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Swipe Me Down: A Look at the Mariners Speedsters that will Steal your Heart

In terms of aesthetic cache, stolen bases are perhaps the most exciting play in baseball. Especially if it’s in a high-leverage situation:

That’s Jerrod Dyson. He is fast, and very few players in Major League Baseball are faster. He is good at stealing the bags. He is on the Seattle Mariners roster. How many bases will he snatch in 2017?

Here are Dyson’s plate appearances from 2012-2016: 330, 239, 290, 225, 337

That is an average of 284.2 plate appearances per season. He has never appeared in more than 120 games in a regular season. Mariners manager Scott Servais said he welcomes the “edge” that Dyson brings. Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto gushed about Dyson’s defense and base-stealing ability after making the trade. Dyson has the starting left field job. He does have a hefty career platoon split (90 wRC+ vs. right-handed pitching, 65 wRC+ vs. left-handed pitching), so it is preferable that he not play a full 162 games, but this could be the first season where he has a chance to have a starting spot from Opening Day. If he does get a full season of plate appearances, his 50th percentile PECOTA projection of 60 stolen bases in 572 plate appearances does not look nearly as crazy. He is that fast. If Dyson plays even gets 450 plate appearances, he has a legitimate chance to steal more bases than any Mariner since Ichiro in 2009, when Ichiro stole 43. Ichiro also stole 56 in his rookie season, which is the number of steals the molasses-footed 2016 Mariners stole as a team. Ichiro was good.

The fun thing about Dyson’s potential stolen base total this year is that he is not the only speedy guy on the roster. Jean Segura stole 33 bases last season in Arizona and Leonys Martín led the Mariners last season with 24 steals. The Mariners have a chance to meet a wonderfully arbitrary minimum of three players with more than 20 steals on one roster.If you apply this wonderfully arbitrary minimum of three players with more than 20+ stolen bases in a single season on the same team from 1977-2016. In terms of team success, possessing three guys with 20+ stolen bases does not guarantee a successful season. If you apply the wonderfully arbitrary minimum to teams from 2000-2016, those 52 teams had an average winning percentage of .517, which would equate to about 83-84 wins in a 162 game season. The Mariners have had six seasons where they have met this threshold in their history, but only three from 2000-2016:

2010: Ichiro 42, Chone Figgins 42, Franklin Gutierrez 25

2001: Ichiro 56, Mark Mclemore 39, Mike Cameron 34

2000: Rickey Henderson 31, Mark Mclemore 30, Mike Cameron 24

1999: Brian Hunter 44, Ken Griffey, Jr. 24, Alex Rodriguez 21

1987: Harold Reynolds 60, Phil Bradley 40, John Moses 23, Donel Nixon 21

1986: Harold Reynolds 30, John Moses 23, Phil Bradley 21

The funniest thing about the 52 team sample is that the Mariners have the team with the most wins (2001) in the sample and the fewest wins in the sample (2010). The Mariners did everything well in 2001. I was in third grade, so I remember it in a vague way. The 2001 team was the first full season that I remember as a Mariners fan.The Mariners did everything terribly in 2010, so I remember that season in a different vague way. The 2010 team was the most disappointing season as a Mariners fan, both from a single season standpoint and for the ensuing haphazard Jack Zduriencik team-building from 2011-2015 that followed the 2010 abomination. The fact the Mariners have three guys with good chances for 20+ stolen bases this season does not help us learn if this team will actually be any good.

Of course, the thing about the arbitrary minimum of teams with three guys with 20+ stolen bases in the same season is that it eliminates the context of the rest of the roster. This 2017 Mariners roster is far more diversified than the 2010 team, or even the 2016 team. Even if Dyson underperforms for any reason, there are replacements who ~should~ be competent. I am a fan of Guillermo Heredia, and Ben Gamel is competent in the field at the very least. He makes contact at the plate and has a bit of speed as well. Tyler O’Neill could potentially continue mashing Minor League pitching into a pulp and make his way up by the end of the season. Add this to the fact that Mariners offense was the second best in the MLB on a mashing basis last season, and looks to bring the thunder in 2017 with the additions of Danny Valencia/Dan Vogelbach and Mitch Haniger to accompany the Robinson Cano-Nelson Cruz-Kyle Seager lineup core, and the Mariners are not relying on Dyson/Segura/Martín to dash their way to runs for a weak hitting team. These three guys will be wreaking havoc and making teams uncomfortable alongside the big bats in the lineup.

Teams with three guys with 20 or more steals may not necessarily be correlated with playoff runs, but Dyson/Segura/Martín gives Mariners fans a triumvirate that can be a problem on the bases for opposing teams for the first time in several years. A triumvirate that will be entertaining in a manner that Mariners fans have not been accustomed to in the last 16 seasons. Whether it ends in disappointment like 2010 or ends as the most successful season in team history like 2017 remains to be seen.* But pitchers will want zero problems with this year’s speedy triumvirate, big fella.

*newsflash: it probably will not end at either extreme

Thanks to the Baseball Reference Play Index for always being a great resource to find fun facts with wonderfully arbitrary minimums and endpoints. 

JDFC Episode 4: New Friends and a Goodbye to our Mariners Dad

Joseph Victor and yours truly, Tyler Bradley, discuss the Gallardo/Smith and Dyson/Karns trades. We recorded this last night before his other two trades today, but luckily most of the discussion remains topical. I also rummage through old Joseph tweets and we introduce the Professor Joseph segment.

 

Music Credits

“My Oh My” — Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
“New Friends” — Pinegrove

Follow us on twitter @tylerbradley9 and @joeyvictor24

Sweeping the Ashes: Trading Dustin Ackley

The 2008 iteration of the Seattle Mariners were 58-101 entering the final series of the season. There was a chance that this team, the first MLB team in history with a $100 million payroll and lose 100 games in the same season, could end up with the first round pick in the 2009 MLB draft. The last two 1/1 draft picks the Mariners had chosen ended up working out decently in 1987 and 1993 I guess. Perhaps the 2009 draft could be a future cornerstone for years to come.

