April is over.
The Mariners currently sit in third place in the AL West with an underwhelming record of 10-12. They're a game behind the second-place Angels and five games back of the world-beating Houston Astros. Things aren't great, but you probably shouldn't be too sad. Last year at this time, the Mariners had a record of 11-13 and were also five games off the division lead. If you're feeling a bit down about the M's after last night's loss, you need look no further than last season to boost your baseball-related morale. Last year was fun and this year should be, too. In fact, there are actually quite a few similarities between this year's Mariners and last year's team. Let's take a quick look!
First some offensive numbers. Below is a small table comparing the batting numbers for the Mariners in the month of April in 2014 and 2015.
|M's in April 2015||811||7.0||18.5||0.240||0.295||0.390||0.301||93||0.3|
|M's in April 2014||927||6.4||24.2||0.233||0.291||0.371||0.293||89||2.2|
This year, we can see a marginal improvement in most offensive areas and nice gains in terms of slugging and a lower strike out rate. However, the overall WAR of the M's position players is actually significantly lower. Yuck! This is largely due to the sometimes shockingly poor defense that has been exhibited by this team so far, particularly in the corner outfield spots. It's only been ~200 innings, which is definitely a small sample size, but the UZR/150 for RF and LF so far have been -32.3 and -17.2, respectively. These numbers will probably become less extreme as the season progresses/Lloyd figures out that what they're doing on defense isn't really working (only three qualified outfielders have put up a UZR/150 below -30 in a season since 2002), but it's pretty clear that running Weeks out in left field once or twice a week and Cruz out in right ALMOST EVERY DAMN DAY is really hurting the M's in terms of their run prevention.
Also, it should be noted that during this past offseason, the Mariners added quite a few players in an attempt to supplement their ability to score runs. These additions were widely lauded as being just the shot in the arm that the M's offense needed this year. So why has the improvement in their offensive numbers been so subtle? Look at the table below!
|Newly acquired M's*||222||9.9||19.8||0.278||0.351||0.537||0.383||148||1.3|
|M's returning from '14||589||5.9||18.0||0.226||0.274||0.335||0.270||72||-0.9|
*, Justin Ruggiano, Seth Smith, and Rickie Weeks.
Wow are those numbers different. On the one hand, it's easy to chalk up this large discrepancy to Cruz's mammoth month of April. However, although he has been hitting the seams off of baseballs everywhere, Smith and Ruggiano have also been two of the team's best hitters. These additions were what the Mariners needed, and each has worked out pretty well so far. Without these players, this offense would've looked mighty impotent over the month of April. (Heck, even Rickie Weeks has a better wRC+ and wOBA than Cano!) Moving forward, it's not unreasonable to expect the offense to start to pick it up (at least a little). Robinson Cano is just too good to continue to have an OPS of .292, Dustin Ackley is a notoriously slow starter, and Mike Blowers and Aaron Goldsmith keep talking about how Mike Zunino might finally be showing signs of life (I'm skeptical). Hopefully this year's April showers (i.e., our tears re: the offensive performance of many of our beloved M's) bring a boatload of May flowers (i.e., dingers! doubles! 10-game hitting streaks!).
Finally, a quick look at the pitching (also compared to last year for a bit of reference).
|2015 M's SP||130.1||8.01||2.35||0.90||0.303||69.0%||4.14||3.63||3.55|
|2015 M's RP||71||7.86||4.82||0.13||0.303||71.2%||3.55||3.32||4.28|
|2015 M's total||201.1||7.96||3.22||0.63||0.303||69.9%||3.93||3.52||3.81|
|2014 M's April SP||139||7.77||3.3||1.17||0.266||72.1%||3.82||4.28||3.98|
|2014 M's April RP||81.2||8.49||4.63||0.77||0.288||76.7%||3.42||4.05||4.00|
|2014 M's April total||220.2||8.03||3.79||1.02||0.274||74.0%||3.67||4.19||3.99|
After the previous ~week of successful outings by Mariners hurlers, the team's overall pitching numbers have come back nearer to what we were expecting from them when the season began. They're still running a high BABIP (league average is .291) and a low LOB% (average is 71.5%), but these numbers are no longer outrageous like they were a week ago. The performance of their relievers has been a bit troubling - their K-rate is 22nd in baseball and their walk rate is second highest - but this has been somewhat offset by their ability to keep the ball in the yard. Unfortunately, that HR/9 of 0.13 won't stick around for much longer so they better figure out how to reclaim at least a portion of the domination they exhibited last year or we could be in for a long season filled with ultra tense, supremely disappointing late-inning baseball (especially if the Mariners keep up their propensity for playing in close games). Overall, these pitchers are performing pretty similarly to last year's group of players (and maybe even a bit better). And, with James Paxton and Taijuan Walker beginning to show signs of life, the Mariners have a good chance to continue to improve their pitching and reclaim a spot among the best pitching staffs in MLB.
April was a fairly disappointing month for the Mariners; fortunately it was equally dreary for the Angels and the A's. Houston has certainly been hot out of the gate, but I still have some trouble taking them super seriously. Maybe they'll be competitive all season, but oh man do they strike out a ton and they just lost their starting shortstop until the All-Star break and I guess only time will tell whether or not they're the real deal. In any case, based on FanGraph's playoff projections, Seattle is still the favorite (by a fairly wide margin) to win the AL West. This is a team with a lot of talent and more often than not they're pretty damn fun to watch. The Mariners have at least 140 baseball games left this season and I'm pretty excited to watch
all most of them. Here's hoping that the month of May will treat the Mariners more kindly than the month of April did.