Detect-o-Vision: Scrubbing The Roster Floor

So Dr. D takes his 13-year-old sidekick to a Seahawk game on Monday night. Weird game? Unbelievably so. No, not the Cowboys loss. Football, I mean. <br><br> Daddy popped for $100 a chair, which placed us less than a single kilometer from the action.

We giggled that the umpires were wearing the same camoflage stripes favored by African horses. This ump camoflage did make us uneasy about the quality of the game, but we had little time to worry.

Unlike baseball, it was bitterly cold, and unlike baseball, we weren't wearing jackets. We stayed loose dodging thrown beer and hip-tossing the happy strangers who were slam-dancing us after every Seahawk touchdown. This ain't your daddy's Mariner game, son. No, I won't tell you how to spell that word. Stop asking.

And no, I have no idea why there are no women in the stands. This isn't Safeco. Ask your mom when we get home.

We watched Matt Hasselbeck throw for about 600 yards, and left with 90 seconds left and the win clinched. As we neared our car, we heard so many groans and sobs from behind us, that we thought Teddy Kennedy had heard about the successful Iraqi elections. No, I don't know who blew the save, son. Stop asking.

But the worst part about the game was that there were no defensive offsides plays. You know the ones? As the quarterback backpedals onto the pitcher's mound, the zebras hurl yellow flags into the air which announce, "DO-OVER! FREE PLAY! DO WHATEVER YOU WANT! IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT YOU CAN HAVE A DO-OVER!"

There are some QB's who exploit the defensive offsides by throwing a five-yard down-and-out, which makes as much sense as playing Willie Bloomquist at first base. I mean, even if you complete the five-yard pass, you're going to ask to have it erased anyway, right?

There are other quarterbacks – the sabermetric term for them is "good" QB's - who plant their back foots on this play, and hurl the ball a minimum of 40 yards in the direction of the end zone. If you can't understand why that's the better choice, we won't tell you. Stop asking.

Which brings us to Non-Roster Invitees, Bill Bavasi style.

Sweet Child In Mind, Dept.

Other teams, certainly other Mariner teams, fill out their spring training camps with Scrubs who are not unlike the five-yard-out. They'll invite Giovanni Carrera, and wow!, he comes to camp and throws the best baseball of his entire life.

Of course, the ballclub then turns to the zebra and asks to have the play erased. "That was offsides, right? We can have a do-over? Great! Thanks for coming, Gio, amig-O. You made our decision tough, but it was a numbers game."

Why is it you invite a player to camp and then when does everything you hoped he would, you still cut him? Could somebody explain that to Dr. D, slow, in one-syllable words?

Do you HAVE to be so scaredy-cat cautious, even with your NRI's?! The chicken-livered play is never the best play (unless you're asked to take some early March hacks against Felix, or asked to play chainsaw tag, or, shudder, invited to play Roto with Mikey Jay). Can't you live a little, at least with the players who cost you nothing? I don't know, says Mr. Gillick. Stop asking.

Seriously, in baseball, the March non-roster invitees should evidence a little purpose on the inviter's part. Bring in some players who, if they do hit three cherries on the jackpot, are worth the effort you made in the first place.

Bill Bavasi understands this. He always has. He rummages through players like a kid tearing through the bottom of a smaller cousin's toy box. The minor league scrubs in a Bavasi organization are going to be brought up to sink or swim –cough-madritsch-leone-sherrill-bucky-cough. And this spring's non-roster invitees are brought in with BAD INTENTIONS, bab-eh.

And Bavasi isn't looking for players who can play in the major leagues. He is looking for players who are better than what he has!

This sounds easy, but do you do it in your office? No, you're too close to the situation. You're so busy being impressed that your co-worker learned Java, or that Ryan Franklin's forkball is better this year, that you forget to ask, "just what was this co-worker worth in the first place?"

When Bavasi asks about starting pitchers in trade, he doesn't forget to ask whether they're better than what he has. When he brings up the Cha Seung Baeks of the minor leagues, he's not asking, can they pitch in the majors; he's asking, are they better than what he has. And when he surveys the landscape for the Reicherts and Nelsons of the world, he's not forgetting that either.

These ain't your Daddy's Mariners. They stay focused.

Granted, some NRI's are brought up to give them a li'l taste of The Show so they'll get their backsides to work in Tacoma this year, or to reward them for not spending the winter fanning 43-year-olds in Guatemala, or something. But the 2005 M's NRI list was put together with a purpose.

Whoa Nellie Dept.

Where's the D-O-V readout on Jeff Nelson for 2005?

No can do. Jeff Nelson isn't a saber call. He's a tools scout call.

When Norm Charlton tried out for the M's in 1995, Lou Piniella walked down to the bullpen, saw ten pitches and said "sign him." Charlton went on to become a super-closer and in a sense, saved baseball in Seattle.

Jeff Nelson can't be analyzed with numbers. He comes to camp throwing 94 and throwing his sick Nintendo sliders, or he does not. It costs you nothing to see.

You drop back and you throw to Jeff Nelson on the deep zig out, and if the pass is incomplete, hey, the defense was offside anyway. You get a do-over. But! If the pass is complete, and Nelson's rested from his 2004 light usage, and he is flinging his Frisbees – jackpot. A magic relief ace out of thin air. Nelson is a scrub invitee who is worth the effort of bringing to camp.

Does D-O-V think that after a year of (mostly) rest, Nelson can throw his Whoa Nellie slider again? I dunno. Nobody knows. You just have to check it out in March, amigo. Stop asking.

But this you know. When you sift through Scrubs, you need to constantly sift for Scrubs who pay out more than your bet, if they do hit the triple cherries.

