag:

In response to a question about Jolbert Cabrera and Willie Bloomquist:

Neither is a home run threat, but if they were, they would be playing every day in one position and not being moved around so much.

And Street's answer to the following question about Justin Leone:

He showed that he can hit the ball a long way, hitting several second-deck home runs at Safeco Field, but he struck out too many times. He will be spending several weeks in Lara, Venezuela this winter honing his hitting skills.

So Leone, who embodies the textbook definition of "home run threat", needs to work on his hitting before he becomes a legitimate candidate for an every day job, despite having every bit the on base abilities of Cabrera and Bloomquist. That makes perfect sense, especially when you consider that he'll cost roughly a fifth as much as Cabrera will in 2005.

How do we explain the Bloomquist phenomenon, anyway? Teams hype their young players all the time in an effort to generate both enthusiasm and market value - the Mariners' public opinion of Wee Willie back when he was still a minor leaguer was not out of line with the behavior of other organizations. A kid with that many tools just has to find out how to put them all together, they said, and then he'll turn into an unstoppable Bremertonian freight train. The extraordinary debut (which we may warmly refer to as Jarrod Washburn's Black September) certainly didn't serve to diminish Bloomquist's perceived value.

A smarter organization would have parlayed the hype and performance over a small sample size into a trade for a more able young body, but the Mariners stuck with the local kid. Forgiveable, we said, because he couldn't be any worse than Jeff Cirillo. We suffered through at bats that made us want to stick screwdrivers in our eyes in anticipation of the Little Ball of Hustle getting his shot.

And, eventually, he got it.

And he sucked.

A .250/.317/.321 in 200+ plate appearances was right in line with Bloomquist's minor league numbers, and that was that. It was established that, over a long enough timeline, the kid would invariably mimic some sort of otherworldly hybrid of Jeff Reboulet and Trenidad Hubbard, blending the worthless versatility of the former with the athleticism of the latter. It has yet to be seen whether or not Bloomquist attempts to mask his boyish appearances with a mustache in his later years.

Nevermind how the organization claims that Willie just needs some time to bloom into a useful young player - he's had his chance, and he bombed. Teams routinely hype their prospects before they arrive at the ML level. The difference between the Mariners and other teams is that, when other teams' hyped prospects fail, they get shipped out. When's the last time you saw Gabe Alvarez with the Tigers? George Arias with San Diego? Fernando Lunar with Baltimore? In order for a young player to stick in the Majors, he needs to develop some sort of redeemable quality that makes him worth having around. Despite what the Mariners have told you, having the right attitude and playing with grit don't put runs on the board. That Willie Bloomquist is guaranteed a spot on the 2005 roster goes to show how this team needs to reconsider its priorities.

I'm going to say it now: we will not have a very pleasing offseason of roster construction until Bloomquist is gone. A front office that values what little he has to bring to the table is a front office that avoids the obvious, expensive available talent and goes on to ignore the inherent risks in signing a Carlos Delgado or Troy Glaus (as hinted at in the article). As much as we all criticized Melvin for his irrational infatuation with Bloomquist, Bob's gone but Willie's still here, suggesting that the orders are coming from higher up on the ladder.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I direct your attention to the Hardball Times, where you may find perhaps the greatest piece of journalism in the history of language.

Yankeez Rool, Boston Is Teh Suck
David Cameron profiles my favorite FA pitcher. Give that a look while I try to find the time to write something of my own.

Monday, October 11, 2004

This is only a hypothesis, but I wonder if Bob Melvin was spotted trying to steal Bavasi's Chicken Selects.
2004 Major League Baseball Awards (as determined by VORP):


1: Vladimir Guerrero
2: Johan Santana
3: Melvin Mora
4: Ichiro Suzuki
5: Miguel Tejada

1: Barry Bonds
2: Albert Pujols
3: Todd Helton
4: Adrian Beltre
5: Jim Edmonds

AL Cy Young:
1: Johan Santana
2: Curt Schilling
3: Brad Radke
4: Jake Westbrook
5: Kelvim Escobar

NL Cy Young:
1: Randy Johnson
2: Ben Sheets
3: Carl Pavano
4: Carlos Zambrano
5: Roger Clemens

1: Zach Greinke
2: Justin Duchscherer
3: Bobby Madritsch
4: Bobby Crosby
5: David Newhan

1: Khalil Greene
2: Akinori Otsuka
3: Jason Bay
4: Ryan Madson
5: Chad Cordero

Top AL Relief Pitcher:
1: Tom Gordon
2: Mariano Rivera
3: Francisco Rodriguez
4: BJ Ryan
5: Joe Nathan

Top NL Relief Pitcher:
1: Brad Lidge
2: Armando Benitez
3: Akinori Otsuka
4: Scott Linebrink
5: Eric Gagne

Sunday, October 10, 2004

I've been working on a pitcher abuse project off and on for about a week, now, plugging in some numbers and charting the data when I've had some free time. The original intent was to measure the extent to which our rotation was being misused, and with Melvin getting the ol' heave-ho, the timing couldn't be better.

