2010 Event Recaps

November 6, 2010 - Seattle | August 21, 2010 - Vancouver B.C. | Portland Beavers doubleheader | May 22, 2010 - Seattle | February 13, 2010 Meeting - Portland | NWSABR at Mariners Fan Fest 2010 | January 30, 2010 - Seattle

November 6, 2010 - Seattle

Written by John Henshell
NWSABR held a meeting Saturday, November 6 from noon to 5:00 at Seattle Pacific University. We had three member presentations and one local celebrity guest presentation.

Art Thiel of seattlepi.com, which now exists solely as a Web-based newspaper, was our special guest and first speaker. Art has been a columnist for the P-I for many years, and is the author of “Out of Left Field: How the Mariners Made Baseball Fly in Seattle.” He and Mike Gastineau co-authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports.” Art and fellow columnist Steve Rudman are currently preparing a new Web site called NW Sports Press (http://www.nwsportspress.com/). They expect the site to debut before the end of the year.

Art mostly talked about the Mariners and gave us some insight into the personality and character of the people who run the organization. He presented the opinion, expressed in a recent column, that the Mariners are following a good cop/bad cop trend in hiring managers.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel

Our guest told the history of the relationship between Chuck Armstrong and Ken Griffey, Jr. He believes Armstrong's lack of courage led to the unraveling of the 2010 season. If the M’s president had been willing to acknowledge that the former superstar had nothing left to contribute on the field, Griffey would not have returned for a second last exit. As a team leader in 2009, Griffey supported Wakamatsu. When Wakamatsu was forced to bench Griffey, the veteran soured. Thiel says many of his teammates turned against the manager in support of the popular faded superstar. He attributes Chone Figgins' disappointing first half and expressed frustration to trying to over-achieve to justify his big free agent contract.

After devoting a generous amount of time to his talk, Art answered many questions from members, and even stayed through a meeting break to continue the discussion and answer more questions.

Jeff Bower made the first member presentation. His entertaining and informative topic was “The Worst Offensive Teams since Expansion.” Jeff used advanced statistical analysis to rank each team in offensive ineptitude. He presented information about the top 10 in a countdown (or the bottom 10 in reverse order, depending on how you wanted to see it).

The 2010 Mariners were an obvious inspiration for the research, but were only the seventh worst team, according to his methodology. They weren’t even the Mariners worst offensive team; the 1983 team was worse. An early Blue Jay team was the most punchless team of the past 50 years.

John Henshell followed with the presentation, “Will Justin Smoak be a successful major league hitter? What history says.” He researched all players from 1973 through 2007 and found that Mike Schmidt was the only player to hit as poorly as Smoak (.209 in 235 AB at the time of the trade to Seattle) in his first extended shot in the major leagues who became a superstar, and Brandon Phillips is the only other player to become a star.

Only 18 rookies hit below .210 in the 35-year period, and only 102 rookies hit below .230. No one in the first group got his lifetime BA as high as .270, and only seven in the larger group got into the .270s. With the possible exception of five caught PED users who were excluded from consideration, none hit as high as .280. The median lifetime average for this group is .233. Two-thirds of all sub-.230 hitters were middle infielders or catchers.

Among other first basemen with low BAs as rookies, Greg Brock appears to be the most similar to Smoak. Jason Thompson is also very similar, and his career appears to be the best-case scenario for Smoak.

Following a discussion of chapter business and event planning, Mark Armour made the final presentation of the day. He discussed the building of the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals. Mark presented a strong case that Bing Devine made all the best player personnel decisions for the eventual world champions, while everyone else in the organization with input or veto power made or would have made moves that would have hurt the team.

Our next meeting will dovetail with FanFest at Safeco Field. The event is scheduled for January 29, which the national office is promoting as SABR day in America. Then, we will meet in Portland February 19.

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August 21, 2010 - Vancouver B.C.

