2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Seattle Mariners

StatSpeak heads to the great Northwest to take a look at the Seattle Mariners, as our reverse alphabetical tour of MLB continues to stop #6.
Record: 88-74, 2nd in the AL West
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 79.15 wins (794 runs scored, 813 runs allowed).  The Mariners got a wee bit lucky, apparently.
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Caffeinated Confines
Other Mariners Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: Remember when the Mariners were knocking on the door of the playoffs?  The 2007 season featured a manager leaving his job when the team was winning (and then Ichiro re-signed… total coincidence), a collapse near the end of the year that dropped them from playoff contention, and the team still won 88 games.  And everyone wondered when the Mariners would bring Sexson back.  (Somewhere out there, someone just made a resolution to hunt me down and smack me for saying that.) 
What went right: How’s this for a telling statistic?  Who on the Mariners received the most intentional walks in 2007?  Jose Guillen?  Adrian Beltre?  Nope, Ichiro Suzuki, singles hitter extraordinaire.  In fact, Ichiro has apparently been the most feared Mariner for the last six years (in one year tying with Raul Ibanez and John Olerud).  Ichiro-mania may have died down from sheer exhaustion (and Dice-K), but Ichiro himself is still going strong.  He doesn’t walk very much, but then again he doesn’t need to.  He didn’t lead the league in OBP, but the players above him, and many below were all power hitters who did it by crushing the ball deep.  How does he do it?  Simple.  He’s the fastest player in the league.
When I filled out my AL Cy Young ballot, I was sure to put J.J. Putz in second place on the ballot.  At the time, I even said that I understood a first place vote for Putz.  (I let my Cleveland-centric tendencies get the better of me.)  What I didn’t understand was how Putz was left out of the Cy Young voting completely.  Completely.  Justin Verlander got a vote, but Putz didn’t.  Since he pitches the ninth, and pitches 81 games in Seattle plus another 20 or so in LA and Oakland, and a smattering in San Diego (MLB has the Padres and Mariners as regional arch-rival teams… someone at the scheduling office needs to look at a map of America), most of his work took place at around midnight or 1:00 am on the East Coast.  Thankfully, there’s no East Coast bias in the media.
I don’t want to belabor Putz, because he’s been spoken of at length.  George Sherrill hasn’t. (Well, OK, a shout out to Mariner Morsels, a collective blog dedicated to “freeing” Sherrill.)  Sherrill has quietly developed into one of the better lefty specialists in the league.  In his career, left-handed batters have a combined .167/.227/.291 line against him.  For what it’s worth, he isn’t awful against righties either (.261/.384/.352), although he has his flaws against them.   That spike in OBP is from walking far too many RH batters.  In general, he’s a flyball pitcher (GB/FB rate of .045), but he also plays half of his games in Safeco.  And he strikes out more than a batter an inning.  In 2007, he was pretty much a LOOGY and rarely got to pitch a fully inning, but like the Mariner Morsels folks, I wonder why the Mariners aren’t opening him up a little more.  They could certainly do much worse.
What went wrong: At the bottom of the Mariners’ audit page at Baseball Prospectus, two names pop out.  Richie Sexson and Jose Lopez are an odd couple.  A closer look will show a few important differences.
Sexson actually dropped his K rate from 2006 to 2007, increased his BB rate, and his batted ball profile was pretty much unchanged (he hit a few less line drives, and instead beat them into the ground.)  His BABIP was the culprit.  A gentleman who has normally put up a .280-.320 BABIP over a number of years suddenly saw it drop to .217.  In statistics, that’s called an outlier.  Sexson gets paid to hit 35 HR.  He also usually checks in with an equal number of doubles.  This year, he not only dropped to 21 HR, but he also only hit 21 two-baggers.  The other thing that changed was that he saw about a quarter of a pitch less (3.97 to 3.74) per plate appearance from 2006 to 2007.  Sexson needs to relax.  Assuming that there wasn’t a huge major injury that wasn’t made public, Sexson should revert to form.
Lopez is another story.  After impressing (and making the All-Star team) in 2006, his production dropped off the face of the earth.  Or more to the point, it dropped back to a level consistent with what it was in his first two (partial) seasons in the majors.  Again, here’s another case where his batted ball profile didn’t change, nor were his walk and strikeout rates markedly different.  Lopez’s BABIP’s from 2004-2007, .251, .276, .312, .269.  2006 looks like the outlier.  Lopez, deep down in his soul is probably a .250-.260 hitter right now.  He’s also 23.  Lopez only saw 3.4 pitches per at-bat (ah youth, always so eager), and could do to walk a bit more and the good news is that those skills come with age.  Thankfully for him he’s on the right side of 30.  The bad news is that Lopez fooled the fans of Seattle (and the front office, who figured it was safe to trade Asdrubal Cabrera) in 2006.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Who woulda thunk that, in retrospect, Gil Meche would seem like a pretty good deal at $11M per year?
Felix Hernandez… need more be said?: Dave Cameron, over at U.S.S. Mariner (one of the best baseball sites on the web, and not just for Mariners fans — they do general baseball talk as well) had a very well-publicized blog post in which he questioned out loud why Felix Hernandez was throwing so many fastballs in the first inning.  The night of his next start, Hernandez mixed his pitches more.  And not to mistake it for coincidence, Hernandez himself basically came out and said that he got the idea to do so from U.S.S. Mariner.  Mike Hargrove (too soon?) once said that there are two things that every man thinks that he can do better than anyone else: cook a steak and manage a baseball team.  (He said that after the 1999 ALDS, his last act as manager of the Cleveland Indians.)  Then again, where is Mike Hargrove at this moment?  Probably cooking some steak.  Let this be a lesson to all the stat-o-phobes out there.  We’re really a harmless bunch.  In fact, we occasionally have some ideas that just might work.
While we’re on the topic, Felix Hernandez is that good.  Take a look at his pitch breakdown.  96-97 mph splitter?  Then, a nice 83 mph deuce with some bite?   A 60% ground ball rate?  Want to hear something scarier?  His BABIP over the last year was above the league average.  That means he’s gotten unlucky.  Hernandez has been with the big club since he was 19.  I suppose any pitcher is always a blown out elbow away from his career ending, but this guy is amazing.
Will the real Adrian Beltre please stand up?: I know, I know, he’s not even 30 yet.  Me either.  This is for all the folks who are hoping against hope that Adrian Beltre will re-capture the magic from 2004.  The year where he hit 48 HR.  The year where all that promise seemed to be fulfilled.  The year before the Mariners gave him that now-ridiculous-seeming contract.  Pop open Beltre’s year-by-year stats.  Now, take a black magic marker and cross out his 2004 season on your monitor, so that you can’t see it.  We’re going to pretend that 2004 never happened.  Do you notice a pattern in the stats that I’ve allowed you to see?  Other than his 2004 season, Beltre has been obscenely consistent.  He’s not a bad player at all.  But, he had the good sense to have an outlier year in his free agent year.  But, what the Mariners have gotten from Beltre over the past three years is what they can expect for the next two.  I know, I know, but you desperately want him to go back to being the 2004 version of himself.
Outlook: The Mariners have quite a few rather interesting-looking position players coming up through the minors, although most of their young pitching is in the majors already (King Felix, Feierabend, Morrow, O’Flaherty).  They have the advantage of being in the smallest division in baseball (4 teams).  But they also play in a division with the Rangers who have a lot of young talent too, the A’s who have the smartest GM ever (EVER!!!), and the Angels, who are starting to have that “We’re bent on world domination, just like the Yankees” feel to them.  The Mariners have been mentioned as being in the mix for Dontrelle Willis, which would be an interesting addition, but that’s not going to solve all their problems.  What the team probably needs to do is get out from under some of the silly contracts that they’ve given out.

