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Keep this up and we won't even have to make believe that that whole A's thing never happened. Sure, "the Mariners have won 11 of their past 16 games" doesn't sound all that sexy, but it's a solid accomplishment that's managed to keep us interested in the season far longer than we thought we'd be towards the end of May, and that's worth something. Hell, a win tomorrow gives Seattle its second series sweep in ten days, and when's the last time that happened?

Say what you will about struggling in Oakland, but the M's came right back afterwards without skipping a beat. As long as they play this well against everyone else, I'm willing to accept that one team just has our number. All things considered, it could be a hell of a lot worse.

Chart it!

Biggest Contribution: Gil Meche, +26.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Carl Everett, -3.3%
Most Important Hit: Sexson homer, +16.5%
Most Important Pitch: Winn walk, -3.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +26.6%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +23.4%

(What is this?)

Unlikely events came fast and furious this afternoon. Gil Meche was dealing. Jason Schmidt wasn't. Richie Sexson went deep. Jeremy Reed went deep. Yuniesky Betancourt almost went deep. Adrian Beltre went as deep as he's capable of doing these days. The carcass of Roberto Petagine played first base for an inning. Rene Rivera didn't drop any pitches. After Randy Winn led off with a walk, the game followed pretty much the exact opposite path I expected it to, and that kind of leaves me a little dumbfounded. Considering the feed was blacked out, I suppose it's possible that none of this actually happened and that Yahoo!,, Rick Rizzs, and everyone in the open thread teamed up to play some sort of elaborate trick on me, but the more I think about it the more I realize that such an effort would require Rizzs and LL readers to get along and work together, which I'm sure everyone realizes is a distinct impossibility. So I'm left with the reality that Gil Meche tossed a complete game five-hitter against a lineup with only one guy I've never heard of. In some respects that's actually a little tougher to grasp.

So I guess I'm required by law to address the issue of Gil's improvement. Let's begin by doing this the easy way, with a direct comparison of 2005 and 2006 rate stats:

Stat     2005     2006
K% 13.0 18.9
BB% 11.3 10.4
GB% 38.9 41.9
LD% 21.0 17.7
HR/FB% 9.4 9.7
Strike% 59.5 60.2
FIP 5.22 4.61

There's a slight drop in walk rate, but the difference looks insignificant. The same goes for the HR/FB% and strike ratio - the 2005 and 2006 numbers aren't identical, but the gap between them is negligible. So we're left with three things contributing to the 61-point drop in FIP: strikeouts, groundballs, and line drives.

The improved groundball rate (the highest of Gil's career) implies a difference in pitching style and/or approach that probably goes back to the two-seam fastball he and Chaves worked on over the offseason and during ST. By inducing a couple extra wormburners, Gil allows fewer balls to be put in the air, reducing the frequency and effect of home runs. That's always good, and more importantly, it's a repeatable skill. We have every reason to believe that Gil will continue getting more groundballs over the rest of the season than he has in the past.

Something that isn't a repeatable skill, though, is Gil's low line drive rate. JC Bradbury and David Gassko showed in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 that pitchers have essentially zero control over how many line drives they allow, and while the "R" value of -0.03 was calculated using year-to-year data, it's fair to assume that the same holds true month-to-month or even start-to-start. Pitchers are able to control a lot of things, but line drives aren't one of them. Gil's approximate rate of 17.7% is below the league average of 20.3%, so we can expect this to get a little worse over the course of the summer as it regresses to the mean. As Gil allows more line drives, he'll allow more hits, and by allowing more hits he'll allow more runs. It really is that simple.

So we have one positive attribute that we can expect Gil to keep up and one that we can't. That leaves us with his strikeout rate, which has jumped a remarkable 45% from last season. That's a significant improvement, and one that, when combined with the fact that there doesn't appear to be any real mechanical difference between the 2005 and 2006 Gil Meches, also implies a better approach, be it something as subtle as mental preparation or as simple as better grips or pitch selection. Whatever the case, Gil's strikeout hike has cut 50 points off of his FIP, accounting for almost the entire difference between his 2005 and 2006 seasons. When it comes to talking about Gil's sudden development, look no further than his newfound ability to miss bats on a more consistent basis.

So where does that leave us? If you assume that the strikeouts are real and that the line drives will regress a little bit over the coming months, you've still got a guy who's going to post an FIP in the mid- to high-4's. His ERA would be lower - in the neighborhood of 4.25 or so, thanks to the Safeco effect and a good team defense - but the ERA/FIP gap isn't unique to Meche, as the same rules apply to every pitcher on the team. And, quite simply, that's nothing to get all worked up about. Yes, Gil Meche is a better pitcher than he used to be. The increase in strikeouts is too big to be a mirage. But going from being one of the worst pitchers in baseball to a reasonable back-of-the-rotation starter shouldn't be enough to re-populate the pro-Meche bandwagon. For once he's not the biggest problem starter on the team (Hey-yo!), but he's still a guy I'm looking to deal for prospects if the right offer comes along, and not someone I'd be real thrilled about bringing back in 2007. Don't let the magnitude of Gil Meche's improvement fool you - he's still not very good, and there will be a bunch of better investments come the offseason. Sell! Sell!

Mariner Pitchers In Games Started By Rene Rivera:

K/BB: 3.46
R/Game: 2.82

Mariner Pitchers In Games Started By Johjima (and Quiroz, once):

K/BB: 1.82
R/Game: 5.17

It's way too soon to draw any conclusions from this, but it's something to watch. I've never been real big on the idea of different catchers calling different games, since an effect has never been proven and in the end it's the pitcher who has the final say on what he's throwing, but it's possible that we've finally uncovered something Rivera actually does well.

Also, here's something that was first brought to my attention by Aaron C. a few weeks ago:

Jeremy Reed Career Against West Coast Teams:

BA: .331
SLG: .492

Jeremy Reed Career Against Everyone Else:

BA: .221
SLG: .304

As long as you only play him 50 times a year, Reed could be one hell of a part-time player. There's a guy who really can't stand being too far from home.

Like Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson seems to have stirred a little false hope with a good series against the Royals. Since June 3rd, his batting average has dropped seven points while his slugging hasn't improved at all. It borders on the incredible that we've gotten this far despite zero production from the two highest-paid players in franchise history. On the other hand, in both their cases it's well past the point of being a simple slump, and as difficult and unbelievable as it may be, perhaps we really shouldn't take it for granted that they'll both get better. I refuse to let myself do that before the All-Star Break, but it's getting close, and I'm getting nervous. Even with all the wins of late, the back of my brain can't help but feel concerned about all the money and all the years these guys have left on their contracts. No matter how you slice it, the Mariners are going to have an awful lot of trouble building a successful roster around the $91.4m and eight years of Sexson, Beltre and Washburn down the road if those three guys don't shape up and start performing.

Tomorrow afternoon Jamie Moyer will go for the sweep against Jamey Wright, who still sucks just as bad as he did when we signed him to a minor league deal back in the day. Will that mean anything to the heart of our lineup? Stay tuned!