Let’s Walk and Talk, Mike Zunino


Apr 26, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners catcher

Mike Zunino

(3) tosses the bat after being hit by a pitch during the game against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field. Texas defeated Seattle 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

After a career day going 4-5 in his first game at Yankee Stadium, Mike Zunino raised his triple slash line to .274/.299/.479. That .274 batting average is nice. The .479 slugging percentage is great to see too.

It’s the on-base percentage that has me worried.

In 73 at-bats Zunino has 1 walk and 22 strikeouts. And his one walk? Intentional.

His BABIP is .347, more than 40 points higher than the league average.

What does it all boil down to? Zunino still isn’t quite ready for major league pitching. His pitch framing and management of the rotation and bullpen has been phenomenal. He knows his pitchers, knows their repertoire. He is also above league average when it comes to framing pitches and getting strikes called.

But the offense needs work. He saw less minor league games than the great Joe Mauer, and he plays a position that usual carries a premium of minor league games. When he is making contact, he is hitting the ball with authority. The only issue is the frequency with which he makes solid contact.

My biggest concern is the regression that is inevitably coming. A .347 BABIP is sustainable, but usually by a speed guy that earns a dozen or more hits just on athleticism alone– think Ichiro in the early 2000s. When that average on balls in play drops 30, 40, or 50 points, Zunino’s average is going to drop 30 or 40 or 50 points.

Sure, the 1 walk to 22 strikeouts is bound to level out a bit, but the concern remains: can Zunino keep up with Major League pitching? I think, eventually, he will be able to.

No, he won’t ever be like Ted Williams, whose walk to strikeout ratio is absurd. But, I also don’t expect him to become an Adam Dunn whose strikeout total is higher than his batting average. The Mariners don’t need a lot from Zunino offensively for him to be valuable to this team. Something like a .250/.300/.400 line would be a reasonable triple slash for the season.

It’s just at this rate, with the lack of free passes, the numbers are bound to catch up to him. You can only carry an absurdly high BABIP with an absurdly low walk rate and keep being as productive offensively.

But Zunino is not alone when it comes to the poor walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Seager is the only Mariner with double-digit walks, at 11. Next are Robinson Cano and Corey Hart with 8 and 7, respectively.

Of the players with more than 35 at-bats this season, only three have K/BB ratios lower than 2: Seager, Cano, and Michael Saunders.

And 5 players already have more than 20 strikeouts: Zunino (22), Justin Smoak (26), Seager (21), Abraham Almonte (39– seriously this number is disgusting), and Brad Miller (26).

So, no, Zunino isn’t alone. Maybe this should be an indictment of half the Mariners offensive roster.

A general message to the 2014 Seattle Mariners: let’s take a walk, or two, or three.

If anything, it’s free cardio.