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Mariners blog

Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

June 18, 2007 at 3:31 PM

Mound of trouble

Great response and discussion on the blog today. I agree with you “Troy” that it is the pitching that’s responsible for the team’s downfall. But the travel woes play a huge part in that. How, you ask? As I wrote, the superb hitting over the past month had masked the inability of Mariners starters to go more than six innings. Once the travel helped wear those hitters out, it became strictly a game of pitching. No more hitting to bail out the pitching. Doesn’t mean Seattle will lose every game it plays. But it will lose every other day or so, perhaps more, if the team needs seven or eight runs per game to win.
To further the discussion of this morning, I received a very interesting email today from a friend of this blog, Jack Lattemann, who has done an exhaustive study of whether teams with an earned run average of 4.50 or higher can even post winning records, let alone contend for a playoff spot. Jack has graciously allowed me to pass on his findings. They don’t look good on the Mariners, who have a 4.84 team ERA despite a rock solid bullpen. He found that no team before 1969 had qualified for the playoffs. Not surprising, given the two-league format. There were a few more, post-1969, that made it. During the two-division format (four teams making the playoffs) from 1969-1993, the only playoff team with a 4.50 ERA or higher was the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins, who finished 85-77 with a 4.63 ERA.
Now, during the wild-card era, things have changed. So far, there have been 13 teams make it with an ERA of 4.50 or more. But don’t forget, that’s out of 96 playoff teams. So, basicly, even with the diluted pitching and inflated ERA totals we’ve seen over the past decade or so, there’s still only about a one in 7.5 chance of getting there.
The good news for M’s fans? All but one of those playoff teams came from the AL, where it’s gotten to the point where a 4.50 is considered good. The lone NL team was last year’s 83-win World Series champion Cardinals.
So, yes. It really does come down to the pitching. There have been 74 teams post winning records since 1921 with an ERA above 4.50. The Mariners did it several times in the late 1990s. One of the teams on Lattemann’s list is the 2003 Blue Jays, a squad I feel epitomizes the need to understand how good starting pitching will always be more valuable than hitting.
That Blue Jays squad of 2003 tried to model itself directly on the “Moneyball’ formula espoused by author Michael Lewis in his book, published that year. Lewis was merely echoing what he’d heard come out of the mouths of Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane and his former assistant, current Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi. And the Jays of that year came as close, I still believe, as any team ever has to assembling a squad that followed the Moneyball blueprint. (Yes, I know, a popular claim now is that the book was really all about seeking undervalued players. But understand, the 2003 Jays were doing, at the time, what the book claimed the A’s had been doing in 2002 — only the Jays actually did it better. And since the book had just come out in 2003, the “A’s” blueprint as depicted by Lewis had yet to become outdated and widely copied by others, save for Toronto).
To summarize, Toronto that year built a low-cost ($50 million) squad of high on-base, walk-taking guys who scored a ton of runs. The second-most runs in the entire AL, in fact, at 894. Carlos Delgado helped drive those runs in, putting together what should have been an MVP winning season. So yeah, the offense was great. And it was cheap.
Problem is, with all those Moneyball chapters devoted to Nick Swisher, Kevin Youkilis, Chad Bradford and others (all very good players in their own right), it left precious little room for the 10 or 12 chapters that deserved to be written about the Big Three — starting pitchers Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, who were arguably most reponsible for Oakland’s success.
Toronto didn’t have a Big Three. It had a Big One, a guy named Roy Halladay. He went 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA that year and tossed a whopping 266 innings in winning a Cy Young Award. Trouble is, other than a blossoming Kelvim Escobar (soon allowed to leave as a free-agent for money reasons) the rest of the rotation had little worth mentioning.
That alone didn’t cover it. And so the Jays won 86 games and finished third. Now, 86 wins may seem pretty good. But let me mention that they were a sub-.500 team heading into September, then reeled off 19 wins that month — 17 of them against teams with a combined winning percentage of .378.
