Biggest Contribution: Willie Ballgame!, +18.2%
Biggest Suckfest: Miguel Batista, -25.8%
Most Important AB: Betancourt double, +14.8%
Most Important Pitch: Pena single, -11.0%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -23.4%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +71.5%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +1.9%
(What is this chart?)
By the time I got home it was already 9-4, so in lieu of talking about the game (Willie!), let's take a look at how the Mariners have performed over the first 2+ weeks of the year. Everything that follows is based on a small sample, of course, so proceed with caution.
After taking on the Rangers, Orioles, Rays, Angels, and Royals, the Mariners stand at 7-8, with a run differential of +2 (73-71). This run differential ranks them sixth in the AL and third in the division, for whatever that matters. I would argue that it probably matters very little, what with the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Indians all being worse, but there you go anyway.
The big concern entering the season was whether the lineup would be able to provide enough support for a pretty good pitching staff. Well, while yesterday was a nightmare, they're actually averaging 4.87 runs per game as a group, which is 10% above average. This is pretty consistent with the team OPS of .750 against a league average of .717. The offense has been all right, and with a .279 BABIP and .259 BA/RISP, you can't blame it on luck.
What's the batted ball profile look like? 42% groundballs, 39% fly balls, 19% line drives. The groundball rate ranks them third-lowest in the AL, but I don't think it's going to stay that low; while Lopez's newfound flyball-friendliness may be one of the results of his improved approach, Vidro's also putting the ball in the air way more often than usual, and there's no reason for that to keep up. I expect the Mariners to regress into the middle of the pack in groundball rate over the course of the season, which will be a welcome sight considering where they play half their games.
As Matthew explained in the post below this one, more than anything else the biggest surprise has been the lineup's patience. It came into the day second in the AL in walks and last in strikeouts, and then it went on to draw another six free passes from John Bale and the rest of the Royal bullpen. After the shitshow we had to put up with in 2007, there's not a soul who saw this improvement coming. While I know it's a small sample, the M's are averaging four walks a game, which the team never managed over any fifteen-game stretch all of last season.
Yes, ten of those walks have been intentional. But even if you exclude each and every one of those, the team's walk rate is still up 39% from where it was last year. Clearly, hitters have been going up there with a different plan of attack. The jump in P/PA just seems too large to be a total fluke. Whoever taught Jose Lopez and the rest of these guys to be more selective better be getting more than Miguel Cairo (unless Miguel Cairo is the person who taught them, in which case no I don't believe you).
Will the batting order sustain its recent performance? It's not going to keep scoring 10% more than the average, but with the improved discipline, there's a lot more reason for hope going forward than it seemed like there was a month ago. And with some developing help in AAA just about ready to go in case the lineup needs a shot in the arm, we shouldn't have to put up with too many games like the one against Greinke.
On the pitching side of things, the situation hasn't been quite as rosy. The team has an RA of 4.89 and an FIP of 4.63 - each of these being well worse than average - and the bullpen has been nothing short of embarrassing. Mind you, the latter is mostly the fault of Eric O'Flaherty's nauseating line, but that doesn't make it any less real. While Felix has been strong, we've really paid the price so far for missing George Sherrill and getting less than 100% of Erik Bedard.
You know what's not helping? The defense. The Mariner pitching staff has allowed the lowest line drive rate in the AL, but thanks to a defense that THT rates as being tied for the worst in the league coming into the day, we're still getting burned on balls in play. The infield has covered a lot of ground but struggled to make the simple plays, while the outfield has made most of the simple plays but struggled to cover a lot of ground. Coming into the season I thought Brad Wilkerson was almost a guaranteed step up from Jose Guillen's nasty 2007, but after watching him for a couple of weeks, he visually seems just as bad, meaning we still have to cringe on any ball hit to a corner. Bottom line: this defense needs help. With Yuni only getting bigger and slower, we really need Erik Bedard at full strength to limit how often the other team makes contact.
Bedard. The fate of this entire season might as well rest on the health of his hip. If he can come back next week and settle into a groove for 25 starts, then we'll be okay. If he has to miss a block of time, then that'd be a killer. Without him, the pitching staff barely looks better than it did a year ago, and since pitching was supposed to be our strength, yeah, you can see why that wouldn't be good. We need him something terrible, and while life experience has taught me to expect the worst, I'm still going to hold out hope that this has all been a false alarm and nothing major until or unless someone tells me otherwise.
Through 15 games, the Mariners have been a decent team with some pretty big problems. Fortunately, no one's running away with anything, so they haven't fallen too far behind, but there are some important questions that they need to answer soon, because the time for feeling things out is coming to a close. They need to start stringing wins together and establish themselves as a team in the running. Erik Bedard, of course, would make that a lot easier, so God willing he'll be pitching effectively in no time and this whole scare will blow over. Can I say with any degree of confidence that this will happen? No, I can't. But it's April, so I'm forcing myself to stay positive. Right the ship, Mariners, as best you can. Be proactive in fixing the problems that arise and let's make this a season to remember. It's not too late to get going.