Mariners Position Primer: Outfield

Feb 27, 2016; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin (12) poses for a photo during media day at Peoria Sports Complex . Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin (12) poses for a photo during media day at Peoria Sports Complex . Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

The Mariners redid their outfield by bringing in guys that can cover ground. What effect will their re-commitment to outfield defense have on run prevention in 2016?

I think we can all agree that the Mariners season will hinge on how well they play defense. Now more than ever, with the additions of Leonys Martin and Nori Aoki to center field and left field, respectively, the Mariners will lean on the defensive contributions of the outfield to win games in spacious Safeco Field.

Before I go any farther, here are the prominent outfielders for the Mariners:

LF: Nori Aoki

CF: Leonys Martin

RF: Seth Smith

4th OF: Franklin Gutierrez

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Nelson Cruz can of course fill in for a corner outfielder on occasion, but we’d like to keep those Cruz-in-right-field games to a minimum.

This is a pretty light-hitting outfield. Aoki is known throughout the Majors as a guy who can get on base. Earlier in his MLB career, he contributed some run production by stealing bases, too, but those days appear to be behind the 34-year-old. After combining for 50 stolen bases in 70 attempts in his first two years in the Majors, Aoki has stolen a combined 31 bags in 44 attempts since.

New Mariners LF Nori Aoki
Aug 22, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Nori Aoki (23) at bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s no doubt he can handle the bat, hit situationally, draw walks, and essentially do everything that makes managers like the Mariners’ Scott Servais grin, but you wouldn’t want him on your fantasy team*. Baseball projects him to hit five home runs in 2016 and steal a dozen bases. I like Aoki’s game and I think he’s exactly what the Mariners needed at the top or bottom of their lineup, he’s just not going to produce a ton of counter stats.

Leonys Martin is projected to be the Mariners number nine hitter, which should tell you about his offensive skills. His career high on-base percentage was .325 in 2014. Career high in HRs: eight, in 2013. He had back-to-back 30-steal seasons for the Rangers in 2013 and 2014, however. In 2015, he struggled through an injury-marred season and only managed a miserable .219/.264/.313 slash and 14 steals on 19 attempts. While I doubt that Martin will be as terrible at the plate as he was last year, it’s certainly a possibility that he posts an OBP of less than .300.

Mariners RF Franklin Gutierrez
Just look at that smile. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

You know it’s a light-hitting outfield when Seth Smith comes in as the one with the highest offensive upside. Smith, who I would expect to share time in right field with Franklin Gutierrez**, had slightly lower ratios in 2015 than he did in his one year in San Diego in 2014. He still matched his power production in San Diego last year with 31 doubles and 12 home runs in 136 games. Since he played exactly the same amount of games last year as he did in 2014 with the Padres and, oddly enough, produced the exact same number of home runs and doubles, I would expect him to be right around a dozen home runs and 31 doubles again in 2016. He’s a solid bat to platoon in right, especially if Death to Flying Things continues his power surge from the right side of the plate next year.

This outfield was assembled for its defense and it could be a very good defensive outfield. Martin is widely regarded as an excellent center fielder, and it would appear the sabermetrics back up that assessment. His range factor is well above league average at 3.09 (league average is 2.68), and he saved 27 runs last year in center field. Martin also has an excellent arm from the outfield grass. He gunned down 13 baserunners in 2015 and committed one error all season. He’s a top-notch defender and he’ll play well running down fly balls in Safeco’s spacious outfield for Mariners pitchers all year.

Smith is pretty limited in right, but we all know that Gutierrez is excellent when healthy, even in a corner outfield position. Aoki has average range and while he doesn’t throw runners out much either (four assists in 2015), he has also committed eight errors in his Major League career. Six were in his first two years in the Majors. He’s no Ichiro but the guy simply doesn’t make mistakes.

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We’ll see the results of replacing Nelson Cruz adventures (cruises?) in right field with the Smith/Guti platoon in the box scores of 2016. Martin is one of the better defensive center fielders in the league, and Aoki at minimum assures that Servais won’t have to start both Cruz and Smith in the same outfield. If everything goes well, the revamped outfield will prevent many more runs than they did in 2015. I think it will.

*At least, I wouldn’t. But what do I know? I’m only the reigning league champion.

** Guti hit 15 home runs last year in only 59 games. He slugged .620. He could end up being the most offensively effective outfielder on the team.