Edgar Martinez retired at the end of the 2004 season. Since that time, 14 different men have accumulated more than 100 PA as a designated hitter for the Seattle Mariners. This list contains many illustrious players, including Jack Cust, Jose Vidro, Carl Everett, and Ben Broussard. (Other stars, such as Greg Dobbs, Mike Carp, and Jeff Clement, just missed the 100 PA threshold). Of these 14 men, half couldn't muster an OPS above .700 and eight failed to put up a positive WAR during their time as a DH. The past 10 years have represented a mostly dark, sad, frustrating time for the designated hitter in Seattle.
Of course, the slow decline of the DH has been a league-wide phenomenon over the last several years. Only three designated hitters in all of baseball have averaged more than 1 WAR per season over the last three years. Maybe the failures of the Mariners aren't so bad when compared to the rest of the American League? Let's find out!
It's pretty clear that although the productivity of DHs in the AL has generally declined over the past 10 years, the Mariners are doing their darndest to lead the charge. They've been below league-average (well below, in most cases) in OPS, wOBA, HR, and WAR in each of the last 10 seasons, with the exception of 2013 (back before Kendrys Morales was playing as if he were a literal sack of potatoes). Seattle has been missing out on a ton of value at the DH position compared to the average AL team; almost 2 WAR per season! That is bad.
To look at these numbers a little differently, I put together a quick table. This shows the numbers for the following conditions: Edgar's average season during his decade as a DH for the Mariners (1995-2004), the average season for Mariners DHs during the last 10 years, the average season for all team's DHs in the American League during the last 10 years, and the projected numbers for the M's at DH in 2015.
|PA||BB%||K%||BB/K||HR||M's AVG||M's OBP||SLG||M's OPS||ISO||BABIP||wOBA||wRC+||fWAR|
|Avg. Edgar DH season ('95-'04)||604||16.0%||15.0%||1.06||25||0.316||0.429||0.541||0.970||0.225||0.341||0.416||153||4.4|
|Avg. M's DH season ('05-'14)||640||8.8%||19.4%||0.46||16||0.235||0.307||0.364||0.670||0.129||0.271||0.296||84||-1.2|
|Avg. AL DH season ('05-'14)*||646||10.0%||19.5%||0.52||23||0.258||0.337||0.437||0.774||0.179||0.291||0.336||107||0.7|
|M's 2015 projection**
*These numbers include "contributions" from the Mariners.
**Based on Steamer.
Edgar was so good! M's DHs since have been so bad!! The contrast between the first two rows in that table boggles the mind!!! (A 300 point different in OPS is larger than the difference between Mike Trout's 2014 and Elvis Andrus's 2014.) I can't even handle it.
Fortunately, things do appear to be trending in the right direction. Next year, heavily anchored by Nelson Cruz, the Mariners DH spot is projected to accumulate 1.7 WAR. Some people seem a little disconcerted/concerned about Cruz's seemingly conservative projections; if Steamer's predictions are right, Cruz will put up the lowest wOBA of his career (since becoming a regular back in 2009) in 2015.
However, even if Steamer is right, it's important to remember that Mariners DHs in 2014 combined for an absurdly dismal WAR of -3.2. Even with a fairly reserved estimate for Cruz's numbers in '15, a DH WAR of 1.7 still represents an increase of almost 5 WAR! That's about the same as taking the 2014 version of Dustin Ackley and transmogrifying him into the 2014 version Andrew McCutchen. It's a huge difference that has the chance to dramatically improve Seattle's chances of making it to the post-season. (Of course, Lloyd could end up playing Cruz in the field more than is anticipated, slotting Smith or Ruggiano into the DH spot a bit more often. This would likely drag the overall DH numbers down a little, but this group of sluggers should still be a vast improvement over last year's bunch.)
Nelson Cruz certainly isn't the same class of hitter as Edgar Martinez, but he does represent what should be the Mariners best designated hitter since Gar retired. I'm looking forward to watching Cruz put on a Mariners uniform, swing his boomstick, and launch a bunch of baseballs out of Safeco Field.