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Mariners MVPs and LVPs

The BS Show, with Brett and Shane

By Shane Lantz

The end of April is nigh, and it’s time to look back on this unexpected month of Mariners joy. From the good to the bad, here are the top Mariners storylines going into May.

MVPs:

Marco Gonzales: Marco has been the Mariners best pitcher in the month of April, though his numbers are hobbled by one bad start. Gonzales has a 0.8 WAR, the best on the Mariners pitching staff, has a FIP of 3.01, and career high strikeout rate of 9.73 per nine innings, a promising sign for the Marines thin starting corps. Gonzales is now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and the former first round pick has been an exciting prospect to watch.

 

Mitch Haniger: While fans saw flashes of Haniger’s abilities at the beginning and end of 2017, Haniger has truly become one of the league’s best hitters in 2018. Haniger is tied for the MLB lead with 10 home runs, his 27 RBI are secondmost in the AL, he has a team-high 186 WRC+, 1.5 WAR, and a ridiculous 1.026 OPS. His walk rate is 10.7 percent, slightly above league average, and his strikeout rate has risen just a tad to 23.2 percent. But he more than makes up for that with a high on-base percentage, big-time power, and solid defense out in right field. He will be a huge part of the Mariners pursuit of a playoff berth, and expect him to deliver.

 

Edwin Diaz: The man is a bullet-train to domination station. Diaz was unhittable in March/April. His strikeout rate is at 16.95 per nine, and he has allowed only two hits all season long. He has regularly touched triple-digits with his fastball, and leads the AL with 11 saves. Another pitcher who has shown flashes of brilliance over the past two seasons, it is very satisfying to see Diaz truly dominate the league. While his numbers are unsustainable, there is no reason why Diaz can’t continue to be the league’s most dominant relief pitcher. He is the weapon every team with playoff hopes wishes they possessed.

 

Robinson Cano: Cano very quietly got off to the best start of his career in April, and though he no longer is among the league leaders, he has been a force in the middle of the Mariners lineup. Cano is currently hitting .313/.422/.479, with a WAR of 1.2, and a WRC+ of 152. With the explosion of glory that is Mitch Haniger, Cano’s performance has gotten lost in the shuffle for attention, but the Mariners 35-year-old second baseman is far from finished.

 

Dee Gordon: The new Mariners center fielder is perhaps the most fun player to watch on the Mariners roster. He brings an enthusiasm and an energy to the team that has been lacking the past several seasons. In addition to the superlative traits such as “energy”, Gordon has brought speed and an ability to get on base in big moments. He has 10 stolen bases on the season, putting him on pace for 60, right in line with career norms. His defense has been tough to watch at times, but overall has been decent for playing the position for the first time. He is by far the flashiest and most dangerous leadoff hitter the Mariners have had since prime-era Ichiro. He is essentially a league-average to slightly below hitter, but his speed makes up for any shortcomings at the dish. His career WRC+ is 94, and he currently sits at 107. If he can keep getting on base and scoring runs at a high rate, the top of the Mariners lineup is in very good shape.

The LVPs:

Ichiro Suzuki: Unfortunately, Ichiro has been caught in the middle of a bad situation. When he was signed during Spring Training, it was understood that he would get to play until Ben Gamel’s return from his oblique injury, which was expected to last until early to mid-May. Gamel then made a speedy recovery, and is now back in the starting lineup. Jerry Dipoto, or someone higher up than him, made the mind-bogglingly bad decision to send Guillermo Heredia to Tacoma. Heredia is arguably the best left fielder on the team, and to send him down to keep Ichiro on the roster was misguided. Ichiro is currently hitting .220/.256/.475, with an OPS+ of 35, 65 percent below league average. He provides belowaverage defense , and has looked slow. Aside from the season-opening series, where he robbed a home run from Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, there have been few highlights in Ichiro’s second go-around. It appears that this reunion is less LeBron-returning to Cleveland and more Griffey 2010. It’s time to say goodbye, and hopefully Heredia is back by the time the weekend is over. It would be great to announce that Ichiro is being let go at the end of the series, and give him and the fans a chance to say goodbye.

