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The M’s Are Overrated Defensively

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on February 24, 2007

Yes, I said it. The Seattle Mariners are vastly overrated defensively. Not by those who truly understand what makes a good defensive player and which positions are the most critical, but by most beat writer types, general fans and, of course, anyone who thinks Derek Jeter deserves to win Gold Gloves.

I’m not going to sit here and cite sabermetric defensive statistics, although they would provide some strong evidence that the Mariners lack in the field, nor am I going to complain about the team’s abilities with the glove. They aren’t bad defensively, at least not overall. But they certainly aren’t all that good, either.

The most important defensive positions are the four up the middle; catcher, shortstop, second base and center field. They are charged with covering the most ground and will be the recipients of more of the balls put in play. Except for the catcher, who has a completely different set of responsibilities.

A catcher has to be able to do several things well in order to be an asset defensively – some of them will be physical, some will be mental. The catcher is responsible for his own area, too. He must limit wild pitches and passed balls, keep bouncing 57-foot breaking balls in front of him and control the opponents’ running game.

When a catcher makes a mistake, it’s almost always at least a minor disaster. On top of all the work with the glove and his throwing arm, those who don the tools of ignorance must work well with the pitching staff and understand what it takes for each pitcher to get outs on a regular basis.

Kenji Johjima had a lot of trouble doing any of this in his first year in the states, and that’s an awful beginning to a defensive team that is supposedly great in preventing runs.

Yuniesky Betancourt is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. He just is, and at 25 years of age, he’s still going to get better. And it’s a good thing he’s such a lock to improve, because he really didn’t have a good year with the leather last season.

He didn’t make a lot physical mistakes and maybe ZERO mental errors, but he was caught out of position more than he should be and on occasion didn’t make a play that he will 99 times out of 100. Betancourt is not a problem, and most fully expect him to deserve a Gold Glove in 2007. Just a little clean-up due, that’s all.

His double-play partner, however, lacks range and is still fine-tuning his footwork. Just because Lopez is a former shortstop doesn’t mean he’s a sure thing to be good at second. He’s got work to do to become average, even, and though there is no reason to believe he can’t get there quickly, he’s yet to get that covered.

Lopez is no Gold Glover, and positioning is crucial for the 23-year-old, because he lacks lateral quickness and his foot-speed is merely average. His arm is a plus, however.

Last year the M’s began the season with Jeremy Reed in center field. Adequate enough, and always capable of making the plays he’s supposed to, Reed is not a great center fielder. In 2007, Ichiro will roam the spacious green pastures of Safeco Field, and all signs point to the all-star giving the club another Gold Glove defender at the position.

Ichiro has every tool, and the polish, to be great in center and is easily the club’s best with the glove. Oh, and he has a tremendous throwing arm, too.

While Adrian Beltre makes all the plays at third is easily one of the better defensive third baseman in baseball, the value of such a premium defender is minuscule to that of those up the middle, and in one other spot on the field – at least when the M’s are at home.

USSMariner’s Dave Cameron was the first I noticed to point out how important left-field defense is at Safeco. It’s not rocket science and most of us should have recognized this from day one, but Cameron speaks of the basics, mentioning the biggest issue – all the ground that needs covering from center field on over to the left-field line.

The fences at the Safe are deepest in left-center and center – among the deepest in the game – creating a cavernous area for just two players to cover.

When the M’s sent out an outfield defense of Ichiro in right, Mike Cameron in center and Randy Winn in left, the trio covered as much ground as any trio in recent memory. All three have plus speed, two have above-average to plus-plus arms, and all of them read the ball well off the bat.

Even Winn, the weakest of the three, was better than average at chasing down fly balls and cutting off line drives. A lot of bases were saved with that alignment, and that is an enormous reason why the pitching staff appeared to be so strong during those years.

In 2000 and 2001, Cameron and Ichiro were flanked by the likes of Rickey Henderson and Al Martin, two above-average runners, but terrible defensive players with awful throwing arms. But in tight ballgames, Lou Piniella went to Stan Javier or Mark McLemore in order to cut down on the possibility that the opposing team’s might get any “cheap” hits.

Raul Ibanez can hit. He had a career year in 2006, and is a solid, solid bat to have in the lineup. But he’s a bad defensive player.

No, he doesn’t boot balls regularly, and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes in the field. But he lacks range and that factor will never get better, not with a 33-year-old with a history of hamstring and hip injuries, who already possesses below average speed.

Let’s recap. The four spots up the middle, then left field, are the critical spots defensively for the Seattle Mariners, and in three of those five the Mariners are anywhere from a tick below average (Lopez), to well below average (Ibanez), to downright awful (Johjima).

If you don’t buy how bad Johjima was a year ago, let me share a few thoughts with you, marked with a few stats and then a few unanimous, paraphrased quotes.

Johjima threw out 33.7 percent of would-be basestealers, a stat that should be shared equally with the pitcher of record, ranking 16th out of 24 catchers with 100 starts or more. He allowed 57 steals in 131 starts – not good.

