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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mariners' Off-Season Mid November

There has been a fair amount of news in the last week or two about the Mariners and what may happen this off-season that has caused Mariners' fans to get a little excited. Well, maybe only the super nerd type fans like myself would get excited but the casual fans probably would really be paying attention. So let's start breaking things down.

Chuck Armstrong announced a few days ago that the Mariners will have more money to spend this next season than last season. This announcement lead many people to conclude that the Mariners may have the funding to go after the free agent Josh Hamilton, who is a free agent for the first and probably last time and is rumored to be looking for some insane contract approaching $175 Million. When I heard that the Mariners may have the money to spend on him, I have to admit that I was pretty excited because Hamilton is one of the best players on the planet but I was pretty much ignoring a couple of huge red flags. Then today, Jack Zduriencik announced that the Mariners will, probably not be getting Hamilton. This allowed me to actually listen to the fear I had and analyze why it is probably for the best. 

The first thing is that Josh Hamilton isn't the youngest player, he's in his early 30's and has missed a fair amount of playing time since he came back to baseball. He has never played a full season and probably will not ever do so and he even missed the last month of the season when he won the AL MVP. The Mariners need a player who will be on the field for most of the season and a player who gets hurt a lot probably will have his skill deteriorate faster than someone who can play every day. We saw what happens when injuries take slow down a player, look at how Ken Griffey Jr. wasn't that great when he played for the Reds. In addition to the injuries, Josh Hamilton started hitting like he was in a slow pitch softball league. He was literally swinging at any pitch that was near the plate and completely ignoring the location of the pitch. This worked for the first half of last season but he has a month or two that he hit below the Mendoza line and you can't have that for a guy who would demand $20 Million plus per season. He never really fixed his approach this year and you wonder if he will next season. If not, Josh Hamilton will not be very productive because the league will just exploit his weakness and he will hit about as well as Miguel Olivo did while getting paid a whole bunch more. When you combine that with the likelihood that the contract will be six or seven years, that really isn't worth the risk. Another issue that people mention is Josh's former substance abuse problem and the possibility of a relapse. I actually completely ignore this possibility because I'm pretty sure a team can protect themselves contractually from this happening (also, hopefully this will never happen).

Besides Josh Hamilton, there has been talk that the Mariners have been looking at trading one of the young pitching prospects for Billy Butler of Kansas City. Butler is a below average first baseman who is really suited for DHing. With that said, the guy can flat out rake and is one of the better offensive players in the league with a WRC+ of 140 last year and 121 the year before that. If the Mariners were to acquire him, he would likely be their best hitter and has two years left on his contract. However, I would suggest that the Mariners not go after him because he really does not fit within the team. They already have a similar player in Jesus Montero, who really isn't a good catcher and needs to either play first base or DH and may end up being a better hitter than Butler once he matures a little more. This means that the Mariners would have to either play Butler or Montero at first base and cut Justin Smoak and take a pretty large hit at first base defensively. Additionally, trading one of the best pitching prospects in baseball for two years of a limited player is not probably the best use of resources. Now, if the Mariners could trade a couple of prospects for Eric Hosmer or the Royals' super prospect Wil Myers, then I would be willing to go there. That is realizing that Hosmer didn't meet expectations last year but Kansas City isn't the most hitter friendly environment and the organization is not a great one. 

Continuing on the trade front, there have been some people discussing that the Mariners could try to acquire Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks. This is a pretty long shot as every discussion on the web talks about Arizona looking for a shortstop and other positions that the Mariners don't really have. Additionally, Upton had a disappointing year for him but there is a chance that it was due to injury. I actually think that people tend to ignore that Nick Franklin is a short stop that will be major league ready sometime this season or next season, though there are questions as to whether he will be able to stick at short stop. I'm higher on Franklin than most though as he has had a couple of up and down years and he is a switch hitter who can't do much from the right side of the plate. 

This leads us to the other outfielders that are available on the free agent market. There is Michael Bourn who is a center fielder that is slightly above average offensively and appears to be very good defensively. He hasn't been linked to the Mariners but would be a pretty good upgrade as he is a better hitter than Michael Saunders. The Mariners do have Franklin Gutierrez also, but he has played so little due to freak things occurring that I'm pretty sure someone has a voodoo doll of him with a lot of pins in it. A little research makes it sound like Bourn is looking at a 5 year $80 Million contract so he probably will not end up in Seattle. Melky Cabrerra was a personal target of mine, given his suspension for performance enhancing drugs, I thought the NL batting champion would probably get a one or two year deal in the neighborhood of $6-$10 Million per year. Unfortunately, Toronto decided to snag him today so he is out of the picture. That leaves two other targets I like: Nick Swisher and Angel Pagan. 

