4.30.2007

Interesting take on Felix's mechanics

Much has been made lately about Felix Hernandez's mechanics in light of his tender elbow -- Google "Felix Hernandez mechanics" and you'll see all the people jumping on the bandwagon -- but this is hardly a new thing for the big Venezuelan, who always has had a pretty violent delivery.

If you don't frequent Lookout Landing -- and if you're an M's fan, why don't you? -- jump over there to check out the interesting piece Jeff has put together analyzing Felix's motion based on some scientific evidence about what might actually put a pitcher's joints at risk.

This paper suggests a possible issue, giving us some evidence based on scientific investigation that Felix's delivery may put added stress on his elbow, and a potentially considerable amount, at that. It could be nothing, or it could be Felix's "natural" (and therefore uniquely safest) body position when throwing, but let's put it this way - if I were a high school pitching coach, and I had a young pitcher who threw with Felix's degree of tilt and elbow height, I'd work with him to change it by making his body a little more upright, and bringing his elbow down closer to perpendicular to his side. Just because it might not pose a problem doesn't mean you shouldn't still try to play the odds.

Of course, with Felix, it's a little different. When you have a guy as flipping extraordinary as Felix, you don't screw around with his delivery, not when he's already established himself in the Majors. The potential benefit of better health just isn't worth the potential cost of Felix losing his identity as a young phenom. So, in situations like this, you sit back, enjoy the performance, and cross your fingers that nothing gets wonky in the elbow or shoulder.
It's a well-reasoned, well-researched post that raises some interesting things to watch for -- and also cautions us to take it for what it's worth: Conjecture, albeit a little less of the subjective variety.

Cougs end up using final scholarship, after all


Word on the street had been that the WSU basketball team would probably not use its final scholarship that came open when a pair of players decided to transfer.

That's no longer the case.

The Cougs today signed Stephen Sauls, who had been enrolled at the Air Force prep school. When he decided the Air Force wasn't for him, Bennett jumped on the opportunity to sign the 6-foot-3, 195-pound combo guard.

"Stephen will provide needed depth to the backcourt with the departure of Mac (Hopson) and Chris (Matthews)," Bennett said. "He addresses a need for out team with his playmaking ability and defensive mindset. Hopefully, his year at the Air Force Prep Academy has prepared him for the rigors of being a successful student-athlete. Once he met our players and saw the campus, he knew Washington State was the place for him."
Apparently, Sauls -- a Texas native who graduated from high school in 2006 -- determined the rigidity of Air Force life was just too much to handle.
"Waking up at 5:45 every day, putting on the uniform, having to march to breakfast when I wasn't even hungry half the time," Sauls said. "It was too much structure for me. ... I didn't have a choice to be myself, and I didn't like that."
I know I never got up for a class before 10 a.m., so he shouldn't have any problem there. Here's scout.com's bio:
The fast 6-foot-3, 185-pound combo guard from Fort Bend Marshall - the number 48 ranked (TexasHoops.com) player in the state - pulled the trigger on a commitment to the Air Force Academy after an official visit. After enrolling at the Air Force's prep school, decided to open his recruitment back up, culminating in his signing with Washington State. Will enroll at WSU in May or June of 2007.

Now, we'll find out what these Mariners are made of

With an off-day today and the symbolic flipping of the calendar tomorrow, now seems like as good a time as any to reflect on the start of the Mariners' season.

So much was made of the Mariners needing to get off to a hot start, mostly because of the compelling storylines that came along with the start of the season. What will happen to this team if it gets run over by the AL West again? Will Mike Hargrove keep his job? Will Bill Bavasi keep his job?

Alas, none of those stories came to be, and today's sports pages in the Seattle area are celebrating the Mariners' "accomplishment" of finishing the first month with a .500 record, given all the "challenges" this team has faced.

I'm here to tell you, folks, that this team has accomplished very little. Finishing 10-10 against most of the worst competition the American League has to offer (with a six-game losing streak thrown in for good measure) is nothing to celebrate. Am I glad they're not already buried? Sure, being 1.5 games back of the LAAoA is a solid place to be.

But let's be real: After a two-game series against the White Sox to finish this homestand, the Mariners will embark on a 14-game stretch that could define whether this season has a prayer, or will sink like each of the last two, over before they really began. It kicks off with a road game at Boston, then moves to a four-game series at New York, then three at Detroit, then three more with the Yanks at home and, finally, three more with LAAoA at home.

For those keeping track, that's a game against the best team in the AL (16-8), seven against the best offense in the AL (5.7 runs per game), three against the defending AL champs and three against the first place team in your division that, oh by the way, swept you convincingly last week.

Ouch.

We'll learn a lot through this stretch. I don't think anyone thinks this is an elite team, but teams that want to contend -- even in mediocre divisions -- have to survive these stretches. If this team is still .500 after these next 16 games, and can take two of three from LAAoA at the back end, we might have something. But if they go way south over that stretch?

Well, let's just say we just might see some of those interesting storylines finally come to fruition.

Other things I noticed in the weekend series ...

  • I'm still not sold on Cha Seung Baek as any kind of long-term solution, but I'm darn glad he's giving them some quality innings right now. He's doing pretty much what you'd expect out of a fifth starter -- grinding through 5-6 innings, keeping his team competitive. What scares me? The fact that he starts to get absolutely pounded by his third time through the order. Makes me wonder what's going to happen when teams see him a second or third time. But on the positive side, this is a resilient guy who, after being a top prospect, very nearly was cast aside by this franchise two years ago. Maybe I'm underestimating him. We'll find out in the next couple of weeks.
  • Jeff Weaver needs to go to the bullpen now. Period. There is nothing to be gained by trotting him out there every fifth day to get blown up.
  • Richie Sexson finally got a hit yesterday, and it was a single to boot. People keep saying, "Don't worry too much about him; he'll eventually do what he always does and hit .250 with 35 homers and 110 RBIs." I'm not worried about that, per se; what I am worried about is that it's going to take until June or July for it to happen, and the team will be out of contention by then. The guy has got to start producing in critical situations, something he seemingly hasn't done since the first game of the year.
  • Speaking of Sexson, check this out if you're in the mood to be depressed -- courtesy the good mates over at U.S.S. Mariner.
  • Q: How stupid does Adrian Beltre look every time he points to the first base umpire after his own check swing?
  • A: Almost as stupid as he looks when he's swung at a low-and-away slider in the dirt for the 1,387th time this year.
  • Disturbing stat of the day: Three players are tied for the team lead in home runs -- Jose Lopez, Beltre and Sexson. They each have three, meaning each is on pace for 25 home runs. Solid production for Lopez. Not so good for two guys making about $30 million combined.

Jackson trade a gamble worth taking; plus, some final draft thoughts

As a teacher, I sometimes love to give quizzes. So here's one for you -- WASL style, where they ask you to pick the most correct answer.

Which of the following is the biggest reason for the Seahawks trading their best receiver since Steve Largent to an in-division rival for a mere 4th round pick in this year's NFL Draft?
A. Darrell Jackson was unhappy about his contract.
B. Darrell Jackson refused to attend voluntary workouts, which was detrimental to the team.
C. Darrell Jackson has a history of injuries in places where you don't want your receivers to have histories of injuries.
D. Tim Ruskell is a power-hungry freak who couldn't stand the thought of Darrell Jackson showing him up for even one more day.

Of course, you could make a good case for any of those options. But since it's my classroom, my answer rules. And my answer is C.

Ruskell is charged with caring for the overall health of the franchise -- a great reason why head coaches should never have the kind of power Mike Holmgren had when he first arrived in Seattle -- and his job is to make sure this team can remain competitive over the long haul. Coaches are clouded by things such as relationships and a desire to win now, consequences be darned.

Tim Ruskell could see the writing on the wall. In the NFL, if you allow your talent to become overage and overpaid at the same time, you're asking for a trip to the top of the NFL Draft. Look at Oakland and Tampa Bay, two teams in the Super Bowl not that long ago. Look at how long it has taken San Francisco to escape its own cap hell of the late 1990s. And, conversely, look at how the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers have been able to stay competitive year after year.

You see, we've probably seen the best that Darrell Jackson is going to offer, and Ruskell knows that. Jackson has a history of knee problems, problems that have been described in at least a few places as "degenerative." That means, no amount of surgery or rehab is going to get it back to 100 percent. It will only get worse the longer he plays. Jackson also still is battling the turf toe injury he suffered at the end of last year. Believe it or not, that's an injury that has ended careers. (Deion Sanders, before his comeback, comes to mind.)

