Haiku Fridays: Gunnin’ for the Playoffs


A week ago yesterday, the Seahawks unveiled a banner to commemorate the team’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII. It feels like it’s been XLVII years since the Mariners were able to hang a new banner of their own, but, as you can see in the picture, it’s actually “only” been thirteen. The drought could be over soon, though! There’s less than a month of baseball left to play, and as of this writing, the M’s hold on to that second Wild Card spot. We can thank some Paxton dominance and Fernando record-making for that. We cannot do so for Yoervis Medina.

Paxton be nimble,
Paxton be quick; Paxton gives
the AL West fits

Last Mariner with
45 saves: Kaz. Respect
to that man’s Fang, mang.

No love for Yoervis, though.
He ruined Roenis’s
day. He ruined mine.


Haiku Fridays: Jesus Montero Lives in Ice-Creamic Infamy

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Cleveland Indians

This week saw the Mariners do awesome things, like sweep the Red Sox at Fenway for the first time in franchise history. This week saw the M’s do terrible things, like let Erasmo Ramirez pitch. This week saw M’s employees do very, very strange things. Let’s recap, in syllabically patterned form!


Who’s thirty-seven-

years-old and just swept Boston?

Many janitors.


Erasmo pitching

during a postseason run

might be illegal.


A Mariners scout

would jeopardize his career

for a Klondike Bar.

Haiku Fridays: HOLY SHIT


I envisioned the return of Haiku Fridays being a bit solemn, recounting this week’s series lost in Philly and tonight’s Felix-gem-turned-Cespedes-showcase. BUT NOPE. Because LoMo! And Endy and Denorfia and Austin Jackson! Dustin fucking Ackley! I only had a couple years under my belt at the time, but my dad tells me tonight was some shit straight outta ’95.

“M’s are gonna lose.” – Dad

Words said at 7:30,

that look stupid now.


Endy’s up. Two outs.

“Not looking good.” – Everyone

“Fuck you all.” – Endy





Chris Denorfia: Secretly Kind of Good?


It was just one game, but it summed up a half-season’s worth of frustration in a tidy, infuriating little package. Eighty-five pitches were thrown against the Mariners in their game against the Indians on July 30 — 69 strikes, 16 balls — and Seattle tallied exactly zero runs and just three hits, bending over to Cleveland in a game that lasted two hours but felt like a lifetime.

It felt like the nadir of an all-too-familiar streak of offensive ineptitude; it made me feel like something, ANYTHING, needed to be done to fix this goddamn offense. Something splashy, something that felt like a move of significance. And, as if the stars had aligned to satiate my impatience, the performance came the night before the trading deadline. Trading Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson was that splashy move. Trading Abraham Almonte for Chris Denorfia was not.

As I noted in the July 31 Email Exchange, the very name “Chris Denorfia” seems to be a signifier for “scrub.” It’s an unassuming name, and Denorfia, at first glance, is a very unassuming player. He was racking up significant playing time in AAA as late as 2009, at age 28. When you’re spending years that should, in theory, be your prime as an average player for the Sacramento River Cats, it’s likely a sign your major league career isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

But a trade from Oakland to San Diego, rather than killing his offense, actually revived Denorfia’s career; in 2010, his first true year in the majors (his previous high in plate appearances was 120), Denorfia posted a 113 wRC+ with average defense as a corner outfielder. A quad-A player was suddenly a valuable commodity. He’s hit every year since then, until this year — and that’s why I’d like to posit this move is, quite sneakily, one of the better moves made over this trade deadline, and one that could significantly improve the Mariners’ chances going forward.

An important thing to realize, as I noted in that July 31 Email Exchange and alluded to earlier in this post, is the context within which this move was made. I won’t spend too much time addressing it, but the Mariners outfield has been a nuclear wasteland this season. Cumulatively, Seattle outfielders carry the league’s worst wRC+, checking in at a 78, 22% below league average. Michael Saunders’s injury hasn’t helped matters, but the lack of depth stuck out like a cold sore from Opening Day. Contenders rarely grant roster spots to sub-replacement-level players, let alone start three of them at the same time, but that’s pretty much what the Mariners were doing for not-insignificant stretches of the year.

