Friday, March 16, 2018

2011: If You Thought 2010 was Bad Let Me Introduce You to 2011

2011 felt a lot like 2010. It was another terrible season for the Seattle Mariners. They lost 95 games, primarily because their offense was historically bad, yet again. Nobody on the team, with at least 20 AB, had a batting average over .280. Let that sink in. Nobody with any significant playing time hit over .280. Mike Carp had the highest batting average of those players at .276. Because no one was getting on base the team scored only 556 runs, the second straight year under 600 runs. Not only could the team not get on base they also couldn't hit for power. The team leader for HR was Miguel Olivo with only 19. 

Probably the statistic that best shows how bad the M's were in 2011 was ratio of strikeouts to walks. The team struck out 2.94 times for each walk they drew. To pull off such an embarrassing result the team led the American League in strikeouts and was last place for base on balls. The team had more strikeouts than hits. No other team in the American League managed to do this.

Additionally the Mariners had the fourth oldest team in the American League with an average age of 29.4 years old. So, it wasn't like this was a bunch of young pups just breaking into the big leagues. They were a team of has-beens on their last legs. There were very few hopes for the future, only 8 of 26 position players to appear in a game were 25 or younger. It was a truly pitiful team of hitters.

Mariners star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki had a remarkable season, but for bad reasons. It was his age 34 season and he looked it. It was the first time he ever got less than 200 hits in a major league season and he wasn't injured. He played 161 games. The former star batted only .272 and had a low .310 OBP. With his mediocre stats it was the first time in his career he missed the All-Star game.

After a bad first season with the Mariners Chone Figgins started off his second year strong. He hit a homerun in the very first game. Sadly that was the end of the good times for Figgins. He didn't hit another homer all year and only hit an abysmal .188 in 81 games. Figgins was so terrible that they put him on the DL in early August and left him there for the rest of the season.

Surprisingly 2011 did have some notable moments for position players that could be construed as positive. Two players of significance made their rookie debuts for the Mariners, former 2nd overall pick Dustin Ackley and future All-star third baseman Kyle Seager. Ackley led the team in batting average for qualified players with a .273 average. He also led the team in OBP with a .348. Unfortunately both were career high for the former second overall pick. Although much less touted than Ackley at the time, Big Booty Seags managed to hit .258 in 53 games. Of the two players Seager would go on to have a much better career (yep I am calling it now even though neither is technically retired). The two infielders were about the only bright spot the whole year.

On the pitching side of things 2011 was another successful year, as long as you don't look at wins and losses.

Rookie phenom Michael Pineda started 28 games and was stellar. He looked like he was going to be a major part of the Mariners future (note: he wasn't. Read the 2012 post to learn about his fate). Pineda ERA was 3.74 and he struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings pitched, a very good rate. The young gun was fun to watch pitch and a definite reason to tune into the games.

Another pitcher that did well for the Mariners was Doug Fister. Many fans never believed in Doug. He didn't ever flash dominate stuff and he didn't have the look of an ace. Old school fans saw his 3-12 record and pointed to it as proof he wasn't anything special. But Fister's ERA didn't lie. In 21 starts he  recorded a 3.33 ERA with an even lower FIP at 3.27. Fister just knew how to get batters out.

Mid season, in an attempt to find hitters for the future, the Mariners decided to traded Fister to the Tigers. At the time I thought it was a bad trade and looking back it proved to be one. However one of the players the Mariners got in return, and the one that made the biggest impact with the team, was Charlie Furbush. So in case you had forgotten, in 2011 the Mariners traded Fister for Furbush. It is an awesome sounding trade to be sure.

The final thing worth mentioning about 2011 is King Felix's season. Coming off a Cy Young winning performance the Mariners decided to celebrate their star by creating the King's Court.  The promotional event became an immediate fan favorite and lives on to this day. It has even gained national acclaim. 

Felix's season didn't disappoint his loyal subjects in the court. He pitched 233.66 innings and struck out 222 batters. His K to BB ratio was especially impressive at 3.31. Finally his early sat at a very respectable 3.47. His best single game came on May 22nd against the San Diego Padres. Hernandez struck out 13 batters and walked none in 8 innings and only conceded 1 earned run. All this earned King Felix his second trip to the All-Star game. Overall a very good season.

