The massively underperforming Seattle Mariners shook things up this week, dumping hitting coach Jeff Pentland in the hopes of turning around a season that has really gone off the rails the past six weeks.
I doubt this change will do much – I mean, consider the fact that Pentland is the sixth hitting coach for this team in just over a decade since Lee Elia. Elia, ironically enough, has now taken over the struggling Mariner offense again.
Coming off an 88-win season in 2007, expectations were high for Seattle, but since holding its own in April, everything has come unraveled. An 8-20 May, followed by a 2-7 June to date has caused the Mariners to fall 16.5 games off the pace in the AL West, a division they were expected to compete in this year.
It’s easy to blame the sticks, especially considering Seattle was at least a middle of the pack offensive club last season. The Mariners ranks dead last in on-base percentage and OPS and second to last in BA, runs and slugging percentage. Something had to give, so Pentland is the sacrificial lamb.
Of course, the Mariners aren’t the only team to feature a revolving door of batting coaches. The Dodgers are working on their eighth batting guru in eight years (Rick Down, Jack Clark, George Hendrick, Tim Wallach, Eddie Murray, Bill Mueller, Don Mattingly and now Mike Easler), and as the team continues to scuffle at the plate, it’s fair to wonder how long Easler will last.
But of course, the Dodgers – still very much in the race — aren’t being dragged down by their bats the way Seattle seems to have been.
Consider the wake of damage that fantasy owners have felt all too painfully:
- The real problem is the starters who are swinging wet noodles. Richie Sexson’s career continues to spiral downward to the point where he is an all-but-useless fantasy commodity. In his heyday, he would draw close to triple digits in walks. This season, Sexson has managed just 20 free passes in over 200 plate appearances. Of course, with his plummeting power, there’s no real reason to pitch around him, is there?
- Top prospect Jeff Clement, promoted from Triple-A to provide a spark, was a total flop and had to be optioned back down last month. The astronomical number of strikeouts would have been much easier to swallow had he showed any of the power he purportedly possesses.
- Adrian Belte’s power seemed to have returned the past two seasons after an awful start to his Mariner career, but it’s fallen off the table again. The fact that his stolen base total has slipped a bit as well is also hurting Beltre’s fantasy value. He got off to an excellent start, but since the end of April, Beltre has gone from bad to worse – a perfect microcosm of the Mariner season.
- Last year, Kenji Johjima wasn’t quite able to duplicate his excellent 2006 “rookie” season, but was still solid. This year, however, he’s been rancid, and his extra-base pop has completely dried up, forcing fantasy owners to bail on him right, left and centre.
- The Brad Wilkerson signing was a complete waste, and he was gone before the end of the season’s opening month. Now he’s toiling with an offense in Toronto that’s seemingly even more desperate than Seattle’s.
- Since peaking in 2006, Raul Ibanez has been in decline mode, and is no longer a must-own fantasy outfielder. In fairness, he’s been hot lately, but an awful May really hurt his owners.
- Yuniesky Betancourt started the season extremely well, but he’s obviously been drinking out of the same water cooler as the rest of his teammates lately as his season has gone south very quickly. He’s a fringe fantasy option now.
- Ichiro Suzuki is grossly underperforming, but at least he’s headed in the right direction lately. I wouldn’t worry about him given that track record. In fact, I’d say he’s a great buy-low candidate.
- Willie Bloomquist, never a real source of offense, but coming off a career year as a super sub, is still seeking his first extra-base hit of the year. Not exactly supplying much punch off the bench, is he?
- The Mariners promoted another hotshot prospect in Wladimir Balentien, and while expecting a Ryan Braun-type of impact would have been a stretch, the fact is that Balentien doesn’t look ready to offer any help at this point.
- Even something as minor as the collapse of Jamie Burke, who enjoyed a big year as the Mariner back-up catcher in 2007, is hurting. Back-up catchers aren’t expected to contribute offensively, but his .205 BA this year after batting over .300 in 2007 is a massive disappointment.
- Jose Vidro, acquired before last season in a deal that was ridiculed, actually had a decent 2007. This year, however, he’s fallen off the table, and looks just about done. The fact that the Mariners keep penciling him in as the “designated hitter” virtually every day speaks volumes about their lack of offensive depth. Why anyone still owns Vidro in a fantasy league is a mystery beyond my powers of deduction.
- Okay, Seattle only invested $850,000 in Miguel Cairo, a seemingly decent gamble after he supplied some respectable numbers off the Yankee and Cardinal benches last season. However, this is another player who is now a marginal major leaguer. The fact that’s he’s seeing as much action as he has is another indictment of the team’s lack of depth. Cairo should have been DFAed by now.
- Michael Morse, expected to play a key role off the Mariner bench, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in April, further diminishing the team’s reserves.
To be fair, we should talk about the few things that have gone right for the Mariners hitters, a decidedly shorter list:
- Jeremy Reed is back in the majors and is actually playing pretty well — good enough to earn a couple of starts per week. I wouldn’t pick him up or anything, but considering how great a prospect he once was, this bears watching.
- Jose Lopez is enjoying the finest season of his career and he’s really improved his power numbers after an extremely disappointing 2007. He’s almost a must-own fantasy second baseman at this point, especially considering how hot he’s been recently.