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June report card: Evaluating M's production

At long last, Taijuan Walker has returned.

Bob Levey

So far this season, the Mariners have put up terrific numbers at the start of every month. March 31: 10-3 blowout against the Angels on Opening Day. May 1: Two-game sweep in New York. June 1: Roenis Elias' 4-0 shutout against the Tigers. July 1: 13-2 killing of the Houston Astros. I'm not complaining, exactly, but it does take the wind out of my sails when I go to write these report cards with the latest shutout or blowout on my mind, and realize I have to wait another month to mention them. (That said, how about Elias' shutout?)

As I mentioned earlier this week, June marked the second consecutive month where the Mariners put together a winning record. They ranked sixth among their American League competitors with 117 runs scored. They shut out their opponents five times, twice under the direction of Felix Hernandez. Judging by the approval ratings for Lloyd McClendon and Jack Zduriencik (a whopping 84 percent believe the duo is effectively managing the team so far), I think it's safe to say that this is a good time to be a Mariners fan.

Here's how June shook out for the team itself, with brief highlights and lowlights for both offense and defense.


The good: Kyle Seager. It seems pointless to elaborate on that sentence, but I will anyway: Seager put up 1.3 fWAR in June and currently boasts the second-highest WAR in the majors, with 3.4. He bested his April and May numbers by a significant margin, with a batting line of .309/.350/.536, an .887 OPS, and four home runs, bringing his total to a team-leading 13. As Logan pointed out this morning, his production has made him more than worthy of a spot on the All-Star team, and even more fun to watch than Robinson Cano.

Speaking of the All-Star break, Mike Zunino led all American League catchers with 12 home runs in June, becoming the fifth Seattle catcher to notch at least 10 home runs by the middle of the year. The last Mariner to do so was Miguel Olivo, who put up 12 home runs by the 2011 All-Star break and finished the season with a total of 19.

Brad Miller also found his groove last month. Miller's average shot up from .136 to .298 between May and June. He drew eight walks and five home runs in 94 plate appearances, showing a little more of the production level he was accustomed to in the minor leagues. As Logan wrote a couple weeks ago, it's not concrete evidence that Miller will sustain this level of offense for the rest of the year -- or even through the next month. However, it's a promising start.

The bad: In addition to Corey Hart's lengthy and ongoing rehabilitation, the M's lost Logan Morrison, Michael Saunders, and Justin Smoak to a host of quad, hamstring, and shoulder issues. McClendon worked around these deficits with the likes of Endy Chavez, Willie Bloomquist, and everyone's favorite first baseman, Jesus Montero.

The Endy Chavez Leadoff Experiment persisted for 19 of 28 games in June. The 36-year-old batted .277/.299/.410 with three walks and a single, memorable home run. When asked what value he found in the veteran leadoff hitter, McClendon had this to say: "He's a veteran presence, and these are things you don't measure with sabermetrics and those type of things. [...] His success from an offensive standpoint is OK, but I thought his intangibles were just as important."


The good: Let's start with the best. Felix Hernandez was named AL Pitcher of the Month with a 1.36 FIP, 54 strikeouts, six walks, and just four extra bases. He's halfway to his goal of 20 wins on the season. He crafted two games of 10+ strikeouts and limited his opponents to two runs or fewer per start, never pitching fewer than seven innings in an outing. Thanks to the Mariners' recent explosion of run scoring, he's receiving an average of 5.32 runs of support on the year.

Behind Felix, Roenis Elias kept his numbers fairly steady in his second full month of work. He kicked off the month with a complete game shutout against the Tigers, allowing just three hits and a walk, and striking out eight of 31 batters. In three of his six appearances, he gave up one or fewer runs while pitching through at least six innings.

Taijuan Walker made his season debut at the tail end of the month, going six innings with five hits, three runs, two homers, two walks, and six strikeouts against Houston. It was a shaky start for the 21-year-old, whose return had been much anticipated while the Mariners struggled to extract value from Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, and Brandon Maurer, among others. Before his big league call-up, Walker had pitched his first pro league complete game shutout for the Tacoma Rainiers, the first Tacoma had seen since James Paxton's complete game shutout last July. Neither McClendon nor Zunino appeared fazed by Walker's struggles, however, both taking note of the right-hander's composure under pressure and ability to rely on his breaking balls when his fastball command vanished.

Overall, the Mariners' staff ended things on a good note in June. Prior to their 13-2 beatdown of the Astros on July 1, they established an American League record for most consecutive games without an unearned run, at 46.

The bad: Hisashi Iwakuma crafted some of his best and worst outings of the year. In the beginning of June, he worked seven scoreless innings against the Braves, striking out seven batters and allowing six hits and zero walks for his fourth win of 2014. Towards the end of the month, however, things began to unravel. In back-to-back starts, Iwakuma allowed 10 runs, 17 hits, three home runs, and struck out eight of 44 hitters. Although he was experiencing some uncharacteristic neck soreness at the time, he cited trouble with first-pitch strikes as the main issue plaguing his command.

After yet another month of rehab, James Paxton still does not appear 100 percent ready to return to the Mariners' rotation. The 25-year-old has been slowly working back from a lingering shoulder injury, and has yet to throw a simulated game in addition to his occasional bullpen sessions.

While the Mariners celebrated the return of Taijuan Walker on June 30, their rotation problems have yet to be completely resolved. Erasmo Ramirez was demoted to Triple-A again last month after putting up an FIP of 5.45 in June, with 17 walks, three home runs, and 18 strikeouts in five appearances. Despite several scoreless outings, the right-hander never lasted more than six innings in any given start, and McClendon spoke publicly about the added strain his short appearances put on the bullpen.

Your turn: Have you warmed up to Endy Chavez in the leadoff spot, or do you have someone else in mind for the job? Do you expect James Paxton to make a return within the next month? Where will the Mariners finish in the standings by July 31?