The Pigeonhole Principle and More!

The Mariners have another all-important week under their belts, and that can only mean one thing. We’re that much closer to stabilization.

After Bryant posted yesterday about what to do with Mike Carp and Casper Wells, conversation abounded in the comments section about not only that, but also about what to do with Michael Saunders. Franklin Gutierrez may also have been mentioned, and I brought into my question my own lack of vocabularial range. Essentially there are three pigeons trying to roost in two pigeonholes, and it doesn’t take a math major to figure out someone is going to have to sleep in the rain (sleep = sit, rain = bench,  and that is the extent of my metaphor skills).

There are also others players on this team, so we have some things to talk about!

First to the improvement chart: remember that this one compares players to their past levels of production (up to 5 seasons). The greener the gooder.


This chart is not the best for comparing Carp, Wells and Saunders to each other, as it is designed to measure individual improvement. Miguel Olivo, for instance could improve his wOBA by 18 points and still be the worst-hitting, regular catcher over the last two seasons. So let’s turn our attention momentarily to a couple other guys that happen to play on this team, too.

I want to point out that Alex Liddi is continuing to show improvement in his contact and plate discipline. Getting that guy more plate appearances would be nice so we can hit some stabilizing levels.

I also wanted to take a second to comment on Brendan Ryan’s still-sky-high walk rate of nearly 14%: I’m not ready to trust it yet. Walk rates take longer to stabilize than swing rates, and I don’t see a lot of evidence that his plate discipline has changed. He’s swinging at balls outside the zone about as often as he has in the past, he swings and misses a little more often, and thus his contact rate is slightly down. These are not signs of a player that has improved his fundamental approach at the plate. Yes, he’s seeing more pitches each plate appearance, but I think that’s a product of this strange fact: Brendan Ryan is pitched balls in the strike zone just 48% of the time. The league average is 49%! I have a feeling  that pitchers are not purposely avoiding the raw power that isn’t Brendan Ryan, that he will see more strikes as the season goes on, and that his walk rate will come back down to his previously sub-par levels. Ryan should not be in the two-hole. Ever.


Now for a look at Saunders, Carp, Wells. I flipped and flopped in my conversation with Harrison and Keith. I just feel so insecure without numbers! So first, here are some more recognized offensive stats for their respective careers:








Casper Wells







Mike Carp







Michael Saunders








Michael Saunders has had a lot of plate appearances to show us what he can do. And it appears as though he can’t do. Casper Wells and Mike Carp aren’t likely to bash their ways to the All-star game, but they have shown an ability to hit above league average—in Wells’ case, actually close to All-star level—and that’s something. Even when adjusted for positional differences and playing time, Saunders hasn’t been up to par, essentially grading out to a replacement player by Fangraphs’ standards.

Below we see comparisons to league medians*.


The primary thing that Saunders has going for him is his walk rate. With pedestrian plate-discipline at best, that figure will likely regress a little back toward his career rates between 8 and 9%. Saunders has also hit for some power this season; he’s on pace for 20 dingers per 600 PAs. However, his career rate of 12 HR/600 PA carries far more weight this early in the season.

Harrison pointed out that Saunders struggles with the curveball. Leading up to this season, Saunders saw curveballs 10.5% of the time. He swung through 17.7% of the ones we went after. In April of this season, pitchers threw him curveballs 10% of time, and he whiffed at 15% of the ones he swung at. So far in May, he’s seen more curves (14%), and whiffed at more curves (nearly 22%). I’d have to imagine scouts are seeing this, and that Saunders is likely to get a pretty steady diet of breaking stuff. This does not bode well for his already poor strikeout rate (see: dark red box under K% above).

Neither Wells nor Carp have shown the usual splits against same-handed pitchers to this point in their young careers, so perhaps it’s time let Wells start in center with Carp in left. What to do when Guti comes back? I’ll leave that for an esteemed colleague…


*Medians among only those in MLB with at least 40 PAs

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Tags: Casper Wells Franklin Gutierrez Michael Saunders Mike Carp

  • KenLeder

    Actually Michael Saunders this season has been 102 wRC+. Whether he sustains is is another story of course. ZIPS had his BB% at 9.8% before the season started with a updated ZIPS of 10.0%.
    “However, his career rate of 12 HR/600 PA carries far more weight this early in the season.” 
    One thing about this is that Saunders isn’t the same player he use to be in terms of how hard he can drive the ball the other way. I don’t think he will avg much more then 12 hr/600 PA either, maybe something shy of 20 at best…but I’d suspect the doubles to take a pretty good bump. 
    He could very well just fall apart like he has done of course. LOL

  • KenLeder

    You should try looking at batted balls and see if there is a distinguishable difference between pre-2012. That would be an interesting research instead of just looking at those typical numbers. A may just strengthen your belief or you might find out some new pattern. Who knows.

  • Harrison_Crow

    I didn’t write the article you referenced, that would be Mr. Bryant Bartlett. 

  • Harrison_Crow

     @KenLeder  Batted ball data is important but this isn’t about balls that the batter makes contact with and put into play. The point of this was more about contact versus no contact due to the massive issues of strike outs, which is of course the worse possible out come in an at bat. 
    Plate discipline is important for multiple reasons. Not only does it reveal issues of why hitters miss balls and where they miss them, it also highlights their inability to differentiate between strikes and balls in certain spots as well as it can tell you why they make the type of contact that they do. 
    That said batted ball data usually goes hand in hand with plate discipline.

  • MattyK

     @KenLeder The thing with batted ball data is that we would have to regress it all the way back to career and league averages. That stuff doesn’t even stabilize in one season of plate appearances. So I agree that it’s useful to help identify potential good or bad luck, but if I’m trying to find underlying improvement in small sample sizes, the plate discipline numbers are the first place to look. 

  • MattyK

     @KenLeder Zips is putting a lot of weight on his walk rate this season (at 10.4% after today), which may or may not be totally fair. I just know that ZiPS has a hard time with players like Saunders. Only about one full season’s worth of PAs, and spread out over 3+ seasons. So I was just looking at some of his swing traits when thinking about his walk rate, and his overall swing percentage has gone up about 3%.
    That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since he is swinging more often at balls in the zone, and slightly less often at balls out of the zone. It may help him maintain his career high LD% and HR/FB rate, while his walk rate may settle closer to his career average between 8 and 9%.
    One thing I like about Wells looking back over the numbers is that he’s seeing more pitches than the league average, while essentially being pitched more strikes according to pitch/fx. His babip looks suspiciously high at .350, but maybe some added patience this year has helped. It’s such a small sample for Wells though, that I don’t want to get caught looking too far into it. 

  • MattyK

     @Harrison_Crow I totally knew that. I just don’t like him very much.

  • Mariner_Melee

     @MattyK Rude…

  • Mariner_Melee

    I hope you don’t mean me about this Wells/ Guti thing… I’m so unsure!

  • MattyK

     @Mariner_Melee Delegate! **Puts finger on nose first, a universal symbol of “not it” **

  • Harrison_Crow

     @MattyK  @Mariner_Melee  *Finger on nose* looks at Bryant, Keith, Joel, Riley and Ashley…. this is kind of turning into a role playing thing.

  • Mariner_Melee

     @Harrison_Crow  @MattyK *Finger on nose*. Also…What did I ever do to you Matty! 

  • Mariner_Melee

     @Harrison_Crow  Oh Harrison we have to do that Podcast

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