TNT's Hughes gets it with column

My buddy Mike, who works for the Sonics, commented on this post that Seattle was the only place where the Ray Allen trade wasn't being hailed as a success -- that it was roundly being praised around the country.

In my response, I tried to make the argument that it's just not that simple. That people "around the country" aren't worried about losing this team the way we are, and that colors how we see everything. Frank Hughes at The News Tribune gets it.

"(S)adly, nothing can be taken in the context of 'purely basketball' with this organization, not now and probably not for the next nine months to a year.

"There is an overarching fog of uncertainty about the team’s future that never seems to dissipate, infusing itself into any discussion about the team and choking the excitement and optimism out of even the smallest scintilla of hope."
He goes on to tell of why he believes the Allen trade was a smart basketball deal -- a stance I'm beginning to agree with -- and explains that the consensus among NBA writers was that the Sonics got the best of that one.

But that doesn't mean we get the freedom to look at the move independent of the larger issues of the arena and the team potentially leaving town.
"It’s a good start to the reshaping of a roster that doesn’t need to be completely razed to achieve success. ... But how can an increasingly apathetic and alienated fan base generate the type of fervor that usually accompanies such dramatic decisions with the sneaking suspicion that it is intended for the benefit of another community? ...

"It’s a shame, really. These should be the best of times for this organization. New GM. Fresh perspectives. Innovative ideas.

"But there is one idea that never can be forgotten: In its current state, nothing with this franchise is purely basketball."


Blog on 48-hour break

I'm heading out of town overnight for a retreat with the Washington Journalism Education Association, so I probably won't be able to blog until Sunday. I'll be keeping an eye on the Mariners from afar as they try to continue their winning streak against the Blue Jays, and I'll have some thoughts on that when I return.

In the meantime, enjoy your rainy weekend if you're in the Seattle area, or your sunshine of you're pretty much anywhere else at the end of June.

The day after: Reviews mixed on Sonics draft

Just thought I'd pass along some of the other reaction to last night's draft. Nationally, the Sonics' trade of Ray Allen and drafting of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green is being hailed as a success. Locally, many are left scratching their heads, the way I was last night.

And, by the way: Carl Landry (the second round pick that didn't make any sense whatsoever) was traded to Houston for a future second rounder and cash. So now that makes a lot more sense.

Happy reading.


Sonics demonstrate uncanny ability to wiz on fans' excitement

This night was supposed to be the night the franchise turned around -- the night we celebrated the next great Seattle superstar's arrival in our town.

It was supposed to be a night of unbridled joy.

Instead, I'm left thinking that if Clay Bennett could send the Mariners on a 10-game losing streak or take a lead pipe to Matt Hasselbeck's kneecap, he would. He's that good at ruining pretty much anything that makes us smile.

On a night that was supposed to be all about Kevin Durant -- the night we dreamed that maybe, with just a little bit of roster tweaking, the Sonics were on their way to being relevant again by building around a new young superstar who would learn from the aging superstar -- we ended up talking all about Ray Allen becoming a Boston Celtic.

It really is amazing that anything could ruin this night, but Bennett and his guys figured out a way to do it.

I had hope that this team might become an instant contender. But it now is abundantly obvious that Bennett is intent on blowing the thing up and starting over, building around Durant. As I wrote earlier, the cynicist in me believes Bennett might just be trying to tank the team for just long enough to get it out of town. Even the most optimistic person would have to agree that losing 50 games again next year is not the way to get an arena deal done, and history tells us this isn't the best way to build to a championship.

Now, it's clear GM Sam Presti isn't done with this roster. He's got a sign-and-trade deal for Rashard Lewis to complete. They're still saying publicly they want Rashard back -- presumably to try and retain some leverage -- but let's get real. There are now three small forwards under contract in Durant, Jeff Green and Wally Szczerbiak, and as Allen said, Rashard is not likely to want to join a youth movement. He's got no scoring punch from the two-guard spot -- unless they're counting on Szczerbiak (who played in 32 games last year) -- and still has huge issues at point guard.

He's obviously got some substantial dealing left to do, so I'll reserve total judgment until I see how this all shakes out. But tonight could hardly have gone worse, from a fan perspective.

I'm not saying I don't totally understand parting with Allen; after all, he plays a position where the drop off in play is generally precipitous at his age. But I don't understand the pick of Jeff Green, a guy I think is really overrated. He's a nice player, but not the kind of guy who's going to pair with Durant to dominate the West for years to come. (And I don't just say that because he traveled against Vandy and ruined my bracket.) And to only get Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West thrown into the deal, while -- oh, by the way -- giving up your No. 35 pick in this draft (which turned out to be Big Baby Davis)? It just doesn't make sense.

And I really don't understand the pick of Carl Landry, rated the 63rd-best prospect by Chad Ford at ESPN.com yet picked by the Sonics at 31. Even if he is your guy, in such a deep draft, the Sonics could have easily traded down and picked up a pick next year or something and still gotten him.

I would much rather have seen the Sonics pick Corey Brewer -- a lockdown perimeter defender and solid shooter -- to play the point at No. 5, then seen them pick up Arizona's Marcus Williams -- a pure scorer at the two-guard -- at No. 31. Both are long and versatile, and fit the mold that apparently Presti is looking for. That would have gotten me excited, as I would have seen how the pieces were fitting together.

Instead, we got a 3/4 tweener without any discernable strengths other than athleticism and yet another undersized power forward, with only the promise that there is more work to be done.


Thanks, Clay, for sucking the life out of Seattle once again.

Sonics make a trade, only not the one we all wanted

The Sonics are blowing it up, and I don't like it. In fact, I smell a rat.

Ray Allen has been shipped to the Boston Celtics, and Rashard Lewis is as good as gone in what likely will have to be a sign-and-trade deal. In return, we get a team that features Kevin Durant (unbelievably awesome), Jeff Green (underwhelming), Wally Szczerbiak (terrifically bad and under contract at $12 million per for the next two seasons) and Delonte West (a crappier version of Earl Watson).

I know we're probably only getting part of the picture right now -- I'm sure GM Sam Presti will be making other moves to remake the roster -- but it sure seems like this is part of a plan to get the team to suck just long enough to get out of town, then blossom into a winner somewhere else.

I hope I'm wrong, but the original talk was that adding Durant to the original cast of characters would catapult the Sonics into playoff relevance.

Now, it's looking like they're following the Portland plan, which sounds nice, until you consider this: How many of the championship teams from the last 20 years built their squad by blowing it up and starting over at some point? None. San Antonio came closest, but their pick of Tim Duncan came after a 60-loss season in which David Robinson and Sean Elliott were hurt.

Yes, Portland has a nice nucleus of players, but there's no guarantee that team is going to become championship caliber. Keeping Ray Allen around -- a guy who's far and away better than anyone on Portland's roster -- would have made a lot of sense to help this team not stay in the 50-loss range. Now, it will be awful difficult to keep that from happening.

And once you start losing, it's awful tough to stop. The NBA is littered with franchises that started losing and are still losing.

Anyway, I'm rambling, so I'll check in later after we see how the rest of the night shapes up.

Latest on Sonic trade rumors

I'll be posting periodically throughout the day on NBA Draft stuff that I come across, but I won't have the time to necessarily be scouring the Internet for the latest on all the trade rumors.

That's why you should visit this thread at SonicsCentral.com. They are doing that dirty work for all of us.

Among the interesting things they've picked up:

  • The News Tribune's Frank Hughes thinks Ray Allen will be traded before next season.
  • The Oregonian's Jason Quick thinks Greg Oden going No. 1 still isn't necessarily a done deal.


In less than 24 hours, Kevin Durant will be a Sonic

Before we turn in for the night, some developments on the NBA Draft.

  • Greg Oden apparently has been promised by the Trail Blazers that he will be the No. 1 overall pick, according to ESPN.com.
  • No one really knows if the Sonics' on-again-off-again trade with Atlanta, in which Luke Ridnour would be sent to the Hawks in exchange for their No. 11 pick, is on or off at the moment. The News Tribune and the P-I are essentially reporting that the deal is done as long as the Hawks don't get involved in that much-rumored three-way deal that would send Kevin Garnett to Phoenix. ESPN.com is reporting, however, that the Hawks are having second thoughts about Ridnour. That's a bummer, because I can't wait to get Ridnour out of town. It's not personal -- it's just that he's not very good. (Don't tell the Hawks.)
  • If Ridnour is shipped off, expect the Sonics to take Eastern Washington's Rodney Stuckey, says Gary Washburn of the P-I.
We'll have plenty of draft day/night coverage and analysis here tomorrow.

Mariners sweep away Red Sox

I'm a little speechless right now about what I witnessed this afternoon. Is this team just teasing us? I'm not sure.

What I do know is that they're a heck of a lot of fun to watch right now, and while the Red Sox haven't exactly been the hottest team in baseball over the past month, that's still a darn good team that the M's swept aside by beating Daisuke Matsuzaka.

For all the work they've done this year in improving on last year's record, one can hardly deny that they've seemed to do it by beating up on the weak sisters of the American League. The M's haven't exactly had a lot of success against the likes of the Angels and the Red Sox.

Until this series.

I wish I had more insightful commentary, but I'm not sure I know how this team keeps doing it. Ryan Feierabend had no right to do what he did today -- not after what happened on Friday. They're also winning in different ways, a departure from the Mariners' earlier win streaks.

The M's are now back to nine games over .500 and just two games back in the wild card standings, five back in the AL West as the Angels got swept by the Royals. So far, so good in the start to what was identified as a critical stretch against quality opponents; even our friends over at coolstandings.com have the M's playoff chances off of life support and back up to 20 percent.

Go take two out of three from the Blue Jays and the M's really will have something going.

And one more thing.

J.J. Putz is still the best closer in baseball.

Sonics land Oden with No. 2 pick!

OK, so actually that's only according to ESPN.com's mock draft unveiled today. Usually, I think mock drafts are stupid, if only because they almost always seem to play it safe with conventional wisdom.

Well, conventional wisdom goes out the door when Bill Simmons is involved.

This mock draft is a tag-team effort between Simmons and NBA reporter Chad Ford, and it involves some pretty funny -- and insightful -- running commentary. Simmons was the guy to pick first, and had Portland take Kevin Durant. His reasoning?

(Durant's) a cold-blooded killer. I hate pre-draft workouts, but didn't you find
it interesting that Oden was nervous, awkward and apologetic during his workout
in Portland, but a confident Durant strolled in there two days later and blew
everyone away? You know what's funny about that? I knew that was going to
happen. One guy plays basketball because he was created to play basketball; the
other plays because he was bigger than everyone else and it seemed like the
logical thing to do. If there was a pickup game and Oden was on one side, Durant
was on the other, and your life depended on the game, you'd pick Durant. You
Ergo, the Sonics land Greg Oden with the No. 2 pick. To which Ford says:
Bill, on behalf of the citizens of Seattle, Sam Presti, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis
and all eight remaining Sonics season ticket holders, I want to thank you. Not
only did you pass on the best big man to come in the draft since Tim Duncan in
1997 ... you handed him on a silver platter to your biggest rivals.
It's pretty good stuff. And, if you're curious, Simmons took Texas A&M's Acie Law in that No. 11 spot the Sonics would acquire if they ship Luke Ridnour's sorry butt to Atlanta (more on that later) -- Mike Conley Jr. and Corey Brewer already were off the board. And if you're still curious, Simmons selected Spencer Hawes at No. 13 for the New Orleans Hornets.

On the eve of the draft, a reminder of what once was

With the NBA draft tomorrow night -- and with us reminiscing about the stars of yesteryear -- here's just a little flash back of what once was in Seattle when it came to our SuperSonics.

I had a similar sensation watching the highlight reels of Junior this weekend as I marveled at his bat speed as a young player. Sometimes I forget just how good Shawn Kemp was. Thank goodness we have YouTube to remind us.

Special thanks to Seth over at Enjoy the Enjoyment for digging this up.

What the heck is wrong with Felix?

A lot of people are trying to figure out what's wrong with Felix Hernandez, especially after another thoroughly average performance against the Red Sox which, of course, the M's were able to overcome with some typically stellar work out of the bullpen.

Some thought he was "fixed" after his last outing against the Pirates, but Jeff Sullivan over at Lookout Landing saw things that troubled him even in that performance. It's required reading, and it looks like he was right. There's no doubt that his stuff isn't as good as it was earlier in the year -- the data is there to prove it. (Why it's not as good, who knows. Felix says he's healthy. Sullivan's theory is here.)

But the folks over at USS Mariner have been hammering on Felix's pitch selection for some time, and given the way Jeff Weaver handcuffed the Sox last night with his array of junk, and given the way the Sox hammered away at Hernandez's steady diet of fastballs ... well, I have to believe there's some truth to that theory. (UPDATE: USS Mariner reiterates the point Wednesday.)

My take? He was able to get away with sketchy pitch selection when he was throwing a 94 mph two-seamer down in the zone and painting that 97 mph four seamer on the corners. Now that he's not doing that ... well, you see the results.

The crazy thing is that he's a guy who, for all the strikeouts, is a groundball pitcher. That should result in lower pitch counts. But his insistence on throwing that four-seamer -- which is straight as an arrow and often results in foul balls -- is killing his pitch counts, and keeping him from going deep in games. He needs to get back to focusing on getting outs early in the count, and it's probably well past time that he start using his off speed stuff to set up his fastball to do it.

Other quick observations from the night that was ...

  • What to make of taking the first two from the Red Sox? I'm not sure. After all, they beat up on one mediocre journeyman (Julian Tavarez) and one overmatched rookie who couldn't find the strike zone. Is this team for real? I still can't decide. But I'm enjoying the ride.

  • Mike Hargrove has done a pretty admirable job managing this team this year, but every once in a while, he does something that just leaves you scratching your head. Like batting Jose Vidro in the 3-hole. I thought we established long ago that Vidro is not a good hitter, and putting a not good hitter in the 3-hole is counterproductive -- especially when you have another hitter in your lineup who rakes lefty pitching batting sixth.

    Not to get all sabermetric on you, but there's a theory out there by guys that are good with numbers that you want to get the guys who create more runs more at bats in any given game. Guys with higher OPS create more runs. Vidro's OPS against lefties is .673; Jose Guillen's is 1.079. Seriously, what's so hard to understand here?

  • J.J. Putz is still the best closer in baseball.

  • What is with the Mariners' defense the past two games? The third inning yesterday and various points today -- Jose Lopez's backhand ole of David Ortiz's shot sticking out in my mind -- leave me wondering when it's really going to catch up with this team to the point that it costs them a game. It also leaves me wondering who the bozo official scorer is who keeps calling those things hits. Granted, Lopez made a great diving catch to save a run, but is it too much to ask for these guys to make the routine plays?

  • Why is Willie Freaking Bloomquist playing left field with Raul Ibanez hurt when there's a guy with 17 bombs and a .979 OPS playing in Tacoma? This is seriously reaching comical proportions ... except that letting Adam Jones rot away at AAA is going to start costing the team games at some point, too. And that's not funny.

  • Is this the beginning of the Richie Sexson tear? He's 5 for his past 14 with three homers. If he comes around, this offense gets scary good.


Reflecting on our weekend with Junior

First off, let me apologize for being so hit-and-miss with posts lately -- I really try to get at least one thing up each day, but when a blog is a one-man show, well, sometimes things like weddings, grading, the end of the school year, packing and moving get in the way of that man writing. Things should be a little clearer here the rest of the summer without having to do something quite so trivial as report to work.

But even as I watch this wild affair of a baseball game between the M's and the Red Sox, I'm reminded that I promised you some thoughts on the return of Junior.

I was on my way out to our fourth 1-year-old birthday party of the month of June on Sunday -- no, I don't know what was going on in September 2005 -- when my phone rang. My dad was on the other end.

"Are you watching the game?"

"I was, but I just left the house. I haven't turned the radio on yet. What's up? Did Junior hit another homer?"

And there was the rub. It wasn't so much that he had, indeed, hit his second homer of the game. It was more that as soon as my dad asked if I was watching the game, I just knew he was calling to tell me that Griffey had done something special yet again.

That's what it was like watching Junior all those years he was here in Seattle, and that's what I'll remember most about his time here. No matter what, you never wanted to leave your seat at a Mariners game because you never knew when Junior was going to do something special.

I remember sitting there as a kid with my bladder about to burst, waiting for that moment in the game when the M's were up to bat and Junior had no chance of coming to the plate so I could finally go to the bathroom. You didn't dare leave when the M's were on defense -- what if Griffey made one of those spectacular catches? No way was I going to miss that.

Leave a blowout early? Please.

And that's what this weekend was all about. It was to remember a time when the first bona fide superstar this town ever had captured our hearts. It was to remember when the Mariners could be exciting even when they were terrible, thanks to sheer magnitude of Junior's talent and charisma.

