Month: January 2017

Your 2017 Seattle Mariners: The Starting Rotation


2016 was a tough year for the Mariners rotation.  It was plagued by injury and ineffectiveness that led to shuffling and reassignment to some pieces, and the acquisition of new pieces.


RHP Nate Karns, RHP Taijuan Walker


LHP Ariel Miranda

Arriving at intersection of Edgar and Dave

RHP Yovani Gallardo

LHP Drew Smyly

Organizational Depth

RHP Rob Whalen

RHP Chris Heston

LHP Dillon Overton

The Rotation

Felix Hernandez  RHP

Hisashi Iwakuma RHP

James Paxton LHP

Yovani Gallardo RHP

Drew Smyly LHP

If the Mariners have a glaring weakness, it is, based on last year’s performance, the starting rotation.  It’s not as though a knowledgeable reader looks at this rotation and suggests these guys all suck.  It’s that they definitely attained high levels of suckage last year, not in line with their career norms. I’m a great believer the M’s will go as far in 2017 as their rotation will take them, and the three factors that will contribute to that are health, a bounce-back, and fewer homers.

Stay healthy my friends

Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly are the only members of this rotation who made 30 or more starts last year.  King Felix and Gallardo both spent time on the DL recovering from injury.  In addition to spending time in Tacoma, Paxton’s 2016 was spent dealing with the nagging ailments that have afflicted him throughout his big league career.

The 2016 rotation was devastated by injury. Though the M’s thought they had prepared for that eventuality with Paxton, an extra pitcher, stashed in Tacoma, it didn’t matter.  Too many starts went to Wade LeBlanc, Cody Martin and Joe Wieland, with predictable results.

Though the M’s are better prepared, with Ariel Miranda, on the team for long relief and able to take a start, and Whalen, Heston, and Overton added to Martin in Tacoma-all with some big league experience-stashed away at Cheney Stadium, there is a reason they are not pitching in the big leagues. The other guys, when healthy, are better.  For the M’s to be competitive, the starters need to answer the call every fifth day.

The bounce back

James Paxton threw a career high 121.0 major league innings in 2016.  By all measures, ERA, BABIP, FIP, he showed improvement with a reinvented delivery that has baseball writers drooling and anointing him the next Mariners ace. Paxton is the only Mariners starting pitcher whose 2016 number improved over their career averages.

Hernandez had his worst year since 2008, enough to help us forget he should have won the 2014 Cy Young Award. By every measure, Felix was much less of a pitcher than we’ve come to expect-walks allowed, hits allowed, BABIP, FIP, fewer strikeouts, more home runs. It’s all there to be seen. We’ve seen ink spilled about his winter workouts, that he’s got a new off-season regimen with a new conditioning coach.  I hope it does the trick.  The M’s need their ace back in form.  One number to remember is 2,415.2.  That’s the number of innings the King has pitched in his career. It ranks 266th all time in baseball history. If Felix throws his customary 200 innings he will surpass really good pitchers like Bobby Witt,  Jimmy Key, and Brett Saberhagen in fewer seasons than it took them to reach their finales.  Hopefully, it just hasn’t all caught up with him.

Hisashi Iwakuma makes his mark in major league baseball with location, guile, and a nasty cutter sinking out the strike zone. In 2016 Iwakuma made all his starts, 33 to be exact, tying his excellent 2013 mark.  But that’s really the extent of the good news. Iwakuma allowed the most hits per nine innings of his career, and though his walk numbers were still only 2.1 BB/9, combined with the hits raised his WHIP to a career high 1.327. With more baserunners, and a career high 28 HR’s allowed, there were the makings of considerable unpleasantness. Overall, Iwakuma, despite his 16 wins was an average pitcher. I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture.  Iwakuma did throw some really great games, but there were far more stinkers than we’ve come to expect.  Can he bounce-back to be the able number two guy we’ve come to expect? At age 35, we have to wonder.

No Mariners player is in bigger need of a bounce back campaign than Yovani Gallardo. From 2009-2015, Gallardo made 30-33 starts per year for Milwaukee and threw 180-200 innings. Nobody is going to mistake him for Nolan Ryan or Greg Maddux, but for those seven seasons, Gallardo was a solid 2 plus WAR player, exactly what you’d hope out of a number four pitcher. Then Gallardo signed a free agent contract with Baltimore and the wheels came off, went missing and were completely misassembled. 5.42 ERA, nearly two runs above his career mark, 4.7 BB/9-well above his career mark of 3.4, lots of hits and home runs.  He was injured early in the season and came back bad.  Is there a guarantee he can approach his career norms?  No, but he has a track record and our fingers are crossed.

Drew Smyly was up to his neck in the great homer boom of 2016.  His H/9 ticked up from his career averages, his WHIP of 1.272 was only a little higher than career average.  But the HR/9 1.6 was a career high resulting in 32 home runs allowed.Walks and strikeouts were, however, within career norms.  Hopefully Smyly’s bounceback has more to do with location and working hitters differently, and not something physical.

Walks n’ taters

2016 was the year of the homer, as the total number of home runs hit in major league baseball increased by over 10%, or 600 homers. At times it felt like all the extra home runs were hit against Mariner pitching, though that wasn’t quite the case.

A quick look at two basic stats, however shows the tendencies of the 2017 rotation.  With the exception of James Paxton, every one had corresponding increases in their walk rate and home rates-numbers that go together like “Oh No!” and “Damn!”

