Fun With (Fun) Mariners Numbers

When this blog was resurrected (Happy Late Easter) I had big plans for a post. That certain post may still happen so I won’t spoil it, I’m sure my mere mention of said post is causing people to sell off their Avengers: Endgame tickets for this weekend, opting to sit in front of a computer screen in anticipation instead. It’s been a long time since I’ve written about sports as I’ve focused on writing about other things recently. Fortunately, this should come back to me like riding a bicycle. Speaking of, I took my bike out of the garage the other day and was going to go for a short ride. I hopped on, pedaled a few times and then almost fell of immediately. My bike was walked back to the garage and I went inside.

The Mariners have been the subject of the Good Guys (although it’s really only been Matthew so far as the rest of us watched in shock) getting back together. I don’t want to speak for Matthew, but writing about baseball has always come easier. I think both of us care most about the Huskies, especially football. Maybe those games are too personal or maybe we don’t know as much about the sport to ever be completely comfortable in covering it hence the writing about baseball.

Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

 

As the season was about to begin, my excitement level was pretty low. Matthew would tell me how he was looking forward to the season and I’d nod while thinking “Who’s Cory Gearrin and why is he a staple in the Mariners bullpen?”  Then the year began, I watched nearly every inning of the games in Japan and thought, “Tim Beckham is awesome. Who’s Cory Gearrin and why is he a staple in the Mariners bullpen?” After two wins in Japan, the Mariners continued to play well, blowing past the lowly(!) Red Sox and Mike Trout’s middle school friends (that’s the only explanation for the team the Angels have assembled). Then they destroyed the bad teams in the AL Central on the road. After having a frustrating week against the top 5 finishers in the 2019 AL Cy Young Award voting, they went back to bashing the Angels.

It’s all been good, weird fun. Having no expectations for a team can be a freeing experience for a sports fan. The four-hour games are always filled with twists and strange moments. The hitting approach has been a fresh sight. The bullpen has been pretty awful but it’s fun to laugh at. Before the season began, I was annoyed at the ‘Step Back’ because of the wide open AL Wild Card. I believe that the team Jerry blew up would have been the fifth best team in the AL and probably could have snuck into the playoffs. I still believe that but I’ll freely admit that watching this team has been more fun.

I have problems with the Mariners Front Office, ownership and coaches. Even with a hot start, I think they’re better at talking about how smart they are than actually showing those skills off. But that’s a post for another day. As the first Mariners off-day in a few weeks come to a close, it’s time to look at some of the weirdest numbers a baseball team could put up. Most of these statistics are WAR (Fangraphs) based and I completely understand that this is an absurdly small sample size. But our stated goal is to have fun with numbers, not to look at numbers then add caveats to be annoying. The 2019 Mariners aren’t here for your negativity! They’re here for dingers and spitting in Rob Manfred’s dumb pace-of-game initiatives. To the numbers based bullet points!

  • The Mariners are 16-9 and only have one full-time player who has a positive defensive WAR value! That one player is Dee Gordon, who has been solid in the field but not spectacular. He’s 193rd in defensive value in the majors. Tom Murphy and Ichiro are the only other players with a positive defensive value. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of defensive metrics especially in this small sample but I find this pretty hilarious. I wonder if a team has ever had a winning record with all of their full-time players having a negative value over the course of a season? The eye test certainly backs this stat up as the M’s look dreadful playing defense. It’s somewhat endearing and the obvious comparison is the Oakland moneyball approach earlier this century. Those teams were much better defensively than this one though. Ryon Healy’s -9.1 defensive value is really something to marvel at and not at all surprising if you’ve watched him.
  • To help offset those lousy defensive numbers, the Mariners have hit. And then walked. And then hit some more. Sticking with the offensive and defensive value in terms of WAR, the Mariners are currently at 45.2 on the offensive side. The next highest is the Dodgers at 31. The next highest after that is 23.9. Everyone else is in the teens or below. The 2018 Mariners put up a .6 in the offensive value category. The 2010 Mariners were at -148.8 in the same stat. Naturally, the 45.2 number this year’s squad is at could go down if they slump for a few weeks. But, it’s been an absurd start.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, the Mariners offensive run hasn’t been BABIP fueled. Their team BABIP is .298, 13th highest in the majors. They have been lucky in terms of Home Run/Fly Ball percentage running at an absurd pace but that’s about the only stat that seems ‘lucky’. The offensive pace they’re on isn’t sustainable but it’s not as far off as one might think.
  • Getting into individual stats things get… Uhh… Weird. King of the weirdness is Jay Bruce. He’s struck out 31% of the time. Doesn’t have a high walk rate and only has 16 hits on the season (.208 batting average). Pretty bad start. Oh, but 9 of those hits are home runs! How does this happen? Well, Bruce has been fairly unlucky in terms of BABIP with a .167 average there leading to his only 16 hits. He won’t keep that up, just like he won’t keep up the home run every 10 plate appearances rate. Well, maybe he will and it will be the strangest season in baseball history.
  • On the opposite end, anytime Tom Murphy hits a baseball it falls in for a hit. That has led to his .6 WAR in 24 plate appearances! His .429/.500/.857 is really something. The Mariners catching platoon has a 1.4 WAR already this year, with Narvaez checking in with .8 WAR but done in a much more sustainable way.
  • You knew the last fun with numbers bullet point (I could go all day but we’ll hold off on that) had to be about Daniel Vogelbach. The best DH Seattle has ever had (I’m joking… Sort of) ranks 6th in baseball in WAR with 1.3 all while having at least 10 fewer plate appearances than the players ahead of him. His wRC+ is second in baseball, only trailing Cody Bellinger. Vog’s base on balls percentage is over 20% while his strikeout rate is under 25%. The slash line sits at .327/.472/.836. The weirdest part is that it doesn’t seem completely unsustainable. Yes, he won’t keep at this pace but there is no number that jumps out as extremely lucky. His strikeout rate is a little high relative to other top hitters but that’s expected from a power hitter. His BABIP, likewise, is a slightly inflated .323. His HR/FB percentage is in the top 10 in the league and likely won’t stay at 40% but his plate approach is what really has impressed so far this year. While he won’t hit at this rate going forward, much of his game seems to translate to a successful DH. Maybe my favorite Vogelbach number – his not terrible -.1 baserunning value.

I’m fully aware that the Mariners could come crashing down as soon as tomorrow. The offensive output has been bonkers and the starting pitching has been surprisingly decent. Maybe this post is the jinx they need to start sucking. Or maybe they’ll just keep hitting dingers.

– Andrew

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