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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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August 12, 2008 10:52 PM

Another mistake-filled loss

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Speaking of padding stats, here comes Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez to notch a four-run save after an error in the ninth brings the tying run to the on-deck circle. Yeesh. K-Rod strikes out Raul Ibanez for save No. 46 -- in pursuit of Bobby Thigpen's record of 57.

When an error by the shortstop costs your team three runs and a win, it gets to the point where you wonder how much longer that team can continue to play said infielder. Yes, Yuniesky Betancourt did look like Ozzie Smith on that groundout in the seventh inning. But what can I say?

Too late. Mariners lose 7-3.

This was what Carlos Silva talked about last Friday. Bringing your "A Game" right off the bat. Betancourt didn't have it on that Jeff Mathis grounder in the fifth inning and Jarrod Washburn got buried after that. Oh well, another night, another derfeat. Jeff Clement nearly cost Washburn big in the third inning by failing to snag a foul pop-up by Vladimir Guerrero near the screen.

Washburn got his catcher off the hook for that one, striking out Guerrero. But he couldn't pick up Betancourt, nor fool Guerrero a second time when the error enabled him to bat in that fifth inning.

Story of the game right there, folks. Some more botched chances on offense against a shaky Jon Garland.

You've got to get the runner home from third in that fifth inning with one out and Adrian Beltre up. Then another chance later, in a 4-3 game, with one out and runners on first and second, goes by the wayside as well. Lack of execution. So, is it a "talent" issue? Or an execution issue? Not saying these are mutually exclusive, just asking which is predominant with this club?

Mark Lowe yields three runs in the eighth on a Garret Anderson homer and a Juan Rivera double. That's your ballgame. Washburn gets another "quality start" of seven innings, one earned run allowed. But I'm sure he'd rather have had the win.

"When you know that if you make one bad pitch here or there, and it changes the whole game, it's tough to do,'' Washburn said after his 12th "quality start'' this season. "You would hope every game doesn't come down to one pitch. But it seems to be working that way for us.''

Yes, it has. It's why Silva blew a gasket last week. One reason Washburn has only four wins to show for those dozen quality starts.

Mariners manager Jim Riggleman addressed his players after the game. He talked about how it's a team game and that their missed opportunities throughout the contest helped create the loss. Riggleman tried to downplay the Betancourt error as a play made on a "hard hit ball'' that was no gimme. True, it wasn't. But Betancourt is supposed to be an above-average shortstop defensively. At least, that's the rumor.

Riggleman was upset about the lack of add-on runs against Jon Garland.

"I think sometimes some of our guys are going up to the plate with the weight of the world on their shoulders,'' Riggleman said, "and wanting to be successful so bad that they're just not allowing themselves to relax and get a quality at-bat.''

We've been hearing that one since the beginning of the season. It may be true. Perhaps these players are trying too hard in pressure situations. The flip-side, a pessimist might say, is that they can't handle pressure. I won't make that call definitively just yet. But they have been making this "trying too hard'' claim all year. getting the job done, apparently, is a lot harder than it sounds.

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August 12, 2008 8:39 PM

Mariners at Los Angeles Angels: 08/12 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Guarantee you Jarrod Washburn is ticked. Just gave up four runs -- one earned -- in the fifth inning, courtesy of two home runs and one huge error by Yuniesky Betancourt. The usual Betancourt Laze-O-Rama came when he waved his backhand at a grounder to his right. That enabled Jeff Mathis to reach after Juan Rivera had already hit a solo homer. Then, instead of an ensuing 4-3 groundout by Chone Figgins, the play wound up a single through the right side because Jose Lopez had to break for second to cover the runner. A bunt moved both men over. Mark Teixeira then grounded out to bring an unearned run home. Then, the big byproduct of the error -- the fact that Vladimir Guerrero got to hit again with men on. Guerrero smoked a 1-0 pitch into the stands.

Look, I'm not going to say Washburn pitched great. But this is how big innings get going. It's happened too often this year. Breakdowns going on behind the pitchers. Seattle trails 4-3 because of it.

To switch gears a bit, I know many of you are worried about the "deadline" the Mariners have for signing first-round pick Josh Fields. Stop worrying. It turns out, there is no "deadline" at all. At least, not for a long while. Fields was a college senior, so he isn't bound by the Aug. 15 deadline other picks have looming over them. That's because they may opt to go back to school and the deadline is there because of that.