BB/9 2016     BB/9 career        HR/9 2016     HR/9 Career

Felix Hernandez                             3.8                2.6                         1.1                       .8

Hisashi Iwakuma                           2.1                 1.8                         1.3                     1.1

James Paxton                                   1.8                2.8                         0.7                    0.7

Yovani Gallardo                              4.7                3.4                         1.2                     0.9

Drew Smyly                                     2.5                 2.5                         1.6                      1.2

Nobody quite knows why the home run rate has grown so fast the past two seasons, whether we’ve seen the worst of it and it will begin to decline or not.  The Mariners have invested heavily in a ball-catching outfield, but two things there is no defense for is a walk and a home run.  The rotation will have to make reductions in these areas if they are going to hold serve.


Last year’s rotation was not good.  Felix was hurt, Iwakuma and Walker were inconsistent.  Miley and Karns were bad enough that they were banished. Is this rotation better? Maybe.  The potential is there, but based on last year’s performance it is impossible to predict. Let’s just say that for the Mariners to make it to the playoffs, this rotation has to be better, and someone will have to step up and lead this group that seems like at best five number 3, 4, and 5 guys.  The improved outfield defense should help, but expecting four players to bounce back to career norms might be expecting a little much.

Your 2017 Seattle Mariners: the outfield

2016 outfielders, from left Guillermo Heredia, Leonys Martin, and Ben Gamel.

When Jerry Dipoto was hired to be Mariners GM, way back in September 2016, some 30+ transactions ago, he shared the importance of becoming younger and more athletic and putting together a team that won more at Safeco Field with all its room in the outfield. In 2016, toward that end, he acquired center fielder Leonys Martin and left fielder Nori Aoki.  Both guys were speedy and could cover more ground than the Raul Ibanez’s, Michael Morse’s and Mark Trumbos of the recent past.

But 2016 didn’t quite reach the zenith of Dipoto’s plan for a run-prevention-first outfield for the Mariners. Martin was hurt and his sore hammie reduced his range for much of the season. Aoki was a little too creative in his routes to balls, occasionally with disastrous results. And in right field, manager Scott Servais had to choose between lefty Seth Smith, right-handed Franklin Gutierrez, and squeeze DH Nelson Cruz into some games.  As the season played out, each showed they lost range in the outfield.

Changes would need to be made.  And they did.  By July 29th, Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia made his debut in a Mariners uniform.  On August 31, the Mariners traded two minor league pitchers to the Yankees for speedy outfielder Ben Gamel. Heredia appeared in 45 games and Gamel 27 games for the M’s heralding the beginning of a new era.

Added:    OF Mitch Haniger in trade with Arizona for SP Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte

OF Jarrod Dyson in trade with Kansas City Royals  for SP Nate Karns

Gone:     OF Nori Aoki.  Option not picked up.  Signed by Houston Astros

                OF Franklin Gutierrez. Contract not renewed.  Currently unsigned

OF  Seth Smith traded to Baltimore Orioles for SP Yovani Gallardo

Catching the ball

Anyone seriously looking at the strengths and weaknesses of  this team will acknowledge that pitching, especially starting pitching is an area for concern.  There is lots of bounce-back potential for Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly.  James Paxton may step forward to become staff ace.  But it’s all maybes. Last year it was too many hits, too many walks and way too many home runs. One way to support the pitching is with better defense, especially in the outfield.  The more balls caught, the fewer baserunners, the less likelihood of runs allowed.

The most likely candidates for the four or five outfielders the M’s will carry are Leonys Martin, Jarrod Dyson, Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger, and Guillermo Heredia.  Not included in this list are Danny Valencia and Nelson Cruz, who will also likely scoop up some turns in the outfield. Of the first five, all are touted to have the speed to play center field.

Because defensive statistics are not reliable for short periods of time, and Gamel, Haniger and Heredia, won’t share those, but here are DRS and UZR 150 stats for Martin and Dyson from 2016

Leonys Martin                     DRS   -2                  UZR 150   4.2

Jared Dyson              LF       DRS    +5                  UZR 150    29.0

CF                                                         +9                                      19.6

RF                                                          +7                                      26.4

Martin was clearly hampered by his hamstring injury, and turned in an average year in centerfield, but his career numbers are a DRS of +41 and UZR 150 of 8.2.  Dyson is clearly superior at all outfield positions.  Haniger is likely to hold down the fort in right field.  There is every indication he is also a superior outfielder based on his minor league performance. The Mariners outfield has drawn high praise from Dave Cameron at FanGraphs

“Now, though, there’s reason to think the 2017 Mariners might have the best outfield defense in baseball, or at least be in the conversation.”


For those who have expected the M’s to field an outfield of non-descript .250 hitters who can bang a bit too, these will not be those guys. Martin hit 15 home runs in 2016, a career high, while Dyson hit only one. Haniger will likely show some power, but it’s not clear how much.  Gamel hit 30 home runs in a tick over 3,000 minor league at-bats.  Heredia hit only 4 in his year of minor league baseball.

However, all five bring some speed to their offensive game. Martin is a regular threat to steal 25, Dyson joins SS Jean Segura in the 30+ club, and Gamel regularly stole bases in double figure throughout his minor league career. The question isn’t how many homers or how many steals, it’s how much they’ll get on base to score runs in front of the other, more-potent elements of the Mariners offense.

Again, Martin and Dyson have a clear record.

Martin has a career .305 OBP.  His trade to the Mariners was a direct result of reduced playing time with the Rangers due to offensive struggles. Last year his OBP was .306, in line with his career numbers

Dyson has a .325 career OBP, but last year he had a career high .340.  The question isn’t can he do it, but can he sustain it, much as we look at Segura’s 2016 performance.

As for the others, we simply don’t know what we have.  The sample size from 2016 is simply too small.  However, it seems Haniger is the favorite To win the right field job, with Dyson flanking Martin in left. Publications from FanGraphs to ESPNmlb have underscored his value added to Segura’s in the Arizona trade. Dipoto has likewise given the deal some special endorsements.

“By the numbers,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said, “(Haniger) was able to show that he was the best offensive player (last year) in the minor leagues at any level.”


By any measure, it is not possible to compare this outfield to those of Mariners past.  Defensively,  the only number that matters is -27.  That’s the number of Defensive Runs Saved for the entire Mariners outfield in 2016.  If this outfield can move that number into positive territory, and possibly by double digits, it will be a huge change and a benefit to the pitching staff. Defensively, this team will be an improvement.

Offensively, this group’s sexy component is speed.  But you can’t steal first base.  This group is less likely to score as much the 2016 group.  It won’t hit as many home runs.  However, I do expect it will change the calculus of how runs are scored. We’ll have to wait and see if this group scores fewer runs, and if so by how many

There is also going to be some juggling and competition to determine who emerges as winners and losers in Spring Training.  I would be surprised if the M’s choose to carry five outfielders, which means someone will be starting the season in Tacoma.  My guess is the winners are the two lefties Martin and Dyson, and right-handed Haniger gets the job in right.  In the battle for the fourth outfield job, it’s the more experienced left-hander Gamel.  Left-over right handed at bats will go to Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia. Heredia, alas, will be back with the Rainiers.

Fanfest 2018

I’m typing this late Saturday night, still wearing my Mariners cap and Mariners ugly sweater.  Things couldn’t be better unwinding from my day at Fan Fest.

It was a perfect, cool day for what is becoming an institution in my pre-season schedule.

  1. Pick up friends in Tacoma
  2. Pick up more friends in West Seattle
  3. Head to Safeco Field
  4. Lunch at Henry’s
  5. Catch as much of the Dugout Series as possible
    1. Don’t miss Jerry Dipoto

It was a great day to wander Safeco Field.  Chilly, but dry, and not much wind. The crowds seemed larger than in years past.

This is one of those events the Mariners seem to do very well.  This year was a bit different than those past.  The other FanFests I’ve attended, there were a few people signing autographs early, and if you couldn’t be there early, you were out of luck.  This year there were a dozen members of the Mariner family signing all day, including Leonys Martin and Jean Segura.  Nice.

There were some glitches however.  The ballpark opened at 11:00 with the crowd divided between autograph seekers and those not interested.  Autographs began right away and conflicted with the Dugout Series schedule.  The 11:00 program with Martin didn’t happen because his writin’ arm was otherwise occupied.

We did see minor league pitcher Adam Moore, future Mariner stars Kyle Lewis and Tyler O’ Neil, and then new Mariners Jean Segura and Jarrod Dyson.

Jean Segura expresses his joy at being teammates with friend and mentor Robinson Cano. Aaron Goldsmith and Dave Sims, left, and Jarrod Dyson, right, look on. 

Segura and Dyson were quite reassuring.  It is evident they both want to be here. Segura has a close relationship with Robinson Cano, who helped him develop for his monster 2016 season.  Dyson wants to show the world he is an everyday player as he heads into his free agent year.  Both have something to prove and it’s hard to see how the M’s don’t benefit as the regular season beckons.

At 1:00 we shuffled over to Henry’s, across Edgar Martinez Drive. I love Henry’s for its menu and incredible beer selections.  The place was relatively deserted, and we were in and out quickly.  Good for us. Lucille and a burger hit the spot, then it was back to Safeco.

Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly share their feelings about a bounce back season after joining the Mariners.

We arrived in time to see pitchers Yovani Gallardo, James Paxton and Drew Smyly discuss their off-season and predictions for the season. Smyly promised 20 wins for each of them as the some of the crowd clapped, some smiled knowingly, and others simple rolled their eyes. I was one of the latter, but with my fingers crossed.

Jerry Dipoto shares the process of acquiring Dyson, Gallardo and Smyly January 6th and 11th resepectively.

But the show I really wanted to see was G.M. Jerry Dipoto and Manager Scott Servais. They spoke later in the day than last year, wrapping up the series at 3:00.  Dipoto shared his decision making process and the philosophy guiding the team, looking to be better defensively and to be improved on the basepaths, and laid out the steps he took to get there. There is a certain self-confidence in his explanation that is comforting, unlike his predecessors who always seemed as though they were looking for bits that might fit, even if they were a bit scuffed and broken. Dipoto is also a master at spinning his own dealings, so listeners unquestionably believe the players he acquired were absolutely the perfect players for this Mariners team. That’s much better than Jack Zdurencik, who always led me to believe he’d had a little too much LSD the night before his explanation

Servais was charming as always and apologized for his mistakes as a new manager. He also acknowledged the team he was going to have was different and gave him more strengths to manage. He said all the right things.  What became abundantly clear, however, is the close bond he has with Dipoto and how “on the same page” they are.

With Dipoto and Servais done, we headed over to the team store where I was able to exhibit a little self control and walked out with nothing. But I did have my eye on an awesome Nelson Cruz jersey selling for half off.  With Nellie having only two years left on his deal, I decided to pass rather than opt for early obsolescence.  Now if it was a Cano jersey, I would have been in.

Also bumped into my niece Jackie, her boyfriend Dirk and his son Leonard.  It was a pleasure.  They are all big Mariners fans and it was fun to see them. Leonard managed to log 14 autographs.  Amazing.

There’s never a bad day at Safeco Field.  My three FanFests have been thoroughly enjoyable. It signals spring training is just around the corner.  And for 2017, things are looking up for the Seattle Mariners. Bring it on.


Your 2017 Mariners: The Infield

New-SS Jean Segura; 1B Dan Vogelbach; Swiss Army Knife Danny Valencia

Gone-SS Ketel Marte; 1B Adam Lind, 1B Dae-Ho Lee

The 2016 ended, we waited out the playoffs and the Jerry Dipoto Trade-a-Rama machine kicked into high gear.  As we awaited the more meaningful deals, it took nobody by surprise when the M’s made a deal for a new shortstop.  Conventional wisdom was it would be the Zack Cozart deal that wasn’t consummated at the trade deadline. Cozart, a terrific defensive player with some pop in his bat, had only a year left on his deal, and signaled some time for Ketel Marte to grow in AAA.  Instead, Dipoto went all in, sending Marte and right-handed starter Taijuan Walker to Arizona for SS Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger and left-handed reliever Zac Curtis.

The Mariners also decided to abandon the tag team of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee at first base and go in a different direction.  Last year ‘s deadline trade of Mike Montgomery brought the M’s Dan Vogelbach.  In Vogelbach the Mariners got a left handed hitter who displayed power, average and excellent ability to control the strike zone throughout his minor league career. The second piece of the deal was AA pitcher Paul Blackburn, who the Dipoto later flipped for right-handed batter Danny Valencia.  Valencia mostly filled in at third base for Oakland, but is able to play first base and both corner outfield positions.  The Vogelbach/Valencia tandem, or “time-share” as Dipoto, has called it, now replaces the Lind/Lee duo.

So what have we got?

First Base

  • Adam Lind                 .239/.286/.431   20 HR  wRC+ 92  BB% 6.0  K% 20.7  -2 DRS
  • Da-ho Lee                  ..253/.312/.428  14 HR  wRC+  102 BB% 7.2 K% 22.6  -3DRS

There, you have it, that’s 2016.  Not a lot to cheer for.  Lind’s numbers were well below his career averages, his walk totals were way down and his strike out percentage was way up. Lee was an interesting experiment, but nothing that jumps off the page.Both suffered from being limited to a single position, and because both were on one year deals, both were disposable.

  • Dan Vogelbach         .292/.417/.505  23 HR wRC+ 148*  BB% 18.2  K% 17.8
  • Danny Valencia        .287/.346/.446  17 HR wRC+ 118    BB% 7.9 K% 22.2

*Vogelbach’s numbers are combined minor league statistics from Iowa City and Tacoma.

First base is one of the biggest “unknowns” for the Mariners heading into 2017.  In Vogelbach, the M’s have a young controllable player who has had considerable minor league success, but only a few at bats at the major league level, not enough to draw conclusions from. The M’s are hoping he will grow into an every day guy, but it sounds like they’ll break him in slowly against right handed pitching.  They’ve worked with him in the off-season on fielding, hoping that he can be a serviceable first baseman, after a minor league career primarily as a DH.  There is a certain whiff of Jesus Montero to Vogelbach, but I’m hoping I just have a bad sense of smell.

In Valencia, the M’s have the right-handed half of the platoon. The difference between 2016 and 2017’s version is that Valencia is not limited to first base or DH. He can give Kyle Seager a much-needed day off, could DH if Nelson Cruz moves to RF against a tough lefty, and could himself play in the outfield. Valencia also offers the benefit of being a more platoon-neutral player.  He can stay in the lineup against right-handed pitchers, and could be someone who gets 450 at-bats. Valencia, however, is likely a one year player, entering free-agency in 2018.


Because Vogelbach is an unknown, it’s tough to say if or how much the M’s improve in 2017.  In sticking with a young player, the M’s save some money and get a chance to see what they have, and with Valencia they get position flexibility and a player who can take Vogelbach’s at bats if he falters. Let’s call this a slight improvement.

Second Base

Arizona Diamondbacks v Seattle Mariners

in 2015 Robinson Cano struggled through a miserable injury-filled season, the M’s had to wonder what they had purchased with their $240 million.  In 2014, Cano was a high average, modest power player, in his second year he struggled in the first half of the season. What would year three look like?

  • Robinson Cano  .298/.350/.533  39 HRs  wRC+ 139  BB% 6.6 K% 14.0   +11 DRS

Cano left no doubt in people’s minds that in 2016 he was a newer, nastier Robbie. He homered in his first three games, and finished with a career high 39. Cano scored the most runs in his career, with 107, drove in over 100 runs for the fourth time, had a strong defensive campaign and became the unquestioned Mariners leader on the field, . He made Andy Van Slyke‘s alcohol-fueled rant against him in the pre-season look foolish.


As Cano enters his age 34 season, the nay-sayers are out there, ready to carve up the 12-year veteran and the Mariners for the huge contract that lured him away from the Yankees. When will his bat speed fall off, will he have another injury-plagued year, will he just stop caring? Steamer already has projected him as much below 2016’s 6.0 WAR level:

  • .289/.344/.472 with 24 home runs

I’m thinking he’ll be closer to his 2016, with a batting average between .290-.300 and 30 homers.  If he’s healthy and stays close to that, the Mariners will do well. Let’s call this a slight regressive tick down.

Third Base


How high is Kyle Seager‘s ceiling? In his fifth season as Seattle’s everyday third baseman, Seager established career highs in most offensive categories

  • .278/.359/.499  30 HRs  wRC+ 133  BB% 10.0  K% 16.0  +15 DRS

Seager had an interesting year.  Here are some interesting things to consider

  • Seager made 22 errors, by far the most of his career.  He was also +15 DRS, by far the most of his career.
  • Kyle played in 158 games, 156 of them at 3B. It was his fifth consecutive year playing 155 or more games in the field, almost all of them at 3B.
  • Sometimes a slow starter, Seager got off to a particularly wretched .159/.266/.378 in April
  • Kyle hit 30 home runs, 5 in each of the 6 calendar months.
  • His second worst month was September .234/.331/.414.  September is also his career worst month with a .243/.319/.403 slash


Kyle Seager is in the field too much. His career numbers say that by the end of the season he is worn down and his numbers fall off. Example?  On September 10th he was hitting .294, his highest average of the season, Seager was flirting with .300, which is sort of a magical number.  His average plummeted as he went 13 for 77 with two homers the rest of the season.

