Itâ€™s the all-star break, Derekâ€™s on vacation, and that means the good ship U.S.S. Mariner isnâ€™t running on all cylinders. But, in the spirit of Alex Diaz, let me attempt to try to step up and become a fan favorite everywhere in an attempt to replace our superstar. Without further ado:
Daveâ€™s Gigantically Huge Review of the First Half
Needless to say, things have gone better than I expected. The Mariners sport a four game lead over Oakland in the West and have the American Leagueâ€™s best record. They lead the league in ERA, and their starting pitching, which was the biggest question going into the year, has been rock-solid. The Mâ€™s and the Cubs are the only two teams in baseball to employ just 5 starting pitchers all year long. There have been trouble spots (the offense at home, the bench, and sometimes the bullpen), but all these are relatively minor issues. There isnâ€™t a dominant team in baseball this year, and despite my preseason pessimism, this Mariners team probably has as good of a chance to take the World Series as any theyâ€™ve ever had. So, itâ€™s been a good first half. However, not everyone is equally responsible for the success, and we like giving credit to where it is due, so letâ€™s break it down by position.
Ben Davis has been a legitimate top-flight catcher this year. Heâ€™s been the 4th best offensive catcher in the AL, and heâ€™s throwing out base stealers (44 percent) with the best of them. Despite complaints about his ability to block the plate, heâ€™s allowed just 5 passed balls, just one more than the great and mighty, well, weâ€™ll get to him in a second. Davis is a good asset to the club, and the Mariners best team is on the field when heâ€™s behind the plate. He should start at least 65 percent of the games in the second half.
Then, we have Dan Wilson. Among the luminaries who are out-hitting â€œDan the Manâ€ this year are, well, every other catcher in the American League who hasnâ€™t been optioned back to AAA. Brandon Inge and Josh Bard performed slightly worse than Willy, and they found themselves in the International League. His .273 on base percentage is just sad, especially when you consider heâ€™s under contract through next season. People can rave about his defense all they want, but the staff isnâ€™t significantly better when heâ€™s behind the plate. Heâ€™s not even throwing out baserunners anymore (33 percent). The first contract extension Gillick gave to Dan Wilson was dumb. This latest one was absurd. At this point in his career, Dan Wilson is one of the worst baseball players in the major leagues, and heâ€™s getting $3.5 million for those abilities. Isnâ€™t baseball great?
John Olerud can still get on base, and heâ€™s still a terrific defensive first baseman. He apparently, however, can no longer hit the ball over the fence. He has just four home runs and an uninspiring .382 slugging percentage. It isnâ€™t Safeco Field, either. Heâ€™s slugging .426 at home and .338 on the road. All four of his home runs have come in Seattle. Heâ€™s still whacking enough doubles to think that the power may return, though. Regardless of whether it does or not, his .380 on base percentage and tremendous defense make him a valuable player.
The Greg Colbrunn fiasco has easily been the strangest story of the year. The Mariners, at the urging of Bob Melvin, signed a player they didnâ€™t have room in the line-up for to a 2-year contract and forfeited their first round pick in the process. Apparently, Melvin then forgot he existed, as Colbrunn appeared sparsely throughout the first half. Despite his abilities to hit lefties and righties evenly, heâ€™s been used as a strict lefty-masher, and even pinch-hit for when right-handers come into the game. Now, he needs surgery on his wrist and could be out for a large part of the second half. Odds are, when he returns, Melvin wonâ€™t even remember his name.
I was wrong about Bret Boone. Worse, I was wrong about him twice. I didnâ€™t like the original signing in 2001. I hated the contract he got in 2002. I thought his career year came two years ago. I thought the Boone we saw in the first half of last year was The Boone reverting to form. Obviously, I was just wrong. Bret Boone has been the most valuable player in the American League through the first half of the season, and heâ€™s having a better year now than he did in his â€œflukeâ€ season. Booneâ€™s an elite player and the biggest reason the Mariners are in first place right now. M-V-P. M-V-P. M-V-P.
For each of the past three seasons, people have been projecting a breakout season for Carlos Guillen. That year has never come. Instead, weâ€™ve seen slow, steady improvement, to the point where Guillen is now a league-average shortstop. Heâ€™s the classic role player; he doesnâ€™t do anything well, but he does everything okay. He hits for some average, gets on base a bit, and has occasional power. Heâ€™s not a great defensive player, but heâ€™s not a sieve either. You donâ€™t win championships because of Carlos Guillen, but you donâ€™t lose them because of him either. Heâ€™s a solid piece of a winning team, but it appears that this is as good as heâ€™ll ever be.
