Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 6/1/15
How Has The Skip Performed? Sometimes I think the media forgets that it’s not 100% about the players.  Coaches and managers definitely play a role in how their teams perform. There is no exception for the Seattle Mariners newly anointed Skipper, Lloyd McClendon either. I think it’s time we pay some attention to the skipper, the moves he’s made and the other decisions that surround his role on the club and give him some praise and scrutiny where both are deserved. The Pitching McClendon hired former Ranger southpaw Rick Waits as his pitching coach and I think it’s more than fair to say that this tandem has performed exceptionally well. Rick Waits and Lloyd McClendon have the M’s pitchers dealing. (AP) The Mariner’s bullpen is the best there is in the American League, maybe even the majors although it’s tough to make that determination with the two leagues still differing on the DH rule. McClendon and Waits have managed to resurrect a couple of pitchers this year that had been close to the edge of the abyss in their careers in Tom Wilhelmsen and Brandon Maurer. After losing the closer role Wilhelmsen struggled through the remainder of the 2013 season.  In 2014 he made the roster but many were skeptical that “The Bartender” could recover his winning ways. Tom has not only regained his form on the mound, he has McClendon and Waits seriously considering moving him into the rotation sometime into the future. Maurer has similar, yet at the same time, an almost opposite story.  Maurer started off pitching in the rotation, was sent down to learn how to throw out of the pen and has returned as one of the most dominating bullpen arms the M’s have. In fact, in over 14 relief innings, Maurer has yet to allow a single run.  This is a guy who had an ERA close to 7.00 as a starter.  I’d say that’s a pretty successful rehabilitation campaign so far. I think a lot of credit has to be given to McClendon and Waits for the way worked with all of their pitchers. It’s not all peaches and cream pitching-wise for Lloyd though.  He and his staff have really struggled to come up with a viable 5th starter. Despite Erasmo Ramirez‘s solid outing on Tuesday night against the Mets he has been a disaster as a starter.  What’s really infuriating about it is that Lloyd  keeps going back to him. Give McClendon credit for the James Jones move. I realize that top prospect Taijuan Walker hasn’t pitched a whole lot better than Ramirez since returning from injury in limited chances but at this point I’d much rather watch Walker learn to pitch at the MLB level than watch Ramirez continually struggle. The decision to keep sending Ramirez out there really puzzles me as to what McClendon is thinking and I have to consider it in his pitching grade. Final Pitching Grade for McClendon:  A- The Hitting To assist McClendon with Hitting coaching McClendon chose former Met 3rd baseman Howard Johnson.  Johnson, in his playing days, was a career .249 hitter. What’s that old expressions about those that can’t, they teach?  Could we be seeing a bit of that with the hitting the Mariners have posted thus far in 2014? Maybe, but I also think you can’t squeeze blood from a stone either. The Mariners really have just two guys that they can count on in their lineup.  Robinson Cano has been reliable, and he should be considering his price tag, and Kyle Seager has also been very good despite a shaky start to the season. I’ll also give Johnson and McClendon credit for pulling the plug on Abraham Almonte fairly early in the season and coming up with James Jones.  That move has worked out well. The rest of the Mariner hitting projects have been far from commendable. Michael Saunders hits when he’s healthy, he’s just not healthy often enough. Justin Smoak continues to flirt with descending under the Mendoza line. Corey Hart has been hurt and is not hitting even when he’s healthy. Logan Morrison outside of two good weeks hasn’t done much at the plate. Mike Zunino has hit 14 homers but nothing else resulting in a .200 average. Brad Miller has been painful to watch at the plate outside of a good couple weeks. Dustin Ackley is hitting better recently but didn’t at all for the first 3 months. The one thing these guys have managed to do pretty well overall is hit with runners in scoring position.  They may not get many chances but they seem to cash in on the few they get.  Without those times I suspect this team isn’t even a .500 club. Final Hitting Grade for McClendon:  A- The Defense: While most of these guys may not be hitting much almost all of them have been pretty fun to watch in the field.  As far as I am concerned the most impressive defensive player has been catcher Mike Zunino. Zunino has handled this pitching staff brilliantly in terms of calling a game, knowing when to go out and talk to his pitcher and giving his guys the confidence to throw pitches in the dirt knowing that he’ll block them. Mike Zunino is playing brilliantly behind the plate in 2014. That kind of ability doesn’t happen to a player as young and inexperienced as Zunino without some great coaching.  McClendon, and his infield coach Chris Woodward, deserve a lot of credit for the job they have done with Mike. Around the infield it’s solid everywhere you look.  Seager plays 3rd as well as anyone.  Miller and Cano up the middle also are very fun to watch on double plays. 1st base is always undervalued in my viewpoint as a position that requires good defense.  A good 1st baseman will save all of your infielders tons of errors with scoops and picks on bad throws. Justin Smoak has been able to be that at first base and McClendon doesn’t give him the credit I feel he deserves over there. Instead, McClendon has opted as of late to run error machine Logan Morrison over to 1st base.  Why?  I don’t get it. It’s certainly not for more offense because Morrison isn’t hitting that much better than Smoak, certainly not enough to justify the move.  I like Smoak at first and Morrison along with Hart can DH if the current roster is my only place to choose from. In the outfield Ackley has really been a surprise in left defensively especially when you consider it’s his 3rd position in 2 years.  He even made a brilliant catch to steal a homerun the other night against the Mets.  Credit McClendon and his outfield coach Andy Van Slyke for this move. Jones has been very good in center.  He is young and occasionally his inexperience gets the better of him like on the play Tuesday against the Mets where he let the ball skip past him for a triple.  I think you have to expect that from a player as young as Jones. In right, there have been a lot of guys.  Saunders has the most starts there and he’s been very good defensively as well.  He’s above average defensively when he plays center as well. Final Defensive Grade for McClendon:  B+ Final Thoughts McClendon has this team believing right now.  The clubhouse has a better attitude and vibe going on than it has had with any of the previous managers since Lou Piniella and that’s a lot of guys they have shuffled through in that span. McClendon will need help to continue success in 2014. I also like that Lloyd, for the most part, will speak his mind about his team.  He’s not afraid to yank a guy he feels isn’t cutting it.  This is best demonstrated by his move for James Jones over Abraham Almonte. At the same time he seems to stick with some that clearly aren’t cutting it too.  This is best illustrated in his decisions to stick with Erasmo Ramirez and to a lesser degree Brad Miller. He did give Nick Miller a chance at short, but it was very brief and now McClendon seems determined to ride Miller come hell or high water. I also question McClendon’s wisdom at 1st base.  He doesn’t appear to value tremendously better defense at the position in Justin Smoak.  He takes far less defense in exchange for a dozen or so batting average points. In order to lead this team to the playoffs McClendon is going to need some help from his GM, Jack Zduriencik, to get a bit more offense and possibly another starter. With the right players, McClendon has the experience, leadership and ability to lead this team successfully. Overall Grade for McClendon:  B
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