He’s a great player.  Every Mariners fan loves watching him play, but he M’s need to reduce his playing time in the field by an arbitrary 10 games. In years past they haven’t had a guy who could spell him and this year in Danny Valencia they do. It will be interesting to see if we’ve seen the best of Kyle Seager, or if he gets a little bump with the rest Valencia can supply. With my patented rose colored glasses, I see a slight tick up.



I had high hopes for Ketel Marte when the 2016 season began. In one third of a 2015 season, Marte shone in the field and at bat.  He was a guy who could play decent defense, get on base and run a little. The following year everything came undone.  Marte was injured, he played poor defense and he couldn’t get on base.  What’s more, his confidence seemed compromised. It was not surprising when the M’s turned Marte and pitcher Taijuan Walker into Jean Segura.

Segura had a career best year with the Diamondbacks in 2016.

  • .319/.368/.499 20 HRs  wRC+ 126 BB% 5.6 K% 14.6   DRS 0*

*Segura played 2B for the Diamondbacks in 2016.  He returns to shortstop for the Mariners

Segura came out of nowhere to lead the National League in hits, increased his home runs by a factor of 4 and stole 33 bases. He had 68 extra base hits, far more than any player not named Cruz, Cano or Seager (and not far behind them.)

The problem is, this was not a typical season for Segura.  He was traded to Arizona after two seasons of serious struggle with the Brewers. He suffered through the loss of a child and injury before Milwaukee swapped him in a five player deal for pitcher Chase Anderson and infielder Aaron Hill. The question is, which is the real Segura? Can he repeat his 2016 success, and if he regresses, how much will he fall back toward career norms?


Segura will be playing in a bigger park and less cozy climate than Chase Field. While I would be surprised if the right-hander hits 20 home runs, even if he hits 10, that’s an improvement over Marte.  If he hits .290/.345/.450 that’s still a huge improvement.  If he plays a steady, confident average defense that’s an improvement over Marte. If he steals 30 bases that’s an improvement over Marte. The Mariners finished three games short of the playoffs last year.  Jean Segura was a 5.0 WAR player in 2016. Ketel Marte was a -0.7 WAR player. Jean Segura should be a big tick up for the Mariners.

Designated Hitter


Nelson Cruz will be well on his way to age 37 when the season begins.  It’s over for him.  That’s all that needs to be said.

Just kidding. Cruz finished 2016 with 43 home runs, the third year in a row with 40 or more. Though his average was down to a still respectable .287, his walks were up, he reduced his strikeouts. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • .287/.360/.555   43 HRs  wRC+147  BB%9.3  K% 23.8   DRS -3

I was not thrilled when the M’s signed Cruz in 2014.  I thought his 2013 season was flukey.  I thought he’d add a few homers, a lot of strikeouts and little else. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He is the Big Man.  He is a great teammate.  The M’s could not have had the season they did without him.

Last year his games in right field decreased to 48.  With the Mariners’ new emphasis on defense, they will decrease further. Most importantly, however, his production was higher as DH than as an outfielder, the reverse of 2015.


There is little reason to believe Cruz will suffer a major regression in 2017.  According to Statcast, his average exit velocity for batted balls led the major leagues at 96.2 mph except for Aaron Judge, and all 84 of his at bats. My guess is Cruz has another 40 homers in him for this year, as long as he stays healthy, and keeping him off the field should help that. My prediction is the M’s stay the same at DH.


The heart of the Mariners offense is on the infield, which is unusual for most teams. Barring a major injury, that should remain the case for this crew.  First base is a bit of a mystery with Vogelbach getting the majority of at-bats there.  But the addition of Valencia should provide some security. Segura brings speed to the table, assuming some reasonable level of regression, and will provide a legitimate lead-off threat. Things look bright for the M’s infield with improvements offensively and defensively.

Jerry’s not quite done yet, acquires catcher and pitcher

In a pair of minor, but consequential moves the Mariners acquired pitcher Dillon Overton from the A’s and catcher Tuffy Grosewisch from the Braves.  Catcher Jesus Sucre was removed from the 40-man roster.

A couple of small but important deals today, as the M’s continue to add depth to the organization.  First, the M’s picked up catcher Tuffy Gosewisch on a waiver claim.  Gosewisch has a four year major league career with Arizona, comprising a total of 126 games and an uninspiring .199/.237/.286 slash. However he has an option left, so he can be sent down to the minors.

That last factor could be quite important, because in his second deal of the day, Jerry Dipoto sent minor league catcher Jason Goldstein to the A’s for lefty pitcher Dillon Overton.  In adding Overton to the 40-man roster, the M’s waived catcher Jesus Sucre.  Sucre is out of minor league options, and must clear waivers or be claimed by another team.  The M’s like Sucre, and he has played in 90 games over the past four seasons, and the M’s gave him the equivalent of a poison pill in the form of a $600,000 salary-above the major league minimum-to try and keep him.  Gosewisch is insurance, however, in case Sucre is plucked.

Overton was likewise released.  He is 25 and has one year of experience at the major league level.  His 24.1 innings was a big ball of YIKES! Not quite sure what Dipoto has in mind with this one as pretty much all Oveton’s stats are horrendous. 11.47 ERA, 12 home runs allowed in seven games, FIP of 9.5 (didn’t think it went that high,) 17.8 H/9, 4.4 HR/9(!), and 6.3 K/9.  The good news: he doesn’t walk a lot of guys.

