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September 17, 2012 at 10:29 AM

Kyle Seager a good example for how the Mariners want their players to be finishing the season

About a month ago, I wrote on how the final six or seven weeks of the season would tell the Mariners plenty about the conditioning and durability of some of their players. You can remember how, last year, several Mariners regulars faded down the stretch and the team began piling up a dozen strikeouts per game.
Well, here we are one year later and it’s time to see whether there has been any improvement. I think that we can safely say there has been some. For me, the biggest example of this is Kyle Seager.
Going into spring training, I had my doubts Seager would even break camp on the major league roster. He’d been inconsistent during his 2011 call-up with the team and — save for one major weekend tear he went on in Cleveland — his numbers dwindled as the season wore on. After the season, manager Eric Wedge made it a point to tell several young players that their conditioning levels were not where they needed to be and that they had to come back physically stronger in order to get through the rigors of a full 162-game season.
Seager was one of those who took those words to heart. He spent his off-season training at one of those high-performance athletic institutes you see particularly popular amongst football players, but where many elite baseball players have put in sweat work as well. For Seager, it was about becoming more explosive in all facets of his game.
Let’s see how he did down the stretch this season.
1st half: .243/.306/.420
2nd half: .276/.332/.421
If you thought Seager was the team’s best position player in the first half, he’s done nothing since to dissuade you from that opinion.
This is more of what the team needs. But there’s a reason the Mariners now are not striking out in double-figures every single game and why they seem to at least be able to keep most contests interesting, even if they can’t regularly beat winning clubs yet. For me, this is a much bigger sign of improvement than an inflated won-lost record in the second half based on beating up on clubs like the Twins, Indians, or a Red Sox squad that Bobby Valentine just called: “the weakest roster we’ve ever had in September in the history of baseball.”
I know many fans don’t want to hear about weak opposition. But I’m not here to write what they want to hear. There are political blogs all over the country that can tailor the news around personal preferences. This isn’t one of them.
You won’t hear this from team PR sites, but won-loss records mean next-to-nothing nothing for teams already out of a race. And in the case of the Mariners, they’ve been out of the race since June. You can go back to when the Rays were an awful franchise and find evidence of strong stretches in the second half — much of it against good teams — that led to zero carry-over the following April.
You will tell much more about the progress of a team based on the types of games it plays this time of year and how its individual future pieces are developing.
So, in Seager’s case, there has been clear development. Seager has proved he can be a good major league starting position player over a full season. One year ago, that much was not in evidence.
Photo Credit: AP

