Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley Lead 2011 Seattle Mariners First-Half Report Card

Troy MartinContributor IIIJuly 10, 2011

Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley Lead 2011 Seattle Mariners First-Half Report Card

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    It's the traditional halfway mark of the season, so what better time to give out passing (and failing) scores to the Seattle Mariners?

    Some players have stepped up; others have struggled.

    Only players who have had the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the season are ranked—apologies to Mike Carp, Blake Beavan, Chris Gimenez and so on.

    Without further ado, let's hand out some grades!

Ichiro Suzuki: 5/10

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    Throughout the last turbulent 10 years of Mariners baseball, the one constant has been Ichiro.

    This year, the future Hall of Famer has struggled mightily. He was below the Mendoza line for much of May and had fans everywhere wondering if he was finished.

    Well, it seems like rumors of his demise have been somewhat exaggerated. Ichiro is back to being Ichiro, and even though his numbers are down from previous seasons, he is still top 10 in hits and stolen bases in the American League.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Back to his old self: 200 hits, 40 steals, maybe even a couple of long balls.

Brendan Ryan: 6/10

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    Defense: 8/10

    Teammate: 10/10

    Moustache: 11/10

     

    If only Brendan Ryan were in Seattle last year—he and Mike Sweeney would have been hugging it out like you wouldn't believe.

    Ryan has shown himself to be a terrific teammate, a great defensive shortstop and someone who's capable of coming up with big hits in clutch situations. He's hard-nosed, loves to win and has the grittiness factor managers love.

    Kind of a Willie Bloomquist with talent, if you will.

    Ryan went on a hot streak with the bat that saw him promoted from eighth to second in the lineup, but unfortunately he has regressed to his career norm.

    Some more consistency at the plate would be nice, but in reality anything Ryan gives you with the bat is a bonus. It's three or four of his teammates who need to be picking up the slack in that area.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Ryan will grow a mullet, which will be the source of newfound power.

Adam Kennedy: 6/10

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    Jack Zduriencik has copped his fair share of criticism over the past couple of seasons for "dumpster diving" rather than spending big in the offseason.

    But this year he found a gem in Adam Kennedy.

    After a DUI controversy that had fans and media saying, "Here we go again," Kennedy emerged as Mr. Reliable this year. Spreading time between the infield and DH, the 35-year-old was probably the Mariners' most consistent hitter through the first couple of months.

    Lately, though, Father Time seems to be catching up with him.

    With Chone Figgins and Jack Cust riding the pine with increased frequency, Kennedy has seen more playing time lately, which doesn't seem to have done him any favors. He is hitting around .200 in his last 10 games, and it's no coincidence the Mariners have only scored a handful of runs during this period.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Kyle Seager's promotion will lighten Kennedy's load, but I fear it might be too late. I think the slide may continue, and Kennedy will be back fighting for a minor league contract (somewhere else) next season.

Justin Smoak: 7/10

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    Smoak leads the ballclub in most offensive categories, but looking around him, that's not saying a great deal.

    He went on a tear after having time away following the passing of his father but has had a tough time of it lately.

    As I've written previously, I firmly believe Smoak will come around. His teammates need to start hitting so opposing pitchers have to challenge him occasionally.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Smoak will come out of his current slump and finish the season with an entirely respectable line of .262/.366/.485.

Dustin Ackley: 7/10

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    They called him "The Franchise" before he even got to the bigs, but he's lived up to all the hype since he arrived.

    Ackley's a consistent threat to get on base, has flashed some power and has exceeded expectations at second base. His grade would be higher if he'd been up a little longer, but make no mistake—this kid is the real deal.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Ackley will be in the discussion for Rookie of the Year at season's end. He won't win due to his late call-up, but that's how good his first season will be.

Miguel Olivo: 7/10

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    There were plenty of jeers when it was announced Olivo was coming to Seattle for his second tour of duty.

    At the start of the season it looked like the critics were right, but just when fans were starting to pine for Rob Johnson (sorry, that was a low blow), Olivo started coming up big.

    How big? Well he now has his own theme song for starters (O-LI-VO...ohhh, ohhh; think Wizard of Oz).

    Olivo has shown some power, he's coming up big in the clutch and he's handled the pitching staff superbly.

    If you're only looking at the numbers (.223 BA, .265 OBP), then you're not seeing the whole story. Olivo is making a strong case to be the MVP of this team.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: His power numbers will start to decline after the grind of playing hard every day (plus injuries) starts to take its toll. But he will remain a vital cog in this team's success.

Franklin Gutierrez: 5/10

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    Guti has been feeling sick in the stomach for much of the first half, and after watching him at the plate upon his return, I know how he feels.

    "Death to Flying Things" has once again been superb in center field, but he has lost all power, and his swing is lagging badly.

