Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners first place in AL West thanks To Felix Hernandez’s best start – is The King back?

usatsi_10872027.jpg
USA Today

Seattle Mariners first place in AL West thanks To Felix Hernandez’s best start – is The King back?

By 

I’m writing this as Félix Hernández takes the mound for his 13th start of the season; a season that, for Félix, has been clouded by more than just Seattle overcast.

Félix will always be the King, but there is no denying that, other than in the season opener, he’s taken a backseat to the rest of the Mariners starting rotation. Mike Leake, the back-end starter for the M’s, has a 4.71 ERA on the season and his FIP of 4.41 shows that he, unfortunately, has been pretty consistent in earning himself some runs. After a season of hurtful starts and terrible first-inning woes, Hernández’s ERA of 5.83 is more than a full point higher than Leake’s. That stellar game at the beginning of the season is now a whole two months gone, almost seeming like a fluke in the distance.

The Opening Night game against the Cleveland Indians is worth noting in retrospect. Interestingly enough, the first pitch Hernández threw was a poorly located 89 mph fastball that was almost at Francisco Lindor’s ankles when it crossed the plate. His second pitch was a sinker that ended up being faster than his previous pitch when it was clocked at 90 mph. It was that sinker, his one of his three secondary pitches, that might have caused him to crumble through the season.

Hernández has always been a crafty pitcher, but when your fastball goes from an average 98 mph to 90 mph ten years later, it’s time to up the deception, which he has tried. His second pitch in the season opener, the sinker previously mentioned, was popped up for an out. The next batter he faced, Jason Kipnis, also when down on two sinkers, grounding out on the second pitch. He started off the next plate appearance with a sinker and seven pitches later, forced José Ramírez to ground out on a sinker just as the batter before him. After a tumultuous 2017 season, Félix had to come into 2018 with something to rely on, something to help him regain his confidence. He must have found that confidence in his sinker, a pitch he’s always favorited and used almost exclusively since 2014.

Félix went on to pitch 5.1 innings in that game, allowing only two hits and striking out four batters. Since then, he threw the sinker more than any other pitch this year, making use of it a whole 34.4% of the time throughout the month of April.

But his newfound faith in the pitch would soon be sullied as Hernández began to throw it extensively. So far, 20 hits have come by way of his sinker, three of which were home runs, and he’s only gotten seven swinging strikes off of the pitch. And so began the continuing troubles of Félix Hernández. Throughout the season, Hernández has gone 5-4 in 12 starts, allowing 65 hits in 66.1 innings pitched, with 17% of those hits ending up outside of the park.

But the best pitchers, the best athletes, adapt. They take in their struggles, work with them, learn from them, and change their approach. Félix, the King, is one of those pitchers. After a gruesome April of earned runs and varying pitch selections, Félix has begun to adapt. In May, he began to use the sinker less and relied more on his curveball and changeup, two pitches far superior than his sinker.

For the first time since 2014, Félix has started using off-speed pitches more than his sinker, and making more use of the curve. He’s been able to deceive more batters with those pitches as 22 swinging strikes have come off of Hernández’s curveball and 21 off of his changeup. He’s now only used the sinker about 24% of the time in May and has increased his use of the curve and changeup by 6%. This change in pitching approach, the need to adapt is what will allow Félix to develop into his next stage as a major league star.

Hernández’s changeup has allowed only 13 hits, compared to the 20 from the sinker, and mostly due to poor location. Batters best capitalize of off Hernández’s off-speed pitch when he’s throwing it in the middle of the zone or off to the right side of the plate. His curveball has come in for 15 hits, most of which were located all over the lower part strikezone, save for one he hung to Mike Moustakas on April 10th, which ended up in the stands for a home run; it happens to the best of pitchers.

What is important to note here is that despite all of the trials Félix has had on the mound this season, he seems to have reflected on his woes and adapted accordingly. His secondary pitches have allowed him to make up for a fastball that just doesn’t have the life and speed it used to, and make up for a sinker that just wasn’t working the way he thought it was. He is adjusting, albeit slowly, and improving throughout the season.

In his most recent outing against the Tampa Bay Rays, Félix opened the game with a changeup, then two curveballs to Mallex Smith, three changeups in the zone for C.J. Cron, and a sinker-changeup-curveball-changeup combination to strikeout Joey Wendle. It was a 1-2-3 inning for the King. He didn’t throw a single fastball until facing his 6th batter and his sinker would make the occasional appearance amidst the myriad of breaking and off-speed pitches.

In that start against the Rays, Félix pitched eight complete innings, the first time this season that he’s gone past six. He struck out seven while only issuing one walk. He allowed five hits, but halted the Rays to only one run.

You can’t say the King is back after one outing, but it is a boost of confidence for the long-time ace, and a necessary one at that. While he may not be the pitcher he once was, his reign seems to be far from over.

Seattle Mariners – A week of mettle tests

usatsi_10845218.jpg
USA Today

Seattle Mariners – A week of mettle tests

By 

This past week felt longer than it had to for the Seattle Mariners.

The team hadn’t had a day off since May 7th, unless you count the delayed and later postponed game on the 11thin Detroit, which might have boded more tiresome than actually playing a full nine innings. This delay set off a chain reaction of feet-dragging events.

After the postponed game, the Mariners split a double-header against the Tigers the following day and ended up losing the series on the next day. The day that followed saw them travel up to Minnesota in an effort to make up for a game that was rained out on the 8th of April. The Mariners beat the Twins on that day after yet another rain delay and flew back home, arriving in Seattle in the darkest hours of the night. They managed to go 2-2 within three days and had a whole week of games to go until they were to see another off day.

But Tuesday morning brought even darker skies to Seattle, as a metaphorical storm was brewing for the Mariners front office. On Tuesday, May 15th, Robinson Canó was suspended for testing positive for Furosemide, a known PED masking agent. He is suspended for 80 games without pay and if the Mariners are to make the playoffs this season, Canó would be ineligible to play.

