Mitch Haniger Mariners

The possibility of the Seattle Mariners trading Mitch Haniger this summer is fueling a spirited debate within the team’s fan base. Some fans would prefer seeing the team sign the All-Star, a free agent after next season, to a contract extension. Others believe dealing him now is a better strategy for the organization. But does trading Haniger actually make sense for the Mariners? I have doubts. Fans advocating a Haniger trade may be surprised to discover he’s not as valuable as some of them perceive. That’s not a swipe at the veteran outfielder, who’s clearly the best player on the Mariners and a potential All-Star this year. But those two factors speak more to his value to Seattle than on the open market. Please give me a chance to explain. Personnel Matters Without doubt, Haniger’s most marketable attributes are the fact he’s under club control through next year and a very good player. The FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) confirms he’s the most valuable Mariner. His 1.5 fWAR is seventh best among right fielders, fortieth among position players, and sixty-fifth among all players when we include pitchers. Great news. But factors, other than current stats, are certain to shape the 30-year-old’s market value. Let’s start with injury history. To be fair, most of Haniger’s health issues are the product of bad luck. He’s currently dealing with a knee contusion after fouling a ball off his knee. Two years ago, a foul ball ruptured a testicle. And let’s not forget being hit in the face by a Jacob deGrom fastball in 2017. Still, Haniger did miss all of 2020 due to multiple core and back surgeries. Furthermore, he’s played 100-plus games in a season just once since debuting in 2016. The Cal Poly product appeared in 157 contests during his 2018 All-Star campaign. Will health-related issues compel buyers to pass on Haniger? Probably not, assuming Haniger recovers quickly and continues performing at his current level of excellence. However, a thirty-something without a record of sustained availability isn’t as marketable as a player with similar production numbers and a reputation for being durable. Help Wanted? On that note, demand will play a huge role in determining Haniger’s potential value. With that in mind, it’s important to recognize that pitching has been the most sought-after commodity in recent years. The following illustrates a positional breakdown of players dealt in May through August since 2016. The majority (61.6-percent) were pitchers. Please note transactions exchanging players for cash considerations weren’t included. Some fans will see 91 outfielders were dealt and instantly conclude a market for Haniger’s services is inevitable. Yes, potential suitors needing corner outfield help will show interest in the 2012 first round pick. But the issue at hand is whether the price buyers deem acceptable would satisfy fan expectations or justify moving Haniger from the Mariners’ standpoint. Probably not on both counts. Outfielder Market Value To see what I mean, let’s consider what sellers received for the most valuable outfielders (based on fWAR) dealt in-season since 2016. Next to each player’s name you’ll see date traded, position(s), and fWAR at the time of the deal. Unless otherwise noted, sellers received minor-leaguers and buyers added pending free agents. Remember, Haniger currently sits at 1.5 fWAR. Justin Upton, LF (August 31, 2017) – 4.3 fWAR To land Upton, who had an opt-out clause after the season, the Angels shipped Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez to the Tigers. MLB Pipeline doesn’t rate Rodriguez as a top-30 prospect in Detroit’s farm system. The 27-year-old Long has since retired. Curtis Granderson, OF (August 19, 2017) – 2.3 fWAR The Dodgers acquired Granderson from the Mets for reliever Jacob Rhame, who appeared in 44 games with a 6.23 ERA in three seasons with New York. The right-hander is a free agent after the Padres released him in April. Leonys Martín, CF (July 31, 2018) – 2.2 fWAR To get Martín and minor-leaguer Kyle Dowdy, Cleveland sent Willi Castro to the Tigers. Dowdy was lost in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, while Castro finished fourth in 2020 AL Rookie of the Year voting. Jay Bruce, RF/1B (August 9, 2017) – 2.0 fWAR Cleveland acquired Bruce from the Mets for reliever Ryder Ryan, who was later dealt to Texas for veteran Todd Frazier. Tommy Pham, CF (July 31, 2018) – 1.6 fWAR This was a unique deal. Both clubs involved were fringy contenders with identical 54-53 records on the day of the trade. Moreover, Pham had three seasons of club control remaining. St. Louis shipped the then-30-year-old and international slot money to Tampa Bay for relievers Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez and outfielder Justin Williams. Cabrera is a solid bullpen contributor for the Cardinals, while Ramirez is currently with Class-AAA Memphis. The 25-year-old Williams was getting an extended look with the Redbirds before going to the 10-day IL with a stiff neck. J.D. Martinez, RF (July 18, 2017) – 1.6 fWAR The Diamondbacks shipped Jose King, Sergio Alcántara, and Dawel Lugo to the Tigers for Martinez. King is pitching at High-A level and not currently included on the organization’s top-30 prospect list. Detroit parted ways with Lugo and Alcántara last winter. Andrew McCutchen, RF (August 31, 2018) – 1.4 fWAR To land McCutchen from the Giants, the Yankees dealt Juan De Paula and Abiatal Avelino. De Paula was traded a year later; Avelino was released last September. Starling Marté, CF (August 31, 2020) – 1.3 fWAR Acquiring Marté from Arizona cost the Marlins major-leaguer Caleb Smith, plus Humberto Mejia, and Julio Frias. It’s worth noting Marté had approximately the same amount of club control remaining as Haniger does now. Smith has been both a starter and reliever this year. Frias and Mejia rank ninth and twenty-eighth respectively in the D-Backs’ system. Nick Castellanos. RF (July 31, 2019) – 0.8 fWAR The Cubs added Castellano by sending Paul Richan and Alex Lange to Detroit. The 24-year-old Richan is pitching at AA and not a top-30 prospect. Lange ranks 26th best and has split time between the majors and Class-AAA Toledo. He has a 6.89 ERA in 17 MLB appearances. Brandon Guyer, OF (August 1, 2016) – 0.8 fWAR Cleveland acquired Guyer from the Rays by parting with Nathan Lukes and Jhonleider Salinas. The 26-year-old Lukes is with Class-AAA Durham and not a top-30 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system. The team subsequently waived Salinas. Non-Outfielder Deals My takeaway is the return for outfielders has been relatively modest lately. Even the player with the most club control – Pham – didn’t yield noteworthy value. Let’s turn our attention to non-outfielders. Manny Machado, SS (July 18, 2018) – 3.9 fWAR For Machado, Baltimore received Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Dean Kremer, Zach Pop and Breyvic Valera from the Dodgers. Kramer has 13 MLB starts and is currently assigned to Class-AAA Norfolk with Bannon and Díaz, who rank twentieth and eighth respectively in the team’s pipeline. Pop and Valera are no longer with the organization. Zack Greinke, SP (July 31, 2019) – 3.8 fWAR Greinke and his hefty contract went from Arizona to Houston for Seth Beer, J.B. Bukauskas, Corbin Martin and Josh Rojas. Beer, Bukauskas, and Martin are top-20 in the team’s farm system. Rojas is the D-Backs’ regular right fielder. Justin Verlander, SP (August 31, 2017) – 3.1 fWAR The Astros sent Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers to the Tigers for Verlander and minor-leaguer Juan Ramirez, who has since been released by Houston. Perez is out for the season with shoulder problems, while Cameron is currently playing with the big-league club. With veteran backstop Wilson Ramos on the IL, Rogers is sharing catcher duties with fellow rookie Eric Haase. Marcus Stroman, SP (July 28, 2019) – 3.0 fWAR The retooling Blue Jays traded Stroman, who had one year of club control remaining, to the Mets for Anthony Kay. The left-handed Kay has appeared in 21 MLB games posting a 5.81 ERA and currently playing for Class-AAA Buffalo. Jonathan Lucroy, C (August 1, 2016) – 3.0 fWAR Lucroy’s blend of above-average offense and defense, plus a year of club control remaining, made him a prized trade target. To get the All-Star along with Brewers closer Jeremy Jeffress, Texas parted with Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell. Within two years of the trade, Milwaukee dealt all three players. Rich Hill, SP (August 1, 2016) – 2.6 fWAR To acquire Hill and veteran outfielder Josh Reddick, the Dodgers sent Grant Holmes, Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas to Oakland. Montas has appeared in parts of five seasons for the A’s. Meanwhile, Cotton and Holmes have encountered arm-related issues. Holmes is assigned to Oakland’s Class-AAA affiliate; Cotton is no longer with the organization. Carlos Beltrán, DH (August 1, 2016) – 2.5 fWAR Beltrán joined the Rangers when the team sent Nick Green, Erik Swanson, and Dillon Tate to the Yankees. Two years later, New York traded Tate in a package to get reliever Zack Britton from Baltimore. The team subsequently included Swanson in a swap with Seattle bringing James Paxton to the Bronx. Green is with Class-AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. José Quintana, SP (July 13, 2017) – 2.0 fWAR In a rare Windy City trade, the Cubs received Quintana, who had three years of club control remaining. The White Sox received Eloy Jimenéz, Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete, and Matt Rose. Jimenéz, currently on the 60-day IL, finished fourth in 2019 AL Rookie of the Year voting and won a Silver Slugger last season. The right-handed Cease has an impressive 3.38 ERA in 13 starts in 2021. Flete and Rose are no longer with the organization. Edwin Encarnación, 1B/DH (June 15, 2019) – 1.6 fWAR The Mariners dealt Encarnación to the Yankees for Juan Then, a player they previously traded to New York. In November 2017, Seattle sent the 21-year-old and J.P. Sears to the Bronx for reliever Nick Rumbelow. Prospect Insider rates Then as the Mariners’ eleventh best prospect. Mike Clevinger, SP (August 31, 2020) – 0.0 fWAR Clevinger is listed despite a 0.0 fWAR since his 2020 season included a COVID-19 scare and a subsequent shunning by teammates for violating quarantine. Cleveland dealt the right-hander with teammate Greg Allen and minor-leaguer Matt Waldron to San Diego for major-leaguers Austin Hedges, Josh Naylor, and Cal Quantrill, plus Owen Miller,  Gabriel Arias, and Joey Cantillo. Hedges is part of the Tribe’s catching rotation, Naylor is the regular right fielder, and Quantrill is a middle-reliever. Arias (6), Miller (16), and Cantillo (22) are top-30 prospects in the organization. A Third Option Among fans wanting to keep Haniger, there’s a caveat for some. The Mariners have to extend his contract. Otherwise they’d accept trading the Californian sooner than later. But there’s another way to handle the situation, even if both sides can’t agree to terms of an a deal. Do nothing and let Haniger walk after the 2022 season. Some will view this suggestion a inane. It’s not. Allowing players to reach free agency is a common practice among contenders, including the best organizations in MLB. The following were pending free agents in 2019-20, who weren’t dealt by their teams. If Mariners leadership is sincere about making a postseason push next year, shouldn’t it keep Haniger rather than trade him? That’s what winning organizations typically do. Zero Hour Approaching With two exceptions, there’s a huge difference between the Mariners and the sellers we’ve discussed – contention windows. The Yankees and Cardinals moved veterans expecting to contend the following year. The remaining clubs were in rebuild-mode or heading in that direction. Since the Mariners suggest contention next year can become reality, the team is in the same category as the Yankees and Cardinals with one glaring difference. Seattle’s big-league roster is nowhere close to being postseason ready next season. Therefore, moving Haniger must help the 2022 Mariners. Otherwise, retaining the veteran is the only reasonable course of action. One scenario making a Haniger trade a practical choice would be a multi-player deal similar to the one involving catcher Austin Nola in 2020. The Padres sent Ty France, Andres Munoz, Luis Torrens and Taylor Trammell for Nola and relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla. San Diego’s aggression permitted GM Jerry Dipoto to net several potential contributors for future seasons, plus immediate help from France. Perhaps an overeager suitor makes a similar over-the-top bid for Haniger this summer. But if that kind of offer doesn’t materialize, Dipoto should keep his star right fielder because he makes his team better. And at this point of the Mariners’ rebuild, fielding a legitimately competitive roster in 2022 is the only acceptable option. My Oh My….Go!

