April Recap: How the M’s Survived Without Cliff Lee


Yeah, yeah, I’m aware it’s still April.  Whatever.

Record: 11-11

Despite the fact that they were missing a 6-win pitcher in Cliff Lee, got generally wretched starts from Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith, and lacked any sort of consistent production from two of their three biggest offensive threats, Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins, the Mariners made out pretty well in April. After a 2-6 start, the offense picked up and scored more runs than they had previously been scoring, and the portion of the pitching staff which does not include Felix Hernandez started to pull its weight, which led to an increase in Mariners victories. The team went 9-5 from that point on.

We got a pretty good picture of how this club is going to win ballgames in 2010 through the first 22 games.

The M’s will score some runs, but they won’t do it via the long ball.  Ichiro and Chone Figgins will annoy the opposing team to death with walks, singles, and stolen bases.  Bradley, Jose Lopez, and Franklin Gutierrez will provide a bit of pop, and any legitimate offense provided by Jack Wilson, Casey Kotchman, or the two young catchers would be a bonus.

The M’s will prevent a hell of a lot of runs because their defense is top-notch.  Who says Franklin Gutierrez can’t be a +20 UZR centerfielder every year?  If anyone can do it, it’s him.  Think about it: Kotchman, Wilson, Ichiro, Gutierrez, Figgins, etc.  At least 5/9 of our lineup is spectacular defensively, and Jose Lopez is impressing his critics at third base so far.  Honestly, I’ve had more fun watching the defensive halves of innings more than the offensive ones so far this year.

The M’s will pitch extraordinarily well 2 out of every 5 days.  Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee headline a rotation that will ultimately include Érik Bédard by June or July.

Oh, and we have the ever-aging, ever-tickling Ken Griffey, Jr. as our DH.  He brings fans to the ballpark, I guess.  But enough of that.  Let’s recap.

Offense: B

Franklin Gutierrez is hitting over .350.  That’s all you need to know about this offense.  The M’s slogan may as well be, “Felix, Lee, a couple of singles, and pray for a natural disaster that miraculously only harms members of the opposing team.”

Though they’ve been stone cold so far, Bradley and Figgins will heat up eventually, and when they do, the M’s will be at least respectable offensively.  The good guys (I think Hawk Harrelson’s habit of calling one’s favorite team the “good guys” has unfortunately rubbed off on me) have scored runs exactly like we figured they would — by walking and hitting singles.  And if its efficient, its good enough for me!

Casey Kotchman turned some heads with his two deep home runs, and Adam Moore began showing some signs of life toward the end of the month.  Ichiro fared better than his supposed April slow starts would dictate, Jose Lopez hit a grand slam off J. J. Putz (which vindicates him for his overall offensive inefficiency out of sheer awesomeness).  Griffey’s clearly done as a hitter, and the sooner the front office realizes that and relegates him to the bench the better off the team will be.

Oh, and Rob Johnson is an offensive black hole.

Defense: A

The Seattle Mariners are built around defense, and the organization has done well — to say the least.  Jack Zduriencik once said something along the lines of, “we are always looking to make our team better.  If by adding a player to our roster we add something in one respect but subtract something more in another respect, the addition of this player is not warranted.” [Again, this is not a direct quote.  If it was a direct quote, it would begin with the phrase, “at the end of the day…”]  He was, of course, talking about the dilemma of whether or not to sign players like Jason Bay.  If a player has offensive value but very, very little defensive value, his defensive ineptitude often outweighs his offensive proficiency.  Fortunately, this 2010 Mariners team fields no such players.

The outfield has looked fantastic.  Sure, Milton Bradley isn’t Ryan Langerhans, but he’s done a pretty good imitation of the slick-fielding outfielder on several occasions in 2010.  Ichiro and Gutierrez are on track for their usual brilliant defensive seasons.  No surprises here.

The infield has looked like everything we thought it would be (and more).  I’d love to quote some UZR numbers on these guys, but UZR is essentially useless in sample sizes smaller than 1,000 innings or so, so you’ll have to take my word that Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson, Casey Kotchman, and even Jose Lopez have done superbly so far this year from a defensive standpoint.  And hey, Jack Hannahan is coming back soon.  Party time!

Pitching: B+

Doug Fister has been tremendous filling in for, well, Jason Vargas.  Though he’s due for some serious regression, his pitches have shown some nice movement and he’s consistently pitched at an above-average level through his first four starts this year.

Jason Vargas has been tremendous filling in for, well, Ryan Rowland-Smith.  Unlike Fister, he’s actually been missing some bats and I’m comfortable with keeping him in the rotation for now.

Ryan Rowland-Smith struggled a bit in April, but he registered 9 swinging strikes during his last outing against the Royals.  Don’t give up on Hyphen just yet.  In fact, if you’re already giving up on Hyphen after four starts, you need to re-evaluate your method of determining value with respect to baseball players.  Small sample size is a tempting beast.  Sort of like when you see a cute little kitty playing with a ball of yarn and you walk up to the kitty and start to pet it on its cute little head but suddenly it turns into a huge dragon and blasts a stream of  fiery anger into your face.  If you haven’t actually been subject to this experience, let me be the first to tell you that it is not pleasant.

Ian Snell’s April was awful.  At least he’s posting a swinging strike percentage near 10% these days, up from ~6% during his first year in Seattle.  Expect to see him unceremoniously removed from the starting rotation as soon as Saturday.

That Felix’s first 5 starts of 2010 have been mildly disappointing tells us a lot about how incredible he was in 2009. The King has been blowing away hitters and racking up ground-balls at his usual rate, but admittedly not quite as well as he did last year.

Summary: Things are looking good.  The rest of the AL West is slowly crumbling, giving the M’s their best chance to win the division since 1894.  Keep your eyes on the standings — the Mariners just might bounce to the top.