Thursday, August 30, 2007

Putz-less in Seattle???

What. The. Heck???

Is there something wrong with JJ Putz that the team isn't letting out?

Rick White is not a major league quality pitcher, let alone one that can be counted on in a high-leverage situation. He proved that with the Vlad Guerrero at-bat. He proved it again tonight with a game-losing bases-loaded walk. There's no way he should've pitched tonight, especially in that situation.

I had high hopes for Johnny Mac. I gave him a break for making his managerial debut in historically unique and challenging circumstances. But now, in the middle of a pennant race, when he's been Lou's sounding board during MANY pennant races, I'm cutting him no more slack.

The only excuse for bringing in White in the situations he was brought in over the last couple games (last night was probably OK -- after the game was well out of hand) is if JJ Putz is injured. Even still, Rick White has proven his value -- it's as the top player on the DFA list, followed by Horacio Ramirez.

I mean John McLaren can't be THAT big of an idiot. Can he???

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Robert Rohrbaugh

Robert Rohrbaugh continued his successful run through the PCL on the 26th, giving up 2 runs in 6 innings against the Portland Beavers. Since his ERA's now safely under 3, it may be worth discussing his arsenal/approach.

Rohrbaugh, a 7th rounder out of Clemson, uses a well-located (usually) fastball that sits from the mid to high 90s. In this start, he was everywhere from 82-89 with his fastball. In the early innings, he was very successful at placing it on the corners. He had zero command of his offspeed offerings, resulting in 4 walks in those 6 innings (he's usually something of a low walks/low K guy).
The key to his success is something of a deceptive delivery. While someone like Sherrill uses his arm to hide the ball - and thus get a lot of Ks despite so-so to slightly above average velocity - Rohrbaugh uses his body to deceive hitters. Think of the first part of Tim Lincecum's delivery, where his trunk turns a bit and his throwing hand drops below his waist. The second part of the delivery isn't like Lincecum's at all (whose is?), but that body turn means the ball pops out of nowhere at the end of Rohrbaugh's delivery. This hasn't manifested itself in eye-popping K/9 numbers, but when Rohrbaugh's on, he gets a lot of pop-ups.
What's interesting about Rohrbaugh is his month-to-month splits, both this year and in the past. At the beginning of last year, Rob started in the Cal League, and was an even fly-ball/ground-ball pitcher. As the year went on, he became more of a GB pitcher. The same pattern held at his next stop, in San Antonio, only this time he was only even for one month. This year, he started out as a fly-baller, beforing reverting to his GB tendencies in the month before his promotion. Also, his walks dropped as the year went on. In Tacoma, his walks have again dropped each month, but he's not K'ing many either.
In the majors, he's probably an extreme pitch to contact pitcher who may start off getting a lot of fly balls, but the degree to which he's able to get grounders...that's less clear. Still, he's piqued a lot of interest given his fast start in AAA.

In other news, Baseball Prospectus produced a fascinating list of the teams that have blown the most 3-run leads in MLB history. Tied for #1 - the 1998 Seattle Mariners. I bring up this historical tidbit because in many ways, the '98 M's are the mirror image of this year's crew. That team blew so many leads because its achilles heel was a gut-churning bullpen that included full-seasons from Heathcliff Slocumb and Bobby Ayala. The latter was 1-10 with a HoRam-esque 7.29 ERA. These two 'leading lights' were ably assisted by Paul Spoljaric and Bob Wells, who chipped in with 83 innings of 6+ RA 'pitching.' This meant that despite two starters with sub-4 ERAs (plus Randy Johnson, who was at 4.33), and an offense that scored 859 runs, the team finished 76-85 - despite a pythagorean W/L of 81-80. I have personal memories of that team - as it turns out, typical ones. The first game I ever took my wife too was this one, in which Ken Cloude's best ever MLB game was ruined by Bobby Ayala's meltdown in the 9th. Against Kevin Stocker and the D-rays. The next game we went to was this one, in which the M's nearly blew a 9-1 lead - holding on to beat the Sox 11-10. Bob Wells and Mike Timlin were the culprits this time, with Robin Ventura hitting a grand slam in the 9th, and the Sox putting the tying run in scoring position with only one out. Suffice it to say, it was a nerve-wracking season for M's fans.
This year's team lacks the 1-2-3 punch of Moyer/Fassero/RJ, and a line-up with the best SLG percentage in the AL, but its strength is its bullpen. Everyone's talked a lot about the M's 'pen, and its role in the M's unexpected success - I wonder if it'll change the amount of resources teams deploy on its bullpens. Interesting if a patched-together pen made up of MiLB vets like Green and Putz, plus indie-leaguer George Sherrill is used as a data point to suggest that teams should spend *more* on their pens.

One more thing, the mysterious HR/preventing skill that Washburn had? Yeah, that's disappearing fast. Miguel Batista as the M's most consistent starter? Not so much. Jeff Weaver as lion-in-winter, rejuvenated career success story? Ouch. If the M's are going to make the playoffs, an almost unprecedented percentage of the credit for that fact will go to the pen. This team is *weird*. And I love it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Familiar Faces [+ bullet points]

The Rainiers welcomed back two familiar faces today - Cha Seung Baek and Wladimir Balentien.

Baek got the start, and gave up a run in the first on a ground ball single to right. Balentien had a very good shot to get Brady Clark at the plate, but his, sucked. Hey, he's rusty. In the second, Wlad made amends - he tied it up with a ground ball fielder's choice to score Bryan LaHair.

B aek ran into some trouble in the 5th, loading the bases on a double, a walk and a texas league single to right. At only 59 pitches, the R's pulled the plug. I didn't check the radar, so I think the most likely explanation is that Baek was on a pitch count - he ended one shy of 60. Coming in with one out and the bases loaded.... John Parrish! You never really get rid of pitchers like Parrish, you only hope to contain them somewhere in your minor league system. Despite a severe command problem, Parrish came on with no place to put Paul MacAnulty. MacAnulty apparently felt charitable and swung at a 3-2 pitch around eyebrow level for the second out. The next hitter, Jack Cassel, lined a pitch that LaHair snagged at first (and hey, as much crap as LaHair takes from the big M's 'spect watchers, let me just say this: he's a good defensive first baseman). Nice work, Parrish!

Parrish gave up a run in the 6th on a double, a single, a sac fly, two walks and a groundout. There's the John Parrish M's fans have come to expect.

Brad Thomas came on in the 7th and was absolutely lights out through the rest of the game. In his 3 innings, he gave up 1 hit, 1 walk and struck out 2, including one of the top hitters in the PCL, Brian Myrow.

Balentied finished 1-3 with a walk, a single and an RBI.
Baek went 4 1/3, giving up 5h 1R 1BB 1K. Parrish got the win and Thomas the 3 inning save.