For just three days, all of that was back. We watched every at bat as if we might recapture just a little of that magic together. We cheered when he succeeded, a well-deserved response to the man who saved baseball in this city.

Much has been made of those cheers; those that objected to it because he plays for the other team are either short-sighted or ignorant, and I have patience for neither. Yes, this is a team in the throws of something resembling a pennant race, but no one is going to make me feel bad for finally getting a chance to properly honor a player who brought so much joy my life, whether he plays for the other team or not.

It wasn't about a win or a loss, especially on Friday night. I could care less that my team got blown out. All I could think about leading up to the game was what I felt like the day he was traded, watching his first news conference with Cincinnati, just hoping he'd say something to those of us in Seattle who stood by him for so long.

Then, I thought about what it was going to be like to finally get to replace that with a proper goodbye. It was everything I could have dreamed of, and more.

And that's what I'll remember now.

Would I love for him to come back, as he suggested he might? Sure I would. But I also know Junior to be a fickle, emotional guy who sometimes says things he doesn't mean. If my last memory is of him telling us how much he missed us, and of him waving to the crowd as he came off the field for the last time on Sunday, well, I'm perfectly OK with that.


Junior returns tonight -- thoughts later

I wanted to do a full post on the significance of tonight, but it turns out today was a bit emotional saying goodbye to my students, whom I'm leaving behind as I move on to Wenatchee.

I'll be at the game tonight, then I'll be in a wedding on Saturday, so I probably won't have any more thoughts on anything until Sunday.

See you then.

I'm Roger Clemens, dammit!

Roger Clemens 2057

If Roger Clemens is still alive in 2057, this is what it might look like. The ending is a bit lacking, but still pretty darn funny to kick off Ken Griffey Jr. day.


Mariners get back on winning track in improbable fashion

Since I didn't get to watch the game last night -- I listened to most of it via radio while I was out driving around the greater South Sound region in search of new clothes -- I had this idea in my mind of checking out MLB.com's Gameday data to see if I could figure out how in the heck Jeff Weaver did what he did last night.

Then I got to school, checked in with U.S.S. Mariner and found that Dave Cameron already beat me to the punch.

Seriously, go read it. It's good. And while it might not give any indication that he can even come close to duplicating last night's occurrence, it does at least try to make sense out of how it happened. (Hint: Weaver's stuff was basically the same, he's still a junkballer, but different pitch selection might partly explain the unexplainable.)

Other things I noticed last night ...

  • While listening to the game on the radio last night, I remembered why it is that I love Dave Niehaus so very much, and why I want to punch in the mouth anyone who suggests he should hang it up because he can't keep up with the game. So what if he occasionally thinks an shallow fly ball is a home run, or if he confuses a name here and there? Niehaus is a master story teller, and that's what baseball is all about.

    Last night, he and Rizzs were telling this story about the origin of "uncle charlie" as slang for a curveball. You probably had to be there, but it just cracked me up. It was Niehaus at his finest, and the reason why he's on the short list of people alive I'd love to just sit down and have dinner with. I'll miss him so much the day he decides to hang it up. I hope it's not soon, because the guy is priceless. He belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I hope they figure that out before he dies.

  • Kudos to Mike Hargrove for finally moving Richie Sexson down in the order. Let's hope he resists the urge to quickly move him back up after two consecutive games with a home run.

  • You know, after all the heat Adrian Beltre has taken the past two-plus years from all of us, finding out what life is like without him was not pleasant. I know this still doesn't justify his massive contract, but we all should just get over what he's getting paid. The guy is a great defender and a key component of this offense. I still wish he'd get on base more, and I still wish he'd hit for a little more power, but boy, that offense goes from being pretty good to being pretty mediocre when he's not in there.

  • One last thing about Weaver: I know a lot of fans still are rooting for him to fail so that the team will jettison him with a DFA. But it's in everyone's best interest that Weaver stay in the rotation if he can, and last night gives us hope that it might yet happen. Ryan Feierabend -- who, incidentally, is going to be taking Cha Seung Baek's turn in the rotation next time out, thanks to a combination of a favorable matchup with the Reds and Baek's suckitude last time out -- would be best served to play this year in AAA, and Horacio Ramirez would be best served by never seeing the major league roster again, ever. What does that mean? Weaver pitching well enough to keep heading to the hill every fifth day is what's best for the team, embarrassing Bavasi be darned.


By the way ... Cougs ranked No. 7

In case you were wondering, the Washington State University men's basketball team is ranked No. 7 in the Andy Katz post-draft-declaration-pre-season rankings.

Strangely, the Spencer Hawes-less Huskies are nowhere to be found.

Actually, they are there ... you just have to look hard at the No. 25 Florida Gators.

The beauty of the Internet, in one post

There are a lot of reasons I love being a Mariners fan. (Yes, you read that right.) One of the big ones is that while I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I have to believe that we have to be the most information savvy bunch in the major leagues.

I love reading other blogs, especially U.S.S. Mariner and Geoff Baker's blog at The Seattle Times. (You can find the others I love on the right hand side.) I love reading them because I know a lot about sports, but I love to learn, and I always become a better-educated fan when I visit these sites. USSM's knowledge of baseball built as sabermetricians and Baker's knowledge of baseball and the Mariners built as a beat writer make for tons of good information.

The two had basically coexisted separately. Until recently, when their respective blogs crossed paths in a very public way.

It's why I love the Internet.

It started with this post by Baker, on the likelihood a team with an ERA higher than 4.50 (read: the Mariners) will make the playoffs.

I received a very interesting email today from a friend of this blog, Jack Lattemann, who has done an exhaustive study of whether teams with an earned run average of 4.50 or higher can even post winning records, let alone contend for a playoff spot. Jack has graciously allowed me to pass on his findings. They don't look good on the Mariners, who have a 4.84 team ERA despite a rock solid bullpen. He found that no team before 1969 had qualified for the playoffs. Not surprising, given the two-league format. There were a few more, post-1969, that made it. During the two-division format (four teams making the playoffs) from 1969-1993, the only playoff team with a 4.50 ERA or higher was the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins, who finished 85-77 with a 4.63 ERA.
Dave Cameron over at U.S.S. Mariner -- after praising Baker for his coverage on the blog and the work he's done to interact with fans and the blogging community -- took exception to this kind of analysis, as did a number of commenters on Baker's blog. And with good reason.
Where to start with this paragraph - how about with the glaring, obvious problem, and one that I’ve been railing on for years here - Earned Run Average, by itself, is not any real indicator of pitching quality. It’s just not. I know it’s commonly accepted as the be-all, end-all pitching statistic, but the reliance on this inherently problematic stat has led to more bad analysis over the years than just about any other statistic out there. Using ERA to draw broad conclusions about pitching ability is a great way to be wrong on a large scale.

In reality, ERA kinda sorta measures the ability of the team’s run prevention skills when a specific pitcher is on the hill. ERA doesn’t attempt to separate responsibility for said run prevention between pitcher and defenders. It doesn’t attempt to take into account the context of the run scoring environment. And, just in case those weren’t big enough problems (they are), it introduces the biases of ballpark specific official scorers by excluding “unearned runs”, which are often classified as such due to arbitrary decisions on what constitutes an error.
Cameron goes on to explain that you have to consider run scoring environments of eras of the game before making any kind of cross-era analysis.
(P)icking a random ERA number that reflects “bad pitching” and applying it to any context is going to result in a list that means absolutely nothing. If you want to use ERA to evaluate a pitching staff, you’d be forced to come to the conclusion that the Washington Nationals currently have a better pitching staff than the Chicago White Sox. After all, they have a lower ERA. Of course, everyone understands that there’s a huge difference between pitching in RFK stadium against National League hitters and not facing the DH and facing American League hitters in New Comiskey park. We wouldn’t expect Mike Bacsik to post a 4.59 ERA if he was traded to the White Sox. No one would.
Baker's response on his blog?
Back to yesterday's post, I actually understated the infrequency with which teams have made the playoffs with an ERA of 4.50 or more. While the number of playoff teams with an ERA that high, since the advent of the wild-card, was 13 out of 96, the number of teams making the playoffs with an ERA that high was just 13 out of 354. One in 27. Is this all just a coincidence, as some suggest? Is there really no direct relation between ERA and making the playoffs? Well, let's just say that the more runs you allow, the more you have to score to win. The more wins, the easier to make the playoffs. Could we get scientifically more precise? Of course.

But I had no problem with Lattemann using an ERA of 4.50 and higher as a measuring stick. The average ERA in baseball last year was 4.44 and it's averaged out to roughly that since this decade began. So, anything 4.50 and worse would generally stand to be below average.

