With 55 games in the books, the Seattle Mariners are a very disappointing 24-31 and in fourth place, nine games out of first in the AL West. They are two games ahead of the Oakland Athletics, but the Mariners -29 run differential pegs them as the worst team in the division (Oakland’s run differential is +8). Run differential is often a better measure of the quality of a team than the team’s actual win-loss record.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Mariners were 87-75 last year and finished just one game out of a wild card spot. Many publications touted the Mariners as a potential division winner or, at the very least, a wild card team. In the pre-season, I looked at eight different sources for projections and the Mariners were predicted to win an average of 86 games by these sources. Instead, they are currently on pace to win just 71 games.
So where has it all gone wrong? Here is my Mariners Report Card:
OBP—On-base Percentage (how often a player gets on base)
SLG—Slugging Percentage (how much power a player has)
WAR—Wins Above Replacement (how valuable overall a player is)
.172 AVG, .236 OBP, .351 SLG, 6.0% BB%, 37.3% K%--Current stats
.210 AVG, .269 OBP, .387 SLG, 5.6% BB%, 30.6% K%--Projected stats going forward
.197 AVG, .259 OBP, .377 SLG, 5.1% BB%, 32.2% K%--Career stats
0.2 WAR—22nd out of 29 catchers (with more than 100 plate appearances)
This is Mike Zunino. He’s a good defensive catcher who strikes out way too often, doesn’t walk much, and has some power. He hit 22 home runs last year. That’s a good number for a catcher, but that .254 on-base percentage was terrible. There was only one player who had 450 or more plate appearances and a lower on-base percentage than Zunino last year (Jonathan Schoop). He’s been even worse this year and currently leads all hitters in strikeout rate (for players with 160 or more plate appearances). This is his third year in the major leagues and he hasn’t shown any improvement in his plate discipline. In fact, his strikeout rate has gone up each year. Unfortunately, the Mariners don’t have any better options. Jesus Sucre is the team’s current back-up catcher and he’s not much of a hitter either.
.246 AVG, .324 OBP, .382 SLG, 9.9% BB%, 13.6% K%--Current stats
.248 AVG, .321 OBP, .412 SLG, 9.0% BB%, 16.0% K%--Projected stats going forward
.251 AVG, .332 OBP, .421 SLG, 10.2% BB%, 17.1% K%--Career stats
0.0 WAR—25th out of 30 first basemen (with more than 140 plate appearances)
Compared to many hitters on the team, Morrison at least has some ability to get on base, even if a .324 OBP is not really all that good. He hasn’t hit for much power, though, and first base is a position with a high bar for production. Many teams have their best hitters playing first base and these guys are expected to hit 20+ homer runs. Along with his sub-par offensive production, Morrison has not graded out well as a defensive player. According to Fangraphs’ WAR, Morrison has been a replacement-level player this year, and ranks 25th out of 30 first basemen with more than 140 plate appearances. That’s not very helpful.
.243 AVG, .283 OBP, .326 SLG, 5.2% BB%, 17.2% K%--Current stats
.286 AVG, .347 OBP, .432 SLG, 7.9% BB%, 13.4% K%--Projected stats going forward
.307 AVG, .355 OBP, .493 SLG, 6.3% BB%, 11.9% K%--Career stats
-0.3 WAR—27th out of 30 second basemen (with more than 120 plate appearances)
From 2009 to 2013, Robinson Cano averaged 28 home runs per year and never hit fewer than 25. As a free agent prior to the 2014 season, Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners. It was expected that his batting statistics would not be as good with the Mariners as they’d been with the Yankees simply due to park factors. Yankee Stadium is a better park for hitters than Safeco Field. Cano’s numbers did go down last year. He had just 14 home runs and a .454 slugging percentage after slugging better than .500 in the previous five seasons. The interesting thing, though, was that it was not necessarily due to playing at Safeco Field. In 2014, Cano hit .308/.377/.470 at Safeco and .320/.386/.440 on the road. His power was WORSE away from Safeco. This has continued in 2015. This season, Cano has hit .261/.304/.365 at home and .223/.259/.282 on the road. This is not a good sign for a 32-year-old player with eight more years left on a contract worth $240 million.
It would be nice if I could say that Cano got off to a slow start but is coming around. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. He was bad in April, worse in May, and has been even worse in June.
