Tag Archives: Pull

Mariners diddle mediocrity, Kyle Seager flirts with a perhaps underestimated ceiling

 

The Mariners, having recently crushed the Yankees in their own stadium for the third time in a row, have crawled back above .500, continuing the trend where they diddle with mediocrity while various players experience cavernous lows and inexplicable highs—often in such a way as to balance out the latter with the former, producing the same sort of mediocrity you see now except typically worse because, you know, Jason Bay.

The Mariners story this year was supposed to be one of change- like Barack Obama in the 2004 Presidential election, these bleeding-heart liberal fuckers just don’t know when to quit! Yet, similar but also not at all similar to Obama’s reign as supreme high sultan of the White House, the Mariners are not changed insofar as they are relying on new faces, they are changed instead by the increased production of old ones.

Utterly worthless analogies aside, much was made regarding Robinson Cano’s arrival with the Mariners this past offseason—and reasonably so. Cano came with an enormous price tag. The money Cano received to be the Mariners’ second baseman for the next 10 years was more than “go buy yourself a new car” sort of money; it more closely approximated “Sylvio Burlesconi sodomizing 15 Italian prostitutes in a pile of cocaine” sort of money.

Cano has been very good yet simultaneously disappointing since his arrival. He is without question the steadiest source of offense on the squad and far less prone to the precipitous ups and downs that plague even the more talented and productive of the Mariners’ other offensive contributors. That being said, the power numbers have yet to show up. Admittedly, this has hindered his production, as his slugging percentage is presently sitting well below his career average. Though really, anyone who thinks this is a long-term issue is a buffoon. Cano did not forget how to hit dingers out of the blue. In fact, Cano is not even a guy whose offensive game is predicated around trying to hit the ball out of the park all of the time anyway. Cano likes to spray the ball around the field. In doing so, he achieves a level of consistency that most Mariners (who commonly feature all-or-nothing approaches spurred by either the ignorance of youth or the ignorance of their coaching staff) lack.

If this sounds familiar, then you are one of about 20 people to have read my prior post from about a month ago pertaining to Kyle Seager. In this post I discussed Seager’s approach at the plate as well as his batted ball profile. Seager is a fly ball hitter who tends to pull the ball to right field—that is his greatest asset but it is also one of the reasons that his production tends to fluctuate between the frigid, Regina George-esque slump with which he entered the season and the zesty, Michelle Rodriguez-style hot streak that he has been riding ever since.

Guys who pull the ball and guys who hit the ball in the air suffer when the ball doesn’t leave the yard. These same guys tend to post below average BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) as well. Both of these trends make sense as most fly balls that do not go for dingers tend to be caught by the oft very good and in the worst case probably adequate fielders who are literally paid millions of dollars to ensure these balls do not touch the ground. Further, by pulling the ball all the time those few ground balls that these types of hitters DO hit are far more likely to be gobbled up by the shift—something that has become increasingly en-vogue in Major League Baseball since managers have apparently realized finally that you do not need to look like David Ortiz in order to pull the ball all of the goddamn time.

As I discussed earlier, Kyle Seager will get his. That has been proven over the course of two years and I am of the mind that the numbers Seager has had in the past will likely resemble the numbers he puts up in the near future, until age and injury eventually catch up to him, though those two events may exist in a place relatively far in the future.

All that being said, I think I (and other like-minded Mariners’ fans) may have been unfair to Seager in making this assumption. The Mariners have been so consistently terrible over the past few years that our appreciation for Seager has probably been greater than say, a fan of the Red Sox rooting for a similar player over a similar period of time. We have not been accustomed to good players, so when we have actually had one, we cherish him and do not demand any more than the 3.6 WAR that Seager seems readily capable of. In adopting that sort of mindset, however, we lose some of the space for hope in terms of progressing towards something even better than what we have now.

It is possible that Seager, as of right now, is simply in the midst of one of his many hot streak to which we have become accustomed. He will ride this wave of productivity like Patrick Swayze in Point Break until the wave crashes and he dies and comes back to haunt his wife like Patrick Swayze in Ghost. I can live with that progression, as the hot and cold streaks have thus far happily balanced out to an effective aggregate product. But I cannot help but wonder if there isn’t more to see here.