Mark McLemore has fallen off The Cliff. His batting average after the all-star break last year was .214 and his bat was extremely slow. This year, he hit .218 in April, .239 in May, .185 in June, and .207 in July. Heâ€™s striking out once every four at-bats. His defense, which has never been a strength, is now painful to watch. He should never be allowed to take the infield again, and his bat is too weak to justify playing him in the outfield. In a world without guaranteed contracts, McLemore likely would have been released by now. Instead, heâ€™s going to collect the rest of his paycheck this year and make a ton of outs along the way.
If there was an actual Jeff Cirillo bandwagon, it has officially hit a tree. After showing signs of life in May and June, hitting decently on the road, and supplying tremendous defense at the hot corner, heâ€™s hit .115 in July and likely lost his job. I donâ€™t buy into the fact that Cirillo has just lost it; heâ€™s hit reasonably well on the road the past two years, but has been an abomination at Safeco Field. I think itâ€™s mental, and I donâ€™t think Jeff Cirillo will ever hit in Seattle. However, lost on the lynch-mob ready to hoist him up by his petards is the fact that his defense is legitimately great and justifies keeping him on the roster. Unless they go outside the organization to acquire a better player (and honestly, there arenâ€™t any good options available), Cirillo is still the best guy we have to run out there at third base.
Itâ€™s the Willie Bloomquist Show! Heâ€™s cute, heâ€™s white, and heâ€™s from Port Orchard! Ignore the years of evidence that shows that he canâ€™t hit! We Love Willie! Spare me. Willie Bloomquist is a bad baseball player, and the city of Seattle is deluded. Heâ€™s probably taking over as the regular third baseman in the second half, and the team is going to suffer as a result. He doesnâ€™t have the arm or the reactions to be anything more than an average defender, and heâ€™s just not a good hitter by any objective analysis. But, Iâ€™m tired of getting angry emails from the Bloomquist Fan Club, which outnumbers the amount of people in China, I believe. So, Iâ€™ll stop now, and we can discuss this again rationally in three months, when you guys get tired of pointing to a few good games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as proof that Wee Willie is better than I give him credit for.
Last summer, when the Mariners were talking about acquiring Randy Winn, I was vehemently against it, and got into some rather long-winded arguments with a friend of mine about him. I was convinced he wouldnâ€™t hit in Seattle, and his defense would be wasted in left field. Well, I was right about the first part. Winn isnâ€™t a great hitter by any stretch of the imagination. He has no power, doesnâ€™t walk much, and doesnâ€™t have enough speed to leg out a large amount of infield singles. But Randy Winn covers a lot of ground in left field, and the impact outfield defense has had on the Mariners success this year cannot be understated. As much as Iâ€™d like to see a big bat added to the line-up, Iâ€™m not convinced that a stoneglove like Rondell White would actually make the team better as a whole. The amount of fly balls the staff allows doesnâ€™t hurt us as long as they arenâ€™t falling in for extra base hits. Thanks in part to Winnâ€™s speed, they arenâ€™t. Certainly, Iâ€™d prefer that he hit, but unless the Mâ€™s can acquire a player who can both provide offense and defense in left field, Iâ€™d just as soon leave Winn out there.
Besides Bret Boone, Mike Cameron has meant more to the Mariners success this year than anyone else on the roster. Iâ€™ve trumpeted his praises here several times, and wonâ€™t rehash why heâ€™s arguably the best center fielder in the American League. I think you could make the argument that heâ€™s the best defensive player in baseball, at any position, right now. Heâ€™s also a heck of a hitter. All hail Mike Cameron.
This is the best incarnation of Ichiro yet. He wonâ€™t win the MVP, since heâ€™s not new and exciting anymore, but heâ€™s basically taken the things he did well in 2001 (hit for high average, run really fast) and added in some walks and power. Since a horrible April, heâ€™s been awesome. I mean, ridiculously, unbelievably, good. He hit .389 in May. Then he hit .386 in June. Heâ€™s now hitting .431 in July. Heâ€™s a remarkable player, and heâ€™s getting better.
John Mabry is listed here because, well, I have to put him somewhere. Iâ€™m really not sure what I can say that adequately explains how miserable heâ€™s been in the first half. But Iâ€™ll try anyway. Weâ€™re more than halfway through the season and he has six base hits. Heâ€™s reached base nine times. His .484 OPS is lower than most national league pitchers. Heâ€™s an awful defender with no range that is now having arm problems and canâ€™t throw. Heâ€™s as useful as the Venus de Milo, and should be released. He has no business on a major league roster, and the Mâ€™s have no reason to keep him around.
Derekâ€™s convinced me. Edgar Martinez is a hall of famer. Heâ€™s having one of the greatest age-40 seasons of all time. Heâ€™s not going to stop hitting anytime soon. The man is a great baseball player, and the Mariners badly need his bat in the middle of the line-up. Rather than constantly focusing on the things he canâ€™t do, letâ€™s look at what he can do. Heâ€™s an amazing hitter, the best in franchise history, and when I have a kid, I’m going to try to teach him to hit like Edgar.
