2012 Seattle Mariners: Go East - Life Is Peaceful There
BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
March 27, 2012
The Seattle Mariners have been horrid the past two years, but their
future appeared promising with Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Mike Carp,
Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak comprising some of the League's best
25-and-under talent. Then one day this winter, the Mariners woke up and
found themselves in the AL East, panicked, and traded Pineda for an over-hyped
Yankees prospect. Or so it seemed...
The AL West figured to be a two-headed race even before the LA Angels and
Texas Rangers began spending money like the NY Yankees and Boston Red Sox, with
the Mariners needing to have an awful lot go right to even enter into the
conversation. Then the Halos threw nearly $320 million at Albert Pujols
and C.J. Wilson and the Badges spent about $108 million for Yu Darvish, making the
Mariners less than an afterthought. A blockbuster trade with the
Eastern Yankees then generated some winter buzz for a Seattle team that has won
fewer than 70 games in three of the last four seasons.
| Key Transactions
| Jesus Montero
| John Jaso
| Kevin Millwood
| Hector Noesi
| Hisashi Iwakuma
| Hong-Chih Kuo
| George Sherrill
| Michael Pineda
| Adam Kennedy
| Jamey Wright
| Chris Ray
In addition to their promising youngsters with big-league experience, the
Mariners boast three of the top 40 pitching prospects in the minors in Danny
Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton, plus the 40th-best overall prospect
in shortstop Nick Franklin (rankings
by Scout.com). It is this wealth of pitching on the horizon that many
believe precipitated the trade of Michael Pineda for the slugging Jesus Montero,
but the real reason is a little more obvious. Excluding the
strike-shortened 1994 season, the only AL teams to score fewer runs than the
2011 Mariners' woeful mark of 556 over the past 30 years were the 1988 Orioles
(550) and... the 2010 Mariners (513).
Their historically inept offense isn't 100% the fault of the players; Safeco
Field has depressed run production by 13% as compared to other AL ballparks over
the past three seasons,
according to the
Bill James Handbook. Indeed, that brings us to a blemish on Pineda's
otherwise superlative rookie campaign: his 4.40 road ERA does not impress as
much as his 2.92 mark at Safeco. The other trip to Splitsville that the
Yankees brass failed to make obscured Pineda's 5.12 second half ERA, which might
be indicative of an inability to handle a full-season's workload, the league
adjusting to his two-pitch arsenal, or even an undisclosed injury.
In any case, suddenly trading a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate for a
catching prospect who cannot catch suddenly makes a little more sense with those
statistics in mind. Montero has allowed 363 stolen bases in 346 minor
league games, only nabbing base thieves 21% of the time. The Mariners are
so tentative about Montero's defensive prowess that they have two middling catchers ahead
of him on their depth chart in Miguel Olivo and John Jaso. While Montero's
.867 career minor league OPS looks stellar for a catcher, it's a little less
impressive for a designated hitter. In fact, it's about the same as the
.859 mark of Justin Smoak, the team's poor-fielding first baseman.
All this is to say that neither prospect quite lives up to their hype until you
consider their supposed ages. Pineda just turned 23, while Montero will do
so in November. Since Montero appears to be younger, has less service
time, and fills more of a need for Seattle than Pineda did, this trade probably
works for them.
Speaking of impossibly young, uber-ace Felix Hernandez doesn't turn 26 until April.
That's not too shabby for someone with 86 major league wins and 1,264 career
strikeouts. It would be a huge upset for him not to rank among the top
five pitchers ever in strikeouts by the end of his career. After two straight seasons with sub-2.50 earned run averages,
his ERA was merely good at 3.47 last season. His fielding independent ERA,
however, has been remarkably consistent over that time, ranging from 3.04 to
Fielding Bible III projects the Mariners defense to improve by 31 runs from
its league-average performance last year, so expect King Felix to regain his Cy
Young-caliber stat line.
Mariners Fun Fact
The Mariners used 26 position players in 2011, and only six of
them hit .235 or better.
