Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A goose egg for Dipoto, a gig for O'Brien

As we celebrate today because pitchers and catchers are reporting to Mariners camp, and as I'm in need of a vehicle for procrastination, I decided to make an addendum to my general managers article posted on Friday. I spent about 2,300 words explaining how I figured Pat Gillick was the best trader among M's general managers and Bill Bavasi was the worst. But I didn't rank Jerry Dipoto, current GM, because there just isn't enough data. As you will recall, or can go read, I rated trades for each GM based on future Wins Above Replacement gained and given for each swap. As Dipoto has been on the job for just over a year, most of his deals have yet to pencil out.

I decided I might as well dig up what data there is and see how he's doing so far. Interestingly enough, based on trades made before the end of the 2016 season, Dipoto's general manager trade value is exactly: ZERO. We logged eighteen trades Dipoto made between his hiring in September 2015 and the end of last season, and so far he's gotten back precisely as much WAR as he's given away.

Dipoto's best trade, so far, resulting in a gain of 2.1 WAR, is the deal that brought Leonys Martin to the club, along with Anthony Bass, for Tom Wilhelmsen, James Jones, and Patrick Kivlehan. His worst, at -2.2 WAR, was sending Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay for Boog Powell, Nate Carns, and C.J. Riefenhauser. Oddly enough, Dipoto lost 1.6 WAR dealing Riefenhauser away, along with Mark Trumbo, for Steve Clevenger. While Trumbo had a modest 1.6 WAR, all we got out of Clevenger was 0 WAR and some racist tweets.

The Tampa deal illustrates why we didn't want to lump Dipoto in with the rest of the general managers yet. The ultimate value of the trade probably hinges on how much of a prospect Powell is. He hit .270 in 64 games at Tacoma last year before getting hit with an 80-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.

Similarly, the trade of Mike Montgomery and Jordan Pries for Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn presently ranks as -0.7 WAR for the M's, as Montgomery delivered 0.4 WAR out of the Cubs bullpen while Vogelbach went 1-for-12 during a September call-up for -0.3. But Vogelbach has some potential; he hit 23 home runs and had an OPS of .923 playing for Iowa and Tacoma last summer. Also Vogelbach's nickname is "Vogey." What is wrong with the nicknamers these days? Well, at least he's not D-Vog, and I'm sorry for even putting that idea out there.

In rating the previous general managers, I declined to calculate the trades in which clearly minimal, if any, value had changed hands. I wonder what the future Weisenheimer doing this exercise with ten years of hindsight will think of most of these deals. Juan De Paula and Jio Orozco for Ben Gamel doesn't seem particularly exciting, but if Gamel is the next Mike Trout, or even the next Bruce Bochte, that's probably a plus for the M's.

Dan O'Brien, Jr.

Dan O'Brien ranked number seven of eight Mariner general managers with a trading WAR of -32.9. He passed away last month at the age of 87. His son, Dan O'Brien, Jr., has just landed a gig with Minor League Baseball. According to a report on Ballpark Digest, O’Brien has been hired to serve as a senior executive advisor to MiLB president & CEO Pat O’Conner. This will be the junior O'Brien's 40th season in professional baseball. He was an advisor to the Royals last year and worked for the Brewers as a special assistant for ten years before that. He got his start working in sales and marketing for the M's back in the dark ages.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Bad trades: Rating Mariner general managers

Bad trades are part of baseball. I've made several recent posts about bad trades, and have threatened to do an analysis to determine which Mariners general manager had the worst trading record. Which one do you think was the worst trader? Keep your answer in mind; I’m about to give mine!

First, a little about the methodology. Say what you will about Wins Above Replacement (WAR), it is an easy, one-number representation of a player’s overall value. So in rating trades, I simply compared the future WAR given up to the future WAR received. It’s a hindsight-is-nearly-20-20 way of looking at the swap. For those not familiar with the concept, a player who reaches 2 WAR in a season is a decent starting player, a WAR of 5+ is an all-star type year, and a player with 8 or more WAR would be in the running for MVP. I used WAR as listed by Baseball-Reference.com. It is explained fully on the site.

In rating the general managers, I have not included all trades, mostly because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in analysis of swaps such as Steve Delabar for Eric Thames. (Jack Zduriencik lost on that deal, getting -0.1 WAR of Thames for 0.3 of Delabar, a -0.4 WAR swap.) We didn’t consider whether either team actually kept the player, just the total future WAR involved in the trade. We didn’t rate Jerry DiPoto because there’s not yet enough data on his deals. In fact Zduriencik’s data isn’t complete, either; Thames just signed a three-year contract with the Brewers after putting up some good power numbers in Korea for four years. Finally, we don’t include WAR from drafts or signings, though we will make note of some in the narrative. We're just talking trades.

Thus, from best to worst, we rate Seattle Mariner general managers on their trading acumen:

1. Pat Gillick, 2000-2003. GM trade value: 42.7

It figured that Gillick would sit in this spot, though he was the M’s GM for just four years. He held the chair during the amazing 106-win season in 2001 and, while many key pieces of that club were in place when he took over, Gillick made important signings of folks like Bret Boone, John Olerud, and David Bell, all of which were positive.

Gillick made only three significant trades, and two of them worked out OK. Sort of. It was Gillick’s task to trade Ken Griffey, Jr., and he got good return. As we wrote in a previous article, Mike Cameron was by far the better player in the coming years, and the trade amounted to a net gain in WAR of 29.1 for Seattle.

The other good trade for Gillick was the acquisition of Randy Winn for Antonio Perez, a gain of 19.5* WAR. It’s marked with an asterisk, though, because manager Lou Piniella was sort of a part of the deal, and the M’s haven’t done much since Sweet Lou and Gillick departed the scene.

