Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Sept. 22, 2021

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M’s offense is like a big, gas-filled thing that crashes

Greg Jayne: By the Numbers

The Columbian
Published:

Yes, we’re running out of analogies.

Is it a train wreck? An implosion? A BP offshore oil rig?

No, the Mariners’ offense has been so bad this year that only one analogy is applicable at this point — Seattle is The Hindenburg.

Explosions. Flames. A twisted hulk of a wreckage. “Oh the humanity!” and all that.

The Mariners don’t have merely the worst lineup in the major leagues, they have an historically bad one. Consider: Seattle is averaging 3.24 runs per game. The last time a team was so offensively challenged was 1981, when the Blue Jays averaged 3.10 runs.

But 1981 was a strike season, and the Blue Jays played 106 games. So we have to go back to 1972 to find a club that scored fewer than 3.24 runs per game (five teams did it that year).

Yes, it has been nearly 40 years since a team playing a full season has scored as few runs as Seattle, despite the fact that 2010 is an offensive-minded season when placed into a historical context.

This has been a result of across-the-board impotence. For example, the Mariners’ center fielders (mostly Franklin Gutierrez) have an OPS of .705, which ranks 10th at the position among AL teams. And here’s the kicker: That is Seattle’s highest rank among any of the positions. Even in right field (mostly Ichiro), the Mariners are 12th in OPS among the 14 AL clubs.

Seattle’s catchers are 13th in OPS, the first basemen are 12th, the second basemen are last … you get the point. Offensively, the Mariners are well below average at every position on the field.

Why, among AL third basemen, Seattle is 13th in on-base percentage, slugging, runs, and batting. And that’s where their cleanup hitter — Jose Lopez — resides.

But you probably knew all that. So instead of rehashing the obvious, let’s take a look at some of the reasons Seattle’s offense is so utterly futile:

Safeco Field

The park has something to do with it. This season, Safeco has reduced runs by about 13 percent, which certainly hurts the statistics of hitters who play half their games there. In recent years, the park typically has reduced runs by about 5 to 7 percent.

But the impact of Safeco tends to be overstated. This season, the homes of the Astros, Rays and Giants all have been tougher on hitters.

Seattle has a long history of signing free-agent hitters who have flopped once they arrived in the Northwest. Anybody remember Rich Aurilia or Scott Spiezio? You can blame Safeco for their struggles, or you can acknowledge that they weren’t that good to begin with, and they arrived in Seattle just as baseball began to crack down on steroids. I’m just sayin’ …

Philosophy 101

General manager Jack Zduriencik has embraced a philosophy that suggests good defensive players are undervalued and can be picked up at a reasonable price. Emboldened by last season’s surprising 85-77 record, he carried that philosophy into this season as if he were Plato.

Zduriencik constructed a team as though his goal was to set some sort of record for most games decided by a score of 2-1 — there simply was no way this team was going to score many runs.

The philosophy is not unique these days, and it’s one that the Boston Red Sox also embraced during the offseason — acquiring strong defensive players rather than offensive-minded ones. The surprise is that the Red Sox now rank second in the AL in runs scored.

Casey Kotchman

Kotchman stands as the most glaring example of Zduriencik’s philosophy. After Russell Branyan led the team in home runs and slugging percentage in 2009, the Mariners refused to sign him to a multi-year contract. Instead, they traded for Kotchman.

Casey Kotchman is a fine fielder. He might also be a fine person. He might be nice to children and small animals. But there’s no way he’s an everyday major-league first baseman.

For every 162 games in his career, Kotchman has averaged 58 runs, 13 homers and 71 RBI, with an on-base percentage of .331 and a slugging percentage of .399.

You won’t find a lot of first basemen who slug .399 on contending teams.

The acquisition of Kotchman was much different from the signing of Chone Figgins, who had been a decent offensive player but simply hasn’t worked out. Unlike with Kotchman, there was reason to believe Figgins could contribute.

Anyway, on June 26, the Mariners offered an assessment of the Kotchman experiment: They traded two minor leaguers to Cleveland for Russell Branyan.

Jose Lopez

Lopez is the Mariners’ cleanup hitter. He has an on-base percentage of .269. That should be enough said, but we’ll say more.

Last year, Lopez had 42 doubles, 25 homers and 96 RBI, somehow seducing somebody in the front office into believing he can be a cleanup hitter. Call me naîve, but I would expect major-league executives to notice Lopez’s .303 career on-base percentage and recognize that he’s not a good offensive player, let alone a cleanup hitter.

Inserting Lopez into the cleanup spot — while adding the burden of moving him from second base to third — is an example of gross negligence on Zduriencik’s part.

Jack Cust

We’ll add this one to the “philosophy” category. At the end of spring training, Cust cleared waivers and was sent to Triple-A by the Oakland Athletics.

This would have been a good time for the Mariners to make a play for a hitter who had a .378 OBP and a .462 slugging percentage over the previous three years. Alas, Seattle had Ken Griffey Jr. (now retired) and Mike Sweeney (now in Philadelphia) at designated hitter. There was no room for somebody who could actually put some runs on the board. The A’s, by the way, quickly returned Cust to the major leagues.

Maybe the Mariners did make a play for Cust. But given their personnel decisions over the past year, it probably would have made too much sense for the front office to think of it.

Not that it would have made much difference. This offense was destined to explode and crash with or without Jack Cust.

Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne

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