Fun With (Fun) Mariners Numbers

When this blog was resurrected (Happy Late Easter) I had big plans for a post. That certain post may still happen so I won’t spoil it, I’m sure my mere mention of said post is causing people to sell off their Avengers: Endgame tickets for this weekend, opting to sit in front of a computer screen in anticipation instead. It’s been a long time since I’ve written about sports as I’ve focused on writing about other things recently. Fortunately, this should come back to me like riding a bicycle. Speaking of, I took my bike out of the garage the other day and was going to go for a short ride. I hopped on, pedaled a few times and then almost fell of immediately. My bike was walked back to the garage and I went inside.

The Mariners have been the subject of the Good Guys (although it’s really only been Matthew so far as the rest of us watched in shock) getting back together. I don’t want to speak for Matthew, but writing about baseball has always come easier. I think both of us care most about the Huskies, especially football. Maybe those games are too personal or maybe we don’t know as much about the sport to ever be completely comfortable in covering it hence the writing about baseball.

Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

 

As the season was about to begin, my excitement level was pretty low. Matthew would tell me how he was looking forward to the season and I’d nod while thinking “Who’s Cory Gearrin and why is he a staple in the Mariners bullpen?”  Then the year began, I watched nearly every inning of the games in Japan and thought, “Tim Beckham is awesome. Who’s Cory Gearrin and why is he a staple in the Mariners bullpen?” After two wins in Japan, the Mariners continued to play well, blowing past the lowly(!) Red Sox and Mike Trout’s middle school friends (that’s the only explanation for the team the Angels have assembled). Then they destroyed the bad teams in the AL Central on the road. After having a frustrating week against the top 5 finishers in the 2019 AL Cy Young Award voting, they went back to bashing the Angels.

It’s all been good, weird fun. Having no expectations for a team can be a freeing experience for a sports fan. The four-hour games are always filled with twists and strange moments. The hitting approach has been a fresh sight. The bullpen has been pretty awful but it’s fun to laugh at. Before the season began, I was annoyed at the ‘Step Back’ because of the wide open AL Wild Card. I believe that the team Jerry blew up would have been the fifth best team in the AL and probably could have snuck into the playoffs. I still believe that but I’ll freely admit that watching this team has been more fun.

I have problems with the Mariners Front Office, ownership and coaches. Even with a hot start, I think they’re better at talking about how smart they are than actually showing those skills off. But that’s a post for another day. As the first Mariners off-day in a few weeks come to a close, it’s time to look at some of the weirdest numbers a baseball team could put up. Most of these statistics are WAR (Fangraphs) based and I completely understand that this is an absurdly small sample size. But our stated goal is to have fun with numbers, not to look at numbers then add caveats to be annoying. The 2019 Mariners aren’t here for your negativity! They’re here for dingers and spitting in Rob Manfred’s dumb pace-of-game initiatives. To the numbers based bullet points!

  • The Mariners are 16-9 and only have one full-time player who has a positive defensive WAR value! That one player is Dee Gordon, who has been solid in the field but not spectacular. He’s 193rd in defensive value in the majors. Tom Murphy and Ichiro are the only other players with a positive defensive value. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of defensive metrics especially in this small sample but I find this pretty hilarious. I wonder if a team has ever had a winning record with all of their full-time players having a negative value over the course of a season? The eye test certainly backs this stat up as the M’s look dreadful playing defense. It’s somewhat endearing and the obvious comparison is the Oakland moneyball approach earlier this century. Those teams were much better defensively than this one though. Ryon Healy’s -9.1 defensive value is really something to marvel at and not at all surprising if you’ve watched him.
  • To help offset those lousy defensive numbers, the Mariners have hit. And then walked. And then hit some more. Sticking with the offensive and defensive value in terms of WAR, the Mariners are currently at 45.2 on the offensive side. The next highest is the Dodgers at 31. The next highest after that is 23.9. Everyone else is in the teens or below. The 2018 Mariners put up a .6 in the offensive value category. The 2010 Mariners were at -148.8 in the same stat. Naturally, the 45.2 number this year’s squad is at could go down if they slump for a few weeks. But, it’s been an absurd start.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, the Mariners offensive run hasn’t been BABIP fueled. Their team BABIP is .298, 13th highest in the majors. They have been lucky in terms of Home Run/Fly Ball percentage running at an absurd pace but that’s about the only stat that seems ‘lucky’. The offensive pace they’re on isn’t sustainable but it’s not as far off as one might think.
  • Getting into individual stats things get… Uhh… Weird. King of the weirdness is Jay Bruce. He’s struck out 31% of the time. Doesn’t have a high walk rate and only has 16 hits on the season (.208 batting average). Pretty bad start. Oh, but 9 of those hits are home runs! How does this happen? Well, Bruce has been fairly unlucky in terms of BABIP with a .167 average there leading to his only 16 hits. He won’t keep that up, just like he won’t keep up the home run every 10 plate appearances rate. Well, maybe he will and it will be the strangest season in baseball history.
  • On the opposite end, anytime Tom Murphy hits a baseball it falls in for a hit. That has led to his .6 WAR in 24 plate appearances! His .429/.500/.857 is really something. The Mariners catching platoon has a 1.4 WAR already this year, with Narvaez checking in with .8 WAR but done in a much more sustainable way.
  • You knew the last fun with numbers bullet point (I could go all day but we’ll hold off on that) had to be about Daniel Vogelbach. The best DH Seattle has ever had (I’m joking… Sort of) ranks 6th in baseball in WAR with 1.3 all while having at least 10 fewer plate appearances than the players ahead of him. His wRC+ is second in baseball, only trailing Cody Bellinger. Vog’s base on balls percentage is over 20% while his strikeout rate is under 25%. The slash line sits at .327/.472/.836. The weirdest part is that it doesn’t seem completely unsustainable. Yes, he won’t keep at this pace but there is no number that jumps out as extremely lucky. His strikeout rate is a little high relative to other top hitters but that’s expected from a power hitter. His BABIP, likewise, is a slightly inflated .323. His HR/FB percentage is in the top 10 in the league and likely won’t stay at 40% but his plate approach is what really has impressed so far this year. While he won’t hit at this rate going forward, much of his game seems to translate to a successful DH. Maybe my favorite Vogelbach number – his not terrible -.1 baserunning value.

