Certainly if anyone had told me at the end of last season that Micheal Saunders and Kyle Seager would represent the Seattle Mariners best hitters halfway through the 2012 season, I would have laughed that person out of the room. If that person then persisted with such baseless predictions, I would put together a myriad of reasons that it simply wouldn’t happen.
Well we are pretty close to the halfway mark of the season and if the instance above ever occured, I would look relatively foolish at this point. Baseball isn’t predictable. We see the strangest things year in and year out. Dallas Braden has recorded a perfect game, Fernando Tatis hit two grand slams in the same inning, Bengi Molina, an overweight catcher, hit for the cycle. Fact is often stranger than fiction, and baseball lives up to this old addage year in and year out.
The Mariners are a strange team. While on one hand they only have one established super star in the form of an aging Ichiro, on the other they have built a young core of extremely talented players that while currently aren’t established stars, could one day blossom into ones. Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Jesus Montero resperesemt the future building blocks for the next 10 years. The core, while not necissarily expected to produce immediantly, is expected to show signs of improvement, taking the proper steps to ensure that one day they will honor the faith this organization has placed in them. It’s hard not to get somewhat discouraged; Dustin Ackley is mired in a miserable sophmore slump, Smoak is still struggling to find a place of consistency, and Montero– possibly having the best season of the three– has not blown us out of the water as he did during his brief September cup-o-coffee last season.
Expectations are everything and fair or unfair the “core three” has failed to meet our expectations. But while those three have failed, two have come to represent the opposite end of the spectrum. Seager and Saunders have been the key contributors in what has become one of the streakiest offenses in recent memory. The entire offense embodies both players perfectly, as both Saunders and Seager has been streaky themselves. Seager (2.2) and Saunders (1.4) have combines for a 3.6 collective WAR. Seager sits atop the WAR chart and Saunders sits fourth and while Ichiro and Ryan both rank ahead of Saunders in regards to WAR, neither player has produced a lot wins at the plate and have survived heavily on defense alone. Saunders and Seager represents the teams well rounded players. Montero and Smoak can provide plenty of power, but currently both struggle to get on base. Ichiro and Ackley provide the opposite. The killer S’s are the two players you would want to see at the plate this season, with the game on the line.
Seager has been the most consistent player on the team by and far. While he recently hit a bit of a rough patch, his production has never really been in question and the series in Arizona, helped get him back on the right track. Seager is second in homers, fourth in K%, first in ISO, first in SLG%, second in wOBA, and only fourth in plate appearances. Seager has displayed one weakness this season, an inability to draw walks and force his way on base. Seager’s preseason expectations have been replaced by a shiny new set of “bigger and better”.
Saunders may not lead the team in any offensive categories, but has displayed the ability to be above average in almost all of them. Saunders is third, second, third, and third in ISO, OBP, SLG%, and wOBA respectively. Saunders has been one of the streakiest players on this team, but when things have gone well for him, it has been hard to find a better hitter this season. Saunders new found success has sprouted from a recent ability to drive the outside pitch. Even though driving the ball the other way still isn’t a strong area for Saunders, not being inept has changed his game immensely.
Seager and Saunders aren’t perfect players, each has plenty to work on. Seager and his lack of walks, Saunders and his strike out issues. But both players are excellent complementary pieces. If Seager and Saunders can carry this kind of production into the following seasons, along with the eventual coming around of Ackley, Smoak, and Montero the Mariners have filled six of nine slots in the line-up (counting Guti in CF). The Mariners are slowly putting the pieces together, and while this rebuilding process is taking longer than many of us would have hoped, you can’t discount the work that has been done here. Much was expected of Saunders as he progressed through the system. Even as he faltered year after year, the organization has kept faith and have been rewarded duly. Seager was a hidden gem who is now the product of the organization’s instruction, creating the player he is today. The Mariners should consider themselves lucky to have both of these players, because for the both of them, it didn’t have to play out the way that it has.