Kyle Lewis Seattle Mariners

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It’s Memorial Day and the Seattle Mariners aren’t living up to preseason expectations – far from it. The club that won 90 games last season is closer to the AL West division cellar than first place with approximately one-third of the 2022 season in the record books. Now seems like a good time to consider what’s gone right and wrong for this team. In this segment of our Mariners at Memorial Day series, the focus is on run production.

Inconsistent Productivity

Many of the numbers we typically use to gauge offensive productivity suggests the Mariners’ lineup is about league-average. That said, the team does rank in the bottom-third of the league in the most important stat of all – runs scored/game (RS/G).

M's Run Production
SEA
MLB
Rnk
RS/G
4.0
4.2
22
HR
52
47
10
Hard-hit%
35.7
38.6
24
SO%
22.5
22.3
17
BB%
8.3
8.5
16
AVG
.245
.239
9
OBP
.318
.310
10
SLG
.381
.383
16
wOBA
.313
.308
12
xwOBA
.334
.329
12
OPS+
108
100
8

While the numbers suggest offensive output has been average-ish, the results don’t agree. Too many nights, the Mariners haven’t plated plate enough runs to have a competitive chance of winning. Through Memorial Day, the team has scored two-or-fewer runs in 19 games. That’s 40% of the 2022 schedule. Over the span of a full season, this would equate to 64 games.

Missing In Action

One big reason the Mariners have struggled to consistently produce runs is the absence of several contributors expected to play important roles. Some have been physically gone. Others have been present even though their bats are missing in action. Included in this group are a highly touted prospect and the biggest offseason addition from an offensive standpoint.

Last September, Jarred Kelenic seemed to be figuring things out after a turbulent debut in May. During the final month of the season, the Wisconsin native hit seven home runs and had an .854 OPS – only Mitch Haniger (10 home runs, .883 OPS) was better. Unfortunately, Kelenic stumbled again this season and was mercifully re-assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma earlier this month.

On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average.

As a member of the Cincinnati Reds, Jesse Winker was the starting left fielder for the National League in last year’s All-Star game. For this reason, the Spring Training acquisition of Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suárez from the Reds was hailed as the offensive upgrade the Mariners desperately needed heading into the 2022 campaign. But things haven’t gone as planned thus far.

Suárez, who was coming off a pair of down seasons at the plate, has been striking out at a higher-than-preferred rate. But he’s found ways to be productive member of Seattle’s lineup (9 doubles, 9 HR, 119 OPS+). He’s also been a solid third base defender.

Conversely, Winker has yet to produce as he has in years past. The left-handed hitter’s stats are rather unique. He has a well-below average 80 OPS+. Yet, his 12.7% strikeout and 14.7% walk rates are among the 30 best in MLB. That’s right, Winker has more walks than strikeouts.

Early in the season, Winker wasn’t seeing positive results despite hitting the ball extremely hard. Over the last month, that loud contact has diminished greatly. Compared to years past, the 28-year-old’s hard-hit rate is considerably lower. Hard-hit rate is the percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher.

Jesse Winker’s Hard-Hit Rates
2017 (32.7%)
2018 (42.2%)
2019 (41.1%)
2020 (49.%)
2021 (47.1%)
2022 (31.5%)

MLB hard-hit rate = 38.6% in 2022

Losing Haniger to injury has been a big blow to the offense. The 31-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain during his first plate appearance following a COVID-related absence in late-April. The assumption is he’ll return sometime after the All-Star break.

The loss of catcher Tom Murphy affected the offense in two ways. First, Murphy was clobbering baseballs and had a robust 170 OPS+ when he suffered a separated shoulder. Initially, the 31-year-old wasn’t expected to be gone for long. Unfortunately, he suffered a setback leaving his return date unclear.

The second way Murphy’s absence has affected Seattle’s offense was the subsequent recall of Cal Raleigh from Class-AAA Tacoma to replace the Buffalo alum on the roster. Raleigh had just been sent down to work on his hitting. Now, the 25-year-old is back in the majors trying to figure things out while handling the majority of the team’s catching duties.

Switch-hitting infielder Abraham Toro, currently on the IL with a shoulder sprain, has yet to produce results similar to last year’s. The 25-year-old’s 78 OPS+ significantly lags behind the near-average 94 OPS+ he put forth after joining Seattle last July.

While his defense behind the plate appears better, the bat of Luis Torrens is also underperforming last year’s results by a large margin. Torrens’ 101 OPS+ was one of the many good news stories for the 2021 Mariners. This season, his 46 OPS+ is the lowest of anyone on the team’s Opening Day roster.

Not Enough Hard Contact?

