First Half In Review: Passing Out The Grades (Position Players)
A year ago, at the All-Star break, the Mariners were just two games back of the Angels, but that was deceptive, because while the Angels were supposed to be a really good team, they never really found their groove and got to the break five games under .500. This year, at the All-Star break, the Mariners are 6.5 games back of the Angels, but that’s deceptive, because the Angels have been outstanding and, if the season were to end today, the Mariners would actually be in the playoffs. I know I’ve written that before, but only in my dream journal, and seriously, take a step back. Put the day-to-day matters out of mind. The Mariners need to get better. Most teams need to get better. The Mariners, at this writing, have a 2.5-game lead on the Royals and Blue Jays, which means the Mariners are on a playoff pace. You might question whether a one-game playoff counts as the playoffs, but then it has the word “playoff” right in it.
It’s been an eventful first half. They’re always eventful first halves, unless you’re the Padres, but the Mariners’ first half had more good than bad, which is how you explain their 51-44 record. Now, baseball is a game steeped in tradition, and one of the traditions is that, before the All-Star break, teams play a lot of baseball games. Roughly half of them, give or take plenty. (The Mariners have played 59% of their games, so “first half” is a lie.) Another tradition is that every All-Star break I put together these stupid subjective report cards. They’re not important, but none of this is, so go ahead and read on, since you’re already here anyway. You came to this website because you have time you’re willing to dedicate to reading Internet baseball text. Here’s some of that.
I’ve assigned grades to every player who’s played for the Mariners in 2014. There are no formulas — the grades are just the grades that occurred to me, and if you disagree with one or two of them, express so politely or keep it to yourself. I’m not married to these grades and by the time this post is published I might even disagree with myself on a handful of guys. The position players and the pitchers will be broken up, with the pitchers presumably coming tomorrow. Sneak preview: I would marry Felix Hernandez. I would literally drop everything to marry Felix Hernandez, right now. I understand that would make his personal life a lot more complicated, but I’m willing to deal with baggage. Everybody’s got baggage. I’d be honored to carry the King’s.
On to the position-player report card. Let’s start with a bummer! We’ll follow that with a bummer. And then another bummer, and…well, shoot, 51 wins? Are you sure, 51 wins? And the season isn’t finished?
Dustin Ackley: D-
Dustin Ackley has a higher OBP than Domonic Brown, who has been a top prospect. He has a higher slugging percentage than Jackie Bradley Jr., who has been a top prospect. He has a higher wRC+ than Jean Segura, who has been a top prospect. He has the same wRC+ as B.J. Upton, who’s in the second year of a massive five-year contract. In other words, there’s still room for Dustin Ackley to be even worse. I used to compare Ackley to Jeremy Reed to be funny in a dark kind of way. Then I’d compare Ackley to Reed with nervous laughter. Nobody’s laughing anymore. Ackley’s at .242/.310/.351 for his career. Reed finished at .252/.309/.354. I’m haunted by my own stupid joke, and we’re all paying the price.
Abe Almonte: F
I felt so self-confident. I’m supposed to be a baseball expert, according to my job description. I get good feelings when my expertise is validated, because I get to not feel like a fraud. I’ve gotten good feelings from the AL Central, for example, where I’ve never considered the Royals to be the threat so many other people have. In the spring, the analytical part of my brain was telling me not to be worried about Abe Almonte. In April, the analytical part of my brain was telling me not to be worried about Abe Almonte. I publicly expressed confidence in him, believing that he’d pick it up in no time. I didn’t allow myself to believe that Almonte might not actually be good. Whoopsadoodle. I appreciate the moments of not feeling like a fraud because, most of the time, I sit back and feel like a fraud.
Willie Bloomquist: D-
Willie Bloomquist has a higher average, OBP, and slugging percentage than Dustin Ackley. In the major leagues. That would’ve made more sense to me ten years ago, when Ackley would’ve been 16. Ha-ha! Can you imagine a 16-year-old Dustin Ackley trying to hit in the major leagues? Actually, he might’ve been better than the 26-year-old Dustin Ackley. I didn’t mean to make this another paragraph complaining about Dustin Ackley, but I guess it’s better than a paragraph about Willie Bloomquist.
John Buck: D
John Buck gets a performance F, but I bumped him up on account of all his alleged leadership ability and clubhouse value. Mike Zunino says that he never stopped learning from John Buck from the moment the two first interacted, and I think at this point it’s entirely clear that John Buck did a lot to teach Mike Zunino to hit like John Buck. I’m in no position to actually evaluate Buck’s intangible value, but given that the Mariners’ record is a mystery and given that players seemed to like what Buck did, I’m perfectly happy to write some of this up to Buck magic. What, you have a better explanation, like “pitching and defense and the random nature of sporting outcomes?” Like there’s randomness in baseball. Come on.
