The race is on, as the number of regular players who have yet to draw a walk in 2009 is down to three:
Yuniesky Betancourt (53 PA)
Bengie Molina (54 PA)
Ichiro Suzuki (33 PA)
Not surprisingly, considering that more than 20 percent of their starting lineup has yet to draw a walk, the Seattle Mariners are last in the major leagues with a .293 on-base percentage, barely falling below Arizona (.294) and Molina’s swing-happy San Francisco Giants (.299).
(Point of interest: the Moneyball-inspiration Oakland A’s are next from the bottom at .307, which is certainly crappy, but the A’s look like the ’27 Yankees next to those other three dud-studded lineups).
Despite the Mariners’ unwillingness to take their bases on balls, unlike their impatient ilk they have been winning ballgames, entering Friday with a three-and-a-half game lead on top of the A.L. West and having outscored their opponents by seven runs on the year. This scenario begets those two questions that drive all baseball research: how are they able to do this and can they continue?
The Mariners’ position atop the Western division standings can be attributed to a variety of factors, not the least of which is that the A.L. West includes only four teams. This has been a major factor in the Angels’ run of dominance as well, as in a four-team division each team starts the year with a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs, where as teams in five-squad divisions have 20 percent chances and in the mediocrity-packed, six-team N.L. Central, each team has a 16.67 percent chance.
Taking for granted the fact that someone needs to finish first in the unfairly scarce A.L. West, the Mariners have also prevented runs at an unexpected rate, although their company at the top of the runs-prevented list doesn’t bode well for the prospect of the list remaining consistent over the course of the season.
Fewest Runs Allowed In 2009 (Entering Friday 4/24):
Kansas City (51)
LA Dodgers (54)
Those four teams have a combined run differential of +77 on the year, with the Dodgers leading the way at Major League-leading +40, followed by the Pirates at +20, the Royals at +10 and Seattle at +7.
With the exception of the Pirates in that silly, six-team N.L. Central, all of the teams in the above list are in first place in their divisions. Save for the Dodgers, does that look like a list of teams that will be in the running for playoff spots in October? All signs point to “fluke” on this one.
Seattle’s saving grace here will be health. The M’s top two starters, Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez, have combined to pitch 45 and a third innings so far this year, striking out 50 batters against just 12 walks and yielding just a single home run over that span.
However, these dudes have also spent a combined 430 days on the disabled list since 2003. Needless to say, that is a whole shitload of missed time, and pitching in the major leagues hasn’t been known to be the most helpful way to avoid reaggravating previously sustained injuries.
I think it is safe to say that despite their lackluster divisional competition, the Seattle Mariners will likely not spend much more time atop the A.L. West standings. While Ichiro and the one and only “Yuniesky” in the history of baseball will in all likelihood each draw a walk at some point this year, there is no guarantee that it will happen many more times for either of them.
Throw fellow OBP-drains Jose Lopez (career .301), Kenji Johjima (.312), and Endy Chavez (.314) into the mix and you’re looking at an offense that is collectively getting on base at roughly the same rate as Ty Cobb, circa the present day in which Cobb has been dead for nearly 60 years.
Couple the team’s complete inability to score runs with an aging pitching staff that will likely lose time to injuries and a Jarrod Washburn that simply will not continue allowing less than one baseruner per inning while striking out four times as many guys as he walks, and you’ve got a team that is, plain and simple, not a contender. In the stupid A.L. West, though, who knows?