At the Summer Solstice, the Seattle Mariners appear better positioned to snag a top-10 pick in next year’s draft than earn a postseason berth this coming October. That’s not exactly what many Seattle fans expected from a franchise seemingly on the brink of finally ending a decades-long postseason drought.
Lately, the biggest challenge confronting the Mariners has been scoring runs. Yes, the pitching staff has been inconsistent, particularly the bullpen. But the lineup ranks 26th in MLB with 3.88 runs scored/game. The most elite pitching staffs in baseball would have a hard time carrying an offense this ineffective.
Ironically, the Mariners have a slightly above-average OBP and OPS+, which suggests the potential for positive run production exists. Yet, consistently driving in runners has been problematic for manager Scott Servais and his squad throughout the season.
A great deal of scrutiny has understandably been directed at several underperforming hitters and a 40-man roster too thin to mitigate the losses of Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, and Tom Murphy to injuries. But I see a bigger problem that runs deeper than having a few injured or slumping hitters.
Mariners management eagerly entered the 2022 season with two critical roster flaws inherently detrimental to consistent run production.
They’re not fast
Per Baseball Savant, just five Mariners with 10-plus competitive runs have an average-or-better sprint speed. Only the Yankees (4) have fewer. Making matters worse for Seattle, one of its faster runners is currently playing in the minor leagues.
Seattle Sprint Speeds (ft/sec)
Julio Rodríguez – 29.6
Dylan Moore – 28.2
Abraham Toro – 27.8
J.P. Crawford – 27
Jarred Kelenic* – 27
MLB average sprint speed = 27 ft/sec
Tom Murphy – 26.7
Adam Frazier – 26.6
Cal Raleigh – 26.5
Taylor Trammell – 26.4
Luis Torrens – 26.2
Eugenio Suárez – 25.6
Jesse Winker – 25.6
Ty France – 24.7
Some of you may be wondering why Taylor Trammell has a below average sprint speed. Understandable considering Trammell had a 28 ft/sec sprint speed last season. Perhaps the leg injury sidelining him at the start of the season is affecting his speed. Another possibility is the Georgia native’s time with Seattle in 2022 is a small sample size. His sprint speed may normalize as the season unfolds.
The Baseball Reference metric Extra Base Taken Percentage (XBT%) offers on-field evidence of Seattle’s limited team speed. For those not familiar with XBT%, it represents the percentage of times a base runner takes more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. This season, only three teams have a lower XBT% than the Mariners.
Here’s a practical example of how a low XBT% may be affecting Seattle’s ability to score runners. When there’s a runner only on second base, the Mariners have an MLB-best .317 AVG. Yet, the team has plated just 38 runners on 51 hits under these ideal RBI conditions. That works out to an MLB-worst 70.6% runs/hit ratio – the league average is 89%.
While speed isn’t the only element required for successful base running, it certainly helps facilitate scoring from second base on a single. Think of it this way. Which Mariner would you prefer standing on second base when a single is hit in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game? Julio Rodríguez or Ty France? Based on sprint speed, the answer is obvious.
To be clear, some of Seattle’s struggles with driving in that lone runner from second base are attributable to the team’s relatively low power numbers. Still, it’s reasonable to believe a larger stable of above-average base runners would permit the Mariners to be more successful at scoring runners from any base.
A lineup loaded with soft contact hitters
Entering today, 172 hitters had 200 or more plate appearances this season. Three Mariners have a hard-hit rate falling in the bottom 10% of this group – Abraham Toro (29.2%), J.P. Crawford (28.4%), and Adam Frazier (25.3%). In fact, Seattle is the only club with more than two players possessing a sub-30% hard-hit rate.
This seems suboptimal considering the contrasting results on hard-hit balls and everything else.
Success of Batted Balls Based on Exit Velocity
Hard-hit balls: .482 AVG / .936 SLG
Everything else: .217 AVG / .254 SLG
To be clear, the three Mariners we’ve discussed thus far aren’t the only key players on the roster producing below average hard-hit rates this season. Two Opening Day starters have underwhelming hard contact numbers – Jarred Kelenic (31.4%) and Jesse Winker (32.3%).
Still, Winker and Kelenic both possess the ability to improve at making loud contact in 2022 and beyond. Based on their career averages, that doesn’t appear to be the case with Crawford, Frazier, and Toro. It’s worth noting the trio has accounted for 29.1% of Seattle’s plate appearances in 2022.
Another dose of irony. The Mariners have an MLB-leading .620 AVG with runners in scoring position (RISP) when making loud contact. Unfortunately, the team isn’t doing so often enough with a 21st-ranked 35.1% hard-hit rate with RISP.
On the flip side, Seattle is hitting .204 on soft contact made with RISP. And which Mariners have generated 38.3% of those suboptimal batted ball events? You already know the answer – Crawford, Frazier, and Toro.
Again, this seems suboptimal.
A critical mistake
Perhaps the Mariners living with a relatively slow-footed roster was unavoidable heading into 2022. But in my opinion, management’s willingness to give a significant portion of the team’s plate appearances to three soft-contact hitters was a critical error in planning.
In retrospect, I should’ve sounded the alarm on this questionable strategy sooner than now.
Then again, the Mariners’ front office should’ve known better from the beginning.
My Oh My…
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