.228 AVG, .313 OBP, .411 SLG, 10.5% BB%, 23.8% K%--Current stats
.245 AVG, .309 OBP, .389 SLG, 8.2% BB%, 21.0% K%--Projected stats going forward
.238 AVG, .304 OBP, .394 SLG, 8.3% BB%, 20.5% K%--Career stats
1.4 WAR—6th out of 29 shortstops (with more than 120 plate appearances)
Finally we get to a bright spot on the team. Brad Miller has played a solid shortstop and hit well enough to be sixth in WAR out of 29 shortstops in baseball who have had at least 120 plate appearances. His batting line may not look all that impressive but shortstops as a group have not hit well this year. Miller strikes out more often than you’d like, but has a good walk rate. At 25 years of age, he should continue to play well this season.
.278 AVG, .329 OBP, .468 SLG, 6.8% BB%, 14.4% K%--Current stats
.265 AVG, .328 OBP, .438 SLG, 7.9% BB%, 16.9% K%--Projected stats going forward
.263 AVG, .328 OBP, .433 SLG, 8.0% BB%, 17.3% K%--Career stats
1.6 WAR—8th out of 28 third basemen (with more than 140 plate appearances)
Another bright spot on the team this year, Kyle Seager is doing what he’s done the last three years—hit at an above average rate with a good glove at third base. He’s more likely to be a 20 HR/80 RBI guy than a 30/100 guy, but that’s still valuable in today’s game. As bad as the rest of the team has been, at least the left side of the infield has been good for the M’s.
.255 AVG, .319 OBP, .477 SLG, 8.4% BB%, 22.9% K%--Current stats
.248 AVG, .328 OBP, .411 SLG, 10.0% BB%, 21.3% K%--Projected stats going forward
.264 AVG, .345 OBP, .454 SLG, 10.5% BB%, 19.0% K%--Career stats
1.1 WAR—7th out of 28 left fielders (with more than 140 plate appearances)
Smith has played more innings in right field than left, but it’s close, and he’s likely to play more left field going forward because Dustin Ackley isn’t hitting at all. Smith ranks 7th in WAR out of 28 left fielders with more than 140 plate appearances thanks to a good-enough on-base percentage and a quite good slugging percentage. When the Mariners acquired Smith from the Padres for reliever Brandon Maurer, it was with the knowledge that Smith is a great platoon bat when used against right-handed pitchers. You don’t want him facing lefties. So far this year, M’s manager Lloyd McClendon has done a good job of having Smith face righties almost exclusively and he’s been productive.
.197 AVG, .241 OBP, .331 SLG, 5.0% BB%, 20.0% K%--Current stats
.244 AVG, .303 OBP, .375 SLG, 7.6% BB%, 17.7% K%--Projected stats going forward
.242 AVG, .305 OBP, .364 SLG, 8.1% BB%, 18.3% K%--Career stats
-0.7 WAR—26th out of 28 left fielders (with more than 140 plate appearances)
The Mariners drafted Dustin Ackley with the #2 pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. The top pick was Stephen Strasburg. The 25th pick in that draft was Mike Trout, who is the best player in baseball. It’s one of the all-time “oh, what might have been” for the 24 teams who passed on Mike Trout that year. Ackley was an accomplished hitter coming out of the University of North Carolina. He was considered more of a “safe” pick than a high-ceiling prospect and was expected to move quickly through the Mariners’ minor league system, which he did, debuting with the Mariners in 2011 at second base. In his rookie year, he played in 90 games and hit .273/.348/.417 and was worth 3.0 WAR. That production over a full season would make Ackley a 5 WAR player, which is all-star level.
Unfortunately, Ackley has never hit as well as he did in his rookie year and the 2015 season has been his worst yet. He’s now had over 2000 plate appearances in the major leagues and has a career on-base percentage of .305 and a .364 slugging percentage. If you’re looking for a positive with Ackley, it’s that he almost certainly can’t be worse than he’s been so far, so he should improve. He’s unlikely to improve enough to be even a league average hitter, though.
.270 AVG, .313 OBP, .362 SLG, 5.3% BB%, 20.5% K%--Current stats
.253 AVG, .314 OBP, .364 SLG, 7.9% BB%, 23.5% K%--Projected stats going forward
.274 AVG, .335 OBP, .400 SLG, 8.2% BB%, 23.3% K%--Career stats
0.3 WAR—22nd out of 29 center fielders (with more than 150 plate appearances)
The Mariners acquired Austin Jackson as part of a three-team trade with the Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers last summer. He was terrible with the M’s after the trade, hitting .229/.267/.260. He’s hit better this year but is still below average. He does provide solid defense, which is important on a team that expects to have Nelson Cruz and, likely, Mark Trumbo play in the outfield. If manager Lloyd McClendon ever puts Trumbo in left and Cruz in right, Jackson should do his best Kelly Leak impersonation and catch every ball he can (Kelly Leak was the best player on the Bad News Bears who caught balls in from of Timmy Lupus). Jackson has been a disappointment since coming to the M’s, as his walk rate is down for the third consecutive year, but his defense is necessary and the team has no better options.
.322 AVG, .380 OBP, .617 SLG, 8.1% BB%, 25.6% K%--Current stats
.261 AVG, .321 OBP, .485 SLG, 7.5% BB%, 23.7% K%--Projected stats going forward
.271 AVG, .331 OBP, .507 SLG, 7.9% BB%, 22.3% K%--Career stats
2.0 WAR—3rd out of 30 right fielders (with more than 130 plate appearances)
Among right fielders, only Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton have been worth more than Nelson Cruz so far this year. Cruz had a monster April and was very good in May, but he’s slowing down, as expected. No one could have realistically anticipated Cruz would hit 8 to 10 home runs every month. As good as Cruz has been on offense, some of that value goes away because of his fielding. Based on the defensive metric that is part of WAR at Fangraphs, Cruz has been the worst fielding right fielder in baseball. It would seem simple enough to just keep Cruz at DH and put a better fielder in right, but that might not work out as well as you’d hope. It’s small sample size, of course, but Cruz has hit .361/.418/.729 when he’s been in the lineup as a right fielder, but just .259/.318/.432 when he’s been the DH this year. It sounds easy enough to sit on the bench and just bat four or five times a game, but it can be difficult to stay in the rhythm of the game when you’re not going out on the field each half inning. Playing Cruz at DH full-time would remove his negative value on defense but if he doesn’t hit as well at DH, there might not be a benefit.
DH—Multiple players, including Nelson Cruz (88 plate appearances), Seth Smith (55 PA), Rickie Weeks (34 PA), and Brad Miller (28 PA)
0.0 WAR—9th out of 15 American League teams
NEW DH—Mark Trumbo
.258 AVG, .297 OBP, .495 SLG, 5.2% BB%, 22.4% K%--Current stats
.240 AVG, .292 OBP, .427 SLG, 6.7% BB%, 24.4% K%--Projected stats going forward
.248 AVG, .298 OBP, .463 SLG, 6.4% BB%, 24.8% K%--Career stats
Trumbo was just acquired by the Mariners in a trade with the Diamondbacks, so he hasn’t done much for the team just yet. The main positive for Trumbo is his ability to hit for power. From 2011 to 2013, he hit 105 home runs for the Los Angeles Angels. Trumbo’s main weakness is getting on base, with a lifetime OBP of .298. The Mariners struggle with getting on base, so Trumbo won’t help them there. Trumbo is also below average in the field, which is another area of need for the Mariners that he won’t be able to help. It seems like acquiring Trumbo was more about doing something to shake up the roster than it was about actually significantly improving the team.
Grade: Newly-Acquired; No Grade Yet
.067 AVG, .067 OBP, .067 SLG, 0.0% BB%, 25.0% K%--Current stats
.221 AVG, .248 OBP, .282 SLG, 3.1% BB%, 17.8% K%--Projected stats going forward
.186 AVG, .200 OBP, .206 SLG, 1.8% BB%, 20.2% K%--Career stats
Sucre only has 16 plate appearances on the year so he gets a grade of incomplete. He’s only played 35 games in the major leagues in his three-year major league career but does have a reputation for good defense behind the plate, which is good because he’s awful with the bat.
.167 AVG, .270 OBP, .256 SLG, 10.1% BB, 27.0% K%--Current stats
.218 AVG, .304 OBP, .351 SLG, 9.2% BB%, 26.6% K%--Projected stats going forward
.247 AVG, .345 OBP, .421 SLG, 10.5% BB%, 23.5% K%--Career stats
In his career, Rickie Weeks has been a much better hitter against left-handed pitchers than against righties. Against lefties, he’s been 27% better than league average (.260/.383/.447 vs. lefties in his career). Against righties, he’s been league average (.243/.331/.412 vs. righties in his career).
This year, Weeks has once again been better against lefties, although just 10% better than league average, rather than 27% better. He’s hit .238/.319/.405 when facing left-handed pitchers. Against righties, though, he’s been TERRIBLE. He has just 3 hits in 42 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. Ideally, he wouldn’t face many righties, but he has an almost equal number of plate appearances against lefties and righties, so his overall numbers are way down.
