Back in spring training of 2012, when the Mariners made the choice to switch Ichiro out of the leadoff spot, he was coming off a season in which he’d posted just a .310 on-base percentage.
We’re now 1 1/2 seasons removed from that call and the Mariners are still abysmal in the leadoff position. Just like their failure to replace Edgar Martinez’s DH production with anything even close to league average in the years that followed, the Mariners’ attrocious leadoff production continues to drag the offense down.
As of today, the team has received a .287 OBP from all of its leadoff contributors.
Going forward? The team has to identify a realistic leadoff candidate. If not, it has to address the issue this off-season unlike last winter, when it failed to do so.
Endy Chavez has received 145 plate appearances in the leadoff spot so far, posting an OBP of .296. Michael Saunders put up the same .296 OBP in 108 plate appearances leading off. Jason Bay has put up a .286 OBP in 56 plate appearances leading off for the first time in his career. Franklin Gutierrez has a .238 OBP in 42 plate appearances.
Clearly, this can’t continue.
For all the talk aout how the Mariners were “saved” by Josh Hamilton not signing with them last winter, the decision not to spend at least some dough on center fielder and leadoff man Michael Bourn looks worse by the day. The Mariners balked at signing Bourn, now posting a .353 OBP for the Cleveland Indians at a price well below what anyone initially thought he’d go for, who some in Seattle even compared to Chone Figgins because of his age and supposed skillset.
Well, Bourn is only 30.
Look who the Mariners have entrusted their leadoff duties this season.
Chavez is 35. Bay is 34. Gutierrez is 30. Saunders is the outlier here, at age 26. He’s also the only one of the bunch likely to be back next season. At least, the only one capable of playing full-time, though even that is up in the air at the moment.
Nothing about Saunders really ever screamed “leadoff hitter”. Sure, he’s got some speed and bunting ability. But his on-base numbers, even last year, were never what you’d expect from a typical leadoff man.
Remember, a .300 OBP is generally the dividing line between a “good” and “bad” hitter. You want your leadoff guy to be among the best on the team at getting on.
Ichiro’s .310 wasn’t good enough. The Mariners as a team are 24 points below that.
They have failed to address that key spot going on two seasons now. Dustin Ackley wasn’t seen as the answer. So, the Mariners have to figure out who is. Typically, your center fielder is a great place to start. The Mariners have no idea who that will be next year, thus the leadoff spot remains abandonned the way the DH spot was all those years.
The Mariners keep tying one hand behind their own back — often for fiscal reasons — then expect to go toe-to-toe with AL teams wielding double-fisted offenses.
Instead of continuing to punch themselves in the face before the opening bell, the Mariners need to address this issue next winter.
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