By Gary Hill
The season splits for the Mariners are dramatic. The M’s have bashed 113 homers against right-handed pitching, which is the fifth most in Major League Baseball this season. Their slugging percentage against righties falls just outside the top 10 and their .724 OPS sits in the top half of baseball.
The story against left-handed pitching, however, is vastly different. They maintain the second-worst OPS (.653) in all of baseball against lefties. They are only hitting .228 against southpaws, which is third worst in the game.
There is not much of a mystery as to why the Mariners struggle against lefties when the splits of everyday players are taken into account.
• Justin Smoak (switch hitter)
vs. right: .286/.387/.498, 14 HR, 31 RBI
vs. left: .167/.262/.202, 0 HR, 4 RBI
• Nick Franklin (switch hitter)
vs. righties: .229/.299/.448, 11 HR, 31 RBI
vs. lefties: .206/.268/.304, 1 HR, 10 RBI
• Brad Miller (bats left)
vs. righties: .263/.324/.442, 5 HR, 19 RBI
vs. lefties: .280/.341/.360, 0 HR, 7 RBI
• Kyle Seager (bats left)
vs. righties: .296/.378/.481, 12 HR, 40 RBI
vs. lefties: .248/.298/.426, 9 HR, 22 RBI
• Kendrys Morales (switch hitter)
vs. righties: .278/.330/.451, 13 HR, 49 RBI
vs. lefties: .280/.348/.418, 4 HR, 20 RBI
• Michael Saunders (bats left)
vs. righties: .256/.347/.417, 7 HR, 25 RBI
vs. lefties: .189/.272/.315, 3 HR, 14 RBI
• Dustin Ackley (bats left)
vs. righties: .251/.303/.341, 2 HR, 19 RBI
vs. lefties: .266/.310/.362, 1 HR, 8 RBI
• Raul Ibanez (bats left)
vs. righties: .252/.312/.489, 17 HR, 42 RBI
vs. lefties: .243/.304/.504, 8 HR, 18 RBI
• Mike Zunino (bats right)
vs. righties: .247/.314/.338, 1 HR, 8 RBI
vs. lefties: .227/.320/.364, 1 HR, 2 RBI
• Franklin Gutierrez (bats right)
vs. righties: .283/.313/.630, 4 HR, 7 RBI
vs. lefties: .200/.200/.486, 3 HR, 7 RBI
The Mariners have only scored one run in their last 26 innings and it is no coincidence they have faced a lefty in 25 of them.
They are only averaging 2.4 runs per game in their last 11 and they faced a lefty starter in seven of them. The M’s were the third-highest-scoring team in July at 5.24 runs per game. They faced 18 righty starters and only seven left-handed starters the entire month. The Mariners lost four of those seven starts against lefties.
The Mariners’ lineup is dominated by left-handed hitters and their switch hitters have all been stronger from the left side. In the cases of Nick Franklin and Justin Smoak, the disparity between the two sides has been massive.
The right-hand hitters who were supposed to supply balance to the lineup have spent more time on the disabled list than on the field. Michael Morse features a career OPS of .847 versus southpaws, but he has only managed to play 76 games this year. Jesus Montero hit .322 with six homers against lefties last season, but he has only appeared in 29 games in 2013. Franklin Gutierrez has a career .824 OPS against left-handed pitchers, but he has only made the lineup 23 times this year.
The Mariners will most likely continue to struggle against left-handed pitchers the rest of this season given their current makeup, so the focus turns to what should be done moving forward.
The answer to the lefty riddle has many parts.
First of all, the Mariners are extremely young offensively and it is reasonable to assume there will be natural progression and improvement against lefties. Players like Kyle Seager project to improve against lefties over time.
Secondly, players already in the system such as Stefen Romero could provide impactful long-term help. The right-handed hitter out of Oregon State hit .280 with 11 home runs and 74 RBIs in 92 games with Tacoma this season.
Thirdly, specialists could be hired from the outside to form appropriate platoon situations. The Athletics have used various platoons to their advantage this season. The Rangers employee Jeff Baker as a lefty antidote and he is mashing them to the tune of a ridiculous 1.215 OPS.
There is also a massive move the Mariners could make to help their cause.
Cuban defector Jose Abreu is a right-handed slugger who would fit well in the Mariners’ lineup. (AP)
Jose Abreu recently defected from Cuba. He is currently in the process of establishing residency in another country and MLB free agency will be in his future when he does.
Abreu is a powerfully built right-handed hitter who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 258 pounds. He has played professionally in Cuba since 2003-04 yet he is still only 26 years old. He has routinely destroyed pitching in Cuba and has not hit below .382 the past three seasons. In 2010-11 he won the MVP by posting a .453/.597/.986 slash in nearly 300 plate appearances. He belted 33 homers that year, which tied him for the league lead with Yoenis Cespedes despite 122 fewer plate appearances.
Cespedes and fellow countryman Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers injected immediate offensive punch into their respective lineups. Puig’s slash line this season is an eye-popping .351/.411/.564. Cespedes has bashed more than 20 homers in each of his first two seasons and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting last year.
Abreu has punished pitching on the international scene with wild success at tournaments all over the world. At the most recent World Baseball Classic he tied for the lead in homers and finished just one RBI behind David Wright. He tied the Netherlands’ Andrelton Simmons for second in total bases, finishing just behind Robinson Cano.
Various scouting reports praise Abreu’s massive power potential while questions regarding his defensive ability swirl. If the Mariners elect not to re-sign Kendrys Morales then they would have availability at designated hitter, and any defensive shortcomings would be irrelevant.
Abreu is going to cost a great deal to sign. Cespedes signed a four-year, $36 million deal that was questioned at the time, but now looks to be a bargain. Puig inked a seven-year, $42 million contract that is looking more prudent by the day. Abreu will cost more than both players, especially given the dearth of power potential on the market this winter. The competition will be fierce as the Rangers, Orioles, Red Sox, Mets and others could all be in on him.
Nevertheless, signing Abreu would be a roll of the dice given the dollars involved and the competition he has faced thus far. However, a middle-of-the-order power bat thriving in his prime may be enticing enough for the Mariners to aggressively pursue.