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The Seattle Mariners Right Field Platoon: Both Productive and Economical

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Photo Credit: Wikimedia CC.

Just before the New Year, the Seattle Mariners acquired outfielder Seth Smith from the San Diego Padres for relief pitcher Brandon Mauer. The left handed hitting Smith will, more than likely, share a right field platoon with the right handed hitting Justin Ruggiano, who was also recently acquired from the Chicago Cubs.

While fans often don’t think of platoon signings as being as sexy as a big name, big contract, free agent signing or as impactful as a headline making trade, by adding Smith and Ruggiano, the Mariners have quietly assembled a much improved right field over 2014.

In 2014, the Mariners as a team were 27th in on base percentage with an even .300. For every day players who played over 100 games each had sub .300 OBP. 

Smith, who has a lifetime .347 OBP, would have had the second highest OBP for the Mariners last year at .367, behind Robinson Cano at .382.

Surprisingly, even with one of the worst OBP in the majors for 2014, the Mariners managed to place 18th in runs, still the lower half but actually better than would be expected with so few runners on the base paths. Since runs are a product of so many different factors - taking walks, good base running, and timely hitting, as well as power - the statistic of weighted runs created plus (wRC+) is a good way of looking at a player’s contribution to getting himself or his team mates to cross home plate.

With 100 for wRC+ being the league average, it should be alarming that the Mariners had only two players with at least 400 PA in 2014 to record a wRC+ over 100 - Robinson Cano with 136 and Kyle Seager with 126. Even if we include Logan Morrison with his 365 PA and 110 wRC+, it’s clearly evident that the 2014 version of the Mariners was sorely lacking in run creators.  

Smith has a lifetime wRC+ of 112 and would have been second on the Mariners last year, as he put up a 133 wRC+ in 521 PA for the Padres last year, all for a club friendly $6.5 million per year.

The numbers get even more impressive when you look at the leftie / rightie splits. 

Smith’s career numbers against right handed pitching are .277/.358/.481, with a 123 wRC+. 

If we look at Justin Ruggiano’s numbers against left handed pitching, we find a lifetime line of .266/.329/.508,with a wRC+ of 128.

Put together, the Mariners have a RF that should have an .800 OPS and a wRC+ in the mid to high 120s. So who are some OF comps to an .800 OPS and a wRC+ in the 120’s?

Well, let’s start off by establishing that in 2014 there were only 19 OF, with 100 or more games played, who recorded a wRC+ of 130 or higher. These are the Mike Trouts and Giancarlo Stantons of the world.

With a 125 wRC+ in 139 games last year, we find Melky Cabrera who was rumored to be of interest to the Mariners and has since signed a three-year $43.5 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. 

Smith is signed for two years and $13 million, while Ruggiano is arbitration eligible this year and does not reach free agency until 2017. Quite a bargain, especially when you look at Cabrera’s 115 wRC+ projection for 2015 or his lifetime 101 wRC+.  

Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals, Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants, and Chris Coughlan of the Chicago Cubs are some other names in the 100 or more games played, mid 120 wRC+ outfield club from 2014.

For a free agent market that was / is lacking in quality hitting, the Mariners have rather creatively manufactured a significant upgrade in right field for the 2015 season. Coupled with the addition of Nelson Cruz, the 2015 version of the Seattle Mariners should be better offensively than the team that won 87 and missed the playoffs by a single game in 2014. 

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


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