The Seattle Mariners have played 19 games to this point this season and clearly, the team misses their gold glove centerfielder. Through those 19 games in which the Mariners have fell to a poor 6-13 start, the offense has scored just 70 runs which is tied with Baltimore for 21st in MLB.
But it isn’t just the poor offense that is killing this team. It is the terrible defense behind what has been a solid pitching staff so far.
In the first edition of Fangraphs.com defensive UZR scores released earlier this week, the Mariners rank dead last in all of baseball with a collective -16.1 rating. That’s awful.
And the troubling thing is this is an area of the team that has been not just a positive, but something it has hung its hat on in the past two seasons. So what has changed?
Well, if you analyze the different starters in ’11 from ’10 you see weaker defenders in left, at 1B and especially in center. And something you don’t really expect, a much weaker performance so far from Ichiro Suzuki in RF.
While Justin Smoak (-1.8) and Milton Bradley (-4.5) have been drop offs from Casey Kotchman and Michael Saunders of last season, nothing compares to the change in center where Ryan Langerhans has been given the bulk of the playing time in place of the injured Gutierrez.
Langerhans has been floundering to the tune of -4.5 compared to the average UZR of +19 that Gutierrez posted over the last two seasons, good for first in all of baseball.
That difference, plus having weaker performances in the corner outfield spots than what they’ve been getting the previous two seasons and you understand why not only the team is losing but in particular why Felix Hernandez has had a less than spectacular start to his season.
His last start, versus the Kansas City Royals, is a perfect example. If you go back and watch the tape of that game, Hernandez had his dominant stuff going early, with six strikeouts in the first three innings.
The problem arose as the game wore on as the more the Royals made contact, the more they found holes in the Seattle defense which forced Hernandez to labor, throw more pitches and subsequently fall into a hole that the Mariners offense has been unable get any of their pitchers out of.
Three players were unable to corral a routine pop-up, Chone Figgins wiffed on a backhand attempt at a routine grounder in the fifth and later that same inning Ryan Langerhans was unable to rundown a pretty routine fly in center that eventually pushed Hernandez out of the game down 5-0. Hernandez should’ve pitched eight innings with 10 K’s and won probably 3-1 but because the wretched defense and inept offense, he was pulled after five having given up five (two earned), left to pick up the loss.
That is the difference between being a Cy Young pitcher and looking like a back end of the rotation starter. If the Mariners are unable to get Gutierrez back soon — and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Guti as he undergoes more tests to hopefully pinpoint finally, just what is wrong with him — they need to address their defense in center for the long term, soon.
It’s one thing to be in a rebuilding season where your primary goal is to develop young players but it is an entirely different thing to force your Cy Young starter to suffer because of your inability to support him. Hernandez is a player that deserves the best as he works to put up the type of career numbers that he is capable of, numbers that could make him one of the all time greats. Throwing that down the toilet is not just irresponsible, it borderlines on criminal.