Seattle Mariners, Pitcher Salesman

Prospect trades are incredibly difficult to evaluate. Trades of this ilk often depend on the future production each team receives from their acquisitions, making it nearly impossible to know for sure which team will come out on top without the benefit of hindsight. In order to deal Michael Pineda, the Seattle Mariners had to consider many factors; including the current state of their franchise and the cost of developing young pitchers. While it will take years to know definitively which team won the deal, trading one of the best young pitchers in the game was the right decision for the Mariners.

As evidenced by the fact that Adam Kennedy received 103 plate appearances in the third spot in the batting order last season — and the fact that the team only scored 556 runs — the Mariners were in desperate need of more offense. In order to acquire that offense, the Mariners had to give up a stud 23-year-old pitcher that they signed and developed. While it’s tough to part with a pitcher this talented, the Mariners can afford to make this move based on their park.

Due to the spacious Safeco Field, pitchers are more prone to success in Seattle. Because the park allows the Mariners to develop pitchers easier, it’s in the Mariners best interests to use their ballpark to their advantage.

This strategy has been prevalent in every major deal involving a young pitcher this off-season. San Diego, Oakland and now Seattle have all traded away young pitchers recently. Not surprisingly, each team has the ideal ballpark to employ this type of strategy.

Park Effects (LHB/RHB) K BB 1B 2B 3B HR
Safeco Field 107/110 105/104 104/100 84/100 62/89 95/82
O.co Coliseum 101/96 101/102 96/96 88/94 114/86 89/90
Petco Park 107/110 103/108 98/97 86/72 116/94 59/95

Since each team plays in a pitcher friendly ballpark, these three organizations have a competitive advantage when it comes to the development of young arms. Balls that might fly out of smaller parks hang up for outfielders to run down, and young pitchers (often in need of confidence) learn that they can be rewarded for throwing strikes in the big leagues. Rather than having to nibble on the corners, the safety net of their home ballpark allows them to challenge hitters and trust their stuff – one of the lessons that often takes young arms the longest to learn.

Due to the current state of each team’s financial situation, the trade market and the draft are the best way these teams to acquire good young power hitters – generally, the most expensive asset in all of baseball to try and buy in free agency. Additionally, these teams run into the downside of playing in a pitcher’s park when they do try to lure bats to come play in their spacious parks, as hitters are aware that moving to one of these west coast cities will likely put a damper on their overall numbers, and could cost them money in future contracts down the line.

So, the Mariners, Padres, and A’s have all seemingly settled on the same plan – develop arms, then flip them for young bats that don’t have a choice in the matter.

In each deal, the teams that dealt away pitching managed to receive strong offensive pieces in return, and to help perpetuate the cycle, each aimed to get a pitcher in return that could benefit from transitioning to a bigger ballpark. Few teams were in a better position to take the risk on Edinson Volquez this off-season, but Petco Park gives San Diego hope that they’ll be able to curtail his home run issues and turn him into a valuable piece, either for their staff or as a rejuvenated trade chip next off-season. If he’s able to churn out a successful season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Padres turn around and deal him for more hitters next year, thus re-starting the cycle.

Following that logic, the Mariners decision to move Pineda is a bit easier to understand. There’s always going to be a market for starting pitching, and teams that have the benefit of helping develop young pitchers can walk away from these deals with some major talent in return. While these teams often have to part with premium pitching, their ballparks make it much easier for them to replace these premium arms, as they can get value from less impressive pitchers while using the trades to fill their line-ups with hitters who are good enough to survive in their home ballparks.

For Billy Beane, Josh Byrnes, and now Jack Zduriencik, this winter presented an opportunity to consolidate risk and upgrade the overall stock of young talents in their organization. While parting with good young arms is never an easy thing to do, each know that their home park will make it possible for those arms to be replaced. And for these GMs, their best plan of action to keep the talent pool flowing is to act as salesman of young pitchers.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.



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The Ancient Mariner
Guest
The Ancient Mariner

Well argued, with this additional note on the M’s and Safeco: where the park really kills power is to left and left-center, because of the wind patterns. It’s not bad at all to right — and actually, you can have success pulling the ball just inside the left-field foul pole. As such, it doesn’t hurt LH hitters much, but it eats many righties alive. That’s why Zduriencik has been loading up on LH bats at atypical positions — moving Ackley to 2B, trading for Jaso, drafting two left-hitting shortstops. But you still need RH power to balance the lineup, and for a righty power hitter to have success at Safeco, he’ll need to have at least one of two things: mammoth power overall, or significant opposite-field power. If what I’ve seen is correct, Montero has both, which would make him an exceptionally good fit for the M’s, and more valuable to Seattle than to other franchises for which that combination (while good) is less critically important.

tdotsports
Guest

What date are you using? Everything I have researched shows a definitive suppression of LH power, especially HR rate.

Ben Hall
Member
Member
Ben Hall
joser
Guest
joser

It’s getting dated now (pre Target/Citi/YS-III) and I trust StatCorner more, but see also
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/home-run-park-factor-a-new-approach/

69Pilots
Guest
69Pilots

I agree Mariner, after all, Safeco and it’s accesible right field fence were built with Griffey Jr in mind. By all accounts, Montero uses the whole field and I don’t think Safeco will hurt him at all. He will find the gaps regularly and boost his average, and his power will allow him to reach the seats from time to time. I see him as an Edgar type with more power. I only hope he doesn’t feel too much pressure from a fan base that is eager for a winner.

Terminator X
Guest
Terminator X

Edgar with (significantly) more power is potentially a top-10 hitter all-time. Let’s be realistic here.

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