J.P. Crawford Mariners

How Seattle Mariners fans view the 2021 season likely depends on the prism they view the team through. An optimist sees an organization on the rise, albeit at a slow ascent. Those jaded by the franchise’s long, well-documented history of mediocrity remain wary of the Mariners’ rebuild. Fortunately, numbers can shed light on reality when emotional investments cloud our vision. The Mariners have played 60 games, the same number as the truncated 2020 season. So, let’s consider how this year’s club is performing using its 2020 version as a barometer. Along the way, we can also discuss Seattle’s youth movement. We should start by comparing the Mariners’ division – the AL West – to its final standings in 2020. Not much has changed. AL West Standings The A’s currently lead the way with the Astros close behind, which is similar to how 2020 ended. For anyone staring at the giant disparity between the 2021 run differentials of each club, bear in mind Houston outscored Oakland 35-9 during the first weekend of the season. Since then, the run differentials of the A’s (34) and Astros (40) are relatively the same. After the big dogs, no other club looks like a contender. Obviously, there’s plenty of baseball left and anything is possible. For now though, the A’s and Astros are the class of the division. The Angels aggressively upgraded the rotation in the winter and did a pre-Opening Day bullpen makeover. Yet, the Halos remain an afterthought despite their offseason moves and a $182.9 million payroll. Texas is in rebuild-mode and will be selecting very high in next year’s draft. Ironically, a 29-31 record last year would’ve potentially earned the Mariners their first postseason berth since 2001. Not so much in 2021. During the first month of the season, manager Scott Servais and his squad Seattle had a respectable 15-12 record. But the team went through a rough patch in May being no-hit twice and outscored 139-96. The varying levels of success between April and May symbolize the uneven nature of Seattle’s 2021 season. Run Production Anyone expecting the lineup would perform better than last year’s group wasn’t paying attention during the offseason. It’s important to note that offense is down across major-league baseball. For this reason, I’ve included OPS+, which makes it easier to make comparisons between current and past players or teams. What we learn from the Mariners’ OPS+ is the team’s run production is 14-percent below average. On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. For those more comfortable with conventional stats, Seattle ranks near or at the bottom of MLB in AVG/OBP/SLG. Furthermore, the 2021 Mariners have the lowest AVG in franchise history by a large margin – last year’s club holds the record. Servais’ unit also has the lowest OBP – the record (.293) was set by the 2011 team. What’s become painfully evident through the first 60 contests is that the offense is too dependent on a small group of players – Mitch Haniger, Ty France, Kyle Lewis, and Kyle Seager. When these players don’t produce or aren’t available, run production tends to sputter. This reliance on the Mariners’ Big Four helps explain the team’s inconsistency this season. To be clear, others have contributed. J.P. Crawford, Tom Murphy, and Dylan Moore have performed for short bursts. However, no one on the Mariners, other than the Big Four, currently rates as above-average from an offensive standpoint. When we look closer at Seattle’s unproductive lineup, we discover hitters aren’t making enough contact and when they do put bat-to-ball, it’s not productive often enough. To demonstrate this point, I’m using my favorite metric – expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing.  The xwOBA of Seattle hitters drives home the reality that only the Big Four are flourishing at the plate. With so many Mariners not even close to the league-average mark, it’s no wonder the team struggles to score runs. Position Player xwOBA (50 PA min)Mitch Haniger – .356Kyle Lewis – .356Kyle Seager – .346Ty France – .327MLB xwOBA – .319J.P. Crawford – .285Dylan Moore – .294Sam Haggerty – .287José Marmolejos – .284Tom Murphy – .278Luis Torrens – .275Jarred Kelenic – .263Taylor Trammell – .254Evan White – .241 After missing most of 2019 and all of last year, it’s official. Haniger is still the Mariners’ best player. If the All-Star game were held tomorrow, he’d be the team’s lone representative in Denver. His .310 OBP is below league-average for non-pitchers (.316). But the 30-year-old’s power stroke is leading Seattle in home runs, doubles, RBI, AVG, SLG, OPS, and OPS+. Seager’s on-base numbers also lag behind. But the former North Carolina Tar Heel, who’s played in every game this season, surpassed his home run and double totals from last year. Moreover, his .346 xwOBA suggests he’s capable of higher production moving forward. A wrist injury slowed France for several weeks before he went to the IL. It turns out all he needed was a little rest. Since returning, the San Diego State product is slashing .306/.346/.408 with five doubles in 52 plate appearances. Unfortunately, Lewis’ season may be more remembered for a knee injury rather than the solid work he was doing for the club. The 2020 Rookie of the Year started slowly after missing most of April with a knee contusion. But he looked better lately slashing .268/.359/.411 in the 16 games prior to suffering a torn meniscus. Crawford is currently batting at the top of Servais’ lineup and has been on a hot streak lately with his .320 OBP creeping above the MLB average. This is great news, although it’d be premature to determine whether the California native is the long-term answer at shortstop for the Mariners. After all, he’s yet to play in 100-plus games in any season. Murphy started the season in a real funk, understandable considering he spent 2020 on the IL. The Buffalo alum has been more productive lately, particularly when facing left-handed pitching. Over the last 30 days, he has a .911 OPS when facing southpaws compared to .486 against righties. Perhaps the right-handed hitting backstop is best suited for a platoon. The Mariners utilized a similar arrangement in 2019 when Murphy had a career-year at the plate. The challenges facing prospects breaking into the majors have been readily apparent during the early struggles of outfielders Taylor Trammell and Jarred Kelenic. Trammell was in the Opening Day lineup, but later sent to Class-AAA Tacoma after scuffling badly though April. Kelenic then arrived only to encounter similar difficulties. When we look at the Statcast numbers of Trammell and Kelenic, we can see what they’re excelling at and areas needing improvement. Trammell was excellent at drawing walks before going to Tacoma. Unfortunately, he was striking out at an unsustainable pace with a 41.4-percent whiff rate (misses/swing attempts) being an underlying factor. Still, the 23-year-old Georgian has demonstrated better swing discipline since returning from the minors this week. Obviously, a small sample, but Trammell has stuck out four times in 18 plate appearances, while hitting .294/.333/.588. Kelenic’s struggle to create positive results is approaching historically bad levels. Yet, he’s maintained a manageable strikeout rate along with a slightly above-average walk rate. Moreover, the Wisconsin native’s 22-percent whiff rate is third lowest on the Mariners behind Crawford (17.7) and France (21.0). So, what’s the problem? I’m a dumb blogger and not qualified to say what’s wrong with Kelenic’s mechanics. But he’s clearly not finding the ball with the ‘sweet spot” of his bat often enough. Sweet spot percentage (SwSp%) from Baseball Savant quantifies how often hitters produce batted-ball events with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. This season, balls hit within this range have a .587 AVG and 1.086 SLG. Kelenic is 10-percent the MLB average – that’s a problem. Some may choose to focus on the very poor batting averages of Trammell and Kelenic and assume both are doomed to underperform expectations as Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Mike Zunino once did. Especially after Evan White struggled so badly as a rookie in 2020 earlier this season. But such an assessment so early in the duo’s career is an overreaction. Pitching Despite offseason upgrades made by GM Jerry Dipoto, the pitching staff’s overall production numbers don’t look significantly better than last year’s. In 2020, the starting rotation was Seattle’s strongest unit. That hasn’t been the case in 2021 with injuries and ineffectiveness dragging down the staff. A huge blow to the team was Dipoto’s biggest free agent signing – James Paxton – undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery after just one start. Other injured starters include Marco Gonzales and Justin Dunn. Gonzales just returned to action last Tuesday, while Dunn essentially took Marco’s place on the IL with shoulder inflammation. The Mariners have used 11 starting pitchers, including Paxton and openers Erik Swanson and Robert Dugger. They have a combined a .354 xwOBA – only Baltimore’s rotation (.355) is worse. In fact, no regular Seattle starter has an xwOBA below the league-average mark. Starter xwOBAMLB average (SP’s) .322Yusei Kikuchi – .332Justin Dunn – .331Chris Flexen – .335Justus Sheffield – .370Logan Gilbert – .379Marco Gonzales – .409 Despite these seemingly discouraging numbers, there have been good performances. Yusei Kikuchi has been demonstrably more aggressive on the mound this year, which seems to be working for him. Ironically, his advanced metrics are noticeably worse than last year’s numbers. Still, the native of Japan has seen his xwOBA begin to decline recently. While Kikuchi’s early-season performance has been promising, the pressing issue facing the southpaw and the Mariners is a right leg injury suffered in last night’s game. Losing the best starter on the staff for an extended period would be devastating for a rotation plagued by injuries. Before heading to the IL, Dunn demonstrated encouraging progress, which is reflected by his steadily declining xwOBA. Hopefully, the former Boston College Golden Eagle’s absence is short-lived. Surprisingly, Gonzales has struggled with command and control. He’s allowed significantly more walks and hard contact than usual. Then again, the Gonzaga product allowed just one run, while striking out six hitters and walking one in his first start back from the IL. By the All-Star break, we’ll know how Gonzales’ season is going. After a solid rookie campaign, Justus Sheffield hasn’t shown signs of improvement. In fact, he’s regressed in several categories. One constant in Sheffield’s outings has been the amount of traffic he’s created. Opponents have hit with a runner on base during 49.6-percent of their plate appearances against the left-hander. That’s an 8-percent increase from 2020. If you’re wondering if 49.6-percent is high, it is. Among pitchers facing at least 200 batters this season, only John Gant of the Cardinals (50-percent) has pitched with men on base more frequently. A result of the excessive traffic is Sheffield not going deep in games. The Tennessean has finished the sixth inning just three times in 10 starts this year after accomplishing the feat in six of 10 outings in 2020. Chris Flexen has given up a lot of hard contact and doesn’t strikeout a lot of hitters. However, he’s adept at avoiding walks and managed to pitch six-plus innings in half of of his ten starts. This matters to a rotation struggling to cover innings this season. Rookie Logan Gilbert is just getting acclimated to the majors. So far, he’s maintained an impressive 4.1-percent walk rate. But his 53.8-percent hard-hit rate must drop considerably for the 24-year-old to be a viable big-league starter. Opponents have been teeing off on his four-seam fastball with a .386 AVG, which is problematic since it’s been his primary pitch (59.7-percent usage). Despite these issues, it’s way too early to assess the Stetson alum’s outlook. The bullpen has been pivotal to the Mariners’ early-season success. Leading the way, Kendall Graveman, the team’s best reliever prior to going on the COVID IL. Offseason additions Keynan Middleton, Rafael Montero, Drew Steckenrider, Robert Dugger, J.T. Chargois, and Will Vest  have also made positive contributions. Bullpen xwOBAErik Swanson – .226Héctor Santiago – .240Kendall Graveman – .255Drew Steckenrider – .254Rafael Montero – .281Casey Sadler – .292J.T. Chargois – .299MLB Average (RP’s) – .314Keynan Middleton – .315Daniel Zamora – .315Robert Dugger – .317Anthony Misiewicz – .322Paul Sewald – .344Will Vest – .371Aaron Fletcher – .361Yohan Ramírez – .381Wyatt Mills – .384 Middleton has been a dependable late-inning weapon for Servais. During Graveman’s absence, the Oregonian has been the best choice to close games and pitch in high-leverage situations. Montero isn’t a fan-favorite thanks to the circuitous routes he takes to close out innings. The Dominican Republic native may not be the first choice to close games, but he does have value. The Next 60 The Mariners have a decent record considering the injuries they’ve endured and the team’s lack of depth. Over the next two months, we should expect the big-league roster to continue morphing with an eye toward the future. We’ve already seen the MLB debuts of Trammell, Gilbert, and Kelenic, and the impact of rookies Jake Fraley and Donovan Walton. Plus, it shouldn’t be long before catching prospect Cal Raleigh arrives. And let’s not forget 25-year-old Shed Long Jr., who’s working himself back into form with Class-AAA Tacoma after a lengthy absence due a shin fracture. All of these players – plus White, Sheffield, and Dunn – have a chance to shape the final outcome of the Mariners’ 2021 season and the club’s future. Understandably, if we reach late-summer and at least some of these youngsters haven’t shown signs of appreciable growth as major-leaguers, the rosy outlook of optimistic fans will be tested. Meanwhile, the “Same Ole Mariners” crowd will have something else to chirp about in the offseason. Such is the life of a rebuilding organization and the fan base supporting it. My Oh My…Go!

Everything Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert does this year will receive a great deal of fan and media attention, which is understandable. Both highly-touted rookies represent a potentially bright future for the Seattle Mariners and the team’s exasperated fan base. Still, it’s plausible other, less-familiar names will have a breakout season for the Mariners in 2021. Could Erik Swanson be one of those players? Before this year, Swanson was probably best known to Mariners fans as one of the two players acquired by Seattle with top Yankees pitching prospect Justus Sheffield in the 2018 deal sending James Paxton to New York. The other being minor-leaguer Dom Thompson-Williams. Sheffield remains the more recognizable name in the Emerald City, but Swanson is also making his presence felt this season. The versatile Swanson has served as opener twice for the Mariners, while also pitching in high-leverage situations for manager Scott Servais. Regardless of his role, Swanson is delivering outstanding results in 2021. Swanson’s recent surge in production is making him one of the most dynamic and reliable arms in Servais’ bullpen. The 27-year-old’s strikeout rate and opponent AVG leads the team. Only Seattle’s other breakout reliever – Kendall Graveman – is ahead of the North Dakotan in ERA, WHIP, OBP, SLG, and wOBA. When we look a little closer, it’s easy to see what’s driving the early-season success in Swanson’s conventional numbers. Hitters have been unable to square-up the right-hander’s pitches in 2021, which was a huge problem last year. For those not acquainted with sweet spot percentage (SwSp%), it quantifies how often batted balls have a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. Balls within this “sweet spot” range usually lead to highly productive line drives. This year, big-league hitters have a .654 AVG on liners. Fun Fact: Erik Swanson has yet to allow a line drive in 2021. While we’re discussing types of contact, it’s worth noting Swanson’s 16.7-percent pop-up rate is significantly better than last year. Moreover, it’s pacing the Mariners ahead of Keynan Middleton (16.1-percent) and top-15 in the majors among pitchers with 20-plus batted ball events. The current MLB AVG on pop-ups is .019. Not quite as low as a strikeout, but pretty close. I know what some of you are thinking: “it’s early.” Yes, it’s only May and the data is immature – Swanson has faced just 41 hitters. But the product of Iowa Western Community College has been a revelation for the Mariners, which has been particularly important this week with three relievers – including Graveman – on the COVID IL. Is Swanson’s early success sustainable? Time will tell. But a breakout season requires a player delivering tangible, positive improvements in results. The former eighth round pick of the Rangers has checked those blocks thus far. Considering the circumstances, Swanson’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for the banged-up Mariners’ bullpen. My Oh My….Go!