I’m fully aware that the Mariners could come crashing down as soon as tomorrow. The offensive output has been bonkers and the starting pitching has been surprisingly decent. Maybe this post is the jinx they need to start sucking. Or maybe they’ll just keep hitting dingers.

– Andrew

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How Do The Mariners Succeed in 2019?

The Mariners are about three hours from the first pitch of the season. Everything about this opener is strange, starting with the fact the game will start at 2:30 AM in Seattle. I’m pretty sure they play Oakland in every opener, but this time will be in the Tokyo Dome. Even stranger will be having someone other than Felix on the mound, for the first time since 2008. In fact, with Kyle Seager’s injury, the only holdover from 2018’s opening line up at the same position will be Mitch Haniger.

So, what should fans expect, or even hope for this season? Usually with a rebuilding team, the answer is pretty easy: progress from young players, but not so much that the team plays itself out of a top draft pick. Baseball, and this year’s M’s team in particular, is a little different. Top draft picks are nice, but they’re no sure things in baseball and take a long time to develop. The Mariners aren’t tanking for Zion Williamson.

Further confusing expectations, this M’s squad might not be that bad. They’re not going to be good, to be clear. A .500 season would be an overachievement. As they started trading off veterans this offseason, people assumed they were going to completely tear the team down and 100 losses would be an inevitability. Instead, they kept Haniger, Gonzales and a handful of others, added pieces at the big league level or close to it, and took back a bunch of veterans in salary swaps.

The upshot is a team that won’t contend (barring something crazy), but shouldn’t be horrible, while having the clear expectation of being good in a couple of years. It’ll be a weird year. So, what would make this a successful season for the M’s? Here are my thoughts.

Young Players Emerge

This is a staple of rebuilding seasons and goes without saying. Nothing is more important this season than having young players improve and hopefully establish themselves as big leaguers. The difference between winning in 2021 or not could very well be JP Crawford and Domingo Santana demonstrating that they are capable professionals, and that starts sometime this season. While most of the young prospects won’t start the year in Seattle, plenty of them should make an appearance before the summer ends. Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, Blake Bishop, maybe even Evan White should see the majors, and if they can quickly show they belong, that will make the rebuild quicker and simpler.

The Mariners have plenty of young veterans who could establish themselves with a solid season. Santana is one of the most intriguing, as a guy with big time power who’s only a season removed from playing very well in the bigs. Mallex Smith and Omar Narvaez are other additions who have had offensive success, but need to show it again and improve their defense. Holdovers like Ryon Healy, Daniel Vogelbach, and Dan Altavilla need to rebound or demonstrate that they are capable of producing. That’s to say nothing of Kyle Seager, who, while out for a couple of months to start the year, needs a major rebound year to either become tradeable or hold down third again.

Trade The Veterans

You would think there are no veterans left, but there are some prime candidates to be moved if they can rebound. Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce are obvious, as potentially productive guys with big salaries. Dee Gordon is a prime candidate if he can rebound offensively. The biggest trade chip may end up being Hunter Strickland, if he can re-establish himself as a solid closer or set-up man. It still wouldn’t be a shock to see Haniger moved, but it will take a major return. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see anyone go, and if the Mariners can be creative to upgrade their talent, they should do it.