Weeks has been bad overall, but if he were only allowed to face the pitchers he has the best chance of producing against, he’d be okay.
.163 AVG, .180 OBP, .184 SLG, 0.0% BB%, 16.0% K%--Current stats
.254 AVG, .285 OBP, .320 SLG, 3.5% BB%, 16.7% K%--Projected stats going forward
.270 AVG, .317 OBP, .343 SLG, 6.0% BB%, 15.7% K%--Career stats
Do you know the last season in which Willie Bloomquist was a league average player, according to Fangraphs WAR? That would be never. Willie Bloomquist has been in the major leagues since 2002 and has never been a league average player. He’s always been right on the cusp of replacement level, usually just above replacement level but occasionally just below replacement level. He’s spent 14 years straddling the line in value between AAA and the major leagues. And yet, he has over 3000 major league plate appearances (and has made $17 million in his career).
At this point, Willie Bloomquist is 37 years old and is hitting .163/.180/.184. He has yet to draw a walk in 50 plate appearances. He’s filled in at every position on the diamond except catcher, center field, and pitcher, but with no contribution on the offensive side, how much has he helped the team? Answer: he hasn’t. And he’s being paid $3 million this year, the biggest contract of his career.
THE STARTING ROTATION
8 W, 2.63 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9—Current stats
9 W, 2.89 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
1.3 WAR—34th out of 112 starting pitchers (with more than 50 innings pitched)
Felix is Felix. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and looks nearly as good this year as he did last year. His strikeout rate is down a little and his walk rate is up a little, but he’s still one of the best in the game. If you only make it to one or two Mariner games a year, make it a night that Felix is pitching.
3 W, 3.31 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 1.9 BB/9—Current stats
6 W, 4.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
1.2 WAR—39th out of 112 starting pitchers (with more than 50 innings pitched)
From 2011 to 2014, J.A. Happ went 32-44 with a 4.75 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. His biggest problem was control—he walked too many batters. He also gave up too many home runs. This year, Happ has been the Mariners’ second-best starting pitcher after King Felix. He’s lowered his walk rate from a career mark of 3.7 batters per nine innings (BB/9) to 1.9 this year. He’s also given up fewer home runs per fly ball. His strikeout rate is down, but the much improved walk rate has helped him to a 3.31 ERA, which would be the second best ERA of his career.
And yet . . . it’s not all chocolate and roses. Happ has a 1.88 ERA and 1.12 WHIP at home, in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. On the road, his ERA balloons to 5.33 and his WHIP goes up to 1.41. Based on his home/away splits, Happ has been a bit of a mirage. He’s reliable at home, but can’t be trusted to pitch well on the road.
2 W, 2.94 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9—Current stats
6 W, 4.23 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
0.5 WAR—74th out of 112 starting pitchers (with more than 50 innings pitched)
Elias’ ERA is a bit misleading. Based on his strikeout, walk, and home run rates, he should have an ERA closer to 4.00. Still, he’s done well in his eight starts this year. He’s only had one start in which he gave up more than three earned runs, so he’s kept the team in the game almost every time out.
RHP Taijuan Walker
2 W, 5.80 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.7 BB/9—Current stats
5 W, 4.19 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
0.1 WAR—100th out of 112 starting pitchers (with more than 50 innings pitched)
Walker was the talk of the spring when he pitched 27 innings and allowed just two runs during spring training. Then the regular season started and Walker gave up 9 runs in his first start and 5 more in his second start, for a combined 14 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings (17.19 ERA). Since then, he’s had a respectable 4.18 ERA. For the season as a whole, he’s been similar to the pitcher he was with the Mariners last year. Last year, he struck out 21.3% of the batters he faced. This year, he’s struck out 20.6%. His walk rate has improved from 11.3% last year to 9.2% this year. Strikeouts and walks are the two things a pitcher has the most control over. Based on his strikeouts and walks, Walker should have an ERA around 4.00, not the 5.80 ERA he actually has. He should be fine going forward.
LHP James Paxton—currently on the Disabled List
3 W, 3.70 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9—Current stats
5 W, 4.09 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 3.4 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
0.4 WAR—82nd out of 112 starting pitchers (with more than 50 innings pitched)
Whereas Taijuan Walker’s ERA and WHIP are higher than would be expected based on his strikeouts and walks, Paxton’s are lower. Statistically, Walker and Paxton have pitched more similarly than their ERAs and WHPs would suggest. Walker has a higher strikeout rate (20.6% to 17.9%) but Paxton walks fewer hitters (8.8% to 9.2%). They are projected to produce similar value going forward.
