Virtually every Seattleite can tell you that the Mariners suck. Most casual fans are able to go into a little bit more detail and describe how the M’s offense has really struggled "since about when Griffey retired." But I don’t think many people fully comprehend the magnitude of these struggles. What we have seen in Seattle over the past decade has been truly historic, in the most negative sense possible.
There are so many offensive metrics out there nowadays, from batting average to weighted runs created, and I believe that all of these measurements can help in some way to evaluate the performance of a baseball team or an individual player. But today I’m going to focus on perhaps the most traditional and possibly the most meaningful metric of them all, runs per game (RPG). In the end, baseball games are won and lost because of two things, run creation and run prevention, and when all you're worried about is analyzing past performance, there’s no better way to evaluate run creation than the average number of runs that a team scores each game.
Perhaps some of you out there have already sensed where I’m going with this and already know that the 2013 version of the Seattle Mariners is currently last in runs per game out of 15 American League teams. That’s right, even the Houston Astros, who are essentially a AAA team masquerading in MLB jerseys and who have a team payroll less than 29% of the Mariners’, currently average more runs per game than our M’s.
Maybe a lot of you also remember that Seattle also scored the least runs in their mythically bad 2010 season. You know, the year when Russell Branyan led the team in home runs (15) while playing in only 57 games. That year.
Let’s just get to the point here – the Mariners have finished last in the American League in runs for every season beginning in 2009.
Clearly, that’s pretty bad. But how bad?
Since the 1980 season, the only American League team (besides the Mariners) to finish last in RPG in consecutive seasons was the Detroit Tigers in 2002-2003. These Tigers teams had a combined record of 98-225. They failed to reach 100 wins between the two seasons. By comparison, the 2001 Seattle Mariners achieved their 98th win of the season with 25 games remaining. And these Detroit Tigers finished last in the league for only TWO consecutive seasons, not FIVE! Then, three years later they reached the World Series! Three years after the Mariners’ first two consecutive last place (RPG) seasons, they are STILL SCORING LESS RPG THAN ANY OTHER TEAM!
No team besides the Mariners has finished last in runs per game for four consecutive years since the Philadelphia Athletics did so for five years in the mid 1940s. That’s back when the American League had 8 teams my grandparents were teenagers. This is what Wikipedia has to say about those Athletic teams:
"By the middle of the 1940s, [Athletics’ owner Connie Mack] was showing signs of mental deterioration. He would call on players from decades earlier to pinch-hit, laps into sudden outbursts of temper, or make strange calls that the team would often just ignore. He spent most games asleep in the dugout rather than playing any active part…"
As much as I dislike Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, at least they are not trying attempting to convince Wedge to pinch hit Jim Presley for Nick Franklin.
Besides the A’s and crazy Connie Mack, the only other team in the history of the American League to finish last in RPG for more than four consecutive years were the 1925-1931 Boston Red Sox. And here’s what Wikipedia says about those seven Red Sox teams:
"After Boston sold Babe Ruth to New York, the Yankees achieved great success while Boston did very poorly during the 1920-30s. Over a period from 1925 to 1932, the Red Sox averaged over 100 losses per season. Boston’s poor performance after the sale of Ruth, along with their lack of World Series titles during the next eight decades have contributed to the legend of the "Curse of the Bambino."
So, they were cursed. And even though they were cursed, they were only the worst offensively out of eight American League teams. The Mariners have been the worst of 14, and now 15 American League clubs.
And we can’t blame this all on Safeco Field either, although I’m sure the marine layer has contributed. But, as is often cited, the M’s finished first in RPG in 2001 and fourth in RPG in 2000. In both those years they played all 81 of their home games in a Safeco Field that was obviously pre-fence shift.
I can go one step further still. Not only have the Mariners finished last in RPG every year since 2009, but they also finished last back in 2004, as well as second to last in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Try to wrap your head around this - in nine of the last ten years, the Mariners have finished either last or second to last in the American League in scoring.
This should be noted somewhere in the history books. We are witnessing something incredible here. This sustained lack of offensive performance is rarer than perfect games, rarer than triple plays, rarer than almost anything you can dream up.
And I can only pray that it ends soon.