Drayer on Mariners’ offseason, strikeouts, recent comments and more
Oct 7, 2023, 11:47 AM | Updated: Oct 8, 2023, 9:58 am
(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
“The reality is those good to great teams when your prime players are playing in their peak years (26-29 years old), our average age is at the low end of that spectrum. This group is just reaching that point,” Seattle Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said this week. “Next year, we will line up with Logan and Cal and George all entering that stage in their career, who knows what Julio is going to look like when he gets to that stage of his career – he’s still 22 years old. That’s the good to great moment.
“And along the way like we did with Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, frankly like it turned out with Teoscar Hernández, we will constantly try to add impact talent to help push us over that next level. Sometimes it will be long-term, sometimes it will be more of a short-term hit. But the goal is to consistently put as big a talent as we can on the field because we feel like the foundation of this team is entering the peak of its potential and were not doing for a year, we want to do this for many years. We want to win championships over time.”
Had that statement come at the start of the Mariners’ end of year press conference Tuesday rather than 17 minutes into The Jerry Dipoto Show Thursday morning, it is likely the Mariners would have had a much quieter week.
The comments wouldn’t have sparked a run through a wall moment, and many would still be skeptical that significant improvements would made, but at the very least many would feel they had heard the right words. It still would be “show-me” time, but the Seattle Mariners would have stayed out of the news for all the wrong reasons. In others words, a much better start to the not-so-offseason.
An offseason made more critical by the postseason miss in 2023. Fifty-four percent benchmark made, ultimate goal not accomplished.
Regardless of the feelings about what Dipoto said or didn’t say this week, and I shared my thoughts on that on a 2-hour visit on Brock and Salk Friday morning (listen to the first hour here and the second hour here), there’s work to be done. Both press conferences shed some light on what to look for moving forward as well as sparked some questions and concerns. We are months away from the final answers and left now with some things to think about as the process of building the 2024 roster unfolds.
“We will constantly try to add impact talent to help push us over that next level.”
The question is, what does that look like in 2024?
Dipoto has owned the whiff multiple times on the 2023 offseason acquisitions of Kolten Wong, Tommy La Stella and AJ Pollock, and it goes without saying much more impact is needed with the additions this winter.And what about those under contract? Despite offensive struggles at key positions, Dipoto stated as a positive there weren’t many holes to be filled. Whether that meant he feels they can live with the offense they have or are counting on bounce-back years from those who struggled was not clear. So let’s look at both.
When the Seattle Mariners were dealing with a midseason struggle, Dipoto on his weekly show pointed out that the bats as a unit were actually about league average. This was true then and this is how they finished.
(For the stats below, the first number is the MLB average and the second is the Mariners’ 2023 numbers):
Runs Per Game: 4.62/4.68
Home Runs: 196/210
Stolen Bases: 118/117
Batting Average: .248/.242
On-Base Percentage: .320/.321
Slugging Percentage: .413/.414
Left On Base: 1,099/1,144
That number in bold, the herd of elephants in the room? We will get to that.
The majority of the frustration with the offense this year is understandable. With the pitching so good April-August, they shouldn’t have needed much. Great pitching with average offense was not enough, however. As it turned out, great pitching with some great offense was also not enough.
The Seattle Mariners were the only team in baseball to have three hitters and three starting pitchers post top-25 fWAR. They were great up the middle with Cal Raleigh, J.P. Crawford and Julio Rodriguez the three hitters in the top 25. They needed more balance up and down the lineup, particularly in the middle order.
It might surprise you that despite struggles at the plate we saw from Ty France, Eugenio Suárez and Teoscar Hernández, all three almost hit the bullseye on the .318 league average wOBA.
Looking back, the view is they needed to be better than average. Looking forward, the question is how much can France and Suárez bounce back?
Hernández will be a free agent with the Mariners likely extending him the qualifying offer. With a thin free-agent market on the hitting side, chances are he goes elsewhere. His spot will need to be filled, and Dipoto did list an impact middle of the order bat as something he would like to add. If there is just one, that is more of a replacement – with a decent chance to be an upgrade – than an add. Could we see more in the outfield or at DH? That remains to be seen. Regardless, mostly league average is not enough.
Let’s get to something encouraging we heard. Both Dipoto and Servais, who actually brought this up late in the season, listed improving contact both in acquisitions and current players as a big need. The Mariners have been willing to live with the strikeout if the power was there and the roster was built accordingly – although Dipoto has pointed out that is sometimes a function of what is available to them. In 2023, the team finished 11th in baseball with 210 home runs (up from last year) and second in strikeouts with 1,603. Their record when they hit a home run was 73-43. Without, 14-31.
As for the strikeouts, the league average strikeouts per game was 8.16 and the Mariners struck out an average of 9.89 times per game. They struck out 10 or more times in 87 of their games in which they went 43-44. The strikeouts were a factor throughout the year, with Servais May 9 hitting the nail on the head when he said in a postgame media gathering that at times they were too easy to pitch to. It was not uncommon to see some starters flip their usage and lean heavily on breaking pitches knowing that was a weakness of the Mariners hitters.
This simply must be improved and the Mariners are well aware of it. More strike outs equal less contact and less contact gives less chance of a hit or the chance of moving a runner over or bringing them in, something the Mariners struggled mightily with in ’23.
How did they stack up? The Mariners had the third fewest balls put in play (3,938) in MLB in 2023. While the Minnesota Twins were able to live with the least contact and most strikeouts in baseball, they had the home runs and play in the American League Central. The Mariners do not have that luxury and must adjust accordingly. What that looks like and how it happens remains to be seen, but it won’t happen simply by the addition of players who are better at it. It was good to see this as a focus of both Servais and Dipoto.
We will get into further needs and options as the offseason rolls on, both on air, on podcast and here with posts, but we’ll end here with one final note on the season wrapup that is a concern, and that regards Cal Raleigh’s comments.
I do believe they were received in a good manner, which is good. I’m not sure they were completely heard, which, if true, is unfortunate.
I think Logan Gilbert summed things up well when he said that everybody wants the best players to help them win. That thought is mostly unvoiced, but not unique. Raleigh said more than that though. What jumped out to me from his comments – which were backed up and fully supported by J.P. Crawford – after being eliminated from the postseason was specifically what they were asking for.
“Going out and getting those big names, people who’ve done it, people who’ve been there, people who are leaders, people who have shown time and time again that they can be successful in this league … would help this clubhouse, would help this team,” Raleigh said.
Raleigh and Crawford have done absolutely everything they can do to move this team forward. Raleigh played through a painful injury when the team needed him the most in ’22 and played near every game in September again when the team needed him this year. Crawford devoted his offseason to making big changes. Both took on true and needed leadership roles both on and off the field.
For a long time, I thought this negated the need for a more seasoned veteran leader from the outside as these two had grown into leaders. Yet here was Raleigh asking for people who had done it, people who’ve been there, people who have shown time and time again that they can be successful in this league. That was asking for help in leadership as much as it was in production on the field.
It’s often been said that regardless of everything that is available to players in coaching, players learn the most from other players. If sustainable winning is the goal, with building mostly from within the most desired path, setting the leadership foundation is of vital importance. If a piece is needed to complete that puzzle or fully set that cornerstone of the foundation, it would seem now is the time to add it.
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