The 2013 Seattle Mariners had a very glaring weakness offensively. I suppose that could wrap up the article right there if I just included a cleverly placed colon, but my point is going to go a little deeper here. The most glaring weakness that the M's had in 2013 was their inability to do anything against left-handed pitching. The club posted an MLB-low .657 OPS versus left-handed pitching and their right-handed batters also combined to hit an MLB-low with a .615 OPS.
The club may have been able to see a better overall outcome on their season statistics and their season record if the following complicating inconveniences weren't also true: the lefty-heavy Seattle lineup had the most plate appearances in baseball against left-handers and the fewest against right-handers. In fact, 62.0% of Seattle's overall plate appearances on the season were taken by hitters hitting left-handed. And as we head to 2014, some of the key contributors from the right side are either already gone or on their way out.
First, to finish off the lefty struggle aspect of all this, let's take a look at the culprits that led this team effort of ineptitude. Of all qualified players in both leagues, Justin Smoak had the 8th lowest OPS in baseball versus left-handed pitching at .548. Nick Franklin had the 16th lowest at .599. Raul Ibanez led the M's -- ranking 60th in MLB -- with an OPS of .802 against left-handed pitching. Kendrys Morales was next on the club -- 66th in MLB -- with a .794 OPS. Mike Morse -- who was traded to Baltimore in August -- and Jason Bay -- who was released in July -- were the next best by OPS for Seattle. The trusty Kyle Seager had just a .690 OPS against left-handers.
And now, word is that the club is prepared to go all in on free agent Jacoby Ellsbury -- a left-handed hitter. Ellsbury, while talented and unquestionably a potential upgrade of monstrous proportions for a team like the Mariners, sports the 18th lowest OPS against left-handed pitching since the start of the 2012 season at just .644. His addition could potentially exacerbate the clubs susceptibility to lefties. Getting back to the stats stated above, that 62.0% of total team plate appearances by left-handed hitters during the 2013 season was already the 5th highest percentage in MLB over the last 30 years. What would happen to that total if a left-handed hitting leadoff hitter were brought in and the club were to lose many of their top right-handed contributors (in terms of plate appearances, at least) from 2012 in Morse, Bay, Brendan Ryan and Franklin Gutierrez? That would leave young catcher Mike Zunino and possibly Jesus Montero (remember him?) as the only right-handed hitters that could figure prominently into the playing time picture for 2014.
Now, granted, less than 30% of the total plate appearances by MLB as a whole in 2013 were against left-handed pitching and no team has faced a left-handed starter more than 62 times during any of the last five seasons (Dodgers, 2012), and left-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers was the most favorable split in baseball in 2013, but the Mariners -- flush with left-handed hitting or switch-hitting young players strongest from the left side -- look to be in desperate need of making a move for an impact right-handed bat.
Without even factoring in the potential of Ellsbury, the Mariners figure to trot out Seager, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Michael Saunders -- all left-handed hitters -- as well as switch-hitters Smoak and Franklin and potentially Abraham Almonte on a majority of games in 2014 if their roster stays close to the same over the winter.
Even though everyone has been saying it for several years now, the 2014 Mariners really ought to be better just because of the young players growing up a bit and other players performing closer to their career norms. But for the team to really take a step forward, they need an impact right-handed bat -- one that can balance out the lineup by mashing left-handed pitching. For all the hindsight jeers that the near-Justin Upton trade got during the summer this past season, Upton actually had the 5th best OPS (.944) and 6th best wOBA (.422) in baseball last year. A hitter with that type of presence against left-handed pitching could help make a very big difference for the Mariners in 2014.
There are some potential partial answers on the free agent market that we will dive into here at SeattleClubhouse when free agency is upon us, but if Zduriencik and company want to get a true impact right-handed bat, it may have to come in the form of a trade. The lame duck GM trying to fill a glaring hole via trade always scares everyone, but this Seattle club may simply not have many options.
Regardless of how it happens, who the free agent(s) is or who the players are that have to be moved to get a big right-handed bat to combat the lefty-heavy makeup of this team, the Mariners can't head into 2014 doing nothing and simply accepting that they are going to be Left Out.
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