Two more games to go, and honestly they are tough to watch. The M’s pitching woes have really caught up with them. Though I’d love to see them clobber the A’s the White Sox have also edged ahead of the M’s and dropped them into the bottom 10 allowing them to sign a class A free agent without surrendering their first round draft choice. I think it’s a good time to rest the injured Nelson Cruz and Robbie Cano.
With the season nearly flushed down the drain, it’s time to give some year end awards. I know the baseball writers have given theirs already, and I’m ready to give mine. They’ll be somewhat different, but what the heck.
Mariners MVP: Nelson Cruz
I can’t tell you how much I was torn when the M’s signed Nelson Cruz to a four year deal back on December 4th. They’d missed out on Victor Martinez, who had the better year in 2014, and Cruz sort of seemed like a consolation prize. But I’ve been impressed, truly. Cruz has been a gamer, showed up to play every day, and led the team in virtually every category. When this team was offensively offensive in the first couple months of the season, I could depend on some great performance of the Nelson Cruz show. He is the first Mariners right handed hitter since Richie Sexson to seemingly not be intimidated by Safeco Field. That said, at age 35, this is the best year of Cruz’s career. It is hard to imagine he is able to repeat this performance. His batting average of .291 with runners in scoring position doubtless leads the team, but it is not clutch. He also leads the team in strikeouts with 161, and is a defensive liability in right field.I will happily cast my vote for Nelson Cruz for M’s DH in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Robinson Cano
it’s been such a weird year for Cano. Intestinal parasites. Abdominal strains. A terrible start. Cano has been such a gamer his entire career, it was weird, disconcerting and frightening to see him struggle so much throughout April and May. But he came roaring back through the last three months of the season, amassing monster numbers in July, August, and September. The Mariners will need him to resolve his hernia issues early so he can be that same season-ending Cano in April.
Mariners Pitcher of the Year: Taijuan Walker
I know, I know, the writers gave this to the King. But I didn’t, and more about that later. Nope I gave my award to Taijuan Walker. Walker was drafted as a high school teenager, has always had lots of promise, and this year he started to show some of that promise. This was Walker’s first full big league season and his season ending numbers aren’t that impressive. ERA of 4.56, ERA+ of 83 (100 is average,) Fielding Indepdent Pitching, FIP, is 4.07 (league average is 3.88,) and is WHIP was a tish below league average at 1.196. But don’t just look at those. Take a look at his game logs. Walker was 11-9 this year. In his first nine starts he lost seven games. They were mostly a combination of horrendous and “cover your eyes Martha!” But in his 10th start on May 29th, a 2-1 victory over Cleveland, Walker began to figure it out. After May his walk numbers, which previously were terrible. began to diminish. In June he had a K/BB ratio of 12:1. His ERA in April and May was 6.86 and 5.74 respectively. His OPS+ allowed in those months was 131 and 126 well above average. He was terrible. But, Walker turned it around. June and July were very good months, and he struggled more as the season wore on. But here are some thoughts I would leave you with. 1) Walker finished the season with 169.2 innings pitched and 159 strikeouts, second on the team. 2.) In his last 20 starts, beginning with the May 29th game, he pitched at least six innings in 16 of those games. In none of those games did we see the disastrous early inning meltdown in the first or second innings we saw J.A. Happ, Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and even King Felix have at various moments this year. If Taijuan Walker is not yet fully realized as a number one or two starter, we’ve seen examples of the pitcher he could become. I watched Walker pitch in Tacoma. He had overpowering stuff he couldn’t locate consistently. Lots of balls, lots of walks; he was usually boring to watch, and he began the season that way But in June, when the Mariners rotation was combination of a hospital ward and the hopelessly lost, it was Hernandez and Walker who held down the fort.I can’t wait to see him in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Felix Hernandez.
Yes, King Felix led the staff in every way imaginable–wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, you name it. He made all his scheduled starts. But this is not the King we are accustomed to seeing. His innings are down. His ERA is its highest since 2007, and his ERA+ is lowest since 2006. His BB/9 rate is its highest in five years and his K/9 rate is its lowest in five years. Reasons to be worried? Maybe, I don’t know. I am a great believer that a pitcher has only so many bullets in their arms. Is Felix running out of bullets? In 2014 he threw 236.0 innings, which is 32 more innings than he threw in 2013, was that an impact on his performance? Is this the beginning of the King’s decline? I have no idea. Felix has assured the press he had mechanical issues all year he needs to work on. What is clear, however, is that there is no sure thing in baseball, but Felix is the closest to a sure thing the M’s have had. If they hope to compete for the playoffs next year they’ll need him to find his old self.
Most Amazing Mariners Story: Franklin Gutierrez
I’ve written at length about Gutierrez. I’m ecstatic that he was able to come back and play an important role in the Mariners mini-resurgence at the end of the year. I’m hoping Jerry DiPoto can find a role for him on next year’s team if he is healthy enough to come back. It seems to me Guti is still a useful right-handed bat and can still play the a corner outfield spot. An off-the bencher for sure, but the great Mariners teams had great veteran benches. Gutierrez is every bit as good as the Doug Stranges and Stan Javiers of the good old days. .