2016 Seattle Mariners: Empty nights

On deck: Boog Powell has a slugger’s name  but Ben Revere’s skills, which shouldn’t make him the Mariners’ top prospect but did because Danny Hultzen ceased to be an option about two shoulder injuries ago. The Orioles Boog Powell was 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and slugged 339 home runs from 1961-77. The Mariners’ Boog Powell is an average-sized outfielder  who’s hit six home runs in four minor league seasons. Old Boog Powell could probably hit that many in one year, this year, at 71. (In a movie, Ty Cobb is asked in the 1950s what he would hit against today’s pitchers. He says about .290, which seemed low given his career average of .366. Says Cobb: “Well, I’m f—ing 72 years old …”) Young Boog won’t have as good of a career as old Boog, but he hits singles and walks and gets on base, even if he’s not sure what to do when he gets there (young Boog is 53-for-90 stealing, a percentage slightly better than old Boog, who at 20-for-41, knew better). But young Boog has a .308 career minor-league average and .401 on-base percentage; for the Mariners, who played Austin Jackson the last year-and-a-half (36 walks and a .263 average in 684 plate appearances) and  traded for Leonys Martin (career .305 on-base), that’s tempting. Old Boog was traded just once in his career and that at age 33 after 14 seasons with the Orioles; young Boog has been traded twice (from the A’s to the Rays and the Rays to the Mariners) and he just turned 23.

2015 Stat: The Mariners had three pitchers with at least 10 saves last year: Fernando Rodney with 16 and Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen with 13 apiece. All are ex-Mariners this year: Rodney was traded before last year ended, Smith went to the Red Sox for starter Wade Miley and Wilhelmsen went to the Rangers for Martin. The Mariners have never had three pitchers with at least 10 saves, though their bullpen was almost as balanced in 1984. Mike Stanton led the team with 8 saves, and Ed Vande Berg and Ed Nunez had seven apiece. Somehow they won 74 games.

What he said: Mike Montgomery on being moved to the bullpen: “I still believe I’m a starter, but I want to help this team win the World Series. If they think my best role is out of the bullpen, then I’m going to do that the best I can, for sure.” What he meant: “Our bullpen is so bad, there’s plenty of job security there.”

Outlook: The Mariners won 87 games in 2014 and added Nelson Cruz, who hit 44 home runs and knocked in 93 runs, the latter an even more impressive feat considering how scant opportunities were.

No Mariner regular, other than Cruz, had an on-base percentage better than Robinson Cano’s .334, and the team was 22nd in MLB with a .311 OBP.

The Mariners won just 76 games because their offense was bad and their pitching was worse. Run production decreased — even after adding Cruz, whose home runs were greeted by broadcaster Dave Sims with shouts of Boomstick Baby; the stick broke when anyone else batted. The Mariners dropped from 19th to 21st in runs scored, and the pitching staff collapsed, going from second in MLB in ERA (3.17) in 2014 to 22nd (4.16).

(The Mariners were also 22nd in run differential and tied for 21st in wins.)

GM Jack Zduriencik said “… when all is said and done, talent wins,” when he took over in 2008 and he was right. Even after adding Cruz, there wasn’t enough of it to save his job or manager Lloyd McClendon, who was fired by new GM Jerry Dipoto.

The latter was GM of the Angels until he lost a battle of ideas with manager Mike Scioscia, whose very same won a World Series in 2002 if nothing more since. That won’t happen to Dipoto in Seattle, having hired first-timer Scott Servais, who comes from the school of nondescript catchers so popular as major-league managers.

(Servais makes it 14 catchers as managers, which begs the question: if they’re so smart, why were they catchers?)

Servais reached double-figures in home runs three times in 11 years, but was struck out by Dipoto, a reliever with a career 4.05 ERA and .757 OPS against. You have to wonder why Dipoto would hire someone so easily fooled by his changeup.

This year’s Mariners may not be good enough to catch the Rangers or Astros, but if they can surpass Scioscia’s Angels, that might be victory enough for Dipoto.

The Mariners’ pitching declined in two places last year, one of which Dipoto has attempted to patch and the other he is powerless to: the bullpen and Felix Hernandez.

The latter’s ERA rose 1.39 runs, from 2.14 to 3.53 as he pitched just 201.2 innings, his lowest total since 2008, the last time Hernandez also failed to reach 200 strikeouts. Hernandez has logged 200 innings for eight straight seasons (more than 230 in five of them) and you have to wonder if, like Justin Verlander in Detroit, it’s starting to show.

If so, the Mariners can be thankful they’re in a division with the Athletics.

(Hernandez once won a Cy Young with a 13-12 record; he was 18-9 last year even though the Mariners scored no better in his 31 starts than the 131 he didn’t. His 191 strikeouts were the first time he’s been under 200 since 2008.)

The bullpen performed a lot like Hernandez the last two years. In 2014, it was No. 1 in MLB in ERA (2.59), with four options — Rodney (whose league-best 48 saves were belied by a .646 OPS against), Wilhelmsen (2.27 ERA, .542 OPS), Danny Farquhar (2.66, .607) and Yoervis Medina (2.68, .642).

In 2015, it was 25th (4.15), and none of the four parties was as effective.

All are elsewhere for 2016, and the new closer is apparently Steve Cishek, who couldn’t keep the same job in Miami last year. Nothing promises success like turning to someone else’s failure. If not Cishek, then it will Joaquin Benoit, who was much better than Cishek last year, allowing just 36 hits in 65.1 innings with a 2.34 ERA and .547 OPS against.

Benoit’s most ignominious moment was David Ortiz’s grand slam home run off him in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS. The postseason won’t be a problem in Seattle.

The bullpen lacks depth, which is why Montgomery was moved there, though Tony Zych (24 strikeouts and 3 walks in 18.1 innings) could advance quickly.

Like the bullpen, the lineup had lots of turnovers but may be short on solutions. Ketel Marte succeeds Brad Miller and Chris Taylor as the young shortstop with potential. He’s 22 and hit .314 in a half season at AAA, though he has little power or patience. Adam Lind will be an upgrade at first base over Logan Morrison, but given the latter’s ..685 OPS, who wouldn’t be. Morrison’s many tweets would be funnier if his batting average was higher.

A year ago 31 of Cruz’s home runs came with the bases empty, and only four came with multiple runners on (in 2014 only 21 of his 40 homers with the Orioles were solos). He should expect another season of such emptiness.

Team Song: Don McLean: Empty Chairs


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One Response to 2016 Seattle Mariners: Empty nights

  1. Pingback: 2016 Baltimore Orioles: Home runs and strikeouts all around | once upon a .406

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