It was a cataclysmic Tuesday morning. Sports media outlets were burning every lead they could to find out every bit of information about the suspension and PED usage. Twitter was divided into three factions; Objective reporters, Canó supporters, and Canó accusers. The Mariners players had just come off a bad weather weekend and woke up to a torrential downpour of tweets and blurbs about their star teammate. But metaphorical rains do not delay games. The show had to go on as the Mariners were set to face the Texas Rangers and the Detroit Tigers the rest of the week.

The Mariners scrambled. They called up Gordon Beckham from Tacoma. They began transitioning Dee Gordon back to second base. They called up Christian Bergman for a start and optioned him back to Tacoma to call up Ryan Cook, the 30-year-old right-handed reliever who had not been on a big-league mound in two years. In the process, the Mariners designated Erik Goeddel for assignment. It was all hands on deck for the Mariners, trying to cover the gaping hole at second base and make the most of what they have.

And thanks to the Robinson Canó foofaraw, the Mariners were given the opportunity to prove that they are the prime example of what a team should be; a true sum of parts working together to win games. A team made up of various players, not just one mega-star.

Out of the six games the Mariners have had without Canó, they’ve won four. These wins included complete games by pitchers, walk-offs, and come-from-behind wins with lineups that not only were Canó-deficient, but sans Nelson Cruz as well, since he was hit by a pitch on Tuesday and had to take a couple of rest days.

This 2018 Mariners team is a team that, even if they are down and out, they find ways to make things work. In wake of the Canó news, they team banded together like brothers, and the fanbase followed suit. Off the field, they have chemistry and on the field, they have grit. Criticize what you will about intangibles, but the Mariners are every bit as talented as any team in the American League. Pitching may still be an issue, but with Canó’s suspension allowing an empty spot on the roster, the Mariners have an opportunity to keep their success moving despite the setbacks.

And that’s the thing about this team. They’ve managed to end this long and terrible week on a high note despite all the setbacks that came their way. Like Safeco Field, the Mariners too have a roof to shield them on the days were the downpour is just too much to handle, and that roof is their comradery as teammates and talent as players.  If they can keep it up, they can be ten games above .500 by Wednesday night and potentially in first place if the Astros drop their next two games. If they can ride this wave of success against all odds, their June schedule might not seem as daunting, as they are set to face the Red Sox and the Yankees, powerhouses of the east.

The Mariners are a bounce-back team this year. It’s time they bounce back from years and years of misery.

Seattle Mariners – All hands on deck in the American League West

usatsi_10816636.jpg
USA Today

Seattle Mariners – All hands on deck in the American League West

By 

The American League West is the place to be.

Let us start in the middle. The American League Central Division is currently being led by the Cleveland Indians who, as of this writing, have a 17-17 record. The Twins and the Tigers are following closely behind the Indians at 2 and 2.5 games respectively.

This is not the epitome of competition. The Indians are one game away from being sub-.500. The division as a whole has been held back by injuries and weather. They are competing amongst themselves, surely, for the playoff spot their division bestows upon the leader. But when it comes to playing teams outside of their division, teams in the AL Central have not been able to make the cut, winning only 17 games and losing 37 games against teams in the West and the East.

The East, on the other hand, has been dominated by the Red Sox and the Yankees, each having won at least 24 of their first 34 games played. The Red Sox are currently in first place with the Yankees trailing by only a single game. In their rivalrous battling for the division lead, both teams have been able to gain a significant lead ahead of their divisional counterparts, pulling ahead of the Blue Jays and the Rays and completely obliterating the Orioles, who are 8-26 on the season.

This has created an AL East division that is completely top-heavy. Though the season is young, one can assess that the division lead will go to either Boston or New York, since both teams have such a stellar record to start the season. The first wild card spot in the American League will go to whichever of the two powerhouses is not on top.

Which leads to the American League West Division, current residence of the Seattle Mariners. Because of the intensity and sheer win percentages the Red Sox and the Yankees have brought to their division, and the lackluster performances of the Central, the West is by far the most competitive division in the American league.

The West has the reigning World Series Champion Astros, whose pitching has been devastatingly superb. The West has, arguably, the best players in baseball. The West has four of five teams that theoretically have a chance at a postseason berth. It is because of this that the Mariners need to take an all hands on deck approach to the next part of the season.

As of this writing, the Angels currently lead the division with a record of 21-13 on the season. The Astros also have 21 wins, but with 15 losses, they’ve managed to fall to second place. The Mariners are in third, trailing only by 1.5 games. The A’s are trailing first place by only three games after sweeping the Orioles this weekend.

Other than the Rangers, each team has a reasonable chance at being on top. Next week these standings can be completely flipped. It is that close. And with a Wild Card spot almost guaranteed (despite the sample size) to either the Red Sox or the Yankees, each team in the AL West is contending for either the division lead, or the second Wild Card spot.

So far, the Mariners have faced each of their divisional counterparts at least once. They are 9-7 against teams in their division, which is in line with the Astros, who are 8-6. Though they are above .500 against their division, the wrath of the Angels is strong. After defeating the Mariners in two out of three games this weekend, the Angels’ record against the division stands at 12-3.

The Mariners have only lost two series this season, each of those losses coming from the two teams that are above them in the AL West standings. The M’s have been crafty in their contact, scoring runs in necessary situations and combining small and long ball, but have struggled when opponents take early leads. They need to reassess their approach in these scenarios. Such as they did in their only win against the Angels.

After being down by four runs, the Mariners managed to score in the sixth and eighth innings and took a two-run lead into the ninth. The Angels tied, and began a battle that would last until the eleventh, with each team scoring in each extra inning.

The Mariners, when cornered, when their backs were to the wall, managed to come back and fight for a win. In those innings, they took pitches, they waited to make good contact, relievers kept the ball on the ground. That strategic desperation is what allowed them to take a win in the end.