I rated Piniella with my facetious “genius managing factor,” which is essentially a comparison of expected pythagorean wins against actual team victories that attributes the difference to good (or bad) managing. In Piniella's seven years with the Rays and then the Cubs, he had a GMF of -4.

Gillick also signed Ichiro and Felix Hernandez and drafted Adam Jones. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

2. Lou Gorman, 1977-1980. GM trade value: 31.8

It’s probably a bit of a surprise to see the M’s first general manager so high on the list. Think about it, though—the expansion Mariners had so few players of value that it was hard to make a bad trade!

Most of Gorman’s WAR gains are the result of the selection of veteran lefty reliever Grant Jackson in the expansion draft. Since a veteran lefty reliever is of dubious value to a crummy expansion team, Gorman dealt Jackson to the Pirates for Craig Reynolds and Jimmy Sexton, for a gain of 10.2 WAR. Reynolds was the regular shortstop for two years until Gorman dealt him to Houston for Floyd Bannister, a gain of 16.5 WAR. Thus, Gorman squeezed 26.7 WAR out of Jackson. He also came out ahead on a deal that sent the “Rapid City Rabbit,” Dave Collins, to the Reds for southpaw hurler Shane Rawley. He even got a small positive return for dealing the franchise’s first favorite, Ruppert Jones, to the Yankees for Jim Beattie. I still sing “Rupe, Rupe, Rupe for the Mariners” during Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Gorman died in 2011.

3. Woody Woodward, 1989-1999. GM trade value: 25

OK, how many of you immediately had Woodward pop into your heads when I suggested that you think about which M’s GM you thought was the worst trader? I thought so. I did, too. Here’s what happened.

Woodward made what is by far the best trade in Mariner history when he shipped Mark Langston and Mike Campbell to Montreal for Brian Holman, Gene Harris, and a wild kid who was 55 2/3 innings into what became a Hall of Fame career. Randy Johnson was worth 104.4 future WAR, and Woodward came out 92.9 WAR ahead on the deal.

Since he had only 25 WAR to the good by the end of his long tenure with the M’s, Woodward gave most of it back.

He also made the two worst trades in club history: The disastrous swap of Jason Varitek AND Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb (-56.5 WAR) and the deal of David Ortiz to Minnesota for Dave Hollins (-52.2). I almost gave Woodward a pass on the Ortiz deal, but a trade is a trade. Even so, the Twins had Ortiz for six years and were so impressed with him that they simply released him after the 2002 season. Ortiz signed with Boston and became a Fenway-aided monster.

Woodward made some nice deals, too. The swap of Darren Bragg for Jamie Moyer was a gain of 32.2 WAR. Even when forced to trade Johnson he came out 4.3 WAR ahead on the deal. But he made a few other clinkers, too, such as the puzzling deal of Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, and Jim Mecir to the Yankees for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis (-31.5); and the Omar Vizquel deal I wrote about last month (-31.7).

So it was feast or famine with Woodward on the trade market. In other moves, he hired Piniella and drafted Varitek, Boone, and Alex Rodriguez.

4. Jack Zduriencik, 2009-2015. GM trade value: 11.1

“Trader Jack” came in and almost immediately pulled off an eleven-player deal, the principals of which were J.J. Putz, Luis Valbuena, Jason Vargas, and Franklin Gutierrez. The deal gained Zduriencik 13.2 WAR, and he spent the rest of his tenure losing 2.1.

Jack Z
We learned a lot about Zduriencik from his two deals involving Cliff Lee. In trading Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, and J.C. Ramirez to the Phillies for Lee in December 2009, he came out 27.5 WAR ahead, as the players he gave away were worth less than zero. Aumont was the M’s first-round draft pick in 2007; in parts of four seasons with the Phils he pitched in 46 games, all but one in relief, and recorded a career ERA of 6.80. The M’s used 3.4 of Lee’s WAR during the 2010 season before dealing him to Texas in July, along with Mark Lowe, for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, and Josh Leuke. It was a -20.5 WAR deal, but in the Lee dealings Jack came out ahead by seven because he got to use some of Lee, and Smoak and Beavan had some minor value.

My next study may be a look at deals made to get “something” for the guy who is about to become a free agent. The best idea may well be to hold on and get a good couple of months from the player who is going to walk, rather than collecting three shiny pennies for your dull old quarter.

There were a number of times Zduriencik made a good move, only to later give away his gains. He earned 6.2 WAR trading Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ, then lost 4.5 trading Happ for Adrian Sampson. He got John Jaso for Lueke (+8.6) but then dealt Jaso for Mike Morse (-5.6).

5. Hal Keller, 1984-1985. GM trade value: 1.4

KellerKeller was the club’s general manager for two seasons and made just one trade of note, dealing Tony Bernazard for Jack Perconte and Gorman Thomas. Thomas was about done, but Perconte had a couple of nice, productive seasons for the M’s. Sitting on your hands can be a good approach for a GM!

Keller passed away in 2012. His brother was Charlie Keller, a slugging outfielder for the Yankees during the 1940s. Hal caught a couple of dozen games for the Washington Senators between 1949 and 1952.

6. Dick Balderson, 1986-1988. GM trade value: -6.8

Balderson ran the club for three seasons and made one horrible trade, another bad one, and a couple of good ones. The bomb was the inexplicable 1986 swap of Dave Henderson and Spike Owen to Boston for Rey Quinones, Mike Brown, Mike Trujillo, and John Christensen—a loss of 29.7 WAR. The other clinker was his trade of Danny Tartabull and Rick Luecken to the Royals for Scott Bankhead, Mike Kingery, and Steve Shields (-10).

