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Mike Zunino and not winning at baseball

Mike Zunino has had a terrible offensive season, but how much has he actually hurt the Mariners chances of winning?

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

2015 has been one of the most disappointing seasons in Seattle Mariners history. The pitching has been bad and the hitting has been streaky and our expectations have been dashed time and time again. There are so many reasons for their inability to win games this year. To see which offensive player has cost the M's the most success this season, I've put together the plot below, which shows the WPA vs. the number of plate appearances for M's hitters with 100+ PA in 2015.

(Note: These data represent values accumulated through Monday's game, but do not include last night's performances.)

The Mariners have had four hitters put up a positive WPA in 2015. Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Franklin Gutierrez, and Logan Morrison (???). As a team, their hitters have a WPA of 1.20, which is actually 14th best in MLB. However, without Nelson Cruz, that number dips all the way down to -4.39, which is pretttty lousy. Among M's hitters, Mike Zunino's WPA of -1.72 is the worst (by a fairly wide margin - Ackley has been the next crappiest Mariner with a WPA of -0.94). To see how this stacks up against all MLB ~regulars, I've put together the following chart, which shows the WPA per plate appearance for each hitter with 375+ PA so far in 2015.

So, yeah. Mikey has been bad. (Meanwhile, Cruz has been so, so good. Thank you for giving us something to watch/root for this season, Nelson.) Mike Zunino has been the sixth worst ~regular hitter in MLB this year (out of 164 gentlemen) in terms of helping his team improve their chances of winning. According to FanGraphs' ratings (which I've normalized to WPA/PA, assuming that a regular player amasses 600 PA in a season), he's right near the demarcation between the "poor" and "awful" regions of performance. Get it together, Mike.

The next logical step we can take, to continue picking at the scab that is Mike's 2015 season, is to see how it ranks in Mariners history. As of Monday night's game (8/24), Mike is on pace to have the 22nd worst WPA in a season in franchise history. Although that is bad and sad, there have actually been quite a few players who were even more detrimental to their team's success. I don't know why I'm doing this, but below is a partial list of some of these absolutely woeful seasons. Be prepared to be disappointed. (If, for some reason, you wish to peruse the complete list, you can click here.)

22. 2015 Mike Zunino: projected -2.23 WPA (482 PA)

We're all familiar with Mike's struggles this season. He's had a bad year. The reasons that he's not higher up on this list are likely due to the fact that 1) he bats at the bottom of the lineup, which generally limits the leverage of his plate appearances, and 2) he's actually been one of the better "clutch" hitters on the M's this year (he's hit better than he normally does when the game is close and/or there are runners on base - yay, Mike!).

20. 2008 Kenji Johjima: -2.32 WPA (409 PA)

Mike isn't the only catcher in M's history to have a super crummy season. Johjima's first two years with the M's were some of the best ever from a Mariners catcher, but his '08 campaign was dreadful. Dude put up a wRC+ of 64 and managed just one XBH in "high leverage" situations all season (41 PA).

16. 2011 Chone Figgins: -2.52 WPA (313 PA)

I don't think anyone will be surprised to see Figgins' name on this list. Despite hitting .188/.241/.243 in '11, 57% of his plate appearances came at the second spot in the batting order, which is soooo dumb. The 2011 Mariners were not good at baseball.

9. 2004 Bret Boone: -2.87 WPA (658 PA)

2004 was a very tough year for the Mariners. They went from 93 victories in 2003 to 99 losses in '04. Ouch. Boone's huge drop-off in production between '03 and '04 (his fWAR decreased from 7.4 to 0.9) was largely responsible for this free-fall. At first glance, his batting line of .251/.317/.423 doesn't look bad, but Boone hit in the heart of the lineup all season, and struggled to come through with RISP (hitting just .230). He squandered a lot run-scoring opportunities.

4. 2004 Edgar Martinez: -3.42 WPA (549 PA)

Even Gar didn't escape the bitter disappoint that was the 2004 season. Like Boone, his batting line of .263/.342/.385 doesn't look too bad (if you forget that we're talking about Edgar Martinez), but those aren't really the numbers you want from your number three/four hitter. In 2004, 41-year-old Edgar Martinez had a wRC+ of 31 with RISP (168 PA).

1. 1979 Mario Mendoza: -4.52 WPA (401 PA)

There's a reason that Mendoza is the punchline of a boatload of baseball jokes. He accrued almost 1500 PA during his time in MLB and had a career wRC+ of 38. He was pretty handy with his glove, but he he made Brendan Ryan look like an absolute slugger. His '79 campaign was the worst of his career - he was more than twice as detrimental to the M's that season as Zunino is projected to be this year. Woof.

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Recency bias, and the fact that many of us haven't been watching the M's since '79, will encourage folks to proclaim that this is easily one of the very worst seasons ever put together by a Mariners player. But this is a statement that, at least in terms of WPA, is more hyperbole than it is truth. This season has been very bad for Mike, but there have been quite a few Mariners who have been significantly worse at helping Seattle win baseball games than Mike has been this year. Boo Mike if you must, but try and have a little perspective if/when you do so.