Seager is only 26 years old. He came out the same year Ackley did and while Ackley is commonly pegged as somebody to whom the “Breakout Candidate” tag can be fairly attached; Seager is represented as a guy who has reached his potential and will coast until decline inevitably seizes him by the balls and renders him old, wealthy and chubby with a flaccid power stroke and a struggling libido.

But why not discard this notion and instead believe that this is Seager’s breakout year. In doing so we are taking a leap of faith only insofar as Seager’s stature indicates a player whose ceiling could not possibly be that high. But hey, is that really a fair judgment to make, seeing as that same player with that same stature has been crushing dingers like these to right fields all over the league for 2 years and doing so with only about 2 years of major league experience under his belt?

I’m hardly guaranteeing that this is the case. In fact, I really doubt that it is. That being said though, why not wish for something better? It has been a long time since we have had a homegrown position player who has panned out as someone who contributes. It has been even longer since we have had a homegrown talent who has become a star. Seager is 26 years old and should only now be entering the prime of his career. He has been tearing the cover off the ball.

Who says he can’t keep it up?

Go Mariners.

James Jones, Michael Saunders, Abraham Almonte and the Mariners changing up the outfield situation

The Mariners went ahead and blissfully released their fans from the Sisyphean self-flagellation brought on by having to watch Abraham Almonte handle leadoff responsibilities for the month of April. Almonte struggled in spring training but had caught the eye of Manager Lloyd McClendon for reasons that seemed somewhat unknown but in light of recent events are actually probably a little more known.

Almonte is a player who is too unrefined at this point in his career to figure things out at the Major League level. That being said, Lloyd McClendon has been around the game a long time, and despite what ivory tower-bound writers immersed in statistics and data may want to believe, there is some value in experience and the old-fashioned eye test. This is a game played by humans. Other humans have to look at said humans and make decisions based on a number of factors including past statistical performance as well as potential room for growth and improvement. Almonte was a player who had not been great in the Minor Leagues for long, but he had played well there for a while. He was also a player with whom it could be easy to fall in love with as a Manager like McClendon presented with a roster otherwise devoid of any traditional center fielders.

The Mariners have done 1 of the 2 things that many fans have been calling for. They have freed Michael Saunders from his concrete-bound aviary and allowed him to soar in an expanded role as a leadoff man. I have always liked Saunders (It is not hard to become infatuated with Saunders’ raw tools and potential) and many believed that his disastrous stretch during last year’s campaign was as much a result of a kamikaze condor-dive into an outfield fence than a sign of mediocrity or true regression from his 2012 campaign that saw him break out for a 2.5 WAR season that could have actually been closer to 4 WAR had his defense in centerfield not counted against him (although then he would have lost the weighted value WAR gives to players out in center field that is much lower in the corners, which is why Trout’s value this year is already so high despite the fact that his offensive numbers pace to be more or less the same and perhaps a tad worse. WAR as a catchall stat is weird like this because it is super convenient but the internal numbers are actually pretty fucking confusing).

Which brings us to our next point and the reason why Jones’ call-up was somewhat of an inevitability.

It is regarded by many (certainly defensive statistics indicate this) that Michael Saunders will never be more than a slightly below-average defender in centerfield. These same defensive metrics, however, consistently point to him being excellent in right. Looking at last year’s Rtot/yr (the number of runs above or below average a player is worth per 1200 innings), Saunders in centerfield sat at -18 runs, in left he was at -24 runs and in right he ditched that negative number bullshit and went straight up to 9 runs above average.

This means in pretty basic terms that, if we trust the way defensive metrics are taken over at baseballreference.com than we can assume that a year of condor-action over in right field is a 27 run defensive swing over a year of Saunders out in center (provided an at-least-adequate defensive replacement is taking over in center). Despite what many believe, the people who work in the Mariners’ organization are not idiots. Wealthy people do not like to hire idiots, and I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the people making these decisions are probably a hell of a lot more qualified than I am. If I can spot this, they have probably already spotted it, circled it in red and subsequently paid an intern sub-minimum-wage to make a fucking PowerPoint out of it to present at a conference.

So yeah, the same team that allowed Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse and Jason Bay to share outfield duties AT THE SAME FUCKING TIME, actually had a fairly decent reason to keep Saunders out of center. Almonte has one loud tool and that is his ridiculous speed. Speed profiles well in center and they felt for a time that Almonte’s offense as well as his defensive approach in the field could improve quickly enough in the Major Leagues to turn that speed into value out in the field and at the top of the order.

