Most people know that I am one of Raul Ibanez‘s biggest critics. Being of the sabermetric-mold, I do not place very much value in a 40 year old DH-in-the-outfield, who can only hit in Yankee Stadium. I don’t know why, but that just isn’t appealing to me. More traditional fans do not necessarily focus on that though, and will point to his veteran leadership. And that is just fine. Raul seems like a great guy, and might be able to mentor some of the kids. But there are problems with that too.
In reality, there is not much he can do. Sure, he can tell people to keep their head up or whatever, but it comes down to the players ability. Encouragement is great, but it doesn’t really matter if the recipient just can’t hit. Raul follow me around day and night, giving me words of wisdom and encouragement. Doesn’t replace the fact that I am an out of shape, slightly lazy 17 year old, who stopped playing select baseball at 14 because I just was not that great anymore. If I would have worked my butt off like my friends who kept playing, then maybe it would be different. But it still comes down to what I can do, not what someone is telling me I can do.
So those are the basic reasons why I disagreed with the Raul signing, especially for $2.75M. That and the fact that I knew he was still going to get a lot of playing time despite being a veteran presence. My reasoning for that belief? See Miguel Olivo over John Jaso last year.
But, over the last week or so, things have changed a bit. Raul is no longer hitting below the interstate (that’s .190 for those who do not get the reference), and in fact, is crushing the ball. After today’s tough loss in Cleveland, he has 6 homers in 7 games. And dating back to May 4th against Toronto he has slashed a ridiculous .375/.394/1.031. This streak has led many to start talking about how good Raul really is, in addition to his veteran presence.
While it is nice to see him hit like this, it is not going to continue. I am sorry, but it just won’t. He now has a .839 OPS on the season, which is 328 points higher than the .511 he had before the streak. There are a few different reasons why there is no way he sustains the .839:
- 6 of the his last 8 games, when the success started, have been on the road. Raul thrives in hitter-friendly parks. Yankee Stadium is a prime example. He had a .343 wOBA there last year, compared to .223 on the road. And that pattern continued this year, and 4 of his hits and 3 of his home runs came in New York. He won’t have the luxury of playing in that little league field they call a big league stadium anymore.
- .562 points of his .839 OPS have come from his slugging percentage. Hitting 6 home runs in a week will do that for you. Raul does not have that kind of power anymore, or ever really. That would be the highest SLG% of his career, and he obviously won’t sustain it. Plus, it is hard to have any long term success with a OBP under .300.
- Raul just is not that good, plain and simple. He used to be, but at his age, he is not the same. He will probably have another one of these stints where he crushes the ball. That is what hitters like him do. But I would not think they will last much longer than this one has.
There is also another big point that I think needs to be made, despite it’s “elementary” feel. Defense is still a part of the game. I know it sounds simple, but people ignore it. Everyone sees the dingers and forgets that Raul is the most gif-able player in the league. Before today’s game (because it isn’t updated as fast) Raul’s WAR was a -0.1. He was costing the team 1/10th of a win with his play. That will probably go up a tad, maybe to an even 0, or a positive decimal. So despite this show he has put on at the plate, his overall value is extremely low. He can’t field, he can’t run, and he can only kind of hit sometimes.
Hot streaks are fun. It is good to see a fan favorite like Raul kill the ball, especially against a team like the Yankees. But do not take this for more than it is. An anomaly. A rather exciting one, but an anomaly nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong either. I like Raul and respect the player he was for the Mariners. But the key word is was. He is not that same player, and if I had it my way, he probably wouldn’t be on the team.
I know a lot of what I said will seem pretty obvious to most of you. But there are a lot of people who overreact to things like this, and do not understand how things like this work. In fact, I would say most traditional-thinking fans would fall into this category, so I still think this was a point that needed to be made. You probably won’t see USS Mariner or Lookout Landing making this sort of post, but they do not appeal to the casual fan as much as we do at Sodo Mojo.
For the fifth time in 2013, Joe Saunders failed to record a quality start on the road, as the Mariners lost 5-4 to the Indians in Cleveland Saturday. Saunders went 5.1 innings, allowing four earned runs on 11 base hits while walking and striking out two. All things considered, it was probably Saunders’ best road start of the season. Still, he laid out a blueprint of how not to make a quality start with a few key things he did or did not do.
Don’t mess around with two outs
Too often during Saturday’s start, Saunders failed to close the book on the Indians after recording two outs. As a matter of fact, Ryan Divish pointed out on Twitter that Saunders has zero 1-2-3 innings in road starts this season. This inability not only costs the Mariners precious runs but also runs Saunders’ pitch count way up. Today proved no exception.
In the first inning, Saunders quickly retired Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis with just eight pitches. When Asdrubal Cabrera stepped in, Saunders gave up a base hit on his fourth pitch of the at-bat. This small crack in the armor proved lethal for Saunders, who threw seven balls to the next two hitters, Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds, walking Swisher and giving up an RBI single to Reynolds. All told, he threw 17 pitches with two outs in the first inning.
