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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 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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