If I see another tweet about how bad the Mariners are with runners in scoring position I might cry. First, because it’s true — in fact, they are the second worst team in Major League Baseball thus far w/ runners in scoring position (RISP). Nothing hurts more than loading the bases with no outs and failing to score a single run. I hate it as much as the next fan.
Perhaps more importantly, though, because it is the ultimate cop out; a way to justify a much bigger problem. The Mariners’ inability to hit with runners in scoring position is not the reason they lose games; it’s a microcosm of their disastrous offensive performance to start the season.
That’s not to take away from their incredible ineptitude to hit with runners in scoring position. Their .202 wOBA in said situation is astonishingly low; however, it doesn’t tell the full story. The Mariners .270 wOBA in any situation this year ranks second to last in the league. Considering that 27.3% of their plate appearances this year have come with RISP, their wOBA without a threat to score is still shy of .300.
If we’re going to complain about the Mariners, let’s not limit it to when runners are in scoring position. Complaining can be fun, and we should spread the love(?) across all situations. The bats, simply put, have not been getting it done so far.
The Mariners’ BABIP is appallingly low. In fact, their .251 number ranks 25th in the bigs, and doesn't come within a country mile of the league average BABIP, which has hovered around .300 for the last century or so. It’s actually worse with RISP, coming in at a eye-opening, jaw-dropping, tear-inducing, spit-take forcing .167. The positive spin on this is that this is unrepeatably bad. No team has posted a BABIP lower than .265 since I was born. The Mariners will not continue to get just one hit per four balls in play, and they will not have a BABIP under .200 with runners in scoring position. It just won’t happen.
The M’s aren’t entirely the victims of bad luck, however. Seattle’s low BABIP can be attributed to their 22.9% hard contact rate, which is good for the lowest in the league. Only eight teams have posted hard contact rates lower than that, all of which happened in 2011 (what the heck happened in 2011?). Similarly, the Mariners make hard contact with runners in scoring position at the third lowest rate in baseball.
The part of the Mariners lineup that has struggled the most is its very heart. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager have wOBA’s of .308, .217, and .271 respectively. This is largely a result of their their low hard contact rates. All three players have career hard contact rates north of 32%, while Nelly hasn’t posted a number lower than 35% since 2011; however, Cruz is the only one of those three to have a hard contact rate higher than 20%. Their difficulty hitting the ball with conviction is not here to stay. As contact quality regresses towards their career means, their post-spring slumps will fade.
The most unfortunate part of this slow start is that every game counts. You probably read that and thought “duh,” and you should. I don’t want this to be another season where the Mariners miss the playoffs by a game or two, because if it is it will be hard not to look at this start as the reason. I am not afraid that this team will never hit its stride. I know it will. I just hope it happens before it’s too late.