With MLB's regular season ending, Bally Sports is reviewing the performance of each club with an eye looking at what happened in 2021 and another at what could happen next season. Our next Exit Interview is with the Seattle Mariners.
What went right
• The Mariners defied expectations all season, coming about as close to breaking a 21-year postseason drought as they could. They won 90 games despite a -51 run differential. One way to counter a negative run differential is to be good at timely hitting, and nobody was more clutch (using Fangraphs) than the M’s over the course of 2021. Unfortunately for the M’s, clutch index is not predictive and they ran out of clutch during their series finale against the Angels.
• They did have a plus Fun Differential, however.
• Mitch Haniger delivered a lot of clutch hits Saturday night against the Angels:
• The offense tied for 13th in home runs (with the Athletics) and was fifth in fewest strikeouts. Their two most effective hitters were Ty France (.353 wOBA) and Haniger (.340 wOBA). Kyle Seager and Luis Torrens both slugged above .340. Jake Fraley and J.P. Crawford did OK getting on base. Kyle Lewis was better than average but in only 147 plate appearances.
• France got a chance to play every day and he was indispensable, batting .291/.368/.445 with 18 homers, 32 doubles and 46 walks. He also was a plus on defense.
• Chris Flexen came back from Korea and was a top-25 pitcher, posting a 3.61 ERA in 179 ⅔ innings. His BB% was eighth among qualified pitchers.
• Lefty Marco Gonzales was solid, posting a 3.96 ERA in 25 starts.
• The team’s 4.30 ERA and home runs allowed were in the middle of the pack.
• The M’s were a middle-of-the-pack defensive team, with positive individual play coming from Dylan Moore at second base, Seager at third base, Crawford at shortstop and France at first.
What went wrong
• Aside from France, Haniger, Seager and Torrens, nobody was better than average on offense and most were significantly below average. Top overall prospect Jarred Kelenic batted .151/.236/.272 with a 33% K% in his first 64 games and had to be sent back to the minors.
• Their pitchers' collective strikeouts and walks allowed finished among the lower third of the league. The Mariners had good pitching, but not good enough to overcome such a mediocre offense.
• Left-hander Yusei Kikuchi appeared to make a breakthrough when he made the All-Star team, but he was hit hard in the second half (batters hit .300/.381/.525 in 13 starts). The M’s don’t figure to pick up his $16.5 million option.
• Left-hander Justus Sheffield posted a 6.83 ERA and, while right-hander Justin Dunn pitched OK (3.11 ERA in 11 starts), he finished the season on the injured list because of a sore shoulder. He was beginning to rehab toward the end.
• Abraham Toro provided a couple of clutch moments immediately after coming over from the Astros in a trade for right-hander Kendall Graveman that upset the clubhouse. The M’s pretty much made up for Graveman’s production among Diego Castillo, Paul Sewald, Casey Sadler and Drew Steckenrider, but the trade itself failed to give their offense much of an upgrade. If GM Jerry Dipoto was going to do something so risky, he should have added a bat or two that could have put the M’s over the top.
• It appears the Kyle Seager era is over with the M’s unlikely to absorb his $20 million option for 2022. It’s probably more money than Seager is worth, but the issue lies more with the reportedly bad relationship Dipoto has with the M’s leader. Perhaps a mutually agreeable contract extension could have kept Seager with the M’s for a 12th season.
It took three surgeries and about two years to recover from a horrific groin injury, but Haniger came through in a big way for the Mariners, batting .253/.318/.485 with 39 home runs in 157 games. He’s a free agent after 2023.
Right-hander Logan Gilbert finished with a 4.68 ERA, but he pitched better than that, striking out 128 and walking just 28 in 119 ⅓ innings. He had a 2.70 ERA in his final six starts. And he looks like Orel Hershiser in the face. Check it out:
Reasons for optimism
• Kelenic batted .248/.331/.524 with seven homers and a 24.6% K% in September/October. Huge improvement. He and Gilbert are going to be franchise support beams for the next half-decade at least.
• Catcher Luis Torrens had a combined 10 home runs in June and July and finished strong in the final month.
• Top prospect Julio Rodríguez possibly would have put them over the top to make the playoffs this season, but they chose to let him dominate in the minor leagues. We’ll see what the collective bargaining agreement brings, but he should be ready to try the majors straight out of Spring Training.
• The Mariners have one of the very best farm systems, with at least four top-40 prospects still to come, even after Kelenic and Gilbert got promoted.
What needs work
• The M’s finished in the lower third in runs scored, not quite reaching 700. The Cardinals and Yankees were just a little higher and they made the playoffs. They were 28th in on-base percentage and finished 26th in slugging percentage despite being strong in home runs.
• They’re going to need someone to replace Seager (is it really Toro?), they still need a second baseman (is it really Toro?) and an upgrade at catcher would help, unless it’s Torrens, so in that case another bat that can play around the field.
• The M’s can compete for the playoffs next season but they really need a significant upgrade at the top of their rotation after Gilbert. Someone like Felix Hernández in his prime. Is that possible?
Watch for more MLB Exit Interviews as the dominoes fall in the playoffs, and check out our earlier MLB Exit Interviews here: