The longer I watch, write about, and discuss baseball with my peers, the more confused I become by the knee-jerk reaction crowd. After last season, I heard countless callers, and saw many comments around the blogosphere where people were asking why Jack Zduriencik’s job was secure after such a terrible losing season with an absolutely abysmal offense and a clubhouse full of cliques. I’m going to sound like a jerk here, but all I could think was “What is wrong with all of you?!”
While the 2009 Mariners only overachieved by a few games, fans have yet to grasp the magnitude of just how much the 2010 Mariners underperformed. Sure, the acquisitions of Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, and the re-signing of Ken Griffey, Jr. didn’t inspire visions of winning the world series, but trading three mediocre prospects for Cliff Lee certainly enthused the fan base. The Lee trade was essentially what launched “believe big” marketing campaign, and for good reason. Let’s take a look at the big acquisitions for 2010’s team, and compare their 2009 and 2010 WAR. 2009 WAR is first, with 2010 WAR in parenthesis.
Casey Kotchman: 1.0 (-1.1)
Chone Figgins: 6.1 (0.6)
Milton Bradley: 1.1 (-0.1) [Was worth 4.6 WAR in 2008]
Cliff Lee: 6.6 (7.1–traded mid-season)
Pretty atrocious. It’s hard to really criticize Zduriencik for not predicting that the position players he acquired would severely underperform relative even to just the season before. It would have been foolish to expect Kotchman to become better than in 2009, however, it is equally foolish to believe that he would become perhaps the MLB’s worst regular player just a year later. While Figgins was not going to produce 6 WAR again, it would have been ridiculous to expect him to fall that far off the cliff. Bradley’s 1.1 WAR in 2009 could partially be explained by injuries, and while durability is a skill, Bradley still was a decent hitter in 2009. To have expected him to be a negative value player in 2010 would have been absurd as well. Cliff Lee being traded was largely necessary because of the underperforamnce of those three players.
It’s not just the new acquisitions that underperformed, though. Let’s take a look at some returning players from 2009’s squad.
Ken Griffey, Jr.: 0.3 (-0.8)
Jose Lopez: 2.6 (0.7)
Franklin Gutierrez: 6.1 (2.3)
Jack Wilson: 2.0 (0.0)
Rob Johnson: 0.8 (0.4)
Again, it’s hard to imagine all of these players would have fallen this far off of the map. While it could have been seen that Junior may fall off a cliff due to his age, he wasn’t really being counted on to be a great hitter. Regardless, -0.8 WAR in just 33 games is worse than most would have expected. Lopez wasn’t going to hit 25 homers again, but losing almost 2 WAR in value while entering his physical prime could not have been predicted. Gutierrez’s fall, while disappointing, was a bit more predictable, but he was still a valuable player.
This group of players (not counting Lee, since he was traded, and I don’t have his Mariner-only WAR numbers) was worth 20 wins in 2009. These same players were worth 2 WAR in 2010. These players’ production fell 18 wins in just one season, with only one of them, Griffey, really being a candidate for precipitous decline. If anyone can rationally explain to me how a general manager could predict that, well, I’d love to hear it.
When looking at the current roster, rich in young developing talent, and the minor league system, which is far deeper than it ever was in the Bavasi era, it’s hard for me not to give Zduriencik a total free pass on 2010. With neutral luck, Zduriencik’s team should perform markedly better in 2011, and hopefully end speculation that his job is in danger.