Left-Handed Tilt: The Burden’s All on You, Mike Zunino (But No Pressure)

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== Seriously, no pressure at all ==

So far, we concluded that Robinson Cano was right to lobby for an additional right-handed bat; that Kendrys Morales, despite his virtues, is not really a cost-effective solution; and that Scott Van Slyke would be a nice role-player addition if the Dodgers were inclined to give him up at a reasonable cost.

But it’s possible that no “outside” solution is forthcoming, in which case the existing roster will go ahead the way it is: which appears to be above-average against right-handed pitching (and that’s not a bad thing), but potentially vulnerable against left-handed pitching.

Of course, our roster analysis didn’t include the four younger players likely to make (or under strong consideration for) the roster, since we didn’t have enough MLB split data to include them.

  • Left-handed Brad Miller isn’t too bad vs. LHP, but isn’t going to solve the problem (28 of his 35 homers over the last two years were against RHP).
  • Switch-hitting Nick Franklin gets so little from turning around to the right side, that I even declared his 2010 season hitting right-handed the “triple crown of awful” — no power, no walks, bunches of strikeouts.  He’s gotten better since then, but that’s just by bringing himself up to “adequate.”
  • And switch-hitting Abraham Almonte?  Not a difference-maker right-handed either.  He had one season (age-22 at High-A) in which he hit well from that side.  Outside of that, he’s been below-average.

That leaves one man standing between the Mariners and certain LH-pitching doom!

Mike Zunino to the rescue!

Of course, that’s milking things way farther than we needed to, but it is time to get some focus back on Zunino’s bat.

===

Last year, of course, Zunino got rushed to an MLB role after a series of catching woes, including Stage One of Jesus Montero‘s multi-part devolution into Mr. Zero Expectations, some pouty business from Kelly Shoppach, and many other things that I don’t recall (including 2 plate appearances from Brandon Bantz).

But after a month or so, Zunino got hurt as well, and he didn’t resurface until September.

And his potential as a plus-hitting offensive player got lost in the shuffle.

The .329 SLG in 193 PAs didn’t help any, of course.

But let us not forget that it was just 2012 when Zunino was shredding minor-league pitching into a fine mulch, with Zuumball after Zuumball.

By the time he caught his breath — and caught a couple of James Paxton AA playoff gems — Zunino finished the year with 13 homers and 23 walks in just 44 games.

As I noted at the time, he had a higher HR percentage than Carlos Peguero and a higher walk rate than Miller, all while earning raves as catcher and leader.

In 2013, the bat cooled off a bunch, as he was pushed to higher levels (AAA and MLB) and asked to step into the defensive void (plus the broken bone in his hand that cost him more than a month).

Obviously, Zunino still doesn’t have a ton of experience, and to get any kind of decent bead on his potential platoon split vs. LHP we’ll have to aggregate all of his pro at-bats (142 PAs).  What do we get?

  • .286/.345/.508

In our “three numbers” (avoiding non-random outs/producing non-random offense/composite), where 100 is based on the 10-year MLB average:

  • 110-128-138

If you back to our original post, you’ll see that if he could maintain those types of results against LHP, he would be second only to Corey Hart in the Mariner lineup in that regard.

And that would be a welcome sight.

Does Zunino have it in him?  Yes, I think he does.  And — with excellent timing — here comes mlb.com with an article about how Zunino can contribute more at the plate now that he’s settled in on defense.

===

12972974305_6fbca9e7bc_oOf course, in the recent past, we saw Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley show significant wear-and-tear when they were expected to carry more of the offense than they were ready to carry and when they were better suited to be complementary players.

I think, however, that Zunino’s load as the big RH bat is less significant, and he is probably much better equipped to handle that kind of load mentally.

Hey, Robby, we have your “additional right-handed bat” right here under your nose.

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