Vs. Left-handed Starters:
Casper Wells RF
Jesus Montero C
Justin Smoak 1B
Kyle Seager 3B
Brendan Ryan SS
The first thing that jumps out immediately about this lineup is that the first four hitters are right-handed. With the exception of Morse, each of these guys demonstrate pronounced splits, each fitting the description of lefty killers. Wells in particular is a lefty masher (.264/.349/.489 career against lefties), which when coupled with his excellent defensive reputation and ratings, befuddles me as to why it appears the M’s will likely part ways with him. Including Wells in the outfield with Guti (who has .293/.351/.479 career against lefties) and Saunders would further solidify the outfield defense, so much so that when you combine this outfield arrangement with the projected infield starters, it makes for perhaps one of the top defenses in baseball. If they decide to keep Bay instead, which all indications are suggesting, I would have him start here, with the defense witnessing some regression.
I follow these four with Saunders, who showed better contact rates and power against lefties and could provide some balance for late inning relief match-ups for whatever its worth, and then Smoak who showed improvements from the right-side last season. I place Ackely in front of Seager for a couple of reasons. One Ackley had slightly better statistics against lefties a year ago and most projection systems are anticipating a bounce from his babip this season, one that will rest somewhere in the middle of the two posted (.339 in 2011 and .265 in 2012) in his first couple of seasons. The lineup is rounded out with Ryan at the end who provides little value with his bat, but performs slightly better against lefties.
I did not include Morales or Shoppach in either line-ups. A strong case can be made for Shoppach to start behind the plate in order to spell Montero and have him slide to DH with Morse moving to First. I suspect this will be tried at various points, as Shoppach should probably make most of his starts against lefties so the team can utilize his strengths (career wRC+ of 134 against lefties). While Morales performed slightly better from the right-side a year ago, historically he’s been pretty weak against lefties so I have him sitting. However, a lot of the success of the Mariners will be predicated on Smoak and his ability to demonstrate that he is capable of performing at a level that is stronger than what could be found with a replacement. If he doesn’t he could well be optioned or released. As such, Morales and Smoak have essentially been even against lefties (Smoak .304 wOba and Morales .303 wOba) and it might be better to use Morales’ bat off the bench in late-inning match-up situations (hitting for Ryan or Guti against right-handed relievers).
Vs. Right-handed Starters:
I know they have experimented with Saunders at the top of the order this Spring, but with expected improvements from Ackley (as noted above and indicated in all projection systems) and his demonstrated ability to draw walks, I think it makes more sense for him to be at the top. Seager fits nicely in the second spot with his solid contact skills and decent pop. Morse and Morales provide some thump in the middle of the order, both hitting pitchers from the right-side better.
This part of the line-up makes our trade of Jaso sting even further. I still don’t see why if we wanted Morse so badly, we couldn’t have offered a package similar to the one the A’s surrendered in their part of the trade, but I digress. A lot of Smoak’s placement is predicated on hope rather than history or expectations, but here’s hoping adjustments in his swing will pay dividends. Saunders and Montero follow, and I know most would assume having Montero hit sixth, but the splits he showed a year ago are pretty stark. Gutierrez and Ryan round it out, both proving to be glove first additions to this line-up (assuming Guti’s negative field ratings last season were an aberration).
A case can be made to have Ibanez see a fair amount of at-bats in this arrangement, but I think it really only makes sense if he spells Smoak with Morales moving to First and Morse to DH. He is just too much of a liability in the field and he is one year closer to 40. Plus he is now outside of the friendly confines of New Yankee Stadium and I see his contributions most helpful serving as a late-inning pinch-hitter.
Ultimately, I would like to see the Mariners utilize platoons in a more effective manner this season, represented in both batting order and line-up decisions. This proves difficult because of how the roster is constructed with the unbalanced presence of so many DH/1B types and the presence of two injury prone players in the outfield (Guti and Morse) could prove further complicating. I think this further strengthens the case on why they should keep Wells over Bay so they don’t end up with too many slugs in the outfield, especially late in games (Endy Chavez is not an optimal answer). Plus the reluctance of their Manager to embrace the information presented by new analytical methods or concepts is an obstacle too. However, this is a new season and I suppose anything is possible…