Mariners 2020 Awards: 710 ESPN Seattle’s M’s honors you won’t expect
The Mariners wrapped up a unique 60-game 2020 season on Sunday, finishing the year with a surprising 27-33 record and even staying in postseason contention into the final week.
There were a fair amount of highlights, especially with Kyle Lewis putting together a likely Rookie of the Year-winning campaign and Marco Gonzales pitching well enough that he should get at vote here or there in the Cy Young Award race.
Speaking of awards, we at 710 ESPN Seattle decided to have a little fun with our own brand of awards for the Mariners season. Below, we have various made-up Mariners awards submissions from several staff members, including show hosts, 710Sports.com writers, and Mariners insider and pregame/postgame show host Shannon Drayer (she gets to give out two awards since she basically lived at T-Mobile Park for the past two months).
First, we’ll get the obvious one out of the way. Then it’s time to have some fun.
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis
Kyle Lewis was a phenomenon in September 2019 when he received his first call up to the big leagues. Then he did what he did in 2020, and it became apparent that was only the beginning.
Lewis opened the season by obliterating a fastball from reigning Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander for an opening-day home run. He had 10 more over the next two months, but he showed along the way he’s not just a power hitter. He stroked 54 hits in 58 games, many to the opposite field. He showed patience, drawing 34 walks. He had an impressive .801 OPS when the season ended.
But the real interesting development is that, after a shaky showing mostly at corner outfield spots in his short time with the Mariners in 2019, he was actually really good when given the keys to center field.
Lewis’ rookie year should (hopefully) be remembered for him becoming the fourth Mariner to win American League Rookie of the Year, joining Ichiro, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Alvin Davis. It’s really a two-man race between him and Chicago’s Luis Robert, and Lewis’ numbers do look just a bit better. But for all he did with the bat, this is probably the image that will last the longest.
Best Managing of the Year 2020: Scott Servais
Nominated by The Groz
I don’t think there was anything that could have prepared Scott Servais for this year. Managing a young team in transition while dealing with a pandemic isn’t in the manager’s handbook. Oh, and don’t forget the protests and the fact that the Mariners have a lot of young African American players. It was a situation that could have been chaotic. Instead it brought the team together.
A great example was the Register to Vote contest in which every player who registered was eligible to win a hotel suite on the team’s last road trip (won by J.P.Crawford). Servais wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, engaged his players on the protests and promised to support them – which he did. The result was a harmonious clubhouse and season with a strong bond between manager and players. Well done.
Most Surprising Development of All Award: Dylan Moore
Nominated by Jim Moore
To Dylan Moore, a utility player who turned himself into a viable candidate to play every day with a potent bat – .855 OPS that included eight doubles and nine home runs in 38 games. Turn him into a starter at second base. Shed Long had his chance.
Hey look, another Dylan Moore tweet. pic.twitter.com/qmjDuiGgdQ
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 11, 2020
Mariners Player with the Biggest Image Change: Kyle Seager
Nominated by Tom Wassell
It’s not that this was a memorable year in terms of wins and losses, but it may end up being the year that changed the fortunes of the franchise, or at least set the table for said change. Think about Kyle Seager and the way he’s been viewed for the last several years. He’s a productive player that’s stuck with one team his whole career (very rare), but since that team loses more than it wins, he gets the finger pointed at him unfairly.
“He was pretty good, but he never helped them win.”
Well, as the excitement around this team grows, the perception of Seager changes as well. Yes, the contract is an albatross, but seeing him as the veteran that helps usher in a positive era of Mariners baseball, all while he continues to produce, makes him far more likable and, for me, changes the way he’ll be viewed historically.
Bottom line, I’d like to see them make a playoff run while Seager is still on the team. Félix wasn’t afforded that opportunity. Ol’ Seags deserves it.
The ‘What Ceiling?’ Award: Marco Gonzales
Nominated by Shannon Drayer
A year ago on the penultimate day of the season, Mariners manager Scott Servais allowed Marco Gonzales to throw a season-high 118 pitches. It wasn’t because the score in the 161st game of a meaningless season was close, or that he wanted to get every last pitch out of Marco before the end. It was because Gonzales had allowed just one run and completing the inning would give him something he had yet to accomplish in his big league career – an ERA under 4.00. A nice cherry on top of a good season for the Mariners’ opening day starter, an “atta boy” if you will for the Mariners’ No. 1 starter who many believed earned the position by default. Gonzales was good, they would say. But on how many rosters would he be the No. 1?
