Last Updated on October 1, 2020 by Luke Arkins

The 2020 Major League Baseball season didn’t go as any club planned, but from the perspective of the Seattle Mariners, all things considered, it went quite well.

Young players received valuable time and showed why they were worthy of it, the club continued to its collections of young, controllable talent, and the Mariners even won more games, 27, than just about anyone thought was a good bet when the season started in July.

With every season, long or short, comes superlatives. Here the best season-long performances in a handful of categories, courtesy Luke Arkins and Jason A. Churchill.

MVP

Churchill: Marco Gonzales, LHP
Gonzales wasn’t just a steady performer, he was consistently good in 2020 and raised the bar for the young arms pitching behind him in the rotation.

Gonzales went at least five innings in all but one start — the first one in which he went 4.1 at Houston — and pitched into the seventh six times in 11 starts.

Furthermore, Gonzales led baseball with a 2.5% walk rate and finished in the top 20 in BAA (.222) and FIP (3.32), and No. 26 in xFIP (4.13).

Arkins: Marco Gonzales, LHP

It’d be tough to say anyone else on the Mariners was more valuable than Gonzales was this season. A fun fact about Marco’s extremely low walk rate. It was the seventh lowest BB-rate recorded by a pitcher qualified for the ERA title since baseball integrated in 1947.


Rookie of the Year

Churchill: Kyle Lewis, CF
The easiest choice, since Lewis now is the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award in the American League.

But Lewis put together a very strong 60-game run, including average defense in center.

At the plate, his ability to use the whole field helped him maximize batted ball success and hide some of his zone deficiencies (top of the zone), but there’s a ton on which to build for 2021.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of Lewis’ season is the K-BB rate evening out by the 25-year-old cutting the whiffs some and increasing his bases on balls.

Very early in 2021 we’re likely to see an outfield alignment of Lewis in center, Jarred Kelenic in left and Mitch Haniger in right, with a Phillip Ervin-Jose Marmolejos timeshare filling the gap until Kelenic arrives.

Arkins: It’ll be a massive upset if Lewis isn’t AL Rookie of the Year. For this reason, he’s the obvious choice for this category. The logical alternative would be Justus Sheffield, who probably nets a few votes in ROY balloting.

Although Lewis didn’t project as the regular center fielder in March, he was the team’s starter and rated as an average-to-plus defender. Impressive considering the Mercer alum’s 56 starts in center field this year were a career-high as a professional. Barring unforeseen circumstances, K-Lew continues patrolling center field for the Mariners in 2021.


Reliever of the Year

Churchill: Anthony Misiewicz, LHR
Misiewicz led the team in appearances (21) and was second in relief innings (20.0). He was consistent all year, posting a 3.04 FIP, and 3.67 xFIP.

Opponents hit just .100 against his fastball (1-for-10), but his cutter and curveball underperformed considering the advanced data on both pitches.

The data, including high spin rates, suggest there’s more to come for Misiewicz in a continued middle-relief role in 2021.

Arkins: Casey Sadler, RHP

My first choice would’ve been Misiewicz, but I don’t want to parrot Jason in every category. Sadler performed well after the Mariners claimed him off waivers in early September. During the last month of the season, the 30-year-old tossed 10 innings leading Seattle relievers with 12 strikeouts and a .247 xwOBA.

Yes, Sadler’s month in Seattle was a micro-sample. But he’s a five-year veteran coming off a good 2019 campaign with the Rays and Dodgers. Perhaps the Oklahoman can help stabilize a 2021 bullpen likely to be chock full of young relievers – like Misiewicz.


Defensive Player of the Year

Churchill: J.P. Crawford, SS

I imagine many would vote quite a bit for Lewis and Evan White, but shortstop is a critical position defensively and Crawford is among the tops in the game.

He posted +6 DRS, No. 4 among MLB shortstops and No. 2 in the American League. He also ranked No. 9 in Outs Above Average and led all MLB shortstops in Out of Zone plays made (62, tied with Javier Baez). In fact, no player at any position made more Out of Zone plays than Crawford.

Arkins: Evan White, 1B

Crawford was superb at a position rife with elite-level gloves and is deserving of recognition for his defensive prowess. Nevertheless, I’m going with White, who’s one of the best first baseman I’ve ever seen.

Whether White wins the Gold Glove as a rookie is unclear, but he was the top defensive first baseman based on Defensive Runs Saved. Only last year’s AL Gold Glover at first base, Matt Olson, leads the former Kentucky Wildcat when we review Statcast’s Outs Above Average.


Best Newcomer

Churchill: Nick Margevicius, LHP

Margevicius made 10 appearances, seven starts, and was more than serviceable, posting a league average FIP and xFIP.

The southpaw went at least five innings in five starts, went six in three of them and showed a better fastball — 89-91 mph — than in years past when he sat 86-88.

He’ll need to avoid the barrel a bit better to take another step or two in 2021, but using his slider more might help (.174 BAA, no XBH), and he’s just 24 years old with some physical projection left.

Arkins: Ty France, INF

Where France plays in the field moving forward isn’t clear, but his bat will ensure he gets regular playing opportunities. During combined time with the Padres and Seattle this year, the right-handed hitter slashed .305/.368/.468 with a 133 OPS+ in 43 games.

