The Difference Between a Mediocre and a Putrid Offense

If the Mariners have gotten a lot of ink this season, it’s for good reason. After finishing with the worst record in the AL, and the second worst record in the majors, last season, they’ve surprised some people by hovering around .500 for most of the season. Since the AL West lacks a standout team, they’ve also hung around the division lead. As long as their pitching keeps rolling the way it has in the first half of the season they might never find themselves out of the race.

It’s pretty clear to anyone, even an NL fan who doesn’t delve much into the junior circuit, that the Mariners’ offense has held the club back. This has been the case for the past three seasons, during which the Mariners have been the worst hitting team in baseball to the tune of roughly four wins. But with their pitching staff they don’t even need a good offense to excel in the AL West. All they need is a mediocre one. The team with the best pitching in the league serves as an example.

It surprises no one that the Phillies starters lead the league in WAR. They are, in fact, 2.5 wins ahead of the Mariners, the No. 2 ranked staff. But if we go on overall results the numbers are a bit closer. Because of a lower walk rate, the Phillies starters have a collective 2.90 ERA to the Mariners 3.19. But the Mariners have allowed fewer hits — they have a .713 defensive efficiency to the Phillies’ .701 — leaving little separation in their staff ERAs. The Mariners staff has thrown 7.1 more innings in one fewer start, and so their collective defense (starting pitching and fielding) is probably right on par with the Phillies. Yet the two teams are quite separated in the win column.

With names such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utlley filling the Phillies’ lineup card, it might be reflexive to point out the great differences in the teams’ offensive prowesses and move on. But that greatly overstates the Phillies offense. As a unit they’re actually below average, at -12.8 runs, which ranks 18th in the majors and 8th in the NL. (Though they are second in their own division.) Yet they’ve taken that below average offense and dealt with it through pure pitching. With 55 wins they currently have the most in the majors by three.

(The Braves also serve as an example, as they have the second most wins in the majors despite an offense that is 22.4 runs worse than average — though they’re getting most of their production from the bullpen, where the unit’s 5.2 WAR leads by nearly two full wins.)

The Mariners, of course, are far worse than that — over 60 runs worse. It’s pretty obvious to say that their record would be better if their offense would be better, but in the case of the Mariners it’s repeated for maddening emphasis. If the Mariners offense were even mediocre, in the mold of the Phillies offense, they’d almost certainly lead their division. Even at the Braves level of offense they’d probably lead the way. That is the entire difference in the Mariners season. Even a mediocre, if below average, offense would put them in a favorable position.

This disparity is what makes the Mariners an interesting, if not frustrating, team this year. They’ve dealt with high-level problems on offense, and it has dragged down what should be a quality team. As I wrote last month, management is definitely on the right track in addressing the offensive problems, which makes them even more interesting. Already they’ve replaced their worst offensive player, Chone Figgins, with their No. 1 prospect, Dustin Ackley, who has already produced nearly 1 WAR during his three-week stint. They sent down Michael Saunders, who was horrendous to the tune of -11.6 runs earlier in the season. Now they’ve called up prospect Kyle Seager to see if he can help bring the offense to a mediocre level.

That’s all the Mariners really need right now. They needed to get rid of Figgins and Saunders, who combined to produce -33.1 runs at the plate. Next up could be Franklin Gutierrez, who, after starting the year on the DL, has been 13.2 runs below average at the plate in just 146 PA. Maybe he’ll improve as he gets into a groove and shakes off some of the rust, but something has to give there. Adding his total with the other two accounts for 46.3 of the Mariners 74 runs below average.

With these changes it’s highly likely that the Mariners have patched their offense to a reasonable degree. They’re not going to be above average in the second half, but as we see with the Phillies, they don’t need to be. With the best starting staff in the AL, a serviceable bullpen, and one of the best defenses, all they need is a slightly below average performance to make waves in the AL West. Despite the complications in the trade market, I can see the Mariners doing whatever it takes to bring in a solid hitting outfielder. It could make all the difference for them this year.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

51 Responses to “The Difference Between a Mediocre and a Putrid Offense”

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  1. steve-o says:

    Still need stick to win this game.

    Market ineffeciencies = D’oh.

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  2. Telo says:

    Is defensive efficiency just = (1-pitchers’ BABIP)?

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  3. AK707 says:

    How can you mention the Phils, Braves, and Mariners as teams with crap offense and top run prevention, but fail to talk about the Giants and White Sox? All these teams serve as additional examples of where the line for minimum offense should be. Giants = below average, still enough White Sox = putrid, below minimum

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    • Terminator X says:

      Giants have an 83 wRC+ and the White Sox have a 91 wRC+. Even accounting for the DH I’m not sure how you make the argument that the Giants have had a significantly better offense than the White Sox, unless, say, you just pull things out of your ass without checking the facts first.

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    • joser says:

      And, in addition to Terminator X’s very good points, the article is already long enough; adding more teams to the discussion doesn’t change or even accentuate the points it is making — even if they actually were good examples (which they aren’t). Not every article has to include your favorite teams.

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  4. Adam Carolla says:

    Great use of “to the tune of.”

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  5. Boomer says:

    So a bad offense (which is 50% of the game) is the only thing holding the Mariners back?

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  6. Tim McCarver says:

    Pitching and defense win baseball games. Look at the Mariners and how they beat their opponents nearly half the time.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Actually, pitching+defense can’t actually win baseball games. All it can do is not lose them.

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      • David says:

        come on you’re smarter than that

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Even the putrid White Sox average 4 runs a game. Pitching and defense that allows less than that can win games.

        I suppose you’re saying that since pitching and defense don;t actually put runs on the board, so they can’t “win games”.

        That is technically true, but in a reality where the worst offensive team averages 3.3 runs per game, we shouldn’t really consider a team that averages zero runs per game.

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      • Joey says:

        “That is technically true, but in a reality where the worst offensive team averages 3.3 runs per game, we shouldn’t really consider a team that averages zero runs per game.”

        Pitching and Defense will still allow runs just the same though, as a shutout is fairly unusual for even the best pitching/fielding teams. (Philly currently leads the league with 13 shutouts, where total there have been just 175 in 1309 games played)

        I think the other example to look at here is San Diego. Amazing pitching, average-ish defense and this year they are sporting the NL equal to the Seattle offense – the team sits with a 40-48 record. Yet last year when they had similar pitching and defense but an offense in the league-average range they went 90-72.

        So we end up seeing this between the two clubs
        A+ Pitching / Avg D / Avg Offense = 90-72 (10 SD)
        A+ Pitching / A+ D / Pitiful Offense = 43-44 (11 SEA)
        A+ Pitching / Avg D / Pitiful Offense = 40-48 (11 SD)
        Avg Pitching / A+ D / Pitiful Offense = 61-101 (10 Sea)

        Amazing Pitching/defense can win you games if you have an offense equal to better then about half the teams in your league. Otherwise, it isnt worth much of anything outside a coin-flips odds.

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      • Jason B says:

        San Diego has A+ pitching?!? Park effects, park effects, park effects!

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      • Joey says:

        Yeah, SD is A+ pitching even with the Petco effects

        Their 3.94 R/G on the road would have been 3rd lowest over a full season last season, while they are sitting at 3.88 this year when away from SD. That’s well below league average for both seasons, and shows that the team just doesn’t give up runs anywhere they play.

        Or we can break it down further like this for you

        2010-2011 Road stats
        3.84 ERA – 5th (behind SF, Atl, NYY and Phi)
        3.77 FIP – 4th (behind ChW, Atl and SF)
        3.86 xFIP – 3rd (behind Atl and Phi)
        3.69 tERA – 1st (0.15 ahead of SF and 0.18 ahead of Atl)
        2.30 K/BB – 4th (behind Phi, ChW and Sea)
        74.3 LOB% – t4th (behind Phi, SF and NYY)
        0.85 HR/9 – t4th (behind ChW, Atl and SF)

        they are top 5 allmost across the board in the Away stat categories over the last Year and a Half, and most would therefore have to rank them in the top 3 (with Atl and SF) as far as Road stats over that time.

        Top 3 Road pitching – that’s A+ in my book…

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    • Shelbyvillian says:

      Sounds like Springfield’s got a discipline problem

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  7. William says:

    1 word – ryan ludwick

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  8. joser says:

    Gutierrez is a more difficult problem to solve than Figgins was, because of his defensive value. Given how much muscle mass Gutierrez lost as a result of his GI problems — much of which he hasn’t regained and probably won’t during this season — it’s unrealistic to expect him to return to his 2010 offensive numbers, or even play every day, in 2011. This isn’t just “rust” — this is probably close to his level of production until he has had more time to recover. Yet he’s still an asset in the field, and the only in-house CF substitutes are the afore-mentioned “horrendous” Saunders and Greg Halman, who never met a breaking ball he didn’t whiff at. Moreover Gutierrez is a RH bat in LH-heavy lineup (a weighting which makes sense in Safeco, but not everywhere). So Franklin is a good fit for the team going forward (assuming his health improves), even if he is something of a drag at the moment. All of which complicates his situation, and suggests any “solution” may have to be both short-term and come from outside the organization. But defensively superior CFs with bats that can outhit even his current level of production don’t come cheap, even when they’re deadline-deal rentals. Meanwhile, with the team already writing off the Silva/Bradley money and essentially eating the Figgins contract this year, there’s no indication they are willing to take on more salary even if they could find such a rental without giving up much in the way of prospects.

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  9. Nate says:

    Mariners are now accepting applications for 3B, DH and LF. Really, if any of you guys can hit, anything … at all, you should apply now.

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  10. Heyward says:

    The Mariners offense is holding them back. In other news water is wet.

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  11. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    The problem with Seattle is no matter how hard you try to design the right team, it is impossible to pitch a shutout every game. On the other hand, I have always felt that a run saved is better than a run scored for the simple reason that a teams can’t lose if they pitch a shutout and they can still lose if they score 20 runs. So on average a run saved is a tiny bit better than a run scored. Since defense is paid in the market less, it seems to me the wise team with a small budget should emphasize pitching and defense as priorities, like Seattle. On the other hand, when I think about it, this team has had some godawful luck on the offensive front. Did anyone imagine Figgins 2008 becoming Figgins 2011. Not me! Not even after Figgins 2010. I won my fantasy league drafting and keeping Figgins 2010. He got over 400 ABs for me. Ichiro 2011 = 0 WAR 4.5 WAR below Ichiro 2010. Jack Cust has a career homerun/FB % of 21.3%. It was 14.5% last season. This season it is 6.5%. Essentially nothing else has changed about him. I can go on and on about how just about every player they acquired or rostered the last two season seems to have had their bat disappear. it is like they have something in the water, or no longer in the water up there.

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    • Choo says:

      Sam Kinison hit the nail on the head when he said, “You know, there wouldn’t BE so many low scoring games if the Mariners played baseball where the RUNS ARE!! YOU PLAY BASEBALL IN AN ARCTIC RAIN FOREST!! UNDERSTAND THAT? YOU PLAY BASEBALL IN A F***ING ARCTIC RAIN FOREST!! BALLS DON’T CARRY HERE! BALLS ARE NEVER GONNA CARRY HERE! Come here, you see this? This is rain. You know what it’s gonna be 100 years from now? IT’S GONNA BE RAIN!! YOU PLAY BASEBALL IN A F***ING ARCTIC RAIN FOREST!!

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      • Paul B says:


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      • Joey says:

        Well, where technically Artic basically means “above the worlds treeline”, “temperate rain-forest” just doesn’t carry the same visual weight so I’d just let that one slide…

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      • LeftArrow says:

        Yes, the weather is the reason the Mariners can’t win games! Geez not sure we even play sports in cold weather cities. 2001 must have been an odd year weather wise. Rain also means nothing, we have a retractable roof. Our problem is we can’t find a DH or any average hitters.

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      • Choo says:

        A bastion of geospatial minutiae Sam Kinison is not. However, his general theme (head scratching over the M’s offense is a waste of scratching) remains intact thanks to the following.

        1) Ballpark dimensions. Safeco, in technical terms, is pretty effing deep between LF and CF.

        2) Mother nature. High pressure and dense air at sea level, cool temperatures and prevailing NW winds amplify the negative (effing deep LF and CF) and positive (RF) dimensions of the ballpark. Here is a visual: Equivalent Fence Distance for Safeco Field

        3) Jack-Z. More specifically, the org’s efficient team-building model that caters specifically to the Mariners run environment, which is:
        - Draft LH hitters and pitchers exclusively in the premium rounds.
        - Sign veteran RH hitters that are no-hit/all-glove types.
        - Sign veteran LH hitters that are power/flyball types.
        - Draft/sign RH pitchers that feature a quality change and/or sinking fastball in their arsenal.
        - Purging all that is not per the above.

        Jack-Z has not deviated from this model in three years and it’s beginning to pay off, so the Mariners will continue to deploy a collection of baseball’s worst RH hitters playing 50% of their games in arguably the worst RH park in baseball.

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    • RC says:

      Why are people continually surprised when hitters hit worse in that stadium, especially fly ball hitters?

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  12. Antonio Bananas says:

    Is Jermaine Dye still in shape?

    Who has an outfield surplus and needs pitching? The Cards? Donno who the Mariners would trade because I’m not familiar with their system as a whole, just the big name prospects and ML roster. I would say the Athletics and their estimated 45,000 outfielders but it’s same division stuff. Yanks? Sox?

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