Monday, August 13, 2007

Sportswriter Notices Something, Attempts To Make Point

Kevin Hench on the Mariners Phenomenon: "Mariners Contending Despite Poor Trends"

This is an average article wherein Kevin Hench notices that the M's aggregate team stats are somewhat pathetic - and accurately notes that they are outperforming their expected winning percentage. In some respects, he does a fairly thorough analysis of the M's shortcomings and expresses justifiable surprise at their success. While doing this, he indicates a basic ignorance of baseball. And also is consistently unfunny.

A funny thing happened on the way to the sabermetrician's conference.
Bill James sprained his VORP, Lee Sinins tore his RCAA, and Sean Forman suffered WHIP-lash.

Pretty funny stuff there, Kevin. Don't quit your day job. The comedy circuit is tough to break into. On second thought, quit your day job.

What could cause such calamity for the vaunted members of the Society for American Baseball Research?

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 Seattle Mariners, the most confounding team in big league history.

The M's are 10th in the American League in home runs, dead last in walks (14 behind the Royals), 11th in WHIP and 10th in ERA. Yet by some baffling, stat-defying series of fortunate events, they are 14 games over .500, stalking the Angels in the West and tied with the Yankees in the wild-card race.

Here's where Hench gets to his main point - that some of the M's team stats are unglamorous.

If, despite their obvious shortcomings, the Mariners make the playoffs, Mike Hargrove and John McLaren should be co-Managers of the Year.

For those people wondering how Grover could have bailed on this season despite Seattle's lofty standing at his departure, watching a team with no patience and little power with a rotation featuring Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver takes a toll.

Those are indeed some pretty bad pitchers. Yet there are lots of teams who can stay in contention with a bad end of their rotation.

Hargrove probably figured "I gotta get outta here because the wheels are coming off this jalopy any second now."

The Mariners are a jalopy? The car Frank and Joe Hardy would drive down to the malt shop before getting mixed up in a crazy mystery?

... A seven-game losing streak in July confirmed what decades of sabermetric research had taught us: you cannot win when your offense doesn't draw walks and your rotation doesn't produce quality starts (the M's are 11th in the AL in that category).

Way to go, Kevin, you noticed that the M's don't draw walks. Tell me more about the walks already.

But now the Mariners have won 10 of 14 and look committed to becoming the all-time thumb in the eye of seamheads everywhere.

Seamheads? What?

So then the Henchman goes on to travel the world working for a mysterious woman in a red trenchcoat. No, really. The Henchman goes on to document the M's pretty average rotation, must like the M's pretty average team.

...And yet, despite their reckless impatience,

What's this you say, Kevin? The Mariners don't walk? I didn't know that!

the Mariners have outscored the opposition, 567-555 (a margin that, according to James' run-differential formula, should have them just a few games above .500).

So there Kevin admits that the M's should be rightfully about 59-56, instead of their current 65-60. If you'll notice, that means their run-diff is off by about six wins.

How is this possible?
Two words: "close" and "late."

Uh oh.

When the game is tight, Seattle shines. The bullpen, anchored by J.J. Putz, is ridiculous, and the hitters transform in close-and-late situations.

I love it. The hitters, who generally do their best to be average for innings 1-6 and all blowout games, TRANSFORM into monster hitters as soon as it is close and late! TRANSFORM!

Late in tight games — defined by Elias as "results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team ahead by one run, tied, or with the potential tying run at least on deck" — the Mariners are hitting a league-best .296 (the Yankees are second at .264) and their .796 OPS far outpaces No. 2 Cleveland's .753.

Great. Apparently these Mariner hitters do TRANSFORM.

Sabermetricians hate the word "clutch," and many dismiss it altogether, claiming it simply doesn't exist. Well, it does in Seattle.

I like how Kevin doesn't note the facts that support the "claim" that, as a whole, major leaguers' batting averages are not markedly different in close-and-late situations. The 2006 Mariners had above-average (4th in the AL) close-and-late numbers, so apparently they only gained the power to TRANSFORM in 2007, maybe because their manager quit in the middle of the season because his heart wasn't in it. I sure wish the Reds could get some of that Hargrove- transforming magic, but alas their manager had to be fired.

Here are the two explanations for the Mariners' season and the resulting predictions for their future:

1. The Mariners have an average team and are outperforming their expected wins thanks to an absurdly lucky hitting in the late innings and a strong bullpen. Since generally players' close-and-late performance doesn't greatly exceed their usual production, the M's late-luck hitting will come back to earth and they will probably finish 5 games over .500, and not make the playoffs. This is my explanation.

2. The Mariners are an average team outperforming their expected wins by no apparent reason except their superhuman clutch skills. If their awesome managership inspires and coaches them to continue clutch success (ostensibly by continuing John McLaren's innovative new "clutch" drills during BP), they will ride that wave into the playoffs and drive a silver dagger through the evil sabermetricians' hearts! If their awesome managership fails to inspire or coach these major-leaguers who have already received a godzillion hours of hitting instruction into better hitting, the Mariners will lose and the Little-Teams-That-Could will once again fall to the Iron Sabermetric Horses. This is Kevin Hench's explanation.

You be the judge!


Chris W said...



pnoles said...

Nicely done DB

Brett said...

I hated doing clutch drills in high school.

Anonymous said...

I know it's not important, but it's impossible to finish 5 games over .500 in a 162-game season. You can finish 4 games over (83-79) or 6 games over (84-78), but not 5 games over. I'm sorry, but I think I have OCD.

pnoles said...

Rainouts that aren't rescheduled due to lack of importance can cause a 161-game season!

See, I'm OCD too!