Written by John Henshell

Canadian and U.S. NWSABR members were among the large turnout at Nat Bailey Stadium in downtown Vancouver B.C. The meeting was hosted by member Max Weder of Vancouver. Chapter president, Tim Herlich, and vice president, John Henshell, briefly addressed the group.

Ian and Colin Dixon were our featured guest speakers. Ian played in the Yankees organization from 1961 to 1964, the last years of the team’s lengthy glory era. He voluntarily retired to go to college. Ian felt his best chance to play in the majors was as a pitcher, but the Yankees gave him a better offer to play 3B.

Colin, Ian’s son, also played 3B. He was in the Red Sox organization from 1989 to 1995. At 42, he looks fit enough to still be playing. Today, he is a financial advisor. Both Dixons are from the Vancouver area and still live there.

Ian was a charming speaker and told some great stories about both well-known and obscure Yankees. He told about his lifelong friendship with Roy White. Details are also recounted in Tom Hawthorn’s column here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/tom-hawthorn/a-major-league-friendship-that-crossed-the-colour-line/article1684186/. The story of Ian and Roy’s encounters with racism in the U.S. south are particularly touching.

Ian talked about spring training in Florida. Growing up in B.C., he had never experienced heat and humidity like Florida’s. He had trouble sleeping and stepped outside for some fresh air. While he was outside, Mickey Mantle also left the hotel. “I guess Mickey had some trouble breathing, too,” Ian deadpanned. Then a limo with a beautiful woman inside arrived. Mantle got in the limo and presumably broke curfew. Ian noted how the players were in awe of Mantle’s hitting prowess.

Colin’s experiences and stories were equally fascinating. Colin was disappointed that the Red Sox provided little instruction to their minor league players in his era. He sat down on the bench next to Ted Williams during spring training. “How are you doing, Ted?” he asked. Williams replied, “Where are ya from, kid?” Colin told him, and Williams said, “They got some great fishing up there.” Not knowing that Williams was famous for fishing, Colin asked, “Do you fish?”

They talked fishing for 15 minutes. Colin said only later did he realize he should have asked Williams about hitting.

Colin also addressed steroids, which were just coming into vogue when he played. He said the one way to identify a probable user is to look for hitters who fearlessly crowd the plate. He mentioned a former teammate who went on to great success with the Houston Astros as an example.

We had many questions for Ian and Colin, and they were answered with candor. Max concluded the meeting with a trivia quiz.

After the meeting, most of the group went to the home of Max and Jennifer Ettinger for pizza, beverages, and more baseball talk. The day of baseball activities was concluded with the Vancouver Canadians game against Boise that evening. A few pictures from the August 21 events are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/baseballart/sets/72157624685080885/detail/.

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Portland Beavers doubleheader

Written by John Henshell

Ten members and one spouse attended the Portland Beavers doubleheader against the Salt Lake City Bees Sunday, August 1 at lame-duck PGE Park in Portland. Although it was an informal outing, we did have a trivia quiz with the theme, “prominent major leaguers who played for the Beavers in the past 50 years.” Chapter president Tim Herlich was the winner with 14 of 18 correct answers.

The Bees swept the doubleheader 7-4 and 1-0. Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo homered as SLC jumped to a 7-0 lead after 3 innings in the first game. Lefty Nathan Culp, just recalled from AA, was the victim.

Cesar Ramos pitched a 2-hit shutout in the nightcap. Kevin Frandsen, who was recently sent down by the Angels in spite of a .288 BA, accounted for all the scoring with a solo homer. Portland twice stranded runners on third base, including the bottom of the seventh to end the game.

Weather was perfect and the general admission seats were close enough to hear the smack in catcher’s glove and the umpire’s emphatic calls. We marveled at Dusty Ryan’s stats: 31 hits and 40 walks. He singled to raise his BA to .159. We concurred that Nick Green’s official height (6' 0") and weight (180) were considerable hyperbole.

We would do this every year, but alas, professional baseball is leaving the Portland area for the foreseeable future. PGE Park is being converted into a soccer-only facility and the AAA team is expected to be sold and relocated.