Whew. Thereâ€™s the offense. Time for a break before we do the pitchers. Might want to go get some more snacks. Iâ€™m not done yet.
Number One Starter
If they still put pictures of missing people on the side of milk cartons, than somewhere, thereâ€™s an assembly line impressing images of Truly Terrible Freddy onto dairy containers. The enigma that is Freddy Garcia has shown every side this year, but heâ€™s been an asset for the past two months. Heâ€™s still a mental midget, succeeding on a ton of physical abilities and not living up to his obvious potential, but heâ€™s getting the job done. No, heâ€™s not the ace of the staff anymore. But heâ€™s still capable of pitching like one. If he throws game three of a playoff series, the Mâ€™s will have a distinct advantage over everyone except Oakland
Number Two Starter
Jamie Moyer isnâ€™t a hall of famer, but heâ€™s such an amazing curiosity that I hope he gets enshrined in something when he retires, even if it is just a wax museum. Remarkably, heâ€™s 40-years-old and getting better. Heâ€™s having the best season of his career at a time when few players can hang onto a spot on the roster. Heâ€™s a legitimate all-star and Cy Young contender, and thereâ€™s no reason to think that he canâ€™t keep this pace up. His ratios, especially his strikeouts, are better than in recent years. Heâ€™s holding down lefties more than he has previously. Heâ€™s good at Safeco and on the road. And heâ€™s been better in June and July than he was in April and May. Heâ€™s clearly the ace of the staff now, even though heâ€™s the most unconventional ace in baseball history.
Number Three Starter
Earlier this year, I was worried about Joel Pineiro. He was consistently mediocre to start the year. His command was off, and his strikeout rate continued to drop. However, it looks like heâ€™s finally turned the corner. His season is a log of consistent improvement, as his ERA by month shows; 4.02, 3.78, 3.28, 1.29. The June number will go up, and his command still isnâ€™t where youâ€™d like it to be, but Iâ€™m not worried about Pineiro anymore. If it was up to me, heâ€™d be the #2 starter in the playoff rotation.
Number Four Starter
Despite his recent struggles, Ryan Franklin has been a rock for the Mâ€™s this year. Heâ€™s thrown 117 innings and logged quality starts nearly every time out to the mound. His strikeout rate is still awful, and I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if he eventually loses his spot in the rotation to Rafael Soriano or Rett Johnson, but Franklin still looks like a perfect fit in the bullpen. While lefties hit him well, he eats right-handers alive, and would be a great option for Melvin to bring out of the pen in the playoffs. As much as he likes to start, his skills are tailor-made for relief, and that is where heâ€™ll help the Mariners most come October.
Number Five Starter
Before the year began, I called Gil Meche the worst starter in the American League West. Whoops. His return from injury to his transformation into a solid pitcher has been remarkable. I am concerned about him in the second half, however. Heâ€™s been getting hit lately, and his strikeout rates have taken a nosedive. Heâ€™s complaining of increased soreness in his arm between starts, and this may be a great time for the Mâ€™s to put their excess pitching depth to use. Rafael Soriano could use more innings and Gil Meche could use a break. I think it would be a good thing for all involved to give him a few weeks off and make sure heâ€™s right in October. His stuff is as good as anyone on the staff, and having him healthy in the playoffs is the most important thing.
Remember Giovanni Carrara? Neither do I. Moving on.
Julio Mateo has far exceeded my expectations and been one of the best mop-up guys in the game. His only flaw right now is an epic home run rate, but he balances it out with low walk totals. Nothing wrong with solo home runs every once in a while as long as youâ€™re keeping men off base. His walk-to-strikeout ratio is terrific, and indicative that he may be ready for an increased role. There are several teams where Mateo would be getting opportunities to close, and heâ€™s a solid trade chip if the Mariners decide heâ€™s replaceable.
Rafael Soriano really needs more work. His arm is electric and heâ€™s adding in the results. His slider is a legitimate out-pitch now, even though his changeup hasnâ€™t developed as hoped. With his two power-pitch repertoire, heâ€™s a perfect fit coming out of the pen and throwing cheese. Melvin simply has to find him more work. Heâ€™s a big part of the Mâ€™s future, and his development will only be hastened with an expanded role.
The difference between Aaron Taylor and half of the â€œproven closersâ€ in major league baseball right now? Six million dollars. Taylorâ€™s live arm has shown itself to be major league ready, and when you toss him in with Mateo and Soriano, this may be the best group of young arms coming out of any teams bullpen in baseball. Itâ€™s amazing that they canâ€™t even get into close ballgames.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa has been a revelation. He comes in, throws strikes, doesnâ€™t allow home runs, and gets people out. His 0.77 ERA is remarkable, but when coupled with his strikeout rate of just over 4 batters per 9 innings, itâ€™s downright astonishing. We canâ€™t expect this kind of performance to continue, but weâ€™ll be glad we have it now. Besides, Shiggy is just a cool guy.
Jeff Nelson is fondly remembered every time he leaves a city, but never appreciated while he is there. After he bolted for the Yankees, the Mâ€™s lamented his loss like Babe Ruth had skipped town, but New Yorkers hated the guy. Now that heâ€™s reversed his tracks, the Yankee fans cry out for a reliever as good as Nelly, and Mariner fans want to run him out of town. His control problems drive fans nuts, but thereâ€™s no getting around the fact that heâ€™s still an effective pitcher. His walk rate is acceptable considering his also high strikeout rates, and heâ€™s pitched better than his 4.11 ERA would indicate. Heâ€™s still murder on right-handers, and I donâ€™t have any problems bringing him in to close games. Even if we have to bite our fingernails, odds are heâ€™ll get us through.
Iâ€™m officially worried about Arthur Rhodes, and extremely annoyed by Melvinâ€™s use of him. Heâ€™s one of the premier relief pitchers in the game, and a truly dominant force from the left side. Heâ€™s not a lefty specialist, but an ace reliever capable of shutting teams down for several innings. However, in his last six appearances, heâ€™s managed just 2 innings of work, given up 9 earned runs, walked 3, and struck out no one. His velocity has been down and heâ€™s getting torched. The Boxâ€™s desire to use him as a situational lefty and bring him in to every close game has worn him down, and Rhodes needs the rest. At this point, we just have to hope his arm will bounce back and irreconcilable damage hasnâ€™t already occurred.
Kazuhiro Sasaki is a tremendously overrated pitcher, unworthy of the contract granted him last summer, and not a dominating relief pitcher than I trust with the game on the line. The Mâ€™s, however, have missed his presence late in the game. There are still legitimate reasons to believe that cracked ribs arenâ€™t the only thing physically wrong with him, and Iâ€™m skeptical that heâ€™ll ever regain the form he showed the past two seasons. That said, the closer position is valued way too highly by the same people who love Willie Bloomquist (okay, really, Iâ€™m done now), and the calls for the Mâ€™s to acquire a closer are just ridiculous. Let Shiggy pitch the 9th. Heâ€™ll do just fine.
Weâ€™ve given Box of Rocks a lot of flak for his in game management the past few months. Through his substitutions and maneuvers, it has become quite apparent that Box Melvin doesnâ€™t understand simple truths about baseball strategy. His use of the bullpen, in particular, has driven us insane. However, lost in the pool of criticism is the fact that in-game strategy is a minor part of a managerâ€™s job. The true signs that Melvin is having a successful first season as a manager lie in what we havenâ€™t seen, rather than what we have. Thereâ€™s no clubhouse bickering or complaints about playing time. People have adapted well to their roles, even if they arenâ€™t particularly good ones. There arenâ€™t outside distractions. The team comes to play every day. Bob Melvin has done a great job of preparing his team to win before every game starts. Now, if we could only get him to stop sabotaging those opportunities while the game is actually going on, weâ€™d really have something.
As Pat Gillickâ€™s most vocal anti-fan, it is assumed that whenever I mention his name, Iâ€™m going to rip him. So, let me prove you all wrong. Gillick has built one of the most complementary teams I have ever seen, and it has worked better than I ever thought. He built a rotation of flyball pitchers who throw strikes, then surrounded them with outfielders will turn their fly balls into outs. Knowing that he didnâ€™t have a dominating rotation, he built a dynamite defensive team, able to limit the opportunities that other teams have to post big innings. Heâ€™s acquired players that fit well together, and the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Kudos to him on a strategy well executed. That said, there are still some gaping flaws on the team that need to be addressed. The bench is hideous and needs to be overhauled. If both McLemore and Mabry can be replaced (and they can), he should do so. They need a left-handed bat in the worst way, and a third-baseman who can hit at Safeco Field would be great. There are no excuses this year for not making a deal. The Mâ€™s top levels of their system are healthy and performing well, and the league is ours for the taking if we make the right moves. Stand Pat has not been my favorite GM the past few years, but he has a chance to redeem himself if he recognizes that this team has a window and he does whatever he needs to do in order to get them through it.
Okay, my hands are tired and Iâ€™m out of people to write about, so I think Iâ€™ll stop now. Hopefully, Iâ€™ve conveyed my thoughts well. The first half was good, the second half could be better, and if the right moves are made, Iâ€™m actually looking forward to October. Go Mariners.