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The Worst Single Season Hitting Position in Mariner History

Baseball card stats usefully covered up that Brian L Hunter was amazingly terrible.
Baseball card stats usefully covered up that Brian L Hunter was amazingly terrible.

I cannot remember why I ended up there, but I ended up looking at positional splits for the Mariners recently. One thing I found out is that our DHs were worse as a collective group in 2008 than they were in 2010. I didn't think that was possible but there you go. Thanks, Jose Vidro you jackass.

Anyways, that got me thinking. Or perhaps I was just really bored; I cannot actually remember and it's unimportant. Point is, I went through each Mariner season and charted the split OPS+ (sOPS+) for each position. Split OPS+ is the OPS grouped by position then compared to the MLB-wide OPS at that position. An sOPS+ for DHs last year would take every trip to the plate a Mariner DH took, add them up and then compare their on base and slugging percentages to the MLB average for DHs.

What that gives us is a measure of OPS that is position-adjusted. What it does not give us is a park-adjusted measure, which is unfortunate, but not something I feel like doing on my own right now. Maybe in the future the next time I get interested, or really bored. OPS is also not a good way to measure a player since it ignores defense and is not even my preferred offense-only statistic, that being wOBA. However, OPS is like 98% of what wOBA is and by slapping the label "hitter" in place of "player", defense doesn't matter. Nifty.

I originally began charting all this with the idea of creating graphs of the positional splits to show the rises and falls over time. With an average sOPS+ of 87, the Mariners have shown to be most futile at finding a decent hitter at the catching position. I am optimistic about Miguel Olivo helping out here.

No, really.

A .270 on base percentage and .390 slugging or even a .300/.355 line from a catcher in 2010 would have been an improvement over the Mariner franchise average. Our catchers actually posted a .263/.303 OBP and SLG. Aside from Kenji Johjima, this team has had nothing but black holes behind the plate for the last eight years.

Aside from positional averages, I was curious about the single worst mark in Mariner history. The aforementioned 2008 DHs (58 sOPS+) were close, but five positions beat them out: last year's third basemen (Lopez!), 2009's left fielders (Wlad!, Saunders!, Endy Chavez!), the 1983 catchers (Rick Sweet and Orlando Mercado) and the 1994 catchers (Dan Wilson and Bill Haselman) were all worse. But of all the nine regular hitting positions, over each of the 34 seasons of Mariner baseball, no one position fared worse, as measured by position-adjusted OPS+, than left field in 1999.

Major League left fielders that year hit .279/.353/.462 for an .815 OPS. Mariners taking the field in left conspired to hit .240/.282/.333 for a .615 OPS and an OPS+ of 52.

Who were the putrid souls to occupy that position in 1999? The season began with Butch Huskey there who was actually good. Huskey was the main starter through April and then the Mariners traded him to Boston in July for Robert Ramsay who is somebody I actually remember for his low ERA (3.40) in 2000. I did not remember that he had 38 free passes issued to just 32 strikeouts that year. Robert Ramsay sucked.

Huskey became expendable because the Mariners traded the previous year's third- and fourth-round draft picks to Detroit for Brian Lee Hunter. Andy Van Hekken came up three years later for Detroit at age 22 to make five starts for the Tigers. In 30 innings, he struck out five hitters. He's basically been in Triple-A ever since and has spent the last three seasons with, who else, the Houston Astros organization.

Jerry Amador was an outfielder who peaked with a .641 OPS. In A-ball.

Despite trading away essentially nothing, the Mariners managed to find a way to lose that trade. Brian Hunter was fast. He stole 74 bases in 1997 and would steal 44 in 49 tries with Seattle. That ends the things Brian Hunter was good at. Probably because he was so prolific at stealing bases, Hunter was the primary lead off hitter for the Mariners. He batted .231/.277/.300. Even if you account for the stolen bases and up his slugging percentage to reflect them as doubles, his line comes to who-the-hell-cares-look-at-his-OBP*.

*Actual line: .268 OBP, .390 SLG representing a shockingly huge increase in his slugging which does manage to boost his sOPS+ all the way from 43 to 60. Of course, a single and stolen base is not actually as valuable as a double.

All told, Hunter was worth -1.5 wins according to Baseball-Reference in his '99 stint with the Mariners. There were a half dozen other players who spent time in left field that season, but Hunter accounted for nearly 70% of the playing time of what is currently the worst single season positional performance in Mariner history.