Two things to know before I post the chart:

  • wAge is short for Weighted Age - the average age of the starting pitcher for each team over the full season. Let's have an example: if a 20 year old made 10 starts and a 27 year old made 15 starts, then the weighted age would be ((20*10)+(27*15))/25 = 24.2

  • avgPAP stands for the average amount of Pitcher Abuse Points accumulated per game by the starting pitcher. Data is recovered from Baseball Prospectus' complete PAP list.

Team wAge AvgPAP
Montreal 27.2 2739
SF 29.1 2595
ChiCubs 28.6 1939
Seattle 30.8 1915
Oakland 26.7 1581
NYM 33.0 1552
Milwaukee 26.9 1259
ChiSox 26.1 1194
Houston 30.6 1164
St. Louis 30.1 1081
Atlanta 30.1 971
Toronto 28.8 936
Boston 32.6 930
Arizona 30.3 914
Detroit 26.2 797
NYY 32.9 760
Florida 25.4 736
Pittsburgh 25.5 722
LA 30.3 720
Anaheim 29.5 708
Colorado 28.2 703
Philly 27.2 650
Baltimore 26.0 628
Cleveland 25.7 612
Texas 30.5 600
KC 26.7 592
Tampa Bay 27.6 492
Cincinatti 27.8 466
Minnesota 28.0 453
San Diego 29.3 398

The overall average weighted age was 28.7, with an avgPAP of 1049.

Montreal's numbers are skewed because Frank Robinson rode Livan Hernandez into the ground, allowing him to collect 356450 PAP's over 35 starts. However, I don't consider that to be an excuse, because last year - when Hernandez was similarly abused - Javy Vazquez amassed 363614 PAP's under Robinson's watch. The Expos established a track record for riding its horses in the rotation, and for that they're slotted in at #1 on the chart.

What you notice is that the Mariners are fourth in PAP's per start - distressing, to say the least - but that they also have one of the oldest rotations in baseball (30.8 wAge), making the first fact a little more palatable. But upon closer inspection, you realize that the age is thrown off by Jamie Moyer and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Franklin, who collected 65 starts between them without getting abused any more than a normal pitcher. It was the younger pitchers who bore the brunt of the workload. Observe:

The chart shows the average number of PAP's per start sorted by age. The three floating spots represent Cha Baek, Gil Meche, and Joel Pineiro, each of whom was abused significantly more than their peers. Bobby Madritsch is completely off the chart, as the 28 year old had an average of 8134 PAP's per start - third-highest in the Majors, and approximately nine times as high as his peer group.

Let's take a look at another visual:

The chart here is similar to the one above, only it's sorted by age *groups*, rather than one-by-one. The floating spot represents the Mariners, whose starting pitchers averaged 1915 PAP's per start while falling into the 29-32 year old age group. That 1915 figure is 25% higher than the league average for starters in their late 20's and early 30's.

What's more, the 2003 numbers are very similar. Last year's staff, with a weighted age of 29.7, racked up an average of 2053 PAP's per start. Again, it was the younger pitchers who took most of the workload, as Pineiro and Garcia led the five-man staff in accumulated abuse (while Meche, by comparison, escaped harm).

I didn't begin this project and calculate all the data points with a conclusion in mind. I felt like Bob Melvin was taxing our younger arms more than he should've been, and it turns out that my supposition was correct. The organization has had problems keeping pitchers healthy for some time now, putting together arguably the worst medical track record in all of baseball. Several young arms have been damaged, some permamently, and with more on the way it seems like Melvin just isn't (and wasn't) the right guy for the job. Major League managers need to have numerous abilities, but taking proper care of the starting rotation is pretty high on the list, and Melvin didn't do that (nevermind the five-starter distinction in 2003). While the future of this franchise depends mainly on Bill Bavasi's spending habits, young arms like Travis Blackley, Felix Hernandez, Gil Meche, Clint Nageotte, and a few others are going to be throwing a lot of innings as they try to establish themselves as quality ML starters, and leaving them in the hands of Bob Melvin only serves to make the situation more risky than it already is.
It's beginning to feel a lot like last winter.

Baylor, who guided the Rockies into the postseason in 1995, their third year of existence, is emerging as a hot managerial candidate this winter.

The list of managers who I don't want in Seattle under any circumstances is a short one, but Baylor is near the top. Joe Maddon? Fine. Larry Dierker? Fine. Art Howe? Fine. Don Baylor? Not fine. Trent's convinced that he's just the token minority candidate, so we'll see where this goes.

DMZ said it best:

Don Baylor, former manager, Rockies 1993-1998, Cubs 2001-2002. No. No way. Along with Larry Bowa...if your team’s considering Don Baylor you should hope you can still get your season ticket deposit back.