Sunday, May 8, 2011

Who should hit third for the Seattle Mariners?

By Kshell

The Seattle Mariners are surprising everyone as of late with their recent winning ways. The Mariners before today's loss had won 8 out of 10 games to move within one game of .500 . The Mariners have been winning despite their two best hitters (Ichiro and Justin Smoak) hitting four spots away from each other. The Mariners are winning despite Milton Bradley(.215/.318/.366) hitting third and either Jack Cust(.200/.361/.242) or Miguel Olivo(.200/.236/.280) hitting cleanup. As you can clearly see none of these three guys should be hitting very high in the lineup. Now there is two options for the Mariners to have hit third. I will explore both options as one needs to happen soon for this offense to score more than two runs a game. The first guy I suggest who should hit third is a guy who fans have talked about in the past about batting third. He is also the Mariners best hitter for the last decade.

The Mariners don't the best group of hitters as we all know. When manager Eric Wedge fills out the lineup card he probably takes a shot or two as he knows his lineup is horrible. The Mariners have to figure out a way to get Ichio and Justin Smoak hitting by each other. If Wedge is afraid of messing with Smoak's hot hitting streak in the 5th hole why not move Ichiro to bat third? Back in 2002 Lou Piniella batted the reigning AL MVP third when his lineup had Edgar Martinez, Brett Boone, John Olerud and Mike Cameron. If Ichiro can hit third with those guys he can hit third in this lineup. Ichiro in his brief career hitting in the three hole is hitting .353/.411/.412 in 51 career at bats. I know that is extremely small sample size but plently of teams have had great contact hitters hit third in the past mainly Robert Alomar for the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. For the Mariners to score runs you want Ichiro coming up with guys on base as he is pretty good with runners in scoring position. For his career he is hitting .338/.441/.418 with runners in scoring position so if you have guys on base he will knock them in. Ichiro for his career is hitting .330/.375/.428 with 90 home runs and he has shown in the past he can hit for power if he wants to. Ichiro could do just fine in the three hole plus him hitting third could help one of his teammates hit better as well.

When the Mariners call up second base prospect Dustin Ackley whether it's this season or next season the Mariners will have Ackley in the #2 hole in the lineup. Ackley is perfect for the #2 hole and possibly someday way down the road he could hit third in the lineup like Chase Utley did for years for the Philadelphia Phillies. Well when Ackley eventually hits second that means Chone Figgins will be hitting ninth and will not be a happy camper. Well in my lineup the Mariners can salvage the Figgins contract as he hits better as a leadoff hitter than he does as a second hitter. Figgins as a leadoff hitter hits .289/.367/.380 while he hits just .273/.344/.346 as the second hitter in the lineup. A lineup that has Figgins leading off who tends to walk then follow up with two great contact hitters in Ackley and Ichiro leading into Smoak can actually produce some runs. This lineup will always have holes in the lineup but at least now you can see some runs scored for once. The problem with this scenario is that Ichiro would lose on average over 50 at bats in the season which would hurt his chances at getting 200 hits so no bobbleheads. As we all know bobbleheads are more important than winning games.

For those who have been fans of the Mariners for a long time we grew spoiled with our #3 hitters. We went from such greats like Ken Griffey Jr. who hit .290/.376/.588 with 530 career homeruns in the three hole. With Griffey Jr. the Mariners had an easy decision to make on who bats third in their lineup. Griffey Jr. from 1996-1999 averaged 52.3 homeruns while driving in 141.8 guys and scoring 123.3 runs per game. He set the standard as the three hole hitter. When Griffey Jr. left after 1999 the Mariners just replaced him with Alex Rodriguez in the three hole and all Rodriguez did was hit .316/.420/.606 with 41 home runs while driving in 132 guys and scoring 134 runs. When Rodriguez left after 2000 Edgar Martinez took over in the three hole much like he did when Griffey Jr. was hurt in 1995. Martinez for his career in the three hole hit .307/.428/.531 with 67 homeruns in 372 starts and 276 RBI's. When Martinez wasn't hitting third Brett Boone was hitting third and he did terrific as well hitting .283/.340/.491 with 67 home runs and 259 RBI's in 347 starts. Then once Boone and Martinez got old the Mariners have had problems finding that three hitter. Well the Mariners currently have another guy besides Ichiro who could hit well in the three hole.

I think the time has come where Wedge needs to move Smoak to be the three hole hitter. Smoak is a switch hitter who this year is actually hitting left handers. For the year Smoak is hitting .315/.413/.576 with five homeruns and 21 RBI's. His line looks pretty similar to the previous three hole hitters I brought up. Smoak is a highly touted prospect who is 24 years old so the time is now to bat him third and see if he can handle the pressure of batting third. In the offseason the Mariners need to sign a power hitter to cure their cleanup hitter problems but why not see if Smoak can handle batting third. He has the right pedigree as he is a patient hitter who is displaying power so far. This lineup needs a shakeup as Ichiro and Smoak are your only regulars who hit over .300 makes no sense to have them as far apart in the lineup as you possibly can have. We all know Ichiro will refuse to hit third as getting 200 hits is more important than winning. So I suggest giving Smoak a chance to hit third so he can actually knock Ichiro in and have a chance at more RBI's.

In conclusion this lineup is broken so Wedge needs to fix it. The Mariners have two obvious answers on the roster right now in either Ichiro or Justin Smoak. Just a matter of Wedge using those options or will he be like previous failed managers stick with a guy who can't turn it around. Past history suggest Milton Bradley isn't turning it around anytime soon neither will Miguel Olivo against right handers. Jack Cust strikes out way too much to be hitting that high so he isn't an option. I think Ichiro would be an interesting choice but going forward time to put Smoak in the three hole. So crazy that the franchise who had a great three hole hitter from 1993-2003 is even having this dicussion just shows how far downhill the Mariners have gone. The answer to your lineup problems is pretty easy Wedge time to put Smoak as your three hitter. Time to find out if Smoak can handle the three hole which will only help the franchise going forward. I just can't wait until the Mariners finally put winning over personal achievements that will be the day but for now I'll settle for Smoak hitting third.

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