Moving on, we come to Jesus Montero and he’s another player who is now finishing strong.
1st half: .245/.281/.376
2nd half: .293/.333/.431
Montero is running a September slash line of .351/.375/.432, so he obviously is not fading.
Which is good, because his .233/.247/.378 month of August — facing primarily the sad sack opponents previously mentioned, really had me worried. Unlike Seager, there is still plenty of volatility in Montero’s stats and much of his second-half slash line is being fueled by his two-week September surge.
But still, this is his rookie season. At age 22, you’d much rather see him getting better in September than worse. He has stepped up his numbers against right-handed pitching as well, which is critical to his development. He’s going to be facing righties three quarters of the time, so if he can’t hit them, he can’t be counted on as a full-time piece.
So far, I like the way he’s finishing.
On to Michael Saunders, who has also had one of the better seasons among Seattle’s young pieces. Overall, the fact that Saunders has remained a full-time player is a positive because we’d all but given up hope of that happening after some of his MLB performances from 2009-2011.
Saunders overall has put together a decent season for a center fielder. If he’s to be a corner outfielder full-time, however, he’ll probably need to boost his numbers from an overall slash line of .249/.305/.425.
It doesn’t matter what other left fielders are doing around the game. That’s not always the best way to measure what a good fit is for the Mariners and is a common analytical mistake made by people who use that reasoning to say Seager will remain a full-time third baseman in Seattle.
Seager may very well stick at third for the M’s. But the fact that he rates top-five in OPS among other AL third basemen should have nothing to do with it.
The other third basemen Seager is being rated with don’t play for the worst offensive team in the AL three years running. Seager should be judged as a full-time third baseman based on how that helps the Mariners improve their offense long term, not off what any particular year’s crop of guys is doing for other teams. Perhaps the Mariners see a long-term third base fit from within or outside the organization who can eventually produce better numbers than Seager.
If that’s the case, you don’t limit your possibilities by restricting your moves based on a false field of competition. A team with, say, a second baseman with an OPS on .820 can afford a third baseman with a .750. And so on. You have to look at the diamond as a whole as where it is often easiest to upgrade.
Same with Saunders.
Yeah, his numbers could be passable as a left fielder on some other team. But the worst offensive team in the AL might feel that one of the quicker ways to get better is to bring in a bat from elsewhere capable of hitting for a higher OPS than .730 while playing good defense as well.
Again, too, you can’t trust yearly advanced defensive metrics. They have to be looked at over a series of several years and frankly, Saunders hasn’t played enough full-time games to have his metrics accurately gauged. So, in his case, a quick, snappy fWAR computation isn’t going to do the analytical trick. In this case, the offense still has to play a bigger role in the analysis.
His second half numbers are down from pre-All-Star figures.
1st half: .257/.321/.421
2nd half: .237/.278/.429
Saunders, like Montero, is having a big September as well with a slash line of .303/.378/.506.
But the fact his overall numbers are still down since the break shows you there hasn’t been much beyond the two-week September streak. Saunders had a terrible August at .189/.231/.392 which is not enough to keep him as a full-time major league regular.
At this rate, Wedge says he’s seen enough from Saunders to gauge his season — and that was before the road trip, where Saunders popped a homer, a triple and a double.
So, again, are we sold on Saunders as a full-time center fielder or left fielder on a championship level team? We’ll see what the Mariners decide moving forward. At this stage, Saunders has remained a bonafide surprise just getting through an entire season. But his second half downturn does give some reason for pause. For now, he’s insurance in center if Franklin Gutierrez gets hurt again in his 2013 walk year. Beyond that, nothing is certain.
Looking at two other future cornerstones:
Dustin Ackley
1st half: .233/.311/.325
2nd half: .228/.285/.359
Both portions have been equally bad. Not what’s expected from a No. 2 overall pick. The best I can say is that at least he isn’t fading out fast.
Justin Smoak
1st half: .203/.265/.332
2nd half: .190/.275/.333
Not much more to say, is there? Both Smoak and Ackley looked like candidates to be demoted to AAA at the all-star break and while it happened for Smoak, Ackley should probably have joined him.
Smoak was called back up to fill in for injury reasons while Ackley was probably kept here so the Mariners wouldn’t see their .414 winning percentage in the first half tumble any more. The M’s accomplished that goal, of lifting their winning percentage. But as far as development goes, Ackley and Smoak are both a year older than they were last year.
After that, I’ll leave it to the spin doctors. I will say, though, that whatever Seager is doing in the off-season, both Ackley and Smoak should be right there with him. It never ceases to amaze me how some pro athletes don’t do as much to maximize their full physical potential each and every winter with their livelihoods at stake.
In Montero’s case, for instance, the Mariners are having him work on his running this winter. Clearly, that needs work.
Ackley and Smoak could probably use a little physical strength and explosiveness added to their games as well. Both are already strong guys. But this year, that hasn’t been enough. So, whether it’s adding bat speed, or leg strength, or core strength, or whatever, there is room for improvement there.
On Brendan Ryan, knock wood, but he hasn’t gotten hurt yet. His batting average is nowhere near where it needs to be, but his physical stamina — which he worked on this past winter — is holding up to where he’s on the field every night, unlike last year. Considering the alternatives, that’s a good thing for Seattle pitchers.
So, yes, I do see some improvements in this versus what was there a year ago, regardless of the schedule. For me, it’s a bit of a bonus seeing the younger hitters doing well in September, where the schedule has been tougher than it was in August and will only get even more severe from here on in.
By now, we should all know that the Mariners will have to make some upgrades to take this offense places in 2013 and get this team closer to playing .500 ball all year when it can keep fans interested in a wild card race.
Right now, the infield and outfield corners seem the best bet. Seager is the least of their problems at this stage and the only question about him would be whether the team is better served moving him to second base so that a more prototypical power hitter can be installed at third.
For now, you can get by with Seager’s increased power at third if you upgrade in other areas. But it can’t all stay the same. You can’t go into 2013 just hoping for a career year out of all the current players. Not if the past two years of last place finishes while the kids played was supposed to be about learning something.
Not if this team wants to get better.
This season was about finding answers and the Mariners have gotten some. And as I said earlier in this post, some of the answers won’t involve stuff anybody really wanted to hear. But again, people who want only happy answers should go find a political blog they like and read the fake news all day long.
If the idea is for the team to get better, the Mariners can no longer pretend that they need entire seasons to get a read on things. They may still have reservations about one or two players, but you can’t keep taking up season after season waiting on an entire roster unless the waiting is actually the real objective and the end goal is something — TV money? — we haven’t been made aware of. And in some cases, replacing players with better ones won’t always mean cutting the initial player loose. It will just mean bringing in others with better numbers who can challenge the younger players to either get better or move on out. This could have happened last winter, especially in the outfield. Now, we’re on to another off-season.
Because you can make the young players earn their playing time. That’s how the good teams do it. Jack Zduriencik said two years ago that his young players had to understand they are not on scholarship here. And yet, that’s exactly how the M’s have been running things since.
The Mariners are improving. But they are still the worst offense in the AL and won’t be going anyplace in the standings until that changes. They now have some valuable information in front of them.
Let’s see how they run with it.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero


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