Seattle Mariners postsTuesday June 26, 2012
A Team without Superstars
Remember when they said that of the vaunted 2001 Mariners? After we lost Randy, Junior and A-Rod and kept on winning? A team without superstars. After one game, mid-season, I remember someone, possibly Ron Fairly, trotted this out again, and Dave Niehaus responded, “Oh, there's a superstar.” He meant Ichiro.
Well, give or take a king on the mound, we're now truly a team without superstars. But this time we're a sucky team without superstars.
Today I was looking at our abyssmal OBP and SLG and OPS numbers, and then noticed that our best OPS from an everyday player was the .772 mark shared by Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders, noticed again that they were ranked 77th and 78th in the Majors, and wondered if every team had a player above our best player.
The answer? Yes. Every team has a player above our best player. Only San Diego really makes it close.
|Team||Best player||2nd Best||3rd Best||4th Best||5th Best|
In fact, 23 teams have a second player ranked before the M's first, and exactly half (15) have a third player. Seven teams have a fourth player, and two teams, Texas and the Yankees, have a fifth player whose OPS is better than the M's best player.
That's part of why it's so difficult watching these games. There's no one scary in our lineup. Not one. Not even close.
On the plus side, we do have a second player on the list before the Padres. Plus our team is young, and they play at Safeco.
But a star would be nice. Or at least a bright light.
Safeco Field: No bright lights, no big city.
Eric Wedge and the Hobson's Choice
Last night I went to my first Mariners game of the season, a horrid, 6-2 affair againt a bottom-dwelling San Diego team, in which there were hardly any fans in the stands, hardly any Mariners on the basepaths, and too many seagulls circling like vultures in the late innings.
There was also a moment that made me wonder about the intelligence of manager Eric Wedge.
M's down 6-1 in the bottom of the 8th. Franklin Guttierez, in his first game this season, managed a single through the left side of the infield for his first hit of the season and the M's second run of the game. Woo! Now it was 6-2, with men on first and second, and the tying run, Ichiro, in the on-deck circle. And who strode to the plate? Mighty Munenori Kawasaki, often referred to as “Ichiro lite,” but you might as well call him “Ichiro without the on-base percentage.” Dude's batting .189 with a .259 OBP, and, like all the M's, his numbers are worse at Safeco. At home he's batting just .100, 2 for 20, both singles, with a .143 OBP. Fun.
So here we were, down by 4 with two guys on, and we needed a guy to get on base to give us a chance. But the guy at the plate was a guy who rarely got on base.
“Why isn't Wedge pinch-hitting for him?” I wondered aloud. “Does Wedge know what he's doing?”
He does. Here's why Wedge didn't pinch-hit for Kawasaki: Because mighty Dale Thayer (6.19 ERA) was on the mound for San Diego. Thayer's a righty, Kawasaki's a lefty.
But didn't we have any lefties on the bench who could pinch-hit?
Believe it or not, no. They were all in the game. Unless you count Chone Figgins. He's a switch hitter. At home he's hitting .143, which is a little better than Kawasaki; but against righties he's hitting .192, which isn't as good as Kawasaki's .213 against righties. So Kawasaki stayed in the game and popped out to short. The M's never managed another hit and the Padres won the game and swept the series. It's their first series sweep of the year. Congratulations, guys.
And apologies, Eric Wedge. It's gotta be tough to look down a bench and see no better option than a guy hitting .100. No wonders the seagulls were circling.
Mariners baseball: Get after it.
Getting Better All the Time (Can't Get No Worse): Your 2012 Seattle Mariners Offense
The good news: After one-third of a season, the Seattle Mariners, the worst-hitting team in baseball for the last three years, now ranks 11th (out of 30 teams) in runs scored in the Majors. Yay!
The bad news: They're 27th, 28th, and 26th in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage. Yikes!
How is this possible? How can a team with such lousy batting percentages score so many runs?
It's partly a matter of opportunity. The team leads the Majors in games played. They've scored more often because they've played more often.
They've also, as Rob Neyer attests, hit incredibly well (third in the AL in OPS) with runners in scoring position.
Here are their rankings in various offensive categories:
- Games: 1st (59)
- At-bats: 3rd (1967)
- Runs: 11th (243)
- Hits: 20th (461)
- Doubles: 12th (100)
- Triples: T-12th (11)
- Home Runs: T-14th (54)
- Total Bases: 17th (745)
- Batting Average: 27th (.234)
- On Base Percentage: 28th (.296)
- Slugging Percentage: 26th (.379)
- OPS: 27th (.675)
- Strikeouts: 5th (446)
- Walks: 15th (176)
- Intentional Walks: 29th (5)
- Hit By Pitch: 30th (3)
- GIDP: 22nd (38)
- Ground balls: 20th (681)
- Fly balls: 3rd (863)
The HBP thing is interesting. The home runs are nice to see. Our team OBP will be helped without the likes of Chone Figgins (.250 OBP) and if the M's played John Jasso at catcher (.350 OBP) more often than Miguel Olivo (.225 OBP).
Either way, the overall numbers recall Paul McCartney's refrain “I have to admit it's getting better/ It's getting better all the time.” Mainly because they also recall John Lennon's counter refrain: “Can't get no worse.”
Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, Accountable to No One (Or How the Seattle Mariners Became Soylent Green)
I've been reading Jon Wells' “Shipwrecked: A People's History of the Seattle Mariners” and having trouble not throwing the book across the room. It keeps reminding me of all the golden opportunities the M's front office have wasted over the years.
Has any team had more talent than that 1995-1997 Mariners yet never made it to the World Series? We had the best player in baseball (Ken Griffey, Jr.), the best power pitcher in baseball (Randy Johnson), one of the greatest shortstops of all time (Alex Rodriguez). Throw in a batting champion like Edgar Martinez, a 40-HR/120-RBI man like Jay Buhner, and your various Tino Martinezes, Dan Wilsons, Jeff Nelsons and Jamie Moyerses. The underachievement is stunning.
But it gets worse in the 2000s.
The following is a chart of average attendance at Mariners games at Safeco Field since 2001:
You'd think if you ran an organization that lost more than half of its customers in a 10-year span you'd lose your job. Certainly Mariners' managers and general managers have come and gone during this period. But the main guys, the guys who are really running the show, M's CEO Howard Lincoln and M's president Chuck Armstrong, keep on keeping on. They occasionally pepper the local news with their idiotic comments but they never lose their jobs.
How is that possible?
Well, as M's fans know, the majority owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball club, Nintendo's Hiroshi Yamauchi, is the ultimate absentee owner. Even when the Mariners traveled to Japan this spring for two regular season games against the Oakland A's, he couldn't be bothered to make it to the park. To this day, he's never seen his team play.
Yet you'd think he'd notice the drop in gate receipts. The drop in profit. The drop in value.
And there's the rub. During the 10-year span that M's attendance has been cut in half, from an average of 43,709 in 2002 to an average of 20,654 so far in 2012, the value of the ballclub, according to Forbes magazine, has almost doubled: from $373 million in 2001 to $585 million in 2011.
How is that possible?
For one, revenue has steadily climbed while operating income has remained in the black:
|Revenue (in millions)||166||167||169||173||179||182||194||189||191||204||210|
source: Forbes Magazine
Of course, there's some dispute with these numbers. A few years back, Deadspin published the financial documents of several ballclubs, including the Seattle Mariners, and the numbers didn't quites match Forbes' numbers. (It makes one wonder where Forbes gets its numbers.)
Even so, in terms of revenue and operating income, at least in the Forbes version, the M's look like they have a good business model.
But if you look at operating income rank among MLB teams, of which there are 30, the picture isn't so rosy:
|Op. Inc. MLB Rank||9||1||1||10||23||9||23||27||22||23||
source: Forbes Magazine
The Mariners used to turn the greatest profit in the game. Now we're near the bottom. It's like the attendance figures above.
