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A Discussion on the Mariners and Balls in Play

In a game that featured very little offense from either team, the Mariners fell to the Royals 3-1.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re reading this, you probably enjoy baseball. If you enjoy baseball, you probably watch it a lot. If you watch it a lot, you probably know that baseball can be frustrating sometimes. That said, often times I feel silly for getting upset at a tough loss, because baseball is an incredibly difficult game. There’s no chance I could make contact with a major league pitch, let alone drive it for a base hit. Tonight’s showdown between the Mariners and Royals highlighted how scarce hits can be in a baseball game.

The Mariners had to take on Ian Kennedy, who rarely allows opponents to turn contact into hits; however, his .201 BABIP entering the game hadn’t yielded a desirable ERA. The majority of his struggles came from his increased HR/FB%, paired with his fly ball rate over 50%.

Andrew Moore was on the hill for the Mariners. His MLB sample size is obviously minuscule, but he was running a relatively low BABIP in the minors, and has continued to do so through two starts in the bigs.

Both Kennedy and Moore pitched deep into tonight’s ball game, and ran BABIPs of .235 and .130 respectively. Nonetheless, the Royals proceeded to win 3-1. Let’s breakdown how this all happened.

First of all, the Mariners struggled to make contact early in the night. Ian Kennedy had five strikeouts through the first three innings. He ran into a little trouble in the second inning, allowing a single and walking two before allowing a run via a wild pitch; however, he struck out Mike Zunino and Boog Powell to limit the damage to just a run. His “rising” fastball was lethal tonight, generating plenty of swings and misses.

Here are a couple examples:

Kennedy ended up striking seven batters out in six and two thirds innings. Moore, on the other hand, struck out four in eight innings of work. He was pitching to contact, which allowed him to make it deeper into the game. His defense played well also, helping him limit the Royals to five hits while he was on the mound. Here’s an example of a nice play from Kyle Seager:

Kennedy’s ability to generate strikeouts, however, had a greater toll on the Mariners offense than Moore’s low BABIP did to the Royals. The Mariners put fewer balls in play, and consequently had fewer opportunities to get anything going offensively.

Another factor was the type of contact both teams were generating. Moore and Kennedy are both fly ball pitchers, but Kennedy was able to generate more grounders at a rate much higher than his career average tonight. Data supports that while grounders tend to yield a higher batting average than fly balls, putting the ball in the air allows for much more power. Intuitively, a ball hit in the air gives outfielders more time to chase it down, but if it falls for a hit, it likely travelled a long way and will lead to extra bases.

The Mariners four hits tonight were all singles and all came in different innings. Kennedy induced seven groundouts, compared to only three fly outs. His ability to keep the ball on the ground prevented the Mariners from gaining any offensive momentum. Scattering a couple singles here and there was not enough to ignite the offense.

The Royals, on the other hand, had opposite offensive outcomes. Again, their BABIP against Moore tonights was .130. Three of their five hits against him, however, went for extra bases. Moore allowed two solo homers, one to Mike Moustakas and the other to Alex Gordon. Their third run came in the first inning, after Whit Merrifield doubled to begin the game. He would move up to third after tagging up on a fly out, and would come around to score on a sacrifice fly.

Both teams struggled to find any offensive rhythm, but the Royals ability to get the ball in the air presented more opportunities to score. The Mariners, on the other hand, fell victim to groundouts, strikeouts, and scattered singles.

For every tendency and trend in baseball, there are aberrations and outliers. Let’s tally tonight’s performance under the the latter column and hope for regression to the mean tomorrow.

Go M’s.