The Mariners need to see that when push comes to shove, they have the ability to make do with what they have. They will struggle and they will fall as they always have, but this team has what it takes to pick themselves up again. It will not be easy, not against this division, but if they can win against the Angels with the circumstances they faced, even if it was only one game, the M’s have more than just a dying chance at a postseason berth.

Preview of the 2018 Seattle Mariners – The Infield

usatsi_10315604.jpg
USA Today

Preview of the 2018 Seattle Mariners – The Infield

By 

As pitchers and catchers assemble in Peoria, Arizona with position players not far behind, it’s time to start thinking about baseball. Barring any last minute free-agent signings, the Seattle Mariners lineup is pretty much set for the 2018 season. Barring injuries, the following players will be in the infield for the Mariners for the majority of innings this season. Let’s take a look at what to expect in 2018.

Catcher – Mike Zunino

Two years removed from a horrendous 2015 season in which he hit .174/.230/.300, Mike Zunino has settled in behind the plate for the Seattle Mariners, posting a solid 3.6 fWAR while hitting .251/.331/.509 with 25 home runs. While Zunino still strikes out a ton – 36.8% last season – he makes up for it with solid defense behind the plate – ranked 13th in fielding runs by Baseball Prospectus – and is recognized by his peers for handling pitchers well.

This season he is projected by Steamer to hit .224/.298/.450 with 25 HR while catching around 110 games and adding roughly 2.5 WAR to the lineup. Zunino will turn 27 before opening day and agreed to a contract in arbitration for this year of $2.975MM. Barring injuries or any unexpected regressions, the M’s should be above average behind the dish.

First Base – Ryon Healy*

The majority of the plate appearances at first base should be by off-season acquisition, Ryon Healy. Healy, who came over from the Oakland Athletics in November, primarily played third but has played first as well. He is a big guy. Listed at 6’5”, 223, Healy hit .271/.302/.451 with 25 HR in 605 PA for the A’s last season. In a very small sample size, Healy seemed to be about league average defensively at 1B with one defensive run saved in 307.1 innings. At his size, he was expectedly below average at 3B, so the switch to 1B may generate more WAR for the Mariners than Healy did for the A’s last season, that being 0.2.

Ideally, it would be nice if Healy walked more – just 3.8% of the time last season for the A’s – which would improve his below average OBP of .302. Perhaps the M’s emphasis on “controlling the zone” could pay dividends this Spring. Steamer projects Healy to hit .259/.297/.430 with 16 HR and 0.1 WAR in 110 games. Depth Charts projections are a bit more bullish on Healy’s playing time at 140 games, but the same slash line of .259/.297/.430, albeit with 21 HR and 0.3 WAR.

However, many scouts have noted that Healy changed his mechanics in 2017 and that the power on display last year is legit, thus discounting many of the projection systems that predict major regression.

Playing on a pre-arbitration eligible contract in 2018 at age 26, Healy could either be a big surprise for the Mariners at 1B or the decided weak link in an otherwise top infield.

Second Base – Robinson Cano

In 2017, the fourth year of his ten year $240MM contract, at age 34, Robinson Cano remained productive at second base. Ranked ninth in the majors for the position in fWAR at 3.2, Cano hit .280/.338/.453 with 23 HR. His hitting and average defense – exactly zero DRS last season – made Cano one of only three Mariners hitters with 3 or more WAR. The other two being Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

For his age 35 season, Steamer projects Cano to put up a stat line very similar to last season – .282/.339/.470 with 25 HR, a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 116, roughly 16% better than league average, and a 3.1 WAR.

However, despite the above average numbers at his position, Cano is no longer one of the premiere hitters in the game. The 2017 campaign saw Cano post the second lowest wRC+ of his career. (The lowest of 86 came in 2008 with the New York Yankees was fueled by a .151 BA in April and speculation that he may have been injured and/or feeling the pressure of a new contract extension.) He also posted the third lowest WAR of his career, the others being that very same 2008 season and his second season with the Mariners when he battled an abdomen injury much of the season.

It’s interesting and possibly alarming that one of the most recent comps for a hitter of Cano’s profile, according to Baseball Reference, is former Texas Ranger 3B, SS, and 2B Michael Young. Young fell off precipitously at age 35, losing nearly seventy points off his lifetime SLG, dipping below .400, and retiring after his age 36 season. Cano isn’t going to retire with four or five years left on his contract, but then maybe the severity of Young’s drop off isn’t in the cards either, but a drop off is coming. But, for 2017, Cano should continue to be one of the best 2B in the league.

Shortstop – Jean Segura

In his first season with the Mariners, Jean Segura, acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Taijuan Walker deal, produced 2.9 fWAR at shortstop. While that contribution fell short of what will more than likely end up being his career best 5.0 fWAR from the season before in the desert, last season’s contribution in the middle infield was a major upgrade in the Emerald City.

Segura hit .300/.349/.427 with 80 runs and 22 SB. The 20 HR from the 2016 campaign in Arizona was probably an outlier, but he still managed 11 dingers in a shortened season of 125 games due to early injuries.

This season, Steamer projects Segura to hit .275/.323/.404, which seems a bit conservative given the previous two seasons of over 1200 plate appearances. Segura clearly changed his approach in 2016 and projections trending more back to the light hitter of pre-2016 seem out of whack. With the launch angle and exit velocity revolution of the past few seasons, it’s reasonable to accept up-ticks in contact and power as more legit than in the past. Even with the conservative projection, the 2.0 WAR at SS will ensure the Mariners have one of the more productive middle infields in baseball.

Third Base – Kyle Seager

It’s funny how four years after signing Kyle Seager to a seven year $100MM deal that seven-year deals seem a thing of the past but $14.3MM per year seems like a bargain. Entering his thirties, Kyle Seager has been eclipsed by his younger brother, Corey Seager, in Los Angeles, but remains a solid fixture at the hot corner.