Gonzales has long flown under the radar, something until this year he hasn’t minded. The stuff isn’t flashy, his fastball velocity in the bottom 3% of the entire league. Not exactly “ace” type stuff, yet there he was at the end of the season, one of just 15 starters to throw 200 innings, picking up 16 wins along the way. While wins are a terrible stat to evaluate pitchers by, there is something to be said about being able to get those wins and Marco has done that the past two seasons.
The result of 2019? He started to get noticed. New Mariners pitcher Kendall Graveman, who had previously been with the A’s, said in spring training that Gonzales was someone who when his name is listed in the probables, it gets the attention of the hitters in other clubhouses.
“I love that, I love proving people wrong,” said Gonzales in spring training. “It’s been really, really tough to fight through that, to fight through people’s stigma of me, low ceiling, not projectable, but what I think what people can’t evaluate is my ability to learn, my abililty to compete and my ability to grow in the game.”
In 2020 he may have even proved his own organization wrong. While the Mariners are clearly invested in him, signing him to a four-year contract last winter, that deal was based largely on being happy with what he was on the hill and the leadership he could bring off of it. When asked about what was next for Marco on the hill, the answer was that he’s there. It had been a steady evolution from a former first-rounder, 91-92 mph fastball/plus changeup pitcher to a low velo fastball/cutter five-pitch pitcher who had good command and competed well, and that was more than good enough for the Mariners coming out of 2019. He is what we see right now and we like what we see.
Gonzales didn’t leave well enough alone in 2020. There wasn’t a pitch to be added or extra velocity he felt he needed to manufacture. He has his weapons and he continues to master how to use them. Velocity can be caught up to but every hitter has weak spots in the strike zone, and Gonzales attacked them unmercifully from Game 1 to Game 60 with multiple pitches that can hit all quadrants of the strike zone, owning the edges with the batter in constant guess mode. He finished the season 7-2 in 11 starts with career-bests in ERA (3.10), WHIP (0.947), hits per nine innings (7.6), strikeouts per nine (8.3), walks per nine (0.9) and strikeouts-to-walk ratio (9.14). He even led MLB in the last two. Throw in the heart and head and it is entirely possible we still haven’t seen his ceiling.
Don’t believe it? That’s just fine. More fuel for the fire of the Mariners’ No. 1 starting pitcher.
The Mariners’ Other Rookie of the Year: Justus Sheffield
Nominated by Brandon Gustafson
Justus Sheffield won’t win AL Rookie of the Year this season. Heck, he won’t win Rookie of the Year on his own team, but there’s a good case to be made for both.
Kyle Lewis and White Sox outfielder Luis Robert are the front runners for the award. Lewis is expected to take it home after finishing the year with a .262/.364/.437 slash line, 11 home runs, 28 RBIs, 37 runs scored and five stolen bases. Robert, the preseason favorite, slashed .233/.302/.436 with 11 home runs, 31 RBIs, 33 runs scored and nine stolen bases. But Lewis (.139/.258/.266 over his last 23 games) and Robert (.153/.255/.235 over his last 24 games) both struggled over the final few weeks of the season.
Sheffield, meanwhile, finished 2020 with a 4-3 record in 10 starts (55 1/3 innings) and a 3.58 ERA, 1.301 WHIP and 48 strikeouts to 20 walks. Solid numbers for sure in a 60-game season. Their dropoffs and Sheffield’s steady play, I think, should put him in consideration for the award.
Here’s what was great about Sheffield’s year:
• Of the 52 hits he allowed all year, just seven were extra-base hits.
• After throwing just four innings and 3 2/3 innings in his first two starts, he threw at least six innings in six of his final eight starts, including back to back seven-inning outings. He finished the year with a five-inning start where he allowed just one run.
• Command was a question mark for him entering the year. He threw first-pitch strikes 63.4% of the time.
• Lefties struggled mightily against him, hitting just .129 against his slider and .211 on his sinker.
• And for some advanced numbers from Statcast, his slider was one of the best pitches in MLB. Opponents hit only .192 off it and the XBA was .189. He also showed improvement with a third pitch, a changeup. Opponents hit .244 off it with an XBA of .297, and with just two extra base hits – a double and a home run – off the pitch, he had a .341 opponent slugging percentage with it.
