SweetSpot: Ian Snell

Mariners finally cutting ties with Snell

June, 15, 2010
Geoff Baker on Ian Snell's tenure with the Mariners finally (and mercifully) coming to an end:

    As for Snell, today's move likely ends his career in Seattle. It was one marked by disappointment in the 10-plus months since being acquired, along with shortstop Jack Wilson, in a trade for catcher Jeff Clement and infielder Ronny Cedeno.

    Snell was 0-5 with a 6.41 ERA this year. The strikeout ability he'd shown earlier in his career, and last year, when he fanned 17 in one AAA game after asking the Pirates for a demotion, never materialized with the M's.

    His moodiness also became an issue with the team at times...

Just a 26th-round draft pick 10 years ago, Snell always had the performance if not the stuff, so his trek through the minors was steady rather than swift. Before reaching the majors for good (sort of) in 2005, Snell's minor-league record was 58-19, which has to rank somewhere near the top of the list in recent years. In his first two full seasons in the majors, he went 23-23 with a solid ERA and a better-than-solid strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Since then, it's just been one thing after another. He seems to have lost some arm strength, and his pitches across the board simply haven't been as effective. There was that brief, shining moment last year, though: Last year's Triple-A stint was more than just the 17-strikeout game; in six starts with Indianapolis, Snell struck out 47, walked 13, and didn't give up any home runs in 37 innings.

It was those 37 innings, I'm guessing, which convinced the Mariners that Snell was worth a long look (they certainly convinced me). Obviously, it hasn't worked out as he's got more walks than strikeouts in 24 games with the franchise. Just as obviously, both teams have essentially lost that trade, as Wilson's been mostly hurt, Cedeno's been mostly (or completely) unable to hit, and Clement's already washed out of the majors (again). So let's just call it a Noble Experiment and move along.

I suspect that if Snell can't get back on track somewhere, the premature end of his career will generally be blamed on his moodiness or something. I also suspect that if you could somehow pilot a microscopic submarine into the deepest recesses of Ian Snell, you would find that he's just not the same man, physically, that he was three years ago.

When being nice enough isn't enough

June, 7, 2010
As Greg Johns writes, there aren't any hard feelings about the little dust-up Friday night between Ian Snell and Don Wakamatsu, as Snell revised and extended his postgame comments about getting lifted from the game. Highlights:

    "I've just got to stop walking guys. I'm doing my best," Snell said. "I get frustrated when people continue to say I'm walking too many people when it's not an easy thing. You know what I mean? It's hard enough that we've got to go out and try to get guys out who – from one to nine – are great hitters. It's just tough."I'm not Felix or Lee. I'm a whole different person than those two guys. They've got great stuff. I've got almost mediocre stuff right now. I could be like them, but it's struggling for me right now."


    Snell, 0-4 with a 4.64 ERA, was acquired from Pittsburgh last year after asking the Pirates to send him to Triple-A because of issues with the Pirates. He went 5-2 with a 4.20 ERA in 12 starts for the M's, but has been erratic this season.

    Wakamatsu said his job is to help Snell get back on track.

    "This guy has thrown good games, he has done it in the past," said Wakamatsu. "It's not like it's something that's not in there. We wouldn't run him out there if we don't believe he can win ballgames.

The Pirates traded Snell to the Mariners last summer because he wasn't getting enough guys out; after posting a 5.42 ERA in 2008, in 2009 he had a 5.36 ERA with too many walks and not enough strikeouts.

Since he's joined the M's, nothing important has changed. His ERA's a little better -- 4.37 in 107 innings -- but he's walking more batters and striking out fewer. Oh, and he's giving up more home runs, too. Essentially, this is the third straight season in which Snell has pitched like a pitcher who can't really pitch. Not for six innings against the world's best hitters, anyway.

Everyone seems to have good intentions. Ian Snell seems like a nice enough fellow who wants to figure out what's wrong, and Don Wakamatsu seems like a nice enough fellow who cares about both his job and his players. But sometimes being nice enough just doesn't get you the W's you're looking for.

Who wins M's-Bucs trade?

July, 29, 2009
Dave Cameron has a snap analysis of the deal that nets the Mariners Jack Wilson and Ian Snell and sends a utility infielder and four minor leaguers -- including three Class A pitchers -- to the Pirates. Money quote from Cameron:
    "They're all just decent pitching prospects instead of good ones, so the M's gave up quantity over quality, but the old cliche about building a rotation by getting a ton of arms and seeing who sticks is really true. The M's had done a good job of collecting an inventory of decent arms, and they just depleted that fairly heavily, while also giving up a LH power bat, for two guys with marginal value.

    Pittsburgh is the easy winner of this deal, as they get some interesting young talent and shed some salary without losing much that will hurt them. The Mariners could still salvage this by moving Wilson before Friday's deadline for a younger SS with more long term potential, but if they stand pat with Wilson as the team's shortstop for 2009 and maybe 2010, color me disappointed."

Right now the Mariners' general manager, Jack Zduriencik, benefits from something of a halo effect, which he has earned by doing a lot of smart things since taking over. Thus, it's not easy to evaluate this deal with great objectivity. I will try, though.

As I wrote last week, Wilson is actually a pretty valuable player, due almost solely to his defense. This deal suggests that Zduriencik believes the Mariners have a legitimate shot at winning the American League West next season -- the last on Wilson's current contract. Otherwise the deal makes no sense at all.

Of course, it's also possible that, as Cameron suggests, Wilson is going to be flipped in another trade to one of the many contenders looking for a viable shortstop.

There's another thing, too. Yes, Snell makes a lot of money for a guy who's been exiled to the International League. But in terms of pure performance over the next few years -- which I mention because the club has options on him through 2012 -- doesn't Snell figure to be a lot more valuable than three pitchers who have yet to escape Class A? Who Cameron doesn't even class as "good" prospects?

Time will tell. But halo effect or no halo effect, I can't agree that the Pirates are the easy winners here.

Update: According to Dejan Kovacevic (sorry, no link yet), the Pirates are paying most of Wilson's and Snell's salaries for the rest of this season. This one's already looking better for the Mariners.

Bucs wondering about Snell

June, 25, 2009
Dejan Kovacevic on a Pirate with a tenuous hold on his job:
    Ian Snell will remain in the Pirates' rotation ... for now.

    That was the initial message from general manager Neal Huntington yesterday afternoon, in the aftermath of Snell's 2 2/3-inning loss Tuesday, one that dropped him to 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA.

    "He shows you flashes of what he can be, but it's a matter of how we draw that out consistently, can we draw that out consistently?" Huntington said. "At some point in time, the 'can we' becomes the question that becomes unanswerable. Not that we ever give up on a player, but maybe there's a different role, a different way we reach him. We may get to a point in time where it's, 'Do we put him in the bullpen? Do we option him to Triple-A?'"

    Huntington expressed special exasperation at Snell's laborious pitch counts.

    --snip-- The one positive, all concerned agreed, is that Snell seems to be staying upbeat.

    "I'm not worried," Snell said. "I know it's there, and I know I'll do better."

Well, maybe. But I look at Snell's career and I see two distinctly different pitchers.

Ian Snell, 2006-2007: 4.23 ERA, 3.2 walks and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings
Ian Snell, 2008-2009: 5.40 ERA, 4.9 walks and 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings

Seems to me that if there was an easy fix, it would have been fixed already. Ever since April 6 of last year -- when he struck out 10 Marlins in six innings -- Snell just hasn't put together any sort of good run, and I can't help wondering if he's physically the same pitcher that he was in 2007.

Looking at Snell's Pitchf/x data, the only thing that jumps out is that this season there's a relatively small difference in speed between his fastball and his slider. Also, he's throwing curveballs this year, after junking the pitch the last two seasons (at least according to this data set).

The first place I would look is inside him. Inside his knees and his hips and his back and his elbow and his shoulder. I suppose the Pirates have already done that. But when I see a pitcher whose strikeout-to-walk ratio has gone from 2.44 to 1.41 in the blink of an eye, I can't help thinking he's just not right.