He came out ahead in the deal of Phil Bradley and Tim Fortugno to Philadelphia for Dave Brundage, Mike Jackson, and Glenn Wilson, +14.2 mostly thanks to a long and useful career by the reliever Jackson.

Then came Balderson’s best trade and the only Mariner trade I know of to make it into sitcom lore: the swap of Ken Phelps to the Yankees for Jay Buhner, Rick Balabon, and Troy Evers. This one was a gain of 22.8 WAR and brought Balderson much closer to the break-even point as a trader. Alas, he was sacked about a week after making his best deal ever, and replaced by Woodward.

Balderson also drafted Ken Griffey, Jr.

7. Dan O'Brien, 1981-1983. GM trade value: -32.9

O’Brien, Seattle’s second-worst trader ever, was the club's second GM and gets his low rating on the basis of just two deals that did not go well. Worst was his swap of Bud Black, a decent hurler and future manager who pitched one inning for the Mariners, for Manny Castillo, a -2.2 WAR guy who made it a -22.3 deal. The other was a five-for-six swap that essentially boiled down to Rick Honeycutt for Richie Zisk and Jerry Don Gleaton (-10.5). Zisk was probably the first of many disappointments brought in to add some power to the lineup. Honeycutt had a long career as a pitcher and has been the pitching coach for the Dodgers for a decade or so. I wonder if he’s taught Clayton Kershaw anything about the use of thumbtacks. Gleaton, a ginger-headed southpaw nicknamed “Flamin’ Red” by M’s broadcaster Dave Niehaus, was once the post-game interview subject some years after leaving Seattle. Asked about his his continuing career, Gleaton observed, “When you’re a lefty, they want you even if you suck.”

O’Brien, who passed away last month at age 87, signed Edgar Martinez.

8. Bill Bavasi, 2004-2008. GM trade value: -155.8

Probably most of you who didn’t guess Woodward as the team’s worst trader ever picked Bavasi. You were right, and it’s not even close. In five years Bavasi made nine major trades and every single one of them returned negative WAR. Most of them turned in double-figures negative WAR.

His crowning achievement is the stunningly awful trade for southpaw pitcher Erik Bedard, for whom Bavasi surrendered Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Cam Mickolio. Total WAR: -39.7. Bavasi has been gone from the M’s for nine seasons, and this trade is still getting worse. Jones is now 31 years old and just had his lowest-WAR season (1.1) since having a cup of coffee with the Mariners. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that he could add at least another 10 WAR over the next 4-5 years. Tillman is about to turn 29 and has averaged 2.9 WAR over the last four seasons. If he does that again it’s another 12 WAR. Another 22 WAR makes this one -61.7, and that would be the worst deal in club history.

Other terrible Bavasi trades: Shin-Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham for Ben Broussard (-31.4). Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez (-25.8). Matt Thornton for Joe Borchard (-14.2). Heck, Bavasi’s “best” trade was the one dealing the 43-year-old Moyer to the Phillies for Andrew Baldwin and Andy Barb. This was only -4.8 WAR as Moyer went on to win 58 more games in the bigs, while Baldwin and Barb were career minor leaguers. It's tough to trade a guy who is over 40 and still come out on the short end.

Bavasi’s best moves were free agent signings of Richie Sexson, Kenji Jojima, and Adrian Beltre. While all three are considered busts by many, Sexson and Jojima made modest contributions in Seattle. In Seattle Beltre never reached the sort of gaudy numbers hit put up with the Dodgers, but he did account for 21.3 WAR in five seasons with the M’s, and 66.9 in all since the signing. We're starting to hear talk of his Hall of Fame credentials; he just re-upped with Texas for two years and needs 58 hits to get to 3,000 and 55 home runs to get to 500.

Bavasi was far and away the worst trader among former Mariner general managers. He took over a club that had won 91 or more games in each of the previous four seasons and immediately won 63. While they finished above .500 once during his tenure, by his final season the M’s lost 101 games.

To recap:

WAR from trades by Seattle general managers

Gillick: 42.7
Gorman: 31.8
Woodward: 25
Zduriencik: 11.1
Keller: 1.4
Balderson: -6.8
O'Brien: -32.9
Bavasi: -155.8

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Little-O and more bad trades

I got to thinking about bad trades in baseball again after reading an article by Craig Edwards today on the baseball site FanGraphs. The piece is titled Omar Vizquel and the Worst Hitters in the Hall of Fame,” and takes a look ahead to Little-O’s first appearance on the Hall ballot next year.

Omar Vizquel
They love to crunch their numbers over at FanGraphs, and you can probably guess from the title of the piece where Edwards is going. He concludes that Vizquel was the seventh-best defensive player in major league baseball history (based on a metric called defensive runs saved) but that his bat was so bad that he could arguably be called the worst hitter in the Hall (exclusive of pitchers, I presume) were he to be elected.

I reckon that SOMEBODY has to be the worst hitter in the Hall of Fame. Edwards figures it's either Bill Mazeroski or Rabbit Maranville right now. Edwards wouldn’t vote for Vizquel for the Hall and, while he was a favorite of mine while with the Mariners—it was a treat to watch him play shortstop—I probably wouldn’t either. That’s even considering his fantastic play to finish Chris Bosio’s no-hitter in 1993. (Lovebird note: My Sweetie, the Official Scorer, and I saw Bosio pitch for the M’s against the Orioles in Baltimore on our honeymoon later that year.)

