April 2, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma (18) delivers a pitch against the Oakland Athletics during the third inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Unlikely Heroes Lead Mariners -- Albeit Not Far


Yesterday, the Mariners won their first series of the year, picking up 3 of 4 in their home series against the division rival Angels. Yes, I said first series win of the year. They had tied two prior series, one being the opening set against the A’s, and the other their home series against the Rangers. But it took until the last week of April to actually defeat a team more times than they defeated the Mariners.

And over that time, there have been some ups, and many — excruciatingly many — downs. Those being the struggles of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak — the youth movement –, injuries to all three starting outfielders (one that may have resulted in a massive slump by Michael Morse), and a steaming pile of nothing by more than one starting pitcher. And worst of all, the fact that they are 5 games under .500 at 11-16, and people are starting to lose hope.

Yet among all of the negatives, there are a few positives. Some of these being that the youth movement is starting to hit a little better, and Dustin Ackley now has himself a 9 game hitting streak, Endy Chavez and Kelly Shoppach have both done a fine job filling in for either hurt or crappy players, Felix has been Felix, and Michael Saunders should be coming back soon, so hopefully Raul Ibanez will see his playing time decrease to where it should be. Although it should be non-existent, so I guess that isn’t going to happen. Darn.

Apr 19, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager (15) bats during the game against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Texas won 7-0. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

But the two most exciting and prominent aspects of this young season are no doubt Hisashi Iwakuma and Kyle Seager. Both have had enormous impacts in this un-enormous (both in time and success) season. And perhaps the best part of it is that neither were expected to be as good as they are, at least by most people.

Coming into the season, it was all about Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales. Those were the two guys the M’s picked up to rebuild the offense, and fill out the middle of the order. For the first time in a long time, the M’s were to have two legit power bats in the lineup. And they still might. But right now neither one, has been all that great. Morales has posted a .333 wOBA and 115 wRC+ to this point, a little below what he did last year, and a lot below his career numbers. He does have a very encouraging 11.3% walk rate, but his power hasn’t been what it was in the past, at least not yet. It has been the polar opposite for Morse, as he has not been getting on base at all, but a power surge at the start of the year have boosted his slugging numbers. Overall to this point, Morse has posted a .334 wOBA and 116 wRC+, which is solid, but not great — especially considering his small sample size just allowed him to get a massive bump from his ’2-4 with a home run’ day. But, as noted over at Lookout Landing, Morse has been playing with a broken pinkie, and there is a good chance that has been zapping his power.

Nonetheless though, both have been crapped on by Seager this year. After a slow 4-25 start of his own, Kyle went on a tear. He had a tremendous hitting streak going, that unfortunately ended yesterday at 16 games. But during that 16 game streak, Seager hit a massive .390/.455/.661, with 10 of his 23 hits being for extra bases. Obviously that is totally unsustainable, and his overall numbers are likely a little high as well, at a .369 wOBA and 140 wRC+*. But that doesn’t make what he has done any less special, and it is certainly a welcome occurrence for those who expected some regression from Seager. It definitely looks like what he did last year is real, and he may get even better.

There was another post written at Lookout Landing that was focused on Seager and his new approach at the plate. Essentially, he has a become much more picky hitter at the plate, and it looks like it is having a positive impact. It was much more extensive than that and I won’t go into details, but it is worth taking a look at. It isn’t conclusive, but it suggests that the change will have a positive impact on his production as he will see more hitters counts, resulting in more pitches that he can drive.

Seager has gone from a probable utility guy, to a guy that might have maybe possibly played over his head last year, to the best hitter on the Mariners, AND a fine defensive third baseman. Will he sustain the .369 wOBA he has now for the rest of the year? Probably not. But in my estimation he should be able to put up a wOBA and wRC+ of around .335 and 115 respectively, or even better. And by the way, he is 8th in the league in WAR among third baseman, ahead guys like Pablo Sandoval and Adrian Beltre. So yeah, Kyle Seager is good at baseball.

Iwakuma is having an equally as impressive 2013 thus far. After another great outing yesterday, he has a 1.67 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 2.97 xFIP, and per-9′s (K, BB, HR) of 8.84, 1.19 and 1.19 respectively. The home runs are high, but so are the strikeouts. He has been dominant to this point, and is starting to get some attention. As I mentioned, he continued his dominance last night, pitching 6 innings of one (un-earned) run, 8 K, no walk ball.

With “Kuma”, it wasn’t as much about being overshadowed (no offense to the King) as it was just not being known period. As M’s fans, we all know who he is and how well he pitched after being given the chance last year, but I don’t think anyone expected this. He seemed to most like a decent #3 type to hold down the fort until the kids are ready to takeover, but he has become more than that. Although it is early, he looks at this point like a legit #2 starter in a seemingly weak rotation. Like Seager, he is unlikely to be this good for the whole year. But if he can pitch to an ERA, FIP and xFIP all around 3.50-4, he should be well worth the $6.5 million he is making for the next couple seasons, and should slot in nicely between Felix and some combination of the Big 4 and Erasmo next year.

April has/did not go the way many hoped. The M’s looked bad, Wedge was frustrating as all hell, and there were lots of injuries. But that also opened up some opportunities for guys to make both an impact, and a name for themselves. So while the team has not had much success, Seager and Iwakuma both trudged through the pile of crap left by the others, and ended up on top. While most everyone else was metaphorically just sitting in a corner hitting themselves in the head with a bat, those two got stuff done. And we can only hope that they continue at least a part of that success for future, and hopefully get this team a little further than they are now.

 

*Just to show how violent numbers are this time of year, yesterdays 0-4 from Seager dropped his wRC+ by 10 points, and his wOBA by 14.

Tags: Hisashi Iwakuma Kyle Seager Michael Morse Seattle Mariners