Fact: Michael Saunders is the best outfielder on the roster of the Seattle Mariners. Even considering he missed 70 games due to injury in 2014, that fact remains. Saunders is the best defensive corner outfielder on the club, one of its best baserunners and the third best bat behind Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

The research, scouting and metrics each tell the same story, yet the Mariners benched their third-best player 28 times this season in favor of Corey Hart, Endy Chavez, the struggling version of Logan Morrison and to some extent Dustin Ackley, Stefen Romero and Kendrys Morales. The club obviously has some issue with Saunders.

The social media joke is ‘why do the Mariners hate Michael Saunders?’ Certainly the club doesn’t hate Saunders, but the real question isn’t whether or not they dislike Saunders. We know the answer to that. The real question is ‘why?’ and ‘what was Saunders’ response when he was informed of the issue?’

The answer to the latter is there was no response because he was never told.

In March, new manager Lloyd McClendon told the media that Ackley was his left fielder, Justin Smoak was his first baseman and that Abraham Almonte was his centerfielder. This was in March, before the club had played a full slate of Cactus League games, long before the regular season was under way. Those choices appear to have been made based on nothing McClendon had seen up to that point. Saunders performed in Arizona, Almonte did not (not that judging a player’s worth based on spring stats is a good idea… it’s not), and Saunders had performed in the majors, Almonte had not.

So how did McClendon come to the conclusion Saunders was not one of the best three outfielders on the team? He couldn’t have seen Saunders enough as an opponent while in Detroit to know what he had or didn’t have in a player, one would imagine, and spring training performance suggests Saunders by far was the best option, and should have been starting.

Some of the benchings clearly were about handedness, which also makes no sense. Saunders outperformed even Seager versus left-handed pitching in 2014. He was solid versus lefties in 2012, and after a dip in ’13, bounced back this past season. Seager was left in the lineup versus left-handed pitching despite a .242/.291/.370 triple-slash against them. Saunders batted .252 with a .352 on-base percentage against southpaws.

When asked before the year began about Saunders’ role and after Saunders had told the media he wants to play everyday, general manager Jack Zduriencik said “we want that, too. But that’s up to Michael Saunders.”

Sounds like Saunders just needed to play well and be the best option, but he was just that — the best option — and still he didn’t play due to managerial decisions. Twenty eight times.

McClendon stated in May that Saunders is more effective when kept rested. He said on May 28 that he based the rest idea off watching Saunders “the past few months.” That means the idea that Saunders needed rest to maintain the ability, as McClendon put it, “to climb that ladder.”

That means McClendon was basing that assessment on either 36 April at-bats and 82 at-bats in May, plus, perhaps, spring training. There’s absolutely zero evidence in those two-plus months, including March’s Cactus League contests, that Saunders needs regular rest to be effective enough to remain in the lineup.

There also is no evidence of that from any previous season in the majors or the minors. I did the research, I checked every season since Saunders signed with the club.

After the season concluded, during the press conference wrapping up the 2014 season, Zduriencik again was asked about Saunders’ role. Again, Zduriencik answered that it’s up to Saunders to earn his way into the lineup.

Zduriencik reiterated the same answer, almost verbatim, when he joined 1090 The Fan last week. It’s unclear what the details are, as the club has offered none. What’s clear is the Mariners want something more from Saunders. What’s also clear, at least from Camp Saunders, is that they’ve never told him what that is.

“Jack’s comments surprised me. The first Michael and I heard of it was the day of the press conference,” said Mike McCann of Frye-McCann Sports, who represents Saunders. “Michael is frustrated with the comments. He’s frustrated because he felt he could have helped the club win when he was available.”

Saunders has never been notified of any issues the club might have with the way he goes about preparing for a game, for a season or coming off injury. Before the press conference not a single employee of the Mariners expressed concern with Michael’s off-the-field preparation, according to McCann.

“Some are freak injuries. Some are things that just happen,” Zduriencik said after the season. “But some of these things need to be handled from a maintenance standpoint where he puts himself in a position to be able to compete through the course of a season.”

“That was the first and last time we’ve heard it,” McCann said of the statement that Saunders is lacking something in the preparation and/or maintenance department. If there is something specific you want from Michael Saunders, communicate it to him.

“Michael works extremely hard to prepare himself physically, McCann continued. “He came into spring training this past year in the best shape of his life. Nobody is as disappointed as Michael is with the time he missed. It’s discouraging Michael injured himself chasing a ball down, making the catch and slamming into the wall. I think you ask most clubs, ‘do you want a player willing to sacrifice himself to make a play?’ They appreciate a that type of player. But what’s overlooked in all of this is, why when Michael Saunders was available to play wasn’t he used regularly? He played sparingly in April and wasn’t in the lineup at several critical times in September. He can change the game in so many ways. Michael has become an above-average hitter, he is effective against left-handers, too. He hits for power. He is a threat on the bases. He’s shown you he can steal 20 bases. He can score from first base on a ball hit to the gap. Michael Saunders is a gold glove caliber right fielder. He plays the game hard.”

Saunders posted a 1.9 fWAR and 2.4 bWAR this season — in 78 games and just 263 plate appearances, rivaling what Ackley did in 142 games and 542 plate appearances. The numbers, traditional and advanced metrics alike, back up the claim that he’s a good baserunner and corner outfield defender. His .346 wOBA tied Seager for No. 2 on the team as did his 126 wRC+.

Saunders’ injuries are not the issue here, either. Nobody is suggesting the club invests five years of guaranteed, market-value money to Saunders, who, by the way, played in 132 games in 2013 and 139 in 2012 before spending more than two months on the disabled list this past season. When your better players are available, they need to play. Either the Mariners do not value Saunders’ contributions as much as the various ways of evaluation suggest — which are difficult to argue against — or they are sending some kind of subliminal message, potentially (definitely) at the expense of putting their best team on the field.