Sheffield seemed like a prime bullpen candidate for the future with a two-pitch mix and a wipeout slider, but he showed he can work deep into games and pound the zone. It wasn’t clear if he could do that before this season. Kyle Lewis will go home with the hardware, but a strong case could be made that Sheffield was actually the Mariners’ best rookie in 2020.
Best Performance by a Player Acquired from the Padres: Nick Margevicius
Nominated by Brent Stecker
You thought I was going to say Ty France or maybe even Luis Torrens, didn’t you? Well, so did I. But when I really thought about it, I remembered that Margevicius, who pitched his way into the starting rotation and turned some heads with three quality starts, was actually a waiver claim from San Diego prior to the season.
That’s not to discount the production of France, who showed off an awfully impressive approach at the plate (.302/.362/.453 slash line) in 23 games with Seattle, or Torrens, who looked good behind the plate and hit better than he had in parts of three seasons with the Padres. I just think Margevicius deserves some attention, especially after he twirled six shutout innings to wrap up an eye-opening series win over the Astros to end Seattle’s final homestand, a game where the Mariners’ playoff hopes couldn’t afford even one more loss.
Crafty lefties always work well in Seattle – Marco Gonzales, Jamie Moyer, even Wade LeBlanc had his moments for the M’s – and at only 24, Margevicius could figure into the Mariners’ six-man rotation going forward if he can continue to build on what he showed in flashes this year.
The Mariner You Don’t Realize You Are Going to Miss the Most: Dee Strange-Gordon
Nominated by Shannon Drayer
With the end of the 2020 season comes the end of Dee Strange-Gordon’s contract with the Mariners once a $1 million buyout of a $14 million option for 2021 is made. His three years as a Mariner comes to a close quietly aside from the appreciation he gets in his clubhouse and the Unsung Hero Award he received as voted on by the local BBWAA chapter. In an odd year, an odd goodbye for a player well worth taking a few minutes now to appreciate, because for three years he gave his all in a Mariners uniform.
It started on Day 1 after he was acquired from the Marlins, when Jerry Dipoto and his analysts decided that his skills would play in center field. The experiment, ill-fated and in retrospect perhaps every bit as outrageous as many thought it appeared at the time. Why would you take a Gold Glove second baseman and put him in the outfield?
Gordon was thinking that himself, though publicly he said all of the right things. Truth is his Mariners career started as it ended with him taking one for the team despite the damage it could do to his future. Gordon lost nearly 40 points across the .309/.340/.384 slash he brought to Seattle after three years in Miami. It’s hard to imagine that struggling in an unfamiliar position in the field in year one didn’t affect his game at the plate, and having his position given to a young player in year three unquestionably was harmful. He knew that, but other than pointing out at the start of spring training that it’s highly unusual in this game that a young player is just given a position – in his day he had to take the position – and they better make the most of the opportunity, he handled what could have been a very sticky situation gracefully.
Along the way he mentored and helped lead these players that the Mariners are trusting the franchise’s future with. He will have impacted every one of the position players and some of the pitchers too. From working during the shutdown with Dylan Moore to increase his contact skills to supporting his fellow Black players on the club in speaking their truths and responding to the social and racial injustices that have plagued this nation, Gordon has been there for his teammates.
None of this is new. He’s worked with teammates every offseason, going so far as to organize offseason workouts for anyone who was willing to travel to Florida. In-season, J.P. Crawford and Shed Long Jr. have benefited from playing next to one of the smartest players they will ever encounter. Very few see the game the way Gordon does and I don’t think it is a coincidence that Crawford in particular has shown great improvement at short in the last year.
Off the field, Gordon set the example of how a baseball player can give back. In his community, his teams’ communities and even overseas, Gordon has given both time and dollars to those in need. From his Flash of Hope charity, to traveling to Africa to bring medical supplies and help with a water project, to local Boys and Girls Clubs, to providing meals to those in crisis during the COVID shutdown, Gordon’s eyes are always open to what he can do to help. You hope the young Mariners have taken note as they too some day will have the opportunity to impact our community.
The acquisition of Gordon did not pay off on the field, but in the categories that can’t be measured by numbers and the potential lasting impact he had with Seattle at a critical time for the young players, his value may turn out to be more tremendous than ever imagined.