Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mariners: Some things to like

After 55 games, the Mariners have a +1 run differential and a Pythagorean won-loss record of 28-27.  What does it mean?  Not much.  I generally think Pythagorean won loss is stupid.  You've got to win the games on the field, not the stat boxes.  They've blown too many saves, played too poorly at home, haven't been consistent, don't walk enough, strike out too much, yada, yada, yada. 
Michael Saunders continues to right his career and give hope to the Mariners as his hitting improves.
Even so, there are things to like about the M's and it has to do with hitting.  That's the key thing that will make this team more competitive at this point in their rebuilding.  It's what's made them historically godawful the last few years, and if they don't improve Jack Zdurencik will simply be gone and the rebuilding will continue until I die. Not acceptable.

Here are some interesting numbers (before Sunday's game) according to
Ichiro Suzuki           .272/.303/389        OPS+ 98
Dustin Ackley         .248/.323/.369        OPS+ 99
Kyle Seager             .274/.313/.468       OPS+ 121
Jesus Montero          .254/.295/.422       OPS+ 103
Justin Smoak            .241/.289/.414       OPS+ 99
Michael Saunders     .256/.325/.422       OPS+113
Justin Smoak administers the coup de grace with his second three run homer in the 21-8 thrashing of Texas.  Is it for real?  The Mariners have reason for hope.
These are six of the Mariners regular players.  For those not in the know, OPS+ is a measure that compares a players OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) to the league average.  100 is league average.  These six players are either very close to league average or exceed league average in hitting. Last year, only Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp finished the year above league average, with only Seager above 90.  Saunders was an abysmal 26.

Look at those stats.  What is one that stands out?  Low on base percentage.  The Mariners are 29th in OBP according to ESPN only ahead of AL West rival Oakland.  League average OBP is .320.  The Mariners as a team get on base at .296.  Why is that?  Looking at these batting averages you don't see many numbers that would remind you of Ty Cobb or even Ichiro in his prime.  Yet, the league batting average is only .253 in the American League. That's a number that's consistently decreased each year since it's high water mark of .276 in 2000.  The batting averages are improving to league average and beyond, but selectivity at the plate is not. Two problems the Mariners face are not enough walks and too many strikeouts.  The M's will score more consistently when those issues are reversed.

In other ways the Mariners are an improving group since the beginning of the year.  Smoak seems to have settled into a groove--for the time being.  We've seen this before, but right now things are going along smoothly and his numbers should improve.  Ichiro returned to the lead-off spot-where he belonged-and his average is about what it was last year, but his OPS+ numbers are better by 15 pts. Ackley's progress seems to have stalled, but Saunders and Seager are further along.  Montero is okay for year 1.

Then there are these numbers:
Miguel Olivo       .200/.216/.322       OPS+ 51
Chone Figgins      .188/.258/.295      OPS+ 58
Mike Carp            .176/.273/.382      OPS+ 80
John Jaso              .250/.340/.450      OPS+ 125
Brendan Ryan       .176/.274/.286      OPS+ 59

Clearly there are Mariners who continue to struggle at the plate.  The big question is will they improve as the season goes along OR do they bring something else to the table, such as outstanding defense that justifies their playing time.  In the case of Brendan Ryan, absolutely.  The Fielders Bible III ranks him as clearly the best defensive shortstop in the game since 2009.  Not close. Miguel Olivo, on the other hand, was ranked one of the worst defensive catchers in the American League last year .  Chone Figgins is playing out of position and is not a very good left fielder.  Carp had a lousy spring, hurt himself, and is trying to catch up.  The Mariners are hoping he's not the next Bryan LaHair. John Jaso has earned his playing time with his bat, though apparently, as catchers go, he's a very good hitter.

Brendan Ryan doesn't hit much (at all) but his shortstop defense ranks best in baseball according to John Dewan's Hitters Bible III
The question becomes, what to do about the guys who aren't hitting?  The M's have already answered some of that by sending down Casper Wells (.213/.262/.302 OPS+ 90) and splitting left field between Carp, Figgins and Alex Liddi.  But this was really about Figgins' contract.  Wells was beginning to hit a little and was a much better defensive outfielder than any of the three. Wedge clearly prefers that Olivo catch more despite his offensive and defensive shortcomings, with Montero and Jaso mostly DHing.

Regardless, the guys we consider the core of the rebuilding, are showing signs of life.  That doesn't mean they are all going to squirt up a line graph in uniform rapidity, or that the team will play consistently well, but the hitting issues that plagued this team the last several years are diminished.

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