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Posts Tagged ‘Seattle Mariners’

With The Jays collapsing this year, and the dangling of Roy Halladay on the trade block, it appears that JP Ricciardi’s days in Toronto could be numbered.  Hailed as one of Billy Beane’s golden boys, expectations were high in Toronto when he was hired following the 2001 campaign.  Since then, the Jays have had only once finished above third place in the American League East, and most fans consider his tenure a failure.  I am one of the few who disagree, but unfortunately did not really have any numbers to back myself up. 

I decided to undertake a small project to put some numbers behind my claim. As I was working through the data, I became unsure that I was going to be able to find a solution.  However, the end product gave me the results I wanted.  Given the financial resources relative to their division, the Toronto Blue Jays under JP Ricciardi were outperformed in terms of winning percentage compared to their division only by Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics and depending on your point of view, Terry Ryan’s Minnesota Twins.  These are arguably the top two GM’s in baseball over this time frame, so I would say JP is in pretty good company.  Now to the data.

Ricciardi was hired following the 2001 season, so I plugged the records of every team in the American League from 2002-2008 into Excel.  I then tabulated each team’s winning percentage over this time period, as well as the winning percentage of the other team’s in the division.  For example, the “Division Winning Percentage” box for the Tampa Bay Rays would include the records of the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles, but NOT the Rays.  I then calculated how much each team had spent on payroll (information from Cot’s MLB Contracts), and figured out what percentage of the division’s total payroll was spent by each team.  The results for the three AL divisions are as follows:

 AL East

 AL Central

AL West

 *Because the AL West only has four teams, I added a hypothetical fifth team that has a payroll that is the average of the other four teams.  This helps make the Percentage of Payroll constant across all divisions.

The numbers are not perfect, and could be refined further, but I think the general point I am trying to make is apparent.  Given his financial resources, JP Ricciardi did very well with the Jays.  He achieved a winning percentage only .010 lower than the rest of the division, while playing in the toughest division in baseball with the two best teams in the league.  You might be saying, well that is not very good, he was below average.  However, if you take a closer look, he did this while spending only 14.39% of his division’s total payroll.  The only other teams to spend similar or less were Baltimore (.087 lower winning % than division), Tampa Bay (.107 lower), Kansas City (.095 lower) and Oakland (.039 higher).  Among these teams, only Oakland was better.  With regards to Minnesota, they did spend 3.5% more than Toronto, but I would argue the .088 boost in winning percentage relative to the division is greater than the financial surplus.   

The two big failures were Detroit and Seattle.  Detroit spent 24.10% of their division’s payroll to be .058 below the rest of their division, while Seattle spent 23.18% to be .053 worse. 

So there you have it.  In my opinion, the JP Ricciardi era in Toronto has not been a failure, and he has actually done very well.  Other than a brutal 2004 season, the Jays have remained extremely competitive with the Red Sox and the Yankees despite financial limitations.  A lot of this depends on how you label success.  Some would argue that Tampa Bay has done a better job because they won a division title and a pennant with even smaller resources than Toronto.  To that I would say, “oh really, how did you enjoy the six 90+ loss seasons prior to 2008?”  I do not think success can be attributed to one good year, so overall, I think the top three general managers in the American League from 2002-2008 were Billy Beane, Terry Ryan and JP Ricciardi.

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This past week has truly been a time for mediocre pitchers to shine.  I cannot remember the last time when in the span of a week we saw two starting pitchers throw complete game shutouts in which they allowed only one and two hits apiece, no walks, and still only managed to strike out three batters each. 

First up we have Jason Marquis of the Colorado Rockies.  On June 29th, I was looking at my fantasy baseball team and saw that he was starting the next day in Dodgerland.  Expecting a blow-out, I benched him.  He proceeded to limit the Dodgers to two hits with 86 pitches (66 strikes).  It’s not every day you see a pitcher with a career ERA of 4.47 toss a two-hitter against the team with the best record in the majors, but that is what happens when you induce seventeen ground balls.  To top it off, Marquis followed this outing by shutting out the lowly Nationals for eight innings, helping him earn a spot on his first NL All-Star team.

