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The Return of the MaiLLbag

Episode VIII: Post-Ohtani

Chris (from Bothell): How much will the new playing field affect teams this season at Safeco?

GB: My guess is, it won’t affect teams much if at all. I haven’t heard a deeper explanation for why they’re replacing the field other than “the old one was old.” Best case scenario: the new grass is somehow easier to run on, thus reducing wear & tear on players, and it also makes balls hop in predictable ways, helping our fielders.

ES: Agree with Grant in that it won’t have much effect at all on the players, but it’s sure gonna look fantastic. I absolutely love whoever wrote the part of the stadium agreement that makes the Mariners spend money to maintain a state-of-the-art stadium. Sure, the field is not as flashy of a feature as the giant HD video screen or the LED lights, but we do spend a lot of time staring at it as fans so I’m happy with the decision.

Chris (from Bothell): As of Wednesday morning 12/6, which teams are having the best offseason?

CD: The Rangers have made some sneaky good pitching pickups in the form of Mike Minor and Doug Fister. Minor parlayed a very nice season in relief last year to a three-year, $28MM contract, and the plan is for him to start. I could see him being an obnoxious opponent next year, but more importantly right now, that much money given seems like a harbinger of giant contracts for starting pitchers to come.

JT: Oh to return to that time. *Redacted* signing with the Halos aside, it’s tough to see how the Yankees aren’t the massive winners right now. They may soon be supplanted by J.D. Martinez after Boston obliterates their Swiss bank account failsafes to sign him.

Chris (from Bothell): How individually or collectively outraged were LL writers about the CBS Sports automated theft of SB Nation articles?

ES: Initial reactions were obviously pretty heated and desk-flipping-esque, but it was quickly noted that legal departments had already been scrambled. Also, the fact that it was apparently automated like you noted kinda makes it hard to get that outraged about it. Get it over with already, Skynet.

Jerryskid: I wish you could have John, or someone expert in Pitching, kindly explain Bull-Pen management, i.e., how many pitches are possible, without injury, in how many days, what does / does not being told to get ready, and warming up, and then not be used does to a Pitcher, how many Off Days, does a Pitcher need to recover, what does a Starting Pitchers’ ‘throw’ or ‘bullpen day’ look like, and all the et ceteras I have omitted because I do not know enough to ask the right questions.

Please Help ! (or in the immortal words of Leeloo, "Heellppp PPlleeaasee")


Seuby: On top of this, can someone just explain pitching in general? I’m not talking about explaining FIP or result based stats or anything but I’ve never found anywhere that explains why pitchers choose the pitches/locations they do when they do. Why a fastball in this count? Why low and away? And for that matter, what is the difference between all the different kinds of pitches and why might you throw a slider over a changeup or curveball? Is there a general plan of attack or is it drastically different for each hitter? I never played past middle school so this has always been a mystery to me. Thanks!

ES: I can’t answer this, but just want to note the very good “Fifth Element” reference (fist bump).

JT: Thankfully, Jake Repp and a few others came to my aid on this in the comments initially but I’ll try to give a few notes. As it pertains to health and readiness, there are variations from pitcher to pitcher. Bullpen days tend to be 30-50 pitches for starters. There’s no specific formula for how many pitches generates a health risk, although 100 has become the de facto point of reference. I think two things are useful when comparing players of yesteryear to modern pitch counts and innings numbers: One, pitchers today throw harder than they did forty years ago, twenty years ago, or even five years ago. They do so because pitchers themselves are stronger, but also because most pitches are thrown at near-full effort now, which did not used to be the case. Two, however, because of that increased strength and effort, however, there is a greater risk for injury. This still varies because starters use less effort per pitch than relievers, but as a result there’s no single answer.

As to Seuby’s question… that’s perhaps more than would be fair to use this space for, so I’ll pick a few quick ones. Low and away is ideal because it limits how much torque the hitter can utilize when they make impact with the ball. The closer the pitch is to the hitter, the more power they can theoretically generate and put back into the ball. By throwing it low and away, the hitter is only able to use some of the torque from their swing. Some hitters adjust to this and happily spray the ball all over the field, of course, but it’s theoretically the “safest” strike. As for various pitches, it’s often up to the player themselves. I’ve always been comfortable with a 4-seam (straight) fastball and a 12-6 (drops straight down) curveball, but struggled for a long time to get a two-seam fastball to move or sink despite various grips and adjustments. There are benefits and drawbacks to each pitch I can go into another time, but they can all be effective.

Btownfritz: If you were the MLB Commissioner for a day, and could permanently change one rule, what would it be?

KP: The dropped third strike rule. I hate it so much. The pitcher has done his job, getting the hitter to chase an unbelievably ugly pitch in the dirt, and then it takes a weird hop and the idiot batter is gifted first base. TERRIBLE.

