Change-UpFebruary 24, 2010
Stakeholders - Seattle Mariners
By Patrick Sullivan

From now through the beginning of the regular season, we will not be posting in-depth round-tables previewing each division like we have in years past. Instead we will feature brief back-and-forths with "stakeholders" from all 30 teams. A collection of bloggers, analysts, mainstream writers and senior front office personnel will join us to discuss a specific team's hopes for 2010. Some will be in-depth, some light, some analytical, some less so but they should all be fun to read and we are thrilled about the lineup of guests we have teed up. We kick our Stakeholders series off today with none other than Dave Cameron on the Seattle Mariners.

Patrick Sullivan: Dave Cameron, longtime Mariners fan, how much do you miss Bill Bavasi? It's OK, you can tell us, your friends at Baseball Analysts.

Dave Cameron: As a fan, not at all. As a blogger, more than you could imagine. We started blogging about the Mariners during the decline years of the Gillick era, when stuff started to go badly, so the first six years of USSMariner's existence essentially boiled down to a series of "Oh God no don't do that" posts, which were easy to write. Bill gave us Jose Vidro, Designated Hitter, for heaven's sake. From the perspective of someone who needed something to write about regularly, Bill was a gold mine. As any Royal fan will now tell you, covering a disaster of a GM doesn't take much creativity. It's easy.

Jack is not nice enough to provide similar material. The new front office stole all of our thunder, preaching the value of defense and guys who don't swing at everything. They basically implemented the plan we were begging Bill to put in place, and so now, we're left writing some version of a pat-on-the-back post. Oh, you found another undervalued good glove role player for the league minimum? Thanks, but what am I supposed to say that I haven't said yet? They're making us into cheerleaders, and frankly, I'm not comfortable in this role. I don't know how to root for a well run organization. I've never had these emotions before. They're new and they scare me.

But that doesn't mean I want Bill back.

PS: Everyone loves the off-season Seattle just had. We get it. But now I want to understand where you think they could have done better. I mean isn't there a real chance that the lineup is just awful?

DC: Interestingly, the move that I have the most reservations about has nothing to do with the offense. The "Your Brandon Is Better Than My Brandon" trade is the one move this winter that I think could end up turning out really poorly. Brandon Morrow is, without a doubt, a frustrating pitcher with a lot of red flags - lousy command, inconsistent secondary stuff, inability to get lefties out, a history of arm problems, and diabetes are just a few of the reasons he might never turn into anything. But he's still a 25-year-old pitcher making the league minimum with more strikeouts than innings pitched in his career. And the M's turned him into a relief pitcher.

Now, Brandon League is a good relief pitcher, and the bullpen needed help, but still, that trade has a lot of downside. Maybe the odds of Morrow putting it all together weren't great, but the potential payoff if he did was huge. The M's cashed in a high risk, high reward pitcher for a safer play to help them in 2010, but potentially surrendered a lot of long term value in the process. I can understand the reasoning behind the deal, but I still think that there were other ways to bolster the relief corps without sacrificing a guy with significant upside.

As for the offense, sure, there's a chance they could be terrible, but again, our DHs the last four years have been Carl Everett, Jose Vidro, and Ken Griffey Jr. We know how to cope with teams that can't score. And, honestly, I think this group of hitters is better than people give them credit for. Their runs scored total from a year ago is misleading, as the team performed horribly with men on base, and that's not predictive. A lot depends on Milton Bradley and how often he can stay in the line-up. If he gives the team 120+ games, the offense should be average-ish, maybe a tick below. Ichiro and Figgins are quality hitters, Bradley is as well when he's in the line-up, and Lopez/Kotchman/Gutierrez are all about average. Byrnes and Garko kill lefties and have enough upside to potentially be useful regulars. This isn't the 27 Yankees, but the Mariners should score 700 to 725 runs, which isn't awful for a team that plays half of its games in Safeco Field.

PS: I agree on Milton Bradley being the key to the offense. I'm rooting like heck for him. I've been accused of making too many excuses for Bradley but I just think he was never set up to succeed in Chicago. Who do you think will write more about Bradley this year, the Chicago or Seattle press? Out of the chute, Chicago has a HUGE edge.

DC: It will be interesting to see how the media in Seattle handles Milton. For the most part, it's a lower pressure group, and one that will not be as confrontational as the Chicago group was. But they won't turn a blind eye if he gives them something to write about. There is one beat writer in particular (Geoff Baker, Seattle Times) who won't hesitate to stir the pot when he senses a potential story, and he focuses quite heavily on the clubhouse interaction side of the game, so he won't be covering for Bradley if he's acting out. But, I think there are reasons to think this could work.

Seattle is not Chicago. Bradley has thrived in other low pressure markets like Texas and San Diego, which Seattle is more comparable too. And, while we obviously lean more towards the talent side of things in the chemistry debates, having Ken Griffey Jr around can only help. Bradley's been outspoken about his respect for Junior, and having someone he'll listen to may allow them to put out some small fires before they turn into an explosion. There are reasons to think that the Mariners may get the reasonably well behaved version of Bradley that was a big part of some good teams in the not too distant past.