Add Talent

This will mostly come from trades, but there are other ways to find talent. The Mariners should maintain enough flexibility to bring in waiver claims or anyone else who might hit the open market. Every year, guys with talent are cut or can be had for next to nothing in trade. The Mariners are in a position to give players a shot if they want to.

Get Better in the Second Half

Improvement as the season progresses is a sign the young talent is coming together. It also provides some momentum going into the offseason and 2020, when Dipoto and company are hoping the team can start to contend.

Make the Baseball Entertaining

Baseball is usually more fun if your team is winning, and the Mariners aren’t likely to do a ton of that. Lately I’ve come to appreciate the ways players and teams can be fun regardless of the results. This team could be fun. The athleticism got an upgrade with Mallex Smith, and a healthy Dee Gordon might rebound and give a shot of energy with his speed and smile. The team still has some decent power, especially in Haniger and Santana and the 1B/DH guys. The pitching isn’t the most dominating bunch, but seeing Sheffield debut at some point will be fun to follow. All through the first part of spring training, the buzz around the team was how they seemed excited to be there and to have their chance. If that carries into the season, I think we’ll see it on the field, if not in the win column.

Watch The Minors

This is a whole other post, but the M’s farm system should be fun to follow for the first time in years. They’ve had the worst system in baseball recently, but have jumped to middle of the pack with all of their trades and some improved drafting the last couple of years. Tacoma will have some talent and is always a fun place to watch a game, but many of the top prospects will likely start in double-A or lower. Jarred Kelenick and Julio Rodriguez look like they’ll start next to each other in the outfield in low-A. They’re the two most prospects most likely to turn into superstars. Short of Marco Gonzales winning the Cy Young, or Mallex Smith morphing into Rickey Henderson, nothing is more important to the Mariners future than the farm system having a breakout year.

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Very little could happen this season that would shock me, which could be fun or could be terrible. At the very least, it’s nice to have some new faces to learn. Let us know what you’re watching for in the comments. Go Mariners!

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Mariners Moves Recap

It’s been a long time since we wrote anything on this blog, but I’ve wanted to bring it back for a while. I’m out of practice and have no idea if this will last, or if anyone will read it, but we’ll give it a shot. To any of you still subscribed to our posts or who stumble upon us, welcome back!

The Mariners conducted one of the wildest offseasons I’ve ever seen, as most probably know by now. While they certainly took a step back, the tone from spring training, and throughout a lot of the fan base, is pretty positive.

That comes largely from having new, young talent to follow. Youth is always invigorating. Unfortunately, youth doesn’t always turn into good players. I think this rebuild is worthwhile and unique, but whether it is successful or not will only be known for 2-4 years.

I’m hoping to put out a few posts to recap the offseason and put the rebuild into perspective before the season starts. Today is just a recap of all the moves they’ve made. I was going to rank them, but that got confusing, so I’ll just go in chronological order. I’m focusing mainly on the (many) trades. With all respect to Tim Beckham, Hunter Strickland, and the minor league contract guys, there’s not a lot of potential impact there. Strickland has a chance to be something again, but he’ll likely be traded if he reverts to being a solid closer or set up man.

Just a reminder, in case you’ve somehow missed it, the Mariners have stated their goal is to be competitive in 2020 or 2021. 2020 seems overly optimistic, but who knows. And as always with Jerry Dipoto, there will likely be a billion more moves in the next year or two, so this might all be irrelevant before long.

Mike Zunino for Mallex Smith

This trade started off the frenzy so long ago, I hardly remember it cost one of my favorite M’s to add Smith in center field. I’m as concerned about letting Zunino go as any other player this offseason. His upside is a perennial all star if his bat ever stabilizes at all, and even if it doesn’t, it’s hard to find a solid catcher. Still, it’s probably the right move at this point, given his ongoing offensive struggles. Mallex is a lightning bolt in the outfield and the kind of on-base and speed threat this team needs. The M’s also gave up Guillermo Heredia and young lefty Michael Plassmeyer, likely inconsequential losses, and got OF prospect Jake Fraley, who has turned heads this spring but is no sure bet.

The Paxton Trade

Entering the offseason, I expected a Paxton trade regardless of what else the team did. It never felt like Paxton would sign long term, or that he’d even be a guy the team would feel comfortable giving a big new deal. For all his talent, he never became the dominant, dependable ace that was expected. Nonetheless, he’s a huge loss and will be missed, for both his performance and personality. The return was LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Erik Swanson, and OF Dom Thompson-Williams. Sheffield’s the prize, a guy with plenty of talent who could be a solid 2nd or 3rd starter, if he finds better command. He’s looked good this spring and should see Seattle this summer. Swanson has a lower ceiling but could be a dependable back-end starter or impact multi-inning reliever. He should also be in Seattle sometime this year. DTW is a lottery ticket, a great athlete without great results until this past year.

