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