But, of course, it could go badly wrong. There's no denying the fact that Milton has talked himself off of almost every team he's ever been part of. If he slumps out of the gate and the team isn't doing well, he's an easy target for people who will want to blame the team's regression on the decision to upset the clubhouse chemistry from a year ago. It's a pre-written narrative for the media, and they will take advantage of that storyline if handed the opportunity. So, it's in everyone's best interests for Bradley to hit the crap out of the ball in April and the team to get off to a hot start. If they're in last place in May, people will blame Milton, and I don't think the M's want to bet their season on Bradley responding well to criticism.

PS: Talk to me a little bit about Seattle's starting pitching after Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee.

DC: As those two go, so go the Mariners. It's certainly a risk to put your eggs in the basket of two pitchers, and an extended DL stint for either one probably takes the Mariners out of contention. But, these two are legitimately among the top arms in baseball, and the Mariners will be the favorite in every game where they take the hill. If they can get 65 starts out of that pair, there's a good chance they'll get 45+ wins in those games, and they could then play below .500 ball the rest of the season and still be a playoff contender. That's the blueprint, essentially - win early and often when Felix and Lee are on the hill, try not to get pummeled when the other guys start.

Will it work? I don't know. But if it does, and the Mariners end up making the post-season, that duo makes them a nightmare to face in a short series. The Mariners certainly aren't as good as the Yankees, Red Sox, or Rays, but in a 7 game series where Felix and Lee take the hill four times, the differences are minimized. With these two guys, the Mariners have a roster built for October. Whether the surrounding pieces are good enough to get them there, we'll see, but there are certainly two cornerstones in place for a post-season run that ends
with a parade.

PS: Thanks so much for your time, David. Want to wrap with a prediction? Maybe even a kind word about Jered Weaver?

DC: I predict that there will be far too many words written about the Mariners this year. Based on the quantity of articles written this winter, it seems that the Mariners have become the new go-to-story for national media looking to focus on how an organization is changing the game, and unfortunately, this team is going to become something of a litmus test for the value of defense. There have been so many words written about how the M's have gone gaga for fielding that I feel like the skeptics of defensive metrics are just waiting for this team to struggle so they can hold the Mariners as evidence that defense doesn't really matter or UZR isn't accurate.

So, let me just throw this out there - this team very well might not win. They've bet big on a few guys staying healthy and productive, and they're counting on guys playing better than they have in the recent past in order to score enough runs to contend. There are a ton of risks in this roster, and it could all go horribly wrong. There are plausible scenarios where this team loses 90 games, and they have nothing to do with defense being overrated.

I am rooting for this team to do well as a fan, but also as someone who has fought hard for the acceptance of defensive value over the last few years. Defense matters, whether the Mariners end up winning with this particular roster or not.

As for Weaver, I still see him as a mid-rotation starter, but I will say that his splits have led me down an interesting path, which I think may end up leading us to better understand how certain pitchers can indeed use deceptive motions and arm slots to sustain "lucky" performances against same handed hitters. It's not exactly the highest compliment I could pay someone, but not every innings eater ends up pushing knowledge forward, so thanks for being weird, Jered.

Dave Cameron is a co-founder of and is also the managing editor of the FanGraphs blog. He also contributes to the Wall Street Journal, and was the editor of the Maple Street Press 2010 Mariners Annual. His wife deserves a medal for allowing him to do all this.


Great interview/roundtable/stakeholder discussion. I agree with Mr. Cameron that the Mariners will be used as a "litmus test" for defensive metrics, but I also think the national media will also focus on the Red Sox and their foray into the defensive metrics.

I like this style of team preview more than the roundtables, but it could be that Cameron is just a great interview. Can't wait for the next one.

Milton Bradley "thrived" in San Diego???

He took out an umpire, his manager, and his kneecap in one spastic attack that left him ejected for the game and injured for the year.

He also hit .313/.414/.590 in SD.

Nice interview with Dave Cameron. Unfortunately for Dave and fellow Mariner fans, Bradley will sh*t the bed once again and it'll end badly for all parties involved.

Casey Kotchman is an "average hitting 1B"? Not even close. And, despite the home runs, let's not mistake Jose Lopez as having any kind of plate discipline. Excuse me if I'm not impressed by a .303 career OBP in nearly 2,800 at-bats. The Mariners' two best batsman are slap hitters. They'll be fun to watch when they get Ichiro and Figgins running the bags together. But they'll be an otherwise sad-sack offense. I wouldn't want to watch that product for 162 games.