Little-O probably WOULD be a legit Hall of Fame candidate if Weisenheimer and my Sweetie, the Official Scorer, had attended more games. As it was, we would get a 20-game package back in the day when it was affordable to do so, and, as my Sweetie, the Official Scorer by definition keeps score at all games, we knew that Vizquel hit about .395 when we were there. Dave Valle also hit very well when we were at the park; we must be inspirational for hitters whose names begin with the letter V.

But, as we noted in our post last March, bad trades are part of baseball, and while it wasn’t mentioned in that post, the deal that sent Vizquel to Cleveland in December of 1993 has to rank right up there with the worst the M’s have made. Seattle general manager Woody Woodward, whose fingerprints are all over quite of few of the M’s worst trades ever, dealt a young shortstop who would one day be worthy of at least some Hall of Fame discussion for Felix Fermin, Reggie Jefferson, and cash.

The idea, as memory serves, was that Fermin would “replace” Vizquel as the shortstop until Alex Rodriguez was ready and that Jefferson, a switch hitter who hit righthanders far better than he did lefties, would bring some lefty options to first base and designated hitter for manager Lou Piniella.

Felix Fermin
The two new M’s weren’t exactly horrible in the strike-shortened 1994 season. Fermin hit .317 in 101 games, but had only one home run, four steals in eight tries, and his OPS was .718. A sub-par defender, he played shortstop until the Mariners called up Rodriquez in early July, and then moved over to second base, which had mostly been played by Luis Sojo (everybody scores!) and Rich Amaral to that point. Fermin’s WAR for 1994: 0.4. Jefferson played only 63 games in 1994 but was effective when he was in there. He batted .327 and hit eight home runs, leading to a nice OPS of .935. With limited playing time, his WAR was 1.1. Meanwhile in Cleveland Vizquel hit .273 in his first year with the Tribe—a career best to that point—won a Gold Glove and amassed a WAR of 0.8.

So, for 1994 anyway, you could argue that the Mariners came out slightly ahead on the deal. From there on it went south. Way far south.

Reggie Jefferson
Jefferson became a free agent after the season and signed with Boston, so the 63 games were all the M's got on that part of the bargain. He played five years for the Red Sox and contributed 3.7 WAR. Fermin had a dismal 1995 for the M’s, batting just .195. He was released the following spring, played 11 games for the Cubs in ’96, and was out of the majors. After the trade his WAR was -1.6. He's managing a club in the Mexican League these days.

Vizquel, on the other hand, played in parts of 19 seasons after the trade. During those years he made the All-Star team three times, won ten of his 11 gold gloves, and piled up 34.9 WAR. His best year was 1999, when he had 6.0 WAR, hit .333, had 42 steals, an OPS of .833, and finished 16th in the MVP voting. That year was a bit of an outlier, as he never batted .300 or better in any other season, though he finished in the .290s four times.

Doing the math, then, Woodward traded 34.9 future wins above replacement for 2.1 WAR. That’s a bad trade, unless the cash part of the deal was really, really high. Even with Rodriguez (career WAR 117.7) coming up, there was no need to dump a brilliant shortstop for close to zip.

I keep threatening to evaluate all the M's trades and determine the all-time worst, and the crummiest general manager. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A circuitous route to outstanding baseball fun

In the space of eighty hours this week I traveled 2,291 miles by Amtrak train, 180 miles by bus, around 12 miles on the Red Line on the Chicago L, 11 miles with Uber, 2.3 miles via private automobile, and walked about four miles. Those 2,500.3 miles of travel were well worth it for taking me to a couple of fantastic baseball memories. The Chicago Cubs are more famous than the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (even though they're tied for the number of World Series victories achieved over the last 108 years.) But this week the Rafters put on a great show, and may well beat the Cubs to the big gonfalon in the sky.

Root, root, root for the Cubbies

Wrigley Field in Chicago is a baseball cathedral, one of only two ballparks in use in the majors that were built before 1960. Fenway Park in Boston, opened in 1912, is the other and is two years older than Wrigley. Plopped down in a primarily residential-and-sports-bar neighborhood on Chicago's North Side, Wrigley should be on the bucket list for anyone who enjoys baseball, even those such as Weisenheimer, an avowed Cardinals fan. I made my first trip to the field August 17, taking a slight detour on the way to a family reunion in Wisconsin.

The Friendly Confines are as advertised, at least once you get past the metal detectors and the cheeky gate guy who chides you for wearing a red cap (Spokane Indians) while he rifles through your camera bag. You can get a scorecard for $1.50, the beer is good and cold, there's not a bad seat in the house, and the Cubs have an enthusiastic and knowledgable fan base. I enjoyed this particular game with Jason Harber, a friend and Twins fan by birth who moved recently to the Windy City from Seattle and has become an avowed Cubs disciple. It helps that he lives just a hop and a skip from the ballpark and has a father-in-law with season tickets. Jason says he's aware of another club in town but somehow hasn't made it down to the South Side.

The Cubs eliminated all suspense pretty early in the game, logging five in the first inning, three on a homer by Jorge Soler, on the way to a 6-1 win over Milwaukee. Fans hung around the ballpark for a good while after the final out, with activities like the singing of the Go, Cubs, Go! song. I didn't know the lyrics, but was starting to catch on by the third chorus. The only Cubs song I know is A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request. Interestingly enough, both were penned by the late Steve Goodman. Do they still play the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around?

The Cubs have a pretty good club this year.

At the other end of the baseball spectrum

As noted above, the primary purpose of this road trip is to attend a family reunion in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. When the dates were set for our reunion activities, I looked up the schedules and was dismayed to note that the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, the town's club in the Northwoods League, was to complete its season the previous weekend. But upon awaking in Chicago the morning after the Cubs game, I received a text message from my aunt, Ann Kroll, a big fan of the Rafters. The Rafters had successfully navigated the summer collegiate league's playoffs and advanced to the championship series against the Eau Claire Express. Game one of the best-of-three affair was slated for that very evening at historic Witter Field in Rapids.