Some people objected to using ERA at all, while others say we should have adjusted it for park factors -- which looks at the difference between runs allowed at home versus the road and adjusts statistics accordingly. Well, park factors may have been needed if, say, we'd used ERA to gauge a Cy Young Award race. But not in this case, since we're merely looking at who made the playoffs. In other words, who won more games by scoring more runs than they allowed (or allowing fewer runs than they scored?) Park factors are irrelevant here. You score (and allow) the runs where the games are played and that alone determines who wins. At the end of a season, all MLB cares about in deciding a winner is who won the most games, not how easy or difficult it was to score runs in those games because of ballpark intangibles.
Finally, Baker relented in his next post.
First, let me deal with the issue of the posts from this morning and yesterday. You know, when enough people tell you you're wrong, you start to think that maybe they're on to something. So, I went back and had another look at those numbers using the suggested ERA+ method to account for park factors. The reasoning I listened to, from "Sammy" in the comments thread, Dave at the USS Mariner site, and others, has convinced me that comparing teams using a statistic that could adapt to changing year-to-year run conditions -- rather than a static number that couldn't change -- was the best way to go. ...

And the park factors do matter. I erred in saying they didn't. After all, you compete for the playoffs with other teams. The ability of those teams to score and prevent runs, based on the factors in the ballparks of the day, will have a bearing on it.
USSM's response? Big time kudos.
Geoff has been paid to write about baseball for a long time. He’s a very smart guy, and he puts a lot of work into what he does. And yet, when some fans challenge a point he made, he’s willing to listen, evaluate what they’re saying, and take another look at his stance. Truth is more important than pride, and Geoff proved that in spades.

Baker deserves a lot of credit for taking the time to dive into the issue. He’s already set the bar for Mariner beat-writers to follow, and now he’s just pushing it even higher.

Congratulations to the Seattle Times - you made a fantastic hire.
It's hard to imagine that there are very many cities where virtual conversations such as this one take place. And that, my friends, is why I consider myself fortunate to be a Mariners fan and why I love the Internet.

ESPN ombudmen hits the mark on 'tyranny of the storyline'

Tennessee Titans cornerback Pacman Jones is going to be charged with two felonies.

How do I know this?

  • Because I clicked my way to ESPN.com, and it's the top news story.
  • Then I flipped on ESPN's "Around the Horn" as school dismissed, only to hear Woody Paige and Jay Mariotti arguing about whether Jones would play in the NFL again.
  • Then I watched Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon debate potential punishments on "Pardon The Interruption."
  • Then SportsCenter comes on. Cue the promo. "Pacman Jones faces two felony counts -- Is his NFL career over?"
  • After a brief update on the afternoon baseball results, the next two minutes of the show were dedicated to Jones, including the standard and expected overview of the story, then an opinion on Jones' playing status from John Clayton. Then we're told that later in SportsCenter we'll have more on Jones.
  • Twenty-three minutes later, Clayton is back on, repeating everything he already said about Jones' status as a player. We are told that we'll have even more on Jones later in SportsCenter.
This doesn't even mention all the coverage of the two-week-old Kobe Bryant "trade demand" story, which received only slightly less play on all of ESPN's shows, and immediately followed the Jones story each time.

It's this sort of overkill that has made ESPN virtually unwatchable at times. I tune into SportsCenter to hear the sports news of the day, not to hear 38 different (shouting) opinions on whatever the top story is. It's resulted in the amount of time I watch ESPN having been reduced dramatically over the years, practically down now to just the games the network broadcasts.

It's good to know I'm not the only one who longs for the days when highlights were the centerpiece of the show.

For all the things ESPN does that irritate me to no end, one of the things they do right is employ an ombudsman, currently Le Anne Schreiber. In her latest column, she attacks what she calls the "tyranny of the storyline," in which one supposedly compelling storyline seems to completely take over every arm of the network.
If I were to do a word frequency analysis on the messages I receive about ESPN's coverage, three words at the top of the list would be "Enough," "Stop" and "Way." As in enough Yankees/Red Sox, stop with Roger Clemens, and way too much Barry Bonds, Duke basketball/lacrosse, Brady Quinn, Dice-K and Michael Vick.

In part, these are complaints about the overkill that is an inevitable side effect of 24/7 programming, whether it is CNN and Anna Nicole Smith or ESPN and Clemens. On ESPN, if a story has legs, you will encounter it repeatedly on the daily 12 hours of SportsCenter and on each of the opinion shows that dominate the late afternoon. If you want to avoid redundancy on a given day, the only antidote is to limit your viewing.
The great thing about the ombudsman's role at ESPN is that it gives the network a chance to explain itself. Apparently, ESPN has research that suggests that you only tune in to watch the network occasionally throughout the day -- 49 total minutes, in fact, if you're an 18- to 34-year-old -- necessitating (in their eyes) the incessant overkill coverage of certain stories.

Such as the New York Yankees.
(A)ccording to Vince Doria, ESPN's senior vice president for news: "We think it's a compelling story. The most successful team in baseball, in the throes of a miserable slump, possibly on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, determines to pay the greatest pitcher of this era a pro-rated $28 million to pitch roughly two-thirds of a season. And in the 22 days since they signed him, they have dropped from 5 1/2 to 13 1/2 games behind the Red Sox. And this is all happening in the heavily populated Northeast corridor, which includes a large number of viewers. People who are not interested in the story may want to characterize it as a last-place team and a minor-league game. I think most reasonable people would see greater news value in the story than that characterization would imply."
I don't disagree with all of this. But does it have to be so much? I know the point of any network is to make money, and I guess the best way to do that is to shoot for the vast majority that doesn't tune in all day long like lots of hardcore fans. But couldn't they do something as a nod to those of us who have an unquenchable thirst for sports, other than repeat the same stuff all day?

Aren't there more compelling sports stories to tell?

Of all the programming on ESPN, perhaps the show I enjoy the most is Outside the Lines. It's broadcast journalism at its finest -- or, at least as fine as sports journalism can get, given the fact that we're talking about sports -- tackling compelling issues with sound journalistic principles. No flash, no sound effects. Just good, solid investigative reporting.

Couldn't we see more of this on SportsCenter? Why does Outside the Lines need to be its own show? Couldn't it be part of the SportsCenter package?

Beyond that, why can we not get some of the other, featurey-type stories on the players themselves? There are so many great stories that are just waiting to be told; we shouldn't have to tune into the Olympics every two years on NBC to find out more -- and not in a "Stray-Rod" kind of way -- about the people we love to watch.

I'm constantly challenging my own journalism students to find better stories, to go below just the surface observations to find out what's really going on.

Shouldn't I expect the same out of a network giant such as ESPN?


Are M's losing because they're tired, or tired because they're losing?

Much has been made of this stretch of games the M's have found themselves in, and what it's done to the team's play. I referenced it yesterday, and it's generating considerable discussion.

Geoff Baker at The Seattle Times tries to give some perspective on what it's like to travel from city to city to city, something most of us have no concept of.

Some of you think the travel stuff is overblown. Let me tell you, it is not. I've done this for a decade and I've never been more tired on the road than I've been this season. And I am in shape. Run three miles per day at a clip of seven minutes or less each. Lift weights. And I am tired. Why? Those added Cleveland stints really add up. That extra city has made the last two trips a four-city experience. Few ballclubs ever have to do that. Maybe once a year tops. Not on back-to-back trips. Not across multiple time zones and back again. It doesn't matter whether or not you are in a first class seat. I've been upgraded on a few of these flights and while it's great to have some food and a few inches more space, it doesn't change the stress and fatigue that even a one-hour flight places on your body.
However, he stops short of using it as a full excuse -- more like a semi-excuse:
The Mariners have gotten by all season long with starting pitching that befits a .500 team at best. Nothing better and nothing worse. Maybe a few games in either direction, but .500. They've scored a few less runs than they've allowed and that usually has .500 written all over it.

Lately, the offense had gone on a tear that no team in the history of baseball has been able to sustain over an entire season. The Mariners averaged about seven runs per game for a month. That's over 1,100 runs in a season. Again, check the history books. Can't be sustained.

