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Trumbo and Nuno: The real impact

June 4, 2015

Does the Mark Trumbo trade change what I said in yesterday’s open letter to Lloyd McClendon?

No.

Mark Trumbo will be doing a lot of trotting for the Mariners, whether it's around the bases after a home run, or back to the dugout after making yet another out.

Mark Trumbo will be doing a lot of trotting for the Mariners, whether it’s around the bases after a home run, or back to the dugout after making yet another out.

Mark Trumbo does add some impact power, even if he doesn’t add much needed ability to get on base. Ideally, Dustin Ackley’s days as a regular are numbered if not gone, and Trumbo should be the LF… but chances are they stick with Ackley for now.

If they do stick with Ackley, finding a spot for Trumbo in the lineup becomes a complication. You can’t platoon him with all of Ackley, Seth Smith and Logan Morrison, so if you see him as a platoon partner he won’t see action in more than 30% of games that way. You really have to use him as a time-share and rest-day guy with Ackley and others to give him substantial plate appearances.

Defensively, Trumbo isn’t great as a corner outfielder, but he’s not the liability that Nelson Cruz is. He’s a wash compared to Ackley, who is still a bit raw as an outfielder. He’s definitely an upgrade over Cruz, and might be a bit better in the field than Seth Smith. If having Trumbo on the team keeps Lloyd from playing Nelson Cruz in RF, then terrific. That in itself is an upgrade, even if Trumbo still runs a .300 OBP.

No, Trumbo won’t get on base a ton. Yes, he’ll probably hit a lot of bombs. Yes, there will be maddening stretches where he doesn’t do much of anything, and then suddenly he’ll blast off with several big hits for a week or so. Having had the guy on fantasy teams for a few seasons, I can tell you Trumbo is very streaky.

The Mariners have the advantage that if Trumbo does go super cold, they can stash him in a platoon and only use him against LHPs if needed. For now, the M’s still have Ackley, Seth Smith and others, which means Trumbo is more depth than a catalyst.

******

Hanging in the shadows of this trade is the guy who will likely make the bigger impact. Vidal Nuno gives the Mariners a versatile option for this season and beyond.

Hanging in the shadows of this trade is the guy who will likely make the bigger impact. Vidal Nuno gives the Mariners a versatile option for this season and beyond.

As for Vidal Nuno, I realize most people in and out of baseball don’t think too highly of him. But over his career I’ve seen a capable strike throwing starter that isn’t terribly prone to embarassing stretches of poor outings. Nuno has been a victim of depth more than anything, as both the Yankees and Diamondbacks had enough rotation depth to render him expendable.

Yes, Vidal was homer prone last season, but remember that his career’s been spent playing home games in hitter friendly bandboxes (Yankee Stadium and Chase Field). Plus, both the AL East and NL West expose him regularly to powerful lineups and hitter friendly road parks (pretty much every park in the AL East, and Coors Field in the NL West). This will change now that he moves to Safeco Field and the AL West, whose only really hitter park is the Rangers’ home park in Arlington. Plus, Nuno’s HR rate is way down this year as a reliever, and he’s only in his 3rd big league season. Young mistakes that led to Vidal’s long balls may be decreasing.

Vidal Nuno doesn’t walk too many guys, does show okay K rates as a starter, and has shown he can probably be a terrific all purpose lefty reliever a la Charlie Furbush. He might be the big piece in this trade for the M’s, though Trumbo will get more attention. The M’s hopefully will get healthy and stay healthy in the rotation, making Nuno a reliable fill-in for now. But chances are he will become a dependable, versatile, solid upgrade to J.A. Happ if and when Happ finally goes away. All due respect to younger Dominic Leone, but Nuno is probably an upgrade.

******

As for the guys lost:

Dominic Leone: I know young hard throwing relievers are considered dime a dozen, and by all accounts Leone had yet to put it all together. Despite this, people already suspect Leone is a closer candidate in the DBacks troubled bullpen (the DBacks closer role is currently held by submariner Brad Ziegler, in place of struggling Addison Reed). It may not happen soon, but I would not be surprised if Leone got a shot to close for Arizona at some point this season.