ES: Kate’s answer wins, 100%. Such a garbage, nonsense rule. In second place, my vote would go to getting rid of “defensive indifference” and not counting steals in those situations. For one thing, the pairing of the two words “defensive indifference” is one of the funniest and most ridiculous combos I can think of. And secondly, if a player steals second or third base in a 1 or 2 run ball game, how can that just be tossed away statistically when that player is increasing his team’s chances of winning or tying the game?


Goyo70: How do you feel about the Dipoto FO’s (apparent) lack of readiness to commit resources to building the farm with high ceiling talent that may be several years away? How do you think we should prioritize international free agents? Do you think Dipoto’s focus on flipping low minors talent with higher ceilings for high minors talent with low ceilings in the interest of "competing in the next year or two" is a good idea, or a sustainable one. For example, Billy Eppler seems to be doing a great job of rebuilding the Angels farm without undermining their current roster. Can you contrast these styles?

KP: There’s a lot here, but I want to focus on the implied idea that Eppler is doing a better job with the Angels’ farm system than Dipoto is doing with the Mariners’. The Angels’ farm resembles the Mariners’ in a lot of ways. Like the Mariners, the Angels have been pretty terrible at drafting and developing over the past decade. (If you think our draft results from the early 2010s look bad, go look at the Angels in 2013.) Looking at their top ten prospects on MLB Pipeline, it’s mostly guys who have been drafted in the past two years who are A level or lower. The big exceptions are Taylor Ward, a catcher who had a wRC+ of 82 in 2016 but a breakout year between A+/AA this year, and Matt Thaiss, who looks to be solid and should make an impact relatively soon. Other than that, the only other top guys they have had in the system a while are RHP Jaime Barria, whose strikeout numbers have been dwindling as he’s moved up, and Nate Smith, who was having a great 2017 until it was announced he’ll be out all of 2018 because the Angels can’t even keep their minor league pitchers healthy. Of all Dipoto’s moves, he hasn’t sold off Kyle Lewis, Joe Rizzo, Sam Carlson, or Evan White, all “high-ceiling talents that are several years away.” The big difference is the Mariners don’t have a Matt Thaiss, because we traded ours, in the form of Tyler O’Neill, to the Cardinals for pitching help. The Mariners and Angels are closer than you expect; the race will be to see who can develop their blue-chip prospects better, and for that, I’m betting on Andy McKay and company. (Note: I think it’s dumb and a little insulting to define a guy who played five years of pro ball in Japan as a prospect, so I don’t factor Ohtani into my assessment of the Angels’ farm.)

GB: I think Kate said it better than basically anybody can, but the one thing I would add is that I’ve been disappointed with how Jerry has approached international free agents. I saw a comment from Dan Duquette saying the Orioles didn’t get involved with *REDACTED* because “philosophically we don’t participate on the posting part of it.” That’s nonsense — teams should try to get talent however they can. I’m glad Dipoto & Co. made a run in that situation, but I wish they were more willing to invest in international talent. If the front office doesn’t use any of the recently-acquired bonus money for a blue-chipper or two, I’ll be pretty unhappy.

Goyo70: Has any new information come to light about Shae Simmons? I would like your thoughts on how likely we are to resign him, and particularly why the Mariners cut ties with Simmons over such a piddling amount of money, considering a) his velocity returning, and b) his success prior to his injury.

IM: He’s gotta be completely done. His injury just has to be more un-recoverable than has been initially disclosed. I’m actually kind of curious if this is the first big move of Dr. Martin’s tenure...she may have looked at his x-rays and just gone, “Nah, dude, can’t fix this one.”

Broberg: Other than Ohtani, what other Ohtani are you Ohtani this Ohtani?

Btownfritz: Who will end up with the naming rights to Safeco Field after next season? And who do you want to buy the naming rights/what would be the best name?

ES: No one buys it and it’s called Niehaus Field until the Earth is swallowed by the sun.

KP: I like Eric’s answer, or the suggestion in the comments to name it Fuck The Angels Forever Stadium. I hope Dick’s buys the rights, though, and then wipes out Kid Valley and replaces them with Dick’s.

GB: I’d love a company to not only buy the naming rights, but use that opportunity to improve the fan experience. For example, “Nintendo Park” would be great if they also added TV screens to seats so you could see replays in real-time. Or “Starbucks Grounds” and everybody gets free coffee.

Chris (from Bothell): Your 2018 Mariners as ThunderCats.

ES: Had to Google the names beyond Lion-o and Snarf because man it’s been a lonnnnng time since I thought of that show, but here we go:

Lion-o: Cano

Panthro: Cruz (obviously)

Tygra: Paxton

Cheetara: Heredia

Jaga: Felix

Snarf: Nick Vincent

KP: Eric’s list is perfect, of course, but I would add that Mumm-Ra is Bill Bavasi.