At the same time, the M's value as a ballclub is never near the bottom among MLB teams. Even during these dog days—and man have they been dog days—the rank of the team's value has stayed fair to middling:
source: Forbes Magazine
In my research, I came across a good 2010 piece on Marinercentral.com, in which the unnamed author pulled together much of the same information I was pulling together, and he asked some of the same questions I was asking. His conclusion? The M's don't have competition. They run a monopoly in the Pacific Northwest. The geographic isolation of the Seattle Mariners has always been a pain to its players, who have to travel farther and more often just to get a game going, but it's a boon for guys like Lincoln and Armstrong who don't have to worry about a decent product on the field, since, for MLB fans in the Pacific Northwest, there's only one product: your Seattle Mariners. It's doesn't matter that lately the Mariners have become the baseball equivalent of soylent green—the only food available to futuristic denizens in the infamously bad 1973 sci-fi film of the same name. To Lincoln and Armstrong, it's still green.
Our MarinerCenteral writer writes, of towns in Idaho and Montana, Alaska and Oregon:
If we add those markets together in conjunction with the Seattle-Tacoma market, that gives us a total of 4,468,210 homes – which easily vaults the media market in to which the Mariners broadcast firmly into the top 3 or 4 in the country!!
Then he reminds us how well the M's, with Ichiro on board, do in Japan:
...in 2004 they also enjoyed revenues from a half-dozen Japanese firms who bought advertisement at Safeco with the idea of marketing to Japanese audiences watching Mariner games. That article in the Seattle Business Journal quoted Howard Lincoln as saying, “If there was no Ichiro, there would be no broadcast of games back to Japan, and none of these companies would be interested in Safeco Field.”
All of this goes a long way toward explaining why Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong still have jobs. Yes, they've taken a once promising franchise and turned it into a joke: a franchise first in attendance that is now second-to-last; a franchise first in operating income that is now near the bottom; a team that used to be feared but is now ... not. But that team is never in the red, the overall value of the club has gone up (as the value of all clubs have gone up), and its value-ranking among MLB teams is buoyed by its isolation in the Pacific Northwest.
Smarter baseball men running the show, and paying attention to the product on the field, might have widened the revenue streams rather than narrowed them by half, as Lincoln and Armstrong have done. But Hiroshi Yamauchi doesn't seem to care about this. He doesn't seem to care about the quality of the product. He doesn't seem to care that we, and he, have lost face in Major League Baseball.
At some point it's going to matter. At some point the loss of the local fanbase will be too great to be compensated by other revenue streams. At some point, Lincoln and Armstrong, and maybe even Yamauchi, will realize that soylent green isn't just green; it's people.
What Lincoln and Armstrong have wrought: the crowd at Safeco Field on April 15, 2012, five minutes before gametime. (Photo via Darren Rovell on Twitter.)
Howard Lincoln and Some Part of a Horse, Midstream
I came across this quote in Jon Well's book “Shipwrecked: A Peoples' History of the Seattle Mariners” and wanted to throw the book across the room. I often want to throw his book across the room. Jon's a friend, and it's a good book, but it keeps reminding me just how much I despise the M's front office: how blithely incompetent M's CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong have been over the years and yet how long they've kept their jobs; how there's just no accountability there. There's just ... waste. A vast waste of opportunity and possibility and talent and time.
In the quote, Lincoln is talking about retaining then-manager John McLaren and then-GM Billy Bavasi. I've got nothing to say about the former but the latter is surely the worst GM in M's history. I assumed it was impossible to surpass the sluggish ineptitude of Woody Woodward but Bavasi managed it with his brand of energetic ineptitude. You wished Woody would get off the golf course and work the phones. With Bavasi, you wanted him on the golf course. Put down the phone, Mr. Bavasi. Please. Don't make any more deals.
Anyway, here's the quote. It's from September 26, 2007:
“I don't like to change horses in midstream. I didn't want to do it last season and I think the decision I made last season to stick with Bill and Mike proved to be the right decision. I think the decision to remain with Bill and John will turn out to be the right decision.”
He'd made a similar quote the year before, on September 29, 2006:
...there was “no sense changing horses in midstream,” Lincoln said.
- “Horses in midstream” is the idiotic campaign slogan of a corrupt president in David Mamet's political satire “Wag the Dog.” It was discredited long before Lincoln kept uttering it.
- If the end of the season is “midstream,” what isn't?
More to come.