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May 22, 2010 - Seattle

Written by Mary Groebner

The Northwest Regional Chapter of SABR (NWSABR) met on Saturday May 22, 2010 from noon until approx 5pm at the Douglass-Truth branch of the Seattle Public Library in the Central District of Seattle. Approximately twenty-five (25) members and guests were in attendance (some are pictured below).
Speakers included NWSABR members Stan Opdyke, Mickey Gallagher, Steve Steinberg and special guest Dr. Pierce Scranton (former team physician of the Seattle Seahawks).

Meeting Attendees 5/22
Meeting Attendees 5/22

The first presenter of the day was Stan Opdyke, who provided insights about the careers of Connie Mack and Vin Scully. Between the two of them, their careers span nearly the entire history of professional baseball through present day. Stan had published a recent article on these two at Baseball Analysts site. Stan recalled Mack’s playing career as a catcher in the 1880’s, his subsequent alliance with Ban Johnson, and his boom-and-bust tenure as manager and owner of the Philadelphia Athletics during the first half of the twentieth century. Scully owes the start of his broadcasting career to Red Barber, who recommended Scully to Branch Rickey when Ernie Harwell left Brooklyn to become a broadcaster for the Giants. Scully’s first broadcast was a spring training game in Vero Beach, FL in 1950 against the A’s. The straw hat-bedecked Mack was in his last year as manager, while Scully was embarking on a broadcast career that is now in its 61st year. Stan’s presentation ended with audio from a 2006 Voices of the Game interview with Rick Rizzs and Vin Scully; Scully noted that as a broadcaster, you have to earn the respect and trust of the fans by reporting the game accurately and avoiding seeing the game with your heart as a fan would.

Steve Steinberg
Steve Steinberg

The third speaker of the day was Steve Steinberg (pictured right) who reprised and expanded on a presentation he had given at this spring’s NINE conference in Tucson, AZ on the life of Grover Cleveland Alexander. Steve had seen a photo of Alexander, surrounded by children that had piqued his interest; the photo was taken in St. Paul, NE (near Alexander’s hometown of Elbe) after the 1926 World Series. Steve had worked with the local newspaper to get out word to try to identify the children in the photo and successfully found their identities but sadly, all had died. Many were nieces and nephews of Alexander. The photo had triggered Steve’s interest in the intersection of Alexander’s personal/private life, small-town pride, and the love story with his wife Amy. Alexander had met Amy in 1914 at a dance in St. Paul; they married and divorced twice, and stayed in love with each other through their lives regardless of their current marital status. The movie ‘Winning Team’ was about Alexander, and Amy had served as a consultant for it. Alexander battled alcohol abuse, which may have been related to efforts to hide epilepsy. Steve related that NWSABR member, and recently retired state senator Ken Jacobsen had grown up in St. Paul, NE and remembers seeing Grover sitting at the end of a bar, signing baseballs for drinks; prior to his retirement it was incredibly hard to get autographed items from Alexander. Though widely known as an alcoholic, residents of St. Paul don’t speak of this aspect of Alexander’s life, preferring to focus only on the highlights of his career while celebrating Grover Cleveland Alexander Days annually during the summer.

Anthony Salazar (pictured below) spoke briefly, leading a brief discussion around the future of SABR, noting that the median age for members in 1999 was 49 and now it has risen to 58 with over 40% of the members over the age of 50. He solicited suggestions for retention, recruitment, and what the future of SABR should look like.

Anthony Salazar
Anthony Salazar

Neal Traven spoke briefly about the presentations and posters (more than ever) at the upcoming national convention in Atlanta. Neal is the ‘presentation wrangler’ and assured those in attendance that the quality of the convention would be excellent.

Tim Herlich gave a presentation titled ‘Tale of Two Pitchers’ (with nods to Mark Armour and Charles Dickens for the title). He provided stats of the first several starts of this season for a couple pitchers that one might think are poised for stardom (Ubaldo Jiminez and Phil Hughes), and then compared them to similar stats for two pitchers in the 1963 season who also seemed poised for stardom (Tom Cheney and Ray Washburn). Both ended up with career-debilitating injuries; Tim reminded us that nothing is certain.