So, the team just played 46 games in 48 days and the hitters got tired. Sexson as well. He's tired. Jose Guillen is more worn out than he's ever been in his career. Adrian Beltre is hurt. Jose Lopez's brother just died. Raul Ibanez looks like he's sleeping on his feet. Mentally and physically, these hitters are spent. Throw that into the mix with the usual starting pitching -- mostly adequate, but by no means contender-like -- and the losses start coming. Unless the hitters can pile up the runs, a team giving up five or more per game will usually lose as often, or more, than it wins.
Dave Cameron over at U.S.S. Mariner takes it one step further, completely debunking the travel quasi-excuse and simply stating the M's are not a very good team by comparing them to the Indians, who have endured a similar stretch.
Since the snowout series, the Mariners have played 63 games in 69 days. ... Since the snowout series, the Indians have played 65 games in 69 days. The Indians are 40-28, first place in the A.L. Central, having outscored their opponents by 46 runs on the year. They’ve played two more games since the end of the snowout series than the Mariners have in the same amount of days. I’m sure they’re a tired bunch, but unfortunately, I can’t find any quotes in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer to prove it. Maybe they were too tired to give interviews?

Or, alternately, perhaps they’ve overcome their exhaustion and continued to win baseball games because they’re a good team. A playoff team. A team with a well constructed roster able to provide organizational depth when the preseason rotation falls to pieces. ... Perhaps it’s not the schedule? Perhaps it’s the roster.
I think the truth probably resides more on Baker's side. Talent obviously has something to do with it, as the Mariners' considerable flaws are getting emphasized right now, thanks to all the games in a row on a pitching staff that already was thin. Throw in the fact that traveling from Seattle -- where EVERYTHING is far away -- is a lot different than traveling from Cleveland, and you've got the makings of a devastating losing streak.

Hawes makes it official

As expected, Washington freshman Spencer Hawes has decided to stay in the NBA Draft.

From the official UW press release:

"After meeting with everyone, getting all the appropriate feedback and going through the entire evaluative process, I made a decision I believe is the best for my future and that is to remain eligible for the NBA Draft," said Hawes, who announced his intention to undergo the NBA Draft selection process in early April, attended the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, Fla. earlier this month and worked out for five different teams over the past 12 days. "The decision to further my career in the NBA at this point in time was difficult. Every day I had different feelings about it. But, at the end of the day, I have to be realistic and trust my instincts.

"The fact that our team struggled a bit last season made the decision not to return to Washington very difficult. Certainly, there are some things I would have liked to accomplish in college. But, I feel I made the best decision to my family and my future."
We'll add to this as the situation develops today. Hopefully he'll have some more insightful comments for actual media members.


Disastrous weekend leaves M's searching for answers

After a start to the road trip that could not have been better, the M's finished up in the worst possible way by dropping five straight and leaving themselves in third place and 7 games behind the Angels, if they finish off the Dodgers, whom they lead 8-3 right now.

Some players have speculated that the team is tired after a daunting stretch of 33 games in 34 days, thanks to rainout makeups from early in the season. But that's not their biggest problem.

When the team got hot over the past few weeks, we knew two things for certain: 1) This team would not keep scoring 8-10 runs a game; 2) If the pitching staff kept pitching the way it was during the team's hot streak, that hot streak was going to end in hurry.

You see, the biggest issue in this losing streak wasn't the offense. Yes, the team only scored 14 runs over those five games. But in the last two, the team never had a chance thanks to the pitching staff, and the M's also watched as Brandon Morrow coughed up the team's first loss after leading after 8 innings. Combine that with a pair of very poor offensive performances, and you've got the makings of a losing streak.

Even great offensive teams go through stretches where they just don't score a ton of runs. If they are to be successful teams that win consistently, they need their pitching staffs to pick them up occasionally with a 1 or 2-run start. That hasn't happened for the Mariners, whose pitching staff hasn't given up less than three runs in a game since holding the Royals to one run all the way back on May 26.

That is not the recipe for consistent winning baseball.

We've been saying it for some time, but the cries became muted as the offense overcame its deficiencies: The starters have to do more. A lot more.

Felix has to figure out a way to go 7-plus innings on a semi-consistent basis. Jarrod Washburn has to pitch like he did earlier this year, although our worst fear -- that we were playing with house money when it came to 2.50 ERA Washburn -- might just be coming true. Miguel Batista has to not suck (for the love of God, don't be fooled by those people who point to his 7 wins and say that he's a guy who just figures out how to win) and Jeff Weaver needs to be out of the rotation. Cha Seung Baek was terrible yesterday, but c'mon -- you're going to get that every once in a while from a guy like him.

I'm optimistic about Felix, but not so much about Washburn, Batista and Weaver. And that's going to make for some roller coaster nights from here on out, and probably some roller coaster trips like the ones the M's just finished.

The good news is that after a day off tomorrow, the M's begin a 12-game homestand starting with six against the Pirates and Reds. I think some of the Mariners' recent offensive issues will work themselves out. The day of rest won't hurt, and Adrian Beltre should be returning to the lineup in a couple of days.

I think it's also going to benefit the team tremendously to return to American League rules. Much of this team's offensive effectiveness comes from having offensive threats up and down the lineup. But in an NL park with Beltre out, the Willie Bloomquist/pitcher black hole at the bottom of the order really presented some issues.

It's also time for the team to stop taking a very long, hard look at calling up Adam Jones from Tacoma and just do it.

There's no doubt he's ready offensively -- you can read about that here and here and here -- but I think the bigger benefit will be with Jones roaming left field. It's become pretty painful to watch Raul Ibanez play out there, and that was never more evident than Friday night when a pair of doubles eluded his reach -- two doubles that, if caught, would have ended innings and saved three runs from Felix's line.

Jones would have caught them both fairly easily.

It's time for Ibanez -- who still has value as a hitter (.295/.357/.455 in May and June) -- to move to the DH role. Obviously, Jose Vidro was not brought here and given an extension at the unconscionable amount of $7.5 million per year to sit on the bench and become a pinch hitter. But to keep a guy in the lineup just because you made a questionable move to bring him here in the first place when Jones represents such a clear upgrade is sheer stupidity.

Bring on the Pirates. We need them after that debacle.

Deadline looms for Hawes to declare decision

Husky fans can almost quit shifting uncomfortably waiting for their favorite 7-footer to make his mind about the NBA draft. Spencer Hawes has until 2 p.m. tomorrow to make up his mind for good.

All indications have pointed to Hawes staying in the draft for some time, and that hasn't much changed, according to ESPN.com's Andy Katz:

There doesn't seem to be one NBA team that seriously believes Hawes will go back to Washington. But he has yet to give any real indication that he has made up his mind. He worked out in Minnesota, Chicago and Philadelphia and was scheduled to go to Sacramento, with Atlanta possibly on the docket after the Monday's deadline.

Boston caught a look at Hawes during the Sixers' workout this week. He is a lock for the lottery and likely wouldn't go below Philadelphia's pick at No. 12. If he can get that assurance and is comfortable with any of the previous stops, he'll likely stay in the draft.

If he returns to line up with Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter again, the Huskies should be a postseason team (they missed the NCAA and the NIT last season) and a thorn throughout the Pac-10. Hawes has a chance to move up in the draft next season but likely won't be a top-three pick. So he could move up a few spots by returning, but maybe not enough to make it worth his while.

I think that's asking the wrong question.

I don't think the question should be whether he would move up enough in next year's draft to make it financially worth his while; the question should be whether he'll improve enough next year to earn back the money he's forgoing over the remainder of the course of his career.

There's no doubt in my mind that Hawes would benefit developmentally from another year in school, and in my mind, that's usually enough to warrant coming back to school. Although I have no concrete evidence to back this up, it seems a player will usually develop at a faster rate playing 30 minutes a game at the college level than he will playing 15 minutes a game and sitting on the bench in the NBA.

My opinion hasn't changed. Hawes should come back to school.

Although, as a Coug fan, I won't exactly be sad when he doesn't.


A new definition of courage, courtesy J.J. Putz

Sometimes, it's tough for fans to remember that our favorite players really are just people.

Well, if you need a reminder, check out this note on closer J.J. Putz.

How the man held it together for a save, I'll never know.


Are the Spurs a dynasty? That's not the question ...

A lot is being made right now of the Spurs and the question of whether they are a dynasty. And while I think it's definitely a valid question, its dominance on the airwaves last night underscores a more pressing issue: The decline of interest in The Finals themselves.

I was interested in the NBA Finals last year, what with Dwyane Wade and Shaq teaming for an unlikely championship victory over the Dallas Mavericks. But that hasn't been the norm for me over the past decade or so.

I find it hard to pinpoint the reason I just haven't been able to get into The Finals. Maybe it's the fact that the Sonics haven't been relevant in the NBA in about that same amount of time. After all, I am a Seattlite, proven to be among the most provincial sports fans in the country -- if our teams aren't involved, we usually just don't care.