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4 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Seattle Mariners

  1. SABR Matt says:

    Small correction..the USS Mariner has quality content usually, but it is not a good place for Mariner fans. It’s a good place for people who want to whine, moan, and generally berate all things related to the Mariners under the guise of Mariner fandom…and it’s run by intolerant, arrogant, biased moderators who will ban you as soon as it becomes cleare that you disagree with their gospel truth (er…opinion) and can back up that disagreement with real talking points and logic.

  2. Pizza Cutter says:

    Matt, you’re welcome to your opinion on USS Mariner, but may I politely point out that this isn’t the forum for discussions of that sort.

  3. Matt Souders says:

    It’s ALWAYS appropriate IMHO to warn potential readers. I won’t take up massive amounts of thread space on it…I just think people expecting a quality debating experience over there should be prepared in advance.
    Re: the Mariner article, the difference between Seattle’s PythagenPat W% and their actual W% was IMHO partially luck and partially an outstanding bullpen and partially a SPECTACULARLY inconsistent starting rotation which tended to get all blowed up when the starter of the day wasn’t on and be competitive when he was (IOW, the RA were exaggerated by a series of massive blowouts from Horacio Ramirez, Jeff Weaver and Miguel Batista when he was having one of his bad days.

  4. RollingWave says:

    I don’t think the Angels are actually quiet as big of a threat in the longer run as people perceive. their outfield is going to be old, their one true great hitter is declining and might be on the verge of leaving. their farm… which looked spetacular just a few years back, haven’t quiet panned out the way people hoped . (is that some sort of LA thing ? then again the Dodgers is more due to terrible GM / management / media ignorance … while the Angels is simply injury / lack of performance )
    The A’s are also in some deep trouble. Beane usually figure a good way out, but still even he could only do so much. the team at best is a every other year contender . and could go worse than that (consider their lack of something called a .. um… farm .. maybe drafting all college guys weren’t such a bright idea after all ;))
    The M’s have a lot of good complement pieces in their farm that should help even if Jose Lopez never recovers. but they need a true power hitter (even if Sexson rebound ) and some more people that could get on base and not pretend they can do what Ichiro can. while it hasn’t been really talked as much about. wouldn’t Barry Bonds make so much sense as Seattle’s DH?

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