Dr. Pierce Scranton
Dr. Pierce Scranton

The featured speaker of the day was Dr. Pierce Scranton (pictured above). Dr. Scranton is an orthopedic surgeon and former team physician for the Seattle Seahawks, having started his Seahawks affiliation back in the golden age of the Seahawks (Jack Patera, Chuck Knox) as well as the author of two books including ‘Playing Hurt: Treating and Evaluating the Warriors of the NFL’. Dr. Scranton spoke about the changes that free agency brought to the role of team physician as well as the roles of agents, players, public relations people etc. as it involves sports injuries. Interestingly, he spoke of the increase in non-contact ACL injuries due to a combination of evolving sport shoe technology and Astroturf; this had contributed directly to the ACL injury of Curt Warner. Scranton’s colleague, Tom Whitesall, referred to skills needed by NFL players as ‘qabs’ (quickness, agility, and balance), and that football is all about finesse, power and misdirection which makes it a very different game to play than baseball. People physically stop maturing somewhere between the ages of 18 and 25, and it’s likely that overuse in younger years (especially for pitchers) may have robbed people of potential careers; Scranton was aware of Mike Marshall’s theories on pitching and thinks he might be 100% right. Scranton noted that Jamie Moyer, who virtually has no rotator cuff left, is a personal hero, and that he believes much of what we see as natural ability is in fact genetic. Scranton recommended Tom Farrey’s book (‘Game On’) on genes and athleticism, and further suggested that a potential future speaker would be his now-retired colleague, Dr. Larry Pedegana (team physician for the Mariners for 30 years).
Tim Herlich reviewed the chapter’s finances and future meeting dates, and Mike Rice closed out the meeting with an update of the presentation he gave in Portland in February about the Mariners probability of success this season. Mike noted that the Mariners were 35-20 in one-run games in 2009, but only 5-11 this year.

After the meeting, several members and guests took in the Mariners-Padres game at Safeco Field, and the Mariners lost their twelfth one-run game of the year, 2-1.

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February 13, 2010 Meeting - Portland

Written by Mary Groebner

The Northwest Regional Chapter of SABR (NWSABR) met on Saturday, February 13, 2010, from around 1:00pm until just before 5pm at the Cedar Mill Community Library in the Portland area. Approximately fifteen (15) members and guests were in attendance.

Speakers included NWSABR members Tim Herlich, John Henshell, Mike Rice and special guest/former player and long-time pitching coach Rick Wise.

Rick Wise at 2/13/10 NWSABR meeting
Rick Wise at 2/13/10 NWSABR meeting

The meeting began with introductions all around; NWSABR was pleased to welcome two members (Eric and Bob) to their first chapter meetings.

The first presenter of the day was chapter president Tim Herlich, who reprised his national conference presentation "21*' on long-forgotten pitcher Tom Cheney. This presentation won the Doug Pappas Award for Best Oral Presentation at the 2009 SABR National Convention. On 9/12/62, Cheney threw 21 strikeouts while pitching a 16-inning game (and throwing 228 pitches). Tim’s presentation reviewed Cheney’s career, as well as noting that various respected publications (Sporting News and SABR’s own list of baseball records) devalue Cheney's achievement. Tim’s thesis is that this is at least partially due to the fact that Cheney’s lifetime pitching career is not on par with those noted as record holders (Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, etc.); Tim believes this is a disservice and appeals for proper recognition for this baseball record and record holder.