Swisher is a 4 WAR per year player who was rumored to be looking for something crazy contract like Jason Werth got a couple of years ago (7 years, $126 Million) which I would not be willing to do. However, a lot of the teams that would actually drive that contract up like the Yankees aren't interested, so he may be attainable at a reasonable price. If he could show up on a four year deal for $10-$12 Million per year, I would hope the Mariners would do that but his contract will probably be closer to the $17 Million per year. Though, the market says that is a good deal, I think that is just too much for the Mariners unless then have an extra $30 Million in payroll. 

That leaves us with Angel Pagan, who has a name that is truly an oxymoron and a playing history that is like riding a boat on the Ocean. Pagan was a non tender candidate for the Mets two years ago, who shipped him to the Giants where he had nearly a five WAR season. He is going to be 32 in July of next year and has not been the model of consistency in his career. I have no clue what he is going to cost but he would be a nice addition if the price weren't too high and the length weren't too long. The other player mentioned a fair amount is B.J. Upton, who played for the Rays and I would not touch him with a ten foot pole. He is very inconsistent, is going to cost way too much, and has rumored to not have his heart fully in the game. The good news is he isn't probably coming to Seattle anyways. 

Ultimately, we really don't know what is going to happen with Seattle as the front office does not leak information at all. The fact that Zduriencik actually stated that they aren't going to get Hamilton today surprised me as the front office never talks about anything until it happens. The reports we heard about Billy Butler likely came from Kansas City. A couple of years ago, GMZ shocked the world when he got Cliff Lee for a song and last year when he traded Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. Neither of the moves were expected and surprised everyone. With that in mind, I will say that the only guarantee we have is that we will likely see some trade we never expected come to fruition. Let's just hope it works out as well as the Cliff Lee deal did and not the Chone Figgins signing (though that signing appeared to be very good at the time). Baseball is crazy and Seattle just embodies that more than any other organization.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Safeco Field is the Mariners' Problem


Lately, the Mariners have been very disappointing to watch as there appears to be no offense being produced by the team at all. It has created large amounts of discussion by the journalists, the bloggers, the radio hosts, and Eric Wedge; with all calling for a significant change. In fact, reading the tweets from the various journalists, Wedge has gone on record saying that he is going to create some changes because the job isn’t getting done and he and Jack Z have back that up somewhat by sending Hector Noesi down to AAA Tacoma and recalling Carlos Perguero, creating shutters through the Mariners blogosphere. While it’s nice to see the team want to fix the team’s problems, shuttling players between Tacoma and Seattle will not create the solution, what needs to happen is the Mariners need to fix Safeco field now.

Major league teams tend to hit better at their home park than on the road. There are many theories as to why that is from the fact which range from sleeping in their own beds, to being used to the field, to not have travel. The theories do not matter as much because each one may be different on a player by player basis and the real key is that players just tend to hit better at home. The statistics for MLB back this up as shown in the table below

2012 All MLB Team Stats
All Teams
BB/K
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
ISO
BABIP
wRC
wRAA
wOBA
wRC+
Home
0.44
811
0.326
0.416
0.742
0.157
0.299
5596
256.9
0.323
101
Away
0.39
843
0.313
0.396
0.709
0.145
0.293
5228
-300.3
0.309
92

From the data, we can conclude that teams do in fact tend to hit worse on the road than at home, though there isn’t much disparity between the two. However, when we look at the Mariners’ statistics, we get a very different picture.

2012 Seattle Mariners
Home/Away
OPS
ISO
BABIP
wRC
wRAA
wOBA
wRC+
Home
0.43
22
0.273
0.289
0.562
0.093
0.24
92
-72.5
0.253
58
Away
0.34
34
0.308
0.415
0.723
0.158
0.298
195
-3.2
0.314
100

Not only are the Mariners hitting better on the road, but it’s a stark contrast with the every batted ball statistic showing significantly more offense on the road. The wOBA is 61 points higher, wRC is 103 runs more, wRC+ is 62 runs more. It’s not just a little more offense, but it appears that the offense is roughly twice as good on the road than at home. When you compare these numbers with the league averages, it starts to make the observer wonder if the Mariners played all their games on the road if there team would have an above average league offense.

Now, those of you who know Safeco field know that it favors left handed hitters more than right handed hitters, so many of you are probably concluding that only the right handed hitters are experiencing an issue. That isn’t exactly the case.
2012 Seattle Mariners Home Statistics
Players
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
ISO
BABIP
wRC
wRAA
wOBA
wRC+
Ackley
0.216
0.298
0.269
0.567
0.052
0.283
9.7
-7.5
0.254
59
Ichiro
0.217
0.257
0.298
0.555
0.081
0.245
9.9
-9.7
0.245
53
Jaso
0.266
0.392
0.438
0.83
0.172
0.294
12.2
3.2
0.365
135
Montero
0.209
0.246
0.343
0.59
0.134
0.258
9
-7.2
0.253
58
Olivo
0.184
0.205
0.303
0.508
0.118
0.218
2.1
-6.9
0.207
27
Ryan
0.211
0.336
0.263
0.599
0.053
0.253
10.4
-3.3
0.282
78
Saunders
0.189
0.263
0.264
0.527
0.075
0.264
6.8
-6.7
0.246
53
Seager
0.157
0.265
0.261
0.526
0.104
0.186
9.1
-8.8
0.246
53
Smoak
0.165
0.229
0.241
0.47
0.075
0.181
4.5
-12
0.213
31
Wells
0.263
0.333
0.439
0.772
0.175
0.351
8.5
1.3
0.341
118

With the exception of Jaso, all of the left handed hitters are not hitting very well at home to include Justin Smoak, though Smoak’s statistics have not been split into left and right handed statistics because of the worry of small sample size. What is interesting is that Casper Wells, a right handed hitter is doing very well at Safeco. Now if we look at the away splits you get a better picture of the season as a whole.

