Seattle Mariners fans have been preparing for what promises to be a long season. But while there will be a lot of lumps, they will be significantly better in one area of the game.
The 2019 Seattle Mariners had a lot of warts and that was by design. The team was never built to be well rounded, nor good for that matter. But in one area, that team was worse than almost anybody could have imagined. The 2019 Mariners may have been the worst defensive team of all time.
Think back to the Opening Day defense in Japan. Particularly in the infield. Omar Narvaez at catcher, Jay Bruce at first base, Dee Gordon at second, Tim Beckham at SS, and Ryon Healy at third base. Excuse me while I throw up.
Now, just one year later, the projected infield features Tom Murphy at catcher, Evan White at first, Shed Long at second, J.P. Crawford at SS, and Kyle Seager back at third. Seattle will run out an infield defense that includes a former Gold Glove winner in Seager who still ranks in the 72nd percentile of outs above-average.
In addition, Crawford is a rock-solid shortstop who, on his worst nights, is league-average defensively. He also finished in the 72 percentile in OAA. Going from Gordon to Long may be the only downgrade, but it isn’t as fast as most would think. Of course, the difference between Narvaez and Bruce to Murphy and White is the difference between prime Felix Hernandez and 2019 Felix.
Of course, the defense got better in 2019 as the likes of Beckham and Bruce were removed from the roster. Domingo Santana exiting due to injury was unfortunate, but it did give the team a significant upgrade for the last 6 weeks in left field.
The projected outfield is a bit of a mess, but none of the possibilities are as bad as Santana. Without Mitch Haniger, the defensive alignment only has one true holdover, Mallex Smith. And while Smith had his struggles early, he ended the season as an elite defender.
Yeah, that sounds weird to say, but according to Baseball Savant, it is accurate. Smith finished in the 96th percentile in OAA and in the 92nd percentile in outfield jumps. Jake Fraley and Braden Bishop can handle center field on an everyday basis, the latter of which is Gold Glove-caliber. Jose Siri is also a true centerfielder. Even Kyle Lewis could manage in center if needed.
So while there will be struggles in 2020, Seattle should run out a Top 12 defense on a nightly basis. And while this may not be as fun as an offensive juggernaut, a run saved is a run earned. The pitching staff will need help this spring and summer and thanks to Jerry Dipoto‘s relentless acquisitions of athletes, they should get just that.