2013-14 M's, thru the Sabermetric Lens
What's the formula for Phi Slamma Jamma


So, being an open-minded chap and all that, we continued our little stroll down the middle yellow stripes on the highway...

Take the best things about the 2014 Mariners.  Things we're happy about, going into next season.  How much of it do the Mariners owe to sabermetric insight, and how much do they owe to Good Ole Boyz and their grasp of the game?


Felix Hernandez.  0% saber, 100% scouting.  They started pursuing Felix when he was 14.  

And, no, neither was his contract extension due to saber analysis.  It was due to Howard Lincoln's desire to have a face of the franchise.  When somebody asks him whether the Mariners are a failure, he replies "You can come watch Felix."  You think we're kidding?


Taijuan Walker.  0% saber.  Is there a number less than 0%?  Taijuan was a high school basketball player, taken first round of the ammy draft.


James Paxton.  2% saber.  He was a college pitcher with a nice K/BB ratio.  No, stats had nothing to do with the M's final decision to grab Paxton, after he had taken a year off.  But we like to err on the side of generosity.


Hisashi Iwakuma.  Hmmmmmmm.  How much did sabermetric analysis have to do with this one, do you suppose, their giving of a $2M deal to a Japanese WBC pitcher with a sore shoulder?

How much would saber have to do with bringing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers?  The M's weren't exactly basing their decision on Davenport Translations.

That said, the M's were aware of precedents, of NPB templates, of NPB-USA and NPB-Cuba statistics, etc., so maybe there is some shred of sabermetrics in this decision?

I dunno.  Really I don't give much credit to anybody for this, except Iwakuma.  The M's tried their level best to freeze him out; he overruled them with his pitching skill.


Danny Farquhar and Stephen Pryor.  We are right around 0%, again!

Farquahar is an ANTI-saber decision, a guy with lousy stats who changed his delivery and got nuclear fission out of it.  He is the ultimate scout's find.

Pryor, if that is a situation that would have been handled differently --- > had the M's known zero arithmetic, please explain it.


Kyle Seager.  30% saber, 70% scouting?  Maybe at the outside.

The M's took a flier here because Seager is a "makeup" guy.  Nobody gets drafted out of the NCAA because of Davenport Translations.

Still, Zduriencik talked about age-arc a lot with him, as he's doing with Miller.


Mike Zunino.  30-70 again?  Hmmm...

You and I took Zunino because he's a saber guy.  Well, Dr. D took Zunino with the 1-3 pick, because Dr. D thinks that college players with K/BB ratios are the best saber bets.  Lightly saber.

Gordon wanted the high school kids.  So did Zduriencik...

Z explained the pick, "he's just a real good mix, excellent receiver, nice power" ...


Miller and Franklin.  Nick Franklin was a "howler" the day of the draft, a tiny little shortstop who wouldn't stick at shortstop and who weighed like 155 soaking wet... here we were, taking him first round.   A classic Dirt Dog scout's pick...

Miller, he's in the Seager category.


Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez.  The two guys who could hit last year, and they were also anti-saber picks.  Morales as the "perfectly average position player" and Ibanez.  When Ibanez was 31, the local blogs hated his guts.  Now he's 50...


Offload John Jaso.  A real howler by the standards of mediocre sabermetrics, which stop after looking at last year's WAR and $alary.  Excellent sabermetrics, which you can find on our blog, projected a drop in BB's due to the trendlines in ISO, and due to Jaso's being a part-time player who would suffer in full exposure.

As it turned out, the A's had to scrap the Jaso project; he couldn't hit in fulltime play and his defense became a critical flaw for the ballclub.


What choices did they make because of sabermetrics?

Well ...

  • Jesus Montero
  • Justin Smoak
  • Chone Figgins
  • Franklin Gutierrez
  • Ryan Langerhans
  • Brendan Ryan (sort of; see the Chavez/Kotchman era and its philsophy)
  • Erasmo Ramirez, maybe?  Seems they chose him because of statlines

EVERY Seattle blog was down with the first four of five of those.

I'm sort of kidding around to make a point ... Mike Carp is a player that a sabermetrician would have obviously kept, that they flushed, and it hurt them.

But, still.  Dan Duquette says that he doesn't need sabermetricians because (1) there isn't a dime's worth of difference between them and (2) their recommendations are laughably simple anyway.  "You like pitchers who strike out a lot of guys, walk very few, and keep the ball on the ground.  No kidding.  Us idiot scouts woulda never thought of that."


If Dr. D were running the Mariners, he'd be surrounded by math guys.  

But.  How much would it matter, in all actuality?  The dynamic young talent we've got, the Taijuans and Paxtons and Zuninos who are going to turn this thing around, they are here because of scouts.