* Robert Rohrbaugh continues to impress, throwing 7 innings of 1R ball this week. His own error scored a run, preventing him from matching Jorge Campillo's 7 shutout innings against Sacramento.
* Speaking of Campillo, the scouting reports are right: His fastball really is only 84-86 MPH. Score one for Dave Cameron, who's been suspicious of a righty who throws mid 80s, tops. Fair enough. His command is impeccable, and he's going to get a call up this September. But he's probably not a long term bet to replace HoRam. Rohrbaugh...well, we'll see. Rob's FB is a bit better, and he's a lefty. His approach seemed to be Washburn-esque this week - throwing well located fastball after well-located fastball, keeping a very good River Cats team off balance. That approach may prove disastrous in the bigs, but who knows. Washburn's approach, on paper, should be disastrous too.
* With Balentien back, and Charlton Jimerson raking, the R's again have a legitimately good AAA outfield. Jeremy Reed is still hitting too - he's at .321/.387/.464 on the month. Good, but not as good as...
* Nick "Freakin'" Green, who's hitting .341/.406/.560 for August. Green went 2-4 with yet another homer tonight. Green was brought up in an LL thread, with a number of people thinking that his hot streak might prove valuable for the M's, esp. given Jose Lopez's struggles. I've consistently said that he's roster-filler, a minor leaguer who had a sub .300 OBP in the Pittsburgh system this year, and a guy who really crapped the bed in his one MLB starting opportunity with Tampa Bay a few years ago. But man, this streak is something else. I'm down with BABIP theory as much as anyone, but holy balls is this guy hitting the ball hard every time. Given the recent USSM discussion on hot streaks, my intellectual side thinks it's silly to expect anything other than his career marks going forward (and those career averages are fairly nasty). But man is it cool to see him come up to bat these days.
* Mike Morse hopefully broke out of a mini-slump (.195 ave. in the past 10 games) with a double down the LF line tonight. He's still a fairly good option as a bench bat for an MLB team, though with Bloomquist's career year, it's pretty clear that opportunity's going to come somewhere else.
* Dave Cameron's got a post up advocating that the M's sign ex-Rainier Brett Tomko, who was DFA'd by the Dodgers. I don't mind the move, but more as insurance in case Baek's return hits a snag. Cameron thinks Tomko is head and shoulders better than Baek, I think the opposite. What do you think? xFIP's with me, the radar guns/scouting reports are with Cameron. This may depend on how you approach a question like this. If you need an out pitch, Baek will not impress you. If you rely heavily on results (or command), then Baek's a better bet. An interesting question, and one with no wrong answer other than 'Horacio Ramirez.'
* Sean White is still technically rehabbing in Tacoma, but I think at this point it's safe to say that whatever 'velocity spike' in the Arizona Fall League led the M's to pick this guy never made it out of Peoria. White's been between 89-92 with his FB in Tacoma, far below his reported 96+ in the fall. He never came close to that with the M's, at least not that I remember. He's an intriguing pitcher, in that he gets a ton of ground balls. But he's just not the guy the front office hyped when they made the trade/rule 5 selection to get him.

M's win again. Unbelievable. This is one of the strangest good teams in recent memory. On the plus side, they're obviously better than the '05 White Sox and '06 Cardinals. On the down side... what? Vidro/Weaver/Batista are key newcomers? Despite three incoming rotation members having lower ERA+ marks than the 3 guys they replaced (who most people thought were terrible). The DH has a Tyner-esque ISO. Felix has been very good, but both injured and also not what we expected after his blazing start. Yes, the bullpen has been almost as good as the White Sox magic-in-a-bullpen crew (Neal Cotts? Cliff Pollitte? Really?), but the offense has carried the team in August. I... I give up trying to figure it out, I'm just enjoying it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jorge Campillo says 'Hi.'

Horacio Ramirez has made sure that discussions about the M's 5th rotation spot are fairly common. Ryan Feierabend hasn't exactly excelled in that role, and while many fans have talked about bringing Robert Rohrbaugh up, many M's insiders (incl. USS Mariner) have cautioned that his stuff simply isn't MLB quality.
The forgotten man in a lot of these discussions is Jorge Campillo. Well, Jorge's doing what he can to make sure his name is included in the never-ending list of guys who could do better than HoRam. With 7 scoreless innings today, Campillo dropped his RA to 3.4 - and he didn't have his best stuff. Despite missing consistently with his change, and despite lowering his WHIP to peg Lou Merloni (yes, it was on purpose), Campillo consistently got out of trouble by getting the first man, and by limiting the extra-base hit. Campillo has pretty sizeable home/road splits, so I should caution that how he's looked in Tacoma is not necessarily how he's looked away, but hey - Tacoma's a decent proxy for Safeco. And let's cut to the chase: I'm much more comfortable with the M's giving Jorge a shot than paying $20 million to give an aged Jose Contreras a shot. Do you need a back-up plan? Of course. But Campillo is pitching his way into this conversation, despite long odds after his injury and removal from the 40 man roster (thankfully, the 40 man roster isn't really a concern with a couple open spots, and with the rosters expanding soon).
The knock on Campillo has been his, well, Rohrbaugh-level stuff. And it's true; he generally doesn't get tons of strike-outs. But if you've followed Cha Seung Baek (or Carlos Silva), you know that there's a place at the back of an MLB rotation for a guy who severely limits walks. Campillo's been quite stingy with the free pass at home (1.41/9 coming into today), and compensates for his lack of an outpitch to righties by going for the strikeout more against lefty hitters. I think his weird reverse-platoon splits (at least as far as strikeouts go) is one of the reasons people underrate him. It's easy to say it's a statistical fluke, but he's K'd more lefties every single year he's been in the US. At some point, you've got to say it's part of his arsenal, or at least his approach, to go for the K against lefties and to put it in play against righties.

