Seattle Mariners: Five Things We Learned From Opening Week

A Healthy Robinson Cano Might Still Be Worth The Money

Cano put on a show in the opening series against the Texas Rangers. Apparently, most major league hitters like hitting at Globe Life Park. Cano went 4-for-13 with four home runs in the series. His four homers in his first three games were the most by a second baseman — in his team’s first three games — since the Boston Red Sox’ Bobby Doerr did it in 1941.

After battling a myriad of nagging injuries in the first four months of 2015, Cano returned to form. He hit .337, .351, and .305 in July, August, and September, respectively. He carried a major league-leading 21-game hitting streak into Sunday’s game against the Oakland A’s, but landed a donut in the hit column, because I made the mistake of attending the game. My bad, folks!

Regardless, it would seem that rumblings of his all-too-early decline may have been premature. Over the first two years of his mega-contract with the Mariners, he’s been worth 9.8 WAR — hampered significantly by the first four months of last season, which limited his 2015 WAR to 3.4. If we go by approximate market value of around $8 million per win, his 9.8 WAR would be worth around $78.4 million. Therefore, he’s produced at a high value level for the $48 million he’s earned in those two years. We’ll see how things pan out moving forward, but Mariners’ fans’ pessimism should be tempered.

The King’s Reign Is Not Over

Felix Hernandez struggled a bit with his command in his Opening Day start, walking five batters. In that game, however, King Felix suffered more from poor defense behind him than his own control. You’ll recall that he only allowed one hit. Despite Cano and Kyle Seager crushing homers off of Cole Hamels, the Mariners’ offense failed to give Felix enough run support to counter the poor defense.

Fast forward to yesterday. Again, the run support was pretty much non-existent, as the M’s only scored one run, on an error. It also seemed as though home plate umpire Gerry Davis‘s strike zone squeezed Felix a bit. Here’s a zone plot that shows Felix only got the benefit of four called strikes on marginal pitches just barely outside of the zone.

from Brooks Baseball

from Brooks Baseball

It should be noted that Chris Bassitt only received one marginal called strike, so at least Davis was consistent, but tight.

Nonetheless, it would appear that Felix is adjusting well to no longer being a flamethrower, but a master pitcher who can still collect plenty of strikeouts and induce weak contact. While he had more balls well outside the zone than desired, the King did get 10 strikeouts and only walked two.

Scott Servais Likes To Bunt With Zero or One Outs And No Runners

This is something I’m pretty sure I saw Lloyd McClendon call about 20 times in his two years managing the Mariners. Apparently, Servais is also confused that this is the American League.

Yesterday, in the bottom of the third inning, Leonys Martin was given the order to bunt his way on with one out and no runners. This came directly after Steve Clevenger grounded out to short. I’m still confused as to why you basically waste an out in that situation. Hopefully the comments section will quickly fill up with people telling me how stupid I am.

The Mariners Still Hit Poorly With Runners In Scoring Position

This was a running theme during the Jack Zduriencik era that quickly became comical. You’d be watching a game with a buddy, the M’s would get a runner to third with one or no outs, and you could lean over to your homie and call it that they would fail to score. Enter our new savior, Jerry Dipoto.

Dipoto looked to get more athletic, younger, and more proficient at getting on base this offseason. While six games in is a microscopic sample size to judge from, I’m not totally sold. Granted, that’s not Dipoto’s fault — he isn’t playing — but I remain skeptical.

In the bottom of the fourth inning yesterday, Oakland starter Chris Bassitt walked Nelson Cruz with one out. After a fly out by Adam Lind, Bassitt threw eight straight balls to put Seth Smith and Ketel Marte on and the bases were drunk. Steve Clevenger promptly grounded out on the first pitch, wasting an opportunity to put Bassitt (and Oakland) on the ropes early.

In 38 plate appearances with RISP in the first six games, Mariners’ hitters are slashing .182/.263/.333 and have struck out 13 times.

In the three-game sweep at the merciless hands of the A’s, the M’s stranded 22 runners. They were 0-for-16 as a team with RISP in those games. In their first three games, against the Texas Rangers, they went 6-for-17 (.353) with RISP, but all that damage was done in Tuesday and Wednesday’s games. It, unfortunately, appears — at this point — to be a two-game spike in offense surrounded by a fair amount of futility.

If flaccid numbers like those continue much further into the season, the term ‘unacceptable’ will come to mind often. To reiterate, the sample size is almost negligible, but after years of enduring this kind of offensive impotency, you cringe at those early returns.

The Bullpen Is Unconventionally Stocked With Soft-Tossers

It seems that these days, if you don’t have three guys coming out of your ‘pen who throw 96 mph-plus, you aren’t built for late-inning dominance.

Five relievers in Seattle’s ‘pen have already thrown three or more innings. Tony Zych, Joel Peralta, Steve Cishek, and Nick Vincent are four of those guys. Zych is the only member of that quartet with a high-90s fastball, which tops out around 97-98. The other three all top out at 91-92. Now, maybe they don’t all need to throw absolute gas, but in an era where hitters are trying to adjust to 95-plus, 91-92 might not be much of a challenge.

Wouldn’t you know it, Marcus Semien‘s home run came on a 90 mph fastball from Peralta. Coco Crisp turned on a 92 mph offering from Vincent for the eventual game-winning blast to right.

Interestingly enough, all four of those relievers have a 148-or-higher ERA+. I hope they are just settling down and shaking out the early jitters.

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