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Rooting For Losing

I've returned from my extended weekend sojourn in fire country, and I think I'm now successfully caught up on everything that I missed. Stephen Strasburg showed that he's back, Doug Fister showed that he's better than Stephen Strasburg, the Mariners lost more than they won, and the Mariners also promoted a substitute teacher to the Major League bullpen to prove to other organizations that you really can build a bullpen out of nothing so long as you aren't concerned with how well it does. I understand that, in addition, Franklin Gutierrez got hurt and Alex Liddi came up, but Guti probably wasn't going to do too much in September anyway, and Liddi will be a bigger story once he actually plays. It'll be interesting to see if Liddi can break Mark Reynolds' single-season strikeout record in three weeks.

Anyway, being away is awesome, but coming back is less awesome, and not just because I'm no longer away - also because I have to write, but can't very well write about recent events because I didn't see them. I haven't paid any attention to baseball for four days, so I feel under-informed. I have to find more general topics until I can fill in all the empty spaces. Today's general topic is rooting for losing, and one negative that doesn't get a lot of attention.

For many Mariners fans, rooting for losing is not an unfamiliar position. Many fans were rooting for losing in 2008, so as to game the system for Strasburg. Many fans were rooting for losing in 2010, so as to game the system for Rendon. The worse a team does, the higher it'll pick in the draft, and the higher a team picks in the draft, the better the player it can get, so once a season is lost, a lot of fans turn their attention to the following draft. We're seeing it again now. The Mariners currently occupy the fourth draft position in 2012. A certain segment of fans wants the 2011 Mariners to lose so they can either secure that place, or even move up.

And, whatever. We've had this conversation before. A bunch of times. Some people agree. Some people disagree, but understand. Some people think those other people are bad fans. We don't need to re-hash all of that. You either get it or you don't or you do and you're of another mind, and that's fine.

But there's one part of the whole rooting-for-losing thing that doesn't get mentioned very often. One part that seems particularly relevant given the current state of the Mariners' roster. To root for losing is to root for the current players to do poorly.

Maybe that's obvious. A team loses because it does poorly. A team wins because it does not do poorly. But, okay, think of it this way. The Mariners, right now, have 21 games left in their season. Let's say they go one of two ways:

  • Path A: 16-5
  • Path B: 5-16

They can win 76% of their games, or 24% of their games. Down which path do you suppose Dustin Ackley looks the best? Down which path do you suppose Justin Smoak looks the best? Trayvon Robinson, Charlie Furbush, Mike Carp, Casper Wells, and so on and so forth - would you expect these players to have performed better over a good finish, or a bad finish?

It's worth considering that, this season, batters have posted an .827 OPS in wins, and a .606 OPS in losses. Pitchers have posted a 1.93 ERA in wins, and a 7.43 ERA in losses. Better baseball involves better performances.

And for teams in the Mariners' position, better performances today suggest better performances tomorrow, because so many of these players are young, developing players. Yes, it's only a few weeks, but if, say, Trayvon Robinson finishes really well, then that will be more encouraging with regard to his future than if he were to finish really poorly.

The ol' end-around is that people wouldn't mind if all the Mariners' young players did well and then their games were blown by guys like Jamey Wright and Jeff Gray, who don't matter. And that's okay in theory, because then you get good performances from potentially important players and bad performances from irrelevant players. But that isn't realistic. If the Mariners were to finish poorly, you'd expect a big chunk of that to be because the young players performed poorly. If the Mariners were to finish well, you'd expect a big chunk of that to be because the young players performed well.

So how much does this matter? I haven't a clue. Some, probably. It doesn't matter oodles and oodles, but it also doesn't not matter. If the Mariners do relatively well between now and the end of the season, that suggests that their assortment of young players is better than if the Mariners did not do well. And that would help to cancel out any corresponding drop in draft pick value.

This doesn't really inform the day-to-day viewing experience. As we watch, we can still root for the developing players to do well while not really minding if some throwaway veteran struggles. On the flip side, it would be extra annoying if the M's went on a tear because Gray and Wright and Adam Kennedy went nuts. But overall, as nice as it is to have a high pick, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the Mariners dropped a few places because they played really good baseball. Rising tides and boats and all that.