Mariners expected strength has become a weakness

Miguel Olivo tosses his bat aside Thursday during the Mariners' 12th straight loss in Toronto. (Brad White/Getty Images)

As the Mariners look to excavate themselves from a 12-game losing streak that has undone much of the progress made by a surprisingly competitive first half, it’s not hard to pin-point the source of the problem.

Yeah, the Mariners’ punchless offense is the issue. But if we look at this thing a little more deeply, it’s not just a lack of power. Everyone knew this club didn’t have a lot of boppers. That should surprise no one, including Jack Zduriencik.

But what Zduriencik did try build this club around over the past two years was the notion that a strong pitching and defensive club could compete with an offense that got on base consistently and turned the lineup over. And that simple matter hasn’t happened for two years now, with this season falling even further down the ladder.

Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Franklin Gutierrez and, yeah, Ichiro Suzuki are all veterans who could be counted on to at least get on base consistently, even if they weren’t setting home-run records at positions that normally supply much of the power.

But none of those players have come close to doing what they’ve done throughout their careers in recent months. In fact, of the nine veteran position players who’ve held spots on the roster for much time at all this season, shortstop Brendan Ryan is the only one with an on-base percentage in 2011 that is higher than his career average.

On-base percentage is just one statistic. You could do this same exercise with slugging percentage and get similar results as this club is at the worst in the history of the Mariners franchise in both categories for a second straight season. But getting on base is something that doesn’t require anything more than working counts, drawing walks, getting base hits. And even that’s not happening.

Don’t tell me about Safeco Field. The Mariners had a Major League-leading .360 on-base percentage in ’01 when they played half their games in Safeco Field. This year that number is at .288, well below last year’s franchise-record low .298.

Here are the veterans and their 2011 numbers compared to their career averages coming into this season. No, I don’t know why this is happening. Nor does Eric Wedge or Zduriencik or anybody else. But here are the raw numbers:

On-base percentages
                                   2011    Career   Change
Chone Figgins              .236     .359     -.123
Franklin Gutierrez        .219     .316      -.097
Ichiro Suzuki                .312     .376      -.064
Milton Bradley              .313     .366      -.053
Jack Wilson                   .259    .309      -.050
Jack Cust                      .348     .378     -.030
Miguel Olivo                  .256    .283      -.027
Adam Kennedy             .305    .330      -.025
Brendan Ryan               .324    .314     +.010

And before anybody gets too excited about Cust’s healthy on-base percentage, remember that he was expected to provide some of the much-needed power as the DH in the middle of the lineup. And his slugging percentage of .322 is dramatically off his career slugging average of .452.

In other words, nothing much is working offensively the way it was supposed to for the veterans on this club, outside of Kennedy having a pretty decent season as a non-roster invitee and Olivo providing a little more power than expected with 13 home runs. And, yes, Ryan being slightly above his career numbers — as a guy who is a defensive-minded shortstop.

Bradley is long gone, of course, and others are likely to follow in the coming days. I still don’t think the concept of building a high on-base percentage team was wrong, but it just never came to fruition with this group for some reason. And now the club is left with a team not only lacking pop at the traditional power positions (left and right field, third base, designated hitter), but without much offense to speak of whatsoever from those spots.

And that is certainly not a competitive formula, as the club is showing now that its superior pitching is wearing down.

2 Comments

Numbers don’t lie. Great write-up. It is going to be an interesting couple of weeks for sure.

Greg,

Great insight about the Mariner’s bats. Here is a visual graphing the Mariner batter’s on-base percentage and batting average: http://experience.sap.com/baseball/swf/teamplayeranalysis.swf?league=AL&team=Seattle&view=1&batting=1&pitching=1&closing=1&player=Team%20Average

Please feel free to use our tools to further enhance your future Mariner’s analysis: http://experience.sap.com/baseball/

Cheers,

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