Organizational Impacts: Seattle Mariners

A new offseason feature here at FB365 will be a series called “Organizational Impacts”. Each article will focus on one organization, it’s stars, it’s sleepers and busts as well as potential impact prospects. Instead of strictly breaking down individual players, I’ll also be looking at influences like lineup construction, defense (for pitchers) and bullpen strength. We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up to the World Series champs.

Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki runs to first in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at SAFECO Field in Seattle on September 19, 2010. Suzuki grounded out to the Rangers third baseman Michael Young. The Mariners beat the Rangers 2-1.  UPI Photo/Jim Bryant. Photo via Newscom

The Mariners had a poor offense in 2010. OK, poor is an understatement. They were horrible, hitting .236/.298/.339 with a league worst 513 runs scored and 101 home runs. As a result, roto studs like Ichiro and Felix Hernandez suffered. Ichiro scored a career low 74 runs in 2010 and Felix Hernandez won only 13 games. What changes could bring more success to the Pacific Northwest in 2011?

Lineup

As stated, Ichiro was hurt by the lineup behind him. One of the most disappointing parts of that lineup was newcomer Chone Figgins. Figgins who hit .259/.340/.306 with only 62 runs scored after hitting .298/.395/.393 with 114 runs scored in his last season with the Angels. His AVG and SLG were both career worsts. On the bright side, Figgins did steal 42 bases and hit line drives in about 20 percent of his at bats, so there is hope for a better 2011. Figgins really struggled out of the gates in 2010 (.235/.332/.276 pre-all-star break), but did show some improvement as the season went along, hitting .286/349/.339 post-all-star break. Still, one has to wonder if the 33-year-old (in 2011) has begun to decline. I’d be willing to bet on a bounce-back in 2011, but nothing close to his 2009 numbers.

Aside from Figgins, the 2010 Mariners saw regressions from center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, third baseman Jose Lopez and a lost season from left fielder Milton Bradley

July 29, 2010 - Chicago, ILLINOIS, UNITED STATES - epa02266472 Seattle Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez moves into position to field a base hit off Chicago White Sox infielder Omar Vizquel in the first inning of their Major League Baseball game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois, USA 29 July 2010.

Gutierrez was coming off of his best major league season and put up some productive numbers with 12 home runs and 25 stolen bases, but a regression in AVG from .283 to .245 killed his fantasy value. While a top prospect in the Indians’ system, Gutierrez showed upside for some 20/20 seasons. However, after putting up such a good season in 2009, Gutierrez regressed in his approach at the plate. He swung at more bad pitches and made contact less frequently, which led to more strikeouts. There is a decent chance he can bounce-back in 2010, given that he’ll still only be 28 years old, but he’ll have to increase his line drive rate to do so.

After hitting .272 with 25 home runs in 2009, Jose Lopez regressed big-time to the tune of a .239 AVG with only 10 dingers. Lopez has a weird combination of excellent contact skills and horrible plate discipline that make his projections extremely volatile and his results greatly dependent upon his BABIP. In 2010, Lopez made contact on nearly 80 percent of pitches he swung at that were considered outside of the strike-zone. While such contact ability keeps his strikeouts low, it also leads to some very poorly hit balls in play. According to data from TexasLeaguers.com, over 23 percent of Lopez’s ground balls became outs (43 percent ground ball rate), which was a huge spike from his 2009 ground out number of just over 11 percent. The Mariners have already declined Lopez’s $4.5M 2011 option, so it remains to be seen if he’ll even be back with the team. Should he get a shot somewhere else, away from Safeco, he could regain some value as a solid defensive third baseman that can pop around 15-20 home runs.

One of the biggest impacts to the 2011 Mariners’ lineup will be the young first baseman Justin Smoak. FB365 went in depth on Smoak here.

While there is a lot of offseason to go, it is clear that the Mariners still have a lot of work to do with their offense if players like Ichiro and Figgins are going to see higher runs scored totals. 

Michael Saunderswas a decent prospect, but is an extreme swing and miss hitter that isn’t likely to hit for AVG at the big league level. There is a chance that he could pop around 20 home runs and steal around 15 bases in a full season, but those numbers would come along with extremely prolonged slumps and an overall low AVG.

Rotation
Seattle Mariners starter Felix Hernandez pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the inning at SAFECO Field in Seattle on June 21, 2009. The Mariners beat the Diamondbacks 3-2. Hernandez struck out eight and gave up just six hits and has a 1.00 ERA in his last six starts. (UPI Photo/Jim Bryant) Photo via Newscom

Felix Hernandez is clearly a fantasy stud, but the rest of the staff from 2010 looks more like fodder for the waiver wire. 

