Mariners’ Dipoto: Julio Rodríguez in Year 2, raising team batting average

Nov 3, 2022, 11:19 AM

Mariners Julio Rodriguez...

Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his home run against the Detroit Tigers at T-Mobile Park on October 05, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

As the 2022 World Series is in full swing, we’re inching closer and closer to the start of the MLB offseason, which figures to be an important one for the Seattle Mariners after they won 90 games and ended their long playoff drought in 2022.

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The man behind all the roster moves is president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, who joined Seattle Sports 710 AM’s Brock and Salk on Thursday for his weekly radio show. Dipoto called from Arizona, where he’s been watching some Mariners prospects play in the Arizona Fall League. Next up, though, is an important next step as far as the 2022-2023 offseason is concerned.

“Next on the burner, so to speak, is the GM meetings start on Monday in Las Vegas. And that’s when we’ll really get it kicking into gear with transactional talk. That’s the first time we’ll sit down with agents … and have the initial, I guess, foray into free agency,” he said.

But free agency isn’t the only way the Mariners can improve the roster for next year.

“Between (general manager Justin Hollander) and myself and a couple of the guys in the (Mariners front) office, we have vetted the league and have a pretty good feel for who we might match up with in trade,” Dipoto said.

One goal Dipoto mentioned last week is improving the team’s batting average. In 2022, the Mariners had the third-worst team batting average in baseball at .216. That came a year after finishing last  in MLB at .226 in 2021.

The Mariners have still been very good the last two years despite posting a poor team batting average, as evidenced by better on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS numbers and rankings as well as very good pitching stats.

Batting average has lust its luster in terms of being the stat people look at with hitting, so why did Dipoto bring that up when discussing the 2023 Mariners?

“I think a couple of things: One, it’s low hanging fruit. It’s not something that we did particularly well, and it’s an area where we can improve. We do generally put the ball in play on an average scale based on the league around us. And while this year we hit for lower average, I do think that simply focusing on average is probably not wise, but using average in a broader context as we go into the first season where the shifting rules have been altered, I think is pretty relevant,” he said.

Next year, defensive shifts will be heavily restricted. Instead of seeing three infielders on one side of second base and oftentimes one of them in shallow right field with a lefty at the plate, there must be two infielders on each side of second base, and they can’t have their feet on the outfield grass before the pitch is delivered.

“I do think that batting average is going to rise in baseball, simply because the defense teams use changes. And therefore I think it’s low-hanging fruit as a small goal,” Dipoto said.

Dipoto said it’s easy to get caught up in the “three true outcomes” in baseball, which are home runs, walks and strikeouts, and that’s how the Mariners have gone about their business at the plate of late.

“That’s generally how we’ve played offense, but I do think there’s a chance for us to do something more interesting in keeping the game moving,” he said.

Year 2 of the J-Rod Show

There weren’t many players more exciting to watch in 2022 than Julio Rodríguez. Heck, he may already be the most electrifying player in the game after just one season.

The likely 2022 AL Rookie of the Year put together one of the best rookie seasons of all time, slashing .284/.345/.509 with a 147 OPS+ and .853 OPS while smacking 28 home runs, driving in 75 runs, scoring 84 times and swiping 25 bases. And he did so in 132 games.

Rodríguez signed a lucrative long-term deal that should keep him in Seattle for his entire career, and he was the lone rookie to make the All-Star Game this year.

So what in the world does Year 2 look like for Rodríguez?

“I would guess something like 162 games slightly more elevated than what we just saw. It’s hard to project much more than the pace that Julio set,” Dipoto said.

Rodríguez accumulated 6 wins above replacement, per ESPN, which was tied for 15th in MLB. It was also tied for seventh in the American League and was fourth-most among MLB outfielders.

“That’s rare air,” Dipoto said. “You get into that zone and you’re an MVP candidate. Those are the perennial MVPs, the guys who are putting up that type of seasonal value. I really wouldn’t put anything past him.”

Rodríguez’s blend of power and speed is “unique,” Dipoto said, but he did say he thinks his star outfielder may start to slow it down in terms of stolen bases moving forward.

“I do think that like we’ve watched over the years with Mike Trout – and maybe some others – that for a big guy who’s playing center field every day and is a source of power for your lineup, I do think that the likelihood that Julio continues to be a dynamic 25-35 base dealer is unlikely and you’ll see that regress,” he said. “But as that regresses, I think you’ll see the home run total start to increase. And maybe that’ll be a little easier on his body, and then the 162 games schedule is actually something we’ll realize whereas this year we had some some pits and breaks with small little knickknacks and injuries.”

Listen to this week’s Jerry Dipoto Show at this link or in the player below.

Dipoto: How Mariners’ clubhouse factors into their offseason targets

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