[Ed. Note: This week, as part of a larger SB Nation season preview series, we will be focusing on “what’s changed?” for the 2017 Mariners. We’ll be examining each major aspect of the team—team culture, pitching, offense, defense, and the minors—throughout the week. Today we look at the offense.]
The core of the Mariners lineup returns in 2017, but will be surrounded by a supporting cast that fits a much different mold than that of previous years. It’s well known that one of the major focus points on the Mariners’ agenda this offseason was becoming more athletic, and they did just that with their new acquisitions. While most of the talk around the newcomers has been regarding the outfield defense, the added speed will be felt on the offensive side of the ball as well. During the offseason, the Mariners made major changes to four positions in the daily lineup (LF, RF, SS, and 1B), and every one of these positions is projected to be similar or better on the base paths than it was in 2016. In an offseason market saturated with power hitters, Jerry’s strategy was obvious as he elected not to load up on big bats, and instead decided to focus on defense and base running. He had long stressed the importance of bringing athleticism to the Mariners roster, and stayed true to his vision despite the market being more geared towards formulating a Jack Zduriencik dream team.
Let’s take a look at how Jerry’s offseason acquisitions have changed the Mariners lineup heading into 2017.
Note: Because UBR and wSB are calculated in terms of runs, I set the new players’ plate appearances to equal that of the departing players when calculating the numbers in the tables below. Obviously some players might play more or less than those who left, and therefore it won’t be a totally accurate representation of what they will actually do in 2017. However, it gives us a good look in comparing the different impact the 2017 player(s) will have on the basepaths compared to what the 2016 player(s) did over the same amount of playing time. All projections used are Steamer’s 2017 projections modified to match the PAs of the player(s) being replaced by the newcomer.
LF - Jarrod Dyson
Jarrod Dyson is currently penciled in as the everyday starter in left field for the Mariners in 2017. This will be the most significant role he has held in the majors, as he has primarily worked as a platoon player for the duration of his career. Over his time in the majors, Dyson has held a wRC+ of 90 and wOBA of .307 against right-handed pitchers. However, he has really struggled against lefties, sporting a wRC+ of only 65 and a wOBA of .269. While his bat appears to be a downgrade from the combination of Nori Aoki and Seth Smith patrolling left in 2016, Dyson brings a different tool to top of the Mariners lineup that they haven’t seen since Ichiro was terrorizing opposing pitchers. Dyson’s real value on offense comes from what he does on the base paths. Take a look at the chart below.
As you can see, Dyson’s ability to steal bases brings a whole new wrinkle to the lineup that Aoki and Smith didn’t provide last year. Aoki and Smith combined to be well below league average in wSB, and Dyson projects to be the polar opposite with a wSB of 2.6 over the same amount of playing time. If Dyson can manage to get on base enough to impact the game from the base paths, he is a viable everyday left fielder. If he continues to struggle against left handed pitchers and can’t get on base enough to regularly impact the game with his legs, the Mariners may need to consider platooning him with Guillermo Heredia or another right handed bat.
RF - Mitch Haniger
Mitch Haniger originally flew under the radar with Jean Segura taking the spotlight of the five player trade with Arizona. However, Jerry has been very vocal about the fact that he views Haniger as a valuable asset as well, and has proclaimed right field as his job to lose. While Steamer doesn’t seem particularly sold on Haniger’s offensive abilities, they still project him to be worth more (1.5 fWAR) than what the combination of Franklin Gutierrez and Seth “Dad” Smith contributed (1.1 fWAR) in 2016, presumably on account of the defensive upgrade he should provide based off of all the red you see in the bottom row of the chart below:
After requesting a demotion to Single-A to work on his hitting mechanics in 2015, Haniger quickly reascended Arizona’s minor league system posting ridiculous wRC+ numbers of 156 and 185 along the way before making his big league debut last season for the D-Backs. Mitch Haniger ultimate fanboy John Trupin shed some light on that development with his 40 in 40 piece covering the new right fielder:
The 26 year old has been off to an absolutely torrid start this year in Cactus League play, and has showed great maturity stepping right into the heart of the order with the likes of Segura, Cano and Cruz absent from it. If the mechanical adjustments he’s made at the plate can prove to play at the big league level in 2017 and beyond, Jerry and Co. just may have uncovered a key component for the next great core of Seattle Mariners.
SS - Jean Segura
Jean Segura made the biggest splash of all the acquisitions the Mariners made over the offseason. He had a monster year in 2016, and although his projections are a bit more modest in 2017, he is still an immediate upgrade over Ketel Marte who struggled mightily in 2016. However, this spring Segura has given us every reason to believe his 2016 season wasn’t an anomaly. He has impressed at every turn, absolutely tearing the cover off the ball in both the Cactus League and the WBC.