He also allowed 10 passed balls, made seven errors and was the starting catcher on a Mariners team that recorded the most wild pitches in seven years, the second most home runs allowed since 1999, and the team ERA when he started was 4.81, the third worst among regular catchers in all of baseball.

Sounds pretty bad so far, but that’s not even half the problem.

Several pitchers, including a few now former Mariners, strongly claim that Johjima is THE absolute worst catcher they have ever pitched to. The worst.

Pitchers typically throw to five or six catchers a year, at least, including spring training, and some of these guys claimed that “our rookie ball kid received the ball better and moved better back there.”

A veteran arm said something to the effect of… “He just isn’t a catcher here. He hits, but I don’t see how he can ever be any good (defensively).”

While the old saying claims that “all is well that ends well”, it’s hard to dispute the numbers and the testimony of those who rely on Johjima the most. He’s well below average, and probably won’t ever become anything but mediocre.

Let’s just say it’s a good thing he can hit.

In 2007, Mike Hargrove will send out a backwards outfield, where a healthy Jose Guillen should be playing left and Ibanez should slide over to right where there is far less area to cover.

He’ll send Lopez out to second base where he’s got a chance to be decent, while Beltre and Betancourt are among the best left sides in baseball. And Richie Sexson loses range, agility and effectiveness every year.

The Seattle Mariners are barely an above-average defensive club, and the only reason they aren’t terrible is No. 51, and the fact that he’s playing center field where his skills can be best utilized.

This team will never win with pitching and defense, until they actually acquire good pitchers and good defensive players. if you can’t have a plus bat in a certain spot, at least get a plus defender with an average stick. That’s what title contenders do every year. Case-in-point, 2004, Boston Red Sox. Orlando Cabrera.

It’s not stepping out on a limb to say that the Mariners will not win anything with Johjima as the starting catcher, because the club has far more disturbing problems that are likely to prevent a postseason appearance. But when was the last time a poorly caught team won anything without having pluses in their starting pitching and offensive lineup.

The 2004 Red Sox had starting pitching and a slew of run-producers, highlighted by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. The 2005 White Sox had a deep starting staff, a hot closer and an everyday lineup without an easy out.

But even Jason Varitek and AJ Pierzynski are average or better overall behind the dish, especially when you include how each worked with their pitching staff.

St. Louis has Yadier Molina, a very strong defender, and the 2002 Anaheim Angels were anchored by Benji Molina, another solid defensive backstop.

While defense is far from the most important part of a championship team, having strengths up the middle is imperative, particularly when the roster is being built around preventing the other team from scoring.

It’s more than okay to sacrifice defense here and there when you are gaining a plus bat, and Johjima is at least very close to that. But he might be such a detriment, that the gained production is not worth the sacrifice.

While I can’t convince the local writers to stop saying things like this — “The Mariners think they have both in Johjima, who is not only a strong defensive catcher but one with veritable offensive skills,” I can remind all of you reading this, that diving catches, heady plays and “active” catchers do not make for a great defensive ballclub.

Here’s to a season full of doubles, walks, better starting pitching and smart all-around baseball. Because the defense is not going to carry the 2007 Seattle Mariners.

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71 Responses to “The M’s Are Overrated Defensively”

  1. Allen said

    How does Jo go from being a gold glove catcher in Japan to a “horrible” catcher in MLB?

  2. Goose said

    I would argue that he probably wasn’t that good on defense in Japan either. “Gold Glove” means squat.

  3. AQ said

    Gold Glove means squat in both the US and Japan. IIRC, didn’t David Segui get robbed of a Gold Glove back in the 90’s because they awarded it to Palmiero, who played about 20 games at 1B the entire season?

  4. jp17 said

    Man, that bad huh?

    Doesn’t bode well for the future when Clement has had his struggles as well.

    Kinda off topic, but do you think that Jamie Burke will be in Tacoma?…and if so….who else Johnson or Clement?

  5. I think Burke is a longshot to make the big club, so yeah, Tacoma bound makes sense. Although Rivera should be in Tacoma and Burke in the bigs, the M’s aren’t smart, so…

    Not sure how that is going to end up, jp. Either Clement OR Johnson could be back in AAA with the other in Double-A, or both could end up in AA. The only way that happens is if the M’s find another AAA level catcher.

  6. jp17 said

    Burke just makes way more sense IMO.

    First and foremost gives a young kid the chance to play.

    Second, Burke has shown to be a better hitter thus far and can even play some 3B, 1B, and OF. He hits LHP decent enough, which Johjima doesn’t.

    Plus he’s kinda local (Roseburg, OR)

    I was kinda hoping we’d give Sandy Alomar Jr a NRI, but no dice.