Sure, that .313/.414/.590 lines sounds nice. But it was over the course of 42 games, or about a quarter of a season. A season that ended with Milt's complete and absolute self-destruction. The team that he abandoned (because he is a deranged umpire-attacking lunatic) went on to lose a heart-breaking play-in game to the evevntual NL champs Rockies, in large part due to shoddy outfield play. So, ya, whatever, those few weeks where he got hot may have led to impressive short-season OPS numbers, but to say he "thrived" in San Diego is a myopic, small-sample, stats-only distortion of what actually went down during his tenure. And you can tell Dave Cameron I said so.

Casey Kotchman's career wOBA: .324
Average wOBA during Kotchman's career: .328

Over 1,800 career plate appearances, Kotchman has racked up a wRAA of -8.3, which works out to about 2.9 runs below average per season. Oh, and he's headed into his age 27 season.

Projections for Kotcmha's 2010 wRAA:

Bill James: +1
Chone: +0
Marcel: +2
Fans: +3

He's the definition of a league average hitter. No one called him an "average hitting 1B". I called him an average hitter, which he is.

Same deal with Lopez. You can either look at his OBP in isolation, or look at the entire package. I'd suggest not focusing on one part of a player less you miss the big picture.

And Nick, I don't really know what to say about your revisionist history. You realize that Mike Winters was suspended for the Bradley incident, right? MLB's investigation found that Winters, not Bradley, was in the wrong, and Bradley was not punished. Your bitterness is misplaced.

"Casey Kotchman is an "average hitting 1B"?"

Read what he says. He didn't call him "average hitting 1B", he called him an "average hitter". There's enough good hitters throughout the lineup that they shouldn't be among the worst in the league this year. That's the point Cameron was making.

I'm very much looking forward to watching 162 games of the product the Mariners are putting on the field this year.

Please ...

A) Kotchman is a first baseman, meaning his production needs only to be measured against other Major League first baseman, among which he is noticably below "average."

(B) The Mariners lineup is weak and yet Kotchman still is likely to bat in its bottom third.

(C) You're throwing a bunch of useless metrics at me when the only one that matters is his career OPS - which sits at a paltry .742 in 1,674 at-bats. A .337 OBP and a .406 SLG is not average among first baseman - which, again, is what Kotchman needs to be measured against when analyzing Seattle's lineup.

Kotchman's best value is as a defensive replacement and a left-handed bat off the bench. If he's in your starting lineup, you better have some big time run producers that will hide the fact that your first baseman has little pop or run-producing abilities. And the Mariners, with the enigma that is Milton Bradley and a swan song from Junior, do not qualify as one of those teams.

You would do well to learn about the flaws of OPS, the value of defense, and how to value players across positions. It will help you in your understanding of the game.

The M's will not be the favorites in every game where Lee or Felix is on the mound. When the M's lineup has to deal with Sabathia and Lester, the M's will not be favored to win, even if Lee or Felix is throwing for them. Sure, this might only happen a couple of times during the year, but still, it is incorrect to say that they will be favored to win simply because of their starting pitcher.

The Mariners have the pitching and defense to contend. Are they a shoe-in for the playoffs? No. Will they be in most/every game? Yes. Below Hernandez/Lee in the rotation, they have a number of solid/serviceable guys who will give them innings.

With all due respect, Mr. Cameron, I'm plenty confident in my knowledge of the game and the value of a good defender and left-handed bat off the bench. And as I wrote in a previous post, that's where Kotchman's true value lies. Kotchman is a Major League-caliber player, but you will never convince me that he's even an average-hitting 1B. He's not.

For the record, I'm not an M's hater. I like the moves to pick up Cliff Lee and Brandon League. That one-two punch of Felix and Lee is likely to be the AL's best. And League might well be the M's closer by the end of the season. He added a pitch last season and looks ready to join the elite. But the batting order, behind Ichiro and Figgins, is weak. Despite the great pitching, the M's should come up short in the West. The Halos are still the overwhelming favorite to win that division. And, with that offense, the M's aren't a good bet to win the Wild Card either.

RE: Jered Weaver. Cameron uses the word "luck" as a substitute for "gap in my ability to measure." What's another word for "weasel"?

Its pretty much unquestionable that UZR isn't accurate. From data collection to methodology its poorly executed and constructed.

Instead of acknowledging that, what does Cameron do? He does what he always does - act superior. OPS is flawed and hey, surprise, so is tRA and FIP and xFIP and whatever magic number du jour is being wielded by elitists as they explain that they know more about the past, present and future than not only all fans, but all people in baseball.

The mythology thats being built around Jack Z is tremendous. Somehow he suddenly got interested in defense. Given free reign, he drafted Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Mat Gamel and Brett Lawrie. Some of the moves he's made, like signing Jack Wilson, would be derided by the same people if they were done by another GM and another org.

Jack Z is more of a religious figure than a GM.

I am just beginning to read this fascinating blog and others like it to learn the game. It's like going to college on baseball, but with a really low tuition. I love it.
A comment. It would be helpful if you guys could define the shorthand terms you use. The capital letter initials communicate to the literati, but not to the rest of us. I get the obvious ones, but am missing out on some and so probably miss significant parts of the discussion.