Mariners’ lineup has made one very important improvement

Jan 6, 2023, 10:48 AM

Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Julio Rodríguez homers for the Mariners against the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 5, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s been over a month since the Mariners last made an addition to their lineup, and while it has made for a tough offseason among the fan base, that doesn’t mean they haven’t improved.

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That’s a point Gary Hill, who is a member of the Mariners Radio Network broadcast team as well as host of the official Seattle Mariners Podcast, made when he joined Shannon Drayer for an edition of Seattle Sports’ Talking Mariners this week.

First, Hill singled out a pair of impressive young hitters who broke out in 2022 and probably have even higher ceilings than their final statistics from last season.

“There’s room to grow with Cal Raleigh as a hitter,” Hill said of the 26-year-old, switch-hitting catcher. “… The question with Cal Raleigh and Julio (Rodríguez), as we know (is that) development in the majors isn’t always like this steady stream upwards, there’s some bumps in the road. So I think asking both of them to take, like, leaps forward in Year 2 is not realistic, but there’s room to grow for both of them in Year 2, which is phenomenal. I actually think they’re a better team than last year.”

And that leads to the second point. Combining Raleigh and Rodríguez, the latter of whom is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year and someone who seems primed to become one of the biggest stars in the game, with the Mariners’ biggest addition of the offseason gives Seattle something Hill finds very intriguing. At the very least, it is an improvement in one area compared to last year.

“I actually think, too, that Teoscar (Hernández) is a massive addition,” Hill said of the slugging right fielder acquired from the Blue Jays in a November trade. “I think he is a huge bat in the middle of the order.”

Hernández is a hitter that Hill knew even before the Mariners got him is tough to deal with. He recalled a conversation with broadcast partners Mike Blowers and Aaron Goldsmith before one of Seattle’s wins in their two-game playoff sweep of the Blue Jays where Hernández, who notably hit two massive home runs in the second of those games, was identified as a hitter to be feared.

“A guy that we talked about was Teoscar Hernández, and (he’s) a guy that you don’t want to see. If he comes up in a close game with two guys on base, he’s a scary dude.”

Hernández has something in common with Raleigh and Rodríguez that should be fearsome for opposing pitchers, which is that they all ranked in the 90th percentile or better in barrel rate in 2022. Per’s glossary, a barrel classification “is assigned to batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015.”

Hill explained why that’s notable.

“When I think about hitting now, I think about the most important thing is to hit the ball as hard as you can as often as you can, and that’s what (Hernández) does.”

As do Raleigh and Rodríguez. Raleigh, who hit 27 home runs in his first full MLB season, finished in the 96th percentile in barrel rate. Hernández (25 homers) wasn’t far behind in the 94th percentile, while Rodríguez (28 homers) was in the 90th.

“That’s what made Cal’s season so great – he was one of the barrel leaders in baseball,” Hill said. “It’s what makes Julio who he is – he hits the ball as hard as anyone in baseball as consistently as anyone. And Teoscar’s on all those lists, too. He’s a true middle of the order bat that I think is going to be enormous in this lineup.”

As much as that should be an asset for Seattle, though, Hill wouldn’t mind an additional hitter or two (nor would the Mariners, as president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has stated during his recent weekly Seattle Sports appearances).

“I think they’re a better team,” Hill said, “and people can say they haven’t added enough, which is fine. It’s fine to have that opinion. But they are a better team I think right now than they were to end the year, and I hope they do add to it before we head to spring.”

You can hear the full edition of Talking Mariners at this link or in the player embedded below. The part of the conversation featured in this post is located toward the very end of the podcast.

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Mariners’ lineup has made one very important improvement