Segura could also theoretically benefit from his position in the Mariners lineup as he will most likely bat second, behind Jarrod Dyson and in front of Robinson Cano. Due to Dyson’s reputation as a world-class speedster, Segura should see a relatively higher percentage of fastballs when Dyson occupies first base. In 2016, Segura tore the cover off fastballs when he saw them, slugging at a rate of .529 according to Brooks Baseball. The protection of Cano should benefit Segura as well because pitchers will be less likely to pitch around him with Cano, Cruz, and Seager waiting in the wings.
Now even if last year does turn out to be an anomaly, and Segura is only able to produce his 2017 projection slashing .273/.316/.395, he is still a huge addition to a Mariners team projected to be right on the fringe of making the playoffs. The chart below shows just how significant of an upgrade Segura offers over Marte at the level of his current Steamer projection.
While the chart above pins Marte as a slightly better baserunner than Segura, it’s worth noting that Segura has held a wSB of 2.0 or better over the last two seasons, so his Steamer projection could be too low. Segura will also get over 600 PAs if he stays healthy in 2017, so he will most likely provide value beyond that projected in replicating Marte’s playing time. Overall, Segura is a significant upgrade at shortstop for the Mariners in almost every offensive category, and should be a major factor in the lineup going forward.
1B - Dan Vogelbach and Danny Valencia
The Mariners will once again approach the first base position with a pair of platoon partners in 2017, this time alternating between the versatile Danny Valencia and less versatile counterpart Dan Vogelbach. With first base not traditionally being a position loaded with speedsters, Trader Jerry seems to have gone against the grain of his “defense and base running” approach to the offense here, and appears willing to sacrifice defense at first base in hopes of the pair of DV’s crushing against opposite-handed pitchers.
The approach to the position is surprisingly similar to what we headed in to 2016 with. On one side, we have an established major league veteran with a reputation of crushing opposite hand pitching, and offering fringy at best defense. On the other, a rookie with major question marks about their ability to handle the defensive requirements of the position. Last season, the combination of Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee managed an embarrassing fWAR of -0.6 from a position, doubling the uselessness of former Mariner Dustin Ackley, who checked it at -0.3 fWAR. So why would Jerry feel inclined to revisit the well that poisoned his lineup just a year ago? Well, one major reason is Danny Valencia’s relatively superior ability to hit same-handed pitching. Take a look at the three year averages by wRC+ for Lind and Valencia against same-handed pitching preceding their acquisition by Seattle:
While Lind’s 2014 mark of -34 is no doubt partially affected by the extremely small sample size, the same could be said for Valencia’s outlier 2014 mark, when he received about 30% less plate appearances against righties than the following season. The sheer volume of opportunities Valencia has received against righties points to some degree of competency against them. Additionally, in the event of a complete bust by his rookie platoon-mate, Valencia could transition into an everyday role at first base, assuming he’s shown some level of defensive competency at the position. In case you missed it, Lookout Landing intern Luke Mounger went a little more in depth about Valencia’s seemingly underrated ability to hit righties in this piece that I definitely recommend checking out.
Vogelbach makes for something of a non-traditional platoon partner in the sense that he is still just 24 years old. That said, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if the team elected to go the route they took with Mike Zunino and James Paxton in 2016, and allow the youngster some time to fine tune his craft against southpaws while continuing to improve his defensive capabilities.
While both Valencia and Vogelbach have struggled both offensively and defensively to this point this spring, there’s almost literally nowhere to go but up from the production--or lack thereof--they received from first base last season. If you need just a little further reason for optimism, I’ll just leave this right here:
As a whole, the lineup in 2017 will be a lot more versatile than it was in 2016. The Mariners will be able to apply pressure to opposing pitchers on the base paths like they haven’t been able to in the past, while still having enough pop in the middle of the lineup to change games on a single pitch. The offense has the capability to score in multiple ways, and it’s clear that the days of DH/1B types roaming the Safeco grass have finally come to an end.
For the first time in his tenure with the Mariners, we see Jerry’s formula finally coming to fruition. During his introductory press conference in 2015 Jerry said, “The Mariners need to pitch, they need to catch it, and they need to be athletic.” He also even alluded to building a roster similar to that of the Mariners during the early 2000s, as he went on to say the following:
“That general description really fits the Pat Gillick Mariners. The early 2000s, when you have guys like Ichiro and Mike Cameron and the like, it was just really fun to watch. An athletic team that happened to have a good deal of under-the-radar pitching, guys like Gil Meche, Joel Pineiro, the early years of Freddy Garcia, guys where were sneaky good.”
To me, that sure sounds an awful lot like the team he has assembled for 2017. This team is more balanced, athletic, and has more pitching depth than we have seen in recent years. It might not be a finished product, but there is no denying that this team fits the mold Dipoto has envisioned from the moment he was named General Manager. I would love nothing more than to hear Jerry say “I told you so,” come October. Goms.