Tim Herlich, with assistance of slide advancer Jeff Bower
Tim Herlich, with assistance of slide advancer Jeff Bower

Next up, chapter vice-president John Henshell presented part 3 of a series titled "Danny Darwinism: Reversing the Aging Process." John had presented part 1 at the Feb 2009 chapter meeting, and part 2 at the Nov 2009 chapter meeting. John began presentation of part 3 by clarifying some of the aims of part 2 regarding pattern recognition (which generated much discussion at the November meeting) and, as requested by peers at that meeting, providing fewer facts and more analysis for part 3. John’s thesis is that probable PED (performance-enhancing drug) users can be identified through a combination of baseball statistics and researching "what is publicly known." In part 3, John quoted various articles regarding PED use in which athletes, coaches, agents and others integrally involved in the game estimated overall usage, as well as studies noting what impact PEDs might have. He documented that PEDs can turn an ordinary player into a superstar. One guest in attendance noted the sheer difficulty of undertaking such a study as there is much variance in quantities/usage throughout.

John Henshell, presenting Part 3 of Danny Darwinism
John Henshell, presenting Part 3 of Danny Darwinism

Chapter member Mike Rice was up next with his Mariners Roundtable presentation. Mike referred to himself as a "glass half empty" guy as he used OPS+, ERA+, WHIP, RSAA, and Pythagorean projections to compare Team A and Team B (2007 and 2009 Mariners, who finished those seasons respectively with 5 and 10 more wins than projected). Mike then attempted to convince those in attendance that the optimism for the 2010 Mariners wasn’t backed up by the career OPS+ or ERA+ figures for those on the 40 man roster currently. At the conclusion of the presentation, members went around the room giving their predictions as to how the 2010 Mariners would do – low estimate was 76 wins (Pete) and high estimate was 88 wins (new guy Bob) with a back-of-the-envelope consensus around 82-80. (Interestingly, the PECOTA projection has the team finishing with 83-79).

Some meeting attendees listening to Mike Rice, and his Mariners outlook.
Some meeting attendees listening to Mike Rice, and his Mariners outlook.

Chapter president Tim Herlich took care of some chapter business, noting again that members should consult the new chapter Web site (this one) for member news, upcoming events and event recaps. Additionally, Tim suggested a baseball-packed weekend in conjunction with the May chapter meeting. Chapter members Mark Armour and Steve Steinberg both have recently published books and will be at Elliot Bay Books in Seattle for a signing on Friday 5/21; the next chapter meeting is slated for 5/22 with an optional Ms-Padres game set for that evening. For those interested, the Tacoma Rainiers will also be playing at home that weekend, so members could organize a group outing for the Sunday 5/23 afternoon game against the New Orleans Zephyrs. Tim also floated the idea of a potential September gathering, perhaps in conjunction with Latino baseball night (9/18) at Safeco Field, and a last-chance-to-see-the-Portland-Beavers gathering this summer.

Jeff Bower won the trivia quiz with 13 of 14 correct answers. The quiz had a women's names theme and 14 questions in honor of Valentine's Day the following day.

Featured speaker and special guest Rick Wise answered questions for an hour. Wise, a Portland-native, pitched for 5 major league teams over an 18 year career, and then served as a long-time pitching coach in the minor leagues and retired at the end of 2008 after 45 years in pro baseball. Rick was a rookie at the tender age of 18, having signed for a whopping $12K. To supplement his income, he worked at a sporting goods store near the Lloyd Center one off-season, and did about 50 speaking gigs for $35 a piece another. This was in addition to playing winter ball in Puerto Rico with guys like Roberto Clemente and Johnny Bench. He recalled that in some spring training camps, there were so many players that they wore triple digits on the backs of their jerseys. To Rick, his age as a rookie wasn’t an issue for he felt he was "in his realm" once he walked onto the field and got between the lines. But when assessing today’s 18 year-olds, he sometimes thinks to himself "could YOU get Hammerin’ Hank Aaron or Willie Mays out?"

Rick started the second game of the doubleheader on 6/21/64, after Jim Bunning hurled a perfect game in the opener; he recalled that amidst the clubhouse madness, he just said “I need a ball.” When Wise finally walked a guy in the 2nd inning (verified by Retrosheet), he was momentarily befuddled as the crowd stood and cheered; it was the first Mets' baserunner they’d seen all afternoon! Wise won the nightcap, pitching a three-hitter with relief help from Johnny Klippstein. (Editors Note: The combined three hits given up by Bunning/Wise/Klippstein that afternoon may be a record for fewest hits allowed in a double-header. The Dean brothers also gave up but three hits in a double-header vs. Brooklyn on 9/21/34, Dizzy pitching a three hit shutout in the first game and Daffy following with a no-hitter in the nightcap).