The point of this is, the Jays had the AL’s second-best offense. They had a guy who should have been an MVP in Delgado. They had the Cy Young winner. And they still won only 86 games.
Do the Mariners have an MVP candidate? Uh, no. Is their offense going to finish in the top-two in the AL in most hitting categories? Probably not. Do they at least have a Halladay in the rotation? They would, if Hernandez reverts to his form of the first two games of this season and maintains it over an entire year.
In other words, as you can see, it really is all about pitching. Especially starting pitching. Always has been, always will be. Through the dead-ball era, the Depression era, WWII, the onset of free-agency, expansion, advent of the wild-card, the Moneyball era and all the other so-called periods of change this game has gone through. One thing remains constant. Right now, the M’s don’t have that one thing. And they don’t have it in a division where two teams, the Angels and A’s, are loaded at starting pitching. Just hammering the point home. But lots of research by Lattemann went into this so I thought I’d post his findings here.
Here is a list of all the winning teams since 1921 with an ERA of 4.50 and greater. There are notes, if the team did something special. Forgive the spacing tightness. It’s all of my doing:
Year – League Team ERA Runs Scored
1921 – AL St. Louis Browns 81-73 4.62 835
1922 – AL Cleveland 78-76 4.60 768
1925 – AL Detroit 81-73 4.61 903
1925 – AL St. Louis Browns 82-71 4.85 897
1929 – NL St. Louis Cards 78-74 4.66 831
1930 – AL Cleveland 81-73 4.88 890
1930 – AL New York Yanks 86-68 4.88 1,062
1930 – NL Chicago Cubs 90-64 4.80 998 Second-place
1930 – NL New York Giants 87-67 4.59 959
1930 – NL Pittsburgh 80-74 5.24 891
1931 – AL Cleveland 78-76 4.63 885
1933 – NL Philadelphia Phils 79-72 4.81 875
1936 – AL Chicago W. Sox 81-70 5.06 920
1936 – AL Cleveland 80-74 4.83 921
1936 – AL Detroit 83-71 5.00 921 Second-place
1936 – AL Washington 82-71 4.58 889
1937 – AL Detroit 89-65 4.87 935 Second-place
1938 – AL Cleveland 86-66 4.60 847
1938 – AL Detroit 84-70 4.79 862
1940 – AL Boston Red Sox 82-72 4.89 872
1950 – AL Boston Red Sox 94-60 4.88 1,027
1957 – NL Cincinnati 80-74 4.62 747
1979 – AL Cleveland 81-80 4.57 760
1986 – AL Cleveland 84-78 4.58 831
1987 – AL Milwaukee 91-71 4.62 862 2nd runs scored
1987 – AL Minnesota 85-77 4.63 786 World Series
1991 – AL Oakland 84-78 4.57 760
1993 – AL Detroit 85-77 4.65 899 AL runs leader
1995 – AL California Angels 78-67 4.52 801 Second-place
1995 – AL New York Yanks 79-65 4.56 749 AL wild card
1995 – AL Seattle 79-66 4.50 796 AL West champ
1995 – AL Texas 74-70 4.66 691
1995 – NL Colorado 77-67 4.97 785 Led NL in runs
1996 – AL Baltimore 88-74 5.14 949 Second-place
1996 – AL Boston Red Sox 85-77 4.98 928
1996 – AL Chicago W. Sox 85-77 4.52 898 Second-place fi
1996 – AL New York Yanks 92-70 4.65 871 AL East champ
1996 – AL Seattle 85-76 5.21 993 Second-place
1996 – AL Texas 90-72 4.65 928 AL West champ
1996 – NL Colorado 83-79 5.59 961 Led NL in runs
1997 – AL Anaheim Angels 84-78 4.52 829 Second-place
1997 – AL Cleveland 86-75 4.73 868 AL Cen. champ
1997 – AL Seattle 90-72 4.78 925 AL West West
1997 – NL Colorado 83-79 5.25 923 Led NL in runs
1998 – AL Texas 88-74 4.99 940 AL West champ
1999 – AL Cleveland 97-65 4.89 1,009 AL Cen. champ
1999 – AL Oakland 87-75 4.69 893 2nd place
1999 – AL Texas 95-67 5.07 945 AL West champ
1999 – AL Toronto 84-78 4.92 883
1999 – NL San Francisco 86-76 4.71 872 Second-place
2000 – AL Chicago W. Sox 95-67 4.66 978 AL Cent. champ
2000 – AL Cleveland 90-72 4.84 950 Second-place
2000 – AL New York Yanks 87-74 4.76 871 AL East champ
2000 – AL Oakland 91-70 4.58 947 AL wild card
2000 – AL Toronto 83-79 5.14 861
2000 – NL Colorado 82-80 5.26 968 Led NL in runs
2001 – AL Chicago W. Sox 83-79 4.55 798
2001 – AL Cleveland 91-71 4.64 897 AL Cen. champ
2001 – AL Minnesota 85-77 4.51 771 Second-place
2002 – AL Chicago W. Sox 81-81 4.53 856 Second-place
2003 – AL Kansas City 83-79 5.05 836
2003 – AL Toronto 86-76 4.69 894
2003 – NL St. Louis Cards 85-77 4.60 876
2004 – AL Chicago W. Sox 83-79 4.91 865 Second-place
2004 – AL New York Yanks 101-61 4.69 897 AL East champ
2004 – AL Texas 89-73 4.53 860
2005 – AL Boston Red Sox 95-67 4.74 910 AL wild card
2005 – AL New York Yanks 95-67 4.52 886 AL East champ
2006 – AL Boston Red Sox 86-76 4.83 820
2006 – AL Chicago W. Sox 90-72 4.61 868
2006 – NL Philadelphia Phils 85-77 4.60 865 Second-place
2006 – NL St. Louis Cards 83-78 4.54 781 World Series

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