April report card: Grading the M's offense

Otto Greule Jr

Two words: Kyle Seager.

When I first sat down to write this post, only two words popped into my mind: Kyle Seager. Maybe that's all we really need to know about last month's performances. Kyle Seager was great; ergo, the Mariners were also great.

If only it were that simple. While the M's came storming out of the gate in Anaheim, they let series after series slip through their fingers. Sean Barber didn't help. Neither did Hector Noesi, Abraham Almonte, or the Oakland A's grounds crew, who thought it would be a good idea to leave the infield uncovered on the eve of a thunderstorm.

April brings with it a flock of scapegoats, from first-time jitters to cold starts. No one is expected to play at their best and brightest this early in the season. However, the Mariners took this mantra one step further. They collectively scored 97 runs in their first 25 games, the fifth fewest in the league. Together, they struck out nearly one-fourth of the time, due in no small part to Almonte's slap-happy approach at the plate.

Thanks to the Marlins, the M's weren't the only team to cap an eight-game losing streak this spring. Still, they managed to produce even fewer runs than Giancarlo Stanton and his troupe, averaging 6.8 hits and 2.2 runs per game.

This isn't to say that the month was a complete waste. According to Beyond the Box Score's Scott Lindholm, the way a team performs in April can paint a fairly accurate picture of their playoff odds -- and, despite Seattle's struggles at the plate, they finished a scant three games below .500. Let's break down some of the highlights and lowlights of last month's performances and see what areas could use some improvement.

Highlights

  • Kyle Seager
  • Kyle Seager
  • Kyle Seager

At the beginning of April, Seager's name would not have made it on this list. He batted .121 through the first half of the month, raising concerns from manager Lloyd McClendon, who believed Seager was overthinking his approach and getting in his own way. During the last five games of the month, Seager took McClendon's advice to heart, going on a five-game hitting streak with five home runs (and two multi-homer games), a .409 average, and 11 RBI, earning his first AL PLayer of the Week distinction to boot. Granted, extremely small sample sizes shouldn't be depended on to predict future performance, but it's an encouraging sign from an offense-starved lineup.

When Kyle Seager wasn't tearing up the American League, Mike Zunino laid claim to the highest fWAR among Seattle position players, finishing the month with 0.7 wins above replacement. (No one not named Felix Hernandez carried a score above 1.0 fWAR.) Zunino exhibited more consistency and patience at the plate, admitting to the press that he had made a point of slowing down his game in order to increase his effectiveness. Despite a more patient approach, he also racked up the third-highest number of strikeouts on the team, whiffing 22 times behind Brad Miller and Justin Smoak's 26 strikeouts and an atrocious 39 strikeouts from Abraham Almonte.

Weaknesses

Much has already been made of Abraham Almonte's struggles at leadoff -- the obscene strikeout totals, McClendon's unflinching defense of the rookie, and the ensuing frustration among fans and press alike after the lengthy experiment. Earlier this week, when pressed about Almonte's role on the club, McClendon declined to explain his thought process behind the decision and didn't seem to think that Triple-A was a necessary, let alone likely, course of action for the 24-year-old. While it's admirable to show faith in your players, especially during their dry spells, it's a fine line to walk between knowing when a player needs time to develop their potential and letting the team suffer as he works through it on the big-league stage.

Thankfully, as Colin reported this afternoon, it looks like the skipper has had a change of heart. Almonte was optioned to Triple-A to make room for center fielder James Jones, another young, inexperienced outfielder with gleaming potential. Michael Saunders, who provided a viable alternative to Almonte in the leadoff spot, has been relegated to one of the corner spots.

Logan Morrison and Stefen Romero tied for worst fWAR among position players, with -0.8 wins below replacement in April. To be fair, Morrison was sidelined with a hamstring strain in the latter half of the month, and Romero was forced to split playing time in right field with Corey Hart and, on rare occasions, Nick Franklin. Though neither player has worked their way into an everyday lineup just yet, their struggles at the plate are indicative of the state of the outfield as a whole. Whether or not James Jones will bring the offensive spark and defense that is needed remains to be seen.

Where does that leave this team after a month? The Mariners may have put up a dismal front in April, but they also had to work around a dilapidated pitching staff, a rigorous travel schedule, and an insane(ly annoying) transfer rule, among other setbacks. With Hisashi Iwakuma back in the mix and signs of life emerging from the heart of the lineup, I don't think it'd be too much of a stretch to expect this team to play .500 ball in May.

What do you think: Where could the Mariners stand to improve their offense this month? Who will assume Almonte's position at leadoff now that he's gone?

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