Editorials

Grading Each Position Group One Month Into the Season

It feels like a full season has passed, yet at the same time we’re only about 30 games into the Mariners season. There’ve been some seriously positive surprises for the Mariners in April, but question marks remain, most notably, will we see a continuation of the 6-man rotation despite 3 starters currently on the IL? Will the bottom of the order pick it up and allow the top three of Haniger, France, and Seager to offload some of the weight of the offensive production onto their shoulders? Will Kyle Lewis pick it up where he left off and build upon his rookie season?

Despite all of that, as of the month of may beginning, the Mariners sit above .500 even though their season schedule has so far been the toughest in the league. 15-12 through the month of April should be celebrated as a fantastic start to the season, and I’m cautiously optimistic despite glaring flaws in the reproducibility of this “chaos ball” style of baseball. 

The intention here is to go through each individual position, and grade F through A+, based on the production coming from each spot so far into the season. My grading method is not based in comparison to any players outside of the organization (For example I’m not comparing Taylor Trammell/Kyle Lewis’s CF play to that of Mike Trout) but instead based on preseason expectations of the individual spots themselves. Are they producing up to expectations? Are they letting us down? Depends from spot to spot. 

First Base

Players To Grade: Evan White, Jose Marmolejos 

Grade: D+

This one hurts. I feel like I can speak collectively for Mariners fans when I say I’ve been praying for an uptick in Evan White’s numbers all offseason long, and this early action has done very little to reward us for that faith. His strikeout percentage has dropped, that’s about where the positives end. With an OPS under .500, an OPS+ of 33 and a batting average below the Mendoza line, White’s saving grace is that he’s the best defensive first baseman in baseball.

Big Marmo has put up some better numbers at the plate, and has definitely had his moments this season (Looking at you, Dustin May) his “better” numbers are still nowhere near what you would hope for from a 1B on a remotely competitive baseball team. Looking forward to better numbers in the month of May from both of them. 

Second Base

Players To Grade: Ty France, Dylan Moore

Grade: A-

In another case of completely opposite players playing the same position, France and Moore averaged out to a significantly higher grade based heavily on France’s production offensively and Moore’s defensive fireworks along with a bat that seems on the cusp of breaking out. France has played in a bevy of locations around the infield, but due to his listing as a 2B primarily, he finds himself here.

I cannot say enough about France’s offensive production, as every at bat seems like even more evidence to hand Jerry Dipoto a big ole W for his hand in the Austin Nola trade last year. With an OPS above .800 and the highest WAR on the team, the only thing holding this group of 2 back from a solid A is an increase in OBP from Moore that I expect will come this month, as well as some shoddy defense from France. 

Shortstop

Players To Grade: J.P. Crawford

Grade: B-

I’ll get it out there right off the bat. I’m a J.P. Crawford truther to the extreme. Crawford has been the subject of many a twitter debacle in this early season, and my grade stands true to my belief that any beef with J.P. Crawford is for the most part unwarranted. He is proving to be more consistent this year, and although he’s never going to hit for power (only 5 XBH on the year) he can produce offensively. His OPS+ sits at 94 as we speak, but he’s second on the team in OBP. His glove is still flashy, and although there’s going to be an electric shortstop class available to sign this offseason, it wouldn’t surprise me if Crawford recognizes that his back is against the wall and performs well enough to keep the job and allow John Stanton to justify not splashing too much cash, which I’m sure he would love to do. 

Third Baseman

Players To Grade: Kyle Seager

Grade: A+

What a way to stick it to Kevin Mather. Seager heard the talk that this was his last year, and he would be whisked into the pool of Mariner’s past and instead of taking any stock in those claims, rose to the occasion to become ⅓ of the offensive juggernaut that we know as the top of the order. Sticking true to his iron man status, Seager has not missed a single game yet, and has ditched his usual beginning of the season slump associated with seasons past, instead spending time in the top 5 of MLB’s RBI leaderboard from time to time.

If he keeps crushing the baseball and making himself hated by every baseball fan in Texas, we’re in for a good year of prime Kyle Seager once more. Maybe he is the better Seager brother after all. 

Catcher

Players To Grade: Luis Torrens, Tom Murphy

Grade: F

I have very little good to say about this group, and that may be pretty evident based on the grade. When Servais rolls out the dual catcher lineup, with one of them hitting from the DH spot, a little part of me dies inside. If my life was on the line and I had to pick any single Mariners player to get a hit to save me, these two would be my last picks. That includes pitchers.

Torrens cannot frame vertically, and some of the missed calls on behalf of him pretending that every pitch is somehow middle middle instead of a normal frame job have been infuriating. Omar Narvaez, sweetie we miss you, please come home. On a real note, if you combined both of their current OPS+ stats, it’s only 2 points higher that Crawford’s. We’ve hit rock bottom, so the good news is it can only go up from here. 

Right Field

Jun 29, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger (17) hits a two-run home run against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Players To Grade: Mitch Haniger

Grade: A+

The second of three A+’s on this list, Haniger has bounced back from his extended stint on the IL, along with multiple surgeries, like nothing has ever happened. Leading the team in RBI’s, an OPS above .800, and strong defensive play makes me think we’re watching the same Mitch Haniger that produced an All-Star appearance and a top 15 spot in AL MVP voting back in 2018. If he can stay healthy he’s a leading candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award.

If he keeps it up at this rate, but the Mariners start to dip into below .500 territory come the All-Star break, expect to see Haniger’s name circulating in trade rumors. Although I hope that’s not the case, other teams in need of some offensive production may find themselves equally infatuated with Haniger as the average Mariners fan. 

Center Field

Players To Grade: Taylor Trammell, Kyle Lewis 

Grade: D

This grade is mostly attributed to Trammell, as we haven’t seen enough of him to truly grade him fairly. However, I’m just happy to see him back and healthy for the moment. Trammell, on the other hand, is having a pretty miserable first month as a rookie at the plate. His SO% is a gaudy 43%, and if he kept the pace he’s currently setting he would break Mark Reynolds single season record for most strikeouts by over 25.

He’s arguably the most likeable member of the team, and I desperately hope he can turn this around, but I feel like a trip back down to the minors is in order for him. If only there was some magnificent MLB ready outfield prospect that could come up to Seattle when we send Trammell down. If only. He’s solid defensively, so assuredly this is not the last we will see of Taylor Trammell, but man does he need a change of scenery. The raw power is there, but a different approach to the plate needs to be cultivated if he wants to produce like he did in spring training.

Left Field

Players To Grade: Sam Haggerty 

Grade: C

Although the LF spot has been a rotating spot, especially with Lewis coming back and pushing Trammell out to the corners, the lone player left without a grade in the field is Sam Haggerty. Although I miss him and his inexplicable walk numbers, Jake Fraley hasn’t played enough in my eyes to earn a grade. (It would be high if he continued to walk like 4 times a game) Haggerty’s playstyle so far this year feels like I’m watching some sort of circus.

Between some ridiculous if not sometimes over the top outfield defense, an ongoing pursuit to break Tim Locastro’s newly set record, and 2 homers sent to iconic landing places (Boston’s Green Monster and Baltimore’s Eutaw St.) Sam Haggerty, or Ham Swaggerty, is the living embodiment of the Mariners as a franchise. I have no idea what’s going on everytime he goes up to the plate, and yet am still surprised half of the time. By no means is Haggerty having a good season from a batting perspective, an average of .200 and OPS+ of 78 attest to that, but I’ll be damned if I don’t love him. 

Starting Rotation:

Players To Grade: Gonzales, Kikuchi, Sheffield, Dunn, Flexen, Margevicius 

Grade: B-

I’m honestly not sure what to make of the starting rotations the Mariners have put forth so far. Losing Paxton was tragic, especially only 24 pitches into the season, but this bunch seems to have bounced back amicably. Running a 6 man rotation makes no sense when you only have 5 MLB level pitchers, so here’s to hoping in the next month or so Scott Servais experiments with a 5 man, or calls up Logan Gilbert.

Flexen has been the lockdown starter of the bunch, a sentence I would have never bet on myself typing when he was signed. He’s the lone starter with an ERA+ above 100, although Dunn sits at a 99. Marco Gonzales seems to be returning to his former self, but this ominous arm tightness that sent him to the IL is certainly frightening but doesn’t seem long term. Kikuchi spends time flirting with being a CY Young caliber pitcher, but can also fall off the map completely from start to start, so some consistency would be nice to establish there. His near no-hitter in his last start was beautiful to watch, and I hope to see more of that.

Sheffield and Dunn have made noted improvements, with Dunn making sure to establish his 8 walk start as an anomaly, cutting down his walk rate with each start. His BB/9 is still sitting at 5.8 but expect that to regress towards the mean as the season goes on. There’s clearly building blocks within this current rotation, and with all of the arms in the minors primed to make an impact, there’s definite reasons to be excited about what’s to come. 

Bullpen

Players To Grade: Middleton, Vest, Sadler, Graveman, Montero, Misiewicz, Steckenrider, Newsome 

Grade: A+

Well who saw this coming? In an attempt to maneuver an almost worst to first bullpen remodel from 2020 to 2021, the Mariners have unleashed hell on batters near and far when the starter hands the ball off to one of these guys. Graveman and Misiewicz are bona fide All-Star candidates, each with 0.00 ERA’s, while Vest seems like Dipoto struck gold in the rule 5 draft as he sits pretty with an ERA+ of 303.

He and Sadler each have their ERA’s firmly under 2 as well. Montero should not be the closer, as he seems to be the one seriously shaky cog in this machine of a pen, but some usage in lower leverage situations may allow some of this magic they’re cooking up in the bullpen at T-Mobile Park to wear off on him. The reason the Mariners sit above .500 on the month could solely be attributed to these guys and I wouldn’t argue that one bit.

It’s not exactly sexy stuff, with pretty low strikeout numbers across the board but outs are outs however you get them, and if copious amounts of ground balls work for this bunch who am I to judge them? At the time I’m typing this, the Mariners have the lowest bullpen ERA in the entirety of the majors at 2.30, an absolutely beautiful sentence to read, and a miraculous example of exceeding expectations. 

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