Colome for Narvaez (aka A New Catcher)

A somewhat forgotten move that could have as much impact as any. Alex Colome, while a big part of last year’s pen, was expendable. Omar Narvaez will be this year’s starting catcher. The polar opposite of Mike Zunino, Narvaez has great on base skills and a solid lefty bat. He’s okay controlling the running game, but is not the dominant receiver Zunino was. I could see him washing out if the bat regresses and his defense stagnates, but he also has a chance to become one of the better catchers in the league if he maintains his offense and improves a reasonable amount behind the plate.

Goodbye Cano and Diaz

For posterity, this move was Cano, Diaz and a lot of money to the Mets for OF Jarred Kelenic, RHP Justin Dunn, RH reliever Gerson Bautista, OF Jay Bruce, and RH reliever Anthony Swarzak. I’ll miss Cano, but moving that salary was a big deal. I’ll really miss Diaz, but trading him was an inevitability once they started down this road. Bruce and Swarzak are just veterans included to offset salaries, although they should play a role on this team and will hopefully bring in more prospects at midseason.

Thankfully, the rest of this trade is very fun. Kelenic has the highest ceiling of anyone they added. He’s an athletic center fielder with an advanced hitting approach for a teenager. The power’s not all the way there yet, but he’s the type of guy who usually adds it as he matures. He has all the tools and good personality, and if this offseason produces an eventual superstar, it’ll likely be him. Dunn is a former first rounder with lots of talent, but he hasn’t dominated yet. Some see a future as a dominating reliever, but he could be a middle of the rotation or better starter if he can put it together. Bautista is a flamethrowing reliever who hasn’t put it together yet, but should see Seattle this year. This is a good return, but they gave up a lot of talent to get it.

Segura for JP Crawford

This deal, which included Juan Nicasio and James Pazos going to the Phillies and Carlos Santana to Seattle, was the most puzzling of the offseason. It wasn’t a shock to see Segura go, but most expected a better return for an all star shortstop. Santana was largely a salary exchange (more on him in a minute), and Crawford was a prized shortstop prospect who underwhelmed in Philadelphia last year. There’s potential there for him to still become an above average starter, but there’s a greater likelihood that he never amounts to much. An interesting gamble, but one that shows Segura’s attitude issues may have sunk his value around the league much lower than fans could have imagined.

Santana for Edwin Encarnacion

This was a weird move that saw the Mariners exchanging expensive veteran 1B/DHs, and buying a draft pick in the process, if I remember right. I’m sure the Mariners thought they’d trade Encarnacion by now, but it looks like he’ll be on the team for a while, which isn’t a horrible thing. Hopefully he puts up a big first half and brings in a decent trade return.

Ben Gamel for Domingo Santana

An exchange of left fielders, this was the Mariners buying low on a guy with a ton of potential who had lost his spot with the Brewers. After a 30 homer season in 2017, Santana essentially got replaced by Christian Yelich and regressed last year. If he can rebound, he’ll be a huge steal. This is the kind of move that is either forgotten in two years, or is the foundation of a playoff contender. You have to get lucky at some point, and this seems a likely place for it to happen.

Hello Yusei Kikuchi!

This seems like the big win of the offseason. Kikuchi should be an immediate middle of the rotation starter, and could be more than that. The contract is favorable, with little risk for the M’s. He looks like a fan favorite and maybe the most likely addition to be a part of their next playoff team (if there ever is one).

Shed Long Becomes a Mariner (or Rainier)

This was a fairly minor move, but I’ll throw it on here because Shed has been one of the stars of training camp. The second baseman, who is also seeing time in the outfield and potentially third base, came from Cincinnati in what was essentially a three way deal, with the M’s sending OF prospect Josh Stowers to the Yankees. Stowers is an interesting prospect who could eventually make an impact, but Shed is closer to the majors, and the Mariners badly need infield depth. He has great offensive potential, especially for a second baseman, but his defense is still a work in progress. But the important thing here is that the Mariners now have a player named Shed.

So, there you go. Nothing like restarting a blog with 1500 words about guys who may never play for the terrible local baseball team. Go Mariners!

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2016 Mariners-Crown Em’

Besides being humans and playing baseball for the Seattle Mariners, can you think of something in common between Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Seth Smith? This group are the only Mariners that will take part in the opening day ceremonies next week that did the same last year with the M’s. The other 18 men were not on the M’s opening day roster in 2015. A lot can, and has, changed in the past few months for the Mariners and many other teams around the league. Though I would imagine a 72% overhaul of opening day rosters from one year to the next is higher than league average, by a considerable margin. If I had the time I’d like to know if it ranks as the most changed roster, which it well may. It’s all to be expected when a new manager and general manager are brought in, as is the case with Seattle. But is all the change a good thing? Time will tell, but in this case, I think it is.