“He’s an excellent strike-thrower with above-average feel and a solid curveball/changeup combination,” Dipoto said.

Overton made five starts for the A’s as well as two relief appearances.  He also has minor league options .Look for him to open the season in Tacoma.


HoF: Bagwell, Raines, and I-Rod in, Edgar falters at the finish

A few hours ago the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame released the final ballot count from the BBWAA.  The big winners were Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez who leaped the 75% hurdle to earn election to the Hall. Congratulations to them.

Trevor Hoffman fell five vote short of election with 74.0% of the vote.  He moved his percentage from 67.5% in 2016, and seems to be in a good position to move himself toward election next year. Vladimir Guerrero, in his first year on the ballot, picked up 71.7%.  It was a creditable first showing, and , like Hoffman, positions him well for 2018.

Those finishing further back, but over 50%, include Edgar Martinez  58.6%, Roger Clemens at 54.1%, Barry Bonds at 53.8% and Mike Mussina 51.8%.  When I left for school this morning at 6:30, each of these players were much higher according to the public vote.

Because I am here, advocating as a Mariners fan for Edgar’s candidacy, the vote is quite distressing.  At 6:30 AM, Edgar was holding steady at a tick over 65% with about 54% of the vote tallied.  By 3:00 this afternoon, with the press release, Edgar’s vote total dropped more than 7% to less than 60%.  This means, according to Thibodaux’s tweet:

This is a huge difference between the Edgar’s public votes and private votes equal to about 45% of the vote cast. Edgar needed 332 votes for election and received 259.  He got a jump, but terrifyingly fewer than I thought he would receive.  He was projected to get between 62-65%, and this is deeply disappointing to me.

There is a great deal of convincing left to do.  On the positive side, Raines had only 55% of the vote two years out from this year. Edgar requires less. However, I fear he, like Hoffman, like Billy Wagner and Lee Smith must overcome the “specialist label.”  My belief is that minds will change more slowly than they did for Raines. Next year every vote will be public and every voter will be subject to public scrutiny-and criticism.  Will this make a difference?  I have no idea, but we’ve seen the movement in Edgar’s percentages 2016-17, and perhaps those same no voters will be more pliable to arguments by those better versed in advanced statistics-and reason.

For those seeking solace in the haven of some future Veterans Committee election, let me offer this simple advice. Don’t.  The last living player voted in by the Veterans Committee was Bill Mazeroski in 2001. . Edgar’s best shot is to win now and get voted in before his 2019 deadline.

For tonight, however, I think I need a beer.  Maybe two.

Hall of Fame inductees announced today


By the time I get home from school today, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame should announce their class for 2017.  From my seat, Wednesday morning (okay, I cheated, Tuesday night,) I have a pretty good idea of what will happen based on the public votes on Ryan Thibodaux’s HoF Tracker.

For sure there will be at least two voted in, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines. Good on them.  There is no doubt in my mind they should be there. Ivan Rodriguez is looking like he might edge in.  He is a 78.6% of the vote with with 54.7% of the vote counted. Less likely candidates are Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero, who are currently below 75%.  So unless there is a late surge, two maybe three players will get over the 75% hump. I hope it’s more.

Next on the list is Edgar Martinez.  Edgar is not at all likely to get into the Hall this year, though he has not yet been mathematically eliminated from possibility.  He is currently at 65.5%.  He is likely to finish about 20% higher than last year’s 43.9%.  Edgar picked up a passel of new votes.  On the Tracker, he picked up a net of 42 new votes, far more than any other player. It seems likely he should be able to chart a path to the Hall of Fame in 2019, his last year of eligibility.

My hope is that the 2017 class is as big as possible. The more that are voted in, the less competition for votes he’ll have as the 2018 class is ushered on to the ballot.  There are some good ones next year.  Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen and  Omar Vizquel are the most likely candidates to compete with holdovers from the current ballot.  If voters are counting down their top ten candidates and we’re still looking at Vlad and Hoffman on the ballot, that could make it tough on our favorite Mariners DH.The rules that allow only ten votes, and the division among voters over PED use really make it difficult to unclog the ballot for all but the clearest first-ballot candidates.

My fingers are crossed for today’s announcement, and best wishes for all the players.

2017 Mariners: The Big Picture



When the 2016 team cleaned out their lockers and made their way home on October 3rd, they could look back at the standings and see they were nine games short of division leading Texas.  But from second place, the M’s could see they were only three games short of the two wild card spots. Since 2010, the American League West division winner has required as few as 88 wins and as many as 98 wins to claim the title.  The wild card winners have required as few as 86 and as many as 94 wins.

Have the Mariners made enough moves AND acquired players good enough to win those three games they couldn’t in 2016 to put themselves in the playoffs?  Interestingly, GM Jerry Dipoto was unwilling to predict the number of wins this team could wrack up unlike 2016 when he was a pretty definite 85-86–and proved to be right on.

No Standing Still

This was another exceedingly busy for Dipoto.  I count 11 trades, including four over the week period from January  5-12. In that time he reassembled the rotation, completely revamped the outfield, refreshed the bullpen, added key pieces to the infield, and provided needed depth at the minor league level. It was nearly as busy as the 2015-16 offseason, but, it seemed to me, the parts were of somewhat better quality.

If we were to choose a battle cry for Dipoto’s 2016 season, it might “Bounce back,” as Jerry acquired players coming off down seasons or injury who he could acquire on the cheap, in players or cash, and hope they would play closer to their career averages. Examples would be Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin and Steve Cishek  Some worked, some did not.