Much like the season directly before it 2011 was one filled with terrible offense and good pitching. The Mariner's two year stretch of hitting over 2010-2011 may go down as one of the worst in MLB history. They scored under 600 runs in both seasons. 2011 was even more difficult to watch because former star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was finally caught by age and struggled for the first time in his career. The season was basically a waste because most of the team was old and of the few young players that got opportunities only Kyle Seager ever amounted to anything. The pitching was good, with a team ERA of 3.90, but it wasn't good enough to overcome such a terrible offense.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2010: One of the Worst Seasons of All Time

Coming off an exciting and unexpectedly mediocre 2009 season the Mariners looked to push into the playoffs in 2010. They made a big splash in the offseason acquiring starting pitcher Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies. The Mariners traded away Tyson Gillies, draft bust Phillippe Aumont, and J.C. Ramirez. Teaming up Lee with Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister, and Jason Vargas the team's top four starters were some of the best in the league. Unfortunately the team failed to improve their offense at all. Their only significant addition was Chone Figgins, who had a disastrous start to the season. The abysmal offense sunk the Mariners season and resulted in a 61-101 record, their second 100 loss season in three years.

The Mariners was amazingly bad. They scored only 513 runs the whole season, which was easily the worst in the AL. They were 100 runs worse than Baltimore Orioles who scored the second least. It was the least runs scored by an American League team since the strike shortened 1981 season. For a full season of games the Mariners 513 runs scored in 2010 was the least scored since 1971 when the California Angels scored 511 runs. Like I said 2010 was an epically bad baseball offense.

Here are some more stats to prove my point and make you hate 2010.
  • The Mariners had the least hits in the AL with only 1274. 
  • They had the least HR in the AL with only 101. 
  • The had the least doubles in the AL with only 227. 
  • They had the second most strikeouts in the AL with 1184. 
  • Only one player with at least 100 AB batted over .270. 
  • The team leader in HR, Russell Branyan, had only 15 dingers.

Part of the problem with the team's offense was their DH. The Mariners brought back Ken Griffey Jr for one more year. Unfortunately the mind was willing but the body was not. The Kid hit .184 with no homers and 2 doubles in 33 games played. The season was such a complete failure that Griffey walked away from the game in the middle of the season. There was no warning about his retirement and just a written statement provided to the media via the team. The playing career of greatest player to ever wear a Mariners uniform came to an abrupt end in 2010. It was a fitting thing to happen in a season that was a complete failure in all things hitting.

As previously mentioned the Mariners only significant addition on offense was Chone Figgins. The former Angel was coming off an All-Star season where he hit .298/.395/.393 with 42 stolen bases. Preseason the commentators talked about the potential for two All-Star caliber men at the top of the order setting the table early and allowing the Mariners to jump out to big leads. Sadly this didn't happen.

Chone Figgins had one of the worst starts to a season of any Mariner ever. In March, April, an May he hit .211 (38/180) with 47 strikeouts and only 10 extra base hits (XHB) (9 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR). His slow start cemented his Mariners legacy as a failure. I can't think of a more hyped free agent signing with the Mariners that had such a miserable start. By the end of the 2010 season Figgins had managed to raise his average up to .259, but with a meager .306 slugging percentage it was still a disappointment. He achieved his impressively low SLG by only recording 24 XBH in over 600 AB.

If you recall from before the other big acquisition coming into the 2010 season was the trade for Cliff Lee. The starting pitcher performed as expected. As a Mariner Lee pitched in 13 games and 103.66 innings. His ERA was a low 2.34 and his FIP was even better at 2.16. All this success allowed the Mariners to trade Lee to the Rangers in July and bring Josh Lueke, Blake Beaven and Justin Smoak. It was the third time Cliff Lee was traded in a calendar year. For being such a stellar pitching talent it was pretty amazing turn of events.

The biggest and most heralded players the Mariners received for Lee was first baseman Justin Smoak. That is right, the 2010 saw the arrival of the Smoakamotive at Safeco field. In his first season with the team he played in 30 games and hit 5 HR. His overall performance wasn't impressive, but Mariners fans were hoping for big things from the South Carolinian and figured him to be an important part of the future. Everyone wanted to get on the train.

The most important and positive thing to happen in 2010 was Felix Hernandez. Despite going 13-12 on the season, not making the All-star team, and his team losing 101 games the Baseball Writers awarded King Felix with the 2010 Cy Young. It was well deserved. Hernandez struck out 232 batters. He posted a 2.27 ERA. He completed 6 of his 34 starts. Depending on how you grade it this was either the best or second best season of Hernandez's career (many would argue 2014 was even better). Felix was the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal season.

2010 is a season best forgotten to the sand of time. It was the fifth time in the franchise's history that the team lost over 100 games. It saw one of the worst offenses in baseball history take the diamond. There was a massive free agent bust and the ungraceful end of a legends career. There was only one bright spot during the whole season and that was the 34 times that Felix Hernandez was in the game.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Perfect Use for Telestration

First congratulations to John Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, and John Landsteiner on winning men's curling gold in PyeongChang. They went on an epic and unlikely five game win streak to bring home the Olympic Championship. Second shame on NBC for missing a golden opportunity to use telestration.

Curling is a sport all about angles and ricochets. Players setup guards and leave stones placed so that they can block later shots during an end. To remove these stones the players try for doubles, where they use a single throw to bounce one stone off two of the opponents.

During the gold medal game broadcast the NBC announcers frequently used words to describe what the players on the ice were thinking about attempting. They described the hits and resulting movement of the stones that teams were planning to attempt. Never once during the broadcast did they use telestration to illustrate the concepts. This circumstance screamed for pictures to describe what those of us not intimately involved with the game of curling had trouble understanding or visualizing.

The cheesiness of telestration's use during Monday Night Football would not have been duplicated here. Instead a clear picture of what players were attempting to achieve could have been drawn right in front of us. They could have easily used arrows to show where the stones should hit and the intended result. The failure to do this was a big mis by the NBC production and broadcast team.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Adam Rippon Got Robbed!

I don't care what the rules say. I don't care what the experts and judges say. Adam Rippon was robbed during the Men's Free Skate Team Competition. He should have won that event. The USA should have gotten first place and ten points. There is no way that some stoic Russian 12 year old that falls on his ass twice deserves a higher score than Rippon. There is no way that some ancient Canadian who under rotated on one jump and fell on another deserved a higher score than Rippon. All you had to do was watch the event to know that Rippon was the best. If the rules say that those other guys did better than Rippon than the rules are wrong and need to be changed. Adam Rippon was the best man on the ice during the Team Men's Free skate.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

2009: The Team Show Defense can Win Games

2009 was the year of Ken Griffey's return to a Mariners uniform. I remember the season fondly. For many people the lasting image of the season is Ichiro and Griffey being carried off the field on their teammates shoulders at the end of the season. He didn't help them make the playoffs, and he really wasn't that good of a hitter, but having Junior back in Seattle was something special and intangibly good.

Like a mentioned that Mariners failed to make the playoffs in 2009, just like they had the seven years before and have the eight years since. The team did improve to 85 wins though. That total was carried almost entirely by their pitching and defense. The team ERA was the lowest in the American league (AL) at 3.87. The batters still couldn’t hit a lick. The team scored the fewest runs in the American League with only 640, which was 275 less than the New York Yankees.

The teams pitcher's benefited greatly from the defense stealing away would be base hits. The outfield featured stellar play from Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez. Adrian Beltre was still holding down the hot corner. Because the voting for the Golden Gloves is terribly flawed only Ichiro was awarded in 2009, but both Beltre and Gutierrez deserved recognition. This stellar defense is highlight by the large difference between the pitchers ERA of 3.87 and FIP of 4.39 (Fielding Independent Pitching is a measure of expected ERA based on BB, HBP, HR and K), which was 11th best in the AL.

The best pitcher on the 2009 Mariners was King Felix, who went 19-5 with 2.49 ERA and 217 K in 238.66 innings pitched.  The season marked the start of a nine year stretch where Felix would strikeout at least 200 opposing batters. It is also Felix's highest win total in a season to date. This dominate performance on the mound got Felix his first All-Star appearance and he finished 2nd in the AL Cy Young Award voting to Zach Greinke (this was completely understandable because Greinke had a lower ERA, and more strikeouts). Basically what you should take away from all this is Felix Hernandez was really freaking good in 2009.

The season brought another new closer to Seattle. This time it was David Aardsma, whose biggest claim to fame is alphabetically. He is first in the record books, directly ahead of Hank Aaron. Aardsma was dominate for the Mariners in 2009. He struck out 80 batters in 71.33 IP, which equates to 10.1 batters per nine innings. He converted 28 of 42 chances for saves. Aardsma was basically automatic for the Mariners in the ninth inning, which really helped the offensively inept team win games.

The season also saw the debut of two starting pitcher, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, that would go on to have strong if brief Mariners careers. Although they will never make the Mariners Hall of Fame, both will be remembered by fans.

As previously mentioned the Mariners offense was bad during 2009. They were last in the AL for runs scored. That said the team did feature some memorable performances at the plate. The most impressive was probably Russell Branyan who clubbed 31 home runs. He was the first Mariner to pass 30 HR since Richie Sexson in 2006. Branyan also hit 21 doubles brining his slugging percentage up to .520, the highest recorded by a Mariner since Richie Sexson in 2005. Despite all the extra base hits Branyan managed to record only 76 RBI, which highlights just how bad the team was at getting on base.

Pretty much the only guy good at getting on base in 2009 was Ichiro who batted .352 and had an on base percentage (OBP) of .386. It was yet another great year for Ichiro and yet another year that fans and media members grumbled he wasn't doing enough because they were dumb.

At second base Jose Lopez had an interesting season. On the good side he drove in 96 runs and batted .272 hit 42 doubles and 35 homeruns. However on the bad side he walked only 24 times in 653 plate appearances and grounded into 25 double plays, the second most in the AL.

The final thing I want to mention is  the addition of two J. Wilsons to the Mariners via trade. I am of course writing about Jack and Josh, no relation. The Mariners grabbed Josh off waivers from the Padres in June. They then traded Pittsburgh for Jack in July (the Mariners parted with former first rounder pick Jeff Clement in that trade). The Mariners acquired both shortstops in an attempt to try and find an improvement over Yuniesky Betancourt. Based solely on hitting it turned into basically a wash.

Depending how you look at it 2009 was either another missed opportunity for the Mariners or a surprising success. Based on their previous season and their run differential that team shouldn't have been any good. Instead because of clutch hitting, amazing defense, and shutdown pitching team managed to win 85 games. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

2008: Erik Bedard Arrives in Seattle and Gets Everyone Fired.

After winning 88 games in 2007 and appearing to be a team on the rise everything fell apart, yet again, in 2008. The club managed to lose 101 games, the first time over the century mark for losses since 1983. The manager, Jon McLaren, and the general manager, Bill Bavasi, both got the boot halfway through the season. The season is best remembered as an unmitigated disaster.

Looking back on 2008 the problems started before the season even started when the team decided to go all in for the post season. They traded away Adam Jones and Chris Tillman, plus three other players, to the Baltimore Orioles for starting pitcher Erik Bedard. This trade famously failed completely and totally for the Mariners. It is considered one of the worst trades in club history, and definitely the worst of anytime during the current drought.

Obviously hindsight is 20-20, but this trade looks extra bad upon review. Adam Jones turned into an All-Star centerfielder for the Orioles and Chris Tillman has compiled 198 starts for the Orioles since 2009 started. The Mariners only addition from the trade, Erik Bedard, spent two and a half frustrating years with the team, during which he started 46 games. In those games Bedard averaged only 5.5 innings per start, but he did have a good 3.31 ERA (255 IP, 94 ER). While Bedard wasn't bad he wasn't consistent at all and just couldn't be counted on. The price the M's paid for him was just too great. By trading two young and promising minor leaguers it set the team back for years to come.