Yes, Jackson was a gamer who often played through pain and showed up biggest on the brightest stages. He's got 47 career touchdown catches, and has an unmatched rapport with Matt Hasselbeck, where they sometimes seem to be reading each others' minds on the field.

But he's also an injury-prone liability who has missed 40 percent of his team's regular season games, and the ability to be a "gamer" can only continue as long as a player can tolerate pain, and that's usually a shorter amount of time than most of us want to admit. He also sat out countless other mini-camps, training camps days and practices, affecting the continuity of everyone involved.

Nate Burleson played Jackson's position all of training camp last summer while Jackson rested his sore knees. You don't think that played at least a small role in Burleson's troublesome acclimation to the offense? You don't think it affects a team's rhythm when a guy sits out all week, only to show up and play on Sunday?

Jackson might give the 49ers a season at the level of play Seahawks fans have grown accustomed to, and for that, Ruskell likely will draw Seahawks fans' ire. Maybe Jackson even goes Randy Johnson on us. But Ruskell did the right thing: He jettisoned a player whose best days likely are behind him before he could command any more money and cause any more problems with continuity on the team.

Sometimes it's best to just cut bait and move forward, even if you can only get a 4th round pick in return.

---

I only got as far as Mansfield Wrotto with breakdowns of the Seahawks draft picks, so here are some final thoughts on Sunday's happenings.

  • Like most, I was pretty surprised the Seahawks never even tried to address their issues at tight end. That says one of two things to me: 1) The Seahawks are completely happy with their TE situation; or 2) None of the guys after the top two really rung the Seahawks' bell. The team will tell you it's the first. I believe it's probably the second. The team signed Joe Newton out of Oregon State to a free agent contract after the draft ended, telling me they felt the difference between him and a lot of the other guys was smaller than most of us believed.
  • It says 5th round choice Will Herring is a linebacker, but he probably projects to safety in the NFL. (Where have we heard that one before?) In all likelihood, this is a special teams pick with the hope that the guy can develop into a solid backup safety at some point.
  • With the picks of Courtney Taylor and Jordan Kent and the loss of Jackson, the Seahawks now have eight wide receivers on the roster: Deion Branch, Burleson, D.J. Hackett, Bobby Engram, Ben Obomanu, Taylor, Kent and Chris Jones. There's going to be a bit of a numbers crunch there, as teams typically carry only five or six WRs on their 53-man roster. Probably, it'll be Obomanu, Taylor and Kent duking it out for one or two spots. Will the odd-man out go to the practice squad? Kent is clearly the least polished of the three, but it'll be intriguing to see how much the team is enamored with Kent's potential -- enamored enough to keep him protected from the practice squad?
  • Speaking of Kent, here's an interesting little tidbit from NFL.com: "If he had concentrated on football for four years, he would be ranked among the elite at his position. Few players in this draft have as intriguing array of athletic ability and talent that Kent possesses." There's also an interesting little story at The Seattle Times here.
  • For those of you interested in where your favorite Cougars landed, you can find that here. I couldn't find a comprehensive list of draftees and signings for Huskies, so this is the best I can do. We also know that C.J. Wallace and Kenny James were among the 11 free agents who signed with the Seahawks shortly after the draft.

4.29.2007

So I lied

No post on D-Jack and the M's until the morning. See you then.

Analysis to come in the next hour

What an unbelievably beautiful day. I stayed in to watch the M's, but then spent the rest of it outside in the sunshine. I'll have some thoughts up here within the hour.

Seahawks continue to add depth to defenive line, pick up OL


After releasing Grant Wistrom earlier this spring, adding depth at defensive end was a priority for the Seahaks coming into the draft. The team has now addressed that with the pick of Baraka Atkins, defensive end from Miami (FL), with its first pick of the 4th round.

A quick perusal of NFL.com's bio of Atkins reveals him to be a typical Ruskell character guy:

Atkins, whose father is the mayor of the city of Sarasota, is an intelligent athlete. He graduated in 2005 with a degree in Business Management and pursued a second degree in Marketing during his 2006 season.
In terms of measurables, he's 6-foot-4 and 278 pounds. For comparison purposes, he's roughly the same size as Patrick Kerney (6-5, 273) and Bryce Fisher (6-3, 272) and quite a bit bigger than Darryl Tapp (6-1, 265), whom the Seahawks selected in the second round last year.

At first blush, much like the pick of Josh Wilson, I'm pretty happy they got a different kind of guy to fit in with that line. He's played both tackle and end in his career, so he's got some versatility. There's some question as to what his true upside is, given that he's never had a chance to really focus on one position.

Here's a quick look at him from Scott Wright's Draft Countdown:
Strengths: Has good size and bulk with a nice frame...Stout against the run...Good strength and power...Agile and quick off the snap...Is versatile with experience at multiple positions...Gets excellent penetration...Plays with good leverage and balance...He was durable...Has a lot of experience...Solid production...Still has some potential.

Weaknesses:
Classic 'tweener who's not big enough to play inside yet doesn't have the ideal speed or athleticism needed for the outside...Was never really able to focus on mastering a single position...Has an inconsistent motor...Not a great pass rusher or sack artist...Questionable work ethic...Was actually benched for a while in '06.
With their second pick, the Seahawks selected offensive lineman -- or is that defensive lineman? -- Mansfield Wrotto from Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3, 316-pound Wrotto was a three-year starter on the defensive line before switching to the offensive line this year.

It'll be interesting to see where the Seahawks project him. Could he be the run-stuffing defensive tackle they've been looking for? He's certainly got the size, and NFL.com says he could pretty easily add another 10 pounds to his frame. Could he be an eventual starter on the offensive line? There's some thought that this guy could have been a first-day talent had he been on the o-line longer than just one season in college. Interesting pick that has a significant amount of upside potential.

Here's a quick look at him from Rivals.com:
The good: Mansfield started 46 games in career, but his first 32 were along the defensive line. He is a thick, wide-bodied lineman who flashes the power and agility to be one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft class. As a senior, he started at right tackle and displayed promise and the physical tools to develop further. He has all the physical skills to develop into an NFL starter — very long-armed and long-legged with the bubble-butt scouts want in a road-grader for along the front line. He comes off the snap with some pop and leverage.
The bad: He is still very raw in his technique and needs to develop better hand use and footwork when it comes to handling outside speed and inside counter moves. In pass protection, he is still developing in all areas from setup, hand use, footwork and recognition skills. He can be slow to setup at times that leaves him exposed and though he has powerful hands, he is only adequate to recover. His footwork needs work and is probably the most critical area to improve before he can compete for playing time.
Outlook: Wrotto probably goes in the top 125 prospects and would be a good early day pick with the Ravens, Bengals and Bills interested. If the light goes off here, he could challenge any prospect at this position within a few seasons. Excellent second-day addition with starting talent and probably sooner than most think.
That's it for now, as I'm off to church. I'll check back in later this afternoon with more on the Seahawks' final picks and Darrell Jackson. See you then.

If only I lived on the East Coast ...


We knew it was a strong likelihood that the Seahawks would send Darrell Jackson to the San Francisco 49ers this morning for a 4th round pick -- which they did, and that pick is coming up shortly -- but, out of nowhere, the Raiders sent Randy Moss to New England, also for a 4th round pick.

That's what I get for sleeping in. By 8 a.m. on the west coast, all the big news has happened.

So, what do these trades mean? Here's Mike Sando's take:

The Seahawks did not want Jackson on their team; and it's tough to get a high pick for a starting receiver. Looks like New England will land Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick. New England looks pretty smart, in other words. The Pats get a first-rounder from Seattle for Deion Branch, then land Moss for a fourth-rounder.
What does the Jackson trade mean specifically for the Seahawks? Well, most immediately it means the Seahawks now have two 4th round picks in the span of five picks. It also means they've sent the second-most-productive receiver in team history to a division rival that's on the rise. That ought to signify how desperate the Hawks were to unload Jackson.

I'll have a full breakdown this afternoon of what Jackson's trade means to the 49ers, and how 4th round picks have fared under Tim Ruskell's leadership. I believe Rob Sims was a 4th round pick last year, and he performed very well in limited duty last year and is slated to be your starting left guard this season.

The Hawks just picked Miami DE Baraka Atkins with their first 4th round pick. I'll have some info on him shortly.

UPDATE: Here's a quick analysis of Jackson deal from Sando's perspective. Again, I'll have my thoughts later this afternoon.

4.28.2007

Last word on the draft for the night ...

There's nothing imminent on the Darrell Jackson front, Mike Sando is reporting tonight.

