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Mariners MidSeason Report

July 7, 2009

Jarrod Washburn has been one of many suprising performers on the Mariners staff this season.  He tossed a one hitter on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles.

Okay, so the Mariners are in third place, winning over half their games, and only 3.5 games back in the AL West division. I would have bet money against that happening when I wrote this post.

Team Outlook at the midpoint:

Catcher: Kenji Johjima has a whopping .660 OPS (on-base % + slugging %), a number many NL pitchers can probably top. Unbelievably, Rob Johnson and Jamie Burke have been even worse. Whatever the Mariners are doing to keep winning games, it almost certainly has nothing to do with the offense at catcher. With Jeff Clement sitting on an .853 OPS at AAA Tacoma, I can’t really make sense of the situation. I know he has struggled offensively in the majors so far, but he must be the worst defensive catcher in the world if Seattle doesn’t think he’s an upgrade over our current rotation. Grade: F (Previous Grade: F)

First Base: Russell Branyan has been a beast. I railed him in my post back in early April and he’s making me look pretty stupid right now. With 21 homers and an on-base percentage of .390, he’s looked more like Adam Dunn than Richie Sexson this season. I knew Branyan had this kind of pop and, as expected, he’s striking out a ton, but the fact that he’s managed a .294 average through 82 games is remarkable. Over 2200+ at bats in his career Branyan has been a .238 hitter, so I’d have to guess his average will take a pretty significant hit before the year is over. As it stands though, Branyan has set career highs in almost every important offensive category and has been a huge asset to the Mariners in the first half of the season. He has a ridiculous .986 OPS and has outscored Ichiro to lead the Mariners in runs. Grade: B+ (Previous Grade: D)

Second Base: Hitting .229 with 5 HR at the start of June, Jose Lopez was looking like a huge bust. Lopez had a big June however, batting .329 with 5 HR and 20 RBI for the month. Despite his poor start, he’s still on pace to set a career high in homers and RBI. Lopez could use some patience at the plate, but I still think he’s a rising star and hopefully we can see him build on the momentum he created last month. Grade: B- (Previous Grade: A-)

Shortstop: I said earlier this season that Yuniesky Bentancourt is neither an asset nor a liability, but that was assuming the M’s weren’t going to contend. His defense has been average and his offense has been subpar. Bentancourt is just a place-holder for future stud Carlos Triunfel (now in AA), but unfortunately, the M’s are in a pennant race and they could use an upgrade now. Grade: D (Previous Grade: C)

Third Base: Adrian Beltre has had a pretty bad first half. Not only is he killing the Mariners with his putrid offense, but he’s also diminishing his trade value if the M’s decide to shop him at the trading deadline. It’s possible the M’s will hold onto him since they are actually competing and Beltre is a solid defender. Since it’s unlikely at this point that we would get anything worthwhile in return, I think the Mariners are better off just holding onto Beltre and hoping he can put a decent second half together for the stretch run. Grade: C (Previous Grade: B)

Left Field: Endy Chavez was serviceable before he got hurt. A .273 average and 9 stolen bases are respectable numbers. Wladimir Balentien, a former top prospect, has been filling in for Chavez and still can’t hit major league pitching. Ryan Langerhans has looked solid in his brief Mariner stint, knocking four extra base hits in just 16 at bats so far. With Chavez on the 60-day DL, left field has become a black hole for the M’s, so let’s hope Langerhans can put together a couple of fluky months. Grade: F (Previous Grade: D+)

Center Field: Franklin Guitterez has been yet another solid, but unspectacular piece of the Mariner’s winning puzzle. A .293 average and .354 OBP are decent numbers and he has shown nice range and a quality glove in center. His eight homers rank 4th on the team, so he’s shown moderate pop so far. Grade: B- (Previous Grade: C)

Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki remains the best hitter on the team and his bat has been sizzling, scorching opposing pitchers to the tune of a .391 average over 238 at bats in May and June combined. The fact that Ichiro bats leadoff and sports a .360 average for the season, yet isn’t even on pace to score 100 runs says a lot about the Mariner offense; it’s not that good. The pitching staff has been great so far this season, but if Ichiro doesn’t score 100 runs this season, I’d be surprised if the M’s are still in it come September. Grade: A (Previous Grade: A)