Because he strikes out nearly a batter per inning, Hernandez can be effective
without a top-notch defense behind him, Among the rest of the staff, only
Tom Wilhelmsen averaged even seven strikeouts per nine innings last year, and
he's a guy who got suspended for marijuana use in 2004 and was working as a
bartender as recently as 2009. This group of pitchers can be successful in
Safeco with a good defense behind them, but if the D isn't as good as
advertised, the M's will yearn for the bat-missing abilities of the now-departed Pineda and Erik Bedard.
More than anything, the Mariners yearn for a pre-Seattle Chone Figgins.
Figgins has made $18 million over the past two seasons and has arguably been the
worst player in Major League Baseball over that span. He batted .173 on
the road last season, so he can hardly blame Safeco for his troubles. No,
his excuse is that he hasn't been batting leadoff, where he is most comfortable.
Fortunately, the Mariners have a player named Ichiro Suzuki who has been miscast
as a leadoff hitter his entire career. So manager Eric Wedge has put
Figgins as his leadoff man and Ichiro batting third, which figures to help both
veterans have resurgent seasons a and give the team's #2 hitter - likely Dustin
Ackley -a ton of hittable fastballs.
Ichiro miscast as a leadoff batter? Believe it. He only has a
.351 career OBP leading off an inning, or .344 as the first batter in the game.
As rarely as he draws walks, more than a third of his career bases on balls have
been intentional. This is because he has consistently been one of the
game's premier clutch hitters, batting a clean .333 with runners in scoring
position for his career. His low strikeout totals work better in the three
hole, since his outs that are put into play will stand a better chance of being
productive outs, and he's still not much of a double-play candidate. With
his 2011 BABIP having been an unthinkable 56 points below his career average and
with pitchers less-inclined to pitch around him with Smoak and Montero hitting
behind him than they were with a sub-.200 hitter, you can expect a big year from
this 38-year-old legend.
|Cy Young Candidate
| Felix Hernandez
But you probably knew that
| Comeback Candidate
| Ichiro Suzuki
People began doubting him after the 2008 season, too
Between resurgent seasons from Ichiro and Figgins, the addition of Montero,
natural progression from Smoak, and full seasons from Carp and Ackley, the
Mariners' offense will not only break 600 runs scored for the first time since
their 85-win 2009 season, but they could threaten to plate 700. That may
not sound like much, but seeing as how they've allowed fewer than 700 runs in
each of the past three seasons, it would translate to around a .500 record,
which is far better than what most people predict from this squad.
Even though the composition of the staff is slightly weaker, the defensive
improvement should compensate for it. In a best-case scenario, Hector
Noesi, the solid pitching prospect acquired along with Montero, will thrive in a
far better environment for pitchers than Yankee Stadium was. Hisashi Iwakuma
will come close to his career 2.67 ERA from Japan. Control artist Blake
Beavan (90 walks in 546 minor league innings) will benefit more than anyone from
a stalwart defense and stingy ballpark. Their success will make Jason
Vargas a valuable innings-eater at the back of the rotation rather than an
embarrassing #2 starter.
Yes, if things had gone reasonably well for the Mariners, they could have
surprised a lot of people in the AL West. But as it stands after that wild,
wild west offseason, the best they can hope for is a .500 season and third
place. The Mariners can't compete with the depth of the Texas Rangers nor
the star power of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
I haven't even mentioned Brendan Ryan and Franklin Gutierrez, two of the most
valuable defensive players in baseball. Nor have I expounded upon Michael
Saunders, a former top prospect who could conceivably figure things out at age
25, or Brandon League, the 29-year old closer who fanned 4.5 batters for every
walk he issued last year. There really is a lot of young talent in this
organization. While they won't compete in 2012, in a couple of seasons the
Angels and Rangers could be a lot more vulnerable, and Seattle should be poised
to take advantage of both them, as well as the new whipping boys of the AL West:
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