ÅFor a segment of frustrated Seattle Mariners fans, the 2022 season is slipping away. The team is unable to consistently score runs and is already falling behind in the AL West. In the eyes of the jaded, this is nothing new for an organization with a decades-long postseason drought.
“Same Old Mariners”
Still, I don’t believe the recent lack of offense means all is lost for the Mariners. No, I’m not an eternal optimist by any stretch of the imagination. But there are common sense reasons suggesting Seattle’s lineup will improve and the team can compete in 2022. Please give me an opportunity to explain.
The Mariners currently have a less-than-ideal 13-17 record – only third best in the AL West. Certainly not what fans were hoping heading for into the season. But let’s not overlook the obvious. There are 132 games remaining. A lot can and will change over the next four-plus months.
To see what I mean, check out the division leaders at the 30-game mark of the Mariners’ 2021 campaign.
First Place Teams On May 3, 2021
AL West – Red Sox (17-12)
AL Central – Royals (16-11)
AL West – A’s (18-12)
NL East – Mets (12-12)
NL Central – Brewers (17-12)
NL West – Giants (17-11)
Of the teams listed above, only the Brewers and Giants won their respective division title. The Royals, A’s, and Mets didn’t even reach the postseason. Furthermore, the eventual World Series champion Braves had a very similar record (12-16) to this year’s Mariners team.
No, I’m not suggesting the Mariners are World Series bound because of Atlanta’s second-half success last year. I’m not even guaranteeing Seattle makes the postseason in 2022. But history of baseball repeatedly teaches us the same lesson. Team records and player stats 30 games into a 162-game season matter. But it’s too early to give up on a promising team.
The Mariners are a promising team.
Realistically, there will be plenty of opportunities to overtake the first-place Angels (20-11) and the Astros (18-11) in the AL West. The same applies to the AL wild card race, which has an expanded field starting this year. Yes, the Mariners must play better than they have to date. But there’s plenty of time for the team to do so.
After all, it’s only May.
Offense is down league-wide
It’s important we recognize offense is depressed across MLB this year as we consider the Mariners’ challenges. Whether it’s deadened balls, unseasonal weather, humidors in every ballpark, higher reliever usage in April, or a secret government conspiracy, something is definitely different.
In fact, MLB hitters collectively posted a .676 OPS last month – the lowest April OPS of the Statcast era.
MLB OPS in April
2015 – .705
2016 – .724
2017 – .725
2018 – .719
2019 – .742
2021 – .699
2022 – .676
Armed with this information, we should take a moment to compare the Mariners’ 2022 numbers and respective MLB ranks to last season at the same point.
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Overall, the Mariners have much better stats through 30 games than they did in 2021 with one very notable exception. Seattle ranks about the same in runs scored/game.
The lineup should begin to lengthen
Last season, the Mariners struggled offensively due to a short lineup that relied on a small number of hitters to consistently produce runs. In April, we saw more of the same. But situation has been looking better lately.
Currently, Seattle has five players with at least 50 plate appearances and an OPS+ above league-average (100). This is an improvement over last season when the team only had four regulars above the 100 OPS+ mark. What’s changed?
J.P. Crawford probably won’t have an OPS+ that’s 98% better than the league-average hitter for the entire season. But he profiles as an above-average run producer.
Also, Rodriguez is likely to stumble, at times. But the rookie hovering near league-average for the remainder of 2022 doesn’t feel like such a reach.
Beyond the names I’ve already mentioned, more help should be just around the corner.
Even though he’s struggled during his first 30 games as a Mariner, Jesse Winker has a track record that suggests he will eventually be more productive at the plate. Furthermore, expected stats hint that the left-handed hitter should have more to show for his effort than the back of his baseball card lists at the moment.
Jesse Winker’s Actual Stats / Expected Stats
.200 AVG / .314 xBA
.276 SLG / .474 xSLG
.275 wOBA / .382 xwOBA
I realize some of you may not be as confident in expected stats as I am. But it’s a hill I’m willing to defend until the end. Besides, a hitter with a .200 AVG and a very low strikeout rate (13%) combined with a higher walk rate (13.8%) is bound to see a reversal of fortune with the benefit of time.
After all, it’s only May.
Barring any setbacks in his rehab, Kyle Lewis projects to join the big-league club sometime this month. That said, Lewis shouldn’t be viewed as a savior. He’s never put together consecutive months of above-average production in a season during his short career. Still, the Mercer alum does have a career 119 OPS+ in 112 MLB games.
It’s plausible Mitch Haniger misses a big chunk of the season as he heals and then rehabs from a high ankle sprain. With this in mind, I’m not going to count the 31-year-old as a short-term upgrade. That said, think of a Haniger return in August as a trade deadline addition capable of propelling the offense.
Perhaps others on the current roster become more consistent and productive. Specifically: Jarred Kelenic, Abraham Toro, Dylan Moore, Luis Torrens, and Cal Raleigh. For now, these players remain unknown MLB quantities until they prove otherwise.
Having said all that, the core of hitters we’ve discussed should be enough to make the lineup competitive. Anything from the legion of unproven will be a bonus.
There’s no denying the Mariners have hit a very rough patch lately. Making matters worse, they’re in the midst of one of the toughest stretches of the entire season with consecutive series against teams with credible postseason aspirations – the Astros, Rays, Phillies, Mets, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. Oh, and the final three of those match-ups will be on the road starting this weekend.
Still, this dark period will pass and the Mariners will have an opportunity to dig themselves out of the hole they currently reside in.
To me, whether the current version of the roster is good enough to climb back into postseason contention depends more on the arc of the starting rotation and in-season trades made by GM Jerry Dipoto than the current stable of hitters.
I suspect the “Same Old Mariners” crowd won’t agree with me and that’s fine. There’s still plenty of time left for the team to get on track to vindicate my stance or live down to the expectations of the disillusioned.
After all, it’s only May.
My Oh My…
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