SEATTLE — Some dramatics Sunday by Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura helped the Mariners close out the first week of Robinson Cano’s 80-game drug suspension with four victories in six games.
Haniger now occupies Cano’s slot as the lineup’s No. 3 hitter, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to be a potent run-producing bat wherever positioned. Haniger leads the club with 12 homers and 36 RBIs.
That doesn’t mean he actually compensates for Cano’s absence.
For now, the Mariners are replacing Cano pretty much by shifting Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia from part-time to full-time duty while general manager Jerry Dipoto searches to acquire additional lineup muscle.
(If Dipoto can pull that off — add anything approaching Cano-like production while lacking a significant trade-chip prospect in the upper minors and do so without significantly weakening another area — he should be the GM of the year.)
It’s more likely the Mariners must be better in other areas.
Yes it would help if their rotation’s recent surge isn’t a mirage (a 3.24 ERA over the last 20 games) and if their veteran setup relievers begin pitching consistently to expectations (after blowing five saves in the last 18 games).
On offense, without Cano, their best hope is to make better use of their opportunities.
Let’s crunch a few numbers.
The Mariners’.263 average through Sunday with runners in scoring position ranks sixth among the 30 clubs and roughly mirrors last year when they ranked sixth at .273.
Now let’s look at baserunning.
Recall that the Mariners were terrible early last season on the bases, which prompted team-wide video review sessions in an effort to generate peer pressure to increase awareness.
That helped a little. The Mariners got marginally better on the bases over the closing weeks, but manager Scott Servais still vowed to make better baserunning a cornerstone goal this year in spring training.
Results so far are encouraging. Not good, particularly. But better.
The Mariners have a BsR rating of minus-0.7 runs on the bases, which ranks 19th. They finished last season at minus-12.6 runs, which ranked 27th.
There is no perfect analytic metric to measure baserunning, but the best might be baserunning runs above average (BsR), which seeks to calculate the number of runs above or below average a player has been worth on the bases.
BsR is based on stolen bases, caught stealing, extra bases taken, outs on the bases, and avoiding double plays. It is readily available on www.FanGraphs.com, which is an amazing and addictive site.
For comparison purposes, Detroit (through Sunday) had the best BsR at plus-5.3 runs a game, which represents an amazing turnaround. The Tigers were dead last a year ago at minus-19.8.
So clubs can get better, significantly better, in just one year.
Oakland currently has the worst BsR at a staggering minus-11.0 runs through 47 games. The Mariners open a three-game series Tuesday at Oakland.
A look at the Mariners’ individual ratings also reveals general improvement.
PLAYER 2017 2018
Nelson Cruz -3.9 -0.6
Robinson Cano -3.0 -0.2
Mitch Haniger -2.5 +0.1
Mike Zunino -1.7 -0.3
Guillermo Heredia -1.3 -0.1
Kyle Seager -0.9 -0.7
Jean Segura -0.5 +1.4
Ben Gamel +3.4 -1.1
Since-departed Jarrod Dyson led the Mariners last year at plus-5.6, while Gamel was second at plus-3.4. No other player was better than plus-0.8.
Several key players last year were deep in the red, led by since-departed Danny Valencia at minus-5.9, but Cruz, Cano and Haniger also posted dreadful marks. The latter three have each improvement significantly.
Zunino and Heredia also show major gains, but Seager is about the same, and Gamel shows a disappointing regression.
Dee Gordon is the club’s current leader at plus-2.6, which is no surprise since he posted a plus-9.3 last year at Miami. Ryon Healy’s minus-0.9 is better than his minus-1.8 last year at Oakland but still the second-worst mark on the club.
Bottom line: There remains a lot of room for improvement.