The Psychology of Taijuan Walker

tai

Jamie Moyer will be inducted to the Mariners HOF this summer. As one of baseball’s most respectable pitchers, it’s important to remember why Moyer was so damn good: His mind.

Moyer threw a fastball that sat in the lower 80’s. (That’s no typo.) He struggled in the big leagues during his youth, not finding much success until after his 30th birthday.  While age 30 is the mid-point for most pitcher’s “prime”, for Moyer it was merely the beginning of his prolific career. Over the next 19 years—extending to age 49—Moyer would produce a staggering 42 WAR.

Moyer’s newfound success wasn’t accidental, nor was it physical. It was psychological. A year before Moyer’s breakout 1993 season, he began a relationship with Harvey Dorfman. A “mental skills coach”, Dorfman opened up a new perspective for Moyer to approach baseball. It was all mental. Moyer could succeed by being smarter than hitters, “using their egos against them”, by pitching inside even with low velocity. And by being thoroughly prepared and “in the zone” on every 5th day.

Enter Taijuan Walker.

Tai Walker has the stuff. His arm is a rocket. But his control and command have yet to develop to professional levels. Sure, he’s young. 22. The future is wide open. But from last year’s eye test, it sure looked like James Paxton had control of the mound, while Walker was anxious.

Now, I’m sure none of us can fathom the pressures a 22 year old feels, pitching to major league hitters in front of tens of thousands of people. Especially with “top elite prospect” attached to your name. To develop the mental zen-like skills of handling that pressure is no easy task.

On top of that, in the modern advanced era of baseball, there’s so much data to digest for ballplayers. Each hitter has hot zones to avoid, cold zones to target. Each hitter has a potential sequence the pitcher, catcher, and coaches will plan out. Oh, and if George Springer hits a mammoth 2-run homer in the 1st inning off you? Be sure not to get dispirited. <Must. Not. Break. Composure.>

It’s no easy task. That’s why this season I’ll be very interested to watch the mental development of Taijuan Walker. I believe he’s an elite talent, with an amazing career ahead of him. The Seattle pitching department has proven to be exceptional in this regard, so I don’t fear that Walker will be neglected with proper mental coaching. Also, Felix Hernandez. Need I say more? Here is a guy who had Walker’s rocket in youth, but then excelled at the mental aspect of baseball just as well. Seeing Felix work, up close & often, should push Walker in all the right ways.

Most excitingly, Taijuan Walker did give a glimpse of pure excellence at the end of last season. For those who caught the game, Walker versus Toronto on September 24th was a pure gem. Walker was poised and owned the mound. He kept hitters off-balance all night. It was beautiful.

If Walker repeats that command for the majority of 2015, we’ll be witnessing the breakout of a superstar.

### 

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Seattle Mariners Top Prospects 2015

2021268877

It’s that time of year again! One of the more popular topics on this blog over the past year has been prospects, so I figured I’d start a bit earlier this year, breaking down each of the Mariners top 20 prospects (as decided by me).

This years list will a lot different than last years. Quite a few players graduated the list, and a number of new faces have been added via the draft. There’s no doubt the Mariners’ farm isn’t as highly touted as it once was, but the high rate of graduation over the past two seasons has left the system looking very young.

I’ll start by giving a short run down of the “Best of the Rest” before discussing the “Top 20″ players individually, counting down form 20 to 1. I’m starting early this year to keep it from into the season again. As always, feel free to comment and give your opinions on all the players.

### 

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

M’s Unveil Sweet New Uniforms

img_4694

I’ll admit, I was so pumped to see these new uniforms. It’s been rumored for months now that the Mariners were looking to add a cream jersey to their wardrobe, and I am a huge fan of cream jerseys. I’m not sure why, but they look so awesome. The Giants are famous for it and the Indians recently adopted it, heck, my favorite NHL sweaters are the Minnesota Wild green and cream ones. So when I heard that the Mariners would be revealing them today, I was a bit excited. And boy did come through!

img_4693

The team mixed new with old, adding the throwback blue and gold to the modern Mariners logo. They even included a new hat as well, for all you collectors out there. To keep it classic, the jerseys will not have names on the back, just over sized numbers, a la New York and Boston. This uniform will have a new sock look as well:

IMG_4695

Taijuan Walker and Charlie Furbush expertly rocking those striped socks and stirrups. These socks will be available for all games (though they’ll be navy and white except on Sundays) to go along with the improvement on the standard jerseys the team has presented.

