A week and a half ago, I thought the Mariners were completely and utterly boned. Already riding an 11-game losing streak, they were set to welcome two of the AL's better teams and a divisional rival for consecutive series in Safeco Field. Obviously by that point the season was already a loss, but it looked like the M's were on the verge of one of those horrifying Mike Hargrove tailspins from which there is no easy escape. Honestly, I didn't see an end to the skid in sight.
Then the team woke up and we just rode the wave. The Yankees came into town elated and delirious following their series in Fenway, but left having to keep an eye on the rearview mirror again. That brought us to the Red Sox, who came in with faint renewed hope of a playoff run and left in a wheelchair. Finally, we got the Angels, who also came in with a glimmer of hope and left with none, unless you're stupid, in denial, or stupidly in denial. The homestand ended with something of a stinker, but for nine days we saw the Mariners overcome a godawful rotation and depleted bullpen to play some of the best baseball we've seen all year, and for that I'm thankful. Fears that Hargrove would let the guys just play out the string for the rest of the year have been put to rest, and that's enough to keep me watching every day until the offseason.
Biggest Contribution:Kenji Johjima, +25.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Jake Woods, -30.6%
Most Important At Bat: Lopez double play, -16.4%
Most Important Pitch: Anderson homer, -16.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -37.2%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -13.8%
Everyone's favorite format today...
- Jake Woods is not a good pitcher. He's barely acceptable as a 11th/12th man in the bullpen and way over his head in the rotation. Finally tonight we saw the runs start to catch up with his shoddy peripherals, mostly thanks to a forgettable sixth inning. Good luck exists, but it doesn't last forever; Jake learned that lesson tonight, and he's got a bumpy road ahead.
The value of xFIP as a statistic is up for debate, but at the very least it provides a quick and dirty way of looking at who's been getting what kind of luck. With that in mind: as of this afternoon, there were 266 Major League pitchers with 50+ innings under their belt. The difference between Jake Woods' xFIP and ERA ranked 11th-highest out of all of them, at 1.95 (3.59 ERA, 5.54 xFIP). No matter what you think of the statistic, the message is clear - Woods has been one of the luckiest pitchers in the league so far this season, and that includes his time in relief, where pitchers are typically better than they are as starters. (Incidentally, Jered Weaver ranks #1 for starting pitchers at a difference of 2.32; 2.33 ERA, 4.65 xFIP. So, yeah. The reasons for his success have been, for the most part, out of his control, and they won't continue.)
You don't need to look at the numbers to know that Jake Woods isn't very good. Just watching him, you can tell that he lacks the most fundamental abilities - throwing strikes, missing bats, and keeping the ball down. He doesn't have a broad repertoire, he doesn't throw very hard, and he doesn't have any particular gift that stands out to you as a justification for his continued employment, save for the fact that he throws with a funny hand. I understand that I'm preaching to the choir here, but I need to repeat myself in the hopes that someone important sees this and thinks better of the idea of keeping Jake around to start in 2007. I don't think anyone wants that to happen, including Jake, since nobody enjoys public humiliation at their own expense.
- On a related note, our current pitching staff is in the worst shape it's been in in a long long time. Felix aside, the rotation is full of AAAA-level talent, and the bullpen's down to Putz, Sherrill, and a bunch of guys who probably couldn't pick themselves out of a lineup. The downside of this is that the team's going to allow a bunch of runs before the end of the year. The upside is that we'll learn a lot more about certain guys than we would've if things were different. Even ignoring Baek and Woods, who shouldn't be anywhere close to our rotation in seven months, O'Flaherty, Huber, Green, Fruto, and Cruceta are all arms who could conceivably help out in next year's bullpen, so it works out pretty well that they should all get some action as the season winds down. The Mariners are sort of overflowing with cheap relief candidates, and that's a good problem to have, but they need to start narrowing down the list. This should give them the opportunity.
- I don't remember if I said anything good about Joel Pineiro when he relieved a week ago, but if I did, I take it back. I don't know if he's just trying to get accustomed to his new delivery or whatever, but right now all he's doing is putting the ball over the plate and crossing his fingers. A little leftover natural movement has helped him miss a few bats, but, no, I'm in no hurry to see him again.
- Jon Huber, on the other hand - he's not a great pitcher, but he earned himself an extended trial. Three consecutive identical sliders to Howie Kendrick, three consecutive identical swinging strikes. A great first appearance (and with a surprising amount of fan awareness/support), which is a little weird; he, O'Flaherty, Lowe, Fruto, and Green have all had scoreless debuts this year, in stark contrast with the way Nageotte/Blackley/Baek broke into the league two years ago. I don't know what that means, exactly, other than it's nice not having to go to NASA to calculate our rookies' ERAs for a change. (Unless your name is Bobby Livingston, in which case, hey, Bobby.)
- Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of bunting when you have a guy like Chris Snelling at the plate, especially when Jake Woods is pitching and you know you can't really play for one run. That said, I'm a sucker for the squeeze, so when Mike Hargrove put it on in the third, I couldn't help but smile. Despite Lackey throwing a pitch that was nearly impossible to lay down, the play was executed to perfection, with Snelling getting the ball far enough up th first base line to allow Yuniesky Betancourt to score.
Only, no. Turns out the pitch was so hard to bunt that Snelling didn't actually bunt it. He squared around and stabbed at the ball, but it hit him in the right shin and bounced forward. Snelling immediately played it off as a success and ran for first, which was enough to convince everyone except Mike Scioscia, the reigning prime minister of Whinertonia, who came out to plead his case to an umpiring crew that didn't want to hear it. Before you feel too bad for the Angels, though, they did get a break later in the game to make up for it, so in the end it was a wash.
- There are people out there who consider 2006 to be Jose Lopez's breakout season. These people are wrong. It looked like it'd be the case back in May, but as it turns out he was just hot for a few weeks, the sort of thing you wouldn't pay much attention to if it didn't happen at the very beginning or very end of the year. Singles are the only thing keeping his batting average at a reasonable level, as he's not walking at all and his extra-base hit rate is way below where it was in '04/'05. He was a good hitter early on, but since then pitchers have adjusted to him without him adjusting back, and I don't see how you can call that a success. How he performs over the final month will tell us a lot about what to expect from him in 2007.
Travel day tomorrow, as the Mariners fly to Tampa to begin a six-game road trip. Rosters expand to 40 on Friday, but with Tacoma currently playing with a short roster, you might not see more than one or two guys up (if any) until the AAA season ends on Monday.