The Sad, Strange Case of Ji-Man Choi

Baseball’s a funny game. You can love your team. Then, if you love them enough, you’ll love their top prospects. If you love the top prospects enough, you’ll start to learn about the top performers on each farm team. It goes on and on until you start reciting the Clinton Lumberkings lineup numbers to your friends at a dinner party. Some people say it’s a waste of time and that’s fine.

In 2009, the Mariners sent some scouts to South Korea to take a look at a group of pitchers, namely Seon Gi Kim.  The Mariners ended up signing that pitcher and brought him stateside.  Catching Kim that day was a converted third basemen who not many knew about.  The Mariners liked what they saw in the short tryout and decided to sign him, as well.  This happens fairly often.  Teams take flyers on guys and this third basemen-turned-catcher happened to be one.

Once stateside in 2010, these 2 players joined the Arizona rookie league.  Kim had good stuff but sported a ballooned ERA.  The other South Korean didn’t have any trouble though.  He hit .360 with a .440 OBP and .517 slugging percentage.  He was eventually promoted to the high-A team, High Desert, and posted an .822 OPS all as a 19-year-old.  Mariners prospect nerds became enticed with this player who was unknown a year before.  The legend of Ji-Man Choi was born.

While Choi was hitting everything in sight, the Mariners were slowly breaking him into the catcher position.  He played most of his time and first base and DH but every third or fourth day he’d be behind the plate.  Needless to say, a left-handed hitting catcher who drew a ton of walks was pretty exciting.

2011′s spring training rolled around and there was Choi, working out with the catchers.  Then, all of a sudden, he was just gone.  Following minor-league baseball is hard to do in this day and age because we, as fans, are so used to getting all the information we want right away.  When a low-minors baseball player disappears from box scores there’s only so much a common fan can try to figure out.  This was the case with Choi.  Eventually it came out that Ji-Man had back pain.  The pain was so extensive that he didn’t play a game in 2011.  They eventually found a broken bone and then inserted a rod and two screws into Choi’s back.

The first few months of 2012 came and went and there was no sign of him in the box scores.  He had the rod and screws removed and later showed up in Clinton in late May.

Missing your 20 year-old season as a baseball player is a big deal.  That’s one of the formative years for prospects.  Choi hadn’t played in a baseball game in almost a year and a half.  He was inserted into the Clinton lineup and on his first day back he went 2-4 with a double.

Ji-Man looked as if he hadn’t missed any time at all.  He split that time in 2012 rotating between first base and DH and ended.  He wasn’t great but he was good and, as a 20 year-old, he put up an .895 OPS.

As prospect lists became to come out over that off-season, Choi was left off.  There were two reasons for this:  One, he had just been injured for a year and a half.  Two, he didn’t have enough power to be a major league first baseman. Ji_Man_Choi_1280_kju6a1er_qc4gs806

2013 came and Ji-Man started the year at High Desert.  A hitters paradise.  In his 48 games there Choi posted a .337/.427/.619 slash line.  He had more extra base hits than singles and walked 27 times while only striking out 33 times.  Naturally, he was promoted to Jackson, the Mariners AA team.  The average dropped off some there but not much else did.  He sported .862 OPS in his stop in Jackson, a much tougher league to hit in, at the ripe age of 22.  My favorite stat from there?  His 32 walks and 28 strikeouts.  At the end of his great season, he got the call up to Tacoma for a handful of games.  It was the cherry on top of a great season.

Choi started appearing on more prospect lists over this off-season.  One complaint remained.  Yep, you guessed it.  He can’t hit for enough power.  Still, the Ji-Man train trudged on.

He started 2014 in Tacoma.  Guess what he did there?  Hit.  He hit a lot.  In 10 games he posted a .395/.500/.545.  Granted, it was 10 games but anyone who had followed his career wasn’t surprised.  The guy had already overcome so much, being only 22, that it wasn’t a surprise that he was, well, a surprise.

Maybe the Mariners finally had a guy to push Justin Smoak.  A guy who maybe didn’t have the power potential but actually had some consistency.  A guy who could possibly do what John Olerud did on the last successful Mariners team, get on base, hit doubles and play great defense.

Word broke this afternoon that Ji-Man Choi had been suspended 50 games for the use of a performance enhancing drug.  The drug was methandienone, a type of anabolic steroid.

It just made so much sense.  A guy who was constantly knocked for his lack of home run power at a power position was taking an illegal substance to make him stronger.  He’s only like 195 pounds, for crying out loud.  Then, this came out, via Choi:

“A banned substance was detected in my urine sample,” Choi said. “I do not know what I could have taken that caused me to test positive. I have not and never would knowingly use anything illegal to enhance my performance. However, I also understand that without an explanation I must serve a suspension and I accept that. I look forward to putting this behind me and to returning to help the Mariners ballclub once my suspension has ended.”

Maybe it didn’t make sense at all?  Why would a guy who has never been the ‘star prospect’ but overcome that with pure skill and a disciplined approach break from that?  Choi is a smart baseball who makes up for his lack of home runs by taking his walks and hitting the ball into the gap.  Why would a smart guy do this when he was so close?

The only person who knows if Choi took this steroid is Choi himself.  He said he didn’t and many people probably don’t believe him.  He’s probably used to people doubting him anyway.  Hopefully, he doesn’t care.

Baseball’s interesting.  You know 25 guys and then you read about the next 25 guys people think you might see in a few years.  It goes on and on until someone tells you to shut up at a dinner party.  For some reason, I love Ji-Man Choi’s story and today it took another turn.  My favorite prospect, a guy I’ve never seen play a game, is out for a while because he possibly did something bad and I’m upset.  I’ll look forward to early June when Choi will show back up in the Tacoma box scores and Mike Curto will send out tweets about his 2-4 nights, with a double and a walk.  In the mean time I’ll just keep envisioning Choi as the next John Olerud.  That’s ending of his story that I like the best.

I wonder how Jabari Blash is doing.

- Andrew

 

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Mariners Begin Season, Let’s Review!

At the start of the baseball season I had this idea to write a recap of each series the Mariners played.  Then the season started and I got busy, tired, sleepy, or lazy.  So now here we are, 12 games into the season and I think it’s time to recap what happened so far.  If I do that then I could maybe do a series recap starting Thursday!  Probably not, but maybe.  I’ll keep you on your toes.

For now, I’m going to give you a very short series recap of the 4 series the Mariners have completed and then take a closer look at the lineup.  Let’s get started!

March 31-April 2:  Three game sweep of the Angels!

What a way to start the season.  I hate the Angels so it was nice to pummel them.  The offense battled against some pretty good starting pitching and then destroyed a pedestrian bullpen.  The pitching was very good all series.  The closest game of the series was an 8-3 victory.
Star of the Series:  Justin Smoak – Smoak came up big all series long.  He hit a big dinger in the first game and rocketed a bases clearing double off of CJ Wilson in the second game.
Goat of the Series:  No one – I searched through the box scores.  There was no one to pick.  Every single position player got on base and no pitcher had some crazy meltdown.

Ted S. Warren

Ted S. Warren

April 3-April 6:  1-2 in a 3 game series against the A’s

The A’s seem to be pretty even with the Mariners, actually probably a little better.  This was a strange series.  Erasmo threw a clunker.  Elias was screwed over by the worst umpiring I’ve ever seen.  Felix threw a gem.  The Oakland grounds crew did something ridiculous and a game was postponed.  The series was annoying and really weird.  The offense was able to squeak out 8 runs over the 3 games.  The A’s pitching is really good and the offense hasn’t figured them out yet.
Star of the Series:  Felix Hernandez - I think Felix is the right choice here.  He threw a fantastic game and got the Mariners their only win of the series.
Goat of the Series:  Hector Noesi - Noesi threw 2 pitches and gave up a walk off homer.  It was as predictable as things could get.  He’s now gone.  Other goats considered were Sean Barber, Oakland grounds crew, and Coco Crisp (he really was terrible for the Mariners).

April 8-9:  1-1 in a 2 game series against the Angels.

The season opener was electric.  Paxton recovered from a rocky first inning and threw a great game before coming out with an injury.  Hart had his best game of the season to date, homering twice.  The next game was ugly, as the Mariners were shut out by Garret Richardson.  Roenis Elias threw well but not well enough to overcome the offense being shut out.  That’s pretty much impossible to overcome.
Star of the Series:  Corey Hart - He didn’t do much on Wednesday (although he did get on base) but his two dingers won the game on Tuesday.
Goat of the Series:  Dustin Ackley - Ackley didn’t record a hit in this series.  A small blemish in an otherwise very good year to date.

