We have reached the part of a disappointing team's season where it is fashion de rigueur to begin the assignment of blame. The Mariners are 39-46. They have a 17% chance of making the playoffs, which still seems high to me. Put another way they have an 83% chance of missing the playoffs. There we go. That sounds about right.
There are many candidates for the crosshairs of an inches filling columnist with this Mariner team. Jack Zduriencik is an obvious one. Robinson Cano's performance has been written about plenty. Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, Taijuan Walker, and Fernando Rodney have taken turns on blast from the Mikes from Tumwater and the rabid hoard of "Is it football season yet?" War Boys. But as we approach the All-Star Break it appears that attention is finally turning to the catcher position. So let me add my voice to the chorus:
Mike Zunino is killing the 2015 Seattle Mariners.
In honor of yesterday's recap let's start with just the facts:
Mike Zunino is an above average to good defensive catcher, ranking 2nd in MLB in Statcorner's Catcher Report in 2014.
Mike Zunino is very strong.
Mike Zunino's wRC+ is 49. In essence, half an average major league hitter.
In the past 20 years there have been two Mariners with >250 PA with a wRC+ less than 49. They were 2013 Brendan Ryan and 2011 Chone Figgins. Neither of those players exceed 320 PA. Mike Zunino is on pace for ~500 PA.
Mike Zunino is far, far, far and away the best defensive and offensive catcher currently employed by the Seattle Mariners.
UPDATE - Extra fact:
The only M's hitter who has ever been worse than 2015 Zunino (given 400 PAs), by wRC+, is literally Mario Mendoza. https://t.co/Hc2bn1MuMa— Colin O'Keefe (@colinokeefe) July 9, 2015
Places like Lookout Landing often garner a reputation for trying to fix everything. We have no fix for Mike Zunino and won't pretend to; other than perhaps not acquiring him some nifty help only to trade said help immediately to fill a need for right-handed, low OBP power that is entirely imaginary. This article isn't about fixing. It's about acknowledging something and that is that Mariner catchers are an atrocity and Mike Zunino gets 85% of the playing time at catcher.
If we are going to rip Mariner catchers it needs to start with the player that was drafted and groomed for this position. The discussion is about the player who overcame his contact issues to still post a respectable 86 wRC+ at 23 years old only to completely fall on his face this year.
In his Mariner preview for Grantland Ben Lindbergh noted how the Mariners' greatest strength was their lack of weaknesses and it fit. For years we've noted how the Mariners are held back by consistently featuring rosters with gigantic, gaping, comically destructive blackholes. This was the roster that was supposed to fix that and it wasn't blind homerism to think so.
Look, this isn't about directing anger away from Jack Zduriencik. Players and general managers can both be responsible for failure, particularly failure of this caliber. It is Mike Zunino's fault that he is on pace to post the 2nd highest strike out rate in the expansion era. It is Jack Zduriencik's fault that there is was no backup plan in place. Or that there was but then it was immediately abandoned because DINGERS!
Should the Mariners give up on Mike Zunino? Of course not. He is 24 and half a season removed from his bat being bad but acceptable. His defense is still highly respected:
@LookoutLanding -- And that's based on defensive and pitching staff responsibilities. His credibility with his staff is impeccable.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 9, 2015
In 1994 a 25 year old catcher named Dan Wilson posted a 39 wRC+. In 2006 at 23 Yadier Molina had an OPS under .600. In 1997 the Mariners gave up on a 25 year old catcher named Jason Varitek. Catchers age differently, weirdly, lately, etc. Mike Zunino is a part of the Mariners' future and we're still a long ways from that not being the case.
But the story today is about 2015: The Year the Mariners Finally Make the Playoffs (tm). That looks highly unlikely now and it's time to be honest about that. A lot of that blame falls on the shoulders of a Mariner catcher. That catcher's name sure ain't Jesus Sucre.