GM Jerry Dipoto: Mike Zunino at the center of Mariners’ recent surge

Aug 12, 2016, 8:11 AM

Mike Zunino's improvements at the plate have allowed the Mariners to enjoy the fruits of his defens...

Mike Zunino's improvements at the plate have allowed the Mariners to enjoy the fruits of his defensive ability. (AP)


Seemingly all of the attention on Mike Zunino in 2016 has been regarding his hitting, and for good reason considering the strides he’s made after back-to-back sub-.200 seasons in the majors. But now that the 25-year-old catcher is back in a starting role with the Mariners, he’s reminding everyone just how valuable he is behind the plate.

Since rejoining the team from Triple-A Tacoma on July 20, Zunino has started 15 games. The Mariners are 11-4 in those games, and their starting pitchers have made it through the sixth inning in 12 of them – nine of which were quality starts. It’s safe to say Zunino, who is renowned for his ability to frame pitches, has had a hand in the pitching staff’s success. According to Baseball Prospectus, he’s 10th among all American League catchers this season in total framing runs – a framing-specific stat similar to Wins Above Replacement – despite having played just 19 major-league games.

Zunino’s improvements on offense have made the Mariners comfortable with him playing in the big leagues again, and general manager Jerry Dipoto told “Danny, Dave and Moore” that they’re now reaping the benefits of his defensive prowess as a result.

“We’ve never had an issue or question with what he brings defensively,” Dipoto said of Zunino. “He works very well with pitchers, he throws well, I think he’s one of the best pitch-framers in baseball and the data supports that, and he’s really grown … in his ability to call a game at this level. Put that together with the marketed upgrade in what he’s bringing offensively. The quality of Mike’s at-bats, truly dating back to April in Tacoma to where we are today, he has come so far in his approach and his consistency. His mindset everyday is to have a productive plate appearance for the team.”

The data supports that point, too. Zunino has a .255 average, six home runs and a .667 slugging percentage in 51 at-bats for Seattle, but perhaps most important is his .391 on-base percentage that is helped by his eight walks.

Strikeouts have long been a problem for Zunino – he had 158 of them in 131 games in 2014 and 132 in 112 games in 2015 – but while he is still getting punched out fairly regularly (16 this season), it’s taking a lot more work for opposing pitchers to do so.

“I do think that one of the things I find most encouraging is that Mike is still gonna strike out some, because when you tap into the kind of power he has, you do need to trade some strikeouts for that, but his strikeouts aren’t just waving at three sliders in the other batter’s box,” Dipoto said. “His strikeouts, if you watched this home stand, it’s a lot of grinding at-bats.

“The quality of at-bats have been phenomenal and there’s a reason why we’re 11-4 in those games and I think largely it’s because he’s played that well and he has been right at the center of why we are, I guess, surging the way we have been over the course of the last two, three few weeks.”


• Dipoto said the Mariners will skip James Paxton’s scheduled start this weekend in Oakland but that the team is hopeful he’ll be ready to start a game in the following series in Anaheim. Paxton was hit on his left elbow by a batted ball in the ninth inning of his last outing on Sunday. In three of his last four starts, Paxton has thrown seven or more innings while allowing no more than one run.

• The Mariners optioned pitcher Jarrett Grube to Triple-A Tacoma after completing their sweep of the Tigers on Wednesday night. Grube, a 34-year-old minor-league veteran with just one career MLB appearance, had been called up earlier that day to provide insurance in the bullpen after Seattle’s 15-inning marathon with Detroit on Tuesday night. He did not appear in the game.

Team: mariners

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