Dipoto = Mediocre Bargain Shopper, Good Farmer

"SEATTLE,

It’s been an interesting year for Mariners baseball. A two-month opening sprint was followed by a typical-Mariner meltdown, with the team now working itself back to relevance.

If we want to evaluate Dipoto’s work thus far, it’s even more interesting.

Because, that whole torrent of trades and free agent signings he made? Mostly meh. Have a look:

Nate Karns = Meh.
Joaquin Benoit = Bad.
Leonys Martin = Great.
Luis Sardinas = Meh.
Chris Iannetta = Kinda Good, Then Meh.
Steve Clevenger = Meh.
Nori Aoki = Half Bad, Half Meh.
Wade Miley = Bad.
Adam Lind = Meh. (I mean, Bad, but those walk offs….)
Steve Cishek = Meh.
Dae Ho Lee = Fun, but Meh.
Guillermo Heredia = Good.
Nick Vincent = Decent.

Dipoto gave a compelling presentation about how he’d transform the roster: More athletic in the outfield, get on-base, throw more strikes, swing at fewer balls….. And his team has shown improvement in these categories, mostly.

But those improvements didn’t come from his acquisition frenzy. With the exception of Leonys Martin, it’s tough to find any dramatic contributions from this group of players.

That’s not to say I dislike any of the moves. Surely, in retrospect, you’d love to take back the Carson Smith trade. But Dipoto did what seemed best at the time. And he’s right about not judging each trade individually—instead, look at the whole picture.

I guess the truth is, when you go bargain hunting, you end up with a bunch of mediocre shit.

Yes But, Look Who Is Contributing

In addition to a Mariners farm system that is winning many ballgames, the player development also seems to be much improved. The Mariners draft was highly regarded, as well.

But the story of these 4 players makes me most happy:

Mike Zunino

So he went to the minors and learned plate discipline. His contact rate is the same, and his swing is a bit cleaner. But, heaven be damned, Zunino is not chasing poor pitches. And the early results are staggering.

Mike Zunino will be a very, very good baseball player if he keeps this up.

James Paxton

They simplified his mechanics, lowered his arm slot. He then hit 100 mph and found consistency.

Like Zunino, Paxton is playing to his potential, and oh is it refreshing to see.

Edwin Diaz

Take a kid out of AA, and two months later, he becomes an absolutely sensational closer? Yeah, that’s what professional talent evaluation looks like.

Shawn O’Malley

Finally, watching Shawn O’Malley step up his game is wonderful. I have no idea who deserves credit. Just him? The coaches? The culture? The weather?

Dipoto seems to be maximizing talent already controlled by Seattle. (Under the Zduriencik regime, this wasn’t usually the case.) It’s great to see, and it seems to be the engine for most of this team’s 2016 success.

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Are the Mariners In on Yasiel Puig?

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As the trade deadline rumors swirl, this one caught my interest:

Yasiel Puig is a bizarre case. His raw skills are undeniable. He produced a spectacular rookie season, followed by a fine sophomore season. And then he struggled. And he’s still struggling, two years later.

Puig is in midst of a contract that once appeared excellent. If he were acquired, he’d cost his new team $8 million in 2017 and $9 million in 2018. Plus, he’d be subject to arbitration in 2019, then released to free agency in 2020.

He wouldn’t need to be a superstar to be worth his contract. As a good defensive player with a great arm, he also offers the “athleticism” that Jerry Dipoto desires in the Safeco meadows.

But there’s another equation of Puig that can’t be ignored: His behavioral issues.

Puig’s clubhouse presence could be a deal-breaker for the “culture” conscious Dipoto and Servais philosophy. However, with 3 other alpha Latinos on the Mariners squad—Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and Nelson Cruz (not to mention fellow Cuban Leonys Martin)—you have to wonder if perhaps Seattle is just the destination that could help Puig.

Even more interesting is the Edgar Martinez angle…. Could Edgar help get Puig back to what he did in 2014 and 2015?

Puig seems like a gamble worth taking….. Do you agree?

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The Mariners Should Sign Jimmy Rollins

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37 year old veteran Jimmy Rollins was DFA’d by the White Sox today. They made a questionable move by promoting homegrown prospect Tim Anderson, who has a 3% walk rate in AAA combined with a 23% strikeout rate. My crystal ball says he won’t be an immediate offensive upgrade.

Rollins, with a current .221/.295/.329 slash, should be an acceptable backup shortstop/utility-infielder wherever he lands. His defense, by all accounts, is still good.

If those offensive numbers don’t look pretty to you, let’s review the Mariners current 3 utility infielders 2016 MLB showings:

Luis Sardinas: .190/.215/.286

Shawn O’Malley: .179/.200/.256

Chris Taylor: Yeah um, he played one game, made 2 errors, and went back to Tacoma.

When we look at “Control the Zone” numbers, things get even less pretty:

Sardinas = 1.5% walks / 31.8% strikeouts

O’Malley = 2.5% walks / 37.5% strikeouts

Yes, small sample, but gulp.

Jimmy Rollins, meanwhile, has 9.6% walks and 19.9% strikeouts. He’s also stolen 5 bags while being caught twice.

There’s no denying that Rollins is in his decline. He isn’t a starter anymore. But Seattle could make fine use of him in a bench role, which would allow Sardinas time to improve offensively in Tacoma, and would shift O’Malley/Taylor further down the depth chart.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

2016 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects: #1 Alex Jackson

2016 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects: #1 Alex Jackson

Jerry Dipoto takes over a system known for churning out disappointment after disappointment. 2016 will be a telling year for how the newest incumbent manages his farm system.

1. Alex Jackson, OF, 20, A-/A

Jackson was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft. Touted as having the highest upside of any prep hitter, expectations were certainly great for the California native going into his first full season of professional ball. Which is why the season he had ended up being such a huge disappointment. Jackson started the year in Single-A Clinton, where he hit .157/.240/.213 with a 28% strikeout rate in 121 plate appearances. After being demoted to Single-A Short Season Everett, he posted an impressive .390 wOBA, mostly thanks to his eight home runs, but his strikeout rate still grew to 31%. Highly unexpected results from someone thought to be the most advanced hitter in the draft.

But here is still reason to have hope for Jackson’s return to elite status. His bat speed is incredible and he is able to get quality extension from his swing path, spraying line drives all over the field. He has a thick frame giving him solid raw power and a future in the middle of the order. Defensively, Jackson should be solid. His range is not outstanding, but he gets decent jumps and has a cannon for an arm, making him an easy right field candidate for the foreseeable future. The remainder of the 2016 season will be a major key for him, as his former top ten pick status will start to wear thin on scouts if results continue to elude him.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

2016 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects: #2 Edwin Diaz

2016 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects: #2 Edwin Diaz

Jerry Dipoto takes over a system known for churning out disappointment after disappointment. 2016 will be a telling year for how the newest incumbent manages his farm system.

2. Edwin Diaz, RHP, 22, AA

When making these rankings back in February (yikes this has taken longer than usual), Diaz was coming off a so-so year in Double-A as a starting pitcher. His arm was still live but inconsistencies in 104 innings left him with a 4.57 ERA. Through May 6th of this year, Diaz had started 6 games to the tune of a 3.10 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 11.79 K/9, and 1.55 BB/9. The 22-year-old seemed destined to make a move to Triple-A, but instead Jerry Dipoto and the Mariner’s brass decided on a new path, moving Diaz to the bullpen.

Since converting him to the bullpen on May 10th, Diaz has been even more dominate, not allowing a single run while striking out 12.34 per 9 and walking just 1.54 per 9. Batters hit .077 against him. This dominance over Double-A hitters earned him a promotion to the Big Leagues earlier this week, and he should make his Major League debut in the upcoming series against Cleveland.

Diaz’s electric stuff is even nastier in short stints when he doesn’t have to worry about saving his arm for six innings at a time. Even with his still projectable, lanky frame, Diaz can easily touch 98 with his fastball, coupling it with a nasty wipeout slider that keeps hitters off balance with it’s late break. His changeup was improving to average, but with the move to the pen he may scrap it altogether.

The biggest issue with Diaz was repeating his delivery, but now out of the pen it becomes less of an issue. Essentially, by moving to a relief role, Diaz can just go out and throw without worrying about stamina or consistency. While it would have been fun to see Diaz hit his potential as a third or fourth starter, a lights out bullpen ace is a more attainable ceiling, and one more essential to the Mariner’s success in the near future.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

2016 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects: #3 Boog Powell

2016 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects: #3 Boog Powell

Jerry Dipoto takes over a system known for churning out disappointment after disappointment. 2016 will be a telling year for how the newest incumbent manages his farm system.

3. Boog Powell, OF, 23, AA/AAA

 

Boog was acquired by Jerry Dipoto this past winter in the same deal that brought in Nathan Karns and marooned Logan Morrison and Brad Miller in St. Pete. And while the trade centered around the acquisition of starting pitching depth, Powell very well may one day be the ultimate prize in the deal. In 274 plate appearances at Double-A, the Hall of Famer’s namesake hit .328/.408/.416 with a 10% walk rate and 13% strikeout rate. His wOBA of .388 and wRC+ of 139 are incredible against the cream of the crop pitching prospects of Double-A. Between both Double-A and Triple-A, Powell hit an impressive .295/.385/.392 with 18 stolen bases in 522 plate appearances.

