To help demonstrate my point, I’m going to employ the same comparative method Mike Petriello of MLB.com utilized when he recently suggested the 2019 Red Sox outfield could be the best ever. Petriello relied on the Baseball Reference version of wins above replacement (bWAR) to contrast historically great outfield units to the 2018 Sawx.
I thought it’d be fun comparing Mariners outfield units from the club’s 42 seasons using Petriello’s approach. This is what I derived from my little exercise.
Topping our list is the crew from the recording setting 2001 season, when Ichiro made his MLB debut. Still, one Hall of Fame talent doesn’t guarantee a strong outfield. It takes multiple players to make a squad click.
With that in mind, let’s consider the three Mariners teams with the highest outfield bWAR. Although there were more contributors on each squad, I’m only illustrating the five players with the most outfield time.
The innings tally you’ll see was logged in the outfield, while offensive stats were season totals regardless of field position. For those unaware, 100 is always league-average for OPS+.
Every name was familiar to me with the exception of two. We’ll get to them later.
The foundation of the Mariners outfield during their 116-win season was the dynamic duo of Ichiro and Mike Cameron. Both were elite-level defenders with potent bats.
Ichiro won the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, Cameron was an All-Star for the first and only time of his superb 17-year career.
Stan Javier announced he’d be retiring after the 2001 campaign. The switch-hitter served in a left field platoon with the left-handed hitting Al Martin, who had spent most of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Martin had the unenviable assignment of replacing a Hall of Fame talent – Barry Bonds – when Bonds departed the Steel City as a free agent in 1993.
Swiss Army knife Mark McLemore played 200-plus innings each at shortstop and third base and another 64 frames at second base. Nevertheless, McLemore spent more time (286.1 innings) in left field than any other position.
Jay Buhner also retired after the 2001 campaign after injuries limited him to just 19 regular season games. Fortunately, the Mariners Hall of Famer did appear in the postseason and finished his professional career getting a base hit and scoring a run during his last plate appearance.
While Buhner’s career was in its twilight in 2001, he arguably delivered his best season ever in 1996. Bone made his first and only All-Star team delivering personal bests in home runs, doubles, and bWAR.
Griffey was 26-years-old and in his prime, but he didn’t set any personal records with his bat. Yet, the 10-time Gold Glove winner’s 9.7 bWAR was the highest of his 22-year career.
|Ken Griffey Jr.||1173||26||49||15||.303||.392||.628||154|
Versatile Rich Amaral played every position except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop. However, he was primarily an outfielder with the majority of his time spent in left field. Amaral set career highs in stolen bases, batting average, and OBP.
Darren Bragg began the season with Seattle, but the club traded him to the Red Sox in late-July for some guy named Jamie Moyer. Bragg was a corner outfielder with the Mariners, although he did make two starts in center field.
Shortly after Bragg’s departure, the club acquired Mark Whiten from the Braves for pitcher Roger Blanco, who never appeared in the majors. Whitten’s time in the Emerald City was brief (40 games), but he was a productive hitter delivering 1.7 bWAR as the club’s left fielder.
Again, Ichiro headlined the outfield contingent, but his supporting cast was completely changed.
Replacing Cameron in center field was Randy Winn, acquired from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for minor leaguer Antonio Pérez and manager Lou Piniella. No disrespect to Lou, but the Mariners got the better end of this deal.
Raúl Ibañez began the second of his three Mariners stints in 2004 spending most of his time in left field, although he did make nine starts at first base. Raúl led the club in slugging percentage, while finishing second behind Ichiro in batting average and OBP.
Full disclosure; I don’t recall ever seeing Hiram Bocachica or Jolbert Cabrera play. I suspect some long-time Mariners fans will struggle to remember either player with Seattle or any team. Both were with the club for just one year.
Ibañez actually caught the last four innings of a 15-6 loss to the Texas Rangers on April 13, 1999. It was the only time he’d don the tools of ignorance in a regular season game during his 19-year MLB career.
During the last game of the 1993 season, starting pitcher Randy Johnson played left field in the ninth inning. The Big Unit didn’t field any balls, so we’ll never know what kind of outfield defender he could’ve been. But, for one inning, two eventual Hall of Famers – Johnson and Griffey – played side-by-side.
That same year on July 15, reliever Jeff Nelson registered the first two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning before moving to left field. Nelson returned to the mound in the ninth getting the first two outs before former Mariners bullpen coach Mike Hampton registered the final out.
Gold Glove winners as Seattle Mariners: Griffey (10), Ichiro (9), Cameron (2), Buhner (1), and Franklin Gutierrez (1).
The Worst Mariners Outfield
The worst outfield group in franchise history played in the 2011 season with a combined -0.7 bWAR.
Yes, 13 outfielders combined for a negative WAR. Ichiro was 37-years-old and the remaining crew were plagued by injuries and/or ineffectiveness.
This unit was so bad I decided to share all 13 names giving you a chance to relive many bad memories from that terrible 95-loss season.
|2011 Seattle Mariners Outfield
Although he was listed above as part of a very bad outfield, one could make a case for Gutierrez as the best defensive center fielder in club history. Sadly, injuries robbed Guti of the opportunity to ingrain himself into Mariners lore.
All Good Things
Every outfield in our top-10 has a common thread – either Ichiro or Griffey was a member. Both were on the 2009 squad, although the duo played in the field together for the last time on June 30. Griffey returned for another season, but never again played in the field.
Watching the once bright careers of these two icons slowly extinguish was bittersweet and difficult to watch. Then again, Ichiro will join Junior as the second Mariners outfielder in the National Baseball Hall of Fame five years from now.
That’s not much of a consolation prize today. Nevertheless, it’ll create one more lasting memory of the two players responsible for anchoring the best Mariners outfields ever.
My Oh My.