A Look Back at the Seattle Mariners in 2014

The 2014 Major League Baseball season is winding down, so it’s as good a time as any to look back at the Seattle Mariners’ year and draw some conclusions.

Back in April, I wrote this post speculating on what might unfold over the course of the year. Let’s revisit.

The Mariners had four guys left from their major rebuilding effort of 2012: Ackley, Seager, Saunders and Smoak, all who crossed over the 1500 career-at-bats mark this year – at which point we ought to be able to predict whether they will make it as a major leaguer. How did they do?

Ackley: 502 at-bats, .245 average, 14 home runs, 65 RBIs. The month-by-month stats tell a more interesting story; he had a lousy first half, kicked butt in July and August, and then was sidelined by injuries in September and limped across the finish line. If July and August are representative of his true skill level now, 2015 should be a good year for him. He’s 26, so still has a couple of years to develop before he peaks.

Seager: 590 at-bats, .268 average, 25 home runs, 96 RBIs. Seager’s season defies explanation. He batted .300 at home, .240 away. No one does that; Safeco field is a fairly extreme pitcher’s park. Seager had a lousy April, a strong middle of the season, and then declined in August. He struck out 118 times, second only to Mike Zunino (158). It was a good year overall and his slugging helped the team tremendously, but it’s hard to know whether you can rely on Seager to consistently contribute.

Saunders: 231 at-bats, .273 average, 8 home runs, 34 RBIs. Decent numbers in a season where he spent two months on the disabled list. But again, it’s hard to know whether the Mariners can depend on him to stay healthy.

Smoak: 248 at-bats, .202 average, 7 home runs, 30 RBIs. And 66 strike-outs. He spent a little bit of time on the DL, but the Mariners did the right thing and sent him down to AAA for an extended period to work on his game. But at this point there’s no sign that he will ever rise to the level of a decent, dependable everyday player at the major-league level.

In a nutshell: Seager and Saunders did ok, Ackley might have promise, and Smoak washed out.

As for the newly-acquired talent, Robinson Cano lived up to his promise: 595 at-bats, .314 average, 14 home runs, 82 RBIs; great plate discipline too, as he only struck out 68 times and had nearly that many walks. Endy Chavez put up solid numbers for a 36-year old (actually even for a 28 year old) with a .276 average. Unfortunately, he only got 232 at-bats, and the slugging power he had early in his career is long gone. Logan Morrison struggled for the first four months of the year, but caught fire in August and blazed through the rest of the year; if he can bring that level of play into next year, he’ll be a real asset.

The stars of the 2014 Mariners were the starting pitchers, starting with King Felix Hernandez. 15 wins, 2.14 ERA, opponents batted .200 against him. He pitched 236 innings over the course of the year, which is a heavy load and we might see the effects next year. The rest of the rotation (Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias and Young) all put up very respectable numbers. They all had an advantage of pitching in Safeco Field and you can see it in their home/away splits (especially Young, where the difference in considerable), but nevertheless the results speak for themselves. Rookie Taijuan Walker ended up missing the first half of the season with shoulder issues, but had a strong September.

The Mariners came within one game of a wild-card slot in the playoffs. This can be attributed almost entirely to their pitching staff, as overall their hitting was a mess this year. Their batting lineup had only four players with more than 400 at-bats: Cano, Seager, Ackley, and Zunino. Cano was great, Seager was good, Ackley was marginal, and Zunino was horrendous (.199 average; how he managed 60 RBIs is beyond me). The fact alone that there were only four full-season starters is enough of a worry; of the rest, almost no one could consistently hit for average. I hate to say it, but the Mariners didn’t deserve a playoff spot this year, and even if a miracle had happened, they wouldn’t have advanced very far with pitching alone.

Lloyd McClendon, in his first year as manager, spent a lot of time tinkering. I’m curious to see what moves he and the front office make during the off season. They certainly have a much clearer idea now as to where their talent lies. Another winter of housecleaning would be very helpful to their prospects for 2015. The starting rotation is their core strength and looks to continue to be strong next year, but the hitting needs enormous amounts of work.

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