  7. Wow — thanks, Jason! Yours is the first reputable blog I’ve seen to dedicate a fair chunk of a post talking about how awful Joh’s defense is. I think a lot of people have noticed, but I haven’t seen many people stick their necks out like this on Joh. You’ve articulated very well a lot of the same thoughts I’ve had on that situation, and it’s real nice to have someone whose voice is louder and more listened to than mine in the blogs to say what you’ve said here.

    When the M’s caravan stopped down here in Oly, I got a chance to chat quite a bit with one of my favorite former M’s pitchers, who happens to be a coach in the system nowadays (heh, I think anyone can figure out who I’m talking about). He, too, was very concerned about Joh’s catching ability, and was very well aware that he quite possibly was hurting the pitching staff. His pitch framing was horrible, and it didn’t really help a staff who depends more on off-speed breaking pitches to get called for strikes. I asked this former player if he knew whether or not the team was aware of the issues, and, if so, were they doing anything about them. He mentioned that they were, of course, aware of several things with Joh, and that they were trying to work with him on them during the offseason. Maybe you have more insight that you can share.

    All in all, I’m very concerned about Joh’s catching. He seems like an intelligent guy, and I would think that he’d work very hard to improve. Certainly, adjusting to the US game would be challenging, and I’m not sure if he improved during the season or not. But, I’m hoping there’s a chance that his catching (and pitch calling) will noticably improve in 2007.

    In spite of my improvised HR-rob call while being a dork at FanFest, I definitely agree that Ibanez is better suited for RF than LF, if he has to play the field. I’d love to have Reed or Jones in LF, with Ichiro in CF, but I’m not certain either of them have the bat right now to hold down LF. Maybe the improvement in defense would make up for it, but that’s debatable, too. Besides, Pac Man Jones is dead set on taking over in CF, and scoffed at the idea of learning RF or LF in Tacoma, saying, “No, man, I’m a CF now…” Gotta love that confidence!

  8. nighthawk180 said

    I like his (jones) confidence and all but even though his destined position is CF it wouldnt hurt him at all to at least try the other positions. What’s anyone’s take on that?

  9. Jones did play some right last year. He isn’t unwilling. He just knows his golden paycheck is center.

  10. Salty Dog said

    Hopefully Johjima will be improved this year with some MLB experience. Just my own opinion, but I think the problem is that he wasn’t accustomed to the MLB game in 2006 – how to frame pitches, what pitch selection works, handling the pitching staff, etc.

  11. I don’t think he can be anything but better, but is it enough?

  12. Ozzie said

    I figured that in 2008 he would be our DH and Clement or other prospects would take catching duties and he would catch 30 games a year. But of course we had to get Vidro, so there goes that idea.

  13. cujo said

    #10 joh has been a professional catcher for 10 years he isnt gonna improve but he will get worse and there will be some complaints that will become public before he is done as a mariner..

  14. Lance said

    Jason, I think I’ve just read the best article you’ve ever written. My congratulations, too, for not simply relying on sabermetrics, as many of your blogging compadres do, but using the mind and eyes of a scout’s mindset.

    To that affect, in the past I’ve read articles you’ve written, both with ITP and here, where you’ve chronicled viewpoints from the eyes of a trained scout. Looks like you’ve learned from their lessons well.

    I agree with virtually everything you wrote here. I, too, have felt that the M’s could use some substantial improvement in certain areas of the defense, from Reed’s need to make huge dives to make certain catches, to what appeared to be Yuni’s far too occasional mental lapses, to Kenji’s swiss cheese defense. Regarding Joh, I asked myself often, was I just too spoiled by Dan Wilson, or going further back, Dave Valle, or was there something flawed here? You certainly articulated excellently how things truly are.

    Those things said, and as you said, defense is always a give and take. Raul has his drawbacks in the field, but we need his bat. But if Guillen shows himself capable of covering good ground, then Ichiro can compensate for Raul. But, all those things are what is involved in making for a balanced attack. That give and take.

    Let’s hope Kenji can have some serious improvement this year. I mean, there was a reason the pitchers’ ERA was almost a run and a half better with Rivera catching over Joh. If he doesn’t, I would be in favor of Rivera, or even Burke, getting the nod. That position, more than any other, is simply too critical, regardless of what a catcher can hit. Rivera is our Yadier Molina. So, if it comes to that, give the job to him, I say. And, let the hits fall where they may.

    And, again, my congratulations.

  15. Ozzie said

    Rivera is not that great at catcher either. He has passed balls and mental lapses as often as Joh. He does however call a better game then Joh, but badly needs to improve his bat. I have alway loved Rivera, but the way he played last year was terrible.

  16. Lance said

    ozzie, your already concerned about 2008? We haven’t even played 2007, yet. There’s nothing set in concrete for 2008. No guarantee that Vidro will even be here. There are no veterans on this team who will be used to hold back any kids who prove themselves ready.

    Also, I hope Jason’s article helps people to see that not every position has to be about the bat. So, even if Clement doesn’t become an adequate catcher, let’s hope Rob Johnson can get some improvement hitting. That kid can handle things behind the plate.