It’s too much to say the Mariners needed to trade for an outfielder — because the goal of trades are to make a team better, not necessarily improve a specific facet of it — but it was by far the easiest place to upgrade. Stefen Romero, James Jones, and Endy Chavez have all been among the worst players in the MLB this season. By simply acquiring a +1- to +1.5-win player, they’re be making substantial upgrades. Compare that to, say, the catcher position, where you’d need a +3-win player to make the same degree of upgrade. One-win players, obviously, come much cheaper than 3-win players, and Denorfia fits that first mold pretty closely. At least, this year, he does.

There’s an argument for Denorfia being pretty damn underrated, and not at all someone who ought to be perceived as a 1-win player. His 107 wRC+ since the 2010 season equals the marks of Nick Markakis, Carl Crawford, and Alfonso Soriano over the same time span, and his defense eclipses all three of these players, who’ve achieved widespread public regard in the recent past.

It’s kind of obvious why no one knows who Denorfia is (let alone considers him any good): the letters on his old uniform. Nobody gives a shit about the Padres. They’re the Mariners’ soul mates (and bitter rivals), playing in a giant park with boring players and fading out of playoff conversations by Memorial Day. I consider myself something beyond a diehard baseball fan, but I can’t name four players in the Padres’ starting lineup.

The Mariners and Padres share another obvious similarity: their enormous ballparks. Petco suppresses counting stats like crazy, fooling a casual fan into thinking some players are just terrible hitters. Thankfully, wRC+ does the dirty work for us, but one can understand why Denorfia’s .275/.332./.399 since the start of the 2010 doesn’t exactly get people all hot and heavy.

Truth is, though, Denorfia’s earned the benefit of the doubt to this point in his career. Many will view this year as the norm, but I think it ought to be viewed as the aberration.

When assessing the flukiness of a player’s year-to-date performance, there’s two primary places we usually look. The first, and most common, is simply looking at the player’s BABIP. Denorfia’s 2014 BABIP — .295 — is a good 21 points below his career average of .316. It’s not some catastrophic difference, but it’s enough of one to make a difference of some significance. According to DIPS theory, Denorfia’s been some degree of unlucky, in terms of how many of the balls he’s made contact with have dropped for hits, torpedoing his batting average and OBP. We can expect both to rise going forward.

There’s a more glaring indicator here, though, that Denorfia’s performance this year is a fluky one, and that’s his HR/FB rate. This is the other measure of flukiness; generally, a HR/FB rate well below or well above career norms indicates the hitter has been either unlucky or lucky in the amount of fly balls flying over the fence. This year, Denorfia’s HR/FB rate is nearly five times lower than his career average, at 2.3% against a career average of 10.1%. Unless turning 34 suddenly sapped all of his strength, it stands to say that Denorfia’s slugging percentage has been destroyed by a few more fly balls falling just short of the fence than usual.

Yeah, there’s a chance that age has hit Denorfia like Solange hit Jay-Z (ugh). But that would be a REALLY sharp decline. Chances are, Denorfia’s been a good deal of unlucky this year. It’s not like he’s been declining every year; he’s one year removed from a career-season that approached all-star levels of productivity. If he can find even 90% of his career productivity from the plate, the Mariners might have just stumbled upon a surprisingly valuable contributor for virtually nothing. My bet’s on the fact that they just did.

Relief Is a Center Fielder Named Austin Jackson


It’s been a rather remarkable season by Seattle standards, but yesterday morning felt like a throwback to years past.

Here’s how I’d sum up my past half-decade rooting for the Mariners. Each April, the baseball fan and Seattleite inside me gets all giddy about what this season could be for the M’s. Then, usually by early-June, everyone but Felix has shit the bed, management tries solving the problem with Endy Chavez, and I’m left sending angry texts to friends about another year wasted. Come August, I’m checked out, watching games from my den of indifference. It’s a cruel cycle, the reason I term the M’s “the team [I’ve] always lamented loving.

The 2014 trade deadline compressed this months-long process into a few short hours. I woke up, like any fan does on July 31, imagining all the new players the day might bring. At about noon came the bitterness; did the front office really think Chris fucking Denorfia was going to secure the first playoff spot we’ve had a chance at in years? And then, with 1:00 PDT mere minutes away, the resignation — yep, they did. Slanty face.

