Being a Mariners fan this week has felt like getting home from vacation and realizing you have work/school the next day. There are chores that require attention, overdue assignments you’ve put off addressing, and even the most mundane of tasks seem daunting.
But on your way home you stopped by a little spot alongside the road. You’d heard they had the best chocolates around - caramel in the center with just the right amount of sea salt on top. They were rich, but that was perfect. A lesser dessert might have invited you to gluttonize and ruin your supper, but instead, you savored each moment and brought home a bag full to extend your satisfaction.
Mitch Haniger has been the treat every Mariners’ fan has deserved this week. To cage him in a seven-day frame does him a disservice, but when you hit home runs in four straight games the here and now is a good place to be. Even with two more games against the shoddy White Sox pitching staff, Griffey’s record of eight consecutive games seems safe, but Haniger’s hot stretch has pushed him once again into prestigious company. If nothing else, his hot start has put him on par with some of Seattle’s power luminaries.
There have been, by OPS+, two hotter starts by Mariners hitters in the organization’s history, and those players are history, and those players are George Kenneth Griffey Jr. and Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez. The power has been spread evenly, demolishing excellent starters and relievers like Carlos Carrasco and Matt Bush, as well as overmatched lefties like Tyler Olson and Danny Coulombe.
Most of all, they’ve been demolished.
For any who might seek to note Mike Morse’s inclusion on this power-listing, he did indeed appear. Thankfully, even if Haniger struck out in his next 18 consecutive plate appearances he would still have a .327 OBP nearly 40 points higher than Morse’s. Haniger has taken what’s been given to him, and recently it’s been low-sodium meatballs. So what’s next?
Right now, Haniger sits at eighth in all of baseball in fWAR with 1.3, having two fewer games and 10-15 fewer plate appearances than Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Jed Lowrie, or Matt Chapman who precede him. His BABIP sits at a healthy but sustainable .314, and his wRC+ of 197 is the fifth best in all of baseball, joining those of preseason MVP candidates like Betts, Machado, and Judge.
It’s tough to see Haniger sustaining something close to this, but only because players don’t generally remain this hot forever. His process, as is his wont, has been sound: a 10.5% walk rate and a sub-20% strikeout rate. His results have been exciting, with a well above-average exit velocity of 92.8 mph. His mechanics have been clinical:
Mitch Haniger HR #6. 0-1, 94mph in(non-strike). Gets inside his rotation with clean forward lag. pic.twitter.com/mi8ZPtPbJX— Craig Hyatt (@HyattCraig) April 22, 2018
I remember at Haniger’s initial acquisition feeling a swell of hope. The same hope that Michael Saunders once brought me. Competency. Is that so much to ask for from a Mariners regular? Seattle has had stars for decades, but they’ve been undone time and time again by a lack of simple competency behind those stars, and that’s what Haniger represented. For years folks pined for a Kole Calhoun of our own, and despite every other tribulation this fandom has wrought, we received something even better.
Haniger is on pace to hit 40+ home runs. He’s on pace to be an All-Star. Considering Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and three more months of baseball stand between him and that result, there’s plenty of time for Haniger to cool significantly. But right now the Mariners have one of the best players in baseball, and he’s a major reason Seattle has a shot at competing this year, in spite of all the injuries and frustrations.
Thank you, Mitch Haniger, for being our vacation chocolate, even if you wouldn’t be caught dead eating the stuff.