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The 2015 Mariners: Good at hitting, good at striking out

Despite their offensive competence this season, Mariners hitters are striking out at a surprisingly high rate in 2015.

Kyle has been very good at not striking out this year, but this picture was too good to not use.
Kyle has been very good at not striking out this year, but this picture was too good to not use.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

As the season comes to a close, the Mariners offense is about to do something that it has only done one other time in the last eleven years - put up a wRC+ that is better than league-average. They currently rank sixth in MLB with a team wRC+ of 102, sitting between the Detroit Tigers and the Houston Astros. Since stringing together nine straight seasons with a triple digit wRC+ (between 1995 and 2003), the Mariners have perennially suffered from anemic offenses. In 2007, with an ultra-potent lineup featuring Jose Vidro, Raul Ibanez, and an old/bad version of Richie Sexson in the heart of the order, they did somehow manage a wRC+ of 103, but their next highest since 2003 was just 95. This should change this year. Hooray!

HOWEVER, because life is all about giving and taking, the Mariners offense this season is also at risk of doing a bad thing. This may be a little hard to believe, but the hitters for the 2015 M's are very close to setting a franchise-high strikeout rate. This team has struck out in 21.71% of their plate appearances so far in '15, which is perilously close to the team record that was set in 2013 (21.80%).

All of these K-rates are for non-pitcher batters.

The amount of strikeouts around MLB has ballooned dramatically over the last decade; since the 2010 season, the M's have been helping to lead this charge, consistently recording team K-rates above 20%. It should be noted that, for the first time since 2005, it appears as though the MLB strikeout rate might actually decrease this season. However, if you've only been watching the Mariners, this trend wouldn't necessarily be super obvious. (I do admit that the M's high K-rate surprises me. It really doesn't feel like this team is full of players who hack away indiscriminately when they're at the plate.)

But which players are the most responsible for the Mariners near-record strikeout rate? To find out, I put together the following table, which shows the career K-rates for M's hitters compared to what they've done so far in 2015.

Name PA 2015 K% Career K% 2015 K% compared to career K%* Other notes
Kyle Seager 632 14.2% 16.8% -2.6% career low
Robinson Cano 621 15.8% 12.1% +3.7% career high
Nelson Cruz 607 23.9% 22.3% +1.6% career high
Logan Morrison 482 16.0% 17.2% -1.2% career low
Brad Miller 462 20.6% 20.0% +0.6% -
Austin Jackson 448 23.9% 23.5% +0.4% -
Seth Smith 417 21.8% 19.2% +2.6% -
Mike Zunino 386 34.2% 32.1% +2.1% career high
Mark Trumbo 324 26.5% 24.9% +1.6% -
Dustin Ackley 207 18.4% 18.1% +0.3% -
Ketel Marte 192 17.8% 17.8% - -
Franklin Gutierrez 160 28.7% 21.1% +7.6% -
Other M's hitters 711 26.7% 23.8% +2.9% -

*These values represent percentage points, not percentages.

Among the 12 Mariners hitters with more than 150 PA on the season, only two of them have put up strike out rates that are lower than their career averages: Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison. Interestingly, both of those gentleman have actually had career-low strikeout rates in 2015. Kudos to the two of you!

Conversely, Mike Zunino, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz have each struck out at career-high clips in 2015. We're all familiar with Mike's tragic offense this season, but I'm surprised that Cruz has struck out more often in '15 than he has in any season since 2007 (when he had a K-rate of 26.1% while playing part-time for the Rangers). Robbie's early struggles were also well-documented; his strikeout rate peaked near 18% in late June, but has steadily dropped as he's rediscovered his swing and recovered from whatever was ailing him. It appears as though the M's prolific K-rate in 2015 is due partially to a couple of guys having off years, but is more related to the fact that just about everyone has seen a moderate uptick in their K%.

Looking forward, in order to avoid setting a new strike out rate, the Mariners need to average less than ~8.2 strikeouts per game over the remainder of their season (assuming they maintain an average of ~38 PA per night). This shouldn't be too hard to avoid, but it's certainly something that could happen if they get a little too swing-happy. With Seattle projected to face Yordano Ventura (8.5 K/9), Johnny Cueto (7.7 K/9), Garrett Richards (7.4 K/9), and Andrew Heaney (6.8 K/9) over the next few days, they should hopefully be in okay shape heading into the last week of the season (only Ventura really qualifies as a "strike out pitcher"; the average MLB SP in 2015 has a K/9 of 7.4).

Hit the ball, fellas. Get dingers. Not strikeouts.

Go M's.