Category Archives: American League West

Cano, Cruz, Hernandez – What To Do, What To Do

So here we have the three most prominent and important players currently on the Seattle Mariners.

Of the three, only Nelson Cruz is performing at an acceptable level.  Robinson Cano is in the midst of an 80 game suspension and has become a disappointment to both his team and Seattle Mariner fans.  Felix Hernandez is a ghost of what he once was, a seasonal potential Cy Young Award pitcher.

There is going to be a lot of talk of what to do when Robinson Cano returns from his suspension.  Just how much can he contribute in a 6-week stretch to perhaps get the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time since 2001?  If he does help a lot, we lose his bat for the post season since he won’t be eligible.  And if he doesn’t he takes away critical at-bats from players the Mariners will have to lean on during the stretch run and the aforementioned playoffs.

There will also be a lot of talk of what to do after this year.  I suppose an optimist can view that what the Mariners have is a “happy” problem.  I’m not so sure.

Here is what I think is the best to do for this year and beyond for Cano, Cruz and Hernandez:

Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano started 2018 decently enough before his suspension.  The 6′, 210 lbs. was hitting .287 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI’s as well as playing 2B as smooth as anyone.

But right now, he isn’t the best 2nd baseman on the team.  That honor goes to Dee Gordon who, despite starting out in centerfield, transitioned perfectly back to a position in which he was a two-time All Star.  Granted, Gordon will need some days off and to have a player the caliber of Cano is fantastic.

But even if Cano goes on some sort of tear at the plate, the Mariners can’t keep Cano at 2nd because he can’t play in the playoffs.  Gordon will need to keep playing to prepare for the playoffs.

So that means Cano becomes a sub…but only at three spots:  2nd base, first base and designated hitter.

No problem with Cano playing 2nd or being the DH.  But he has never played first base in a major league game.  It shouldn’t be a problem for him though as he is a fine athlete.   But there are nuances at first that he needs to be aware of such as holding the runner, going to a different cut-off position, knowing when to stretch to help the infielders get a much needed out and the most obvious, searching for the bag on ground balls.

Ryan Healy has played a pretty good first base for the Mariners and has contributed decently at the plate, hitting .240 with 18 home runs and driving in 46.  As with Gordon, Healy will need some days off and Cano is a luxury to have.  However, I haven’t seen any news of him working out at first base and having a player learn a position on the fly during a playoff run isn’t a good idea even with the caliber of Cano.

Which leaves the third spot he can play:  Designated Hitter

Now you take the bat away from the Mariners most consistent and dangerous hitter, Nelson Cruz.

Cano and Cruz are pretty close statistically since 2015.

Since 2015 Age Avg. Hits HR RBI SLG %
Nelson Cruz 37 0.286 584 148 372 0.552
Robinson Cano 35 0.288 563 87 293 0.468

I guess the question would be is who do you want at the plate at the most critical junctions?  I’d take Nellie because he slows everything down at the most critical times.  With Cano, too often he strikes out, rolls a lazy grounder to second or flies out.  Nellie may get out but he always hits the ball hard.

The only luxury that Manager Scott Servias has is that Nellie is right-handed and Cano hits from the left side.  But there is no way I’d only use Nellie with left-handed pitching.

So what to do with Cano starting in 2019?  Not going to be able to trade him as is contract is too huge.  Mariners would have to pay him to play elsewhere and get little in return.  And if they release him, he still gets paid as his contract is guaranteed.

The most obvious choice would be move him to first providing Cruz signs next year.  But then you lose Ryan Healy who will be only 27 next year, has proven he can come up with some big hits as well as play a good first base at a fraction of the cost.  However, you could get a pitcher of value for Healy in a trade but in my estimation, you lose a superior first baseman over Cano…and with Cano a decade older, he will most likely start declining in production at the plate.

As stated before, Dee Gordon is the best 2nd baseman on the team.  He is six years younger than Cano, has far better range and has the knack for coming up with spectacular plays.  As far as offensive output, Gordon contributes way differently than Cano.  He steals bases and scores runs…he is a prototypical lead-off hitter whereas Cano is a typical 3-hole hitter who drives him in.

The edge goes to Gordon as the 2nd baseman for the Mariners based solely on his defensive skills and the fact he is six years younger than Cano.

Sorry folks, Robinson Cano’s days at 2nd base are over.

If Cruz does not sign next year, Cano becomes the DH, case closed.  But in my opinion, if the Mariners don’t sign Cruz, they are out of their fricking minds.

So Cano will either be the starting first baseman or the designated hitter for the next five years.

Nelson Cruz

Granted, Cruz is 37 years old.  But he has kept himself in fantastic shape and has remained consistent at the plate since joining the Mariners in 2015.

He is the most clutch hitter the Mariners have had since Edgar Martinez.  And don’t think that Cruz hasn’t picked the best designated hitter on the planet for all he’s worth.

Nelson Cruz is always prepared.  His exercise regime is borderline neurotic.  Check out this story from the Seattle Times for insight on his workouts:  Nelson Cruz Workouts.

The only blight on Cruz’s remarkable career was a 50 game suspension for his connection with the Biogenisis PED scandal in his last year with the Texas Rangers which also involved Alex Rodrigues and Jesus Montero.  Cruz has never tested positive for PED and accepted a 50 game suspension in lieu of a 100 game suspension after MLB had threatened to out him.

What is not generally known is that for the most part, the reason was medical and not a way to increase performance.  In 2012, Cruz had lost about 40 lbs. with no explanation.  Doctors couldn’t find out what was going on until they had discovered a parasite and doctor’s prescribed steroids to resolve the issue.  The full story can be found here, courtesy of the Seattle Times:  Cruz PED Suspension

Outside of that one “transgression,”  Cruz has been an exemplary player and teammate.  The Mariners would do well to sign him to a two-year contract and let him finish his career as a Mariner.

