Saturday, January 19, 2008

What I Hope Will be the Mariner Outfield in 2008

Expounding upon what I wrote earlier... enormous crater in the outfield, an area where Seattle desperately needs help since RF Jose Guillen signed with Kansas City and LF Raul Ibanez is really a DH.
Thanks to the fine work of Tiger Tales there exists an easy way to quantify how valuable a player was at fielding his position in 2007. While no single statistic can conclusively prove whether Player X is a good or bad defender, Lee Panas does a great job of explaining and incorporating a wide variety of metrics to measure defensive (in)competence.

Anyway, back to Seattle. The 2007 Mariners were one of the worst defensive outfields in baseball, though that was no fault of Ichiro Suzuki. According to the various fielding statistics Ichiro was the third-best center fielder in baseball. Furthermore The Hardball Times pegged his arm fourth best. Numbers aside, it should be obvious to even a casual fan who watches a handful of Mariner games that Suzuki has tremendous speed to complement an outstanding and accurate arm. The M's are lucky to have him.

Meanwhile Raul Ibanez and Jose Guillen were sinkholes in left and right, rating fourth worst at their respective positions. Both were horrible roaming the outfield, which should be no surprise to those who witnessed these plodders in action. However Ibanez and Guillen were slightly above average at throwing out and holding runners. For Jose that comes as no surprise. Guillen is considered to have one of the strongest cannons in the league. Ibanez, on the other hand, has a noodle arm. My best guess is Raul tended to be extremely accurate with his throws in 2007, thereby eliminating more baserunners than someone with his skill set would in a typical year.

Still the fact remains the small gains made by Guillen and Ibanez via airmail did little to dent the negative losses caused by delays on the ground. For the season they gave away 37.8 runs, effectively negating Ichiro's contributions and then some. In 2007 the Ibanez/Suzuki/Guillen trio was 23.8 runs worse than what a theoretical group of average defenders would have been. Yikes.

Looking at the upcoming year Ibanez will likely stay in left while Guillen's awful glove (and solid bat) will be playing in Kansas City. Adam Jones is currently slated to replace him in RF. By all accounts Jones projects to be a plus defender in center. At a corner outfield spot his fielding duties decrease, which makes his defensive value increase. The converted pitcher and shortstop also has a very strong arm. What was once a liability in right field now becomes an asset.

But Adam Jones might not make it on the roster for Opening Day. His name has constantly come up in trade talks as the Mariners attempt to acquire Orioles LHP Erik Bedard. The front office believes a top-tier pitcher will keep the Mariners competitive in '08. The issue on whether to include Jones in a trade for Bedard has split the M's community. Many in favor of a trade argue that Jones will not be productive this year. But is that a foregone conclusion?

In 2007 Guillen created 93 offensive runs according to The Hardball Times. Combining that with his defense (-17), let's say Guillen produced 76 runs in 2007. Now that number doesn't tell the whole story but bear with me. Last year Shane Victorino was the worst hitting right fielder with over 500 plate appearances. He created 63 runs on offense. That being said let us assume Adam Jones in 2008 will equal the offensive output of the worst hitting right fielder for an entire season. So purely from an offensive standpoint Jones will create 63 runs.

Even if Adam Jones is the worst hitting right fielder in baseball and completely average on defense he will be 83% as productive as Jose Guillen was in 2007.

But Jones will likely be above average on defense. A rough guess would be between 0 to 10 runs.

Pitching is a huge concern for Seattle entering 2008. But so is outfield defense. And with Ibanez set to return in left the Mariners already have one crater. No need to create another.

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