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(In)Effectively Wild: Spring Training Performances of Former Mariners

We take a look at some of the most interesting Mariners’ spring training performances of the past 10 years

While it may be cold and drizzly in Seattle, in Arizona, spring training is just heating up. Mariners fans are elated to see their beloved team back out there donning their fresh new navy and northwest green trident logo caps, and while you should be excited, I’m going to caution you to not overreact to the gaudy--or in some cases, god-awful) stat lines your favorite M’s are putting up.

Below, we take a look at some of the most notable spring training performances put up by M’s in the last ten years. In doing so, we passed over normally good seasons by normally good players, and normally bad seasons by normally bad players. That said, don’t be surprised to see some amazingly awful seasons by bad players (or spectacular ones by good players).

Jesse Foppert, Starting Pitcher, 2006

8.0 IP, 11 ER, 12 BB, 12.38 ERA, .207 OPP AVG, 2.25 WHIP

In sixth grade I was called on to pitch in the final inning of a Little League playoff game. My team was winning by nine runs. About 20 minutes later, we lost. I walked so many batters that inning. I also hit quite a few with pitches. What I mean to say is that I know exactly how Jesse Foppert must have felt when he walked a batter and a half per inning in the spring of 2016. Analyzing his professional career, walks, as well as injuries, seemed to be his Achilles’ heel. In 122.1 innings major league innings, Foppert walked 82 batters. He never made it back to the majors after 2005. He continued to struggle with walks in the following years, with BB/9 rates higher than 9.00 in multiple occassions. He only played five years with the Rainiers in 2006 before getting injured and was released the next offseason.

2006 Regular Season (AAA): 5 G, 10.1 IP, 8 ER, 9.58 K/9, 12.19 BB/9, 6.97 ERA, 6.12 FIP, 2.32 WHIP, .263 OPP AVG

Luis Gonzalez, Relief Pitcher, 2006

11.0 IP, 10 ER, 12 BB, 8.18 ERA, .292 OPP AVG, 2.36 WHIP

Over the past ten Mariners spring trainings, Gonzalez’s 12 free passes in the spring of 2006 ties him for the most with our friend Jesse Foppert, who coincidentally accomplished the feat that very same spring. To nobody’s surprise, the lefty reliever failed to make the Mariners Opening Day roster, and wound up being stashed in Triple-A the following season in the Dodgers organization. He kicked around the minors through 2008 before calling it quits, never having appeared in the majors.

2006 Regular Season (AAA): 35 G, 44.0 IP, 27 ER, 7.98 K/9, 8.18 BB/9, 5.52 ERA, 5.79 FIP, 1.98 WHIP, .280 OPP AVG

Willie Bloomquist, Shortstop, 2006

48 AB, .188 AVG, .428 OPS, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 7 SO, 5 SB

The spring of 2006 was unkind to many of the M’s participants in big league spring training, and Willie B certainly fit that mold. That said, his remarkably low OPS couldn’t stop him from appearing in 102 games for the big league club in the upcoming season. He actually went on to have a marginal contribution to the team in 2006, but mostly due to his 16 swiped bags and capable defense. Never known for his bat, the South Kitsap High School product carved out a career as a fleet footed utility man for the Mariners, retired following a 35 game stint with the club in 2015.

2006 Regular Season (SEA): 102 G, 251 AB, .247 AVG, .619 OPS, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 16 SB, 24 BB, 40 SO, 69 wRC+, 0.4 WAR

Willie Bloomquist, Shortstop, 2007

62 AB, .419 AVG, .994 OPS, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 6 BB, 9 SO, 9 SB

After appearing in a career high 102 games in 2006, Bloomquist must have showed up to spring training on cloud nine in 2007. He swatted opposing spring training pitching to post offensive numbers he would never come close to touching in a regular season. He more than doubled his average, OPS, and walks from the previous spring, and nearly doubled his stolen base total. Seemingly primed for a breakout season in 2007, Bloomquist went on to post his first negative WAR season of his career, largely due to a transition to a more defense-intensive role. The bat, however, did seem to make the trip from Arizona to Seattle with him, as he posted his highest wRC+ through that point of his career.

2007 Regular Season (SEA): 91 G, 173 AB, .277 AVG, .650 OPS, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 7 SB, 10 BB, 35 SO, 77 wRC+, -0.3 WAR

Érik Bédard, Starting Pitcher, 2008

24.0 IP, 23 ER, 8.63 ERA, .333 OPP AVG, 1.79 WHIP

This was an unfortunate way for Mariners fans to get introduced to Érik Bédard. He got hit hard that spring, allowing nearly two baserunners an inning, as well as almost a run an inning. Additionally, he only struck out 10 batters in 24 innings, while issuing eight walks. Bédard, for the most part, was able to buckle down by the beginning of the regular season. But an injury-ridden 2008 paved the way for a stint in Seattle where he saw extensive time on the DL.

2008 Regular Season (MLB) : 15 GS, 81.0 IP, 33 ER, 8.00 K/9, 4.11 BB/9, 3.67 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 1.32 WHIP, .229 OPP AVG, 0.9 WAR

Mike Morse, Right Fielder, 2008

65 AB, .492 AVG, 1.317 OPS, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 8 BB, 11 SO, 1 SB

As hard as it is to imagine now, Morse actually came up as a shortstop, and as recently as 2007, he was still playing predominantly short and third base, albeit mostly at the Triple-A level. 2008 saw a switch to the outfield for Morse, who landed the job as the Opening Day right fielder after a monster spring training where he got hits in nearly half of his at-bats. Seemingly headed for a breakout season, Morse suffered a torn labrum attempting a diving catch in just his fifth game of the season, bringing an abrupt ending to his 2008 campaign. Morse ended up clearing waivers, and being sent to Tacoma for the start of the 2009 season, where he wrecked PCL pitching before being dealt for M’s cult hero Ryan Langerhans. Morse eventually returned to the M’s in 2013 to post -1.3 WAR in 76 games before being dealt away again, this time for good (hopefully).

2008 Regular Season (SEA): 5 G, 9 AB, .222 AVG, .697 OPS, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB, 1 BB, 4 SO, 101 wRC+, 0.0 WAR

Mike Wilson, Right Fielder, 2009

69 AB, .261 AVG, .998 OPS, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 7 BB, 24 SO, 1 SB

HOLY DINGERS. Mike Wilson absolutely tore the cover off the baseball in the spring of 2009. His eight homers and five doubles helped him sport a .320 ISO. 13 of his 18 hits resulted in extra bases. The other stat that sticks out about his spring, though, was his strikeouts. Wilson ran a 30.4 K% that spring. Unfortunately, he didn’t fare much better while splitting time between AA and AAA that season, where he posted K% of 28.7 and 29.6 respectively. He would eventually find his way to the big leagues in 2011, but not before quieting his propensity to strike out.

2009 Regular Season (AA/AAA): 66 G, 235 AB, .196 AVG, .664 OPS, 10 HR, 30 RBI, 29 BB, 81 SO, 46 wRC+ (AAA)

Chone Figgins, Second Base, 2010

59 AB, .254 AVG, .811 OPS, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 16 BB, 10 SO, 3 SB

As hard as it is to talk about now, there was a time when Mariners fans were excited about the name Chone Figgins. Fresh off a 6.5 win season, the slight second baseman landed in Seattle by way of a four year contract from new General Manager Jack Zduriencik, and brought with him hope that the M’s would capture the American League West title that had long been avoiding them. After leading the league in walks with 101 in 2009--the Mariners were lead by a 39-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. that year with 63--Figgins got 2010 started on the right foot, walking 16 times in just 59 at-bats in the spring of 2010. For a little more frame of reference, the team’s starting shortstop that year, Josh Wilson, would go on to walk less times in 108 games (361 at-bats). Needless to say, Mariners fans were still expecting big things from Figgins as the season got underway. While he went on to post his best and only productive season with the organization that year, the Figgins signing went on to be a total bust as his ability to hit and get on base completely disappeared after a 1.3 WAR season in 2010 that saw his team lose 101 games.

2010 Regular Season (SEA): 161 G, 602 AB, .259 AVG, .646 OPS, 1 HR, 35 RBI, 42 SB, 74 BB, 114 SO, 88 wRC+, 1.3 WAR

Mike Sweeney, Designated Hitter, 2010

40 AB, .500 AVG, 1.362 OPS, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 0 BB, 8 SO, 0 SB

What makes Sweeney’s 1.362 OPS even more impressive is he did it without drawing a single walk. The guy sported a .350 ISO. That’s just ridiculous. Sweeney was 20 for 40 with nine extra base hits. It’s obviously impossible to expect that he would keep up such hot hitting into the regular season, making his zero walks a little daunting. Fortunately, he had a 8.3 BB%, which is right around his career average. The veteran DH was productive in 2010, but saw limited action before getting traded to the Phillies towards the end of the year.