But right as I was prepping myself for an afternoon of sighing and shoulder shrugging and #smh’ing, the blessed news broke. David Price was being moved as part of a three-team trade. The Tigers and Mariners were involved. Seattle would receive center fielder Austin Jackson from Detroit.

Just like that, the deadline became a different type of microcosm: another day that exceeded expectations, in a season that’s done nothing but.

The news shocked me, in part, merely because it came so late; it was, like, six minutes before the deadline when I first saw the tweets. Also because Jackson’s was reportedly part of the deal, and by my count, he’d been mentioned in exactly zero trade rumors to that point. But in all that craziness, the thing that surprised me most was that Jack Zduriencik had pulled off a pretty damn good trade.

Despite having a down year in 2014, Jackson’s a legitimate asset. He’s been an above-average hitter for his career, can field the outfield’s toughest position competently (though the defense has been trending downwards recently), and has been among the MLB’s most valuable baserunners since his career began. Just two years ago, he was the league’s fourth-best CF by WAR, and a top-20 position player overall by the same metric. Again, he hasn’t been producing at quite that level since, but those are the numbers of an all-star.

Let’s break down Jackson’s current season. ZiPS has him slated to collect 2.2 WAR by year’s end, which would be his worst campaign to date. What gives? Well, the hitting’s been down a bit. He posted a 134wRC+ during that all-star season in 2012, and has run a 106  for his career, but that number has dropped a bit to 101 this year. I think most of that’s explained by his power numbers, as his BB%, K%, and OBP are right around his career averages. Meanwhile, he’s only projected to hit eight home runs this season, down from 12 last year and 16 the year before. Looking closer at those totals, though, is actually kind of encouraging. In 2014, Jackson’s been hitting more fly balls than ever before, but for some reason, those balls are leaving the park at half the rate they have over his five years in the league. It’d be convenient to mark that up to diminishing strength, but keep in mind Jackson’s only 27. That’s the age when you expect players to fill out their bodies and start peaking offensively. So rather than see Jackson’s recent power outage as physical decline, I think it’s safe to say a lot of it’s due to poor luck — I’m guessing he’s hit a lot of warning track flies this season. And that means we can reasonably expect an offensive rebound both down the stretch and in 2015.

One thing that’s probably not coming back is the defensive prowess Jackson showed when he first emerged in the bigs. The center field expanse is best covered with speed, and players only get slower as they age. Evidence of this, his UZR and DRS have been in decline since 2011. (The declining speed also means Jackson’s been legging out fewer infield hits, which is perhaps another contributor to the fall in offensive output.)

Another quick note on Jackson’s wheels. Though he’s almost certainly getting slower, he’s continued to add value on the basepaths, and is on pace to steal the most bags he has since 2011. His legs don’t have the spring they once did, but he’s become smarter about utilizing them, I’m guessing.

Ultimately, what the M’s got in Jackson is an everyday CF, and a good one at that. He’s not going to return to his elite 2012 form, but, overall, he’s also probably due to improve on this year’s production. Oliver projects him as a +3.1-win player in 2015, and that feels just about right, hitting, defense, baserunning, and age considered.

So, great, Seattle acquired a talented player. Nice! That in itself would be reason for excitement, but, of course, transactions aren’t quite so simple. There are a lot of things to look at when evaluating a trade, like how much was given up to get the new talent, how long the team will control the acquired player(s), whether or not the trade fills an area of need on the roster, where the team finds itself in the standings, and so on. Fortunately for the M’s, on Thursday, all these considerations added up to a move that fans could look at approvingly.

To secure Jackson, Seattle sent Nick Franklin Tampa Bay’s way. After doing absolutely nothing in a short stint with the big league club this season, and then subsequently struggling in Tacoma too, Franklin’s trade value had dropped from where it was in late 2013. Still, he was a consensus top-100 prospect entering last season, and was a top-50 guy prior to that. And a young, power-hitting middle infielder is a very desirable piece for any team. The M’s certainly didn’t school the competition on this deal. But considering Jackson’s contract and where Seattle is right now, as well as all the above talk about how good of a CF he is, paying the price of Franklin wasn’t all the difficult to stomach.

