By Brian Hight
Some interesting trends are starting to emerge in this young Seattle Mariners 2017 season, some encouraging, some not so encouraging. A quick glance at team statistics reveals a pretty good offense, a pretty good defense, and woefully bad pitching, with some individuals outpacing expected production and others lagging behind expected production – typical of an early, small sample size.
On Fangraphs leaderboards, the Mariners rank sixth in the majors in offensive WAR with a combined .243/.329/.398 slash line. The team as a whole is taking walks at about a 10% clip to rank 7th in the majors, which is contributing to a 12th rated team OBP. Getting on base at a healthy clip has contributed to the Mariners being 8th best in the majors in scoring runs.
Individually, the usual suspects appear atop the Mariners leaderboard, with Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano hanging out in the top five. Cruz is currently hitting .297/.396/.527 and an impressive wRC+ of 163. Cano is maybe even underachieving some at .265/.333/.422 with a wRC+ of 112, but it is early.
However, the Mariners are getting production early from some unexpected contributors in the play of Mitch Haniger and Taylor Motter. Haniger is hitting .338/.442/.600 with a wRC+ of 200 and a ridiculous BABIP of .411. Motter, who primarily filled in for Jean Segura at short but has hit himself into a utility role, has a stranger stat line. Instead of doing everything well at the plate, he’s flashing power he’s never shown before, but still struggling with the hit tool, as he did for much of his minor-league career. A slash line of .250/.311/.625 is odd, to say the least – enormous slugging, paired with average BA and OBP. He has gotten unlucky, as demonstrated by his .237 BABIP.
Haniger, who came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura trade, was always touted as an everyday outfielder. He has an average hit tool with a little pop and a good glove. In 2016, at AA, AAA, and the majors in the Diamondback’s organization, he hit a combined 30 HR. ZiPs (R), the most bullish of the projection models on Haniger going forward, see him hitting .248/.320/.431 with 17 more HR and finishing the season as a near 3 WAR player. Not shabby by any means, just not what he’s doing during this early season hot streak.
Motter, on the other hand, has never projected to be a starter and is certainly slugging out of his league so far. On two occasions in the minors with the Tampa Rays, at A ball and AAA ball, he slugged under .400 while playing 99 and 88 games respectively. He looks to be a 15 HR or so guy, who just happens to be hitting a HR every 11 PA right now. ZIPS (R) is also most bullish of the projections on Motter. That model has him playing about 100 more games and hitting close to .244/.300/.412.
The “good” news, though, is that Kyle Seager hasn’t hit his stride yet. Currently hitting .246/.360/.344 with a one tic higher than league average 101 wRC+, Seager hasn’t contributed much to the offense, so far, and you expect that will change soon. So, between the usual suspects doing what they do, surprises doing more than could’ve been expected, and one major piece underachieving, the Mariners should stay in the upper third of the majors in offense.
One of the stated goals this offseason by GM Jerry Dipoto was to get more athletic and better on defense, especially in the outfield. And, even with the recent designation for assignment of Leonys Martin, that has been the case early on. As a team, the Mariners rank 11th in the majors in UZR/150 and 9th in the majors in Fangraphs combined defensive metric. The outfield specifically ranks 10th in UZR/150 and 11th in Fangraphs Def stat.
While no one player stands out as exceptional in the Mariners outfield, Jerrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, and, until recently, the aforementioned Leonys Martin, have been around league average, allowing hands of stone Nelson Cruz to primarily DH.
The Pitching, on the other hand, has been just a notch above abysmal. Ranked 26th in WAR, only the staffs and bullpens of the Miami Marlins, Tampa Rays, Detroit Tigers, and the San Diego Padres are worse. And none of those teams were picked to contend going into 2017, whereas this Mariners team was seen as a borderline wild card contender. Following the 19-9 shellacking from the Tigers, the Mariners team ERA ballooned above 5.00, to become the only team with an ERA with a 5 to the left of the decimal point other than the Tigers.
While James Paxton has been phenomenal posting 1.78 ERA and an even better 1.16 FIP for 1.3 WAR already, the rest of the staff has been disappointing to say the least. Felix Hernandez, the once guaranteed stopper in the rotation, is off to a 4.73 ERA, which, unfortunately, correlates with his 4.78 FIP. Hisashi Iwakuma sports a 5.31 ERA with an even more ominous 7.51 FIP. The rotation is rounded out with Yovani Gallardo at 4.84 EAR but an encouraging 3.61 FIP and Ariel Miranda with a 4.35 ERA but a less than encouraging 5.31 FIP. Rotations with four starters below league average usually don’t go to the playoffs.
Closer Edwin Diaz has not gotten much work with few games that need “closing,” and the one stellar performer is the nicknamed “Scrabble” – Marc Rzepczynski – who as of Tuesday hadn’t allowed an earned run. The bullpen as a whole is ranked 27th in baseball and has a ghastly 6.52 ERA and a better, but not good, FIP of 4.77.
IT'S EARLY BUT...
Yes, it is early, with more than 140 games to go, but early impressions of 2017’s Mariners are a bit surprising. For a fan base used to low scoring games due to the combination of excellent pitching and anemic offense, this year’s version of the northwest green and navy blue is poised to be the exact opposite – a high powered offense that will need to score a ton of runs because the pitching staff is going to give up a ton of runs. Nine runs against the Tigers this week was a good effort, just eleven too few to notch a W. Don’t be surprised if you see a few of those sorts of games this season.