This year the bounce back played a role in some of Dipoto’s choices, for example Gallardo and Smyly,  but he also acquired players coming off solid seasons.  Jean Segura had a superb year at the plate, leading the National League in hits.  Danny Valencia had his fourth consecutive season batting over .280, and hit home runs in double figures for the third time in that period. Jarrod Dyson was the Kansas City Royal everybody hoped to see at the end of a close game for his baserunning ability and outfield defense. These are good players, not guys hoping to resurrect their careers.

Win Now! 

When Dipoto was hired, he declined to break the team down and try to trade off some of its valuable assets-Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez in favor of the total rebuild favored by the Astros, Cubs, and likely the White Sox. Instead, he identified these players as the core who would prop open a window of contention for the M’s until their skills declined or the contracts expired. Last year we saw some, but not quite enough, success with this model.

Remember when Jerry said he wanted players who were young, athletic and controllable? Well he departed from that slightly this year. Instead, he went with players who were good and more veteran.  In the process, he’s added guys who may only be Mariners for a year or two, at a significantly greater cost, in exchange for players who are less fully developed (or talented) and cost a lot less. Here are some examples

Player                          F.A      Cost*               Acquired for               FA       Cost

Jarrod Dyson             2018    $3.8 M            Nate Karns                 2021    $523.7K (’16)

Yovani Gallardo         2018**$11 M            Seth Smith                  2018    $7 M

Jean Segura               2019    $6.2 M             Taijuan Walker          2021 2.25 M (proj.)                                                                                                      Ketel Marte                 2022    515.4 K (2016)

Danny Valencia          2018    $5.5 M            Paul Blackburn        MiLB   AA

Drew Smyly                2019    $6.85               Malex Smith              2022     MLB Minimum                                                                                               Carlos Vargas             Age 17  Dom. Sum. Lge.                                                                                             Ryan Yarbrough        MiLB     AA

*All contract figures from Cots Contracts and

**Gallardo has an option for 2018.  Baltimore is contributing $2 M toward his salary for 2017.

As you can see, some of the key players acquired in the off-season are not controllable for long.  Dyson and Valencia could be gone after the 2017 season.  While their quality may be questionable, some of the young players the M’s dealt in these key trades will be quite controllable for a long time, if they remain in the major leagues. If the M’s are to win with this team, they must do so immediately, because in twelve months they will begin scattering to the winds, and big dollars, of free agency.

This also increases the Mariners budget.  Cot’s Contracts show the Mariners budget for 2017 currently at $147.7 M with 19 players signed.  The remaining players are all eligible for the major league minimum. The 2016 25-man opening-day budget was $142.3 million.

Speed and Defense

If there has been an infusion of veterans into the Mariners roster there is also the fulfillment of one of Dipoto’s desires and that is more speed and defense. On the infield we see it with the addition of Segura who, in addition to extra-base power, added 33 steals to the Diamondbacks line up.  Dyson stole 30 more as a part-time player for the Royals.  The other oufielders, Leonys Martin, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia all project to steal bases in double digits. This is a team that should change pitchers’ concentration as they try to hold down a team that can legitimately run, take extra bases, and make defenses throw the ball around a little.

The speed also shows up in the outfield as rookies Gamel, Heredia and Haniger join veterans Martin and Dyson and to form a glove-first outfield. Yes, these guys will still need to get on base, flash some speed and find a way to extend innings and score, but they’ll be expected to cover lots of ground, turn doubles into outs, and support a pitching staff that looks vulnerable. Dipoto turned the page on statues with big bats.

But are they good enough to win?

The ZIPS and Steamer projections are already out there predicting big regressions from Cruz, Cano and Seager, as well as improvement by The King and Iwakuma.  In the coming week I’ll offer my comparison of the 2016 and 2017 teams.  But let’s face it, we really won’t know how good they are until they play live competition when the team takes the field in Houston April 2nd.  It seems clear to me this team has improved, but it’s not clear how much.




Pitching in the homer zone

As we speed toward spring training and opening the 2017 season, it’s worth it to take a look at a few numbers and what it could mean to the current iteration of the Seattle Mariners.

With the team now seeming fully assembled with few issues left to be sorted out among the players, it’s useful to look at some trends in baseball and how it might impact this team.

First and foremost, there are some huge shifts in the offensive universe.  After a few years of records set for no-hitters and perfect games, things seem to have turned in a different direction.  These numbers are MLB averages, not just for the Mariners or the American League

Runs scored     HRs              Slash         Total K’s    HR/9 allowed

2016          21744             5610   .255/.322/.417      38,982                1.2

2015           20647            4909   .254/.317/.405      37,446               1.0

2014           19,761            4186   .251/.314/.386       37,441                 .9

2013           20,355           4661  .253/.318/.396       36,710               1.0

2012           21,017           4934   .255/.319/.405      36,426               1.0

2011            20,808          4552   .255/.321/.399      34,488                .9

2010           21,308          4613    .257/.325/.403     34,306              1.0

As you can see, going back to 2010, the number of runs scored has jumped considerably, and that is accompanied by a dramatic increase in home runs since 2014.  Other offensive characteristics in the slash have varied somewhat, but not to the same degree as home runs and strike outs since 2010.

Few years have seen back to back increases in long balls of 600 per year or more like 2015-16.  The last year 5,000 home runs were hit in the major league was 2009 with 5042 HRs. Only in 2000, during the height of the steroid era have were more homers hit in a season, 5,693.

Why so many dingers?  Nobody has pinned down an exact explanation, but there are several theories.  Fences were moved in at several parks, including Safeco Field in 2013. Some have suggested livelier baseballs.  Younger ballplayers are bringing a different approach to hitting-hitting earlier in counts looking for fastballs, unafraid to strikeout, and generating more lift in their swing.

