The first half has blissfully concluded. The Mariners sit at 43-47, and it was pretty rough getting there, like “walking on your knees over a desert of broken glass” rough. Despite winning their final game before the break, the Mariners did not inspire confidence on the way there, recently dropping games against objectively Bad Teams like the Phillies and the As, and being swept by the red-hot Royals. Here are some things they have to do in order to play watchable baseball in the second half:
Get better on the basepaths:
The 2017 Mariners were supposed to bring speed and disruption on the basepaths. They’ve brought disruption, but mostly to their fans’ happiness. Fangraphs gives the Mariners a BsR (baserunning) score of -16.6, worst in all of baseball (and by a significant margin! The Mets, the next-worst team, sit at -14.3, and they sometimes have PITCHERS on the bases). After Jarrod Dyson and his 5.3 BsR score, the next two closest scores are Taylor Motter and Leonys Martín, both at 1.7. Leonys Martín has not worn a Mariners jersey since April. The only other Mariners with positive baserunning scores are Ben Gamel, Mike Freeman, and Tyler Smith, only one of whom is still on the active roster. The next seven names on the list are all pitchers, and then Tuffy Gosewisch, who basically brings the offensive value of a pitcher. Look, we know Robinson Canó (-3.0) and Nelson Cruz (-4.3) are going to be baserunning dreadnoughts, but there’s no reason for Danny Valencia (-5.6) or Jean Segura (-3.5) or Guillermo Heredia (-2.5) to suck as badly on the basepaths as they have. Part of the struggles in this particular ranking have to do with the Mariners’ penchant for grounding into double plays (they have the 6th most in the league at 80) but a significant portion of it has been poor decision-making. Stop trying to take an extra base, stop getting picked off, stop making bad reads and getting caught stealing (looking at you, Guillermo and Danny, both of whom have been caught stealing more than they’ve successfully stolen bases). You guys. Stop it.
Kyle Seager’s power surge must continue:
When functioning at its best, the Mariners lineup works like this: one or both of the leadoff guys get on, and then Canó or Cruz or both get them over and in. Then Kyle Seager steps up, ideally to start off the next wave of scoring, or to pick up any straggling base runners. And since there’s a good chance those straggling baserunners are the leaden-legged Canó and Cruz, it’s important that said hit to pick up the baserunners be of the extra-base variety. The problem is, Seager hasn’t been hitting for extra bases like he has in the past. Back in May, Jake took a look at the slumping Kyle Seager and concluded that all his peripherals were the basically the same, save for his ISO. He included a graph of Seager’s 30-game rolling ISO over his career and pointed out how streaky a hitter Seager is, getting hot for a while and then cooling down before repeating the cycle, like a stocky little washing machine. “As soon as he regains his power stroke, he should be the same Kyle Seager we’ve come to love and appreciate,” concluded Jake. Let’s check in on where Kyle is now, compared to where he was at the beginning of the season:
This is good! Kyle dug himself a pretty big hole at the beginning of the season, but has steadily been climbing out of said hole. In June, his ISO was .209, about 50 points higher than it was in May, which was in turn about 20 points higher than it was in April. Like the rest of his teammates, he had a lousy start to July, but hopefully a little break will give him an extra push to keep moving in the right direction. We could see regression coming from the young breakout stars (cough cough Ben Gamel cough cough .422 BABIP) and consistency from Kyle, Robi, and Nelson will be necessary to counteract that. Please be resting, All-Star friends. Jarrod Dyson cannot be depended on to hit five more home runs.
Consistency on the pitching staff at both ends:
There’s a good argument to be made that Ariel Miranda has been the most consistent starting pitcher for the Mariners this year. Miranda has made 18 starts so far. 12 of those times—in two-thirds of his appearances—he has given up between 0-2 runs. The other six times, he has given up 4 runs (3x), 6 runs (2x) and 8 runs (1x). So, three bad, three meh, 12 good. Run support is a function of luck and largely out of the pitcher’s control, but Miranda does enjoy one of the best marks in the league, at about six runs per game. Ariel Miranda has transformed this year from “unknown quantity with shaky FIP numbers” to “known quantity with shaky FIP numbers but also good for about five innings of three-run ball.” With Paxton returning to form, and Moore and Miranda gobbling innings and limiting damage, the Mariners have three-fifths of a reliable, if unspectacular, rotation. The problem is the other two slots: Félix is still too mercurial to guess at what you’ll get out of him on any given day, and the final slot seems like it might ping-pong between Gaviglio, Bergman, or even Casey Lawrence, who, outside of one poor outing, has been strong in Tacoma. The success the Mariners will have in the second half largely depends on whether or not the Félix we get is the one we saw against the A’s, painting the corners and inducing tons of weak contact, or the one we saw against the Royals, surrendering five runs and four walks over six innings of work. Félix doesn’t even have to be as good as he was against the A’s; as Ariel Miranda shows, consistency is key.
But the real place consistency matters is in the bullpen. Bullpens are notoriously volatile, but the M’s bullpen has been pretty consistently...bad. The Mariners’ bullpen ranks 27th by fWAR, and if it wasn’t for Nick Vincent, they’d be in even worse shape. Their WPA of -1.41 is well behind the 20th-ranked Marlins pen (-.97), and they’re tied for the ninth-most blown saves in baseball. It’s hard to have a bullpen develop consistency when said bullpen isn’t a consistent group of humans so much as it is a constant stream of players moving up and down from Triple-A (or Double-A, in the case of Max Povse). Emilio Pagan was pitching lights-out at Tacoma and Shae Simmons is on his way back from the disabled list, but really, the thing this pen needs is consistency from familiar faces rather than a constant parade of new ones. In April, the pen put up a FIP of 4.55; in May, 4.78; and in June, 5.09. This trend must be reversed in the second half or Mariners fans will be watching a lot of games slip through our fingers.
The Mariners have proven that, when all cylinders are firing, they can be a fun team. Addressing even one of these points in a major way—having the bullpen not throw up on its shoes, or not TOOTBLANing like they’re competing in American TOOTBLAN Warrior—can make a team that already has exciting defense, occasionally exciting offense, and some pitching into an extremely watchable team. And at this point, I’m good with that.