But I don't feel that way about the baseball playoffs, the NFL playoffs or the NCAA Tournament. Heck, I even follow the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we haven't had anything higher than junior hockey in Seattle in anything even close to my lifetime.

So what is it about the NBA that just doesn't get my sports fan juices going? I guess the big thing is that I just don't really care for the product.

Now, I'm not one of those self-righteous old people who points to the "lack of fundamentals" in the league and yearns for the "good old days" when Magic and Bird and the rest of the league "really knew how to play the game." To me, the bigger issue is the style of play, and how it absolutely kills the drama of the games.

Let me ask you this: Why were we all so entertained by the Warriors and their improbable victory over the Mavericks? Was it because of the sheer size of the upset?

Or was it maybe because the Warriors were doing something no one else in the league does -- and doing it successfully?

The NBA has become an incestuous league of copycats, and it has absolutely killed the game. Everybody runs basically the same kind of offense, they all run basically the same kind of defense. And they do it because it works.

When you watch an NBA game next year, watch how man times you see these three plays in a game: 1) The two-man isolation post up/kick out; 2) The high pick and roll; and 3) The one-man isolation dribble drive/kickout. Virtually every offensive play in the NBA is a variation on those three plays, because the results of those three plays get rewarded with either a foul or an open 3-point shot more often than any other.

It's the absence of that that makes other sports so exciting. It's Mike Holmgren figuring out a way to get his West Coast offense to beat the Steelers' 3-4 defense. It's the up-tempo style of Lorenzo Romar's Huskies trying to beat the slow-down style of Tony Bennett. It's the confrontation between a pitcher and a batter, trying to figure out how to beat each other.

With very few exceptions, that kind of creativity has been eliminated from the NBA. Don't believe me? George Karl failed to win a championship with the Sonics on the back of his trapping defense. The Warriors couldn't get past the second round with Don Nelson's style of play, and the Mavericks never made it to the Finals until they scrapped Nellie for Avery Johnson's copycat approach. The Suns haven't been able to get out of the conference finals for three years.

All had truly unique approaches of some aspect of the game. All have failed to win championships.

I can't say I really blame all of these organizations for going with what works. After all, if efficient offense and lockdown defense was good enough for the Spurs to win four championships with Tim Duncan and 35 other guys over nine years, then it's good enough for everyone else.

I blame the NBA for allowing it to get to this point. I blame the NBA for allowing its referees to become part of the story, year after year, dictating the outcome of games. I blame the NBA for not realizing that there's nothing less exciting than the final minute of a close game that takes 20 minutes to complete because of eight different time outs. I blame the NBA for allowing virtual literal muggings night after night that keep the best players from truly showcasing their talents.

For being such a visionary off the floor, David Stern has focused so much on image and marketing that he's ignored the very thing that truly pays the bills in his sport: The product.

Word was, he was just waiting for the next Bird or Magic or Michael to come along and pull the league out of its doldrums. Well, guess what -- he's here, he carried his team to the Finals, and it still didn't amount to a hill of beans in the ratings.

The NBA should take a cue from the NHL, which was willing to make radical changes to restore balance to its game. It eliminated old rules, such as two-line passes, designed to slow the game down. It implemented 4-on-4 overtime and shootouts to give fans exciting resolutions to its games. It cracked down on clutching and grabbing so that the smaller, more creative players could find a place in the league once again. It disciplined referees who refused to call penalties in the playoffs. And while it hasn't resulted in higher ratings yet, one can hardly deny the improved product on the ice.

The NBA has tried to do this before, what with eliminating illegal defense and such, but the reality is that teams have simply adapted the same mindset to a slightly different set of rules. The NBA is in need of a radical approach from someone with the vision to make it happen. Without it, the league will continue its slide into irrelevance.

Oh, and by the way, the Spurs are not a dynasty. Dynasties dominate their eras. The Spurs have yet to do that. End of discussion.


Where the heck have I been? Part II

Well, the busyness finally has begun to come to an end, and that's good for you, the reader.

Just to give you a little perspective on what has gone on in the past week, I interviewed for the journalism job at Wenatchee High School in Eastern Washington on Monday. So that sucked up a good amount of my time, both in preparation beforehand and in the travel afterward, which returned me home after midnight.

I was offered the job, and I've accepted, so I've been dealing with the transition since then. Never mind the fact that I was at the school until midnight on Tuesday with my newspaper kids, then at the school last night until 9 p.m. because of our journalism banquet.

So, needless to say, I just haven't had a lot of time to watch baseball or surf the Internet, my two main sources of inspiration when it comes to the blog.

That should change, starting tonight, as I've got an eye on the NBA Finals. And I'll have some thoughts on the Mariners as they try and rebound from dropping two out of three to the Cubs. Looked like that overworked bullpen finally caught up with the M's today. Hopefully it's not a portent of things to come.

Anyway, I look forward to getting back into the swing of things as the end of the year winds down at school. Thanks for sticking with me!


Where the heck have I been?

Well, the short answer is, busy. The longer answer involves interviewing out of town for a journalism teaching position at an Eastern Washington high school, so that's kind of been consuming my time.

However, I did get text updates last night on the M's, and I do have some thoughts on the playoff "races" -- if you can call them that in June -- that not many people have considered yet. I'm going to work on getting a post on that up tonight, although newspaper deadline with my students beckons. I think I can squeeze it in, though.

See you then.


M's sweep Padres on the road to move to within 4.5 games

Finally, the M's catch a break with the Angels, who lose to the Cardinals 9-6. Now just 4.5 games back after another gutty one-run win. How about Bloomquist stealing third there to set up the go-ahead run? Stellar.

I'll hopefully have some more thoughts on the game later tonight, but this is the one thought that already keeps sticking with me: I don't know how this team keeps doing it. The M's just keep figuring out ways to pull out wins, and that's as good an indication of a good ball club as any, in my book.

By the way, after watching him mow down the Padres again, is there any better closer in baseball right now than J.J. Putz? Jeff Sullivan over at Lookout Landing doesn't think so:

In save situations, opposing batters are hitting just .083/.154/.150 off of JJ Putz, with four walks and 18 strikeouts in 60 at bats. In one-run games, that batting line is .107/.167/.143, with two and ten in 28. In twelve plate appearances with two outs and runners in scoring position, Putz has yet to allow a baserunner. On zero days' rest, he's given up one hit in 5.2 shutout innings. I could keep listing off stat after stat, but instead I'm just going to say this: JJ Putz is the best closer in baseball. He's not pitching on a level all his own, but among the elites, he's currently the leader. With the game on the line, there's no one I'd rather have on the mound.
He made the Padres look silly in the 9th, and he seems to only be getting stronger as the year goes along. Seriously, he might already be the best closer in team history. I know we all have a soft spot in our hearts for Sasaki, but c'mon: The Kaz-man was heartburn city more often than not. Whenever Putz comes to the mound, you just know the game is over. He's that good -- and I'm not sure I can say that about any other guy who's ever held that role for the M's.

Anyway, more to come later. Enjoy the sweep.

Move Weaver to the bullpen already

I was encouraged by Jeff Weaver's 4-inning, 2-run performance last night for one reason and one reason only.

He looks like he could be wicked out of the bullpen. That's pretty much it.

It's a good thing his "injury" is healed after his month-long stint on the disabled list, because all that work he did with the Mariners' trainers seems to have added exactly zero MPH to his fastball.

According to MLB.com's Gameday, he did touch 91 and 92 in the first inning -- although their readings tend to be a little faster than what you see on TV -- but he was basically 88-89 the rest of the way. Additionally, he essentially abandoned the fastball as the game wore on.

It's this last development that gives me hope that he can yet contribute to this team's success.

At this point, I have no hope that Weaver can be a starter on this team, as Ryan Feierabend looks like an infinitely more competent starter at this point, even though he's still got more developing to do. But that slider of Weaver's still can be murder on righties, and after watching how Jason Davis got butchered in his two innings, how much stronger would our bullpen be with Weaver back there to face righties, Feierabend in the rotation, and Davis back in AAA?

The Mariners haven't announced their plans for Weaver yet, since he left the game last night with a stiff back -- one can only hope that another trip to the DL is imminent -- but here's to hoping they stand up to the veteran this time and put him in a role where he actually can contribute to what this team, now six games over .500, is doing.