    In recent at-bats, Guti is trying to "cheat," teeing off based on what he thinks might be coming. In essence, he is guessing—and guessing wrong. Something needs to give.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: The stomach problem still doesn't seem to be fully fixed, and part of the problem is now mental. Gutierrez seems destined to spend more time off the field than on it in the second half, and that might not be a bad thing. Seattle doesn't need him this year, but next year (if it hopes to contend) he is crucial.

Chone Figgins: 2/10

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    I know what you're thinking—2/10 is pretty generous.

    Figgins was making a solid case for being the worst everyday player in MLB until Eric Wedge did us all a favor and benched him.

    He is absolutely lost at the plate. I can't even put together the right words to describe just how awful his swing is.

    We talked about Olivo's numbers not telling the whole story—well, the same is true of Figgins.

    The .183/.231/.244 may look bad, but in reality Figgins is much, much worse.

    His defense has been atrocious, and he's made baserunning mistakes (on the rare occasions he actually gets on base), but what irks me the most is that blank expression we keep seeing.

    Watch Brendan Ryan after he makes an error or takes a bad swing; he's genuinely upset. The guy wants to do his best on every play. Then watch Figgins boot a soft grounder and tell me if he could care less.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: He won't be Seattle's problem anymore, so who cares?

Carlos Peguero: 4/10

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    Let's be honest: Who doesn't love to see a guy swing so hard he nearly falls over?

    Peguero's all-or-nothing approach at the plate was mildly intriguing when he first came up, especially after he launched a couple of moonshots. But since then, he's become an easy out and a rally-killer.

    So far this month, he's struck out in half of his at-bats. The simple fact is he just can't hit major league pitching...yet.

    The potential is certainly there. He hasn't embarrassed himself in LF, and he's only 24 years old.

    But he's just not quite ready. More time in the majors will only hurt his progression. It's time to send him back to Tacoma for his sake and the team's.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Enjoy being back in Triple-A, Carlos. Cut down those strikeouts, improve the contact rate and we'll see you back in 2013.

Michael Saunders: 3/10

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    What to do with Michael Saunders?

    The Mariners' coaches tinkered with his flawed swing in the offseason, and the results were even worse. Saunders' confidence was shot by the time he was sent down in early June (his last 10 games produced two hits and 10 strikeouts in 19 at-bats).

    It's not only his swing that was the problem—it was his approach as well.

    Saunders led all of MLB in 0-2 counts, so it's no wonder so many at-bats were ending with a K.

    Back in Triple-A, he's walking a lot more, so hopefully the approach is being worked out.

    Saunders is an excellent fielder and has some power potential. It would be great if he could fix the swing, come back to the majors and fulfill his potential. Hey, we can dream right?

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Mike Saunders equals Mike Wilson, a useful career minor leaguer who'll get the occasional cup of coffee in the show, but no more.

Greg Halman: 6/10

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    Greg Halman has historically been grouped with guys like Peguero and Dennis Raben: good athlete, good potential, bad approach at the plate.

    Of all the guys Seattle has trotted out into left field, Halman looks to have made the biggest adjustment. He is more patient, shows better plate coverage and is making better contact in his second go-round with the Mariners.

    Halman has been above average defensively and shows good speed and smarts on the basepaths.

    With left field being a black hole so far and Guti's health in doubt, Halman has a great opportunity to win himself a permanent spot on the roster.

    So far, so good.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: It's too early to know if Halman will keep hitting at his current clip or if his reported power will surface, but he will do enough to remain with the team until season's end, and he will have the inside running on the LF spot next year.

Jack Cust: 4/10

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    LOST: One power stroke. Last seen in Oakland. Valued at $2.5 million. Please phone Jack.

    The strikeouts have still been there. The walks have still been there. The big hacks have still been there, but they've resulted in nothing more than warning track power.

    You could argue that park factors have a bit to do with it, and to be fair, he does have a sizable home/away split.

    But still—three home runs in 200 AB.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Cust is far from the team's biggest problem. He'll be used sparingly, continue to walk a lot and fade quietly into free agency.

Milton Bradley: 3/10

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    When your left fielder wears earplugs in front of the home fans, you know his days are numbered.

    No power, more ejections, the stink of his felony arrest still lingering—it's tough to throw away $13 million, but realistically, the Mariners had no choice.

    If anything, they waited too long.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: More of a wish than a prediction: Let's hope Bradley realizes his time in baseball is over and he spends his time trying to control the demons that have haunted him throughout his career.

Jack Wilson: 4/10

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    I'll be honest and say I have no idea what the Mariners are doing with Jack Wilson.

    It's obvious he's not in the organization's present or future plans, but that begs the question, why haven't they tried to move him?

    Wilson's defense has been outstanding for the most part, and while he wouldn't bring more than a B-level prospect in a trade, it's still more than they'll get when he walks at the end of the year.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Wilson goes back to the National League. The Cubs have a roster spot open and recently released Augie Ojeda, so maybe there's a match there. He'll be gone by the deadline if Jack has to give him away.

