Some of you have written in, asking about what we’ve seen the past few days with the Mariners inventing new ways to strand baserunners. You wanted to know how the team has fared compared to others and why. Well, after some research, with help from the excellent data of the Baseball Reference website, I can tell you that, heading into Sunday’s games, the Mariners had driven home baserunners at a lesser rate than any team in the American League this season.
That’s right. The league average is 15 percent and the Mariners had plated 13 percent. The league’s best team in this category, the Angels, are at 18 percent.
Not since 2004 have the Mariners had a season this bad, when they also scored only 13 per cent of their runners. Last year, when the team lost 101 games, the Mariners cashed in 14 percent of their baserunners. They drove in 15 percent in 2007, when the team was actually in the wild card race — realistically in it — up until early September. They were at 17 percent, leading the league, in 2001.
So, if you’re feeling frustrated, there’s a reason.
Lately, because of the past few games, much focus has been put on how the team has done with runners on third and fewer than two out. Russell Branyan has been a prime culprit in this department the last two contests. Well, the Mariners are at 50 percent in this regard, tying them for 10th with two other AL teams. Once again, the Angels lead the pack at 57 percent.
The 99-loss Mariners team of 2004 was at 52 percent in this category, so these M’s are worse.
Last year’s 101-loss M’s? The same 50 percent as this year’s club.
So, no, you’re not going crazy. That “same old M’s” line you spout when the team fails to score despite runners at the corners with nobody out is based on some type of reality. But this team was supposed to be changing. No more Richie Sexson or Jose Vidro to blame. A “new day, new way” was at-hand. So, how could this happen and who is to blame?
Not who you think.
Among regulars. when it comes to driving in runners on base (not necessarily getting an RBI for it, but as long as the runner somehow scores during their plate appearance), Jose Lopez led the way at 18 percent, heading into Sunday, which is what the Angels average on their team. Franklin Gutierrez is at 16 percent.
Branyan, a guy many now figure as a culprit in this area, is next in-line among regulars, at 15 percent, which is above average for the team and average for the league. The guy he’s tied with? Rob Johnson. Yes, the catcher who can’t hit, or so the saying goes. But he’s gotten runners in at a greater rate than many of his teammates.
Ichiro is next at a below-team-average 12 percent, tied with Ken Griffey Jr. and Adrian Beltre. And though he’s a leadoff man, Ichiro has had more baserunners in such situations — registering 246, compared to 225 and 222 for Griffey and Beltre respectively.
We won’t keep going on and on. Needless to say, when three of your premier hitters are all below average at knocking runners in on the worst team in the AL in that category, that tells you something.
Now, let’s look at runners on third base with fewer than two out.
Beltre and Lopez are tied for top spot among regulars in this regard, knocking in 54 percent of the runners they see at third base in such situations.
They are the only ones on the team above league average in that regard.
Griffey and Branyan are next at 50 percent.
Gutierrez is at 45, Johnson at 40.
And your overall worst regular at knocking in runners from third with fewer than two out?
Why, that would be Ichiro, clocking in at 30 percent, at least in the raw data. In Ichiro’s case, though, as some of you have mentioned, the five intentional walks he has in such situations do drive up his numbers to something like 43 percent if you discount those plate appearances. So, that 30 percent figure is not entirely fair, I’ll admit. But it’s still below league average at getting runners in.
Now, some of these guys will be walked in key situations and that will hurt their numbers slightly. But it doesn’t appear to be having an undue impact on anyone other than Ichiro. Now, how can Ichiro’s on-base numbers be so high, but runners scoring be so low? Intentional walks and infield singles would be one answer.
Again, in both categories, we’re seeing too many of this team’s premium guys lagging behind.
Let’s take a look at one more category, advancing a runner from second base with nobody out. The Mariners are actually quite good at doing this, ranking fifth best in the AL at 45 percent. League average is 43 percent, with the Angels the best at 49 percent.
This is partly a product of all that bunting the Mariners have done throughout the season. Especially in the early going, when they were winning games with “small ball” on a nightly basis.
Griffey started the season opener off doing this part well and has continued in that regard, leading the team at 57 percent.
Gutierrez is next at 56 percent and Ichiro is third at 54. Beltre is next at 53 percent and then things start going downhill. These are the numbers you’d expect, based on their contributions to the team as a whole.
On the other side of the equation, Lopez is below league average at 41 percent while Johnson is at 33.
So, to wrap this up, the Mariners are a team that seems to do a good job of advancing runners. What this team can’t do is find a way to get those runners home.
It would be nice to blame it all on the young guys being brought in. And to be sure, the revolving door of backups and reserves getting full-time roles hasn’t helped raise the team’s average from where it is. But much of this, as you can see, can also be laid at the feet of veteran players.
The good news? Well, as Don Wakamatsu said on Saturday, Branyan is still in his first year as an everyday player despite being 33. He’s still learning, so maybe next year, he gets those sacrifice flies instead of strikeouts with the runner at third. Same with Gutierrez and Johnson, both young and getting used to full-time roles. Others? Well, they’ll have to step up their games in this area. Some might not be around next year.
There is no one answer here. But one fact seems indisputable: this entire team needs work in some aspects of situational hitting. A team that’s the worst in the league at knocking baserunners in should adopt no less of an attitude.