April 11-13:  1-2 in a 3 game series against the A’s

It sure is annoying playing the A’s all the time.  Each game against them feels like a struggle.  It really is.  They don’t make many mistakes and their pitching is so good that you just have to scratch out some runs.  Friday night was an extremely fun baseball game.  Saturday and Sunday the Mariners scored a total of 1 run.  Thankfully, the Mariners don’t play the A’s very many more times before September.
Star of the Series:  Dustin Ackley and Felix Hernandez - After the performance that Felix put up on Friday, I have to include him.  Ackley went 5 for 8 in the series with 2 doubles and quickly bounced back from his lackluster series against the Angels.
Goat of the Series:  Justin Smoak – Smoak didn’t get a hit all weekend, even though he did hit some balls hard on Friday.

That left the Mariners with a 6-5 record after 11 games.  They won tonight (7-5) and I think anyone would have taken a 7-5 record to start the season.

Some thoughts on individual players after the jump.   Continue reading

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Opening Day! Mariners! Get Excited!

Opening Day is here.  I was going to say it’s finally here, but it feels like it snuck up on me this year. Usually spring training turns into a slog in late March, but for whatever reason I never felt that this year.  Anyway, Opening Day, the best sports day of the year, is here.

The Mariners and King Felix face the Angels tonight.  Jered Weaver’s on the mound for the dumb Angels.  If you’re in Anaheim and can find tickets near third base, Josh Hamilton will keep you cool with his many swings and misses.  Albert Pujols might even come sit with you after he reinjures his foot.  Mike Trout will do stuff with his monstrous neck. The Angels are no Oakland Athletics, but they’re still dumb.

It feels like more casual Mariner fans really want to root for the team, but they just can’t quite bring themselves to do it.  I don’t blame them, given the ineptitude the team has shown over the last decade plus. Still, if we all can find it in our hearts to let go of the dismal memories, we just might find a little magic this year. Henceforth, nothing but positive thoughts!  The Mariners could be good!  Just start with that.  You don’t have to plan on the playoffs yet.  There’s always next year for crazy talk like that.  Just look for some little things.  This might be the year a young player finally does something right.  Maybe Felix won’t lose any 1-0 games.  Just start small and enjoy what you find, and soon enough, we will all believe big together. Go Mariners.

If that’s not working for you, here are a few real reasons to be excited for this season:

Robinson Cano is really good.  He’s the closest thing we’ve had to Edgar since we had Edgar, plus he plays a mean second base.  The only position player close to him in talent Seattle has had recently is Ichiro, and as much as I love Ichiro, Cano’s power is a better fit for this young group than Ichiro’s speed and contact could ever be.  Don’t be surprised if he makes a run at the MVP, but even on an average year, he’s the best second baseman in baseball and one of its best hitters.

The (healthy) rotation is tremendously talented. Once Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker return to the field, this rotation will have as much potential as nearly any in the league. The problem is, outside of Felix and Kuma, it may take a season or two for guys to begin to reach that potential.  I expect many bright flashes from Walker, Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez (or whoever fills that last spot), but we could really be in for special things in 2015. This rotation has four guys with legitimate ace-level stuff, and a slew of kids waiting to fill in behind them. Plus, the 2013 rotation set the bar low, and even an inconsistent season for the kids could bring significant improvement.

Brad Miller is starting to look like a folk hero who will become an all-star.  Miller was not a first round pick, but since he was drafted, he’s done nothing but hit and improve at shortstop. Where many thought he’d have to move off the position, he’s now a solid defender. And he still hits. How good he’ll be remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if he holds down short for the next decade with a few all-star games thrown in.  Add in his “crazy legs” running and team captain attitude, and he should be a fan favorite soon.

This is the year some young guys should break out. Ackley looks ready to shine. People who know seem excited about Smoak. Saunders had jumped a level before his injury last year. That’s not even counting the really young guys. What if Mike Zunino hits even decently? He’ll be the best Mariners catcher in 20 years, that’s what! There’s big upside with most of the roster. They won’t all reach it, but some should. And if they don’t, at least for the Ackley, Smoak, Saunders group, it’ll be time to move on. That means seeing a new crop of young guys come up. Who wants to see Jabari Blash get a chance to knock some dingers? Me, me! I do!

Lloyd McClendon’s a man. He’s funny, interesting and no-nonsense, without seeming over the top. Eric Wedge acted no-nonsense, but I think there was plenty of nonsense going on there. The season will show whether the switch will make any difference, but it’s certainly improved the manager interviews (and pictures. No more Wedge eyes!).