Jose De La Cruz (AKA the Aircraft Carrier) made things interesting by giving up 2 runs in the last 2 innings, and putting the tying run on 3rd in the 9th, but he induced the game ending pop-out from Nick Blasi and picked up the save. Campillo struck out 7 in 7 innings, to go with 3 BBs and just 4 hits.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dear John:

Um. Hai.

While I've also noticed how badly Jose Lopez is struggling at the plate recently -- so much so that I've argued with some pretty smart baseball people that it's not entirely illogical to experiment with having Jose Vidro playing second base defensively -- today isn't the day to experiment with that. It's NOT the day to punt infield defense for the sake of any potential offensive gain, when you've got a groundballer like Felix on the mound.

One of my arguments is that as long as you pay attention to the pitcher that's on the mound and see that he's more of an extreme flyballer, the number of balls that Vidro would have to field would decrease, therefore lessening the risk of Vidro missing a ball that Lopez would've gotten to. Well, it's clear to me that you have other things you're paying attention to -- and, well, ignoring...

Not only that, but you're also decreasing the defense quality at third base, by replacing Adrian Beltre with Willie Bloomquist. Unless Adrian's hurting, it's probably a bad idea to give him the night off. I could make some argument for getting Willie's bat into the lineup -- heck, it might even make sense to have him play second. But third base? Taking Adrian out? Ugh.

Please tell Felix to strike everyone out tonight, and be choosy with his fastball.


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Friday, August 10, 2007

Save #2!!!

While I was away from the TV yesterday, mostly, watching Joey's final track meet of the season, I was able to 'watch' the game on my cell phone, thanks to the WEP version of GameCast. I was somewhat surprised that Mac left George in for the 9th, when the M's tacked on two more runs in the top of the inning and closed the door on a save opportunity for JJ. I knew that GS52 would've been eligible for the save had he been left in during the 9th, and I was both shocked and happy that it happened.

It was his longest outing since April 18th. Three K's and one walk (and on the GameCast on my cell phone, the AB with the walk was very questionable -- there appeared to be at least one strike that was called a ball, based on the graphic GameCast K zone. I'll have to go back to the game thread reactions to see if anyone commented on that pitch. It wouldn't surprise me to hear from Sid on this issue. Heh.

But whether or not it was a "vultured" save, I'll take it, and congratulate George on his second career save. I know there are more meaningful stats, sabermetrically, but saves mean a lot for player contracts, so huzzah!

What a fine season this lefty's having!

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hank Aaron, I Will Always Love You!

As of 9 a.m. on Wednesday the 8th of August, I still have yet to watch Barry's 756th home run. If I refuse to turn on the TV, does that mean that HR will never have existed? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

While I even took space on this here blog to advocate the Mariners signing Barry Bonds before the 2007 season, I wasn't thrilled with the idea. I just tried to play devil's advocate for a minute to see if there was any logical reason why the M's would consider signing Bonds -- and why he might consider playing in Seattle.

How many other players, historically, have had their career average stats improve THIS much after age 35 (omitting, of course, his 2005 season where he missed basically the entire season, but including 2007 thus far):

OPS - 275 points
OBP - 121 points
SLG - 153 points
BA - 36 points
BB/Season - 61
HR/Season - 10

Even if you filter out the extra 30-ish HRs he hit in 2001, changing the 73 to, say, 45, there's certainly no decline there. And that's why Barry Bonds record will always be tainted in my mind. Just a quick run through the numbers, adding 6x his career average prior to 2001 to his stats from 2000, and I come up with roughly 700 HRs. In my mind, he's still got 56 to go.

I agree with Churchill. It should've been Junior.

Hank Aaron will always be better than Barry Bonds.

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