Our friend here wrote a player-by-player preview of the Mariners. Please enjoy! -- Kurt
Hey guys. I'm a Mariners fan who's been a member of BYB ever since the Fister trade last year. Even before that, though, I had a soft spot for the Tigers. Don't particularly know why, just did. You guys were like the guilty-pleasure team that I would root for when I wanted to see someone actually score runs. So, since the Mariners are playing the Tigers pretty soon, I thought I'd throw up a FanPost to give you all an idea of what you can expect to see.
Basically, don't let the Mariners' reputation fool you. Usually they're talked about as a team with a miserable offense and good pitching, but this isn't (strictly speaking) true. In the early going of this season, the Mariners have had a solid starting five, a bullpen consisting of two ace relievers and a whole lot of question marks, and an offense with both excellent signs of potential and really bad luck. The offense doesn't project to be good, but they've been inexplicably crushing balls and also inexplicably not seeing them drop. Details after the jump.
Jason Vargas is the game one starter for the Mariners. He has a reputation as a #5 who is inexplicably the Mariners' #2. In reality, there are few teams on which Vargas would not be an improvement as a fourth starter. He doesn't blow guys away with velocity, but he paints the zone with good control, a serviceable fastball, and an excellent changeup. There used to be Good Vargas and Bad Vargas. However, last season, Vargas picked up a turn in his delivery from Erik Bedard. It's the same one Felix uses, and it boosted both his MPH and his consistency. Ever since then, the dude's been like a machine: seven innings of two-run ball, pretty much every outing. He's one of those pitchers where you watch the game, think "this is OK, I guess", and then it's the seventh and you're like "whoa, how is it the seventh inning". Maybe it's a mirage, but it doesn't seem like it. Don't expect the Tigers to pummel him.
Starting game two is none other than Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. Tigers hitters will need to try to get to the bullpen quick, because the odds of shellacking King Felix early are... low. There was a bit of a scare earlier this season because Felix's velocity has been down and his fastball thus less effective than usual, but the velocity has been steadily increasing since his first start--and he's started to rely even more than usual on his absolutely murderous changeup. He was allowing an unusual number of fly balls earlier in the season, but fears were allayed last outing when he went 8 innings, 0 runs, 12 Ks, 1 BB, and a lot of groundouts against a good Cleveland offense. Felix is still Felix.
Game three will likely be started by Hector Noesi, who was acquired from the Yankees last year in the Michael Pineda trade. He is very much a work in progress, but he's in the rotation so that the GM can tell the fan base that the M's got two regulars out of the trade instead of just Montero. His ceiling is Matt Garza, but he's not near that yet, since he has problems with both his slider and his curve. Only the fastball and change up are really reliable. He also pitches really, really slowly, so he's boring to watch. Some fans expect him to get sent down to AAA to work on his secondary pitches soon. Think of him, as far as analogies go, as a less experienced Max Scherzer. There is blue-eyed Noesi, and there is brown-eyed Noesi. Blue-eyed Noesi shut out the Athletics for eight innings with a stupid number of infield fly balls. Brown-eyed Noesi got destroyed by both the Rangers and the White Sox. If the Tigers are going to beat a guy up, it'll be Noesi.
If Noesi does indeed get sent down before the series starts, you'll probably see Blake Beavan. Blake Beavan is... well, he's Blake Beavan. He sneezes quality starts. He doesn't strike guys out, but he doesn't walk anyone either. No one knows how he does it; all he throws is a mid-velocity, hittable-looking fastball and a mediocre changeup. For some reason, no one can touch him. He does the same thing literally every single game, and it's not even that good of a thing, and he is inexplicably successful. I imagine it must be really frustrating for fans of other teams to watch their hitters flail at hittable-looking fastballs. Anyways, if you see Blake Beavan, the good money is on no less than 6 IP, no more than 3 runs.
Given that Millwood just pitched yesterday, the odds that you'll see him in this series are practically zilch, but for the trade-curious, here goes. Millwood is a 37-year old vet who used to be a Braves rotation staple. Last year he bounced around the minor league rotations of AL teams before finally landing a major league gig with the Rockies, where he was unexpectedly good. He then got a cheap offseason deal with the Mariners and made the team out of spring training as a clubhouse leader and fifth starter. He's basically a placeholder until one of the M's three A-level starter prospects, most likely James Paxton, gets called up midseason. Until then he's an OK innings-eater. Millwood's deal is that he'll reliably go six innings, and typically five of those innings will be good. The other one will be disastrous. How disastrous varies; in Texas he escaped with only one run after leaving the bases loaded, but the Indians pummeled him for seven runs in one inning. He's pretty much permanently on the trade block, so if you're willing to flip an outfield prospect or a reliever, he's yours for the taking. You likely won't see him, though.
Brandon League is the Mariners' closer. He is pretty good. He has a very speedy fastball and an absolutely devastating splitter that is one of the best pitches in baseball. He induces a lot of ground balls. However, the splitter is hard to catch; he induces a lot of passed balls. It's also apparently hard to umpire because he's always getting squeezed on low strikes. His blown save last week, the one that cost Felix the win on the 8 IP shutout, only happened because the home plate umpire called strikes three and four to Shelley Duncan balls two and three. League doesn't pitch too well against lefties, though.
Tom Wilhelmsen was a prospect for some other team, and he looked pretty good. Then he decided to quit baseball to go explore the world. He went backpacking around Europe and later became a bartender in Arizona who played independent league baseball in his spare time, but he decided he wanted to go back to MLB. A buddy got him a tryout with the Mariners. He made it to the bigs last season, was bad, was sent down to double-A, was bad, was called up again, and has been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball ever since. Something must have been in the water on the plane ride up. He has a high-heat fastball and a 12-6 curve that buckles knees. He's been the most called-upon relief pitcher in baseball so far this season, because he's good. When he's bad, which hasn't happened yet this season, it's because we's wild with the curve.
This is where it gets sketchy. Lucas Luetge is a Rule 5 kid that the Mariners stole from the Brewers. He's their LOOGY, and he's been pretty good so far, even having some success against RHBs, but he's kind of an unknown quantity. No one really knows for sure if he's actually good or if this is just small sample size. Also, when he was growing up in Texas he farmed pigs.
Two years ago, Steve Delabar was a substitute teacher who was out of baseball, having flamed out with the Padres when his elbow exploded. He was coaching high school baseball, and a friend told him about a new method for improving fastball velocity. He decided to try it out before exposing his kids to it. Six weeks later, he was throwing 96, and then he had an audition with the Mariners, and then he made their Single-A squad. He climbed the ranks quickly and made the team, and now it is impossible to talk about him without talking about his story. Anyways, Delabar has a mid-nineties fastball and an offspeed... thing. There is no word for it, but it breaks like Daisuke's gyro ball was supposed to. The issue is that he can't control it. At all. He can't really control the fastball either. So, Delabar's like the Adam Dunn of pitching: strikeouts and dingers and nothing else. He has a K/9 of over 14, a K/BB of infinity (12/0), and four allowed home runs already. He's an exciting guy, because when he comes in, you know either he's going to give a dominating relief performance, or you are going to get to see some dingers. Everyone loves dingers! Normally you'd send a guy like this down to AAA to work on control, but with Delabar and the Delabar story there's a certain sense that he only has so many bullets left in the gun. And he's fun to watch, so, whatever.
Erasmo Ramirez is the Mariners' first-string long reliever / swing man. He's a pretty good starting pitching prospect in his own right who made the team out of Spring Training. He pounds the strike zone with good control and good off speed pitches; even though he's not in the rotation he's probably the team's third best starter behind Hernandez and Vargas. He's had a couple of dominating outings, but he's also had a couple of bad ones, which he attributed to not having his usual amount of time to warm up. If one of the SPs implodes early, Ramirez is first in line to come in, and if Noesi gets sent down, he's next in line for the rotation. Dude's pretty good, actually.
