TDG’s Double Play: Seattle Mariners!
Your senior dynasty analysts enter the second season of the Triple Play! The regular feature breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Marco Gonzales, Age 27, SP
Analysis by Bob Osgood
Marco Gonzales was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals out of Gonzaga University in June of 2013 and found himself making his first major league start only 12 months later. 2014 was a whirlwind season for Gonzales who opened in High-A, plowed through Double-A and Triple-A, and finally threw 35 decent innings during the regular season with the major league Cardinals. From there, he was immediately thrown into the fire in the playoffs, making six appearances in relief with a 2-1 record and a 4.50 ERA. He had a disappointing 2015 due to a shoulder injury, and then, as is the case with just about every starting pitcher backstory, Gonzales fell victim to Tommy John surgery in 2016. Having finally made his return to the mound for an appearance in June of 2017, Gonzales was traded a month later to Seattle for minor-league outfielder Tyler O’Neill.
Slow and Steady:
Gonzales has now thrown two full healthy seasons, and more than anything is a reliable every fifth-day starter. He followed up a 13-9, 4.00 ERA campaign in 2018, with a 16-13, 3.99 ERA 2019. In 20 of his tied-for-league-leading 34 starts in 2019, Gonzales went 6 innings or more, with 13 starts of 7 innings or more. He finished 12th in innings pitched with 203, one of only 15 pitchers to reach the 200 inning plateau in 2019. The problem is that he tends to have unexpected and unpredictable blow-up outings. In Roto leagues, Gonzales is the type of pitcher that you need to set in your active roster as your SP6, and forget it for the rest of the season. Thus far, he hasn’t killed your ratios, and it’s one less spot you need to stream from week-to-week.
With all of those innings and a reasonable ERA, the strikeouts are disappointing, however. Averaging 89.3 mph with his fastball, Gonzales struck out 6.6 batters per 9 in 2019, a rate that only surpassed Mike Fiers (6.1), Mike Leake (5.8), Ivan Nova (5.5), and Brett Anderson (4.6), out of 61 qualified starters. Gonzales’s 22 double plays ranked second to the aforementioned Nova in the American League, helping to mitigate some of those baserunners. When all was said and done, despite a low strikeout rate, Gonzales finished the season as the 59th pitcher on the Razzball Player Rater, just ahead of Matt Boyd and Dakota Hudson, which makes sense, but just behind Chris Sale, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Going forward, while someone that the Mariners will likely consider a continued Opening Day starter during the rebuild and perhaps a Rick Porcello type of SP2/SP3 down the line, there were some concerning trends in 2019 for Gonzales. His Ground Ball % went down (45% to 40%), while the Fly Ball % ballooned (30% up to 38%). The walks went up (1.73/9 to 2.48/9) and the strikeouts went down (7.8/9 to 6.3/9). Only an MLB-low 9.3% HR/FB rate kept the ERA in check, shown further by an xFIP of 5.11. Entering his age-28 season, if a few more balls leave the yard next year as expected, Gonzales may be pitching on an under-.500 team and unlikely to win 16 more games. Throw in the low K-rate, we could see a pitcher who has very little fantasy value, and I would look to sell this offseason.
Mitch Haniger, Age 28, OF
Analysis by Jonathan Merkel
Life’s a Mitch
It has been a rough year for Mitch Haniger. The outfielder won over baseball fans and fantasy owners alike after an impressive 2018 campaign and was drafted within the top 100 picks entering 2019 as the 26th outfielder selected. That’s when things got ugly.
Haniger struggled with both a rise in strikeouts and a spate of unfortunate batted ball luck in the spring. He entered June hitting .230 with a .320 on-base percentage. Of course, his batted ball luck completely bottomed out on June 7th when he fouled a ball off his gonads and ruptured a testicle.
Mariners release says Mitch Haniger’s injury occurred in the sixth inning but I think it happened here in the third inning. pic.twitter.com/FfO4n7CS0E— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) June 7, 2019
Since that day, there’s only been more bad news for Mitch. His post-surgery rehab stint and planned August return were derailed by back and core issues. The Mariners put him on the shelf only to eventually shut him down for good. So where does Haniger go from here, and what should fantasy owners do with him in 2020?
With all this negativity in mind, let’s not forget that Haniger proved to be a true draft steal in 2018. He broke out for 26 HR, 90 R, 93 RBI and 8 SB while providing a bankable .285 AVG and .366 OBP. He backed it up by finishing 14th amongst qualified hitters in wRC+ and Offensive WAR, and 24th among the same field in wOBA. Haniger, it appeared, had made the leap.
Entering 2019 the only thing not to like about Haniger was that he played for the Seattle Mariners and manned the outfield, which is probably the deepest position in fantasy baseball. Regardless of team, position, recent injuries, and a ripe 28 years of age, I still think there’s value lurking in Haniger for both re-draft and dynasty leagues.
What’s freshest in everyone’s mind is that Haniger both underperformed and was chronically injured in 2019. That’s the sort of juju which causes people to overreact on draft day and in trade scenarios. But his 2019 might not have been as bad as you’d recall.
You can see that while his strikeouts increased, his walks and isolated power remained consistent with what we saw in ‘18. That’s good. He also hit for more power. That’s even better. And as previously mentioned, Haniger suffered terrible batted ball luck which dragged down his ratios. Encouragingly, however, we can see that his bad luck wasn’t a result of a dreaded spike in grounders. If anything, Mitch was getting the ball in the air more often.
In the biggest year ever for the juiced ball, it’s easy to wonder how many more homers this Mariner would have hit had he been healthy for all of June, July, August and September. He had 15 in 246 at-bats at the time he was injured.
When Haniger does return in 2020, he’ll remain one of Seattle’s best hitters, and he’ll be anchored in the middle of the lineup. That’s a great profile for any late-round pick. And with Seattle’s promotion of exciting youngsters like Kyle Lewis and Shed Long, there looks to be more substance and spark to the 2020 Mariners than there was on the 2019 iteration. The improved supporting cast could bode well for Haniger’s value.
Mitch Haniger does remind me a bit of Jameson Taillon. These two have injury histories that read like they were written by Rod Serling. Not everyone’s luck can be good, but Taillon and Haniger stand out in my mind as players who have suffered more than most. Both have flashed brilliance whenever they are on the diamond, but staying on the turf seems to be an issue.
If you’re willing to stomach some risk, I think Haniger will offer three to four more years of very solid outfield production. Draft him as your third or fourth outfielder, but don’t be surprised if he’s a leader on your team by the end of 2020. He’s that good when healthy.
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