That didn’t happen.

Almonte’s struggles at the plate this season were catastrophic. He led the league in strikeouts with 39 in the month of April- this despite being a leadoff hitter whose sole purpose is to put the ball in play and use his aforementioned speed to get on base and subsequently be a chubby pain-in-the-ass running hither and thither to the detriment of non-Mariners nationwide. You can’t get on base if you strike out. You also can’t steal first base. This isn’t ‘nam, you can tell because of all the fucking rules.

This all leads one to believe that though the Mariners believe in Saunders at the top of the order, they may not also believe in him as a defensive centerfielder. The logic eventually leads us straight to James Jones who can absolutely fucking fly down the line and out in the field. In the few innings I have seen of him in Spring Training and in a few Rainiers’ games, he doesn’t take the same “Leonardo DiCaprio on Quaaludes” routes that made Almonte such an adventure out in center, either. It is true that Jones has actually logged more time in the corners than he has in center during his minor league career– but it is also true that he has more or less always been an outfielder. He looks like an outfielder. He quacks like an outfielder. The quacking will ensure that he and Ackley have a solid rapport in the field. Gone are the days of the all-second-base Mariners’ outfield. Two of our outfielders are outfielders now. Hooray for small miracles.

So basically what we have is a Frankenstein’s monster comprised of Condor’s bat sewed horrifically to the center-field-defense of James Jones, murmuring “kill me” as Lloyd cackles maniacally. Another way to put it is we have swapped in Jones to provide defense, allowed Saunders an expanded offensive roll and perhaps incidentally cut out some at-bats for Ackley and/or Romero. I don’t mind this horribly, as I still expect to see Condor patrolling Center every now and again. It isn’t his best position, but it is hardly a disaster and I think at this point even if Saunders does not continue to hit .400 as he has been doing the past couple of weeks, he has shown enough to warrant everyday inclusion in the lineup.

This also probably spells a bit of doom for Logan Morrison in the outfield. That shouldn’t bother anybody. If Morrison plays, he should be playing at DH or first base anyway. 2 cents provided.

Worst comes to worse, we have a shiny new fast player to care about for a couple of weeks until he develops Krohn’s disease, can’t hit, or swan dives down a flight of stairs into his wife’s face.

Welcome back to the squad, Mr. Jones.

 

Dustin Ackley hitting the ball the other way

Dustin Ackley post preceded by an obligatory ode to BaseballSavant.com. Skip if desired.

Oh BaseballSavant.com, you are a very good website. I like to use your filters to sift through mountains of pitch f/x data in my spare time. You are a good friend. I want to take you to Chuck e Cheese and let you have all of my ski-ball tickets to buy that light saber that you always wanted. Or a remote control car if I got on a roll and did better than I usually do and got more tickets. That would be even more fun than a light saber. Especially since you wouldn’t need to find somebody else with a light saber to play with. You could just mess around with the car by yourself. I would even go into the ballpit and weed out all of the hypodermic needles in there. Unless you want me to leave them in there. Then I would test them all for STDs and leave in the clean ones. Unless you don’t want me to do that either. I would do all of this for you. I am selfless. 

Anyway, let us use some of this data to do things.

Dustin Ackley was hitting rather well to start the season. His doing so briefly earned him a spot batting 2nd in the lineup, a position he usurped from former optimism-paragon turned overnight-disappointment Brad Miller. There has always been one thing that Ackley does better than nearly anybody. That thing is making contact. Ackley made a lot of contact last year. He also spent much of last year being terrible. Putting the ball in play does not ensure success in the Major Leagues. There are people out there. People with gloves.

I want to take a quick look at one of Ackley’s big issues last year. I want to look at Ackley’s tendencies towards grounding out to the right side of the infield. Let us gaze upon a spray chart, and wonder.

Ackley spray chart filtered

This looks pretty stupid at first glance. I have filtered out most of the less common events just to clear away some of the dross but this is still a messy picture. What I want to point out on the above spray chart, however, is the disparity in results between when Ackley pulls the ball and when Ackley takes the ball the other way.

Ackley hits the ball on the ground fairly often. This, as Mariners fans, is something that we are all too familiar with. Last year, when Ackley was playing poorly he was beating the ball into the dirt directly towards second base. This is reflected by the maroon cluster-fuck one can see in the above chart.