Rick pitched a no-hitter on 6/23/71 with the Phillies, in which he also hit 2 home runs; he’s the only pitcher to have ever done so. He noted that he’d been close to throwing additional no-hitters another 5 or 6 times in his career, having one of them denied due to a questionable scorer’s decision. Rick enjoyed hitting, but after 6 years in the American League (with the DH rule in effect), when he went back to the National League, Rick no longer had the practiced eye-hand coordination that he needed (but pitchers still showed him respect). He lamented that he never got a chance to hit in Fenway.

Chapter members asked Rick about teammates and managers, as well as players he had coached. Rick recalled that he loved Dick Allen as a teammate, that Gene Mauch was a brilliant and dedicated manager that was like a father figure at times, and would do whatever it took to win that day. Recently, Rick participated in a baseball cruise and had just returned from a Red Sox fantasy camp in Florida. He counts Luis Tiant and Bill "Spaceman" Lee, along with Randy Jones, as among his closest friends in baseball to this day. Once you retire, especially if you live in a city that does not have major league ball, it is difficult to keep in touch though, as ballplayers scatter to the wind. He recalled coaching Jarrod Washburn and Shane Reynolds in the minors, and talked of how important the players’ union (and Marvin Miller, who Rick feels should be in the Hall of Fame) was to changing the way players were treated.

Rick Wise, answering questions about a 45 year career.
Rick Wise, answering questions about a 45 year career.

The meeting adjourned shortly before 5pm, with several members heading to local watering-hole Bleachers for additional discussion and refreshments.

Special thanks due to John Henshell for making meeting arrangements, special guest Rick Wise, and Bob Russon for providing the presentation equipment (and cookies).

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NWSABR at Mariners Fan Fest 2010

Written by Tim Herlich

The chapter celebrated SABR Day in America by participating in the annual Mariners Fan Fest on January 30 and 31. Over 16,000 fans attended, and many stopped by the SABR booth hosted by several chapter members. Nearly 1000 vintage Mariners baseball cards featuring Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, Alvin Davis, Omar Vizquel, Harold Reynolds and others were handed out to boys and girls. Approximately 75 fans requested more information about SABR and the Northwest Chapter. A big thank you to the Mariners for providing the booth at no cost to SABR, and to the NWSABR members who agreed to staff it during the two-day event.

Tim Jenkins, Tim Herlich, David Alvarez staff the NWSABR booth at Mariners FanFest 2010
Tim Jenkins, Tim Herlich, David Alvarez staff the NWSABR booth at Mariners FanFest 2010

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January 30, 2010 - Seattle

Written by Mary Groebner

The Northwest Regional Chapter of SABR (NWSABR) met on Saturday, January 30, 2010, from 12:00pm until approximately 3:30pm in a suite-level conference room at Safeco Field, Seattle. 2010 Mariners FanFest was taking place at Safeco, and NWSABR staffed a booth at this event.
NWSABR wishes to thank Kevin Martinez (Vice-president of Marketing) and the Seattle Mariners for providing an excellent facility for the meeting, as well as an incredible lineup of speakers.

Speakers were: Special Assistant to the GM and SABR member Tony Blengino (12-1), Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair (1-1:30), Assistant GM Jeff Kingston (1:30-2), Director of Pro Scouting Carmen Fusco, Director of Player Development Pedro Grifol, and Director of Amateur Scouting Tom McNamara (2-approx 3:30). Approximately 25-30 NWSABR members, and guests, attended.

