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Winning the WAR Episode VI: So is Ackley Good, or What?

March 27, 2015

Previous Installments:

Episode I: MZ Hammer Can Touch This
Episode II: Mo LoMo*, Mo Money (*Mo LoMo is not guaranteed)
Episode III: Robby Rediscovers the Seats
Episode IV: The Default Knight Rises
Episode V: Kyle Seager is Still Here

Dustin Ackley is another one of those guys that seem to be all over this roster: the guy with obvious talent who has yet to live up to it, though he’s frustrated us all with extended flashes of brilliance. When he was drafted #2 overall, he was supposed to be a line-drive hitting machine, spraying the ball all over the field while popping an occasional homer. He was supposed to walk a ton, and not strike out much at all. In his rookie season, he hit .273/.348/.417 with a 10.6% walk rate, and looked to be on that path. Since then, he’s hit .239/.300/.355 in 1,637 plate appearances.

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Winning the WAR Episode V: Kyle Seager is Still Here

March 22, 2015

Previous Installments:

Episode I: MZ Hammer Can Touch This
Episode II: Mo LoMo*, Mo Money (*Mo LoMo is not guaranteed)
Episode III: Robby Rediscovers the Seats
Episode IV: The Default Knight Rises

So, Kyle Seager got $100 million this offseason, and he deserves every penny of it. But when you’ve been reading articles, or listening the radio, it seems like his name is an afterthought. People talk about Cano and Cruz as an excellent 3-4 in the middle of the lineup, finally giving the Mariners at least an average offense. Felix and Iwakuma are touted as perhaps the best 1-2 combination in the game. Those things are true, but not being more excited for a guy that could arguably be considered the best all-around third baseman in the game in 2014 seems a bit strange.

I don’t know what it is about Seager that lets him slip under the radar. There are plenty of Seager shirts and jerseys in the concourses at Safeco Field. In-season commentary doesn’t seem to forget about him. But something about the offseason seems to make fans and analysts alike forget just how good and entertaining to watch Kyle Seager is. He should be one of the players Mariners fans are most excited about in 2015.

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Winning the WAR Episode IV: The Default Knight Rises

March 21, 2015

Previous Installments:

Episode I: MZ Hammer Can Touch This
Episode II: Mo LoMo*, Mo Money (*Mo LoMo is not Guaranteed)
Episode III: Robby Rediscovers the Seats

Shortstop was expected to be perhaps the hottest positional battle on the Mariners this year. Both Chris Taylor and Brad Miller look like they have the skills to be legitimate MLB-caliber starting shortstops, even if they get there in different ways–Miller, by flashing some power, and making an occasional spectacular play, and Taylor by gobbling up every single ball hit within a half mile of shortstop and hitting for enough empty average to not be a black hole at the plate. 2015 ZiPS projections have them as basically equals when it comes to WAR–2.2 for Brad Miller, and 2.3 for Chris Taylor.

Of course, Chris Taylor had to go and break his wrist, which was a silly decision to make. But, for the fortunes of the 2015 Mariners, this could be a blessing in disguise. Now don’t get me wrong–Chris Taylor is good, and the Mariners will probably need him to contribute this year. But it’s pretty clear, at least to me, that Brad Miller’s ceiling is far greater than Chris Taylor’s, and in a season where a team is chasing the playoffs, if the downside is equal, then you take the upside play. Brad Miller may be the shortstop the Mariners deserve, even if he isn’t the shortstop the Mariners need. Or something like that.

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Winning the WAR Episode III: Robby Rediscovers the Seats

March 20, 2015

Previous Installments:

Episode I: MZ Hammer Can Touch This
Episode II: Mo LoMo*, Mo Money (*Mo LoMo is not Guaranteed)

It’s pretty hard to argue that Robinson Cano’s first season as a Mariner was anything but a success. He put up an outstanding .314/.382/.454 line with 53 extra base hits, and had a 136 wRC+. Cano posted 5.2 WAR–which is actually his worst season since 2009–playing every bit like the superstar the Mariners thought they were signing. Well, except for that thing where he was supposed to hit a lot of dingers. He hit a good amount of dingers, a smattering of dingers, perhaps even a collection of dingers, but certainly not a lot of dingers.