This is going to be it for me tonight, too. I just don't have the heart to write about Jeff Weaver right now. I'll probably check in with the M's tomorrow, and have some more Seahawks stuff as the draft wraps up.

Here's to hoping the Mariners and their depleted bullpen can hold up for one more day to win this series.

Third round pick in the books as Hawks address DT

The Seahawks addressed their defensive line needs by selecting Cal tackle Brandon Mebane with their third round pick.

This addresses an obvious weakness for the Hawks, who were paper thin at the position by the end of last year. The biggest downside, though, appears to be that at 6-foot-1 and 305, he's yet another smallish tackle on a team filled with them. That's not the Seahawks' fault; this was a draft bereft of defensive tackle depth, and they weren't likely to get one of those big space eaters in the second or third round, anyway.

Here's the take on him from Scott Wright's Draft Countdown -- and, yes, if you think he sounds like a clone of every guy who plays DT for the Seahawks not named Marcus Tubbs ... well, you're not alone.

Strengths: A solid athlete with good quickness and agility...A disruptive penetrator who will collapse the pocket and make a lot of plays in the backfield...Strong and stout at the point...Plays with good leverage...Flows to the ball, excels in pursuit and has a burst to close...Is very solidly built...Has a lot of playing experience and he was pretty productive...A hard worker with a tremendous motor and top intangibles.

Weaknesses: Is undersized and does not have the height you would prefer...Needs to develop additional pass rush moves...Will struggle with blockers who are a lot bigger than him...Struggles to disengage at times...Overachiever who will find it's a different game in the pros...Can make better use his hands...Timed speed is only average.
Pray that Tubbs comes back healthy from knee surgery. Otherwise, we're doomed to more Sundays watching Frank Gore and Stephen Jackson run roughshod over our small defensive front.

Seahawks go with another cornerback

I've got to admit, the idea of yet another undersized cornerback in the Seahawks' defensive backfield doesn't exactly make me want to jump with joy, but by all accounts Josh Wilson out of Maryland is a very nice pick for the team.

He brings a different dynamic to the secondary than anyone else already back there. He's a burner who runs a 4.3 40, something the team just doesn't have right now. Remember, this secondary has had a habit over the past few years of getting burned by fast receivers (Bernard Berrian or Torry Holt, anyone?).

Although he only had two interceptions in his career at Maryland, perhaps the most telling stat is this: 2 receptions, 19 yards. That's how man-child receiver and No. 2 overall pick Calvin Johnson performed against Wilson in their matchup last season. Frankly, they won't come any bigger or faster than Johnson in the NFL this year, so that should assuage some fears about his size.

It's interesting that the Seahawks went with another corner, given all the talk about needing depth on the offensive and defensive line. But it makes a lot of sense given the injury issues at the position last season. By all accounts Trufant, Herndon and Williams should be ready to go for the season, but you never know.

Additionally, Wilson's return skills could become a valuable asset. While Nate Burleson performed at a near Pro Bowl level in that role last year, if the team decides to pull the trigger and send Darrell Jackson elsewhere, they probably won't want their starting WR in that position.

(Oh, and about that Jackson trade to San Francisco? The 49ers just took WSU stud Jason Hill in the third round, for what that's worth.)

So, with that, enjoy some of the following takes on Wilson. If you need a visual primer first, check out this video at the Washington Post of Wilson's highlights at Maryland -- most of it centers around that matchup with Johnson.

From NFL.com's Draft Analyzer:

Wilson is a very good DB. He doesn't have great height. He's also a very good kick returner. His father, Tim, was a fullback for the Houston Oilers who did a great job blocking for Hall of Famer Earl Campbell. Solid person, solid player.
From Scott Wright's NFL Draft Countdown:
Strengths: Has phenomenal speed...A tremendous natural athlete with excellent quickness, agility and leaping ability...Tough and physical guy who plays a lot bigger than he is and will help against the run...Smart with good instincts...Hips are fluid and he can turn and run with anyone...Is also a terrific return man...Has good bloodlines.

Weaknesses:
Does not have the height you look for...Does not have great hands and while he gets to a lot of balls he doesn't rack up many interceptions...Is only an average tackler...Can get out-muscled by bigger receivers and blockers...Still needs a little technique work, especially with his backpedal...Is he going to hold up physically?
Click here for Wilson's combine interview.

Round one wrapping up; heading out for the afternoon


The first round is drawing to a close, and with it Brady Quinn's uncomfortable free fall has ended. The Browns proved to be either the smartest team around, or the luckiest, as they were able to move into the first round for the second time to pick up Quinn after passing on him the first time around.

The Browns paid a steep price -- second round pick this year, first round pick next year -- but if quinn truly is a franchise quarterback, it's worth it. Yes, the Browns only got the No. 3 and No. 22 picks, but this has the feel of the year the Seahawks took Walter Jones and Shawn Springs in the first round, a draft that really set the team up for long-term success, because the Browns truly got two top 10 talents. It's a great deal for a franchise that has floundered so much in recent years.

With that said, I'm going to be heading out for a while. Such a beautiful day ... it's a shame to waste it by sitting indoors! (Even if it is the NFL Draft.) However, I'll still have the radio on as I'm out with the family, so I'll have some more thoughts on the draft when I get home -- especially once they get around to the Seahawks' pick (estimated to be around 5 p.m.).

And, no, there is no new news on Darrell Jackson.

I'd feel bad for Brady Quinn if he wasn't going to make millions


Broncos just traded up for Jacksonville's pick. Gotta wonder: Are they trading down because they know Cincinnati, Tennessee and the Giants will certainly not take Quinn?

In my mind, Quinn's the guy they gotta get. Byron Leftwich's future is questionable -- one year left on his contract -- and David Garrard was incredibly underwhelming, to say the least. Jack Del Rio is a defensive coach, but there's no way they can pass on a guy like Quinn.

Is it possible Houston screwed up two years in a row?


I'm going to forgo the pick-by-pick analysis for the rest of the draft, and instead offer up some thoughts as they come to me:

  • It seems the Houston Texans have gone the way of the NBA with their pick of Amobi Okoye out of Louisville. Scouts are enamored with his potential. He was a nice player this year for the Cardinals, but one has to wonder if he'd be the No. 10 overall pick if he wasn't 19 years old and the word "upside" wasn't so closely attached to his name. If the Texans' defense doesn't show some dramatic improvement this year with Mario Williams in his second year at defensive end and Okoye in the middle, the Texans will soon be mentioned in the same breath as the Lions and Browns and historically inept franchises. This is a big gamble pick.
  • Finally, a trade. The Jets move up to get Darelle Rivas out of Pitt at No. 14, and paid a pretty price to do it. They gave up their 1st, 2nd and 5th round picks to get Carolina's 1st and 6th. That guy better be a starter right away, and better make that defense a heck of a lot better from day one to justify that trade. That said, the Jets have a good track record going for them -- eight of their 10 picks last year ended up as starters or backups. So it's a young team anyway, one that probably can afford to give a pick to get the guy it wants.
  • Fifteen picks off the board, Brady Quinn still sitting uncomfortably in the green room. When are these guys going to get smart and decline the green room invitations? Just stay home with family and friends. So you miss out on coming up on stage, putting on a hat and holding up a jersey? Oh well -- at least you're not staring vacantly at the stage with each pick that passes and your name's not called ...
  • Oh, and I think Jacksonville's staff actually will crap themselves if Quinn falls all the way to them at 17.
Still no more word on Darrell Jackson.

First nine picks in the book; only one big surprise


So, this pretty much has been the most boring first eight picks in a while; no trades and no controversy, as not even Matt Millen could screw up the second pick. Then ... the shocker. Here's my take on the first nine from a casual outsider's perspective. Bear in mind, I'm no Mel Kiper Jr.

  1. OAKLAND RAIDERS: JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU -- The Raiders really had no choice here, but count me among those that aren't sold on Russell's ability to be a franchise quarterback. Yes, he has all the measurables, including arm strength that makes scouts drool. But how many of the top QBs in the NFL have what we would classify as "superior" arm strength? Skill from the head up (a la Matt Leinart) is more important to me -- especially when the quarterback is going to a franchise that's been positively horrific at developing QBs. They say he has the best arm strength of anyone in the NFL the day he steps on a field; that's what they said about Jeff George, too.
  2. DETROIT LIONS: Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech -- Best player in the draft, hands down. The guy is a flat-out freak, and Matt Millen might not have screwed up for once. Yes, this pick seems odd because it's the fourth time in five years the Lions have selected a WR in the first round, but this was the right pick. This guy is a once-in-a-generation talent at WR -- he's that good. The Raiders could have had him had they not screwed up last year by not taking Matt Leinart. I'm a little surprised they didn't consider taking Brady Quinn here, but Johnson is too good to pass up.
  3. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin -- Bryce Fisher made an interesting point on the radio this morning: When was the last time you can remember a highly touted Wisconsin offensive lineman living up to his billing? They pretty much fall into the same category as Oregon quarterbacks these days. The Browns needed offensive line help, and decided to pass up Quinn and Adrian Peterson in the process. Pretty baffling, if you ask me. I know O-line is important, but this is a team pretty devoid of offensive skill players. Reuben Droughns spent much of last year injured, and Jerome Harrison -- as much as I love the former Coug -- is never going to be an every down back. Curious choice to me for a team with a ton of holes.
  4. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Gaines Adamas, DE, Clemson -- I can just see the scowl on Jon Gruden's face now. No Calvin Johnson, no Joe Thomas ... no offensive player for the Bucs. Chucky has to be losing his mind. Fortunately for him, I think they got the second-best player in the draft. Adams fits perfectly into Tampa's speed-oriented system on defense, and I'd look for him to be in the Pro Bowl sooner rather than later.
  5. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Levi Brown, OT, Penn State -- First pick that's generally considered a reach, but I don't see how the Cardinals had a choice. They had to get O-line help, and there really wasn't a groundswell of teams trying to trade up, given that each had pretty specific needs that didn't really overlap. Solid pick for the Cardinals, even if they'll have to overpay for his talent to get him into camp because he's a No. 5 pick.
  6. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: LaRon Landry, S, LSU -- Their defense was horrific last year. They don't need a running back, and, if they think Jason Campbell is going to be a good one, they don't need a quarterback. So the best defensive back on the board makes sense.
  7. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma -- The Vikings have to be doing backflips that this guy fell into their lap. He immediately becomes their best offensive player the day he steps into camp. Chester Taylor was a nice player for them last year, but made it pretty obvious he wasn't ready to be an every-down back after spending his first four seasons as a backup. Peterson gives them an instant playmaker who should experience success right away behind a pretty darn good offensive line. They could have gone with Quinn here, but I think Peterson was too good of a talent to pass up.
  8. ATLANTA FALCONS: Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas -- Another good fit pick. Falcons lost Patrick Kerney to the Seahawks; Falcons get strong replacement in the draft. The thing that struck me was some of the video they showed of him after the pick. I know they only pick the best plays, but man, he made some offensive lineman look baaaaaad. Brady Quinn still on the board.
  9. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Ohio State -- The first shocker of the draft. And when we say shocker, we mean it in the most extreme sense of the word. A lot of people had Ginn going as late as the end of the first round. While his speed is unbelievable, there are questions about his durability and his ability to do more than run fast in a straight line. What will make this even more interesting is whether this prompts some of the trading that is the trademark of the NFL Draft. Will a team that needs a young quarterback suddenly try to angle for Quinn, who the Dolphins inexplicably passed on?
All right, that's it for now. I'll check back in periodically, as the annual QB-sliding-down-the-draft-board watch continues. Still no new news on D-Jack. We've got our eyes and ears peeled ...

NFL Draft gets underway

I'll be posting periodically throughout the day with thoughts on the draft, as the Raiders are now on the clock. I'll also be keeping an eye on the latest on the Darrell Jackson situation, which you can find on Mike Sando's awesome Seahawks Insider blog.

4.27.2007

Thanks for making this blog a success!

Today marks the most-read day in the history of Hangin' With The Nuss, and I just want to take a moment to thank all of you who have made this site more of a success than I ever could have imagined when I put this blog together about a year ago.

We had more than 100 page views today and more than 60 unique visitors -- modest statistics by the standards of a lot of other sites, but it represents a huge increase in our readership in just the past couple of months. In fact, this has been the most read week in the history of the blog as well, with more than 400 page loads and 300 unique visitors.

So, thanks for reading, and I hope to have you back often because that means you like what I'm doing. And, as usual, I'm always looking for thoughts and suggestions. You can e-mail me here, or feel free to leave a comment.

And if you're wondering what's on tap tomorrow, we'll have some draft coverage -- including thoughts on a potential Darrell Jackson trade to the 49ers -- my take on the debacle the Sonics are becoming, and maybe even a little Mariners, who won their fourth in a row tonight.

The story that won't go away, Part II

So, remember that little post yesterday where I wondered aloud how it was even remotely possible that someone could even consider a shameless self-promoter might actually fake something like a bloody sock in the playoffs?

I'll give you one guess who's using the "story that won't die" to drive traffic to his blog, 38 pitches.com. After spitting his vitriol at everyone from Gary Thorne to any media outlet that picked up the story, Red Light Curt had this to say:

"So for one of the first times this blog serves one of the purposes I'd hoped it would if the need arose. The media hacked and spewed their way to a day or two of stories that had zero basis in truth. A story fabricated by the media, for the media. The best part was that instead of having to sit through a litany of interviews to 'defend' myself, or my teammates, I got to do that here."
That's beautiful, Curt. Please, do us all a favor and stay as far away from any camera that comes your way, so you don't have to put up with the big bad media that built your silly bloody sock into an American legend in the first place.

We bet you a million bucks you can't.

4.26.2007

Why this three-game win streak doesn't have me much encouraged

This is a post I've been working on for a few days now, so don't take it as a reaction to the Mariners' recently completed two-game mini sweep of the A's. I'm as ecstatic as the next M's fan that the team was able to salvage this road trip with three consecutive wins.

While it's great that they get to hang around the top of the worst division in the majors for the time being, but I'm seeing a lot of disturbing things that make me wonder how long this can last.

It's a long post, but if you hang around, I think it'll be worth your while.

Ted Williams' first commandment of hitting is "Get a good pitch to hit." It seems so simple -- you increase your chances of hitting a ball well if you swing at a pitch that you can handle in the strike zone -- yet the Mariners completely fail to grasp this concept. Common sense also tells you that the more pitches you see every time you come up to bat, the more likely you are to get a good one to hit.

Most of the Mariners hitters seem to have missed this lesson somewhere in Little League. As it turns out, the perception that the Mariners do not have patient hitters is an absolutely correct one, and probably the biggest reason to be pessimistic about this team's long-term chances this year.

The stat people point to most often as evidence of the Mariners' lack of patience is the team's on-base percentage (OBP), which is tied for last in the American League at .304. (For comparison purposes, that would be like having a batting average of .200.) The Mariners have just 33 walks in 17 games -- on pace for roughly 314 walks this season. For another comparison, consider that the next closest team in walks -- the Minnesota Twins -- are on pace for 434. The Chicago White Sox, currently leading the league, are on pace for 720.

What does that mean? If you just look at the raw numbers, the White Sox will get roughly 400 more free base runners this year than the Mariners will. That works out to about two or three more base runners per game -- two or three more guys who potentially could come around to score.

But walks alone don't tell the whole story. After all, if you use your patience to get a good pitch, as Williams suggested, then punish the ball -- as Williams often did -- you can put up great offensive numbers without huge walk numbers. There are numerous examples this year of teams scoring lots of runs without great walk numbers; for example, two of the top three AL teams in runs scored (Devil Rays, Tigers) are middle of the pack in OBP.

The problem is that the Mariners don't really do that, either, and here's a big reason why: The Mariners see the fewest pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) of any team in the majors.

On average, the Mariners see 3.61 pitches per plate appearance. The league average is 3.80, and Cleveland leads the AL at 4.04. What does that mean? Since the average team has about 42 plate appearances in the average game, the average team sees about 160 pitches per game. The problem is that because the M's take so few walks, they have much fewer plate appearances than other teams -- they only get about 36 plate appearances per game so far this year. That means the M's only see about 130 pitches a game.

Think about that:

  • That's 30 fewer opportunities for a pitcher to make a mistake that a hitter can hit;
  • Thirty fewer pitches a pitching staff has to throw over the course of a particular game, allowing opponents to use fewer pitchers and keep their best pitchers in longer;
  • And roughly 90 fewer pitches over the course of a series that an opponent has to throw, allowing them not to have to burn up their bullpen.
Remember, we're only talking about the average here. That, my friends, is what we call HUGE, and it's supported by this study by Dan Fox over at The Hardball Times.

While Fox notes that it's possible to be successful and see a relatively few number of pitches per at bat -- Vladimir Guerrero, Nomar Garciaparra and Vernon Wells were notable in his study with P/PA of less than 3.4 -- he found that there was a strong correlation between offensive production and P/PA, particularly when it came to OPS (OBP plus slugging percentage, a good indicator of an individual's overall offensive contribution to a team). He notes that while high P/PA is no guarantee of success, it certainly helps.

