Don’t get me started on last night’s latest loss, a 1-0 snorefest. The only run in the game came off a Fernando Rodney meatball in the top of the ninth, hit into the left field seats by Logan Forsythe. The Mariners had scoring opportunities, but simply could not find it in themselves to get a key hit. We’ll leave aside the train wreck that has become Fernando Rodney today to talk about the failure of an overall pre-season Mariners strategy. Actually, not a failure, more of an abandonment of strategy.
An old military adage is that no campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy. After that it’s all about contingency and reacting to the enemy. As general manager Jack Zdurencik was assembling this team, it’s clear he had something in mind. The M’s had to balance out the left/right disparities in the 2014 lineup. He went out and got the best right-handed power-hitter available in Nelson Cruz to become the DH. (Apologies to Victor Martinez, but you can’t claim to be the best of anything if you can’t stay on the field.) Seeking to bolster an offense-challenged outfield, Z ran into difficulty getting a single right handed hitter to fill in right field, so he pursued a platoon and finagled right-handed Justin Ruggiano and surrendered the valuable Brandon Maurer to the Padres for lefty Seth Smith. He also hedged his platoon instincts and signed lefty masher Ricky Weeks to get some time with Dustin Ackley in left field as well as first base and DH.
But something has gone awry with the plan. Let’s start with right field. The M’s have now played 55 games. In those games the starting right fielder for 32 of them have not been the Smith/Ruggiano platoon, but Cruz. Cruz doesn’t like DHing, prefers to play the outfield, but there are consequences for that. Ruggiano, also a right-hander, didn’t play much, at .214, didn’t hit a lot, and this week with the acquisition of Mark Trumbo, the M’s DFA’ed him. Ruggiano started 21 games in his brief career in Seattle, most of the them filling in for the injured Austin Jackson in center field, amassing a grand total of 81 plate appearances. Hard to say what depressed Ruggs’ performance, lack of talent or lack of consistent playing time. Smith, Ruggiano’s platoon partner in right, has gotten most of the playing time there when Cruz is DH’ing. He’s also been a consistent performer and has gotten additional at bats in left field and as DH. His performance is better too, with a .255/.319/.477 slash line.
But the point is that the plan to have Cruz DH and the Smith/Ruggiano platoon in right went out the window April 7th when Cruz began his regular sojourns in right field, mostly displacing Ruggiano.
On the other side of the outfield, there has been little more than offensive catastrophe. Jack Z signed Ricky Weeks to provide some right handed power off the bench and get some platoon time with Logan Morrison and at DH. It was thought (hoped) Ackley would build on his end of season success from 2014 and return to play a solid season in 2015. This was all complicated by the fact that Weeks was an infielder and never played a minute as a professional outfielder.
Unfortunately, we know the story to date. Ackley is an uninspiring 127 AB’s worth of .197/.241/.331. Weeks is a comparable .167/.270/.256. Complicating things even more, is that Ricky really can’t play the outfield. He’s started four games there, and gone in as a defensive stand-in late in games (I wouldn’t use the word replacement.) Most of his at-bats have come as a pinch hitter or DH. Smith has seen some time in left, sitting the flailing Ackley.
Early in the season, a light switch went on or off. The carefully constructed outfield rotation went quickly out the window. Cruz to right displaced the Smith/Ruggiano platoon. The Ackley/Weeks platoon never really happened and became irrelevant with Ackley ineffective at the plate. Though Cruz has been stellar, and Smith solid, the under-achievement of everybody else explains why Zdurencik made the trade for Trumbo. But the shuffle in right remains a puzzle to me. Why did it happen almost immediately in the season before the Smith/Ruggiano platoon could be judged a failure? Or, if Lloyd really wanted Cruz in right, why not move that platoon to left when it became evident Ackley/Weeks was a pile of poop? And why DFA Ruggiano, when it’s clear Weeks isn’t going to get at-bats and can’t play defense?
Somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do. That’s what happens when your team, predicted to be in the World Series, can’t find the win column.