That no good lousy liar! We need to do something about this! Grab your pitchforks, grab your–what’s that you say? His wRC+ of 136 was nearly as good as his 27-homer campaign in 2013 (142)? And it was actually better than 28-homer 2011 (134)? So…Robinson Cano’s 2014, even with just 14 homers, was basically as good as any other Cano season? Well that’s reassuring. Still…can we at least have some of the dingers back?

That's an awesome swing and all, but can you be more than just an MVP candidate for us?

That’s an awesome swing and all, but can you be more than just an MVP candidate for us?

The answer to this question, like with many others, is “I’m not sure,” but there are some interesting arguments to be had on either side. Cano’s average true distance on his home runs was over 400 feet in 2013, and fell to just 378.1 in 2014. His ground ball percentage was up to 52.6%, which is significantly higher than his 48.4% career number in that category. It’s possible to argue that Cano is simply losing his power.

I think there’s more to it than that, though. Even though I’ve never been a big believer in lineup protection, Cano mentioned numerous times in 2014 that he was being pitched differently than ever before, rarely getting a pitch on the inner half that he could drive out of the ballpark. Instead, he took what was given to him, which theoretically means more singles to left field on outside pitches than dingers into the right field seats.

It’s possible that Cano will see better pitches to hit when teams are at least somewhat worried about the guys behind him in the lineup being able to drive him in. I don’t know if I buy it, but it’s a theory. Just for funsies, lets take a look at the pitches he didn’t swing at in 2013 vs. 2014.

CanoCalled2013CanoCalled2014

It does seem like pitchers weren’t coming in on Cano quite as much in 2014, even though it’s clear they were still attacking him low and away in 2013 as well. Still, there seems to be something to Cano’s claim that he wasn’t getting as many inside pitches to drive. Whether or not having Nelson Cruz behind him leads to him getting some of those inside pitches back remains to be seen, but it’s nice to have a possible explanation for Cano’s lack of homers besides possible decline.

If the Mariners are going to win the WAR, they’re going to need Cano to play at a superstar level, and I’m confident he’ll be able to do that. Even without a high home run total, Cano is still probably the best second baseman in baseball, or at least close to it. I believe it’s possible that Cano rediscovers his power stroke. Remember, though, he is turning 32, and has only hit more than 30 bombs in a season once in his career. Low-to-mid 20s should be considered a successful power year for Cano.

And even if he doesn’t get there, he’ll still probably be the best second baseman in the game, so whatever, man. If you’re going to bitch about Cano’s homer totals when he’s still excellent at everything else, I’ll just go ahead and let you enjoy your miserable life in Complainy-land, you Negative Nancy/Norman.

What Robinson Cano’s stats will be in 2015, exactly:

.309 AVG/.379 OBP/.489 SLG, 23 HR, 692 plate appearances, -2.4 UZR, 6.1 WAR

If Robby gets his groove back: 48 + 2.7 + 2.4 + 6.1 = 59.2 wins

To be continued tomorrow, where we learn how a case of winning by default may be the best thing for the 2015 Mariners.

Winning the WAR Episode II: Mo LoMo*, Mo Money (*Mo LoMo is not guaranteed)

March 19, 2015

Previous Installments:

Episode I: MZ Hammer Can Touch This

Logan Morrison is a confusing player. He hit well at every stop in the minor leagues, powered by a skill set that features outstanding patience and above-average power. In 2010, Baseball America ranked him as the 16th best prospect in baseball. Morrison debuted that year, and immediately showed why he was such a highly regarded prospect, hitting .283/.390/.447 in 287 plate appearances, good for 1.0 WAR. Oh, and he was just 22 years old. It seemed like Morrison was on his way to becoming a star.