A year ago I couldn’t go a day without reading a new predictions tweet or article that had the M’s in the World Series. It was all a bit surreal. This year, most pundits see the M’s extending their 13 year postseason drought another year. This makes sense given how 2015 played out, to say nothing of the prior decade. But aside from expectations, there is good reason to think the M’s actually look a good bit better today than April, 2015. Below are how the opening day rosters compare. The 18 new faces all have a player they are essentially replacing, as the chart shows. As for the impact column, that is my opinion whether the current player is an upgrade (+), downgrade (-), or no real change (o).

2015 2016 Impact
James Paxton Wade Miley +
J.A. Happ Nate Karns o
Danny Farquhar Nick Vincent +
Charlie Furbush Mike Montgomery
Yoervis Medina Joel Peralta o
Tyler Olson Vidal Nuno +
Fernando Rodney Steve Cishek o
Carson Smith Joaquin Benoit o
Tom Wilhelmson Tony Zych o
Mike Zunino Chris Iannetta +
Jesus Sucre Steve Clevenger +
Logan Morrison Adam Lind +
Brad Miller Ketel Marte +
Willie Bloomquist Luis Sardinas +
Dustin Ackley Nori Aoki +
Austin Jackson Leonys Martin +
Justin Ruggiano Franklin Gutierrez +
Rickie Weeks Dae-Ho Lee +
Felix Hernandez Felix Hernandez o
Hisashi Iwakuma Hisashi Iwakuma o
Taijuan Walker Taijuan Walker +
Robinson Cano Robinson Cano +
Kyle Seager Kyle Seager o
Nelson Cruz Nelson Cruz o
Seth Smith Seth Smith o

There are dozens of variables and caveats to an exercise like this, and we can differ on opinion, but I see the M’s upgrading in 14 spots this season, downgrading in 1 (though Furbush is still on the roster), and staying even in 10. Each spot is a case by case assessment but in general I’m looking at the performance of the 2015 player versus the reasonable expectation/projection of the 2016 player. Let’s dig in a little further.

Starting Pitching
The rotation is deeper and projects better in 2016. Felix is Felix, no reason to expect he won’t be an ace and in the thick of Cy Young contention. A year ago Paxton broke camp as the #2 starter, this year he is healthy but in Tacoma. Not many teams have a #6 guy like James, who still has a high ceiling. Wade Miley was brought in to replace Iwakuma, but then Iwakuma returned after all, which was a bonus. Taijuan returns to the rotation and is poised to build off his rookie campaign. Tai was terrible in April and May last year, but found his rhythm in the summer. Happ for Karns feels like a wash for 2016 but Karns will be a key piece for years to come.  Few may realize he actually started the third game for Tampa Bay last year, and was a key piece of their rotation all year. Thanks to retaining Kuma and adding Miley, I think the rotation is significantly improved.

Bullpen
There’s no disputing the bullpen is the biggest question mark. I won’t try to convince anyone that the pen will be good, but honestly can it be worse than last year? I don’t know that it can and I like Dipoto’s strategy of completely overhauling the pen and bringing in a heap of arms which will sort itself out as the season goes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the M’s give 15+ guys a chance in the pen this year. Whether the depth is any good is TBD but there are reinforcements if a couple guys get hurt (Scribner, Cook, Furbush) or potentially suck. Last year few alternatives existed, which is a huge reason why the bullpen went from bad to disastrous. Cishek and Benoit will go a long way in determining the success but I feel a little better about the bullpen with Vincent’s acquisition today. The bullpen can’t be worse and maybe it isn’t a ton better, but ’16’s version looks poised to improve on ’15.

Lineup
Gone are LoMo, Brad Miller, Austin Jackson, and Ackley. In are Lind, Marte, Leonys, and Nori Aoki. Gimme that 4 for 4 trade any day! Beyond the areas of change, the lineup, at least at present, does not look to have a black hole (Zunino is in Tacoma). Seager, Cruz, Cano, and Seth Smith are all back, and while Cruz may not match last year’s incredible season, Cano is finally healthy and I imagine Seager and Smith will continue their career norms as above average players. I have some worries about this lineup, given the offensive woes that seem to haunt the M’s, but on paper it looks league average and capable of 4 runs/game.

Bench
Say goodbye to Rickie Weeks, Ruggiano, Sucre, and WFBloomquist. They’ve been replaced by Dae-Ho Lee, Gutierrez, Steve Clevenger, and Luis Sardinas. Again, anyone not willing to take that 4 for 4 trade? Seems like a no brainer. The bench will be better, quite significantly in my opinion.

Defense
The theme of Dipoto’s offseason was constructing a roster built for Safeco Field. That hadn’t happened in a long time. To do so, Jerry brought in guys who get on base and can field their position, above average in most cases. Aoki and Leonys are instant upgrades to the outfield, which had been a glaring weakness during the Jack Z era. Marte isn’t flashy but he makes all the plays you’d expect at short stop, something that cannot be said of Brad Miller. Sardinas is a terrific defender, WFB is not. The defense is vastly improved.

