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A Demigod and the Macabre: Middle Infielders

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Question marks grade notoriously poorly in defensive metrics.

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The best and worst position players on the Mariners in 2016 were middle infielders. I will give you all zero guesses as to who they were because you know the answers and Adam Lind is not a shortstop. While one position is in a better place than it was a year ago, the other is a definite question mark. In the order used by the insane technological error of the voting machines in the Robin Williams film, Man of the Year, let’s review the Mariners’ middle infield of 2016.

Mike Freeman (Double E’s!)

For Mike Freeman, human being, 2016 was likely a pretty significant success. The 29 year-old rookie made his MLB debut in mid-July with the Diamondbacks, and recorded his first few career hits as a Mariner down the stretch. As a Mariner, Freeman was 5-13 with a double and made a spectacular diving play at shortstop that, if WPA measured defensive contributions, would have been overwhelmingly represented. He should be immensely proud, as a former 11th round pick who spent nearly six years in the minor leagues, to have achieved what he has already. With that said, while Freeman’s short-term display of excellence is better than if he had been disastrous, there is little to indicate an extensive capability to produce. While anything is possible, his minor league numbers and his body type do not indicate he will be a sustainably average hitter at a Major League level.

2017 Freemaybe: The red-bearded AAAA player is not yet arbitration-eligible, and will likely start next year competing for the utility role/25th man spot next year, or else will start out in AAA.

Shawn O’Malley (Double L’s!)

Much like a backup quarterback is often the most popular player on a struggling football team, Shawn O’Malley’s star rose in large part due to the mishaps of the man in front of him. Following the trade of Luis Sardiñas, O’Malley’s identity theft act of Willie Bloomquist went into full effect. He played parts of at least four games at six different positions, and was a positive baserunner overall, making him a pinch-running option for a team with a few strong hitters that tend to lumber more than they lope. Shawn O’Malley: Utility Man is a perfectly reasonable MLB player, even as his 73 wRC+ and .229/.299/.319 slash betray the fact that he has not been a serviceable hitter. He was narrowly above replacement level this year, but if you can have one player be slightly above, or even just at replacement level at several positions, that opens a team up to spend money on players with the chance to be far more productive. Unfortunately, Shawn O’Malley: Everyday Shortstop was a question, then a possibility, and eventually a beseeching cry from many fans, and that should not be the case. In 2016 there were no better options, but in 2017 there will be, even with a thin SS market. There must be.

2017 O’Malley PrO'baballey: Seattle has two players with almost identical skill sets in O’Malley and Freeman, but O’Malley has shown the ability to play the outfield reasonably as well. He remains short of arbitration, and is the likely favorite to assume the utility role again.

Ketel Marte (Plays SS which is Double S’s!)

2015 Marte Partay: You show up looking like a million bucks and meet several people who genuinely share a passion with you and hold engaging conversations with them. The music is good, there’s a dance floor that’s well set up and not grimy. Fresh air is properly flowing through the space, and the glances you’ve been trading with the charming individual across the room all night turns into an exchange of numbers and hours of *redacted* definitely wholesome family fun.

2016 Marte Party: A rave where everyone has Mono. And Hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Ketel Marte was a very bad MLB shortstop in 2016. You can be Aledmys Díaz or Stephen Drew and be subpar defensively if you hit for power as a shortstop. Marte hit one home run this year. You can be a subpar hitter like Freddy Galvis or Zack Cosart if you play good defense. Marte showed good range and a strong arm, but was inconsistent. You can be a highly valuable player, maximizing your speed and baserunning abilities by improving your plate discipline and walking with more frequency, like Jonathan Villar or Daniel Descalso. Marte walked 5 times in a month this year once, and had a 84/18 K/BB this year. He was a middling to poor player in the first half of the year, with a 77 wRC+ and an and then, following a few injuries and losing at least ten pounds due to illness, and had several very memorable mistakes that will likely linger in our memories. They will likely linger for him too, and it was evident that his struggles were getting to him down the stretch, from his body language and his deteriorating plate approach.

Ketel Marte turns 23 today. He and Mike Zunino are likely to be brought up together as examples of players who have shown the ability, in more than just a few week samples, to be good major league baseball players, but struggled immensely to do so consistently. Mike Zunino is 25, and will turn 26 just before the 2017 season begins. Marte has plenty of developing still to do, but the Mariners would be well served to find a veteran shortstop in the offseason.

2017 Marte Partay: The Mariners trade for a decent SS or sign Erick Aybar and allow Marte to spend this offseason getting stronger, healthier, and more adept at C’ing the Z. Marte begins 2017 in AAA, but will spend plenty of time at the MLB level.

Robinson Canó (Last in the vote, but first in our hearts)

It was strange to believe that at the outset of 2016, there was a legitimate case that both middle infield positions were spots of uncertainty. 33 year-old Robinson Canó responded with one of the three best seasons of his plausibly Hall of Fame career, and realigned himself towards approaching viable financial recompense for the mammoth deal he was signed for, purely with his baseball play. The numbers are sparkling: 161 games played. A 138 wRC+. A career high 39 home runs, accompanied by a decline in his K% and, for what it’s worth, his first positively rated defensive season as a Mariner. Canó was resplendent, and his leadership and relaxed manner is consistently referenced by teammates, coaches, and front office staff as helping contribute to the development of younger players and the positive environment that the Mariners clubhouse was in 2016. These are obviously less tangible benefits, but this year, as a fan, the sensation of Canó stepping up to the plate returned to how it felt in 2014.

Not since Ichiro left has a Mariners’ player entered the batter’s box and delivered to me such a sensation of confidence that something good was imminent. It is, incidentally, the opposite sensation derived from seeing his double play partner bat, but Robbie made up for that several times over in 2016. As long as he is healthy, there is no reason not to expect, while not the same power levels, ~30 home runs and a wRC+ around 130-140.

2017 Canót Believe Andy Van Slyke's Next Prediction: Robinson Cano will be the second baseman for the Seattle Mariners. He will do his job better than literally almost anyone in the world does their job. Ho hum.

Go M's.