The Mariners are much worse at fielding bunts this season.
The light tap of the angled bat against the ball is heard but already Adrian Beltre is sprinting forward. Another foolish hitter has tried to bunt down the third base line. Beltre rockets along the chalk toward the ball. As he nears it, his left foot hits the ground as he bends at the waist to bare hand the rolling ball. As he continues forward and his right foot comes down, Beltre in one smooth motion straightens and whips the ball to first base nearly across his momentum. And the batter is out.
I never tired of watching Beltre play defense and his ability to corral bunts was so formulaic and predictable that I wonder why anyone ever even tried.
That's changed this season. According to StatCorner's numbers, only Kansas City (93) and Baltimore (97) have faced more bunts this season than Seattle (92) in the American League. And Seattle is ahead of only Tampa in turning bunts into outs. 29 of the 92 bunts have gone for a hit. That's 32% of the time. In the previous three seasons, the rates were:
2009: 18% (3rd best in AL)
2008: 23% (5th best)
2007: 20% (4th best)
On a more personal level, look what has happened to Felix Hernandez over this time frame:
2010: 8 hits in 15 bunt attempts
2009: 1 hit in 12
2008: 2 hits in 9
2007: 1 hit in 10
While Jose Lopez hasn't been a total slouch defensively, he is rated fairly pedestrian at fielding bunts. Obviously the entirely of the problem isn't Lopez at third base instead of Beltre. Other aspects of the infield has changed. The pitchers have changed. The sample sizes are very small. The overall point however is that the Mariners have yielded about ten extra hits from bunt attempts this season than they had previously.
For those wondering, Chone Figgins has received decent marks on bunts in the past at third base.