Five Thirty-eight blog ran an interesting story about the increase of home runs, and suggested it could the result of “juiced” balls.  New York Times writer Tyler Kepner tried a broader view and more player-centered approach in his explanation of the phenomenon.  Both make for interesting reading.

The result is more swings with less caution and a 12% increase in strikeouts since 2010.

The acquisition of Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly, fly ball pitchers, have been accompanied by reassurances of how much better they’ll do in Safeco Field’s roomy pastures, with it’s improved outfield defense. Last year Seattle pitching allowed 1.3 home runs per nine innings (HR/9.) This is above the league average of 1.2 HR/9.  No outfield can catch what can’t be caught.

In fact Safeco is no longer the homer-immune ballyard it was before the 2013 renovation that moved the fences in.  These are the leading home run havens in major league baseball from 2010-2016.  Note which ballpark leads the league in taters for 2016.

2016 Safeco Field 234*  Yankee Stadium 230, Great American Ballpark (Cincy) 228,  Chase Field (Ariz) 221, Camden Yards (Balt) 219

2015  Camden Yards 222, Yankee Stadium, 219, Rogers Centre (Tor) 203, Coors Field (Den) 202, Minute Maid Park (Hou.) 198, Safeco Field 180  (8th*)

2014 Coors Field 208, Rogers Centre 186, Yankee Stadium 185, Camden Yards 175, Great American Ballpark 165, Minutemaid Park 163,  Safeco Field 140  (14th)

2013 Camden Yards 232, Rogers Centre 214, Minute Maid Park 187, Miller Park (Mil) 185, Great American Ballpark 184, Safeco Field 170  (9th)*

2012 Yankee Stadium 231, Miller Park 230, U.S. Cellular Field (ChW) 228, Camden Yards 226, Rogers Centre 204, Safeco Field 116 (26th)

2011  Rangers Ballpark at Arlington 228, Camden Yards 214, Yankee Stadium 209, Great American Ballpark 209, Rogers Centre 198, Safeco Field 134 (21st)

2010 Rogers Centre 226, Yankee Stadium 224, Chase Field 201, Miller Park 196, U.S. Cellular 191, Safeco Field 103 (30th)

*Safeco Field moves in fences.

The upward rate of home runs also factors into Seattle starting pitching and you can detect a disturbing trend their HR/9 rate over a five year period.

Name                                                       2012     2013     2014     2015     2016

Felix Hernandez                                  0.5*       0.7         0.6       1.0        1.1

Hisashi Iwakuma                                 1.2          1.0          1.0       1.2        1.3

James Paxton                                                       0.8          0.4        1.0      0.7

Giovani Gallardo                                  1.1          0.9        1.0         0.7        1.2

Drew Smyly                                            1.1          0.5         1.1         1.5        1.6

*Lowest in American League

With the exception of James Paxton, each of the Mariners projected starters have an upward arc for their rate of home runs allowed. In the case of Iwakuma and Smyly, their rate exceeds league average.

Home runs and their increasing frequency seem to be a part of the game.  The M’s pitching staff will simply have to insure they occur as rarely as possible, but most importantly insure they are solo homers.

The league average for WHIP (Walks + Hits per Innings Pitched) in 2016 was 1.322.  These were WHIP rates for Mariners pitchers in 2016

Felix Hernandez         1.324

Hisashi Iwakuma        1.327

James Paxton                1.306

Giovani Gallardo          1.585

Drew Smyly                    1.272

Except for Gallardo, these pitchers are at about league average or slightly below.  Commanding pitches, reducing walks, and limiting home runs will contribute to their success.  It’s not like this is new, but in an environment which finds balls whizzing out of the ballpark at an increasing rate, one that suggests increased homers are a fact of life and not likely to change with a new drug testing regimen, that simple reminder has never been more true.

Jerry throws open window to contend in 2017

Wednesday the Mariners added Drew Smyly to their team in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Wednesday, in another pair of choreographed trades Mariners G.M. Jerry Dipoto  dealt highly considered left-handed pitching prospects Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows to the Braves for speedy centerfield-type Malix Smith and right-handed reliever Shae Simmons.  Less than an hour later, Smith together with infielder Carlos Vargas and LHP Ryan Yarbrough, was traded to Tampa Bay for left handed starter Drew Smyly.

Smyly is another veteran pitcher to add to a rotation that looks like:

Felix Hernandez

Hisashi Iwakuma

James Paxton

Yovani Gallardo

Drew Smyly

It’s unclear how lefty Ariel Miranda fits into the pitching plans, but he is likely to join the bullpen as a second lefty/swingman.

As a result of the trade, the M’s had to designate Cody Martin.  The Gonzaga graduate made two starts for the team last year, and theoretically he could be back if he clears waivers. This leaves Chris Heston and Rob Whalen in Tacoma to join Miranda as the second line of defense should the rotation suffer injury or ineffectiveness,   This Mariners rotation seems deeper, with more quality reinforcements should they become necessary.

Even so the M’s starters do not pencil out quite the equivalent of say the Red Sox trio of David Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, Cy Young winners all. But veteran starters Gallardo and Smyly, both playing through injuries and trouble with the long ball in 2016 should be better.  They join King Felix and Kuma, both looking for stronger seasons in 2017, and a James Paxton poised for greatness.  I always hope for greatness.  Maybe very goodness should be enough.

This trade should strengthen the Mariners sufficiently for a playoff run.  DiPoto’s offseason moves clearly strengthened some positions, such as the trade to bring Jean Segura in to play shortstop.  Other positions were deepened, such as the outfield, rotation and bullpen. The M’s may have a small core of stars, but the quality around the edges seems better than past seasons.

With this series of trades the last six days, the M’s should be all full up and ready to go.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Jerry has something up his sleeve, but it seems like the team is ready to call in the moving trucks and head to Arizona.