I feel like Gaby Guerrero is this decade’s version of Carlos Triunfel, another massively overhyped young international Mariners prospect who in time will probably never be more than a guy who hits like Alberto Callaspo. Like Triunfel, his results indicate he is at best a long term work in progress, and the Mariners might not be too far out of line to have decided that dealing with the hype of Vlad’s nephew should now be some other team’s problem.

Welington Castillo was acquired to be a better hitting backup catcher to Mike Zunino. Castillo hasn’t hit. So jettisoning him to bring back the punchless but excellent-framing catcher Jesus Sucre probably isn’t a bad decision. Castillo was a flier and the flier didn’t pan out. At least he provided some return value in departure by helping bring in Trumbo and Nuno.

Jack Reinheimer reminds me of Marcus Littlewood (before he converted to catcher). Orgs are full of these young slick fielding punchless shortstops who might be Rafael Furcal someday. He does have good footspeed, but he’s a long way from ever putting that to use at the MLB level.

******

The Mariners lost three spare parts and a hype-over-product prospect in return for a flawed but productive power hitter and a useful swingman who probably could start in a rotation. I’m sure they’ve made crappier trades.

An Open Letter to Lloyd McClendon

June 3, 2015

Hi Lloyd,

Nice meltdown on those umpires last night. I think that’s the sort of leadership statement guys and fans want to see from their skipper. Lou Piniella aside, you are probably my favorite Mariners manager to date, and it appears the guys in that clubhouse like and respect you as well.

Too bad your outburst didn’t help them score enough runs to avoid extras after Fernando Rodney’s 9th inning meltdown, or the subsequent three run killshot by Garrett Jones to seal the team’s 28th loss of the season in 52 games. But there’s only so much you can do about that.

Speaking of which, there’s one big problem, aside from the team now being 24-28 and on the precipice of turning a potentially great season into a massively disappointing and underachieving one. The problem is that you’re making some harmful personnel decisions, which while they might seem like the best decisions for your players and the clubhouse is actually killing the team’s competitive potential.

Sure, the bullpen throwing suck pitches and the lineup as a whole not consistently getting on base is the larger problem, but there are several little things you’re doing that are undercutting your team’s chances of victory on a game to game basis.

1. Stop playing Nelson Cruz in right field.

Thanks for DH’ing him today. That’s what he should be doing 80-90% of the time. Nelson should only play the field now and then to give someone else a rest. The Mariners signed him to be the Designated Hitter… not the Right Fielder.

I realize Nelson is a veteran who wants to play the field, like a lot of designated hitters. But like a lot of designated hitters, Nelson Cruz is considered a designated hitter because he is a relatively terrible fielder. Now, he has the skills to field the position, but he is so slow relative to other fielders that he is costing your team runs by allowing base hits on flyballs that most fielders would catch for outs. Don’t let your eyes fool you. Yes, he can field his position.

But a lot of hitters can look great swinging the bat while hitting .180 with no power and striking out too many times. Fielding impressions can be just as deceptive. The numbers show that Nelson’s already cost your team about 7 runs in the field, and may cost them about 25-30 if you continue playing him there. That’s going to make a huge difference, especially when 20-30 runs can be the difference between contention, .500 baseball, and another losing season.

Play Nelson Cruz where he helps the team best. DH him, and let better fielders play the outfield. The better defense will help your pitching staff, from Felix all the way to your struggling bullpen.

2. Show some trust in Chris Taylor and Justin Ruggiano.

Justin Ruggiano kills left handed pitching. Not only should he be playing every single time your opponent starts a lefthanded pitcher, he is also not all that bad against right handed pitching. Sure, in 38 scattered plate appearances against RHPs this year he hasn’t done shit… but last year in 160 PAs vs RHPs he hit 268/340/380. Before you say that’s not that great… it’s way better than your team as a whole has done against RHPs (228/293/381 entering today… and most of that .381 slugging is Nelson Cruz’s Boomstick pushing a 60 home run pace).

Get him a few more starts, and he might actually be one of your better hitters. Your team is in a massive offensive slump. He might actually be part of the solution to get you out of it.