IMG_4696

The designers have flipped the silver and teal, making silver the outline of the navy letters and teal the base. This is a small but very noticeable change.

This isn’t really all that important, but it’s fun and it’s getting people excited for baseball again! I personally love all the changes to these uniforms, and I’m planning on getting one to replace my old mustard stained Justin Smoak jersey from a few years back. The tough decision now seems to be which one do I get, and who’s name do I put on the back!

 

### 

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Why I Am a Mariners Fan

1988+Topps+Phillies+1

Dave Cameron wrote an interesting article this week on baseball fandom. It wonders why individuals choose particular sports teams. Obviously, hometown plays the most prominent role.

My story is a bit different. Yes, I am a Mariners fan because I live in Seattle. But I was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, moved away when I was 25. And moreover, I was a diehard Phillies fan as a kid.

In the late 80’s—when I was 6, 7, 8 years old—the Phillies sucked. Flat out terrible. But I was unfazed. The voice of Harry Kalas remains imprinted in my memories, as I watched the efforts of Von Hayes, aging Mike Schmidt, and personal fave Steve Jeltz (career replacement level!). The team’s losing tendency extended until 1993, when the Phillies broke a 6 year downer with a 97-win season and a World Series appearance. It was the best and worst year of a young fan’s life.

We lost the Series. Joe Carter did this. Heartbreak.

When the 1994 player strike came, the sounds of Kurt Cobain had already captured my now adolescent mind. Baseball would be an afterthought for the next two decades.

Even when I moved to Seattle in 2006, baseball wasn’t yet back on my radar. I visited Safeco Field a few times, but the team was uninspiring. It’d be another few years before I fell in love with the game again.

When that finally did happen, the Mariners were still uninspiring. Sure, Felix Hernandez was awesome. But the team wasn’t a team. If there was a core, I couldn’t see it. For awhile, I just watched players I liked. Young players breaking into the bigs, in particular. Freddie Freeman, Matt Carpenter, Jonathan Lucroy. Yet something was pulling at me. I needed a team to root for. Philadelphia was a city I moved away from for a reason. And the Phillies of my childhood was just that: My childhood team. They seemed perfect to me in my memory. No need to mess with that.

So in 2013 I decided the Mariners would be my team. Yup, I was adopting fandom for the city team I call home. How earth-shattering is that?!?! But remember, most people who move away from their hometown will never disown their old team. I was engaging in sports fandom blasphemy!

For the Mariners, I had become honestly impressed with young players Brad Miller and Kyle Seager. These were homegrown kids to have pride in. (And yes, Felix Hernandez too.) But at this point, I assumed the team was going to continue to be bad. Or mediocre. I was okay with that. As I mentioned, my Phillies fandom was for an awful team, year after year. (Minus one great year.) I could handle this.

And then on the morning of December 6th, 2013, I woke to a text message that read: “Cano signs with the Mariners”. Normally, a team bringing in expensive free agent talent doesn’t impress me. But Robinson Cano was a true talent, a player I had followed, even though I hated watching Yankees games.

Moreover, I’d been catching up on the Mariners deep farm system, and was realizing that the team had tons of potential going forward. Signing Cano for 10 years— following the 7 year contract extension for Felix—was confirmation that the team was now a team. Young homegrown talent plus two incredible veteran superstars who were worth every penny… Yes, this was something to have pride in.

So, I made a conscious decision to follow a team regardless of their success. And then within 6 months, they turned a huge corner towards becoming a successful team. <Insert dumb joke about how I’m responsible for the Mariners newfound success.>

I came to Mariners fandom just as the party got started. 2014 ended up being a season of thoroughly satisfying baseball. I enjoyed every minute, particularly the young kids turning into major league talent. And looking to the future, it only gets more exciting.

Anyhow, that’s my story. It’s not important. But whatever.