Hisashi Iwakuma is the Mariners' unicorn. He actually just made his first appearance with them two days ago, despite being on the roster to start the season. He's their second swing man / seventh starter. He came over from Japan in the offseason, where he used to be an ace, but struggled through shoulder injuries last year. The Mariners got him for pennies, but despite posting good BB/K ratios he gave up a lot of hits in spring training and didn't make the starting rotation. He throws high eighties / low nineties stuff with pretty good command, but he might be a disaster too, because we've only seen him once. He also throws that NPB staple, the shuuto, very well. It made the White Sox look totally incompetent in his first appearance. If he is better than Yu Darvish, haha Rangers. Still, you probably won't see him.
You guys know Charlie Furbush, right? He's the M's third swing man / eighth starter / sixth-inning lefty. He has remarkably good peripherals, striking dudes out at about the same rate as Edwin Jackson. In every respect except the dinger respect, he's an excellent pitcher. However, he inexplicably gives up a lot of home runs, even in Safeco. No one really knows why. This season he's had one outing, in which he was absolutely dominant, flashing a crazy good slider that looked as unhittable as Delabar's whatever-it-is. So, he's like the lefty version of Delabar, except with less velocity and a funny name instead of an inspiring story.
"Ha!" you say. "Mariners! Offense! Funny!" And you're right, it is pretty funny. This offense is not good. But neither is it as legendarily bad as some would have you believe. In fact, so far, it (surprisingly) actually hasn't been bad at all. Yes, yes, I know--the Mariners rank 26th in BA, 29th in OBP, they just got perfecto'd by Philip Humber, blah blah blah... but let's look a little bit deeper. The M's actually lead the major leagues in LD% with a rate of 24.3%... but their BABIP is only .265. Those of you who are stat heads may know that the expected difference between these values is .100. For the Rangers right now, that difference is .150, meaning that their offense has been incredibly lucky. Last year, league average was .099. Last year's terribad Mariners offense ran a difference of .094. The Athletics ran .075, which is very very unlucky. This season's Mariners have a difference between their LD% and BABIP of .022. That's insanely unlucky. Literally everyone on their team is getting unlucky on balls in play, all at once. If you normalize their BABIP to where it should be based on their line drive percentage, the numbers look a lot different... it gives the Mariners a team batting average of .295 and a team OBP of .346. That's good for second and fourth best in the Major Leagues, respectively. That's better than the Tigers in both aspects. What I'm saying is that, so far this season, the Mariners have outhit the Tigers by leaps and bounds, and gotten screwed by line drives just not dropping in. Now obviously the Mariners are not going to continue to hit line drives at this rate, because obviously the Mariners' offense is not as good as the Tigers'. They're due for some regression in both LD% (down) and BABIP (up), so in the long run there'll be marginal improvement. Their ceiling is a slightly above-average offense. But if the BABIP becomes normal again before the LD% drops to league average levels... the Mariners will murder Detroit's pitching. Just absolutely murder it. Bear in mind that if there's any defense against which hard hit line drives will drop, it's Detroit's. No offense.
Figgins is in the leadoff slot, and he's on a short leash. This is his last chance to prove he can contribute, and thus get traded to someone who needs a cheap utility man, before the Mariners just cut him. So far he's been OK. He's hitting way more line drives than he usually does, but his BABIP is lower than it usually is (see what I mean?) He's taken some walks, and he sees a lot of pitches, and he's annoying on the base paths. His defense is good at third, mediocre in left, and bad in center. He has already hit his one home run for the season, so don't worry about that, but the dude can still stroke occasional triples. The plate discipline has looked good, at least. He's old, gray bearded Chone Figgins, which is to say he's pretty mediocre.
Ackley is considered by many the Mariners' star of the future--certainly the best pure hitter on the team. He hits second, plays second, and is good. He has an elite eye, but he is occasionally susceptible to getting called out looking. He hits a lot of triples, and he doesn't look big, but he does definitely have some home run power. 20 home runs in a season from him wouldn't be shocking, but it's about as many as you could hope for this year. Last season he was above average at second base, much to the surprise of the general public. So far this season he's been just OK on defense. Actually, he's off to a bit of a slow start in general--the lack of walks is atypical. On the other hand, adjust his BABIP to normal and he's hitting .333. Anyways, he's got a great hit tool, an OK power tool, good speed, and an amazing eye. To borrow a comparison from an SBN writer, imagine if John Olerud played a mean second base. Dude's good.
