There Were the 2011 Phillies and 90's Braves, Too, kiddies
And it's kinda fun getting ahold of this many shoe salesmen


The 2014 Oakland A's traded a 115 OPS+ hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, for a playoff ace, Jon Lester.  They also traded for Jeff Samardzija, pushing all their poker chips into the rotation pot.

You might have noticed that this didn't work.  It might very well have been the most extreme case, in all of baseball history, for the failure of this particular strategy.

But!  Let's hand the mike to Aristotle at Hey Bill:


Hey Bill--Mattingly is going to bring back Kershaw tonight on short rest in a must-win game rather than start Dan Haren. Haren is a good pitcher in his own right, he has pitched well over the last month, and he's fully-rested. Does it make sense to bring an ace back on short rest, even someone as good as Kershaw (who of course got shelled Friday)? Is Kershaw on three-days' rest really that much better than Haren on full rest? This strategy always reminds me of Gene Mauch and the '64 Phillies. Thanks.
Asked by: Ted
Answered: 10/7/2014
Well, why does the one time that the strategy failed count more than 50 times (in the same era) when the same strategy was used successfully?


That'll do for us too.

(1) Yes, Dr. D knows all about "Critical Mass" on offense.  He should; he was the original TV evangelist for the idea that --- > not all WAR are created equal, and for the idea that there exists such a thing as Baseball Critical Mass.

(2) Yes, Dr. D would prefer a #4 hitter this winter.  Strongly.  So would the Mariners.  Strongly.  The question is, what if you cannot get such a player.


In this event, it is worth noticing that Jon Lester is worth a good solid 5 WAR per season, every season, and was worth 6.1 WAR in this last season.  Victor Martinez is very, very capable of producing 1 WAR; he did exactly that, in 2013.

In this article at Bill James Online ... maybe you want to give in and cough up the $3 per month to access it ... James lists the 33 greatest rotations in baseball history.  He is looking at depth, more than the 1-2 punch, but still.  Do you think all of these rotations lived the 2014 Oakland Experience?  Here are a few of his, and my, greatest rotations ... let's take a few that had weak offenses.

Remember, the M's OPS+ last year was 95:


Year, Team SP's Offensive OPS+ Remark
2002 DBacks Unit, Schilling 93 (!) Not on James' list*; WS winners
2002 Braves y' know 93 (!) 101 wins.  Several Braves teams had weak lineups
2011 Phillies Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, Lee 95 102 wins


You know what, I think I'll stop right there.  This blog is here to try to tell you stuff you didn't already realize.  Which is that an epic rotation, plus a weak offense, can easily add up to a great team.

Further, there is a very realistic possibility that the 2015 M's offense could improve past 95 OPS+, and improve substantially.  Seager and Cano ain't going anywhere, and which of these young players do you NOT expect to hit better?

  • Ackley (99 OPS+)
  • Austin Jackson (54 OPS+)
  • Miller (88 OPS+)
  • Zunino (.199 AVG)
  • Morrison (111 OPS+ on year, but 127 in 2H)
  • Jones (71 OPS+)
  • D.J. or Kivlehan or somebody

Taking the above young players as a group ... it would be anti-sabermetric to expect the group to do less than "significantly better."  Keeping sabermetrics in proportion, that's one thing.  Anti-sabermetric is anti-rationality.


If I'm GM, yes, I do want to address the "Critical Mass" issue in the lineup.  Lloyd McClendon is clamoring, loudly, for two bats to address this.

But if my backup strategy is to build a 2011 Phillies rotation, I'm ready.  I had +100 runs last year and I'll take any +50 runs asset I can get.


Dr D




If we are talking about a fallback strategy, then I will gladly walk with you, Doc.  
But Lester "first" is a different cat.  I want some RH pop, it doesn't have to be an expensive vMart, either.  I'm very happy with Trumbo.
Then we can slice and dice the next add.
But if all that fails, then I think Jack waited too long......however, if Lester were still floating out there in January/February I could get onboard.  I'm not sure he's significantly better than what we already bring to the table.  2013 is his career level, not 2014....
But he's a very nice add.....Not quite what we "need" however.
I think it likely we make a "middling" move......not for a rock star but for a heck of a session player.
Lester is a bit too rock-starish, I think.


Just about every example of a team that was successful with dominant pitching and defense had an offense running an OPS+ of 95 or better. Most of those Braves teams had Justice, McGriff, Gant and Blauser (all well above average for their positions) and many also had Chipper Jones and a solid lead off hitter like Lofton or Grissom...and many also had Javy Lopez. The 2011 Phillies had Howard/Utley/Rollins and a cast of decent supporters. And that team didn't get far in the post-season.
I am not saying dominant pitching can't win in the post-season. I'm saying the Mariners already HAVE dominant pitching. I was the one who argued that we needed to add 60-100 runs to replace the runs we'd probably lose from our outstanding pitching season, so obviously I'm not saying I have no interest in stabilizing the rotation either. I am, however, saying that if our big add is Jon Lester...we're pretty well hosed.


I think Lester winds up being significantly too rich for our pocketbook. But he's certainly nice to dream on.
But i think the crux of the argument here is whether we can expect improvement from the players we've already got. For whatever reason, I choose to do this by position rather than player. Consequently, I see it like this:
Equal to 10% decline:
Meaningful improvement:
This is before any additions (aside from DH, where I assume we can't possibly be any worse no matter what we do).
So for Matt and others, if this proves true, how many of the 60-100 runs have we already realized?


You may hear more from me in the LL Offseason Plan coming out after the WS, but personally Ervin Santana's my guy. I'm wary of Lester, Scherzer, and especially Shields: they're all very good pitchers, but marquee free agent contracts for pitchers rarely turn out well. The Mariners would probably be pushing their luck to tie up $75M in payroll for the next seven years with three players, two of whom are SPs - especially since I want them to extend Kuma to the Kuroda contract.
Santana, on the other hand... I like the depressed market due to QO. I like the improved K% with the new changeup. I like the fly balls in front of an Ackley/Jackson/Saunders outfield. I think you could get him for something like 4/$56M, which would leave room on the payroll for a big addition on offense (plus a "second man in" possibly acquired via trade). If the Mariners roll into '15 with Felix/Kuma/Santana/Paxton/Walker and Elias lounging in AAA waiting for the call (or perhaps on the roster as a long man / second lefty?), I'm happy.
Of course, that does presume that they're able to make the big offensive add. Which, undetermined. The free agent market sure don't look great, and they're starting to run a little low on nonroster trade assets. Fingers crossed...?


But do the different run-scoring environments affect where critical mass is? What I mean is--a 95 OPS+ in 2014's Safeco works out to 0-2 runs per game, right? Whereas 95 OPS+ in 2002's Turner Park might be 4-6 runs per game. That means that this year's Mariners entered the game suspecting that 30% of their home games would end in a shutout. I'm sure they didn't think about it in exactly those terms, but that has to be a more demoralizing predicament than what the Braves/Phillies/etc faced.


"which of these young players do you NOT expect to hit better?:"
Ackley (99 OPS+) Honestly, nothing Ackley could do next year would surprise me. He could hit 220 with no walks and no power and I'd feel like that made sense. He could go 310/380/490 and that would make sense. I think it's most likely that he's a league averageish hitter again, so no I don't think he'll improve much at all really.
Austin Jackson (54 OPS+) He'll probably be better. True.
Miller (88 OPS+) He'll probably be better. but I wouldn't be shocked to see a bunch of playing time for Chris Taylor who'd I expect to be a lot worse next year.
Zunino (.199 AVG) His approach is bad enough that I actually don't expect him to improve at all and I'm worried he's going to crater. He pretty much got worse and worse as the season went on last year and I think that's because it became more and more clear that there was no reason to ever throw him anything he could hit because, given the chance, he'll get himself out on sliders off the plate. I think everyone is waaaay to sanguine about the idea he's going to improve. I think the approach his approach is fundamentally broken and there's a decent chance he's going to turn into JP Arencibia.
Morrison (111 OPS+ on year, but 127 in 2H) Ehhhh... career wRC+ of 109. I think OPS+ of 110 or so sounds right for next year.
Jones (71 OPS+) Can't hit breaking balls, no power. I wouldn't expect him to improve much at all really.
D.J. or Kivlehan or somebody Ehhhhhh. Are we sure Peterson is really that good? Mediocre numbers in AA, struggling a bit in the AFL. He did most of his damage in A+ on the road, none of the big national prospect guys seem that big on him. I'm no scout, so what the hell do I know? But I think everybody assuming he's going to just hop in and be awesome... I just don't see it. For a guy who's whole value is tied up in his bat he seems ... ok. We'll see. Kivelhan I'm more excited about, but between Vinnie Catricala, Stefan Romero, and Jabari Blash (too soon to count?) the Mariners track record with guys like him who look great in AA is not awesome. So I guess we'll see.
So Miller and Jackson are the only guys who I really expect to improve much at all. More innings from Michael Saunders would certainly help, if the team is smart enough to, you know, do that. Seager and Cano will probably be a touch worse (not falling off a cliff or anything, but they were really good this year...) I'm not really sure how much we can expect the offense to improve on its own, without a push. I guess, it's probably safe to assume the we'll get better production from the DH spot if only because it can't really be any worse there, no matter what they decide to do there.


