Dave Cokin's Hardcore Baseball: 2011 Seattle Mariners Preview

Dave CokinContributor IFebruary 17, 2011

King Felix Hernandez received the worst run support of any 2010 AL starting pitcher, but was still able to celebrate winning the Cy Young Award.
King Felix Hernandez received the worst run support of any 2010 AL starting pitcher, but was still able to celebrate winning the Cy Young Award.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

There’s no place to go but up. That’s the good news for the Seattle Mariners. Things can’t get any worse than they were in 2010, a season in which the Mariners bottomed out completely. Aside from Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young Award and Ichiro Suzuki setting a new standard with his 10th straight 200-hit season, this team was a disaster. The Mariners were beyond inept offensively, and there’s every chance they’ll be just as miserable in 2011.

Felix Hernandez was amazing for the M’s, and may well have been the best 13-12 pitcher I’ve ever seen. The fact that he won the American League Cy Young Award with such an ordinary record speaks volumes about how dominating he was. King Felix pitched well enough to win 20 games, but the lack of run support was simply ridiculous. Hernandez was saddled with a league-low 3.1 runs per game of offense.

So despite leading the league in innings, ERA, opponent batting average, opponent OPS and quality starts, Hernandez had trouble registering wins. Note he was also second in strikeouts and third in complete games, narrowly missing winning those categories as well. All in all, an absolutely superb season for King Felix, and kudos to the Cy Young voters for looking past the ordinary W/L record.

Ichiro Suzuki is now 37 years old, but nothing seems to have changed for the future Hall of Fame outfielder. Ichiro posted his usual outstanding numbers, and he quelled any thoughts that he might be slowing down by stealing 42 bases. There’s nothing to indicate this season will be anything other than more of the same for Ichiro.

The Mariners are hoping a couple of other players can produce dividends this season to somehow spark an offense that was almost too feeble for words. Chone Figgins suffered through a terrible 2010 season, and I’m not at all sure he’ll be much better in 2011. Figgins was an ideal leadoff hitter with the Angels. But that spot isn’t open in Seattle with Ichiro on hand, and I don’t see him as a good fit batting second.

Seattle will likely feature Frankie Gutierrez, Jack Cust and Justin Smoak as their middle of order. That’s about as weak as it gets at the big league level. Gutierrez is an excellent defender and an okay hitter, but he’s totally ill-suited to hit third.

Cust is still useful thanks to his ability to get on base in spite of a low BA, but his power appears to be declining. As a platoon DH hitting lower in the order, Cust might be acceptable at best. Hitting cleanup on a nearly everyday basis, Cust is a major liability.

Smoak struggled mightily in his initial tour of big league duty with the Rangers. He did even worse after arriving via trade in Seattle and eventually got sent to Tacoma. But Smoak did show his potential after a late-season recall, and hit very well over the last ten games of the season. No question Smoak has a chance to be a very productive big league hitter, but lots of questions remain as to whether he’s ready to produce this soon as an everyday player in the middle of the lineup.

Miguel Olivo is the new backstop for the Mariners, and he’s coming off his best offensive season with career highs in several categories. But those stats were accrued playing for the Rockies. The only thing Coors Field and Safeco have in common is that they’re both baseball stadiums. I don’t see any chance Olivo comes close to duplicating last year’s numbers. He slumped badly after the All-Star break last season, and Olivo’s career OBP is a brutal .283.

The early-season middle infield duties figure to be shared by Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan, Josh Wilson and Adam Kennedy. Jack Wilson has the great glove, but he can’t hit and he also can’t stay healthy. Ryan will likely open the season at 2B, and he’s also a superb defender who offers little offense. Josh Wilson is another weak bat with an okay glove and he’s strictly utility filler.

Kennedy enjoyed a rebirth in an outstanding 2009 campaign with the A’s, but went back into decline with the Nationals last season. He shouldn’t be more than a spare part at this point, but could end up getting regular AB with the Mariners.

The pitching is pedestrian at best once we’re done extolling the virtues of Hernandez. Jason Vargas won nine games in his best big league season, and that was with the benefit of a great deal of luck. Vargas gives up way too many fly balls, and even at spacious Safeco his home runs allowed were absurdly low in 2010. Doug Fister was an early season surprise for the Mariners, but he eventually regressed to his norm, which is strictly back of the rotation level.

Luke French doesn’t profile as a pitcher who should be in a big league rotation, but he is in Seattle. Erik Bedard has never been able to stay healthy, so despite his talent, he can’t be relied upon to give the Mariners regular turns.

The bullpen is dicey at best. David Aardsma is the established closer, but he could start the season on the DL as he recovers from hip surgery. Brandon League had okay base stats last season, but his peripheral numbers were not good. He’s adequate at best as the setup man, and I don’t like him as the closer if Aardsma remains out for any extended period. The rest of the bullpen is comprised of castoffs who are either unproven or in decline, so this is yet another area of concern for the Mariners.

Seattle does have a few prospects worth talking about. Dustin Ackley needs a little more minor league seasoning, and he has yet to produce much from a power standpoint. But Ackley is a legit bat and I’d be stunned if he’s not this team’s starting 2B by mid-season. Power pitching Michael Pineda could probably use another dozen or so starts at AAA, but don’t be shocked if he’s with the big club from the outset due to the lack of quality arms on the current big league roster. Nick Franklin is progressing nicely and profiles as the future shortstop for the Mariners, but he’s still a year or two away.

The Mariners were a winning team in 2009, but this was correctly regarded as a major fluke by most statistical analysts, as their run differential suggested they were just plain lucky. What we saw in 2010 from the Mariners was a more accurate reflection of their overall lack of talent. There’s more of the same in store this season. Seattle has little hope of escaping the AL West cellar, and they’re likely to endure another campaign with 100 or more losses.