Casual observers probably would classify the M's lineup as being full of "aggressive" hitters. As Fox showed, it's not bad in and of itself to be an aggressive hitter. However, only very good hitters can get away with being overly aggressive, occasionally swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone.

The problem comes when marginal hitters become overly aggressive. Then you become a hacker, flailing away at any pitch that comes anywhere near the strike zone -- the biggest problem for the Mariners, as anyone who's watched them for any amount of time would attest. In the latter circumstance, you're not likely to hit balls hard -- quite the contrary, you're more likely to swing at a pitch outside of the strike zone and get yourself out.

The moral of the story as it applies to the M's?

A team can get away with having a handful of hackers, but the Mariners' lineup is stacked with them. The only two players on the Mariners' roster who see above the league average in P/PA are Ichiro and (proving that high P/PA is no guarantee of success) Richie Sexson. The other seven guys qualify as hackers -- and that includes reputed "patient" hitter Jose Vidro, who saw just 3.5 P/PA the last two years.

The reality is that any one of these hitters might be a very nice cog in another lineup. Unfortunately, this Mariners lineup is the baseball equivalent of "bad chemistry" in basketball or football -- it's a bad combination of hitters that, together, are going to have an extremely difficult time being productive.

Incidentally, this is something that General Manager Bill Bavasi should have seen coming, and yet another example of why he's so very inept at what he does. The M's offense was supposed to be improved, and if you simply look at the addition of numbers like home runs and average from the new players, it is.

But look deeper at additions such as Vidro and Jose Guillen -- each 3.5 P/PA the last two years -- to a lineup that already was filled with impatient hitters, and you've got a lineup that, on the whole, is not improved.

And, I'm sorry to tell you that it probably won't improve, either -- these guys are all just doing what they've done throughout their career.

That was sooooooo 2004 ... why are we going there again?

We'll just go ahead and call this the stupidest story that won't go away.

Curt Schilling's "bloody" sock from the 2004 postseason is once again a topic of conversation thanks to this off-hand remark by broadcaster Gary Thorne during last night's Red Sox broadcast:

"The great story we were talking about the other night was that famous red stocking that he wore when they finally won, the blood on his stocking," Thorne told broadcast partner and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer.

"Nah," Thorne said. "It was painted. Doug Mirabelli confessed up to it after. It was all for PR. Two-ball, two-strike count."

Two innings later, according to media reports, Thorne explained Mirabelli had told him the story "a couple of years ago."

"Go ask him [Mirabelli]," Thorne said.
Of course, Mirabelli denied ever having such a conversation -- even using a four-letter word, just for emphasis -- and Schilling and his manager each displayed the appropriate amount of righteous indignation at the prospect that the great self-promoter Curt Schilling would ever even consider doing such a thing.

But rather than try to get to the bottom of whether Schilling actually was bleeding on that night two-and-a-half years ago, I think I've got a better question:

WHY IS THIS STILL A STORY?

Can't we just call up the guys at CSI or something to test the silly thing for blood so this story will go away once and for all? We're not talking about the Shroud of Turin, here; we're talking about a dang sock. The silly thing is in the Hall of Fame. Besides, if he was bleeding, good for him for pitching through the pain of ankle surgery. If he wasn't bleeding, well, I'm sure he was in no less pain.

Oh, and when I put "bloody" in quotation marks above, it wasn't meant to imply that I agree with Thorne. Really, it wasn't. Far be it from me to "hit below the belt," as Terry Francona put it. I don't need to -- that's why we've got Dan Shaughnessy.

4.25.2007

Change in plans: Heading out for the night

I'll be heading out for the night, so I might be able to get a post up later tonight, but I'll probably just save it for tomorrow. Be looking for those Sonics and Mariners posts sometime around mid-day tomorrow.

Until then, enjoy the Mariners trying to figure out a way to beat a team that missing roughly 50 percent of its run production tonight.

Follow up on Abbott: Cougs likely won't use scholarship

Just to tag on to the Abbott post from this morning, Glen Kasses of The Spokesman-Review believes that it's now pretty unlikely the Cougars will use the scholarship the team had set aside for Abbott when a pair of players decided to transfer.

There's not a great crop of JC talent out there right now, so unless an international player or a high schooler comes along in the near future I don't know that WSU will fill this last spot. (Certainly, they shouldn't need another guy to fill the rotation for next season if they think there's someone better out there in '08.)

Having said that, though, this Cougar staff has a history of bringing guys into the fold pretty late, with Chris Matthews and Nikola Koprivica two prime examples from the last two years. So we'll see what happens.
He also notes that losing Abbott to ASU is not a huge blow, but could have been had he picked UW over the Cougs, just from a recruiting perception standpoint. It's hard to get too disappointed when a kid decides to stay home and play in front of family, and Herb Sendek is obvsiously making some inroads at ASU.

What to expect today, and a quick note for UW and WSU fans

I'll have a pair of posts up at some point today, one outlining the source of the Mariners' offensive futility, the other my thoughts on the Sonics' overhaul of the front office.

In the meantime, here's this little tidbit for UW and WSU basketball fans: Highly regarded Phoenix-area guard Ty Abbott (right), who the Cougars and Huskies had been recruiting heavily since he was released from his letter of intent to New Mexico, has settled on hometown Arizona State, according to the East Valley Tribune.

At one point, this had been billed as the first major recruiting battle between WSU coach Tony Bennett and UW coach Lorenzo Romar. As it turned out, neither got their man.

This marks the first time UW hasn't lost to WSU in more than two years.

(Just had to get that in there.)

4.24.2007

Mariners fans get to enjoy a win for another 24 hours

Thanks to threats of torrential rains and tornadoes, we all get to celebrate a one-game sweep of the Texas Rangers.

Hooray!

But if you're like me, you need a little more than that to get excited on the heels of a six-game losing streak. And I didn't see a lot last night that has me fired up and anticipating a plethora of wins on the horizon.

Since I've been such a negative nancy lately, let's start with the things that I thought were positive:

  • How about the performance of Brandon Morrow. Wow! That kid was absolutely lights out. And while there still obviously is considerable disagreement about whether the majors is the right place for his long-term potential as a dominant starter -- nobody is drafted No. 5 overall and given a $2.5 million signing bonus to become a one-pitch power arm in the bullpen -- one can hardly argue that he's one of the biggest reasons the M's won that game yesterday.

    His fastball was absolutely electric -- Mike Blowers described it as a fastball "with afterburners." It's the kind of pitch that jumps on a hitter. Did you see the look on Ian Kinsler's face when he struck out on that 97 mph gas? He was absolutely stupified. The closest comparison to that pitch I can come up with is Mark Prior's "easy cheese." (Hopefully, that's where the comparisons end, however).

    He still doesn't really have any effective offspeed pitches -- the main reason most people want him back in the minors -- but, for now, he's having positive experiences in the majors, something I think none of us should sneeze at. I'm really, really interested to see how Hargrove uses him over the next few weeks. I'll be the first to say Hargrove has used him poorly, at least if he wants to try and help him develop while in the bigs. He's got to use Morrow more effectively than this, and in turn it's got to be helping the team win. If neither of those is happening, I'll be first in line to tell the M's to ship him to AA.

  • I'll admit -- I'm never going to be Ichiro's biggest fan. I often ask people when was the last time they can remember being able to point to a game and say, "Ichiro really was the difference in that game for us. Without him, we never could have won." Then I take joy in watching their face contort as they struggle to come up with an example.

    Well, that question now sucks thanks to Ichiro's singlehanded dominance of the Rangers yesterday. Even though he never crossed the plate himself, he came up with the biggest hit of the game. It wasn't just that it scored the majority of the M's runs -- it came at the most opportune time against a pitcher who had shut down the Mariners so far in his two appearances (Kevin Millwood) and it was precisely the kind of clutch hit the M's have been missing most of the year, the one that buries a team.

    I still am disappointed that his running game seems to have been left somewhere across the Pacific before the season started -- he didn't even attempt to steal second in either of the two at bats following his infield single in the third inning, despite there being a runner on third -- but tough to complain much about this one. He came up with the huge hit when we needed it.

    Oh, and fun fact of the night: Ichiro has the highest slugging percentage of any of the regulars -- .532. I'm not sure whether to be excited or horrified by that.
Now, for the not so good ...
  • I'm coming to believe that there is no greater exercise in frustration than watching Mariners hitters. One of these days, I'm going to sit down for an entire game and chart how often they actually swing at strikes. Anecdotally, it's a heck of a lot of the time -- check out this post at Lookout Landing where Jeff got a screen shot of one of Sexson's at bats. It's almost comical.

