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 →
Note: I started out writing this article about the beautiful sadness of Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez and his remarkable record of either “no decisions” or outright losses in games in which he pitches his ass off and, though he only gives up none, one or two earned runs, does not get credit for a win due to the inability of the M’s offense to provide any support for him whatsoever. It is a long term situation that has been highlighted by “The King’s” last two starts. The first was a week ago in Tampa when he struck out 15 Rays across 7 innings while giving up no runs and, even though the M’s eventually won with a 5 run rally in the 9th inning, he got a “no decision” for his efforts. The second was this last Friday night at “The Safe” against the Texas Rangers. Felix went 8 1/3 innings of four hit ball while giving up no runs before he finally weakened in the 9th and had to come out of the game with runners on first and third and the score tied at 0-0. The next hitter grounded a double play ball to short that would have gotten the M’s out of the inning, but the normally slick fielding Robinson Cano made a wild throw on the turn to first allowing what became the winning run to score. With the eight scoreless innings in this game, plus the seven at Tampa and three more from his previous start against the Yankees in New York (a 10-2 win), Felix had pitched 18 consecutive scoreless innings—the equivalent of two full games. Through the last two games he has pitched 15 consecutive scoreless and has a record of 0-1 to show for it. When last night’s futility was finally over I dove into Felix’s career stats to see just how many times he has been subjected to such lack of support. There were many. As I thought it over, though, I changed my mind about the subject of this article. As compelling as Hernandez’s story is, the real issue is, and has been all season (and for the last decade really), the woeful Mariners offense. For years they have resided at the bottom of Major League baseball offensively, and this year, despite the improved record, is no different. So cover the kids’ ears, here is my take on the terrible M’s offense…please read on. MA
I believe that baseball, well played, is the greatest game ever invented. I also think that it is the toughest to play at an exceptional level. The talent and skill level of Major League ballplayers, including the Mariners, is truly phenomenal. I marvel at the things these players can do. They are uniquely gifted. That said I have also marveled at the seeming inability of baseball people to correct a player who is slumping. Examples of this abound in baseball, but the Mariners have taken it to a new level. If they have not been the worst offensive team in Major League baseball across the last decade I would like to see what team is. This Seattle tendency has defied high priced free agents like Adrian Beltre, who came to the M’s off his career year with the Dodgers but never lived up to it here. Chone Figgins was a good leadoff man for the Angels but, after signing a four year $36 million contract, was just plain awful in Seattle. Here in the Emerald City highly touted young players like Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak just never seem to develop into the top flight hitters they were expected to be. And who can explain what has happened to Brad Miller, who just looks totally lost at the plate and is mired in a season long slump that never ends. I could go on and on like this. As a team Seattle has the WORST On Base Percentage (OBP) in baseball (.296) and is near the bottom in team batting average and team slugging percentage.
It’s a situation not unique to this season. It has been going on for years and nothing, whether the changing of managers or the changing of players, has halted it. And before you start to blame it on the expansive Safeco Field with its heavy “layer of marine air” , consider this fact: the 2001 Seattle Mariners, the team that won an American League record 116 games, played at an even larger Safeco Field (you will recall that the fences at “The Safe” were moved in prior to the 2013 season) with the same air, yet scored more runs (927) and had a higher OBP (.360) than any other team in the Major Leagues that season! That team flourished at Safeco. The idea that the M’s offensive woes stem from the ballpark is hogwash and is not borne out by stats. If you want to really see what is going on with the M’s go confront that 2001 M’s line up for a while and compare their stats to this 2014 edition. If you do you will see that team was loaded with seasoned, professional hitters like John Olerud (.302 average, 21 HRs and .401 OBP), Brett Boone (.337, 37 HRs, .372 OBP) and Edgar Martinez (.306, 23 HRs, .423 OBP). The on base percentage of each of these players is higher than anyone on the M’s except Robinson Cano (.381 currently) and represent a whole season, not just the first two months. Hell, the M’s 2001 team OBP for the WHOLE season is higher than any individual on the current M’s after the first two months except Cano.
To really illustrate the difference between those hitters and the current crop of M’s let’s take the example of Edgar Martinez. We may forget how truly great a hitter Edgar was. Do you realize that his on base percentage for his entire career is .418?! That’s .418—nothing short of eye popping! Along with that his career batting average is .312—also eye popping. The real key to Edgar’s greatness as a hitter lies in a seemingly benign statistic—his walks per 162 game (a full season) average is 101! Across 15 full seasons as a Major Leaguer and parts of 3 others Edgar walked nearly 1300 times.
Look at any of the truly great hitters and you will see a similar story. Let’s start with Ted Williams, the last major league player to hit .400. Ted actually wrote a book called “The Science of Hitting”. It has been some time since I read it, but as I recall Ted stated his “first rule of hitting” as “get a good pitch to hit”. Based on Ted’s career stats he did this a lot, with a career batting avg. of .344 and over 500 HRs. What most people do not realize is that Ted also had a .482 OBP (possibly the highest of all time) and walked over 2000 times in a 19 year career. Why did Ted get so many good pitches to hit? Because he would not swing at a bad one, that’s why. If the pitcher wasn’t going to pitch to him then Ted just walked. Look at many of the great, great hitters and the pattern is the same. Babe Ruth? He had a career batting average of .342 with 714 HRs. His career OBP was .474 and he had over 2000 walks in his career, averaging nearly 100 per season. In a 17 season career Lou Gehrig batted .340, but his OBP was .447 and he walked over 1500 times. In more modern times Barry Bonds lit up the record book by setting the career HR mark. But underneath this is a career OBP of .444 and over 2500 walks. In the 2003 season alone Bonds walked the unbelievable total of 232 times! Realizing this you can see that Barry’s astounding production had less to do with steroids and more to do with the fact that he would not swing at bad pitches.
Now you could say “Yeah…but it’s not fair to compare the current Mariners to Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, or even Edgar Martinez. Those guys are the greatest ever.” And maybe they walked so much because no pitcher in his right mind would throw them a strike. Thinking like that misses the point, however. Great hitters do not swing at bad pitches—period! That is the lesson to be had. The great hitters became great by developing the plate discipline that translated into getting good pitches to hit; and when they got them they did not miss, and until they got them they walked. Sure they had unbelievable talent. But they knew that baseball is a tough game and they were not about to make it tougher by swinging at bad pitches.
This current crop of M’s hitters, with the exception of Robinson Cano, make the art of hitting far tougher than it needs to be. They need to develop the plate discipline necessary to NOT swing at pitches out of the strike zone, which currently they do all the time. This needs to be DRILLED! Everyone on the team needs to walk more. I know it’s hard to do. You try standing at the plate and hitting a pitch that looks like a fastball over the middle and then dives at your feet at the last second. But it MUST be done. When you walk more as a team you get more men on base. When you get more men on base you score more runs. When the pitcher can no longer get you out with pitches out of the strike zone then guess what? He has to throw you a real, bonafide strike to get you out; and then you can let it rip and square it up.
It’s a simple fix to conceive of, but will take a lot of patient work with the hitters to get it done. For the sake of this team, all Mariners fans, and my sanity—it must be done. I just don’t know if there is anyone on the Mariners who can do it.
Where’s Edgar Martinez when you need him?
Copyright © 2014
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved
 One of the reasons often advanced for the poor hitting show year in and year out by the Mariners, besides the large Safeco Field dimensions, is the heavy marine air we supposedly have here in Seattle. For some reason neither the park nor the air affected the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games. The real reason for the M’s futility is covered in this article.