The Mariners Offense Is Both Good and Endearingly Quirky

To begin with a gross oversimplification of a maddeningly complex sport, there are two ways to win a baseball game: score runs and prevent runs. Those two acts inform the predictive significance of run differentials and Pythagorean record and represent the reason I enjoy perusing leaderboards to see which teams are currently the best at run generation and prevention. We’re at the point in the season where the tops of the leaderboards aren’t terribly surprising – the Red Sox score frequently, the Mets don’t allow many runs, the Cubs are ridiculously great in both categories – but one team I’m still getting accustomed to finding near the top of the runs-scored leaderboard is the Mariners.

After years of battling mediocrity and a frustrating relegation to relative baseball obscurity, the Mariners have scored more runs than any American League team not named the Red Sox. With 315 runs scored through 63 games played, the Seattle is now averaging five runs scored per game — a rate they haven’t sustained over a full season since averaging 5.02 runs per game in 2002… you know, back when they had a designated hitter named Edgar Martinez, a second baseman named Bret Boone and a catcher named Dan Wilson. As offense has declined around the league during the last decade and a half, the Mariners’ offense has more than followed suit. In all but one season from 2004 to 2015, the Mariners finished anywhere from 11th to 14th in the AL in R/G. (Recall that, for a majority of that stretch, the American League consisted of only 14 teams.)

But now they’re scoring five runs a game – and are on a pace equivalent to 810 runs over a full 162-game schedule. Only five teams in the past five seasons have scored 810 runs and, of those five, all but the 2011 Red Sox made the postseason. And you might remember that the 2011 Red Sox team had to work darn hard to not make the playoffs. What the Mariners are doing right now is an undeniably good thing, and one that’s very much conducive to winning. And a little further digging reveals something endearingly quirky about the way the Mariners are scoring all of their runs.

As one might expect, the Mariners rank in the top five in the American League among key offensive categories, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and home runs. However, they also rank dead last in one surprising category: doubles. In fact, the Mariners have hit more home runs (94) than doubles (89). If you think that’s atypical, you’re correct.

Teams With More Home Runs Than Doubles
Team Year G HR 2B Difference
SEA 2016 63 94 89 +5
MIN 1963 161 225 223 +2
DET 1962 161 209 191 +18
NYY 1961 163 240 194 +46
LAD 1958 154 172 166 +6
CIN 1956 155 221 201 +20
NYG 1947 155 221 220 +1
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
(since 1913)

It’s been more than half a century since a team hit more home runs than doubles. It’s a feat so rare that it’s hard to believe the Mariners aren’t due for a bit of course correction along the way. Let’s take a look at how they’re doing what they’re doing and where we might expect changes going forward.

One of the first things to consider when discussing the Mariners’ power output is their ballpark. For the first decade of Safeco Field’s existence, it was considered an extraordinarily pitcher-friendly park. Since moving the fences in prior to the 2013 season, however, the park has played increasingly neutral. No offensive category in Safeco has seen a bigger jump by park factor than home runs, which has increased from 92 to 98 (100 represents league average). The Mariners wanted their home stadium to yield more home runs and they made it happen.

One interesting subset of park factors is the handedness factors. An obvious example of the potential extremes of handedness park factors is Fenway Park, where the Green Monster causes the park to play extraordinarily different for right-handed batters than left-handed batters. Throughout its existence, Safeco has been an easier park for left-handed hitters to hit a home run in than right-handed hitters, although that gap has begun to decrease since the fences were moved in.

Whether with that stadium tendency in mind or not, the Mariners have built a lineup which relies heavily on left-handed bats, beginning with the two bats they’ve locked up long-term: Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. In fact, there are only currently two right-handed bats in the Mariners’ standard lineup: catcher Chris Iannetta and designated hitter Nelson Cruz. Although, their soon-to-be 34-year-old rookie Dae-Ho Lee is another righty and is currently making making a heckuva case to play everyday with his 147 wRC+ and neutral platoon splits. Regardless, it’s a lefty-heavy lineup in a park with a slight home-run advantage for left-handed hitters. Could this account for the outburst of home-run power?

It’s a decent theory, but the numbers don’t back it up. Mariners lefties have accounted only for 56 of the team’s 91 home runs, with 29 coming at home and 27 coming on the road.

So, what’s the source of the HR/2B disparity? The biggest factor is the aforementioned right-handed bat making a play for an everyday role: Dae-Ho Lee. Now a little more than two months into his major-league career, Lee has been winning over Seattle fans with a strong start including a walk-off home run back in April and a two-home-run game last Friday. His batting line, however, contains this oddity: 10 home runs… and zero doubles. According to Baseball Reference, no hitter has ever had a season with double-digit home runs without recording a double. It’s only a matter of time before Lee’s HR:2B ratio begins to normalize and the Mariners’ HR:2B will begin to normalize right along with it.

The Mariners are in the midst of an offensive surge we haven’t seen from them in a painfully long time and power has been a delightful part of it. While it’s reasonable to expect some regression in the career-best ISOs from Cano (.285) and Seager (.227) — in addition to Lee’s power returning to Earth — there’s simply no reason to expect the Mariners offense to fade away. Now two years into a career resurgence no one saw coming, Nelson Cruz continues to be a perennial 40-homer threat, and he partners with Cano and Seager to form a formidable middle-of-the-order along with impressive complementary players like Seth Smith, Adam Lind, and even Leonys Martin.

The big question for the Mariners is whether they will be able to pitch enough to remain competitive through the summer — and it’s a question with an answer that’s increasingly scary as Felix Hernandez’s health woes continue. Our projection system believes in what this team is showing and projects them to score 4.7 runs per game while conceding only 4.3 the rest of the way. The result? A 45.7% probability of making the playoffs. However, it’s worth noting that that figure includes significant production from King Felix. Quirks aside, this is very much a team worth monitoring right now, even as some of those home runs start turning into doubles.





Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

48 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
johnforthegiants
6 years ago

Actually, if you’re interested in ‘which teams are currently the best at run generation’ and you check actual statistics, you’ll notice that in the last 30 days the Cubs are tied with the Reds for 14th in runs scored. I wouldn’t really call that ‘ridiculously great’. I think ‘average’ would probably be a more accurate word, no?

Lunch Anglemember
6 years ago

Why would you only look at the last 30 days? In 2016, the Cubs are third in baseball in runs scored and have allowed the least runs of any team in baseball. That’s pretty ridiculously great.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  Lunch Angle

Because she wrote ‘currently’. If she had meant to write ‘this year’, she would have written ‘this year’.

Ebenezermember
6 years ago

Why do you think “currently” means the past 30 days, but not this year? If you’re going to be that literal about it, why not just judge the Cubs on how they hit yesterday? That’s as current as it gets.

drewsylvaniamember
6 years ago

OK, that’s just being a dipshit.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  drewsylvania

Actually it’s called reading what’s written.

Spartacus
6 years ago

Next to the definition of “choad” in the dictionary is a picture of John.

Brians Sticky Sock
6 years ago

I’m starting to think that maybe John’s autistic and he doesn’t realize how belligerent he is.

jrubymember
6 years ago

Yeah, I mean, good thing those first 7 weeks of the season when they led the National League in runs don’t count, or else your comment would seem stupid.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago

Wow, fangraphs readers really hate to have facts pointed out to them.

Jason Bmember
6 years ago

Yes…yes, that’s what it is. You keep telling yourself that, slugger.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  Jason B

No one argues with the facts, they just put thumbs down. What other possible conclusion is there than they don’t like facts?

Fillmoremember
6 years ago

People argue with misinformed opinion masquerading as facts. Which is all you ever offer.

News flash: you’re not the smartest kid in the room. You’re just the loudmouth who really really wants to be that kid. And you’re very obviously failing at it. So keep your fool mouth shut from now on.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  Fillmore

Just check the stat, if you care about them. The cubs have scored an average number of runs in the last month. Not ‘incredibly great. Average. No one has even attemoted to contest that. Who else in this room looks smarter?

Emcee Peepantsmember
6 years ago

She says, “currently the best at run generation and prevention”. Over your precious 30 day period, the Cubs are +58 in run differential, the next best teams are the Nationals and Indians, tied at +32. For the season, the Cubs are +162, almost double the Red Sox in 2nd with +85. So, in using facts, the Cubs are indeed “ridiculously great in both categories”.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  Emcee Peepants

‘ridiculously great in both categories’ means that they are ridiculously great in scoring runs, like the red sox, and in not allowing runs, like the mets. The first simply isn’t true in the last month. This is very basic reading ability. You need a remedial class.

