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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

September 12, 2011 at 9:46 AM

Mariners have gone young, so what to look for next?

Poor Carlos Peguero (Photo Credit: AP) became the poster-child for strikeout-prone Mariners prospects when in the majors in May and June. But as many of you noticed over the weekend, his strikeout rates risk becoming the norm rather than the exception with this current group of M’s.
Anyone who hasn’t been hiding in Upper Volta without an internet connection, or burying themselves in too much Seahawks preview literature, knows the Mariners have gotten a lot younger over the last two months.
But have they gotten better?
Well, not in the won-loss column. They’re well on their way to bottom-five status in MLB and another high-end draft pick. But that doesn’t mean too much, as it’s where most thought they’d be before the season began and when they were a lot older. They were a bad W-L team when older and — given how they actually played .500 ball until July — are now an even worse W-L team when young and inexperienced.
So, tough to judge much off that.
What can we judge on, then? Well, what’s this team’s biggest problem?
You got it. Even the folks in Upper Volta (or, Burkina Faso, if you want to go all modern on me) know by now just how awful the M’s have been hitting-wise the past two seasons. Seattle scored only 513 runs last season, which was the worst of any team in the DH era.
Yesterday, the M’s scored their 500th run of the season.
No, it’s not time to rejoice. The fact that sub-600-run performances are becoming the norm in this town is scary enough. This team won’t contend again until it scores 700 runs or more. Even the extreme case of the San Francisco Giants last season, where a tremendous pitching staff overcame an inept offense, still saw the soon-to-be World Series champs score 697 runs. That team squeaked into the playoffs in a bad division. This year, the Giants have scored even fewer runs than the M’s and have been blown out of the division race by the Diamondbacks, great pitching notwithstanding.
You need some offense to win. Much better than the M’s have put on the field the last two years running. Make that four years running.
So, do you just throw the young kids out there, forgive all in the name of youth, and ignore everything else? Well, you could. Or, if you actually want to judge whether any progress is being made — to have some background when you try to argue for or against any winter upgrades or trade moves — you could see whether any of the current M’s are displaying the traits that good hitters do.
Let’s look at their “control” or “plate discipline” ratios.

There has been much talk this past weekend on the comments threads here, as well as on some other blogs, about the strikeout ratios of many of the M’s. About how some of them are clones of the Carlos Peguero version we all saw in May and June.
That much is true. Many of the younger and older guys strike out a ton.
What are the “control” ratios?
Well, if you remember Moneyball, the Oakland A’s wanted all of their hitters system-wide to draw at least one walk every 10 at-bats. Some teams were doing it before the A’s and many have since copied this approach.
So, that’s the walks-to-at-bats (BB/AB) ratio — 1:10. You want 10 percent or more.
Then, there is the walks-to-strikeouts (BB/K) ratio. How many walks should you be drawing for every time you whiff? The good hitters try to keep this at 1:2. So, at 50 percent or better.
Finally, you have the one we’ve all seen discussed this past weekend. The strikeouts-to-at-bats (K/AB) ratio. Generally, the good hitters try to limit this to 1:5. No more than a 20 percent strikeout rate.
Do all three things well, plus throw some power in there and you’ve got the makings of a real good hitter.
So, how many M’s are scoring well at all three?
Well, there’s, um…um…Dustin Ackley.
Yes, indeed, once again, the consensus No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft is looking every bit the part of the best hitter on the team.
BB/AB: 11.5 percent
BB/K: 60.3 percent
K/AB: 18.5 percent
In all three categories, Ackley has the look of a patient hitter who doesn’t go chasing bad pitches. This should come as no surprise, since it’s what he did in college and why every scout and GM from here to Ouagadougou, or even Bavasi-land would have taken Ackley in the draft if Stephen Strasburg was not available, which is indeed what happened. So, good for the M’s that they picked second.
So, who else?
Well, that’s it. The next closest to Ackley on the team at hitting all three categories is backup infielder Luis Rodriguez.
BB/AB: 12 percent
BB/K: 86.6 percent
K/AB: 13.9 percent
You can see some of why the M’s like this guy so much. Keep in mind the limited sampling of only 108 plate appearances, but Rodriguez career-wise has always been a good contact hitter who takes his walks while limiting his whiffs.
How about regular players?
Well, there’s Ichiro, who does what he does every year by not striking out and not walking. He’s in a class by himself and not about to change and we’ve already gone over ad nauseum the stuff he needs to bring to the table next year to be more productive when the season begins.
As far as guys who can reach the “good” ratios in all three categories, Justin Smoak comes close.
BB/AB — 11.1 percent
BB/K — 52 percent
K/AB — 21.4 percent
So, there you have it. Cut down just a tad on the strikeouts and Smoak has the makings of a good major league hitter, even with his well-documented struggles at the major league level.
OK, then, what about August Rookie of the Month Mike Carp?
BB/AB: 6.9 percent
BB/K: 33 percent
K/AB: 28.5 percent
Missed on all three.
How about the other young-guy prospects to have come up since Aug. 1?
Kyle Seager, Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson are all struggling to hit the three mileposts. Seager is the closest to getting his strikeout ratio below 20 percent, but not quite there. Wells and Robinson are both well over 30 percent in strikeout ratios and none of the three is all that close to a 10 percent walk rate.
But this is their first foray into the majors. Is there hope? Let’s look at what they did in the minor leagues.
BB/AB — 11.9 percent
BB/K — 78.8 percent
K/AB — 15.1 percent
As a minor leaguer, Seager hit the Trifecta. Keep in mind, he barely had any time at AAA, so we don’t know the impact a full season there might have had on his minor league numbers. We do know he has yet to maintain those numbers in the majors. So, we’ll see.
BB/AB — 10.6 percent
BB/K — 37.2 percent
K/AB — 28.4 percent
Wells was drawing more walks in his minor league seasons, but also struck out a bunch. Nothing he’s shown in the majors thus far rates as much of a surprise.
BB/AB — 11 percent
BB/K — 38.5 percent
K/AB — 28.6 percent
Same as with Wells, the minor league numbers “predicted” what you’d get with Robinson at the major league level.
How about the minor league numbers for Carp?
BB/AB: 12.1 percent
BB/K: 53.6 percent
K/AB: 22.7 percent
As Meatloaf might say, two out of three ain’t so bad, is it? Depends.
Now, can you carry a guy who strikes out big-time? Sure you can, especially if you’re getting on-base-percentage via walks and above average power in that mix, as Carp has displayed at times in the majors and minors. If Carp can keep hitting for power and walk a bit more in the majors like he used to in the minors, the team will live with his strikeout numbers. But there are limits to how many high strikeout, lower walk types can be carried in the same lineup without the whole thing going bust.
M’s manager Eric Wedge keeps preaching at these hitters to be more selective in what they swing at and to not miss the hittable stuff. We’ve seen a fair degree of both take place all season long, but Wedge keeps insisting he’s seen signs of progress and that, at some point, it’s all going to pay off “overnight” for some folks. But for him, the implication goes, he’ll have seen the hard work going on behind the scenes.
Fair enough.
But Wedge also seems to be the type of guy — which I’m gleaning from my conversations with him — who believes there are limits to how much you can teach a guy to improve in certain areas. If you’re not naturally inclined to plate patience, for instance, you’re not going to turn a 7 percent walk rate into 11 percent.
And Wedge doesn’t appear too concerned about that as he goes about drilling the M’s on not letting hittable pitches go by without swinging at them. He appears to be going about trying to bring out the hitter in these hitters while hoping the other ratios fall more into line by them not swinging at the unhittable stuff.
Doesn’t mean he’ll ever get the majority of his hitters to fall into the desired levels of all three categories. Just make them tolerable enough.
In the end, it isn’t Wedge’s job to make sure the lineup is rounded out with the type of hitters not prone to being gaping holes. That task falls on GM Jack Zduriencik. This winter, when Zduriencik heads off to the winter meetings in Dallas, he’ll need to have a grasp on which hitters are likely to achieve — or overcome — their minor league numbers and improve to the point where they’ll be good enough in the bigs. And on which hitters will continue to pile up strikeouts without the walks or above average power numbers to compensate.
And if he doesn’t find that balance? Well, then, the whole “playing the kids” thing will likely get old for both the M’s and their fans real quick.



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