Tag Archives: Justin Smoak

The Mariners, luck and overcoming adversity

So here we are.

Coming into the season, if you were to tell me that the Mariners would be a mere half game back from the Tigers in the Wild Card spot in September, I would have likely told you to politely go fuck yourself. That being said, now that the Mariners are in this situation, expectations have skyrocketed and the whole “at least we were competitive” argument doesn’t work for me anymore.

This Mariners team is good. Over the course of a season, many things can go right and many things can go wrong. Baseball mitigates some of this statistical chaos by virtue of having 162 games a season and with it, pretty enormous sample sizes. Despite this, there is a luck factor that inevitably worms its way into any conversation regarding professional sports and the Mariners are not exempt from this motif. Roenis Elias has been far better than anyone could have predicted as an untested rookie making his first starts above AA to begin the season. Chris Young has been astronomically better than his status as a last-ditch reclamation project would have indicated at the year’s beginning (though of late some chinks in the armor have revealed themselves). Both of these circumstances can be portrayed by nay-sayers as being instances of “luck” insofar as players wildly exceeded what would have been tepid expectations from even the most optimistic of fans.

Yet, cherry-picking feel-good stories as a means to discredit a ballclub that has been, if not play-off caliber then at least something approaching it, is fucking whack. There have been far more disappointments for the Mariners this year then there have been surprise contributors. At the beginning of Spring Training, we were looking at having Taijuan Walker and James Paxton in the rotation at year’s beginning. Taijuan found himself hurt at the beginning of camp and struggled to regain his form following an extended absence. James Paxton began the season with the club only to injure himself for the vast majority of the season following a dick-tickling display of early-season dominance.

While untested—a guy with Taijuan’s stuff could have undoubtedly made this team better. Recent history shows that untested pitching prospects with great stuff, while not always measuring up to their full potential, trend towards being at least serviceable guys which, when following proven veterans Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in the rotation is certainly enough to assemble a solid rotation.

Paxton, on the other hand, has picked up right where he left off at the beginning of the year. The rotation this year has been a strength. I shudder to think what it could have been like with a full season of healthy James Paxton pitching the way he is presently.

On the position side of things—remember the insane MDMA-fueled optimism regarding Brad Miller at the beginning of the season? He has lost his job to a guy drafted in the 6th round labelled as a glove-only shortstop with some speed being his only serviceable offensive tool. While I think those reports regarding the aforementioned shortstop (Chris Taylor) were largely unfair, it does little to change the reality that the Mariners were forced to compensate for Brad Miller losing all semblance respectability at the plate and cratering in a way that most deemed, if not impossible, then comically unlikely.

Remember our starting centerfielder? Which one(?) you may ask if you are one of the few people who hasn’t amnesia-fucked Abraham Almonte out of your brain-cube by now. The Mariners have had several starting centerfielders this season including the aforementioned Almonte, non-prospect James Jones, Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders and now the far more reliable Austin Jackson. Of those players (disregarding recent acquisition Austin Jackson who I have coveted for years) Michael Saunders is the only player better than replacement level. Michael Saunders, who could be one of the better players on the club, has not been healthy all year and is presently mired in an extended rehab stint with no definitive date of return.

How about Cory Hart and Justin Smoak? Hart, a player who I had tabbed for a big-time resurgence has been utterly worthless. Smoak, a player who I had tabbed to remain a waste of the space he occupies continued to be himself, which is to say, bad.

The replacements? Logan Morrison who has yet to raise his head above the stagnant nether-regions of his sub-0.700 OPS and Kendrys Morales who has yet to return to the form we saw last year when he was the most consistent offensive producer on the team.

Despite all of this, the Mariners are a good team. We have had our fair share of disappointments and despite them, have felt like a team that is capable of winning games without them seeming like wild flukes. We have one of the best run differentials in the league, a bullpen that has been largely lights out and a rotation headed by two of the best pitchers in the game. We have 2 position players in the middle of the order (Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano) who are, as we stand right now, worth more than 5 WAR apiece.

Now we head to a 4 game series against the Rangers. While the Mariners are an example of a team that has exceeded expectations by responding favorably to adversity, the Rangers are an example of a projectably superior club at season’s beginning that has been subsequently sodomized by injuries and negative regression.

On paper, this is an opportunity for the Mariners to do some damage and firmly entrench ourselves as leaders in the playoff race. Now we just need to do the damn thing.