14 SVS, 6.94 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 4.6 BB/9—Current stats
26 SVS, 3.63 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.9 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
-0.4 WAR—106th out of 107 relief pitchers (with more than 20 innings pitched)
Based on Fangraphs WAR, Fernando Rodney has been the second-worst relief pitcher in baseball (with 20 or more innings pitched). The only reliever who has been worse is Ernesto Frieri and he was designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday. Rodney has given up runs in 11 of the 24 games in which he’s pitched. Remarkably, he’s only blown three saves, but he often makes the game a little closer before finally getting the save. Last year, he struck out 26.6% of the batters he faced. This year, he’s down to 18.0%. His walk rate is up from 9.8% to 10.8% and he’s giving up home runs at a higher rate than in any season of his career. He’s 38 years old. This could be the end. Still, manager Lloyd McClendon has benn loyal to the veteran and continues to give him a vote of confidence. It will be interesting to see how long this can go on.
1.13 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 1.9 BB/9—Current stats
3.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
0.6 WAR—16th out of 107 relief pitchers (with more than 20 innings pitched)
Carson Smith has been the best pitcher in the Mariners’ bullpen this year and currently ranks 16th out of 107 relievers in WAR. This has been a source of frustration for Mariner fans, as you can imagine. With Fernando Rodney doing his best Bobby Ayala impersonation, M’s fans would like to see a change and Smith looks like the best option.
1.29 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9—Current stats
3.22 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
Furbush has been effective at keeping runners off the bases and preventing runs from scoring but his strikeout rate has dropped from 28.8% last year to 16.7% this year and that’s a scary thought. He hasn’t pitched as well as his statistics would suggest and could run into trouble if he doesn’t regain his ability to strike out batters.
2.63 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 2.6 BB/9—Current stats
3.52 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.8 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
“The Bartender” missed time with an injury and has only pitched 13 2/3 innings so far, but he’s been effective. He’s allowed 18 hits in 13 2/3 innings, which is unusual for him, but he’s walking fewer batters than he normally does and striking out a good amount. He has experience as a closer, having saved 29 games for the Mariners in 2012 and 24 games in 2013, so McClendon could turn to him if Rodney spontaneously combusts on the mound at some point.
3.09 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 3.9 BB/9—Current stats
4.33 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
Joe Beimel is the second lefty in the pen and has pitched 11 2/3 innings in the first third of the season. He’s basically fungible and would be easily replaced if necessary. I mean, he’s probably a great guy in real life, but he’s nothing special as a part of a major league bullpen with a low strikeout rate and sub-par walk rate.
0.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.7 BB/9—Current stats
3.91 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
Lowe has been very good in the pen this year, giving up just one earned run so far in 14 2/3 innings. He won’t keep this up but the fans can enjoy it while it lasts.
1.88 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 11.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9—Current stats
3.99 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9—Projected stats going forward
Nuno came over to the Mariners as part of the Trade for Mark Trumbo. He started 28 games last year and had a 4.56 ERA. This season, he started eight games in AAA for the Diamondbacks and had a 3.38 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. In the major leagues, he’s pitched in relief three times. Right now, he’s the long man in the Mariners’ bullpen but could be used in the rotation if needed.
Grade: None Yet
It can be difficult to judge the manager of a major league team. For one thing, he can only do so much with the team he’s given. If there isn’t much talent there, it doesn’t matter who the manager is. Also, sometimes good players have bad seasons and mediocre players have great seasons. How much blame or credit should a manager receive for such occurrences? Is it Lloyd McClendon’s fault that the Mariners’ highest-paid player, Robinson Cano, is having his worst season? Should Lloyd McClendon get credit for the league-leading 18 home runs that Nelson Cruz has hit?
Last year was the first year McClendon managed the Marines and they went from 71-91 the year before to 87-75 and finished just one game out of a wild card spot. He finished fourth in the balloting for AL Manager of the Year. Now the team is on pace to win just 71 games. Did McClendon suddenly become a terrible manager?
Let’s look at what McClendon has had to work with on the offensive side:
C Mike Zunino—22nd out of 29 catchers in WAR
1B Logan Morrison—25th out of 30 first basemen in WAR
2B Robinson Cano—27th out of 30 second basemen in WAR
SS Brad Miller—6th out of 29 shortstops in WAR
3B Kyle Seager—8th out of 28 third basemen in WAR
LF Smith/Ackley—18th out of 28 left fielders in WAR
CF Austin Jackson—22nd out of 29 center fielders in WAR
RF Nelson Cruz—3rd out of 30 right fielders in WAR
DH Multiple Players—9th out of 15 teams in WAR
The team is getting above-average production from just three of nine lineup spots. The bench isn’t much help either. McClendon pretty much has to stick with Zunino, Cano, and Jackson and hope for them to hit better than they have so far. They don’t have a legitimate backup catcher or another outfielder who can credibly play center field. Cano has to play, he’s being paid a gazillion dollars.
