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One of the little side benefits of writing a site about a crappy team is that I have the freedom to peace out and do other things from time to time instead of write, and nobody really cares. If the Mariners were contending, I'd have to be here writing about them all day long, because people would be interested. But they aren't, and that really takes the pressure off my shoulders. It's stressful when the public is demanding. This is much nicer. It's easier on me when people don't have as big an appetite for Mariner information, and if today's game thread is any indication, on the list of things people want to talk about, "Mariner baseball" falls somewhere between pickles and chalk.

Pickles are delicious, though. Talk about an underrated way to save a sandwich.

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Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +25.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Yuniesky Betancourt, -13.7%
Most Important AB: Ichiro double, +26.4%
Most Important Pitch: Gonzalez home run, -22.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +25.2%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +24.8%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
(What is this chart?)

I do want to address one thing, and that's Erik Bedard's awesome linescore. With ten strikeouts, five hits, and just one walk over eight innings, this was by far Bedard's greatest statistical performance of the early season, the sort of game that makes me wonder if he's ever going to pick a side between "awesome" and "injured". Padre after Padre went up to the plate and walked away all bewildered-like as Erik finally lived up to his billing. From Bedard's start to the run support provided by Ichiro, Ibanez, and Beltre to the save by Putz, this was the game of which we thought we'd see a lot more back in March.

Was Erik doing anything differently? If so, what? To try and answer this question, let's once again consult his PITCHf/x data from the game:

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(click to make bigger)

It's an awful lot easier to look at this stuff and dissect the information when you're dealing with a guy who's essentially a two-pitch pitcher. The thing that stands out to me the most? Bedard's fastball. Or, more specifically, what his fastball was doing. A year ago, he used the fastball to get ahead and the curveball to put the batter away. Batters had a fairly decent time making contact with the former, but struggled to touch the latter. Tonight, though, the fastball was dominating. 13 of Bedard's 18 swinging strikes came on the heater, which you can see in the chart on the upper left. Look at the first quadrant. There's a cluster of fastballs in there that the hitters swung right through, as Bedard worked righties high and away. He was effective with the pitch all night long, as the only real "mistake" he made was giving Adrian Gonzalez a high-away fastball that he punched over the left field fence. And that was just tremendous hitting.

I don't know which of Bedard's fastballs was the most impressive, but I think the at bat that set the tone for the rest of the game was Bedard vs. Tadahito Iguchi in the top of the first. The sequence:

1st pitch: high fastball, over plate, ball
2nd pitch: high away fastball, over corner, swinging strike
3rd pitch: high away fastball, covers just a little more of the plate than pitch #2, swinging strike
4th pitch: inside fastball, off plate, brushes Iguchi back, ball
5th pitch: high away fastball, off plate, swinging strike

Iguchi didn't look comfortable in the entire at bat, and all three of his swings were way late. This is unusual, considering Iguchi had the platoon split and Bedard generally only throws 90-92. While I can't know for sure, it looked as if Iguchi went up there sitting on the curve and got caught flat-footed by the heaters. I can't really think of any other decent reason for being behind on those pitches. Whatever the case, Bedard kept Iguchi off balance, just as he kept several Padres off balance over eight innings.

Maybe there's something to this Jamie-Burke-as-personal-catcher thing. I don't know - the sample size of information we have is way too limited, and there are an awful lot of variables involved in studying this kind of question. But after the results Bedard was able to generate tonight, I can't imagine that he'll be in any hurry to go back to Johjima. Pitchers are superstitious (even the quiet, laconic ones), and if something's working for them, they wouldn't dare change it.

The fact that Bedard dominated with his fastball is both encouraging and worrisome. In 2007, his pitch was the curveball. That was what moved him from interesting young lefty to one of the best arms in the bigs. While it's good to see him generate some missed swings on the heater, that's not what made him special a year ago, and the curve still isn't where it ought to be. At least, not in terms of results (I'm not going to try and analyze its movement). Four swinging strikes on 30 curves tonight is good, but it's not amazing. I was expecting it to be more amazing.

This was a big game for Bedard. He had to have been frustrated with the way his season began, and while he wasn't exactly falling all over himself with glee and merriment in the aftermath (Erik "The Interview" Bedard really is the perfect nickname), I'm sure he was glad to get a performance like this under his belt. However, he generated his success in a way rather unlike the way he succeeded in 2007, and - let's face it - the Padres have a terrible offense, a group with a .241 EqA and the second-most strikeouts in baseball. Bedard should have been excellent tonight. Anything else would've been a colossal disappointment.

And so we wait. We wait to find out if this is sustainable, or if it's just another blip on the haphazard scatterplot that's been Bedard's 2008. While he threw an awesome eight innings, we can't yet use his ten strikeouts as evidence that he's finally back to being the ace pitcher for whom we traded.

But it's a start.

  • JJ: still unsettling. While he dialed one fastball up to 98, he got lucky when Adrian Gonzalez yanked a line drive straight at Wladimir Balentien, and again when Tony Clark swung through a flat splitter at the thigh. The longer this goes on, the longer it's going to take for us to trust him again if/when he recovers his command.
  • I don't think anybody in baseball deserved a home run more than Adrian Beltre. He entered the day in the midst of a statistical slump, having batted just .156 with two home runs since the last day of April, but over that same 16-game span he posted a line drive rate of 21%. He wasn't struggling. He was getting unlucky. If instead of going deep he'd hit a frozen rope right at the third baseman, I think he may have killed himself.

I wonder how we're going to make Shawn Estes look good.