2012 Seattle Mariners Away Statistics
Players
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
ISO
BABIP
wRC
wRAA
wOBA
wRC+
Ackley
0.25
0.328
0.378
0.706
0.128
0.298
21.7
-0.2
0.314
100
Ichiro
0.293
0.311
0.397
0.708
0.103
0.295
20.8
-1.3
0.307
95
Jaso
0.29
0.357
0.484
0.841
0.194
0.327
10.5
2.5
0.359
131
Montero
0.279
0.313
0.407
0.72
0.129
0.324
16.4
-0.8
0.309
97
Olivo
0.226
0.242
0.419
0.661
0.194
0.239
7.7
-3.1
0.275
73
Ryan
0.165
0.25
0.281
0.531
0.116
0.216
7
-8.7
0.237
47
Saunders
0.301
0.356
0.524
0.88
0.223
0.35
30.3
9.7
0.382
147
Seager
0.318
0.349
0.561
0.91
0.242
0.344
28.6
9.6
0.388
151
Smoak
0.233
0.297
0.403
0.7
0.17
0.261
18.5
-1.5
0.305
94
Wells
0.24
0.321
0.36
0.681
0.12
0.355
5.9
-0.6
0.303
93

As you can see, the breakout for each player demonstrates how hard Safeco has been on many of the players, especially the younger players. Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager have been absolute monsters on the road with wRC+ that put them in the neighborhood of Paul Konerko, Miguel Cabrerra, Robinson Cano, and Matt Holliday. Meanwhile, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak have been near league average. Even Ichiro, with all of the talk that he is past his prime appears to be close to league average and when you account for his defense and 12.4 runs saved this year, he appears to be an above average player again. The truth is that though this team appears to be struggling, the home field cannot be ignored as the offense may be at least average, if not better than average if Safeco Field would just play better. To better illustrate how much of an impact the field has on the offense examine the following table which takes the home statistics and subtracts the away statistics.

2012 Seattle Mariners Home Minus Away Statistics
Players
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
ISO
BABIP
wRC
wRAA
wOBA
wRC+
Ackley
-0.034
-0.03
-0.109
-0.139
-0.076
-0.015
-12
-7.3
-0.06
-41
Ichiro
-0.076
-0.054
-0.099
-0.153
-0.022
-0.05
-10.9
-8.4
-0.062
-42
Jaso
-0.024
0.035
-0.046
-0.011
-0.022
-0.033
1.7
0.7
0.006
4
Montero
-0.07
-0.067
-0.064
-0.13
0.005
-0.066
-7.4
-6.4
-0.056
-39
Olivo
-0.042
-0.037
-0.116
-0.153
-0.076
-0.021
-5.6
-3.8
-0.068
-46
Ryan
0.046
0.086
-0.018
0.068
-0.063
0.037
3.4
5.4
0.045
31
Saunders
-0.112
-0.093
-0.26
-0.353
-0.148
-0.086
-23.5
-16.4
-0.136
-94
Seager
-0.161
-0.084
-0.3
-0.384
-0.138
-0.158
-19.5
-18.4
-0.142
-98
Smoak
-0.068
-0.068
-0.162
-0.23
-0.095
-0.08
-14
-10.5
-0.092
-63
Wells
0.023
0.012
0.079
0.091
0.055
-0.004
2.6
1.9
0.038
25
Mean
-0.0518
-0.03
-0.1095
-0.1394
-0.058
-0.0476
-8.52
-6.32
-0.0527
-36.3

There are literally only three regular players who are hitting better at home than on the road: Jaso, Wells, and Ryan. Jaso’s statistics are close enough that random variation could be the explanation, but with Wells and Ryan are obviously following the standard belief that hitters do hit better at home. The significance of the delta between the home and away wRC+ should give most people cause however. With such a stark contrast between the home and away statistics, if the Mariners have Hit F/X, they should probably use it to see what is going on and act accordingly. All of the reduced offense at home cannot be good for developing players because they will make adjustments and they may be making the wrong ones because the field is playing so poorly. Yes, a change must be made but to the field and not to the team. The field is broken and it’s an easy fix. I would even argue, move the fences in during the All Star Break, it wouldn’t offer the break between seasons but Seattle move into Safeco mid-year. Why not fix the field now and see how much better things get?


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