Probably most importantly, Jackson will be controlled through the 2015 season. He’s not merely a rental, and should the M’s fail to grab the second Wild Card spot this year, Jackson will still be here to help come next April. Incoming talent is a lot more valuable when it can contribute to two separate shots at the postseason.

Swapping Franklin for Jackson was also the exact magnitude of move I think most fans were hoping to see. Mike and I discussed this in more length during yesterday’s Email Exchange, but Seattle found itself in a bit of a predicament at this year’s deadline. The team’s facing its first realistic shot at the playoffs in forever, which I’m sure had the front office’s “buy now” senses tingling. At the same time, though, the most the M’s can hope for is a one-game playoff against the A’s or Angels, with the chance to then advance to the ALDS, and a mere chance at a chance opportunity isn’t worth selling the farm. Which Seattle didn’t do! Franklin’s a young stud, but he’s not untouchable, and on top of that, he didn’t have a future with this team after Cano came along. In acquiring Jackson, Z found a nice middle ground between going for it in 2014 and saving the in-house prospects for future postseason runs with better odds.

Lastly, it was oh so cool that the team got all of the above in a CF. The M’s outfield has been atrocious this year, ranking 28th in the league in WAR. It’d been especially bad recently, with Michael Saunders’s injury meaning frequent appearances by the Endy Chavez-James Jones circus. The mere addition of Jackson would help most teams. But for Seattle, where getting him means switching a sub-win player with a one-win player from here on out, he helps especially.

Getting a year and change of a good player, who plays a position the team desperately needed to improve, during a time when the organization finally had an chance to give its fans October ball, is a great move. Doing so at the price of Nick Franklin is, to me, a really great one. I’m not ready to give Z my full endorsement, and you can bet I still have my #FireJackZ tweets at the ready, but good on him for his dealings yesterday. What a relief it was to watch Thursday afternoon’s game with that trade fresh on the mind. For once, hope wasn’t followed by anger and apathy, but simply more hope. The cycle was broken, at least for a day.

And hey, who knows. If that cycle can be broken, who’s to say the postseason drought can’t?

Player Primer: Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor

Who: Chris Taylor

Age: 23

Position: SS

Where he is now: Seattle Mariners (MLB)

The University of Virginia sends a lot of baseball players to the pros. And recently, many of them have been ending up in the Mariners organization. Over the past five years, Seattle has selected five Cavaliers in the draft. First was right-handed pitcher Andrew Carraway, a 12th-round pick in the 2009 draft. He was followed in 2011 by a trio of UVA standouts. Headlining the group was second-overall pick Danny Hultzen, the stud left-handed starter that projected as a mainstay in the M’s rotation.

But the first Cav to successfully make the jump from collegiate to big league ball is neither the most seasoned of the group, nor the most hyped. Carraway is currently throwing for Tacoma, while Hultzen continues to deal with a really, really fucked up shoulder.

Nope, the first UVA draft pick to get the call is actually the youngest of the five, the one selected a year after Hultzen & Co. If the title of the post didn’t give away the name I’m referring to, then watching Seattle’s last few games certainly has. He’s the guy who’s been making his case for the starting shortstop job. His name is Chris Taylor.

Taylor was selected in the 2012 draft, the third pick of the fifth round. He was, above all, taken for his defense. There’s split opinion on just exactly how good he could be in the field, though. Some scouts see a Gold Glove-recipient in waiting, which Lookout Landing‘s Scott Weber attested to when he recently said he once heard Taylor compared to Brendan Ryan. Then again, just five days ago, Baseball Prospectus wrote, “[Taylor] isn’t likely to emerge as a…Gold Glove level defender.” But while we may not yet know his defensive ceiling, we do have an idea of Taylor’s skill set at short, and can reasonably predict what his baseline production in the field will be. Neither his range nor arm strength are standout tools, but the consensus is that each is sufficient enough to keep Taylor at shortstop. Reports praise his defensive polish, however. Which is to say, Taylor is sure-handed and doesn’t make many errors on routine grounders (ahem, Brad Miller). The 23-year-old is also pretty damn fast (more on this later). Adding up these parts, Taylor is most likely an immediate defensive upgrade at shortstop, and will almost certainly be better than Miller down the road.

What no one really expected Taylor to do, though, was hit. Coming out of Charlottesville, he was seen as a glove-first, if not glove-only, shortstop. But perhaps the M’s were savvy to something in Taylor’s hitting abilities that other teams weren’t. Because as he emerges on the major league scene, it’s actually Taylor’s offense that’s seen as the most glimmering beacon of hope.

Upon his 2012 arrival, Taylor proceeded to crush the ball, and hasn’t really let up since. His first stop was in Everett (A-), where he recorded a .904 OPS across 165 plate appearances, good for a wRC+ of 161. He made the jump to High Desert (A+) to start 2013, where he spent the first-half of his first full season, before being promoted to Jackson (AA). In each place, Taylor raked. He collected a .950 OPS in 319 PA with the Mavericks, followed by .774 mark in as many PA with the Generals. His production at the plate earned him the Mariners 2013 Minor League Player of the Year Award.

To determine how good a major league hitter Taylor might be, though, we can’t just consider past his results. We have to look at the underlying offensive skills. Taylor, as you’ll read in almost any scouting report, doesn’t have home run-power, but regularly drives balls into the gaps. During his half-season in A+ last year, he ranked top-three in the league in total bases, despite hitting only seven home runs. This year, with the Rainiers, he had 34 extra-base hits in just 302 at-bats. He doesn’t often hit the ball over the wall, but does frequently find outfield grass, and his speed allows him to turn those balls into a lot of doubles and triples.

But, like the last guy I did a primer on, Taylor’s biggest offensive asset is his on-base ability. He walks a lot. From 2012-2013, his BB% sat around 13% at all three levels. And though that number dropped slightly this year with his promotion to AAA, Taylor was still walking on more than 10% of his at-bats. The shortstop may actually be even better than Choi at getting on base, as his wheels allow him to consistently register a high BABIP.

And, yeah, let’s talk about that speed. Marc over at U.S.S. Mariner labeled it “best-in-the-system good.” As that post also notes, Taylor collected nearly 70 stolen bases during his two-plus years in the minors, swiping them at an 86% success rate. He was drafted for his glove, and the bat has been all the talk since, but Taylor’s speed may be his best ability.

There are flaws in his game, of course. He strikes out more than you’d like to see, having K’d in about 20% of his AB the last two seasons in the minors. And his OBP has often been propped up by an unsustainably high BABIP.

That said, Taylor also appears to have himself covered where many young players don’t. Though his BABIP will certainly drop in the majors (it was .412 in Tacoma this year), it might not to the extent you’d expect. As mentioned, Taylor’s speed means high BABIPs are a legitimate asset of his, and this will help compensate for the frequent strikeouts. He’s also quite good at hitting same-handed pitching and using the opposite field. He actually hit right-handed pitchers better than lefties in AAA, and more of his base-knocks landed in right field than any other part of the diamond. Both those things will probably change as Taylor moves to the majors, but the mere fact he could do them in Tacoma shows his approach at the plate is more refined than you’d expect of someone his age.

So, what do we have in Mr. Chris Taylor, both this year and in those to come? The Steamer projection system predicts he and Miller will be roughly equivalent hitters the rest of the season. It also says Miller will be the more valuable fielder and baserunner. But, then again, that’s probably because it’s assuming he’ll get majority of the playing time, because there’s really no question that Taylor is better in the field and on the base paths. Miller’s advantage over Taylor is with the lumber, and if the former Clemson Tiger can return to the form we saw early this season and late last, he’ll be the M’s shortstop of that future. That’s a big “if,” though, and should it go unfulfilled, I think Taylor just might turn out to be the better player.

Author’s note: It seems like I’ve given out a lot of apologies on this blog in the short time it’s been around. But I’m of the opinion that it’s better to do so than not, and potentially give off the vibe that we don’t care about our unfulfilled promises. This time, I’d like to say sorry for not keeping up with the Player Primer series as I originally hoped, and will attempt to from now on. Two new players deserving of primers joined the M’s since I did my initial post on Ji-man Choi: catcher Jesus Sucre, who was called up from AAA, and designated hitter Kendrys Morales, who was acquired via trade from Minnesota. Here’s a quick summary of both. Sucre is supposed to be really good when behind the plate with a mitt and mask, and really bad when aside it with a bat. Morales is the guy we had last year; he was pretty good then, and looks to be pretty damn miserable now.