Mariners Plumbing the Depths

The Mariners offense last year was more of the deep-sea variety than the ancient, although this fated passage from the Coleridge poem may yet apply:

“God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Fiends indeed, or a particular fiend named offensive ineptitude. The team scored 507 runs last year, worst in the American League by a whopping 99 runs. The depths that this offense plumbed were Mariana-Trench-like in both the short- and long-term.

Consider this: The Mariners were last in the league, by wRC+, at the following positions: catcher, first base, left field, and designated hitter. And it’s not like the rest of the team was racing cigarette boats, as they were third-to-last at shortstop, second-to-last at third, and fourth-to-last in center. Guess which position was the only one that was above average last year? That’s how you finish almost a century short of your nearest DH-using competitor.

Speaking of centuries, a tweet by USS Mariner proprietor and full-time FanGraphs employee Dave Cameron pointed to the left-field futility in Seattle going back to the team’s inception. “@d_a_cameron: The newest ridiculously awesome tool @FanGraphs, used to illustrate just how bad the M’s left fielders have sucked:” Obviously this lack of offense isn’t some recent problem. Going back by wRC+, you have to extend the window to 2001 in order to get their cumulative offense up to league-average.

You also have to go back to 2004 to find a team that had a worse offense relative to the league than the Mariners’ 80 wRC+ in 2010. The Diamondbacks scored 615 runs that year, which, because they were accrued in a more forgiving run environment, only amounted to a 77 wRC+. They joined the Mariners as the only other sub-81 wRC+ in the decade. After that, it’s back to 1992 and the 79 wRC+ Angels (led only by Rene Gonzalez and Chad Curtis as above-average players) to find another offense as anemic. It’s safe to say that was one of the worst three offenses of the last twenty years. But now we’re piling on, and giving our boss a reason to hate us. Not good.

Let’s move to the future. The up-and-down hope for the future is captured well in another Cameron tweet: “Nothing says “this might not be our year” like a FanFest line-up of Ackley, Franklin, Seager, and Pineda.” Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin and Kyle Seager could help turn the infield into, at the very least, a league-average one, and hopefully before Ichiro Suzuki has to retire and the team loses their only above-average offensive player. Though opinions are divided on the three players, and they are mostly recent revelations (none of the three showed up on Marc Hulet’s top 10 last year), there is reason for optimism. They could yet field an average offensive infield!

The wRC+ statistic is park-adjusted, so this isn’t something we can blame on the home park. There has been some emphasis on defense attributed to members of the new front office, but obviously a team cannot eschew offense completely and succeed. Some of the players on the team should be able to bounce-back – Chone Figgins has a career 105 wRC+, and though Franklin Gutierrez has a career 96 wRC+, he’s had as many years in which he was above-average as years below – but it will be on young players like Justin Smoak and Ackley to change this decade-long trend. Maybe that is the lesson that the ancient mariner longed to teach:

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.