Unfortunately, if that occurs, Ryan Healy will be the odd man out as Cano would most likely become the everyday first baseman.

Felix Hernandez

One thing that almost everyone can agree upon is that Felix Hernandez is not the pitcher he once was.

I know that both GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have said that Felix is a vital part of the Seattle Mariners.  However, I think that is more for Felix’s benefit than it is for us fans.

Everyone lays some importance to statistics and I agree that they tell part of the story.  For instance, from 2005-2014, Felix complied a 125-92 record with a 3.10 ERA.  And he pitched for some pretty awful Seattle Mariner teams, most notably the 2010 season where the Mariners lost 101 games and the 2011 team that posted a 67-95 record.

Place Hernandez with the Boston Red Sox in that same time frame and everyone would be talking about Hernandez as a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.  He probably would have won 20 games at least 3 times and been in the post season within the first 3 seasons of his career.

But if there is one redeeming quality about Hernandez is the loyalty that he has shown the Mariners and they rewarded him in 2013 with a 7 year, $175 million dollar contract.  He has never wanted to be with any other team other than the Mariners and, at the time, it was one of the best things the Mariners could have done.

The only thing that the Mariners haven’t done for him is get him to the post season, something he could have easily accomplished since most likely, if had decided to go elsewhere, it would have been with a contender.

Felix’s contract is up next year.  And quite honestly, he is no longer the ace of the staff.  That belongs to James Paxton who has deferred to King Felix and rightfully so.

In fact, if the Mariners do re-sign him, it would have to be at a reduced rate and he would have to accept that he might be, at best, a number 3 or 4 starter.

No one can discount that Felix has given the Mariners everything he’s had for the past 14 years.  But at age 32, he is starting to break down and has had trouble getting out of the first inning of games.  He is not the strike-out artist that he once was (Side note here:  To all those in the King’s Court, please stop yelling “K,K,K,K” every time he get’s 2 strikes on a batter.  It only encourages him to do something he can no longer do:  Blow a fastball past a hitter) and has resisted changing his ways in order to extend his career.

Both Felix and Seattle Mariners fans need to face reality.  Felix is, at best, a number 3 starter.  And with the extension given Wade LeBlanc, I see the starting rotation for next year to be:

  1. James Paxton
  2. Marco Gonzales
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Wade LeBlanc
  5. Mike Leake

Even if the Mariners let him walk away, there is no way he’ll be the Ace of the staff again.

Seattle Mariners have some tough choices when Cano comes back from his suspension and ever tougher ones starting in 2019.

Let’s hope they make the right choices.

 

Seattle Mariners – Let’s Play GM

The Seattle Mariners head in to the All-Star break with more questions than answers.

To be fair, I don’t think the Mariner offense is the major issue with the current situation the Mariners find themselves in.

Seattle ranks 4th in the American League in batting average, hitting at a very respectable .264.  They are 5th in runs scored with 427 which is just under 5 runs per game.  Mariners are also 5th in RBI’s with 405 and have done a pretty good job with on base percentage coming in at number seven, with a .750 average.

I see pitching being the biggest issue.  Yes, I know the Mariners staff has been devastated with injuries in the first half.  James Paxton missed most of May, Felix Hernandez missed all of May and most of June, Hisashi Iwakuma has only pitched in six games this year and Drew Smyly, who the Mariners targeted in a trade with Tampa Bay, is pretty much gone for the season.

It’s time to blow up the starting rotation:

Felix Hernandez:  Keep

Felix is no longer the pitcher that he once was.  His current ERA of 5.04 is almost two runs higher than his career 3.19.  He can still be a very effective pitcher but he is no longer the ace of the staff.  At best, he is your #3 in the rotation.

At 31 years of age, The King still as a lot left in his tank but only if he can adjust to pitching to contact.  I think the Mariner fans, in order to support him, should put all of those K cards in a scrap book and stop the chants of “K!, K!, K!, K!” every time he gets two strikes on a batter.  He wants to give the fans what they want but realistically, I doubt we’re ever going to see Felix reach double digit strikeout figures in a game.

He’ll need to stop nibbling at the corners, hoping batters chase pitches because he no longer has that devastating fastball to blow by them.  He needs to become a more efficient pitcher, getting batters to hit ground balls and let his defense get the outs.  He doesn’t have to be “The Man” anymore.

James Paxton:  Keep

The Big Maple is the Mariners ace of the future.  And the future is now.

Paxton has all the makings to be the ace of this team:  A four-seam fastball that comes in at 96 mph (he has occasionally hit 100 mph), he also relies on a curveball and  cutter.  He also has in his repertoire, a change-up and slider to use if he needs to.

When he is on his game, it doesn’t make a difference what type of hitter he is facing.  With excellent control down in the strike-zone, batters either give up on the pitch or just helplessly flail at it.

At some point in his career, Paxton will have a no-hitter.  It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

Hisashi Iwakuma:  Release

When the Mariners first got Iwakuma, it was a great move.  He has given Seattle some great years.  Never a strikeout pitcher, Iwakuma is a right-handed version of a “crafty left-hander.”

But Kuma is 36 years old and with nearly 2,500 innings under his belt (combined innings pitching in Japan and with the Mariners), he is out of gas.

Mariners need to give Kuma his  outright release after the year is over.  He isn’t going to be worth much on the trade market and I don’t think there will be many teams looking to take a chance on an oft-injured pitcher with the kind of mileage he has on his arm.

Andrew Moore:  Keep

I like the way Moore handles himself on the mound.  He is an efficient pitcher and eats up innings, rarely taxing himself.  He isn’t going to overpower hitters, his fastball tops out at 92 mph.

But he has good control of the strike zone with all of his pitches which in addition to his fastball, are slider, curveball and change-up.

