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

August 25, 2009 at 9:31 AM

Three runs got Mariners a win this time, but let’s take a closer look at all those runners left on

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Once again, the pitching and defense that has carried the Mariners all season long came through last night as Seattle defeated the Oakland Athletics, 3-1. I’m sure Ian Snell is glad to see that not all AL teams look like the Yankees. He did his thing the first five innings last night and the defense helped take care of the rest.
We also saw the Mariners again strand five baserunners the first two innings.
Now, for some general and more specific comments on the subject we discussed yesterday, the team’s poor situational hitting. Some of you correctly pointed out that a team’s record with runners in scoring position will generally reflect the club’s hitting overall. We’ve argued that point on this blog for the past two years now, so obviously I’m in agreement.
Which is why this team’s numbers are so intriguing. Because given the majority of situations with runners in different positions to score, the M’s perfromance this year has not been up there with even their below-average season hitting numbers.
The “Big Three” in the AL, as far as poor-hitting clubs go, are the Mariners, A’s and Royals. Depending on whether you use weighted on-base average, OPS, or batting average, they all tend to flop around at different spots in the bottom three worst offensive rankings and are distinctly separate from the rest of the league.
So, if situational hitting is like hitting with RISP (it’s not, since RISP is one component of situational hitting), where numbers tend to reflect the overall numbers, the three clubs should all be the same, right? Well, they aren’t. The M’s are much worse.

Let’s look at the regular on-base-plus-slugging percentages of the three squads:
Mariners .719
Royals .713
A’s .713
Now, with men on-base.
A’s .737
Royals .725
Mariners .723
So far, the numbers are what you’d expect. All three teams are hitting roughly — note the word roughly — close to their regular numbers. This gives credence to the “good hitters hit good in situations” and “bad hitters hit poorly in situations” theory.
Now, let’s look at the OPS of the three with RISP
A’s .758
Royals .721
Mariners .692
So, the Royals are about bang-on, while the A’s are 45 points of OPS better and the M’s are 27 points worse. here’s where the previously-stated theory starts coming undone for the M’s. Nobody said the numbers would be exact, and the A’s look to be benefitting from some luck. But clearly, for the M’s, you’d like it a little closer to the norm. In fact, their park-factored OPS+ with RISP is 7 percent below what they’d normally hit.
Let’s break it down some more.
With runners on third base, the scores are:
A’s .746
Royals .669
Mariners .602
Now, the Mariners distinctively lag the trio of really poor-hitting teams and their own “regular” hitting numbers.
How about runners at the corners?
Royals .846
A’s .829
Mariners .630
Same thing again.
Runner on third, two out?
A’s .785
Royals .690
Mariners .521
The team’s worst stat so far.
Are the Mariners terrible in all situations with men on base? No. They actually outperform their norm by a big margin in two categories: bases loaded and a runner on third with fewer than two out.
The bases loaded situation is one where the hitter is at a distinct advantage over the pitcher. After all, with no room on base, the hitter will be seeing more fastballs close to the strike zone. So, yes, the pressure tends to be more on the pitcher than on the hitter in these situations.
A’s .923
Mariners .875
Royals .530
The bases loaded category was also the only one where the Mariners were above average in OPS relative to the rest of the league. This is perhaps the biggest reason their RISP numbers are even within 10 percent of their regular ones. Again, though, this is likely in one of the least hitter-pressured of situations.
Interestingly enough, in the runner on third with fewer than two out situation — one the team struggled at all weekend — the Mariners are also better than they usually do.
A’s .875
Mariners .865
Royals .716
So, no, appearances aren’t always what they may seem. But overall, the idea that a team’s hitting with runners on or in “clutch” situations should mirror that of the team under normal circumstances — a rule I generally agree with — does not seem to apply to the Mariners in this case. A bad-hitting team at the best of times, the overall numbers show the Mariners get worse than usual in most situations where it’s time to start producing runs.
And on this team, where every single run can decide a game one way or the other, that’s something to be concerned about. I asked Don Wakamatsu after Saturday’s game in Cleveland whether he sensed a different approach by his players when they came up in key situations. He replied in the context of what Russell Branyan had gone through that night. But we’ve heard the same line used in regards to Adrian Beltre, Jose Lopez, Ken Griffey Jr., Franklin Gutierrez and others at various times this year.
“Sometimes, the guys put so much pressure on themselves that they don’t read the ball out of the hand and that’s where you’ll see some checked swings or where they’re a little bit passive,” Wakamatsu said.
Does this matter? Are all of these words I’ve written worth it? Well, if you want McNugget blogging, you’ll have to go someplace else, as we’ve learned the past three seasons. But yes, I think this matters. I don’t think you can dismiss what’s gone on with a shrug this year and say ‘Oh well, we’ll bring in some better hitters next year and everything will work out fine.’ ”
In theory, yes. In reality, it’s not as easy as it sounds to replace the core of a lineup. The Mariners will have to replace some hitters, yes. But they will also have to decide which hitters can improve on their own. Wakamatsu’s words about Branyan better learning to handle certain situations and not alter his approach are key. That applies to some players beyond Branyan as well. We’ve seen years worth of guys “squeezing the bat” too hard when the team needs production.
This isn’t about being able to hit in the clutch. We’ve seen through years worth of stats that only a select group of hitters can marginally outperform their normal numbers in clutch situations (and the debate still rages on about that, with Bill James and other statistical experts in disagreement with one another).
This is about getting the Mariners to not alter their normal approach in clutch situations.
And there is a world of difference between the two. On a team that plays so many one-run games, I’d say it’s the difference between winning and losing.



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