This has been one strange, low-scoring June. In 14 games, we've seen the Mariners and their opponents combine for 96 runs scored - 53 by the former, 43 by the latter. One way to look at it is that the Mariners are only 8-6 in the month despite posting the best team ERA in the league. Another way is that the Mariners are 8-6 despite scoring just 3.8 runs per game, a 613-run pace over a full season. Of course, some impressively bad hitting with men in scoring position of late has the Mariner run total for June undershooting its expected total, but the point remains that this team has been both lucky and unfortunate for the past 2+ weeks. Incidentally, May 31st? 9-7 loss.
Today's game was the Mariners' fourth shutout of the season - not bad, but made all the more impressive when you consider that they didn't have a single one until May 22nd. Despite his ugly line score peripherals, you still felt as if Moyer was on cruise control for most of the game, getting into (and out of) a little trouble every so often while barely breaking a sweat. Ichiro's big blast in the second brought on a real sense of comfort, because, with as well as these guys have been pitching for the past few weeks, a three-run lead felt pretty secure, and it did in fact hold up for the rest of the game. Even a potentially disastrous Jeff Nelson appearance couldn't spoil the mood, as he rode the wave of unexpected success to 1.1 shutout innings. It was a hugely important win, too, because the Mets are sending Pedro Martinez to the hill tomorrow, and he's looking to continue his current streak of 92340592345982387 consecutive perfect innings against the Mariners. If Ryan Franklin thought his run support sucked before, he's got a whole new thing coming.
Anyway, tonight's game. Let's look at the chart:
Biggest Contribution: Jamie Moyer, +24.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Richie Sexson, -9.2%
Most Important Hit: Ichiro homer, +21.6%
Most Important Pitch: Daubach fly out, +7.8%
Total Contribution by Pitchers: +27.2%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +11.9%
It should come as no surprise that the guy who threw 7.2 shutout innings made the biggest contribution to the winning effort. Moyer didn't have any one absolutely critical at bat; rather, it was the little contributions that added up, as he retired batter after batter without letting a runner reach third until the eighth. Jeff Nelson registered a big bases-loaded "strikeout" in the eighth, but by that point the game was well in hand, so he doesn't get too much credit for it. I say "strikeout" because, if I removed the quotation marks and described the event as irrefutable fact, Marlon Anderson might come to my house and cut me.
Some things to explain: first of all, Jose Lopez gets a negative rating, despite going 2-4 with a steal, a double, and an RBI. The reason for this is that he didn't get a hit until it was already 3-0, meaning that any additional positive contribution would have a small effect. Contrast this to his first at bat, in which he was retired with two on and two out, reducing the team win expectancy by 6.3%. I'm telling you, it's all context-dependent. Oh, he had a throwing error, too. Moving on, Ichiro's home run didn't have quite the same impact as Ibanez's the previous night (+21.6%, as compared to 34.0%) because (A) it came early, (B) it came with men on base, when the win expectancy was already elevated, and (C) it broke a tie, instead of eliminating a deficit. So, that's that.
Pitching staff ERA with Borders behind the plate: 2.95
Pitching staff ERA with other catchers behind the plate: 4.58
There are all kinds of problems with this kind of statistic (CERA), sample size being one of them, but it's one of those things you have to think about when considering how the pitching staff suddenly started getting the job done. It would be a lot more helpful to see the staff's peripherals and BABIP with certain catchers behind the plate, instead of ERA, to better gauge how much luck is involved, but what we're currently looking at is a faint suggestion that Pat Borders may call a great game, while Olivo/Rivera/Gonzalez/Wilson do not. However weak this suggestion may be, it's evidently enough to convince Hargrove and several pitchers that Borders is the answer to all their problems, so look for Father Time to get more starts as a 42 year old catcher than anyone in forever. Which wouldn't really be a bad thing, if it didn't mean that Rene Rivera will be sitting on the bench. Fortunately, Fat Lazy Catcher should begin his minor league rehab any day now, meaning that Rivera is that much closer to returning to the minors. If any of you picked Pat Borders and Wiki Gonzalez to be Seattle's two Major League catchers at the All Star Break, give yourselves a pat on the back, or a luxury car, or something.
Lessons in Life, by Victor Diaz:
"Jeff Nelson is an old man. He throws a slider that moves a lot. Sometimes you try to hit it and miss, and that's okay. But sometimes you try to hit it and miss really badly, probably blowing your chances at the NL Rookie of the Year courtesy of one friggin' awful swing."
You can't see it very well in that picture, but the bat was out of Diaz's hands - literally - almost as soon as it crossed the plane of the plate. He walked back to the dugout, batless and embarrassed.
Jose Lopez, PECOTA: .268/.304/.421
Bret Boone, Current: .227/.294/.366
Jose Lopez, Defense at SS, '04: -16 runs/100 games
Bret Boone, Defense at 2B, '05: -11 runs/100 games
And Lopez's defense should be better at second, too, since it's an easier position to play than short. If there's a downside to making the switch, I don't see it. There's almost certainly no trade market whatsoever for Bret Boone right now, so - since we're stuck with his salary anyway - it's about time that he gets DFA'd and sent on his way, so that Lopez can rightfully assume his position and Boone can latch on elsewhere for the league minimum. It's better for now and it's better for the future, and quite frankly, I'm just real sick of Bret Boone. Jose Lopez caught a line drive above his head today, a line drive of equivalent elevation to one that Boone had bounce off his glove earlier in the game. Put him down and bring an end to this.
There was a little pre-game chatter about Willie Ballgame getting the start ahead of Jeremy Reed in center, but the move was justifiable - Reed's in a slump, and he's had his share of trouble against lefties, while Bloomquist has actually been two shades of useful versus southpaws for his career. The counter-argument is that Reed needs all the experience he can get to speed up his development, but starting him ahead of Bloomquist against a lefty makes the team worse, and it's a little too early to expect Hagrove to start conceding the present for the sake of the future. Playing Morse at short or Rivera behind the plate - these are moves for the future that serve the added purpose of helping us now, since Valdez and Olivo were sucking so badly. Playing Reed against a lefty doesn't work like that. Now, if we're still seeing the same strategy in September when the team's out of the race, then it'll be something to complain about.
Speaking of Mike Morse - er, what the hell is going on? He's hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games, and is batting .419 in 43 at bats since being promoted. There are two main ways of looking at this: one, he's stinging everything he hits, or two, he's not really walking or hitting for much power, so his numbers will eventually regress back to his minor league track record. When a guy comes into the year with a career .256 minor league BA, you have to be skeptical about any quick ML debut, so my inherently pessimistic nature tells me that this is just a mirage. Still, though, that isn't meant to take anything away from Morse's performance - for once, we're talking about sample size issues for a guy who's playing WELL, wondering if he'll ever slow down instead of heat up. Morse could go hitless in his next 50 at bats and still have a higher batting average (not to mention more home runs) than the Valdez/Bloomquist duo we ran out there for two months. That means something. Defense be damned, I'm comfortable with a Morse/Lopez middle infield for a little while, as long as it means that Boone is gone. It's not like Pokey's ever going to heal, anyway.
Back tomorrow night, as Ryan Franklin and the Mariners are in line to be Pedro's next victim. At least they're not unsuspecting.