The Seattle Mariners’ return to the playoffs in 2022 brought with it a number of impact performances, both in real life baseball and in fantasy baseball. From Julio Rodríguez’s quick ascent to stardom to George Kirby and Logan Gilbert’s breakout campaigns, there was plenty to write home about. And that’s all without mentioning Eugenio Suárez’s 30-home run season, Cal Raleigh hitting 27 home runs of his own, and four different Mariners logging double-digit stolen base totals.
In short, if you drafted a Seattle Mariner for your fantasy team in 2022, there’s a decent chance that it ended up paying notable dividends last season. There is similar, exciting upside this season with players like Rodriguez, Kirby, and Raleigh among others. Though with any team, there are a few players to potentially stay away from in drafts – or at the very least players who you should only consider if they fall considerably in drafts.
Here are the Mariners’ sleepers and busts for the 2023 season.
2022 Stats (65 IP): 2.49 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 96 K, 2 W, 4 SV
That the Mariners sometimes distribute their saves among multiple relievers is key for both of the first two players on this list, Andrés Muñoz and Penn Murfee – more on him in a bit. Munoz was one of, if not the breakout reliever of 2022, both in real-life baseball and fantasy baseball. The 23-year-old logged 65 innings for Seattle last year, posting a rather small 2.49 ERA and an even smaller 2.04 FIP.
The former Padre struck out 38.7% of the batters he faced with his dynamic slider and four-seamer pairing. That strikeout finished in the 99th (!) percentile league-wide. It was one of a handful of metrics by Munoz that finished in the 99th percentile league-wide. The others: xSLG, chase rate, whiff rate, and xBA. The reliever’s xwOBA and fastball didn’t finish in the 99th percentile. They finished in the 100th percentile.
In short, Andrés Muñoz was essentially a cheat code for the Mariners, and while he only logged only four saves this past season, he’s clearly established himself as Scott Seravis’ most trusted late-inning option. From August 2 through the end of the regular season, Munoz had twice as many high-leverage appearances as Paul Sewald, who paced the Mariners with 20 saves last season.
Of course, those high-leverage appearances don’t always mean consistent save chances, but the fact that Muñoz was so trusted down the stretch should lead to more saves in 2023, especially considering Sewald logged a 4.00 FIP and just eight saves (along with four holds) in his last 30 appearances during the 2022 campaign.
The fact that other pitchers might get saves could push Munoz slightly later into drafts certainly doesn’t hurt fantasy managers looking for relief options with later-round selections due to the reliever’s ability to both miss bats and limit base runners and runs scored.
2022 Stats (69.1 IP): 2.99 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 76 K, 4 W
And now we get to Murfee, who also enjoyed a strong first full season with the Mariners. The right-hander made 64 appearances for the American League West club, logging 69.1 innings and registering a 2.99 ERA, a 3.10 FIP, 74 strikeouts, and 17 walks. Most crucially, he logged a 0.6 fWAR as a reliever, which was fourth among all Seattle relief pitchers.
The only three with a higher fWAR were Munoz, Erik Swanson (who has traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in the Teoscar Hernández trade), and Matt Brash (who is reportedly heading to spring training initially as a starting pitcher per a tweet from The Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish in early November). Without Swanson and possibly Brash in the bullpen, it could open the door to an even more significant relief role for Murfee, who could have considerable upside for fantasy managers in saves+holds leagues.
With the Mariners spreading saves around, it’s possible he’ll get a few extra saves looks, but it’s the holds that are notable here. Seattle was one of just nine teams with 90 or more holds in 2022 and finished tied for the seventh-most holds in the sport with 91. Munoz accounted for 22 of those 91 holds and could theoretically log more saves than holds next year. Swanson was the only other member of the Mariners bullpen to reach double-digit holds last year, with 14 holds. Murfee was a bit further down the list with seven holds, but could easily double or even triple that number if Munoz does indeed inherit a ninth-inning role, or something closely resembling it, even with Paul Sewald still in the late-inning mix.
The 28-year-old’s bat-missing numbers weren’t quite as elite as Munoz’s were, as he finished with a 27.9% strikeout rate that finished in the 80th percentile league-wide. It was a quality metric, but the Santa Clara product’s success came more from limiting quality contact. He finished in the 84th percentile league-wide in barrel rate, xBA, xSLG, hard-hit rate, and xwOBA. The rookie’s 30.1% hard-hit rate checked in in the 97th percentile among pitchers.