GrizBronc: Given the current state of "tracer" technology, is there any compelling argument against having balls and strikes called by robots? There would still be a home plate umpire calling everything else, including catchers interference, foul tips, HBP, etc. But the robots would determine whether any part of the ball crossed any part of the plate between the knees and the belt/bellybutton/nipples/whatever they determine the top of the zone to be. The result would be displayed on the scoreboards all around the stadium, and the umpire would also display the current count with his fingers. Can you come up with any argument against this that does not involve the "feelings" of the umpires?

ZG: I’ve only heard two slightly compelling arguments against robot umpires. The first is that pitch framing is really interesting, and you’d be decreasing the skill cap of catching, and thus the value of the better defensive catchers. Still, whatever. I don’t think the game would be hurt by catcher framing no longer existing. If anything, robot umpires would open the door for pitchers to throw pitches with more movement away from the plate without having to worry about the pitch being frame-able. And you’d get rid of the stupid lefty strike.

The second is that our technology just isn’t quite there. The Emerald Queen Casino Tracer sure looks reliable, but like all measurements, it has an uncertainty. I have a hard time believing that the uncertainty in the tracer is greater than the uncertainty of a human umpire, though. As I said above, I am firmly for robot umpires.

IncredibleSulk: As a ghost writer, what current or former Mariner do you feel is most likely to haunt Safeco Field once they pass into the ethereal plane?

GB: Pretty sure Chone Figgins has always haunted the Mariners, but I guess we’ll see for sure if he tries to take control of Dee Gordon this season.

ES: Some Safeco employees have already reported occasionally seeing a ghostly vestige of a blond, shaggy haired man riding a bicycle through the tunnel below the stadium….

Don52656: 1. Do you see the trend of bullpens consuming more and more of the total innings pitched continuing?

2. Do you think a 6-man rotation would be more likely to perform without debilitation injuries?

3. Is there any value to spending $5.5 million per year for 2 years on a relief pitcher and then having him only face 137 batters in a season? Isn’t this a fairly egregious waste of resources?

JT: 1. In a sense. I think we’ve reached the peak (or nadir) of situational relievers. Roster spots are too valuable to commit to LOOGY’s that cannot do anything else. Pitchers capable of handling 1-2 innings will keep increasing in value and allowing starters to do less but be more dominant in those shorter appearances.

2. Health could likely be improved. Performance, at least historically, hasn’t seen a significant improvement with five days rest as opposed to four. Having a better pitcher out there because they’ve been able to rest, however, is plenty of impact.

3. In terms of bad contracts, $5.5 million isn’t debilitating, but as stated in point 1, it’s not optimal at all.

The Typical Idiot Fan: Will you join me in my crusade against Bud Light for THAT FUCKING DILLY DILLY COMMERCIAL!?

ES: Bring back the “WAZZZZZZAAAAP” guys, please.

Olywriter: Does Edgar finally get into the hall of fame this year?

GB: I’d love to say yes, but the private HOF votes tend to be more anti-Edgar than the public votes. So my guess: he charges to the high-60s (a nice spike from 58.6% last year), and next year he just barely clears the bar.

ES: No, because Seattle isn’t getting anything nice that’s sports-related any time soon.

JT: I’d be surprised, as the private ballots tend to be less favorable to him than the public ones, but I’m very encouraged that he makes it next year if not this year.

Destinationtubes: If we sign Ohtani, and he had a decent Spring, where do we slot him in the order?

Shaemoose: Do you believe that Ryon Healy can learn plate discipline?

CD: I don’t think he’ll ever be an above-average walker at the plate, but his strikeout numbers actually aren’t too bad - they just look much worse when paired with a career 3.9% BB%. A 5-6% walk rate feels like a reasonable if optimistic goal for him, and combined with his other skills would go a long way in providing more value at the plate.

KP: The organization has shown an ability to work with power hitters to increase their walk rates while holding their K% mostly in check. Zunnio is the obvious example, but Tyler O’Neill went from a 6.5% BB to 11% when Dipoto took over and started the C the Z push. He went to the Cardinals and it immediately fell back down to 6.2%. Gareth Morgan almost doubled his walk rate this year, from 6% to 11.5%. Healy has a much more modest K% than any of these hitters while still possessing a tremendous amount of power, so if he can make even a slight adjustment, that could pay enormous dividends.

Shaemoose: Also, in honor of Ryon Healy’s acquisition, could you rank the top names in Mariners history?

ES: 1-1,069. Rusty Kuntz

1,070. Pokey Reese (he counts)

1,071. Heathcliff Slocumb (I mean, holy shit, what a name)

1,072. J.J. Putz

1,073 - current. Everyone else

Freaking Rodney: If the entire Mariners roster competed in the Hunger Games, who would win?

CD: Tony Zych would go full Wolfman on everyone so my money’s on him.

ES: Segura volunteers as tribute on Cano’s behalf, Cruz rips the arms off of at least 4 combatants before dying a heroic death, and Paxton snipes the remaining players with heaters to the dome.