JOE FANN

Fann’s midseason Mariners awards: Seattle’s MVP, Cy Young and more

Jul 21, 2022, 9:29 AM
Mariners Eugenio Suárez Julio Rodríguez...
Eugenio Suárez and Julio Rodríguez celebrate Suárez's walkoff homer Friday. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The idea of doing Mariners midseason awards would have been preposterous and insulting a few weeks ago. But now that Seattle has won 22 of 25, including 14 straight games, this is a much more appropriate and worthwhile exercise.

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Here is a rundown of the team’s top performers following the first half of the 2022 season, one that saw the Mariners go 51-42 with a current claim on the American League’s No. 2 Wild Card spot.

MVP: Julio Rodríguez

He’s also the team’s Rookie of the Year, but I figured I could save a subhead.

Mariners fans know firsthand that being a top prospect doesn’t guarantee immediate success (see: Kelenic, Jarred). There is nothing trivial about what Rodríguez has accomplished thus far, and it has been celebrated accordingly.

Julio stole the show at Monday’s Home Run Derby and then provided one of the All-Star Game’s lighter moments in and end-of-inning back-and-forth with White Sox reliever Liam Hendricks.

On the field, Rodríguez has amassed 16 home runs, 53 runs scored, 52 RBI, 21 stolen bases, a .275 average, a 135 wRC+ and a 2.9 fWAR (seventh-best among all MLB outfielders) over the first 91 games of his career. He was also the fastest player in MLB history to reach 15 homers and 20 stolen bases.

Rodríguez has already been accepted by his veteran peers as one of the leaders of this Mariners team hoping to end the most notorious postseason drought in sports. If he maintains his current pace, Seattle is likely to earn a Wild Cart spot, and Rodríguez will have an AL Rookie of the Year award to show for it.

Cy Young: Robbie Ray

Ray scuffled mightily out of the gates with a 4.97 ERA through June 6, but he’s done a complete 180 over his last seven starts. In that span, Ray has pitched 46.1 innings with just seven earned runs, 58 strikeouts, 11 walks and a sterling 1.36 ERA. His ERA on the season has plummeted all the way down to 3.54 during this hot stretch.

Ray regaining AL Cy Young-like form will continue to be massive during this playoff push to close out the regular season. He’s the undisputed ace of the Mariners pitching staff.

Honorable mention: Logan Gilbert

Seattle’s second-year phenom could have easily been chosen for this award outright, but I tipped the scales in favor of Ray’s sheer dominance of late.

Gilbert has still been sensational this season with a 2.76 ERA and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings over 19 starts. He’s scuffled a bit of late with a 4.03 ERA and just 15 strikeouts in 22.1 innings over his last four starts. He also hasn’t seen the seventh inning since May 28, a span that covers his last nine starts.

The All-Star break likely offered a much-needed respite for Gilbert prior to Seattle’s second-half playoff push.

Newcomer of the Year: Eugenio Suárez

The vibes have been good since Suárez first arrived in the Mariners clubhouse in spring training. He’s accumulated an fWAR of 2.4 (seventh-best among all MLB third basemen) with 16 homers, 44 runs scored and 50 RBI through his first 92 games with Seattle.

Suárez’ career-high strikeout percentage of 31.6% is undesirable, but he’s had enough clutch moments to more than make up for his league-leading 124 punchouts.

Most Improved: Cal Raleigh

It’s not just that Raleigh was unproductive at the plate, both as a rookie in 2021 and earlier this season, it’s that most at-bats he looked completely lost and overmatched. Well Raleigh is guessing no more as he’s gained comfort in the box against big league pitching.

Since May 15 (49 games), Raleigh has posted a serviceable .233 average with 12 home runs, 21 runs scored and 33 RBI. He’s also shown great command of the Mariners pitching staff behind the plate. That’s a large enough sample size to believe Seattle has found its newest franchise catcher.

Mr. Clutch: Ty France

Without his injury, France would have had a stronger case for being Seattle’s first half MVP. He has still generated a 2.2 fWAR and a 148 wRC+ through 79 games thus far.

More importantly, France is hitting .362 with runners in scoring position, good for sixth best in all of baseball. In such situations, he’s hit three home runs with 37 RBI. France’s average jumps to .375 with RISP and two outs. The man just finds a way to get the job done.

Honorable mention: Carlos Santana

Santana has been with the Mariners for just a short time, but his performances in the four-game sweep of the Blue Jays is worth noting in this story. Santana his three homers in two games that essentially accounted for all of the Mariners offense in those pair of wins.

Seattle is 16-1 with Santana in the lineup while the veteran switch hitter has his four home runs with eight RBI, 10 walks and a .348 OBP.

Mr. Put Some Respect on His Name: Sam Haggerty

I’ve been the conductor of the Haggerty hype train for some time now, but it’s time that you all jump on board as well. Every playoff team has a winning player like Haggerty. He’s someone with elite speed that isn’t rivaled by anyone else on the roster while possessing vital defensive versatility for a utility man.

In addition to being a supreme late-game defensive replacement or pinch runner, Haggerty’s versatility will allow Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger to get regular days off upon their return.

Oh by the way, he’s hitting a cool .302 over 57 plate appearances with two homers (one of the inside-the-park variety), three doubles and a perfect four stolen bases without being caught. He owns a 0.6 fWAR in just 27 games.

You can’t convince me that Abraham Toro (-.4 fWAR in 74 games) deserves a roster spot over Haggerty (or Dylan Moore for that matter, who has a 1.2 fWAR in 66 games). Justin Upton is likely to be the first to go when Lewis returns (hopefully on Friday). Toro should be next when Haniger’s ankle is ready.