Felix Hernandez: 9/10

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    Felix has been much the same as last year. At first glance he has given up more hits and therefore more runs, but his BABIP is almost 30 points higher, which means he has suffered some bad luck.

    His FIP mark suggests his low ERA was helped last year by outstanding defense, but not so much this year.

    So in a nutshell, Felix is still awesome.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Felix goes on another tear, of course! No Cy Young this year, as the BBWAA won't ignore win-loss records two years running, but look for Larry Bernandez to win 15 and drop the ERA under 3.00.

Jason Vargas: 8/10

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    Jason Vargas has started 18 games this year and given up 47 earned runs; 37 of those have come in seven starts.

    I'll give you a moment to do the math.

    That's right—he's given up a total of 10 runs in the other 11 starts, while recording just five wins.

    When Vargas is on, he goes at least seven outstanding innings. When he's not, he gets hit like a guy with an 87 mph fastball.

    He is a fly-ball pitcher but has virtually no home/away split (except for HR allowed, which you would expect), so his success has not been solely attributable to playing in a pitcher's park. In fact, the majority of his poor outings have come at home.

    Vargas could well turn out to be the jewel in the J.J. Putz trade.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: A winning record!

Michael Pineda: 8/10

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    Remember all the talk at the start of the season?

    Is Pineda ready? Should he be kept down to work on his secondary pitches?

    Those questions have been put to rest, mainly by having the majors' best fastball. A terrific first half had the rookie firmly in contention for an All-Star berth, and he is a leading contender for Rookie of the Year.

    The test now comes as teams start to get a second look at him and the scouting reports start to circulate. He is among the league leaders in strikes thrown, which is usually a good thing (see: Lee, Cliff), but now guys are looking to turn on a fastball (see: Hunter, Torii).

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: Pineda will get worse and then get better. The league will adjust to him, and he will then adjust to the league. Don't pay too much attention if his record in the second half isn't as shiny as the first; this young man has already shown he belongs.

Doug Fister: 8/10

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    Doug Fister could conceivably lose 20 games this year and have an ERA under 3.00.

    His run support has been abysmal, but Fister continues to be a model of consistency, keeping the Mariners in every game he starts. He has given up more than four runs just twice in 18 starts.

    Fister's velocity is up this year, and he is showing an improved curve that he is throwing for strikes. This has given him an increased K/9 and together with improved control makes it tough for hitters to sit on his fastball.

    Workload could be a problem, as Fister is on pace for 250 innings pitched; his career high is 171, which he set last year.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: History looks set to repeat this year. Fister showed signs of fatigue toward the end of last year, and I would expect that throwing 70 or more innings this year will cause him to struggle. But he's a competitor and will only come out of a game kicking and screaming.

Erik Bedard: 8/10

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    Erik Bedard sported a 5.96 ERA in April and has an 1.83 ERA since. He has looked exactly like the guy we traded the farm for.

    Since May, Bedard could make a case for being the best pitcher in the majors.

    Seriously.

    Jered Weaver, Jair Jurrjens, Roy Halladay—Bedard's numbers stack up against them all. This is not about cherry-picking stats; it is simply to show that after a slow start (remembering how long it's been since he's pitched), Erik Bedard has been nothing short of outstanding.

    Of course, there's the ever-present injury fear hanging over his head, which became reality when he strained his knee just a little more than a week ago. While we all breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn't a shoulder injury, the thought is ever present once again.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: The knee injury could be a blessing in disguise.

    With very few quality arms available before the deadline, Bedard's name would have been getting thrown around with increased frequency. This stint on the DL may knock his trade value enough that Jack decides to hold on to him.

    I, for one, hope so.

    Bedard turned down more money elsewhere to come back this season because he wanted to repay the organization and the fans. Of course, there's a chance he'll break down, but is it worth trading him for one B-grade prospect and possibly missing out on seeing just how good he could be for Seattle?

Bullpen: 8/10

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    From a weakness to a strength—what a difference a year makes. Special mention of course to Brandon League and David Pauley, but their supporting cast—most notably Jamie Wright and Aaron Laffey—has been (for the most part) lights out.

    Now, we remember League's rough week or Pauley's three-run homer given up to lose to Washington, but that's only because these occurrences have been few and far between.

    How confident did you feel last year when Sean White or Garrett Olson took the hill? Yeah, me too.

    This year's 'pen has been consistently good. The only problem is it consists of guys who've been historically average. But let's not rain on their parade with such negativity—enjoy it while it lasts.

     

    Fearless Second-Half Prediction: I expect Jamie Wright and Chris Ray to struggle, but we have candidates in Dan Cortes, Josh Lueke (provided he keeps working out the kinks in Triple-A) and Mauricio Robles to step up.

    Overall, this is still one of the best 'pens in the AL.