May 16, 2017
Mike Zunino Has Them Right Where He Wants Them
When Opening Day starter and former third overall pick Mike Zunino was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma on May 5, a nation wondered aloud: Mike Zunino had an option left?
After a hurried minor-league prologue and a full 2014 season, the catcher has had opportunities each year to tour Tacoma’s beautiful Museum of Glass, the latest demotion coming off of a .167/.250/.236 start with the Mariners. It’s a disappointing regression for a player who looked as though he were kind of, sort of, maybe just barely figuring it out in 2016.
In an interview with local sports radio station KIRO 710 AM, M’s general manager Jerry Dipoto admitted that Zunino’s poor start had begun to affect his defense; his FRAA/162 games dropped from 8.4 in 2015-2016 to -4.7 in 2017. Despite a reserve of 38-year-old Carlos Ruiz and the ageless Tuffy Gosewisch, Dipoto felt like he had to send Zunino down to revive his confidence.
"This is very different than what we did last year [when Zunino was held down the entire first half]. Last year we sent him back in the attempt to rebuild an approach, and I think by and large that was generally successful and even this year he’s maintained his walk rate. But along the way he’s had a lot of difficulty making contact. He’s not really chasing pitches, he’s just having a difficult time making contact in the strike zone, and to me the only way you can get beyond that is to just go have success.”
It certainly feels that way watching Zunino, a frustrating hitter at the best of times. Thanks to his relative youth, his pedigree, and the occasional upper-deck homer, it’s easy for fans to grow disappointed by his everyday toils, especially at a position that hasn’t seen consistency in Seattle since the early Kenji Johjima era. But the simple truth is that while Zunino’s peak may be Dave Valle with strikeouts and defense, that’s actually a rather valuable thing indeed. It’s how last year, sporting only a .207 batting average, Zunino was worth 1.6 WARP in a third of a season.
It doesn’t sound like someone commuting back and forth on Interstate 5 every season. So is Dipoto right? Have the lessons of 2016 evaporated?