Instead, the Mariners swept the Oakland A’s in that final 2008 series. The Washington Nationals lost all three games against the eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Mariners would have the 2nd pick in the 2009 MLB draft.

On June 9th, 2009, the Mariners selected Dustin Ackley with the 2nd pick. This was widely considered to be the sensible pick. Although his potential ceiling was not viewed to be as high as the 1st pick, San Diego State’s hyped Starting Pitcher Stephen Strasburg, Ackley had a high floor and was going to be a solid building block for the future under the new Mariners front office led by Jack Zduriencik. From a Larry Stone article from June 10, 2009:

“We think he’s a player that will move pretty quick…” Zduriencik said.

AND

“…all the things you like in a hitter, he possesses.”

The MLB draft is strange as a fan. Just like any other draft, it’s all about the potential. But with baseball, there is a good chance that a draft pick – even in the first round – may never see the majors or be an impact player. But as Dustin Ackley made his way through the minor leagues, his potential seemed to be attainable. He slashed .303/421/.487 in AAA in 2011. When he was promoted to the majors on June 16, 2011, there was a real feeling of hope in the fanbase. The only concern was his defense. “His bat has never been a question,” said Pedro Grifol, the Mariners director of minor-league operations at the time.

I was certainly one of the hopeful, and I was lucky enough to be there for his debut on June 17, 2011 against the Philadelphia Phillies. With Roy Oswalt on the hill, Ackley fell behind 0-2 before rapping a groundball into center field.

I was sitting in the left field bleachers, and I was able to view the entire stadium erupt in a cheer that I was unaccustomed to. Ackley was part of the future. Despite the 2010 season being another $100 million, 100 loss atrocity, Ackley was the real sign from the farm system that this franchise was going to turn a corner. That base hit was going to be one of many. The potential of Dustin Ackley that I and many other fans had envisioned in 2009 was tangible.

It turns out that his first base hit was one of a mere 488 hits in a Mariner uniform. Despite an excellent .273/.348/.417 and 3 fWAR rookie season in 2011, it ended up being the only season of Ackley’s career where he was an above average hitter. His 2011 September — .182/.264/.247 – portended a disappointing and frustrating 2012-2015. His mechanics seemed consistently out of whack, despite changes to his approach that were somewhat hopeful as recently as the second half of last season. His defense at second base was actually above average in 2011 and 2012, and when he moved to the outfield in 2014 after the Robinson Cano signing, his defense remained a positive (according to Fangraphs). His bat ended up being a question that the Mariners could never answer.

The slow start to this season was the final straw for this front office: Ackley was traded to the New York Yankees today for Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez. The hope that Ackley once provided was extinguished long ago; this trade is merely sweeping up the ashes of the past six years.

I am not upset with Ackley. Being upset with a player for failing to live up to expectations would mean that the MLB draft is a more predictable endeavor. It would mean that our expectations as fans are reasonable (laughs audibly) and ultimately important in the grand scheme of life. The draft is clearly not an exact science, and baseball remains a game and a business that can be enjoyed voluntarily.

But I have chosen to support this team. I am forever tied to this team because fan allegiance is not rational. I cannot shake my allegiance to this team. I know I am not the only one.

I am upset that the path to Mariners success has extended further into the future. I am upset that this team clearly has a player development problem. Other than bullpen arms – 2011-12 Wilhelmsen, 2013-14 Farquhar, 2014-15 Carson Smith – and Ackley’s college teammate and fellow 2009 draft pick Kyle Seager (third round), the Mariners have whiffed on Ackley and their 2011 first round pick (Hultzen, largely because of injury). Mike Zunino, their 2012 first round pick, was perhaps rushed to the majors and until the past couple weeks (link to LL article) has looked about as helpless at the plate as a professional baseball player can possibly look (his 57 wRC+ has only been better than five other players with more than 300 plate appearances). D.J. Peterson, their 2013 first round pick, had a robust .636 OPS in AA and was promptly rewarded a promotion to AAA because moving forward is progress, I guess.

And that is why this Ackley trade makes me sad as a fan. Was this Ackley’s fault? I am sure he shoulders a large responsibility for his career trajectory, but the Seattle Mariners under Jack Zduriencik have done exactly what the previous front office had done from 2003 to 2008 under Bill Bavasi: fail to develop high draft picks. They consistently have questions — such as Ackley’s bat — that they fail to answer.

Ackley was the first draft pick made by Jack Z. The hope that Ackley engendered during his MLB debut turned out to be false, but his career thus far is a reminder that the hope Mariners fans had when the new front office was hired in 2008 was false as well. With the Astros set for the present and the future, the Angels set with one of the best young players in baseball history (who was selected with the 25th pick in the 2009 draft), the Rangers set with a good farm system and a recently acquired Cole Hamels to pair with a recovering Yu Darvish, and the Athletics set with a GM and front office that has run circles around the Mariners for about 15 years, the path to Mariners success is even cloudier now than it felt at the end of the 2008 season.

I am going to keep watching this franchise. Who knows if Jack Z will keep his job for much longer, or if the next front office will even have better success (or any success at all). But I certainly will be more skeptical of a top prospect’s debut the next time a moment like June 17, 2011 comes around. After the last six years, I should know better than that.

So long, Dustin Ackley. I’ll be rooting for you, just as I did four years ago. I just hope the next Dustin Ackley takes the hope of Mariner fans, takes that first base hit, and keeps me and the rest of us cheering from the left field bleachers in a more lasting manner.