Injuries have devastated the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets to the point each club is struggling to field a competitive roster. I have a solution to their problem – combine the teams. That’s right. What if we blended the Mariners’ and Mets’ 26-man rosters into one unit? Yes, my suggestion is pure folly. But what else are fans supposed to do when their team is falling apart in May? Why not have a little fun by doing a “what if drill” as a distraction from reality? So, what prompted my inane proposal? I live in the Pacific Northwest and grew up as a Mets fan. I thought it’d be cool to build a super-squad by cherry-picking players from my two favorite teams. It’d be like the time the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy teamed-up in a comic book movie. That turned out okay for most of the characters that didn’t die. Walking Wounded Okay, back to the Mariners and Mets. For those of you not fully acquainted with their dilapidated rosters, here are notable names currently on each organization’s injured list. You could build a strong squad from the players lost to injury. The rotation would be particularly formidable. Now that we’ve painted the ugly picture Mariners and Mets fans are staring at on a daily basis, let’s begin this endeavor with position player selections. What I quickly discovered is that combining both rosters didn’t yield the power-packed lineup I expected to create. Lineup The Mets are using Dominic Smith in place of the injured Pete Alonso at first base. Honestly, I would’ve gone with Smith even if Alonso was healthy. New York’s first round pick in 2013 is the better athlete and has a 112 OPS+ during his brief career. Smith can also play left field, when needed. Seattle’s starting shortstop, J.P. Crawford, moves to second base on my squad since the Mets have perennial All-Star Francisco Lindor at shortstop. The Gold Glove defense of Crawford and Lindor would form a impressive double-play combination for my fantasy team. Third base was a no-brainer with Kyle Seager holding down the position. Defensive metrics don’t care for Seager as much as in the past. But the combination of the North Carolina alum’s bat and glove outclasses anything the Mets can muster at the hot corner. Jarred Kelenic is my left fielder despite struggling since his MLB debut two weeks ago. Mets fans are constantly pining over the rookie ever since the team dealt him to Seattle in an ill-advised trade. Including the sixth overall pick of the 2018 draft gives New Yorkers the Kelenic-fix they desire. Filling out the outfield with Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger was an easy decision. Lewis, the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, started this season in the IL. But the Mercer product’s bat has been heating up lately. Haniger missed all of last season and most of 2019 due to multiple injuries. Still, the Californian was an All-Star in 2018 and is among league leaders in home runs this year. Fun fact: Mitch Haniger was selected by the Mets in the thirty-first round of the 2009 draft. Haniger opted to attend Cal Poly instead and was a first round pick of the Brewers three years later. Sorry NL baseball fans. I’m going with a designated hitter. Let’s face it. Having pitchers hit doesn’t help a sport desperately needing more action. My choice is Ty France, who just completed an IL stint. The former San Diego State Aztec primarily serves as the Mariners’ DH, although he also has experience at both corner infield spots and second base. None of the catcher candidates have a history of sustained offensive excellence. Therefore, I went with Tom Murphy as my primary backstop. Murphy is excellent at handling Seattle’s staff and a strong defender behind the plate. Backing up Murphy is Tomás Nido, another skilled glove. Honestly, it wouldn’t have taken much effort to convince me to make Nido the starter. Reserves The bench was a bit tricky thanks to the multitude of injuries facing both teams. In my initial draft, Mets outfielder Johneshwy Fargas and Mariners utility-man Sam Haggerty were possibilities. Both are now out of commission with injuries. Jonathan Villar has played third base and both middle-infield spots this season and possesses limited outfield experience in previous campaigns. Serving as utility-man is José Peraza. The seven-year veteran has experienced every position on the diamond with the exception of first base and catcher. My backup outfielder is former Mariner and current Met Cameron Maybin. The 34-year-old was playing with Class-AAA Iowa a week ago before New York acquired him from the Cubs for one dollar. Yes, that’s right. Both clubs’ outfield depth is so thin that someone not in the majors a week ago made my roster. Rotation When first considering this piece, I expected the rotation would be the strongest unit. The injury bug had something to say about that. Picking who’d be the headliner was easy, although I grappled with rounding out the staff. Naturally, two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is my ace. deGrom returns to the Mets after a short IL stint this evening. There have been questions regarding the Stetson product’s physical readiness this season. That said, the Palm Beach Cardinals believe deGrom is perfectly healthy after he demolished them during a recent rehab start. Jacob deGrom is throwing 102 MPH… Someone send help. — Palm Beach Cardinals (@GoPBCardinals) May 20, 2021 The next obvious choice is Marcus Stroman, who’s been excellent this year. Following the former Duke Blue Devil is Yusei Kikuchi. The southpaw fits in nicely behind the 1-2 combination of deGrom and Stroman. After the top-three, it got a bit squishy for me. The final rotation spots go to a pair of youngsters with New York ties. Justus Sheffield, acquired from the Yankees in 2018 and former Mets first rounder Justin Dunn dealt to the Emerald City with Kelenic in the same offseason. Sheffield and Dunn have struggled at times this season. However, both have also flashed their upside in 2021. Other candidates included David Peterson and Chris Flexen. Bullpen Although Seattle’s relievers helped carry the team earlier this season, my bullpen is mostly Mets relievers. That said, Mariners fans are very familiar with the pitcher topping my list. I’m a proponent of not giving relievers designated roles and managers using the best available relief arm whenever the game is on the line, regardless of the inning. That said, I’d designate Edwin Díaz as my top choice to close out games. Behind the native of Puerto Rico is a strong group of relievers capable of protecting leads. Offseason free agent signing Trevor May has been superb. The Washington native is primarily holding down the eighth inning for Mets manager Luis Rojas this season. One-time New York closer Jeurys Familia has also been adept at shutting down late-inning threats. Versatile Miguel Castro has opened games and appeared everywhere from the fifth to the ninth for Rojas. Veteran Aaron Loup serves as lefty reliever, although it’s worth noting the Tulane alum hasn’t been particularly strong against right-handed bats this year. Still, Loup has been a solid relief arm in recent years and welcome in my bullpen. A lesser-known name also gets the nod – Sean-Reid Foley. Born in Guam, then right-hander wasn’t particularly effective during his first two seasons with the Blue Jays in 2018-19. But Foley had a breakout season with Toronto last year and is continuing that success in the Big Apple in 2021. The last two names are the only Mariners – Rafael Montero and Flexen. Seattle fans won’t be ecstatic with Montero making the cut. But he’s been better than fan perception. Besides, the native of La Romana, Dominican Republic won’t be closing games with my squad. Flexen would serve in a long relief role. Before spending 2021 playing with the Korean Baseball Organization, the right-hander spent parts of three seasons with the Mets as a reliever and spot starter. Management Since I’ve gone this far, why not identify who’d run the team concocted for entertainment purposes? Owner: Steven Cohen President: Sandy Alderson GM: Jerry Dipoto Manager: Scott Servais Picking an owner was the easiest decision. Steven Cohen is a Long Islander and life-long Mets fan. More importantly, he’s really rich and willing to spend his money. Cohen routinely engages fans on social media and has expressed a desire to build a sustainable contender modeled after the Dodgers. That said, he expects his club to win the World Series within 3-5 years. On the other hand, the Mariners are owned by a large group led by John Stanton, who rarely makes public statements about the team’s competitive status and future. Whether Seattle’s ownership actually has the appetite to pay for a championship roster is debatable. My team president is Sandy Alderson. The former U.S. Marine has a distinguished career as an MLB executive and led the Mets to the 2015 World Series. Alderson’s use of statistical analysis as the Athletics’ GM opened the door for the Moneyball era spearheaded by his successor in Oakland – Billy Beane. For GM, I’m going with Jerry Dipoto, who currently holds the same position with the Mariners. This choice probably roils some Seattle fans. But the legion of frustrated should remember that Dipoto wouldn’t be budget-restricted with Cohen as owner. Plus, he was a Mets fan growing up and pitched for the team in 1995-96. As far as manager goes, it was a toss-up for me between Mariners skipper Scott Servais and Rojas. I went with Servais since he’s done the job in the majors for a longer time. Again, some Seattle fans will lose their mind over this selection. Fine, go crazy. If I went with Rojas there’d be a contingent of Mets fans screaming about that. Maybe, just maybe, the manager isn’t as important to the daily outcome of games as some fans believe. Finally My squad would be competitive and fun to watch. Still, a lot of Mariners would be pushed aside once Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Noah Syndergaard, and Seth Lugo were available. This speaks to the state of each team’s current 40-man roster. The Mariners are in the process of integrating young players and top prospects into their big-league roster. The team’s goal is to evaluate what they have before adding established talent. As a result, Seattle’s season will likely remain turbulent and susceptible to injuries thanks to a lack of major-league depth. Conversely, the Mets are in win-now mode with an owner committed to becoming World Series champs sooner than later. At some point, New York will turn to the trade market to overcome the loss of injured players. Maybe Alderson calls Dipoto looking for help. Wouldn’t that be something? Put it in the books… My Oh My…Go!

Kyle Lewis Seattle Mariners

As you might expect, the Seattle Mariners getting no-hit at home for a second time in two weeks has fans feeling a bit salty today. An understandable reaction, for sure. But please spare me the faux surprise about the Mariners’ lineup being unproductive at this stage of the season. The warning signs were there for everyone to see. Remember how much the Mariners’ lineup struggled to consistently produce last year? There were memorable moments and short-lived hot streaks. But run production ranked near the bottom of MLB in multiple categories. Fast forward to the present, a season marked by muted offense across the league. Once again, Seattle’s hitters are bringing up the rear. The stat currently creating the greatest stir on social media and with the local sports talk radio crowd is the Mariners’ .199 batting average. Bad news, your angst may skyrocket to new heights as the season progresses. The team is currently on pace to set a franchise-low in AVG. Yes, it’s only May. But Seattle has already been no-hit twice and waited late into games before avoiding a no-no on several other occasions. The threat of this offense being historically bad is real. Lowest AVG in Seattle Franchise History.199 (2021) .226 (2020) .233 (2011) .234 (2012) .236 (2010) Despite having a punch-less lineup in 2020, the Mariners didn’t add position players from outside the organization to their 40-man roster in the offseason. Sure, Mitch Haniger and Tom Murphy returned after missing last year. That’s an upgrade in a way. But did anyone seriously believe Haniger and Murphy would somehow ignite an offense that was so underwhelming in 2020? And let’s talk about the squad the Mariners have assembled this season. It can’t be overemphasized how inexperienced this group is. To see what I mean, check out the following table illustrating the career numbers of Seattle’s position players. Take note of how few have appeared in more than 162 big-league games. I know what some of you are thinking, batting average can fluctuate by season and era. Therefore, using the conventional stat for this conversation isn’t ideal. That’s true. Instead, let’s use OPS+ to discuss the overall effectiveness of Seattle’s hitters in 2021. League-average OPS+ is always 100. Regardless of which statistic you prefer staring at, the picture isn’t pretty. Of the 15 Seattle position players with plate appearances this season, only four have a career OPS+ above league-average – Haniger, Kyle Seager, Kyle Lewis, and Ty France. For anyone watching the Mariners on a regular basis, it’s become glaringly evident that the offense is effectively dead in the water whenever this foursome scuffles. Something to consider with Lewis and France – they remain unknown quantities despite their early success. Sure, Lewis won 2020 AL Rookie of the Year and France has hit at every level of his professional career. But neither player has appeared in 100 games in a season. Am I suggesting the duo will fail? Absolutely not. But it’s reasonable to expect each will struggle as their development continues in the bigs. We’ve already witnessed this with Lewis in 2020 and France before he went to the IL last week. Murphy and Dylan Moore are hovering near a career 100 OPS+, although neither has 200 games of big-league experience. Shortstop J.P. Crawford has more time in the majors, but it’s spread over five seasons. Moreover, a career 86 OPS+ suggests the Gold Glover has been a below-average run producer with the Phillies and now the Mariners. After this trio, we enter a black hole where everyone else is significantly worse than league-average and very green. Like it or not Mariners fans, your team is enduring the growing pains of an organization transitioning from tear-down mode to evaluating young players at the big-league level. To date, it’s been a slog for Evan White, Taylor Trammell, Luis Torrens, Jake Fraley, and Jarred Kelenic. Even the youngsters who’ve been productive – Lewis and France – have been inconsistent. And don’t forget slightly older, yet relatively inexperienced players like Crawford and Moore, who remain enigmas. Yes, some or all of these players could eventually form the foundation of a contending lineup. But that’s not the case right now. Using 20/20 hindsight, the Mariners should’ve obligated more financial resources in the offseason to help take pressure off younger players and provide added stability to the lineup. Other than Seager, who was a known quantity entering 2021? On some level, signing veteran free agents like Kolten Wong, César Hernández, and Jonathan Villar could’ve made sense. But management chose to avoid pursuing outside help. Now, we’re witnessing the consequences of their hot stove inaction. The default response for some fans is to place blame at the desk of GM Jerry Dipoto. Yes, Dipoto is the architect of the rebuild and ultimately responsible for its success or failure. But let’s face it, he’s never been shy when it comes to making moves designed to improve his ball club. On the other hand, the now-infamous comments of former team president Kevin Mather made it abundantly clear ownership was unwilling to spend last offseason. None of what I’ve suggested will go over well with many in the fan base and that’s okay. Fans should fan however they see fit. Having said that, the Mariners’ offense woes this season shouldn’t surprise anybody unless they haven’t been paying attention for the last two years. My Oh My….Go!

Jarred Kelenic, Mariners scouting report

Not long ago, I defended the Seattle Mariners’ handling of top prospect Jarred Kelenic. At the time, I suggested no one outside the organization truly knew whether Kelenic was MLB ready. Now, just six games and 29 plate appearance into his AAA career, the Mariners have reportedly decided the 21-year-old is ready for major-league action. OF Jarred Kelenic, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, is expected to be called up by the Mariners on Thursday, sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN. While things can obviously change, the plan is to promote Kelenic for the first game of Seattle’s home series vs. Cleveland. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 11, 2021 Naturally, Mariners fans are buzzing. Who can blame them? Multiple prospect evaluation outlets, including Prospect Insider, rate Kelenic as one of baseball’s best young players. And let’s face it, the club’s sputtering offense needs help. Perhaps the left-handed hitter can provide the oomph the lineup needs. But there’s more. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times has breaking news. The Mariners’ top pitching prospect – Logan Gilbert – will also make his MLB debut the same night as Kelenic. The arrival of both players is certain to delight the team’s fan base. Logan Gilbert will start on Thursday night vs. Cleveland to open the homestand. — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 12, 2021 As exciting as it’ll be to see Kelenic and Gilbert in the majors, the timing of Kelenic’s promotion seems odd to me. Why didn’t the Mariners promote their top prospect at the start of the MLB season? Gilbert’s delay makes sense to me. After all, he didn’t pitch competitively last year and the team has been conservatively managing the workload of all starting pitchers. But why hold back Kelenic? Yes, I’m aware of service time manipulation and how former CEO Kevin Mather implied in January the Mariners were unduly influencing the debut dates of their top prospects, including Kelenic. I’m also familiar with the USA Today story chronicling Kelenic’s grievances with the team and GM Jerry Dipoto. Still, these PR disasters didn’t compel management to include the Wisconsin native on the Opening Day roster. So, what changed after just six AAA games against the same team? Obviously, only the team knows how it arrived at the decision to promote Kelenic this week. That said, I do fancy myself as a JeDi whisperer. So, I’ll take a shot at predicting how Dipoto and his surrogates spin the timing of Kelenic’s promotion to the media and fans. The answer to the “why now” question will be overly simple. The Mariners will suggest the totality of Kelenic’s MLB and MiLB Spring Training playing time and his brief stay in Tacoma provided the level of preparation a supremely talented player like Kelenic needs to be MLB ready. Plus, team officials will note the offense really needs the help. How did I arrive at this prediction? With great ease, actually. Dipoto subtly laid the groundwork for this message during the most recent episode of The Wheelhouse podcast hosted by broadcasters Aaron Goldsmith and Gary Hill Jr. Dipoto told listeners the organization’s top prospects played a 10-game “bridge” schedule facing other organization’s top young players in a co-op league until MiLB camp began. The goal was to get Kelenic, Cal Raleigh,  Julio Rodriguez and other top minor-leaguers 30-40 extra plate appearances rather than being idle until the start of camp. The sixth-year GM noted hitters accrued 100-125 plate appearances in April before the start of the regular season. Using JeDi math, Kelenic has close to 180 plate appearances this year, including Spring Training and AAA games. That’s probably enough for Dipoto and his staff to rationalize that the young outfielder’s performance in Arizona and Tacoma has told them he’s ready for prime time. As far as helping the offense, JeDi dropped a hint when talking to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant last week. While referring to a potential Kelenic promotion, Dipoto stated, “It’s also in some part that it might add a spark to our offense if we give him that opportunity.” Will my prediction of how the Mariners will spin the Kelenic news? We’ll know within the next 24 hours. But does it actually matter why the organization is promoting Kelenic now? Not to me. Truthfully, we may never know the real story behind the team’s timeline for Kelenic and every other player in the its farm system and I’m okay with that. Yes, it’s interesting and cool to learn how prospects become big-leaguers. But it’s the Mariners’ business to run. It’s our choice whether to support that business. Personally, I’m elated with the news of Kelenic’s and Gilbert’s imminent arrival. Debate all you want about the timing of their promotions. I prefer to focus on the fact that the next phase of the Mariners’ rebuild has begun. It’s about time. My Oh My…Go!

The Seattle Mariners’ injury-plagued starting rotation is falling apart. Naturally, the staff’s early season woes have fans clamoring for the Mariners to promote top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert. It’s an understandable sentiment. After all, Jeff Passan of ESPN is reporting that Seattle’s top prospect – Jarred Kelenic – will make his MLB debut later this week. Kelenic’s arrival has the potential to give a much-needed spark to a lineup that’s unproductive by any measure. Maybe Gilbert could do the same thing for a rotation that’s reeling. Yes, Gilbert’s presence could provide an immediate boost to the rotation. He could also help a bullpen that’s been covering too many starts and innings lately. But it’ll take more than the Stetson alum to fix the rotation. Unfortunately, there’s a sabermetric red flag suggesting potential landmines await most of Seattle’s starters. I’m referring to Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA). Nerd Talk Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is an advanced metric that reflects on-field results by crediting a hitter for the manner he reaches base rather than simply treating all on-base events equally, as OBP does. A double is more valuable than a single, a home run is better than a double – you get the idea. Conversely, xwOBA uses quality of contact without the influence of defense to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. Think about it this way. Say Mike Trout mashes a screaming line drive and Mariners center fielder Kyle Lewis makes a stupendous play robbing Trout of an extra-base hit. The box score will say Trout made an out and his wOBA will decline accordingly. But the future Hall of Famer did everything right – it took a great play by Lewis to prevent a hit. For this reason, Trout’s xwOBA improves based on the quality of contact made (launch angle and exit velocity). So, how can we apply the wOBA-xwOBA relationship to Seattle’s rotation?   We can use the difference in wOBA and xwOBA to help us determine whether the actual stats of Mariner starters accurately reflect their ability to do what’s necessary to succeed in the majors. Specifically, avoid hard contact and walks while generating strikeouts. We used a similar methodology in the offseason to demonstrate how the expected stats of Yusei Kikuchi hinted his skill level was much better than his on-field results. Let’s do it again with the Mariners’ 2021 starting staff. wOBA-xwOBA Difference The following illustrates the wOBA and xwOBA of Seattle’s primary starters and the difference between both metrics. Just to reiterate, a negative wOBA-xwOBA for a pitcher suggests on-field results may be better than what should have happened based on quality of contact. The most negative wOBA-xwOBA belongs to Justin Dunn. The right-hander’s opponent .292 wOBA is below the MLB average (.308), which sounds like good news. It is to a degree, but his .355 xwOBA is a red flag. It ranks in the bottom 20-percent of 127 starters facing over 100 hitters this season. Considering the large gap between Dunn’s wOBA and xwOBA, it’s tough envisioning him being a viable starter in a contender’s rotation without significant improvement. Fortunately, the season and the native Long Islander are both young. There is time to improve. Before landing on the IL with a forearm strain, Marco Gonzales was off to an uncharacteristically poor start. Sure, it appeared the Gonzaga product was showing signs of breaking out of his early season funk before going down. But there’s no avoiding the reality his wOBA was ugly. So was his xwOBA, which ranks 124 of 127. A stunning development for Seattle’s Opening Day starter. The final pitcher with a significantly negative wOBA-xwOBA is Kikuchi. However, the native of Japan has been digging himself out of an early hole lately. Look at how his wOBA and xwOBA for the season has steadily dropped with each recent start. Based on his last three outings, Kikuchi is establishing himself as the anchor of the Mariners’ 2021 rotation. Yes, it’s a very small sample size spread over three weeks and way too early to make fiery declarations. But the southpaw’s improvement is certainly an encouraging development for a rotation desperate for encouraging developments. The wOBA of Justus Sheffield looked respectable until recently. Regrettably, it’s closed the gap on an xwOBA that’s been hovering around the .350 mark. This isn’t a good thing for the Tennessean or the Mariners. As with Dunn, Sheffield is young (he turns 25 this week) and still evolving. The least-heralded starter entering this season has been the staff’s most consistent arm. Chris Flexen has an xwOBA identical to Kikuchi’s, which is basically MLB-average for starters. Moreover, the right-hander’s .334 wOBA is higher than the league standard and above his xwOBA. This suggests to me that Flexen may be capable of delivering better results moving forward. What’s The Problem? Okay, we’ve identified xwOBA concerns with the starting staff. Now, let’s focus on potential issues facing each pitcher. Once again, the picture isn’t pretty. Our next table depicts stats I chose because they reflect factors influencing xwOBA – barrel, hard-hit, strikeout, and walk rates. Just to refresh, barreled balls have an ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle to create the best outcomes for hitters. Entering this week, the league was hitting .746 with a 1.318 wOBA on barreled balls. Hard-hit balls have an exit velocity of 95-plus MPH and have produced a .482 AVG and .609 wOBA this season. Bottom line: pitchers are trying to avoid barreled and hard-hit balls. Bad things happen when they struggle to do so. Quickly, we see areas needing improvement for each Seattle starter – some have more challenges than others. Dunn’s strikeout rate is slightly below average, as is the case with all but one of his rotation-mates. His barrel rate is a bit high too. That said, the biggest issue facing the Boston College alum is a 15.3-percent walk rate. Only José Quintana (17.4) of the Angels and John Gant of the Cardinals (17.4) are serving up free passes more often than Dunn among the 127 starters mentioned earlier. Across the board, Gonzales’ 2021 numbers have regressed from an outstanding 2020 campaign. Not only is his 9.1-percent walk rate well above last year (2.5-percent), hitters are routinely making very loud contact. Only four starters currently have a higher barrel rate than the crafty lefty. Plus, his 47.7-percent hard-hit rate is eighth highest among peers. Kikuchi’s hard contact numbers are in the red. But as noted already, his stats are trending in the right direction. His 22.7-percent strikeout rate doesn’t stand out when compared to league leaders Jacob deGrom (46.1-percent) and Gerrit Cole (40.2-percent). Still, Kikuchi does lead the staff in strikeouts and he’s managing to minimize damage caused by walks. The amount of hard contact allowed by Sheffield is just above league-average, which doesn’t look that bad. But he’s allowed too many barreled balls thus far. Last season, his barrel rate was 3.7-percent, which tied him with Sonny Gray for third lowest in the majors. Only Hyun Jin Ryu (3.2) and Max Fried (3.3) were better. Flexen misses the fewest bats among Seattle’s regular starters. Yet, he’s been stingy with free passes to opposing hitters. His 5-percent walk rate is top-20 among starters and ties him with former Mets teammate deGrom. Still, the California native’s hard-hit rate is an area worth keeping a watchful eye on. Moving Forward So, what lays ahead for the Mariners? Gilbert probably joins the club sooner than later, which will be both helpful and really fun. But most of his future rotation-mates must significantly improve for the starting staff to rebound this year. Kikuchi’s recent performance is cause for guarded optimism. So is Flexen’s emergence as a dependable rotation arm. But 35 games into the season, the rest of the current starting staff is enigmatic at best. Perhaps Gonzales’ IL stint is short-lived and he returns looking more like the 2020 version of himself than what we’ve seen from the 29-year-old this year. Maybe Sheffield and Dunn become more consistent performers. Still, expecting so much from so many is a big ask. Reality Check Even if management were to transition away from the 6-man rotation it currently embraces so energetically, the Mariners don’t appear to have enough arms to form a truly competitive rotation this year without acquiring upgrades from outside the organization. Realistically, the time for the front office to affect the outcome of the 2021 season was the offseason. So, unless the Mariners have mastered time travel, there’s no undoing the lack of improvements made to the major-league roster during the winter. And that’s okay. This season has always been about the Mariners assessing the MLB readiness of previously promoted players and introducing their best and brightest prospects to the majors. In that regard, the team is on track even with the big-league club languishing. Yes, losing never goes over well with fans. But failure and on-field struggles are harsh realities that every rebuilding club (and their fan base) must endure. Sorry Mariners fans. At least Jarred Kelenic is on the way. My Oh My…Go!

Three weeks into the 2021 season, the Seattle Mariners have a respectable 13-10 win-loss record. But let’s face it, the Mariners aren’t as good as their record. I realize my dour assessment won’t sit well with fans, who have rosier outlook about the Mariners’ solid start than me. Maybe time proves me wrong, although I don’t think it will. If the team continues winning, that’s okay with me. But if Seattle actually does regress in the near future, that’s okay too. Please give me a chance to explain this seemingly warped rationale. First, let’s tackle what’s driving my skepticism about the Mariners’ early-season success. It comes down to one metric – xwOBA. It’s been my go-to stat for several years. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) is determined by using both the amount of contact and quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) made by hitters. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. Therefore, we get a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. The current MLB-average xwOBA is .324. If my explanation doesn’t sway you, consider this. Players with a great xwOBA are among the best in the game. Look at the names topping the xwOBA list for hitters since the beginning of the 2020 season. Top hitter xwOBA (2020-21)Bryce Harper .480Juan Soto .479Freddie Freeman .454Ronald Acuña Jr. .447Mike Trout .441Fernando Tatís Jr. .423Corey Seager .422 We can deliberate about the order of the preceding list. But there’s no debate whether these players are among the best hitters in the game. That is a ringing endorsement of xwOBA from my perspective. When we turn our attention to starting pitchers with the lowest xwOBA, we again find the best and brightest atop the leaderboard. There’s a reasonable chance each league’s Cy Young Award winner is among the following pitchers. After all, both of last year’s awardees are listed below. Top starting pitcher xwOBA (2020-21)Trevor Bauer .231Corbin Burnes .232Jacob deGrom .236Gerrit Cole .254Shane Bieber .257 Hopefully, I’ve done enough to convince the doubters about the value of xwOBA as an evaluation tool. If not, they’ve probably departed this article by now anyway. For those sticking with me, thank you. Let’s use xwOBA to get a sense of how Mariner hitters are performing thus far. Lineup As you might have expected, the usual suspects are leading the lineup – Ty France, Kyle Seager, and Mitch Haniger. They form the top of the batting order and represent 47.8-percent of Seattle’s total hits. Top Mariner hitter xwOBA (2020)Ty France .397Kyle Seager, .383Sam Haggerty .382Mitch Haniger .362Kyle Lewis .351José Marmolejos .345MLB xwOBA .324Dylan Moore .281Evan White .271Taylor Trammell .255 Luis Torrens .249J.P. Crawford .248Tom Murphy .244 It’s worth noting Sam Haggerty, Kyle Lewis, and José Marmolejos are included on the preceding list despite not being everyday players since Opening Day. We know Lewis, who returned from the IL this week, is going to be a fixture in the lineup. But, barring unforeseen circumstances, Haggerty and Marmolejos will remain as supporting cast members. Still, it takes an entire roster to win ballgames, so I included the duo. Obviously, having just three hitters (France, Seager, and Haniger) creating so much of the team’s offense is an unsustainable model over the long haul. With one exception, I’m somewhat skeptical about the likelihood of the other players listed above being capable of stabilizing the offense over a full season. Lewis struggled during the second half of the truncated 2020 season. But as we noted over the winter, it’s reasonable to believe the Mercer product can be a valuable contributor to run production. After that, it gets squishy. Yes, Haggerty and Marmolejos have been great in small doses. But is it reasonable to expect they’ll sustain their early success over a complete season? Probably not. Perhaps the pair proves me wrong, which is just fine by me. I always root for players to succeed. Dylan Moore is probably a lot better than his current xwOBA or conventional slash line. But how much better? Entering his season, Moore had 441 career plate appearances spread over two seasons. The reasonable answer is we don’t know what the Central Florida alum’s ceiling is. Not yet, at least. It’s plausible that no minor-league baseball in 2020 and a late start to this year’s MiLB season have hurt the development of Evan White more than any current major-leaguer. With no safety net to fall back on last year or early this season, White has been forced to self-improve during big-league games. That seems awfully hard to do. Perhaps a brief stay in Tacoma would help the former Kentucky Wildcat hone his skills. Taylor Trammel has a boatload of promise. But he’s in the same predicament as White was last year. The 23-year-old Georgian must resolve his issues, while being a regular in a big-league lineup. I’m not suggesting Trammell or White need to go to the minors. Much smarter people than me will determine the best path for both players. But at least that option will be available to teams within a matter of weeks. After White and Trammell, who else stands out as potential rebound candidates? J.P. Crawford has been a marvel in the field. But he’s yet to blend his excellent contact skills with any semblance of extra-base power. As we noted in March, the 2021 season is critical to the 26-year-old’s development and his future with the Mariners. Both backstops – Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens – may improve offensively. But neither player has a proven record over a sustained period. The right-handed hitting Murphy (533 career plate appearances) has a history of below-average production against right-handed pitchers, although he’s thrived against southpaws. Prior to the start of the season, we noted Torrens (291 career plate appearances) had an excellent hard-hit rate with the Mariners last September. Perhaps more playing time would help the Venezuelan become more productive at the plate. Okay, now that I’ve cast a rather large shadow over the lineup, let’s get to the bad stuff. Rotation The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Seattle’s starters. Unfortunately, the Mariners lost James Paxton during the second inning of his first start earlier this month. That’s a difficult loss for the staff and for Paxton the person. Fellow left-hander Nick Margevicius has also landed on the IL with shoulder problems after consecutive starts where he just didn’t look right. Ironically, Margevicius had the best xwOBA (.325) among Mariner starters prior to his debacle in Boston over the weekend when manager Scott Servais had to pull the southpaw in the first inning. With the Rider product probably out for an extended period, the current top xwOBA spot is currently held by a seemingly unlikely candidate prior to the season – Chris Flexen. Mariners Rotation xwOBA (2021)Chris Flexen .332MLB SP xwOBA .332Nick Margevicius .353Justin Dunn .374Yusei Kikuchi .379Justus Sheffield .381Marco Gonzales .410 Flexen appears to be improving with each start, which is an encouraging development for both player and team. More good news, the xwOBA of Marco Gonzales continues to improve after consecutive solid outings. Another reason to be optimistic about the Gonzaga alum – a combined .301 xwOBA during the 2019-20 seasons. Justus Sheffield has demonstrated a knack of reaching the sixth inning, which certainly benefits the team. That said, his advanced metrics have been suboptimal this season. Still, a league-average .313 xwOBA during a rookie campaign in 2020 provides a measure of optimism the Tennessean will improve as the season progresses. With the final two rotations spots, there are more questions than answers. Justin Dunn doesn’t surrender a lot of hits, but oh those base on balls. The former Boston College Golden Eagle had a high walk rate last season and is surrendering too many free passes in 2021. Moreover, he had a similar xwOBA (.369) to this season’s .374 during 10 starts in 2020. Is it possible Dunn improves with time this season? Absolutely. Is it reasonable to expect a dramatic uptick? Not for me. Again, I hope I’m proven wrong. Ironically, Yusei Kikuchi had a great xwOBA last year. It was the primary reason I believed the lefty was better than his conventional stats suggested in 2020. Unfortunately, the native of Japan hasn’t pivoted to more success during the first month of the 2021 campaign. In fact, he’s regressed in some ways. With each difficult outing, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Mariners’ decision about Kikuchi’s club option will be a difficult one. Bullpen Fortunately and surprisingly, the bullpen has been the strength of the Mariners through their first 23 games. As is the case so many times in baseball, a strong bullpen doesn’t necessarily boast a bunch of household names. This certainly applies to Seattle’s current relief crew. Mariners Bullpen xwOBA (2021)Anthony Misiewicz .217Kendall Graveman .233Ljay Newsome .261Keynan Middleton .292Rafael Montero .297Will Vest .309Casey Sadler .310Drew Steckenrider .321MLB RP xwOBA .323 Every member of the bullpen who’s faced 20-plus hitters has an xwOBA below the league-average mark for relief pitchers. That’s impressive. Having this kind of quality depth has certainly made Servais’ job a bit easier during this very young season. Even if the bullpen loses Ljay Newsome and his .261 xwOBA to replace Margevicius in the rotation, there’s a lot to like about the relief corps assembled by GM Jerry Dipoto. Sure, it’s possible the team’s relievers collectively crater at some point. Obviously, health issues can derail any bullpen. But there’s no evidence to suggest the Mariners’ pen will collapse. That’s assuming Dipoto doesn’t trade his best relievers this summer. Sorry, not sorry. Finally Seattle fans should keep the faith even if my dire warnings of impending collapse become reality. Why? By the end of July, the major-league roster could look considerably different – and better – than it does right now. There’s help on the way. At some point in the near future, currently injured players like Jake Fraley and Shed Long should be available to return to the Mariners. That’s assuming neither player suffers a rehab setback. Although both Fraley and Long only have a combined 385 career plate appearances, the duo would represent fresh blood for Servais’ lineup and perhaps improved depth. In the coming months, the Mariners are likely to introduce top prospects Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh, and Jarred Kelenic to the majors. Perhaps these youngsters struggle as White and Trammell did. Still, each player represents an upgrade for Seattle over current options on the roster. So even if the kids stumble out of the gate, there’s a reasonable chance the Mariners will be better for having Gilbert, Raleigh, and Kelenic. So yes, I don’t like what might be waiting around the corner for the Mariners. But I believe there’s a reasonable chance this team will look different and be better by August. Will it be too late for the club to make a late run at a postseason spot? Maybe. But never say never. My Oh My…Go!