NWSABR Chapter President Tim Herlich began the meeting by making brief comments thanking members for staffing of the FanFest booth, reminding us of the upcoming (2/13/10) Portland-area meeting and encouraging carpool from the Seattle area, and reminding members of the NWSABR website located at: http://chapters.sabr.org/nwsabr/. Tim passed around stats from the website (139 unique visitors, including one from Japan). Jim O’Donnell (one of the founding members of the chapter) noted that 2010 is the 30th year of NW SABR existence. Jim, along with other founding members Jim Price and Doug Simpson met in Seattle sometime in 1980 with the first probable actual meeting held in Portland in early 1981. Interestingly enough, Rick Wise (who will be a featured speaker at the Portland area meeting on 2/13/10) was the first speaker back in 1981. This will be Rick’s 3rd return to speak to NWSABR.

Tony Blengino, Special Assistant to GM speaking at 1/30/10 NWSABR Meeting
Tony Blengino, Special Assistant to GM speaking at 1/30/10 NWSABR Meeting

Up first was Tony Blengino, longtime SABR member and new member of the NW SABR chapter (Tony also retains his membership in the Milwaukee-area SABR chapter). Tony was a return speaker to NWSABR, having addressed the chapter at the 5/16/09 meeting also held at Safeco. He regaled us with tales of a particularly memorable Rick Wise pitching performance (he saw as an 8 year old, sharing the experience with his mom) as well as when and where he received his first invitation to join SABR. Tony had been a presenter at past SABR conventions, focusing on statistical performance of minor league pitchers, and continues his interest in the topic. NWSABR members were filled with questions for Tony. Some highlights: his predictions for the Ms performance this year (he expects .OBP to improve by around 15 points given improvements at 3-4 positions) and optimism that we’ve built a very competitive team. Also noted was that the coaching staff, clubhouse and front office have gained quite the positive reputation around the league; agents were actually calling the Mariners this offseason in hopes that their players would be made an offer to come and be a part of this organization. Tony gave rave reviews to Ken Griffey Jr., referring to him as the "funniest man he’d ever met," as well as manager Don Wakamatsu "Wak" who takes the time to get to know each of his players and support them; this really helps the player reach full potential.

Tony of course acknowledges that stats are important, but that the human element to the game is also critical; we all know talented folks at our own workplaces who may have fatal flaws that just don’t work within a particular organization.  To that end, Tony noted that the Ms do a Myers-Briggs analysis on their players and get to know them, but also that they’re so confident in the quality of their staff and clubhouse at present that they’re willing to take chances on guys that may not have quite fit elsewhere.  When asked how many players in the minor league systems from other teams that the Ms might be keeping an eye on, Tony responded with an eye-popping ‘around 1000’ and noted the importance of the amateur scouts in the organization; he was pleased that recently, when the amateur scouts had their yearly gathering at Safeco they were treated to back-to-back press conferences announcing the signing of Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez respectively.  This front office wants all who work for it to know they are an important part of the larger Mariners team.  Tony noted that while Safeco is known as a pitcher’s park, it’s pretty friendly to LH batters as well, and spoke glowingly of the many young arms that at AA this year.

Rick Adair, Pitching Coach
Rick Adair, Pitching Coach

Next up was Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair. Some of the areas covered during Rick’s time with us were his belief in the importance of innings pitched (IP) as a primary measure of value, some insights into some of the returning (Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ian Snell) and new pitchers on the Ms staff (and how/if Cliff Lee could be convinced to stay) and some general coaching approaches. Early in his coaching career, Rick focused more on mechanics and thought he “had all the answers” and admitted he was less than successful. Rick also stressed the human element of the game and the supportive clubhouse, coaching and front office atmosphere in this organization and how important this is to allow the true ability of a player to come out. Rick reported that he works a great deal with the catchers, perhaps more so than the pitchers, and that he finds a lot of enjoyment in working with rookie pitchers or young kids. He noted that as a coach, he tries not to overthink things and encourages his players to do the same, and that one of Wak’s favorite sayings is a take-off from ‘The mind is a terrible thing to waste’ – but Wak’s version is simply that ‘The mind is a terrible thing’.