Pretty sure I don't really need to introduce Ichiro. He's fast, he gets a lot of hits, he has a strong arm in RF, blah blah blah. This season he got moved to the 3 spot in the lineup and it looks like his approach has changed a little. He's standing further back in the box. The result is less infield hits but also less swinging strikes. Ichiro's swinging strike percentage basically does not exist. He's also been hitting more line drives, and getting BABIP screwed just like Ackley. He looks less like 2011 Ichiro and more like 2010 Ichiro, which is to say, good.
Justin Smoak hits fourth and plays first base. His hamstrings have been sore, so he might sit one of the three games, but it doesn't really matter for his running anyways because he's sooo sloooooow. Last season, he was amazing, then he got hurt and tried to play through it and was terrible, then he got DL'ed, then he came back, and then he was amazing again. This season he has been the recipient of the absolute worst BABIP luck I have ever seen: Smoak's BABIP is .070 LOWER than his LD%. He has been murdering baseballs all season long, with nothing whatsoever to show for it. However, his plate discipline has looked bad lately. He's supposed to be able to take walks, but the last week or so he's kind of been hacking. Hacking and crushing balls, but hacking. In particular, he has problems with low off speed pitches. Outlook: he's probably never going to be a superstar first baseman, but he could be an above average one if his plate discipline gets back to where it's supposed to be.
Montero bats fifth or sixth and plays either DH or catcher. First off, those rumors about Montero not being able to play catcher? Unfounded. The guy's actually pretty good behind the dish, though his arm isn't great, so AJax might get a couple free bags. But he's not Piazza back there, and he's actually better at catching than the Mariners' "starting" catcher, Miguel Olivo. Montero is also the rare Mariner who hasn't been getting BABIP screwed... and is still not hitting too well. Not enough walks or extra base hits. He's always been a slow starter, though, and last week he destroyed two home runs out to center field in Safeco, so the power's there. He gets a lot of opposite field hits. It's amusing that Montero has proven he can catch but not that he can hit. Also, you know how Smoak is slow? Montero is the only guy on the team slower than Smoak. If he hits like he's supposed to, though, we're talking 6+ WAR seasons at catcher. Fingers crossed, unless you're not a Mariners fan I guess.
Kyle Seager plays third base, bats fifth or sixth, and is on an absolute tear at the plate. The guy's 3B defense is league average or thereabouts--he's actually a natural 2B, but he's blocked there by Ackley. He can play SS in a pinch. He's fast. He doesn't walk, at all, but he also doesn't strike out at all. What he does do is hit. His contact rate is something absurd like 99%. The guy, like Ichiro, simply doesn't swing and miss. He sprays line drives all over the outfield and a lot of them land for doubles--with normal BABIP (yep, he has a .290 average AFTER getting screwed) the dude would be hitting .375. When his line drives get caught, like what's happening now, which is his floor, he's a 110 OPS+ third baseman with league average defense. That's 3 WAR per year for the league minimum. If it turns out that his perceived fly ball problems are flukes, then he's a minor star. If he improves, like at all, he's Don Mattingly or something.
Miguel Olivo plays catcher. He is terrible at catching balls, and allows a lot of passed balls. He is also terrible at hitting. And walking. In fact, Miguel Olivo is pretty bad at baseball in general, but for some reason the manager insists on playing him. He'll probably hit seventh and be a guaranteed out for the whole series. When Olivo comes up to the plate, rejoice! (If you are Miguel Olivo and you are reading this, I am sorry. You are great at baseball, relative to most of the world's population! Just not relative to your coworkers.)
Michael Saunders is the Mariners' most-started center fielder, since Franklin Gutierrez is injured. He'll hit somewhere between sixth and eighth. The guy's got range in center, but he's not Gutierrez. At the plate, he's... interesting. In call ups over the last two seasons, Saunders was absolutely awful despite his amazing toolset. This offseason, he went to an outside hitting coach, came back, and destroyed spring training pitching with a new and improved swing and plate approach. When the season started he kept the approach but has reverted somewhat to his old swing, and has thus seen inferior results. You can usually tell how well Saunders will hit in a game by his first plate appearance. If he stays down and keeps his body quiet, he'll be good. If his swing makes his body fly open, he will suck.