Thanks to a heralded crop of prospects and a big-league roster bursting with promise, optimism about the future of the Seattle Mariners is on the rise. Fans are beginning to believe the youngsters will eventually spearhead Seattle’s return to MLB relevance for the first time in nearly two decades. The national media has even begun taking notice of the scrappy squad from the Pacific Northwest. Still, everything isn’t as rosy with the youth movement as the Mariners’ respectable 8-5 start suggests. Unfortunately, the kid’s bats have been mostly dormant through the first two weeks of the season. It’s the Mariners’ oldest position players – Kyle Seager (33) and Mitch Haniger (30) – who are actually driving the team’s early success. A comparison of the pair’s combined production to their teammates underscores the importance of maintaining a veteran presence in a young lineup. Essentially, Seager and Haniger are the engines propelling the Mariners’ lineup right now. Yes, 26-year-old Ty France is hitting, as most team observers believed he would. The third-year player is slashing .271/.386/.438 with a 140 OPS+. But after France, there’s a shortage of good news stories regarding Seattle’s young hitters. To be clear, the early struggles of the Mariners’ inexperienced position players isn’t an indictment of the strategy of building a youthful, athletic roster employed by GM Jerry Dipoto. The organization’s rebuild is on the right track – even if the kids are scuffling at the moment. Still, the first two weeks of 2021 serve as a reminder that young players are likely to struggle, as they adjust to big-league competition. It’s part of the development process. That’s why the steadying influence of Seager and Haniger in the clubhouse and on the field is so vital to the kids. It gives them time to blossom into full-time major leaguers. Imagine for a moment that Seager and Haniger weren’t in the picture. The Mariners wouldn’t have a player with over 1,000 career plate appearances. In fact, the veteran duo has nearly twice as many career plate appearances (7,144) as the rest of the 40-man roster (3,880). As the following illustrates, the vast majority of position players have yet to reach the 500-plate appearance milestone. That’s not even a season’s worth of experience for a regular. Fortunately, Mariners fans don’t have to worry about life without Seager and Haniger. That’s assuming each player remains healthy and Dipoto doesn’t get the itch to trade the thirty-somethings this summer. Yes, all good things must come to an end. But resisting the urge to deal would be prudent – at least in 2021. Names like Taylor Trammell, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Cal Raleigh, and Logan Gilbert dominate the conversation when we discuss the Mariners’ future. But only one of these promising players – Trammell – is in the majors. The 23-year-old has experienced several positives – a team-leading eight walks, crushing two home runs, and a few web gems in the field. Unfortunately, Trammell is leading the majors with an alarmingly high 45.7-percent strikeout rate. Moreover, he’s scuffled on the base paths. There’s a lot to like about the kid, but there’s plenty of room for growth too. And that’s why having leaders, such as Seager and Haniger in the lineup and Marco Gonzales on the pitching staff matters. Not only have these established players struggled during their careers, they’ve fought their way back to have success. Each can provide mentorship to Trammell and other youngsters that can’t be quantified by statistics – conventional or otherwise. Furthermore, proven veterans take pressure off the young guys by delivering results – like Seager and Haniger have thus far. The Mariners’ endgame is to create a competitive roster teeming with young, controllable players – that’s a good plan. But baseball is hard. The kids are already facing adversity and will continue to encounter it on the path leading Seattle back to postseason relevance. That’s why keeping a few veterans around to serve as guides is more important than ever to the kids and to the franchise’s long-term success. My Oh My…Go!

Mitch Haniger Mariners

Will the Seattle Mariners contend in 2021? Probably not. But after the season, GM Jerry Dipoto will know what remains for Seattle to be a 2022 contender. Essentially, the Mariners are entering a season of discovery. The premise of waiting another year for postseason baseball in Seattle won’t go over well with a long-suffering fan base. But that’s the reality the Mariners face by Dipoto’s design. For proof, consider how the team performed last season and what’s been done to improve the roster since. Lean Lineup The Mariners’ run production ranked in the bottom-third of MLB in most categories. To that point, only two qualified hitters had an OPS+ above league-average – Kyle Lewis (126) and Kyle Seager (122). Lewis started the season on fire before slumping badly. Seager’s production also dipped in September, although his decline wasn’t as noticeable. Others had a strong OPS+, but with less playing time. Austin Nola (152 OPS+) was one of the Mariners’ best hitters before being traded to the Padres. Ty France (129), who joined Seattle in the same deal, performed well. So did Dylan Moore (139). On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. Therefore, a hitter with a 150 OPS+ was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. Still, too many regulars delivered subpar production: J.P. Crawford (92 OPS+), Tim Lopes (80), Evan White (57), and Shed Long (50). Newcomer Luis Torrens (97) was just below average after joining the Mariners in September. A Promising Rotation The pitching staff’s overall numbers were awful thanks to an ineffective bullpen hamstrung by injuries. Conversely, the rotation demonstrated some promise. Starters combined for a .308 xwOBA tying for ninth lowest in MLB with Houston. Four Mariners had an xwOBA better than the league-average: Yusei Kikuchi (.279), Marco Gonzales (.291), and Justus Sheffield (.303), and Nick Margevicius (.301). Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA last year = .312 Still, everything wasn’t hunky-dory with the rotation. Although Kikuchi’s xwOBA was excellent, he experienced command and consistency troubles. A 4.34 ERA from Justin Dunn doesn’t sound bad. But a .369 xwOBA with a 15.7-percent walk rate is bad. No Relief For The Weary Two of the Mariners’ biggest 2020 bullpen additions – Carl Edwards Jr. and Yoshihisa Hirano – made just 18 combined appearances due to health. Worsening matters, too few relievers delivered value. Still, there were several notable performers. Anthony Misiewicz (.278 xwOBA) impressed as a rookie. So did fellow freshmen Yohan Ramírez (.305), on occasion. But his 21.3-percent walk rate was worst in the majors. With the exception of one outing, rookie swingman Ljay Newsome (.279) was good. So was journeyman Casey Sadler (.247). So, What Got Fixed? Not enough to contend. Dipoto chose to focus on two areas – retooling the bullpen and adding rotation depth. That’s it. No hitters from outside the organization were added to the 40-man roster. Two key bullpen arms came from AL West rivals. Rafael Montero via a trade with Texas and free agent Keynan Middleton from the Angels. Both pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Reliever Will Vest arrived via the Rule 5 draft. Finding Rule 5 picks to help in the bullpen is part of Dipoto’s playbook. In 2018, the Mariners drafted Brandon Brennan. A year later, Ramírez. Vest now gets an opportunity to follow suit. To bolster the rotation, Dipoto signed Chris Flexen, who spent 2020 with the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). In 116.2 innings, Flexen struck out 131 hitters against 30 walks. If the 26-year-old continues his KBO success in MLB, the Mariners have a solid starter under club control through 2026. Dipoto’s splashiest move was signing former Mariner and fan-favorite James Paxton. The southpaw spent two years with the Yankees after being dealt to the Bronx for Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams. So where does Dipoto’s offseason maneuvers leave the Mariners heading into 2021? Let’s discuss. Hope Is The Course Of Action With no external help coming, the Mariners are essentially counting on a young, unproven lineup taking the next step in its maturation. In a nutshell, hope is the plan for improving the offense this year. Look across the diamond to see what I mean. White is an elite defender at first base, but he must improve a .176/.252/.346 slash and a 41.6-percent strikeout rate. On a positive note, the 24-year-old’s hard-hit rate and a strong 30-game stretch last year suggests he could still rebound to be a foundational player in Seattle. After a breakout 2020, Moore is Seattle’s starting second baseman. That’s assuming the small sample of 38 games and 159 plate appearances qualifies as a season. Ironically, a year ago, the team hoisted the same status onto another player with about the same amount of experience as Moore’s. It didn’t go well. Long was anointed the 2020 Opening Day second baseman after a solid, but brief, 42-game/168 plate appearance audition in 2019. Unfortunately, his year went sideways due to a leg injury requiring season-ending surgery. Now, the 25-year-old seems to be an afterthought. That’s unfortunate and troubling. Crawford’s glove is outstanding, but his offensive profile remains unclear. The 26-year-old was adept at drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts leading to a .336 OBP. However, the team needs more extra base power from their shortstop. Seager begins his tenth season as the Mariners’ third baseman. The 33-year-old is the anchor of the infield and the organization itself. Lewis returns in center field after winning 2020 Rookie of the Year. Much like Lewis did during post-shutdown summer camp, prospect Taylor Trammell pleasantly surprised the Mariners in Spring Training. So much so, the 23-year-old will be Seattle’s Opening Day left fielder. Mitch Haniger is back in right field after several injuries sidelined him since June 2019. It’s plausible Haniger is Seattle’s best player in 2021. Starting catcher Tom Murphy also missed last season. In 2019, Murphy hit 18 home runs and .273/.324/.535 in 75 games. Still, the fact the right-handed hitter feasted on southpaw pitching, but not so much the other way (.653 OPS vs RHP; 1.103 vs LHP) bears watching. Torrens will share catching duties with Murphy. Last year, he hit .257/.325/.371, although the 24-year-old did have an impressive hard-hit rate. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the organization’s top catching prospect, Cal Raleigh, debuts this year. Ty France projects to be the primary designated hitter, although he’ll see time in the field too. Regardless of where France plays, his bat will be a staple in Seattle’s lineup. In 112 games spread over two seasons with the Padres and the Mariners, the San Diego State product has 17 doubles, 11 home runs, a .265/.326/.431 slash, and a 105 OPS+. The Starting 6.5 And The Other Guy Gonzales headlines a six-man rotation with Paxton, Kikuchi, Sheffield, Flexen, and Dunn behind him. Margevicius, who competed with Dunn for the final rotation spot, will be a reliever. That said, expect the 24-year-old to make starts. Perhaps he piggybacks with another starter during games this year. Injuries ruined Paxton’s 2020, which only advanced his injury-prone reputation. Still, the 32-year-old averaged 28 starts and 156 innings in 2018-19. Moreover, his .296 wOBA was twentieth best among starters during that span. In a six-man rotation, Big Maple making 24-28 starts with similar production would be perfect. We don’t know whether Flexen’s KBO performance carries over to MLB. But his 2.3 BB/9 in Korea is reminiscent to a 2.9 BB/9 in 122 minor-league appearances. Additionally, the right-hander’s 116.2 innings logged last season suggests he could handle a greater workload than other starters. Remember, Gonzales led Seattle with just 69.2 frames last year. Realistically, Dunn wouldn’t make a standard five-man rotation. Now, the 25-year-old must demonstrate he deserves to keep his gig by the time management deems top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert (the other guy) MLB-ready. More Relief, But How Much More? The bullpen definitely looks different and it should be improved. But how much better? The answer will figure heavily into the Mariner’s season record. Montero will close games. Getting the ball to Montero will be Kendall Graveman, Misiewicz, Middleton, Sadler, Vest, and Margevicius. Either Domingo Tapia or Drew Steckenrider will take the final bullpen spot. Sounds great, but this is an unproven group. Montero’s 95.8-MPH average fastball velocity last year was nearly 3-MPH higher than when he debuted in 2014. Yet, he remains an unknown quantity at closer. The same is true about Graveman, who has little relief experience (14.2 innings). Something else to monitor – Middleton’s walk rate. In his 19.2 innings since returning from TJ surgery, he’s walked 13 while striking out 17. Not a good ratio for high-leverage relievers. And the rest of the crew? They’re inexperienced and/or have yet to succeed in the majors. And That’s Where The Adventure Begins As noted at the outset, Dipoto will learn this season what he’ll need to do to make the Mariners a contender next year. But fans should expect a bumpy ride during the 2021 campaign, while the team learns lessons, both good and bad, about itself. Remember, few position players have significant major-league experience. Hence, the potential for turbulence as the season unfolds. Consider this: Seager has more career MLB plate appearances than the combined total of the eight hitters starting with the former North Carolina Tar Heel on Opening Day: Career MLB PA’s1B – Evan White (202 PA) 2B – Dylan Moore (441) SS – J.P. Crawford (853) 3B – Kyle Seager (5,534) LF – Taylor Trammell (0) CF – Kyle Lewis (317) RF – Mitch Haniger (1,499) DH – Ty France (356) C – Tom Murphy (491) We’ve seen flashes from Lewis, Moore, France, and Murphy. But will these players sustain their success over a long season? And let’s not forget Trammell will struggle too. So will eventual call-ups Raleigh and Jarred Kelenic. That’s a lot of uncertainty. There are reasons to be optimistic about the rotation too. But a wait-and-see approach is advisable. Gonzales has a reputation of consistently delivering quality outings. Who else on the starting staff can make this claim? Paxton can do it, when healthy. Sheffield may develop into that pitcher with more time. So may Kikuchi and Flexen, but they’ve yet to deliver consistent quality outings in MLB. In fact, only three starters have more than 20 career starts in the majors. Three! Career MLB StartsJames Paxton (136)Marco Gonzales (88)Yusei Kikuchi (41)Nick Margevicius (19)Justus Sheffield (17)Justin Dunn (14)Chris Flexen (11) With so much depending on 10-plus players demonstrating their potential this year, two basic outcomes await the Mariners. One is a surprisingly good year creating a postseason buzz in the Pacific Northwest. In that case, Dipoto likely acquires players in-season capable of elevating his club in 2021 and beyond. On the flip side, the Mariners end up closer to last place than a Wild Card berth. Then, they’re deadline sellers. That said, Dipoto doesn’t have many pending free agents to peddle. Any reliever performing well might be available. We’ve discussed Seager’s poison pill extension for 2022 ad nauseam, so we’ll move on. Alas, the most valued potential free agent would be a healthy Paxton performing up to his immense talent. Would Dipoto trade the big left-hander for a second time? If you don’t know the answer, ask Taijuan Walker. Regardless of where the Mariners finish this year, we’ll get to enjoy a preview of what awaits in 2022. That’s when young studs like Lewis, Sheffield, Trammell, Kelenic, Gilbert, Raleigh, and perhaps Julio Rodriguez will comprise over 25-percent of the team. And that’ll be the best part of the adventure this year – watching the Mariners’ young roster morphing into something special. My Oh My…Go!

