In space, a black hole is a defined region of spacetime that exhibits such strong gravitational effects that nothing can escape from inside of it. In baseball, a black hole is way less awesome, but has just as much potential to destroy your favorite baseball team as a real black hole might have to tear apart your favorite spaceship or solar system.
The question I would like to address in this article is: How have the M's fared re: avoiding black holes on their roster since Jack Zduriencik took over the team? (Hint: Not great.) To find out, I came up with the super official ranking described below. For the sake of completeness, there are also less-embarrassing/better-at-baseball designations as well.
- <0.51 fWAR / 600 PA: Black hole. Awful. Be ashamed.
- 0.51 - 1.69 fWAR / 600 PA: A team weakness. Not great but they might not kill you?
- 1.7 fWAR - 2.9 fWAR/ 600: An acceptable starter. These are good for your team.
- >2.9 fWAR / 600 PA: Great! The players you're likely to get excited about.
Below are a few charts depicting the value of each batter position for every year of Jack Zduriencik's tenure with Seattle. I've included some gray horizontal lines to delineate the bins described above. (WARNING: It's not especially pretty.)
During Jack's time as GM, 25 out of the 63 yearly Mariner positions have contributed an fWAR below 0.5 per 600 PA (almost 40% - an average of 3.6 per season!). Conversely, less than one third of these positions has been above the "acceptable starter/not a chump" level of 1.7 fWAR/600 PA. That is beyond unacceptable. For comparison, the 10 MLB teams that made the playoffs last year had 11 black holes on their teams. If you have more than one "black hole" position, it is incredibly difficult to make it to the playoffs. The Mariners have had at least two such positions each year that Jack has been with the team.
It should be noted that I'm only talking about batters in this post. Position player woes can certainly be partially offset if your team has excellent pitching. We witnessed this to a degree last season. However, even a top-10 rotation and the ~best bullpen in team history was unable to overcome the absolute travesty that Jack assembled at DH in 2014. Some holes are just too big to patch. Speaking of which...
The worst position assembled by Jack Z
- 2014 designated hitter (-3.00 WAR/600): The bulk of DH at bats in '14 went to Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales. These gentlemen had wRC+'s of 67 and 68, respectively, combining for -1.8 fWAR in just 354 PA. The Mariners missed the playoffs by one game. I'm going to stop writing about this now because it makes me very angry.
The best position assembled by Jack Z
- 2009 center field (5.76 WAR/600): The Franklin Gutierrez trade is easily the very best thing that Jack has done as a member of the Mariners front office. This trade addressed a pressing need (acquiring a competent CF, allowing Ichiro to move back to RF) without giving up anything of real, immediate value. Unfortunately, this trade appears to have been a wonderful, happy outlier as opposed to being indicative of the fact that Jack is genuinely good at his job. As for Guti, most of his value in '09 came from his exquisite defense. Although he wasn't the fastest player on the field, his first step to the ball and his route running were both 80-grade skills. Franklin Gutierrez started 153 games in 2009; he was a real treat to watch in each and every one of them.
The Mariners have excelled at one or more position during each season since 2008. Whether it be Guti, Ichiro, or Cruz in the outfield or Seager or Cano in the the infield, Seattle has always had at least one dynamic player who is a lot of fun to root for. This is a very good thing for a fanbase and can help keep folks engaged, even when the season is lost. However, the sheer number of black holes we've witnessed during Zduriencik's tenure with the M's is staggering. His inability to construct a roster with even a modicum of depth has really hamstrung the Mariners chances at reaching the playoffs. His time with the team has been one big bummer.
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Note: I used FanGraphs to obtain the position values above. If you would like to go peruse these numbers it's easy to do, but you need to make sure that you click the right thing.
As an example, if you click on the "C" tab as opposed to selecting the "C" split, you'll get the combined numbers of all of the catchers on a team as opposed to the combined numbers that were put up by people who actually played at the catcher position. This might sound confusing/unimportant, but it can make a sizeable difference in the numbers if a catcher is ever used at DH or 1B.