There's been a lot of talk over the past month about how if the Mariners would just starting hitting like they're supposed to they'd be fine. They'd turn their season around and contend for the AL West. Maybe even make a deep run in the playoffs and finally obtain that World Series appearance/title. Wouldn't that be great!?
And, in truth, it's not hard to look at the lineups that Lloyd is currently running out, especially against right-handed pitchers, and feel pretty good. Gone are the days where you'd hesitantly peek at a lineup card, a feeling of dread tightly gripping your stomach, and see Adam Kennedy penciled in as your cleanup hitter. (Those days were rough.)
But what exactly are the Mariners supposed to be hitting like? And just how far is this team actually under-performing on the offensive side of the ball this season?
If you remember the projections from the end of March, you'll recall that the 2015 Mariners were predicted to have a team wRC+ somewhere around 96. Bringing on bats like Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, and Justin Ruggiano were supposed to help raise this team from one of the worst offenses in the AL up into the middle of the pack. For reference, the 2014 version of the Mariners (a team that featured a .218/.295/.352 slash line from the fourth spot in their lineup) put up a wRC+ of 93. An increase of ~three points in a team's wRC+ can definitely help them win more games, but it's probably not going to produce a super crazy difference. It was probably unrealistic to ever expect the 2015 Seattle Mariners offense to suddenly transform into a bunch of world beaters. Even with the addition of the 2014 AL home run champ, they were only ever supposed to be a little bit better. It's important to remember that and temper your expectations accordingly.
So far this year, the Mariners have actually been a touch better at hitting the ball; going into Friday night's (terrible) game, the Mariners had a wRC+ of 94. Four of their every day players (Cruz, Seager, Seth Smith, and Miller) are actually performing significantly better than their career averages this year. And Logan Morrison and Austin Jackson are only performing a bit worse than average. Unfortunately, Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, and Robinson Cano have all been hitting like garbage. These three jokers have taken up more than one quarter of the Mariners plate appearances and have combined for a wRC+ of less than 66. That, in a word, sucks.
||2015 wRC+ with Mariners||Steamer projected 2015 wRC+|
It's easy to get frustrated with Ackley and Zunino and their sub-.200 batting averages, but that frustration would almost certainly be better spent on Robinson Cano. It's okay for your bottom-of-the-order hitters to scuffle a little bit, but it's much less forgiveable when your number-three hitter is being outhit by Ben Revere. Cano's failure to perform is costing the Mariners dearly.
I imagine that it's pretty intuitive how Cano's struggles are adversely affecting the Mariners performance, but here's a quick, simple example that illustrates the importance of Cano's bat to this lineup.
|PA||RBI||Runners on base||Position of runners (1st-2nd-3rd)|
|Robinson Cano in 2014||665||82||353||(181-110-62)|
|MLB average player in 2014 with 665 PA||665||67||395||(199-129-67)|
|Robinson Cano in 2015||247||19||145||(71-57-17)|
|MLB average player in 2015 with 247 PA||247||25||145||(72-47-24)|
In 2014, despite coming up to bat with ~11% fewer men on base than average, Cano managed to drive in 22% more runs compared to the average hitter with 665 PA. This year, while having RBI opportunities more frequently, he's driving in runs about 30% less often than the average player. (A back of the envelope calculation shows that if Cano were driving in runs at the same rate this year as last year, he'd have 34 RBI right now; this is certainly a little rough, but it sure would've been nice if the Mariners had scored ~15 more runs this season.) The M's lineup was built in large part around Cano's bat; it doesn't work the way it should if he's not producing.
In addition to shoddy play from their second baseman, the Mariners bench players have also been under-performing fairly dramatically this season. Ruggiano, Weeks, Taylor, Bloomquist, and the backup catchers have garnered almost 350 PA in 2015 and combined for a wRC+ of 38. These numbers are even more fun when you discount Ruggiano's contribution; the wRC+ dips all the way down to 19. That is the opposite of great.
However, despite the bench playing worse than a handful of PTBNLs and Cano seemingly swinging at baseballs with one of those turkey legs they give out to the best dressed fan in the King's Court instead of a bat made of wood, the Mariners still have a better wRC+ than last year. In terms of their wOBA, wRC+, and most of their rate stats, they're still only performing slightly worse than most people expected heading into the season. (Thank you Nelson Cruz!) Of course, the Mariners are scoring a lot fewer runs so far in 2015 (from 3.9 runs/game in '14 to 3.4 runs/game this season).
And this brings us back to the Mariners real problem: getting hits with RISP. Peter wrote a great article about this at the end of May, so I won't really get into it here. Instead, I'll leave you with the following table, which serves to illustrate the Mariners offensive ineptitude this season.
|Team||Overall wRC+||wRC+ with bases empty||wRC+ with RISP||Runs per game||Winning PCT|
(The Twins are currently a game behind Houston.)
So, yeah. The Mariners are in fact hitting about as well as they're supposed to be hitting in 2015... they're just not doing it in a particularly timely fashion. I have no idea how Lloyd and this team should go about addressing these issues (maybe they should call Joe Maddon?), but they better figure out their business soon if they want a shot at the playoffs.