The Mariners are my team.

### 

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

OBP and the 2015 Mariners

jacksoncano

When making a team better, you attack weaknesses. Last year, the Mariners produced MLB’s 3rd worst OBP as a team (.300). Ugh.

On-Base-Percentage is best looked at as its inverse: How often a player didn’t get out. In that respect, the Mariners were one of the best teams for getting themselves out last year. For eliminating their own possibility of scoring runs.

This off-season, the Mariners desperately needed to address the top of their lineup. Simply, get guys on base for Cano, Cruz, and Seager to drive in. Having Ackley in the #2 slot—who produced a .293 OBP last year—was not gonna cut it. Thankfully, they did something about that.

Now that our 2015 lineup is settled, I wanted to compile the Mariners OBP and see how things looked. Instead of projections, I used each player’s career OBP, which seems stable enough.

.336 Austin Jackson
.340 Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano Platoon
.358 Robinson Cano
.328 Nelson Cruz
.328 Kyle Seager
.333 Logan Morrison
.265 Mike Zunino
.309 Dustin Ackley
.302 Brad Miller

Total: .322 Team OBP

That’s significantly better than last year’s .300 OBP. Granted, this assumes no players will be hurt. You can easily knock a few points off for replacement players who will need to fill in.

Also, you’ll notice that some numbers seem too high, some too low. (Cano will likely perform 20 points higher, as he has the past 3 seasons.) And the Smith/Ruggiano number is taken from their handedness splits, which might be overly ideal, but I did knock 8 points off from what should’ve been a .348 OBP out of the #2 slot.

So, the Mariners have addressed this issue reasonably well, at least on paper. It’s not hard to imagine young players stepping up, like Zunino and Miller, and furthering the progress. Chris Taylor as a platoon partner might also be beneficial, but his stats are too limited to evaluate.

On a whole, this improvement could pay dividends. At the very least, get used to watching longer innings when the Mariners are batting.

[“You down with OBP?” “Yeah you know me!”]

[[Sorry.]]

### 

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

2015 Mariners = 96 Wins?

sergio
In the final hours of 2014, Seth Smith became a Mariner. The trade completed Seattle’s off-season mission. Which was to get better. Duh.

The M’s took a conservative approach this winter. They refused to trade top young prospects—although Brandon Maurer will be missed— and instead filled their needs with free agency and lower profile trades.

As the major transactions appear to be done, I began wondering how these moves might benefit the team. Steamer Projections currently cite Seattle as MLB’s second best team, behind only the Dodgers. And yet these projections only count the Mariners winning 89 games. (It’s a baseline model.)

Now, the Mariners are likely better than an 89-win team. (In fact, many teams will over-perform their Steamer projections.) For fun, let’s take an unsophisticated calculation of Seattle’s upgrades for 2015.

Designated Hitter: Plus 4 Wins

2014 was brutal for the Mariners DH slot. Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales flat out stunk. They combined for -2 WAR. Signing Nelson Cruz was the big winter move, and you need not be a mathematician to see how this works… Cruz—who produced 4 WAR last season in Baltimore—needs only to be decent to massively improve this Mariners team. Most project Cruz around 2 WAR in 2015, which would give the Mariners a net gain of 4 wins from last year.

Right Field: Plus 1 Win

Beloved Michael Saunders produced 2 WAR in his injury-shortened 2014. In his absence, the Mariners trotted out Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero. Chavez produced a neutral 0 WAR (meaning he was “replacement level”). Romero gave us -1 WAR. Subtracted from Saunders’ strong numbers, we get 1 WAR total from RF last year.

Enter our new RF platoon. Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano combine for a roughly projected 2 WAR next year. Thus, a net pick-up of 1 win in RF.

First Base: Plus 1 Win

If you tried to forget about Justin Smoak, we don’t blame you. However, Smoak did play 80 games for the Mariners in 2014. His WAR dipped into negative territory, but not by much, so we’ll roundly call him “replacement level” last year. When Logan Morrison took Smoak’s job in the summer, he produced 1 WAR in his half-season. LoMo is projected to give us 2 WAR next year, which bumps 1B to an additional 1 win of 2014.