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Winning the WAR: The quest for the postseason (Rated R)

March 18, 2015

Episode I: MZ Hammer Can Touch This

In the land I come from, where nerds discuss baseball on a spreadsheet as much as they watch it actually occur, WAR is a part of everyone’s daily activities. Which team will be better at WAR than all of the other teams? Will that team reap the benefits of their glorious achievement, or will a harsh mistress called luck deny them the top prize in the land? And if the champion of WAR doesn’t necessarily get to be the ultimate victor in the annals of history, what is WAR even good for?

It’s true, those of us, the dorks, who ventured through the wardrobe and into the land of SABaRnia do tend to fixate on numbers as if they are vastly superior to other forms of analysis. And why wouldn’t we? Team WAR correlates to overall W-L record better than most other stats. We like numbers, and math, and the math says we’re (closer to) right. Most statistically-inclined writers will tell you WAR is not perfect, and that there are things that happen that are almost impossible to predict. Even so, this reputation that we are immovable objects that will never accept that advanced stats are the only right way to analyze the game persists.

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So I went to the Super Bowl

February 3, 2015

*This is written entirely from a fan perspective. So, don’t expect objective journalism! Now you know. Enjoy!

Jake had driven all the way to Seattle from Ellensburg at my simple suggestion that he could find a ticket to the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers for under $400. Hey, financial aid is a great thing. Thank you, college—even though most college students will spend their lives in debt to the institution of higher learning of their choice, financial aid does allow young people like Jake (and myself a year before) to take advantage of opportunities that young people like us shouldn’t have.

We sipped a few Rainiers, and talked about the possibilities of the game that awaited us in the morning. Neither of us were going to sleep too well, but we tried. We had met at my mom’s house. I took the couch. I gave him the guest bed in what was once my room.

I woke up at 6 a.m., ready to cook my tailgate fare. It wasn’t the most creative dish I was going to make all year, but I thought it would go over well considering the fact that we were playing a mid-west team like Green Bay. I grated about a half pound of smoked gouda cheese with bacon, Beecher’s flagship smoked cheese, Tillamook pepper jack, and Tillamook extra sharp cheddar and melted it down into a thick, creamy cheese sauce to pour over the brats.

Jake woke up, and stumbled down the hallway in his Jon Kitna jersey, representing both the dark years of Seahawk history and the golden years of Central Washington University, his college. He looked like he had just seen a ghost, and explained that he had just dreamed that Aaron Rodgers had pulled it off and won the NFC Championship to send the Packers to the Super Bowl.

It was as good as it looks.

It was as good as it looks.

Jake's first game in years!

Jake’s first game in years!

Me being an eternal optimist, I ignored the bad feeling in my gut, and told him it was only a dream—that the Seahawks were the better team, and while Green Bay could win, the odds were largely in our favor. But I was more worried about this one than the one against San Francisco the year before. I had something personal on the line. If the Seahawks won this game, my mom and I would be flying to Glendale to watch the Seahawks try to win their second consecutive Super Bowl title, something unprecedented in this era of the NFL.

We drove down to our tailgate at 6th and Washington, where we have prepared for Seahawks games for nearly a decade. This year, I had competed for the first time for the most prestigious award in Seahawks tailgating: the Mudbone Trophy, which is given annually to the best cook at our tailgate. I fought valiantly for a first-time competitor, preparing Seahawks Stroganoff, Pork tacos with homemade spicy guacamole, Pad Thai, and the aforementioned brats with cheese sauce, and today I would learn whether or not I could pull off the equivalent of winning the MVP in my rookie year.

The Mudbone, in all its glory.

The Mudbone, in all its glory.

We're ready. Photo credit: Paul Marsh

We’re ready. Photo credit: Paul Marsh

The rain was unbearable at times, but we would not be shaken. Tents covered barbecues, coolers, and more. We huddled under one tent, holding it down so the wind would not blow it away. During a brief break in the rain, one of fearless leaders, Pete (a pretty fitting name, I must say,) conducted the Seahawks prayer as he does every week, leading us to follow the great hawk who flies in from the sea. Using the tribal staff with the Seahawks logo carved perfectly at the end, he inspired us to cheer our loudest, and incited us to pour one out for the offense, defense, and special teams.

During the prayer, Pete announced the winner of the Mudbone trophy. It was not me, but I was just happy to be there, in the conversation. Given my relative inexperience cooking delectable tailgate food, winning would have been the cherry on top. I was simply honored to have made it as far as I did, and be in the conversation for an award I likely had no business winning.

Jake’s seats were on the opposite side of the stadium from mine. My mom and I climbed up Section 343 to row FF—five rows from the very top of the stadium There were a handful of cheeseheads around us—these must have been the only seats out-of-towners could pick up. The stadium roared to life, and the game was underway. Despite Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers leading a lengthy drive down the field, the crowd didn’t falter, and was rewarded with a Richard Sherman interception. This is our day, I thought.

Well, things didn’t go quite the way I had planned. At half time, the Seahawks trailed 16-0, and since I wasn’t responsible for driving us home, I made the trip to the concession stand to get beers number whatever and who freakin’ cares to make the experience a little better. 16-0 was not a death knell, not considering the fact that this Seahawks team had been a second-half team since Pete Carroll took over as the head coach. It would be hard to pull off a victory, but it wasn’t impossible.

The game continued to go in Green Bay’s favor until the Seahawks looked to put their first points on the board late in the third quarter. When the Seahawks set up to kick a field goal, I started down the stairs to get beers number screw you and god damn it why, when punter Jon Ryan threw a perfect pass to third-string offensive lineman Garry Gilliam for the first Seahawks touchdown of the game. I high-fived fans down the aisle and continued on my way to get beers number hell yeah and yes yes yes.

I thought that would be the turning point. It wasn’t, of course. When Russell Wilson threw his fourth interception with five minutes left in the game, for the first time at a game I had been to all season I thought, we’re going to lose. I refuse to be that pessimistic out loud, though, so I turned to my mom and said “This isn’t looking good.”

The Seahawks then blew up everyone’s brains, scoring twice in the last five minutes and converting a two-yard Hail Mary pass to give the Seahawks a 22-19 lead. I have been to nearly all of the biggest games at CenturyLink Field, and I have never heard the stadium as loud as it was when Aaron Rodgers got the ball back with 1:25 to go, needing a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win. The field goal to tie felt inevitable, but when the Seahawks won the overtime coin toss and chose to receive, I knew Rodgers wouldn’t see the ball again. We were going back to the Super Bowl.

 

We're going to the Super Bowl!

We’re going to the Super Bowl!

Nearly two weeks later, my mom and I landed in Arizona, ready to see the Seahawks try to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since the 03-04 Patriots. Arizona was full of Seahawks fans—I think we outnumbered the Patriots at least 20-1 from the very unscientific eyeball test. I knew this game was going to be tough, and I told myself that win or lose, I was going to have the trip of a lifetime.

My mom and I golfed on our first full day in Arizona. I am a terrible golfer, but a lover of both beer and the outdoors, so I have taken to the sport and am trying to become at least competent. I took a lesson from a friend and former co-worker, who helped me shave 15 strokes from my average game—I shot 125 in Arizona. Yes, I’m that bad. The highlight of the round was a 30-yard chip-in birdie. I have never had a birdie in my golfing career. That’s not a bad way to get the first one. Putters are for losers, anyway. Screw putters.

Probably the best shot I will ever make.

Probably the best shot I will ever make.

After golf, we made our way to Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks for Paul Allen’s “12Fest.” It’s possible there were more Seahawks fans there than Diamondbacks fans at an average MLB game. There were certainly more fans than an average Mariners game. We met up with John, Kenny, and Cammy from our Seattle tailgate, and made an event of it, drinking overpriced domestic beers. The confidence in the air was astounding. We would go out, and enjoy our friendship over drinks and food, but my mom and I at least called it an early night, saving our voices and energy for the task at hand—Super Bowl XLIX.