  17. Ozzie said

    Have you watched the M’s the last 7 years? Veteran players have held back kids in the Bavasi/Hargrove era. We sign veterans every year. You don’t see Adam Jones, Snelling, and our pitchers in the minors battling for the fifth spot. Choo didn’t get a shot because of veterans. Jose got put on hold for a year too. I could go on forever, but won’t. Yea im looking ahead to 2008, I’m excited to see some young talent playing, but not if Bavasi is still here.

  18. Lance said

    Jason, here’s an abstract thought. If Ichiro stays, and Jose Lopez settles into a mediocre second baseman, or is moved to third, what do you think of the idea to move Adam Jones to second base? Or, having him play short with Yuni going to second?

    Not that I’m proposing that. I’m just curious about what you think of the idea.

  19. Ozzie said

    Bavasi signed these veterans to hold up prospects:
    Carl Everett
    Scott Spiezo
    Matt Lawton
    Pokey Reese
    Rich Aurilla
    Jose Vidro
    Prospects he held back:
    Chris Snelling
    Choo
    Jose Lopez
    Every pitcher with talent in AAA
    Adam Jones

    This is just in the last couple of years.

  20. Christian said

    Jason:

    You mentioned that Lopez is a former SS and isn’t as good defensively at 2B. Would the Mariners ever consider moving him back to SS and YuBet to 2B?

    Thanks.

  21. Lance said

    ozzie, I think you failed to pick up on what I said, “kids who prove themselves ready”. A number of the kids you mention hadn’t yet proved themselves ready, and still haven’t. And, who got in Chris Snelling’s way. Guess you missed his injury history, and that’s hard to do.

    I really don’t want to debate this on Jason’s blog, although I certainly could. If you want to discuss this further register on Seattle Hardball, and we can discuss/debate it.

  22. bilbo said

    Joh is not a bad defensive catcher. There, I said it. A lot of the issues our pitchers had with Joh are perception, which is very important to a pitcher’s confidence but not necessarily indicative of Joh’s ability. Coming from Japan, the theory there is for the catcher to setup as late as possible to avoid tipping the pitch to the hitter. Unfortunately, American pitchers are not used to pitching that way, instead prefering an early target to hone in on. Furthermore, it has been suggested that Joh doesn’t get as many close pitches called for strikes because his late setup has a negative effect on umpires as well. Finally, like most Japanese Joh likes to “pitch backwards” by calling for breaking balls in FB counts and vice versa. American players like to “challenge my presence with authority” and bring the heat even when the hitter knows it is coming (Think Crash Davis and “Nuke” LaLoosh in Bull Durham on this one). On the last one, he has butted heads with Washburn many times, which should tell you he is on to something! 😉

    The M’s have been working with Joh on setting up earlier, framing the pitch, and to a lesser extent how he calls a game. But to say that his defense sucks isn’t completely accurate. Now, I am not arguing that he is an all-star defender, but he is certainly adequate.

    Ichiro and YuBet are allstar caliber defenders and I don’t know what metrics you have been looking at but Lopez is above average at 2B with room for improvement. For instance, David Pinto’s PMR has Jose Lopez as an excellent second baseman -about #10 in MLB- ahead of guys like Cano, Kennedy and Polanco ( http://www.baseballmusings.com/archives/cat_probabilistic_model_of_range.php about 10% of the way down the page).

    With Beltre and Guillen as above average defenders, the M’s are average to all-star level at 6 (or 7 if you believe Joh is average) of the 9 positions with 1B and LF as the two week spots. If that isn’t a team that will win with defense than I don’t know what is.

    PS. JAC, I do agree that Guillen and Ibanez should switch positions to maximize the defense and I believe both have played the opposite corners before so it shouldn’t be that difficult. I wonder if Hargrove will… oh, never mind!

  23. Ozzie said

    Thanks Lance, I didn’t know about Seattle Hardball.
    What about moving Lopez to right field, I know he has swicth positions and its hard to do so. But he has above average speed and a solid arm. Seattle seems to not have a lot of outfield options in the minors.

  24. Lopez was a shortstop, but that NEVER guarantees that when a kid moves to second that he’ll be better there than at short… it just lessens the necessary physical tools for a kid to accomplish the required defensive levels. Lopez is a better second baseman than he is a shortstop, so no, he’s not going to head back.

    And yes, Bilbo, Johjima is a bad defensive catcher. He’s not THE worst in baseball, but he’s definitely one of the worst STARTERS in the game.

    You can disagree all you want, but until you are basing that claim on what those in the game, including those who coach him and pitch to him are saying about him behind closed doors, than I think I’ll stick with what I’ve learned rather than turn my beliefs in your direction.

    Can he get better? Yes. Can he get so much better that he’s not a detriment? I don’t know, and many doubt it.

    One thing is for sure, however. If he fails, it won’t be due to lack of effort.

    Those defensive ratings by Pinto, btw, are good numbers, but saying Lopez was better than an oft-injured worn down Adam Kennedy, Robby Cano, and Placido Polanco, whose best spot, like Jose, is at third… well, that isn’t saying much.

    Right now, Lopez is notch below average, though I would bet on him becoming average or so in the end. Maybe a tick above. He’s not a huge gaping hole, though.

    And guys, please. Debate all ya want.

    It’s a good discussion ya got going. If ya want, I’ll start a new post on the subject.

  25. Fett42 said

    Bilbo, I think I have to side with what coaches and pitchers are saying over Dr. Detecto’s analysis on pitch sequence, particularly on the area of defense. I’f have to say the problem isn’t pitch sequence for Washburn anyway… its more likely his stuff (or lack thereof).

  26. There certainly might be some blame to lay on the pitchers but there is no denying, not sanefully anyways, that Joh is a bad catcher right now.

    It’s just fact.

  27. toshi said

    Jason,

    Interesting article. I am just curious. How much do catchers affect pitchers’ ability at the MLB level? I mean, do you think Santana or Clemens would have been affected, or only marginal pitchers would be affected? Is it possible that Joh’s catching was a big problem only because M’s pitchers were not very good last year?

    Thanks.

  28. Willmore said

    Jason, while I don’t disagree that the Mariners aren’t perfect at every position, looking at some teams around the league, I’d say that we are a far better defensive team on the whole, than most teams out there.

    I don’t have the time to do this, but here’s a fun little test of a team’s defensive ability. It’s purely subjective, but it rates a team based on its players.

    Step 1: Take every team and select its probable starters.
    Step 2: Rank every starter 1-32.
    Step 3: Since not every position is created equal, multiply the more important positions by an arbitrary number. Say 4 for Shortstops, 3 for catchers, 2.5 for centerfielders, .5 for 1st basemen.

    Step 4: Add up each teams numbers and the lowest number is the best defensive team, etc. etc.

    The only difficult part is ranking the players, other than that, it’s a fairly nice system, if someone wants to try it. Maybe a community project like the one USSM has.

    I think that using this system, the Mariners would easily be in the top 5 teams. Johjima isn’t horrible, he’s probably in the top 20. Ichiro would easily rank in the top 5, Yuniesky – Top 3, Guillen in the top 12, Lopez somewhere in the middle and Beltre in the top 10.

    While we don’t have gold glovers at every position, as a collection, they are stronger than most other teams.

  29. Great pitchers are great pitchers. Bad pitchers are bad pitchers. Catchers dont make that HUGE of a difference in that way.

    They can make enough of a difference, however, for it to be a big deal if they aren’t HELPING.

    Joh’s catching would still be BAD, even if Clemens, Johan, Carpenter and Halladay were starting for the M’s. We just woudn’t care as much.

  30. taro said

    I can’t wait for Johjima to stuff it into MLB’s face…AGAIN. This time with the glove.

    Just let him call the game; his game calling is “superior” not inferior to that of his MLB counterparts. OF COURSE if an M’s pitcher calls him off 5-6 times a game the hitter is going to KNOW a fastball is coming (since M’s pitchers ONLY call off the fastball). I’d love to see a stat for that – how the hitter hits after a pitcher calls Joh off. Just trust him and let him call the damn game. The results will follow.

    Also the reason Joh doesn’t frame the glove out there like an idiot, is because hes trying to keep the hitter from cheating on location (by looking back from time to time). This skill is a PLUS not a negative, unless MLB umpires feel like hazing him for it (by shrinking the strikezone).

    Johjima’s passed balls and CS% are hardly an issue, and both will improve this year anyways.

    Johs no longer a rookie anyone (thank God), so maybe the M’s and the umps will be more “acceptable” of him and his differences the second time through. He a “major-leaguer” now, whatever the hell that means.

  31. Taro,

    Joh’s defensive shortcomings can be blamed on the difference between the game here and in Japan, but that doesn’t erase them as shortcomings.

    Maybe he was a gold glover in Japan, but he isn’t here.

    How can you say that he doesn’t frame because he doesn’t want to give away pitch location? That doesn’t hold any logic – at all.

    The “framing” theoretically occurs as he receives the pitch, not during the pitcher’s delivery.

    And if it was a skill to be BAD at this, why do all of the great catchers in the game’s history speak of it as necessity. Plus, if the pitcher wants it, whether it be because he’s use to it or NEEDS it, shouldn’t a good catcher just do it? After all, he’s there to help the pitcher as much as he can.

    Isn’t he?

    Re: Willmore

    Are they above-average? Sure, particularly if you are grading on a curve. But there isn’t anything special about them as a whole.

  32. Johjima had 7 PBs by May last year, but he had a whopping 3 thereafter.

    At the same time, it didn’t help that our pitchers were awful at keeping runners on base.

    Joh was never bad. It’s the pitchers that sucked it.

    And if we go with obscure quotes, I like the ones with names by Meche and Putz that were to the effect of “I just pitched what Joh called and we destroyed them.”

