The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is in the rear view mirror and the Seattle Mariners enter August with a realistic chance of reaching the postseason. Sure, the club has been scuffling lately. But the club continues to control its own destiny.
As the deadline approached, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and his staff tackled several roster needs by adding outfielder Cameron Maybin and three relievers — Sam Tuivailala, Adam Warren, and Zach Duke.
So did the Mariners do enough to hold off the surging Oakland Athletics? Can Seattle avoid another season without a playoff appearance?
We’ll try to answer those questions and more.
In the next few days, we’ll discuss the pitching staff. For today, let’s focus our attention on the Mariners’ offense. The following illustrates how Seattle’s average runs scored/game for the season compares to the rest of the AL.
During our Mariners at Memorial Day series, Seattle’s offense was just below league-average. That trend continues through the summer.
Mariner bats have been in the doldrums, particularly in July — the club scored the fewest runs in MLB last month. One glaring contributor to the team’s offensive struggles has been their difficulty to reach base.
It’s not as if July is the only month Seattle has struggled with getting on base. When you look at the season as a whole, the club’s OBP has been league-average. The Mariners have the worst OBP of any AL team with a winning record.
It’s tough to apply constant pressure on opposing pitchers or score runs in bunches without runners clogging the base paths.
Okay, let’s look at the individual performances of Mariner hitters last month. As you can see, only five players with 20-plus plate appearances in July had an OBP above the .317 league-average mark. Every one else was at least 30 points below.
What’s interesting about the preceding table is the fact the batting averages and slugging percentages of the hitters above league-average weren’t necessarily commensurate with their success at reaching base.
Denard Span had more success using his bat to get on base, although he also took advantage of free passes.
Conversely, second baseman Dee Gordon flourished in July, but did so with zero walks. Hence the nearly identical batting average and OBP. Why aren’t both stats the same? Gordon was hit by a pitch once last month.
With so many Mariners struggling to reach base, is there reason for concern? Only if the woeful July run production continues well into August.
Reasons For Optimism
Considering the well-established success of Cruz and Span at reaching base, it’s reasonable to expect the veteran duo will continue getting on base at a good clip.
Haniger is only in his second full season, but he’s been the Mariners’ most consistent hitter this season. Barring unforeseen circumstances, there’s no reason to expect he’ll regress. That said; an uptick in power would is needed from 27-year-old.
When Jean Segura was leading the league in batting average, I suspect club management didn’t anticipate the 2018 All-Star would win the batting title. Still, Segura’s .247 average in July is likely to improve greatly. After all, he has a .312 batting average over the last three seasons.
The Unknown Unknowns
Seager’s troubles at the plate date back to last season. Over the last 365 days, the 30-year-old is slashing .227/.286/.424 with 29 home runs in 650 plate appearances. He’s on track to finish this season with about the same stat line.
It’s becoming clear the use of defensive shifts against Seager are significantly affecting his effectiveness at the plate. The following illustrates the percentage of plate appearances when he’s seen a shift and his batting average with shifts in place and with men on base (MOB).
Why did I include Seager’s batting average with MOB? When runners are on base, defensive shifts tend to be less pronounced. In those situations, the former North Carolina Tar Heel has performed better at the plate.
Would it make sense to move Seager up in to third in the batting order based on the assumption he’d hit with more runners on base and ultimately fewer shifts?
That’s an issue for smarter people than me to answer. But it would definitely benefit Seager if more teammates in front of him in the lineup were reaching base, regardless of his position in the batting order.
As first discussed in May, Zunino continues to strikeout frequently and draw fewer walks. Another indicator of his issues is the sharp increase of his swing percentage at pitches outside the zone (O-Swing%).
First baseman Ryon Healy has yet to demonstrate he’ll reach base at a high rate, but the 26-year-old’s 2018 OBP is about 30 points below the average for his short career. For that reason, an uptick over the next two months is plausible.
On the other hand, Healy’s 2018 performance could be establishing the true norm for the former Oregon Duck.
An oblique injury delayed the beginning of the season for Ben Gamel and slowed his slowed his production when he returned in April. But he slashed a combined .347/.421/.468 in May and June.
Since Gamel is in just his second full season in the majors, it’s difficult to gauge whether he bounces bounce back from his difficulties. Further muddying the water is the fact the 26-year-old was assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma today.
Guillermo Heredia is a superb defensive outfielder and an asset to the Mariners. But the Cuban native’s offensive production has sputtered this season. When you look at his career splits, it’s clear Heredia struggles more against right-handed pitching than southpaws.
I’m not suggesting Heredia can’t improve his numbers against righty hurlers. He’s only in his third MLB season and has just 799 career plate appearances. Then again, the Mariners can ill-afford to get limited offensive production from one of their outfield positions during a postseason chase.
The first wave of lineup aid came when Dipoto acquired Span, along with reliever Alex Colome, just prior to Memorial Day. As we’ve already noted, Span has been a solid contributor to the offense.
The newly acquired Maybin will deliver more consistent offensive production than Heredia has. Having said that, the newcomer doesn’t have a power bat — just like Heredia.
Certainly, the expected return of Robinson Cano from an 80-game suspension on August 14 looms large for the offense. Assuming the eight-time All-Star returns fully healthy, his presence in the middle of the lineup will be a welcomed addition.
Before his departure, Cano was slashing .287/.385/.441 with four home runs in 169 plate appearances. Regardless of where manager Scott Servais plays the 35-year-old in the field, Seattle is better with Robinson Cano.
So what’s a reasonable expectation for the Mariners’ offense with two months remaining in the season?
The proven bats will bounce back from their slumps. Believe it or not, the Arizona Diamondbacks had a .193 batting average as a team in May. They’re just fine now.
Having said that, Seattle must get more production out of Seager, Zunino, Healy, and the center field position. Moreover, the team’s reserves must deliver better results when called upon. With that in mind, it would behoove the Mariners to continue looking for ways to improve their bench.
Incremental improvements around the edges could be the difference between making the postseason and adding another year to that terrible drought.
It’s time for the Mariners to make the postseason, isn’t it?