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May 9, 2009 at 11:11 AM

The past 10 games: big problems for Mariners

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Here we are now, exactly three 10-game increments into a major league season roughly one sixth of the way done. The Mariners excelled during their first 10 games, going 7-3, fell off to .500 in the next 10 at 5-5 and took a step backwards in these last 10 at a 3-7 clip.
Truth be told, the M’s are fortunate to not be riding a nine-game losing streak at the moment. A 1-9 record in these past 10 games would have adequately reflected the level of play because, other than Felix Hernandez and his team’s bats dominating the White Sox in the first of those 10 games, the M’s have not put a convincing contest together since. They needed some comeback magic to win the only other two games during that stretch and some weak spots have been exposed.
This is not just a one-pronged offensive problem. Yes, the M’s offense, particularly the middle of the order, was anemic in those last 10 games.
The Mariners scored only 28 runs in those 10 games, 2.8 per contest. But that’s misleading, because 16 of those runs came in only two games against Oakland. In the other eight games, Seattle scored 12 runs — 1.5 per contest. In other words, the pitching had to hold opponents to one run or fewer, on average, to win. That’s not going to cut it in the majors, Class AAA or Little League. Like I said, this team is fortunate to not be riding a nine-game losing streak.
The second part of this two-pronged slide came in the form of starting pitching. In the first 20 games, the Mariners were getting quality outings roughly four out of every five games. Not so over this 10-game stretch, when half of the outings by starters were of the poor variety. Now, that’s to be expected over any 10-game period and it’s hardly catastrophic if — read the IF part again — the team is able to capitalize on the “good” outings that starters turn in.
Over the past 10 games, the M’s had four starts of at least seven innings and two runs or fewer allowed. Know how many they won? Just the one Hernandez outing in Chicago. That can’t happen. Starters give you that kind of work, you have to win at least three of those four contests. Do that, the M’s would have been 5-5 over the 10 games. Big difference, huh?
So, what can be done about it?
Well, the M’s can take steps to try to mitigate some of the pitching. We’ve mentioned that a starter at the major league level has to be able to deliver a minimum of five innings. Neither Carlos Silva nor Chris Jakubauskas has been delivering that many quality innings on a consistent basis. So, the team can take steps — and probably will — to replace at least one of those arms in the short term until things can be righted again.
But that’s not the biggest problem.
Again, at the risk of sounding repetitive, the biggest thing this team can do to change its fortunes is to get players performing up to expected levels. Not overachieving. Just performing up to expectations and doing it consistently. What I don’t like about some of the computer projection systems out there is they don’t tell you the full story about a player. And maybe that’s not their fault. They are what they are as far as systems go. But a player who slumps for two months while his team falls out of contention, then piles it on later in the season can often “meet” his projected numbers and casual fans will say “Hey, that’s a guy who did his job!”
No, it isn’t.
Numbers are great for negotiating contracts with, but they won’t tell you the story of how a player helped his team. Again, how many of you were thrilled about Richie Sexson “meeting” his 30-homer projection in 2006 when he spent the first half of the season in Mendoza territory, only to explode in August and September? That’s my point. It’s not about meeting a numbers quota. Players, good ones, are expected to maintain a degree of consistency throughout the season. Yes, all go into slumps. But preferably, not for a month at a time, and preferably, not 2/3 of the offense at the same time.
So, it irks me to read commenters stating that the M’s are playing up to their true talent level right now. No, they aren’t. Wow, some of you are an easy bunch to please and a forgiving lot. I’m not quite the same way. Silva may lose his rotation job because, hard worker or not, he isn’t — in his own words — putting up needed results in a results-oriented business.
But he’s not alone. The same can be said for the hitters around him, now more than a month into their season.
Here are the ZiPS projections from pre-season placed next to actual results so far. It goes by batting average, on-base percentage, then slugging. I’ve put an exclammation mark next to the hitters vastly underperforming their on-base-plus slugging projections. And little stars next to those overperforming what their year-end totals are expected to look like.
Russell Branyan .230/.326/.452……289/.356/.600 *Ichiro .304/.354/.383….313/.346/.414
Adrian Beltre .264/.320/.449….208/.242/.275 !
Jose Lopez .284/.315/.416….259/.298/.348 !Yuniesky Betancourt .280/.301/.389….286/.296/.371
Endy Chavez .272/.316/.347….280/.348/.320
Ken Griffey Jr. .247/.346/.405….205/.341/.329 !
Franklin Gutierrez .258/.321/.400….278/.356/.411 *
Kenji Johjima .251/.296/.362….227/.244/.318 !
Rob Johnson .266/.316/.356….204/.228/.296 !
Wladimir Balentien .240/.300/.427….341/.391/.488*Ronny Cedeno .265/.309/.382….138/.219/.276 !
Mike Sweeney .259/.319/.406….281/.328/.404
So, there you go. Of the starting nine, four guys are vastly underperforming what could have been reasonably expected of them. Two guys — Branyan and Gutierrez — are overachieving what was expected. The remaining three are pretty much delivering what numbers crunchers think they are capable of.
On the bench side, two guys are vastly underperforming, one is overachieving and one is just about right.
This isn’t going to be scientifically exact. Heck, some guys could have a great September when the team is 15 games out and “meet” their projection. But this kind of flies in the face of those who think this offense is doing all it can. I’m not one of those people. I think it’s capable of more. So does the team. Because believe me, this new regime running the show looked at projections exactly like these when building the roster.
Time for some guys to start putting up numbers a lot closer to their projected year-end totals, or else it could be an awfully long next 10 games for this team.



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