    There is just absolutely no plate discipline on this team, and it will absolutely kill Seattle long term. I'm going to get more in depth on this in a post tomorrow, so be on the lookout for that one.

  • For those calling for Cha Seung Baek's call-up since Jeff Weaver's first miserable outing, you finally got your wish. The results were mixed. Baek looked pretty good through the first three innings, but was fooling nobody after that. He got drilled in the fourth after the team handed him a four-run lead, as even the outs were hit hard, and he couldn't make it out of the fifth.

    His stuff looked mediocre, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time until he started to get hit. You've got to be especially good with your location when you're topping out on the gun at 85-87 mph, and Baek wasn't. Maybe it was nerves, but I didn't see anything to inspire that he'd be a long-term solution in that No. 5 slot this season.
Bring on the A's. They suck as bad as we do, and they're hurt all over the place. Better make hay now.

Still working on a Mariners post ...

... but date night with my wife comes first! Grandma's got the kid, so we're on our way to dinner. I'll finish up my thoughts from last night's game when I get home. Until then, enjoy ... uh ... whatever it is you enjoy doing on a Tuesday night other than reading this blog!

Journalism world mourns the passing of an icon

The passing of David Halberstam yesterday marks the end of what was one of the most influential journalism careers of the last half century -- possible ever.

What made Halberstam so special? One could point to any number of contributions to America, starting with his reporting on the Vietnam War for the New York Times in the early 1960s in which he worked so hard to tell the truth that President Kennedy tried (unsuccessfully) to have him removed from the combat beat.

He won a Pulitzer Prize for his work, and over the next four decades, he would write nearly two dozen books, on topics ranging from war to Michael Jordan. His writing always made his readers think, even if what he had to say often was uncomfortable to hear. But then again, what journalist is doing his or her job if they're not bringing uncomfortable facts to light?

What I will remember and miss most about Halberstam is that he truly was one of the most gifted writers I ever had the pleasure to read. In an industry where the writing has increasingly become more and more bland as we crunch things up into bite-sized chunks for easy consumption, Halberstam's ability to incorporate powerful prose into his narratives was a breath of fresh air for those of us who still value quality writing.

They just don't make 'em like that anymore. Aspiring journalists would do well to read his work and learn what they can from a true master of the craft.

Outside of his books, Halberstam wrote a series of columns for ESPN's Page 2 in 2000-2001. Here are some of my favorites.

Tributes by others:

Busy, busy day -- new posts coming this afternoon

I've got a lot of things on my mind today, from the performance of Brandon Morrow (unbelievable) to the performance of the offense (still lacking) to the passing of one of the most influential journalists of the 20th century (deeply saddening).

Unfortunately, a crazy busy morning is preventing me from writing, so I won't be posting until this afternoon. Check back then.

4.23.2007

Some not-so-random thoughts on the Mariners heading into Texas

Since we can't readily change the players involved in this latest stretch of Mariner ineptitude -- at least not in a way that's likely to change the results on the field -- the ire of Mariners fans everywhere has turned to the two most high-profile candidates: Manager Mike Hargrove and GM Bill Bavasi.

You already know how this blogger feels about Hargrove -- and that was before the sweep at the hands of the Angels, for which I think Hargrove was largely blameless -- but Bavasi seems to be drawing the most fire as of late. As late as this morning, I wasn't sure what good getting rid of Bavasi right now would do; after all, there's not really a blockbuster trade out there to be made that's going to make this team appreciably better.

But I think I've come around to the dark side -- with one caveat. His replacement has to come from outside the organization.

What this organization needs is a shake-up from a forward thinker not tied to current personnel and unafraid to cast off ineffective players, a la Tim Ruskell with the Seahawks. Promoting from within -- which (shockingly) it sounds like the organization probably would do, according to Times writer Geoff Baker (it's at the end of the post) -- makes absolutely no sense. If they're already in the organization, and they're hired on an interim basis, all they're likely to do is continue business as usual.

I mean, seriously: If I'm hired for a job that I know is a tryout, am I likely to make a lot of bold moves, the kind that might actually produce some real results? No way. I'm playing it safe while trying to convince Chuck and Howard I deserve the gig long term.

Replacing Bavasi immediately with an outsider might actually lead to some of the following long overdue moves:

  • Firing Hargrove.
  • Designating Julio Mateo for assignment and replacing him with an arm such as Sean Green or John Huber. Neither could do worse than an overweight sloth who now has allowed all five runners he's inherited this year to score.
  • Moving Jeff Weaver to the bullpen as a situational righty and replacing him in the rotation permanently with Cha Seung Baek. Last season, righties had an OPS roughly 250 points lower against Weaver than lefties. A bullpen move might also improve his velocity. If he doesn't like it, release him or trade him and eat the salary.
  • Hiring a manager that might actually realize that 1) Putting a slow guy who hits groundballs in roughly 50 percent of his at bats in the No. 3 hole is a bad idea; 2) Using your bullpen in the most effective way possible in any given situation is a good idea; 3) Allowing lefty Ben Broussard -- .848 OPS against righties last year -- to play in place of Vidro or Jose Guillen (.162 average, .189 slugging against righties this season) from time to time is a good idea; and 4) Convincing Ichiro at all costs that stealing 50 bases -- something the team needs for it to win, but something he won't ever do if he only attempts one stolen base every 14 games -- is a good idea. (By the way, congrats, Ichiro on that one steal. We'll celebrate the next one sometime in May.)
I think you see what I'm driving at here. An immediate move also would give the new GM ample time to become familiar with the organization heading into what is likely to be the biggest firesale this team has seen in some time.

You might as well get used to the fact that Ichiro is leaving, people, and I'd rather not have the guy who traded away Freddy Garcia for Jeremy Reed (back to AAA after flaming out in the majors), Mike Morse (still in AAA) and Miguel Olivo (cut loose after two miserable half seasons and now fairly productive with the Florida Marlins) making the deal that could either net some serious major league talent or set the organization back years. (I could have picked any number of bad deals Bavasi has made, by the way, but that's the biggest midseason deal he's made.)

The next GM should not have to spend all of next offseason trying repair any more damage done by the Bavasi's latest botched deals. So let's get on with it already, and get this franchise finally moving in the right direction.

Other things of note heading into tonight's game:
  • Cha Seung Baek is officially going to start tonight's game. MLB.com's Jim Street says it's not yet known what move the team will make to make room for him, since it's apparently unlikely Felix Hernandez will be heading to the DL. UPDATE: Felix is on the DL, reported first by Geoff Baker. No other moves.
  • Gotta love things in A's land. Pitcher Brad Halsey is ripping the organization after not being called up to make a start. Said Halsey, who apparently might be heading for some arm problems, "It's all just a business decision, because if I came up and pitched Tuesday and then had an MRI and had to go on the DL, they'd have to pay me major-league DL money. It's such a mom-and-pop organization." A mom-and-pop organization that advanced to the postseason five times in the last seven years, racking up four division championships along the way. Why can't we get a mom-and-pop organization around here? Really?
  • The News Tribune's Dave Boling likes what he hears from Mike Blowers as the color analyst on TV broadcasts, and so far I have to agree: "he’s got a cadence that suits baseball, and his delivery has a homespun, summer-evening-on-the-porch tone. It’s a little as if they’d brought into the booth the guy in the Motel 6 ads who used to promise to 'leave the light on for you.' Pretty clean and straightforward." I'll admit, just about anything would have been an improvement over Dave Henderson and Dave Valle, but Blowers shows some real potential to be one of the better ones in the game.
That's it for now. I'll check back in hopefully later tonight to break down the game that hopefully ends this dreadful losing streak.

4.22.2007

Six in a row -- now what for M's?

This has now become the worst possible scenario for everyone involved with the Mariners -- from the front office on down to the fans.

The M's just put the finishing touches on their sixth straight defeat -- dropping them from first place to last place in less than a week -- and it wasn't exactly the kind of performance that inspires confidence that things are going to get any better anytime soon. Another inept performance from a starting pitcher. Another misearable showing by the offense, which didn't even put together the too-little-too-late rally that has inflated its statistics as of late.

How bad have the starters been? In this six-game losing streak, every starter has started one game except Jeff Weaver, who started two. Only Jarrod Washburn even came close to mustering a "quality start," giving up four runs only after the bullpen move that shall not be named. All told, the revamped starting rotation compiled a whopping 10.17 ERA.

Say what you will about the offense -- and it has been putrid, late-inning "comebacks" be darned -- but hitting against a starter with the confidence of a lead vs. hitting against a starter in a tight game can make life difficult on hitters.

I suppose you could make the same argument in reverse, that the hitters' futility (well documented here before Saturday's game by Times writer Geoff Baker) is putting undue stress on the pitchers, but it's my belief that it's a pitcher's job to give his team a chance to win -- not the other way around. In a game where hitters fail more than seven out of every 10 times they come to the plate, sometimes it takes time to get things rolling. Pitchers must give their hitters a chance to win a game for them.

The scary part for the M's? They're going to be trying to break this losing streak likely by sending Cha Seung Baek to the hill on Monday (in Arlington) in lieu of potential streak stopper Felix Hernandez, who's on the shelf for at least one start. Yes, Baek is pitching well at AAA and was 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA in a pair of late season starts against the Rangers, but do you really want to pin your hopes of getting this streak stopped on a guy who's basically just got six meaningless starts at the end of last year to his resume?

About the only thing I couldn't complain too much about was, believe it or not, the managing of Mike Hargrove -- who seems to sense the urgency of the situation, even if his players don't.

Pinch hitting Ben Broussard late in the game Saturday was a great move -- this blogger would love to see him in the line-up occasionally against more righties to add some sock. His flexible use of the bullpen Saturday (yanking Mateo in favor of Eric O'Flaherty, who turned in a strong two-inning stint, and bringing in Putz in the eighth to keep the team at a one-run deficit) also was a step in the right direction.

And yanking Jeff Weaver after just 3 innings, 3 runs and 68 pitches on Sunday?

"He'd given up seven hits and three runs in three innings and I didn't see it getting any better,'' Hargrove said. "And the way we've been going and scoring runs late, I just didn't want to put the ballclub in the hole any more than we already were that early in the game.''

I love it. It sends a clear message to the team: Perform, or we'll find someone who can. I still don't trust that if this team was average that Hargrove could put it over the top, but I can't place much blame on him for what happened in Anaheim. That's all on his players.

Interestingly, Baker's reporting that there are rumors of an extension for Hargrove. Don't read too much into it -- Bob Melvin got an extension right before he got fired, and Baker's also reporting that if this current trend of losing continues, management won't be afraid to let some heads roll.

This is now an absolutely critical juncture. The team goes for two in Texas and two in Oakland, and if they lose three of four to end the road trip -- falling farther back in an AL West race that is still within reach -- I wouldn't be surprised to see Hargove and GM Bill Bavasi gone. Attendance has been dwindling to levels not seen in Safeco Field's history -- April or not -- and coming home to face the Royals with new leadership might be management's way to try and show fans that it's not going to stand by and watch the team lose.

Until then, well ... in Baek we trust.

Ugh.

4.21.2007

Four in a row ... and this one wasn't Hargrove's fault

I didn't get to catch much of the game last night outside of highlights, but I'm with Hargrove on this one: He's simply got to get more consistency out of his starting pitchers. Miguel Batista can't go out and give up 8 runs in 4.2 innings one outing, 3 runs in 6.2 innings the next, and 6 runs in 6 innings the next.

Batista chalked it up somewhat to luck, kinda like Jeff Weaver. I'm not buying it. These guys have got to figure out a way to bring something more substantial each time out. And the offense has got to quit waiting until about the seventh inning to decide it wants to do something. Statistically, that offense is looking better, but only because of production in too little, too late situations.

If the M's are serious about contending, they really need to end this skid with a pair of wins to take this series.

And for goodness sake, don't throw a pitch to Vlad Guerrero that doesn't bounce in the dirt or hit him in the back. Please.

4.20.2007

The beauty of sports: Bringing a community together

I've had the privilege a few times in my life of watching a sports team bring a community together in a way that just otherwise would not have been possible -- the 1995 Mariners, 1997 Cougars and 2005 Seahawks all come to mind.

But it's inspiring when sports do even more than that -- when they help a community heal.

That's what's happening in Blacksburg, Va., as we speak.

About a half an hour ago, students at Virginia Tech continued the process of returning some semblance of normalcy when their Hokies took the baseball field against Miami. While the result of the game will be insignificant, getting together with other hurting people will help the healing process.

I vividly remember the first Mariners game I went to after 9/11, and the surprising comfort I found being in the presence of 45,000 other Americans, doing something other than mourning. I'm guessing Virginia Tech students will feel the same way, even if it's only a few hundred.

The killer would have wanted the community to remain in a perpetual state of mourning. Good on the Hokies for honoring the victims by competing in their memory.

OK, I relent -- after sweep, it's time for Hargrove to go

I probably had to be one of the few people in Seattle who didn't think Mike Hargrove did all that bad of job with the Mariners last year. It's not that I ever really defended him, as I'd wish aloud that he'd mix up the lineup a little more, or play matchups a little more. But all in all, I felt like he did a pretty decent job with a team with pretty limited talent.

Was he great? By no means. But I don't think he screwed up the season, either.

Well, now it's 2007, and after this past series -- in which the Mariners got swept at least in part due to incompetent managing -- I'm starting to come around to the logic of the Hargrove Haters.

Whether it's a baseball manager or a football or basketball coach, all we fans really ask is for the guys leading to put our teams in the best possible situation to win. After that, it's on the players to execute.

I'm becoming ever less confident that Hargrove can do this after watching him botch this series.

I was going to spend a lot of time here breaking down why Hargrove's use of Julio Mateo in yesterday's game was a vast miscalculation, but somebody else already did it, and probably a lot better than I could have. Instead, I'll keep it short. (Kudos, USS Mariner. If you're not familiar with the situation, jump over there, check it out, then come back. I'll wait.)

My/USS Mariner logic -- thinking with numbers.

  • This is the most important point in the game. Period. You can look at "game leverage" numbers at USS Mariner if you like that kind of stuff, or you can just use common sense to come to the conclusion that bases loaded in a one-run game in the seventh with Johan Santana opposing you is the most important point in the game, since you're not real likely to score any more runs off of him.
  • If it's the most important point in the game, we can assume it's a good idea to go to the best reliever available for the situation.
  • If we assume righty on righty (and given Sherrill's struggles), that leaves Mateo, Reitsma and Morrow. Forgetting the fact that Morrow is made of glass (as Hargrove's use of him this year would lead you to believe), he's a lifetime starter who might not have the best success coming into a mid-inning, bases-loaded jam. So that leaves Mateo and Reitsma.
  • Coming into the game, Mateo had induced ground balls on just 16 percent of the batters he faced in 2007. Reitsma? He induces ground balls 46.7 percent of the time. (The Major League Average is roughly 40 percent.) In fact, Mateo has never exceeded the MLB average for ground ball percentage IN HIS CAREER. Never even come close. Conversely, Reitsma has never fallen below the average -- posting a 50.6 ground ball percentage throughout his career.
  • Just to make the point clear: Bring in Reitsma, you've got a roughly 50/50 chance he induces a ground ball. Bring in Mateo, you've got a 15 percent chance he gets a ground ball -- or, more striking, an 85 percent chance the batter hits a line drive or a fly ball. To make it painfully clear: Even if Mateo gets an out, he's MUCH more likely to give up at least one run (base hit, sac fly) than not.
  • My decision: Bring in Reitsma to shut down the threat, deal with the consequences later. If he gets a double play -- again, he has a roughly 50 percent chance of doing that -- he can come back and pitch the eighth, too. If he doesn't and throws 15-25 pitches, you bring in Mateo or Morrow to pitch a full inning, bringing in Sherrill to face a lefty that inning if the situation requires.
The logical conclusion seems obvious to me, but is lost on Grover. Then again, he's got a pretty good history in just the last week of not putting his team in situations to succeed:
  • Horacio Ramirez is a groundball pitcher (56 percent this year) -- that's why the M's acquired him, giving up their second-best bullpen arm in the process. Curiously, his start on Sunday is the day Hargrove chooses to give Yuniesky Betancourt his first game off of the year and plug in Willie Bloomquist, who, through no fault of his own, is a fraction of the defender. Bloomquist goes 0-for-3 and oh, by the way, makes a throwing error. (Good thing the other M's scored 14 runs.)
  • Going right in line with his usual reluctance to change his daily lineup, Hargrove decides to start lefty Ben Broussard on Wednesday against righty Carlos Silva only when Jose Guillen is a late scratch with a sore ankle and hand. (Broussard had a career .333 average in 36 at bats against Silva coming into the game, by the way.) That might have worked on the '97 Indians, but this is most definitely not the '97 Indians.
  • With the M's down two runs and the potentially game-tying run on first in Adrian Beltre in that same game, Hargrove elects not to put Bloomquist -- the team's best baserunner -- in as a pinch runner. Beltre ends up being thrown out by 10 feet at home trying to score on a misplayed single. Bloomquist might not have scored, but I like his chances a lot better, don't you?
Stuff such as this is irritating me more than ever this year. Why? Because the last two years the team was virtually talentless, and it really didn't much matter what Hargrove did, they were going to lose anyway. Making the right decision in any of the previous situations might not have guaranteed wins, but it's that little stuff that adds up eventually -- it's how guys like Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre (a vastly underrated manager) have consistently won, LaRussa often with mediocre talent throughout his roster.

