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March 27, 2013 at 7:21 AM

Why this Mariners power display appears to be legitimate

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Everywhere I go, folks ask the same question. On radio, TV, this blog and on Twitter and Facebook. Is what we’ve seen power-wise from the Mariners this spring legitimate? The Mariners, after that monster home run yesterday over the batter’s eye in dead center by Michael Morse (video above) now have a franchise record 54 home runs in Cactus League play.

And yes, I do think we’re about to see a carry-over to the regular season. No, the Mariners won’t hit 54 home runs the first five weeks of the regular season. But they have a chance to do something no Mariners club has since 1997 back in the Kingdome era.

This year’s Mariners, by my count, have six of nine regulars capable of hitting 20 or more home runs this season. Not because I’m guessing at some wild statistical progression. No, I’m basing that call on the reality of what most of the players have already done and the assumption that one of them can up his homer game slightly by the mere fact of the fences at Safeco Field moving in by up to 17 feet in left-center.

The last time the Mariners had six 20-homer guys in their lineup? Back in 1997, when Ken Griffey Jr. (56), Jay Buhner (40), Alex Rodriguez (23), Edgar Martinez (28), Paul Sorrento (31) and Russ Davis (20) each turned the trick and the Mariners went on to win the AL West. Now, home runs alone won’t win a division title or even a wild-card spot. But hey, having some long ball power spread throughout your lineup is a good start and then hopefully, you’ve got some on-base and doubles ability to go with so that your OPS looks OK as well.

Will the Mariners average the .839 OPS or 119 OPS+ that the 1997 Mariners did in clubbing an astounding 264 homers? Highly doubt it.

But like I said, this club has six regulars with legit shots at 20-homer seasons.

Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales have both hit 30+ before when healthy. Kyle Seager already hit 20 last year. Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak each hit 19. And Jesus Montero hit 15 last season at age 22 with the Safeco Field fences still back at their normal cavernous distance in left and left center — where the majority of Montero’s fly balls go. Montero hit nine homers on the road and only six at home despite playing more Safeco Field games than he appeared in elsewhere. So, yes, I think five more homers would be expected from him at a minimum.

That’s your six.

I’m not picking Franklin Gutierrez for 20 because of his history of not staying healthy. If he does stay healthy, he’s probably got a shot based on his history, the moved-in fences and some of his swings in spring training but we’re a long way from that.

And then, there’s Raul Ibanez, who hit 18 homers last year in his scaled-back role with the Yankees. Yes, he was helped by the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium, but then again, Ibanez has never needed much help going deep at Safeco Field and with the chance now for some opposite-field blasts, he has a remote shot at 20 if he’s given similar playing time as he got last year.

So, yeah, between Gutierrez and Ibanez, there’s an outside shot the Mariners could even better the 1997 team at spreading around at least 20-homer power.

I don’t see anybody replicating what Griffey and Buhner did back then. But hey, that was also a different era. You just don’t see 30-homer and 40-homer power all that often anymore and there certainly aren’t any 50-homer types floating around anymore. That’s a bygone era. In this day and age, 20-homer power is viewed as something to be pleased about in baseball.

So, yes, I do think the power we’re seeing from the Mariners this spring is legitimate because they do have a bunch of guys with the chance for 20-homer power up-and-down their lineup. They had one guy last year do it, but now could see a half-dozen accomplish that decent milestone — and maybe even seven or eight.

This spring homer surge has come from guys who have made a habit out of hitting the ball over the fence when the games count for real. These aren’t some flash-in-the-plan Class AAAA types doing it.

It won’t guarantee anything. But if you’re an opposing pitcher, it gives you a heck of a lot more to worry about one-through-nine than you’ve had to in a long, long time with this ballclub. And yeah, I do expect it to make a difference in the quality of play we get to watch this season.


Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: michael morse; home runs; ken griffey jr.; jay buhner


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