Anyone who’s followed the Mariners this season knows the offense can’t score without a gargantuan effort. And you know the bats most impacted beyond the “all of them” response.
That’s right: Chone Figgins, Miguel Olivo and Jack Cust.
Olivo is hitting just .156 with a .347 on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS). Figgins is at .143 with a .419 OPS. And Cust is at .196 with a .532 OPS.
All three play key roles in the offense. Figgins is supposed to be a table-setter with Ichiro at the top of the order. And Cust and Olivo were the two biggest offensive upgrades the M’s went out and got this off-season.
If all three keep producing like this, there’s a good chance the offense could be even worse than the one that scored only 513 runs last season — worst of the DH era.
The good news is, all three are unlikely to keep going this badly. Why? Because there is evidence that all three are hitting the ball hard and not catching the breaks they traditionally have — and that all hitters typically have — in the past.
Looking at the line drive rate for Olivo, it currently stands higher than last year, when he hit .269 with a .765 OPS. Olivo currently hits line drives at a 20.7 rate compared to 17.9 percent a year ago. In fact, this is the best line drive rate Olivo has had since 2003.
Problem is, his batting average on balls in play is just .241 compared to .346 last season and .301 for his career. That’s a good way of knowing that he simply is not having a whole lot of luck. Balls that would normally drop in for him and other hitters are being caught, like his liner snared by left fielder Alex Gordon yesterday.
Figgins has the exact same line drive rate as last year, 20.8 percent. So, he is hitting the ball as hard as he did all of last season. But his batting average on balls in play is down to an astoundingly low .140 compared to .314 last year and .331 for his career. That’s just plain bad luck. It almost has to come up, simply by laws of nature.
In Cust’s case, he’s at 20.6 compared to 21.8 in the line drive rate, so down just slightly from last year. But his batting average on balls in play is just .294 compared to .387 last year and .336 for his career.
So, there is still room for Cust to improve.
All three players are still hitting the ball hard relative to their career norms. They just are seeing those balls caught.
Does this mean it’s all luck? No.
Figgins has been hitting more balls in the air — 39.6 percent this year compared to 32.2 percent in 2010. When he hits stuff in the air, it tends to hang up and get caught. When he hits stuff on the ground, he can often beat it out for hits.
Cust is the opposite, hitting fewer flyballs than before. Cust doesn’t get many infield singles, obviously.
Olivo is hitting fewer flyballs as well and none are leaving the park. For him and Cust, that’s a big part of their games.
So, yeah, it’s not like a luck shift will be the answer to all of their prayers. All three have room for improvement in how they’ve been hitting. And they’re all at the age — right between age 30 and mid-30s — where it’s fair to wonder if they’ve “lost” something in their game. But the fact they are all hitting line drives at roughly the same rate as before seems to discount the notion of slower bat speed.
And the luck factor, as we just pointed out, is more than likely playing a role in just how awful their numbers have been to this point. Their numbers should be down. Just not this down.
There’s a good chance their luck will change for the better — and soon. The type of luck they’ve had on line drives and all balls in-play just is not sustainable. If they throw in some adjustments and improvements, they stand a good chance of getting back closer to what’s expected in a pretty big hurry.
So, a little good news there. The M’s could use some on offense. Don’t run these guys out of town just yet.