Face it baseball fans, the sabermetric revolution is over. The nerds won. Advanced metrics influence roster moves, player development, and gameday strategy for all 30 MLB teams. Ironically, many local and national broadcasters resist using saber-stats despite knowing the clubs they cover depend on this information. Instead, booths across the league continue relying on generations-old conventional numbers when discussing players. It’s as if these holdouts prefer being stuck in a time loop over embracing the future. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating broadcasters altogether scrap conventional stats that were popular when your grandparents were your age. Baseball has a rich history and should preserve it. On the other hand, ducking innovation is a disservice to fans. Isn’t the goal of a game-caller to convey the most meaningful information available to the fan? If the answer is yes, advanced metrics, in some form, have a place in every broadcast. Again, there’s no need to abandon conventional stats such as AVG and RBI for hitters or wins, ERA, and saves for pitchers. These standards, generally preferred by longtime fans, should remain part of our lexicon. That said, it wouldn’t hurt for broadcasters to use advanced thinking when using old-school numbers. Doing so would prevent providing misleading info to fans and might even open the door to introducing the new stuff. Take RBI, for example. Driving in runs is a skill deserving of recognition. But the number of RBI a player has may not correctly reflect his ability. Other than the solo home run, it takes base runners for the batter to generate an RBI. Yes, the man at the plate has to do his part. But in reality, the quality of the lineup and its ability to provide RBI opportunities is a large factor rarely mentioned. Consider this; the 100-RBI season has long been considered a benchmark of offensive excellence. Yet, Mike Trout, one of the best players ever, has accomplished the feat just three times since his 2012 Rookie of the Year season. A retired player, David Ortiz, did it four times during the same span and he hasn’t played since 2016. So has Trout’s teammate, Albert Pujols (because he had Trout to drive in). Does anyone for an instant believe either of these players were better than Mike Trout since he debuted? Instead of touting a hitter’s RBI total, why not focus on the stats measuring the skills needed to drive in runs – reaching base (OBP) and/or slugging (SLG). If the player is adept at both skills, use OPS. Keep the RBI available for the diehards. But why not place the other stats on the screen also? Some local broadcasters are already taking steps in that direction. So how might broadcasters incorporate new-fangled metrics without losing the attention of the casual viewer? Use those new numbers when relevant to the game situation or as a positive reinforcement of a player’s achievements. Whenever possible, deliver the stat in a relatable context – compare a player to the league-average player in some way. Many advanced stats are designed to do just that. Most importantly, avoid explaining how the sausage is made. Honestly, how many casual fans know how to calculate AVG or SLG? Just provide a quick explanation, how the stat relates to the player being discussed, and then move on. That should suffice for the casual fan. The nerds already know how the sausage is made – they’re nerds! On-screen graphics are a great way to interject advanced metrics into the consciousness of viewers. Weighted runs created plus (wRC+) quantifies a hitter’s overall production. Last year, Kyle Seager had a 118 wRC+. Since a 100 wRC+ is always average, that means Seager was 18-percent more productive than the average player. This screenshot from a Mariners broadcast last night says all that with a picture. Seeing Seager’s wRC+ in this light is something Mariners fans will probably appreciate, even if they’re not seam-heads. Their veteran third baseman was above average offensively in 2020. Fans intuitively knew this already. But now, they have an over-arching modern stat quantifying his productivity. How can that be a bad thing? It can’t. Broadcasts can also utilize graphics to illustrate pertinent stats – old and new – together in a fresh manner. That’s something fans of all generations should be able to accept. The below screenshot from a 2019 Mets game provides such an example. It’s a nice blend of conventional numbers with a few newer ones too. There’s even room for a sponsor’s name. Next up is another example from a Giants game in 2019. What’s fun about this graphic is it’s a product of the opposing team’s broadcast. AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain does a fine job of doing everything possible to inform their viewers. In this instance, we see different metrics included with the familiar stuff. The fan learns how Giants starter Drew Pomeranz fared using wins-losses and ERA and that opponents hit .305 against him. Also on display, Pomeranz’s pitch distribution and the AVG hitters produced against each of his pitches. That’s a lot of information in a snapshot. But it’s not overly nerdy and there’s something for everyone. Our next example is something I saw last night. ROOT Sports Northwest did a splendid job of using advanced metrics and familiar conventional numbers to demonstrate how Seattle’s Opening Day starter – Marco Gonzales – ranks among peers within the AL West division. Very quickly, the viewer is left with the impression Gonzales is much better than some at the national level perceive him. In fact, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the AL West over the past three seasons. This is not a narrative you’re likely to hear from a national outlet. Mariners fans will undoubtedly eat up this kind of information even though it’s not in the form of old-school numbers. A stat tending to receive consternation from the old-guard is wins above replacement (WAR). In the preceding, we see the FanGraphs version (fWAR) in use. Like it or not, WAR is increasingly used by fans, baseball writers, and Hall of Fame voters. Now, it’s ever-so-slowly creeping into booths across the league. There’s no reason WAR couldn’t be made available more often during broadcasts. Again, no big definition needed. Just note WAR captures the total value of a player. For a position player, that’s offense, defense, base running. From there, mention the all-time leaders in career WAR are Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Henry Aaron. Sure, some grumps will fixate on Bonds’ inclusion with the best to ever play due to alleged PED use. But the message should be clear to the open-minded – the greatest players in the game have the highest WAR. If you haven’t noticed already, you’re seeing a bunch of screenshots from Mariners games. Their broadcasts provided a plethora of tasty examples on how to communicate advanced stats to the viewer in a smart fashion – particularly in the last year. ROOT Sports Northwest has also found innovative ways to use graphics to deliver snapshot identification of player trends – both good and bad. Last year, a Mariners broadcast captured the difficulties the team’s former designated hitter, Daniel Vogelbach, had against fastballs later in the season. It was a quick and dirty look using batting average and whiff rate – the percent of misses on swing attempts. We even learn most of Vogelbach’s home runs came off fastballs. This was relevant and easily understandable information about a slugger, who wasn’t slugging for Seattle at the time. Just last night, ROOT Sports explored the platoon splits of reigning AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis. Based on batting average alone, a fan might believe the right-handed hitting Lewis struggled against southpaws last year. However, a deeper look by play-by-play announcer Aaron Goldsmith discovered Seattle’s star center fielder was actually productive against lefties and righties in 2020. Former player turned analyst Mike Blowers astutely noted Lewis had so few plate appearances last year that his batting average likely would’ve normalized with more playing time. That’s player-speak for “it’s a small sample size.” This is an instance when sabermetrics and a player’s perspective combined to provide a quality product to viewers. The preceding screenshot doesn’t explain “the why” behind Lewis’ negative split. But the visual does give us reason to pause and consider what Goldsmith and Blowers were discussing. It’s just not in the numbers arena where graphics can help make the broadcast more viewer-friendly. I found this particular visual of the Twins’ lineup and bench players to be quite useful. Not only do we see the batting order, the handedness of both starters and reserves is also presented. Beyond the numbers, there’s another element of game broadcasts that’s in dire need of upgrading across the league – inputs from either the analyst in the booth or the pre/postgame show. Too often, they don’t deliver their valuable insight in a useable form to the masses. Consider this. One of my wife’s responsibilities as a paralegal is retaining expert witnesses for trial. The right expert for the job must possess three important characteristics. They have to be competent and have credibility with the jury. Most importantly, an expert witness must be capable of elaborating on their area of expertise, which is probably complicated, in a manner that jurors will understand. The same rings true with on-air baseball analysis. Unfortunately, analysts frequently fall into the trap of directing their evaluation of a player at the knowledge level of peers in the booth or studio rather than the viewer on the couch. Discussing a hitter’s mechanics or a pitcher’s arm slot without context is tantamount to a nerd spouting off about run expectancy without explanation. Believe it or not, many casual fans have no clue what the analyst is trying to convey about the player. There’s a simple solution to this challenge – at least I think it’s simple. Photographic training aids for the viewer. After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words. Here’s an example from a Mets broadcast in 2019 when former player and now-analyst Keith Hernandez discussed changes in the hand placement of Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. from two different seasons. This is information the average fan can at least relate to on some level. From here, the analyst could potentially explain why the different hand positions mattered or how the different stances affected Acuña’s ability to make contact, hit for power, etc. And isn’t it cool for a local broadcaster to be discussing an opposing player? Learning moments for fans don’t necessarily have to involve the hometown nine. Greatness should be recognized and discussed regardless of uniform. Everything mentioned thus far is doable with the right mindset. Unfortunately, the greatest hurdle to enacting change may be convincing broadcasters to come along for the ride. A common reason heard to justify resistance to advanced metrics is the fear of alienating fans, who don’t want to understand the data. That sounds like an excuse. If a booth crew can’t convey the information to the audience in a useful manner, that’s on them. Not the metrics. Choose the correct stats for a given situation, learn them, and then explain them. Our examples from AT&T SportsNet, NBC Sports Bay Area, ROOT Sports, and SNY demonstrated how to deliver advanced metrics with relative ease and in a manner that shouldn’t turn off fans not interested in the material. In reality, broadcasters have a tremendous opportunity to generate interest and influence fans through the use of advanced metrics. This task can be accomplished without suffocating viewers with big-brain data and overly busy graphics. Having said that, an all-hands effort is needed to deliver that quality product. Specifically, buy-in from the booth, studio, and producers. Easier said than done in some locations. The “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality towards the use of conventional stats won’t help grow a a sport in dire need of a fresher look. How would we have ever reached the moon with such a mindset? Including a few advanced metrics in baseball broadcasts is a smidge easier than space exploration. Make it so, broadcasters. My Oh My…Go!