I can’t say with certainty that this is a problem. But it is at least worth mentioning. The Mariners have four hitters with 100-plus plate appearances and a hard-hit rate under 33% – the MLB average is 36.8%. They are Toro (31.5%), Winker (31.5%), Adam Frazier (29.4%), and JP Crawford (29.1%). This means that until the Toro injury, nearly half the lineup was usually was comprised of hitters who aren’t as likely to deliver a well-struck ball.

Now to be clear, hitting the ball hard isn’t the only way to be a productive member of a lineup. Crawford and Frazier have been key contributors this season, while Toro has had his moments since last July. But batted balls classified as “hard hit” do deliver the best results.

Hard hit balls – .475 AVG and .912 SLG
Everything else – .218 AVG and .254 SLG

Perhaps the recent arrival of Kyle Lewis (career 37.3 hard-hit%) and the seemingly inevitable rebound by Winker provides added loud contact for the Mariners. Way down the road, the return of Haniger and Murphy will also help.

A Longer Lineup

Despite the challenges just outlined, I believe the Mariners offense is actually going to be fine. That doesn’t mean there’s no need for improvement – there is. But he number of qualified Seattle hitters qualified for the batting title with an OPS+ over the league-average suggests to me that the lineup has the length to succeed.

In 2021, the Mariners had three qualified hitters with an OPS+ of at least 100 – Ty France (126), Haniger (120), and Crawford (100) with Kyle Seager (98 OPS+) just below the mark. It’s worth noting Torrens did have a 101 OPS+ in 378 plate appearances.

This season, Seattle has five qualified batters with an above-average OPS+. They are France (173), Crawford (153), Suárez (119), rookie Julio Rodríguez (119), and Frazier (101). Only four teams have more with six such players – the Mets, Yankees, Phillies, and Twins.

With 114 games remaining on the schedule, I feel confident in saying there are too many talented hitters in the lineup for it to scuffle for an entire season. In fact, we may be seeing signs of an offensive. Since beating Kevin Gausman and the Blue Jays on May 18, Seattle is averaging 4.5 runs scored/game in its last 11 games.

Yes, that’s a small sample size. The Mariners will need to deliver consistent run production over an extended period before the offense can be considered fixed. But the components for an effective lineup are present on the current, even if the results have been suboptimal thus far.

Looking Ahead

Despite the rosy outlook I just laid out, I have two concerns for the offense of a club that says it wants to contend for the postseason this year. The most obvious – at least to me – is the current health of several key contributors.

Obviously, getting Haniger and Murphy back would greatly enhance the lineup – particularly Haniger. But their return dates are unclear. Typically, ambiguous medical updates on a Mariner means the player is going to be gone for a while – probably longer than expected. That’s just speculation on my part based on perception, not data.

The fact Lewis will only serve as a designated hitter for the foreseeable future and may routinely miss games to rest underscores the challenges the Mercer alum’s surgically repaired knee is causing him. Clearly, both team and player will do everything they can to keep him available. But the health of his knee will be scrutinized for the remainder of the season – perhaps longer.

My other concern has to do with the great divide existing between the productive and non-productive hitters on the roster. If we peruse the OPS+ of Mariners with 40-plus plate appearances, it becomes readily apparent there are a significant number of below-average run producers on the roster.

Position Player OPS+ (40 PA min)
Tom Murphy
(170)*
Ty France (173)
J.P. Crawford (153)
Eugenio Suárez
(119)
Julio Rodríguez
(119)
Mitch Haniger (105)*
Adam Frazier (101)
MLB OPS+ (100)
Jesse Winker (80)
Dylan Moore (80)
Abraham Toro (78)*
Mike Ford (74)
Cal Raleigh (63)
Jarred Kelenic (51)**
Luis Torrens (46)

*Injured list
**Class-AAA Tacoma

Consider this, the un-magnificent seven Mariners from the above list possessing a sub-100 OPS+ have accounted for 37% of the team’s plate appearances this season. That’s not a good thing. As you can see below, their combined numbers have been suboptimal.

Combined Stats of Seattle's Un-Magnificent Seven
PA
HR
K%
BB%
AVG
OBP
SLG
670
17
25.1
10.4
.177
.266
.299

It’s reasonable to believe Winker rebounds from his early-season funk. After all, he has a proven track record of outstanding offensive production. Unfortunately for the Mariners, the remainder of players included in the previous table have yet to demonstrate the ability to produce in the majors for an entire season. That’s a lot of uncertainty for a team suggesting it wants to contend in 2022.

With this reality in mind, I believe adding competent big-league hitters capable of serving in a supporting role is exactly what the offense needs. I realize that’s a somewhat vague description. But raising the floor of the Mariners’ bench and utility players would provide an opportunity to significantly improve offensive production.

Yes, finding this kind of player is easier said than done. But this approach would help the Mariners compete now without derailing the development of young players like Taylor Trammell, Kelenic and Raleigh.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins