Despite their recent uptick in success –- five wins in the last seven games -– the Seattle Mariners continue to struggle at consistently generating offensive production. This week exemplifies the Mariners’ offensive unevenness during the 2015 season. After scoring 11 runs on May 12, Seattle scored a total of five runs in the next three games, including last night’s 2-1 walk-off win against the Boston Red Sox.
Just like in 2014, the team is well below league-average in every major offensive category, with the exception of home runs and that can be attributed to one player – Nelson Cruz. Seattle’s struggles are even more profound against right-handed pitching; they have a .236 batting average against right-handed pitching – 19 points lower than their average against southpaws. This is an especially troubling sign since, over the past three seasons, 66-percent of the team’s plate appearances have come against righties.
Despite the team’s sluggish start, I still expect that the Mariners will remain competitive for a postseason berth because of the talent on the roster. There are many fans – frustrated by the team’s inconsistent offense – who don’t agree with me. They want the team to make dramatic changes by changing the roles or even dispatching players such as Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, Justin Ruggiano, Rickie Weeks, and Mike Zunino. Seattle’s impatient faithful have also called for the promotion of multiple players from Class-AAA Tacoma or even trades involving established stars like Carlos Gomez or Troy Tulowitzki. One current Mariner who doesn’t get mentioned at the same frequency as his teammates is veteran Willie Bloomquist. This made me wonder, what is his role with this team?
No, the 37-year-old isn’t going to single-handedly ignite the Mariners’ offense. However, the right-handed hitting Bloomquist’s career .264/.307/.327 triple slash – batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage –against right-handers suggests that he’d be a better option than several of his left and right-handed teammates including Ackley, Ruggiano, and Weeks. The task-at-hand is to find a place for the veteran utility player to contribute more often.
Based on how the roster is currently constructed and how the South Kitsap High graduate has been utilized to date – 13 games and 27 plate appearances – I don’t see how the team could find Bloomquist additional opportunities. Looking at the players vying with Bloomquist for playing time helps illustrate the challenge of getting the veteran utility man on the field more often.
Chris Taylor/Brad Miller
I combined these two players because their joint presence on the roster represents the largest impact to Bloomquist’s opportunities. When the team recalled Taylor on May 3 to become their regular shortstop, it signaled the start of the left-handed Miller’s transformation from starting shortstop to super-utility player – the role that Bloomquist was signed to fill. Since Taylor’s arrival, Miller has started at designated hitter four times, shortstop twice, and in left field once. His .284 batting average against right-handed pitching makes Miller the perfect choice to fill-in at multiple positions against righties.
Prior to the Taylor promotion from Tacoma, Bloomquist held the responsibilities of back-up second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman and saw very limited opportunities at those three positions – 26 innings total in five games. Since Taylor’s arrival, Bloomquist has played just one inning at second base. The lone advantage Bloomquist holds over Taylor and Miller is that he’s played first base; a position never played by the duo. That in itself, may not enough to keep Bloomquist employed – he’s substituted from Logan Morrison in only two of the team’s first 35 games.
Some believe that the former Milwaukee Brewer was signed as a contingency in the event that Bloomquist wasn’t ready to go after having micro-surgery on his knee in 2014. The right-handed Weeks has been part of left-hand/right-hand platoon in left field and designated hitter. Although he owns a .067 batting average against right-handed pitching, Weeks has done extremely well a – .320 batting average – against southpaws.
Manager Lloyd McClendon’s apparent preference to use Weeks over Bloomquist against lefties closes the door on another opportunity for the Puget Sound native to contribute in either left field or designated hitter. Even against right-handed pitching – where Bloomquist maintains a distinct advantage – McClendon has preferred Weeks.
Much like Bloomquist, the right-handed hitting Ruggiano didn’t get much playing time in April. That changed significantly when center fielder Austin Jackson was placed on the disabled list on May 3. Since then, he’s played eight games in Jackson’s place. Approximately half of his 50 plate appearance have come against right-handed pitching and he hasn’t fared well with a .130 batting average. The 33-year-old is hitting southpaws better at .238, although it’s below his career .265 average. A significant advantage Ruggiano has over Bloomquist is that Ruggiano can play all three outfield positions. When he’s played in the outfield, Bloomquist has primarily been in left field.
Although Ackley was been the team’s regular left fielder, I threw him into the mix since he’s struggled so much against all types of pitching. Bloomquist has a far better offensive track record than the left-handed hitting Ackley. But – like Ruggiano – Ackley has the ability to play center field and has also spent time at first base during his professional and collegiate career. It’s possible that Ackley may see significantly diminished playing time if his offense doesn’t come around soon. But, that void would likely be filled by the ensemble of Miller, Ruggiano, Smith, and Weeks rather than Bloomquist.
Willie Bloomquist’s playing opportunities have been diminished greatly thanks to the call-up of Taylor, the Miller position change, and the off-season acquisitions of Smith, Weeks, and Ruggiano. The blending of these five players’ skill sets has reduced the usefulness of Bloomquist to the Mariners. There’s no reason to believe that he can’t contribute to a major-league roster, but there’s no longer a clearly defined path to playing time in Seattle. Right now, Bloomquist is an insurance policy that the Mariners can’t afford to maintain.
Late next week, a roster move will have to be made in order to make room for Jackson. This would be an appropriate time to let Bloomquist go, if the Mariners don’t have plans to use him more often. Even if the team to opts go in another direction and remove Ackley from the 25-man roster, or send Miller to the minors to hone his outfield skills, it’s still time to give Bloomquist a chance to contribute elsewhere.
Not including back-up catcher, Seattle has three reserve position player spots on their 25-man roster. Considering their struggles at the plate, they can ill-afford to under-utilize one of those spots. Replacing Bloomquist with Franklin Gutiérrez would benefit the team. He’d likely be used in a limited capacity – a good thing due to his injury history – but he’d provide an upgrade in outfield defense and a capable right-handed bat that could be used in left field or at designated hitter.
Willie Bloomquist hasn’t done anything wrong; he’s just doesn’t have a clearly defined role on the team anymore. He deserves an opportunity to demonstrate that he can still play. Unfortunately, that opportunity isn’t likely to be in his hometown.