The M’s were one win away from extending their season. Maybe Saunders doesn’t help the club win that one extra game. Probably (definitely), though, he does, if he’s given another 20-25 games of action.

If the Mariners are questioning Saunders’ conditioning practices and how he trains both over the winter and during the season, perhaps they should ask the player what he’s doing and suggest alternatives. That hasn’t happened. McClendon was quoted by MLB.com saying Saunders needs to hit the weight room. Again, that was never told to the player.

Saunders has been with the club through numerous managers and hitting instructors, and he’s incorporated any suggestions they had into his game, “perhaps at his own detriment,” McCann added. “Michael is not immune to instruction, he’s very open to it.”

Saunders’ injuries have been of the freak variety and due to effort, not lack of it, nor lack of attention to conditioning, McCann said. The Mariners believe something is missing, however.

McCann continued, “what is the ‘something?’ What could he have done differently preparation (and maintenance) wise? If there is something, what is it?”

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

58 Comments

  1. Your serve Ed.

  2. Yeah, and you and Jerry have been nothing but open-minded. ~ sigh ~

  3. Edman,

    I love how your argument against Farquhar being a closer is “you can’t just plug any guy into a closer role”.

    Yet when he was the closer he pitched the best season of his career. Hmm. Interesting isn’t it.

    Is it that hard for you to say you might have been wrong about something you posted?

  4. Edman,

    The only thing about Farquar’s performance that WAS a fluke was his ERA, which oddly is the only one of his stats that you listed. His K, BB, GB, and HR rates – the really important things for pitchers – were excellent in 2013 and were also excellent in 2014. Actually, his peripherals were better in 2013: when he was closing.

    The fact that he pitched in different roles is completely meaningless. As a closer, setup guy, or middle reliever, he’s been really good. The myth that closing is different than pitching in a setup role is just that: a myth. Any reliever who can get both RH and LH batters out consistently can have success in that role.

    “Some like to believe youi can take their number, put them in a lineup. and get the same results. It isn’t that simple.”

    Actually, I’d argue that more often than not it is that simple. Some players might do particularly well or poorly in a place due to the park – Adrian Beltre and Jason Vargas come to mind – but that’s due to their skill sets, not emotional or psychological issues.

    Baseball is rare among team sports because it is focused on the individual. In football and basketball, coaches and schemes have a MUCH greater impact on individual performance. In baseball, hitting a pitch, throwing a baseball, and catching a baseball are pretty standard. Guys like Miguel Cabrera and Felix will do well wherever you put them.

    The whole ‘closers mentality’ notion is just BS. If a reliever can succeed in a setup role – and doesn’t have big platoon splits – they will be fine closing. Its the same job!

  5. Paul, thanks for stereotyping me. But, it’s not about me. It’s about how players respond to different scenarios. Some like to believe youi can take their number, put them in a lineup. and get the same results. It isn’t that simple.

  6. Edman, “human emotions?” I never would have picked you as the sensative, touchy, feeling type!

  7. Danny Farquhar as a closer = small sample size. His overall performance as a pitcher was an ERA 4.20. Which do you believe. Tom Wilhelmsen performed well, if you limit it to a small sample size the includes is best performances.

    At the end of the day, coming into the 2014 season, nobody knew which sample of either would play out in a closer’s role. If you don’t understand that dynamic, then so be it. But please don’t try to use the best part of Farquhar’s performance, in half a season, as proof positive, then he was ready to be the closer in 2014. He performed when there was no pressure on him to save important games. It’s a whole different dynamic to deal with that kind of pressure. That’s why not every reliever can be a closer.

  8. Edman,

    Ah….the proven closer argument. It was just a matter of time till this card was played. So predictable.

    And, of course, human emotion. Only Edman can understand such complex issues as the emotional makeup of professional athletes he’s never met, talked to, or psychoanalyzed, and how these individuals interact as teammates.

    I’m not arguing that ’emotion’ and the personal idiosyncrasies of players isn’t important. It clearly is, although you’d expect that any player who reaches the ML level would have a personality type that thrives in high-pressure situations. The problem is: to outsiders like us, this is completely unknowable! The fact that you pretend to talk authoritatively about it is ridiculous. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Instead, you resort to tautological arguments: if the bullpen is good, its because of well defined roles, good makeup, and players who make other players better; if the bullpen is bad, its because of poorly defined roles, bad makeup, and players who don’t make other players better. Only proven closers can close. If someone can close, they are a proven closer. Nice circular reasoning.

    In regards to your comments about us predicting improvement from the bullpen, I absolutely thought they would be a good group. Too much talent. Reliever performance is always flukey and volatile, but with guys like Farquar (who’s peripherals were WAAAY better than his ERA last year), Wilhelmsen, Furbush, Leone, Smith, and Medina, they were likely to be a pretty good pen. Too many good arms. Adding another good arm like Rodney just increased the depth of talent.

    Adding Rodney was a good move. The costs of relievers is way down, and he was a solid signing. Anytime you can get a bigtime arm without committing to a long term contract is a good move. Adding more good arms is always smart. Again, it comes down to talent. Not intangibles or emotion or any other ephemeral BS you want to speculate about.

    Rodney himself is a great example of how closing is a ROLE, not a personality type. He was a volatile setup reliever for most of his career, and even now he’s just an above average closer. He can throw a baseball really hard. That’s what’s important. Talented players tend to succeed, particularly in baseball, where coaching and schemes aren’t central elements of team performance. The ‘Proven Closer (TM)” BS is simply a reflection of the importance of the Save statistic over the past few decades.

    Relievers are volatile and easy to find. The one thing I really like as Jack Z and his people is that they are exceedingly good at finding good arms cheap, and cobbling together a good bullpen without paying premium prices. Wilhelmsen, Farquar, Smith, Pryor, Beimel, Luetge, Perez, etc. These guys aren’t hard to find, and the Mariners have done a great job. The reason why they are volatile is because they pitch in short bursts, and samples sizes are small. Its not because they have volatile emotions or makeup. We just come up with those stories to understand why a reliever can be dominant one year, then pedestrian the next. Look at Rodney’s career stats if you want an example.

    But what do I know. I’m just an android who only sees everything in black and white.

  9. How can you say that if one the three relievers I mentioned were put into the closer role at the beginning of the year that they wouldn’t have performed just as good as Rodney?

    You can’t Edman. You just can’t. You like to always site your “if you had a crystal ball” argument. But guess what, you don’t have a crystal ball either. All you can do is look at the facts you can’t speculate. And the facts say all three relievers are better then Rodney. Would they perform as good as Rodney if they were closers instead of 7th and 8th inning guys? We don’t know.

    But here’s a fact. Danny Farquhar was a closer for the M’s last year and he performed better then Rodney. He saved 16 games as a closer (So I guess he was tested and passed your “Human Emotions” and “Un-Calculated Factors” of being a closer). Farquhar also had a lower FIP 1.86 then Rodney in 2013 and 2014 (2.84, 2.83) had a lower xFIP then Rodney in 2013 and 2014 (3.11, 3.14), accumulated more WAR 1.9 then Rodney in 2013 and 2014 (1.3, 1.2). Farquhar also had a better K/9 rate, better BB/9 rate and better HR/9 rate, which are all important statistics for a pitcher.

    The eyeball test, the statistics, the data, the experience of being a closer and overcoming “Human Emotion” and “Un-Calculated Factors” were all there with Danny Farquhar and every single category said that Danny Farquhar was and is a better pitcher, reliever and closer then Fernando Rodney.

    So I ask this to you again. Why couldn’t Danny Farquhar be the Mariners closer this year and do just as good of a job as Fernando Rodney?

  10. Simple……Rodney IS a bonefied closer. Fauquhar COULD BE. One is not like the other, especially when planning before the beginning of the season. There isn’t a soul who would have predicted how well so many untested arms would perform, at the start of the season. Unless you have a chystal ball, neither did you.

    The un-calulated factors are not knowing the affect of changing rolls in the bullpen. I know it’s a hard concept to grasp, but virtually the same bullpen last year, was medicre at best. Rodney enters the picture, and saves the team from going through another year of, let’s try to establish roles. If you can’t see how that could be a positive effect, then you don’t understand human emotions very well.

    Be fair, at the beginning of the season, would you have predicted such a dramatic change in the bullpen? Wouldn’t you have thought about stabilizing the pen, by adding an established closer? Probably not, because you don’t believe that human emotion comes into play. It’s all about the math.

  11. You make no sense man. None at all. I’m not sure what you are saying or what your point is.

    Are you saying that because of human emotion and un-calculated factors not one of Farquhar, Leone or Smith could be an effective closer? That they couldn’t do as good of a job as Rodney has done?

    I’m just trying to understand your side of this issue because it’s very confusing.

    If the above sentence is your argument then are you saying Fernando Rodney is a better closer because he is better equipped to handle human emotion and all of the un-calculated factors? And if so, what makes him better to handle human emotion then any other pitcher in the bullpen? And what exactly are these un-calculated factors you are referring to?

    It’s an honest question. I’m really trying to figure out your stance on this.

  12. un-calculated, not calculated.

  13. Jerry and rjfrik, you are stuck in black and white, so we’ll leave it at that. You will never accept that results are weighted toward human emotion. You wish to live in a sterile world, were there are no calculatable factors. So, let’s call it a day, and move on.

  14. Edman,

    Again, all your comments are baseless, and center entirely on outdated cliches and rhetoric.

    Because none of your arguments can be based on evidence, and are easily refuted by actual data, you have to resort to hypotheticals and ‘unknowables’, such as the impact of Rodney on the rest of the bullpen.

    How can you say that Rodney being the closer made anyone better? There are many variables at play, Rodney being just one of them. You could just as easily say “adding Dominic Leone really stabilized the bullpen, and allowed everyone else to play up to their potential” or “Tom Wilhelmsen’s movement into a long-relief ace role really helped everyone else” or “the addition of peanut salesman Jim McPoopypants had a direct impact on the M’s bullpen, clearly shown in the difference between 2013 and 2014.” Its all BS. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    The M’s don’t need ‘players who make other players better’. They need good players.

    Your logic (or lack thereof) is very reminiscent of the BS that Bill Bavasi used to throw at us to justify signings like Scott Spiezio, Mike Sweeney, and more playing time to Willie Bloomquist. Grit, leadership….blah blah blah. Good players help their teams win by helping them score runs or prevent runs. Its really that simple.

  15. But Edman,

    How do you think Rodney became a closer? He was groomed to be a closer throughout his minor league career, came up and was thrusted into the role, performed poorly to middling his entire career until about three years ago when something clicked. He was never “dynamic”, he was never a shutdown elite reliever and he was in and out of closing roles his entire career because of it.

    But a guy like Farquhar has been elite his entire career. He has been a shutdown elite reliever and when he had the opportunity to close for the big league club, he did it more effectively then Rodney.

    Now maybe the front office wanted him to be a shutdown setup guy and why not, as he is excellent in that role and frankly that is okay. But to dismiss him or Leone or Smith as guys who couldn’t come in and do the closing role, just as effectively as Rodney, when they have done nothing but proven they could handle that role their entire careers, is ridiculous.

    Everyone starts from somewhere, even the Rivera’s and Eckersley’s of the the closer world.

  16. rjfrik, I’m sure you see things the way you do, because you assume that all things would remain the same, regardless wheither Rodney is the closer, or not. That’s your opinion, but completely ignores dynamics. All you want to do it plug numbers in and call it fact.

  17. Edman,

    Maybe if you knew a little something about the relievers I mentioned you wouldn’t make such an ignorant comment. Danny Farquhar has done nothing but close his entire professional career and has done it way more effectively then Fernando Rodney ever did at the same time in their careers and he even saved 16 games last year for the M’s big league club very very effectively. The same can be said for Dominic Leone and especially Carson Smith, who were both groomed to be closers. The only reliever I mentioned who has never closed was Charlie Furbush, so I will give you that one. But the other three have been groomed to be closers their entire professional careers and have excelled at the opportunity to close. In fact I would bet you $100 that after next year, when Rodney isn’t signed to contract anymore, that one of the three players I mentioned will be the Mariners closer.

    But you go on and have your opinion.

  18. Mighty bold with your predictions, rjfrik. Too bad you don’t understand the mental aspects of being a closer. You assume that you can just juggle any pieces around and get the same result. It will never change with guys like you, because you don’t accept that dynamics play a part. All pieces are the same.

  19. Who ever said anything about Wilhelmsen replacing Rodney? Tom should have in no way been anywhere near a closing role last year. But let me tell you who could have and been just as effective, IMO, because they were better relievers then Rodney; Furbush, Leone, Farquhar and Smith. All four are better relievers then Fernando and all could have been just as an effective closer. The M’s had the best pen in the big leagues not because of Fernando Rodney, although he was a part of it, but because of the four guys I listed above, who were better then Rodney and pitched 200 innings of baseball with an xFIP under 2.90, unlike Rodney who was over 3.14.

    I’m saying that you could have effectively replaced Rodney with one of the four relievers mentioned and won just as many games as Rodney did.

  20. Jerry, the problem is that you are only using WAR in a player for player value, which I could care less about. I care about the effect that players have, not only for themselves, but for the players around them. There is no doubt the Cano had a positive effect on some players. He brought in an attitude and a work ethic, that some observed and emulated. How do you measure that with WAR? And, I’m saying that Rodney did the same, by being the everyday closer. The less experienced pitchers in the bullpen did the same. How do you measure that with WAR?

    There are other elements that play into Seattle’s season. And I’m not discounting that Cruz would have been a good pick-up. In fact, I supported it. There were several who, before he had a great season, weren’t real excited about the possibility.

    Nobody will ever know if Cruz vs. Rodney would have made a single bit of difference. You can play with WAR, but it’s not an absolute. Some seem to love to look back in hindsight, making judgements. Did you know the bullpen would perform so well, at the beginning of the season? No? Neither did Jack. I’m sure he’s elated with how it turned out. But to cry foul about signing Rodney over Cruz is the worst case of revisionist history. Not everything is static. All you can do is guess. The results tell the story. Jack gambled right. Being one game from the playoffs proves it. You want to nitpick the season to death for the one game, have at it. But it’s a fool’s errand.

  21. Edman

    “Care to PROVE your statement that Seattle could have made any one of their relievers the closer, and done as well or better?”

    Obviously, that is impossible, since you can’t PROVE something that is hypothetical.

    “Yes, I get the whole “new age” stats thing. The difference is, I don’t pretend that it’s the ONLY valuable stat. Guys like you can’t accept that there are other valuable measures, even if more conventional.”

    I never said that WAR is the only stat that is useful. But the point of this discussion is a comparison between two players who fill very different roles and played for different teams. WAR is useful for getting an idea of the total contribution of a pitcher or player. Thus, its ideal in this application. If you don’t think so, name a better metric! Don’t just dismiss stats that don’t back up your point. That’s lazy and unimpressive.

    “Rodney’s affect?
    2011 39 team saves, 14 blown saves, resulting wins +25
    2012 43 team saves, 19 blown saves, resulting wins +24
    2013 41 team saves, 25 blown saves, resulting wins +16
    2014 51 team saves, 11 blown saves, resulting wins +40
    Tell me now Nelson Cruz makes up the gap in team wins?”

    This is one of the most ridiculous attempts to back up an argument with stats that I have seen in a very long time. Just terrible. You criticize WAR, then present this. Seriously? Epic failure.

    “Remember at the beginning of the year, you gave Seattle no chance of being over .500. How well did your “new age” stats work in making that prediction?”

    No, I don’t remember that. Because it never happened. I never said that. I challenge you to find any quote by me to that effect.

    My prediction about the M’s leading up to the season was that they would be around .500, with a pretty high degree of variability since they were playing so many young players. If things went their way, I thought they could be decent, but I also thought they had significant bust potential. Turns out I – along with practically everyone else who follows this team – underestimated how good they’d be. But I certainly never said that they had no chance of being .500.

    Not that this has anything to do with the topic we are discussing right now.

    You keep twisting around what people say, and resorting to straw man arguments and non sequitur arguments to support your strange ideas. I never said that Rodney was a bad player, or that he didn’t help the club. Any bullpen is better with him in it. But that wasn’t the topic of discussion. The topic of this conversation was who was a more valuable player: Rodney or Nelson Cruz. The answer to that question is, unequivocally, Nelson Cruz.

  22. Just to chip in my 2 cents. I believe that mental toughness plays a bearing in the closer role. Thats not a trait that can easily be picked up in the saber world. I believe Wilhelmsen has melted in the past in situations where Rodney did not. Can Wilhelmsen be a closer in the future? I believe so with the extra experience he has gained. Some people are just more thin skinned than others and thats why some pitchers can pitch in the 7th and why some close, being of equal talent. Now is Rodney more valuable than Cruz. I’d say no because we couldn’t come up with a bat nearly as good as Cruz this year. But we could have thrown some pitchers into the closer role who could have come up with a significant amount of saves. Thats based without stats, and with stats Cruz is certainly favored from a value basis.

  23. While the exchanges between Edman and everyone that tries to talk some sense into him (good luck!) are entertaining, they are pointless. No, we did not sign Cruz, and yes, we did sign Fernando Rodney. There are a 100 reasons we narrowly missed the playoffs, and while this was disappointing, I never expected to be in the race anyway. It was a fun season for me, and I now have hope an optimism for next year. Rather than play the “what if” game until we are blue in the face, let’s enjoy the season we had, and try to figure out how we can take the next step in 2015.

  24. rjfrik, no, I don’t think that you could simply move another reliever in as the closer, and achieve the same results. You change the human dynamic of handing the ball to a confident, proven closer, instead of one trying to prove he is. Wilhelmsen, while good, could never consistantly hold down the closer’s spot. To have Rodney closing, allows the other guys in the bullpen to understand their roles. I know, it’s a human element, and guys like you try your hardest to remove it. But, glory be, baseball will always be a human’s game, and not one determined on a computer.

    Care to PROVE your statement that Seattle could have made any one of their relievers the closer, and done as well or better? Statheads love to play with numbers, in an attempt to try to eliminate the human factor. Closers are a special breed of pitcher. I know guys like you love to look only at the numbers, and conclude one pitcher is just like all the others. You see them as machines that simply output a result.

    Thank God that the game is as imperfect as the men who play it. If not, it wouldn’t be any better to watch than a computer game, based only statistical odds.

  25. Edman,

    It’s been pointed out over and over that Rodney wasn’t the best reliever on this team, hell he wasn’t even in the top 4. You don’t think one of our top 2 relievers could have closed this year and saved 51 games while only blowing 11? Of course they could. And I bet they wouldn’t walk four batters in a row agains the Oakland A’s to lose a HUGE game late in the season in a game we HAD to win. But Rodney did. Rodney was good. But we could have plugged one of our other relievers into the closers role and have been just as effective.

    It’s sad to see the Royals in the World Series, a team winning a bunch of 2-1 games, with pitching and defense. That could have been the Mariners. We get to a playoff and we are deadly because of our pitching.

  26. Like Rjfrik was saying at the beginning of this thread, I look at the AL representative for the World Series and I keep thinking that could just as well have been the Mariners. With a team this starved for offense, shouldn’t the best hitters be in the lineup whenever they are available?

    At this point I don’t really care about Saunders’ defensive metrics, I want them to use him in CF, and acquire a good OBP/OPS for RF. Would Saunders’ defense in CF cost the M’s any more games than not having his bat in the lineup 28 times when he was available this year? There isn’t any way to tell, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t just be a wash, and that he would have helped them score more runs than he would have cost them.

    I don’t want to see Jackson leading off every game for the Mariners next year, I want to see Jackson packaged in a deal that would bring the team some better hitting. Jackson plays a good CF, but his hitting was awful, and that was one of the reasons the M’s acquired him. Same with Denorfia. Keep Saunders, add a RF who can hit, and a DH who can hit. Please!

  27. Rodney’s affect?

    2011 39 team saves, 14 blown saves, resulting wins +25
    2012 43 team saves, 19 blown saves, resulting wins +24
    2013 41 team saves, 25 blown saves, resulting wins +16
    2014 51 team saves, 11 blown saves, resulting wins +40

    Tell me now Nelson Cruz makes up the gap in team wins?
    Tell me how his WAR in Baltimore directly relates to wins in Seattle, if he was a Mariner?

    It feels a bit like the movie, The Fifth Element, when the priest ask the High Tech Zork where his machine is to pat him on the back, to keep him from choaking to death.

  28. LOL…..yes Jerry, because the “new age” stats are practically perfect.

    Believe what you want, but ALL stats are a gauge, they are not a guide. Every stat is dependent on their application. I’m sure you don’t want to hear about objectivity, because you can’t measure it. You can’t measuse the affect of one player, on the performances on other players. You only WANT to know about black and white, and ignore the gray between.

    I love the “WAR” comparisons, at the conclusion of the regular season. Of course they are going to show positive numbers. But, how well did WAR work in trying to construct a team, from WAR values from the previous year? It’s not like WAR remains unchanged from year to year. It is a reflection of was HAS happened, not what WILL happen.

    Yes, I get the whole “new age” stats thing. The difference is, I don’t pretend that it’s the ONLY valuable stat. Guys like you can’t accept that there are other valuable measures, even if more conventional.

    It takes more than stats, to construct a team. Show me any team that relies only on WAR values. They work with many different factors. I know you’d love to remove the human element, then it would be easy. But, when humans play the game, there will be human factors.

    Now, do tell me. What stat defines the cumulative effect of player A, on the performances of players B, C, D…… You can’t. and you won’t accept that is a factor.

    Remember at the beginning of the year, you gave Seattle no chance of being over .500. How well did your “new age” stats work in making that prediction?

  29. Edman,

    Of course you hate stats: they contradict the cliches and outdated ideas that are the central components of all your comments here. If I were you, I wouldn’t like facts either.

    I’m not saying that Rodney didn’t help the team. He was pretty good for us this year. But Cruz would have helped us MUCH MORE. Any reasonable argument based on statistics and facts would support that argument. If you don’t understand that, I don’t know how to help you.

    There is a HUGE body of studies that have shown that relievers aren’t as valuable to W’s and L’s as position players are. Rodney is a pretty good closer. But no matter how good he is, he only pitched 66 innings for us last year. Even the best relievers simply aren’t able to contribute that much to team success. Its a very limited role.

    That is why smart teams don’t spend a lot of money on relievers, and why it is dumb to give them long term contracts.

    Rodney wasn’t even our best reliever. Based on performance and leverage of innings, he was the 5th best reliever on the staff. Wilhelmsen was far more valuable. If we had lost Rodney (or not signed him) Farquar or Leone would have filled in capably. And Wilhelmsen has experience closing. However, Wilhelmsen is far more valuable in the multi-inning Catfish Hunter role we’ve been using him in, often pitching very high leverage innings. Even if you account for BS ‘proven closer’ notions about how someone like Farquar might struggle in that role, the difference between Rodney and a league average closer isn’t that significant.

    Any of those scenarios would be a piss in the ocean compared to the impact of swapping Nelson Cruz in at DH everyday. Our DH’s hit .190/.266/.301 in 620 PAs! That’s BY FAR the worst in the AL. The difference between Rodney and Farquar is minor. The difference between the putrid production of the M’s DH’s and Nelson Cruz is a yawning chasm. Its a seafloor abyssal trench. Any analysis based on any meaningful stats (not just WAR) support this conclusion.

    You comments about ‘established roles’ and ‘stabilizing effects’ and ‘established closers’ are great examples of ridiculous baseball cliches and myths. You might as well be talking about RBI. You should spend less time posting this BS, and more time reading about what actually contributes to Ws and Ls in baseball. There is lots of interesting work available on these subjects. You should learn about it.

  30. rjfrik,

    It’s NOT A FACT that Saunders was mishandled, it’s an assumption made by those from outside the organization, who have no idea how ready Saunders was to perform on any given day. Or, how justified the reasoning was. Unless you have ALL the facts, you’re guessing. Statistics don’t cover the intangibles of being ready to play everyday.

    Jerry,

    You can play the WAR game all you want. You’re comparing individual players, and disregarding the affect on the team. You assume that anyone can replace Rodney. You disregard the overall affect of the bullpen. So, if Rodney isn’t in the pen, who closes? Wilhelmson? Farquar, Smith? Now you have to fill other holes and change roles in the pen. Replacing Rodney is not as simple as you make it out to be. I know there is no WAR adjustment for stabilizing affect, but it is real, even if only in the minds of others in the bullpen. Apparently you missed the 2012 and 2013 seasons where the bullpen struggled with its identity.

    I hate when people misuse WAR and try to compare ONLY at player to player levels. There is a ton more to baseball than individual WAR values.

    I stand by my statement. You’re free to believe that the formula for winning is as simple as one stat.

  31. Edman,

    Almost everything you just said is wrong:

    “Rodney anchoring the bullpen is one of the bigger reasons for making this a winning season….
    I’d much rather have Rodney, than Cruz, if that was the choice.”

    Even if you adjust his numbers for Safeco, Cruz would have helped the team WAAAY more than Rodney. Its not particularly close:

    Cruz: 4.7 BWAR, 3.9 FWAR

    Rodney: 0.8 BWAR, 1.2 FWAR

    A season of even solid play from an outfielder is worth more than a full season of a reliever. The defined roles BS is just rhetoric. Our bullpen had ridiculous depth. Even if you use the most conservative estimates of what Cruz would have done playing in Safeco, he would have been MUCH more valuable and helped us win more games.

    “One of the things I personally like about Jack, is that he doesn’t worry about pleasing people like you. Right or wrong, he’s frank.”

    Jack is one of the most secretive GMs in baseball. If you think he’s a frank, direct guy who doesn’t care what people think, you haven’t been paying attention. His M.O. is to not say much of anything. That’s a good idea, because he often says stupid things (this most recent thing being a great example).

    “And one last comment, exactly what has Saunders DONE, that makes him worth all the coddling some are giving him?”

    Not sure what you mean by coddling. They’ve played him because he’s easily one of the three best outfielders in the organization. He’s probably the best overall. If anything, we need to play him MORE. If he plays like he has the last two years, he should play whenever he is able. The coddling comment is just dumb: he’s a damn good player.

    “I like Saunders a lot, but has he been someone like a Cano, who’s been able to play in 150+ games a year, while providing consistent offensive production? If you could get a player like that, instead of Saunders, wouldn’t that be in the best interest of the team?”

    How, pray tell, would you do that? Easier said than done.

    The fact that you are comparing him to a player that cost $240 million to sign is illustrative here. Those guys don’t grow on trees. Saunders doesn’t have to be at that level to help the club.

    “Saunders, admit it or not, is STILL a lot of promise, that hasn’t been a cog to moving this team forward.”

    Again, his stats contradict what you say. I agree that he probably does have some more upside – particularly if he can stay on the field all year – but he’s a good player RIGHT NOW. Even in half a season, a guy who can hit .273/.341/.450 while adding plus baserunning and outfield defense is a good player. End of story.

    “Jack’s job is to find players who can hold down RF, rather than have a platoon situation. A platoon means you need two bodies to man one position.”

    This is wrong on two levels.

    First, Saunders doesn’t need to be platooned. He hit .262/.352/.328 vs LHPs last year. He wasn’t platooned much last year, and hasn’t ever been a platoon player over the course of his career. Saunders doesn’t have bad platoon splits, and isn’t the type of guy you NEED to platoon. Once we added Denorfia, that might have happened a bit. But Denorfia KILLS lefties, so its more about going with a players strengths as opposed to hiding a weakness.

    Second, guys who have platoon splits aren’t bad guys to have on the team, especially a LH player who kills righties. Jack’s job isn’t to find guys who play everyday. His job is to maximize production from the roster in any way he can. Taking advantage of platoons is one very cost effective way to get production. The A’s have been taking advantage of this for years. Even if you think Saunders should be the heavy side of a platoon (which the data don’t support), that’s a valuable player!

    All of your recent comments are based on outdated cliches. The SABR revolution was focused on debunking most of the things you just said. Others are just factually inaccurate. As someone who spends a lot of time on baseball blogs, you should know better than this.

  32. I think some light can possibly be shed onto this whole, odd situation by reminding everyone that Saunders is up for arbitration this winter. Posturing much?

  33. Edman,

    Facts and statistics have been listed to death on here and other sites to show you how good Michael Saunders is. He’s the third best position player on this team and the best outfielder according to every statistic there is. You can have two ways to look at it. Ignore the facts presented in front of you or be ignorant to the facts. Jason and many other authors have already presented a case study on the subject.

    The Mariners mishandled Michael Saunders. That’s a fact. He sat on the bench while other players, who aren’t as talented, played in front of him, this cost the Mariners wins and surely a spot in the playoffs. Now you can say that there was some secret dialogue between the front office and Saunders as to why he wasn’t playing, and maybe there was, but as we all know Michael Saunders is saying that wasn’t the case.

    This was bumbled from the jump. Really that’s all there is to it. But you are entitled to your own opinion.

  34. And one last comment, exactly what has Saunders DONE, that makes him worth all the coddling some are giving him? I like Saunders a lot, but has he been someone like a Cano, who’s been able to play in 150+ games a year, while providing consistent offensive production? If you could get a player like that, instead of Saunders, wouldn’t that be in the best interest of the team?

    Saunders, admit it or not, is STILL a lot of promise, that hasn’t been a cog to moving this team forward. And yes, there aren’t a lot of options out there to come fill the role in RF on a nearly everyday basis. I’m more than willing to go with him next year. But, Jack’s job is to find players who can hold down RF, rather than have a platoon situation. A platoon means you need two bodies to man one position.

    Yes, he’s challenging Michael, but unless you set the bar high, don’t expect the kind of improvement that the team needs to move forward.

  35. So maqman, you would prefer a GM who is more concerned with his personal image, and the image of the ownership group, than someone who speaks frankly? You think that’s best for the team, to have a master of weasel-words who speaks out behind a happy clown face mask?

    One of the things I personally like about Jack, is that he doesn’t worry about pleasing people like you. Right or wrong, he’s frank. Yes, sometimes it hurts. But, his job isn’t to coddle delicate egos. In an environment where every upcoming Willie Bloomquist thinks he the next Robinson Cano, a little reality check doesn’t hurt.

    Be careful what you wish for. You seem to side with slimy arse kisser.

  36. Tyler, Rodney anchoring the bullpen is one of the bigger reasons for making this a winning season. If you are implying that signing Cruz would have been money better spent, I’ll have to disagree with you. The bullpen having guys in more defined rolls, rather than sorting out who would be the closer, did make a difference, in a positive way.

    I’d much rather have Rodney, than Cruz, if that was the choice.

  37. I’m not sure that I fully understand JZs comments or the motivation behind them. I assume Saunders understands what JZ is talking about. The agent is of course going to spin this thing to protect his client. Saunders job is to be ready to kick some ass, win some ball games, and get a big contract. And be thankful he doesn’t work for George Steinbrenner.

  38. Hart was signed previously so the two aren’t really related, but Rodney was signed shortly after for $7 million per.

    It’s interesting and disappointing at the same time. We can’t really fault Jack Z for trying since he did have an agreement reached with a player that’d improve the club, but once again, ownership decides they knew better and got in the way. Nobody can say that Cruz wouldn’t performed in Seattle like he did in Baltimore this year, but he certainly would’ve helped.

  39. I agree with Jason, this was just a dumb thing to do and say by the teams GM and Manager. Zduriencik’s people skills suck, The Pencil’s favoritism and “gut feelings” suck. Saunders is better at his job than they are at theirs. The team succeeded in spite of them, not because of them. Jackson may well turn into Almonte 2.0 but The Pencil will keep writing him into the lineup. What can he do when he doesn’t have Denorfia available? I suppose they can consult with the owners who were sharp enough to figure out Fernando Rodney was a better investment than Cruz. Dumb, compounded by ignorance, multiplied by stupid! Same old Mariners.

  40. What do you make of the report from Bob Dutton that Jack had a deal in place with Nelsen Cruz last offseason for 7.5 million (and a club option for 9 million) nixed by ownership? They then went on to sign Hart instead…

  41. Maybe I’m wrong, but my interpretation of this was the team trying to light a fire under Saunders ass and motivate him to make the next step forward. They did the same thing with Seager, when they made public comments about how he could be better. I’m wondering if this is them trying to do the same thing with Saunders.

    If so, it was pretty hamfisted. Jack could have focused on Saunders talents more in those comments, and suggested that staying healthy was something he could work on during the offseason. As it went down, it definitely came off as if he was publicly calling out a player for lack of effort, which is clearly not Saunders’ issue.

    Hopefully this doesn’t drive too much of a Wedge between player and team. He played really well this season, and that level of production over a full season would be incredibly valuable. Saunders is right in the midst of what should be his peak years. I’m hoping that this doesn’t end with a trade. He’s a valuable player, and exactly the type of guy who tends to turn into a diamond in the rough after a trade.

  42. Jerry is also right about using the total number of “games” as an indicator. Total games has little to do with “completely healthy” games. Every start and restart cost additional time, while Saunders gets mentally and physically ready to perform at 100%. It’s silly to conclude that he was at 100% for every game played.

    As I understood Jack and Lloyd’s comments, Michael needs to figure out what he, like every other player, needs to do to be able to compete for 162 games of the season. That’s not anything new.

    Often injured players have to break the stigmas. That’s a personal journey. Yes, the team can and does give them guidance, but it’s still a personal journey.

  43. Jason, you know MY thoughts about Sauanders, we have discussed several times, HOWEVER, with that said, does it occer to you that the TOTAL management team around him ALL think the same thing- the young man is a weaney-ass, no getting around it, he farts too loud and he is heading for a few days off because he “felt” something tweekd

    Art

  44. You do need to consider the source with Wedge. He was at times a painfully bad manager in his career here and elsewhere.

  45. I agree, Jerry. It’s much ado about nothing. There is no conspiracy against Michael Saunders, or he’d have traded last off-season. People are taking random facts and trying to string them together to fit their own hypothesis.

    As for Michael Saunders’ agent goes, take it with a grain of salt. His job is to protect his client’s image. So, there is always going to be a tainted message.

  46. This all brings back to mind the stuff said by Wedge and the scout that was fired last year. I’m losing faith in Mr. Zduriencik. I have no faith in McClendon. This team has the talent to compete anyways. I just wish it could happen with Saunders. I like the kid.

  47. The real takeaway for me is that nobody can say that Chavez was the better choice over Saunders when he was healthy, and that happened on a regular basis. There was also no reason to believe that Saunders wasn’t one of the best three outfielders on the team at the start of the season. I think the issue stems from the context that on this 2014 Mariners team, there wasn’t a better choice to have in the outfield regularly than Michael Saunders. Ackley was great for stretches, but still has his defensive woes. Jackson could be one of the best centerfielders in baseball, but didn’t hit in the second half.

    I’m a Saunders fan like most, and feel that he was underused and didn’t get the opportunity to truly succeed. But knowing that the powers that be wanted to get more AB’s from guys like Hart and Morrison who they felt offered more power potential, the playing time decisions make sense.

    This whole situation is just very strange. Certainly could’ve been handled better by the front office, and the response of Saunders’ agent shouldn’t be surprising.

  48. I think Drayer does a nice breakdown and takes a closer look at what transpired with Saunders from the start of spring training.

    http://mynorthwest.com/374/2621089/A-closer-look-at-the-Saunders-situation

    Also, the comment about Saunders playing 132 and 139 games the past two years is misguided. His agent said that Saunders came back too soon after the shoulder injury and Saunders was largely ineffective after the shoulder injury. It’s about being healthy when you are on the field.

  49. “One theory I have is that Saunders isn’t Jack’s guy” – If this is the bias, I’m sure it’s unconscious (which would be no excuse). It seems likely that the M’s front office of the last several years has a model of an outfielder that is simply more ibanez/Morse than Condor/Ackley. Ackley is certainly seen through rose-colored glasses, because every time he goes on a .450 BABIP- driven streak he’s “finally coming into his own” and his offense is still considered a bit in the context of a second baseman.

  50. Wow, all this love for a guy who has not managed to keep himself healthy over most of his career. The idea that there is some kind of conspiracy going on. Felix Hernandez wasn’t Jack’s guy? Yet, he’s still a Mariner.

    I’m a Saunders fan, but I’m not about to declare that there is some kind of incompetence going on, particularly when we certainly don’t have all the facts. Most of this is just opinions. Remember, this is a guy that many felt got too many chances, and failed numerous times.

    Right now, it’s just something to talk about.

  51. So, it does make one wonder what is really going on here. My intuition tells me that the people who know are not talking or, if talking, are asking the ones they tell to keep it confidential. When something does not add up–and not using Saunders more regularly sure fits that–it tells me there are facts we do not know that are important. Maybe not facts that would make Jack or Lloyd look good, but important facts. Still, pointing out the strangeness of this situation, including the strange choice to talk about Saunders lack of preparation to the media–is legitimate and I hope shining some light on it makes people start behaving more rationally or transparently.

  52. Maybe Saunders pissed off JackZ when he went through rubberband training with Mike Bard in Colorado (Bard) and revitialized his swing to an extent that none of the revolving-door hitting coaches that Zduriencik has hired-and-fired have been able to do with Jack’s own young players. When I see Saunders hit against lefties, I remember his game winner three or four years ago against the Red Sox and southpaw, John Lester. Good post here. Truth to power. Save the Condor!

  53. I’m so done with Zduriencik, and probably Lloyd too.

    The whole thing is mind-blowing. How many at bats did we give to Chris Denorfia when Saunders withered away on the bench?

    You’re absolutely right this is a playoff team if they didn’t have some stupid issue with Saunders.

  54. Can’t argue with that Jason. At all. It is ridiculous.

  55. Jerry,

    Saunders played 132 and 139 games the past two years. He’s had one injury-riddled season. And even if it were true that he’s injury prone, why was he benched when he was healthy? Punishment? Subliminal message? Stupidity? Because McClendon drew names out of a hat?

    And the issues are two-fold, not one.

    1. Saunders wasn’t used regularly when healthy and it cost the team
    2. The club has a problem with Saunders and never told him about it so he’d have a chance to change it. It’s ridiculous.

  56. I really hope this is much ado about nothing. Maybe the club sees him as Chris Doyle Snelling v2.0. There are players that for whatever reason have loads of potential, but can’t stay healthy to be counted on on a regular basis. Michael Saunders is one of my favorite players on the team and he’s an exciting player to watch. We all saw the potential in the 2013 WBC. I think we’re all waiting on his breakout season. However, the fact of the matter is Saunders needs to stay healthy. I hope he isn’t traded this offseason, and I hope Saunders isn’t being soured by the recent comments coming from the organization. I want Saunders to be a long and productive member of this club.

  57. One theory I have is that Saunders isn’t Jack’s guy. He was already here. As was Pineda, Morrow, Clement, Aumont — all traded within a year or so of Jack taking over in Seattle. I get it, Aumont helped them land Lee, Clement wasn’t catching OR hitting much, so no complaints there. Morrow was giving up on and they seemed to be in a big giant hurry to move Pineda after his first year, and even tried to do it the year before.

    Ackley gets a pass and a vote of confidence yet Saunders, who has outperformed Ackley for three years now, gets ignored.

  58. This issue frustrates me more then anything else, in respect to the Mariners. There is no doubt that if the M’s played Saunders every day he was available instead of Almonte, Hart and Chavez the Mariners would have won enough games to make the playoffs. And with the pitching staff they had, the M’s could be the Royals right now.

    I just don’t get it. To everyone who knows anything about baseball, Saunders is seen as our 3rd best hitter, yet he was benched over and over. He seems like a team player, a good clubhouse guy, a guy who keeps his nose clean. I just don’t get it. It’s mind boggling.

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