After a month of looking overmatched in a new but equally exasperating way at the plate, Mike Zunino has been sent down to Tacoma.
#Mariners just announced C Mike Zunino optioned to Tacoma. Tuffy Gosewisch recalled.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) May 6, 2017
Zunino has done a few things well this year. His chase rate on pitches out of the zone (O-Swing) is a career low 27.5%, two percent better than league-average. He’s seeing a career high number of pitches per PA, and though his BB% of 7.5% is still unremarkable, it’s well above the dismal rates he put up in 2014 and 2015. Zunino is even hitting the ball solidly, difficult as it may seem to believe. His hard hit rate is the highest of his career, a healthy 35.7% rate that is well above league-average as well.
The problem has been the launch angle of those hits, of course, and Zunino’s lack of power (0 HRs, a not so nice .069 ISO) means he cannot make up for his other deficiences. A Mike Zunino that hits grounders is a Mike Zunino that is a bad baseball player. Zunino has looked better this year at laying off junk, as his plate discipline numbers bear out, but he’s been subsequently unable to punish balls in the zone. Scott Brosius spoke recently about Zu needing to “shorten his bat path,” which, yeah, definitely.
Zunino is the highest ceiling catcher in the M’s organization, even after all his foibles, and with few attractive or feasible options available in free agency currently or next offseason, there aren’t many good alternatives. I’m not opposed to a Jarrod Saltalamacchia flier but that’s far from encouraging either.
Tuffy Gosewisch has been disciplined offensively in Tacoma, posting a 13.6% BB rate, which is about the most positive thing I can say about his bat. He’s never posted a BB rate at the MLB level as high as Zunino’s this year, nor the inkling of his power. The 33 year-old has one top notch skill, and that’s his work behind the plate.
There’s only so much value you can provide defensively, however, and the cost is steep with the bat. With 3/5ths of the rotation on the DL and three expected starters (Mitch Haniger, Daniel Vogelbach, Zunino) now either injured or attempting to reestablish their skills, May looks grim, and avoiding digging a hole too deep to return from when the team is healthy feels like a lofty goal. Gosewisch isn’t worse than what Zunino has been so far, but he’s essentially exactly what Zunino has been so far. Carlos Ruiz should see the lion’s share of work, but a somewhat more even split seems likely to help the veteran rest.