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

July 28, 2010 at 10:49 AM

Mariners offense trending towards historically low territory

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UPDATE 11:40 a.m.: The Mariners have issued a release stating that Ryan Rowland-Smith is going on the 15-day DL with a lower back strain. Luke French has been called up from Class AAA and will, I assume, start next Sunday in Minneapolis.
Love to give you some positives today. But it’s not my job to whistle in the dark. Especially when so many of you keep asking me how bad this Mariners offense really is. Some have pointed out that even the 119-loss Detroit Tigers of 2003 scored runs at a better pace.
That’s true.
The good news first. The Mariners are not even close to threatening the all-time worst run-scoring offenses in baseball history.
The 1908 St. Louis Cardinals scored only 372 runs in 154 games. That’s an average of 2.42 per contest and it’s really bad.
It’s even slightly worse a pace than the Mariners have managed to score at in July, their worst month of the season thus far. And those Cards did it for an entire season. Then again, baseball was a lot different in those days, before Babe Ruth revolutionized the home run and took the sport out of the Dead Ball Era.
If we’re going to talk Modern Era, then, the bar for putrid offense gets lowered a bit — or raised, depending on whether you’re an optimist or pessimist.
The Philadelphia Phillies of 1942 scored 394 runs in 151 games for an average of 2.61 per contest.
And, if you prefer teams your parents — or you — might have seen while actually alive at the time, the 1972 California Angels scored only 454 runs in 155 games, an average of 2.93. Yeah, they didn’t have the Mariners to beat up on yet.
Seattle probably won’t threaten the Angels for recent futility. But a downward trend that has engulfed this team since right around the time of the Cliff Lee deal could find the M’s in roughly the same area code.


So far, the Mariners are on-pace to score 531 runs — an average of 3.28 per game — which would eclipse the previous franchise worst of 558 set back in 1983. (We’re only talking non-strike shortened years for all of these stats).
Believe it or not, that’s the good news.
Because that 531-run pace does not reflect the reality of what’s gone on with this team since July 1. Almost an entire month.
In July, the Mariners are 6-18 (.250) with an average of just 2.58 runs per game.
If that trend continues, the Mariners would finish the season with just 489 runs scored, an average of 3.00 per game. That’s not too far off the 2.93 by the 1972 Angels, is it? No, it’s not.
Seattle, if its current July pace continues the rest of the year, will also lose 108 games.
Now, a whole lot has to be considered here before a 108-loss season in which 3.00 runs per game are scored becomes a reality. First, we have to recognize that the M’s are playing a brutal schedule against legit playoff contenders at present, one that won’t let up until next month.
They have also been missing Russell Branyan for much of this month and that hurts the offense.
I keep reading in places about how so-and-so should have produced more for the Mariners this season and if (insert names here) had done so, this would be a much better team. That’s true. But they haven’t produced.
Here is who has.
As far as OPS+ (that’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage vis-a-vis the rest of the league) only three current regulars are above the 100 league average mark. Branyan is at 126, meaning 26 percent above league average. Next is Michael Saunders at 107 and Ichiro at 105. Everybody else is below average.
For non-regulars, only Mike Sweeney is above average at 118.
So, the two best Mariners hitters when they actually play — Branyan and Sweeney — have both been sidelined extensive periods by back problems. The next best, Michael Saunders, began the year in Class AAA and is still trying to win a full-time job. And Ichiro is now enduring one of the worst slumps he’s ever had.
Those are the happy stories.
Overall, the M’s have an OPS+ of 75, meaning 25 percent below league average.
And it’s falling fast, from 78 in April, to 83 in May, to 80 in June and now 60 in July.
That’s OPS+, which doesn’t always translate to scoring runs. We’ve seen the M’s get countless runners on base without cashing them in.
We’ve said all season long, from opening week until now, that the M’s have to do a better job of scoring early. But they just can’t. Think back to the start of the Red Sox series last week. In the last six games, the M’s have scored just six runs by the eighth inning of games. Never more than two in one contest.
That’s how you lose games. It means the M’s have allowed opposing starters to dominate them, then try to play catchup against bullpens. Most of the time, it does not work.
Yeah, they’ve had bad luck. Yeah some players might have been expected to do better.
How to improve that going forward? Take fewer chances on “risk” guys and put more money down on sure things. No guarantees there, either. But the odds will be more in your favor. Also, look for guys with a proven recent history of hitting for more than one base at a time, so that the bases get emptied on one or two swings instead of four or five.
That’s how I’d go about it. Because an offense this historically bad — and let’s face it, none of us thought it would be this terrible — should be something we can all learn from. And the one lesson I’ll take away from this year is that a lineup of guys who can only get you one base at a time with their bats is not going to stay consistent enough, day-in, day-out to generate the volume of bases needed to score runs.
And we can talk about grabbing extra bases via steals and stuff, but this isn’t the early 1980s anymore when elite guys could grab 70 or more every year. Chone Figgins is among the league leaders in stolen bases and this team still isn’t scoring. Figgins and Ichiro stealing two bases a game between them still won’t get the team to 4.5 runs per game if the offense is managing just six or seven singles per night. And modern players just don’t want to steal 70 bags anymore because of the physical toll it takes on their bodies. A team like the M’s, so conscious about defense, can’t expect Ichiro or Figgins to grab upwards of 40 or 50 bags each without compromising their ability to man the field effectively every day.
The last guy I covered who stole 50 bases, Shannon Stewart as a second-year player back in 1998, stopped stealing as much in later years because his legs got too banged up by the experience. Expecting Ichiro and Figgins, two guys well into their 30s, to do it enough to compensate for a singles-hitting offense just isn’t realistic. I know Figgins stole 42 last year and could still do it this year, but he’s not getting any younger. And realistically, he’d have to grab 60 or 70 to start making a dent in the extra-base hitting challenges faced by this team.
So, this isn’t meant to be hindsight. I’m taking a look ahead at what should happen in 2011. This year is already done and was by May. But let’s be honest. We can sit here saying such-and-such should have happened if all went right, but it didn’t. It’s flopped on a massive, historical scale. And at this point, the way to avoid it in the future, in my humble opinion, would be to acquire more guys with extra base capability that has been proven within the past year. Fewer risks that can blow up because of on or off-field concerns.
Yes, I make it sound real easy, but it’s not. It takes money to get some of the guys I’m talking about. It takes better drafting than the M’s have had going back years. And my explanation does seem rather simplistic, because it is. An offense of mainly singles hitters doesn’t look like it can work over a full 162-game schedule. And sprinking a handful of doubles hitters in there won’t turn the tide fully either. More balance is needed.
The problem with trying to catch lightning in a bottle with too many players at once is that you’ll wind up badly burned by the bolts you don’t catch. And these Mariners are burning, with too many folks still fiddling around with explanations attributed to bad luck.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins

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