Me and Mr. Cub outside Wrigley Field. Let's play two. 
"I'm in!" I texted, also noting that Ernie Banks had been following me around all day.

I have some personal history with Witter Field. The Wisconsin Rapids White Sox of the Class-D Wisconsin State League played there for most of the years from 1941 until the league disbanded after 1953. Ma Weisenheimer did some work preparing the scorecards for the games, for which she was paid handsomely: an invitation to the team's season-end banquet and a ball autographed by the players. One of the players was my uncle, Carl Bathke, who toiled for the club in 1946 and 1947. The field was home to the Class-A affiliates for the Senators in 1963 and for the Twins from 1964 until 1983. I vaguely remember attending a Midwest League All-Star Game there during one family vacation, and one resource lists such games there in 1967, 1972, and 1973.

Witter Field during game one of the Northwoods League championship series.
I would travel by train from Chicago to Milwaukee, then by bus from Milwaukee to Wisconsin Rapids, scheduled to arrive in town at 7:40 p.m., 35 minutes after first pitch. I texted Ann at about 6:30 that the bus was on schedule. She replied that she had a ticket in hand for me and would shuttle me from the bus stop to my hotel and then the ballpark. (Ann is making a strong bid for favorite-aunt status.)

Some check-in challenges with the party ahead of me at the one-person front desk of the hotel delayed things a bit. I arrived at the game at 8:30-ish with the contest in the top of the fourth and the Rafters leading visiting Eau Claire 3-1. The Express clawed back into the game mostly by following the time-honored tradition of making the pitcher try to catch the ball. Several Rafter relievers had a little trouble with their fielding, and Eau Claire eventually went up 4-3 in the top of the ninth, sending a sizable and noisy visiting contingent of fans into hysterics with their cowbells and air horns.

The Rafters' Andrew Turner dunked a single leading off the bottom of the ninth. Richie Palacios and Jake Lumley both followed with well-struck fly balls, both of which were tracked down by Eau Claire outfielders. That brought catcher Rob Calabrese to the plate. Calabrese crushed a towering fly ball on the first pitch that cleared the fence in left for a two-run shot that gave Wisconsin Rapids a 5-4 victory and even made the ESPN highlights.

You can hardly top an exciting finish and a win for the home team, but the party atmosphere at Witter Field made for a totally entertaining ballgame. I think there may still be some folks in the stands singing YMCA and other classics from the '70s. The public-address announcer kept asking if this was the most exciting Thursday evening of our lives. I'm pretty sure it wasn't for me, but it was a great deal of fun, and combined with the history of the place in the family lore it's one I'll remember for a good, long while.

I was sort of pulling for Eau Claire Friday night, because a victory by the Express would force a deciding game three back at Witter Field on Saturday (and potentially add another ballgame to my road trip.) Alas, it was not to be. Wisconsin Rapids scored six in the top of the sixth and romped to an 11-4 victory to wrap up their first Northwoods League title.

Top that, Brewers. See you in Milwaukee Monday night.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tacoma Rainiers 13, Albuquerque Isotopes 1

Tacoma starter Adrian Sampson pitched six innings of one-hit ball and the Rainiers scored four runs in the first and never looked back in a 13-1 rout of the Albuquerque Isotopes on a sunny afternoon Sunday at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

Sampson, a local prospect who attended Skyline High School and Bellevue College and was a fifth-round draft pick by the Pirates in 2012, hit a batter, walked two, and struck out two while throwing 82 pitches during his start Sunday. We'd suggest that the Mariner organization ask its starters to work a little longer to avoid future gaffes such as the untimely removal of Felix Hernandez from his start against Oakland on Sunday.

Offensively the Rainiers got off to a quick start. Centerfielder Herschel Mack "Boog" Powell led off the game with a leg double to center, a hot grounder that skittered off the glove of Albuquerque second-sacker Joey Wong. Shortstop Chris Taylor followed with a walk, and designated hitter Efren Navarro singled to plate Powell and make it 1-0. After first baseman Stefen Romero bounced into a fielder's choice, catcher Mike Zunino singled to score Taylor. One out later third baseman Ed Lucas lined a double into the left field corner to score a pair and it was 4-0.

Tacoma scored two more on four singles in the second, Romero blasted a homer with Taylor aboard in the fourth, and the Rainiers completed their day's scoring with a five-spot in the fifth, helped along by a couple of Isotope miscues.

Tacoma won three of four in the series that opened the Pacific Coast League season.

Your bus ticket to Hartford is ready

Albuquerque starter Shane Carle heads for the showers after
getting the hook in the fifth inning against Tacoma Sunday,
while his mates discuss how they plan to come back from a
10-0 deficit. They didn't; the Rainiers won 13-1. Photo:
Greg Scheiderer.
Albuquerque starter Shane Carle, a former tenth-round draft pick out of Long Beach State, served up the tasty meal of meatballs for Tacoma hitters. Carle's line: 12 runs, 11 earned, on 12 hits in four-plus innings. He struck out three, walked three, and hit a batter. For his next start they'll list his ERA as 24.75 and opponents' batting average against him as a robust .522. Isotope manager Glenallen Hill was probably correct, if somewhat tardy, in removing his starter with no outs in the fifth. Carle was a respectable 14-7 with an ERA of 3.48 for AA New Britain last year. He may be headed back to AA if he doesn't get his ERA down below two dozen.

