With the Mariners only a couple games out of first place in the AL West, it is time to start looking deeper at some statistics to see whether the Mariners truly have a shot at making the playoffs.
The biggest apparent weakness of the Mariners has been their offense. The Mariners as a team are second to last in the American League in On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and OPS.
The division “rival”, Oakland Athletics currently have the worst offense in the American League holding last place in most team hitting categories. If it was not for Ichiro’s league leading .369 batting average, the Mariners might be last in the American League in batting average as well.
The team currently stands with a .257 batting average, ranking them 11th out of 14 among American League teams.
It is foolish to simply label the Mariners lineup as a lineup full of “bad” hitters. Some of the players are actually above-average hitters, but these same hitters have some bad habits.
The Mariners currently have the worst walk percentage in the American League. Collectively, Mariners hitters have not been as patient at the plate as they should be. A little more patience could help them improve their dismal On-Base Percentage.
More men on base equals more scoring opportunities, more scoring opportunities equals more runs, more runs equals more wins. If the Mariners could somehow improve their walk rate by changing their habits at the plate or even by making some roster moves, these things could help improve their run production.
The Mariners are second to last in the American League with a 46.8 percent overall swing rate. Top teams like the Yankees and Red Sox both have swing rates hovering around 41 percent. Also, as a team, the Mariners are swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone at a 29.8 percent clip, this is the worst rate in the American League.
Not only are the Mariners swinging away at a high rate, they are also swinging at a large amount of baseballs, outside of the zone. If the team as a whole just was a little more patient at the plate, the offense I believe would start to see better results.
How has the team been performing well, despite having one of the Major League’s worst offenses? Well there are two answers to that question: pitching and outfield defense. The Mariners currently have the best outfield UZR (an advanced stat that measures defense).
The outstanding outfield defense makes up a deadly combination with the Mariner pitchers having the sixth best fly ball percentage in the American League. Among Mariner starting pitchers, Jarrod Washburn has the second worst percentage at 39.9 percent.
As a team the Mariners currently have a 38.9 percent fly ball percentage. If the Mariners can deal Washburn for a decent bat that could help the offense, the team would benefit tremendously. Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Brandon Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Jason Vargas/Garrett Olson is a sufficient starting rotation going forward.
The pitcher with the worst flyball percentage from the rotation is Felix Hernandez whose rate stands at 32.1 percent. However, Felix has a 50.5 percent groundball rate, which is the highest on the team.
The team needs to find better infield defense, and that issue seems to have fixed itself in recent events. Yuniesky Betancourt who was statistically the worst shortstop defensively, has landed on the disabled list with Ronny Cedeno taking his spot.
Cedeno is way more patient at the plate than Yuni is and is a much better defender than Yuni is. With Cedeno now the everyday shortstop, the Mariners should start seeing positive results defensively and offensively.
The front office should look toward trading Washburn for a decent hitter who displays a fair amount of patience at the plate.
As James noted earlier, finding a patient hitter who will add some firepower to the lineup is not that hard, and the help can even come from Tacoma. Either way, Washburn is an expendable piece who can also be traded for prospects.
Even if the Mariners do not end up improving their lineup or their infield defense, they still have a shot at winning the AL West; the Texas Rangers appear to be losing some steam as their streaky offense has hurt them as of late, the Angels have been hit with a plethora of critical injuries, and games with the Athletics have become easy wins on the schedule.
Unlike their division counterparts, the Mariners have a solid starting rotation and an outfield defense that they can count on. If the Mariners can rely on these two strengths coupled with modest improvements to their plate discipline and infield defense, they might find themselves playing more than 162 games this season.