In the outfield, Seth Smith is a platoon bat who is good against righties but has struggled against lefties. To his credit, McClendon has hardly let him face left-handed pitchers this year—just 5 plate appearances. Rickie Weeks is the opposite of Smith—good against lefties but struggles against righties. The recently released Justin Ruggiano is like Weeks, only better. Both players can be useful if used correctly. They need to be limited in their plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. Unfortunately, both received a similar number of plate appearances against each type of pitcher, so their overall numbers looked poor. A closer look suggests that McClendon likely used Weeks and Ruggiano about as much as he could against lefties. Consider:
Plate appearances versus left-handed pitchers:
McClendon might have been able to find a few more plate appearances for Weeks and Ruggiano against lefties, but not too many more. Also, if he never let them face a right-handed pitcher, they wouldn’t have had enough playing time to stay sharp.
The main issue here is that you don’t need both Weeks and Ruggiano when they are such similar players. The other issue is that it doesn’t make any sense to designate Ruggiano for assignment and keep Weeks on the roster when Ruggiano has hit lefties better than Weeks. Whether that was McClendon’s decision or Jack Z’s, I don’t know.
Then there’s Dustin Ackley, who seems to be a lost cause at this point. Without any viable alternatives on such a weak bench, Ackley will continue to play. He shouldn’t start over Smith against right-handed pitchers, but will likely play against lefties and come in on defense late in games.
As for in-game strategy, McClendon doesn’t bunt or steal much, which I’m fine with. It’s not generally a good idea to give away outs by bunting, especially with a team that struggles to get on base. They already make enough outs on their own, so don’t tell them to intentionally make more outs.
When it comes to stealing bases, McClendon needs to pull in the reigns. The Mariners are 16th out of 30 teams in steal attempts, with 42. Unfortunately, they’ve been caught 19 times, so their success rate is just 55%. The average success rate on steals is 70%. The Mariners are costing themselves runs on their steal attempts. They shouldn’t do this.
As far as the starting rotation goes, McClendon has worked with what he’s been given. Any manager would be lucky to have Felix Hernandez. You just put him out there every five days and you’ll win more often than not when he pitches. Taijuan Walker had a rough start but has been better. Paxton was fine but hit the Disabled List. The team has been without Iwakuma all year and he was their second-best pitcher in 2014. Happ and Elias have done well and we don’t yet know what Mike Montgomery will do.
Then there’s the bullpen. I think this is the area where fans are most frustrated with McClendon and it all comes down to Fernando Rodney. Rodney has been terrible. Even when he’s picked up the save, he’s done it in a scary fashion. His control has been awful and he’s striking out fewer hitters and giving up more home runs. Despite Rodney’s awful year, McClendon has stuck by him. How long is too long?
Looking back at McClendon’s history as a manager, we see a similar situation when he managed the Pirates. In 2002, the Pirates’ closer was Mike Williams. Williams had 46 saves with a 2.93 ERA that year. The next season, Williams had a 7.45 ERA in April, 4.97 ERA in May, 4.32 ERA in June, and 9.00 ERA in July. By the All-Star break, Williams had a 6.44 ERA, yet still had 25 saves because McClendon kept running him out there. He finally pulled Williams from the closer’s role in July.
In 2004, Jose Mesa was the Pirates’ closer and saved 43 games with a 3.25 ERA. The next year, he had a 4.76 ERA but it took until August for McClendon to pull him from the closer’s role. In the past, McClendon has stuck by his guy.
We may be seeing progress, though. In Saturday’s game (June 6) the Mariners took a 2-1 lead into the ninth on a very well-pitched game by Felix Hernandez. The team had a seven game losing streak. Would we see Fernando Rodney come out of the bullpen for the save? No. It was Carson Smith, who pitched a 1-2-3 inning for the first save of his career. Whether this is a permanent change or just a one game break for Rodney remains to be seen.
