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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 14, 2013 at 2:25 PM

With shortstop non-production, Mariners essentially fielding National League lineup in American League

Photo by Associated Press

Photo by Associated Press

Here is today’s Mariners minor-league report.

I admit I’m a little surprised that the Mariners didn’t make a move at shortstop before heading out on this nine-game roadtrip. After all, Brendan Ryan has dipped to .122 and doesn’t yet have a hit in the month of May. Robert Andino’s average is down to .159; he has one hit in May. For the Mariners, shortstop is a position that has become virtually a non-entity on offense.

How much of a non-entity? Glad you asked.  Here are the combined statistics of Mariners shortstops this season:

38 games, 116 at bats, 6 runs, 13 hits, 0 doubles, 0 triples, 0 home runs, 13 total bases, six RBIs, .112 average, .194 on-base percentage, .112 slugging percentage, .306 OPS.

Now, here are the statistics for National League pitchers so far this season, averaged out for all 15 NL teams:

38 games, 70 at-bats, 4 runs, 9 hits, 0 doubles, 0 triples, 0  home runs, 12 total bases, 3 RBIs, .126 average, .156 on-base percentage, .168 slugging percentage, .324 OPS

The Mariners are getting slightly less production from their shortstops than NL teams are getting from their pitchers. So, even though the M’s have the benefit of a designated hitter, they are essentially still burdened with having a pitcher in their lineup, same as National League teams.

To see what the Mariners are missing, vis a vis other AL teams, here’s a look at the average shortstop production in the American League:

37 games, 137 at-bats, 16 runs, 35 hits, 7 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers, 51 total bases, 14 RBIs, .253 average, .307 on-base percentage, .368 slugging percentage, .675 OPS.

Not dynamite numbers (keep in mind that the average is brought down by the Mariners themselves), but it’s still fairly significant production falling by the wayside, especially considering the problems the Mariners are having with other spots in the batting order. The fact that the Mariners haven’t yet made a change at shortstop tells me two things:

One, that Eric Wedge and the Mariners brass, really, really values the defense that Ryan provides — as well they should. We all know he’s a wizard with the glove. No argument there, even though Ryan’s UZR numbers are surprisingly mediocre so far this season. Andino, on the other hand, has never been noted for a particularly strong glove, and his defensive stats bear that out. But I think Wedge places a premium on having a guy, like Ryan, who has proven  definitively he can make the routine play, and in fact has a penchant for making spectacular plays. He’s an asset on defense. Which brings us to my second assumption:

That Wedge is not convinced that Nick Franklin, in particular, can provide sufficient defense at shortstop. I find it very interesting that Franklin has started at second base in four of the last five Tacoma games. If they were contemplating a change involving Franklin — who is hitting .339 with a .982 OPS — taking over for Ryan, you’d think they’d have him playing extensively at shortstop. That leaves Carlos Triunfel, who is doing most of the work at shortstop for Tacoma. Triunfel is hitting .308 in the hitter-friendly PCL, but he has walked just six times and struck out 30 times  in 146 at-bats. He also has eight errors in 37 games.

The guy that Wedge and Jack Zduriencik really love — and who this spring seemed to assume the role of “shortstop of the future” — is Brad Miller. He’s been on a hot streak with Double-A Jackson, hitting .353 over his last 10 games to raise his overall average to .298 with five homers and 21 RBIs. Miller has a .392 on-base percentage and .484 slugging percentage for an .875 OPS. But Miller has made nine errors, and he’s never played above Double-A.

The lesson here is that it’s never quite as cut-and-dry as it may seem. The question the Mariners have to ask,  and no doubt have been, is how long they can continue with virtually no offensive production from shortstop. The related question is, would the loss in defense that would accrue from bringing up Franklin or Triunfel be more damaging than whatever gain they would get in production. Right now, they clearly have determined that the answer to the first question is, a little bit longer. And the answer to the second question seems to be yes.

I’ve already stated that I think the time for a change has come, and that I would like to see Franklin get a shot at shortstop, with some time at second base as well. Let’s find out if he can handle the position, and give the Mariners the benefit of what appears to be a dynamic bat. Such a move would also allow Miller to get promoted to Triple-A and accelerate his progress to the majors. Zduriencik has compared Miller’s career path to that of Kyle Seager, and this is about the point at which Seager, in 2011, went from Jackson to Tacoma, en route to Seattle in July. If the determination within the organization is strong that Franklin would be a disaster at shortstop, then bring up Triunfel. It seems amazing to me that they would keep the status quo at a position that hasn’t produced an extra base hit nearly a quarter of the way through the season.

But the Mariners have a different idea. And so for now, until either Ryan and Andino heat up, or a new bat gets a shot, the Mariners will continue to send up the equivalent of a National League pitcher in the shortstop spot.

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