For the next several weeks, Emerald City Swagger will review the 2018 Seattle Mariners piece by piece. We start with the position players, then move on to the pitchers. Today is M’s veteran catcher, Mike Zunino.
The foundation of every good team is their catcher. In theory, he controls the game from behind the plate. Good catchers call pitches (when the manager allows them to), help align the defense, are key in dictating the pace of the game, and should know the opposing hitters, as well as, they know themselves.
Depending on how you look at it, Mike Zunino‘s six-year career can be looked at as either a failure or a success. He’s only hit .207 in the major leagues, with an awful .276 on-base percentage (OBP) and has struck out 130 or more times in four seasons. On the positive side, Zunino has 95 career home runs and is a fantastic defensive catcher.
Since forever, Major League managers have faced a struggle of how much defense can they sacrifice in order to add more offense. In M’s manager Scott Servais‘ case, he had to do the opposite with his catcher. How much offense does he have to give up, by keeping defensive ace Zunino in the lineup?
In 2017, it was easy to keep Mike Zunino in the lineup every day. He had a career year at the plate. The backstop hit .251 (.044 over his career average), with 25 home runs, and 64 runs batted in (RBI). The former third overall draft choice in 2012, seemed to have finally put it all together.
Poor year hitting
More from Seattle Mariners
- Seattle Mariners trade James Paxton. Deja vu or re-imagining?
- Seattle Mariners: November mailbag – Face of the franchise and more
- Seattle Mariners: Zunino part of 5 player swap. What it means for the M’s.
- Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger, and Edgar Martinez headed to Japan
- Seattle Mariners: Trading for Joc Pederson from L.A. – 3 scenarios
Unfortunately, Zuzino couldn’t carry his offensive uptick into 2018. All season long he flirted with the Mendoza line before finishing the season with a .201 batting average and 20 homers. Worse was his .259 OBP. Major league hitters should be able to get on base more than approximately once every four times. Even so, the ex-Florida Gator had a flair for the dramatic at the plate this year.
Let’s start with his May 26, 12th inning, walk-off against Minnesota. Nick Vincent and James Pazos couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the eighth and the Twins tied the score 3-3. The game went into extra innings, but Zunino sent the crowd home happy, taking Matt McGill deep to win.
How about his moon shot against Kansas City on June 29. The M’s were holding a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Zunino launched a 454-foot longball that landed in the upper deck just below and left of the Safeco Field sign.
Behind the plate, Mike Zunino has few equals among his peers. He is one of the best defensive catchers in the majors. The numbers speak for themselves. Among catchers this year Zunino was:
- Fifth in A.L., runners caught stealing – 34.6%
- Third in A.L., fielding percentage – .998
- Third in A.L., total zone runs – 4
What Zunino does best is call a good game. He has a good feel of what his pitchers can do, as well as opposing hitter’s tendencies. That isn’t to say that he calls every pitch. In this day and age, a good part of pitch calling comes from the dugout, but when he does, Zunino has a handle on it and is effective.
Looking at the overall picture, it’s easy to see why Servais might have an internal debate about whether or not to play Zunino. His defense is superior and if the 2017 version showed up at the plate its a no-brainer.
The better question is why did Servais put a .200 hitter in the six-hole so often?