General Manager—Jack Zduriencik
Jack Z has been the team’s General Manager since October of 2008. He replaced Bill Bavasi after the Mariners went 61-101 in 2008. The Mariners have had little success in the ensuing years:
2009: 85-77, 3rd of 4 teams in the AL West
2010: 61-101, 4th of 4 teams in the AL West
2011: 67-95, 4th of 4 teams in the AL West
2012: 75-87, 4th of 4 teams in the AL West
2013: 71-91, 4th of 5 teams in the AL West
2014: 87-75, 3rd of 5 teams in the AL West
2015: 24-31, 4th of 5 teams in the AL West
Overall: 470-557, .458 winning percentage
Zduriencik originally signed a three-year contract before the 2009 season. The team did well that first year, then struggled in the next two seasons with just 61 and 67 wins. Despite their struggles, Zduriencik was given a two-year extension that covered 2012 and 2013. Again they had two losing seasons, winning 75 and 71 games.
Early in the 2013 season, it appeared that Zduriencik was on the hot seat but the team apparently extended Zduriencik’s contract for another year in August, with no fanfare. A SeattlePI.com story reported the rumored extension but wrote that the team declined to comment when asked if Zduriencik had been extended for one year.
The following summer, the Mariners were en route to their best season with Zduriencik as GM and he was signed to another extension, although the terms of the extension were not disclosed at the time. The details also don’t seem to be available online other than a quote from Zduriencik saying, “I’m excited and happy to be able to be here for a couple more years.” According to an article at seattletimes.com, the Mariners would not reveal the exact number of years, reverting to the policy of not commenting on contracts. So we don’t know how many more years Zduriencik has on his current contract.
How has he done so far?
The record is not good. This is Jack Z’s seventh year as GM and they have a winning percentage of .458. Over a 162-game season, that would be a record of 74-88. They haven’t been to the playoffs, although they missed out on a wild card spot by just one game last year.
Despite the current frustrations for Mariner fans, Jack Z has made some good moves in his time with the club. Looking at the current roster, the Felix Hernandez extension was a good move, as Hernandez signed for just as many years but less money than other big-name starting pitchers like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Clayton Kershaw. Felix is also younger than the others.
So far, the Nelson Cruz signing looks good, but check back in two or three years for more data. Signing Hisashi Iwakuma out of Japan has worked out well for the team, despite his injury problems this year. And the one-year contract given to Austin Jackson at just $7.7 million should prove to be a good value. Trading for Seth Smith and J.A. Happ were moves that have made this team better.
On the other hand, signing Fernando Rodney at the age of 37 to a two-year, $14 million contract is looking like a bad move. Rodney saved 48 games last year but he had some ugly saves mixed in there and has been terrible this year. Another veteran signing was 36-year-old Willie Bloomquist for two years and $5.8 million and I believe this was a waste of money. You don’t need to spend nearly $3 million on Willie Bloomquist. You can shake a tree and find a Willie Bloomquist in the minor leagues who will play for the league minimum. The Rickie Weeks signing before this season didn’t cost much, just two million, but Weeks appears to be out of gas.
Along with the Felix Hernandez contract mentioned above, Jack Z has doled out long-term contracts to Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Cano was signed to a 10-year, $240 million contract before the 2014 season. He had a good first year with the M’s but his second year is looking terrible and there are still eight more years to go. This could get really ugly down the road. Hopefully, Cano will turn things around.
Kyle Seager was signed in the off-season to a 7-year, $100 million contract. In baseball terms, that’s not a ton of money for a solid player. Seager has hit well enough and played good enough defense to be worth his cost but seven years is a long time. Still, I’d rather have Seager for seven years and $100 million than Pablo Sandoval for five years and $95 million.
Along with putting together the major league roster, a GM is in charge of the amateur draft. Since Zduriencik became the Mariners’ GM, the team has taken the following players in the first round:
· 2009—Dustin Ackley (currently on the Major League roster, mentioned above)
· 2009—Nick Franklin--Franklin reached the big leagues in 2013 and showed promise by hitting 12 homers in 102 games. He hasn’t done much of anything at the big league level since then, in part because of injuries. He was traded to the Rays in 2014.
· 2010—Taijuan Walker (currently on the Major League roster, mentioned above)
· 2011—Danny Hultzen—Hultzen was the #2 overall pick. He’s battled injuries and has never thrown more than 75 1/3 innings in a season. He’s currently in AA and has a good strikeout rate but is walking too many hitters (5.6 BB/9).
· 2012—Mike Zunino (currently on the Major League roster, mentioned above)
· 2013—D.J. Peterson—Peterson hit 32 homers across three levels of the minor leagues last year but is hitting just .205/.288/.292 in AA this year.
· 2014—Alex Jackson—Jackson was very good in the rookie league last year, hitting .280/.344/.476 as an 18-year-old. The M’s started him at A ball this year but he didn’t hit much in 28 games (.157/.240/.213) and is dealing with a shoulder injury that has him currently sidelined.
There aren’t any standouts here but there are three players who are playing regularly on the team this year, with varying levels of success (Ackley, Walker, and Zunino).
Zduriencik has made some big trades in his years with the Mariners, along with many smaller, less-significant trades. Here are some of the more important deals he’s made.
· In December of 2009, the Mariners traded a collection of players who didn’t amount to anything for Cliff Lee. The players were Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, and Tyson Gillies. This was an easy win for Jack Z.
· Two days after the Lee trade, Zduriencik sent Carlos Silva to the Cubs for Milton Bradley. Silva won 10 games for the Cubs in 2010 and was worth 1.8 WAR. That was his last season in the major leagues. Milton Bradley played two seasons with the Mariners and was worth -0.5 WAR. This was a big loser even without taking into account the terrible track record Milton Bradley has of domestic violence.
· Five days after the Silva trade, Z sent Brandon Morrow to the Blue Jays for Brandon League. League ended up being the Mariners closer in 2011, saving 37 games with a 2.79 ERA. He was worth 1.9 WAR in his time with the M’s. Morrow battled injuries but had some success with the Blue Jays, accumulating a total of 9.2 WAR over the next five seasons.
· The 2010 season did not go well for the M’s, so they needed to re-load. The big move they made that year was a July trade of Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe to Texas for Justin Smoak, Josh Lueke, Blake Beavan, and Matt Lawson. As good as the deal to acquire Lee had been, the players they got when they traded Lee away didn’t amount to much. Smoak played for the team for a number of years but never came close to the hype he had as a prospect.
· In 2011, the M’s traded away Doug Fister with David Pauley for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, and Francisco Martinez. Fister would go on to have some good years with Detroit and Washington and has been much more valuable than the players the Mariners received in the deal.
· In January of 2012, the Mariners traded pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero. Montero had shown potential in 18 games as a 21-year-old with the Yankees in 2011, hitting .328/.406/.590. He hasn’t been able to come close to hitting well with the Mariners and has no defensive value, so he’s been worth negative 0.9 WAR in his three partial seasons of playing time. Pineda missed all of 2012 and 2013. He had a good 76 innings last year and has been even better in his first 70 innings this year. In just 140 innings, Pineda has been worth 4.5 WAR to the Yankees. This is right up there with the trading away of Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak as contender for the worst Zduriencik trade of his Mariner’s tenure.
· In December of 2013, the M’s acquired Logan Morrison from the Marlins for Carter Capps. Even though Morrison hasn’t been great with the team, he’s been more valuable to the M’s than Capps has been to the Marlins, at least so far. Capps is having a very good season in 2015, striking out 15.8 batters per nine innings, albeit in a small sample size of just 12 innings.
· At the trade deadline last year, the Mariners picked up Austin Jackson in a three-team deal that saw Nick Franklin go to the Rays. Jackson was terrible after coming to the M’s last year but has been better this year. Franklin has missed most of this season with injuries.
· Prior to this season, Z traded Michael Saunders to the Blue Jays for J.A. Happ and Happ has been the team’s second-best starter. Saunders has been injured most of the year.
· In December, the team sent Brandon Maurer to the Padres for Seth Smith. A good-hitting outfielder is generally going to be more valuable to a team than a middle reliever and that is true in this case.
· Finally, in a pair of trades in May and June, the Mariners first acquired catcher Welington Castillo from the Cubs for reliever Yoervis Medina, then sent Castillo to the Diamondbacks with Dominic Leone, Gabriel Guerrero, and Jack Reinheimer for Mark Trumbo and Vidal Nuno. We don’t know how this will turn out yet.
Overall, it’s a mixed record, but leaning towards the negative. Jack Z has made some good deals on smaller trades but the bigger trades have not gone well (trading away Cliff Lee, Doug Fister, Brandon Morrow, and Michael Pineda).
It can be difficult to judge a GM. Jack Zduriencik came to the Mariners with a reputation for being able to spot talent in the draft because of how he built the Milwaukee Brewers years ago. He hasn’t come up with any Prince Fielders or Ryan Brauns for the Mariners yet, though, and the team’s win-loss record during his run as GM has not been good. He spent a ton of money on Robinson Cano and that is looking real bad right now. He’s traded away some good players and received little in return.