It feels like there’s one more big move coming. The Mariners are still sitting on salary and big trade chips. Nick Franklin is an excellent trade piece, and there’s plenty of young talent in the majors and minors.  Maybe they move some guys to finally get an outfielder or another piece.  Maybe they make a huge move at the trading deadline or next offseason for David Price or Cliff Lee or Giancarlo Stanton. There’s never any guarantee with trades, but the Mariners will be able to make offers very few teams can top for nearly anyone who hits the market.

 

Hopefully, some of those things get you pumped up.  If not, just stop worrying about the M’s and go to Safeco, or your local minor league or high school stadium, and watch some baseball.  There’s nothing better than sitting on a nice day watching some ball.  Get a hot dog or some peanuts or sunflower seeds. Play catch with your nephew.  Have a home run derby.  If the M’s season goes bad, as it usually does, find your baseball enjoyment elsewhere. Baseball’s here, and apparently so is spring. And hope springs eternal, as they say.  So don’t let the man get you down. Believe big.

Go Mariners!

-Matthew

 

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The Good Guys 2014 Baseball Predictions

Happy Opening Day!  The Good Guys got together and tried to predict the future (actually we just sent a few emails and tried to predict baseball).  So, as you enjoy baseball throughout the day and King Felix tonight, jot down some of your predictions in the comments.  Or just make fun of ours.  Whichever works.  Here are some predictions for the 2014 season for baseball, in general, and the Mariners.

AL West Champion:
Andrew, Dan:  Oakland
Matthew, Joe:  Texas

AL Central Champion:
The Good Guys:  Detroit

AL East Champion:
Dan, Joe, Matthew:  Boston
Andrew:  Tampa Bay

NL West Champion:
The Good Guys:  LA

NL Central Champion:
The Good Guys:  St. Louis

NL East Champion:
Andrew, Dan:  Washington
Joe, Matthew:  Atlanta

World Series:
Andrew:  Detroit over St. Louis
Dan:  Boston over Washington
Joe:  LA over Texas
Matthew:  Detroit over LA

AL MVP:
Andrew, Dan, Matthew:  Mike Trout
Joe:  Robinson Cano

NL MVP:
Andrew:  Andrew McCutchen
Dan:  Freddie Freeman
Joe:  Yadier Molina
Matthew:  Paul Goldschmitd

AL Cy Young:
Joe, Matthew:  King Felix
Andrew:  Justin Verlander
Dan:  Yu Darvish

NL Cy Young:
Andrew:  Clayton Kershaw
Dan:  Stephen Strasburg
Joe:  Jose Fernandez
Matthew:  Adam Wainwright

AL West final standings:
Andrew:  1.  Oakland (91-71)  2.  Texas (89-73)  3.  LAA (85-77)  3.  Seattle (85-77)  5.  Houston (bad)
Dan:  1.  Oakland (92-70)  2.  LAA (89-73)  3.  Texas (88-74)  4.  Seattle (82-80)  5.  Houston (60-102)
Joe:  1.  Texas  2.  Seattle  3.  Oakland  4.  LAA  5.  Houston
Matthew:  1.  Texas  2.  Oakland  3.  Seattle  4.  LAA  5.  Houston

Mariners Cy Young:
The Good Guys:  King Felix

Mariners MVP:
The Good Guys:  Robinson Cano

Mariners MVP (other than Felix, Cano and Kuma):
Andrew:  Kyle Seager
Dan:  Dustin Ackley
Joe:  Brad Miller
Matthew:  Brad ‘The Bomb Squad’ Miller

Biggest Mariners Surprise:
Andrew:  I think it will surprise people how much a legitimate all-star in the middle of your lineup will help a team.  Since that’s a cheap one, I’ll also say that I think James Paxton makes a run at Rookie of the Year.
Dan:  Dustin Ackley
Joe:  Justin Smoak
Matthew:  Ackley bats .300 & Jesus Montero meaningfully contributes

Mariner Player that you’ll want to punch in the face by April:
Andrew,  Dan:  Willie F. Bloomquist
Joe, Matthew:  Joe Beimel

Mariners leader in Batting Average (guess the average):
Andrew:  Cano (.312)
Dan:  Cano (.305)
Joe:  Cano  (.327)
Matthew:  Cano (.318)

Mariners Home Run Leader (guess HR):
Andrew:  Cano (27)
Dan:  Smoak  (26)
Joe:  Cano (31)
Matthew:  Cano (34)