Let’s look at another spray chart real quick.

kenji spray chart filtered

Similar maroon garbage. Except in this case, said garbage is located on the left side of the infield, rather than the right. This is a spray chart from Kenji Johjima in 2008. 2 years after he had weaved the mirage of competency which had since dissipated under the crushing weight of countless groundouts to the pull side.

Johjima and Ackley are not the same player. They are not even particularly similar players. But they went through similar stretches of mediocrity brought on by a common tendency: attempting to pull balls on the outside of the plate only to beat the ball mercilessly into the dirt.

In Johjima’s case, we can see that most of the success he had was to the pull side. While he made several outs over there, and was generally awful overall, all of his dingers went straight out to left field and most of his hits in general did so as well. His spray chart indicates that when he went the other way, the result was typically meek, shallow fly balls to the right fielder. Johjima’s success was predicated around an unsustainable tendency (in his case) towards pulling everything. The league made the necessary adjustments and Johjima was not able to adjust in turn and achieve sustained success after his rookie season.

Ackley’s chart deviates from Johjima’s here, and therein lies the hope that a change in approach can result in marked improvement.

Dustin Ackley’s chart indicates that the majority of his offensive success came when hitting the ball the other way. The only exception to this rule is dingers which, in Ackley’s case, were strictly to the pull side (as was the case with Johjima). Ackley only hit 4 of them. So who the fuck cares.

It is clear that Ackley’s success will be built around his 91% contact rate on balls in the zone, and his ability to generate solid contact to left-center field for singles and hopefully some gap doubles as well. Ackley has never been a guy who profiles for much power, but that’s OK. We learned last year that a team can hit a lot of dingers and still find themselves mired near last place in terms of runs scored. If Ackley maintains the approach he adopted towards the end of last year, he should reach base at a solid clip and hit his fair share of doubles in the process. In this way, Ackley likely profiles as the team’s best option at leadoff- although he is a natural fit in the 2-hole as well.

That being said, having suffered through a recent slump of absolute shittiness, maybe it is best we just put Ackley out to pasture and talk about more important things like why racism is bad and why spiders may be worse.

Kyle Seager and the streakiness inherent in hitting the ball in the air all of the damn time

Joey strokes the Seager boner of the Mariners’ early season confusion-orgy.

This is a necessary post to remind us all of why we love Kyle Seager.

Less sitting, more hitting.

Mariners’ fans are familiar with Kyle Seager. He has been a lone bright spot on a team that has had very few bright spots over the past few years. If you consider an average, productive, worth-having major league position player to be worth roughly 3.0 WAR, then Kyle Seager is the lone Mariner to qualify as a productive everyday Major Leaguer on this club for the past 2 seasons. This is pretty unfortunate, given how 3.0 WAR is kind of the low-end cutoff for this degree of productivity and most teams have a few of these sorts of players if not 5 or 6 of them.

The Mariners have Robinson Cano and Corey Hart now. This is cool and something that makes watching the mariners a tiny bit less depressing than it was the past couple of years. These are veteran players with proven track records who have been more or less the same guy throughout their careers and are now firmly operating within their prime years. The Mariners have had veterans before, but these veterans either had not been good players for a few years (Ibanez), or were simply never good players to begin with (Morse). It can be pretty depressing watching a team that is riddled with question marks. It is more depressing watching a team entirely comprised of question marks. The term “riddled” is used to describe some surface filled with a bajillion holes and thusly rendered into something resembling Swiss cheese. A lot of teams have had this Swiss-cheese consistency. The Mariners the past few years haven’t even really had any cheese at all which makes the term “riddle” not even really work. The no-cheese Mariners, some would call them (Nobody would ever call them that).

But there is more cheese here than meets the eye! Kyle Seager exists. He is the tiniest of morsels remaining after a drunk-five-year-old-with-a-hole-puncher-esque onslaught of inconsistency. And he isn’t even that consistent within his own consistency. That was a silly sentence. How can a player be consistently inconsistent? The term I would use: streaky.

Imagine if you will a coin. A coin when flipped has (basically) a 50% outcome of being either heads or tails. Let us then assign a positive outcome to one of these events. In the case of heads, you get 1 dollar. In the case of tails, somebody changes the channel at your apartment to the Hallmark Channel and then subsequently shatters your remote control. It’s all about the O.