DH: Ken Griffey Jr. is done as an every day major leaguer. He’s not even a reasonable platoon guy at this point, hitting a puny .203 vs right-handed pitchers this year. There is still some pop left in his bat, but 26 RBI and a .402 slugging percentage from your regular cleanup hitter are some pretty ugly numbers. For whatever reason, even though The Kid can’t hit anymore, opposing pitchers still seem scared to throw him strikes, and his 39 walks have kept him from being completely worthless. Griffey has declined sharply the past two seasons and the biggest contribution he’s making to the Mariners at this point is taking place in the ticket booth. Perhaps he has been our good luck charm. I love Griffey to death and idolized him growing up as a Mariner fan, but I don’t think he’s helping this team in 2009. If the M’s don’t want to use Jeff Clement at catcher, he should at least be stealing at bats from Griffey in the second half. Grade: D- (Previous Grade: C+)

Bench: The Mariners are not a deep team offensively. Mike Sweeney, Ronny Cedeno, Rob Johnson, Josh Wilson and Chris Woodward would all struggle to find major league jobs in any other organization and that’s not a good sign when three of your starting position players are on the disabled list. How much did the M’s really need to pony up to keep Willie Bloomquist in a uniform? His .284 average, 15 stolen bases, and defensive versatility would be invaluable to Seattle right now. This group is honestly a brutal bunch and the offense would be anemic enough without all the injuries. Grade: F (Previous Grade: F)

Offense: Ichiro and Branyan have been the only consistently productive hitters. Lopez came on strong last month and the offense as a whole plated Ichiro 19 times in June, which is a step in the right direction. The fact that the Mariners are above .500 despite ranking 2nd to last in the majors in runs scored is incredible. I know the pitching staff has been amazing, but I still don’t really get it. It seems like there is a different hero behind every win. I do think that the Mariners are going to need to upgrade offensively if they have any plans of staying in this thing. Chris Woodward isn’t going to make Adrian Beltre expendable, so unless the M’s tank in July, I don’t see that trade happening. Jeff Clement absolutely needs to be in the majors… he’s proven all he’s going to prove at AAA and I honestly can’t see him doing worse than Griffey or our current catchers. If we do make a trade, I think we have to shop for a shortstop and Jack Wilson or Cristian Guzman would be logical, cheap upgrades. Grade: D

Starting Rotation: Felix Hernandez is well on his way to celebrating his breaking out party. King Felix has been the Mariners best pitcher for a few seasons now, but hadn’t really put together a full season of ace-worthy numbers. It looks like he might be putting it all together this year and is set to demolish his career bests in ERA, innings pitched, and strikeouts. He’s probably not going to have his first 20 win season, but has put together a first half that would have him in the Cy Young picture if he can duplicate it over the rest of the season. Erik Bedard has pretty much done what we expected: pitch well and miss a number of starts. If he could just stay healthy, he could create one of the best pitching duos in the majors with Felix. I said I wouldn’t get excited about Jarrod Washburn even if he threw a no-hitter… Well, he tossed a one-hitter yesterday and allowed no other base runners. Needless to say, I’m impressed. Washburn hasn’t been dominating; opponents are hitting .282 against him, which is somehow a career low for the lefty. Opponents have posted a super low .224 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) against him, so it’s likely Washburn is going to regress in the second half. However, the improved outfield defense has certainly helped Washburn, an extreme fly ball pitcher that also benefits from a spacious home park. With Washburn performing above expectations and Brandow Morrow now easing into the #4 spot, the rotation is looking pretty solid right now, especially with Jason Vargas posting above average numbers for a fifth starter and Garrett Olson acting as an effective spot starter. All in all, the rotation has been rock solid so far this year and has potential to improve once Morrow starts getting deeper into games. It’s unlikely that Carlos Silva will have a job in the rotation when he comes off the disabled list and that’s a good thing for this team. Grade: B+ (Previous Grade: D)