Mariners RBI Leader (guess RBI’s)
Andrew:  Cano (104)
Dan:  Cano (95)
Joe:  Cano (107)
Matthew:  Cano (109)

Mariners ERA Leader (guess ERA)
Andrew:  Danny Farquhar (1.89)
Dan:  Danny Farquhar (2.15)
Joe:  King Felix (2.20)
Matthew:  King Felix (2.34)

Mariners WAR Leader (guess WAR)
Andrew:  Robinson Cano (6.7)
Dan:  Robinson Cano (6.5)
Joe:  Robinson Cano (6.4)
Matthew:  Robinson Cano (7.8!!!!!)

 

I hope you all get a few moments to soak in some baseball tonight.  Two things before I go:
1.  We miss you, Dave.
2.  Happy Felix Day

dave in kings court

-  Andrew

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Breaking Down the 2014 Mariners

Opening day is suddenly right around the corner, and the Mariners’ roster is close to set.  There are a few undetermined spots, but some moves today went a long way to clearing up the options.

The area getting the most attention this week is the rotation, which will start at decidedly less than full strength.  Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijaun Walker will both start the season on the disabled list, although the injuries don’t appear serious.  At this point, they are working to build arm strength after missing spring training.  Both should be back by May, if not sooner.

Until then, the team’s scrambling a bit to find viable replacements. Coming into spring, most assumed veteran Scott Baker would grab a spot. He didn’t ever seem to find his command after missing time for injury and asked for his release rather than start the season in Tacoma. Erasmo Ramirez seems to have solidified a spot, leaving Randy Wolf, Roenis Elias and Blake Beavan as the front runners for the final two spots. Apparently, Wolf would have had a spot, but he balked at signing a clause that would allow the team to send him to the minors later on, and he was also released. (Andrew has more on that below.) The circumstances of the release have caused some consternation amongst fans, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.  Wolf isn’t anything special, and if the Mariners thought he is, they would have agreed to forgo the clause and keep him. His main use is as rotation depth, and he can’t fill that role later in the season if he won’t go to Tacoma.

So, it appears Elias will make the surprise jump from Double-A, at least for a month or so. Beavan, or maybe Noesi or an unsigned veteran, will take a few starts until Walker returns.  It’s not ideal, but as long as Walker and Iwakuma return as expected, the situation’s not disastrous. There are a couple of other questions on the roster. Outfield seems settled, although it’s unclear exactly who will be the regular starters. The only surprise might be if Nick Franklin can squeeze himself onto the roster as a back-up infielder, which could necessitate a DL move or one less outfielder.  The back of the bullpen is also a mess, one I’m not even going to try to figure out right now.

Anyway, my main purpose in writing this post was not to recap roster news, but rather to break down the roster itself to see what this year’s team might be.  It’s still a squad with a lot to prove, but some additions, both young and veteran, have brought greater upside. A lot will have to go right for this team to contend, which means they probably won’t, but it’s possible, for the first time in a while. I’m going to group the roster into some categories that seem fairly apparent to me.

Sure Things

With the constant caveat that no one’s a sure thing in sports, given injuries and general unpredictability, the M’s have a few guys who should not cause any worry. Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano are in the arguments for the best pitcher and player in baseball. We’re in for a treat watching Cano. Seattle hasn’t seen as dynamic and talented a player as him since Ichiro’s best years, and he brings power that should make him the line-up stabilizer Seattle’s lacked since Edgar retired. Seager’s not on their level, but he’s very good, steady and still capable of improvement. Iwakuma will miss a month and won’t likely have as good a year as he did in 2013, but he’s still one of the better pitchers in the league and a solid complement to Felix. Fernando Rodney should be a welcome addition at the back of the ‘pen, despite some struggles this spring.

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Randy Wolf Is Gone. Who Cares?

Apparently, anyone who claims to be a fan of the Seattle Mariners.  Except the Good Guys.

This afternoon, Randy Wolf was released by the Seattle Mariners because he didn’t want to sign some complicated contract (basically, if he wasn’t on the club for 45 days then he wouldn’t be owed a million dollars).  The Good Guys sat at their respective places, saw the news and celebrated!  We don’t have to watch some below-average lefty, who is not a part of the team’s near (or distant) future, make any starts as a member of our hometown team!  We saw this story last year with Joe Saunders, except Wolf is even worse!

