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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 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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