Bullpen: David Aardsma has been quite the revelation in the closer role posting an absurd 1.41 ERA, holding opponents to a .165 average while converting 17 of 18 save opportunities and striking out 48 batters in 38.1 IP. I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that happening, but he’s sure answered one of the biggest questions the Mariners had when the season opened. Aardsma has combined with Mark Lowe, Sean White, and Miguel Batista to post a 2.78 ERA over 158.2 combined innings with 121 Ks between the quartet. These guys have made the Mariners extremely tough to be beat in a close game after the 6th inning. Batista also has the ability to go multiple innings and spare the rest of the bullpen when the games aren’t close. Shawn Kelley has been dominant in the first 11 innings of his major league career. Also, whether Vargas or Olson, one of those two should provide quality long relief. I don’t care much for the names of our bullpen corps, but you can’t really argue with the results. These guys have been stellar this season and have turned what I expected to be the biggest weakness on the team into its strength. Grade: A (Previous Grade: F)

Pitching Staff: I’m not sure how it happened and I doubt anyone suspected it was possible, but the Mariners have the best staff in the majors right now. They barely edge out the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best ERA in all of baseball. You can certainly credit the M’s pitchers and the defense behind them for this unexpected start to the season. Even though they have proven themselves over the first half of the season, I can’t really say I’m entirely sold on our bullpen. I think Aardsma is in a groove and doesn’t look to implode any time soon, but Batista is definitely someone that can blow up at any given moment. Our rotation is solid though and our staff as a whole will keep us competitive over the rest of the season if our offense can pick it up. Grade: A

Overall: Our rotation has been solid and has the potential to improve and the bullpen has been phenomenal so far this year, but I think our offense is going to need to turn it up a notch for the stretch. An upgrade at SS and moving Jeff Clement into the starting lineup seem like the right moves to me. If Lopez can maintain his June pace and Beltre can start hitting, the Mariners just might keep this thing going into September. I think we have the staff to do it, but our offense is looking suspect and I think we are missing a couple crucial pieces. Grade: B- (Previous Grade: C-)

6 comments

  1. You are pretty much spot on in most of your assessments, but you keep forgeting that special intangible factor. Call it team spirit , confidence or what ever but its there. Oakland called it “Billy Ball”. Low end team doing much better than expected. Thought you were hard on Beltre since he could barely swing a bat but manage to stay in a lot of games. Guitterez is a steal and I think he will continue to improve. Cedeno is solid at SS an easy out, but a great bunter. I’m most afraid that the bull pen will go tits up. Hope I’m wrong.


    • Oakland called it ‘Money Ball.’ ‘Billy Ball’ is from the Yankees with Billy Martin, and it wasn’t about low end, it featured the original Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.


  2. Chimenti – We are both right . It was Billy Martin but when he was managing Oakland in 1979 was when it was first coined.


    • Wrong again,

      Billy Martin managed the Yankees from 1975 to 1979 before he went home to Oakland from 1980 to 1982. The term ‘Billy Ball’ was already in effect in NYC as he went on to win 2 World Series and 3 ALCS. He later returned to NY in 1983 after not much success in Oakland, for three more stints with the Yankees.

      Regardless, ‘Billy Ball’ was never about going cheap. ‘Money Ball’ was about going cheap, but even for Oakland, they never won a World Series that way, their last ALCS came with the big budget circus of Canseco, McGwire, Lansford, Hendu, Ricky, and Stewart to name a few.


      • Phat, you’re getting confused. You keep saying the name Billy because Billy Beane is Oakland’s GM and he was the focus of the book “Moneyball.” The strategy behind “Moneyball” was basically acquiring cheap players that got on base frequently.


  3. Oh… and I didn’t do enough research on Franklin Guttierez. He has been much better than I let on. Over the past month, he’s rocking a .362 average with 7 homers and a 1.034 OPS. Those are pretty remarkable numbers… certainly better than the “unspectacular” way I described his performance.



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