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. We started with the infield and outfield, and then moved on to starting pitching and the bullpen. Today we close out the series by looking at the catching staff. Mariners catchers actually came in sixth overall by fWAR this year, and would have been fifth in all of baseball if not for Tuffy Gosewisch’s -.6 mark. Their overall 3.7 fWAR is still leaps and bounds better than last year’s 2.4, however, led mostly by a resurgent Mike Zunino.
Overall performance: Oh sweet Mikey Zucchini. After a rough start that saw him spending time in Tacoma this year, Z accumulated more fWAR in 2017 than in all his previous professional seasons combined, with an MLB career high of 126 wRC+. He’s the fourth-best catcher in baseball with at least 400 PAs, according to Fangraphs, and I think there’s a good argument he’s better than Realmuto, who strikes out significantly less than Z and hits for a better average but also doesn’t walk as much and doesn’t have anywhere close to the power Z has. Our Mikey still strikes out a jazillion times, but he has learned to take a walk (Z has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the C the Z philosophy, almost tripling his 2014 walk rate). I am literally choking up typing this. WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU, MIKE.
High point: Junino was great; JuOctoberandSeptember were even better, as he flew close to a wRC+ of 200 each time. It’s hard to argue with the heart-stopping ten home runs he hit over the month of June, although his K-BB numbers were a little better at the end of the season. The best part, though, was seeing Zunino’s huge smile every time he did something great. There is no better modern Mariners redemption story than Michael Accorsi Zunino. Please let it be a story with another few chapters.
Low point: After posting a 32 wRC+ for the first month of the season, Zunino was again banished to Tacoma, where he proceeded to go on a tear against hapless PCL pitching. He returned at the end of May and hit a dinger in his first game back before ushering in Seattle’s newest holiday, Junino.
2018 Outlook: Please let 2017 Mike Zunino be the final form of the Zu-bat. Please. Please. Please. Or, if you want to get really greedy, 2017 offensive Mike Zunino plus an earlier version of Mike Zunino’s defense. I FAN MYSELF. If Z can just maintain something close to this level of production—however he gets there, whether it’s continuing to be the three true outcomes king or maybe just striking out less and collecting a few more base knocks—the Mariners will find themselves in possession of an All-Star.
Overall performance: In 145 PAs Chooch was worth 0.5 fWAR, with an 84 wRC+, a 9.7% walk-rate and 26.2% K-rate. He caught seven runners stealing, and picked off one. Also supposedly his nickname is now "Bad Dude"?
And apparently the 40 in 40 piece on him back in January is now the basis for his Wikipedia summary?
Kyle Seager and Chooch ritual before every game. Who can name more animals? - Seager y Ruiz ritual antes del juego. Quien nombra más? pic.twitter.com/0rYn3l6Jjn— Manny Acta (@MannyActa14) September 27, 2017
Carlos Ruiz strikes out Kennys Vargas! pic.twitter.com/4SBX6WR9M5— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) June 14, 2017
Philly loves ya, Chooch. pic.twitter.com/sVAYg9L4Mr— Phillies (@Phillies) May 10, 2017
And okay, just one more of those, because they gave him a video tribute and the fans in Philly are notoriously cranky but hearing Citizens Bank Park fill with Choooooooch warmed my heart.
Those arent booooooos— John Clark NBCPhilly (@JClarkNBCS) May 10, 2017
Standing for Carlos Ruiz and video tribute pic.twitter.com/eBLNecWvKq
He also hit three home runs, including a glorious game where he went back-to-back with Mike Zunino, and each one was magnificent.
Low point: The 104 times Chooch stood at the plate and did not get on base. Also his framing was objectively miserable, and that's coming from someone who's still pretty bullish on the virtues of framing to begin with.
2018 outlook: He will sail off into the wild blue yonder of free agency. Maybe he'll get picked up as a backup? Maybe he'll sign a minor league deal? Maybe the Phillies bring him back in some sort of coaching capacity? He'll be 39 in a few months, so it's hard to know what his future holds, but he was the first professional baseball player I ever interviewed and I'll always be grateful for his kindness and patience as I bumbled my way through those questions. Here's to you, Chooch.
Overall Performance: How many games do you think Tuffy Gosewisch played in? Think about it, get a number in your head.
You got it?
Was the answer 11? Because somehow it was only 11.
That is, impossibly, the same number of appearances that Gordon Beckham, Jacob Hannemann, and Erasmo Ramirez had, all of whom, incidentally, had better offensive production this year than Tuffy. The 34-year-old Gosewisch was claimed off of waivers last offseason and brought with him a reputation as a featherweight in the batter’s box but solid defensive chops and unimpeachable character and leadership. By all accounts he was a steadying force in an otherwise turbulent season in Tacoma, where he finished the season as the lone player above the age of 30. Unfortunately, his time in Seattle was nothing short of a disaster.
High point: Stole a base against the Fresno Grizzlies on August 25th, which had to be a thrill. Also the Mariners only went 5-6 in games where he appeared, somehow.
Low point: Only six position players in MLB history have ever had a lower wRC+ than Tuffy’s -59 in a minimum of 31 plate appearances. Tuffy’s 14 K’s in 31 PA’s are not good. They’re just not.
2018 outlook: This has been a lot of punching down at Tuffy, but he is what he is, and with a well-respected reputation around the league, he seems well positioned to transition to a coaching role should he so choose. Gosewisch is arbitration-eligible in 2018, and will assuredly be non-tendered and become a free agent instead of receiving ~$680,000 from the Mariners. If he never plays another MLB game, his final highlight on MLB.com will be video titled “Gosewisch touches first base.” Therein, Gosewisch doubles for the Diamondbacks in 2016 and then is pinch-run for by Socrates Brito in the greatest combination of names in a substitution in baseball history. Fare thee well, Tuffward.
Overall Performance: Acquired in the same trade that brought Ryan Garton and his mustache over to the Mariners, Marjama didn’t immediately light up the Pacific Coast League the same way he did the International League, where he was an All-Star with a 120 wRC+. In his 86 PAs as a Rainier, he did show the same plate discipline he had evinced in the Rays’ system, and he swatted three dingers in just 21 games, offering a tantalizing peek at the power (.170ish ISO) that lives in his right-handed bat.
High point: Unrecruited in high school, Mike Marjama transferred to LBSU from a JUCO thinking he was going to have a career in medicine and play a little baseball on the side, maybe teach high school like his dad. He was drafted by the White Sox, traded to the Rays for nothing, and spent five years slogging through A-level ball. This year, the 28-year-old got to make his MLB debut. He received 9 PAs and hit his first major-league home run in one of them. (He’s still substitute teaching this off-season, though.)
2018 Outlook: Dipoto claims he didn’t know Marjama was one of Andy McKay’s proteges from Sacramento City College/the Northwoods League, but to that I say: Siri, call bullshit. The Mariners gave up an actual possible prospect in Anthony Misieciwz (plus speedy infielder Luis Rengifo) to get Garton/Marjama, and while Garton has been outrighted to Tacoma for depth, it seems like Marjama will be given the chance to compete for the backup catcher job. The power is no joke--here he is whomping a dinger to space off Lucas Giolito--but Marjama is still gaining experience behind the dish. He can also play first base, making him doubly-useful as a bench player. I’m hoping to see Marjama duct-taped to Dan Wilson’s side during spring training.