In 2017, Seager struggled at the plate, hitting a career low .248, with his second lowest OBP of .323, and a .450 slugging percentage that reversed a three year upward trend. Still his 3.5 fWAR ranked third in the AL and 8th in all of baseball at third base.

While a return to 2016 form when Seager generated 5.5 fWAR and a 132 wRC+ would be welcome, Steamer does project a slight bounce back for Seager, predicting a slash line of .262/.338/.469 with 26 HR and a 116 wRC+, up 10 points from 2017. And, like his compatriots to the left of the diamond (or maybe the right in a shift), Seager is an average glove at third with 11 DRS in his 8,545.1 innings over seven seasons. Thus, third base finishes out what should be one of the better infields in baseball.

Infield Grade A-/B+

Definitely the strength of the 2018 Seattle Mariners lies with it’s infield play. While there are no plus defenders, the infield is solidly average with no serious liabilities. The upside over most major league rosters comes at the plate. In Zunino, Cano, Segura, and Seager, the Mariners could legitimately have four 3+ WAR players in the infield. The question mark is Healy at first. The projection models are skeptical, but we do seem to be in an era where approaches at the plate are changing with the advent of Trackcast and the identification of exit velocity and launch angles. Look for Healy to perhaps outplay his computer model projections and insure Seattle has all 2+ WAR players in the infield for 2018.

*Editor’s Note – Ryon Healy is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur in his right hand – ESPN

Mariner CEO seems a little concerned about MLB in Portland

Mariner CEO seems a little concerned about MLB in Portland

John Stanton, the CEO of the Seattle Mariners, paid a visit to Portland last week -- a rare move for someone that high up the team's organizational ladder. I'm not sure why he showed up here but I have a hunch it was to deliver a message.

I believe Stanton wanted to make sure everybody here understands that he considers Portland part of the Mariners' territory -- and he wants to throw a little cold water on this city's thoughts about acquiring a major-league baseball team. There is a local group working behind the scenes on bringing MLB to Portland and the sports' commissioner has mentioned this city as a possible expansion site.

From Stanton:

“Success and a sustainable position very much depends on the size of your market,” he said. “Seattle is already one of the smallest markets in terms of population and the smallest market in the AL West, adding that San Diego was the smallest market in the NL West and that “Portland would be smaller than both.”

“If I were in Portland’s position, I would look at what it would take to generate the revenues to be successful, and that is a challenge,” said Stanton.

I was amused to see this man try to paint Seattle as a small market.  That metropolitan area is listed as the No. 12 market in the country -- which, obviously, is anything but small. Portland has moved up from No. 24 to No. 22 recently and is moving upward. But even now, Portland's market is bigger than existing MLB franchises located in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas CIty, Cincinnati, San Diego and Milwaukee. Portland is also listed ninth in future growth rate among MLB cities.

Stanton is rightly concerned with the impact an MLB team in Portland would have on the Mariners. But I would suggest he should fret a little more about the possibility of the NHL and NBA coming to his town soon. The M's have been struggling at the gate for a few seasons now and the presence of two more major-league franchises in a city already crowded with them -- plus the University of Washington -- is likely to result in revenue declines in other sports.

But good luck up there in your tiny little hamlet. John. Portland has been helping prop up your franchise for decades and perhaps it's getting close to a time for your city to return the favor.

 

Kyle Lewis – Seattle Mariners’ lone rep. on mid-season Top 100 Prospects List

Kyle Lewis – Seattle Mariners’ lone rep. on mid-season Top 100 Prospects List

By 

Personally, one of my favorite things about the Major League Baseball All-Star break is the aftermath that always includes an updated Top 100 Prospects List from MLBPipeline.com. This year was no different, as I was curious to see what Mariners – if any – would make the list, especially after trading No. 2 organizational prospect Tyler O’Neill to the St. Louis Cardinals last week.

Single-A Advanced outfielder Kyle Lewis came in at No. 47 overall as the lone representative for the Mariners on the prestigious list. O’Neill, meanwhile, slipped to No. 100 on the list after being ranked much higher during spring training.

WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT LEWIS?

It’s a small sample size due to a knee injury that set the 22-year old’s development back a bit this season, but in 19 at bats through six games for Modesto, he is showing both power and his ability to hit to contact. Lewis has a .368 batting average and three home runs with seven RBI.

Again, very small sample size, but that’s what Lewis has been up to so far this season for at least a somewhat competitive level of the minor leagues. He also played 11 games in the Arizona League, but analyzing Class-A Advanced is as low in the minors as I will go to evaluate a player’s major-league promise. If I start evaluating short-season, single-A players I apparently have nothing to do in my free time.

Anyways, the Mariners like Lewis. If he didn’t start the season injured, I would have expected him to be in Double-A by now, but I would assume that’s where he will begin 2018 with a projected major-league debut in 2019.

By then, the 24-year old outfielder will be ready to make an impact – assuming he doesn’t get traded at the deadline next year like O’Neill was this year.

WHY DID THE M’S TRADE O’NEILL?

The trade with the Cardinals for SP/RP Marco Gonzales was a bit of a head scratcher for me at least.  I know the Mariners need relief pitching and the 25-year old Gonzales gives you some flexibility with the ability to start as well. At least general manager Jerry Dipoto realized the trade for Miami Marlins pitcher David Phelps was NOT going to solve the bullpen issues independently (Unfortunately, that is old news at this point, so ranting about how much I dislike David Phelps wouldn’t be relevant.)

Anyways, I am guessing that the numbers O’Neill put up at Triple-A this year were underwhelming for the Seattle brass. It’s a pretty healthy sample size – 349 at-bats in 93 games for Tacoma, but the 22-year old hit only .244 in a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He did add 19 home runs and 56 RBI with nine steals, and I’m not sure how he is defensively, but Dipoto must have seen a red flag somewhere.

I really don’t know, but I am trying to justify it for him.