2022 Stats (613 PA): .276 AVG, 65 R, 20 HR, 84 RBI
France put together yet another solid season at the plate for the Mariners, batting .276 with a .340 on-base percentage, 20 home runs, and 84 RBI in 613 plate appearances. The infielder played an integral role for the Mariners, more often than not hitting second in manager Scott Seravis’ lineup. He was similarly crucial for some fantasy managers due in part to his versatility in the field that had him eligible at first base, second base, and third base in Yahoo leagues.
Hitting second behind Julio Rodríguez for much of the year certainly paid dividends for France, as he parlayed a high contact rate – he struck out just 15.3% of the time – into a .276 average and a personal-best 84 RBI. Still, for all the runs driven in, France’s metrics elsewhere dropped across the board
The 28-year-old’s penchant for making contact at a high rate is certainly valuable, both in real life and fantasy, but his expected numbers and walk rate both dipping is an unideal combination. What’s similarly unideal is that two of the primary variables that made France such a quality fantasy option in 2022 – the positional eligibility and hitting second in Seattle’s lineup – might not repeat themselves during the 2023 season.
France saw most of his work at first base this year, appearing in just six games at third base and no games at second base. Elsewhere, Teoscar Hernández’s arrival via trade could significantly alter the construction of Seattle’s lineup, as could further significant lineup reinforcements. There are certainly worse fantasy first-base options, but as the Mariners’ lineup continues to improve, it could put a significant damper on France’s RBI opportunities if he’s forced to a lower spot in the order due to marquee additions. And this is all without mentioning the fact that France cooled considerably at the plate last year after a stellar first half that helped him capture All-Star honors.
He’s still a useful fantasy option and someone to consider late in drafts, but don’t expect him to produce as he did in 2022 from a fantasy standpoint.
2022 Stats (185.2 IP): 3.20 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 174 K, 13 W
Gilbert enjoyed a solid second season in the Majors, pitching to a 3.20 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, and 13 pitcher wins in 32 starts spanning 185.2 innings of work. On the surface, those are certainly encouraging numbers and do nothing to dissuade Gilbert’s long-term upside in dynasty formats. However, when looking purely at 2023, there may be reason to look elsewhere for similarly ranked starting pitchers in drafts heading into the 2023 season.
The 25-year-old’s win potential will certainly still be there, pitching on a Mariners team that should once again challenge for a postseason spot, but his run-prevention numbers might not be so repeatable if he continues to surrender hard contact at the rate that he did this past year.
Opposing batters tallied a 7.7%-barrel rate, a .314 xwOBA, a .408 xSLG, and a 45.6% hard-hit rate against Gilbert. The barrel rate was reasonably solid, finishing in the 52nd percentile league-wide. The other metrics? Not so much. Gilbert’s xwOBA, xSLG, and hard-hit rate finished in the 37th, 31st, and fifth percentiles respectively.
Pair those with just a 36.7% ground ball rate and some less-than-ideal underlying bat-missing metrics – a 25.8% chase rate and a 24.2% whiff rate – and you have the makings of potential regression if Gilbert’s numbers more or less repeat themselves.
Making half of his starts at T-Mobile Park, which has the lowest Park Factor where runs scored are concerned in the last three seasons, certainly helps, but if Gilbert continues to give up hard contact as he did in 2022, it might be more prudent for fantasy managers to look elsewhere for starting pitching options.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)
Ben – I want to challenge you to look deeper on Gilbert and France:
Gilbert – Agree, his statcast profile looks chillier than Mr. Freeze in the Batman comics. Nobody giving up that much hard contact should be as successful as he was. So why was he successful? Ballpark as you mentioned? OK. But looking pitch-by-pitch it sure seems like any improvement in the secondaries will make the FB play up better. Isn’t there a case for improvement of the profile that could then justify a repeat (or overall improvement) of his 2022 results?
France – What about the wrist injury? People get hurt, does it change who the man is? His offensive prowess looks like an inverse bell curve: destroyed baseballs in April and May…..hurts wrist and struggles……gets healthy and destroys baseballs in September. Is there a more measured approach to looking at him?
My thoughts EXACTLY.
Ty played hurt most of the second half of the year,& clueless
Wannabe sportswriters gouge him for it!The younger generations obsession with Baseball Math has limited their ability to mature as a knowledge fan.Sad really…