(Sorry, no photo of Jeff Kingston; too blurry to post)

Assistant GM Jeff Kingston followed Rick. Jeff spoke of his background with the San Diego Padres and the opportunity he had to be mentored by/work with/learn from guys like Theo Epstein, Paul DePodesta, etc. Jeff comes to baseball from a more statistics-oriented background than a player background, but he noted that though guys like Theo are often thought of as only interested in the stats, they really are masters at putting together all types of information – from scouts, video, stats, etc. to make decisions based on the complete picture. The Ms front office is an example of this kind of approach, with staff gathering info and making recommendations from a variety of approaches, and GM Jack Zdurenciek then making the final decisions after hearing from his staff. Part of Jeff’s job is to deal with roster management, which means he has to understand all of the arcane rules around number of options, waiver wire, rule 5 draft, etc. He noted that Kanekoa Texeira, a pitching acquisition the Mariners got from the New York Yankees in the Rule 5 draft is a right-hander with a great cutter who is expected to be pretty hard on lefties. Before he left, Jeff noted that the San Diego Padres do not generally think of the Seattle Mariners as ‘hated rivals’.

Pedro Grifol, Director of Player Development
Pedro Grifol, Director of Player Development

Last up, the trio of Pedro Grifol (Player development), Tom McNamara (amateur scouting), and Carmen Fusco (pro scouting) answered questions well beyond their original 1 hour time slot.  These guests noted the extremely strong Mariners international presence and ability of Bob Engle and his staff to come up with fabulous prospects from the Ms academies in the Dominican, Venezuela and elsewhere.  This kind of international scouting strength balances well with players acquired through the draft.  Pedro had just returned from Venezuela, and there was some discussion from the panel about baseball atmosphere in the Dominican, Venezuela and Australia (where Tom noted that the mothers of the players often keep detailed scouting notes at games).  The speakers all encouraged SABR members to catch a Winter League game sometime if they had the chance, or go watch baseball in the Dominican to experience the difference in atmosphere themselves.

Pedro Grifol, Director of Player Development and Carmen Fusco, Director of Pro Scouting
Pedro Grifol, Director of Player Development and Carmen Fusco, Director of Pro Scouting

Questions then turned to general approaches on scouting and drafting, as well as comments on specific players (Joe Dunigan, Dustin Ackley and others) in the organization.  Carmen noted that at the amateur scout level, generally the evaluation focuses on whether or not a player has the tools, makeup and a certain basic level of skill to continue.  Once in the system, the focus is on refining and improving the skills.  Every player in the system has to possess a great deal of self-confidence, as well as resilience (since baseball is a game of much failure).  As Director of Player Development, Pedro gets a chance to essentially watch boys turn into men as they develop these skills and resilience needed to cope with climbing the ladder thru the farm system.  Pedro indicated that the toughest jumps for prospects to make are from short-season A (6 clubs) to long-season A (2 clubs) and from A to AA (West Tenn).  Scouting at the pro level is largely an evaluation of minor variations in skill level (as once there, you’ve already surpassed many on the way) as well as resilience and other kinds of intangibles.  Asked whether there was a preference towards high school or college players in the draft, Tom McNamara replied that the preference is for the best player, and also quoted Bill Parcell that ‘good players are difficult people’ sometimes. When Carmen and Tom were asked about stories of their best/worst experiences (players they believed in that excelled, or that failed), Carmen noted among other things that he was the guy who brought Trevor Hoffman to San Diego and figured he could change from being a middle reliever to a closer (great call Carmen).  Tom is clearly very vested in the players he scouts, telling tales of getting misty-eyed when a father calls him to tell him one of his sign-ees has just been called up to the big leagues, or stories of kids he thought would make it but didn’t.  To a man, every speaker talked about what a great environment that they work in and how happy they are to work for GM Jack Zdurenciek as well as with the great team that Jack has assembled.

Tom McNamara, Director of Amateur Scouting
Tom McNamara, Director of Amateur Scouting

 

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