Thursday, July 12, 2012

The M's at halfway: Don't throw out the babies with the bathwater

 Did you ever get really frustrated following your baseball team?  I do, am, still.  I am so torqued with the lack of progress by the Mariners, I want to break a bat over my knee.  I can't of course, being 56 years old and a weenie, so I may have to use some stand-ins to take care of it for me.
Justin Smoak feeds my frustration by striking out-again. Aghhh.
 Yes, it's just past the halfway mark in the MLB season.  The M's suck and they suck hard. Trailing the Texas Rangers by 16.5 games, and the only team in the AL West to be below .500, this is not  where I hoped they'd be at the halfway point. I'd projected 75 wins for the season, and realistically they're on a pace to match last year's 95 losses, but could easily turn that into 100 losses. They've been disappointing losses too.  I knew the pitching, with youngsters Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi in the starting rotation wouldn't be as strong as in years past.  But the real problem with this team has been offense.  They've gone from merely being inconsistent, to wandering in the same scoring desert as the past two years.  They struggle to create runs at all.  While the pitching generally improved as the season wore on with the departure of Noesi and Beaven to AAA, the offense has gotten worse.
Bo Jackson was an all-star bat breaker.  I'll he could hit a home run out of Safeco Field.
Where did it all go so wrong?  Lots of reasons really.  The most obvious is the Mariners hitting woes haven't come close to being resolved. The M's decided to go with youth, counting on Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, and Justin Smoak to build their offense, with veterans Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Olivo and Chone Figgins on the team to provide some veteran leadership.  They also added John Jaso as a player off the bench.  The outcome thus far is the young players have mostly struggled.   Justin Smoak continues to have a swing that is much too long and often leaves him looking foolish at the plate.  Montero strikes out too often, and rarely walks.  Ackley's struggles may be the biggest surprise, because his rookie half season was pretty good.

Yes there are some exceptions here.  Saunders is maturing into the toolsy, athletic player I hoped he would, displaying good defense, some power and speed.  If there is a pleasant surprise on the team it is Saunders.  Seager has shown glimpses of offensive talent, but as the season has gone on, needs to make adjustments as pitchers are learning how to pitch to him.  Wells was sent to Tacoma for three weeks and returned an improved hitter.  Another athletic outfielder, he brought better right-handed hitting and stronger defense to the outfield. John Jaso, picked up in the off-season, is the team's most clutch player, occasionally starting at catcher and DH, but providing some dramatic moments off the bench in late pinch hitting assignments.
Carlos Zambrano hasn't pitched all that well for a while, but damn he can really bust the lumber. 
Unfortunately those veteran leaders have not emerged.  Olivo began the year with a groin injury and simply has not been effective offensively on his return.  Increasingly Montero and Jaso took a larger role catching and Miggie a larger role on the sidelines.  Chone Figgins is simply a punchline for jokes, used mostly as a late defensive replacement or pinch runner.  Figgins is taking up roster spots.  He can't help this team, and big contract or not should simply be dropped through the trap door. Ichiro is having his career worst offensive year, and with his sphinx-like attitude can offer little veteran leadership.  Nope, the kids are all on their own.
Former Mariner Milton Bradley was well known for his level of frustration.  Here he wears a Padre uniform at Safeco Field with his bat in two tidy pieces.
There is one more increasingly important factor that is playing into the discussion about this year's Mariners, and that is the effect of Safeco Field on the young hitters.  ESPN has Safeco rated as the second worst park to hit in, behind San Francisco's AT & T Park.  Yahoo Sports show the Mariners as hitting a slash line of .256/.305/.410 on the road, which is in the top half of MLB rankings .  At home however, they are a league worst .195/.273/.289.  More than ever, players seem to be bamboozled by the spacious park, and more ruckus is raised about moving the fences in than ever before.  How much?  Five feet?  Ten feet? Twenty-five feet?  The M's have fine home pitching stats, but take 'em out on the road to pitch in the league's launching pads and they become very ordinary.  Do we want to risk the the damage to our up and coming pitching staff, because whatever gain the M's get in their home at bats will also accrue to their adversaries. Oddly, the numbers for the visiting teams are way down for Safeco too.
Big Papi also has a big temper and has no trouble turning his stick into kindling.
So what should the M's do?  If I could make the call, it would be time time to drop Figgins into the shark tank and call it good. At least Justin Smoak would go down to Tacoma and work on shortening his swing.  I'd for sure put Carlos Peguero on the Tacoma Express because there's no way he belongs here.  Complicating all this is the fact there is nobody in Tacoma who can really help improve things.  At best they'd be place holders.  That would be fine if the Tacoma experience would help the young guys, like Smoak, Ackley and Montero build their confidence and put in the work they need to improve. Three weeks in AAA, and a little more playing time, did wonders for Casper Wells.  Who could the M's call up?  Mike Carp, if he's healthy and ready.  First baseman Luis Jimenez has had a great first half  and is a AAA all-star.  Again, this is short term, until Justin can smoke 'em again.  Luis Rodriguez is another solid organizational player who could fill in for Ackley, or take on Munenori Kawasaki's utility role until Dustin returns. If the M's feel they need another catcher they could call up Guillermo Quiroz, another AAA all star.
Even the dead can get in on the act as the late Ken Caminiti does his impression of a shredder/chipper.
I know, I see the heads shaking and those bad words forming on your lips.  The season has flown and moves like this simply can't make it worse. These guys for better or worse are our future core, and if they need some help, for god's sake get it for them.  Unfortunately, Larry Larue's article in the News Tribune suggested there would be little change for the Mariners after the break.  I think that's a mistake.  While I never believed this would be the year for the young M's, I did think this would be a year of growth, and that seems unlikely now. I'm not giving up on this young core, but they clearly have a long way to go.

1 comment:

DougH said...

While being "a weenie" you have gathered a great collection of bat breaking moments!
Great analysis, submit to your local newspaper...they might pick it up and gain you some beer/gaming money....