A week ago, on the Mariners' last off day, we were all feeling negative, so I took the chance to review the Mariners' five biggest early disappointments. Today is a Mariners off day, and as it happens we're all feeling positive, so I'll go ahead and review the Mariners' five biggest early non-disappointments, too. I wasn't sure if I was going to do this, but I guess now it's appropriate.
Again, the following are listed in no particular order, sort of.
(1) Michael Pineda
We were concerned about how well Pineda would pitch in the Majors out of camp, in no small part due to his projected struggles against lefties. And Pineda has had a relative struggle against lefties, as they've posted an OPS 34% higher than righties have. Lefties against Pineda have posted an OPS of .628. Honestly, it's hard to find any negatives; Pineda's missed bats, he's thrown strikes, and while his changeup hasn't looked very good, it hasn't had to. Pineda has yet to allow his first home run. Unless Pineda is the best pitcher ever, the rough games and obstacles will come, but his first month has exceeded any reasonable expectations, and the stratosphere's the limit.
Ichiro's stat line doesn't look like much by Ichiro's standards, but remember that offense is down league-wide, and that Ichiro has historically been something of a slow starter. One should also note that Ichiro is rather quietly tied for the AL lead in stolen bases, and that he's posting a contact rate of 93% that would stand as his career best over a full season. Ichiro has ten walks and seven strikeouts, he's running well, and he's making sharp contact. Ichiro is the same age as Johnny Damon, Dmitri Young, Todd Helton, Nomar Garciaparra, and Mike Sweeney.
(t2) Felix Hernandez
Felix hasn't quite felt like Felix yet on a consistent basis, but a big part of that has to do with the fact that he's been aces with the bases empty and a great deal less successful with runners on. As that balances out, Felix will allow fewer runs, and most everything should return to normal. Did you know that, as of this writing, Felix has the AL's lowest xFIP among starting pitchers? I didn't either until a minute ago. He's been great. He hasn't been amazing, but he can't always be amazing, and he's done an excellent job of coming out of the gate.
(t2) Justin Smoak
Smoak made his debut with the Mariners on July 10th, 2010. Over his next 16 games, he had ten hits, one walk, and 23 strikeouts. He was subsequently sent down to Tacoma, then later came back to have a big final two weeks of the season. We were hoping he'd be able to carry that over into 2011, and carry it over he has, as he's hit for power while doing an impossibly better job of commanding the strike zone than before. Smoak is not yet a perfect hitter. He's never going to be a perfect hitter. But he's much less of an imperfect hitter than he was when he first came over, and his early performance this year has been better than what a lot of people expected after his up-and-down 2010. Many figured he could develop into a prize; fewer figured he'd get there so soon.
(t2) Jamey Wright
Of all the relievers to stick from the pile, I didn't think Wright would be the one to help out the most. The big secret? First-pitch strikes. Wright has thrown 66% first-pitch strikes so far, against a career average in the low- to mid-50s. It's amazing how effective a pitcher can be when he gets ahead in the count. It doesn't matter so much whether or not this is sustainable, as there's bullpen help on the way. What matters more is what Wright's already done. He's come through big time in the early going, and no one can ever take that away.