He is a fly-ball pitcher which in some ballparks, can get him into trouble.  But with the stuff he has, he can be a good pitcher at the bottom of the rotation.

Ariel Miranda:  Trade

I know that Miranda has been a pretty good pitcher for Seattle in 2017 and that he has shown flashes of brilliance at times.  But the one thing that keeps him from earning a permanent spot is the fact that he will allow other teams to have  a big inning.

I don’t think that’s going to change and Seattle would be wise to trade him after the 2017 season while he has some good value.  He is 7-4 right now and has been a pleasant surprise and teams are always looking for left-handers.

However, if the Mariners decide to keep him, he can be a good # 5 starter.  He isn’t a power pitcher (fastball comes in at 92) and doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters.  Right now, the left-hander relies mainly on his fastball, cutter and change-up.  If he wants to have more success, I think he needs to use his slider more as it is a very effective ground ball pitch for him.  He doesn’t use it often enough.

If he can incorporate that slider, I think it will mitigate the big innings that bite him from time to time.

Drew Smyly:  Jury is Out

Smyly underwent Tommy John surgery July 6, 2017 to repair his right elbow.

If the surgery is successful, the Mariners just may have a number 2 pitcher.  Problem is, we may not know until 2019 since the recovery can take 12-15 months.  Another unknown is that we don’t know what kind of pitcher Smyly will be.

Starting in 2018, the Mariners will have 3 starters:  Paxton, Hernandez and Moore.  They will need to get another top of the rotation pitcher to follow Paxton and # 5 starter to eat up innings.

Right now, the Mariners farm system doesn’t give them a lot of options despite the fact over the first half of the season, we’ve seen a lot of pitchers come in:  Chase De Jong, Christian Bergman, Dillon Overton, Rob Whalen, Chris Heston and Ryan Weber to name a few.  And while these pitchers have gained valuable major league experience, they aren’t ready yet.  Most of them need at least another year in the minors before making the jump.

So that means looking to free agency.  And the Mariners have not had the best of luck in that area but the situation leaves little choice.

Best Free Agent Options:

Yu Darvish, Texas

Darvish has had some good success in while playing in Texas.  He is 30 years old and still can be a very effective pitcher.  He has a good four-seam fastball that comes in at 95mph with good movement.  Add to that his slider and cutter and Darvish can be a dominating pitcher at times and when he uses his change-up, hitters swing and miss more often than not.

Darvish would be a very good fit as the number 2 starter behind Paxton.

Brett Anderson, Chicago Cubs

Anderson has spent most of career with the Oakland A’s and since 2014, he has pitched for 3 teams over the past 4 seasons.

Anderson is a groundball pitcher.  His fastball and slider generates an above average number of ground balls and with the Mariner defense, it will keep him and the team in a lot of games.

He can eat a lot of innings and would be a good bottom of the rotation pitcher.

I doubt the Mariners will go thru the slew of injuries they did in 2017.  But changes need to be made and the most important is to accept the fact that Hernandez isn’t the ace of the team anymore.

The offense will under go some changes but for the most part, it has been pretty good.  Of course they have shown to go into funks but that is expected over the course of the season.

But of the starting rotation can stay healthy, then the bullpen can be used as it needs to be.  Edwin Diaz will come out of 2017 learning a lot about himself and it will only make him a better closer in 2018 and beyond.

Seattle Mariners may not make it this year but if they can shore up the starting pitching for the next couple of years, they will contend and end the playoff draught that has been plaguing them since 2001.

 

 

Way to Go Mike Zunino!

It was great to see Mike Zunino hit a 2-run walk-off home run last night to beat the Minnesota Twins, 6-5.

And I guess at this point in Mike Z’s career, one can only think of the Grateful Dead’s line from their iconic song, Truckin’:  “Sometimes the light is shinin’ on me, Other times I can barley see, Lately it occurs what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Indeed, Zunino’s career with the Seattle Mariners has been a strange trip.  Right now, his batting average for the 2017 season is .229, the highest he’s held in his 5 years with the Mariners.  And it has to be frustrating to him since being drafted 3rd overall by the Mariners in 2012.

Defensively, Zunino is one of the best in the major leagues.  He calls the games really well and has that innate quality to settle pitchers down when needed.

But for far too long, he was a black hole in the Mariner line-up.  Striking out at a pace that bordered on the ridiculous, missing pitches that he should have crushed and pretty much not having a clue what to do once he got to the plate.

Zunino was sent down earlier this year to get his swing right.  No one can deny his strength.  After all, in 2013, he did hit 22 home runs while hitting a paltry .199 for the year.  But working with Scott Brosius when he was sent down, as well as with Mariner great Edgar Martinez, they got Zunino to apply a set of rules that he can focus on.

The result?  His last 8 games has been nothing short of amazing.  Average:  .444, On base %:  .485, Slugging %: .900.  No one can expect him to keep that pace and we’ve seen surges from Zunino before.  And it would be hard to expect a career .214 hitter to suddenly become a .400 hitter for the rest of the year.

However, one can see when Zunino comes to the plate, he has a plan, something he didn’t have before.  The testament to that was a conversation that manager Scott Servias had with him after Tuesday’s nights game when he struck out 3 times.  Servias had asked him about those at bats.  Instead of giving the skipper a deer in the headlights look and a “I don’t know,” Zunino knew exactly what was going on.  He told Servias that “I got a little quick, I gotta slow my leg kick down, my timing is going to be fine, I’m going to be OK.”  I don’t think last year you would have heard that from Mike Zunino.

And the next night, that proved true with Mike going 2-3 with 2 home runs and 3 RBI’s, a walk and zero strike outs.

Oh sure, there have been some slight mechanical changes.  He is standing up a little straighter at the plate and his head his more turned to the pitcher to allow better tracking on the ball.  And when you have only .4 seconds to decide on whether or not to take a swing, every advantage helps.

But for the longest time, Zunino didn’t have a clue what to do at the plate and could no longer rely on his natural abilities.  The pitchers at the major league level are the best in the world and will figure out your weakness and unmercifully expose it on a constant basis.  After all,  it’s their job to do so.

And these pitchers will make adjustments to Zunino and then the real test comes:  Will Zunino still trust his process?  Will he stick to the plan and continue to only look for pitches he can attack?

If Zunino can lift his average this year to around .235 to .240, one would have to qualify his season as successful.  I don’t care how many home runs he gets.  If this process works, he’ll hit 18-22 by default.  What I care about is productive at bats:  Moving the runner over, getting in the runner from third base and keeping innings alive.

If there is a message I could relay to Mike, it would be this:  All Seattle Mariner fans are pulling to you Mike.  And we hope that we continue to see you in a Mariner uniform for the rest of your career.

Seattle Mariners – Do Not Even Think About Trading Edwin Diaz.

Future Closer of Seattle Mairners
Future Closer of Seattle Mairners

Every time I see Edwin Diaz enter a game, I get the chills.  His stuff is absolutely electric and at 22 years of age, has the savvy poise of a seasoned veteran.

Since being called up from AA Ball, Diaz has appeared in 21 games, pitch 21.2 innings and struck out 44 batters.  That’s about an average of striking out 2 batters an inning.  He reminds me of Mariano Rivera, the great Yankee closer.  Not in style as Diaz has one all his own.  His fastball his in the 98 – 100 mph range and has thrown 101 mph.  Even  more devastating his slider which has become a very effective out pitch for him.

He reminds me of Rivera in the fact that he could tell a batter what pitch was coming, where it’s going to be placed and the batter still wouldn’t be able to hit it.

So here is a message to GM Jerry Dipoto:  Mark Edwin Diaz as untouchable…do not trade him even if Mike Trout is available.  Do not lose him to free agency and do not even think about changing his style.

Mariners have a history of letting players go that have gone on to have great success on other teams:  Adam Jones to Baltimore, Randy Johnson to Houston (who went on to win 2 Cy Young awards and a World Series ring with Arizona), Jason Varitek to Boston and, as much as I hate to say it, Alex Rodriguez to the Rangers then to the Yankees.

The Mariners have had some special players…Alvin Davis, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and of course, the soon to be Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. who in my opinion, is one of the best players to have ever played the game.

Felix Hernandez is also a special player and the Mariners owe it to him to keep Diaz in a Mariner uniform as I see him as the closer of the future.  And not just for a couple of seasons.  This kid has the stuff to be an elite closer for at least a decade.

Granted, he isn’t always going to be able to throw 100+ mph pitches…his awareness of that is evident of his developing a devastating slider now while he can hit 100+ fastballs.  At some point, I wouldn’t doubt that he develops a cutter like Rivera that would be just as knee-bending as his slider and mystifying as his fastball.

Dipoto talks about building for the future.  With current stars of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Felix, the Mariners have an exciting core group on the rise in players like Leonys Martin, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino and Ketel Marte.

Let’s peak into the future, say 2018, just as a pitching staff:

Starting rotation:  Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Nick Neidert, Luis Gohara.

Closer: Edwin Diaz

I don’t know how to address the rest of the bullpen since set-up pitchers and long-relievers are always in a state of flux.  But I do see the starting rotation being pretty close to that and Edwin Diaz, the Electric One, being the closer who could average 40-45 saves per season.

While this season may not shape up to what we hoped it would be, the future is in good hands.  And future leads will be protected by one Edwin Diaz.

 

 

Seattle Mariners – Frustrating But Talented

Can This Be The Season?

Mariners won last night on a 3-run homer by designated hitter Adam Lind.  Lind’s walk-off homer is the fourth time the Mariner’s have done that, leading the majors in that category.

The win takes some of the sting out of the horrific month of June which put’s them at 7-14 for the month and for the first time since April 23rd, at .500 for the season.

Granted, we all know that teams will go thru some rough patches and this version of the Mariners does at least, for the most part, stay in games unlike last year, where if the opposing team got any kind of lead, they folded up like a cheap tent.

Injuries haven’t helped matters much with starters Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Wade Miley out for extensive periods of time.  And the fact that the rest of the staff, sans Hisashi Iwakuma, can’t get past the 5th inning, which depletes the bullpen and in turn, have been battered around by opposing teams.

There are signs of hope though.  James Paxton seems to have found a groove and with his new arm slot location, has been hitting in the 95-98 mph on his fastball, occasionally hitting 100 mph to go along with a good curveball and slider.

Last night’s starting pitcher, Wade LeBlanc just recently traded for the infamous “player to be named later” was thrust into the starting rotation.  The left-hander channeled a favorite Mariner icon, one Jamie Moyer with a quality change-up and pin-point control, holding the Cardinals to zero runs, three hits and one walk in six innings.

The Mariners did there best to give back the game in the eight inning when the Cardinals scored three runs without the benefit of a hit.  Relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit did the most damage, walking the lead-off hitter and then promptly hitting the next one, and then walking the next two to force in a run that tied the game.

Next was the debut of Donn Roach but I can’t blame him for giving up the two runs.  He did what he was supposed to do and that was to induce the Cardinal’s Matt Holliday to hit the ball on the ground.  But the normally sure-handed Mariner 3rd baseman Kyle Seager misjudged the 103 mph grounder for an error and off it went into left field allowing two runs to score.

But baseball is a funny game and more often than not, it allows for players to amend any screw-ups they may have made.  Seager came back by hitting a double and Dae-Ho Lee, the Mariners most pleasant surprise this season, worked Cardinal closer Trevor Rosenthal for a walk, setting up Adam Lind’s heroics in the ninth.

