Tag Archives: Mike Zunino

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 – 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!

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!

Beer Thinker Prediction – Seattle Mariners Win 93 Games

Seattle Baseball

On Monday, the Seattle Mariners open their 2015 season against the Los Angles Angels of Anaheim.  It’s really the first time in many years that I am officially excited to see how this team does.

Last year, with expectations low, a new manager and one very high-profile free agent signing of Robinson Cano, many predictions were the Mariners would finish no better than .500 with yet another season of no playoff hopes.

Manager Lloyd McClendon, newly hired from the Detroit Tigers staff, had other thoughts.  I’m pretty sure he endeared himself to Mariner fans when he stood up for Robinson Cano when a Yankee official commented on Cano’s hustle.  “What’s he doing talking about my player?” has to go down as the best response to the uncalled criticism.  It was almost Piniella-esque!

With the guidance of McClendon and the leadership of Cano, the Mariners came within one win of getting into the playoffs.  Felix Hernandez had a record setting year and Kyle Seager proved himself to be one of the best all-around third baseman in the league with some great defense and clutch hitting.

You have to think the Mariners are going to do better this year.   They finally have an official big-bopper in the #4 spot in Nelson Cruz and the line-up is pretty much set.  I have concerns over the lead-off spot as well as getting offense from the shortstop position.  Defensively, the Mariners are going to be one of the better defensive teams in the majors.

I was listening to the Danny, Dave and Moore show on ESPN’s 710 Sports in Seattle on the way home from work.  They were doing a segment on bold predictions for the Mariners.  It got me to thinking just how many games the Mariners will win this year.

Jim Moore’s prediction is they will win 100 games this year.  Personally I think that’s a bit far-fetched but you got to admire Moore’s spunk.

Mariners went 87-75 last season and were in the playoff hunt until the last day of the season.  With the pitching they have and a much more dependable lineup, I think the Mariners will go 93-69.

As for other predictions, such as the number of home runs Cruz will hit or if Felix will win 20 games, I don’t really want to go there.

What I want to see is that the Mariners play good, solid baseball, score more runs than the other team and get into the playoffs.

If Nelson Cruz hits only 20 home runs but gets 120 RBI’s, I’m fine with that.  In fact, if Cruz, Cano, Seager and Mike Zunino all get 20 home runs each and drive in at least 80 runs each, I’d be more than happy with that production.  And it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that could occur.

I believe this team is going to be special this year.  With 3 bona-fide superstars in Cano, Cruz and Felix along with some superstars in the making such as Seager, Zunino, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the Mariners have few weak spots.  Add to that players in supporting roles in Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson and Danny Farquhar only makes them a solid and deeply talented team.

They still need to play the games and with McClendon, he won’t allow them to get to full of themselves nor let them wallow when things aren’t going well.

93-69 has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Go Mariners!