The rest of Seattle fell into a panic and I still haven’t figured out why.  I know people really don’t like Hector Noesi and understandably so.  Blake Beavan isn’t our favorite guy either but both of these guys are on par with Wolf (sure, they might be a little worse).  They don’t have to pay either of those guys what they were going to pay Wolf.  Heck, there are other free agent options out there who are better than Randy ‘hang ‘em and bang ‘em’ Wolf.

Mostly, I just don’t understand the freak out but there are two points I want to make.  The 5th starter (where Wolf is headed) will only make 1-3 starts before Walker comes back.  Walker is about 3 or 4 weeks away but the Mariners only need to use the 5th starter once in the first two weeks because of off-days which will allow them to skip the spot the rotation.  Literally, they only would need to use that 5th spot once before April 15th (the day Walker could come off the DL).

The other issue people keep talking about is that the last 2 days have ruined the Mariners rotation depth.  I have two thoughts on this.  First, if a player is going to make a couple of starts and then decline to go to AAA, that’s not rotation depth, it’s just a stopgap.  Rotation depth is built in the minor leagues and the Mariners have done a fairly good job with this in recent years.  Secondly, no team is ready to have 2 starters out.  Look at Oakland, Texas, or Atlanta.  All of them have injury problems and their rotations are a bit of a mess right now.  Randy Wolf was the Mariners 8th or 9th starter.  That’s not bad.  They got rid of him because he thought he was good and got greedy.  He’s not good.  Sure, it would have been great to add a free agent arm this off-season but not for the contracts they were going for.  Some didn’t have any interest in coming here.

Everything is okay, everybody.  By next month, none of this will matter.  Roenis Elias is a fun filler in the 4th spot in the rotation.  No one knows anything about him so he could catch some teams by surprise for a few weeks, then the guy who finished 3rd in Cy Young voting can take his spot.  The 5th spot could be ugly for 1 or 2 starts and then the top pitching prospect in baseball can take his spot.  Things aren’t so bad.

Aaron Harang could be the Braves third starter to start the season.  Joe Saunders could be in the Rangers rotation until July.  The Mariners are in fine shape compared to these teams.  Go enjoy some baseball and stop freaking out about cutting a guy who hasn’t had an ERA under 5 in the last 3 seasons.

Andrew

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Surviving The Black Holes

Over the last few years, the Mariners offense has been historically bad.  Every year the lineup seems to have more bad players than it does good.  In 2009 and 2010, the Mariners pitching was incredible but the offense was so bad that they couldn’t take advantage.  I don’t think I need to go on to describe how inept the offense was, you all saw it.

This year, the Mariners come into the season with a few more sure things (thank you, Cano) but the offense still has quite a few question marks.  What will it take for the M’s to overcome these question marks and make a push for contention (or just .500 ball)?  That’s what I’m writing this post about.

In baseball, there are spots in each teams lineup known as ‘black holes’.  You can call them other things like ‘Really Bad Offense’, ‘Piles of Poo at the Plate’ or ‘Chone Figgins’ but we’ll go with ‘black holes’ for this post.  A team can only survive so many black holes in a lineup if they want to be a decent team (especially in the American League).  This post will be a quick study as to how many black holes recent teams have had in their lineups.

I will take the Mariners, AL West champion and AL champion from 2011, 2012 and 2013 and take a look at their lineups, noting how many black holes are in each lineup.  If the position is a job share, I’ll try to take an average of the two players.  I’m using baseball-reference for all of my information.  I qualify a ‘black hole’ in the lineup as batting under .225 with less than 25 dingers and an OBP under .315.  All of those are qualifiers and if a player breaks any of those they aren’t considered a ‘black hole’.  When commenting on the players who are black holes I will throw in a few more Sabermetric stats because I prefer those but I decided to use some old-fashioned stats as qualifiers because everyone is a little more familiar with them.  If this catches on, I may change the qualifiers and stats I use over time.  I’m being pretty generous with those numbers but I think it’s also pretty reasonable considering baseball is a little bit more of a pitcher’s game right now.  I will also include the team’s player with the highest OPS anyone on the team with an OPS over .900 because I think a hitting star can help minimize some of the damage of a ‘black hole’.  So, here we go:

2011 Seattle Mariners
Black Holes:  3

C Miguel Olivo – .224 BA/.253 OBP/19 Home Runs.  Olivo wasn’t awful.  His OBP is certainly terrible but his slugging percentage was a little higher than most.  His OPS+ (which is a stat that basically takes a players OPS and adjusts it to the players ballpark) was 81, which isn’t good (100 is average) but isn’t absolutely disastrous for a catcher.
3B Chone Figgins – .188 BA/ .241 OBP/ 1 HR.  Wow, this is awful.  To be fair to the Mariners, he only ended up with 313 PA’s and then was replaced by Kyle Seager, who was pretty average that year.  This was as bad as it gets.
CF Franklin Gutierrez – .224 BA/ .261 OBP/ 1 HR.  This was when Guti started suffering from his problems.  Michael Saunders, his replacement for a little less than half the year was even worse.
Highest OPS:  Dustin Ackley – .766 (in 376 PA’s) Mike Carp – .791 OPS (in 313 PA’s)
Quick Thoughts:  This team also included a revolving door in left field, Mike Carp saved the position although he barely played there.  Brendan Ryan barely escaped as well.  Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Mike Carp were this team’s best hitters.  I don’t need to say anymore than that.

2011 Texas Rangers (AL Champions)
Black Holes:  0
None.  Their worst position player was probably Yorvit Torrealba who had a .705 OPS.  That would have been fourth best on the Mariners.
Highest OPS:  Adrian Beltre – .892 Josh Hamilton – .882
Quick Thoughts:  Here we see a team without any black holes.  They didn’t have any huge stars (although you could make a case for Hamilton or Beltre here) but were so successful because there was never a break in the lineup.

2012 Seattle Mariners
Black Holes:  4
C Miguel Olivo – .222 BA/ .239 OBP/ 12 HR.  Olivo makes the list again.  He was spelled by mid-season by a tandem of Jaso and Montero who were pretty good with the bats and awful with the gloves.  I’m keeping Olivo on here because by the time he was out of the lineup the Mariners were way down in the standings.  His OPS+ dropped to 73 this year.
1B Justin Smoak – .217 BA/ .290 OBP/ 19 HR.  Smoak brings a little bit of power and he walked a lot, which is why his OPS+ is 85 instead of 65, but you need more from your first baseman.
SS Brendan Ryan – .194 BA/ .277 OBP/ 3 HR.  Yikes.  While Ryan was okay the year before, this was the year he fell into the Figgins category.  His OPS+ dropped all the way to 59.
Left Field – The Mariners used a mix of Chone Figgins (.181 BA/.262 OBP/2 HR), Casper Wells (.228 BA/.302 OBP/10 HR) and Mike Carp (.213 BA/.312 OBP/5 HR) in left field that year.  Their OPS+’s were 53, 97, and 87.  Wells wouldn’t actually qualify but the other guys (mainly Figgins) drag him down here.
Highest OPS:  John Jaso – .850 (he had a 142 OPS+)  Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders each had a .738 OPS.
Quick Thoughts:  Four black holes is impossible to overcome.  Also, John Jaso was really good.  He had the highest OPS on the team by .112 points.  Then, they traded him.  Dustin Ackley barely missed being a black hole by .002 in the batting average category (all the other categories were below the marks).

2012 Oakland A’s (AL West Champs)
Black Holes:  2.5
Catcher – Kurt Suzuki (.218 BA/.250 OBP/1 HR) and Derek Norris split (.201 BA/.276 OBP/7 HR) catching duties for Oakland.  They were pretty bad, although Norris added a decent clip in slugging percentage.
2B Jemile Weeks – .221 BA/.305 OBP/3 HR.  Weeks added value in his baserunning and defense but his bat was pretty bad, he had a 73 OPS+.
SS Cliff Pennington – .215 BA/.278 OBP/ 6 HR.  Pennington was bad but the A’s traded for Stephen Drew at the deadline, who ran a 98 OPS+ for the rest of the season, which is above average for a shortstop.  I’m counting Pennington as a half.
Highest OPS:  Brandon Moss had a .954 OPS.  The A’s also had 3 other guys who had an OPS between .860-.870.
Quick Thoughts:  The A’s thrived due to their pitching and defense.  They were able to survive Weeks because of his defense.  They tried to upgrade catching and shortstop mid-season.  Both were upgraded at least to a degree.

2012 Detroit Tigers (AL Champs)
Black Holes:  0
The Tigers lowest OPS on the year was .659.
Highest OPS: Miguel Cabrera – .999 Prince Fielder – .940.  The Tigers also had two other players with an OPS over .855.
Quick Thoughts:  I’m always surprised when I think about the Tigers that they didn’t win more.  Making the World Series is plenty of winning but their downfall may have been the 4 guys in the everyday lineup with an OPS in the .600′s.  You can be a very good team with that, especially since those wouldn’t be black holes in my book, but you can’t truly be great.