Once the team actually started playing baseball things didn't go well either. Similar to 2004, the biggest problem with the 2008 team was they couldn't hit or pitch well. Only four players had a wRC+ over 100 (Ichiro, Lopez, Beltre, and Ibanez), meaning they were better than average for their position. Two pitchers started 20 or more games and had ERA's over 6.00 (Silva and Batista). The relief pitchers recorded a record of 36 saves and a whopping 31 blown saves, the most in the American league.

One bright spot was left fielder Raul Ibanez. In his second to last year with Seattle (he returned in 2013 for one last hoorah) Ibanez had a .293 batting average, hit 43 doubles and 23 homer, and drove in 110 runs. This was all good for a wRC+ of 122, by far the best on the Mariners. This good season set Ibanez up for a nice big contract with Philadelphia in 2009.

Ichiro was basically the only person on base for Ibanez to drive in. He score 103 times, or 15% of the Mariners total runs.  Ichiro also racked up his eighth straight year with 200+ hits. Once on base Ichiro stole 43 bases and only got caught 4 times. That is a very impressive 91% success rate. Essentially Ichiro had another typical season.

Another bright spot for the Mariners was the Felix Hernandez finally becoming an ace. Although he went a disappointing 9-11 for the season, his ERA was 3.45, eighth lowest in the American league. Additionally, King Felix struck out 175 batters in 200.66 innings, seventh most in the American League. Overall a very good season.

The rest of the starting pitchers were bad or hurt. We already talked about Erik Bedard and his frustrating first season with the team. In addition to Bedard the team also brought in Carlos Silva. The former Minnesota Twin looked good to start the season, he had a 2.79 ERA in six starts. Then in May everything fell apart. His ERA for the month was 11.00 over 5 starts. Silva ended up starting 28 games in 2008 and he never regained his April form. Although on July 8th he managed tothrow a complete game against Oakland, but in fitting fashion for 2008 he lost 0-2. Silva's final ERA for the season was 6.46. 

2008 is also of note because it was when RA Dickey brought his knuckleball to the Emerald city. Although he had a 5.21 ERA in 112.33 innings during his one season in Seattle, Dickey's unique style made an impression on the fans. I have been following his career from a far ever since.

It wasn't enough that the team couldn't hit or pitch, so for good measure the Mariners also struggled playing defense in 2008. The worst offender was Yuniesky Betancourt who made 21 errors in 153 games, the fourth most in the majors. Betancourt's inability to field groundballs or throw them to first base regularly was a major issue for the shortstop. It probably cost him his job in Seattle.

Calling 2008 a bad season for the Mariners is an understatement. I am sure the franchise would love to just wipe it from the record, but they can't. Fans all around the Pacific Northwest suffered through the season and witnessed some of the worst quality baseball imaginable. The lone offensive bright spot was Raul Ibanez, and the lone pitcher worth lauding was Felix Hernandez. The season is also remember for one of the worst trades in franchise history, which is like rubbing salt in the wound.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2005-2007: The Mariners Appear to be Getting Better

Many of you probably don't remember or never knew that Mike Hargrove was the manager of the Seattle Mariners for two and a half seasons. He inherited a terrible team coming off a 63-99 record in 2004 and adds wins each of his seasons at the helm. In 2005 the Mariners won 69 games, they followed that up with 78 wins in 2006 and an exciting 88 in 2007. Strangely Hargrove resigned in the middle of the 2007 season. The team was doing well and it looked like they might finally make the playoffs, so weirdly the manager that suffered through two rebuilding years decided to leave. Hargrove explained to the Seattle Times that it "boiled down to the fact that it was getting increasingly difficult to summon the 100 percent effort he demanded of his players."

In addition to adding Hargrove as the Manager, in 2005 the Mariners added two big name and big money free agents in Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. Both of these players have a mixed legacy with the Mariners. Sexson spent the end of his career with the Mariners and Beltre the middle, which surely impacted how they are remembered.

