Where The Runs Will Come From

I used to play a lot of roller hockey when I was a kid. To this day I'm not entirely sure how my brother and I managed to so deeply fall in love with the sport growing up in southern California, but we did, and with ice rinks being few and far between and equipment being prohibitively expensive, when we wanted to play, inline was the only real choice. It was a lot of fun, even though we all sucked (I can't imagine having enough patience as a parent to watch my little athlete swing a stick like a retard). One year I was on a team called the Yellow Jackets, or the Yellow Hornets, or the Yellow Buzzards, or the Yellow Something Yellows. We had one of the best forwards in the league, but our goalie had a condition that rendered him incapable of bending his legs. He had to play standing up pretty much the whole time, and if he ever had to fall down to make a save, someone would have to help him back onto his skates.* This proved troublesome when we realized that effective goalies generally require functional knees. My brilliant solution, then, was to have the team collapse in on its own goal to block the net entire. If there's nowhere for the other team to shoot, then there's no way for the puck (or, in this case, ball) to get past our handicapped goaltender. I thought it was genius. I only stopped thinking it was genius when the coach reminded me that, with everybody blocking our own net, we wouldn't have anyone to score.

Defense is important, but it also isn't everything. In any sport, no matter how good you are at keeping the other team off the board, eventually you need to start putting up some numbers of your own if you've any hope of winning the game. There's no way around it. Games aren't won by teams that score zero points. Defense is important, but offense is necessary.

This has been one of the major points of debate when it's come to discussing the 2009 Seattle Mariners. This is a team that Jack Zduriencik has put together with better glovework standing out as a clear priority, but the results (to date) have left a lot of people dissatisfied, as they've wondered aloud how this team is ever going to score any runs. Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez may be able to sprint with the best of them, but if they can't hit, then how much does it really matter? A lineup can only stand to be so bad before it starts holding the team back from winning baseball games, right?

Time and time again I've written here that a run is a run, no matter how it's contributed, but at this point I think it's worth making clear that, while defense has certainly taken priority at a few positions, our offense isn't as bad as some have made it out to be. We're not going to be a team that plays great defense but only scores two runs a game. As a matter of fact, this is an offense that comes with a wee bit of upside.

What follows is a roster table with Marcel-projected wOBA figures (not park-adjusted) and self-projected playing time. I want to state ahead of time that this is only meant as an approximation, and I'm sure many of you will have quibbles over how the PT is being handed out. Please trust me when I say that moving around 50 PAs here and 100 PAs there really doesn't make much of a difference.

Player PA wOBA RAA
Clement 400 0.326 0
Branyan 400 0.333 3
Lopez 625 0.317 -5
Betancourt 575 0.313 -6
Beltre 625 0.333 4
Chavez 550 0.304 -10
Gutierrez 600 0.316 -5
Ichiro 675 0.333 4
? (DH) 600 0.326 0
Johjima 250 0.306 -4
Bench/Others 850 0.310 -12

You'll notice that there's a question mark at the DH slot. That's because it seems like Zduriencik is still trying to add another bat. Unsure how things are going to end up, I just threw in a good bit of playing time for a league-average hitter. Again, though, while this seems like a major flaw with the table, how that situation resolves itself makes only a small difference. Changing the projected wOBA there from .310 to .350 changes the team's total wOBA by two points.

Also note that this supposes a league-average wOBA of .330, which comes out to .325 or .326 when adjusted for Safeco.

In all, you have a team wOBA of .320 and a total of ~30 runs below an average offense. That's not good, but it's not a disaster, either, and it's quite a bit better than the nightmare we trotted out there a year ago. What's more is that there's room for improvement and little room for underperformance. Marcel's projected wOBA for Ichiro, for example, would be the worst of his career. Throw in his lifetime .355 mark instead and you gain more than ten runs. You can count on Adrian Beltre probably besting his figure as well. Jose Lopez might regress from his breakthrough 2008, but he could also build on it. And Jeff Clement and Franklin Gutierrez are young players who have more offensive ability than they showed last season. In short, it's not hopeless. It's far from it. Even with Endy Chavez looking like a regular in left field (and let it be said that I'm not all that wild about this), this is a lineup that should be able to score a respectable number of runs.

There are still things that have to be sorted out. Obviously, DH is a big question mark. And maybe left field changes between now and Opening Day, either because Balentien impresses in ST or another body is brought in from outside the organization. But the bottom line is that, while our offense looks like it will be short on power and name value, it's unlikely to be the perpetual motion machine of ineptitude that a lot of people are making it out to be. We won't be on the happy end of too many blowouts, but the lineup should be able to produce enough runs to keep the team afloat, and there's the potential there for the group to be around league average with just a few breaks.

Honestly, given the strides we've taken forward on defense, I consider our current situation to be less of a letdown and more of a blessing. If this is what Zduriencik can do in three months, I can't wait to see what he can do in three years.

* It made sense to me at the time. It sounds ridiculous now. Who the fuck would make this kid the goalie? It's one thing to receive special treatment because you're differently abled, but when your differently-abled ass is costing teams of eight year old inline hockey players critical life-validating wins over the evil pro-homework opposition, then I think that counts as crossing the line.

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