Spot Ruggiano a couple of starts vs RHBs each week to rest other guys, and stop pinch hitting for him. His versatility allows him to slide over to other OF spots, which makes the defense better once you’ve pinch hit or pinch run for somebody and have to fit that person onto the field.

I realize Jack Z just sent Chris Taylor down. He didn’t hit during his whopping 68 plate appearances. If you’re not going to choose to play him regularly, this is the correct decision. Better for him to play everyday in Tacoma than to rot on the bench up here.

But really, Chris Taylor belongs on this roster, and should be playing more than half the team’s games. If you lack faith in Chris Taylor’s ability to hit in big league pressure situations, he’s not going to develop that ability by never getting to hit in those situations. And no, hitting with runners in scoring position in Tacoma (against AAA pitching that makes Hector Noesi look like Felix) doesn’t count. Not even close.

You’ve got to give Chris Taylor a chance to succeed or fail in those spots, if for no other reason than the guys you’re pinch hitting for him in those spots clearly aren’t doing all that much better. Speaking of one of those guys….

3. Willie Bloomquist is a defensive sub and rest-game fill in, not a platoon sub or a pinch hitter.

Willie has always been a useful utility player who can play okay defense at every non-battery position on the diamond, and can hold his own at the plate while taking some walks. His bat has no power, and can be easily exposed over extended playing time or in pressure situations.

At 37, he might be done as a useful hitter. Even last year he was walking far less, and walks combined with a fair share of bloop singles were the only value he provided as a hitter. Take away the walks, and now you’ve got an easily beatable hitter. Sure enough, over an admittedly limited span, he’s hitting 163/180/184 with no walks and one double.

Willie is a lot like Miguel Cairo, a punchless hitter who can fill in around the diamond as needed, usually defensively rather than for his bat.

In short: YOU SHOULD NOT EVER PINCH HIT WILLIE BLOOMQUIST FOR ANYBODY. He is not a better hitter than any of the other guys on this roster, even the younger ones. As mentioned above, the more positive decision is to give the younger hitter a chance in that pressure spot. He might surprise you! Willie almost certainly won’t.

3a. Willie Bloomquist’s days as a productive Mariner are probably over.

You like Willie and like playing Willie because he is a dependable and versatile veteran. But veterans eventually age and fade to the point where they aren’t helping the team win by playing more than sparingly. Willie has reached that point.

Some would say that’s all Willie ever was: Indeed the only teams that have ever played him more than occasionally have been teams that weren’t good. This is a better team with better players than that.

If Willie can’t handle being a late inning defensive replacement who maybe gets a fill-in start every week or so, then Jack needs to wish him well and designate him for assignment.

But it starts with you, skipper. You were hired to make the tough decisions. You need to make one now and stop playing Willie Bloomquist. Man up, and tell him his role is being reduced.

4. You have a player who can do what Willie does, and better: Brad Miller. Use him accordingly.

He may not have liked it, but the Brad Miller Super Utility Experiment actually went fairly well. In his 55 innings at positions other than his original shortstop… Brad only posted negative defensive numbers at second base, it was only minus one run, and that was over a whopping two starts (since the position is usually manned by franchise star Robinson Cano), so it’s likely his numbers improve with more time at the position. That aside, Brad was actually a plus defender in brief trials in the corner outfield, and never made an error during those 55 innings.

Brad is one of your better hitters (224/315/408 entering today). 9 of his 19 walks this year came after you started roaming him around the field a few weeks ago, so his plate discipline hasn’t suffered. Though we can’t confirm this, it might actually be helping him.

Brad is a good defensive shortstop, but so is Chris Taylor. It turns out Brad is also a decent defender across the outfield. Shortstops tend to translate well to the other infield spots, so with some work at 3rd he might be a good fill in there as well.

Mark McLemore was a key piece on the early 2000’s Mariners teams that contended for the AL West title. He filled in regularly at every position while still providing a productive bat.

Brad Miller is basically a better version of whatever you think Willie Bloomquist is. Let Brad Miller play that role instead. He could be your Mark McLemore, Lloyd.

Bring Chris Taylor back, and keep using Brad around the field.

