Casey at the Bat | An Order Change in Order

Casey McLain@caseymclain34Senior Analyst IMay 31, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 27:  Russell Branyan #30 of the Seattle Mariners is congratulated by Ichiro Suzuki #51  after he scored in the second inning of their game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum on May 27, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Mariners coughed up a sweep. David Aardsma had his worst outing of the year, blew his first save and exhibited the same shaky control he’s had all year, sans a dominating fastball. The bullpen and the pitching staff as a whole has been better than this all season. No need to worry.

The Mariners received an uncharacteristic power surge from Ichiro. The leadoff hitter had four hits, including two doubles and a home run. But he won’t do this often, this is unconventional, and goes against every trend in Ichiro’s career. No reason for hope.

While the loss is rough, and the now-unstated statement that would have been made was important, this is simply another game in a 162 game schedule. A game to end a series the Mariners won, and picked up a game on the Angels on the road.

Sweeps are sweet, but consistency is hearty. If this team has eyes on success in 2009, frequent series victories, not occasional sweeps, will be paramount.

These games happen to every ball club, every seasoneven the 2001 Mariners.

Hyperbole-prone analysts will flip-flop their focus for improvement, but this game is only as consequential to the season as the last, and while the loss was disheartening, truth be told, good teams do lose these games.

That is a long preface to a non-statement. The Garrett Olson/Chris Jakubauskus swap is a lateral move. David Aardsma will still be the team’s closer when the sun comes up tomorrow.

And Chicken Little will still believe the sky is falling.

The Mariners’ fate is too uncertain for a blockbuster trade despite Erik Bedard rumors, and the club likely won’t be acquiring new big league talent any time soon. At least not without giving some up.

There is, however, opportunity for improvement on the team, at least in my opinion, without new blood.

As big a Ken Griffey Jr. fan as I am, I’m far from a present apologist. There is no reason that Griffey should continue to occupy the three hole. He’s not hitting, today’s double notwithstanding, and while he’s still a good OBP guy, he’s playing on tired legs and is a base-clogger.

Adrian Beltre, similarly, is not hitting. I am something of a Beltre apologist, but any team outside of a 500 mile radius of the Bay Area Lab Co-Operative (just saying) that has Beltre batting fourth is destined for mediocrity.

Russell Branyan has been the team’s best hitter this season, but despite a .288 ISO coming into today, he had only 23 RBI. That’s because only comes to the plate with men in scoring position 22.7 percent of his plate appearances, 41.7 percent with men on base.

Griffey comes to the plate 22.5 percent of the time with men in scoring position, 41 percent with men on base, but Beltre comes to the plate 23.8 percent of the time with men in scoring position, and 46.7 percent of the time with men on base.

Griffey is second among regulars with a .150 ISO, and Beltre has a paltry .101 ISO.

Also, today being proof, with Griffey on base a Branyan double isn’t a guaranteed run, while Beltre and Griffey are generally hitting with the faster Ichiro or any combination of faster No. 2 hitters on base.

Ichiro in mind, and I’m willing to beat this drum until the leather is worn and tattered, he should not be batting leadoff on this team. I’ve argued in the past that most Ichiro hits have essentially the same or less value than a walk, as he generally hits singles, usually with nobody on base, and ends up seeing fewer pitches as a result.

In order to maximize the value of this team’s “best hitter," one of a few who choose to swing freely, though less vilified, he must hit more frequently with men on base also. Without significant statistical data to support the theory, as Ichiro has led off most of his career, it is logical to assume that whoever hit in front of Ichiro, be it Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, or my choice, Yuniesky Betancourt, would experience better production for it.

Betancourt seems like an ideal candidate, a solid hitter, one who has a propensity to hit doubles, and one who would benefit the most from seeing more pitches in the strike zone.

Sure, Ichiro is comfortable as a leadoff hitter. Griffey has spent most of his career in the middle of the order. Beltre may be the team’s hitter with the most potential for success compared to his early season slump.

But comfort and familiarity mean nothing when they don’t produce collective results, nor does potential when unfulfilled.

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