Then last night, Jarrod “Seattle literally tried to give me away to the Yankees last year” Washburn chucked a one-hitter against the Orioles.  Now you are probably thinking, ya but it is the Orioles.  However, their offence is actually decent this year.  It is their terrible pitching that is holding them back.  Washburn’s line was even more perplexing, as it took him 110 pitches to sit down twenty-seven O’s.  He also gave up thirteen fly-balls, and for a guy with a career HR/FB rate of 8.7%, he is lucky one of those did not leave the yard. 

These two outings are just one of the many reasons I love baseball.  As much as the sport has become dominated by statistical analysis and expected outcomes, something like this could happen.  Retreads like Marquis can put together masterful two-hitters.  Give me a call when Luke Ridnour drops 40 points or Donald Brashear scores a hat-trick.

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During Spring Training of this year, Seattle Mariners pitcher (and former first round pick) Brandan Morrow decided that he wanted to be a part of the bullpen and not the starting rotation.  The Mariners responded by installing the 24-year old strikeout machine as their closer.  After an absolutely horrendous first third of the season, he has decided that no thanks, he would rather head back to the starting rotation.  Once again, the Mariners caved to his demands, and will be optioning him to AAA indefinitely to work on his stamina and command.

Just so we are all clear here, a kid only three years out of college has gone from the bullpen to the starting rotation, back to the bullpen, and now back to the rotation again.  This is not uncommon, but usually it is the team making this decision either because the pitcher is struggling as a starter, or they simply want to limit his innings.  In this case, it is all Morrow’s doing.  During Spring Training he told the Mariners that it would be easier for him to handle his Type I diabetes as a reliever.  Now he insists that it will not be a problem because he has started in the past without complications.  I do not know Brandan Morrow and he could be a fantastic guy, but he is looking more and more like a diva every day.  He claims he wants to be a starter because he wants to help the team.  What would help the team is him having a concrete role on the team and not walking six batters for every nine innings he pitches

There are success stories of failed starters going on to become dominant relievers; while the opposite happens much more rarely.  Eric Gagne put together forty-eight unremarkable starts for the Dodgers before saving 152 games over three seasons.  Mariano Rivera started ten games in 1995 for the Yankees before becoming a full-time reliever.  However, these guys were forced into the bullpen because they had no other choice.  They could not cut it as starters.  Off the top of my head, the reverse list of players who have transitioned from the bullpen to become successful starters is pretty short: Pedro.  He made sixty-three appearances out of the Dodgers bullpen in 1993 before joining the Expos rotation the following season.  Please comment if you can think of any other good examples.  Let’s compare Pedro’s bullpen exploits to Morrow’s.  And yes, I have removed Morrow’s five September 2008 starts from the data.

Morrow graph     

 

 

As we can see, Morrow was worse in pretty much every way, shape and form, matching Pedro only in strikeouts.  I will admit it is a little unfair to compare Morrow against Pedro, so let’s just examine Morrow’s numbers on their own.  His ERA is acceptable for a set-up man or lower tier closer and his strikeout rate his phenomenal.  Other than that, all his numbers are well below average.  Giving up six walks per innings is unacceptable whether you are a starter or a reliever.  I have no idea how Morrow thinks he is going to transition below-average numbers for a reliever into a successful starting role.  When you look at his failed journey into the starting rotation last year, the numbers get even uglier.  He kept his WHIP constant at 1.46 but his poor control came back to bite him due an increased home run rate of 1.60 per nine innings. This led to an inflated 5.79 ERA.   

Despite putting together an unremarkably unimpressive track record in the big leagues, Morrow thinks he knows what is best for him, and Seattle is letting him do whatever he wants.  In no way am I saying that I am smarter and know the right answer, but the Mariners need to take control of the situation.  He is there property and they should decide what is best for him.  Morrow is entitled to his input, but in the end it should be the Mariners decision.  However, you can only have so much confidence in a management team that put together the first $100 million/ 100 loss team in MLB history.

With all of that being said, I wish the best of luck to Morrow in his quest to become a starting pitcher.  He is an exciting player to watch and if he figures out his control problems could be a solid number two or three starter.  If not, he will be added to the long list of top five draft pick busts.

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