Jason Vargas posted a decent 3.78 ERA in 2010, but his xFIP was over a run higher than his ERA and he only provided 116 strikeouts in 192.2 innings pitched. He doesn’t miss many bats and is a career fly ball pitcher, so the risk going forward is considerable.

Doug Fisterhelped fantasy teams for a period during the 2010 season, but ultimately ended with an ERA over four. He is even more of a contact oriented pitcher than Vargas and saw a big drop in HR/FB rate last season, which helped his overall numbers. Even more so than Vargas, Fister is a risky pitcher going forward.

The only other rotational impacts are likely to come from the farm system (see below).

Bullpen
David Aardsmaregressed significantly in 2010 after a career year in 2009. His walk rates remain uncomfortably high and should continue to make him a risk going forward. The same can be said for Brandon League, who came to the Mariners in the Brandon Morrowdeal. League gets a ton of ground balls, but misses his spots too often, leading to problems with home runs. 

Shawn Kelley posted an excellent 4.56 K/BB rate in 2009, but suffered from elbow problems in 2010, which led to a loss in command as well as surgery that could keep him out for a portion of 2011.

The bottom line here is that the bullpen has a little more upside in 2011, but still will hurt the starting rotation with some frequency.

Defense
Franklin Gutierrez is a great defender in center and Ichiro is well above average in right, but left-field is up in the air at the moment. This defense should continue to play well with the expansive outfield dimensions and help fly ball pitchers a bit in 2011.

A healthy Jack Wilsonat shortstop would help the infield defense. At some point in 2011, whether it be opening day or sometime in May, we are going to see Dustin Ackley with the Mariners. His offensive potential is one thing, but his defense at second base has drawn poor reviews from scouts. The Mariners may be willing to overlook this just to get his bat into a lineup in desperate need of help — The Mariners were dead last in the American League in both AVG and OBP in 2010, both categories Ackley projects to excel in — and his positioning at second would move Chone Figgins to third, where he posted a 16.6 UZR in 2009 with the Angels. Justin Smoak is considered an average to above average defender at first.

Assuming Dustin Ackley plays a significant portion of the season at second, the entire infield other than second, should play a positive role in aiding the pitching staff in 2011.

Prospects
While top prospect Dustin Ackleystruggled in his first professional assignment at double-A in 2010, many thought it was too aggressive to put him there in the first place. Ackley went on to tear the cover off the ball in the Arizona Fall League, earning the league MVP honor. While his showing in the AFL is encouraging, we have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. As a second baseman, Ackley could have immediate fantasy impact with the ability to hit for both AVG and OBP. His power game, however, may take several years to develop and in the end he may be more of a 10-15 home run bat than a 20 home run bat.

Michael Pinedamissed a lot of time in 2009 with elbow issues, but was healthy in 2010 and dominated in stops at both Double-A and Triple-A. He has posted a minor league career 9.25 K/9 and 2.08 BB/9, a great combination of strikeout potential and command. The only knock against his arsenal is a changeup that needs significant work. The lack of a good changeup may cause him to struggle some against left-handed hitters. Still, is sleeper potential is significant enough to warrant a flier on draft day 2011. He doesn’t exactly have a lot of competition to fight off at the moment. 

Right hander Dan Cortes was transitioned to a bullpen role late in 2010 after vast inconsistencies in performance as a starter. In the pen, Cortes was able to lower his walk rate while posting good strikeout numbers. Pure stuff wise, he has the potential to be a future closer with an upper 90′s fastball and a slider/curve combo.

Summation
The Mariners had a horrific 2010 season offensively. While there is some bounce-back potential in hitters like Franklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins, the biggest impact will come from young first base slugger Justin Smoak. If Smoak can have a breakout or even semi-breakout year, players like Ichiro and Figgins will see better numbers in the runs category. Dustin Ackley should find his way to the majors at some point in 2011, perhaps even making the opening day roster, but his impact will likely be relegated to AVG or for leagues that use OBP.

The rotation is anchored by a stud in Felix Hernandez, but there is significant risk in the rest of the rotation. If top pitching prospect Michael Pineda makes the 2011 rotation, he could end up being the team’s second best starter. 

There is no one bullpen arm that can be trusted as a sure-fire fantasy value, but keep tabs on Dan Cortes’s progression as a bullpen arm, as his stuff is closer worthy.

The defense should help the pitching staff overall, but the problem lies more in the lack of upside in the rotation itself.

The Mariners 2011 team should improve offensively, but their pitching, outside of a few bright spots, leaves much to be desired.

Other Organizational Impact Articles: Pirates