Is the Youth Movement Finally Paying Dividends?

Apr 15, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak (17) (right) is greeted at home plate by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Jesus Montero (63) (left) after hitting a solo home run against the Oakland Athletics in the 3rd inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

The Seattle Mariners rebuilding mode finally seems like it is paying off some dividends after a decade of no clear direction. Now one-fifth the way through the season, lets see how some of the key pieces are paying off.

Baseball is a grand sport because you can take a bevy of statistics and then overload yourself and read too much into them. Take people talking about sample sizes. Josh Hamilton just hit his 9th (!!!) homer of the week bringing him to 18 for the season (!!!). It is only a shade over 20% of the way through the season, so for easy math, we can read too much into it and think that will bring Hamilton to the total of 90 home runs for the year. Preposterous? Yes. Albert Pujols only has one home run this season (!!!), so does it mean that he will only hit five for the year? Also preposterous.

But statistics do glean some useful information, especially about the Mariners, because luckily if anything these 2012 Seattle Mariners have been bastions of stability - whether that stability has been on the good end of the Mendoza line or the bad end differs per player. But the fact of the matter is that in April you can't read too much into stats. With various players, like Albert Pujols, you assume you can't read too much into it in May either. But the Seattle Mariners baseball season is 34 games in as of this word being typed right now, a shade over 20% of the season through, and we can definitely analyze what we have right now.

For starters, the one thing that has been one of the most pleasant surprises is the emergence of Kyle Seager as a dependable option in the infield. Seager is currently hitting a .296/.315/.500 which places him second in the team in OPS at .815 (at first is John Jaso who also only has 48 plate appearances). If Seager were to keep on hitting the way he is hitting all year he would finish with almost 20 home runs and 100 RBIs. The last Mariner to hit 100 RBIs in a season was Raul Ibanez all the way in 2008. Last year the New York Yankees had three separate players hit over 100 RBIs in the season. Is it fair to say that Seager can still hit this number? The RBIs are a possibility, as long as the Mariners in front of him still continue to get on base. As far as 20 home runs go, that is why it isn't a good idea just to multiply stats by five and assume you have 2012 season's total there. Kyle Seager's highest home run total through the minor leagues was in 2010 when he hit 14. Last year, through the various levels he hit a total of 10. Right now, Seager is clubbing the ball with a raw power about .050 points above his lifetime ISO. Seager's lifetime ISO is .152, average for the league. In 2012, his ISO is .204 (right behind Miguel Cabrera), quite above average for the league.

Then take Jesus Montero - one of the key cogs in this whole youth movement experience. Montero is hitting a .267/.281/.440 line and his statistics through his minor league career would suggest that everything there should rise a bit. Montero has a walk rate of 2.5% this year, compared to 10.1% in his major league with the Yankees last year. Montero's BABIP this year is sitting at .292 against his career (including the minors) of .326. A big part of this decline is that only 18.1% of Montero's balls in play are line drives, opposed to 47.9% that are ground balls. Montero just can't leg out those infield singles. He is sitting at five home runs right now, and it would be fair to expect (perhaps not this year, but in future years) for Montero to club thirty dingers. His isolated power average of .172 is below his career average of .203.

As for players who should seemingly be doing better, Dustin Ackley is the prime candidate for a lot of bad luck - and hence another reason why statistics can help predict but shouldn't be increasingly relied on to continue. Ackley has a very middling .248/.315/.361 line, with two home runs, ten RBIs, and 17 runs scored. Ackley's BABIP is down this year at .290 compared to last year at .339. He is hitting more ground balls than he did last year, but his line drive rate - although down - is largely consistent with last year. This either means that: 1) Ackley is seeing the ball well and the balls just aren't dropping; or 2) pitchers have figured out Ackley and he needs to adjust. The inclination to lean towards option one holds more weight because it is not only a more positive view, but also Ackley demonstrated throughout college and through every portion of the minor leagues that he is more than a competent hitter.

Of course, what would be a look at the youth movement without looking at Justin Smoak - who by all accounts is having a very disappointing season so far, hitting a measly .195/.246/.280. A lot of anaylsts were quick to place the struggles of Smoak last year on the death of his father, the thumb injury, youth, etc. For his sophomore Mariners season, Smoak is doing everything he did last year but worse. Smoak is hitting just as many fly balls as he did last year, and is actually cut down on his ground ball rate quite a bit while increasing his line drive rate to nearly 20%. This fact just really seems to speak that Smoak is the victim of balls not carrying as far as they should or not dropping as quick as they should. Either way, it would lead that Smoak's average should increase a little bit, but whether or not that little bit places him at hitting .225 or .250 remains to be seen. For Smoak, he will have to figure it out as the team is clear on its intent to make him the first baseman of the immediate future.

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