5. It’s time to get the hook ready for Fernando Rodney. But also be quick to give him another chance.

Fernando’s arrow has shot your team in the foot a few too many times this season. Recently, he’s been scored on in 8 of his last 12 appearances, including last night’s meltdown. He is struggling, and you’re lucky he hasn’t cost you more games lately… but that said, I don’t think it’s time to give up on him. You’ve entrutsted him to be the closer and the team has paid him big money to be the closer.

I do think now is the time to give him a break from closing. For the next week or so, he needs some low leverage innings to show he can paint the black and not get tagged over 3-4 outings in a row. Let Tom Wilhelmsen or, hey, kick ass Carson Smith, close for a week if needed.

After a week, if Rodney’s doing well again, give him his closer role back (even if the fill in closer is kicking ass). Unlike other teams that say they’re giving a struggling closer a break, when in reality they’re firing him from the closer role… you’re going to be the better man and mean it when you say you’re giving him a break. Rodney will take a break, pitch some mop up or middle innings, and then he’ll resume closing.

If he returns to closing and rattles off a bunch of mostly clean saves, you’ve bolstered his faith in you, the clubhouse’s faith, and made Seattle a more attractive destination for players… by showing trust in your players, plus the willingness to nurture players through a rough patch without giving up on them.

If he continues struggling, whether he resumes closing or not… now you’ve made the change that the team needs to contend, before it’s too late.

Seriously though, either way I think Fernando needs a break from closing. Give him one. And then give him every chance to take his job back once he rebounds.

6. Stop stealing, and stop using the hit and run.

Putting the game in motion works when you have team speed. You don’t. Your team is an abysmal 54% successful (23 of 42) on stolen bases entering today. Despite your emphasis on the running game, the Mariners are below the AL average in stolen bags (28) while well above the average of times caught stealing (12).

You need to swipe about 75% of your bases for it to be a positive decision: You lose about 0.40 runs for every failed steal and gain maybe 0.18 of a run for each successful steal. In total, the running game has cost the Mariners about 3.5 runs. That doesn’t even include other botches like getting picked off or getting thrown out trying for the extra base.

Add in the almost assured failures on botched hit and runs, which always lead to bad swings and bad jumps on a battery that usually gets off a better throw because hit and runs telegraph the steal, and you’re just setting your team up for failure. Your team has a .298 on base percentage, 2nd worst in the AL. The bad swings on hit and runs combined with the hittable strikes your hitters have to take on steal attempts almost certainly has something to do with this: You’re adding strikes to every count for every batter where you do it, which makes it harder on your hitters than it needs to be.

Don’t let the Cubs’ experiment with Anthony Rizzo fool you.

1) Rizzo does have some decent footspeed. Most of the players you’re asking to run don’t.
2) Rizzo’s been sparingly sent on steals relative to your typical leadoff base stealing machine. Rizzo’s been sent 13 times total this year. Joe Maddon picks his spots to send Rizzo. He doesn’t just do it routinely.
3) Despite this, Rizzo’s only succeeded 9 of 13 times. The value of Rizzo’s stolen baserunning has been about break even: 1.62 runs gained, 1.60 runs lost.

I understand you want to use the running game, but you don’t have a team that’s good at it. Play to your team’s strengths. Help your lineup and stop hamstringing them by forcing them to kow-tow to a running game that is not working.

******

Lloyd, like the Mariners, I like you and I want you to succeed. I like your personality and your style working with players. Now is the time to mix in some more solid decisions that will make this team better. Some of the clubhouse might not like them, but these might be the best things for this team in the long run. They will stay on board, especially if you do these things and as anticipated the team starts winning again.

Go get it. Best of luck.

~Steven Gomez

Baseball Has An Enthusiasm Problem

September 14, 2014
Perhaps if he gave them $240 million they'd get excited?

Robinson Cano’s lack of excitement over last night’s game tying home run is an appropriate symbol for last night’s lacking Night Court enthusiasm from the Mariners fans despite a sellout crowd for a game with playoff implications.

Baseball’s problem isn’t sagging ratings, or diminished offense, or performance enhancing drugs, or excessive salaries, or lack of respect for sabermetrics, or new supposedly sissy rules like instant replay or plate collision bans or quick hooks for pitchers who throw at batters.

Baseball’s problem is that you go to a game and, more than ever before in history, the fan experience is boring as all mother fuck.

Baseball has always been a quiet game with occasional moments of excitement and terror, like tournament poker with bats and baseballs. But you need only go back to the early 9os to see footage of playoff games with a crowd on the edge of their seats and cheering for every pitch from the get go.

Last night, the Mariners threw down a blackout Night Court promotion for Felix Hernandez’s start against their fellow playoff contending rivals the Oakland A’s. The Mariners managed to sell out the stadium for the first time since this year’s home opener and we had high anticipation for a jacked up and electric crowd.

Instead we got an occasionally excited but Safeco-typical anemic crowd, many of which didn’t even bother donning the 35,000 black Night Court shirts given out at the gates. Read more…

The 2014 Seattle Mariners are a .500 team… if all cynical projections go as expected

December 19, 2013
If Justin Smoak and the rest of the team are their usual selves, the M's are probably just a .500 team. BUT if they're NOT....

If Justin Smoak and the rest of the team are their usual selves, the M’s are probably just a .500 team. BUT if they’re NOT….

The M’s on paper right now are about a .500 team according to multiple projection systems, pending other additions by other clubs.

All this assumes that no surprise players emerge from the farm system, and that no other key contributors are added. Given who is left on the free agent market, it is also highly unlikely that other teams will add a player that substantially alters the current balance of MLB power.

And most of all, it assumes that no player overperforms or substantially underperforms. All projections assume a typically disappointing performance from disappointing players.

This assumes they don’t add a catcher, they give substantial reserve action to Jesus Sucre, and that Mike Zunino continues to struggle in his 2013-like like fashion at the plate (225/290/385 like).

This of course presumes Robinson Cano is the everyday 2B and produces (290/360/485).

This assumes Justin Smoak is once again the regular 1B and he continues to be maddeningly inconsistent at the plate (230/320/410).

This assumes Nick Franklin is not dealt and subs in at multiple spots off the bench (240/310/380). This also assumes Willie Bloomquist is his usual Bloomquist self subbing at multiple spots (260/305/345), and that Abraham Almonte is the 4th OF (250/320/370).

This assumes Brad Miller remains the SS and is somewhat productive at the plate as a regular (265/330/410), as is Kyle Seager at 3B (260/330/415).

This assumes LoMo and Corey Hart split duty in LF and DH, and are both somewhat productive over most of a full season (250/330/430 on aggregate).

This assumes Franklin Gutierrez is not productive, and/or gets hurt again.

This assumes Dustin Ackley is for the most part your regular CF, and continues in large part to hit balls right at fielders (250/325/365).

This assumes Michael Saunders is your everyday RF and like Smoak continues to be maddeningly inconsistent at the plate (230/315/380).

This assumes a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, with about 150 IP from other guys as needed. It presumes Erasmo, Taijuan and Paxton might be 1.5 win pitchers with strictly monitored workloads that can each offer 140-150 IP.

This presumes Danny Farquhar closes and the key setup guys are Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush. It presumes Farquhar is the only pitcher worth one win or more out of the pen, meaning all the other relievers are anywhere from unremarkably effective to awful.

This presumes the team defense is about 5 to 10 runs below average.

Obviously, any of this not going according to the template changes the results.

******

The 2012 Orioles were projected to suck. The 2013 Pirates were not projected to contend. For a team to surprise, they have to be projected not to contend. The Mariners could outperform expectations and contend. They could lowball expectations and lose another 90 games. There is a lot of room for them to exceed expectations and blow people away.

Let’s hope the Mariners can surprise some people, in a good way, and become the big story of 2014.

Okay, the Jaso for Morse trade doesn’t help 2013’s Mariners that much. WHY did Jack Zduriencik do it?

January 17, 2013
Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack dealt John Jaso for this guy.

Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack dealt John Jaso for this guy.