When we woke up the next day, we started with our gameday traditions. I took a beer into the shower, and played “Have A Drink On Me” by AC/DC, finishing the beer before the song ended. I donned my gameday uniform—black sneakers, grey pants, Super Bowl XLIII champions shirt, 2002-2011 era blue and green sweatshirt, Wolf Grey Russell Wilson jersey, College Navy Richard Sherman jersey, fitted 7 5/8 sideline Seahawks cap, Nike Receiver gloves, and right sleeve pulled up to reveal my 1980s-colors, 2002-current logo design Seahawks tattoo on my forearm. We were ready.

Before the game, we met our tailgate friends Kenny and Cammy at a spot that was located nearly the same angle and distance away from University of Phoenix stadium as our standard tailgate is from CenturyLink field. We polished off a few bottles of whiskey and a case of beer. Without Pete there to lead the prayer, Kenny called out to the great hawk who flies in from the sea, and led a prayer. As per usual, we poured one out for the offense, defense, and special teams.

Just like home.

Just like home.

I was surprised at how loud Patriots fans were. I expected Seahawks fans to rowdy and loud, and they were. We were insanely loud. The Patriots fans were only a handful of decibels below, however.

Before half time, I expected the Seahawks to kick a field goal and make it 14-10 Patriots going into half time. Big Balls Pete made an appearance, though, and it turned out to be the right call, as Chris Matthews hauled in his first NFL touchdown to knot the score at 14-14 going into half. The Seahawks should still draft a tall, big-bodied receiver in 2015, but Matthews’ performance in the Super Bowl makes a ‘Hawks fan wonder—could Matthews be that red zone target that we’ve been lacking since Russell Wilson became the quarterback?

Our vantage point.

Our vantage point.

When the Seahawks took a 24-14 lead, I thought holy shit. We’re going to win the Super Bowl again. I don’t believe in jinxes, but I didn’t want to say anything out loud. Anything could happen. The Seahawks are great at holding on to second-half leads. But Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks of all-time, if not the very best. I began to notice him picking on Tharold Simon, who was playing much more than I expected him to. My phone had died, and I would learn later about Jeremy Lane’s injury on his interception. I wish I could un-see the picture of his bent wrist. Absolutely brutal.

When the Patriots took the lead with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter, I figured it was about a 50/50 chance that the Seahawks could take the lead and win the game. Despite the struggles of the offense in the fourth quarter, I knew they would be aggressive with everything on the line and nothing to lose. Wilson seemed to be throwing deep every play, a curious decision given the amount of time left and the fact that the Seahawks had all three time outs.

Jermaine Kearse’s catch at the four-yard line was unbelievable, and I thought then that if the Seahawks were unable to pull it off, it would take an incredible defensive stand or insanely bad mistake. Marshawn Lynch ran the ball, and the clock ticked to 27 seconds. Wilson dropped back to pass. I was a bit confused. Our seats were at the goal line where the play happened. I will have a freeze frame in my mind for the rest of my life of the ball being intercepted. My mom fell over into me, and I hugged her close and consoled her. We just watched the Seahawks lose the Super Bowl in maybe the worst possible way they could lose it.

Why didn’t they run the ball? Having had a day to reflect on it, I understand why a pass may not have been the worst call in the world. But, since the Pete Carroll era started, perhaps the worst route in the Seahawks’ passing game has been the slant. Targeting the third-best receiver on the team on a slant in a tight formation is a bad play call, even though replays show Lockette was open. Had Jermaine Kearse been able to shove Brandon Browner back one foot, he would have bumped Butler, the intercepting defender, out of the play, allowing Lockette to be the hero.

But, you can’t count on Jermaine Kearse pushing one of the most physical defenders in the league off his spot. You can’t count on your third-best receiver making a play on a tough pass on a route your team doesn’t execute well. The decision to pass wasn’t the worst call in the world. The decision to run a slant with Ricardo Lockette as the primary target, however, might have been the worst call in the world.