And, yeah Logan.  ;- )  Feel free to cut loose.  Anybody who wants to totally refute my shtick in a flaming pile of rubble, knock yourself out.  We're just noodlin'.






is in your assignment of what were "sabermetric" moves. Who's to say whether Smoak or Montero were "SABR" adds? It seems to me that pretty much anything you do in the draft, or in acquiring prospects from other teams, mostly comes from a scouting perspective - because minor league SABR is really difficult due to short seasons, huge variance in talent, etc. Hard to blame those guys on sabermetrics. And, for me, the Guti and Ryan moves still come out as huge positives. Just because the perks are in the past doesn't mean there weren't perks.
Anyways, without changing hardly anything on the list itself, you could retitle this post "internally developed players" vs. "trades" and use it to conclude that trades are worthless and the Mariners shouldn't pursue them. And that's because - you're right - you really can't use SABR in the draft, or in IFA signings. Which is why the Royals can succeed without it. I'd never tell you scouting is worthless - I actually think it's where most of the "cutting edge" work, the work that gets you a real advantage, is. ;-)
Anyways, I'd use this list to conclude "Jack Z is bad at trading", not "SABRmetrics aren't worthwhile".
It'd be interesting, though, to see a similar list approach taken with the division champion Oakland A's roster... or maybe, for a look at a more balanced organization, Bill James' very own world champion Red Sox.
Two cents on my way out the door: Seager and Miller were Blengino guys. Their drafting was based on a mix of stats and makeup, but their promotions through the organization were about as stat-based as minor league decisions can be. I've heard that Seager in particular is adored by HitF/X, and that's part of why he was second in line for the 3B job in 2012.


Was more scouting than SABR. He was never a SABR stud nor SABR garbage, but it wasn't his stats that made him #23 in '09, #13 in '10 by BA. It was his scouting profile and reputation while the stats weren't too low to still believe in the profile and rep. He's never really showed the power you usually expect from a corner and didn't show quite enough in other skills to really make up for it in making him look elite or blue chip. At 1b anyway. Looking just at his stats through trade time I don't think he's close to the top 50, not that he was bad either. I could be wrong but even now looking back I don't see elite in his stats. Good prospect, just not the level of his rep.
It's a good point in general and that's the only thing that didn't seem right to me.
I think the sledge vs. Rock hammer analogy is very apt in the usage that seems prevalent throughout the game. Even focusing on success stories of where we can find more evidence of SABR reasoning in hindsight than I think we even know what scouting was saying. Of all the "we saw this and fixed it" stories, how often do you think we even hear about it? 50% of the time? 15%? People who excitedly tell people how they won any game situation can have trouble finding those same wins in the future because other people are then looking for the same. Billy Beane has had to find other ways. Doyle Brunson won a lot more before he wrote "Super System" which changed the game of poker, bringing his contemporaries into a game he was uniquely owning when no one else knew much of how he was doing it.


1.  My use of the list, aligning everything towards one conclusion, was pretty much tongue-in-cheek.  I could rewrite the whole thing with a big slant towards "Saber is everything" and it would read a lot different.  The logic wouldn't hold up to tight scrutiny, and isn't meant to.  
So, yeah.  :- )
2.  That IS more-or-less the division here, "trades of ML players and FAs" vs "internally developed players."  More or less.
What hadn't hit me, for some reason, is the huge proportion of your players who are not FAs or established ML players you traded for.
3.  Couldn't agree more.  If you were to write the balance post, the A's and Red Sox would be a great place to start.  
Needless to say, I'd want Bill James in my front office, and he'd probably be #2 on the org chart...
4.  I disagree that college players are drafted because of stats; ML orgs do not believe that you can make much sense of college stats.  (Of course, every field scout wants to see an NCAA player have great success in a general sense.)  But agree that the promotions of Seager and Miller were expedited by their technical results, as mentioned in the article.
Good stuff Logan.  :- )  


He was on the COVER of Baseball Prospectus, right?  Their poster child for where saber would lead you in player development?
But I would cheerfully agree that --- > it's quite possible that the Mariners' decisions on Montero and Smoak were 99% scouting-driven.
I'd like to know exactly how those two decisions were made.  In any case, I was totally down with both decisions, and would have been totally down with them from EITHER paradigm -- saber or scouting.


Our own argument included the idea, Lincecum fanned about 1.5x as many batters as did Morrow against the same hitters.  Even though ML orgs (except, apparently, Oakland) don't look at college stats, you could certainly have used those stats.
And, to me, it's VERY saber to compare two players, in a player-pair, as their careers arc through the same environments.  (It's what Zduriencik is doing now, with Miller vs Seager.)


Billy Beane had a great quote on the Arsenal podcast the other day:  When we have a staff meeting, I am the dumbest person in the room.  And I'm fine with that.  (He meant it literally.)
Beane emphasized, again and again, "We want to RESIST the temptation to base decisions on anything other than numbers."  He must have said that six times.  I had the feeling he was referring even to the ammy draft, although of course it's totally impossible to use numbers to valuate high school players.  Maybe that's why the A's draft college players so heavily, because you *can* at least *attempt* to look at their performance results.
But, in any case, Oakland is a death blow to the tongue-in-cheek Devil's Advocate.  Oakland seems to flush in 6 to 8 players every winter, flush out 6 to 8, do it all very sabermetrically, and do it without money.  Their superior approach tells over time.
All that said, we as fans might want to keep in mind that sabermetrics isn't AS dominant a factor as we sometimes imagine it to be.  There is no need to have a cognitive dissonance if the Royals ever have a good season :- )

blissedj's picture

How little it actually plays a part in putting a team together. You can utilize the statistics targeting a handful of FA to pursue each offseason. Those you do sign usually you have to pay pretty fair market value for, but saber can save a few million here and there. Make a trade or two and you can utilize saber in who you trade and who you get back. Otherwise crunching all those numbers plays a limited role. It's fun to size up all the players I guess, but when you have little chance of acquiring 90% of them the payoff is low. My take-away is scouting sorely undervalued. A real eye opening set of articles Doc!

Add comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><p><br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.