Bad analogy do-over. Kyle Seager has been a player who can look terrible for stretches, but whose numbers have in our recent experience eventually trended towards a certain, predictable result over the course of an entire season’s worth of ups and downs. We have recently been provided some empirical evidence to support this claim. Kyle Seager spent the first two weeks of this year being absolutely terrible. Prior to this last week, Seager was arguably the most maddeningly awful player in the Mariners’ lineup. Yet, we as fans have come to expect Seager to be a solid contributor. How can these two outcomes coexist within the same paradigm and both be true? Streakiness. Seager is not alone in his up and down ways. Just look at Mike Zunino…

But what about Seager’s play results in this kind of streakiness? It is easy to assign a certain nebulous, platonic understanding of streakiness to a player without looking deeper into the player’s skillset to determine if there is perhaps, an underlying manner of playing the game that can result in this day-to-day inconsistency.

“Kyle is just hot right now” people might say. If those people were talking about Kyle Seager the way people talk about Hansel in Zoolander.

I believe that in Kyle Seager’s case there is a rhyme and perhaps a reason to his streakiness. Kyle Seager is a flyball hitter. Kyle Seager is also almost strictly speaking a dead-pull hitter. This year, there has been a record-setting pace for the number of infield shifting being done around the league. Teams are no longer simply shifting for big, obvious dead-pull guys in the traditional mold of a David Ortiz or Prince Fielder. Teams are noticing that little guys can be one-trick ponies too. Kyle Seager is one such player that could see more shifts in his future.

Let’s look at a Kyle Seager spray chart courtesy of baseballsavant.com. I have went ahead and filtered out the groundballs for a clearer picture into what I am looking for with Seager’s game.

Kyle Seager spray chart leftandright flies

Bingo bango bongo. As we can see, Seager’s success comes when he pulls the ball. Period. There is really no other interpretation to be drawn here. Seager is a dead-pull flyball hitter who shows impressive power to the pull side which the eyeball test validates by noting one of the more beautifully classic lefty uppercuts that I have seen in a while– let alone by a player in Mariners’ blue.

There is an upside and a downside to this kind of hitter and that is fairly easy to qualify. Fly ball hitters’ success is governed by the quality of their contact more so than a player who sprays the ball around and hits groundballs with more frequency. A guy like Cano is going to hit for a higher average and a higher BABIP than Seager because Cano is primarily a line drive hitter. If Cano misses a pitch, he may send a soft, broken-bat line drive into shallow center for a single. If Seager just misses a pitch, he is going to most likely be serving up lazy fly balls to right. When Cano hits the ball the other way, he is likely to get a few more singles as soft line drives drop down in front of the left fielder. When Seager hits the ball the other way, he loses distance and with it some of the success his pull-side power grants him, again, serving up lazy flyballs to the outfielder.

Players can change over the course of their careers, and Seager has several years of good baseball ahead of him. All indications point to Seager carrying the success he has had into the future- but if his style of hitting remains static he will likely remain prone to cold spells when his flies aren’t leaving the yard or crashing into fences.

This doesn’t bother me at all. We have seen what happens when Seager is squaring pitches up. Seager has carried the Mariners to 3 victories in the past 5 games. No player exists in a vacuum, and credit should be given to the guys who got on base in front of him in both of his go-ahead blasts this past week. That being said somebody has to sack up and hit the ball hard to drive those guys in. That guy has been Kyle Seager. The Mariners would do well to capitalize on this stretch, as it should be clear to everyone with eyeballs and the gumption necessary to sit down and watch the Mariners play baseball that when Kyle Seager plays well this team is astronomically superior to when he is mired in one of his slumps.

At the end of the year, Kyle Seager’s numbers will look good. They won’t reflect the AL player-of-the-week numbers he put up this past week. They don’t have to. As long as the hot stretches properly balance out the (hopefully shortened) slumps, the aggregate total will be a solid, above-average major leaguer. The Mariners don’t have many of those. We should all be grateful that he graces us with his presence. We should be doubly grateful that he seems to be superbestpals with Justin Smoak. If we were to get rid of Smoak would Seager’s production dip? Is Smoak required for moral support in order for Seager to continue to be productive? Would Smoak have to start for this to work, or could he be maintained in a symbolic role? This is something to be monitored moving forward, as I delve into the depths of their relationship via anonymous sources and idle social media speculation.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that Seager is doused with frigid Gatorade more often in the coming weeks. Sorry boss.

Umbrella!