Mariners' Eric Wedge and Royals' Ned Yost likely running out of time
When the Mariners sent second baseman Dustin Ackley to the minor leagues this week, the harshest of spotlights fell not on the failed former number two overall pick of the draft, but on the key decision-makers in Seattle. Why are the Mariners constantly failing to improve and why can't they identify or develop good young hitters? Those questions must be answered by general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge, both of whom should feel less comfortable these days than Ackley.
There is a long line of failed contracts and failed prospects over the past four seasons in Seattle: Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, etc. The Mariners have nothing of substance to show for trades of Cliff Lee and Michael Pineda. And, no, it's not to be blamed on spacious Safeco Field, where the Mariners once built a 116-win team. Something is seriously wrong institutionally when it comes to identifying and developing talent in Seattle.
The same questions should be asked of the Kansas City Royals, where Dayton Moore and Ned Yost also have presided over a stagnant franchise in which young hitters regress -- and on Thursday wound up costing the jobs of hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David. You might argue the Royals are under even more duress and pressure than the Mariners right now, if only because they traded top hitting prospect Wil Myers to go all-in this year, only to see young hitters Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez fail to improve when they should be entering their prime.
Both Wedge and Yost are managing to save their jobs over the next month or two. It doesn't look good for either one because they have had plenty of time to make a better imprint. If they go, Zduriencik and Moore immediately are in the crosshairs next; they get one more hire to try to save their own jobs.
Next week I will take a look behind Wedge's comments about why Ackley went backward -- the manager did have a kernel of truth in his observation, though it was lost in the awkwardness of his words -- but it's now time to take an honest look at Wedge's track record. This is his third season as manager of the Mariners. You can make a case that his four teams are the four worst hitting teams in Seattle history. Check out the worst Mariners teams in franchise history as ranked by runs, on-base percentage, batting average and strikeouts, with the manager of each team noted:
Fewest Runs Per Game
Worst On-Base Percentage
2011: .292 (Eric Wedge)
2012: .296 (Eric Wedge)
2010: .298 (Don Wakamatsu and Daren Brown)
1983: .301 (Rene Lachemann, Del Crandall)
2013: .306 (Eric Wedge)
Worst Batting Average
2011: .233 (Eric Wedge)
2012: .234 (Eric Wedge)
2010: .236 (Don Wakamatsu and Daren Brown)
2013: .237 (Eric Wedge)
Most Strikeouts Per Game
2013: 8.30 (Eric Wedge)
2011: 7.90 (Eric Wedge)
2012: 7.77 (Eric Wedge)
2010: 7.31 (Don Wakamatsu and Daren Brown)
Baseball attendance is down 2.9 percent, but the Miami Marlins alone account for 40 percent of the decline in tickets sold, and the weather in many places has been brutal. Much has been made about low attendance at interleague games this week, with the Mets and Yankees, for instance, failing to attract their usual sellouts.
People use those crowds as a proxy for baseball's popularity, but you have to understand there is a story behind those interleague numbers. Now that MLB has moved to two 15-team leagues, the little accounting trick baseball used to sell the popularity of interleague play no longer applies. In past years baseball would make sure to schedule as many interleague series as possible on weekends, when school was out (especially the "natural rival" series.) MLB then could point to the "increased attendance" of interleague games as the fans' way of voting their approval of interleague play.
But those games drew well in great part because of when they were played. The toughest tickets to sell are weeknight games while school is in session -- thus the empty seats this week in New York. So don't be so quick to think attendance at interleague games is a problem or the "novelty" of it has worn off. With interleague games all year, MLB no longer can gerrymander the interleague schedule the way it did before.
Attendance may get a lot of attention, but it's not among baseball's biggest problems. The biggest problems, in no particular order, are 1) re-establishing the World Series as a true national event rather than one that is strong regionally; 2) selling a handful of players as national, mainstream stars rather than regional favorites; 3) improving the pace of play so that the ball is put into play more often; and 4) resolving the stadium issues of Oakland and Tampa Bay.
Having interleague play scattered around the season definitely has made one impact on how the game is played: American League pitchers are even more worthless with a bat than they were before.
Before the season, faced with scattered games in NL parks rather than a few in one or two closely placed windows, AL managers were worried about how to keep their pitchers ready to swing the bat. Do they have them hit all year? Do they have them hit a few times a month? It seems the easiest thing for the managers to do was not give it much attention at all. It's just not worth it.
AL pitchers have been absolutely horrible with a bat this season -- I mean embarrassingly bad and way worse than they were last season. They are hitting .063 with no extra base hits while striking out in almost half their plate appearances.
This is pathetic. The scattered nature of the interleague games in NL parks is turning the AL pitcher at-bats into a joke -- like pulling people out of the stands and asking them to hit major league pitching.
(Hey, maybe that's a good idea for somebody in marketing: Fans at the ballpark can sign up to win a lottery each night to take an at-bat when an AL pitcher's turn comes up. Can't be much worse. And the NL team continues to have a homefield advantage, because if you go to all-DH for interleague games, the NL teams lose the advantage of the AL team having to drop one of their regulars from the lineup.)
When MLB and the players association switched to the two 15-team leagues after least season -- ostensibly for better travel and "fairer" schedules -- I told you I didn't like what it would do to how baseball is presented: it dirties up pennant races, it makes interleague games as boring as NBA inter-conference games and, worst of all, it could be the first step toward getting rid of baseball the way it was meant to be played, with nine players in a lineup, not 10.
I said back then it would make people question why in the world we have AL pitchers (many of whom never have batted since high school, if then) swinging a bat in NL parks. The easy solution -- which is becoming clearer with every pathetic at-bat by an AL pitcher -- is to use the DH in all interleague games, the way it is often done in spring training. And once you do that, you are one step closer to the horror of using the DH in both leagues all the time.
Take a look at the sharp drop in hitting by AL pitchers this year as compared to the previous three years -- the direct result of the scattershot nature of interleague games in NL parks. And just for fun, I added the hitting by AL pitchers from 1972, the last year without the DH. Take a look at these numbers and ask yourself: Is there any point to having AL pitchers bat any more?
Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Don Wakamatsu and Daren Brown managed the Mariners in 2010, not Eric Wedge.