Honorable mention: Chris Flexen

Flexen, seemingly out of nowhere, joined the Mariners in 2021 and instantly became a sensational back-of-the-rotation starter. Many thought regression was coming (myself included) after he posted a career-best 3.61 ERA last season. And yet, Flexen continues to be a serviceable innings eater with a 3.79 ERA over 18 starts.

It sounds cliché (it is cliché) and it’s impossible to quantify, but Flexen has an undeniable bulldog mentality about him that is evident every time he takes the mound. The man is competitive as hell and finds a way to keep his team in games.

Best midseason Turnaround: Diego Castillo and Andrés Muñoz

These two are both worthy of the award, and so they’ll have to share it. I just couldn’t get myself to relegate one of them to the honorable mention category.

Since May 15, Castillo has a 1.46 ERA with six wins, five saves, three holds and 25 strikeouts over 24.2 innings pitched. His ERA has dipped all the way from 9.28 (yes, he was that bad to open the season) to 3.82 over that span.

Muñoz had a 5.31 ERA back on June 10. It’s now down to 2.92 following 14 straight appearances without allowing an earned run. He’s racked up 32 strikeouts over 16.2 innings in those 14 games.

Biggest Surprise: Penn Murfee

Seattle’s 28-year-old rookie has been a revelation out of the bullpen this season with a 0.7 fWAR in 35 games. He owns a sterling 2.65 ERA with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 37.1 innings pitched. Murfee has come out of nowhere similarly to how Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider and Casey Sadler came out of nowhere last season.

Honorable mention: Erik Swanson

Swanson was solid in 2021 with a 3.31 ERA in 33 games, but he’s been dominant this season. He’s pitched in 26 innings over 26 appearances with a 1.04 ERA and a 12.1 strikeouts per nine rate. He and Murfee have been invaluable pieces to Seattle’s league-leading bullpen behind the top trio of Castillo, Sewald and Muñoz.

Biggest Disappointment: Jarred Kelenic being in the minors

Everyone was hoping for Kelenic’s hot September to carry into 2022. However it only took 30 games for Seattle to pull the plug and send him back to Triple A. He hit just .140 with three homers to begin the season.

He’s been better in the minors over 194 at bats with a .294 average, 11 home runs and 35 RBI. I’m not ready to quit on the former top 10 prospect, and I hope he makes his mark on this Mariners season before it’s all said and done.

The dream of an outfield that consists of Rodríguez and Kelenic for many years to come isn’t dead yet.

Honorable mention: Jesse Winker’s slow start

Suárez being a 2.4 fWAR player kept Mariners fans feeling positive about Seattle’s preseason trade with Cincinnati. But that doesn’t change the fact Winker, a 2021 All-Star, was supposed to be the prize acquisition of that deal.

Winker had a 178 wRC+ against right-handed pitching in 2021, and he’d spent his career feasting off of righties. That number was below 80 for most of the season. It’s back up to 102 (just above league average) as he’s been better of late.

Since June 21 (19 games), Winker has a .296 average, a .383 OPB, four homers and 11 RBI. Seattle’s lineup will desperately need more of that in the second half.

Best Moment: Julio’s homer against the Astros

The Mariners rarely get the last laugh against the Astros, and there’s still a lot of making up to do in that ledger. However, on that one beautiful Texas evening, one pitch after benches cleared due to Ty France getting plunked by Astros reliever Hector Neris, Rodríguez stepped up to the plate and clubbed a two-run homer on the first pitch he saw.

The ninth-inning home run gave Seattle two much-needed insurance runs in what was ultimately a 7-4 Mariners victory. That big fly spoke volumes about Rodríguez’ feel for the moment and ability to deliver accordingly.

Honorable mention: Julio’s grand slam against the Rangers

You could go with a number of plays here, and I wouldn’t argue with you. Feel free to find me on Twitter and tell me which moment you would have picked. Maybe it would have been Jesse “Double Bird” Winker, I don’t know. But I’m going with another can’t-miss highlight from Julio.

Of course it had to be Rodríguez who hit Seattle’s first grand slam of 2022. Up 4-3 in the eighth inning with the bases juiced, two outs and a full count, Rodríguez sent a blast over the wall in dead center. Seeing his swag-filled home run trot, bat flip included, will never get old.

Biggest Second Half Unknown: How will Jerry Dipoto handle the trade deadline?

Surely the Mariners need to find another arm for the starting rotation, even if it’s a “tweener” who can also serve out of the bullpen in long relief. The explanation of George Kirby’s inning restrictions remains murky, but Seattle would be wise to add depth regardless as injury insurance if nothing else. This fan base doesn’t deserve to watch Tommy Milone starts every fifth day for a team with a playoff drought that is almost old enough to drink legally.

But what about a bat? It’s hard to imagine Seattle ponying up for Juan Soto. Maybe a second baseman? Or is Jerry Dipoto going to roll the dice that Adam Frazier’s recent surge will continue. Frazier has hit .366 over his last 11 games, but that’s hardly a large enough sample size to keep Dipoto away from the trade market. All eyes will be on Dipoto’s actions (or inactions) prior to the August 2 deadline.

Honorable mention: Will Jesse Winker continue to improve? Will Jarred Kelenic be a September call-up? How much will the Mariners get out of Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger?

Not a ton for me to add here other than I’ll be monitoring all three questions closely for the remainder of the season. The answers to all three will likely have a sizeable impact on whether or not the Mariners make the playoffs.

Watch: Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez mic’d up in CF during All-Star Game

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