Not for Fields. He isn't going back to school. The Mariners have until a week before next June's draft to get a deal done. Sure, they'd like for that to happen before next season, no doubt. But it doesn't have to happen this week. So, sleep easier.

Continue reading this post ...

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August 12, 2008 4:55 PM

More on "bad talent" underachievers

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Greetings from Anaheim, where the Angels have just taken the field for batting practice. I've just finished perusing all of your comments from this morning (as usual, it takes about an hour since there are so many of you chiming in). I'd like to thank lawyer pal M's Fan in CO Exile for running the blog while I was flying out here. Your check is in the mail.

One thing though, with Colorado's excellent summary, is that he compared the ZiPS projections for the Mariners to their present-day stats. Not to the other list I provided from mid-May. I'm not complaining, since I put those up there for comparitive purposes. It's true that some Mariners are starting to rise up to near where their projections were supposed to be. Some haven't and never will. And if we look back to mid-May, when everyone in the blogosphere was complaining that this team was non-talented trash, we see numbers that don't come anywhere close to the projections.

Now, I didn't pick mid-May out of a hat. That was the day we ran our front-page story about whether the M's clubhouse could be having trouble based on linguistic and nationality lines. We'd pronounced the season all-but-dead in the paper and on the blog. The rationale was that the M's had just blown a chance to fatten up on a Rangers squad that wasn't supposed to be all that good. Pretty much, from that date on, the team never really recovered from its tailspin. You can use the end of May if you want, which is when Bill Bavasi called out the players for a lack of leadership. I'm just telling you why I picked mid-May.

So, if you go with those OPS numbers, versus their ZiPs projections in brackets, you get:

Ichiro .688 (.776)...88 points below expected
Lopez .737...(.671)...66 points above expected
Vidro .533...(.734)...201 points below expected
Ibanez .854...(.799)...55 points above expected
Beltre .777...(.770)...7 points above expected
Sexson .714...(.764)...50 points below expected
Johjima .571...(.721)...150 points below expected
Wilkerson .652...(.741)...89 points below expected
Betancourt .629...(.723)...94 points below expected

So, to summarize, at the point in time that the team truly fell out of it and all of us began turning to next year, the lineup had four guys out of nine who were underperforming OPS projections by 88 points or more. You had six guys out of nine who were 50 points or more below their projected OPS. And you had two guys who were 150 points or more below.

That is catastrophic.

Yes, Jose Lopez was a surprise. But as a team, if you were going to pick one player to overperform offensively, it probably would not be your second baseman. I mean, good on Lopez. But the team needed that from a true power hitter. It got some from Raul Ibanez, as it has all year. Otherwise, when it mattered, a total disaster. Had this team put up its projected numbers we probably would not have been writing off the season in mid-May. Maybe in mid-August. But not in mid-May.

Pitching-wise, no starter had reached expectations by mid-May. Arguably, Felix Hernandez is the only one to have come close to exceeding them this year. Erik Bedard has a good ERA, but finish about 80 innings shy of where most folks expected him to be. That's an enormous innings loss for any staff to make up. Was that a non-talent issue? Or simply a bad luck issue?

Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva were all league average pitchers last year. This year, only Washburn has a shot at coming close. None were remotely close in mid-May. Lack of talent? Terrible defense behind them? Underachievers?

Ditto with J.J Putz and Eric O'Flaherty, whose struggles and injuries hurt the team badly in the first six weeks. No talent? Or underperformance? Or bad luck?

These are not mundane questions. Yes, it's true the M's might have overachieved at 88 wins last year. But they won 78 games in 2006. Wouldn't a natural progression from that and regression from last year, leave them at somewhere near 83 wins? Not like the team changed all that dramatically. It added Bedard, lost Jose Guillen. If you think 83 wins, or 80 wins, is right, why is this club headed for 64?

This is what has to be figured out. Can this club add a few players and hope to compete next year? Or, is it so untalented that you have to gut it? Or, is it a team that will produce its numbers over a full season, but not when those numbers matter.

You've seen the numbers Colorado showed you. Some of them don't look so bad. But in mid-May, they were horrific. Some teams that are way out of it do tend to bring up their numbers. Some might even call it padding their stats when nothing's at stake.

We had a guy here earlier this year who many of you accused of doing just that when I first got here in 2006. I wrote a story in Sept. 2006 about "numbers guy" Richie Sexson and how he'd met his home run targets with a lot of meaningless August and September dingers.

So, is that how we should measure numbers? By year-end? Or do we judge Ichiro and company by what they did when it matters? Like back in mid-May. If you don't think so, then you were obviously OK with what Sexson and Adrian Beltre did in 2006. Like I said, there are a lot of things to consider when comparing numbers, projections, overachievement and underachievement.

If you liked Sexson, the 2006 "numbers guy" then you'll probably be OK with what the M's are now doing numbers-wise and measure their production from here. If not, you'll want to go back to when the games meant something and measure from there.

Can't have it both ways, though.

So, in my mind, when there was still a season to play for, this team vastly underachieved. Whatever has happened since is, well, mere numbers being tacked on to nothing. Can you judge a season off those? I don't think so. I think you have to look at what this team did when it mattered and judge from there.

How much was bad luck? How much was injury-related and how much is a lack of talent? For me, the talent would be on the third level. But ultimately, if that talent can't produce when the games matter, you might have to change the entire bunch in any case.

Like I said, this isn't an easy puzzle to solve.

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August 12, 2008 8:12 AM

Bad talent or underachievement?

Posted by Geoff Baker

Getting ready to shove off to Anaheim for tonight's game. Quite the off-day spent by a lot of you going back and forth on the whole Carlos Silva issue. Just one note: I don't dislike Brett Miller. And neither should some of you. I've actually met him before, posted this item from him back in February, on the blog, so I know he's a guy who puts thoughts into things. Was surprised to see him say he'd lost respect for me because of an opinion on Carlos Silva. But, oh well. He's got his opinions, I've got mine. It's been a long season, and these things come and go. As we can see from reading that old blog post, we all had expectations for this season that didn't quite get fulfilled. Silva, Miller, myself.

A part of yesterday's debate centered around whether the Mariners truly are a bad team, built with inferior talent, or merely an underachieving team with players who can't win when they have to. As many of you know, I'm siding with the latter part of that argument. And no, it's not because I'm afraid of being proven wrong about my pre-season prediction. I've already been proved wrong. So, that's not really part of this discussion. The team hasn't won. It hasn't contended. Whether it's for one reason or another, I was still wrong. This isn't an attempt at excuse making. It's an attempt at figuring out what the heck went wrong this year. Something the team is no doubt doing as I type this. In the spirit of catching my plane on time, I'll make this brief.

Here's how I've gone about determining why this team is an underachiever more than a "bad talent" assembly. First off, let's look at this set of on-base-plus slugging percentage statistics, as of today, for the Mariners' starting nine position players and DH (from the Opening Day roster):

Ichiro .755
Lopez .775
Vidro .612
Ibanez .837
Beltre .742
Sexson .696
Johjima .558
Wilkerson .652
Betancourt .632

Better yet, let's look at what they were back on May 15, when, after getting thumped twice in a week by the Texas Rangers, the M's limped home from their latest road trip all but out of it:

Ichiro .688
Lopez .737
Vidro .533
Ibanez .854
Beltre .777
Sexson .714
Johjima .571
Wilkerson .652
Betancourt .629

So, there you go. Obviously, a bunch of players are no longer here. Wilkerson appears to be a case of a guy who simply fell off the planet. I'll grant you that. It happens. But as for the rest, what I do is look at where they were projected to be in 2008, using whatever system you want. Try PECOTA, or ZiPS. Any system at all. Plug it in and see what was projected for them. Then, you look and see where those numbers correspond to the actual ones put up right now. Or, see where they corresponded to those that had been put up at about the mid-May point this team fell out of it.

If they are close, then take that system you used to project performance and put it in the bank.

Or, if they are largely off, you might want to reconsider your claim this team had no talent to begin with. All I'm looking for, in trying to understand the "no talent" argument, is a sign that these players are performing about as expected by everyone before the season began and therefore stink. But I'm not finding that in my research. So far, what I've seen is massive underperformance. And when you have that, I think it's letting the players off the hook too easily to attribute this year's collapse to poor roster building and other things that ignore the massive underachievement we've seen. Sure, some players, like Wilkerson, simply crash. But an entire lineup? Remember, this isn't an old versus young thing. The old guy, Raul Ibanez, has held up quite well. The younger guys, like Yuniesky Betancourt and Adrian Beltre, not so well. Was Ichiro a case of "no talent" with that .688 OPS in mid-May? Not to me, he wasn't.

But that's just me. Do the exercise. Compare projected versus actual numbers. Do it with pitchers, too. You can. And like I said, if this team comes close to the numbers your system projected, send them on by to me and I'll reconsider my stance that this is more of an "ability to win when it matters" issue versus a "talent" question.

Simple enough? I've got to catch my plane.

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