Every Tacoma starter had at least one hit, Powell leading the way with three hits and three runs scored. Romero had two hits and four RBI, and Taylor and right fielder Daniel Robertson had two hits each. Lucas was kept busy at the hot corner, logging six assists on the afternoon. Zunino was robbed of an RBI and saddled with an extra at-bat thanks to some poor baserunning in the second inning. He hit a booming fly ball to center with runners at the corners and one out. Taylor tagged at third and trotted plateward, expecting to score easily. However Romero inexplicably tagged at first and headed to second, where he was thrown out by Albuquerque center fielder Michael Tauchman and tagged before Taylor touched home.

Box score.

In search of perfection

My sweetie, the official scorer, and I have seen probably hundreds of games together by now and have never witnessed a no-hitter. We remind ourselves of this each game. At brunch at Mioposto Pizzeria before heading to Tacoma Sunday, our server, Mariel, noted us clad in our baseball jerseys (Sweetie wearing Edgar Martinez/M's, Greg wearing Rogers Hornsby/'51 Rainiers) and correctly deduced we were headed to a ballgame. Mariel said she'd only been to one game ever: Felix Hernandez's perfect game in 2012. Dammit.

Is something Wong?

Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong has a brother in the minors, but is not, so near as we can tell, related to Albuquerque's Joey Wong. Still, we think St. Louis should trade their ace starter to the Rockies for Joey just to find out if two Wongs make a Wainwright.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Bad trades are part of baseball

Annie Savoy knows whereof she speaks.

“Bad trades are part of baseball,” says the Susan Sarandon character in the opening sequence of the 1988 film Bull Durham. “Who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas for God’s sake?”

I got to thinking about bad trades as I was preparing the previous post about Nelson Cruz and researching the dubious deals made by the Mariners over the years. (Man, do I love BaseballReference.com!) Quite a few other masochists have considered this subject and posted their lists of the team’s terrible trades. Just about all of these lists include Woody Woodward’s swap of Randy Johnson to the Astros at the trading deadline in 1998, and Pat Gillick’s shipping of Ken Griffey, Jr. to the Reds in February of 2000.

I say hold on a second.

Randy Johnson

Johnson had a sour relationship with the club and was going to become a free agent at the end of the ’98 season. He was 34, there were concerns about his back, and he was putting up un-Big Unit type numbers (9-10, 4.33) in Seattle before the trade. Johnson was brilliant for the Astros (10-1, 1.28) after the deal, signed as a free agent with Arizona that offseason, and promptly won four straight National League Cy Young Awards. It would have been tough to get equal value back for that.

Yet Woodward did all right, getting Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama in exchange for Johnson.

Garcia and Jamie Moyer were the aces of the staff for the 116-win club in 2001, the former going 18-6 with an ERA of 3.05. The Chief had five pretty good seasons for the M’s, amassing a record of 76-50. In mid-2004 Bill Bavasi traded Garcia and Ben Davis to the White Sox for Mike Morse, Miguel Olivo, and Jeremy Reed. Garcia wound up with 156 wins and a 4.15 ERA in 15 seasons.

Guillen spent a couple of years as the regular shortstop in Seattle, then became an All Star after being traded by Bavasi to the Tigers in ’04 for Juan Gonzalez (sadly, not the slugging one) and Ramon Santiago.

Halama was a journeyman who went 56-48 with an ERA of 4.65 over nine years.

Comparing the players by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Johnson piled up a handsome 39.8 in the five years following the trade. Garcia did OK at 15.6 during that same span. Guillen was 15.1 WAR in his first five seasons as a regular and racked up career WAR of 27.7. Halama is practically the definition of replacement level; though he chalked up 4.7 WAR in his first season in Seattle, his career total was only 5.6. Woodward managed to get decent value out of a situation in which he had little choice but to make a deal.

Trading Junior

Gillick’s situation with Griffey was similar. The Kid wanted out of Seattle, wanted to play closer to home. With the gun to his head, Gillick got Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez, and Jake Meyer for the future Hall of Famer. It’s hard to see how anyone calls this a bad trade.

Griffey had only two really good seasons during his injury-plagued years with the Reds. His total WAR from 2000-04 was 8.5. Cameron in those same years racked up 19.8 WAR, including 18.3 in four years with the M’s. He was a far better player than Griffey over that span.

Tomko is essentially Halama. In fact, he had the same career ERA of 4.65, and went 100-103 over 14 seasons. Meyer never made the show. Perez was a utility infielder for four years with the Rays, Dodgers, and A’s.

The one interesting note about Perez is that in October of 2002 he was traded, along with manager Lou Piniella, to Tampa Bay for Randy Winn, who had a couple of nice years for the M’s, and he, Cameron, and Ichiro were a beautiful outfield to watch. Winn was dealt by Bavasi to the Giants in a deadline deal in 2005 for the legends Jesse Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba.

Winn was a useful player, but the deal that brought him to Seattle may actually be the worst in club history. The Mariners have had only four winning seasons and have not made the playoffs since Piniella’s departure.

The real worst trade

The Griffey deal does not belong on a list of bad trades. Seattle got the short end of the Johnson deal but did OK under the circumstances. What’s the real worst trade?

Whenever my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I talk about bad trades one of us usually says, in Annie Savoy accent, “Who can forget Jason Varitek AND Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb, for God’s sake?” Slocumb notched 10 saves in 11 opportunities down the stretch in 1997 for the M’s team that won the A.L. West, but wasn’t actually very good. He saved just three and had an ERA of 5.32 the following season. His career WAR was 5.6 in 10 seasons.

