Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
Who out there remembers that classic baseball movie Bull Durham? Do you recall the scene where the team’s manager, after another uninspired loss, collects all the players in the shower so he can vent his frustration at them? After first getting their attention by tossing an armload of baseball bats into the shower room, he then launches into a tirade. “This,” he yells at the team, “is a simple game. You hit the ball! You catch the ball! You throw the ball! You got it?!”
It’s a great scene. I’ve often thought that if you stuck Eric Wedge’s face over the manager’s face in the movie and leave the rest of the scene pretty much the same you would have a fairly accurate look at a Seattle Mariner team meeting. It’s a good thing Wedge is pretty well paid. This Mariner manager gig otherwise just wouldn’t be worth the angst this team has got to be putting him through. Here we are at mid season, with another All Star break looming, and the Mariners are 10 games below .500 and 4th place in the American League West division. It’s an all too familiar sight; one that makes us fans wonder just when, if ever, this will ever change.
From where most fans sit, it’s hard to understand why the Mariners wallow in futility season after season. But the reason becomes clear when you take a step back and just look at this team. Facts are stubborn things, and statistics, given a large enough sample size, do not lie. Half a season is a large enough sample size. Look at the Mariners against the simple description of baseball by the Durham Bulls team manager above and the reason becomes obvious. The Mariners can catch and throw the ball ok; they just don’t hit the ball so well.
At the risk of being over simplistic, let us review some basics about baseball. The whole object of the game is to score more runs in a nine inning game than your opponent. To score a run a batter must arrive at first base safely and then must advance around to second, then third and finally to home at which point he becomes a run. He can do this by getting on base and advancing a base (or several) at a time on the hits of his teammates or all at once with his own hit (a home run).
What I just described is called “offense” in baseball, which makes “defense” the actions involved in preventing a team’s batters from reaching base and then advancing around the bases to become a run.
When it comes to baseball offense, then, this gives us they key sub products that must exist to get the product of a run scored. These would be to get on base, advance or get advanced around the bases as a result of the productivity of the hitters following the hitter who originally reached base, and then become a run by advancing safely to home plate, again usually by the productivity of the hitters following.
The key statistic to measure offensive production in baseball, based on the above, is a statistic called “runs scored”. The key sub statistics that make this up would be stats such as “on base percentage” and “runs batted in”. To get a “run batted in” a hitter must be able to get a base hit when there are runners on base to drive in. There is a key statistic that measures this. That stat is “batting average with runners in ‘scoring position’”. (“Scoring position” is when a base runner arrives safely at second base, at least, or third base. The reason these are considered “scoring position” is because when a runner advances that far it becomes reasonably possible for him to score on a base hit, even a single, by a teammate.) Take a look at these stats and the mystery of the Mariners losing ways is a mystery no more.
Going into today’s games, out of 30 Major League teams, all but two have scored more runs than the Mariners (322). Their team “On Base Percentage” is .305; tied for 7th worst among the 30 teams and 15 percentage points below the league average. But the stat that really tells the tale is how the Mariners hit with “runners in scoring position” (RISP). As of a couple of days ago the Mariners were hitting a meager .229 as a team with RISP. (A figure made even lower with yesterdays 0-11 performance with RISP in Cincinnati.) That’s worse than every major league team except the Padres and Astros. Compounding this is the fact that 2 Mariner hitters, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez are hitting well above the league average with RISP at .381 and .321 respectively, meaning the rest of the team is hitting a combined .195. The fact is that the Mariners as a team are not very good at getting runners into scoring position and when they do they are terrible at driving them in. Hence they lose.
Making this even more frustrating is the fact that Mariner starting pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez are number 1 and 2 among American League pitchers in earned run average at 2.60 and 2.69 respectively; performances being largely wasted by the Mariners poor offense.
All of this begs another question: what is wrong with the Mariners that after years of futility at hitting with RISP, they simply cannot correct it? It does not speak well for the coaches and managers in the M’s system that they are not developing players with the required skills to be able to get on base, drive runners in once they have gotten there, or correct players when they are slumping. To be fair, there is evidence this is starting to change with some of their players. Kyle Seager is turning into a top flight major league hitter and Nick Franklin is hitting nearly .300 through his first month in the majors and has a good average with RISP. But emphasizing the point are Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders, who continue to struggle mightily with extended slumps, and Brendan Ryan, who despite his stellar defense, has been benched because since arriving in Seattle last year he has forgotten how to hit. (.199 batting average across the first half of this season following a .194 avg. last year) No one seems to be able to fix these guys.
As the Durham Bulls manager said in the movie, baseball really is a simple game. But, to play it at the major league level requires considerable skill, and probably the most important of these skills is hitting. Alas, until the Mariner players figure out how to do this and until the Mariner coaches and managers figure out how to teach it and correct it when it has gone awry, the Mariners will continue to struggle and we fans continue to suffer.
Copyright © 2013
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved