2020 In Review: Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners concluded the 2020 season with a 27-33 record or a .450 winning percentage. Among the rest of the American League West, that put Seattle third overall. In comparison, the Oakland Athletics who won the division finished the regular season nine games ahead of the Mariners.
Under the direction of manager Scott Servais, the Mariners had a 14-10 record at home in T-Mobile Park compared to a 13-23 record on the road. Among the rest of the division, Seattle finished the regular season 7-13. Their best intra-division record was the Los Angeles Angels who they finished with a .500 record against.
Throughout the season, the Mariners saw some future stars start to emerge. The leader in that pack was outfielder Kyle Lewis who was recently named the American League Rookie of the Year by Baseball Digest. More on Lewis later on, but it was another pivotal year in the Mariners rebuilding process. Although Seattle has been trying to form it’s identity for several years now, 2020 felt as though it was a significant stepping stone forward for the franchise.
Here is a look at what else went right and what might have gone wrong for the Seattle Mariners this year.
Seattle Mariners Pitching Staff Review
Collectively, the Mariners’ pitching staff finished as one of baseball’s worst in 2020. Mariners pitchers combined for a 5.03 ERA over the 60-game sample or 516 2/3 innings. In addition, the team held opposing batters to a .245 batting average all season and allowed a total of 303 runs. Among the rest of the division, only the aforementioned Los Angeles Angels finished with a worse ERA (5.09).
However, there was one area of the pitching that was significantly worse than the other. Seattle’s starting rotation wrapped up the regular season with a 4.41 ERA putting them in the middle of the pack among the other 29 teams in baseball. Over the 60-game slate, Mariners starters combined for a total of 149 earned runs, surrendered 110 walks, and had a 8.08 K/9 rate.
On the other hand, the bullpen finished the year with a 5.92 ERA over 212 2/3 innings. Among the rest of baseball, that puts them in the bottom three with the Colorado Rockies and the Philadelphia Phillies. Mariners relievers held opposing batters to a .258 batting average, but had a major league worst BB/9 rate of 5.08.
Marco Gonzales: The Team’s Ace
Left-hander Marco Gonzales was the Seattle Mariners most effective starter in 2020. Gonzales was a hot name on the trade market a few years ago before the Mariners agreed to a four-year, $30 million dollar extension with him. That came in February.
Looking specifically at 2020, Gonzales finished the regular season with a 3.10 ERA over 69 2/3 innings. Over that sample, he recorded a 0.947 WHIP along with a 3.32 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP). He also had a career best 0.9 BB/9 rate during his sixth major league season.
While all of those numbers are impressive, the highlight moment for Gonzales was his complete game against the Los Angeles Angels on August 31st. Gonzales threw a total of 102 pitches, faced 31 batters, and allowed one run with eight strikeouts. It was a moment that proved why the Mariners still have so much faith in his upside.
Bounce Back of Justus Sheffield
24-year old left-hander Justus Sheffield was originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He was later traded to the New York Yankees along with three other pieces for reliever Andrew Miller. Sheffield spent two-and-a-half years with the Yankees before heading to the Mariners in the James Paxton deal.
When the trade was first announced, there were a lot of people throughout baseball with mixed feelings on Justus Sheffield. Some believed that he had front of the rotation stuff while others took a more skeptical approach. However, the 2020 season was a very positive step forward and one that helped to cement him in the Mariners future plans.
While it was his third season in MLB, 2020 was the year Sheffield exceeded his rookie eligibility. He posted a 3.58 ERA over ten starts. Over that sample, he had an ERA+ of 118, a 3.17 FIP, and had a K/9 rate of 7.8. His stuff was really dominating against left-handed batters. Against lefties, Sheffield held them to a .154/.228/.173 slash line with a .211 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP).
Yusei Kikuchi Continues His Struggles
While both Marco Gonzales and Justus Sheffield were bright spots for the Mariners starting rotation this year, southpaw Yusei Kikuchi struggled once again. Prior to the start of the 2019 season, Seattle signed Kikuchi out of Japan on a three-year, $43 million dollar deal. The contract also includes team options from 2022-2025.