Varitek, on the other hand, was a switch-hitting catcher with power—he was Crash Davis!—and piled up 24.3 WAR in a 15-year career. Lowe pitched 17 seasons and was 33 WAR. That was a lousy trade.

I thought of it again last year when the M’s shipped Fernando Rodney to the Cubs. I figured that if Woodward had been the general manager in Chicago we could have gotten Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta for this “proven closer.”

What may eventually be acclaimed as the M’s worst trade ever is the February 2008 deal in which Bavasi sent young slugger Adam Jones to Baltimore for the great Erik Bedard. Bedard’s career WAR was 17.3, but only 4.3 of that came after the trade. Jones has already piled up 27.5 WAR with the Orioles. Who needs a gold-glove center fielder with a great bat, anyway? Oh, and by the way, we also gave Baltimore FOUR OTHER GUYS in the deal. Chris Tillman has developed into a solid starting pitcher, George Sherrill was a useful left-handed reliever, Kam Mickolio pitched in 29 games in the bigs, and southpaw Tony Butler was a career minor leaguer. Word at the time was that Bavasi needed to win or he'd be sacked. In this, at least, he was correct. He was fired June 16 with the team already 17 1/2 games out and in dead last. Bedard, alas, didn't help turn things around.

Some folks list the Mariners' 1996 swap of David Ortiz to the Twins for Dave Hollins among the worst ever. It didn't turn out well, but I give Woodward a pass on this one. Ortiz was 21 at the time of the deal. He was 17 when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic, and had knocked around the M's system for three years before the trade. In parts of six seasons with the Twins he amassed just 2.5 WAR. A free agent after the 2002 season, he signed with Boston, hit 31 homers in 2003, and was off to the races. But it was seven years later, and there was really no sign that Ortiz would blossom into a Hall of Fame contender. The hell of it is that this trade was a case of the Twins trying to get something, anything, for a guy who was going to be a free agent. Hollins played just 28 games for the Mariners and signed with the Angels for 1997.

One good trade

This post makes it sound as though the Mariners have never made a good trade. On the contrary, they made what is possibly the best trade in baseball history, at least as judged by television situation comedies, swapping designated hitter Ken Phelps to the Yankees on July 21, 1988 for a young outfielder by the name of Jay Buhner. The deal was so bad for the Yankees it was ridiculed on an episode of Seinfeld.

Ironically, less than a week after making the best swap in franchise history, general manager Dick Balderson was fired by the Mariners. Manager Dick Williams had been sacked earlier in the season, and the club was in last place and 20 games out. And thus began the Woodward era.

Bavasi or Woodward?

The names of Bill Bavasi and Woody Woodward are all over the bad trades list. They had some successes.

Woodward hired Piniella, drafted Alex Rodriguez, and dealt outfielder Darren Bragg to Boston in 1998 for Moyer. Many folks thought that was dumb at the time. Bragg was a speedy young spark plug and Moyer a 34-year-old soft-tossing lefty. Moyer pitched for the M's for parts of 11 seasons and won 145 games, which is tops on the team's all-time list, though Felix Hernandez will likely pass him in about a month. In August of 2006 we made the same mistake Boston did, trading too-old Moyer at age 43 to the Phillies for essentially nothing. He kept going until he was 49 and won 58 more games. (As a total aside, it may tell you something about the Mariners' mostly sad history as a franchise that the list of its ten winningest pitchers includes Joel Piñero and Gil Meche.)

But Woodward made some other lulus, too. July 31, 1997 may go down as the darkest day in M's history. On the same day as the Slocumb trade, Woodward moved young outfielder José Cruz, Jr. to Toronto for Paul Spoljaric and Mike "Two Run" Timlin, so named because two runs came in whenever he pitched. Nothing like trading a slugging outfielder for some bullpen "help." Maybe Woodward didn't have a good breakfast or enough coffee that day. He also engineered the disastrous 1995 trade of Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to New York for the completely mediocre Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.

Bavasi's successes aren't so obvious. His best moves may have been the signings of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. While his stats were deflated by Safeco Field, Beltre was a fine player for Seattle. Sexson is generally regarded as a bust, but he had two relatively productive years before falling off in his final season with the M's. In addition to the above moves, Bavasi's 2006 swap of Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard goes down as a bust.

Perhaps one day we will do an analysis to figure out which former GM lost the most WAR in trades.

Beware, ye who would trade for a pitching ace

The notion of going out and getting a good pitcher is what often leads to trouble. Savoy’s favorite trade was a slugger for a hurler; Pappas had reached double figures in victories for eight straight seasons before being traded for Robinson in 1965. He did it eight more times after the deal and won 209 games in his career. Robinson immediately had an MVP season for the Reds and hit 254 of his 586 career home runs after the swap.

Broglio. Who else cut out these
baseball cards from the backs of
cereal boxes?
As a Cardinals fan, I am forever thankful to the Cubs for their trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. It must have made sense at the time. Broglio had won 18 for St. Louis in 1963, while Brock was 25 and in his third season as a regular and batting about .260 when the deal was made. Broglio went 7-19 in two-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, and then was out of the game. Brock made the Hall of Fame. There were four other guys in the deal. You’re more of a baseball nut than I if you can tell me anything about Jack Spring, Paul Toth, and Doug Clemens. Bobby Shantz was also part of the swap, hanging on as a mop-up reliever at the end of his 16-year career.

Other notorious bad trades involving pitchers include John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen, Steve Carlton for Rick Wise, Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields (the elder; Delino Jr. was one year old at the time of the deal), and Christy Matthewson for Amos Rusie.

Naturally, we benefit from hindsight as we look back at how these trades came out. But who besides Woody Woodward didn't realize that the Slocumb deal was a big mistake.