Gonzales, meanwhile, has some major-league experience this year. It might be an experience he wants to forget though – lasting 3.1 innings, giving up five earned runs and three home run balls when he pitched for the Cardinals. At triple-A, however, he pitched well this year, going 6-4 in 11 starts with a 2.90 ERA for Memphis. In his one start for Tacoma, he went six innings and gave up three runs.

I get it that the Mariners need pitching depth and Gonzales can start or come out of the bullpen, I just don’t know if trading a power hitter who is three years younger for Gonzales was the best move. It will end up being one of those ‘wait and see’ trades, I guess. Until we see how it turns out, I am proceeding with skepticism.

Keep in mind the Cardinals system produces outfield talent so quickly, they resemble a Chinese manufacturing plant. This year alone, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and most recently Harrison Bader, who doubled and scored the walk-off run Tuesday night, have all come from the Cardinals minor-league system. There’s also former Cardinals outfielders Colby Rasmus and that Albert Pujols guy – who came up at as a third baseman but started his career in the outfield.

Tyler O’Neill will be next… I’m not saying Gonzales won’t be worth it – just saying O’Neill will be better.

BACK TO KYLE LEWIS

Sorry, I got super distracted. I have been pretty hot about the O’Neill trade, so I needed to get that out of my system.

Anyways, Lewis will be a fun one to watch over the next two years in the minor leagues. The bottom line is he will need to stay healthy and will the knee injury hinder his speed at all? That could be a huge factor.

The former Golden Spikes award winner in 2016 was drafted 11th overall by the Mariners and immediately jumped to the top of their organizational top prospects list. The Golden Spikes Award is given to the top, amateur baseball player in the country, so winning it in 2016 is nothing to scoff at.

Lewis is the real deal (when healthy).

To put it into perspective, other recent winners of this prestigious award include Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox (2015), A.J. Reed of Houston (2014) and highly-touted Brendan McKay out of Louisville in 2017.

Lewis a big presence at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. Since he’s only 22-years old he will likely fill out that frame and add some muscle. He can hit for power and he can hit for average.

The big question remains: How is the rebuilt ACL going to heal and will that set back his development further? We shall see.

FINAL WORD

The Mariners’ farm system is fairly weak – to be polite, making not only Kyle Lewis more valuable to the team than most No. 1 organizational prospects, but it also limits what kind of pitching additions the M’s can make before Monday’s trade deadline.

Taking the first two games against Boston has been refreshing and maybe Seattle can make a playoff push without landing a top-level, pitching talent.

Enjoy the rest of your week, readers. Go Mariners!

Tacoma to host Triple-A All-Star Game, but will any Rainiers get voted in?

aaa-640x336.jpg
Tacoma Rainiers

Tacoma to host Triple-A All-Star Game, but will any Rainiers get voted in?

By 

While doing my mundane, weekly perusing of minor league baseball player stats a few weeks ago, I discovered the Triple-A All-star game will be hosted by the Tacoma Rainiers on the weekend of July 12 this year. That’s kind of cool for Seattle Mariners and baseball fans alike! The Pacific Coast League and the Independent League on the east coast are always loaded with prospects and promising players, but this year might be one of the best from an overall talent perspective.

While many of the minor league’s best – including Chicago White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada (current leading vote-getter), Oakland shortstop Franklin Barreto and New York Mets shortstop Ahmed Rosario will likely be there, what about the host team? Who from Tacoma has a chance to represent the Mariners?

WHY THIS IS A ‘SPECIAL” YEAR FOR THE RAINIERS

For those of you who haven’t voted for the Triple-A All-stars yet (don’t everyone raise their hands at once), the ballot includes a fair share of players from Tacoma – including Christian Bergman, Sam Gaviglio, Boog Powell, Tyler Smith and Ben Gamel.

If that list of names looks suspicious, it’s because they are all currently on the Mariners team, and contributing on a regular basis (for now…hopefully). I have no idea what the rules are as far as MLB service time and eligibility for the all-star game, but if I had to make an educated guess, I would word it as follows:

Any player currently on a major-league roster at the time of the Triple-A All-Star break will not be eligible to participate in the all-star weekend festivities. If a player was briefly called up or has ‘x-amount’ of innings pitched or fewer at the major-league level or ‘x-amount’ of at bats or fewer at the major league level this season and are currently assigned to the organization’s Triple-A team, then they are eligible to participate in the all-star game.

That’s not even remotely direct from a rule book. I just made that up, but I needed to establish a baseline for the rest of this column.

THE VOTING CONUNDRUM

When I filled out my ballot a couple weeks ago, I was very conflicted with some of my PCL choices. I wanted to vote for Bergman and Caviglio, but I didn’t because they are up with the Mariners. Tuffy Gosewich, however, I didn’t feel compelled to vote for, nor did not voting for him make me upset. (Sorry Tuffers)

I was able to vote for Dan Vogelbach, who was with the Mariners briefly, but not enough to warrant not earning a vote. I also went with Tyler O’Neil – despite his .219 average. He does have 25 RBIs to go with six home runs and five steals.

Gamel, however, did not get my vote either. He might not see Triple-A again, but once the Mariners get healthy, who knows? It can make voting hard – especially if fans don’t know the guidelines.

For example, Cody Bellinger is on the ballot for first basemen. Last I knew he is the current favorite for National League rookie of the year and playing almost every day in L.A. Dodger fans would be pretentious enough to vote for him on the Triple-A ballot anyway. (Zing!)

OTHER PROSPECTS TO WATCH

There should be plenty of talent in Tacoma, even if some of the big-name guys get called up permanently within the next month. Aside from the three I already mentioned – Moncada, Barreto and Rosario – top prospect in Milwaukie’s system, outfielder Lewis Brinson, is putting together a strong season for the Colorado Sky Sox.

Derek Fisher in the Astros system seems to be leading the next wave of prospects to come out of the Houston pipeline. He is expected to make the trip to Tacoma along with Iowa’s catcher Victor Caratini to lead the PCL squad.

