Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Newsletter Excerpt, August 9, 2023 -- "Third Third Previews, Pt. 4"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider.

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10. Seattle Mariners (61-52 (.540, tenth in MLB), 513 RS, 464 RA, third in AL West)

We’re again faced with a team that was in position to contend for a playoff berth and just shrugged off the trade deadline, and we’re not actually finished with this category. I am not sure what it means when you expand the playoffs and the people who run teams show so little excitement about the possibility of making them. What are we doing here?

As with the Guardians, the Mariners didn’t hurt themselves at the deadline so much as they didn’t help themselves. The Paul Sewald trade has parallels to the Kendall Graveman deal that caused so much angst in 2021. Few people remember that Joe Smith, the reliever the Mariners got back in that deal, out-pitched Graveman in the two months after the trade. Relievers are fungible, and save specialists are no different. The Mariners, in recent seasons, have shown an ability to create relievers from thin air, assembling strong bullpens from 2021 through 2023 with a new cast of characters each time. They can move Andres Munoz, Matt Brash, Tayler Saucedo, and Justin Topa up a slot each and be fine.

The players they got back should help. Dominic Canzone can plug the Jarred Kelenic hole in left field and then serve as a platoon option for Teoscar Hernandez and/or Ty France, two disappointing right-handed batters at positions where you need better production. Josh Rojas is coming off a three-win season in which he played third and second reasonably well, and he has experience in the outfield. Having both Rojas and Dylan Moore gives Scott Servais a whole suite of in-game options.

I’m not a big fan of the idea that a team will or will not play well based on what the front office does at the trade deadline. Those ’21 Mariners, so upset by the Graveman trade, went 35-26 after it, a stronger record than they had before the deal. This version has won six in a row since the Sewald trade. Perry Minasian stepped on the gas at the end of July...and the Angels lost their first seven games in August. Matt Arnold picked up a bunch of veterans to boost the lineup...and the Brewers are sleepwalking over the last week. Player reaction to trade deadline moves is, like discussions of rest vs. rust in October, something that gets used after the fact to support a story, or ignored when it doesn’t fit the story.

My last projected playoff spot came down to the Mariners and the Blue Jays, both of which are better than at least two and maybe three teams that will make the tournament. I’m not sure I made this call correctly; the Mariners’ frontline pitching, their top three starters and top four relievers, is incredibly good. If either Bryce Miller or Bryan Woo is healthy for October, the Mariners might not use a below-average pitcher in the playoffs. They just have to get there.

Reasons to Watch: Logan Gilbert waxed the Padres last night, striking out 12 of the 22 batters he faced, walking no one. George Kirby strikes out close to nine men for every one he walks. Luis Castillo, in an off year, has a 3.21 ERA. Remember, this team shut out the Astros for 17 innings in an elimination game last year.

One Stat: The Mariners lead baseball in FIP, the fielding-independent pitching stat that attempts to measure just what the pitchers do, stripping out batted-ball luck. They’re second in xwOBA, which does the same using batted-ball quality. The Mariners can pitch, man.