Any longtime fan of the Mariners can probably intuit that the 2016 team is hitting more home runs than any Mariner team in the Safeco Field Era. That instinct is very correct. Since Safeco Field opened the most home runs any Mariner team has hit was the 198 walloped by last year’s Jack Zduriencik fever dream.
This almost team wide power surge has led to the Mariners having a wRC+ of 112, third in MLB, the sixth highest wOBA (.332), and sixth in ISO (.180). They are, simply, one of the most dangerous offenses in the game.
The way the team has gone about becoming this force is unlike any Mariner team in Safeco history, it’s counterintuitive to everything we have believed about how to succeed in the spacious park, and it feels, hilariously, a lot like the kind of offense that Jack Zduriencik so desperately tried to assemble his final years in Seattle.
There are, loosely, two great eras of offense in Mariner history: 1996-1999, and 2000-2003. Despite running directly back-to-back these two eras featured vast differences in both personnel and home ball park. Despite the differences the net result was an eight year stretch where the Mariners led MLB in runs scored three times, and only finished out of the top 10 once, in 2003, when they finished 11th.
The first era was built around Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, and a collection of power-first role players taking advantage of the small, enclosed dimensions of the Kingdome to bludgeon opponents with home runs. From 1996-99 the Mariners averaged 247 home runs a season, and led MLB in scoring twice.
This sentence is here for me to encourage you to go back and consider, again, that for your years the team average 247 home runs. Last year's Blue Jays, who led baseball in home runs and were an unholy terror all year, hit 232 home runs.
With Griffey’s departure after the 1999 season, and Rodriguez’s a year later, the Mariners adapted brilliantly to their spacious new ballpark and built a team around balance, on base percentage, and defense. Despite only averaging 165 home runs from 2000-2003, the Mariners used the well-rounded skills of Ichiro, Mike Cameron, John Olerud, Bret Boone, Carlos Guillen, and more and still managed to finish in the top seven in MLB in runs scored three out of four years. In 2001 they led all of baseball with 927 runs, despite finishing 18th in home runs with 169.
That 2000-2003 era has sat for over a decade as the presumed blueprint for building a successful offense in Safeco Field. Jerry Dipoto himself has spoken at length about his priorities for roster construction, and much of it sounds like he himself believes in that model:
"I think our offense, right now, is as stable as the Mariners’ offense has been for years. The middle of the lineup is very good. I don’t care what ballpark you play in. Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz – that fits anywhere. What I’d like to do is make the lineup a little longer at the top, and a little longer at the bottom. I’d like to find a way to boost our ability to get on base. We want balance in the lineup.
Whether PR-speak or genuine belief, at no point has Dipoto indicated that his intention was to build a team built around being one of the best in the league at hitting home runs. To do so immediately after replacing Jack Zduriencik’s failed attempts to build a home run first offense would have been a public relations disaster. Nonetheless, a home run dependent offense is exactly what the Mariners are.
While probably not solely due to intentional design, what Dipoto's first Mariner team has done is take the commonly held belief that a successful offense in Safeco Field must be built around speed and on base percentage and knocked it completely out of the park. Not only has the team been hitting home runs but it has been doing so in a way that's leading to a greater level of run scoring than Mariner fans have seen in over a decade. Since 2003, when the team finished 11th in runs, here are their yearly MLB rankings:
This year the Mariners are 4th in baseball in runs scored, which if it lasts would be their highest finish since 2001.
Jerry Dipoto has indeed recreated a model of a great Mariner teams past, but not the one that most, perhaps even himself, expected. Through the season's first two months the Mariners’ offense has brought back the glory days of the Kingdome, walloping balls over the fence at a rate that hearkens memories to fireworks in the Dome, slap bracelets, and Salt N’ Pepa. If the team is going to make the playoffs, it appears it will be driven there in a manner perhaps most reminiscent of the 1997 Mariners, who hit a still major league record 264 home runs, and got just enough starting pitching from Randy Johnson, Jeff Fassero, and Jamie Moyer to win 90 games and the AL West.
At least for a year, the mariner layer is dead, and the Mariners are a big, bad, bopping home run machine. Throw on your MC Hammer pants, and put some fresh double A's in your CD player. The Mariners are throwing it back to the 90's, every single day.