Felix goes against Chris Young today. This is a few days old, but Dave Cameron over at U.S.S. Mariner pointed out this interesting note after Hernandez's last start:

Hitters against Felix, pitches 1-25: .364/.396/.614, 7 XBH, 1.010 OPS
Hitters against Felix, pitches 26-50: .295/.380/.341, 2 XBH, .721 OPS
Hitters against Felix, pitches 51-75: .237/.310/.316, 3 XBH, .626 OPS
Hitters against Felix, pitches 76-100: .265/.324/.471, 4 XBH, .795 OPS
He attributes it to too many fastballs early, and it seems to jive with the organizational philosophy of "establishing the fastball." It'll be interesting to see what Felix's approach is today against the Padres, especially given San Diego's lack of success hitting Weaver's breaking stuff yesterday.

Oh, and by the way, despite all these wins by the M's, their playoff chances actually have decreased by about 5 percent in the past week. Every day that goes by that they don't make up ground, it becomes harder and harder to catch Anaheim.

Still think that series ending loss to the Angels wasn't that big of a deal?


Check out my brother's new blog; and other quick thoughts

I don't have a lot of time to write today, so I want to pass along a few things.

Apparently, in some roundabout way, I had a hand in my brother entering blogdome. He's launched a new site called I Got The Broken Cookie, and though it only has one post so far, it explains just how I was able to influence my impressionable younger sibling to join the rest of us who spend far too much time in front of our computers, writing.

He's an excellent writer with fabulous voice, and while I doubt he'll write much about sports, if you're into politics and humanitarian interests, I Got The Broken Cookie will be a place you'll want to stop.

Some other quick thoughts, since I won't be able to write any more tonight:

  • I wonder if Lenny Wilkins' tenure as president of a franchise is the shortest in history. I also wonder if the guy is operating with a full deck anymore. From the way he botched the announcement of his imminent hiring as president -- I was listening to KJR when he sort of let it slip out of the bag, and it was rather feeble and pathetic -- to the way he botched the hiring of the GM, I'm glad the guy is no longer in charge of the franchise. Frank Hughes at The (Tacoma) News Tribune details all that went wrong here. The "put out to pasture" quote seems especially apt.
  • I love the hire of Sam Presti as GM for the Sonics, as I think he'll bring a much needed breath of fresh air and a fresh approach to the franchise. I can't see this guy stockpiling the roster with 7-foot projects the way Rick Sund did. I'm a little troubled, though, that we have an owner who once owned part of the Spurs, and a GM who was a VP with the Spurs ... can Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo be far behind? (Although I have to admit, I think Carlesimo got a bit of a raw deal the first time around, and might have learned something from his years in San Antonio.)
  • Here are some thoughts on the M's other first-day picks from Dave Cameron over at USS Mariner: "After the first round, the M’s selected five more players - college 3B Matt Mangini, HS outfielders Denny Almonte, Daniel Carroll, and Joe Dunigan, and college RHP Nolan Gallagher. Don’t read anything into the fact that they loaded up on toolsy young outfielders and any hidden meanings about their intentions regarding Ichiro - the decisions are completely disconnected from one another, and they were simply taking the players they thought were the best available at the time of the pick." Sounds like he really liked the draft, and since he really liked last year's draft, too, we can only hope that more sustained success lies ahead.
  • Speaking of Phillippe Aumont, here's an interesting look at him from Geoff Baker, a fellow Canadian from the same area as Aumont. It's a very unique perspective that you won't get anywhere else.
  • Is LeBron James going to get any help in this series? That's the only way the Cavs have a chance. Somebody else besides Drew Gooden is going to have to show up tomorrow night. I haven't seen that much standing around since noon hoops at the YMCA.


Speaking of Canadian baseball players ...

Thanks to Jeff Sullivan at Lookout Landing for passing along this gem.

M's make HS pitcher Phillippe Aumont their No. 1 pick

With a day off for the Mariners, the attention of the organization turns to the future, and the future is ...

Phillippe Aumont, an 18-year-old 6-foot-7 righty from Quebec.

I won't pretend that I know anything about the guy; I'll leave that to the experts who are, to say the least, pleased that the kid fell to the M's at No. 11 after widespread fear that the organization would draft for immediate help at the expense of adding a quality prospect to the farm system.
  • Aumont's draft report from minorleaguebaseball.com. A solid overview of what he brings to the table, including some video.
  • A nice little interview with Aumont via The Hardball Times; it's an extensive Q&A that reveals a lot of his personality, I think.
  • Dave Cameron's detailed take on Aumont over at U.S.S. Mariner. He compares Aumont's arsenal to Kevin Brown's.
  • A column out of Canada on Aumont's experience with the scouting process.
Like I said, I don't pretend to know a lot about him, but I know I like it when I read stuff like this:
Baseball Analysts: Do you think you have the ability to throw harder someday or are you comfortable with the level you're at right now?

Phillippe Aumont: I know I need to work on a lot of things and for sure it's one of my goals. Once in my life I would like to top 100 [mph]. I'm comfortable with where I am; hitters don't hit me.

Baseball Analysts: So it's not about throwing harder for you?

Phillippe Aumont: No. In the major leagues, not everybody can throw 96-97 [mph] and they still get guys out.
Um, an 18-year-old who already understands it's not about throwing harder? I like this guy already. Just don't expect to see him in the bigs for a few years.

Hope for keeping the Sonics ... at least through 2009-10

The folks over at Save Our Sonics and Storm apparently have reviewed the KeyArena lease agreement between the Sonics and the city of Seattle and have come to this shocking conclusion: A signed lease actually is a binding agreement.

After careful review of the lease agreement between supersonics and the City of Seattle , there is a clear and unambiguous provision providing either party may specifically enforce the obligations of the other party.


The release goes on to stipulate that it's up to the mayor's office to enforce the lease agreement.

While it's not ideal to have a ticked off owner for a tenant -- inevitably what would happen if the city chose to enforce the lease agreement -- what it could definitely do is buy the city/county/state some time to get their crap together and figure out a workable solution to keep the team longterm.

The city better think long and hard, though, about whether it wants to get in that kind of a pissing match with Clay Bennett. The man strikes me as the kind of guy just stubborn enough to slash payroll and put out a terrible product to sabotage attendance so nobody in Seattle makes any money off this team before running to the NBA and saying, "See, I told you I couldn't make any money in Seattle -- let me move the franchise." Then moves it to another city, resurrecting the franchise's value and making a tidy profit whenever he decides to sell it.

No matter how this press release appears, Bennett still holds all the leverage.


Can bullpen hold up enough to keep this 'special' feeling going?

I visit a lot of sites that analyze the Mariners, and so many of them center around numbers. I even dabble in the numbers a bit -- though not to the degree those Baseball Prospectus guys will -- and I've learned to gain a healthy appreciation for them by reading books like "Baseball Between the Numbers."

But sometimes, numbers just don't do the trick when we're talking about a team and its performance.

It's about time we all admit it: There's a different feeling about this Mariners club, it's something that can't be quantified with numbers, and it's a feeling that's going to make this team a heck of a lot of fun to watch the rest of this season.

Even Ichiro's getting on board.

"There is some kind of atmosphere that this team has,'' Ichiro said through an interpreter after his team completed its second consecutive late-game comeback against the Orioles. "I'm not exactly able to put a finger on it. But we definitely have something going on.''

The thing that's got me believing more and more everyday in this team is that they seem to be doing it in different ways now. There's never been any doubt that this team could roll on a pitcher and score seven to 10 runs on any given night. But there were always far too many zero- to two- or three-run nights.

Tuesday was different in that it wasn't like the M's were hammering the ball all night and not finding holes -- they were genuinely struggling against yet another mediocre junk-ball pitcher. Yet they figured out a way to come back against the Orioles' flammable bullpen yet again.

"Today was a situation where our opponent gave us a chance to win,'' Ichiro said. "So, when something like that happens, with the team that we have this year, I felt like, 'We can capture this.' ''

This from the guy who essentially said after taking five of six from Tampa Bay and Kansas City that the team was winning, but not in ways it would be able to sustain against quality opponents.

The turning point in my mind was the series with the Angels. Yes, they lost two of three, but the way they fought through the series -- and displayed some genuine irritation at not winning the series -- showed me this team just has a different make-up than M's teams of the last three years.

Of course, those that cling to numbers will point to the production the team is getting throughout its lineup, including increased contributions from hot hitters Kenji Johjima, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez.

But there's just an intangible quality with this team: It now believes it can win any game, and that simply can't be quantified with numbers. I don't see the defeatest attitude that permeated every Mariners team the last three years. I see a team that continues to scrap, and has been doing a much better job of getting into teams' bullpens as of late.

