Why Seattle Mariners' Overachieving 2009 Season Led To an Awful 2010

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Why Seattle Mariners' Overachieving 2009 Season Led To an Awful 2010
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Forget the Chinese Zodiac. 2010 was supposed to be the Year of the Mariner. 

As a result of a promising 2009 season and the acquisition of many talented players, there were extremely high expectations for the Seattle Mariners to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

But through the first two and a half months of the season, the Mariners stand 28-41 and 13 games behind division-leading Texas Rangers.

When things go wrong, the logical approach is to figure out the root of the problem. Unfortunately for the Mariners, it's nearly impossible to pinpoint the mechanism for this disastrous season. However, it needs to be done.

So who's to blame?

Blame Milton Bradley for creating distractions and tensing up the formerly light-hearted clubhouse.

Blame Ryan Garko and Eric Byrnes, two veterans with upside that never panned out as Mariners.

Blame Jose Lopez, the second-longest standing Mariner, for his slow start.

Blame Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith, who combine for a 1-11 record.

Blame Erik Bedard for hibernating during baseball season.

Blame manager Don Wakamatsu for creating questionable lineups at best.

Blame general manager Jack Zduriencik for not picking up a big bat when he had the money to do so.

Blame it on youngsters Matt Tuiasosopo, Adam Moore and Mike Carp and their rough transition to the majors.

While each of these points could become it's own column, the fault lies within the over-achievement of the 2009 team.

Last year was a memorable season in the Emerald City. Coming off a 101-loss campaign, the Mariners shocked the league by finishing 85-77 and gave Mariners' fans promising hope for a playoff run in the near future.

Using modern methods of statistics, Zduriencik focused on playing old-school ball, and built his team around pitching and defense. Statistics show the Mariners were the best in both.

Highlighted by Franklin Gutierrez's stellar defensive season (he posted a league-leading 29 UZR), the Mariners had the best defensive team in the AL, with Adrian Beltre, Jack Wilson and Ichiro also recording great seasons. Having a swarm of venus flytraps at your expense gave the pitchers an insurmountable confidence and saved many possible runs, hence their league-leading ERA. 

The Mariners committed to Zduriencik's philosophy of excellent pitching and defense, and they delivered, staying in the playoff hunt until late summer. 

However, the Mariners weren't nearly as good as their record led us to believe.

I've never been one to bring luck into sports. I don't believe in "lucky shots" or "the victor was lucky to win." Excellence in sports is centered around talent, execution and preparation. Nonetheless, it seems like the outfield grass at Safeco Field was full of four-leaf clovers in 2009.

Although I'm sure Bill James is in his basement devouring Scooby-Doo fruit snacks creating a statistic measuring luck, there is not a number that can be placed on the M's fortune.

But we can at least breakdown what we know. Here are four reasons that shows how luck led to the M's misleading record. 

1) According to the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball, which adjusts the win-loss record based on runs scored and runs allowed, their record should have been 75-87. They scored 640 runs (worst in AL) while giving up 692 (best in AL), becoming just the third team since 1893 to finish with a winning record while recording below the league average in runs scored. 

In 2010, the Pythagorean Theorem directly correlates with the Mariners win-loss performance. Judging by their run differential, the Mariners should be 27-42, just one game below their actual record. This shows just how "lucky" the Mariners were to finish with a record above .500.

2) The Mariners played in 55 one-run games last season, most in the majors. Miraculously, the Mariners won 35 of them, seven more than the next team in the AL. Since approximately 1/3 of Seattle's games were decided by one run, it is evident their fate heavily relied on these games. All season the Mariners were flirting with the fine line of failure, and would have wound up in the cellar if it weren't for the remarkable, if not lucky, performance in close games.

Once again the Mariners lead the AL in one-run games, but the outcome is completely different. While the Mariners won the most one-run games last year, they have the most one-run losses so far in 2009. They posted a ridiculous 64 percent winning percentage in one-run contests, compared to 42 percent this season. This also the by far the lowest mark in the division, with Texas having the next lowest percentage, 58 percent. 

3) The Mariners also led the American League in extra-inning victories (nine). Extra-inning games are basically a coin flip, and luckily for the Mariners it usually landed on heads.

If the Mariners lost half the games they won, they would have been a decent .500 team continuing to rebuild, not a primer for a 2010 playoff run. Obviously this shows a knack for clutch hitting, but also poses the idea the Mariners were lucky to sneak by with a few.

This year has been the polar opposite. In seven extra-inning games, the Mariners have won just one. Only the Red Sox have a worse record (1-7). Thus far, the Mariners are the lone team in the division to struggle in extra-inning outings. Each of the other three division rivals have a winning percentage of .500 or above. 

4) According to Jeff Sullivan at Lookout Landing, David Aardsma had 17 balls travel to the warning track or further last season. This number is extremely high, and Aardsma's very fortunate that only four went over the wall, or 24 percent (compared to 57 for the rest of the staff).

The fact that 13 balls were caught within feet of the wall is perhaps the luckiest stat of them all, especially considering the situations in which they were hit. As the closer, Aardsma is on the mound in the most important moments of the game. If the bat were tilted a tenth of a degree or swung a tenth of a second different, many of those 13 outs would have landed over the fence. This would drastically change the records in extra-inning and one-run games.

Aardsma hasn't been nearly as lucky this season. He has already matched last year's mark with four blown saves, and has struggled to stay consistent in the closer role. The Mariners have lost 13 games in their opponents' last at-bat.

If they win all those games, they sit in first place in the AL West. Of those 13 games, eight have been on walk-off hits. These are games the Mariners are dropping this year that never would have happened last season. 

If the Mariners played like they should of according to their run differential and without a large amount of luck, their record would have been well below .500, as expected. This would have set up another rebuilding season, and not lead to a roster overhaul. However, they played much better than they truly were, and set up for the following season to be a huge disappointment. 

Although trying to grasp that it will be another Mariner-less October is hard enough, it is even more painful to comprehend Carlos Silva, now on the Cubs and the worst pitcher in Mariners' team history, has as many wins as Cliff Lee and Doug Fister combined. 

 

 

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