Here are some things we can take away about the Mariners during this nasty stretch:

  • Seventh best hitting team in the American League with a .259 team batting average.
  • Second in the American League in runs scored with 359.
  • Second in the American League in home runs with 110.
  • Second in the American League in RBI with 347.
  • Fourth in the American League with a .326 OPB percentage
  • Fourth in the American League with a .437 slugging percentage
  • Second in the American League pitching staff with 630 strikeouts of opposing batters
  • Second in American League with an ERA of 3.78 runs per game

Newsflash:  Despite recent play, this team is pretty good.

Right now the Mariners are banged up but still in contention for a Wild Card spot.  And with some luck (and hopefully the Texas Rangers go into a spin late), they might even have a shot at winning the American League West title.

What I hope happens when Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Wade Miley return from their injuries is that they keep James Paxton in the rotation and send Nathan Karns down to the minors to figure out how to get past five innings.

So down the stretch, the Mariners starting rotation would be:

  • Hernandez
  • Iwakuma
  • Paxton
  • Walker
  • Miley

Keep Wade LeBlanc for long relief and spot starts.

With the exception of Walker (and I think that it’s a short term issue), all of the starters have the ability to go at least seven innings each time they pitch.  Now you have an effective bullpen that only needs to work 3 innings a game instead of 5 or sometimes 6.  That can only make the bullpen that much more effective.

Mariners are going to be OK….they have too much talent to be out of it right now.

What’s Different About the 2016 Seattle Mariners? Team Chemistry!

Seattle Baseball\

The Seattle Mariners are in first place. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

While it may be only the end of May, at this time last year the Mariners were 24-26 in the midst of a 7-game losing streak and by all indications, really weren’t going to get any better as the season went on.

Now, with a sparkling 27-18 record that includes an 18-7 road record, the best in the majors, they sit atop of the American League West division with a 1-1/2 game lead on the Texas Rangers.

What’s different? Statistically, not much from last year. Mariners have scored 21 more times than 2015, have 30 more RBI’s, increased walks by 13 and reduced strike outs by 62. Not significant increases that indicate a magic bullet for the improvement over last year.

Pitching stats show a better picture: Lowered ERA from 3.78 to 3.20, allowed 80 less hits and 54 less runs scored and decreased the walks by 31. Pitching staff has done a real nice job keeping opposing runners off base.

Perhaps it is the change in philosophy from the Jack Zduriencik/Lloyd McClendon days. The 2015 Mariners had high expectations picked by some to be in the World Series. But after 7 disappointing seasons, the plug had to be pulled.

No sense in going over what happened last year…we all know that last year’s team was uninspired to put it mildly. It seemed to me that players didn’t care about winning…and part of that could be the decisions to play players out of position such as Brad Miller and Dustin Ackley. It can be important to one’s morale to play a position they want to play and feel they are good at instead of being placed anywhere on the diamond.

I also would have to blame a lot on Jack Zdurencik’s ability to evaluate players:

  • Justin Smoak, in the five years he played for Seattle, had a batting average of .226, struck out about 87 times a year and while he showed flashes of power, more often than not, he ground into double plays.
  • His replacement, Logan Morrison, wasn’t much better. He did have a solid season in 2014 hitting .262 with 11 home runs but only drove in 38 runs in 336 at bats. His performance dropped considerably in 2015, hitting a paltry .225, showing more power with 17 home runs and driving in 54. But he was more known for assisting Fernando Rodney in shooting make-believe arrows.
  • Ackley, a highly touted player coming out of college, hit decent in his 4 years with a .250 batting average. But he never looked comfortable at the plate and getting moved around defensively probably messed with his head.
  • Mike Zunino is perhaps Zdurencik’s biggest mistake. Evaluated him correctly but promoted him way too fast. Drafted in 2012, he zoomed thru A to AAA ball and with a mere 159 minor league games under his belt (59 at AAA level), he became the Mariners starting catcher in 2013. 2015 was epically bad as Zunino hit .174 and struck out 132 times in 350 at bats. He was able to hit 11 home runs and played great defense at catcher. But he was a black hole in the line-up.

So what is different between this year and last year? For one thing, after the initial 3-6 start, they have gotten off to a way better start over the first 46 games. First place in the American League West with a game and a half lead over the Rangers. Last year? At the end of May, they were 24-26, in fourth place, 6 and half games behind the Houston Astros.

I also am a big believer in how Jerry Dipoto and his team with the type of players they brought in, those with good on base percentage and getting more balls in play. Dipoto and first-year manager Scott Servais also did a real smart thing when spring training opened.

Early in camp, each day, Servais had players stand up during the morning meetings to discuss their backgrounds. It could go from explaining how they got into the big leagues, who they admire the most and what difficulties they overcame to get where they are. They also spoke about any hobbies they might have. That’s important in a team environment. It shows that players may have common interests and could form bonds outside of baseball which in turn, can form a high level of trust on the field.

Some examples of how this brought the team together:

  • Reliever Tony Zych said he liked to play pool. Servais asked if he was any good and Zych said yes. Servais tasked Zych to get a pool table in the clubhouse the next day. Second baseman Robison Cano ponied up to cover the cost. The next day, Servais and Zych played. Servais played the first shot, sank it and then missed his next. Zych never gave his manager another shot as he ran the table, much to the delight of the team.
  • Comedian Domingo Ayala delivered one liners and jokes for a day.
  • Pitcher Danny Hultzen was assigned to deliver a world daily report which later expanded to Nori Aoki doing reports on Japan and Nelson Cruz on the Dominican Republic.
  • When Cano’s team beat Cruz’s team in a situational hitting contest, Cruz had to buy steak and shrimp for the entire Mariner complex

Team chemistry, one of the most overlooked aspects of the game, was being developed. And it starts with Servais whose style is to keep things positive. He likes to keep it loose but when it’s time to work, you have to be ready. Servais made it a point to spend almost 95% of spring training on team-building with the goal to develop equity and trust with players.