I’m not a fan of the Mariners recent trade of John Jaso for one time Mariner and free-swinging shit-gloving 2012 Nats slugger Michael Morse. I think Morse can hit for power in Seattle, but the Mariners actually had a need for Jaso’s services at catcher in 2013 (at least until Mike Zunino arrives), plus with a glut of lead glove 1B/DH options on the roster (Ibañez, Montero, Morales) there wasn’t a place in the lineup for Morse unless you place his poor defense, or Raul Ibañez’s, in the field… which appears to be the Mariners plan.

Their big plan for 2013, it appears, is to stock up on sluggers and hope they can bludgeon their way back into contention, defense be damned… the MLB version of an ABA basketball offense. The Colorado Rockies tried it and didn’t get very far (not that they had much of a choice in mile high Coors Field pre-humidor). After an initial Super Bowl run, the St Louis Rams and the Greatest Show On Turf didn’t get very far with their weak defense. Hell, ABA coach Doug Moe himself tried a ‘score quick and play no defense’ approach in the NBA and didn’t get very far. Defense still matters no matter what sport you’re in, and if your defense sucks your team is exploitable.

In MLB, teams with sufficient power can overcome bad defense. The Yankees do it, but the Yankees also have had the largest payroll in MLB for a couple decades (until the Dodgers passed them this year) and could buy every great slugger they could find. The White Sox at their best contended with some awful outfield defense by using their bandbox ballpark and a horde of sluggers to outscore opponents.

But both those teams have offense-friendly home ballparks. The Mariners still play in Safeco Field, which even with moved-in fences will still play well for pitchers. That mutes some of the damage their bats can do, but Jack Zduriencik also gambles that the strength of their pitching (led by Felix Hernandez, plus top pitching prospects are on the way) will help subvert their defensive shortcomings… never minding that, outside of the three true outcomes (walks, strikeouts and home runs) plus park factors, a pitcher’s fortune is largely dependent on the quality of their defense. Their pitching and run prevention will suffer.

So why did Jack Zduriencik deliberately make a move that made this year’s Mariners team worse?
Read more…

Trevor Bauer and Attitude: Did it shape a D-Backs trade?

December 12, 2012

Yesterday the Indians, Reds and Diamondbacks completed a three way trade centered around RF Shin-Soo Choo going from Cleveland to Cincinnati along with utility dude Jason Donald. Cleveland got young but scuffling CF Drew Stubbs from Cincy, as well as D-Backs pitching prospect Trevor Bauer and D-Backs relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw. The Indians also sent infield prospect Did Gregorius, lefty reliever Tony Sipp and AAA 1B Lars Anderson to Arizona.

Cincinnati now lacks a true CF, but will likely test Choo or Jay Bruce in that role, hoping the now powerful offense offsets the loss in the quality of outfield defense. Donald also bolsters their bench while Choo’s big bat and speed gives Cincy a great leadoff bat.

Cleveland drops a reliever only to pick up two more in quality veteran Matt Albers and youngster Bryan Shaw. They also take a chance on a change-of-scenery rebound from Stubbs, who struggled badly his last couple years in Cincy while striking out a ton but still has terrific range in CF and upgrades the Indians defense.

And I’m not exactly sure how this improves Arizona. I mentioned in my winter meetings post that they’ve loaded up on role players, but figured that any involvement in a big trade would hinge on them getting a key player or two in return for Justin Upton or prospects. After giving up blue chip pitcher Trevor Bauer and two relievers… they are left with a badly flawed (and curiously highly-touted) SS prospect, AAA fodder and a decent lefty reliever.

Allegedly, the big argument from Diamondbacks camp is that the team had serious problems with Trevor Bauer’s attitude. Bauer reportedly carried himself with a hot-shot attitude and not only wasn’t receptive to general feedback but would ignore in-game feedback from his catchers and coaches. Granted, that is a serious problem. A player unreceptive to feedback is not only averse to improvement but his actions can have a ripple effect on the team’s performance and the clubhouse.

Read more…

The 2012 MLB Winter Meetings, Part 2: The Surprising Decisions

December 8, 2012

In Part 1 of this two part series I explored moves at the MLB Winter Meetings I didn’t find particularly surprising, whether because they made sense for all involved or because I saw them coming.

Now I want to discuss the moves that took me by surprise. And a lot of them certainly did….

Read more…