  33. Willmore said

    I wonder if Dan Wilson will talk to Joh about framing pitches when he comes to spring training.

  34. Yeah, it’s the pitcher’s fault that Johjima is below average at blocking balls in the dirt and has terrible lateral footwork, not to mention very average – at best – throwing technique.

    Let’s blame it on the pitchers. Good idea.

    C’mon fellas. Stop blaming the bad pitchers for Johjima’s factual issues with the way he calls a game and defends at his position. His shortcomings are REAL. He isn’t to blame for the pitching being bad, that’s not what’s being said here, at least not by me. Bad pitchers are bad pitchers, no matter how good or bad the catcher, or the pitching coach may be.

    His arm strength is fine, hit foot SPEED is fine, but his entire catch-and-throw technique leaves a lot to be desired. That isn’t MY assessment, at least not solely. It’s the assessment of those whose responsibilties are to evaluate these sorts of things, and from those who caught for 15 years in the bigs.

    None of this means Johjima can’t get better, won’t get better and won’t put forth max effort to do the job. He will, nobody has any doubts about that. What I doubt, and many around the game doubt, is whether he can improve enough to reach average to above average levels.

    It’s not a surprise that those who have been avid supporters of Ichiro, Sasaki, Shiggy and now Johjima have migrated their way over to defend Johjima.

    As if it’s about Johjima, yours truly’s favorite Seattle Mariner not named Felix, being Japanese.

  35. Goose said

    I see I’m not only one who noticed that.

  36. toshi said

    Jason,

    I am a bit disappointed that you snapped like that. Please read all the comments again. Which one do you think is defending Joh only because he is a Japanese? Why did you have to bring up his nationality?? I think many people have questions (or at least in my case) because it’s so hard to know how much catchers’ ability affect pitchers’ performance. As I followed the M’s closely last year, I noticed that Moyer was very unhappy about Joh’s catching. Then, how much does it really affect? I am curious from baseball point of view. I am a Japanese living in Seattle, but I don’t care about the nationality of the players. Good payers are good, and bad ones are bad, no matter where they come from. I simply visit this site just to enjoy talking about evaluating baseball players.

  37. Snapped? You call THAT snapping? I can show ya snapping, but it sure looks like a few others are the defensive ones here.

    Someone who claims that Johjima’s “framing” isn’t bad, and that framing is idiotic better show up here with some evidence. That’s an outlandish statement — and I know that wasn’t you, toshi, but it’s a preposterous thing to say in any forum.

  38. Him being Japanese has NOTHING to do with it from my end, but neither yourself, taro nor ice shows up here until someone rips Ichiro or Johjima?

    Maybe, just maybe THAT is because Joh is Japanese and you have a special interest?

    But show some data, some true evidence, or stop expecting others, especially me, to just buy it.

  39. Lance said

    Jason, do you have any idea how much of the pitch calling was Joh, and how much was from the dugout?

    I recall before J.J.’s game winning K of Bonds Joh kept signaling for a split-finger, and J.J. kept shaking him off wanting to go with the fastball. Until Joh finally pointed to the dugout as if to say “Ain’t me, dude. It’s coming from over there”.

  40. I have a good idea of how much was Joh, how much was Chavy and Grover and how much was the pitcher.

    But I don’t have an issue with Johjima’s pitch calling. I wouldn’t know how to quantify that.

  41. Ozzie said

    ALL you have to do is look at when Rivera was catching. The pitchers did do a better job because he called a better game. He has short comings behind the plate also, but he calls the best game and plays slightly better defense and this is from a 23 year old.

  42. Ozzie said

    Also Sexson is maybe one of the worst 1st baseman. 1st baseman can save an error or even two a game on digging balls out and adjusting their feet with the throw and Sexson is not good at either. Catchers are the most important player on the field and you can’t afford to have a bad one if your looking to win on a consistent basis. RF and LF are also way below average, but not needed if you have a great center fielder which Ichiro will be. And Betancourt, Lopez, Beltre rounding off the infield I still say that they are top 10 in MLB.

  43. Goose said

    Rivera’s bat is so craptasticly bad though, that his defense is pretty much meaningless IMO.

  44. marinerswinws said

    Great article Jason,

    TEST!

  45. Nathan said

    Jason,
    Good article. I too as much as I love JOH noticed his defensive lapses. Its his bat that is keeping him in the game. But I also know he is a hard worker and the one thing I think you even pointed out is if he completely fails in this aspect its not because he did not put in the work. He is a student of the game but not all student as hard as they as hard as they study can become better. I think this is why they brought Dan to camp. To come over with a language barrier and from what I understand a completely backwards way of catching language as well from Japan to MLB it cant be easy. I think and believe he is doing a good job. He brings something good to this team. It will be even better when he is able to relax into the MLB/US form of catching. He is getting older he will never be a HOF here. Hopefully Dan can help him improve his defense and pitch calling. I think to play Rivera over JOH would ba a horrible mistake. Because we need JOH’s bat. I think I would like to down the road see a comboe of Clement/JOH.