J.P. Crawford Mariners

The Seattle Mariners face a big decision on J.P. Crawford, a Gold Glove defender yet to consistently produce at the plate. Is Crawford the team’s long-term answer at shortstop? Or, does Seattle pursue a more accomplished replacement at a position teeming with elite-level hitters? To be clear, Crawford isn’t a terrible hitter – far from it. As with his glove, there’s a lot to like about the 26-year-old from an offensive standpoint. The following illustrates areas where he excelled and the MLB average for each category. Crawford demonstrated superb plate discipline. He didn’t strikeout too often and walked at a league-average rate. Moreover, his swing and contact rates inside and outside (chase) the strike zone were better than average – top-20 in some cases. These accomplishments led to an OBP 14 points above average, which is certainly valuable to a lineup. Still, there’s been a longstanding concern regarding Crawford’s run production – a lack of power. A scouting report produced by MLB Pipeline discussed his light-hitting when he was at Class-AAA Lehigh Valley and a Top-100 prospect in 2017. Essentially, the California native’s batted balls have lacked the consistent explosiveness needed to regularly produce extra base hits. A great way to demonstrate this is with a modified form of my favorite advanced metric – xwOBA. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. For this discussion, let’s consider Crawford’s xwOBA only on the balls when he made contact (xwOBACON). Doing so removes walks and strikeouts, which gives us a better idea on the potency of his batted balls. It turns out the Lakewood High School product’s .329 xwOBACON was well below league-average (.378) last year. In fact, he ranked 172nd of 184 hitters putting 100-plus balls in play (BIP). Crawford also placed low among his Seattle teammates with at least 50 BIP. Mariner xwOBACON Leaders:Evan White (.458)Ty France (.437)Dylan Moore (.433)Kyle Lewis (.432)José Marmolejos (.401)Kyle Seager (.364)Luis Torrens (.350)Tim Lopes (.331)J.P. Crawford (.329)Shed Long Jr. (.297)Dee Strange-Gordon (.262) When we view Crawford’s slugging prowess through the lens of more familiar conventional stats and advanced metrics, we receive confirmation of what xwOBACON has already told us – the pop in his bat was subpar. It wasn’t just in the home run department where Crawford trailed the league. His 4.7-percent extra-base hit percentage was well below the 7.0-percent MLB standard for 2020. Furthermore, the 16th overall pick of the 2013 draft recorded a .391 SLG in 2,645 minor-league plate appearances. In the majors, he owns a .359 SLG in 853 plate appearances. It’s worth noting adjustments resulting in a supercharged bat would likely lead to Crawford missing on swings more often than he does now. But trading some contact for added pop would be worth it assuming the outcome was more production. Ideally, a nice blend of quality and quantity would be preferred. Easier said than done, obviously. Ironically, another young Mariner experienced the exact opposite problem as Crawford did last year – Evan White. Seattle’s other 2020 Gold Glover struck balls extremely hard, but didn’t make contact often enough. Just for fun, I did a side-by-side comparison of the pair with each player’s glaring issues highlighted in red. Obviously, Seattle fans hope both Crawford and White take the next step in their development during the upcoming season. Both are young and have the potential to help form the core of a contending roster. Still, time may be running out for Crawford to influence his destiny with the Mariners. Next offseason, a relatively large class of premier shortstops are projected to hit the free agent market. Candidates potentially available to the Mariners and 29 other teams include Francisco Lindor, Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story. All are All-Stars, several were Silver Slugger winners, two were MVP finalists. If Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto felt his young roster gelled in 2021 and was on the verge of something special, would he pursue any of these acclaimed shortstops next winter? Perhaps, but it likely depends on how the Mariners view Crawford. Despite the absence of a power stroke, it’s understandable why Philadelphia drafted him so high and how his potential intrigued Dipoto. He’s hard-working, athletic, a great defender, and demonstrates excellent plate discipline. With more power, Seattle would have an all-star caliber player. A less expensive, younger option than the stars of next year’s free agent class. That’s why the upcoming season will be pivotal in determining Crawford’s future with the Mariners. Sticking with him past 2021 means Dipoto bypasses a chance at signing Lindor, Correa, Seager, Story, or Báez to anchor the middle of his infield. To date, a compelling argument can’t be made for keeping Crawford rather than pursue one of these star shortstops. Then again, there’s a full 162-game season approaching. It’ll give Crawford the opportunity to demonstrate he should be Seattle’s shortstop of the future. If he can thrive at the plate this year, Dipoto’s decision next offseason will be an easy one. Otherwise, the Mariners will continue searching for an adequate, long-term replacement for Álex Rodríguez two decades after he left the Emerald City. My Oh My…Go!

Mitch Haniger Mariners

When Mitch Haniger last appeared in a regular season game for the Seattle Mariners in June 2019, he was Seattle’s best player. Nearly two years later, Haniger may reclaim the “best Mariner” mantle in 2021. To some of you, the notion of Haniger having a better year than the Mariners’ growing stable of young studs sounds a bit far-fetched. Plus, there’s his health. Injuries, surgeries, and rehab setbacks have sidelined the Cal Poly product since June 6, 2019. And let’s not forget Haniger was having a subpar season when we last saw him. So, what’s driving my seemingly inane optimism in the face of everything I just mentioned? Two assumptions. Haniger is healthy and will remain so – there’s no reason to believe otherwise. A player of his ilk is able to identify and correct whatever was causing his below-average offensive production in 2019. Since I’m not a doctor and just a dumb blogger, I focused on Haniger’s 2019 statistics rather than his physical readiness. When doing so, I kept running across indicators suggesting swing mechanics may have played a central role in his down year. Again, I’m the dumb stats guy, not a hitting guru. But that was my takeaway. To see what I mean, let’s start by comparing Haniger’s offensive production at the time of his injury in 2019 to previous years. Very quickly, we see several things amiss. A Spike In Strikeouts After a breakout campaign in 2017, Haniger demonstrated even greater growth the following year with his first All-Star selection and an eleventh-place finish in MVP voting. Unfortunately, a spike in strikeouts sparked noticeable declines in every slash category in 2019. In 25 of Haniger’s 63 games in 2019, he struck out two-or-more times. By contrast, the right-handed hitter achieved this dubious milestone 35 times in 157 games the year prior and 27 times in 96 contests during the 2017 season. Strikeouts were definitely a problem for Haniger in 2019. Some of you may suggest strikeouts have been trending upwards across MLB over the last decade and Haniger’s spike in 2019 was a reflection of league-wide trends. It’s true the league’s strikeout rate has risen from 18.1-percent in 2011 to 23.4-percent last year. But strikeouts only increased by 0.7-percent across the majors in 2018-19. Haniger’s rate jumped nearly ten times that. Something else was going on with the Mariners’ right fielder. Dropping Contact Rates, Especially On Chase Pitches When we turn our attention to Haniger’s plate discipline numbers, we see a potential smoking gun to his sudden rise in strikeouts. In 2017-19, Haniger’s swing rates remained relatively stable whether he was targeting pitches in the strike zone or “chase” pitches off the plate. It’s worth noting the Californian didn’t expand the strike zone during his suboptimal 2019. When he went down in June, his 24.9-percent chase rate was 30th lowest among qualified MLB hitters. Still, we do see a negative turn with Haniger’s contact rates. The steepest decline coming on chase pitches. In 2018-19, the league-average chase contact rate hovered around 63-percent. In 2018, Haniger was just below average. But a year later, his 53.6-percent chase contact rate ranked 140th among 162 qualified hitters. Less Grounders, More Unproductive Airborne Balls When Haniger did make contact in 2019, he wasn’t generating enough line drives. The following illustrates the fifth-year major leaguer’s rates for ground balls, line drives, fly balls, and pop-ups. Also included, the MLB average for each category in 2020. Haniger’s rates were stable between 2017 and 2018, almost identical. But there were significant changes the following season. In a vacuum, a drop in ground balls sounds appealing. That’s until we notice he hit fewer line drives with significant climbs in fly balls and useless pop-ups. Just how important are line drives to Haniger or any hitter? Our next table answers that question by showing the distribution of doubles and home runs, plus the slash line success based on type of batted ball. Intuitively, we know line drives are great. But the differences between the outcome of liners compared to other batted balls is starker than some fans may realize. As you can see, some value can be derived from flyballs. But mostly on home runs and a relatively low number of extra base hits. If it’s not a dinger, a flyball more likely leads to an out than an on-base event. Ground balls can lead to runners on base, but not often enough. This is why consistently hitting grounders isn’t the strategy of big-league batters. The least fruitful batted ball is the pop-up. It’s almost as statistically ineffective to an offense as a strikeout. Missed It By That Much Based on his swing-and-miss problems and drop in well-struck balls in 2019, it seems reasonable Haniger’s issues could boil down to not finding the ball with the ‘sweet spot” of his bat often enough. If there was only a metric measuring this. Oh wait, there is. Naturally, the smart people at Baseball Savant found a way to quantify sweet spot success. Sweet Spot percentage (SwSp%) quantifies how often a hitter produces batted-ball events with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. Balls hit within the sweet spot range create those very favorable line drives at a very high rate. With Haniger, we know his line drive rate dropped significantly in 2019 compared to the year prior when he was an All-Star. As you may have expected by now, the delta in his annual sweet spot percentage aligned with the decline in liners he experienced. The following illustrates Haniger’s sweet spot percentages in 2017-19, plus the MLB average for last season. After being above the league average in 2017-18, Haniger’s SwSp% was down nearly five points before he went to the IL in June 2019. To be clear, a high SwSp% doesn’t guarantee success. But striking the ball on the sweet spot is an essential element of making consistent quality contact. The amount of contact made is paramount also. Optimally, a hitter produces a smooth blend of quality and quantity – pitchers would prefer the opposite. In Haniger’s case, the negative delta in his SwSp% between the 2017-18 seasons and 2019 was the core issue – not the actual number itself. Not The First Time Haniger Scuffled It’s important to remember a key truth easily overlooked if we myopically stare at Statcast without context. Haniger’s 2019 season was a small-sample size – just 63 games. He may have corrected course if it weren’t for his season-ending injury. Haniger was slashing .244/.331/.520 with seven home runs and a 127 OPS+ in 142 plate appearances through the end of April 2019. It was after this point, in May-June, when his productivity went sideways. With this in mind, I searched for a period of similar length when Haniger scuffled in a comparable manner and then rebounded. I found one in his first year as a Mariner – June 23 through August 31, 2017. The numbers aren’t identical. Haniger struck out at a much higher rate in 2019, although he did earn many more free passes and hit for more power. But both periods were tough stretches for a player normally associated with top-shelf production. It’s worth noting Haniger missed time during the 2017 period after Jacob DeGrom of the Mets buzzed a fastball off his face. He’d bounce back in September capping off the season with seven home runs and a .353/.374/.613 slash line. Haniger’s September surge foreshadowed his outstanding 2018 campaign. Best Mariner, Again?  For some, the sexy picks for best Mariner in 2021 will be shiny new names such as Kyle Lewis, Ty France, Taylor Trammell, and Jarred Kelenic. But don’t sleep on Haniger. Remember, he possesses something the youngsters don’t have yet – a proven record of sustained success in the majors. The issues at the heart of Haniger’s troubles in 2019 seem correctable to me, especially by such a talented and intense player with a legendary work ethic. As we’ve noted, it’s plausible he would’ve fixed himself with the benefit of time in 2019. Unfortunately, the injury bug had other plans. Since Cactus League stats are fool’s gold, it’ll be well into the regular season before we can reasonably assess how Haniger and his young teammates are performing in 2021. Regardless of how the upcoming season goes, it’ll be fun watching the Mariners’ youngsters arrive and attempt to thrive at the big-league level. Still, in this instance, I prefer age and experience over youth and potential. My preseason pick for best player on the Mariners in 2021 is Mitch Haniger. My Oh My…Go!

Seattle Mariners Managing Partner and Chairman John Stanton faces a franchise-defining crossroads. The path Stanton chooses will be abundantly clear once the Mariners replace former President and CEO Kevin Mather. If the team makes an internal hire, it signals the organization prefers staying within its comfort zone at a time when getting outside help to challenge deep-rooted paradigms would be the best course of action. Let’s face it, Seattle’s baseball club has been mired in mediocrity, unable to get out of its own way for nearly two decades. Hanging over the team like a dark cloud is the longest active postseason drought in North American professional sports. It’s an organization desperately needing a facelift, not more of the same. Promoting from within facilitates remaining an afterthought on the national stage rather than becoming an industry leader. Strong words, I know. But my opinions on leading an organization were forged by decades of experience in the U.S. Navy. A baseball team may seem a far cry from a military unit, but the same basic leadership tenets apply to both. Leading through personal example, moral responsibility, self-accountability, open dialogue, and sincere interest in people. Editor: Luke retired from the Navy in 2014 with the rank of Commander. He worked in the Naval Aviation community making seven forward deployments on four different aircraft carriers. His assignments included leadership roles with combatant commands, various DOD agencies, and even a tour at FEMA HQ in Washington, D.C. His 33-year career culminated as a Commanding Officer of a unit stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. And that brings us to Mather and the culture permitting his improper behavior to persist for an extended period. Let’s not overlook the fact Mather had been with the team for 25 years until resigning last week following outrageously insensitive and inappropriate comments to a Rotary Club breakfast group. The disrespectful views publicly expressed towards people inside and outside his organization wasn’t a first-time transgression for the long-time club executive – far from it. Thanks to diligent journalism by the Seattle Times, we know the Mariners made financial settlements with women filing sexual harassment complaints filed against Mather over a decade ago. But he wasn’t a lone wolf gone rogue. Mather’s predecessor as team President – Chuck Armstrong – and now-former Executive Vice President Bob Aylward were also named in grievances. Inflaming the situation, all three men remained within the Mariners family with Mather being promoted twice into positions of greater authority and influence. Defenders of Stanton and his partners can say majority ownership of the Mariners was in the hands of others at the time of the sexual harassment incidents. True, but Stanton and the minority owners comprising the new partnership are holdovers from the previous regime. Mariners chairman emeritus John Ellis emphasized this point at the time of the sale’s approval by MLB. “There’s not a soul, other than the people retiring, that will be impacted, because all of these same partners are still involved.” – Mariners chairman emeritus John Ellis Essentially, the transfer of team ownership more resembled a game of musical chairs in the boardroom than an actual changing of the guard. Then, there are Stanton’s own words. During a press conference following Mather’s resignation, Stanton, a minority owner since 2000, stated more than once he didn’t agree with the assertion Mather’s recent public comments created a trust problem with its fan base, staff, and player personnel. Stanton declared, “I don’t agree with the premise.” He later commented, “I don’t think that the trust has been completely eroded” and “You build trust over time, and you build that relationship by communicating honestly, consistently.” Stanton’s statements remind me of a phrase uttered daily in the Navy. “One ‘aw, shit’ wipes out a thousand attaboys.” Unfortunately, Mr. Stanton, your former CEO’s commentary in front of a group he perceived as friendly erased a tremendous amount of goodwill your organization has built up. Particularly when the controversial statements came from a senior executive with sexual harassment complaints on his résumé. In reality, Mather burned through a great deal of your club’s reputation-equity during a 40-minute Zoom call. Perhaps trust in the organization hasn’t completely eroded. But the Mariners certainly face a crisis of confidence. Winning back the faith of skeptical fans won’t be easy or a short-term undertaking. That’s why now is the time for a fresh message delivered by a new voice, not a familiar face. Hiring an outsider would go against the Mariners’ normal status quo approach. But an agent of change is what this team needs. Someone not tethered to franchise history or personal relationships. A leader with the necessary authority to enact change and the charisma to sell employees, players, and the fan base on the team’s new direction. It simply can’t be someone with ties to Stanton or other owners. Assume for a moment the Mariners were willing to hire someone from outside the organization with a national profile. The name mentioned most often is former Cubs and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, who currently works for MLB. Epstein’s credentials are exemplary. He led two organizations with World Series droughts spanning over a century to championships. But there’s a critical factor to consider when discussing Epstein or other qualified candidates from the outside. The appetite of ownership to change course with an unfamiliar face at the helm. An outsider will address uncomfortable truths with people throughout the organization – including ownership. Will team leadership, who has a reputation for being allergic to criticism, embrace the concept of self-assessment and potentially receiving negative feedback? The truth will set you free, but it can hurt. It is plausible ownership opts to split Mather’s President and CEO duties between two people. Doing so would make sense. Perhaps giving one person so much authority negatively affected the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the franchise. In that case, adding an outsider CEO and promoting Executive Vice President and GM Jerry Dipoto to the President’s position would have merit. Dipoto is the best thing to happen to the Mariners’ baseball operations since Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick left Seattle after the 2003 season. Perhaps elevating the sixth-year GM permits him to avoid undue influence from a President/CEO more focused on dollars and cents than building a sustainable winner the way Dipoto believes is best. Moving forward, the competence and character of ownership will determine whether the team regains the trust and confidence of its fan base. Mather’s inappropriate behavior and the organization’s willingness to retain and subsequently promote him speaks volumes about its culture. Not just to fans, but more importantly, to employees forced to work under someone with a documented history of disrespect and intolerance. A team owner, like a Navy Commanding Officer, sets the moral tone for the organization. As managing partner, Stanton can pivot his organization in a new and much more promising direction with the counsel of an outside voice. The alternative isn’t as appealing. More of the same. Big promises. No results. That would be an unfortunate outcome for all involved. My Oh My…Go!

