Mariners Accept the Flaws of Adam Lind, Evan Scribner

When Jerry Dipoto met with the Mariners, and when they decided to hire him, they discussed a plan that would have the team avoid any kind of major rebuild. Retooling is a different process, and currently the Mariners’ process, but the goal is for the team to be competitive. So Dipoto has been busy modifying the roster, with 2016 in mind, and now we have another pair of transactions, the latest finalized just earlier Wednesday. From the A’s, the Mariners added Evan Scribner, which cost them Trey Cochran-Gill. From the Brewers, the Mariners added Adam Lind, which cost them Daniel Missaki, Carlos Herrera, and Freddy Peralta.

Unless you’re unusually knowledgeable about the minor leagues, you don’t know those names. They aren’t the names of high-level prospects, but then, that’s been among the issues — Dipoto hasn’t had a strong system from which to draw. Trading for Wade Miley cost him an arm out of the major-league bullpen. Dipoto is limited, by money, and by the various failures of the preceding administration. So here we are now, with the Mariners adding another two players of moderate interest, each with obvious flaws.

There’s nothing shocking about either transaction. The Mariners had a gaping hole at first base, and they had a gaping hole in the bullpen, in part because of the earlier Carson Smith trade. It was obvious they’d get a first baseman, and it was obvious they’d get a reliever. It’s probably obvious they’ll still get more relievers. No greater mission ends upon the acquisition of Evan Scribner. He’s to be considered just part of a plan.

And we’ll get to him, but beginning with Lind, there was nothing left for him to do in Milwaukee — he’s under contract one more year, and the Brewers are going to be bad. So he was a clear trade candidate, which made the Mariners a match. Before Lind was picked up, the Mariners projected to split first base between Jesus Montero and Andy Wilkins. That’s like making a sandwich out of raw wheat and bubble gum.

There’s absolutely nothing hidden about Adam Lind. He’s one of the simplest players in baseball to understand. He’s neither young nor too old, and he can handle first base without making a total mess of it. He’s a left-handed hitter who’s done some cruel things to right-handed pitchers. The last three years, 312 players have batted against righties at least 500 times. Lind ranks 13th among them in wRC+, and he ranks sixth in hard-hit rate. Lind, against righties, is inarguably good. He should remain so in the short-term future.

Yet while all right-handed pitchers are pitchers, not all pitchers are right-handed pitchers. Our splits go back to 2002. Since then, 499 players have batted at least 500 times against both righties and lefties. Here are the players with the biggest platoon splits, by wRC+, favoring at-bats against righties:

Biggest Platoon Splits, Favoring Righties, 2002 – 2015
Player wRC+ vs. R wRC+ vs. L Difference
Adam Lind 130 54 76
Garrett Jones 119 52 67
Andre Ethier 140 74 66
Jim Thome 162 102 60
Seth Smith 122 62 60
Shin-Soo Choo 148 91 57
Trot Nixon 125 69 56
Jose Valentin 105 49 56
Ryan Howard 141 87 54
Lance Berkman 155 105 50

It’s Lind in first, by an awful lot. He’s actually cleared 1,000 opportunities against southpaws, and it’s been a disaster. At this point, it’s just part of it. Platoon splits always have to be regressed, but Lind is very obviously not to be played much with lefties on the mound. That makes him limited, in whole games, and also in the later innings of games, should a lefty specialist appear. Granted, this can also make Lind a pinch-hitting weapon, at times. You know how platoons work. But Lind just about needs to be platooned. Which means the Mariners, at this point, are still looking at playing time for Jesus Montero. Just against lefties, maybe that’s acceptable, but certain concessions are being made here.

You’ll note that the Mariners are giving up three teenagers for Lind, shortly after basically dumping Mark Trumbo on the Orioles. Also, Pedro Alvarez is available in free agency. Alvarez, though, is a miserable defender, which makes him look worse than Lind, and as far as Trumbo is concerned, Lind comes with a different discipline profile, which Dipoto seems to prefer. Trumbo is good for occasional dingers. Lind is probably good for fewer dingers, but a greater rate of reaching base.

As for the teenagers themselves, the most advanced of them has six games in A-ball. He’s also undergone Tommy John surgery. The Mariners didn’t trade any major prospects. At the same time, it’s too easy to dismiss these players as nothing — they’re not nothing. Any one of them could blossom, and the Brewers selected this package for Lind over others because they most liked the return. Live-armed teenagers can turn into live-armed adults. It’s just a matter of the probabilities. The players are so far away, their values are pretty low. Most of the time, non-elite low-level prospects fail to return the investment.

This all brings us to the Mariners also adding Scribner. It was a funny exchange — the issue with Scribner is he seems to have a potential home-run problem. He was swapped for a minor-league reliever who has yet to allow a home run professionally. That much is presumably a coincidence, but you’re allowed to chuckle at coincidences.

Like Lind, Scribner is an uncomplicated player. Last year, he had four walks and 64 strikeouts. The year before, in what time he had, he had zero walks and 11 strikeouts. In between all the dingers, there was dominance. In between all the dominance, there were dingers.

It’s probably a simple move to understand from both sides. From the Mariners’ side, it’s about the law of averages. It’s about predictable regression, given some of what we’ve observed about home runs and fly balls. Scribner is coming off one of baseball’s better K-BB% marks. Last year’s top 50 pitchers by K-BB% averaged a 70 ERA-. The top 25 averaged a 67 ERA-. Just four of the top 50 finished with an ERA- that was worse than average: Scribner, Fernando Salas, Michael Pineda, and Jumbo Diaz. What the numbers suggest is that Scribner’s home runs should be less frequent in the season ahead, and eliminating homers makes numbers better quick.

From the A’s side, there are general rules, but general rules don’t always apply to specific players. They might’ve determined that Scribner is just going to be homer-prone. For whatever it’s worth, in 2014, he coughed up four homers in just 13 appearances. Scribner doesn’t have what you might think would be dominating stuff. Maybe he can’t sustain the strikeout and walk numbers if he wants to give up fewer longballs. Could be he’s a hard-contact pitcher. And it’s worth noting last year ended with an injury.

The A’s looked at Scribner and didn’t love what they saw. The Mariners looked at Scribner and saw enough. It’s interesting to think about the rumors linking the Mariners to Shawn Kelley, because Kelley has a similar record — strikeouts, good control, and some home-run flare-ups. Homers haven’t proved to be a crippling problem over Kelley’s career. He’s avoided enough of them, just as Marco Estrada did in 2015. Homer rates are unreliable, and that’s what makes Scribner interesting, but he might just be a version of Josh Towers. We’ll learn a lot in 2016, but that knowledge will be of no help to the front offices involved in making the deal last night.

Further and further, the Mariners modify. With so many of the players they’ve brought in, there are obvious things to like. Yet they’ve all been available and affordable for a reason. Dipoto’s plan would appear to be to make the Mariners very differently flawed. Less flawed, he hopes; differently flawed, he knows.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Distended Bartolo Colon
6 years ago

Do NOT, I repeat, do not try to make a sandwich out of raw wheat and bubble gum.