Depth
MLB is a 162 game season, so depth is pretty important. Jack Z learned the hard way that you can never have enough pitching and catching. Dipoto is all about accumulating guys who can play in the majors, particularly if they’ve tasted some success. You need depth, so in addition to the 25 guys who will take the field in Arlington next week, there had better be a plethora of other options. Paxton, Zunino, Taylor, Romero, Blash, O’Malley, Furbush (DL), are all still in the organization and can step in. You also have Daniel Robertson, Boog Powell, Efren Navarro, and Rob Brantly, plus another 5-8 bullpen candidates (Roach, Parker, Guaipe, Aro, De Fratus, Scribner, Cook) . Last year, that sort of depth simply did not exist, particularly in the bullpen and at catcher.

To recap, I feel better about all areas of the 2016 Mariners as compared to last year. Most fans probably feel the same about their team, hope springs eternal and all that. But last year’s team won 76 games, so it will take a big jump forward to be in playoff contention. The rest of the AL West, mid-season acquisitions, how Servais adjusts to managing, and of course injuries, slumps and so many other factors will help determine how the season shakes out, but the Mariners should not be bad. In fact, they should probably be good.

Dipoto makes some tasty Kool-Aid, and I’m drinking it. Crown em’.

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Let’s Talk Some Mariners

The Mariners just pounded the Royals 7-0 to keep treading water in the AL West. Seems like the perfect time for a fake Q&A. As always, these are made up questions that no one has ever asked me.

Talk a little about the Mariners’ season so far.

That’s not a question.

Sorry. How has this season gone for the M’s?

That’s better. Not well. They quickly extinguished the World Series talk with a terrible start, and while they’ve been better at times, they’ve also been consistently inconsistent. Right now they’re six games under .500 and around 8 games back in the division.

What’s been the problem?

A little bit of everything. The pitching and defense were bad to start. The pitching has gotten good and the defense has been okay since, but the offense has been mostly bad all year. They’ve also been plagued by a lack of focus and general malaise that’s led to a lot of silly errors and a seeming lack of fight in certain games.

So what should they do? They probably need to switch out most of the team, right?

That’s the weird thing. There aren’t really that many holes now. Let’s break it down.

Cruz, Seager and Seth Smith have done exactly what was expected or more, as have J.A. Happ and Charlie Furbush on the pitching side. Austin Jackson and Logan Morrison started slow but have turned into solid bats since, although we’ll see if it lasts with Jackson. Brad Miller’s stats aren’t amazing, but he’s actually been one of the better shortstops in the league offensively, and his defense has been mostly solid. The starting rotation has been good to great, despite the occasional rough start. Felix has been spotty lately, but he should be fine going forward. The youngsters (ie Walker, Paxton, Elias, Montgomery) have had bad games, but have mostly been really good, especially since the middle of May or so. The bullpen has also stabilized. It’s not as good as last year’s incredible group, but it’s good enough.

That all sounds pretty good. So what’s the problem at this moment?

For the pitching, they could use another elite reliever or two, especially with Rodney out of the closer role. But that’s not a huge issue. The real problem is three black holes in the lineup and a worthless bench. Two of them, Zunino and Cano, aren’t going anywhere. Zunino is so valued defensively, and there is such a dearth of decent catchers, that the team will just live with a weak bat. If he could rebound just to last year’s numbers, that would be a huge addition. Cano seems to be turning things around a bit. His season-long slump is probably the largest contributor to the offensive issues.

The other hole is left field, where Dustin Ackley has been a complete failure. He had a great game tonight, so maybe he can build on that. Yeah, it’s probably not going to happen. The addition of Mark Trumbo has patched the problem slightly, but they could still use a good every day outfielder, or even a right-handed bat to platoon since Ruggiano and Weeks failed pretty miserably.

So what can they do? Is there help in the farm system?

Maybe, but not really.  Tacoma has some veterans who might help some. Guys like Franklin Gutierrez, Jesus Montero, and maybe even Stefen Romero are having solid seasons and might be able to help, but they all have issues too.  Guti is still Guti and is unable to play many games in a row. Scouts are still skeptical about Montero, and Romero was terrible in the bigs last year. Still, any one of them or a few others could come up and provide a boost for a month or more. There just aren’t any guarantees.

Trading Willie Bloomquist for Chris Taylor or even Ketel Marte (once he’s healthy) would be an immediate improvement, but they seem reluctant to move on from Willie. This squad could really use a top prospect promotion to provide some excitement and a short term boost, but there’s no one who fits that bill.

I though rebuilding the farm system was supposed to be Jack’s specialty?

It was, but most of the advanced talent has been promoted already. What’s left is young and/or struggling mightily. There’s still hope for the future but little help for the present.