This team has at least some potential. Is this team a World Series contender? No way. But could a competent manager squeeze five or six more wins out of this squad and keep it in contention for a playoff spot, especially in a division that is shaping up to be the worst in the American League?

Absolutely.

That's why it's time for Hargrove to go before he screws up more games -- before it's just too late for a team with limited ability to crawl out of a five or six game hole when the A's go on their patented summer run. We need a manager who can figure out a way to squeeze out some of those wins -- not hold the team back with by-the-book managing.

We need Joe Girardi, who did precisely that with the Marlins last year.

The time to make that move is now, when we're still at or near the top of the division -- not once we've gone on the inevitable slide that has to be coming. (The one that we hopefully aren't already in the middle of.)

4.19.2007

"Good" news on Felix ... for now; check back in five days

In contrast to last night, that sound you hear today is Seattle collectively exhaling.

The official word from Dr. Khalfayan, arm guru of the Seattle Mariners, is that Felix Hernandez has a flexor-pronator strain. The good news is that it sounds a lot worse than it is. He'll lay off the throwing for about five days, then be re-evaluated.

"That's as good a news as you can get from an elbow injury," the doctor told reporters.

We're probably looking at 10-20 days to come back, and two to four missed starts. Not what we all were hoping for coming into the year, having Felix essentially miss 3-5 turns while the team is trying to get off to a solid start, but certainly not the worst news we could have received.

The injury apparently is being compared to J.J. Putz's arm troubles at the beginning of the spring, if you're looking for a frame of reference.

Whew.

As a side note, had Felix continued to pitch, the doctor said he could have damaged the ligament severely enough to require Tommy John ligament replacement surgery -- you know, the procedure that puts guys on the shelf for a year and a half, then they return as a shell of their former selves.

I guess that puts quite a hole in Skip Bayless's theory on ESPN's Cold Pizza this morning that Felix took himself out becuase he was embarrassed at getting shelled in the first.

Skip, you are the definition of a hack.

How much access is too much in VT killings?

Faithful readers know that sometimes I love to not only tackle sports-related issues, but as a former journalist I often also like to tackle issues related to the media and its role in American society.

The killings at Virginia Tech provided a flashpoint event this week that raises a lot of quesitons about how to cover an event such as this. They happen so infrequently -- and the technology changes so rapidly -- that media outlets have to make many important decisions on the fly without a lot of precedent to refer to.

A big decision was faced -- and continues to be faced -- by NBC with regards to the video the killer sent them immediately before going on his rampage. What to do with it? How to handle it? Those decisions were made early on, and with them NBC gained a fair amount of criticism.

Now, the question remains: Should it be released in its entirety on the Internet?

Many argue that this is precisely what the killer wanted, and that we're providing a blueprint for potential copycat killers who want their stories to be heard. But at least one media blogger -- Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine.com -- thinks the world should be able to make the choice of whether to view it, saying "that horse is already out of that barn." I have a hard time disagreeing.

The essential infrastructure of news and media has changed forever: There is no control point anymore. When anyone and everyone — witnesses, criminals, victims, commenters, officials, and journalists — can publish and broadcast as events happen, there is no longer any guarantee that news and society itself can be filtered, packaged, edited, sanitized, polished, secured.

Like it or not, that’s the way it is. But before we start wringing our hands over the unique, one-in-a-billion exception to all rules — the mass murderer with a camera — let’s make sure we remember that this openness is a great and good change. It enables us all have a voice and to hear new voices.

In other words, the greater good outweighs the potential negatives in this specific case. I tend to agree.

Hold your breath, Seattle -- and pray ... a lot

Welcome to the Morning After.

It's Thursday morning, and nothing substantively new to report on the Felix front, but we do have some post-game thoughts from the team on the situation. Clearly, Felix's departure deflated the Mariners as much as it did us fans (a point underscored by the great lead on Darrin Beene's gamer for The News Tribune).

Manager Mike Hargrove (courtesy of The Seattle Times): "Any time you lose a pitcher with the talent that Felix has, it's not a good time. It's scary for him and for the club. And it takes a little bit of time to recover."

DH Jose Vidro (The News Tribune): “We lost the game, but everyone is praying that everything is OK with Felix. He’s our ace and we need to have him here. Hopefully, everything is OK. It’s tough.”

Catcher Kenji Johjima (The Seatte Times): "I'm very worried. I was worried during the game."

For lack of a solid medical opinion, Hargrove did say that his "gut feeling" was that Felix is going to be OK. But as Times writer Geoff Baker correctly points out, Hargrove felt like Arthur Rhodes' elbow tightness was no big deal, either ... and we all know how that turned out.

And just to quickly revisit my assertion that Carlos Garcia should absolutely be fired for sending tying run Adrian Beltre to the plate in the ninth with two outs? Hargrove admirably -- albeit stupidly -- defends his coach.

"A third base coach is not doing his job unless he gets people thrown out at the plate,'' Hargrove told The Seattle Times. "I don't think anybody in baseball wants a third base coach who is going to be safety first. ... Was it disappointing? Yeah. Hindsight being 20-20, I wish he'd stayed there. But when he sent him, I was glad to see him send him because that's the play to make.''

That would be all fine and dandy if Beltre had made the final out of the game by a few inches, or even a couple of feet. But it's not fine when the guy gets thrown out after only being about 85 percent of the way home when the catcher receives the ball. That's just stupidity -- and poor coaching.

I guess it's early in the year for coaches, too -- let's not forget, Hargrove had speedy players Willie Bloomquist and Jason Ellison on the bench, and elected not to put either in to pinch run -- but, man, when a team scraps back into a game in which they lost their ace 20 pitches in, you hate to see it get tanked by botched moves from the people who are supposed to know what they're doing.

There's supposed to be more official word on Hernandez today. I'll pass along any news on that front.

In the meantime, if you're interested in watching the M's get swept away by two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, today's game is an early 3:35 p.m. start that will be televised on FSN. You can only catch it in HD, though, if you have FSN HD on DirecTV.

4.18.2007

That sound you hear ...


... is the sound of Mariners fans jumping off the nearest cliff. Dear God, what have we done to deserve this?

Let's just all hope the one thing we thought we had to look forward to the summer still ends up being something we look forward to. But it's never good when they use the words "pitcher" and "elbow" and "tightness" in the same sentence.

I'd feel a little better -- at least for tonight -- if I felt like this team could come back on anyone. But any time they fall behind by a few runs, they roll over like a two-month-old baby. Case in point: Bottom of the sixth, Ichiro and Beltre both get on ... and Vidro pops up, failing to move the runners up; Ibanez flies out to deep center ... but as I'm writing this, Sexson actually hits a bomb!

If Richie had struck out, I was going to ask you to just shoot me now. But maybe I don't want to be shot just yet.

I'll let you know after I find out if they actually can come all the way back.

LATE UPDATE: M's lose 5-4 as Adrian Beltre is thrown out by 10 feet trying to score from first ... on a single. Granted, the right fielder misplayed it, but seriously. Beltre is not Ichiro.

Fire Carlos Garcia. Now. That should never, ever, ever, ever happen in the big leagues. The guy gets paid to do one thing -- wave that arm at the appropriate time. Thank you for costing us any chance at winning this series. You suck.

I'm happy the team showed resiliency -- if Justin Morneau were three inches shorter, the game might never have gotten to the bottom of the ninth since Vidro's scorching line drive probably would have scored the go-ahead run. But the Mariners still lost.

And we wait for the worst on the King.

National writers picking up on Hernandez story

Jerry Crasnick at ESPN.com has a nice story on Felix Hernandez today. Not a lot of groundbreaking stuff if you've been following the King for the past few years, but a nice primer if you're not familiar with the story.

You can find it here.

I'm of the opinion that the Mariners need as much good press as possible these days ...