On the Independent League side, I don’t know if a lot of Canadians are voting or what’s going on, but barely behind the White Sox multi-million-dollar Cuban superstar investment Moncada in voting is the Buffalo Bisons’ (Blue Jays affiliate) Jake Elmore. Elmore, a second baseman, is hitting a mild .219, with zero home runs, 22 RBIs and eight steals. There are better second basemen to choose from – including Braves top prospect Ozzie Albies – hitting .262 with three home runs, 18 RBIs and 15 steals.

What are the Canadian voters doing to the Independent League voting? At least Rainiers fans have an excuse – all of their players are in the majors.

On a more serious note, if Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies doesn’t get called up soon, he will be a monster to watch in Tacoma in July as a first basemen representing the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (I just wanted to say Iron Pigs).

FINAL THOUGHT

Good luck trying to vote for your all-stars, Tacoma and Seattle fans. Regardless of who gets in for the Rainiers (Gosewich will not), it will be a fun game to watch. Sometimes Triple-A games can be filled with aging players, trying to hang onto a career (Leonys Martin), or simply players who are better suited for the minor leagues than the big leagues (Gordon Beckham), but there is a good side to watching minor league baseball.

I drove to Buffalo back in the day to watch Stephen Strasburg’s Triple-A debut and it was arguably the best game I’ve ever been to. It had a World Series feel to it – seriously. I’ve been to both events, and seeing 99 on the ‘not-so-big screen’ to a packed house of maybe 20,000 cheering on the opponent’s pitcher was pretty awesome.

There will be plenty of star power on display in Tacoma. You might have to cheer for players from other teams this year, but think of it as you are simply enjoying the sport of baseball in an exhibition setting. It certainly doesn’t get much better than that.

The Mariners are winning again, so that’s good. The weather will get crappy-ish again, so that’s not as good, but enjoy your weekend anyway. If you get super bored, feel free to vote in the Triple-A All-Star game by visiting this link.

Grading The Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura trade 30 games in

usatsi_10041065.jpg
USA TODAY

Grading The Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura trade 30 games in

BY 

Back on November 23rd, the Seattle Mariners sent pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger, and left-handed pitcher Zac Curtis. As with many off-season moves in baseball, when there’s nothing else to talk about in baseball, writers at many local and national outlets speculated about who had “won” the trade. Most of the discussion focused on whether Walker, a one-time highly touted prospect, would reach his potential with a change of scenery and whether Segura, coming off a career year, could maintain that level of production. A few astute analysts, like Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs, mused about whether the inclusion of Mitch Haniger in the deal was the real coup for the Mariners. So now that every team in baseball has played roughly thirty games, let’s take a look at how the pieces in the Mariners/Diamondbacks deal are panning out.

Two Pieces are in the Minors

Of the five players included in the November trade, two are currently in the minor leagues – Zac Curtis and Ketel Marte.

Curtis was expected to start in the minors, as he had only pitched 13.1 innings in the majors with the Diamondbacks in 2016 with a low 6.75 K/9 and an extremely high 8.75 BB/9. He clearly wasn’t ready to face big league hitting after just 19.2 innings at AA.

Marte, on the other hand, played 119 games for the Mariners in 2016. Granted, he generated -0.7 WAR by being bad offensively (3.9 BB% with .287 OBP) and, well, being bad defensively (-9.8 UZR/150 at SS). His presence in the majors last year probably said more about the lack of depth in the Mariners farm system than any great promise on Marte’s part.

So far this season, Curtis has pitched 14 innings for the AA Arkansas Travelers in the Texas League. He has recorded 3 saves with respectable 8.36 K/9 and 2.57 BB/9. He’ll turn 25 on July 4th, so there’s still a little more time for him to develop.

Marte finds himself in Reno playing for the AAA Aces in the Pacific Coast League. His .403/.448/.530 slash line looks impressive at first before you remember he’s putting up those numbers in the extremely hitter friendly PCL. Both Steamer and Depth Charts projections have Marte playing in about 25 games this season in the majors, so he’ll probably stay in the minors a full-season, joining the Diamondbacks after roster expansion.

How Has Taijuan Walker Faired in Arizona?

Chosen 43rd overall in the 2010 draft, Taijuan Walker was always considered a high upside starter in the Mariners organization. However, in a little over 300 innings in the majors Walker’s ERA remained north of 4 with FIP and xFIP pretty much concurring. After parts of three seasons, Walker had accumulated 3.2 WAR. But, going into the off-season, most Mariners fans assumed the 24-year-old would plug in as the two or the three in the rotation. GM Jerry Dipoto had different ideas, like shoring up the offense and defense at shortstop.

This season, Walker has started 7 games with the Diamondbacks, posting a 3.83 ERA. His FIP is half a run better at 3.36, but his xFIP is pretty similar to his ERA at 3.85. He currently has a 0.9 WAR, which if he were to make even 28 starts might approach 3 for the season. A nice number two for the D-Backs behind Zach Grienke.

Walker has pitched better on the road, including two starts in San Francisco and one at Dodger Stadium to post a 3.10 away ERA, compared to 4.58 at home that is probably a bit skewed by the 15-9 game against San Diego. So, all-in-all with the inclusion of some pretty pitcher friendly parks in the NL, Walker seems to have neither been a bust or a big steal for the Diamondbacks and definitely a justifiable and fair trade from their perspective.

How About the Hitters the Mariners Got?

One of the things that jumps off the leaderboard of Mariners hitters on FanGraphs is that the two pieces acquired in this trade are number one and number two, ahead of Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. Now we are only talking about 100 PA or so, but the returns so far have been good.

As of the first game of the series on the road at the Philadelphia Phillies, Jean Segura, who has spent a short stint on the DL, is hitting .376/.414/.516. For the more analytically inclined (like me), Segura has a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .404 (interpret the number as if were the same scale as OBP – .404 is really good) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 167, where 100 is league average and 167 is roughly 67% better than league average. Segura leads the Mariners offensive players with a WAR of 1.4.

Again, it’s early, but it’s reasonable to assume Dipoto thought Segura could come close to repeating last season’s break out when he hit .319/.368/.499, with a 126 wRC+, and 5.0 WAR. His torrid pace will regress, but the offense seems to be genuine at this point. What Dipoto might not have been able to predict is how good Mitch Haniger has been.

Haniger is hitting .338/.442/.600 with an outstanding .444 wOBA and an absolutely Ruthian 195 wRC+, which he’s definitely not going to maintain – he has just 95 PA – but is a hot start and a harbinger of things to come. He’s barely played 50 games in the big leagues and the 34 in Arizona produced .229/.309/.404, but as the sample size grows, Haniger should turn out to be a really good everyday player.

The projections going forward by Zips, Steamer, and Depth Charts have Haniger playing 92-99 more games with 390-400 more PA, while hitting 13-15 HR, scoring 47-50 more runs, and driving in 45-50 more runs. As a .250ish/.320ish/.430is hitter going forward, he should remain above league average in wRC+ and finish the season with around 3 WAR. Not bad for a piece of a trade that was probably not the focus of the casual fan.

Grade on the Trade So Far?

With the caveat that it’s extremely early and grades could change, it appears both the Diamondbacks and the Mariners got what they were looking for, with the Mariners maybe coming out on top if Haniger continues to pan out with above average hitting and solid defense in right field.

The Mariners have improved offensively, ranking fourth in the majors with 6.3 WAR, behind only the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and the surprising Cincinnati Reds. If Segura had enough PA to appear on the individual leaderboards, he’d be tied with Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians as the second most productive SS in baseball. And if Haniger qualified, he’d be tied with Steven Souza, Jr. of the Reds for third most offensively productive RF in baseball.

By FanGraphs defensive metric Def, the Mariners rank 9th in the majors and 5th in the AL.  Segura does have enough innings in this category to rank 8th in the majors and 4th in the AL, while Haniger does not qualify and the Def stat, (oddly, isn’t listed on the player’s page for comparison to the leaderboard).But, his UZR/150 of 5.7 would put him around 11th in the Giancarlo Stanton neighborhood.

Ironically, the staple of recent Mariners teams – pitching – isn’t there yet, although it has been improving of late. So, could the Mariners have used Walker this season? Certainly. but the improvements at short and in right currently tip the scale on this trade to the Mariners. But, it is early.

Early trends with the 2017 Seattle Mariners

usatsi_10031174.jpg
USA Today

Early trends with the 2017 Seattle Mariners

By 

Some interesting trends are starting to emerge in this young Seattle Mariners 2017 season, some encouraging, some not so encouraging. A quick glance at team statistics reveals a pretty good offense, a pretty good defense, and woefully bad pitching, with some individuals outpacing expected production and others lagging behind expected production – typical of an early, small sample size.

OFFENSE

On Fangraphs leaderboards, the Mariners rank sixth in the majors in offensive WAR with a combined .243/.329/.398 slash line. The team as a whole is taking walks at about a 10% clip to rank 7th in the majors, which is contributing to a 12th rated team OBP. Getting on base at a healthy clip has contributed to the Mariners being 8th best in the majors in scoring runs.

Individually, the usual suspects appear atop the Mariners leaderboard, with Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano hanging out in the top five. Cruz is currently hitting .297/.396/.527 and an impressive wRC+ of 163. Cano is maybe even underachieving some at .265/.333/.422 with a wRC+ of 112, but it is early.

However, the Mariners are getting production early from some unexpected contributors in the play of Mitch Haniger and Taylor Motter. Haniger is hitting .338/.442/.600 with a wRC+ of 200 and a ridiculous BABIP of .411. Motter, who primarily filled in for Jean Segura at short but has hit himself into a utility role, has a stranger stat line. Instead of doing everything well at the plate, he’s flashing power he’s never shown before, but still struggling with the hit tool, as he did for much of his minor-league career. A slash line of .250/.311/.625 is odd, to say the least – enormous slugging, paired with average BA and OBP. He has gotten unlucky, as demonstrated by his .237 BABIP.

Haniger, who came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura trade, was always touted as an everyday outfielder. He has an average hit tool with a little pop and a good glove. In 2016, at AA, AAA, and the majors in the Diamondback’s organization, he hit a combined 30 HR. ZiPs (R), the most bullish of the projection models on Haniger going forward, see him hitting .248/.320/.431 with 17 more HR and finishing the season as a near 3 WAR player. Not shabby by any means, just not what he’s doing during this early season hot streak.

Motter, on the other hand, has never projected to be a starter and is certainly slugging out of his league so far. On two occasions in the minors with the Tampa Rays, at A ball and AAA ball, he slugged under .400 while playing 99 and 88 games respectively. He looks to be a 15 HR or so guy, who just happens to be hitting a HR every 11 PA right now. ZIPS (R) is also most bullish of the projections on Motter. That model has him playing about 100 more games and hitting close to .244/.300/.412.

The “good” news, though, is that Kyle Seager hasn’t hit his stride yet. Currently hitting .246/.360/.344 with a one tic higher than league average 101 wRC+, Seager hasn’t contributed much to the offense, so far, and you expect that will change soon. So, between the usual suspects doing what they do, surprises doing more than could’ve been expected, and one major piece underachieving, the Mariners should stay in the upper third of the majors in offense.

DEFENSE

One of the stated goals this offseason by GM Jerry Dipoto was to get more athletic and better on defense, especially in the outfield. And, even with the recent designation for assignment of Leonys Martin, that has been the case early on. As a team, the Mariners rank 11th in the majors in UZR/150 and 9th in the majors in Fangraphs combined defensive metric. The outfield specifically ranks 10th in UZR/150 and 11th in Fangraphs Def stat.

While no one player stands out as exceptional in the Mariners outfield, Jerrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, and, until recently, the aforementioned Leonys Martin, have been around league average, allowing hands of stone Nelson Cruz to primarily DH.

