Gloves of gold or lead?
Everybody likes to talk hitting and pitching in the preseason, overshadowing one of the most important components of a championship caliber team. As the title gives away, that’s defense.
For a team like Seattle, defense is imperative. The team enters 2013 with an improved lineup, but pitching remains the biggest competitive advantage; meaning it needs a good defense.
The best of defense can make a measly rotation look like the 1998 Atlanta Braves. But with enough gloves of lead, they’ll look like the 1996 Detroit Tigers.
Here’s our preview of the 2013 Seattle Mariner’s defensive lineup.
C: Jesus Montero
Despite the promising bat, Montero plays horrid defense. The 23-year-old caught a whopping 17 percent of base runners last year. He allowed 59 steals, while catching just 11 runners. It’s hard to get much worse than that, and in fact 73 other players sported better numbers in 2012.
According to ESPN, Montero had a catcher’s ERA of 3.82 last season. Not too shabby, but more a product of Seattle’s staff than Montero’s skill as a game caller. Not to mention, John Jaso’s cERA was 3.45.
Seattle seems committed to Montero at catcher in 2013, and with a plenty of bodies clogging up DH, it’s likely he sees more action there than in 2012. Here’s hoping he’s made some big strides in the offseason…
1B: Justin Smoak
For the time being, it looks like Smoak will be the Mariner’s opening day first baseman. Defensively, that’s okay.
Smoak has been more or less average at firstbase in his career. He sports a .994 fielding percentage, and a career UZR of 2.5. He hasn’t been a liability, but he won’t be winning any gold gloves any time soon.
And at the game’s least important defensive position, being average is pretty good.
2B: Dustin Ackley
While Ackley has been a disappointment offensively, he’s been solid defensively.
Ackley was once expected to play outfield long-term, but he’s made the transition to second stick. He sported a 6.7 UZR at second last season, and has been worth 21 saved runs in his career.
With speed, good range, soft hands and a smooth transition, Ackley has more than proved his value in the infield.
SS: Brendan Ryan
The only reason Ryan remains on this team is that he’s Seattle’s crown jewel of defense.
Ryan’s quick instincts and smooth fielding helped him post the team’s second best UZR last season at 14.7—the only player with a higher number was the now departed Ichiro Suzuki. He also led the team in defensive runs saved with 27, 14 more than second place.
His bat may stink, but there’s no doubt about the value of his glove. It’s a travesty that he’s yet to win a gold glove in his career.
3B: Kyle Seager
Overall, Seager was slightly above average on defense in 2012. He posted a combined UZR of 2.2.
But, a big reason for that is that Seager had a 4.1 UZR at secondbase—a position he only played 140.2 innings at, and normally occupied by Dustin Ackley. At third, Seager was underwhelming with a negative UZR and minus seven defensive runs saved.
The third baseman may have enjoyed a breakout season with the bat last year, but his defense remains shaky.
RF: Michael Saunders
A lot was made of Saunders’ defense last season, and even though the fleet-footed 26-year-old made some dazzling catches his glove was overrated.
Splitting time at all three outfield positions last season, Saunders posted a combined UZR of minus 8.2 and a fielding percentage of .988. He struggled the most in center, costing the team minus 13 runs saved.
Saunders has a lot of speed, and a very good first step, so he can cover ground quickly. But his instincts are still developing, causing him to be out of position and make bad reads.
He’ll most likely be playing in right this year, which isn’t exactly an upgrade for Seattle. He’ll hopefully be less of a defensive liability, but Saunders lacks the big, accurate, are you hope from a rightfielder.
CF: Franklin Gutierrez
Outside of Brendan Ryan, there’s no better glove on the Mariner’s roster than that of Gutierrez.
The speedy outfielder has made a career off his stellar defense, and won a gold glove in 2010. Guti is one of those guys who plays his position so well that he’s almost boring to watch at times—though he still makes the occasional spectacular catch.
Despite a consistent career, Gutierrez actually had a lackluster 2012 defensively. That could easily be contributed to his injury issues, and as long as he’s healthy expect a return to normalcy in 2013.
LF: Michael Morse
Morse has split the majority of his career between first and leftfield. As long as Justin Smoak is still a regular, Morse will be spending his days in left.
Slow and clunky, Morse is worth as much as most other power hitters defensively—which equated to minus four runs saved in 2012. The only nice thing is that his ability to play both corners and first adds some versatility to the lineup.
Needless to say, the Mariners acquired Morse for one reason: his bat. When it comes to defense, there’s not much here.
All-in-all, the Mariner’s will keep the diamond well protected this season. The middle infield is one of the best in the league defensively, with the vacuum-esque Brendan Ryan anchoring things up the middle.
The outfield could definitely use some upgrades, but a healthy Franklin Gutierrez helps a lot.
The subtraction of Ichiro Suzuki will hurt this team’s defense compared to years past, but overall it’s a solid group that will provide plenty of support to the pitching staff in 2013.
Defensive metrics provided by FanGraphs