I’d say he’s achieved his goal.

We all know the crux of this team is Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. None have disappointed this year and Cano, now healthy, is putting together a monster year. But other players, like Leonys Martin. He is hitting .262 with 9 home runs, which is already a career high. Prior to coming to the Mariners, he had 20 career home runs…he keeps hitting like this and he’ll have 20 by mid-July!

How about Seth Smith, playing solid defense out in right field and an OPB of .376 which is great for the number 2 guy in the line-up.

And Chris Iannetta, brought in until Mike Zunino can claim his spot back, with some timely hits including one walk-off home run.

And how about those situational players such as Dae-Ho Lee, whose walk off home run against the Rangers in April snapped a 6-game losing streak. Or Franklin Gutierrez who smacked a monster home run against the Reds last week.

These players have brought an attitude that we haven’t seen since 2001 Mariners when they won 116 games.

And the pitching! Did anyone expect Wade Miley to be 5-2 and be such an innings eater? Or that Nathan Karns would beat out James Paxton for the number 5 slot and be 4-1 with a 3.53 ERA?

How about a bullpen that was much maligned last year, coming in with a 2.62 ERA with 13 saves and 32 holds and an average of 9.87 strikeouts per nine innings.

This team is getting runs, making opposing pitchers work, playing good defense and not letting the other teams score.

We know that the major league season is 162 games…we also know that at some point during the season, the Mariners are going to go thru a tough patch. But I think with the make-up of this team and the chemistry it has, that tough patch will be a short one.

This team has a chance to be in the playoffs…and if they get there, I’d put some money on them getting to the World Series and winning it.

Seattle Mariners – What Can We Expect This Time?

Mariners

This Friday, February 19th, 2016, kicks off the Seattle Mariners 2016 baseball season.

And while I appreciate all the changes new Mariner GM Jerry Dipoto has made since he took office in September, the most burning question I have is, just what can we expect from this team in 2016?

Dipoto says all the right things, that the Mariners foundation is excellent, build a team that has flexibility, balance and is sustainable and the team needs to add depth.  What else is he supposed to say, right?

But there is one thing I found different than any of the other GM’s that have sat in that chair for the Mariners.  He is taking a holistic view of the team and rather than try to have instant success via free agency, he is going to build from a farm system that is stocked with some very good talent.

We all can trace back to the failures the Mariners have tried in bringing up players who appeared to be ready but weren’t.  The most glaring example is that of Mike Zunino.

In college, while at Florida, Zunino was a career .320 hitter and averaged 58 RBI’s per season.  Had an excellent slugging percentage of .605 and an on base percentage of .383, excellent numbers for a catcher.  And no one could dispute his defensive skills.  When the Mariners drafted him 2013, I could see Zunino behind the dish full-time in 2015.

Zunino continued to excel in the minor leagues, moving quickly from A ball to AAA ball by 2013, just a year out of college.  And with the numbers he had in the minors, it wasn’t surprising he was called up at the end of the 2013 season.  Slugging percentage of .597, batting average of .313  and showed some power hitting 27 home runs and driving in 94 during his short time in the minors.

When he was slated as the starting catcher to start the 2014 season, I thought it was too soon.  But I got the feeling the Mariners were in panic mode and wanted him up.  And he was a major flop at the plate over the next two seasons.  Sure, he hit 22 home runs and drove in 60 in 2014, but his batting average was an anemic .199 and the on base percentage dropped to .294.  Add to that and he struck out 158 times, often in critical RBI situations.

2015 was even worse, hitting only .174, striking out 132 times with a mere .300 slugging percentage.  It was clear that Zunino had some major flaws in his swing that big league pitchers graphically exposed.  Interim GM Jeff Kingston mercifully shipped Zunino down to the minors and kept him there for the remainder of the season instead of calling him up in September.

Dipoto knew that a cultural change was needed.  And while I liked Lloyd McClendon as a manager, the writing was on the wall when Dipoto was hired in.  I like the hiring of Scott Servias, whom Dipoto worked with during his stint with the Angels.  And while Servias has never managed at any level, Dipoto hired some savvy veteran baseball men in Tim Bogar and Manny Acta.

There was an immediate need to change the culture, not just at the major league level, but through out the entire organization.  I think one of the reasons why Zunino flamed out was because he had connected with the coaching staffs at the minor league levels but not with Howard Johnson, who was the batting coach for the Mariners when Zunino was first called up.  And by the time Edgar Martinez could put some time in with him, Zunino was so screwed up that the best thing they could do was let him work it out in the minors.

Dipoto gathered all of the coaches from every level and wanted to get everyone on the same page, stressing what the big league club needed to succeed.  And to do that, the players coming up from the minors needed to have good on base percentage and low strike-out ratios.  The idea is to make opposing pitchers work, to stretch them out early and get to the opposing teams middle relievers as soon as they can.

The hitting coaches in particular needed to stress the same things at every level.  Dipoto and Edgar Martinez came up with a game plan that will start in A ball and have the same game plan all the way to AAA ball.  So when a player is called up, he will need to meet the same expectations as he did in the minors and the surprises will be minimal.

I suspect that was the issue with Zunino.  His expectations in the minors were vastly different than what was expected in the majors.  His whole hitting philosophy was changed by Howard Johnson when he got there and he had to think to much while at the plate, which caused indecisiveness, which caused hesitation, which caused him to strike out.

When a player, regardless of the sport, has to think too much, he’s toast.  As the great Crash Davis always said “Get out of your head” is always a great mantra to follow.