Sexson had a 144 wRC+ in 2005. He clobbered 39 HR pleasing fans all over the PNW. In 2006 Sexson's hitting stayed strong. He hit 34 more HR and had a 117 wRC+. The drop off was almost entirely from the decline of walks, which fell from 89 to 64. Sexson also hit 5 Grand Slams in 2006, something that is burned into my baseball memory. Unfortunately for the Big Sexy most fans seem to have 2007 burned into their memories. Sexson's production fell off a cliff in 2007. He did managed to hit 21 HR, but that was about it. His average dropped from the .260's down to .205. His walks dropped to 51. All this resulted in his wRC+ plummeting to 84. In three seasons Richie Sexson went from 44% better than an average first baseman to 16% worse. It was an impressive decline to say the least.

Adrian Beltre came to Seattle from the Los Angeles Dodgers after a season he finished second in the MVP voting. Beltre had already played 7 season with the Dodgers, but was still only 26 years old when he joined the Mariners in 2005. He spent five years in Seattle. If Belte's body followed the normal aging curve they would have been his prime. Instead Beltre somehow got way better when he left the Mariners, dominating the American league in his 30's. We should all be so lucky.

During his whole time with the Mariners Beltre played amazing defense at third base. However, at the plate he was much more disappointing. He never hit 30 homeruns. His highest batting average was only .275, in 2007. His wRC+ topped out at 110 and was below 100, worse than average, twice. During 2005 to 2007 Beltre did manage to improve his hitting stats each year raising his average and slugging in each consecutive year. According to Fangraphs he contributed 9.9 WAR between 2005-2007. Beltre definitely didn't hurt the team, because of his strong defense, but he didn't deliver on the promise of his 2004 Dodgers' season.

Between 2005 and 2007 the Mariners bullpen saw the collapse of Steady Eddie Guardado and the rise of JJ Putz. I think most people think of Eddie Guardado as a bad closer, I know I do. Interestingly though looking back on his 2005 stats shows that Guardado was actually pretty good for the Mariners. He recorded a 2.72 ERA and 36 saves in 41 chances.  He appeared in 58 games. 2006 was a completely different story for Guardado. He gave up 8 homeruns in only 23 innings and blew 3 of his 8 save chances, prompting Manager Mike Hargrove to make a switch at closer to JJ Putz.

Putz was electric in 2006 and even better in 2007. He posted an ERA of 2.30 in 2006 followed by 1.38 in 2007. Over those two seasons he struck out 186 batters and walked 26 in 150 innings. In 2007 his WHIP was a ridiculously low .698. Whenever fans at Safeco Field heard Thunderstruck start to play and saw Putz walking up to the mound you knew the M's were going to win. Putz brought me personally many great memories at the end of games watching opposing hitters be completely flummoxed.

The mid 2000's also saw the introduction of Felix Hernandez to Seattle baseball. In 2005 King Felix impressed in his first 12 major leagues starts. In his third big league game ever Felix pitched 8 inning, gave up 3 hits, 1 runs and struckout 11 Kansas City Royals. He followed that up with another 8 inning gem against the Minnesota Twins (5 H, 2 ER, and 9 K) and fans were hooked. Hernandez struggled a little during his sophomore campaign, seeing his ERA jump up to 4.52. Though the King did throw his first major league complete game shutout that year. It was onAugust 28th against the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem and unusally both starting pitchers went the distance (the other was Kelvim Escobar). Felix continued to improve in 2007, getting his ERA down to 3.92. He wasn't great in either year, but it is important to remember that ERA in general were higher during the mid 2000's. In both 2006 and 2007 his ERA was below the cumulative ERA of all major league starters (4.69 and 4.63). Although not yet the dominate pitcher fans know today, Felix showed signs of what was to come during all three of his first seasons.

The 2005 through 2007 seasons saw the Mariners climb out of the cellar to flirt with the playoffs. Sadly they didn’t' get the job done in 2007 allowing the now longest playoff draught in Professional sports to continue. These three seasons saw a successful manager quit unexpectedly during a winning season, the addition of big money free agents, and the emergence of a Mariner icon. Overall they were a very memorable set of years.