Powell is so successful due to his ability to spray line drives all over the diamond, using the opposite field to his advantage in a mature approach rarely seen at his level. His short, compact swing and outstanding patience make his floor possibly the highest in the system, and a near lock to be a year round MLB player for years to come.

But just being on the roster is not enough. His lack of strength and raw power limit his impact at the plate. And while he is quite fast, Boog does not always get great jumps, keeping him from being a true threat on the bases as catcher’s arms improve and pitchers get better at holding runners close.

Defensively, his arm is average at best, limiting him to left or center, though his range is not elite, making him a likely candidate for left field in the long term in a system with so many outstanding defensive centerfielders.

Christopher Crawford at Baseball Prospectus calls him a poor man’s Brett Gardner. Maybe this isn’t all that endearing, but there is something to be said for someone who refuses to get himself out at the plate, and is versatile enough to make the team just based on his makeup alone. His performance this year and next will likely determine whether or not Boog can be an everyday player or a reliable fourth outfielder. Either way, it’s hard to imagine a future in which Powell is not consistently on a Major League roster.

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Are the Mariners Fracturing?

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It’s been a great two months of Mariners baseball. But if you aren’t feeling a bit nervous, you aren’t paying attention.

Reason #1: Starting Pitching is Struggling

Before Felix Hernandez went onto the DL, he was rarely looking himself. His strikeouts were way down, and his walks were way up. His fastball was seldom seen. His off-speed stuff did keep hitters from making hard contact, which kept his ERA in shape. But his FIP and xFIP were at career-highs.

Hisashi Iwakuma has struggled with similar issues. His strikeouts are down, and walks are up, his FIP and xFIP at career-highs.

Wade Miley has made some miserable starts and some beautiful ones. But yes, his FIP and xFIP (and  ERA) are at career-highs.

Taijuan Walker was impressive to start the season, but slipped in his past handful of starts. After tonight’s poor performance, his FIP and xFIP are at career-highs. (Albeit not by much.)

And finally Nate Karns. Take a deep breath. His FIP, xFIP, and ERA are at career-lows. (Albeit not by much either.)

We’ll hold off with commentary for James Paxton. Let’s see him pitch a few more games.

While plenty of us still like the arms in this rotation, it’s a bit concerning to see the difficulties. You could make the case that regression-to-the-mean would predict better results going forward. Which hey, for a team that carries a 31-23 record, that’s pretty awesome news. But worries about Felix and Kuma—who both have high mileage on their arms—is hard to escape.

Reason #2: Losing to Bad Teams

When your pitching gets blasted, you expect it to come from heavyweight lineups. The Red Sox, the Cubs, the Cardinals. And yes I know, the worst team can beat the best team on any given night. Even three nights in a row! But man, getting lit up by the Twins and Padres? Ouch. (Nevermind getting swept by the Angels and Athletics previously.)

I’m not saying let’s discount the M’s because they played some ugly baseball against bad teams. But I am saying that good teams play consistent baseball and don’t make fools of themselves, even when they lose. I sure hope I’m not the only one scratching my head, wondering what happened. Chalking everything up to “that’s just baseball” can’t be the whole story.

Reason #3: Injuries

Losing Leonys Martin and Ketel Marte—even if for relatively short stints—is terrifying. Martin himself has been as valuable as Robinson Cano and/or Kyle Seager. The elite defense up the middle is vital to this team’s run prevention success. While these Mariners can likely handle a stretch without some key starters, we shouldn’t forget how quickly things can go south when injuries haunt a team. (Especially when their replacements become—ahem— Nori Aoki in centerfield.)

 

All that said, I still don’t think this team is “fracturing”. They’ve proven to be able to win consistently, by having different players step up on any given night. Their core hitters of Cano-Cruz-Seager are destroying baseballs. Adam Lind and Dae Ho Lee have become a tandem-force at first base. And the bullpen has done its job on most nights.

Plus, altogether, this team has a .335 OBP…. I mean, the Mariners. With an excellent team-wide OBP. Pinch me!

There’s no doubt that this is the best Mariners team in over a decade. And this season has fun written all over it.

But do we have what it takes to overcome the Texas Rangers? Seeing Yu Darvish back in action makes me sick thinking about it. The Rangers have many good things going for them, and the Mariners will need every ounce of good fortune to beat them.

So while we’ve all been impressed so far, the ground feels like it’s shifting. Things need to turn around quickly—like hey stop giving up dozens of runs to the Padres or being swept by the Twins—lest we’ll find ourselves watching Texas run away with the division.

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