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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

ange0812 001.jpg

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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Posted by BrianL

5:14 PM, Aug 12, 2008

The problem with using Mid-May as your comparison point is that ZiPS/Pecota/Marcels projections simulate over an entire season, not a 30-40 game span. A month and a half worth of games is going to present all sorts of small-sample size issues that the projections obviously won't agree with.

So, of course the projections aren't going to agree with your Mid-May comparison point because it wasn't designed to be used in that manner.

Posted by BrianL

5:27 PM, Aug 12, 2008

And really, it isn't as if bad talent and underachieving are mutually exclusive. No one is saying that it's either one thing or the other.

Posted by genesisfan

5:47 PM, Aug 12, 2008

I like the stats, balanced with gut feel. Yes, they have generally underachieved, but time after time when I compare what the opposing team is putting in the field vs. what we are putting in the field, my gut says we don't match up. That is especially true when it comes to the better teams. We didn't match up last year, this spring or this August.

You mark Bavasi's mid-May departure comments as a measuring moment. It seemed to me the comments measured Bavasi. He put down the team he had assembled. He put down the character of the key acquired player in the trade he manufactured. And he did that while walking out the door, days after childish manipulation of the after game clubhouse rules. It may be that in a few years we discover Bavasi's farm system acquisitions were a bunch better than Gillick's, but until then the measurement of underachievement belongs first and foremost to Bavasi...AND THE EXECUTIVES WHO HIRED HIM AND WHO REMAIN IN PLACE, PERPETUATING TWO DECADES OF ON FIELD FAILURE EXCEPT ABOUT THREE SEASONS. NOW THAT IS UNDERACHIEVEMENT...THEY COULD BE RUNNING WAMU.

Posted by tikal002

6:05 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Dude, thats just it, it is not only about numbers. Adrian Beltre chokes with runners in scoring position. That is who he is. It is not a phenomenon THIS year, it is the way he has always been. We have noticed it the first year he got here. So if he chokes in 2008, that is expected. That is why every time a manager puts him to bat 3,4,5 he dies, and when they drop him to 6, 7 he does good. Same with Sexson. You can say they "underachieve", but that is part of their make up, who they are. And they will be the same next year too. The difference between A-rod and Jetter.

Posted by ConcentrationGuy

6:10 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Your argument, spelled out in english:

The team is underperforming because they have attitude/work ethic problems. We know they have attitude/work ethic problems because they underachieved up to the point that you wrote an article pointing out that they were underachieving due to attitude/work ethic problems.

Google circular reasoning.

Posted by tikal002

6:14 PM, Aug 12, 2008

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.

Geoff, none of it is bad luck. There are 162 games. Baseball more than any other sport is not about luck.

None of it is about injuries. All teams have injuries. Ortiz is out for the Red Sox, Yankees have had a slew of injuries, Vladdy has been hurt for the Angles, Crawford and longoria out for the Rays, every year every team has injuries, this team didn't have the depth when JJ went down, or Bedard gets hurt, why, LACK OF TALENT!!

Posted by Jakob

6:24 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Geoff, please stop making blanket statements about "everyone" ("everyone in the blogosphere") -- it greatly undermines your argument. In May, who exactly said the team was trash? It wasn't everyone. Even over at USSM and LL, they argued that the M's were more talented than they were playing, even while lamenting the horrible play on the field.

If you mean the general sentiment of commenters here, on your blog, that's one thing, but these broad generalizations are pretty lazy and unbecoming.

Posted by Tek Jansen

6:36 PM, Aug 12, 2008

agree with BrianL about artifically using a one and 1/2 month span to compart ZiPS and the rest of the projections. Players don't meet their projections every single day/week/month. It takes a 162 games. Furthermore, using OPS alone over a one a 1/2 moth span looks only at the result and not the process. Ichiro's process, such as line drives, groundball, swinging strikes, etc, would have told you that he would rise. He was still the same player. Other player's peripherals would indicate that they would continue to struggle through measures such as OPS.