Trades?

Hard to say. It’s a little early still, and the Mariners don’t have a lot of talent to trade. I’d be looking for a righty outfielder though, especially one who can get on base, along with a righty set up man and a backup catcher. No idea if they’ll find them, but that would be ideal.

People have started talking about firing McClendon and ZduriencikWould that help?

That’s a very different question for each guy. With McClendon, who knows. I’m always skeptical of manager changes being the answer, but something’s clearly not clicking with this team. I like Lloyd, but sometimes a new voice is the difference. He’s indicated the team is struggling with expectations, which isn’t really mark on the good side of his ledger. In short, I’d be fine with it either way.

With Jack, it’s a little more complicated, simply because changing general managers means a much bigger shakeup. It’s become clear that he struggles with building a complete team. He has a poor record in picking non-elite free agent hitters. And for all of his scouting accolades, his offensive prospects have mostly struggled in the minors and especially when reaching Seattle. On the plus side, he’s improved the talent significantly and demonstrated an ability to build a cheap and effective pitching staff. I could go either way on this one too. I think the Mariners could do much better than Zduriencik, but I’m profoundly skeptical that they actually would. Mariner management is anything but inspiring.

Just a hunch, but barring a good next month to put them into contention, I’d say one or both of them will be gone before the end of the season, and possibly very soon.

So, is the season basically over?

I would say no. The M’s really just need for people to start hitting like they have before. A really good hot streak or two by someone would help too. The pitching will keep them in nearly every game, especially with Iwakuma and Paxton eventually returning. This team just needs some kind of spark. I have no idea what it will be or if they’ll ever receive it, but the pieces are mostly there to be a solid team. Whether they can get back into contention depends on whether Houston and Texas come back to the pack, but I think they will.

The preseason hopes were clearly too high for this team. The M’s have good talent, but it’s (mostly) not elite. They were always a team who could work its way into the postseason and then hope for a hot streak to carry them to the World Series, like the Royals last year. It would have taken everything going right to be a juggernaut, and instead everything went wrong, at least to start the season. This is a better team than they’ve shown, and is pretty fun to watch when they’re on, but it’s anyone’s guess when or if it will click and they’ll turn into the winning team everyone expected.

-Matthew

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What’s Going On With UW Basketball?

The Washington Husky basketball team started last season 12-0, and while no one thought they were going remain undefeated for the season, a return to the NCAA tournament seemed likely.  Instead, they went 4-15 to finish their worst season in years. In the process, they lost their best player and pro prospect, C Robert Upshaw, when he was kicked off the team for an undisclosed rules violation. The horrid second half intensified the negative buzz starting to surround Lorenzo Romar’s tenure as head coach.

The offseason hasn’t been any less tumultuous. Remember all those players who made up that terrible team last season? They’re pretty much all gone. Mike Anderson and Shawn Kemp Jr. graduated. Gilles Dierickx and Darin Johnson moved on in transfers that weren’t too surprising. Nigel Williams-Goss’ and Jernard Jarreau’s transfers were more surprising. Even assistant coach TJ Otzelberger quit to go back to Iowa State. All that was left was Andrew Andrews, Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters. In case you can’t count, that’s not even a starting line-up. It’s not even a very good three-on-three group.

The good news is this is not all bad news. While I doubt Romar was dying to lose Williams-Goss or Jarreau, it’s pretty clear he was aiming to gut this roster. The program had grown less talented, and it had simultaneously morphed away from the athletic, pressuring squads of Romar’s best years at UW.

Even in the midst of the terrible second half of the season, Romar was putting together what looks like his best recruiting class. In its original form, the class had six recruits, a group among the top three in the Pac-12 and the best in the country. It included three elite local kids, an elite California power forward, and a junior college big man to play immediately. That group of six had fans extremely excited and was a solid foundation for a rebuild. And then it kept getting better.

With all of the transfers, Romar found himself with plenty of roster space that he could, and eventually needed to, fill. First, there was an SEC big man transfer, Matthew Atewe, young with upside. He’ll likely have to sit out this year, but is petitioning for immediate eligibility. Whenever he plays, he should be an athletic big man, maybe not a star but the type of body UW has had in short supply of late. Next came local wing Dominic Green, who had been committed to Arizona State until they changed coaches and he asked to be released.

The real icing to this cake came last week with two separate announcements. The first was long-rumored but surely brought a smile to every fan’s face: former point guard Will Conroy had been hired as an assistant coach. To many, Conroy represents everything this program used to be but has lost. He’s a local boy who worked himself from a walk-on to the fringes of the NBA. He played tough defense, team basketball, and directed many of those great teams with Nate, Brandon and everyone else. He seems to be viewed as the all-time captain of Husky basketball  and brings tremendous respect and connections to the local Seattle basketball scene. There’s been a feeling amongst fans that UW’s coaching staff has gotten too nice, has lost its edge since Cameron Dollar left, and whether that’s true or not, Will Conroy brings plenty of edge.