Robinson Cano: A
A storyline for much of the first half was that Cano was hitting like prime Ichiro instead of prime Cano. Of course, prime Ichiro was super good so it wasn’t so much a complaint as an observation. And now Cano seems to be hitting for more power, and just the other day he turned on a fastball and ripped it into the right-field seats. Over the past 30 days he’s hit .349/.420/.538, and by the way he’s also been a good defender and a great leader and an awesome interview and personality. Robinson Cano is one of the best Mariners players ever, and he’s certainly the best Mariner ever who’s represented by an agent who once stabbed a man. We’ll never love Cano the way we love Felix Hernandez, but there are different kinds of love, each of them valid.
Endy Chavez: D
Following the line of thinking of a friend of mine: if you let Endy Chavez bat four times a game, you’ll probably get to say things like “it seems like he’s on base every game,” because he seems to finish every single one of his games 1-for-4 with a single. Who could say no to a long-term hitting streak and a .250/.250/.250 batting line? It’s awkward to be in the position of not liking Chavez, since I like Chavez the person, and he’s been all right lately, but this team is fighting for the playoffs and Endy Chavez keeps leading off a lot. Do you see how that’s counter-productive? Do you see how this team could improve even with an old sack like Marlon Byrd? Chavez is pleasant and little and he knows how to make things happen, but unfortunately the thing he knows how to make happen the best is outs.
Nick Franklin: F
The Mariners didn’t manage to move Nick Franklin earlier. He started strong in Triple-A, then he didn’t hit upon being promoted to the bigs. And since returning to Triple-A at the beginning of June, he’s hit .244 with two home runs. Used to be, Franklin was confusing because he couldn’t hit in the majors, but now he’s confusing because he just can’t hit, period. It’s because of guys like Franklin that the purpose of Triple-A is becoming increasingly fuzzy. Aren’t those numbers supposed to mean something? Aren’t those numbers not supposed to mean nothing?
Cole Gillespie: D
I remember there was a time at which Cole Gillespie led the Mariners in rate hitting statistics. That time is not now, because Cole Gillespie isn’t good, and Cole Gillespie isn’t on the Mariners. What I remember most about Gillespie is when he pinch-hit and popped up in a tie game with one out and the bases loaded. It was at that point I figured his time with the Mariners was up. I was off by five or six weeks, but in the bigger picture, I wasn’t off at all. If you always consider a big-enough picture, your timing can pretty much never be off. “Sure, I was late to meet you by 15 minutes, but how much are 15 minutes, really? If you think about the raising and the grinding of the mountains-”
Corey Hart: F
When Hart was on the DL, I almost put together a post talking about how Hart was better than his numbers, and how he’d been screwed by a few well-hit balls not quite working out as they should’ve. Those are the kinds of posts you write about bad baseball players. I do think Hart is better than this, but this isn’t about true talent, and Hart’s first half was a lousy first half.
James Jones: C+
Jones is impossibly easy to like. He’s always smiling, he provides for the team a different dynamic, he arrived almost out of nowhere, and he somewhat famously went up to Lloyd McClendon just to ask how he might be able to improve. Jones is so easy to like that you might want to look past the mediocre OBP and the mediocre slugging percentage and the mediocre walk and strikeout numbers. Jones has served a valuable role in that he’s filled a position of dire need, but so much about him has been raw, and speaking objectively he probably shouldn’t be a starter. He’s a starter here, and he’s not bad, but this is part of why McClendon described the team as having a BB gun offense. James Jones just doesn’t shoot real bullets, and he probably never will.
Brad Miller: D
Brad Miller has made people feel better by posting a .755 OPS since the start of June. That’s the Brad Miller we expected. Unfortunately, the regular season didn’t begin on June 1, and the Brad Miller before that was among the very biggest disasters in the league! He’s still not really hitting lefties, to the point at which there’s a statistical justification for batting Willie Bloomquist at short with a southpaw on the mound. When it might make sense to platoon your starting shortstop with Willie Bloomquist, the situation could be better, that’s what I always say. I don’t say very much.
Jesus Montero: C
Jesus Montero batted 14 times, he didn’t walk, he swung at a higher rate of pitches out of the zone than pitches in the zone, and he mashed a dinger. So that’s what Jesus Montero was up to. Before Montero’s first half had even begun, he was publicly ripped by his own general manager. On the plus side, Montero has probably completely forgotten about that, because my guess is that he completely forgets about everything within the time it takes his brain to try to submit an experience to memory.
