One of the tiring things about this time of year is the phrase “small sample size.” We’re about a sixteenth of a way through the season, and it’s still early enough to ignore those early season statistics, despite the fact that they’re growing increasingly difficult to ignore. It’s particularly noticeable this year, as Chone Figgins used a couple of early three-hit games to shed his title as Most Hated Mariner. Fortunately for local baseball activists, the Free John Jaso movement is in full force, thanks to the performance of multimillionaire and lame-duck starting catcher Miguel Olivo.
Miguel, as you may have noticed, is not hitting (or fielding) particularly well; through ten games he has three singles, a double, and a walk, good for an OPS of .274. It’s been a wretched ten games for Olivo. But is it the worst start in Mariners history? Here is a list of the worst 10-game starts, measured by OPS, in M’s history. And remember: small sample size alert.
10. Miguel Olivo (2005): .152 AVG / .176 OBP / .182 SLG - .358 OPS
Our list starts with an Olivo, but not the Olivo you’d expect: this is the original version, thrown into the Freddy Garcia trade that also shipped off fellow catcher disappointment Ben Davis. Miguel didn’t get much better that season, and at the deadline the Mariners went full circle and gave him away to Kevin Towers in San Diego. In one of Bavasi’s magical moments as GM, Olivo was swapped for a fringe prospect (Nathanael Mateo) who never made the majors, and a backup catcher (Miguel Ojeda) whose stats were somehow even worse than Olivo’s.
9. Kenji Johjima (2008): .118 / .211 / .147 - .358 OPS
It’s easy to forget, thanks to the myriad of failed replacements that followed him, but Kenji Johjima was the Chone Figgins of just four years ago. Collecting a sizeable salary and never quite excelling at any particular category, Johjima faced the wrath of the fans as his glory days and the previous team’s unlikely playoff run receded into the distance. Fortunately, history has been tolerably kind.
8. Henry Cotto (1993): .146 / .167 / .171 - .337 OPS
This was the tenth and final season in a career that was probably eight years too long. This is the gentleman who once prompted Bill James, in his 1987 Baseball Abstract, “If Henry Cotto is a major-league ballplayer, I’m an airplane.” Cotto did manage to do one thing at the end of his career: he allowed the Mariners to borrow the gritty, underrated Dave Magadan from the Florida Marlins.
7. Dave Valle (1985): .132 / .175 / .158 - .333 OPS
This one barely counts, because after breaking with the team out of Spring Training, Valle was sent down at the end of April and didn’t make it back to the big club until September. Valle is the perfect example for ignoring these kinds of stats: after finishing with a .352 OPS in 1984, he earned a 1.096 OPS in nearly identical playing time the following year. He would eventually settle in for a career somewhere between those two points.
6. Larry Milbourne (1980): .098 / .174 / .146 - .320 OPS
Perhaps most famously known as the offensive replacement for Mario Mendoza, Milbourne didn’t top a .100 average until June 7th, at which point he turned into a shaggy Ted Williams for two months to finish the season with respectable stats. After the season he was traded to the Yankees with Brad Gulden for $150,000 and Brad Gulden, which proves that at least Milbourne was worth something.
5. Bob Kearney (1986): .125 / .152 / .156 - .308 OPS
Game #10 was actually the low point in Bob Kearney’s season, serving as a backup for the first time as a Mariners catcher. It’s strange that there are so many catchers on this list – six out of the ten, in fact – and it makes you wonder if there’s something about the tools of ignorance, or maybe the crouching, that makes the April evenings so daunting.
4. Scott Spiezio (2005): .064 / .137 / .149 - .286 OPS
I’m a little surprised he’s not at the top of this list; in terms of ineptitude, he’s a tower in Mariners lore. Of course, there are plenty of reasons for the legend: he was a pinch hitter who couldn’t hit, an indifferent fielder, and his baserunning gaffes still cause winces. The worst part: after taking the rest of the year off, he joined Tony LaRussa and actually put in a decent year in 2006.
3. Miguel Olivo (2012): .111 / .135 / .139 - .284 OPS
ZiPS, Dan Szymborski’s baseball projection system, has been adjusted to take 29 points off of Olivo’s 2012 OPS based on his performance so far. It was already the lowest on the team.
2. Bob Stinson (1980): .095 / .152 / .119 - .271 OPS
The Mariners tried four different catchers in 1980, but none of them were any good. Stinson’s meager talent was augmented by his poor health and his excellent nickname, “Scrap Iron”. He did warm up in June, in the sense that he reached the Mendoza line, but it was too late. He was released on August 1st and called it a career.
1. Rey Quinones (1989): .083 / .148 / .083 - .231 OPS
Technically, this one doesn’t quite count: Quinones only started seven games with the M’s before the team gave up on him and banished him to Pittsburgh. Still, he was so awful that he deserves to be atop the list regardless. Said former GM Dick Balderson of Quinones: “His ability was there. But looking back, I didn't do as good a job researching his makeup. He wasn't a very good person. He wasn't with the program. It went downhill immediately the day after he got there.” It’s unclear as to whether Quinones asked for a letter of recommendation from his former employer.
Miguel is nothing like Rey Quinones. But he could easily be Bob Stinson or Bob Kearney. It’s a collection of players who weren’t really ready to arrive or depart – but perhaps most troublesome is the fact that only two out of the ten were able to even turn around decent seasons from their early April struggles.
And it doesn’t seem to be a case of an arbitrary cutoff (arbitrary as it might be): the “dishonorable mention” section of this list would include names like Eric Byrnes, Jeff Cirillo, Pete O’Brien, Glenn Wilson, and Danny Meyer. There’s no whiff of a Jay Buhner or even a Bruce Bochte here; it’s nothing but statistical misery on all sides.
So here we are on April 18th in a familiar situation: holding a toxic asset with no future with the organization. The usual explanations will be supplied: his charisma, his ability to mentor young Jesus Montero while simultaneously blocking him on the depth chart. But one argument that you’re bound to hear, the idea that Miguel Olivo is being showcased for trade value, may not work as well as planned. It could very well be that the Olivo we’ve seen is the one we’ll continue to see. But in the meantime, continue to ignore the stats a little while longer.