C'mon already. Where do you think Bavasi figured all this out? Same place he figured out how to growl at reporters. From his dad when he was seven. Stop asking.

7.7 K On The Reichert Scale, Dept.

Dan Reichert is another example of the M's new approach to Scrubbing the floor of the roster. Reichert is an extreme groundball pitcher. It is very tough to hit groundballs over the deep Safeco fences, and it is also tough to hit groundballs through the M's human gillnet around the infield. The M's fanbase is all a-twitter over Reichert's synergy with Reese, Beltre, and Sexson. Beautiful!

What do sabermetrics have to say on Reichert's 2005? They don't. Stop asking. You LOOK at Reichert in March. He either comes to camp having learned to throw strikes, or he doesn't. It costs you nothing to see.

Well, if y'insist, maybe a little D-O-V would be okay. Reichert is Jaret Wright, give or take a dozen groundballs. He's a first-round talent who was, when he first came up, THIS CLOSE to taking over as a Grade A starter. A flaky organization messed up his head, he's a card-carrying head case, and he's got the 5 BB's a game to prove it.

Reichert is today precisely where Jaret Wright was a year ago. Everything is there for Dan, even the 7.7 K's and 0.3 HR's last year (MLE), except that he doesn't know what to do with the ball. He's wild because his head is messed up. First coaching staff that knows what it's doing, gets a star pitcher.

Can Reichert throw 200 innings? Probably not. Stop asking. We understand that he's got a little-known physical condition that causes him to fatigue easily.

But Reichert is a March worth's of good coaching away from being the 1999-2001 Derek Lowe – 7 K's a game, heavy GB ratio, an elfin HR rate, and 40 saves.

Grounders or Grinders? Dept.

Very topical with the M's fan base is the comparison between Dan Reichert and Ryan Franklin.

To understand the grinder Franklin, point your compass East and focus on his K rate. Ryan Franklin's WEAKNESS is, at bottom, his lack of any pitch that scores over a "50" on the scouting scale. He simply can NOT put hitters away -- his K rate has leveled out at 4.2, 4.5 a game.

Bill James, or Lou Piniella, or Lao-Tzu, or somebody, said, "You can't find a good pitcher who had a long career, with a K rate of 3 or 4. You can't find any, because there aren't any."

Franklin's high HR rate is, in part, a function of the fact that hitters simply have their bat on the ball all the time. But Franklin's STRENGTH is just as overlooked. He is the best lousy pitcher in the game.

Ryan Franklin is the Ultimate Mike Marshall Pitcher, because he worries about change of speed, not location. He will hit 71 and 92 on the radar gun, and he will literally hit every number in between. Franklin throws every single pitch for a strike, throws every pitch intending to get a huge piece of the plate, and as a result he gives up a lot of homers.

But Ryan Franklin is also the only AL pitcher who throws five different pitches for strikes. At will. How does he keep his feel for five pitches? I dunno. Stop asking.

Internet guru Inside Pitch once pointed out that you can best understand Ryan Franklin with your ear - that if you listen to the batted balls off Franklin, you hear a lot of buzzers and clunkers and thwangers and blompers.

Batters have no trouble making contact on Franklin. But! They are often doing so on defensive swings. And so Franklin's surprisingly good OAVG's -- the high conversion rates that he gets from his fielders -- are consistently good and will STAY consistently good.

Franklin's a low-K pitcher, but he's about as good as a low-K pitcher can get. He's going to be one thing when he's pitching in nurturing circumstances, and a different thing when he's in unfavorable circumstances.

The improvement of the 2005 M's defense from "Good" to "You CanNOT Be SERious" helps Franklin more than anybody.

Overexposed? We've Got Your Bullpen Sunblock Right Here, Dept.

Note well that Ryan Franklin gave up sparkling ERA's of 3.57, 4.04 and 3.57 in the three years prior to 2004. Those were no accident: Franklin fires strikes like the snowballing Will Farrell in Elf, and naturally his BB's and WHIP were in Jamie Moyer territory.

Franklin's K's were up to 5, 6 per game in 2001 and 2002 because he was pitching out of the bullpen. But when Franklin started in 2003-04, managers were able to stack lineups against Franklin. If he returns to the bullpen in 2005, Franklin will be able to sneak up from behind the hitters again.

Pitching out of the bullpen in 2005, sidestepping the stacked lineups, running his usual 2+ BB rates and Moyer WHIPs, pitching in front of a defense that converts the buzzers and clonkers and thlumpers to "That's three! Beltre's up! Run, you bozos, run! Time to hit!", Ryan Franklin is a BUY recommendation for 2005.

Detected Vision, Dept.

Who goes into the rotation, Franklin or Reichert?

Neither, we hope. You think the line will be long behind the chainlink when Felix gets up in the bullpen in Safeco for the first time? Try the line for Seattle Mariners Five Starter in March, bab-eh.

You don't start Dan Reichert in the five slot, you start whichever Nageotte-Blackley-Thornton-Felix type has the 0.00 ERA in Arizona. If there are three, you call the NFL for its tiebreaker rules.

But both Reichert and Franklin are Eyes Slideways next week. Franklin because the bullpen gig is liable to reload his 3.57 Magnum bullpen ERA, and Reichert because if he starts to throw strikes sometime, preferably now, he's one of the bigtime Mr. Magic Closer hopefuls in the game.

In either case, the Mariners' roster is full of possibility, of potential, is loaded with chances to get lucky. Bruce Willis lucky.

Which of the young guns, or NRI's, is going to grab the AL West by the throat and shake it like a rag doll? I dunno. Which one, isn't the point.

When is Bill Bavasi ever going to do anything that draws a penalty flag from the D-O-V zebras? I dunno. Stop asking.

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