I want to talk a bit about Nick Franklin. I don't just want to talk about him because he reached base three times tonight, raised his .wOBA to .399, continued to play quality defense at 2nd base and generally just be the kind of beautiful, unique snowflake your mother always told you you were before you realized she was lying to you. I want to talk about Nick Franklin and how we experience him right now.
The experience of rooting for young players can be scarring. Stuck in a Sisphyean journey towards contention for a decade we as fans have had no choice but to place the burden of our hope not on the Mariners, because my god, but rather on future Mariners. You don't need me to recite the chapter and verse of those disappointments. Choo, Cabrera, Jones, Ryan Anderson, Clint Blackley, Doyle, and oh god I just said I wouldn't do this. While teams like the Cardinals have seemingly perfected the mass-assembly line of turning average humans into amazing baseball players the Mariners have done the opposite and it's culminated in this year's demotions of Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, two "can't miss" players.
So, now, we have Nick Franklin. If I were a more skilled writer I'd think of a better way right now to say that Nick Franklin has been incredible in 39 plate appearences. It's not just the results. He's swinging at 17.2% of pitches outside the strike zone. That is 9th among all batters with a minimum 20 PA on the year. He's making contact on 91.5% of his swings. Watching Nick Franklin play has been like watching a classical musician who's obviously spent thousands of hours breaking down every part of their technique. Scales, arpeggios, scales, arpeggios. Nick Franklin's game consists of talent yes but also exhaustively practiced scales and arpeggios. He has meticulously crafted the boring minutia that allows performance.
You are conditioned to avoid the trauma or placing hope in an enjoyable Mariner debut. SSS. Regression to the mean. The league will adjust and etc. etc. These mental checks are not wrong. Nick Franklin is almost assuredly going to start struggling soon. But if his plate discipline numbers, defense and contact percentage are anything close to real than the Mariners may have along with Kyle Seager produced a real 1/2 of a foundational infield that we can imagine playing on a playoff contender. I'm going to let myself get excited. Because, as Patrick said, you've got to have a vassal of hope. I'll take the little guy.
It's possible that somewhere amid all the failure, injury and delayed development the Mariners are actually developing a "young core" worth getting excited about. It just may look nothing like what we thought it would.
- The happiest, and most obvious storyline of this game was that Jeremy Bonderman got a win. His methods for victory were not pleasant to the eye but were befitting a man of Bonderman's visage. I counted at least 3 hard outfield line drives caught and numerous sharp grounders. One wonders what would have happened had Vernon Wells not stupidly been picked off 2nd with 2 runners on and no out in the 2nd inning but then one stops wondering and starts laughing at Vernon Wells.
This community doesn't need me to say that Bonderman's results tonight didn't seem to be the result of any sustainable breakthrough. He's a fringe starter living on the raggedest of edges and he'll have more starts like his 1st than his 2nd. But he won tonight, and he's happy. I hope he celebrates like crazy.
- A few nights ago I highlighted the absurd hot streak Raul Ibanez was riding since May began and tonight I do similarly with Brendan Ryan. Brendan Ryan was hitting .149/.237/.149 after April 30th. Since that time he has hit .266/.310/.372, which is still pretty bad. But tonight he had the big 2 run single that gave the team the lead. He's possibly the best damn defensive player in baseball. If Dustin Ackley continues tearing up Tacoma I understand the logic of giving up Ryan in trade and seeing if Ackley and Franklin can play together. But as a fan of a losing team when one of your players has a plus plus tool you cling to it like a person with bad social skills clings to his/her one killer party trick. Ryan's glove is Giancarlo Stanton's power, Justin Verlander's fastball and Billy Hamilton's speed. It's one of a kind. Every game he plays shortstop for the Mariners is one I'll cherish and I don't care if ever gets a hit again.
- Minor odd statistical note: The Mariners offense has been well noted for employing a "solo home run or bust" approach this season. Tonight marked only the 2nd time this year the team has scored more than 3 runs without a home run. Which doesn't really say anything other than this team is kinda bad offensively in an entirely new way. Change is good. Except when it really isn't.