Luis Torrens Mariners

Seattle Mariners catcher Luis Torrens has put in a great deal of effort into improving his defensive skills. But we shouldn’t overlook Torrens’ bat when assessing his future with the Mariners. There are indicators suggesting he could eventually deliver more production to Seattle’s lineup than he has up to this point of his young career. Torrens arrived in the Emerald City last August with Ty France, Andres Muñoz, and minor leaguer Taylor Trammell via a trade sending Austin Nola, Austin Adams, and Dan Altavilla to San Diego. At the time, most attention was focused on Trammell (top-100 prospect), France (possible third baseman of future), and Muñoz (potential closer). Not the likely backup to Tom Murphy in 2021 and eventually the organization’s top catching prospect, Cal Raleigh. So why my interest in Torrens, a projected reserve? An intriguing average exit velocity with San Diego and Seattle in 2020. How many Mariners fans realize the Venezuela native’s 92.3-MPH exit velocity was highest on the team last season ahead of Evan White (91.1)? But there’s more. It turns out Torrens’ 57.1-percent hard hit rate with the Padres and Mariners last year was fourth highest among MLB hitters with 50-plus batted balls. Check out the impressive names surrounding Seattle’s newest catcher on the following list. For anyone not familiar with Ke’Bryan Hayes, he’s an early favorite for 2021 NL Rookie of the Year after an impressive 24-game debut with the Pirates last season. Highest Hard Hit Rate (50 Batted Ball Min)Fernando Tatís Jr. – 62.2% (SDP)Travis d’Arnaud – 57.8% (ATL)Miguel Sanó – 57.3% (MIN)Luis Torrens – 57.1% (SEA)Ronald Acuña Jr. – 57% (ATL)Corey Seager – 55.9% (LAD)Eloy Jiménez – 55.7% (CWS)Christian Yelich – 55.6% (MIL)Ke’Bryan Hayes – 55.4% (PIT)Mike Trout – 55.1% (LAA) Yes, Torrens’ 78 plate appearances last year equate to a small sample size and should keep our expectations in check. On the other hand, conventional and advanced stats from his 2019 campaign with Class-AA Amarillo hint at an ability to deliver value with his bat. The following illustrates the right-handed hitter’s numbers with the Sod Poodles (!!) two years ago. Also on display, how each stat compared to 225 AA players with 300-plus plate appearances. Torrens’s strikeout and walk rates ranked in the top 25-percent in 2019. Moreover, his slash-line was particularly robust with only two players in the entire Padres farm system recording a higher wRC+. MLB Pipeline’s number-45 prospect Luis Campusano (148) and Torren’s current teammate, France (196). It’s worth noting France led all minor leaguers in wRC+; Julio Rodríguez (164) led the Mariners’ system. Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. Every point above 100 represents a percentage point above average. League-average is always 100. As I wrote recently, approaching MiLB statistics with caution is advisable. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we can’t glean something from them. For example, consider the transformation in Nola’s production numbers after joining the Mariners organization. We now know Nola enjoyed a breakthrough in 2019 when he made changes to his approach suggested by the Mariners. The result was a reduction in groundballs and improved power numbers. His success first materialized with Class-AAA Tacoma and then followed him to the majors as a rookie and in 2020. Could Seattle help Torrens in a similar manner? Obviously, every player is unique in so many ways. Still, Torrens would certainly benefit from putting more well struck balls in the air rather than driving them into the ground. Here’s what the groundball rates of both Torrens and Nola looked like in the years leading up to the 2019-20 season. Imagine if Torrens could reduce his groundball rate, as Nola did, and continued to have a high hard hit rate. Maybe he won’t ever be top-10, as was the case in 2020. But an above-average hard hit rate coupled with a lower groundball rate could unleash a potentially potent bat. Perhaps my notion Torrens could thrive offensively is simply the byproduct of excessive staring at Statcast data until seeing something I wanted to see. If that’s the case, he still projects to be a solid backup to Murphy and/or Raleigh. On the other hand, what if Torrens were able supercharge his bat with a change in swing mechanics? Perhaps then, he could elevate himself to being a serious contender for Seattle’s starting catcher job. Sound unrealistic? Maybe, but consider this. How many Mariners fans were aware of a catcher named Austin Nola at the beginning of the 2019 season? My Oh My…. [tipjarwp id=”2″]Go!

Jarred Kelenic, Mariners scouting report

Former Seattle Mariners CEO Kevin Mather suggesting his team manipulated the service time of prospect Jarred Kelenic confirmed what the MLBPA long believed. Clubs intentionally exploit the service time of young players to delay arbitration and free agent eligibility. Even projected stars fall victim to this practice. “Because there was no chance you were going to see these young players at T-Mobile Park. We weren’t going to put them on the 40-man roster. We weren’t going to start the service time clock.” – Kevin Mather Mather’s revelation will undoubtedly have ramifications during CBA negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA later this year. The relationship between both parties was already acrimonious. Mather’s unprovoked admission to an unethical practice only worsens matters, assuming that’s possible. So what about Kelenic? Should the Mariners avoid further negative publicity by promoting him to their Opening Day roster? That depends on the answer to one question. Is he ready? To be honest, I have no idea whether Kelenic is ready for the majors. Nobody outside the Mariners does. Several national media members have advocated his readiness, while passionate fans have taken to Twitter doing the same. Still, most of these folks haven’t seen Kelenic play in a regular season game nor could they pick him out of a lineup. Instead of engaging in hyperbole about Kelenic’s current plight or connecting it to the Mariners’ 20-year absence from the postseason, let’s try something else. Have a rationale conversation based on recent history, available facts, and objective opinions. Maybe then, we can arrive at a conclusion regarding the sixth overall pick of the 2018 draft. History Lesson Although Mather’s comment about the service time of his former team’s minor leaguers was egregious, the MLB readiness of those players is debatable. That wasn’t the case with two prominent players, who seemingly had their service time manipulated in the last six years. In 2015, the Cubs started Kris Bryant in the minors after he led all of professional baseball (including MLB) with 43 home runs and a 192 wRC+ the year prior. Chicago promoted Bryant twelve days later guaranteeing an additional year of service from the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year. Bryant later filed a grievance against the Cubs over the perceived service time manipulation, but lost in judgement. Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. Every point above 100 represents a percentage point above average. League-average is always 100. The Blue Jays executed a similar maneuver with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who had the highest AVG, SLG, and wRC+ among minor leaguers with 400-plus plate appearances in 2018. Despite his success, Toronto opted to leave Guerrero in the minors at the beginning of 2019 before recalling him a month into the season. The tactic assured another season of club control for the Jays. There are other instances of seemingly unethical service time decisions. However, the Bryant and Guerrero sagas are two of the most glaring examples of why players are fighting mad with ownership. Mather’s comments simply raised the temperature in an already simmering pressure cooker. Production Let’s review Kelenic’s offensive numbers from his last season in 2019. The left-handed hitter played with three teams – Class-A West Virginia, High-A Modesto, and Class-AA Arkansas. The following illustrates his combined production and its ranking against 686 players from all levels with 500-plus plate appearances. Also included, Kelenic’s standing among the 107 individuals under age-21. Overall, Kelenic’s numbers look great, particularly against youthful peers. After joining Arkansas on August 11, he slashed .253/.315/.542 with six home runs. Furthermore, his .857 OPS was higher than the output of other top Seattle prospects when the Wisconsinite was their teammate. Specifically, major leaguers Kyle Lewis (.526) and Evan White (.789), plus catcher Cal Raleigh (.761). Kelenic’s 133 wRC+ with Arkansas ranked fourth on the team for the season behind leader Jake Fraley (156). Fraley left the Travelers to play with Class-AAA Tacoma and then the Mariners in 2019. His situation is why minor-league stats don’t have much relevance to me. Despite the success in MiLB, Fraley has yet to establish himself in the majors. The 25-year-old has a .152/.200/.227 slash-line with a 16 wRC+ in 70 MLB plate appearances in 2019-20. To be fair, an injury derailed his first year shortly after he debuted and opportunities have been rare ever since. It’s also worth pointing out Lewis was slumping before his September call-up in 2019. He then took Seattle by storm with six home runs in 18 games. Honestly, the most relevant number to me is Kelenic’s playing time, which is very limited above Class-A level. His stint with Arkansas totaled 21 games with 83 plate appearances. Few players from this generation have reached the majors with less MiLB experience and at similar young age. Experience With this in mind, let’s contrast Kelenic’s MiLB career to other players recently debuting at an early age. How many spent more time in the minors than what the Waukesha West High School product currently has? The following illustrates all MiLB games played and at AAA/AA by 14 hitters debuting by their age-20 season since 2010. Two caveats; they had to play 40-plus games during their debut campaign and produce at least a 0.0 bWAR. We’ve sorted our list by games played at AAA/AA. Kelenic is included to aid with our comparison. As you can see, our list is teeming with recognizable names. Only two players – Bryce Harper and Juan Soto – debuted with less than 200 MiLB games. It’s worth noting both began with the Nationals and have been successes ever since. Harper won 2012 NL Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, Soto has been so electric Mike Petriello of MLB.com recently drew a comparison between the 22-year-old and Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Based on Kelenic’s inexperience in the minors, it’s understandable why Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto insists his team hasn’t delayed his star prospect’s march to the majors. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any monkey business going on behind the scenes. However, there’s a plausible explanation, based on precedent, as to why Kelenic has yet to join the big-league team. Evaluations Okay, we’ve compared Kelenic’s stats to peers and his MiLB experience to major leaguers debuting at a young age. Let’s now consider how four national outlets recently evaluated his future. The following are only snippets from their write-ups. All ranked Kelenic fifth or better on their top-100 list. He probably would have debuted in 2020 had there been a full minor-league season, and I expect he’ll be up by the middle of 2021. I know it pains Mets fans to read this, but I think Kelenic is going to be a superstar. – Keith Law, The Athletic I expect him to come up in 2021 and be an immediate impact player. – Eric Longenhagen, FanGraphs Kelenic has an all-star potential and his major league debut is on the horizon in 2021. – Bill Mitchell, Baseball America Kelenic performed well in a 21-game Double-A sample in 2019. He first stood out on the national stage after his sophomore year in high school, so he has a long track record of standout offensive performances that gives scouts some certainty that it will continue. – Kiley McDaniel, ESPN Obviously, these are subjective anecdotes. That’s how readers likely view them. My takeaway is all four assessors agree that Kelenic projects to debut in MLB this year. However, none states he’s ready to begin the season with the Mariners. Then again, they may avoid such language when discussing prospects. On the subject of evaluations, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill is in the process of publishing his annual top Mariners prospect reports. Numbers 1-3 release on February 26-28. Spoiler alert: Kelenic’s name has yet to appear. You can click on Jason’s name to find previously published reports, including his most recent offering – number-3 prospect Emerson Hancock. Editor’s note: Kelenic’s report by Churchill has since published and can be found here. Well? Does Kelenic need more seasoning in the minors or should the Mariners play him on Opening Day? Even after our discussion, I still don’t know the answer. His production was excellent, but not the best in MiLB as was the case with Bryant and Guerrero. Moreover, both of those players spent time at AAA – Kelenic has not. I don’t see how anyone could rationally determine whether Kelenic should be on the Opening Day roster without personally evaluating him. For this reason, I’ll continue placing my faith in the assessments of Dipoto and his staff. I realize many of you won’t agree and that’s fine. However, Dipoto has been extremely transparent about baseball operations since his arrival in late 2015. More so than any GM in MLB and perhaps all major sports. Besides, he didn’t hesitate to recall top prospects Lewis and Justin Dunn in September 2019. Why? He and his staff deemed both ready to test the waters in the majors. Sure, Mather’s buffoonery gives us pause regarding the way the Mariners run their business and the organization’s culture. Still, we should separate the two issues at hand. Whether Kelenic is actually ready in the eyes of professional evaluators has nothing to do with Mather telling fans his former team was conspiring to manipulate the service time of its best prospects. As for the latter issue, Mather has resigned. Now, Mariners Chairman and Managing Partner John Stanton has the daunting task of repairing the serious damage done to his franchise’s reputation by his former CEO. I don’t envy Mr. Stanton. Regarding player personnel decisions, Stanton remains comfortable with Dipoto making the call on when to promote prospects – so do I. The sixth-year GM reinvigorated a farm system once considered the worst in MLB. Now, the Mariners’ system is both deep and full of top-100 prospects. They seem to have a handle on developing minor leaguers. Besides, I have no idea when Jarred Kelenic – or any prospect – deserves a promotion to the majors. And neither do you. My Oh My… [tipjarwp id=”2″]Go!