Spartacus
6 years ago

Go lick a taint, John.

nodak
6 years ago

Boy, I bet you REALLY think yesterday proves your point. The Cubs were in almost the bottom 1/3 in run differential yesterday (they lost by 3 runs–14th out of 20 I believe). How can someone possibly say that they are “ridiculously great in both scoring runs and preventing runs” if they have a -3 run differential yesterday? Particularly that 3rd inning (-1 run differential) and 6th inning (-2 run differential). LOL

free-range turducken
6 years ago

Dude, do you get paid for every down vote you get?

johnforthegiants
6 years ago

No, but it’s amusing to see such evidence of how fangraphs readers can’t argue but just give thumbs down. The more thumbs down with no counterargument, the more people who would like to prove me wrong but can’t. It’s like i’m winning an article with 30 people.

Jimbomember
6 years ago

You’re not providing an argument. You’re splitting hairs over semantics.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  Jimbo

It isn’t splitting hairs. She wrote something which is transparently false.

Jason Bmember
6 years ago

Of course it is splitting hairs, you small child. Can you point to anywhere…ANYWHERE – that defines “currently” as “the last 30 days” and only the last thirty days? ANYWHERE.

I’ll wait.

Of course you can’t, you small, small child, you.

nodak
6 years ago
Reply to  Jason B

That really wasn’t his point. He just simply wants to use a definition of great run differential as great over any given period of time. No one else seems to want to use that definition. He is complaining that people seem to want to use a full season worth of data if conveniently available instead of an arbitrary “last 30 days” period.”

grandbranyanmember
6 years ago

bpqa, ebenezer, jruby & Emcee Peepants have all addressed your argument quite effectively. What is your counterargument to theirs?

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

Emcee was the only one who mentioned facts, the others just made assertions. And i just dealt with emcee’s facts.

Chip Lockemember
6 years ago

Keep the faith, John. If you just continually bring the Cubs down in the comments section of a website – especially when the article isn’t about them – eventually they will notice, lose their own faith in themselves, and throw the rest of the season.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  Chip Locke

The writer mentioned the cubs at the beginning of the article. And if you look below, you’ll see that readers here are writing almost nothing about the main topic of this article, the mariners, while there is a huge number of comments about what i wrote about the cubs. This shows that fangraphs readers are pretty much only interested in the cubs, no matter what the article is mostly about.

Michael Carpenter
6 years ago

The readers are only interested in the Cubs? Seriously, you comment on EVERY single article with the sole purpose of making some snotty comment about how the Cubs aren’t as good as every one thinks they are. Articles that have nothing to do with the Cubs are used by you to dump on them because of whatever mental condition you have that gives you this obsession. If you spent 1/4 of as much of your energy on productive things as you do on crapping all over the Cubs you would be as productive as you claim the Cubs NOT to be. The Cubs are a fantastic team, whether you like it or not. They aren’t “getting lucky”, they aren’t playing a “weak schedule” or any of the other idiotically false reasons I’ve seen you put out on the any of the other 2000 articles that you give your embarrassingly stupid input on. You seem to think that all of the Fangraph readers are idiots and that you’re the lone light in the cavern of dark, baseball ignorance and that only you can lead us on this Crusade to reveal the truth about how despite leading or being at the very top of basically every relevant metric the Cubs are actually not good.

You’re a complete joke and I’m honestly embarrassed by you. If you really think you’re so above all of us at Fangraphs, then stop coming here. Get a life and get over whatever irrational hatred you have for a baseball team. No matter how much you want it to be false, the Cubs are a fantastic team.

Now stop crying about it.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago

Not all of the fangraphs readers are idiots. But a lot of them are. For example you certainly seem to be. Like the others here, you have made no attempt to argue facts but simply make assertions. As far as I can tell, you don’t even know anything about sabermetrics (do you even know what babip is, for example?). And you think readers here aren’t only interested in the Cubs?? Just check out the pathetically few number of comments there are about the Mariners even in this article, compared to how dozens of people are commenting about the Cubs. Because fangraphs has become a place for Cubs fans to imagine that they can finally win the World Series without the formality of having to actually play any games.

Michael Carpenter
6 years ago

Ahahaha. Did you seriously just ask if I knew what babip is? You do realize that sabermetrics isn’t this arcane, mysterious art that only a few chosen souls are privy to, right? Do you really think I would read fangraphs if I wasn’t interested in sabermetrics?

And as for this idiocy: “And you think readers here aren’t only interested in the Cubs?? Just check out the pathetically few number of comments there are about the Mariners even in this article, compared to how dozens of people are commenting about the Cubs. ”

YOU are the one who brought up the Cubs. YOU are. Every one is responding to YOU bringing up the Cubs, like you do on every single article on this website.

YOU bring the Cubs into every single comment section. YOU are the one who can’t shut up about them and give your completely stupid, devoid-of-any-sort-of-logical argument-whatsoever opinion as to why they aren’t as good as EVERY SINGLE METRIC suggests they are. How do you not realize that you’re the problem here? If you would shut up about the Cubs and not bring them to every article (this is an article about the Mariners, and you and only you made a point to discuss the Cubs reference in the comments) then people wouldn’t talk about them as much as you seem to think they do.

You’re like the girl at the office who stirs crap up with all of the co-workers by talking behind their back and pitting them against each other and then makes a status on Facebook that says “I’m so sick of all the drama! Aghhh!!”

You aren’t a brilliant analyst because you “know what babip is”. I’m still laughing about your accusation that I know nothing about sabermetrics and then you asked me what babip is like it’s this great polarizing definition and the knowledge of it separates the men from the boys.

I’ll say it again: you’re embarrassing. You haven’t stumbled upon some great secret that has eluded the rest of the sabermetrics community. You have an unhealthy obsession and you’re damn near delusional at this point. I feel bad for you.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago

They are also benefitting from playing in a division with unbelievably bad pitching–the teams in their division are 14th, 27th, 29th, and 30th in the majors in pitching WAR–and this is also inflating their hitting stats.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  Chip Locke

And it isn’t a question of losing faith in themselves, it’s a question of their luck running out. On the first month they benefited from playing teams with horrendous pitching, i pointed that out, people booed me, but what do you know, in the second month their run production became average. They’re still benefiting from ridiculous babip luck for their starting pitchers, but eventually that will normalize too. With other teams, people can comment about things like this without readers going off the deep end. See for example the comment below about the mariners’ luck or my comment yesterday about the pirates’ hitters’ babip luck. But if someone points out that the cubs have been getting lucky, there’s complete denial.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago
Reply to  Chip Locke

I’m not saying the cubs aren’t a good team, i’m saying they’ve been so lucky in so many ways that it’s impossible to tell how good they are. And in terms of perception of hitting it doesn’t even matter that in the last month their luck has run out, because fangraphs readers are so out of touch with reality regarding the cubs that they don’t even notice it and deny it when it’s pointed out to them.

Michael Carpenter
6 years ago

“luck”

Right, the ridiculous run differential and whole starting staff leading in pitching is all due to bloop hits and scoring on errors and playing AA teams, right? God you’re embarrassing.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago

You need to learn very basic things about baseball statistics, like babip, before you can participate in discussions like this without looking stupid.

Jason Bmember
6 years ago

Yeah…you would know a thing or two about looking stupid.

And petty.

And obsessive.

You small, small child, you.

Michael Carpenter
6 years ago

HAHAHAHA here you go again with the whole “you need to learn what babip is” thing. I know what babip is, okay? You’re not special because you know what it is.

johnforthegiants
6 years ago

As a team they haven’t been particularly lucky in terms of babip (in case you didn’t know, that’s the statistical term related to ‘bloop hits’) and I didn’t say they have been (although obviously some individuals have been). But their starting pitchers have been ridiculously lucky in terms of low babip (NOT giving up ‘bloop hits’). I realize that you probably don’t know enough about sabermetrics to understand what I’m talking about but I may as well say it.

paulkrugman
6 years ago

I don’t know what we’d do without your insight. Thanks!

nodak
6 years ago

BABIP does not = bloop hits. Therefore it is not the “statistical term related to bloop hits” any more than it is the statistical term for “seeing-eye-singles” or “at ’em balls.”

Michael Carpenter
6 years ago

I think you just learned what babip is and now you’re looking to whip out your new tool at every turn. That’s the third time (at least) in this thread that you’ve used the knowledge of babip like a weapon. You kinda remind me of a third grader who just learned a dirty word and then says “do you know what that means? I do!!!!” to all of his classmates and then settles back in his desk with a smug grin.

Sn0wman
6 years ago

What was that True Grit line about the girl wielding her attorney’s name as if it were a gun? John and BABIP.