The 2012 Seattle Mariners were not a good hitting team, but they scored more runs than the previous season for the second year in a row. After scoring just 513 runs in 2010, the Mariners put 619 on the board this past year, and they did it with their youngest lineup since 1989.
The average age of the hitters was 27.1, which is pretty close to the 27.4 average age of the '94 hitters. I'm not saying that this team is that team though, not even close. The 1994 team had Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, and Tino Martinez. (And of course, Felix Fermin and Luis Sojo because they spit hot fire.)
This team could possibly have a Buhner. It could maybe have a Tino. Not exactly probable, but possible. What it does not have is a Ken Griffey Jr. Not that there's anything wrong with that, there's a reason he was the player of the decade, but we can't be fooled into believing that any of these guys will turn into generational players. Griffey hit 40 HR in 111 games in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
He was 24.
But there's certainly encouragement when you look around the M's clubhouse, especially when you look at the lineup relative to where it was a few years ago. There's hope on the horizon, a light at the end of the tunnel, a donut beyond a sea of beets.
I like to look at hot streaks and cold streaks. It's a favorite hobby of mine, even though you have to remember that baseball is a long game that requires a lot of patience, and it's always better to have more data than less data. We've seen many hitters go through stretches of two weeks.... two months... two years of being something that was immensely different than the type of hitter they were from the rest of the time. That's why they call them hot and cold streaks.
Yet, I love them anyway. It gives perspective to how a season, or how a career, was built on these streaks. Today I am looking at two hitters and checking out the best and worst of their 2012 season, so we can have a bit of perspective on what made the final numbers what they were and then I'll examine what the future may bring.
Hopefully, something better than the last decade.
The Best: Sep. 3 - Oct. 3, 27 G, 120 PA, .307/.342/.518, 5 HR, 9 2B, 21 K/4 BB, 2 SB, .341 BABIP
The Worst: Jun 12 - Sep 2, 73 G, 306 PA, .229/.295/.338, 7 HR, 9 2B, 51 K/23 BB, 6 SB, 4 CS, .255 BABIP
It's hard to say it, but perhaps the team's offensive MVP posted an OBP under .300 for nearly half of a season. Seager finished the year hitting .259/.316/.423, but a strong finish and a strong start tent-poled a rather underwhelming "everything in between." An interesting comparison that I had heard in the past was former Red Sox and Giants third baseman Bill Mueller, an underwhelming hitter that lasted for eleven seasons with four different teams and won a batting title in 2003. However, Mueller had a strong defensive reputation and walked in 11.1% of his career plate appearances.
Seager walked in just 7.1% of his appearances this year but his first full season as a third baseman went fine, defensively. He led the team with 20 home runs and 35 doubles, so he doesn't look like much of a "young Mueller" as of now. Where does he go from here?
Player comparison: Former Padres third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff hit .275/.329/.457 as a rookie with 18 HR, 30 2B, and walking in 6% of his plate appearances with 17.6% strikeouts. There are similarities in production there. Kouz was a slightly-above average player for four seasons until falling off and now hitting in the Royals minor league system.
The Best: Apr 18 - Jun 13, 50 G, 199 PA, .298/.367/.494, 6 HR, 15 2B, 49 K/20 BB, 8 SB, 3 CS, .379 BABIP
The Worst: June 14 - Aug 17, 49 G, 195 PA, .187/.216/.283, 3 HR, 9 2B, 47 K/7 BB, 6 SB, 0 CS, .234 BABIP
Saunders was very hot and cold this season, case in point above. During his "breakout" year, Saunders had a 50 game stretch of being a very good hitter and then immediately followed with a 49 game stretch of being a terrible one. As much goodwill he did from late April to mid-June, he did that much damage in the following two months.
He finished the year as the third most valuable hitter on the team, according to Fangraphs, but his 2.3 WAR would be only a touch above average. As a hitter with power and speed, Saunders could still fit into most lineups but you would like to see him be more consistent rather than spending a full two months in the dumps. Overall he struck out in 23.9% of his plate appearances, a number that's fit for someone who walks more or hits for more power or both.
However, Saunders finished the year on another tear: .280/.364/.607 with 9 HR in his last 29 games. Production anything close to that would be spectacular to see next season.
Player Comparison: Mike Cameron shows up as a familiar name on Saunders similarity score, but you must note that this is only for hitting. As a hitter, Cameron was decent and he finished his career at .249/.338/.444 with 278 home runs. However, Cameron is a borderline Hall of Famer because he's one of the best defensive centerfielders of the modern era.
When he was 24, Cammy hit .259/.356/.433 with 14 HR and 23 SB with the Chicago White Sox, 105 strikeouts and 55 walks. Saunders is 25 and just hit .247/.306/.432 with 19 HR and 20 SB,132 strikeouts and 43 walks. It's important to note the different hitting environments and eras that the two played in, but Cammy was off to a much better start as a hitter even without his amazing defense.
As a left-handed hitter, Safeco isn't supposed to suppress Saunders like it effects righties, but he still had an OPS of .675 at home and .793 on the road. Hopefully he can build off of his strong finish to 2012 and enjoy the new dimensions at Safeco as much as a lefty possibly can. If he does, we might actually have our centerfielder of the future, even if he's no Mike Cameron.