I agree with most of the predictions out there, that the Mariners will hit about 75 – 83 wins this year.  And while that might be a disappointment again, we need to give this management team a chance to impellent their plan because I believe this is a solid foundational plan that will make Seattle a baseball town again.  Not for just a couple of years, but for a couple of decades.

Looking forward to the season!

Edgar Martinez – A Case For The Hall of Fame

Edgar Martinez

I am a little ticked off at the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).

For the sixth time, the BBWAA has failed to get one of the best hitters ever to play the game elected to where he belongs.

Apparently, there are two major issues that are working against Martinez:

1.  Martinez, for most of his 18 year career, served as the best designated hitter ever to play the game.  Never mind the fact that since 1972, the American League requires a player to be a designated hitter.  Martinez is being penalized due to a requirement of the rules.

2.  That the BBWAA is going to submit a player purely as a hitter, in a time where offense is seems to count for everything, that those hitting statistics should be stratospheric.  Martinez could always hit during his career but his defense is what held him back.  Edgar didn’t become the Mariners regular third baseman until he was 29 years old.  Perhaps Martinez should file an age discrimination suit against the BBWAA seems it appears they are holding that against him as well.

I went to Baseball Reference web site and got all of the statistics for the current Hall of Fame members.  I took out any non-players and pitchers and ended up with 171 players to compare Edgars stats with.  I am also going to use Frank Thomas and David Ortiz, 2 players who are recognized for DH accomplishments than there defensive prowess.

Average:  Edgar’s .312 batting average puts him 61st among the members of the Hall, tying him with Hughie Jennings, Johnny Mize, Joe Sewell and Deacon White.  At.312, he is just above Freddie Lindstrom, Jackie Robinson and Luke Appling.  Frank Thomas, who played more games as a DH than at first, got into the Hall with a .301 average is ranked 83rd.  David Ortiz, also a player with more at-bats at DH comes in at .283 which would put him 120th in ranking.

On Base Percentage:  Frank Thomas, at .419 edged Edgar by .001 and is 14th among HOF players with Edgar right behind him at 15 coming in at .418.  Ortiz comes in at 75 with .377 OPB.

Slugging Percentage:  Edgar is in the top 30 among Hall of Fame Players at 28 with a .515, tied with the great Willie McCovey and just ahead of Ty Cobb, Eddie Matthews and Harmon Killebrew.  David Ortiz comes in at 17 with a .543 and Frank Thomas in at 12th with .555 slugging percentage.  Very comparable stats.

Hits:  Edgar’s 2,247 hits puts him 92nd among the Hall of Fame players, in the company of Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Joe Medwick and Willie Stargell.  He ranks 2nd among Frank Thomas (65th with 2,468 hits) and David Ortiz comes in at 93 with 2,241 hits though by the time Ortiz quits playing, he will have added more to that total.

Doubles:  A staple of Edgar’s hitting prowess, he comes in at 31 among Hall of Fame players, ahead of Ricky Henderson, Babe Ruth, Tony Perez and Roberto Alomar.  He is second to David Ortiz who is 17th with 564 doubles.  Frank Thomas?  At number 40 among HOF players, Thomas hit 495 doubles.

Home Runs:  With 309 career home runs, Edgar is ranked at 41 in the Hall, keeping company with Hank Greenberg, Gary Carter, George Brett and Rogers Hornsby.  David Ortiz is currently ranked 18th with 486 home runs and Frank Thomas is at number 11 with 521.

I could go on and on but the fact of the matter is Edgar Martinez deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  One more stat (and this is my own) that I can throw out there.  I did an average of all the statistical information available and assigned and Edgar scored 1,097 ranking him 96th among Hall of Fame Players.  Better than 77 players currently in the Hall of Fame.

And what of the American League naming the Designated Hitter Award after he won the damn thing five times?  That’s right, the winner for being the best designated hitter in the American League gets the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.

Among his other awards:

  • Five time winner of the Silver Slugger Award
  • Three American League OPB awards
  • Two American League Batting Titles
  • Named seven times as an American League All Star

He is one of only eight players to have 300 home runs, 500 doubles, career batting average above .300, a career OBP above .400 and a career slugging percentage above .500.  Five of those eight players are in the Hall of Fame.

Edgar had a seven year stretch of dominating offensive play.  During that time:

  • Batted at least .325
  • OBP of at least .440
  • Slugging percentage of at least .570
  • Hit at least 250 doubles
  • Played in 1,000 games

Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams, both in the Hall, are the only players to match that level of offensive output.

He is also on of six players to hit at least .320 for six straight seasons.  The others are Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn and Todd Helton (Not in the Hall).

Not sure what Edgar needed to do besides get to the major league level sooner than 29 and play a position.  But the Hall of Fame requirements appears to look at offensive numbers more than anything to get in.  Really, the only player that was elected because of his glove was Ozzie Smith.  I know, Brooks Robinson was a vacuum cleaner at 3rd base and Willie Mays was the best centerfielder to ever live.  But look at Reggie Jackson…he was never known for his defense but those deficiencies were overlooked because he could hit for power and do so in some very clutch situations.  Ted Williams hated to play defense…all he wanted to do was hit.  Would have been the perfect DH if he could have played when it was a rule.

It appears to me that the BBWAA will overlook defensive deficiencies if a player had outstanding numbers.  Edgar has those numbers and yet they toss in that because he didn’t play defense, the numbers he has are a little inflated.

BBWAA, you can’t have it both ways.  Do the right thing and elect Edgar into the Hall of Fame.  You couldn’t have a better person representing baseball.

 

 

 

Seattle Mariners – Smart Move Bringing Edgar In As Hitting Coach

Edgar Martinez

First, let me say that the Seattle Mariners screwed up my idea for an article to bring Edgar Martinez in as a hitting coach.

Reason why I am so late in writing this article is because I needed to check my home, my car and all of my clothes for any listening devices or hidden cameras because surely someone is tapping me for all the great ideas I have!

All kidding aside, I really did have an article in mind about having Edgar come in as a hitting coach.  My wife and I went to the game Friday night between the Mariners and Astros and as we were watching the game, witnessing some of the futility the Mariners have at the plate is just painful.

Granted, they did win the game…but the margin of victory should have been much greater than the final score of 5-2.  Especially when, in the first inning, they had the bases loaded with no outs and can only manage to score 2 runs.   And even those were gifts by the Astros…Logan Morrison hit a pop-fly to left that should have been caught to start the game and Nelson Cruz drew a bases loaded walk to drive in the first.

After Kyle Seager struck out on 3 straight pitches, Mark Trumbo grounded out to the right side to drive in the second…Seth Smith struck out with men on second and third for the second out and Brad Miller flew out to the end the inning, perhaps the hardest hit ball of the inning.

But what really got me thinking about Edgar as the hitting coach was watching the futility of Mike Zunino.  If it wasn’t for his outstanding defensive abilities, Zunino would be toiling somewhere in Double-A ball.

Zunino, who’s averaged dropped to .160 after yet another 0-4 night, was pitiful with 3 strike-outs.  And what’s frustrating is you can see he has the tools to be at least a .240 to .260 hitter.  He also has enough power to hit at least 18-22 home runs a year and the capability to drive in 70-80 runs a year.

But right now, he is a black hole at the bottom of the Mariners line-up.  That’s not to say that Zunino is the problem to all of the Mariner offensive woes…our highest paid player, Robinson Cano, prior to this year, was a perennial .300+ hitter with some good pop in his bat.

Prior to this year, Cano had a .310 career batting average along with averaging 184 hits, 90 RBI, 22 home runs and an OPB of .357.  This year, he is woefully below all of those averages and yet McClendon still has him in the three hole hoping he will battle his way out of it.

And let’s not even get into the mental errors he’s had on the base paths.   I can remember at least 3 times he’s been picked-off or caught in a rundown that has ended an inning that could have been big.

Will the hiring of Edgar Martinez fix any of the Mariner woes?  Perhaps not right away…but I was encouraged by the fact that Edgar didn’t waste anytime yesterday getting with Zunino to work with him.  I don’t expect immediate results but I’m guessing if Zunino really pays attention, we’ll see his average start to rise by the end of the year.

But in the end, hiring Edgar isn’t going to resolve the hitting woes…unless the hitters put in the work.  Edgar isn’t the one batting anymore but I would dare say that even at 52, he could still hit for better average than any of the current Mariners.

Welcome back Papi!

Seattle Mariners – What’s Going On With You Guys?

Mairners Logo

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with these guys…But I strongly believe that they need to be scared.

Anyone remember the classic scene from Bull Durham where the manager is lamenting to Crash that he’s tried everything he can think of to motivate the players?  Crash’s simple resolution is to “scare em.”

Next scene, the manager throws some bats into the showers and starts screaming what a bunch of “lollygaggers” the players are.

Here is a clip for those who want a good laugh:  Bull Durham – Lollygagger Scene

Now I don’t expect to have Lloyd McClendon to throw this kind of fit…but something has got to be done to get this team motivated.

I doubt benching Robinson Cano or Kyle Seager is going to do any good.  But I would like to see how Cano would react to say dropping to number nine in the line-up.  After all, he’s hitting like he belongs in the nine hole right now.

Some good things I have seen over this lousy home stand is the starting pitching has been outstanding.  Over the past 7 days, opposing teams have batted .255 against the pitching of J.A Happ, Taijuan Walker, Roenias Elias and Felix Hernandez.  Take out Hernandez’s .333 and hitters are going at a .229 pace.  I do believe that any major league team would take that in a heartbeat.

However, the relief pitching, the strength of last year, has just been abysmal.  Over the same seven game stretch, opposing teams have hit .272 with an on base percentage of .395.  Along with 11 walks and 10 extra base hits, that’s not what you expect from last year’s best bullpen in the majors.

I don’t have any faith in Fernando Rodney…in fact, I wasn’t to happy when the Mariners acquired him.  He has some good stuff but is unreliable.  I think we have all had enough of the “Rodney Experience” for a while.

McClendon should give Carson Smith a shot at closing.  He has an ERA of 1.13, has struck out 25 and walked only 5.  In comparison, Rodney’s ERA is 6.94, has struck out 20 with 12 base on balls.  McClendon has been reluctant to give the ball to Smith but just how many times does he give Rodney a chance?  I admire loyalty to a player but what about loyalty to the team and more important, to the fans?

We were hopeful at the end of last year when the Mariners missed getting into the playoffs by 1 game.  We were lifted even higher when Jack Z. went out and got Nelson Cruz to give some much some much needed power to the line-up.

No one expected to see Cano hitting only .243 right now.  And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  He’s has several notable base running gaffe’s, the last one against the Yankees, getting picked off at first after driving in a run.

I don’t see a need to panic just yet…but I do see a need to shake things up a bit.  As a team, they are hitting just .212 for the season with runners in scoring position.  They have struck out 212 times.  And it only gets worse with 2 out with runners in scoring position.  .212 along with 60 strike outs.

And it was typical in the game against Tampa Bay last night.  Down 1-0 in the ninth inning, Austin Jackson hits a leadoff triple….and stays there while Brad Miller struck out, Mike Zunino hits a shallow foul ball to right and Dustin Ackley flew out to left to end the game.

Pitiful…With Jackson on third and no outs, the Mariners could not get him in, not even with a productive count.

So what can be done?  With the exception of Cruz, change the line-up.  Drop Cano down in the line-up, get Seager in the 3 slot, let Miller lead off and put Ackley on the bench.

It may not produce wins but it could get these guys going.