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Seattle Mariners 2010 - An Adventure in Awfulness

When you're surrounded by awfulness, it's easy to get inured to the scale of that awfulness. Familiarity leads to habituation. Your brain adjusts to tune out the worst of the torture, and the badness loses its bite. You might still recognize intellectually that a thing is execrable, but after some time the sheer visceral edge begins to fade.

For example, my sister used to attend the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. UNC is a good school, but Greeley is better-known for the smell of the nearby livestock feed lots and cow rendering plants. As Dave Gilmartin wrote in his book, The Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America, "Greeley is where cows go to die and people go to kill them. It is a society based on slaughter, and the smell of death hangs heavily in the air."

After four years in Greeley, my sister couldn't even smell the stink anymore. Even after leaving to breathe the fresh air of Seattle, the smell never hit her upon returning like it did when she first arrived. Her body and brain adjusted, and the reek of cow manure and death became her new normal.

Yes, this is the metaphor I'm choosing to use for the Mariners' 2010 season.

We all know that the Mariners have been terrible this year, with a level of awfulness magnified by high expectations coming into the season. But despite recent analysis from Jeff, Marc, and Matt Klaassen on FanGraphs, I found my mind boggling while trying to grasp the enormity of the Mariners' collective suck this year. This is my attempt to provide some historical context for some of the Mariners' individual struggles.

Everybody is familiar with using the Mendoza Line as a convenient yardstick to identify hapless hitters. In the effort to use a smarter metric than batting average, I'm going to be using a yardstick in this piece called the Willie Bloomquist line. Willie Bloomquist over his career has put up a wOBA of .298 and has consistently hovered right around that mark. Since that's awfully close to .300, I'm going to round it up and call a .300 wOBA the Bloomquist line. In other words, a hitter who puts up a wOBA of .300 or less is producing at or below the offensive level we would expect from a utility player who generates the bulk of his modest value with his versatility and his defense. With that in mind, it's a little bit startling that the Mariners as a team are wOBA'ing .287.

But let's move past that and get into individual performances. I took 2010 Mariners with a minimum of 100 PA and compared them with the Bloomquist line. Then, for additional context, I picked some of the worst individual performances we've seen since 2004 - the types of seasons that were seen at the time as huge disappointments, age collapses, and/or evidence of front office incompetence - and overlaid them to see how they compared with the Mariners' performances so far.

This is not meant to make statements about future production or drawing conclusions about relative player value - this does not factor in age, position played, salary, or quality of defense - but I think the results are pretty eye-opening.

Player  Year     PA  wOBA
Mike Sweeney  2010 110 0.354
Michael Saunders 2010 198 0.331
Ichiro! 2010 477 0.330
Franklin Gutierrez 2010 424 0.309
Adrian Beltre  2009 477 0.305
Richie Sexson  2007 491 0.305
BLOOMQUIST LINE            --               -- 0.300
Bret Boone  2005 658 0.298
Josh Wilson 2010 229 0.296
Jeremy Reed  2008 312 0.296
Chone Figgins 2010 456 0.296
Miguel Cairo  2008 250 0.293
Jeff Clement  2008 224 0.289
Milton Bradley 2010 278 0.289
MARINERS TEAM AVERAGE
2010 3,934 0.287
Rich Aurelia  2004 292 0.286
Ben Davis  2003 269 0.286
Casey Kotchman 2010 287 0.284
Carl Everett  2006 343 0.284
Scott Spiezio  2004 415 0.279
Miguel Olivo  2004 173 0.274
Kenji Johjima  2008 409 0.272
Yuniesky Betancourt  2009 245 0.269
Jose Vidro  2008 330 0.268
Jose Lopez  2010 419 0.265
Rob Johnson 2010 209 0.261
Wladimir Balentien  2008 260 0.257
Jeff Cirillo  2003 293 0.253
Jack Wilson 2010 192 0.252
Ronny Cedeno  2009 206 0.219
Ken Griffey Jr. 2010 108 0.214

 

A few thoughts:

  • This year has sucked.
  • Viewed strictly through the narrow lens of wOBA, Mike Sweeney has been the Mariners' most productive hitter. Mike Sweeney! 
  • Over the last several years of bad baseball, even in the depths of 2008, there were only a handful of disappointing players in any given year that performed below the Bloomquist line. The 2010 Mariners have eight qualifying players producing below the Bloomquist line.
  • One might hope that dropping the PA minimum would net us a bunch of hot hitters who just haven't racked up the required appearances. That hope would be mistaken. The best of that bunch is Ryan Langerhans (.337), followed by Josh Bard (.318) and Russell Branyan (.317). Dropping the PA minimum also gets us Eliezer Alfonso (.234), Mike Carp (.225), Adam Moore (.221), Eric Byrnes (.208), Justin Smoak (.190), and Matt Tuiasosopo (.186). Thank God for Michael Saunders' performance, because the presence of Moore and Smoak on this list (and, I guess, Carp and Tuiasosopo) is as depressing as it probably is meaningless.
  • It's interesting to see in some of the historical seasons how players weren't allowed to suck indefinitely. Cedeno and Betancourt were traded. Vidro and Sexson went away. Everett was cut. At some point, the front office made decisions that they couldn't live with that production anymore. Many of this year's players are reaching the 200-500 PA area in which that seemed to happen in the past - it will be interesting to see how that shakes out this year.
  • It's amazing how much Gutierrez's overall production has come back to Earth after his hot start - he's still ahead of the pack here, but remember - this is a pack made up of some of the worst individual seasons we have seen since 2004. Stellar defense at an important position will always be a big part of his value, but if he's going to hit like post-collapse Richie Sexson it's going to be difficult for the M's to generate much offense.
  • You know how awful Yuniesky Betancourt was at the plate last year before he was traded? Do you remember how completely hapless he was? Yeah. Jose Lopez and Jack Wilson have both been worse.
  • Setting aside Rob Johnson's passed ball problem, he's producing less with his bat than did Ben Davis, Miguel Olivo, and Kenji Johjima when they were all at their worst. Thank goodness he calls such a great game.
  • Ken Griffey Jr. produced at a worse rate than Ronny :(edeno did during Ronny's short Seattle stint in which he appeared to be completely lost. Griffey did it without providing any defensive value. Awesome. Even as I'm recoiling from that unpleasant fact, it's kind of neat that he was so terrible.
  • This year has sucked.

Just in case that wasn't fun enough, let's take a similar look at Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith - two pitchers who were being counted on to help form an excellent rotation this year.

I used 80 IP as a minimum and FIP greater than 5.00 as selection criteria for all of the pre-2010 players. I then excluded additional bad seasons from the same pitcher (I kept the worst) and added three exceptions to these criteria for additional context (Jarrod Washburn's worst year and two seasons of Carlos Silva - his full 2008 and his miserable but very short 2009). This list is sorted from best FIP to worst.

 

Pitcher Season IP (min.80) FIP
Carlos Silva 2008 153.1 4.63
Jarrod Washburn 2008 153.2 4.72
Gil Meche 2005 143.1 5.04
Jeff Weaver 2007 146.2 5.07
Ryan Franklin 2004 200.1 5.22
Joel Pineiro 2006 165.2 5.24
R.A. Dickey 2008 112.1 5.25
Aaron Sele 2005 116 5.31
Horacio Ramirez 2007 98 5.49
Jamie Moyer 2004 202 5.74
Carlos Silva 2009 30 5.97
Miguel Batista 2008 115 6.23
Garrett Olson 2009 80.1 6.42
Ian Snell 2010 46.1    6.48
Ryan Rowland-Smith 2010 98.1    6.79

 

  • Carlos Silva, even in his SSS and completely broken 2009, pitched better than Snell and RRS have so far this season. In fact, full-season Washburn and Silva, as mediocre as they were, look pretty good in this context of awfulness.
  • Coming in, I figured that Snell and RRS had to be better than the execrable 2007 Weaver/Ramirez pitching tag-team. Nope! And in fact, it's not particularly close. I guess I hadn't quite realized how much Weaver had rescued his season after coming off the injured list that year.
  • RRS has been worse than 2008 Miguel Batista. He has been worse than 2007 Horacio Ramirez. He has been worse than 2005 Aaron Sele. He has been worse than all of these collapsed pitchers. This development is perhaps the crowning sadness on a season of heartbreak.

This post hasn't been particularly fun to write, but hopefully this serves as rebuttal to the people who argue that the Mariners' underperformance so far this year repudiates either Jack Z's player-acquisition strategy or the idea that a team can survive with good pitching, good defense, and mediocre offense.

This team's bad elements haven't been mediocre, or even run-of-the-mill bad. They have been catastrophic. This team has suffered through 144.2 innings of collapse-level pitching and 2,350 plate appearances (roughly 60% of the team's total) from batters hitting below the Bloomquist line.

This is my first attempt to perform any sort of analysis here, so please feel free to jump in and correct any missteps I've made or any misunderstandings I've displayed in drawing these conclusions.

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