Also, the idea that numbers after mid-May are meaningless is somewhat irritating and puzzling. Unless someone can show me that certain players, past mid-May, peformed better because they realized the games no longer mattered, the point is rather useless. Geoff, you fail to show a cause (meaningless games) and effect (talent producing) relationship.

I would add another level to yours Geoff-- lack of organizational depth. This is all on the FO. The M's had no reasonable replacements for Sexson, Vidro, Wilkerson. And they still don't for Yuni. So when the players tanked, the M's could do nothing. They already traded the farm for Bedard.

The M's went all in with a pair of threes. It is rather useless to blame your pair of threes for not being a straight flush. The better way forward is to think about why you went all in with a pair of threes and how to better manage your assests going forward. The M's need to hire a GM who realizes the decisions prior to this season were ill-coneived and more likely than not to lead to failure. If their new GM thinks that this season was wasted due to clubhouse infighting and lack of effort, then they will continue to fall even further behind other clubs.

Posted by jimmy1000

6:43 PM, Aug 12, 2008


Adrian Beltre's slash lines::

w/ RISP: .274/.327/.463
w/o RISP: .265/.344/.461

Looks to me like he's been the same hitter regardless of the situation. You could even argue that he has been better with runners in scoring position over his career. He's just having an unlucky season.

Posted by jimmy1000

6:48 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Those numbers should be reversed.....whoops.

Should read:

w/ RISP: .265/.344/.461
w/o RISP: .274/.327/.463

Those are his career numbers by the way as I noticed that I didn't say that explicitly.

Posted by tikal002

7:00 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Thanks, you made my point.

Posted by BrianL

7:03 PM, Aug 12, 2008

tikal002 - That's a statistically irrelevant split. It really didn't make your point.

Posted by RagArm

7:03 PM, Aug 12, 2008

What a waste of time.

Posted by What a waste

7:20 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Looks like the USSMariner must be sinking again.

One has to wonder why the missionarys find it so necessary to be here looking for converts when they could be having such intelligent discussions with their own geek brotherhood.

Posted by scottM

7:25 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Whether the sample size can paint the portrait statistically or not, GEOFF is absolutely correct in limiting the snapshot to the period from March 31 to May 20th. This is the best Baker post yet on illustrating just how collective the failure was for the M's, offensively, while the ship actually sank.

Clearly, Vidro, Wilkerson, and Johjima were abysmal; Sexson never woke up the way we needed him to.

Remember how McLaren made light of Ichiro's 0 for 23 in Spring Training? Well, Ichiro Suzuki did NOT come into the 2008 season ready to compete at HIS level of performance. He was our lead-off catalyst who was not catalyzing this team in April. And everyone who clamored loudly for Clement and Balentien to be promoted, in May and June 2008, their offensive performances were horrid, too.

If GEOFF takes the time to paint a similar portrait for the Mariner relievers in early 2008, there were many, many lost opportunities there as well.

Likewise, in how many early season games did the Starting rotation leave this team in a position to win? Not as many as they should have.

Finally, how many plays defensively, did the M's fail to make? Even beyond the ugly string of documentable errors that this team led the league with early on, there were just as many should have/could have made plays that weren't made.

This collapse was a four sided matrix that imploded. JJ Putz and Bedard were hurt, most of the other players either sucked, dogged it, didn't bring the "A" game, or face an eroding skill level. Describe it anyway you want, but it warn't good.

Whatever it was, I've never seen a sports team that promised to be in the hunt, that so dramatically underdelivered.

Posted by Terry

8:47 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Before the season, it was difficult to find a projection system that thought the Ms were even a .500 club based upon the individual player projections stacked against their competitors.

This was a poorly constructed team before the first pitch and the fact that they wouldn't even sniff a playoff run was a consensus prediction from every projection system that was publicly released.

Really, this and it's related thread seem centered upon answering why the Ms suck worse than expected.