2010 Regular Season (SEA/PHI): 56 G, 151 AB, .252 AVG, .765 OPS, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 14 BB, 21 SO, 112 wRC+, 0.5 WAR

Jack Cust, Designated Hitter, 2011

65 AB, .231 AVG, .733 OPS, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 4 BB, 25 K (35.8 K%), 0 SB

Fortunately, Jack Cust was able to strike out less frequently during the 2011 regular season than he was in spring training. Unfortunately, the designated hitter ran with a 32.2 K% during the regular season last year. Cust had four solid years in Oakland before Seattle brought him in, hoping to bolster their lineup. Things didn’t go as planned, leading the Mariners to part ways with the veteran slugger at the end of July that year. What’s easy to forget about Cust is how good he is at drawing walks. His career 31.7 K% distracts from an incredible 17.2% walk rate. He was able to walk a fair amount in 2011, sporting a solid .344 OBP, but he couldn’t generate enough power for the Mariners to keep him around for the entirety of the season.

2011 Regular Season (MLB): 67 G, 225 AB, .213 AVG, .673 OPS, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 44 BB, 87 SO, 97 wRC+, -0.1 WAR

Hung-Chih Kuo, Relief Pitcher, 2012

6.2 IP, 13 ER, 17.55 ERA, .417 OPP AVG, 2.85 WHIP

I’ll be honest. This is the first guy on this list I have absolutely zero recollection of, which is kind of surprising considering this is one of the more recent names on this list. Kuo certainly didn’t do me any favors by turning in anything close to a noteworthy performance. Yet, here I am, making notes about him! Apparently, the Taiwanese left-hander was actually an All-Star in 2010, when he posted 2.3 WAR as a Dodgers reliever. Following the season, he battled injuries that persisted throughout the entire 2011 season, and became a free agent after the Dodgers elected not to tender him a contract after his fifth operation on the elbow of his throwing arm. That didn’t stop the Mariners from offering him a non-guaranteed contract and invite to big league camp in 2012, where Kuo just got absolutely brutalized over 6.2 innings pitched. His 17.55 ERA that spring was the highest of the last 10 Mariners spring trainings over any remotely meaningful workload. Needless to say, he did not crack the M’s Opening Day roster. He was, however, given a minor league deal earlier this month by the San Diego Padres after apparently restoring some value last year playing for something called the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions from 2013-2016.

2012 Regular Season: Did Not Pitch

Brandon Maurer, Starting Pitcher, 2013

24.0 IP, 4 ER, 1.50 ERA, .261 OPP AVG, 1.25 WHIP,

In 2013, the Seattle Mariners were understandably starving for some starting pitching after devoting 44 starts to the lethal combination of Blake Beaven and Hector Noesi the season before. Things were looking promising when a young pitcher making his first appearance at big league camp burst on to the scene in a big way in the form of Brandon Maurer. Maurer had pitched the entire 2012 season in Double-A, and was considered something of an afterthought behind the three-headed pitching prospect monster that was Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton. That didn’t stop Maurer from turning heads at camp, putting up some pretty impressive numbers. While his spring performance wasn’t exactly dominating, the big righty managed to limit runs well enough to secure a spot on the starting pitching rotation to being the year. After a handful of rough outings that eventually led to a pretty inflated ERA, Maurer eventually was transitioned to the bullpen, before being dealt to the Padres for late Christmas gift and Mariners all-time fan favorite Seth Smith in December of 2014.

2013 Regular Season (SEA): 24 G (14 GS), 90.0 IP, 63 ER, 7.00 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 6.30 ERA, 4.90 FIP, 1.58 WHIP, .309 OPP AVG

Mike Morse, Left Fielder, 2013

56 AB, .357 AVG, 1.332 OPS, 9 HR, 15 RBI, 7 BB, 18 K, 0 SB

Mike Morse rode the momentum from his spectacular spring in 2013 into the start of 2013; he hit eight home runs in the first month of that season, six of which came before April 10th. Unfortunately, he would eventually cool off, and only hit 13 dingers that season. It’s weird to think that 2013, which marked Morse’s second stint with the Mariners, saw him take the field more times for Seattle than any year prior. It felt so short-lived, but he didn’t play more than 72 games in the big leagues during his first go-around with the club. It’s also interesting that he only hit three home runs in exactly 300 at bats while with Seattle from 2005 to 2008. He would go on to hit 31 homers for the Nationals in 2010, but injuries kept him from ever hitting more than 20 in a year after that.