    Nate

  46. I’d rather start Johjima DEFENSIVELY over Rivera anyways. Rivera is much more likely to bust the brain, if ya know what I mean. Mental lapses waiting to happen.

  47. MtGrizzly said

    #31: How can you say that he doesn’t frame because he doesn’t want to give away pitch location? That doesn’t hold any logic – at all.

    He’s probably saying it because Joh said it himself in the Times a while back.

    Johjima spent several seasons in the Japanese League teaching himself to wait until the last moment before setting up behind the plate as his pitcher went into his windup.

    Johjima says the thinking behind the Japanese approach is to give the hitter no time to sneak a glance backward at the location of the catcher’s mitt. But he understands the need to adapt to the style of play here and says it won’t be a problem.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/mariners/2003576275_marinotes17.html

    At least they know it’s an issue and are working on it. Setting up earlier should actually be easier on him, I guess. In the realm of adjustments, it should also be a pretty minor one to get in place.

    JAC – I wonder if setting up earlier will help with his other issues, like blocking balls in the dirt and throwing out runners? I would seem to make some sense that if he sets up earlier and his foundation is more solid, those other tasks would be a little easier but that’s a WAG (wild ass guess) on my part. Could one fundamental mechanical adjustment like this make a difference?

  48. Setting up earlier and framing have no bearing on the other. I can certainly understand the ways of not giving the hitter a chance to sneak a peak, but the catcher can still frame a pitch whether he sets up early or not.

  49. nighthawk180 said

    Im not trying to defend Joh but didnt Dan Wilson set up later than anyone in baseball? I always thought so. He would get real low with his knees almost touching then hop to position when the pitcher started his windup or approach to the plate. I could be wrong but I strongly remember that.

  50. I don’t see any issue with setting up late, but Joh may have to mix it up a little, I don’t know what the issue is there.

    But framing is a different issue altogether.

  51. nighthawk180 said

    Totally I used to catch up until my high school and the framing is one of the most important parts of catching in my opinion. You must also be in sink with your pitchers. I mean like be on the same page but it seems that Joh has a ways to go to even come close to that.

  52. Nathan said

    Jason #46,
    Agreed. 🙂

  53. bilbo said

    Joh is a red herring to the whole conversation, but if you are asking then the relation between setup and framing seems to have to do with the umpires. It was pointed out in the Times article that umpires weren’t giving some pitches to the M’s in large part because Joh sets up so late it affects the umpires (which sounds ridiculous, but at the same time is probably true. Umps are a strange breed).

    Anyway, even if we assume Joh is below average, I still have issue with your premise that the M’s are overrated defensively. They still have All-Star caliber SS, CF, 3B and RF. I argue that Lopez is average to above average based on PMR, personal observation and his skillset from growing up a SS. Does he have room for improvement? No doubt. That leaves 1B and LF as defensive liabilities, although PMR suggests neither player is horrible defensively either. If the M’s would follow your suggestion and swap Guillen and Raul the M’s would be average to All-Star level at almost every position (with C and 1B as the only “holes” and neither player is horrible defensively). I haven’t evaluated other teams, but I would be surprised if there are more than a few out there with better defensive talent, especially at the key positions.

  54. StandinPat said

    Jason,

    From what you’ve seen of Clement, how does he rate compared to Joh? Even as good as Kenji was with the bat, Clement should be able to out do him, especially in the power department. So I guess my question is if Kenji is that bad defensively and if Clement is still less than ideal but can rake, couldn’t he be an upgrade as early as next year?

  55. Bilbo, why would you only use PMR, when there are at least a half dozen defensive measures out there? A majority of them have Lopez as average. I’ll tell you why you use PMR, because it rates Lopez so well. Defensive metrics are a tough beast, there isn’t a ton of consistency right now, and none are vetted so much as to be considered the truth on any player.

    There is actually a sports commentator out there saying that this Mariners defense is the best the team has ever had, mentioning specifically the outfield. I think that might have inspired Jason’s write-up on the subject. At best this team won’t have a DER in the lower half of the table this year, but it will not be known as one of the best defensive clubs in the game, as some are saying is to be expected.

  56. Clement is 3-4 years from Johjima, but it’s mostly about consistency and repetition with Clement.

    Right now, Clement would be well-below average in all areas defensively. Johjima is far and away a better catcher right now. But Clement has a much larger window to improve.

    You’ll find out what I and those in the organization and around the game think of Clement’s future this week when the top 10 is released.

  57. Uncle Al said

    Jason
    I see 11 Prospects left to be ranked in your top 10. Jones, Morrow, Butler, Clement, Feierabend, Tillman, Halman, LaHair, Thomas, Balentien, and Lo. Can you tell me who wasn’t ranked and why? You’ve already explained why Ramirez, Triunfel, Martinez, and Lowe weren’t ranked. Is Cha Seung Baek not ranked because he was supposed to be the #5 starter back in December?