Since inking that deal, Kikuchi has made a total of 41 starts for the Mariners with a 5.39 ERA along with 70 walks and 163 strikeouts. Focusing specifically on 2020, the lefty made nine starts putting up a 5.17 ERA. He threw a total of 47 innings this year while holding opposing batters to a .238 average.
Essentially, the Mariners have yet to receive a return on their investment in Kikuchi. However, you have to remember that 2019 was his first season in MLB. Meanwhile, the 2020 season created an interruption in Spring Training which could have effected his training schedule. Therefore, maybe there are brighter days to come in 2021 for Kikuchi. The Mariners would certainly love for that to happen.
Seattle Mariners Offensive Review
Although things were a disappointment from a pitching standpoint, the Seattle Mariners offense also struggled overall. Over the course of 1,929 plate appearances, the team hit .226/.309/.370. They posted an OPS of .678 which ranks among the bottom three in MLB. The other two teams were the Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Furthermore, the Mariners lineup scored a total of 254 runs, hit 60 home runs which ranks in the bottom third percentile among the other 29 teams, and had a total of 244 RBI. From a BABIP standpoint, the team finished 20th overall with a .281 value in that category.
While the numbers weren’t promising, there were a few individuals who stood out including the aforementioned Kyle Lewis.
Kyle Lewis Cements Himself Into Future Plans
25-year old centerfielder Kyle Lewis was a must watch every single game in 2020. Lewis was drafted during the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners and is already looking like a pillar for their next core. He originally made his debut on September 10th, 2019 against the Cincinnati Reds.
In 242 plate appearances, Lewis slashed: .262/.364/.437 with 54 hits, three doubles, 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 34 walks, and 71 strikeouts. While his strikeout rate was high, he did display plenty of power during his at bats. He led the team in home runs and on-base percentage.
While the power was there, the one area Lewis will need to focus on in the future is hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). In those situations, the outfielder hit .192/.323/.308. Over that sample, he posted a .235 BABIP along with 18 strikeouts.
Kyle Seager Leads the Team in RBI
Third baseman Kyle Seager seemingly continues to be a productive bat for the Seattle Mariners, but doesn’t get much national attention. Seager had a .244 batting average with a .788 OPS over a sample of 248 plate appearances. He did play in all 60 games and as mentioned previously, led the team in RBI with 60.
Seager struggled making contact and putting up productive at bats though against the other AL West teams. Against the rest of the AL West, he hit .172/.356/.313 with 11 hits, three doubles, two home runs, nine RBI, 18 walks, and 13 strikeouts.
Heading into the 2021 season, Seager is entering the final year of his current seven-year, $100 million dollar deal with the Mariners. He is slated to earn a salary of $18.5 million dollars next year. After that, his contract includes a $15 million dollar team option, which could increase to $20 million dollars, for the 2022 season.
J.P. Crawford Has a Promising 2020 Campaign
Seattle Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford had himself a nice season. As the cousin of former big leaguer Carl Crawford, J.P. Crawford concluded the regular season with a .255/.336/.338 slash line. He played in 53 games and had an OPS+ of 92.
One really interesting thing about Crawford’s season is that he was better on the road away from T-Mobile Park. On the road, the 25-year old hit .298/.385/.411 over 143 plate appearances or 33 games. In contrast, at home he hit .188/.258/.225 with a .222 BABIP over 20 games. Additionally, he started the year off really hot in July with a .393 batting average and a 1.086 OPS over a sample of eight games.
Looking ahead to 2021, J.P. Crawford will be a pivotal part of the Seattle Mariners lineup. Crawford was acquired with the thinking that he will be part of that next core group with the likes of Lewis along with the team’s other top prospects including outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez and right-hander Emerson Hancock. Given that Crawford has yet to reach his full peak, there is the potential that he could be even better next season.
Final Thoughts on the 2020 Seattle Mariners
Although the Mariners long, dreadful postseason drought continued, the 2020 season was a significant stepping stone for the franchise. The team was able to identify it’s next core group of players and really start to put together a new brand of Seattle Mariners baseball.
Furthermore, the team’s farm system has been on the rise the past few years courtesy of the hard work of the organization’s front office led by General Manager Jerry Dipoto. Next season will be an opportunity for more of those prospects to reach the major league level which will hopefully lead to the team clinching a postseason berth sooner than later.
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