Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Argument for Pokey 

Amongst Mariner fans, there is a lot of hand-wringing over the Mariners decision to give Pokey Reese the starting shortstop job, while sending Jose Lopez back to Tacoma.

The arguments against Pokey and for Lopez are many:
1) Pokey stinks at the plate.
2) Pokey gets hurt too much and will force us to keep Ramon Santiago over Greg Dobbs.
3) Pokey is being handed the job without winning the Spring competition.
4) Jose looked good on defense this Spring.
5) Jose looked great at the plate this Spring.

Essentially, the argument is that Jose Lopez will help the Mariners win more games in 2005 than Pokey Reese will.

The defense of Pokey has not been convincing. Jeff at Lookout Landing provides a nice numeric analysis comparing the runs created of Pokey Reese's defense to the less predictable runs created of Jose Lopez' offense and defense. But you can't get that excited about vague zone rating metrics that few people understand.

But again, I caution the Mariner faithful to have patience. The Mariners management has a plan here, and it is one that is attempting to win now AND win in the future.

Remember that Bill Bavasi preaches the need for flexibility in how the M's win. This use of flexibility is shown by the front office when the M's are able to recover from being spurned by Carlos Delgado, and are able to move quickly when Adrian Beltre practically falls in their laps.

The Mariners wanted to get two big bats and one good pitcher (they went hard after Pavano and Odalis Perez, but to no avail) this offseason. Because they failed to add a pitcher, they felt that the next best thing would be to improve their defense.

This offseason, the Mariners found that they had not only acquired two big bats, but two of the better defensive players in baseball. 3/4 of their infield now had won or will win Gold Gloves. The only question mark was 20 year old Jose Lopez, who had been sent to the Winter Leagues to work on his defense, and had not improved.

At this point Bavasi gets creative, and says, hmmm... we have improved the defense already, lets go even further. Lets add the best glove in baseball at shortstop, since our current shortstop is light on defense. Jose Lopez would be better on offense, but we've already made substantial gains there by adding Sexson and Beltre, and we're hoping for improvements from Boone, Olivo (and of course, Ichiro! who will be hitting .400 this year).

And, by putting Jose Lopez in AAA, he can use the time away from the spotlight to work on his defense. In fact, we may even use this to plan for 2006 when we may need both a shortstop and second baseman. As a bonus, we save a year of service time for the phenom.

And if we need more help offensively, OR Pokey breaks down, OR Jose Lopez shows much improvement defensively, THEN we can bring up Jose Lopez, and move Pokey into the defensive replacement role that he had with the 2004 Red Sox.

So, for now, the Mariners will put out the best defensive lineup in baseball, and hope that it helps their pitching staff rebound from a disastrous 2004. In fact, we'll even use or Non Roster Invites wisely to bring in pitchers most likely to benefit from improved infield defense by adding Dan Reichert and Aaron Sele to the mix. No improvement on defense is gonna help us keep Ryan Franklin pitches from being blasted into the seats, so lets give him some competition.

And here we are. Despite an excellent Spring from Jose Lopez, the Mariners are sticking to the plan and sending him down. Lopez (and Reese) certainly made the decision a tough one, and the Mariners will likely be quicker to call Lopez back up as a result of his Spring.

Enjoy the brilliant glovework of Pokey Reese this April. If he gets hurt, or if the offense falters, he may not be our starting shortstop for long. But if we are winning in April (we will be), and Pokey stays healthy (that's the $64,000 question), you might get to see him all season long.

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