I'm not sure why that's a compelling issue. The talent (or lack thereof) issue is the elephant in the living room that trumps the field mice in the cellar.

Posted by Sounders

8:57 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Right on Geoff.

The M's were utterly unprepared for this year. My blame goes in this order

Howie and Chuckie


McLaren and the other coaches

The players

Rick Rizzs

Dave Simms

The Moose

Posted by Sounders

9:04 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Tek Jansen:

Agreed. Good post. The only issue now is whether Howie and Chuckie get lost. If they don't, we can be fairly certain that no good GM will come here and as fans, prepare for more years of perpetual mediocrity.

If they split, well, maybe we can get Kim Ng or DePodesta and get going towards something instead of trying to constantly bail water from a ship with a hundred holes

Posted by M"s Fan in CO Exile

10:27 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Projections are not based on how a person is expected to do at a given point in a season. The utiltity is to tell you how they will probably do that entire season. The fact that the decent players had slow starts at the same time as untalented ones finally collapsed is a bit of bad luck, but the tide could have been held back to some degree if the roster was better constructed. A player does not underachieve relative to a pre-season projection by not hitting his stride early on. Most teams are not hopelessly out of it mid-may. The timing of the rest of the team's collapse is not in the control of one player. How does it make sense to say a player has a good season when he puts up certain numbers and the team is contending, but, putting up the same numbers is underachieving if the team is out of it early.

You can try to say "clutchiness" is a skill, and it may be, but this team's implosion goes much deeper than that. Ichiro is not going to have a bad year simply because his GM built a non-contender and he had a slow start. It just doesn't make sense. By the way, how can we complain about people "padding" their stats on the one hand, and then say that they should bring their "A" game and that they should be called out if they don't. I just don't see how you can hold both positions with a straight face.

Posted by tomiron

4:56 AM, Aug 13, 2008

The reason why Geoff picked his arbitrary "mid-May" point is really very simple and transparent.
Every day of May except the 14th (which Geoff "picked") and the 1st, Ichiro's OPS was .700+. Geoff wanted to proceed with his transparent anti-Ichiro agenda.
Nice to see that few people took his pathetic bait.
As a lot of people a great deal smarter than poor old Geoff pointed out, Ichiro's low numbers could be attributed to bad luck in BABIP/small sample size which Ichi really had no control over.

It's interesting to see that before this so-called critical time before the Mariners "fell out of contention" and the rest became useless and stat-padding (according to Geoff Baker's agenda of the day), that up to this time even though his batted balls weren't going in for hits Ichiro was busting his ass and stealing 10 bases in 14 games. Talk about doing anything possible to contribute to a win even when you are having terrible luck with BABIP (during Geoff's so called critical time).
(Btw funny that Geoff completely ignored this while blaming "Ichiro and company" for not doing anything "when it mattered").

And is it a coincidence that Ichiro was on his highest steal rate so far in the States (I assume to try to compensate in ways he could for the overall putrid offense) until he injured his hammy? There is a guy with real heart.

Geoff, your passive aggressive anti-Ichiro campaign is getting stale and is also revealing your ugly character defects. Maybe it's high time you were moved out of your present job and sent to bother some other team.

Posted by adam

7:58 AM, Aug 13, 2008

Yeah, and that's two games in a row when Ichiro was jobbed out of a stolen base by the official scorer. Who knows how many other times it's happened this year? He could probably have 50 already by now.

Posted by Sky

10:08 AM, Aug 13, 2008

Of course the Mariners have underperformed -- nobody expected them to post a .380 winning percentage. The question is about how much they've underperformed -- what should have been the pre-season expectations? Here's a great summary of various projection systems:

77 Hardball Times
76 Diamond Mind
72 ZiPS

At their current pace, the Mariners will win 62 games, although that's with a significantly different roster than they started the season with. The average of the above systems is 76 wins. That's half way between last year's win total of 88, meaning misguided expectations and under-performance are equally to blame for the Mariner's 2008 season.

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