We can get too tied up in looking at context-relative numbers and saying 2014 Ms = 1993 Braves. They don't equate. Absolute run scoring matters when discussing whether it makes a bigger difference to add a good hitter or a great pitcher to this team. Lester would be an upgrade...but I do not believe he upgrades us in a way NEARLY as meaningful as it would need to be to actually help.


I disagree on either 3B or 2B being particularly likely to downgrade in 2015...but even with that, I'm not convinced we're going to get a big upgrade in CF, and I think C is going to go downhill. Until we actually add a DH, we haven't upgraded at DH either.


I sure hope you're wrong about CF...that 'normal' Austin can't improve on the Almonte/Jones/suboptimal Austin. I guess we'll see.
But if +60-+100 runs is the offseason offensive goal...
--how many could we expect from the current roster?
--how many would that leave for new acquisitions?
--and who are the targets that could get us to that goal?


Our DHs were worth -25 runs or so in 2014, managing to bat a collective .190 with a 65 pOPS+ (OPS+ relative to the league average DH). Baaah-RU-tal. Vic Martinez gets you 35-40 runs over that in an average season and 60-70 runs over that in 2014. Just saying.
CF should gain at least 10-15 runs if jackson just hits like he did in 2013.
But those 60-100 runs are what we need IMHo to tread water with last year's team. We need to get 120+ runs to really feel like we have a good shot at the play-offs. Adding Lester just essentially replaces the (admittedly flukish) performance of Chris Young with someone who is maybe 20 runs better in actual results (and miles better in expectation for 2015).
So...we'd be adding 20 runs to 2014 at the cost of 20 million+ per year. No sir, I don't like it.


Their offense would also have been "adequate" in the history books ;- )
C'mon Matty.  You think if we sorted playoff teams by weakest offenses, there wouldn't be some bad ones in there?
But yeah.  The M's have the pitching.  They need some "hard RBI."  Agreed.
The M's OPS+ was 95, but their "hard RBI" factor was more like 75.  Am uh right?


That looks pretty conservative to me, amigo.  Even from a non-Seattle perspective.  Seager isn't yet where McClendon wants him; Cano already seemed to have hit his floor.  Figuring Miller and Ackley for flatline seems quite conservative also.
Love the paradigm, though.  Great post.


Along these lines, a vet SP is going to wind up blocking Danny Hultzen, or somebody.  Gordon could tell you who :- )


Not ornery at all.  Enjoyed the read.
"Miller and Jackson are the only guys I expect to improve much at all" ... Catch me on a certain day and I'll argue the point harder than you will...


I think the subject becomes very clear, and easy to understand, if you think in terms of "hard RBI."
You'll hear the guys in uniform, again and again, talk about "the big hit."  Cano was excellent in terms of bases gained and bases lost, but didn't knock in that many guys.
Any free agent who could do the Paul Konerko shtick for us, he'd be all right with me :- )


Good stuff Logan.  Gotta poach that for a POTD :- )


Matt's pretty much right on here.  Lester had his career year.  If he fell to '13 levels, still nice, he's only a few runs (and 30 innings) better than '14 Chris Young.
If he stays at '14 levels he is dang good.  His walk rate was a career low by .8/9.  That's a huge leap.....but significant if he stays there.
All the same, it's a bat we need, first and foremost.


I'm not, BTW, disagreeing with you that you can win with a bad offense. I just think that's not a highly likely strategy to work sustainably. As good as Jon Lester is, his ERA is 3.00 or so +/- 0.6 in any given year. Know what I mean? Yes, he's pitching in Fenway, but I think it's incorrect, logically, to assume that Jon Lester is going to automatically pitch 16% better at Safeco than he did at Fenway (the delta in our park factors)...and more to the point...we can't ASSUME he's going to throw up a 2.50 ERA again in 2015. The reason the As' strategy didn't work is because, when they added Hammel, Samardzija, and Lester, their ERA went UP and not down, just as much as it was because they made their offense a lot worse.
And I agree with you that the Mariners are worse offensively than their aggregate numbers say they were, BTW.


...which strategy is most likely to produce a consistent winner and improve your playoff chances the most from year to year?
1) Find your gigantic roster craters from the previous season and make them average or better by acquiring something that plugs the crater?
2) Fight to make the side of the ball you're good at as good as you can make it?
I'm going with #1 every. single. time. That's one bit of dogma I'll stick with...and I don't do dogma very much. It's too hard to consistently get 140 ERA+ production even from the pitchers you pay like aces...and even harder to get the big ERA+ crooked numbers while pitching in Safeco in a league with a depressed run scoring environment where moving the relative needle is harder and harder to do. Look what happened to the 2014 Ms, Doc. They run four months of "holy bananas!" pitching...but the instant...the INSTANT that they went from "holy bananas!" to "pretty good"...they were AWFUL. And all it took was a little fatigue, a little of that dreaded regression to the mean, and a little bad luck to do that. The cast didn't change.


Everyone 'knows' we had the best pitching in the league.
Then how come, by WAR, the relievers were 5th best...the starters 12th best...and as a staff, only 8th in the AL?
I realize I must be missing something, but can't figure out what it is.


Everyone 'knows' we had the best pitching in the league.
Then how come, by WAR, the relievers were 5th best...the starters 12th best...and as a staff, only 8th in the AL?
I realize I must be missing something, but can't figure out what it is.

MTSea's picture

If The Mariners channel their inner Pat Gillick to nab a true MOTO bat. Miami recently restated their goal of re-signing Giancarlo Stanton, which is a shame. The Marlins payroll is increasing to $60 million this season. I'm still not sure that's enough payroll space to entice Stanton to stay, but I can dream, right? It doesn't even have to be Stanton, but I think the pieces are there to make a solid offer.
Lester on his own... Well, I could certainly see the benefit. A rotation along the lines of Felix, Lester, Iwakuma, Paxton, Walker would be... well, to borrow a line from Ghost Busters, "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!" However, with as inept as some of the Mariners looked at times at the plate, I'd really love to see a thumper with some OBP between Cano and Seager. I think Jack Z wants to see that too and would possibly admit that a Lester-only off-season would be a failure of sorts.


Where can I find OBP+?  That's the normalized stat I am certain the Mariners are lacking in, across the board.   Not just VsL.   Slg, Contact,  ISO, HR, XBH, Swing%, SO...All pretty average.  The non-split stats that they're not middle of the pack in are BB/OBP related.  Granted, the RH power bats we've been talking about all have histories of BB/OBP production.  Had they sneaked into the playoffs with their .300 OBP would that have been a precedent?
 I think they're like the 95 Braves,  03 Cubs and 96 Dodgers in that respect.  If we're looking for playoff teams with abysmal on base abilities. You'll find many more matches dwelling in the cellar.  Not with our pitching, of course.  But those teams are NL... In the AL?  Got no idea.
After counting on my hands I'd have to take off one shoe to select a digit for each team since 1969 with fewer than 400 BB.  12, before this year.   4 more added, I'll just count the other shoe as #16.  Yeah, the Mariners have a couple of them in 2007 and 2014.  They represent half of the full seasons in that span that have produced less than 400 BB and a winning record.   Not only were 4 teams failing to BB 400 times this year a new precedent,  KC became the first playoff team among them in that span.  Is KCs Crazy 2014 more like what we're shooting for?  Lotsaluck.
So maybe all of Bautista, Stanton, V Martinez, Puig, Tulowitzki, Kemp, VanSlyke, Upton (haha), Jones (sob), Zobrist, CarGo or Butler prove to be unattainable for the Ms this year.  There's still Cruz/Napoli/Cuddyer/Melky/Willingham and others that all kind of fit the bill in whatever order too.   How about go get Melky, Zobrist and Napoli?  Seager is an RBI guy, I don't think the lineup requires a single hitter to drive everyone in.   A couple more that can get on base and get some xbh will help in all of that.   Jacksons OBP the last3 years is .340, I've got to hope more of that shows next year than the poor showing since he joined the Ms.


We had some fortunate performances if you believe that Fielder Independent Pitching is more predictive than ERA for the coming season. FIP takes the park out of consideration and is based only on K/BB/HR. Presumably our team FIP was brought up by Young, Ramirez, Maurer...guys whose defense independent numbers look less impressive than their ERA.

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