Go M’s…

…and Seahawks too. By the way HOW FUCKING SICK would it be for the Mariners to sneak their way into the playoffs during the NFL season? If I could watch the Seahawks continue their dominant run in the regular season while also getting the privilege of watching playoff baseball with something at stake…needless to say work, responsibility and human interaction may have to be reduced to beer, pizza, hot dogs and escapism. Oh and what a sweet escape it will be. I’m gonna live forever.

Re-evaluating Past Success and Scuffles: The Logan Morrison Story

With another series win over the Boston Red Sox, the Mariners have vaulted themselves forward in the standings amidst another manic episode within the context of their season’s untreated bi-polar disorder.

Having won 6 games in a row before finally dropping one to the Sox, the Mariners continue to not surprise, but rather amuse, as they toe the line between a team that looks unbeatable and a team that looks utterly inept on offense as so many Mariners squads in past years have appeared.

And yet, in this maddening sea of inconsistency, reality does actually align ever so delicately to expectations, with perhaps a smidgeon of optimism crème-fresh-ed on top.

Let us ignore what we have seen before and what has, by virtue of being old, become stale and tired. Robinson Cano continues to be exactly what we need him to be—a reliable source of offense within the middle of the order. Seager continues to produce every couple days or so, as his season continues to trend towards the best of his career but in that particularly awesome, unflashy, 5’11” way that Seager does it. Zunino has hit 4 dingers in the past 5 games and will inevitably suck for another month or so while playing some pretty spectacular defense behind the plate.

Ignore.

Let’s talk instead about Logan Morrison.

Logan Morrison became a forgotten character fairly quickly in his first Mariners’ season. He played very inconsistently and, despite having what was at worst a pretty average spring, he seemed to garner quite a bit of hate among the folks lurking around the usual Mariners internet-haunts such as Lookout Landing and U.S.S. Mariner.

I personally have always been, if not a believer, then at least a proponent of Logan Morrison as experiment. It seemed to me that there were worse things the Mariners could do than simply run the guy out there and see if he had anything to provide. Admittedly, the injuries were there and they weren’t exactly minor injuries either. But, looking upon his acquisition from a perspective that assumes a return to health, we can see that the Mariners may have lucked out huge when trading rosey-cheeked and basically useless Carter Capps for Lomo this offseason.

Let’s look at Logan Morrison’s rookie season. The 2 years since that season and the statistics that accompany said years should themselves be accompanied by a huge motherfuckin asterisk. Lomo was playing hurt. In addition to that one particular piece of adversity, he was also playing for an organization that didn’t seem to want anything to do with him, at one point even demoting him to AAA under some flimsy pretense to reprimand him for being too much of a beast on twitter. 

Let us look at a couple of quick lines side by side.

G BA OBP SLG OPS HR RBI OPS+
100 .218 .307 .371 .678 13 48 82
123 .247 .330 .468 .797 23 72 116

 

Those rows represent the statistics for Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison, each in their age-23 seasons. Morrison’s line is the decent one. Smoak’s is predictably the one that is terrible.

Both Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison were highly touted prospects as they moved through the Rangers and Marlins organizations, respectively. Smoak has played semi-regularly since he was acquired in the Cliff Lee trade by the Mariners and, for whatever reason, we have been subjected to him on a consistent basis since that time. Morrison came up with the Marlins and produced right away, showing the power that blew scouts away as a prospect—with his HR numbers from his slightly-abridged age-23 season prorating to 30+ over the course of 162 games. Smoak has never hit 23 HRs in a season. Lomo did it more or less instantaneously upon his first call-up.

Now, this is glossing over a pretty substantial period of time during which Morrison fell entirely from grace in Miami. He suffered a couple major leg injuries that kept him off the field for prolonged stretches and limited his effectiveness during those times he made it onto the field. He has said himself that he rushed himself back. Could you chalk this up to simply an excuse? Maybe. Though it certainly seems a plausible explanation for a dip in production from a player who is still just 26 years old. It is unlikely that the skills that produces the numbers above simply vanished. They were simply masked by injuries until frustration caused the Marlines to ship him off for what may end up being a pretty sub-par return, though Capps’ does have projectable stuff if he gets his shit together.

Smoak, by contrast, has been more or less healthy for his years in Seattle and has never so much as allowed us a glimpse of comparable offensive upside to what Lomo brings to the table. Smoak has also been a first baseman his entire career, a position where offensive production is expected for any team to have a chance to even feign competency. Lomo and Smoak have both been terrible for a couple years, but Lomo was terrible with a half-broken leg, Smoak’s terribleness is just par for the motherfucking course.

We have seen Lomo come on for the Mariners in a big way the past few games. His 4 for 4 night with multiple HRs was eye-opening to be sure—though if we pay attention than maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised. He will undoubtedly have plenty of slums in the near future and maybe some hot streaks similar to the one he has presently, that is just part of the game. What matters though is that Lomo appears to be 100% healthy and if the potential he showed as a rookie was any indication, a healthy Logan Morrison provides another presence in the middle of the order that the Mariners sorely need.

Oh yeah, and he is hilarious on twitter.

Leave Smoak in AAA. Lomo party.

#BREAKING: JUSTIN SMOAK TRYING OUT FOR TEAM THIGH-GAP

According to an anonymous source: Justin Smoak, in an effort to participate in a new movement sweeping the nation (rhymes with clanorexia) took time off from his baseball career to join team thigh-gap.

“I just want to be a thinspiration” said Smoak between mouthfuls of brown construction paper labelled ‘Quinoa’ in periwinkle crayon.

“Kids these days grow up idolizing athletes, so I figured I may as well try to appear athletic.” 

Smoak has been seen attending agility drills with fellow Seattle Mariner infielder Kyle Seager, with whom he shares a special bond. The two have reportedly been superglueing sandpaper to the inside of their thighs before running sprints as motivation.

“I figure, as a role model, it is my responsibility to set a good example for these kids” Smoak stated, voice raised over the dull whine of shredding plastic as he shoved a log of Grizz-Mint chewing tobacco into a juicer.

“It’s either that or stop dipping, and there’s no fucking way that’s gonna happen.”

Justin was later seen sobbing into a bowl of kale beneath a poster reading simply: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

The Seattle Mariners, reclaimers of optimism

The Mariners recently decided to take 3 of 4 games from the Oakland A’s. They wrapped the series with a completely unnecessary doubleheader yesterday brought on by a situation earlier in the year where Oakland’s poverty literally leaked on to the field of play, turning it into a Swamp of Sadness-equivalent and resulting in several of the Mariners’ ponies losing the will to live, languishing in the muck adrift in their own sense of desperate apathy, the faint call to carry on muted through the mufflers of their own helplessness until they were utterly submerged.

 

Yesterday’s doubleheader played itself out in about the oddest way imaginable. The Mariners picked up a win in the first game, going to extras following a weird start by Felix Hernandez in which we didn’t appear to have any of his pitches working. Felix surrendered eleven hits and 3 runs, yet the Mariners, behind a couple well-timed dingers by team strongmen Hart and Zunino managed to make it out alive from a game where Yoervis fucking Medina was credited for the win. Oddness.

 

The second game saw a resurgent Erasmo Ramirez return briefly from AAA in order to turn in possibly his most serviceable effort of the season, going 6 innings and allowing only 2 earned runs in the process. The problem in this second game was offense, which seems to hardly be surprising when the lineup includes the corpse of Brad Miller, Willie Bloomquist, John Buck, Cole Gillespie and Stefen Romero. I understand we want righties in the lineup but you need to have quality right handed hitters for this to make sense. If I want beer but don’t have any beer I don’t start fermenting my own urine. The Mariners are fermenting their own urine. It smells like Bloomquist’s grit.

 

A big positive to come out of the 1st of these two games is James Jones’ play in center field. The guy looks infinitely superior to anybody else the Mariners have wheeled out there since Franklin Gutierrez was patrolling center. He made a fantastic diving catch in the seventh inning and made a few excellent plays in the early innings besides. His routes look rather…sober…compared to those we have become accustomed to with Abe Almonte scurrying about. To cap it all off he flashed a plus throwing arm and was able to reach base a few times as well.

 

I still have no fucking clue why McClendon went ahead and slotted him in the 2 hole for his first start in the Major Leagues, but I am willing to suspend my disbelief if the guy continues to play well because frankly, the Mariners need good defensive outfielders to man center and if he can make the tiniest bit of noise at the plate and on the base paths I think he could be a valuable addition moving forward. The tools are there, if the polish can come with it on the job, then welcome to the squad Mr. Jones.

 

The Mariners are heading home following a road trip that took them to a game above .500 where they will be taking on the Kansas City Royals who presently mirror the M’s location around the mythical .500 line. Royals fans probably expected more from their squad moving into 2014—they experienced one of their better seasons in recent memory last year and have been posturing as though gripped by a win-now mindset as evidenced by their (probably idiotic) trade of former No.1 prospect in all of baseball, Will Myers, for serviceable former Rays’ starter James Shields.

 

The trade reeked of the same desperation-spunk surrounding the Mariners’ trade for disgruntled Canadian injury-enthusiast Erik Bedard in which we gave up Adam Jones, now a perennial All-Star for the Orioles and emerged no closer to “winning now” than we had been before, with the added caveat of lacking even the “winning then” that perhaps Jones could have helped with.

 

In that sense—I feel for the Royals’ fan base as a similarly afflicted bunch. The Royals also have several home grown positional prospects-turned-regulars who have taken forever to develop and often developed into something that rested well below their perceived ceilings as prospects. Eric Hosmer never became really as cool as he seemed, Alex Gordon didn’t figure it out until he was like 26, etc.

 

I suppose both of those players are better than their Mariners’ counterparts in Smoak and Ackley, but regardless, the results have not been there with a similar organizational approach.

 

So hey Royals, throw us a bone here. We can’t both make it to the playoffs can we? And you had George Brett once! Your franchise has even won/been to the World Series before!

 

At this point, as a Mariners fan, it is cool to even be able to care still. I have seen optimism dwindle so much faster than it has this season and for the team to remain afloat at this point in time is a revelation. I look forward to going home and seeing the Mariners play baseball and I have been able to do this for more than a month. I think this is what it must feel like to be a fan of a team that is good. I like the feeling. It makes it easier to sleep at night and it saves me money on liquor.

 

Go Mariners.

Kyle Seager and the streakiness inherent in hitting the ball in the air all of the damn time

Joey strokes the Seager boner of the Mariners’ early season confusion-orgy.

This is a necessary post to remind us all of why we love Kyle Seager.

Less sitting, more hitting.

Mariners’ fans are familiar with Kyle Seager. He has been a lone bright spot on a team that has had very few bright spots over the past few years. If you consider an average, productive, worth-having major league position player to be worth roughly 3.0 WAR, then Kyle Seager is the lone Mariner to qualify as a productive everyday Major Leaguer on this club for the past 2 seasons. This is pretty unfortunate, given how 3.0 WAR is kind of the low-end cutoff for this degree of productivity and most teams have a few of these sorts of players if not 5 or 6 of them.

The Mariners have Robinson Cano and Corey Hart now. This is cool and something that makes watching the mariners a tiny bit less depressing than it was the past couple of years. These are veteran players with proven track records who have been more or less the same guy throughout their careers and are now firmly operating within their prime years. The Mariners have had veterans before, but these veterans either had not been good players for a few years (Ibanez), or were simply never good players to begin with (Morse). It can be pretty depressing watching a team that is riddled with question marks. It is more depressing watching a team entirely comprised of question marks. The term “riddled” is used to describe some surface filled with a bajillion holes and thusly rendered into something resembling Swiss cheese. A lot of teams have had this Swiss-cheese consistency. The Mariners the past few years haven’t even really had any cheese at all which makes the term “riddle” not even really work. The no-cheese Mariners, some would call them (Nobody would ever call them that).

But there is more cheese here than meets the eye! Kyle Seager exists. He is the tiniest of morsels remaining after a drunk-five-year-old-with-a-hole-puncher-esque onslaught of inconsistency. And he isn’t even that consistent within his own consistency. That was a silly sentence. How can a player be consistently inconsistent? The term I would use: streaky.

Imagine if you will a coin. A coin when flipped has (basically) a 50% outcome of being either heads or tails. Let us then assign a positive outcome to one of these events. In the case of heads, you get 1 dollar. In the case of tails, somebody changes the channel at your apartment to the Hallmark Channel and then subsequently shatters your remote control. It’s all about the O.

Bad analogy do-over. Kyle Seager has been a player who can look terrible for stretches, but whose numbers have in our recent experience eventually trended towards a certain, predictable result over the course of an entire season’s worth of ups and downs. We have recently been provided some empirical evidence to support this claim. Kyle Seager spent the first two weeks of this year being absolutely terrible. Prior to this last week, Seager was arguably the most maddeningly awful player in the Mariners’ lineup. Yet, we as fans have come to expect Seager to be a solid contributor. How can these two outcomes coexist within the same paradigm and both be true? Streakiness. Seager is not alone in his up and down ways. Just look at Mike Zunino…

But what about Seager’s play results in this kind of streakiness? It is easy to assign a certain nebulous, platonic understanding of streakiness to a player without looking deeper into the player’s skillset to determine if there is perhaps, an underlying manner of playing the game that can result in this day-to-day inconsistency.

“Kyle is just hot right now” people might say. If those people were talking about Kyle Seager the way people talk about Hansel in Zoolander.

I believe that in Kyle Seager’s case there is a rhyme and perhaps a reason to his streakiness. Kyle Seager is a flyball hitter. Kyle Seager is also almost strictly speaking a dead-pull hitter. This year, there has been a record-setting pace for the number of infield shifting being done around the league. Teams are no longer simply shifting for big, obvious dead-pull guys in the traditional mold of a David Ortiz or Prince Fielder. Teams are noticing that little guys can be one-trick ponies too. Kyle Seager is one such player that could see more shifts in his future.

Let’s look at a Kyle Seager spray chart courtesy of baseballsavant.com. I have went ahead and filtered out the groundballs for a clearer picture into what I am looking for with Seager’s game.

Kyle Seager spray chart leftandright flies

Bingo bango bongo. As we can see, Seager’s success comes when he pulls the ball. Period. There is really no other interpretation to be drawn here. Seager is a dead-pull flyball hitter who shows impressive power to the pull side which the eyeball test validates by noting one of the more beautifully classic lefty uppercuts that I have seen in a while– let alone by a player in Mariners’ blue.

There is an upside and a downside to this kind of hitter and that is fairly easy to qualify. Fly ball hitters’ success is governed by the quality of their contact more so than a player who sprays the ball around and hits groundballs with more frequency. A guy like Cano is going to hit for a higher average and a higher BABIP than Seager because Cano is primarily a line drive hitter. If Cano misses a pitch, he may send a soft, broken-bat line drive into shallow center for a single. If Seager just misses a pitch, he is going to most likely be serving up lazy fly balls to right. When Cano hits the ball the other way, he is likely to get a few more singles as soft line drives drop down in front of the left fielder. When Seager hits the ball the other way, he loses distance and with it some of the success his pull-side power grants him, again, serving up lazy flyballs to the outfielder.

Players can change over the course of their careers, and Seager has several years of good baseball ahead of him. All indications point to Seager carrying the success he has had into the future- but if his style of hitting remains static he will likely remain prone to cold spells when his flies aren’t leaving the yard or crashing into fences.

This doesn’t bother me at all. We have seen what happens when Seager is squaring pitches up. Seager has carried the Mariners to 3 victories in the past 5 games. No player exists in a vacuum, and credit should be given to the guys who got on base in front of him in both of his go-ahead blasts this past week. That being said somebody has to sack up and hit the ball hard to drive those guys in. That guy has been Kyle Seager. The Mariners would do well to capitalize on this stretch, as it should be clear to everyone with eyeballs and the gumption necessary to sit down and watch the Mariners play baseball that when Kyle Seager plays well this team is astronomically superior to when he is mired in one of his slumps.

At the end of the year, Kyle Seager’s numbers will look good. They won’t reflect the AL player-of-the-week numbers he put up this past week. They don’t have to. As long as the hot stretches properly balance out the (hopefully shortened) slumps, the aggregate total will be a solid, above-average major leaguer. The Mariners don’t have many of those. We should all be grateful that he graces us with his presence. We should be doubly grateful that he seems to be superbestpals with Justin Smoak. If we were to get rid of Smoak would Seager’s production dip? Is Smoak required for moral support in order for Seager to continue to be productive? Would Smoak have to start for this to work, or could he be maintained in a symbolic role? This is something to be monitored moving forward, as I delve into the depths of their relationship via anonymous sources and idle social media speculation.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that Seager is doused with frigid Gatorade more often in the coming weeks. Sorry boss.

Umbrella!