Logan Morrison: D+
Like Hart, my feeling is that Morrison has hit into a few too many loud outs. Even if you try to adjust for that, Morrison’s numbers still don’t come out good, but I think I’ve partially inflated this grade just because Morrison isn’t Justin Smoak. He was the Marlins’ Justin Smoak, but what was old to them still feels fresh and new to us. Morrison, in other words, is frustrating in that he isn’t better than he is, but we’re still in the process of learning that about him, which means every good point might represent a turning point. They’re always potentially developing until they’re 28-year-old busts.
Stefen Romero: F
Last season Stefen Romero batted .277/.331/.448 in Triple-A with 28 walks and 87 strikeouts. By OPS on the team, he ranked directly between Carlos Peguero and Alex Liddi. It’s not Romero’s fault he didn’t help the Mariners.
Michael Saunders: B
Saunders hit in 2012. He hit in 2013, when he wasn’t recovering from injury. He’s hit in 2014. No longer, I think, do we have to worry about whether or not Michael Saunders’ bat is for real, and we know he’s a more than capable defensive right fielder. Now what we have to wonder is whether Saunders is particularly injury-prone, since he’s now back on the DL with a Grade 2 oblique strain. Saunders has conquered his obvious problem from earlier in his career. So now he’s confronted by a problem no one would’ve ever foreseen. There are always new problems, is the point. Even when you think you have everything figured out and going your way, you’re still closer to dying than you were at the start of this sentence.
Kyle Seager: A
I think we can say that Kyle Seager is objectively, certainly underrated, based on his numbers and based on his All-Star support. He’s one of the better third basemen in baseball and he’s still considered just one of the nobodies alongside Cano and the King. Part of the issue, probably, is that he’s never been hyped, and part of that issue, probably, stems from the reality that he just looks like a guy whose middle name is Duerr, which is Kyle Seager’s middle name, which is Duerr. Seager doesn’t look like an elite-level baseball player; he looks like a happy-go-lucky cousin, who’s also a younger brother of an older cousin, who you can’t believe is old enough to have a baby and a collection of guns. Seager has the skills that Willie Bloomquist’s body was always supposed to have, and making things weirder still is that there are two more Seager brothers in the minor leagues right now, with one of them being a Dodgers top prospect. It’s a whole family of guys sent to destroy the very concept of a “baseball face”.
Justin Smoak: D-
On Opening Day, Smoak went 2-for-4 with a double, a homer, and a walk, and spirits were high. He’d been practicing a net drill with Robinson Cano on the side, and people wondered whether Smoak had finally figured everything out. It only followed all of McClendon’s early support, with his assertions that Smoak could lead the league in doubles. Since Opening Day, he’s performed like Justin Smoak. Maybe the most interesting thing about him at this point is how much support he continues to have. The Mariners have never wavered in believing in Smoak as a first baseman. McClendon continues to believe in him as a first baseman. Educated baseball people look at Justin Smoak and see a long-term productive asset. It’s enough to make you wonder whether you’re just being impatient. But Justin Smoak turns 28 in December. They’re always potentially developing until they’re 28. According to my arbitrary cutoff, Smoak, you’ve got 2.5 months to not be a pile of crap.
Jesus Sucre: C-
Sucre has played twice and he hit a single and he caught pitches. With Zunino and Sucre, the Mariners ought to be one of the very best pitch-framing teams in all of baseball. Sucre is never going to be the topic of any conversation among fans, as he’ll never be good enough to start and he’ll never play enough to attract negative attention. He’ll just do his job and ingratiate himself to managers and he’ll stick around as an unknown backup for more than a decade. It’s a hell of a non-polarizing way to make a living. Way down the road, the complete oral history of Jesus Sucre will consist of, “who was that again?” and “that guy, that was a ballplayer.”
Mike Zunino: B-
Since May started, Zunino’s hit .180 with ten walks and 75 strikeouts. He’s kind of been last year’s J.P. Arencibia, which isn’t a good offensive catcher, but then there is more to it. The season also happens to include April, and Zunino appears to be an incredible receiver and handler of the pitching staff, and not that it matters here but sometimes it is easy to forget how quickly Zunino was rushed through the system. There’s been a lot on his plate, and one of the ideas behind bringing up Sucre is now McClendon might feel more comfortable giving Zunino more time off. More time off might allow him to perform more consistently. Zunino’s offensive game is basically running into a dinger from time to time, but the power is legit, and the defense is legit, and this is still the best catcher the Mariners have had in years. He makes too many outs with the bat, but he’s also invaluable when it comes to creating them in the field. Zunino might kind of capture the 51-44 All-Star break Mariners in a nutshell.