Center Field: Plus 3 Wins

The Mariners had a rough go with CF last year. Abe Almonte started the season in CF and was demoted before May flowers bloomed. Abe’s WAR was essentially neutral, though. James Jones took his place, started strong, but then found himself over-matched. He totaled -1 WAR over 328 plate appearances. At trade-deadline we landed Austin Jackson. In Jackson’s short two months in Seattle, he struggled at the plate. (Small sample size!) His Mariners’ WAR ended up roughly neutral though, thanks to his respectable defense.

For 2015, nobody thinks Jackson will be merely “replacement level”. We can safely project him for 2 WAR…. Put that all together and Seattle should gain 3 wins from CF in 2015.

Total: Plus 9 Wins…. Suggesting 96 Wins for 2015

I’m tempted to peer into the pitching situation, but I won’t. The Mariners have added nice depth to their rotation, which cannot be over-looked. Plus, I truly think James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are on the brink of breakout seasons.

But let’s just project the pitching as a push from last year, as with the rest of the roster. Fluctuations will exist, but to project them gets hairy. So, assuming 2014’s baseline, and adding the improvements, we easily clear the 90+ win category.

Conclusion: It wasn’t a splashy off-season like last year, but it was a big one. The Mariners “got creative” and filled their needs. They did so without subtracting future talent from the prospect pool. Payroll went up, but according to M’s president Kevin Mather, there might be plenty more payroll to add. Imagine that.

The reality is, it’s only the first week of 2015. And we’re thinking about October of 2015.

That’s so freakin’ cool.

 


 

### 

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Remember the Mariners in 2015

trophy1280_uv20m4uk_h6ql435s

No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam. ~Charles Lamb, “New Year’s Eve,” in The London Magazine, January 1821

Ah yes, a new year is upon us and other cliches you’ve probably already read on blogs today. A measly 95 days remain between now and when Felix toes the rubber on Opening Day.

Never before have I been so excited for baseball to return. Witnessing the first competitive playoff race by the Mariners in my conscious lifetime has me anxious to get the 2015 season going. The craziness of this offseason has only made the impending campaign linger further in the distance.

I, like many of you, and certain television commercials, attribute sports accomplishments to years when remembering the past. This holiday season, my family and I were looking back at some old photos of our vacations (yes, how quaint). 2004 was the year all the relatives got together and went to Disney World. But when the 2004 album was originally brought out, the first thing that came to mind wasn’t Mickey Mouse and exhausted parents berating their children. What I immediately thought of was perhaps the greatest baseball season in my lifetime. Ichiro became the single season hit king! The Boston Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918! Barry Bonds joined the 700 club! And how could you ever forget, Jason Freaking Bay was named Rookie of the Year!

2004 is not the only year that I represent with some type of baseball memory. For instance, 2001 is the year the Mariners won 116 games and Luis Gonzalez ended the World Series on a bloop single over second base, beating those damn Yankees in game 7. 2011 is always know as the year of my favorite baseball game of all-time, as, the Cardinals unbelievably beat those damn Rangers in game 6 of the World Series, despite being down to their final strike twice.

I usually realize what accolade I attribute to given years in history class. For example, learning about World War 1, I found that I always associate 1918 with the last time (before the aforementioned 2004 season) the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. One of the first Mariner games I ever attended was against the Red Sox in 2002. Chants of let’s go Red Sox were met with jeering 19-18’s, and it has been implanted in my brain ever since.

As much as my history teacher wishes, the first thing that comes to mind about 1961 isn’t the Bay of Pigs, the building of the Berlin Wall, the increase of US advisories in Vietnam, and the overall escalation of a democracy vs communism theme that would shape the next decade in World History. Hell no! It’s Roger Maris setting the new single season home run record with 61 bombs. “61 in ’61” rolls off the tongue so nicely.

What I’m getting at here is that it’s a new year! Another 365 days to live, make memories, and unconsciously ascribe an event to the number 2015. The Mariners are finally something to look forward to. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year we look back on and say “2015, the year the Seattle Mariners won the World Series.”

### 

Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 311 other followers