When the Mariners win, it's hard to envision how it's ever any other way. It could happen any by any number of routes, but every time they win, it feels as thought that was the plan all along. And that—being able to win in so many different ways—was the plan.
Well, it was always more dependent on pitching, because that's how it always is in Seattle. But still, I remember thinking back in March, and even April, that though the Mariners were bound to have their rough stretches, as any team does, it wouldn't be on account of an extended run of offensive ineptitude like we've seen in years past.
With 3-2 win last night, Mariners have now scored 3 runs or less in 13 straight games, longest streak in MLB since 15 by Cubs in '79.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) June 10, 2015
As I've written on previously, it's feels impossible to explain—and helpless to watch. Does this lineup have its holes? Certainly. But it shouldn't be this bad. It can't be this bad.
Visually, it doesn't look that way—not all the time. I mean, how many times have we seen players on this team hit the ball hard only to find gloves? How often does a liner down the line—a would-be RBI double—get snagged by the first baseman?
Truth is, we can see now; we can see we're right in our assumptions. The truth is, no team hits the ball hard as frequently as the Mariners. The problem is, as we can also surmise, it hasn't mattered.
In using the data collected by Major League Baseball's Statcast system, and relayed by the superb Baseball Savant, we can see how hard the ball is coming off Mariner bats compared to other teams. The thing is, the sample as a whole is one big cloud, with the team with the highest average batted ball exit velocity and lowest exit velocity separated by only 1.58mph through Sunday's games.
To see any sort of spread, and something closer to correlation, we check in on how frequently a team hits the ball hard. For a clear, yet still very arbitrary endpoint, let's go with 100mph.
Here are teams ranked by the rate, for every ball in play. at which they hit the ball at least 100mph, again gathered via Baseball Savant.
Yes, for every five balls the Mariners put play, they're hitting at least one more than 100mph. It's the highest rate in the majors, with the gap between them and the second-place Dodgers being equal to the gap between the Dodgers and just about fourth-place Houston.
Obviously, it hasn't shown. But is this a thing that normally shows? Well, somewhat.
It's hard to find a good piece that encapsulates the correlation between hitting the ball hard and collecting hits—or I'm just bad at finding it—but an article by FiveThirtyEight's Rob Arthur noted that "Each additional mile per hour of batted ball velocity equates to an 18-point increase in OPS."
In that piece, he referenced this early-season tweet of his highlighting the range of velocities for hits and outs.
Batted ball velocity by hit or out. Unsurprisingly, hits tend to move faster. pic.twitter.com/WbaxtLYUfG— Rob Arthur (@No_Little_Plans) April 8, 2015
But the Mariners—what about the Mariners?
Well, for as stark a picture as you'll see for why the Mariners are where they are offensively, here's the rate at which teams hit the ball more than 100mph plotted against their team wRC+ (with pitchers excluded), and a best-fit trend line and a random assortment of team names dropped in for good measure.
Yes, there are the Mariners—with the best rate of contact more than 100mph and the sixth-worst non-pitcher wRC+ in baseball. The team they play today, the Giants, hit the ball more than 100mph the fourth-least frequently yet have the third-best wRC+.
In any dataset like this, there are bound to be outliers, and the Mariners are one—in the worst possible way. But why? Let's run through a few potential reasons quickly.
- Well, to start, only the Red Sox have a worse batting average on balls those balls in play hit at least 100mph, as the Mariners are batting .522. That seems high, yes, but for comparison Arizona leads the category at .708. The league average is .607.
- While not bad, but not ideal, the Mariners also rank 17th in ISO for balls hit at least 100mph, at .580. By contrast, and demonstrating the best route to maximizing hard contact, the Dodgers not only rank second in that ≥100mph rate, but also ISO on such balls. Thus, the highest team wRC+ in baseball.
- Similarly mediocre, the Mariners are also putting 42 percent of their ≥100mph balls on the ground, which is 14th-highest. That's not awful, but for comparison, the Dodgers have the third-lowest rate at 35 percent. The Reds, who manage to have a team non-pitcher wRC+ of 101 despite baseball's worst ≥100mph rate manage to put those balls on the ground the least by far, at 28 percent. The next closest is the Cubs, a touch below 35 percent.
- Perhaps most important to note, you can't hit the ball hard if you don't hit it at all. While I've plotted wRC+ against these ≥100mph rates, wRC+ measures more than just the balls in play—as, naturally, strikeouts and walks are included. The Mariners have the fourth-worst strikeout rate in baseball. Then again, the Astros, Orioles and Cubs are all worse—and each have above-average offenses, and points that plot at or above the trend. Though, the Cubs and Astros have two of the top six walk rates in the game. As you know, OBP matters.
Honestly, there's a lot going on here—some we can see, and some we can't.
Would it be fair to say the Mariners have run into some bad luck and, if the BABIP gods were kinder, they'd be better off? Sure. But, in putting the balls they hit hard on the ground, and striking out and not walking, is a good chunk of this their doing? Absolutely.
But if you're looking for some proclamation on why the Mariners offense is where it is despite hitting the ball hard, I wish I had it—and I'm sure the Mariners wish they did too. For now, I figured I'd lay out what's there. If you'd like to take a closer look at it, be my guest.
If I had to proclaim whether or not the Mariners' fortunes were due to change, I'd say your guess is good as mine. As I've said myself, and other writers have said recently, all we can do is just keep on watching.