Evaluators often compare France to another multi-position player named Ty from San Diego – Ty Wigginton. Sounds good considering Wigginton played 12 big-league seasons, could hit, and shared a similar position profile to France’s.

Perhaps France is a bench player or morphs into a regular in the infield or as a designated hitter. Either way, having a player with the former San Diego State Aztec’s positional versatility and hitting ability will benefit a championship-caliber roster.


Breakthrough Player of the Year (non-Rookie)

Churchill: Dylan Moore, UT

Moore went from worst player on the roster to one of the best in a year and his future with the club may include ‘Opening Day 2B’ next spring.

Moore’s line drive rate jumped 9% and he got to his pull side better without selling out to the extreme. He cut his strikeouts from 33% to 27% and maintained a solid walk rate at 8.8%.

But the two things that make Moore so interesting include how hard he hits the ball consistently (77th percentile exit velocity, 89th percentile barrel rate) and his defensive versatility. He’s not a long-term option at shortstop, but he can handle it, and he projects as average or better at second base, third base and now right field, too. It’s the closest thing to Ben Zobrist the Mariners have had since Mark McLemore in 2001, and this version has power.

Arkins: Yusei Kikuchi, LHP

Yes, Kikuchi was inconsistent this year. But the southpaw made big strides over his 2019 rookie campaign.

Kikuchi’s .279 xwOBA led the Mariners rotation and was top-30 among MLB starters. Since xwOBA reflects quality and quantity of contact, it’s clear the Japanese import has the talent to be a valuable contributor to Seattle’s starting staff.

Still, Kikuchi does have work to do. The 29-year-old seemed like a different pitcher with runners on base and the stats back that up. When bases were empty, opponents had a .251 wOBA against him – twelfth best among MLB starters. Conversely, his wOBA with men on base was .355, which ranked in the bottom 20-percent.


Prospect Development of the Year

Churchill: Justus Sheffield, LHP

Lewis is a legitimate choice here, as is Austin Nola, but because Sheffield’s developments in 2020 bring a higher floor and less risk for the future –and he’s still with the club — I’m going with the left-hander.

Sheffield made 10 starts, led all MLB rookie pitchers in fWAR (1.5) and went six or more innings in six outings — including seven innings twice.

The lefty reduced his barrel rate to 3.7% (91st percentile) — the switch from a four-seamer to a two-seam sinker did exactly what the club had hoped, limiting the damage on hard-hit balls.

In addition, Sheffield’s command took a large step forward, and his general ability to throw strikes improved, too, as he went from 10.7% walks to 8.6%.

The command improvement allowed Sheffield to go to his slider more in favorable counts, and the results are remarkable. In 2019, opponents hit .302 with a .491 slugging percentage off his slider. In 2020, Sheffield flipped the script, holding opposing batters to a .192 average and .219 slugging with the slide piece.

The same can be said about his changeup to a large degree.

Sheffield lacks the big ceiling, but has reduced the risk in his performance, suggesting he’s destined for a mid-rotation role for the foreseeable future.

Arkins: Ljay Newsome, RHP

Mariners “Gas Camp” helped Newsome increase his four-seam fastball velocity to a 91.4-MPH average. But bringing the heat isn’t Newsome’s specialty — avoiding free passes is. We already noted Gonzales had a historically good walk rate; Newsome’s was better (1.5%) albeit over a span of just 15.1 innings.

So what does Newsome become? Perhaps he’ll be a back-end starter. Then again, the Mariners’ 2015 twenty-sixth round pick could morph into a long reliever/swingman. Either role potentially makes him a valued contributor on a team that believes it could contend in the AL West next year.


Flash Player of the Year

Churchill: Yohan Ramirez, RHR

I thought about Luis Torrens here, but the sample was too small.

Ramirez has terrific raw stuff, including a fastball up to 98 mph and a plus slider. He’s shown a plus curveball in the past and the makings of a changeup, but in a relief role stuck with a two-pitch attack.

He was dominant at times, but he walked 21.3% of the batters he faced, pitching himself into trouble at a high rate. But after allowing three earned runs August 7 versus Colorado, Ramirez allowed two earned runs on four hits over his final 11 appearances.

As a Rule 5 pick he had to remain on the active roster (or IL) for the entire 2020 season, but the club is now free to option the right-hander as they see fit.

At his best, Ramirez sits 94-98 mph and pitches effectively in high-leverage situations, but there will have to be mechanical fixes if he wants to avoid the minors to start next season.

Arkins: Luis Torrens, C

Evaluators generally believe Torrens’ is a glove-first backstop with a bat good enough to keep him in the majors. Ironically, he proved better with his bat and struggled defensively with Seattle. To be fair, the 24-year-old only joined the team on August 31 and had to learn a new pitching staff on the fly.

For now, Torrens projects as a backup. Then again, something similar was said about two other Mariners backstops — Tom Murphy and Nola. Heading into next year, it’ll be fun seeing where the Venezuelan’s talent takes him and how the team integrates him into the catching mix with Murphy and top prospect Cal Raleigh.

Image courtesy of AP
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