Brendan Ryan leads the team in OBP, but don't let that fool you. He just had a four-walk game--he's not actually that good. Apparently he reads fan mail, though; the game after a Mariners blog criticized his plate approach he stopped swinging at first pitches entirely and took seven walks in three games. If he gets on base, which isn't super common, he's a holy terror on the base paths. Ryno is one of the smartest base runners in the league. He plays shortstop and is probably one of the top five defensive shortstops in the majors, with absolutely ridiculous range. However, he's somewhat injury-prone, which is why Kawasaki is on the roster. He'll hit ninth, and probably be fairly useless with the bat (I'm betting on the walks being a fluke), but expect defensive wizardry.
Munenori Kawasaki is the Mariners' backup infielder and utility man. He came over this past offseason because it has been his lifelong goal to play with Ichiro in Seattle. He swings like Ichiro, he runs like Ichiro, he dresses like Ichiro. Think of him as Ichiro, but instead of being an excellent RF, he's an excellent SS, and instead of having some power, he has absolutely none. Also, he bunts a lot. His ceiling with the bat is probably 2011 Ichiro, which isn't very good. Despite this, Mariners fans love him because he is absolutely adorable, and sometimes leads cheers, in Japanese, from the Mariners' dugout. In his major league debut, he bowed to the third base umpire before taking the field. He does jazz hands every time he gets on base, and three days ago when a guy tried to pick him off he dove back to first and then started doing pushups. On top of first base. During an inning.
Hey, you guys know Casper Wells! He's Michael Saunders' platoon partner; vs. LHPs Casper plays either LF or CF. He has an absolute cannon for an arm, and good range in LF but less good range in CF. He was amazing for the Mariners last season before he took a ball to the nose, developed vertigo, and completely lost the ability to read incoming pitches. He then proceeded to strike out even more than usual, which is saying something. However, he's a career 112 OPS+ hitter, and he's looked good in limited time this season, so on a whole not bad actually. Wells is often described as "a fourth outfielder for a really good team". The problem is that on the Mariners he's a third outfielder.
Alex Liddi is Italian and he sometimes gets into games vs. LHPs. He is Italian and has power but not plate discipline; he's not terrible at the plate but he does strike out too much. He's an okay Italian third baseman, a pretty good first baseman, and an okay hitter. Consensus is that when recently injured LF power bat Mike Carp returns, Liddi's probably going to AAA. He's okay. But Italian!
John Jaso was almost the rookie of the year with the Rays two years ago, but had a bad year last year. They traded him for a reliever who proceeded to be terrible, so the Mariners basically got him for free. He is better than Miguel Olivo in every way--better at defense, better at plate discipline, better contact skills, better at base running. He is the Mariners' third string catcher. He sometimes gets into games vs. RHPs as a DH, and usually plays only when Montero catches. He takes a lot of pitches, but has an absurd contact rate, and he's already been a hero in a game vs. the Rangers, but the manager refuses to play him. If you come over and visit LL, every time Olivo comes up the whole comment section goes "Free Jaso". He probably has the second best OBP skills on the team, behind Ackley. He is almost never in the lineup.
Good production from 2-6 if the line drives ever start dropping. Mediocre production from the leadoff slot and from one of the 7-9 guys. The other two 7-9 guys are likely terrible.
So, that's the preview. Hopefully you'll find it helpful. Yeah, I'm biased, but this team is quite a bit better than its record suggests. Actually, the record itself is a tad suspect--if not for two consecutive very incorrect ball calls in the ninth inning of a one-run game and one botched double play, the Mariners would be 9-8. Their offense in particular is better than the numbers would have you believe. Don't underestimate them, but also don't overestimate them--the Mariners winning two out of three would be only mildly surprising, but a sweep would be a shock. What I'm trying to say is that they aren't Houston.
See you Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday!