Premature Report Card
Well, the season is officially 8.64 percent over with. With the first 14 games in the books, we can officially begin to engage in small sample size theatre grading, where we make premature and most likely wrong characterizations about a the next 148 games of the season based on what we saw the first two weeks.
But, let’s be honest, it’s fun. So, on we go.
Kenji Johjima has been everything you could have hoped for and more. He’s making solid, consistent contact, driving the ball, working the count, and basically being the best hitter on the team. He’s also not taking days off, which means less Guillermo Quiroz and Rene Rivera, which is always a good thing. We loved the Johjima signing at the time, and there’s no reason to love it any less now. If he plays like this all season, he’s an MVP candidate. Even with an expected fall off, he was a great addition.
First Base: C
On the positive side, Richie Sexson is still healthy and he’s driven in a bunch of runs. On the negative side, there’s, well, everything else. 3 walks and 17 strikeouts in 53 at-bats? Did he beat down Randall Simon and steal his plate discipline? The lack of contact has driven down his average, and in turn, his on base percentage, both of which are well below what we’d expect. Thankfully, we should be use to Sexson being a streaky hitter, and I’m not worried. Just stay healthy and hit bombs. And occassionally draw a walk, too, okay?
Second Base: A
Jose Lopez has been as advertised; an aggressive hitter with above average power and solid defense at second base. His average will fluctuate, and his value will be determined by whether he hits .250 or .300, but he’s going to be a contributor to the M’s thanks to his power. He’s settled in at the #2 hole for now, but I doubt that lasts the season.
Okay, so, Betancourt’s not hitting well. .227 with one walk in 44 at-bats is a great way to kill a bunch of rallies. But half of his hits are doubles, and he’s been driving the ball with more authority than the cliched slap-hitting shortstop. The singles will come, and when they do, his average will raise to the .260-.280 range. Combine that with his other worldly abilities in the field and you have a terrific shortstop.
Third Base: F-
Adrian Beltre has been so unbelievably terrible at the plate that it’s been almost impossible to believe. Forget about 2004 for now – he’s looked like a carcas of what he was last season, when he was as bad as he’s ever been as a professional. The glaring problem is his pitch recognition skills, as he stares at 88 MPH meatballs down the heart of the plate while flailing at breaking balls around his ankles. I have never seen a major league hitter look this bad at the plate. Not Bloomquist, not Gipson, no one. Pitchers don’t look this confused. I’d have no problem ordering Beltre to watch 10 hours of video a day until he learns how to pick up the spin of a baseball coming out of the pitchers hand.
Raul Ibanez continues to slap singles through holes, hitting for a high average and being a productive part of the offense even without significant power or a great approach at the plate. He’s also terrible defensively, and his play in left field has been gut wrenching at times. The decision to keep Raul roaming the outfield while Matt Lawton DH’d was mind numbing, but we’ll get to coaching in a minute.
Center Field: C
Jeremy Reed’s new nickname; The Anomoly. Throughout his career, he’s flashed a variety of skills, though he never seems to be able to use them simultaneously. He became well known when he posted absurd walk/strikeout rates in Winston-Salem and then hit .400 in Birmingham, but he failed to show significant power in the minors. Now? He’s shown some pop, is driving the ball with authority, and is struggling to get singles or command the strike zone. A 2/10 BB/K for Reed? Really? Odds are he’ll come around, the walks will go up, and hopefully the power stays, but right now, who knows?
Right Field: D
At some point, Ichiro’s unique skills are going to disappear, and he’s going to be a terrible major league player. I’m pretty sure that point hasn’t come yet, but he’s hitting .190/.277/.276 and posting a 1.00 G/F rate, the lowest of his career. As Jeff Sullivan has pointed out, Ichiro’s success is directly tied to his ability to whack the ball on the ground. Until he gets back to hitting worm burners, we have a really expensive out machine leading off. At least he still plays defense, unlike…
A DH who is hitting .163/.308/.349 is a problem. When he comes with a veteran reputation that keeps his manager running him out there on a daily basis in the face of better options, he becomes a plague. Carl Everett hasn’t been a good hitter in several years, but the Mariners are going to continue to let him rot in the DH spot until they’re convinced he’s done. We were convinced of that before they signed him. Let’s hope Mike Hargrove comes around quickly.
Roberto Petagine is 2-4 with a double, a home run, and a walk as a pinch hitter. He has a long history of smoking every pitcher he sees, and tore the cover off the ball in spring training. He has 0 starts. Meanwhile, Joe Borchard, Willie Bloomquist, and Matt Lawton are finding their way into the line-up when the regulars get a day off. So while the bench has played rather well, their usage has been abysmal, which drags down the grade. But, again, we’ll get to coaching in a little bit.
Moyer and Pineiro have ridden their strike-throwing junkball ways to success, Jarrod Washburn has been great and terrible, Felix has just been terrible, and Gil Meche still sucks. Thankfully, no one believes Felix is going to continue to be terrible, and once his velocity returns to the high-90s, he’ll be dominating again. So there’s hope here, if Moyer and Pineiro can continue to win with smoke and mirrors, that the rotation won’t be quite as bad as feared.
Guardado’s walk off yesterday notwithstanding, the team’s relievers have essentially been quite good. J.J. Putz, since taking my advice and throwing his splitter more frequently, has been unhittable, posting a crazy 14/1 K/BB rate in 7 1/3 innings while still maintaining his groundball dominance. Soriano has looked terrific while showing mid-90s velocity again, and Sherrill has been dominating when he can get the ball over the plate. Those three offer legitimate late game arms that inspire some confidence, and Guardado and Mateo are not useless, though they have appeared to be at times. The pen will be fine.
Hargrove’s players aren’t big fans of his. The front office doesn’t love the guy. The fans have turned on him. He makes lousy, lousy, lousy in-game management decisions. He has no flexibility, refuses to use his roster optimally, and is a slave to common wisdom while trying to avoid any kind of public criticism. The sooner he’s removed from his position, the better, and this from a guy with a long stance of supporting the idea that managers in general don’t matter.
6-8 against four of the best teams in baseball while positing a positive run differential? I’ll take that every time. The team is staying afloat despite terrible performances from its stars, so unless each elite player the M’s have is going to collapse all at once, there is serious room for growth. If the gains made by the supporting cast be sustained to any extent and Ichiro, Beltre, and Felix return to any semblance of their past glory, this team could be a lot of fun to watch. There are definite reasons for optimism in what we’ve seen so far.