  58. bilbo said

    Bedir, I use PMR because it is one of the best ones out there. But I admit that defensive metrics are very difficult and I didn’t wish to imply that Lopez is the be-all end-all, just that he is average to above average with room for improvement and not “He’s got work to do to become average” as JAC states.

    My point is that Jason uses Lopez and Joh as proof points that the M’s are weak up the middle and since Raul is in LF which is important in Safeco then “The Seattle Mariners are vastly overrated defensively”. To me it is debatable that Lopez and Joh are as below average as Jason is suggesting and subsequently the M’s aren’t overrated defensively as he states.

  59. Gookie said

    where the hell is pat borders when you need him ?!

  60. LouKlimchock-HoF said

    Dang. I knew we shoulda signed Piazza. I mean, if only for his defense.

    OK, but then there’s the serious thing. Re Beltre: I can’t see how “the value of such a premium defender is minuscule [when compared] to that of those up the middle” when it’s RAUUUUUL patrolling LF. This is Raul-Time Mariner LF Defense. Anything Adrian can snag before RaulPlayer version 10.5 makes his way to it is a good thing. Adrian’s Wall is a good thing. Raully.

  61. Knuckles said

    As suspect as Joh’s defense is, anyone who thinks Rivera is superior to him behind the dish simply isn’t paying attention. Rivera can’t catch the goddam ball. He’s a great kid and a hard worker, but he’s like throwing to a brick wall. Ugh.

  62. C. Cheetah said

    Something about Jason’s last post tells me we are going to have a new number 2 prospect…hopefully, Clement has not fallen in the M’s eyes to farther than number 5…

  63. Salty Dog said

    I dunno. Roger Hansen was quoted in the Everett Herald as saying Clement was a half a year away from the bigs. Methinks that, AAA and Hawaii Winter league results aside, the M’s are pleased with him.

  64. Van said

    Don’t know, Jason. You acknowledge that 2 of the 4 guys up the middle are gold glovers. Not many teams can say that. Joh will be a lot better and this group of pitchers won’t use him as their excuse for messing up like some of the others — including the “Veteran.”

  65. AQ said

    ESPN is doing a live webchat with Joh right now, figured I’d throw that out there:

    http://proxy.espn.go.com/chat/chatESPN?event_id=14780

  66. shiphimtodetroit said

    Happy Birthday Churchill! What are your birthday wishes for 2007?

  67. Tom said

    Maybe, just maybe THAT is because Joh is Japanese and you have a special interest?

    But show some data, some true evidence, or stop expecting others, especially me, to just buy it.

    Hilarious! In one sentence you accuse someone of being non-objective about Joh because he is Japanese. You supply no evidence that this person is not objective–you just throw out the accusation. And the funniest part is that he never once “defends” Johjima. Then in the very next sentence you demand evidence to be presented to justify the statements of everyone else! Well done!

  68. taro said

    Just to clear things up.

    Yes I meant Joh “set ups” later so as to not give location away to the hitter. The umps decided to haze him for this (shrink the plate) since it made their jobs a tad tougher, and it pisses me off to no end. Whatever, Joh doesn’t move nearly as much behind the plate as he did in Japan near the end of the season. I think its a bunch of bull, but thats MLB for you…

    You seem to have meant “framing” when receiving the pitch. Yes this is the only legitimate gripe against Joh’s defense, but I also consider it a HIGHLY overrated skill. I’ve noticed that a good major league ump makes a call based on where the pitch crosses the plate, even though, unfortunetly the rest are biased depending on whos on the mount and/or behind the plate.

    The unwritten rule in baseball is that rooks get squeezed and vets get the borderline calls. What Joh REALLY needs to learn is how to talk “nicely” to the umps, like Moyer and Varitek do. Then hopefully, they give Joh a fair part of the plate this time around. He won’t be as “different” the second time around.

  69. Nathan said

    Does anyone have the monthly breakdown of era stats with kenji and the mariners pitchers?

  70. nighthawk180 said

    When calling a strike or ball the umpire depending on the pitch has about .3 to .5 secs to make the call. Now to say the ump isnt quit sure where it was during that short period of time he will look to the catcher mitt. Plain and simple. I used to catch and I was invited to many tourny’s where draft to follow players where throwing in the upper 80’s and that was real fast. So to say that the framing of pitches is almost useless I have to totally disagree with you on that one.

  71. ALL OF YOU defending Johjima have NO evidence, nothing at all except speculation on EVERYONE’s part, that the umpires are “hazing” him on it.

    You can jump on my case all you want, but I’ll choose to believe those who get paid to evaluate this over any of you, or ALL of you as a whole.

    And with my OWN EYE, Johjima isn’t good defensively. He just isn’t. Framing pitches is just part of it.

    And I’m not going to wait for you to make up reasons why someone other than Johjima is responsible for his lack of ability in those areas.

    Closed.

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