2013 Regular Season (SEA/BAL): 88 G, 312 AB, .215 AVG, .651 OPS, 13 HR, 27 RBI, 21 BB, 87 SO, 81 wRC+, -1.7 WAR

Brad Miller, Shortstop, 2014

61 AB, .410 AVG, 1.314 OPS, 4 3B, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 8 BB, 13 K, 1 SB

I had the pleasure of going to spring training and watching Brad Miller destroy the baseball in person. I fell in love with him then. I am the most unapologetic Brad Miller lover out there. Watching him drill the most triples in the past 10 M’s spring trainings was awesome because we got to see his crazy legs fly around the base paths. He hit for power, average, and drew some walks. He wouldn’t have such luck in the regular season that year, however. His 87 wRC+ in 2014 is his worst at any level at any point of his career to date. He pieced it back together the following year and had a solid 2015 before being traded to the Rays in Jerry’s first blockbuster deal. Watching him hit 30 dingers in Tampa was so bittersweet. I miss you, Brad.

2014 MLB stat line: .221/.288/.365, 10 HR, 36 RBI, 4 SB, 23.1 K%, 8.3 BB%, 87 wRC+

2014 Regular Season (MLB): 123 G, 367 AB, .221 AVG, .653 OPS, 10 HR, 36 RBI, 34 BB, 94 SO, 87 wRC+, 1.6 WAR

Taijuan Walker, Starting Pitcher, 2015

4-0, 27.0 IP, 2 ER, 0.67 ERA, .114 OPP AVG, 0.56 WHIP

Oh Taijuan. What you could have been. After effectively exciting the Mariners fan base in 2014 by turning in five adequate starts over which his true potential flashed here and there, Taijuan Walker was everyone’s preseason darling to break out in a big way in 2015. He certainly strengthened his case by turning in perhaps the most dominant spring training pitching performance in Mariners history, and earned himself a spot in the rotation to start the 2015 campaign. Entering the season at just 22 years old, Walker was looking like the second coming of King Felix, with many folks deeming him the odds-on favorite to overtake his position atop the rotation, perhaps sooner than later. In that moment, his future seemed so clearly laid out. He was set to be the arm we built our playoff rotation around in the next year or two, with Felix taking on the humble role of 1-B. Flash forward 22 months: After an unimpressive follow-up season to his 2015 2.0 win season, questions surrounded Walker’s work ethic, and he was eventually dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade that netted the team 2016 National League hits leader Jean Segura. I don’t think anyone saw this future for the super-projectable Walker, who after all the hype surrounding him for years in the Mariners organization, managed just 3.4 WAR scattered over the course of four partial seasons with the big league team.

2015 Regular Season (SEA): 29 GS, 169.2 IP, 86 ER, 8.33 K/9, 2.12 BB/9, 4.56 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 1.20 WHIP, .248 OPP AVG

James Paxton, Starting Pitcher, 2016

15.0 IP, 18 ER, 10.80 ERA, .352 OPP AVG, 2.20 WHIP

A “best shape of his life” story for James Paxton didn’t bring along a “best spring training of his life” showing in Peoria. A grand total of six strikeouts accompanied his 10.80 ERA and 4.80 BB/9. Consequently, the flame throwing southpaw, who had shown plenty of promise the previous two years, started the season with the Tacoma Rainiers. Paxton didn’t make his 2016 Mariners debut until June, but when he did, he showed off a new arm slot that gave him a nice velocity bump, and played no small part in him contributing the best season of his young career. His 2.80 FIP in 20 starts earned him a 3.5 WAR. Perhaps more importantly, he was able to cruise through the season without being struck by any major injuries [insert furious glare in Andrelton Simmons’ direction here].

2016 Regular Season (SEA) : 20 GS, 121.0 IP, 51 ER, 8.70 K/9, 1.79 BB/9, 3.79 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 1.31 WHIP, .276 OPP AVG, 3.5 WAR

Other than some fun reading, the numbers above should serve as a warning: analysis of the players on the field should not simply start and end with their stat line. Spring stat lines can definitely be fun to look at (as you just saw!), but when analyzing a player’s performance, try to mostly ignore counting stats, and pay closer attention to rate stats, such as walk percentage (BB%) and strikeout percentage (K%), as they generally indicate modifications made to how a player is approaching each at-bat. If you do want something that you feel can help you put on your scouting hat this spring, take a look at Kate’s Beginner’s Guide to Scouting or Jake’s analysis of which spring training stats might matter.