Of course, what's allowed them to scrap has been the unbelievable pitching out of the bullpen, made even more astounding by the fact that this team is at the end of 23 straight games without a day off. They're now 28-0 in games they lead after the seventh inning, which is unbelievable praise for a unit that had all kinds of question marks -- George Sherrill's poor spring, Brandon Morrow's youth, J.J. Putz's health -- heading into the season.

For all the crap Mike Hargrove got at the beginning of the year -- and believe me, a lot of it was deserved -- he's done a great job managing those arms to be able to get the games that are winnable during this stretch. Even letting John Huber and Chris Reitsma get the snot beat out of them today probably was a good decision with two games against the Orioles already in hand.

Of bigger concern at the moment is whether those relievers can keep it up. Not because I'm worried about them so much as I'm worried about the starting pitchers, most of whom seem allergic to the seventh inning.

Felix has not looked like himself since returning from injury. Jarrod Washburn just threw up his second consecutive poor start, and those of us who thought his early-season success is a mirage might unfortunately be looking right. Miguel Batista, Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver were predicatbly bad, and with Weaver returning from "injury" and Batista having proven across his mediocre career to be virtually indestructable, one has to wonder if the bullpen is going to start feeling the effects of carrying this team.

Get more innings out of Felix, get Washburn back on track, get Weaver in the bullpen and Ryan Feierabend into the rotation, and we might be on to something big. Fail to do those things, and those late-inning comebacks might be a thing of the past as close games slip away -- as it did today.

Here's some advice: Watch a player PLAY to evaluate him!

So, The Seattle Times is reporting this morning that Kevin Durant had a less-than-stellar workout at an NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, Fla., this past week.

So bad, in fact that he ranked 78th out of the 80 prospects who worked out for scouts in terms of the "measurables" they took at the camp.

To which I humbly reply ...

WHO CARES? Have you seen the guy play?!?!

Seriously, after watching this video -- and remembering that the guy is 19 years old and just won every major college basketball player of the year award -- ask me whether I care if he can't bench press 185 pounds even once.

The headline on the story says "Durant far from finished product." Well, if that's the case, sign me up for about five championships between now and the end of his Sonics career.

Good morning!

At some point today, I'll have a post up on your newly crowned Comeback Kids. Until then, check out Jeff Sullivan's great recap over at Lookout Landing.

See you later today.


Hasselbeck mum on outspoken sister-in-law

Some of you might have caught Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Rosie O'Donnell's little verbal battle the other day on The View.

(Needless to say, I certainly hope you didn't catch it live. But I digress.)

Somebody out at Seahawks headquarters asked quarterback Matt Hasselbeck -- Elisabeth's brother-in-law by marriage to his brother, Tim -- what he thought of the whole dust up. And, like a good brother-in-law, he refused to comment on his family's dirty laundry, according to The News Tribune:

The Seahawks’ quarterback is generally quick with a retort, but not Monday. Asked about the on-air spat featuring sister-in-law Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Rosie O’Donnell, he fell unusually silent.

“Strong show,” he deadpanned. “It’s been on for 10 years. I think they’re looking forward to many more years on the air.”
That would be no comment, I think.

And if you haven't seen it, here you go. It's about 10 minutes long, and you have to see the whole 10 minutes to really get a feel for it, but man -- it's kind of uncomfortable to watch.

If you're a man, you can add this to the list of reasons you are very glad you're not a woman.


Husky fans rejoice -- new book about James era now shipping

Apparently, someone thought Don James and the University of Washington football program interesting enough topics to write a book about them.

Those of you who don't know me wouldn't know that I was a huge Husky fan back in the day, and remember the James era well -- I remember sitting up all night to see if they won the national championship in '91, and attended the 1993 Rose Bowl (the last of the three in a row).

However, I don't hold James in nearly as high of esteem as most Husky fans -- and it's not because I'm now a Coug through and through. Even as a teenager I considered him a quitter who bailed on his team precisely when it needed him most. Those violations happened on his watch, and whether the punishment was justified is irrelevant. He left his team high and dry, and the UW truly has never recovered.

That said, there's no denying the guy was a fabulous football coach, and the book should be an interesting read, if this interview with the author or this interview with the author are any indication.

Might make for a nice Father's Day gift if your dad's into that "wistful wishing for the glory of yesteryear" that so many Husky fans have going for themselves these days.

An all-time classic, brought to you by YouTube

I don't know what precipitated this, but I know one thing: Lou Piniella's got nothing on this guy.

I especially love the rosin-bag-as-hand-grenade stunt. It's tough for managers to come up with new material for meltdowns, and that is an all-timer that might never be topped.

Why is it that everyone is worried the lottery is rigged and needs to be changed now?

To complete the roundup, how about some thoughts on the Sonics?

So, apparently people still think the NBA lottery is rigged. And there's a lot of clamoring for the NBA to change its lottery.

It cracks me up that this conversation comes only after Portland and Seattle secure the top two picks in the draft. Had Boston or New York done what the Blazers or Sonics did, there would be no clamoring, only talk of how great it is that a great talent would be going to one of the NBA's great franchises. (Although talk of it being rigged might not go away.)

The funny thing is, as Henry Abbott of True Hoop notes, talk of rigging seems a little silly at first blush, what with the two superstars heading to what is apparently widely regarded as the end of the earth.

The NBA is a business, and if they were going to rig their league, you'd think they'd rig it in a way that would make them more money. And keeping the best players from one of the world's most popular teams, the Boston Celtics, would be a bad move. Sending those players away from the populous, wealthy, and timezone-advantaged Eastern seaboard would make little sense, unless you were going to send them to a major center like Los Angeles.
However, others aren't so sure. Team execs seem to think that NBA commish David Stern rigged the lottery to punish teams who were tanking at the end of the season to try and get one of those top two picks.

I think that's awesome.

Once upon a time , the NBA had a straight lottery to prevent this sort of tanking from happening at all. Now, with a weighted lottery, the temptation to try and play the odds is just too great. Whether Stern actually did rig it or didn't rig it is completely beside the point. The fact that execs in his own league actually believe that he might do something like that says more than anything. If that dissuades them from tanking next season, well, let perception and reality become as blurred as possible.

Former Seahawk Adams signs with Denver

We're just going to go ahead and try and touch on every professional sports team in Seattle today. Next up: The Seahawks.

When the Cincinnati Bengals released DT Sam Adams a couple of weeks ago, my first thought was that he'd be a perfect fit for the Seahawks up front. Ignoring whatever personality issues might be at play -- and, believe me, I understand the bad feelings from his first stint in Seattle are nothing to simply dismiss -- from a purely football standpoint, he seemed to be precisely the kind of guy that could help the Seahawks.

He's big and physical, something the front four has really lacked the last two years with Marcus Tubbs in and out of the lineup thanks to chronic knee problems. In fact, the difference in the performance of the defense with and without Tubbs has been well documented.

Alas, it's not to be, as Adams signed today with the Broncos. The Seahawks didn't even contact him, as near as I can tell (which is from afar, obviously). With Tubbs coming off another knee surgery, it seemed that a guy of Adams' stature could have helped ease the burden on him. Adams is a shell of the player he once was, but with the way the Hawks rotate defensive linemen, I bet he could have given them a good team about 15-20 max effort plays a game.

This means one of two things to me: Either they dislike Adams that much, or they like fourth-round pick Brandon Mebane that much.

I sure hope it's the latter.

Billy Donovan wants out? Magic should let him -- at a price

News out of Orlando, Fla., is that Billy Donovan wants out of the $27.5 million contract he signed with the Magic last week to return as head coach of the Florida Gators.

The way I see it, the Magic have very little choice in this matter. Yes, they could hold him to the contract he signed and force him to coach their team. But what good would that do? As an organization, you want complete commitment and complete buy-in from everyone, from ownership down to the last ticket-selling employee. Having a head coach that doesn't necessarily want to be there is likely to be a disaster for all involved.

That said, Donovan did sign a contract, and that can't be ignored, either. The Magic invested significant resources in bringing Donovan there, and with the draft less than a month away, beginning the search for another coach is, at best, an incredible inconvenience for the Magic.

The best solution for everyone involved is for the Magic to allow Donovan to return to Gainesville, but only after negotiating some sort of buyout of the contract that he already signed. After all, if I sign a contract to purchase a house, I can't exactly move out after two days and give back the loan and say, "You know, I just changed my mind."

Donovan should have to pay some kind of monetary amount to the Magic for backing out of the agreement. It's not about punishing Donovan; it's about the Magic getting something for the investment they made in hiring Donovan. Something in the $1 million range would seem to be adequate, and here's to betting that those boosters in Gatorville won't even hesitate to pony up the finances to get their beloved coach back on the sidelines.