 

Marc Rzepczynski: Scrabble has been the Mariners go-to lefty out of the bullpen for reasons known only to Scott Servais. Rzepczynski is brought on to face lefty batters, and quite often fails at his one job. His ERA is 9.00, his WHIP is a staggering 2.400. He has pitched only five total innings in 2018 in 11 appearances, not unusual for a pitcher who is usually brought in only to face a batter or two. This season, he has faced 27 batters, and gotten 15 of them out, for a .444 OBP. More alarmingly, he really isn’t that good against lefties anyway. A league average hitter slash line is .244/.319/.400. Against Rzepczysnki, left handed hitters are hitting .261/.323/.353, with a .299 WOBA. That is pretty poor for a man who comes in basically only to face one type of hitter.

 

But with James Pazos available to pitch to lefties, it is unusual that the Mariners keep Scrabble on the roster. In 10 ⅔ innings this season, Pazos has a FIP of 3.09, compared to Rzepczynski’s mark of 7.59. Pazos’ HR/FB rate is at 14.3 percent, compared to Scrabble’s 40.0 percent. Granted, it is a small sample size, and I won’t even go as far as to suggest the Mariners DFA their consonant-rich reliever. But Pazos is the better option against tough lefties, and should be given the chance to do so. Scrabble is a decent mop-up relief option, and shouldn’t be entrusted with leads that don’t involve insurance runs. With Wade LeBlanc and Pazos already in the pen, there is no reason to keep watching Rzepczysnki cough up walks and runs

 

Hopes:

 

1.The hitters can sustain their prodigious power numbers over the long haul. The M’s rank fourth in MLB with 36 home runs, and have proven that they have an offense capable of mounting big comebacks, should their pitching falter.

 

  1. The Mariners make the right choice, and call up Heredia. Ichiro gets one last weekend to be adored by M’s fans, and we all move on with our lives.

 

  1. Mike Leake turns it around. Leake has been walking hitters at a career high rate of 2.97/9, and his velocity on his cutter has dropped nearly two miles per hour, while his groundball rate is at a career low of 40.4 percent. If he can revert to the pitcher who turned in five solid starts last September, it would go a long way toward keeping the Mariners pitching staff afloat.

Fears:

  1. Injury: We saw it when Nelson Cruz went down, and Ryon Healy twisted his ankle in the weight room. But the injury bug has been mostly absent the past few weeks. Hopefully that will continue.
  2. First base and Left field become black holes. Ryon Healy and Daniel Vogelbach are not the most dependable of hitters, but both could become productive players. Healy has had a good few days, and has raised his OPS+ to 96. The man hit 25 home runs last year, and if he comes close to that, it’ll be a boon for the M’s. As far as left field, Gamel needs to quit being terrible. After leading the league in hitting for part of 2017, Gamel has been nothing short of awful. After putting up a 127 WRC+ in the first half of 2017, Gamel had a mark of 68 in the second half. Since coming off the DL, Gamel has a slash line of .121/.171/.212, with a WRC+ of ….4, in 35 plate appearances. You read that right. 4.
  3. Mike Zunino regresses: Zunino has been good for most of the past five months of baseball. AFter hitting .251 with 25 home runs last season, Zunino started the year on the DL. And while he is only hitting .182, Zunino already has three home runs and seven RBI’s. Zunino appears to be fixed, thanks to Edgar.
  4. Felix is bad: Felix Hernandez is a bit of an enigma. While he had one objectively terrible start against the Giants, he has had several starts that have been pretty good. He is no longer the King that he once was, but Felix could be a reliable number three level starter. His FIP of 5.36 needs to come down and he needs to be more consistent with his command from start to start.

 

Best of March/April: This one is a tie between Daniel Vogelbach’s VogelBOMB over the Hit It Here Cafe, or Ichiro’s home run robbery. I lean toward Ichiro because of nostalgia, but Vogey’s bomb was impressive, to say the least.

 

Worst: Losing three of four to the Astros, with the pitching staff giving up seven plus runs in two straight games. It’s to be expected against a team as good as Houston, but hopefully that will change later in the season as the Mariners pitching staff figures out how to be good.

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