There’s no doubt that Lloyd McClendon’s first season as manager of the Seattle Mariners has been a major success.
Seattle currently stands at 64-55, tied with the Detroit Tigers for the second American League wild-card spot. While the Mariners were expected to improve over recent years, McClendon has guided them into more serious contention than anyone could have thought prior to the season.
McClendon has deservedly taken a bit of heat for some strange lineups and allowing things like the Abraham Almonte leadoff experiment to go on far too long. Still, whatever McClendon is doing is clearly working in the clubhouse and he is looking like a big improvement over predecessor Eric Wedge.
A few of McClendon’s on-field decisions deserve praise as his smartest moves of the 2014 season.
Moving Dustin Ackley to Left Field
One of McClendon’s best moves came early in his tenure, as he decided that Ackley would make the switch from center field to left.
Ackley’s arm isn’t a strength, but he has plus range and appears to run good routes. He’s been worth nine Defensive Runs Saved in left field this year, compared to negative eight last season in center.
Above-average defense has helped Ackley post 1.3 WAR, his highest total since his rookie season in 2011, when he played second base.
Of course, Seattle’s center fielders before the acquisition of Austin Jackson weren’t much better (or even worse) than Ackley. Still, McClendon’s decision at least found a permanent position for Ackley and minimized the Mariners’ outfield defensive weaknesses to one position instead of potentially two.
Managing the Bullpen
Seattle’s bullpen was a complete question mark entering the season, but McClendon has done a terrific job of managing a unit that has put up the best ERA in the American League by far.
With the exception of Fernando Rodney as the closer, McClendon has allowed the roles to be fluid and has avoided overmanaging the group. It’s created a situation where McClendon can trust just about any member of the bullpen to come in during high-leverage situations and get the job done.
Again, some of his reasoning might be questionable from an outside perspective, but it’s working to perfection. Guys like Yoervis Medina (2.23 ERA, 3.53 FIP) and Tom Wilhelmsen (2.29 ERA, 3.83 FIP) are improved from a year ago.
Joe Beimel has a 1.27 ERA (3.47 FIP) after being out of the majors for two full seasons. McClendon recently praised Beimel for being one of the under-the-radar pieces that helps everything run smoothly, via Johns of MLB.com:
One thing about our bullpen, we added two veterans in Joe Beimel and Rodney. Everybody else was able to be slotted into the proper roles where they weren't overexposed or overused. As a result, they've been fantastic. Now did I think they were going to be this good? This is historical type of stuff and I didn't expect that. It's been pretty special to watch.
The outstanding decision to move Brandon Maurer to the bullpen probably came from elsewhere in the front office, but credit McClendon for giving Maurer a chance to prove himself as a reliever right after the switch.
McClendon’s job has been made easier by a starting rotation that goes deep into just about every game, but he still deserves praise for his bullpen management.
Moving Chris Young Directly to the Rotation
When the Mariners acquired Young on March 27, it was unclear what his exact role would be.
Seattle ended spring training with six healthy starters and no real long reliever. The rotation spot could have easily gone to Maurer or Blake Beavan with Young moving to the bullpen.
After a single bullpen appearance while the Mariners used four starters to begin the year, Young took his place in the rotation for good. He has rewarded McClendon for the initial move ever since.
Young has 11 wins and a 3.20 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 23 starts this year. It seems as though Young has to regress at some point soon and he has already thrown his most innings since 2007, but he has already done more than the Mariners could have asked for.
McClendon’s decision to put Young in the rotation ranks as one of the most important of the season, as the Mariners would have been in big trouble without him.
Starting Chris Taylor Regularly After Being Called Up
When Chris Taylor was called up on July 24, Brad Miller remained on the roster, meaning McClendon could have easily decided to platoon the two young shortstops.
Miller has been shielded from left-handers often this year and Taylor is a righty, so the simple move would have been to split time between them. However, a platoon wouldn’t have made much sense, as Taylor’s OPS in Triple-A this season was nearly .150 points higher against right-handers.
Since debuting, Taylor has appeared often against both right-handers and left-handers. Taylor has started 13 out of a possible 17 games, including nine out of 11 in August.
It’s worked out so far, as Taylor is hitting .375/.415/.479 to begin his career. His strong defense has helped him post 0.7 WAR already.
Ideally, Miller would be getting at-bats in the minors, as there is still plenty of hope for him in the future. But Willie Bloomquist’s absence leaves the Mariners with no infield depth, so Miller has to stay on the roster for now.
McClendon deserves credit for starting Taylor often and doing what’s best for the current team.
All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.