This time a year ago, the notion of the Seattle Mariners reaching the postseason was a far-fetched dream. A devastating series of injuries, particularly to their starting rotation, had derailed a once-promising 2017 season.
Twelve months later at Memorial Day, the Mariners are sporting a winning record and challenging for first place. Can Seattle build upon their early success and earn an elusive postseason berth?
In our Memorial Day Report Series, we’ll discuss that and more.
Let’s first focus our attention on the Mariners’ offense beginning with a visual comparison of the club’s average runs scored/game (RS/G) to the rest of the AL.
Despite ranking in the lower 50% of the league, the Mariners’ offense has been good enough for the team to post a 33-20 record through Memorial Day.
Gordon has been a catalyst for the lineup and a great offseason acquisition. Baseball Savant still lists the 30-year-old as one of the fastest runners in the majors. His blazing speed has yielded 16 stolen bases and 15 infield hits — both tops in the AL.
Right behind Gordon in the batting order is Segura. The Mariners’ shortstop was good in April, but he’s on fire lately. Since May 13, the 28-year-old is slashing .400/.404/.582 with seven swiped bags.
After a down 2017 season hampered by lower leg injuries, Cano appears to be moving more smoothly in the field this year. At the plate, the second baseman is also delivering — four home runs and .289/.383/.444.
Haniger has to be everything general manager Jerry Dipoto was hoping for when he traded for the 27-year-old in November 2016. The right fielder ranks in the top-20 in the AL in several key offensive categories, including home runs, slugging percentage, OBP, and wRC+.
If you hadn’t read a newspaper or visited the internet for a month, you might be wondering why Seattle’s offense is below league-average with so many productive players on its roster. In reality, the issues with plating runs is more recent.
That becomes abundantly clear after viewing a side-by-side comparison of May’s output to the previous two months.
For those of you who did pick up a paper or jumped on line, you already know the Mariners have endured a few tough blows this month.
On May 13, Cano suffered a broken fifth metacarpal bone in his right hand after being hit by a pitch. A few days later, the 35-year-old was suspended 80 games for PED use. As a result, Seattle will be without one of their best hitters until mid-August.
About a week later, Gordon went down with a fractured right great toe. The Mariners had just moved the eight-year veteran from center field to his former position to replace Cano during his PED suspension.
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz hasn’t hit the DL in May, but he’s been hit by a pitch seven times this month. The most damaging shots were a one to his foot and then his elbow a few days later. Having said that, the 37-year-old was struggling before being plunked.
Losing Cano and Gordon, while Cruz is slumping certainly affects the offense. But there’s more to Seattle’s recent issues. Several notable contributors have been scuffling during the team’s offensive drought.
Here’s the production line for players with at least 20 plate appearances during the last 14 days.
It’s important to remember the preceding table represents a teeny sample size and shouldn’t be stared at too long. That’s why it’s too early to be concerned about the recently sluggish bats of Ryon Healy and Haniger or be overly excited by the offensive outburst of Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel.
Still, the struggles of two long-time Mariners merit review.
Kyle Seager has been scuffling lately, but he’s been under-performing for the entire season. Through Memorial Day, Seager has a .286 OBP for the season, well below his .330 career standard. More troubling, his .307 OBP during his previous 156 games dating back to last season.
Another Mariner with a cold bat for the entire season is Mike Zunino. Yes, he has eight home runs and delivered a big walk-off bomb over the Memorial Day weekend. But the 27-year-old’s slash line is meager when contrasted to his 2017 production.
As Gawlowski skillfully notes, the Mariners’ backstop is prone to terrible slumps and can be exploited by pitchers. My biggest takeaway regarding Zunino’s woes; his diminishing walk rate.
Zunino will always swing and miss at a high frequency, so a slight increase in strikeouts isn’t necessarily troubling. But the former Florida Gator’s walk rate is nearly 5% lower than last season and below his career average.
Also listed on the preceding table is swing percentages for outside the zone (O-Swing%), inside (Z-Swing% ), plus Zunino’s overall swing rate. As you can see, he’s chasing balls outside the strike zone far more often this season.
Perhaps it’s a lethal combo of Zunino’s high-maintenance swing and an expanded strike zone derailing his season thus far.
As noted earlier, the preceding table shouldn’t be over-analyzed. It’s true purpose was to illustrate the lack of productivity throughout the roster. A hobbled and slumping Cruz hurts run scoring. So does the loss of Cano and Gordon, especially when their replacements have yet to deliver at the plate.
Neither Andrew Romine nor Gordon Beckham have generated much offense. But it’s important to consider they’re being asked to replace two All-Stars at second base. Romine and Beckham are utility players with lightly regarded bats.
Gordon is slated to return from the DL on May 31. His presence at second base will remove the need to expose the Romine/Beckham duo as often. Plus he should turbo-charge the top of lineup, while lengthening it at the same time.
Newcomer Denard Span will also add length to the order and increase roster depth. The 34-year-old will patrol left field and occasionally spot Heredia in center field.
Span’s presence pushes the hot-hitting Gamel to the bench, which presents manager Scott Servais with the challenge of finding playing opportunities for Gamel. This is a good problem for a manager to have.
Unless Cruz has suddenly spiraled into an age-related regression, he should rebound as the season progresses. Will the two-time Silver Slugger Award winner be as productive as he’s been in recent years? Maybe not, but an .800-plus OPS seems like a reasonable expectation.
Perhaps Seager doesn’t bounce back to his career norms this year. But it’s difficult to envision his OBP remaining well south of the .300-mark for the entire season, unless there’s an undisclosed issue of some sort. The power is still there and he has a well-founded reputation for making adjustments when things aren’t going right.
Finally, there’s Cano’s eventual return. Assuming there are no complications with his fractured bone, getting the eight-time All-Star back in August will be like adding a new player via trade. Cano won’t be postseason eligible due to his PED use, but he can turbo-boost the offense with his bat during a stretch run.
Bottom line: Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Mariners’ offense should start to regain its form in the near future.