Now, what will you give us for proven closer Joaquin Benoit?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in

The onset of baseball’s spring training has caused painful memories to emerge that I had managed to repress since October. Memories of a Seattle Mariners team with a dismal .311 on-base percentage that still managed to hit into 123 double plays. Memories of a club that was already six games off the pace and effectively out of the AL West race by May 1. Memories of a disappointing club that got the manager, Mr. Lloyd McClendon, and GM Jack Zduriencik sacked.

Nelson Cruz was more successful in 2015 than most players
the Mariners have brought in to add a little pop to the lineup.
Yet though he hit 44 home runs and batted .302, he drove in
just 93 runs. It turns out that hitting over .300 with at least 40
homers and fewer than 100 RBI is pretty rare, and it happened
twice last year. Photo: Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons. 
Even the seasonal bright spot had an odd disappointment. Nelson Cruz was the slugger brought in to add some pop to the club’s anemic lineup. Seasoned Mariner watchers, understandably pessimistic about whatever move the club makes, expected the usual flop, ala Kevin Mitchell, Richie Zisk, Gorman Thomas, or Jeff Cirillo, to name just a few of the duds who suddenly lost their mojo upon arrival in Sodo. Boomstick broke the mold, cracking 44 home runs and hitting .302 on the season. Despite this, Cruz drove in only 93 runs, and 44 of them were his own self, so Cruz sent just 49 teammates plate-ward on the season.

Later I noticed that National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper hit .322 with 42 home runs and just 99 ribbies. Arbitrary cutoffs are what baseball is all about, so I got to wondering how many other players have hit over .300 with 40 or more home runs and fewer than 100 RBI. Today I did the research. The list is surprisingly short. Though there were two such occurrences in 2015, there have been only five others in the history of the game, and all of them have been by big-name players, including the game's two most prolific sluggers. Which now seems obvious, since inclusion on the list means you hit .300 with 40 taters.

The last time it happened was in 2003, when Barry Bonds smacked 45 homers while batting .341 that year, yet had only 90 RBI. Bonds played in 130 games in '03 and had 550 plate appearances. His chances to drive in runs were reduced somewhat by 148 walks, 61 of which were intentional.

Before that you have to go back to 1994, when Ken Griffey, Jr. hit .323 and clubbed 40 round-trippers but drove in just 90 runs. This particular occurrence deserves a bit of an asterisk, though, as the season was cut short by a strike. Junior played in just 111 games and had 493 plate appearances. Had the season progressed to its typical 162 games he might well have approached 60 dingers and gotten the ten more ribbies he needed to avoid this list.

Baseball’s one-time home run king made the list twice. Henry Aaron batted .300 and hit 44 home runs while driving in just 97 runs in 1969, and he went .301-40-96 in 1973, both with the Atlanta Braves. Aaron played just 120 games in ’73 when he was 39 years of age. In ’69 he played 147 games and led the National League in total bases.

The first player to ever hit over .300 with at least 40 home runs and not drive home 100 or more runs was the Commerce Comet, Mickey Mantle, back in 1958. Mantle hit 42 homers that year and batted .304, but had just 97 RBI.

There was quite a bit of “missed it by that much” as I did the research for this list. For example, there was almost a third member just last season, when near-MVP Mike Trout hit 41 home runs and drove in 90, but hit “only” .299. But a cutoff is a cutoff (something many Mariner outfielders seem to know nothing about, but that’s for another article.) In fact it is fairly unusual for players to hit 40 home runs and not reach 100 RBI, regardless of batting average. Adam Dunn may be the poster child on either side of this; he hit 40 or more dingers six times and drove in at least 100 runs in four of those seasons, never hitting above .266.

There's long been a debate about whether "clutch" hitting exists. I don't believe that it does, and for Cruz, it is easy to find a reason that he logged fewer RBI than most guys with his sort of numbers amass. Austin Jackson and his .302 on-base percentage batted first or second 75 times for the Mariners last season. Logan Morrison (.302) led off 20 times. Even Rickie Weeks batted at the top of the order occasionally against left-handed pitching until his .263 OBP (and numerous other shortcomings) led to his release. Seth Smith, though not a prototype leadoff man, batted first or second 40 times and had a .330 OBP. Smith was actually McClendon’s best choice for the top of the order until Ketel Marte arrived at the end of July and put up a respectable .351 OBP for the rest of the season. In August and September McClendon pretty much settled on Marte in the leadoff spot and Kyle Seager at number two, though Seager's OBP of .328 isn’t all that great, either.

Cruz wasn't denied many RBI chances because of the intentional walk, even though he was the team's most productive hitter. He walked 59 times last season, just nine of them intentional. And he didn't fold under the pressure of batting with runners in scoring position; he hit .291 in that situation, just a tick below his overall season numbers. There just weren't that many guys on base for him, and the team didn't have anyone who was really good at getting to first base. Cruz himself was the club OBP leader at .369; maybe HE should have been leading off.

It seems that the Mariners as an organization have had a “walking is for sissies” philosophy in recent years. Swing the bat, be aggressive, they would preach. There must have been a zillion times last season when an M’s hitter would be battling a 1-2 count with several foul balls, and the pitch tracker (if you believe that's not just an intern in the back room putting a dot on a box) would show the pitcher hadn’t yet thrown a strike. One hopes that the hiring of Edgar Martinez (career OBP: .418) as hitting coach means that this approach has been rightly scrapped, and that Edgar can convince these guys to work the count a little, take an occasional walk, and rip the good pitches.

So let’s get some guys on base, set the table for the boppers, and watch Cruz morph into Ben Broussard.