Mr. Know-It-All examines best seasons produced by Mariners

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Mr. Know-It-All fancies himself as somewhat of an expert on baseball. He’s Kitsap’s baseball version of Punxsutawney Phil. He comes out of hiding every year about this time of year and he starts spewing statistics and opinions that would make Bill James and other sabermetric seamheads blush.

So here’s his latest post. Today he examines the best seasons in Mariners’ history by catchers, first basemen and second basemen.

We’re gonna break this up over a few days so you can digest all of the info. Hope you enjoy it. And, remember, if you’ve an opinion, chime in. Mr. K-I-A would love to hear from you.

Mariners’ Best Seasons, by Position

Thirty four consecutive years of major league baseball in Seattle — from  1977 through 2010.  It is impolitic to mention 1969.  Bud Selig’s thieving roots are naked to the eye and geezer anger once invoked is rarely put cleanly back in the box.  What has it all meant?  The run of baseball players from 1977 that have come first to the Kingdome and now Safeco field encompasses the yin and yang of professional baseball.  Labor strikes and union busting to the sublime performances right here in town. Roof caving in to the best park in baseball and homage to the dead ball era.
It is easy to recount all the records that have been broken by players in the American League during that period.  For blogs sake let us focus a little bit and say what have been the best seasons by a Mariner in the last 34 years.  A lot of those have happened since 1995, but not all of them.  It might be interesting to describe the best seasons by position, for example who had the best five offensive seasons of a catcher in Mariner’s history.  Then first base and all the way around to designated hitter. Then finally who had the top 25 seasons, period.
The criteria used was OPS, which is the sine qua non amongst overall offensive statistics. Simply it sums onbase percentage and slugging percentage and is accepted by the cognoscenti amongst baseball analysts and readers can track online with the upcoming season.
The last point before jumping into this is to observe that the Mariners have been bad much more often than not, but they HAVE had some players, even in the darkest of times, well maybe except for last year, but let us not spoil this, it is fun.

So here we go. Here’s the best season by catchers and first basemen in M’s history.

CATCHER
The top five seasons for Mariner catchers see three names:  Dan Wilson for 1996 and 1997 with OPS of .773 and .745 and Kenji Johjima for 2006 and 2007 with .768 and .741. Remarkably similar grouping. Lastly Dave Valle shows up for his1987 season with a .724.  None of these are spectacular years, although Wilson had 83 and 74 RBIs in his two years and Joh had 77 and 61.  Valle 51. Valle and Wilson were the number one receivers for many years each without either hitting much at all. Their value in the eye of the guy writing out the lineup was in receiving and throwing. Joh’s demise was as his hitting fell off, the defensive aspects of his game came under intense criticism from his teammates on the pitching staff.
During this time period the Mariners traded away the fellow who might still be on their roster now, Jason Varitek and received a very bad reliever named Heathcliff Slocumb. Oh, they also gave up Derek Lowe an above average starting pitcher. Good catchers are very, very hard to find and or spot as high school players. The M’s drafted Jeff Clement first several years back passing on a plethora of all stars to get him.  The promise was a player that could throw and hit lots of homeruns.  From the waist down he was not very athletic which impaired his receiving and throwing and pitchers have been able to get him to fish at offspeed stuff and beat him with average fastballs. He is now a first baseman with the Pirates.  I could do the blah, blah on Rob Johnson and Adam Moore, but Johnson is with San Diego and Moore is buried behind Miguel Olivo, who in his last dance through town was not good, hitting .151.  He did do well last year.

FIRST BASEMAN

95    Tino    Martinez    1b    0.919
89    Alvin    Davis    1b    0.918
2005    Richie     Sexson    1b    0.906
2002    John    Olerude    1b    0.896
87    Alvin    Davis    1b    0.888
84    Alvin    Davis    1b    0.886
79    Bruce     Bochte    1b    0.882
88    Alvin    Davis    1b    0.874
96    Paul    Sorrento    1b    0.873
2001    John    Olerude    1b    0.873
2009    Russell    Branyan    1b    0.859
97    Paul    Sorrento    1b    0.857
2006    Richie     Sexson    1b    0.840
2000    John    Olerude    1b    0.833
85    Alvin    Davis    1b    0.824
90    Alvin    Davis    1b    0.818

Yes sir, lookee there!  Now there are some hitters!  Did you forget how darn good Alvin Davis was?  Six of the top 16 years!  Why 16, well there were 16 seasons above .800 OPS.  On bag at or above .400 and slug at or above .500.  He played well for a long time, then it was gone, seemingly before it should have been. You get a measure how hard it is to play day in and day out for six months. Players take better care now, but Alvin wrung everything out of his gift. Great players.
The Best year was Tino Martinez’s 1995 season, where he put it all together on a salary drive which coincided with that great year. Even when they had a break through, the ownership had no interest in building a team for the future as time would prove out. He went on to have five great years with the Yankees and five good ones. In 2005 Richie Sexson had a great year, his first year with the team.
Then there is Bruce Bochte who had the best year in a 12-year career.  Who can forget his single in the All Star game played that year in Seattle — a hard bounder over the shortstop’s head. The Kingdome was rocking, I can tell you. One week later playing in front of a crowd of 8,000 my seven year old niece sitting with us in left field would jump up and scream “Hit it out here Bochte!” Which the whole group of people in the stadium heard.
The year before last Russell Branyan had a very good year, not so much last year, but not bad.  We’re betting the ranch on Smoak, who looks the part, and had a great September. Light it up Smoaky!

SECOND BASEMEN
2001    Brett    Boone    2b    0.949
2003    Brett    Boone    2b    0.899
86    Danny    Tartabull    2b    0.837
97    Joey    Cora    2b    0.800
2002    Brett    Boone    2b    0.798

Five seasons, three Brett Boones, a Joey Cora and a Danny Tartabull. Brett Boone had a season in 2001 that was so much better than anybody else in baseball and his own teammate beat him out for MVP, Ichiro.  He had a monster year, just monster. Thirty seven doubles, thirty seven home runs, 141 RBIs, 118 runs scored, on bag of .378 and slug of .578.  Nobody was remotely close to that, plus he was at that point a very good second baseman.  Nobody missed A-Rod, at least not yet. One more semi-great year in 2003 and a good year in 2002.  Joey Cora was the little engine that could. 1997 was his reach for glory, it was a year unlike any of his previous years:  40 doubles, 4 triples and 11 home runs, he hit .300 and had a .359 on-bag, scored 105 runs.
Who was Danny Tartabull? Here is his career line:  .273 avg, .368 on-bag, .496 slug.  Fourteen seasons in the majors.  His rookie year with the Mariners his line was .270, .347, .489 and an OPS of .839.  He played 23 games to start the season at second base and made 10 errors.  He did show a phenomenal range factor through those games, but new manager Dick Williams, he of the A’s World Series wins, said off to the outfield where the M’s were chockfull of outfielders. Harold Reynolds took over for him and hit .222 his first full year in the bigs.  Dick might have been right, Danny never again played 2b.
How about Harold, how close did he get to this list?  His best four years were from 1988 through 1991. His best OPS was in 1989 with a .728 and 1988 was his second best at .723.  Of note for Harold he did score 87, 100 and 95 runs in the years 1989, 1990 and 1991. Of further note, none of those three years was he a big base stealer. He led the AL with 60 stolen bases in 1987. Interest, if flawed career.  Did not walk much and in his two best years he was caught stealing nearly as much as he stole. I would suggest that as a middle infielder playing on concrete and trying to steal a lot might have taken a toll on him.

Next: Shortstops and third basemen. Hint. A-Rod and Edgar dominate these positions.

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