PITCHING

The Pitching, on the other hand, has been just a notch above abysmal. Ranked 26th in WAR, only the staffs and bullpens of the Miami Marlins, Tampa Rays, Detroit Tigers, and the San Diego Padres are worse. And none of those teams were picked to contend going into 2017, whereas this Mariners team was seen as a borderline wild card contender. Following the 19-9 shellacking from the Tigers, the Mariners team ERA ballooned above 5.00, to become the only team with an ERA with a 5 to the left of the decimal point other than the Tigers.

While James Paxton has been phenomenal posting 1.78 ERA and an even better 1.16 FIP for 1.3 WAR already, the rest of the staff has been disappointing to say the least. Felix Hernandez, the once guaranteed stopper in the rotation, is off to a 4.73 ERA, which, unfortunately, correlates with his 4.78 FIP. Hisashi Iwakuma sports a 5.31 ERA with an even more ominous 7.51 FIP. The rotation is rounded out with Yovani Gallardo at 4.84 EAR but an encouraging 3.61 FIP and Ariel Miranda with a 4.35 ERA but a less than encouraging 5.31 FIP. Rotations with four starters below league average usually don’t go to the playoffs.

Closer Edwin Diaz has not gotten much work with few games that need “closing,” and the one stellar performer is the nicknamed “Scrabble” – Marc Rzepczynski – who as of Tuesday hadn’t allowed an earned run. The bullpen as a whole is ranked 27th in baseball and has a ghastly 6.52 ERA and a better, but not good, FIP of 4.77.

IT'S EARLY BUT...

Yes, it is early, with more than 140 games to go, but early impressions of 2017’s Mariners are a bit surprising. For a fan base used to low scoring games due to the combination of excellent pitching and anemic offense, this year’s version of the northwest green and navy blue is poised to be the exact opposite – a high powered offense that will need to score a ton of runs because the pitching staff is going to give up a ton of runs. Nine runs against the Tigers this week was a good effort, just eleven too few to notch a W. Don’t be surprised if you see a few of those sorts of games this season.

Milestones projected for Safeco Field in 2017

usatsi_9586387_147386290_lowres.jpg

Milestones projected for Safeco Field in 2017

WRITTEN BY BRIAN HIGHT

There’s a nifty little tool on Major League Baseball’s website, in the statistics section, that projects milestones for the coming year based on the pace a player has accumulated any given statistic over the course of his career. If you’re an Albert Pujols fan or just an admirer of his career, you may want to plan to attend a few Los Angeles Angels games this year when they visit the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.

Albert Pujols Milestones

According to MLB.com, Pujols should drive in his 1836th run when the Angels visit Seattle in early May, with a specific projection date of Tuesday, May 2nd. The poignancy of Mr. Pujols’ accomplishment – if he indeed achieves the milestone then – won’t be lost on long-time Mariners fans. By climbing to 1836 RBI, Pujols will pass Ken Griffey, Jr. on the all-time list and move into sole possession of 15th.

But hold on. Pujols and the Angels return to Safeco in mid-August when he’ll be climbing up the hits list. In a little misleading “milestone,” MLB notes that Sir Albert will pass Adrian Beltre for 31st all-time with his 2942nd hit on or about August 11th. But, alas, while on the DL currently, Beltre will certainly have accumulated a few more hits by August. So, the really historic moment may come the next night on August 12th when Pujols smacks hit number 2843 and passes Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson. Mark your calendar. It’s a Saturday night game.

And just when you thought there couldn’t be anymore Pujols milestones, come back to the ballpark in September when he may surpass Hall-of-Famer Eddie Murray on the RBI list by driving in his 1917th run. That would move the sure thing first ballot HOFer into 9th place all-time. September 8th is the projection date for that little milestone.

Other Milestones for Visitors

For visiting players not named Albert, there are a few notable milestones. Just next week in the opening series against the Houston Astros, second baseman Jose Altuve is on pace to swipe his 200th base, and, in that very same series, Carlos Beltran should drive in his 1540th run to tie him with Willie Stargell for 47th all-time.

Another fella you may have heard of, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, will be in town from June 19th through the 22nd and that series should see two milestones fall for the Venezuelan slugger. On June 19th, Miggy is on pace to pass turn-of-the-century, Hall-of-Fame legend Nap Lajoie for sole possession of the number 35 slot on the RBI list. Then over the next two nights, Cabrera should collect RBI number 1600 and hit number 2600. Capping off the series, Cabrera could hit HR number 462 to tie him with Adam Dunn and Jose Canseco for 35th all-time.

What About the Mariners?

So, while maybe not historic, there are some personal milestones on the menu for Seattle Mariners’ players this season. On June 6th, in the opener against the Minnesota Twins, Robinson Cano is due to score his 1100th run – we sure love round numbers. Then on July 21st, ironically against the New York Yankees, Cano’s original team, he is on pace to gather his 500th double.

While a few years younger, not to be outdone, Kyle Seager should get his 200th double in that same series against the Yankees. Another milestone for the elder Seager – his little brother in LA is very good also, by the way – should come as a mild counter to Mr. Pujols and the Angels when he drives in his 500th run, to leave him only 1400 behind the LA first baseman.

But the milestone most casual fans tend to remember is when a player creeps up the HR list. Safeco Field has that on the calendar for one of its own players also. Nelson Cruz should launch his 300th career HR into the stands in the Emerald City on or about June 20th in the Tigers series.

Take Me out to the Ballpark

So, not only should the Mariners’ season be exciting in terms of the pennant race, but there are lots of historical milestones to look forward to. It cannot be over emphasized that between Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos Beltran, not to mention Mariners’ own Robbie Cano, Seattle fans will be watching future Hall-of-Famers play live and in person in 2017 and setting some personal and historical milestones.

The opening series kicks off Monday, April 10th against the Houston Astros when the milestones start falling with Altuve and a swiped bag. Watch it.