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The 2017 Mariners in review: Outfielders

This position group improved defensively, but took a big step backwards offensively

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers
wait Nelson how did you get in here
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Mariners season was a disappointment. There’s really no way to sugarcoat that. Sure, there were high moments, but as a whole, the Mariners played some really unenjoyable baseball at points during this year, as both Jake and Zach pointed out in pieces this past week. The pitching staff that was supposed to be never was, favorite prospects were traded away (miss you Toenail), and injuries interrupted promising seasons from players like Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and James Paxton. In the coming weeks, we’ll be launching some Big Picture-type pieces to assess what we as a staff believe the Mariners need to do to take a step forward this off-season.

In order to do that, we first need to complete the autopsy of the 2017 season, as icky as that sounds. This week, we’ll be looking back over each member of the 2017 squad, weighing their contributions, and projecting their role in 2018. Yesterday, we took a look at the infield; today, we’ll look at the outfield.

Jerry Dipoto’s stated goal was to improve the outfield defense, and he accomplished that; from scoring a dreadful -40.8 in defense in 2016, removing Nelson Cruz from the outfield and upgrading the defense resulted in a +.2—not a staggeringly large number, but a huge improvement nonetheless. However, the outfield wasn’t able to produce offensively like their 2016 counterparts, led by lead-footed but big-hitting Cruz and Seth Smith, and an inconsistent but ultimately net positive Nori Aoki. The 2016 squad was good for 8.9 fWAR thanks to their strong offensive performance, while in 2017, that number fell to 5.4. Injuries befell every outfielder not named Ben Gamel, but upgrading the outfield should again be on Dipoto’s to-do list for 2018.

Nelson Cruz

Overall performance: We’re rolling Cruz in with the outfielders, but it should be noted he only played 28 innings in the field this year, compared to 400 in 2016. 400! That’s so many innings! His 3.8 fWAR led the team, and his 146 wRC+ was twenty points higher than the next qualified player (love you, 2017 Mike Zunino). Cruz also walked more this year than he ever had while striking out the least he ever has as a Mariner, and not only does he run no significant platoon split, he hit righties better than he hit lefties (.395 wOBA vs. .357).

High point: Cruz charged into August ready to single-handedly lift his team to the playoffs, slashing a torrid .341/.413/.747.

Low point: After a hot start to the season, Cruz’s wRC+ averaged about 115 for May, June, and July. That’s not a bad mark, but for a player of Cruz’s caliber, it represents a drop-off from 2016, where he averaged a wRC+ of 152 over those same months.

2018 outlook: Thanks to a highly disciplined personal workout regimen in the off-season and the preternatural ability to take restorative naps under any circumstances, Cruz has been able to stave off Father Time as he enters his late 30s. However, if 2017 Cruz represents the new normal, the Mariners will have to find a way to make up for his missing production somewhere else in the lineup.

Guillermo Heredia

Overall performance: .249/.315/.337 with an even 80 wRC+, 6.3% BB% and 15% K-rate.

High point:

Low point: A 60 wRC+ for the second half reflected just how miserable it was to watch Heredia in the waning months of the season.

2018 outlook: Heredia has nearly identical strikeout percentages, regardless of pitcher handedness, and his walk rate versus righties is actually higher than it is against left-handed pitching. However, in an ideal world Heredia will get the majority of his playing time against lefties, because for all that his plate discipline stays the same, there is a stark difference in his actual production: a 118 wRC+ vs lefties and a 61 wRC+ against righties.

Mitch Haniger

Overall performance: 129 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR, 5th among rookie position players in fWAR.

High point: In the month of April, Haniger posted a 186 wRC+ and a 13.7% BB rate.

Low point: Haniger strained his oblique on April 25th and didn’t return until June 11th. On July 16th he was hit by a pitch on the hand, leaving it jammed & taped for the next two weeks, until he was hit in the face by a Jacob DeGrom fastball on July 29th, setting him out until August 19th. Mitch Haniger is a nice young man who does charity work and takes his job very seriously, baseball gods, why you gotta do him like this.

2018 outlook: After an injury-hampered middle of the season, it was encouraging to see Mitch Haniger finish strong in September. Ideally, Mitch would remain in right field where he fits best, but unless Jarrod Dyson returns or Heredia takes a step forward offensively, Seattle may run Haniger in center more days than not. The 26-year-old spent most of his time in 2016 as a CF for Arizona and can play a reasonable center field, but he’s not in the same class as Dyson or Heredia. On the flip side, Haniger’s 129 wRC+ would’ve been the 3rd-highest among full-time center fielders this year, trailing only Mike Trout and Charlie Blackmon (min. 400 PAs). Even with a bit of regression, if Haniger can avoid being drilled by pitches in sensitive areas, he’ll have a good shot at a healthier, 3-4 WAR season wherever he lines up in the outfield.

Ben Gamel

Overall performance: 99 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR; was 9th in MLB in BA at All-Star break

High point: 127 first half wRC+, propped up largely by a 161 wRC+ June in which he batted .393.

Low point: Gamel’s rookie season was dragged down substantially by his August performance, in which he posted a wRC+ of just 17, slashing .161/.215/.218 despite having by far his best strikeout rate of the season (11.8%). It’s worth noting his August BABIP was just .173.

2018 outlook: Gamel looks to have firmly entrenched himself as the M’s everyday left fielder, barring the acquisition of a right fielder and subsequent bumping of Mitch Haniger to center field, in which case Gamel would simply slide over to right. Gamel also makes sense as an everyday player because even as a lefty batter, his platoon splits aren’t horrible; he posted a wRC+ of 86 against in 120 at-bats against LHP.

Jarrod Dyson

Overall performance: 85 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR; career-high 390 plate appearances

High point: Season-long elite defense and baserunning, ranking 7th among outfielders with 15 DRS and 9th among outfielders in BsR at 5.6, despite missing roughly a third of the season.

Low point: While Dyson’s bat completely disappeared in the second half, what really killed his value after the All-Star break is the fact that he only appeared in 29 second half games. His defensive and baserunning abilities were greatly missed, and severely cut into his season long value.

2018 outlook: Dyson is ticketed for free agency for the first time as a 33-year old. Coming off of a pelvic surgery that manager Scott Servais dubbed “very minor”, Dyson will likely look to cash in for a 2-3 year deal with a team in need of an elite center fielder. A return to Seattle makes plenty of sense for Dyson if the Mariners elect to save the big bucks for their starting pitching and/or first base needs.

Outfielder Potpurri:

Jacob Hannemann: I have a theory that Jerry has decided the new market efficiency is located in the Church of Latter Day Saints, as Hannemann is the second BYU grad he’s signed in his tenure here (Adam Law, grandson of the Pirates great Vern Law, is the other one). Thanks to losing two years of development while serving his mission trip, Hannemann is very raw at the plate for a 26-year-old, as Connor noted in his excellent fanpost here. After a cup of coffee latte get it because heh heh Starbucks heh heh to close out the season this year, Hannemann will most likely head back to Tacoma next year, with the Rainiers running another “three center fielders” outfield with Hannemann, Andrew Aplin, and Ian Miller.

Dearly departed members of the outfield in 2017: Boog Powell (BOOOOOG), Leonys Martin. We will always love you, Leonys. Mariachi band best friends 4eva.