2013 Seattle Mariners
Black Holes:  2
Catcher – The Mariners played 7 catchers last year.  Every single one of them qualified for ‘Black Hole’ honors.  I don’t want to talk about that anymore.
Shortstop/Second Base – Both positions were a tale of two halves.  Brendan Ryan was terrible (.192 BA/.254 OBP/ 3 HR), Dustin Ackley was bad before he moved to second base and Nick Franklin barely escaped the parameters (.225/.303/12 HR) although his slugging percentage makes up for it.  We’ll give this one a full black hole because the Michael Morse/Jason Bay outfield basically fits the parameters too.
Highest OPS:  Ibanez (.793), Morales (.785), Seager (.764)
Quick Thoughts:  The lineup did improve (although there were a lot of guys that were right on the border of being a black hole) but almost all the other parts of the team suffered.  Pitching, defense, and base running all got worse.

2013 Oakland A’s (AL West Champs)
Black Holes: 0
Josh Reddick was right on the cusp (.226 BA).
Highest OPS:  Josh Donaldson (.883 OPS) and Brandon Moss (.859 OPS).
Quick Thoughts:  The A’s didn’t have an OPS under .686.   The Mariners, last year, had 4 semi-regulars with one lower than that.  The A’s are incredibly balanced and while they may lack some star power they make up for it by not having an easy out on their team.

2013 Boston Red Sox (AL Champions)
Black Holes: 0
No one is even close, actually.
Highest OPS:  David Ortiz (.959) and Mike Napoli (.842)
Quick Thoughts:  The Red Sox didn’t have an OPS lower than .696.  Aside from Middlebrooks, their lowest OPS+ was 111.  This is why they were great.  Their lineup carried them.

Conclusion:  It’s easy to see that in order for a team to be great they need to limit their black holes.  The 2012 Oakland A’s showed us that it’s not impossible to succeed while still having some holes in the lineup.  They made up for it with their pitching and defense.  If a team is spectacular in one area, they can make up for a deficit in another area.  That’s exactly what all of these teams (other than the M’s) are doing.  The Red Sox and Rangers made up for a lack of pitching or defense with solid lineups, without holes in them.  The Tigers made up for some average position players who were good at defense by having two guys with an OPS at .940 or above.

What I do think is probably true is that it’s impossible to make up a deficit of 3 black holes (or more in a lineup).  The 2011 Mariners had one of the best rotations that I can remember but there was no overcoming have 4 sure outs in your lineup. Of course, I need more data and to study a few more teams.  I plan to do that at some point down the road.

What this means for your 2014 Mariners:

Well, their pitching should be really solid once Kuma and Walker come back.  Their defense should be much improved but maybe not to the point where it’s a huge strength.  I’d say the lineup could survive one-two black holes in order to contend.  So, let’s break down the starting lineup (or projected starting lineup).

We don’t have to worry about Cano.  He’ll be fine and, in fact, should carry the team like those high OPS guys in Detroit did.  Seager has never been in danger of being in this category.  Same thing with Corey Hart, assuming he’s healthy and gets back to himself at least a little bit.

The one’s I’m pretty confident in not being a black hole are Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, and Michael Saunders.  None of these guys have ever been a black hole, although they have come dangerously close.  Ackley looked great in the second half last year and has carried that over to this spring.  Brad Miller is someone I expect pretty big things from and his contact skills seem high enough to where this wouldn’t be a big danger.  Saunders I’m least confident in, out of this group, but we’ve all seen what he can do when he’s playing well.  I think he can finally put it together.

Smoak should be fine but I’m still not fully confident in him.  This leaves the last outfield spot (I’m counting Hart as the DH), catcher and Smoak/Morrison.  If 2 of those guys can avoid being a disaster at the plate, I like this teams chances at being a .500 ballclub.  Again, I’m not extremely confident in those spots.  I like Zunino but he’s still young and adjusting.  Smoak and Morrison have shown flashes but they also have been awful at times.  Almonte (or whoever the last outfielder is) is a total wild card to me.

I plan to dive deeper into this subject at some point but that’s what I have for now.  Believe big!  Don’t suck, Mariners!

- Andrew

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