As many of you know, because many of you were there, a bunch of LLers attended Tuesday's Mariners game and hung out in the 'pen together for ~seven hours. It was such a looooong, fun game. Before the game started, some of the writers were shooting the breeze, talking about baseball and blogging. David probably talked about his plans to write another outrageously optimistic hype piece—the kind of piece that is good for the souls of M's fans everywhere. Kate probably mentioned how she planned to write something so true and heartfelt and beautiful that it would make thousands of people cry into their keyboards. Peter probably talked about his plans to infiltrate the Yahoo front page again. And I mentioned that I was thinking about writing this piece; an article about how, even though they're good at hitting, the M's sure are lousy at getting a runner in from third base with less than two outs.
Later in the game, when the Mariners loaded the bases with nobody out in the 6th inning, Peter hollered at me that the Mariners were about to ruin the narrative of my article. I desperately hoped that they would (runs are fun!), but then Lind hit a lazy fly ball and then Seager struck out and then Iannetta struck out and the Mariners failed to cut into their 1-4 deficit; my hopes were (momentarily) dashed, but the narrative of the piece lived on. Boo.
First, let me do what I can to dispel the idea that the Mariners are a bunch of clutchless rubes who only hit baseballs in low-leverage situations. I don't imagine too many of the people who frequent this blog buy into this line of thinking, but just in case:
|Split||MLB wRC+ (excluding pitchers)||Mariners wRC+||Mariners rank in MLB|
|Men on base||102||114||2nd|
Boom. Top three in every category! The 2016 Mariners really are exceptionally good at hitting. Sure they experience a slight dip during high-leverage situations, but most teams do. And most teams appear to deal with that pressure a lot worse than the Mariners do. Surely the Mariners offense is blemish-free! Unfortunately, no. Please take a gander at the following chart:
In this table, "<2,3B" indicates the number of PA with a runner on third and less than two outs and "Scr" indicates the number of those runners who scored. In case you're new to colors, green corresponds to GOOD and red corresponds to BAD. It makes sense that Seth would be at the top of this list because he is A Professional Hitter, but the rest of Seattle's usually-dependable batters are either a little below average (Cruz) or waaaaay below average (Cano and Seager). I admit that seeing Cano and Seager so far into the red on this list surprised me a little. So what's going on? Why are the Mariners so bad at this? Is there a fairly obvious answer? Or is it something more nebulous like bad luck mixed with a not large sample size? To try and find out, I put together the following table, which includes some potentially pertinent numbers.
|Split||Overall||Runner on 3rd, < 2 out|
There's a lot to take in here, but a couple of things stand out to me. First, their walk rate actually improves and their strike out rate only increases by a little with a runner on third and less than two outs. This seems to suggest that M's batters aren't up there chasing garbage in an attempt to get that runner in from third. Additionally, their GB rate increases fairly significantly but their BABIP takes a nose dive. Those two stats are generally positively correlated with one another (more ground balls tend to yield a higher BABIP), suggesting that the M's are either hitting weak grounders or that they've been pretty unlucky in this situation. Add in the fact that their HR rate increased by 40% and you've got a bunch of conflicting information that seems to suggest results that are heavily skewed towards either a boom (dinger!) or a bust (soft dribbler to the SS). I'm not quite sure what this means; please feel free to THEORIZE down in the comments.
Additionally, it should also be mentioned that the Mariners are not a fast team. They are full of plodding individuals who have a harder time making it home safely on slow grounders or medium-depth fly balls. This is difficult to account for when looking at batted ball numbers but would absolutely have an adverse influence on their ability to score a runner from third. Unfortunately, this isn't really something that the team can work on. Remember when they tried to teachhow to run/not be slow? What a disaster.
Thus far in the season, by scoring only 44% of their runners who make it to third base with less than two outs, the Mariners have failed to cash in on about 15 runs (assuming a league-average performance). Compared to their season run total (526 runs), 15 runs isn't a HUGE number; it's less than 3%! However, for a team that has had more than a third of their games decided by one run (the Mariners have a 0.475 WP in their 40 one-run games and a 0.562 WP in their 73 non-one-run games), scoring 15 extra runs could've made a huge difference. Granted, at this point, wringing our hands about this sad fact is tantamount to crying over spilt milk. However, if they could manage to find a way to address this shortcoming, they might be able to sneak out a few extra victories over their final 49 games. In a playoff race that seems like it'll be pretty tight, those one or two extra wins could mean everything.