The second inning almost mirrored the first one, except that Saunders survived unscathed. He only needed seven pitches to retire Mike Aviles and Jan Gomes, but ran into trouble with Drew Stubbs and Bourn. Saunders walked Stubbs and Bourn singled. Kipnis ended the threat with a come-backer to the mound, but Saunders’ pitch count took another huge two-out hit. He threw 16 more pitches with two outs, running his count to 48 through two innings.
Saunders only threw two two-out pitches in the third, stranding a runner at second and throwing only 18 pitches. He threw ten pitches with two outs in the fourth, allowing a single to Bourn before retiring Kipnis. However, he ran into two-out trouble again in the fifth. Swisher basically hit a home run to left field, except that the wind knocked it down and Raul Ibanez made the catch. Cabrera, at first after a lead off single, was totally fooled and the Mariners doubled him off. Yet Saunders apparently learned nothing from Swisher, as he left another pitch out over the plate to Reynolds, who hit it in almost the same spot as Swisher, except this one carried out for a solo home run.
To notch a quality start on the road, Saunders cannot afford to mess around with two outs like he did today.
Don’t sacrifice an early edge in the count
Saunders threw a ton of first pitch strikes today, especially early on. Of the 29 batters he faced, Saunders threw them 20 first pitch strikes. That doesn’t even include at bats where Indians’ batters put the ball in play on the first pitch. Saunders took control of most of the hitters he faced right from the get go, which should foreseeably help him.
However, of those 20 first pitch strikes that didn’t end up in play, Saunders followed 13 of them up with second pitch balls. Saunders would frequently get ahead and immediately surrender his advantage with the next pitch. He needed to stay aggressive and make things happen to keep his pitch count down. Instead, he ended up with 120 pitches in a weak 5.1 inning start.
Don’t heavily rely on balls in play
In five road starts this year, Joe Saunders pitched 24 innings. He struck out seven batters in those appearances. Seven! In 24 innings! Sure, Saunders isn’t a strikeout pitcher, but that’s just horrendous. His inability to get batters out on his own hurts him significantly, as it did today. Saunders allowed 11 hits and recorded 14 outs on balls in play. That’s a horrendous BABIP against, but when you only strike out two batters of 29, that kind of stuff happens. Quality starts are built on commanding the strike zone and batters, and Saunders did neither with effectiveness in the loss.
The Mariners fell to the Indians 6-3 in 10 innings last night, as Jason Kipnis ripped a walk-off three-run blast off of Lucas Luetge. Seattle missed out on their first opportunity to reach the .500 mark since the second week of April, and fell to 20-22. This morning, the Mariners get underway at 10:05 PT, with Joe Saunders taking on Zach McAllister. Before they get
underway in Cleveland, here are some things to look out for.
Woeful road Joe
Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Saunders’ four starts on the road in 2013:
April 3, Oakland: 4 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 3 K
April 19, Texas: 4.2 IP, 7 ER, 9 H, 3 BB, 0 K
April 24, Houston: 5 IP, 8 ER, 11 H, 2 BB, 2 K
May 5, Toronto: 5 IP, 7 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 0 K
All four of these are horrid starts in their own special ways, and all four are Mariners’ losses by wide margins. The closest game of the bunch was the first one, a 6-2 loss to the A’s. Anything can happen in baseball, but starting Joe Saunders on the road this year has been akin to a forfeit for the Mariners. Part of that may be that he only has five strikeouts in 18.2 road innings this year. He’s relying on contact too much and paying the price. His 12.54 road ERA has to come down today for the Mariners to sniff success.
Saunders gets day off
Endy Chavez is leading off and playing centerfield today, a role Michael Saunders has occupied in every game since returning from the disabled list. Eric Wedge and my northwest.com’s Shannon Drayer played it off like a regular day off, but Saunders has been slumping lately. Three of his last four games resulted in 0-for-5 performances, and in those three games, he totaled seven strikeouts. That doesn’t equate to quality lead off hitting, and Saunders’ time in that slot could be limited if Chavez or Dustin Ackley can keep hitting.
Morse returns from eye trouble
The official word on Michael Morse’s eye irritation last night was that he poked himself in the eye some time leading up to Friday’s game and had issues with a dislodged contact and blurred vision for the rest of the night. The Mariners could have used his hot bat yesterday, as runs were few and far between. Hopefully the eye issue doesn’t derail Morse’s hot streak, during which he has racked up nine hits in his past four games.
Here’s the lineup for today:
- Chavez CF
- Ackley 2B
- Seager 3B
- Morales DH
- Morse RF
- Ibanez LF
- Smoak 1B
- Montero C
- Ryan SS