I hope you enjoyed that, because six of our next nine games are against the same team.
What's that? They're boring? Well, thank goodness we get to face those scintillating Tigers for three in between.
You could go a full season without picking up another win as undeserved as this one. The Indians doubled up in baserunners and hit nearly everything Moyer threw somewhere close to the fence, but a pair of errors and a bad pitch were enough to erase the effort and hand the win to the Mariners. This is how it goes in games like this, I suppose - the Indians are slumping, so they find innovative new ways to lose all the time, and the Mariners are bad, so even their wins are unsatisfying. For fringe contenders like Texas and Toronto, you take what you can get, but I think there comes a point at which a team is so bad that it's almost not worth winning if it isn't accomplished in thrilling fashion. To me, the Mariners reached that point a long time ago. Does anyone else miss that series in Anaheim?
There isn't a whole lot to go over from this game, so let's go to the chart:
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +37.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Adrian Beltre, -12.2%
Most Important Hit: Ichiro homer, +43.5%
Most Important Pitch: Broussard single, -20.2%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +15.0%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +12.9%
Total Contribution by non-Ichiro Hitters: -24.9%
As you can see in the graph, this was a pretty big snoozer until the eighth inning. The Mariners saw their chances of winning the game gradually decline over time, not because they were giving up runs, but because nobody was giving up many runs, and the longer you stay behind, the lesser the chance that you'll come back to win. It felt like Belliard's homer would stand up until Eric Wedge made the brilliant tactical decision to leave Scott Elarton in the game even though Elarton himself had voiced concern over fatigue. He walked Chris Snelling to lead off the eighth and served up a homer to Ichiro in the next at bat, and the rest is history. In some respects, it was just a matter of time - Elarton put up a 19:3 flyball/groundball ratio on the day that Ryan Franklin would be proud of, and you knew that one of them would eventually fly over the fence if Elarton remained in the game long enough. But still, this is the Mariners, and you can't make assumptions like that, because you'll often be wrong.
Ichiro's homer was only the beginning of the fun, where by "fun" I mean bite-your-tongue-off psychological anguish. For, it seemed like JJ Putz wasn't much for the whole "winning" thing, and he immediately set out to right the wrong of the Mariners taking the lead. With two on and none out (+40.8%), it took some ballsy defense to get a force out at third on an attempted sac bunt (+60.1%), and after Aaron Boone hit a line smash directly at Richie Sexson's glove (+71.6), Sexson dove back to first to catch Belliard off the bag to complete the double play (+84.9%). Putz may have fanned the side in the seventh, but the eighth was almost entirely out of his hands.
Oh, and Guardado tried to piss it away in the ninth, but he recovered well enough to get the save, and I don't think it would be wise to pick on the only guy on the team who's been consistently good all year long. So, er, yay, closers.
That Jamie Moyer is a historically unique pitcher is both a good and a bad thing - good, because he's fun to watch and still performs at an acceptable level, and bad, because we don't know when he's finished. It looked like he was done in 2000, but he bounced back to post three incredible seasons. Then he did the same thing last year, with another apparently recovery (albeit to a lesser extent) in 2005. When you have a guy whose repertoire isn't going to fade with age, you have to rely on the hitters to tell you when he's done as a pitcher, and right now they're sending mixed messages. Jamie obviously isn't the guy he was two years ago, but he's been the best pitcher in the rotation, and the only one to post a defense-independent ERA below 5 (4.49). So what's changed?
Here's the funny thing - the ERA drop has been almost exclusively due to a lower home run rate. Jamie's strikeouts are down 14%, his walks are up 3.5%, and his BABIP has jumped 40 points to an uncharacteristic .308. If you didn't know any better, you'd say that these figures were indicative of a pitcher's collapse, rather than a slight rejuvenation.
Here are, to me, the important figures (you may remember this from February):
2004 saw an incredible jump in home run rate that came at the expense of some doubles and triples. I hypothesized during the winter that a lot of this was due to "luck", and that Jamie would see something of a bounceback in 2005 where more balls would hit the wall, rather than fly over it. The result, as you could guess, would be a lower ERA.
Well, the bounceback happened. And how. Where home runs made up 57% of the extra-base hits Jamie allowed last year, they're down to 24% this year. Which sounds reasonable until you realize that this is 12% below his established rate between 1996-2003. It's almost as if Jamie is as lucky with homers this year as he was unlucky in 2004. More balls have been hitting the wall and fewer have cleared it, resulting in a considerably better ERA.
Obviously, the next question is: is this sustainable? To which I think the answer is a resounding "probably not." Although there hasn't been much work done in the field of correlations between home run and double/triple rates, there is certainly some element of luck that goes into determining which well-hit balls fly 450 feet and which strike a ten-foot obstacle around the outfield. Knowing that, it seems unlikely that Jamie will be able to keep this up. There's no change in his groundball/flyball ratio that could explain this kind of difference, leaving you with the uneasy feeling that things are about to get worse.
On the plus side, which Jamie's almost assuredly going to allow more home runs over the rest of the year, fewer balls are going to drop in for hits - as a left-handed changeup pitcher in a hit-reducing environment with a great team defense behind him, there's every reason in the world to think that Jamie's BABIP will recover. So, while more balls are going to be flying a long way, there'll be fewer men on base, so the net impact should be something of a wash. Jamie's ERA stands at 4.47 right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's where it stays.
Chris Snelling has drawn 1.1% of the team's walks in 0.29% of the team's plate appearances. Randy Winn's a fine player who's been underappreciated in Seattle, but his time here is up, and I think the team might actually be better without him, at least this year.
Scott Spiezio is responsible for 26.1% of the team's suck in 0.83% of the team's plate appearances. Such efficiency is remarkable.
After a red-hot June, Mike Morse has hit an Amaralian .273/.333/.341 in July. He's not swinging at many bad pitches, which is certainly encouraging, but perhaps it's time to consider that maybe that whole "driving the ball the other way" thing for which he's drawn praise is really a sign that he's having trouble turning on pitches and driving them into left field. The power that was supposed to be his strongest asset is nowhere to be found, with a paltry 22% of his hits going for extra bases. With as many questions as he asks the coaching staff, you have to wonder if they've taken him up as something of a pet project, tweaking and adjusting his swing to the point at which he's become a completely different hitter than the one he was in the minors. Keep an eye on this over the rest of the year - without his power, Morse is going to have a hell of a time developing into a quality player.
Gil Meche and Cliff Lee tomorrow at 12:15pm, in a game that'll be blacked out on MLB.tv for those of you (us) out-of-market fans.