It’s easy to forget how the Jack Zduriencik era ended - in part because the memories exist almost solely in our nightmares - but perhaps the biggest departure is in the outfield.
In 2015, the starting outfield was:
- LF: Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez
- CF: Austin Jackson
- RF: Nelson Cruz
Other players who spent extended time in the field included:
- Dustin Ackley, who slashed .215/.270/.366
- Brad Miller, who was not a good defensive player at any position, but had a little audition in left and center to close out the year
- Rickie Weeks, who OPS’d .513 in 95 brutal plate appearances and contributed this defensive gem (flashback warning!!):
This wasn’t the worst-hitting outfield the M’s have ever put together, as Nelson Cruz would never let that happen. But as anyone who watched a game or two can tell you, it was a defensive atrocity.
So with that backdrop in mind, it’s even more incredible what Jerry Dipoto has done to remodel the outfield in less than two short years.
From day one, defense has been a priority for JDP, and that was extremely evident after Dipoto sent Secret Agent Tom Wilhelmsen, one-time fun outfielder James Jones, and everyone’s favorite late-bloomer Patrick Kivlehan to Texas for Leonys Martin. This year, Martin was supplanted by Jarrod Dyson, a better defender whose wheels are unparalleled in the Mariners’ recent past.
But even the corners, where the old regime tended to put big bats without any glove, have seen the impact of Trader Jerry’s love of defense. Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger are all capable of playing center if needed (and Heredia has been basically platooning with Dyson of late), but all three provide immense defensive value no matter where they’re slotted in the field.
And it’s been a nice surprise to see how well they’ve hit, too. Ben Gamel will be featured more later this week, but after an OPS+ of 69 in an admittedly small sample size of 47 plate appearances last September, he’s turned it up to the tune of a .331/.400/.452 line in 181 PAs. Heredia has been slightly below league average, but his defense has made him a valuable piece - he’s currently at 1.5 WAR, per Baseball Reference. And I don’t think anyone reading this piece needs a reminder of how good Mitch Haniger has been when healthy.
Creating a good outfield isn’t a Dipoto-specific goal. But what’s been the most shocking is how quickly the outfield has been completely overhauled. And last night was a great example of what this outfield is capable of.
Gamel was 2-4 with a pair of walks and three runs hitting leadoff. The player immediately following him in the order, Haniger, left his stamp on the game with four hits and four runs of his own in just his second game after returning. Even Heredia got in on the hit parade to go along with some strong CF defense.
No, the M’s don’t have any superstars in the outfield - unless Mitch can keep this up. And there’s no guarantee that these guys can maintain their production. But to have four plus defenders, three of whom are under club control for six years, marks a rapid change from just a couple seasons ago. This is the stage that Jack Z never got to in his initial defensive push after his hiring, and this is the stage he abandoned when the wheels came off in 2010. No matter what happens with this current outfield configuration, Jerry’s ability to revamp this part of the roster inspires hope and some confidence in whatever needs to happen down the road.