We left the stadium after the interception, not wanting to see the ceremony, and happily not seeing the fight that broke out during the kneel-downs (come on, guys, at least lose with some class.) For hours, my posture sank, and I felt empty, broken, defeated. I’ve never experienced sports sadness on quite that scale. It was, without a doubt, the most crushing loss I’ve ever seen, and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever see one of my teams lose a more important game in a more disappointing fashion.

With that being said, I’m over it. The fact that the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII softened the blow a little bit—if they had had their first Lombardi Trophy denied from them in that fashion, I may have gone missing for a few weeks. Having had one in the bank reminded me that they’re good enough to win it all, and left me extremely disappointed instead of inconsolably devastated. I was happy they were able to make it back to the Super Bowl. Winning it would’ve just been the cherry on top.

They may not make it back to that stage in my life time. Russell Wilson will probably play 10-15 more years in the NFL, and the odds are he probably won’t play in more than 1-2 Super Bowls from here on out. But this team has made its name defying the odds and doing what they’re not supposed to do. The Seahawks are still one of the youngest teams in football. Their core is locked up, and it’s likely both Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will receive contract extensions this offseason. General Manager John Schneider has something like 11 draft picks to play with.

The point is, while the Seahawks may not play in Super Bowl 50, or 51, or 52, they’re going to be one of the favorites to make it there almost every year of Russell Wilson’s career. We as Seahawks fans have seen him win one, and come heartbreakingly close to a second. Even if he doesn’t win another, we’re watching the “glory days” of Seahawks football. This is the best time to be a Seahawks fan in the history of the franchise. Just because that loss really, really, really, freaking sucked doesn’t mean we should lose sight of how lucky we are to root for this team.

Simply being in this position shouldn’t have been possible. Winning a second Super Bowl in two years would’ve been unprecedented. With one in the bank, I can write this post on my flight back to Seattle feeling extremely disappointed, but not life-changingly devastated.

It’s a great time to be a Seattle sports fan. We generally expect our teams to be eliminated from playoff contention by mid-season. Well, in the past year, the Seahawks have played in two Super Bowls, winning one. The Sounders have won the Supporter’s Shield, and are still probably the best team in MLS. The Mariners fell one game short of the playoffs in 2014, and are now projected to have the best record in the American League according to FanGraphs.com. This loss sucks. It’s terrible. It’s the worst loss in Seattle sports history. It’s also the best time ever to be a fan of Seattle sports teams.

In 2008, the Sehawks went 5-11 under Jim Mora. The Mariners lost over 100 games. The Sonics left town. Seattle was the worst city in America to be a sports fan. Now, we have the best football team in the NFC. We have perhaps the best baseball team in the American League. We have the best soccer team in MLS. As tough as Super Bowl XLIX to stomach, there is no better time to be in this city, loving these teams, living and dying on every snap, pitch, and pass.

Trust me. I was there. If there is to be greater heartbreak in my life, I don’t want to even consider it right now. The two images I will have burned into my head forever as still images are my vantage point of the game-ending interception–etched into my head as a still image–and the look on the face of a young boy in a Wolf Grey Richard Sherman jersey, bawling as his dad held his hand. And you know what? I’m over it. It’s time to move on. We’re still the luckiest sports city on the planet.

Despite what may be the most devastating loss in the history of any sport’s championship game, Seattle is currently the best place for anyone to be a sports fan. Don’t lose sight of that. Go Sounders. Go Cougs. Go Mariners. Go Seahawks. I’m ready for the most enjoyable and memorable baseball and soccer seasons this city has ever seen. But before we move on to the next sport, let’s pour one out the offense, the defense, and the special teams of perhaps the most entertaining team in the city’s history, the 2014 Seattle Seahawks.

 

SEA!! HAWKS!! SEA!! HAWKS!! SEA!! HAWKS!!

SEA!! HAWKS!! SEA!! HAWKS!! SEA!! HAWKS!!

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