8 Reasons the Seattle Mariners Offense Will Be Much Improved in 2012
The Seattle Mariners offensive gains next season will be numerous and will come from almost every position. I feel comfortable writing that because the hitting so far this season has been anemic—so bad it would be unreasonable not to expect improvement on all fronts.
Injuries, youth and sub-par years from several players all are among the factors contributing to this season's run shortage and these are conditions that will likely change for the better in 2012—a growth and rebound year for Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Ichiro Suzuki and others.
The following slides are ordered based on the magnitude of the expected improvement, with small and uncertain improvements listed first, large and probable improvements later. Most of the improvements described specify players while a few specify positions.
All triple slash figures in the following slides refer to batting average, on-base percent and slugging percent, in that order.
Something has got to give with a hitting line of .205/.246/.340. Like third base, this line is so bad it is hard to imagine it perpetuating for another whole season.
Miguel Olivo, the starting catcher, is struggling through one of the worst years* of his career and while he is 32 years old, even more in catcher-years, some improvement from him could come about. None of the other catchers on the team are hitting well either, leaving me to assume a little regression towards the mean is all that will be needed for an improvement behind the dish in 2012.
*Olivo is hitting .217/.249/.369 this year and he hit a nearly identical .217/.246/.367 in 2005.
Franklin Gutierrez is having an awful year. He has played in fewer than half of the Seattle Mariners games so far this season and has hit very poorly while doing so, compiling a .221 batting average with one home run.
Gutierrez is 28 years old and is a career .261 hitter averaging nine home runs per 162 games, excluding this season. He is young enough for a large rebound to be reasonably expected and it seems fair to assume his health and injury problems of 2011 will not be so extreme in 2012. A season near his career-level numbers of .257/.310/.385 over 130 games will bury his ghastly .212/.270/.285 triple slash hitting line this season.
Chone Figgins / Kyle Seager / 3B
It really doesn't matter who plays third base for the Seattle Mariners in 2012—as long as that person is merely a “bad” major league hitter the team will see improvement. A merely bad hitter is a hitter who hits better than .176/.233/.224—numbers that leave me adjectively challenged and numbers that represent the hitting contribution of Mariners third basemen so far in 2011.
The vast majority of the offensive sinkhole comes from Chone Figgins, the man everyone expected to play every day at third, prior to his hitting woes. Even though Figgins is 33 now, some improvement in the form of a return to normalcy will occur. In the odd event that Figgins never again hits above .190, the team won't suffer him for 80 games next season, leaving me expecting improvements regardless of Figgins' performance.
The hitting will be better even if Kyle Seager gets the nod at third next year. He is young and he is displaying enough signs of Major League competence for me to see him as an improvement next season over this season's mess.
I have written elsewhere—more than once—that I believe Ichiro is nearing the end of his career. However, this belief does not mean I don't think he will improve in 2012.
Ichiro is unique in his playing style and at least very unusual in terms of longevity and it his longevity that gives me hope for a strong 2012 performance. Paul Molitor also hit well during his 30s and had a down year at age 38, just one year older than Ichiro is this season. Just as Molitor rebounded from a season hitting .270 to hit .341 the very next year, I expect Ichiro to rebound in 2012.
A reasonable expectation for Ichiro is .290/.340/.360, about midway between his career line of .327/.371/.422 and his 2011 line of .267/.308/.320. Barring injuries or drastic Mariner strategy changes, he will likely steal 30 or more bases in 2012 just like clockwork, collecting his 450th career stolen base sometime late next summer.
I am not sure where Casper Wells will play in 2012 but it will be a welcome addition wherever it is. He brings a .293/.350/.494 career line to the team which includes good 2011 figures, all made prettier in the context of youth (Wells is 26).
With Ichiro in right field Wells likely will occupy left field or fill in at designated hitter in 2012, both roles he has played so far this season and both gaping holes in the Mariners offense. The Mariners have used 13 players at DH so far this season with a triple slash of .228/.327/.332 to show for it while in left field the team has triple slashed its way to .210/.265/.364.
The 2012 Mariners will see Wells fix at least one of the offensive holes that are left field and DH.
Mike Carp is 25 years old, and in 72 games over three Seattle Mariner seasons he has hit .298/.372/.447. Those numbers will get him a lot more playing time in 2012 and will lead to a much improved Mariners offense.
The only trouble with Carp has been where to play him. In 2012 he could become the main designated hitter, filling in for Casper Wells and Justin Smoak in left field and first base when needed. Part of Carp's lack of experience so far has been related to his primary position: first base. Now that the team doesn't have a designated hitter at all, Carp no longer needs to hitch his wagon to first base. Carp may finally get the plate appearances he deserves—at least enough to give him a fair trial run.
As long as the Mariners only have two other threats (Wells and Dustin Ackley) to hit .290 with double-digit home runs, the team doesn't have any choice but to put Carp in the starting lineup.
Justin Smoak has had a tough season so far in 2011, filled with injuries and other stresses that with luck won't be so frequent in 2012. Justin Smoak is also only 24 years old and has yet to play a season with 500 plate appearances, facts causing me to believe he will improve in 2012 simply by being an everyday player closer to his peak ability.
How does this affect the team? I see Smoak playing first base a much larger portion of the time in 2012, maybe starting 150 games, an increase of 30 or 40 games from what will be his 2011 totals. With Smoak's hitting driving the offensive contributions from first base, the Mariners should see an improvement on this year's first base triple slash of .248/.329/.426. Although Smoak's triple slash so far this season is only .220/.317/.387 I expect his 2012 triple slash to be more in the neighborhood of .260/.350/.450—a hitting level that will greatly improve the value extracted from first base.
I don't expect Dustin Ackley to improve in 2012, maybe later on, but not so soon. He is too young and too inexperienced for to me to assume his greatness; one partial season is not enough to wipe out assumptions that he is simply a pretty good player having a great start to a career.
What we will see in 2012 is more Ackley playing time and that will be good. His bat is medicine the Seattle Mariners need, what with his power and ability to draw walks.
Right now his triple slash is .297/.371/.506 and the Mariners total triple slash for second base is .273/.334/.414, a mediocre triplet that will increase with more of Ackley at second, a position he has filled for only 44 games to date. Only the most massive sophomore slump would limit Ackley's improving influence on the offensive contributions from second base.