Posted 04/16/2009 at 03:31 AM
One of my favorite sites is Baseball Prospectus. Thereís not a sharper group of writers and analysts anywhere. I discovered them way back when they were mostly unknown outside baseballís inner circle, and I was quickly hooked on the wealth of information available there, as well as insightful articles by some really knowledgeable seamheads. BP is anything but a secret these days, but whereas some outfits lose their edge as they grow, Baseball Prospectus just keeps getting better. The site is not geared toward gambling, but thereís definitely some worthwhile data that will unquestionably aid any handicapper. Do yourself a favor and get a subscription. Note that this endorsement is not a trade or anything Iím getting paid for. Itís just some solid free advice. Itís amazing what a difference a positive mindset can make. Exhibit A for this assessment is the Seattle Mariners. They have mostly the same personnel that was on hand for last seasonís unmitigated disaster. But make no mistake, this is not the same team as we saw in 2008. And you donít have to search far to discover why they may be a vastly improved entry in 2009. The off the field changes within the organization are directly related to this teamís impressive start to the year. It begins with Jake Zduriencik, whoís the new GM. There arenít many people in the game with an equal reputation, and Zduriencik has wasted no time in changing the points of emphasis on this team. Thereís no way toi undo the damage that was done by the prior regime, which was simply overmatched. But what the Mariners did manage to do quickly was to become a team that emphasizes defense, the most overlooked aspect of the game. The Mariners have a terrific defense and theyíre going to save runs with the lineup theyíll be fielding for most games. Better defense means less stress on the pitchers, and it also obviously means less offense to win games. The Mariners wonít outgun too many teams, but offense doesnít win games, pitching and defense does. Whatís most impressive to me is the way the team has quickly adapted this philosophy. Iíve seen most of the early Mariners games, and theyíre about as crisp as youíll see. Theyíre not the most talented team around, but theyíre very cohesive. Iím quite sure my pre-season assessment for this team will be way off. The more I see, the more I believe they may be hanging around the playoff chase for quite a while. Sure, they could use another bat or two and weíll have to see how the back of the rotation and the bullpen hold up. But thereís definite reason for optimism in Seattle right now. And we know this organization isnít Minnesota or Florida, meaning that if itís necessary to go out and spend a few bucks come deadline time this summer, I would fully expect the Mariners to do just that. I wonít put a great deal of stock into the surprise results from the first couple weeks, either pro or con. The Padres wonít stay good, the Red Sox wonít stay bad and other teams that are either thriving or struggling early will undoubtedly find their proper level. But Iím beginning to believe the Mariners might just emerge as this seasonís biggest surprise.