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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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February 2, 2008 7:51 AM

Wilkerson and luck

Posted by Geoff Baker

Came across this interesting blog item on newest Mariners outfielder Brad Wilkerson. It was penned by Brett Miller, a regular contributor on one of our favorite sites, Lookout Landing, and who I had the pleasure of meeting while giving a talk to the local Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) chapter at Safeco Field during FanFest last weekend.

It essentially argues that Wilkerson was a victim of simple bad luck throughout most of last season, attributing his mediocre statistics to one bad month and a terrible rate in his batting average on balls in-play (BABIP). For those of you who don't know what that is, it's exactly what it sounds like. Regular batting average takes into account things like strikeouts. BABIP does not. It measures the number of at-bats in which a hitter makes contact on a ball -- minus strikeouts -- that wind up being hits. It also excludes home runs. Average line drive hitters tend to get a .300 batting average.

One thing I disagree with in the post is that you have to view this deal as being a downgrade from what Adam Jones would have brought in 2008, as opposed to whether it's a downgrade from Jose Guillen last year. I don't think you can look at next season and measure from there before a game has been played yet. A team looks at the previous season and how it can improve. So, you ask yourself, can I help my starting rotation try to take a giant leap forward while keeping last year's corner outfield situation roughly the same? That's what you base your future team designs on. You know last year earned you 88 wins, or a better than .500 season if you don't want to narrow it down too much, and now you figure out how to best keep that model and move forward. In my opinion, anyway.

We'll let Miller take it from there. In the interest of balance, because many of you know where I stand on feeling the Wilkerson signing was a decent one and he can come close to replacing Guillen, we bring you the "Wilkerson stinks" argument from another favorite site, U.S.S. Mariner. (OK, fair enough, it doesn't say he stinks. It's just not as rosy.)

One more thing. No matter which side of this debate you fall on, it's time to stop the personal attacks and mudslinging. I'm pretty sure the vast majority of you all have the common goal of seeing the Mariners win games beyond the regular season. It doesn't matter whether you are statistically inclined, or more tradition-based. Stop trying to bash one another over the head and maybe start, as I've seen Merrill and some other commenters do, trying to listen to what the "other side" is saying. You don't have to agree but you might learn a thing or two for a future argument.

I've said it before. This is not going to be a stats-centric blog. That said, there is no reason we can't start looking at some sabermetric stats. Time to get real, folks. Sabermetrics are not going away any time soon. They are here for the long haul. I know some of you are afraid of them. Some of you are skeptical of their value. Heck, so am I at times. Not so much at others.

We can all pretty much agree that OPS (on-base-plus slugging percentage) is one of the most effective tools out there for measuring the value of a hitter. It falls short on guys like Ichiro, who don't hit for power but make up for it in other areas. But every stat has exceptions.

Yesterday, I used OPS+ to make a pro-Wilkerson argument.

We've used that one before. It sounds complicated, but all it does is factor in ballpark differences around the league. The great part is, you don't even have to do any math. All the scientific ballpark equations have been factored in for you by other people much smarter than me when it comes to this stuff. An OPS+, like its ERA+ cousin, is measured on the idea that 100 is "league average".

So, a hitter with a 104 OPS+ is four percent above league average, as Wilkerson was last year.

Someone with a 75, like Jose Guillen in 2006, would be 25 percent below league average. Guillen was a solid 116 last season, in case you were wondering.

You can find OPS+ stats for every player on the Baseball Reference web site. Just go to Google and type in "Brad Wilkerson" + "Baseball Reference" and it pops right up. Here's the Wilkerson stat line from the site, with his OPS+ down on the far right side of numbers. You can look up ERA+ stats just as easily. Once again, no stat is the be-all, end-all, but these make for easier, more true reference points for comparing players because they factor in the differences in ballparks. So, if a player goes to the M's and plays home games at Safeco Field and his regular OPS drops, you can see what that number really looked like when its considered he faced an unfair situation playing 81 games in a pitcher-friendly park.

It beats using things like batting average in arguments. Try it. Once you get used to looking this stuff up, you'll see how easy it is. And you won't get a headache or heart palpatations whenever someone like our commenting dynamo, Adam, comes at you with some numbers.

No Erik Bedard updates for now. It's been a week since GM Bill Bavasi phoned Adam Jones to tell him the trade was going down. This is getting close to a record for delaying the inevitable.


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