The month of May has been especially brutal for the Seattle Mariners. First, their rotation was derailed by a wave of injuries. To compound matters, the offense lost its mojo failing to score more than two runs in 12 of 26 games.
Thanks to their recent offensive doldrums, the Mariners entered today ranked eleventh in the AL with 4.3 runs scored/game. In contrast, Seattle was near the top of the league averaging 5 runs/game at the same point last season.
An offensive category normally suggested as a contributor to the team’s drop in scoring is home runs. In 2016, the Mariners were third in the majors. Entering today, they ranked number-25 and were hitting homers less frequently.
|Mariners HR Totals Thru 51 Games|
Personally, I don’t view Seattle’s fewer home runs as the root cause of any offensive woes. Why? The club’s lowered total is mostly by design.
Since taking over in September 2015, general manager Jerry Dipoto has aggressively reshaped his roster into a younger, more athletic unit. By doing so, he willingly traded power for on-base ability and defensive prowess, particularly in the outfield.
Before his injury in late April, rookie right fielder Mitch Haniger was flashing 20-plus home run power potential. But, the Mariners’ remaining outfielders — Jarrod Dyson, Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel, and Boog Powell — aren’t known for hitting four-baggers.
A 2016 outfield power source who unexpectedly went dark is Leonys Martin. At this point last year, Seattle’s Opening Day center fielder had nine round trippers. But, he’s currently playing for Class-AAA Tacoma after a terrible April.
Despite the unplanned demotion of Martin and loss of Haniger, the outfield has been a relatively productive unit. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of this season to last through 51 games.
Seattle outfielders are hitting fewer home runs, but they’re delivering doubles and more stolen bases. Moreover, the unit ranks first in the majors for defensive runs saved (DRS). Essentially, Dipoto’s plan is working.
The Mariners have a dynamic outfield contingent capable of reaching base more often, wreaking havoc on the base paths, and preventing runs. When Haniger eventually returns from the DL, he’ll provide an added layer of power.
Another offseason acquisition — first baseman Danny Valencia — hasn’t produced as many home runs as last season’s platoon of Dae-Ho Lee and Adam Lind did. But, that’s understandable considering Valencia’s career-high is 18.
The numbers you see above aren’t solely Valencia’s, but he accounts for 80-percent of the plate appearances made by first basemen this season. While, the 32-year-old struggled greatly through April, his .802 OPS this month suggests his stat line is normalizing. Still, the overall first base production lags behind the output from the Lind/Lee combo from a year ago.
If all had went as anticipated, the Mariners would be using a first base platoon once again. But, like many things this season, plans went awry.
Entering Spring Training, Daniel Vogelbach appeared set to be Valencia’s platoon-mate. But, defensive lapses led management to assign the rookie to Class-AAA Tacoma to start the season.
It’s likely Vogelbach’s defensive ceiling is fringe-average, but his left-handed bat may still make a be nice complementary piece to pair with the right-handed Valencia.
One area where Dipoto didn’t expect to see a power reduction was catcher, which has suffered the greatest offensive regression of any position on the team.
Defense is the primary skill set expected from behind the plate, but the Mariners had to be projecting more offense from their backstops — they rank last in the majors in every significant offensive category, including home runs.
This season’s Opening Day starter — Mike Zunino — does have six dingers this month, but five were hit for Tacoma when he joined Martin after a miserable start to the season. During Zunino’s stay in Tacoma, Carlos Ruiz, and Tuffy Gosewisch produced even less offense.
The one position with newcomers to experience a power surge is shortstop. Starter Jean Segura and super-utility man Taylor Motter , who covered for Segura during a DL stint, have a combined nine home runs.
Entering today, the Mariners’ .891 OPS from their shortstops ranks third in the majors behind the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s significantly better than what Seattle received from Ketel Marte and Shawn O’Malley during the first 51 games of last season.
Okay, I’ve covered all the new faces who weren’t with the Mariners at this point last season. That leaves the part of the lineup expected to supply a significant portion of the club’s home run power — the core three of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager.
As you can see, the trio’s home run total is down from last year. But, it’s important to note Cano, Cruz, and Seager have already missed a combined 16 games this season due to injuries. They missed just 12 games all of last season.
While missed playing time partially explains the core three’s decreased totals, they are hitting home runs at a lower rate this season. The primary culprit is Seager, who currently has four home runs after having 10 at this point least season.
It’s not just home runs where Seager is lagging. Through Sunday’s play, the 29-year-old had just 13 extra-base hits compared to the 25 he amassed through May 2016.
Despite Seager’s decreased power totals, I don’t believer there’s reason for concern. To demonstrate my point, I’ve compiled a table illustrating the left-handed hitter’s production ratios from last season and through yesterday.
|Kyle Seager Production Ratio|
Yes, Seager’s home run and extra base hit percentages have slipped, but he’s remained relatively stable in every other category. This suggests his diminished power is nothing more than the randomness of baseball.
In reality, the primary reason for the Mariners’ reduced home run total is the fact the club didn’t replace the combined power lost by the departures of Lind, Lee, Franklin Gutierrez, and Seth Smith. The quartet accounted for 29-percent of the team’s 223 home runs last year.
By replacing power with athleticism, Seattle now boasts a more versatile roster capable of using speed as a weapon on the base paths. But, the Mariners must reach base more often by extending their lineup. Home runs won’t solve that problem.