The second piece of news came with the (likely) final piece of the recruiting class. Center Noah Dickerson had picked Florida over UW earlier, but when Billy Donovan left for an NBA job, Dickerson asked to be released as well. He visited UW last week and signed scholarship paperwork before he left to make himself a Husky. He brings size and a fairly polished low-post game. Another big man was the only thing the class was really missing, and Dickerson is a better player than anyone expected they would be able to find to fill that hole. His signing gives this class five of the top 100 incoming players in the country (according to Scout.com), with the 102nd ranked player thrown in for good measure. UW has never seen a class that is this deep and this good, and given the amount of roster turnover it took to get there, it likely never will again. Recruiting classes aren’t usually this big, and when they are, they tend to have a lot of filler.

So what does all that mean for the coming season? It’s hard to say, really. A return to the NCAA tournament would be tough but not impossible, or even unlikely. They should improve as the season goes, and if they can keep this group together for another year (likely, as there aren’t any real obvious one-and done candidates), the next year could be truly special. Whatever the season’s outcome, this group should bring a return to fun, high-paced, intense basketball. This group is extremely long and athletic, and once they get a little bit of experience under the drawstrings of their shorts, they should bring the program back to its glory days of pressuring defense and high-flying fast breaks. The 2015-’16 Huskies might not be recognizable, but that’s be a good thing after the last few seasons.

The Newcomers, in the order they committed: Continue reading

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Where One is Lost, More are Found

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I, with the baby in the backseat, were driving home to spend the weekend with my parents and see some friends and relatives. We got to talking about my grandma, who passed away some seven or eight years ago. There was no one quite like Grandma Long, a spunky lady who overflowed with wisdom, loved people and fun, and worked harder in her retirement than I will likely ever work in my life. Every loss leaves a hole, but some holes are bigger than others, and the void created when she was killed one night in a car accident was massive.

As we were saying we missed her, I realized, and said to Lisa, that it’s sad knowing Wyatt, my son, will never know her. That someone who was such a major part of my life will be known to my son only through stories is something I had never given much thought. Life moves on. Lord willing, he will know and love people I will never meet, but there are people and memories I wish could be part of his life as they are mine.

I had a similar thought yesterday in the Mariners team store. They had a collection of the new alternate jerseys with the usual suspects on the back: Cano, Felix, Cruz, Zunino. And there at the end of the row was Griffey’s #24, and I thought, with another tiny bit of sadness, “Wyatt will never see Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball.”

It’s surprising, when you stop to think about it, how short a baseball career is in the course of a life. My brother is about nine years younger than I am. At this point, we experience much together, because we are good friends but also because we are grown and finally at similar points in our lives. Still, that nine year gap distinctly changes memories. He was five when the ’95 Mariners made their playoff run. I frequently rave about Randy Johnson, but he has few memories of the Big Unit as a Mariner. His pitching hero, as a fellow lefty, was Jamie Moyer, about whom I’ve always been somewhat lukewarm, probably because of those Johnson memories. Nine years is not much between friends or brothers, but it’s half a career for the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

What is thrilling and restorative about sports is there is a new legend for every generation. I have Griffey and Randy and Edgar, and Jordan and Pedro and Vlad and Marques Tuiasosopo and so many others. But I grew up listening to my dad talk about Willie Mays and Sonny Sixkiller, whom I didn’t come close to seeing. We might miss a legend, but if we are lucky enough to live a long, full life, we will see many more.

I envy Wyatt those early years of fandom and discovery, which I’m long past and from which he’s still some years away. He has yet to make his first trips to Safeco and Husky Stadium. He gets to experience for the first time baseball and football and basketball, not to mention books and music and everything else that makes life wonderful. He spent his first months in the hospital, fighting to live, and it thrills my heart to know he will never remember those months, that I can bear those hard memories for him as a father so he can fill his memory with sunny days spent with those he loves.

I don’t know who Wyatt’s legends will be. He’s too young to really remember anything but the tail end of any current player’s career. Maybe Mike Zunino, who I’ve decided is his current favorite player, will still be around. The timeline could be about right for Alex Jackson or even maybe Taijaun Walker. He’ll be wearing a Felix jersey onesie tomorrow for opening day, and I hope he gets to half-remember a couple of his vintage seasons. Most likely, his sports and music heroes are currently teenage kids in the middle of nowhere, waiting to be drafted or get their big break.

Sports are regenerative, and I can only hope Wyatt’s legends are as great as mine were. I know they will be, because that is their nature; legends are made as much by our lives and memories as they are by their own greatness. I don’t know the names, and I don’t know where his life will take him, but I know he has so much ahead.

-Matthew

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