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The situational heroes of the Mariners’ offense so far

Who is following in the footsteps of Leonys Martín and who is the next Austin Jackson?

ROOT NW

The Mariners have been better this year than anyone expected, other than our graphics wizard Tee Miller, who predicted the **checks notecard** “Maribers” would win the World Series. It is in victories that lifelong fandom typically is built. Even in Mariners fandom, which has a borderline Stockholm Syndrome-style relationship with losing, players with lifelong devotion have arisen from unlikely star turns. True stars like Félix Hernández don’t require the aid of consistent victory to grow their legend, but it never hurts. For role players, it tends to be crucial.

An excellent case study of this is not far back in Seattle’s history as Leonys Martín built a cult fandom in Seattle with decent play in 2016. While I’m sure plenty of the folks here have mixed-to-contrary feelings about Martín, I feel comfortable saying his overall reputation in Seattle is positive. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the man Leonys replaced in center field: Austin Jackson. Despite reasonable overall production, Jackson’s utter disappearance in late-2014, followed by a resurgent 2015 when it mattered little did nothing to endear himself to fans.

This bears out in tOPS+, which, much like regular OPS+ and our beloved wRC+, measures hitting prowess with 100 as a baseline of average. tOPS+, however, takes us a step further: instead of league-average, players are measured based on their own average production, meaning we can judge players based on how well they performed relative to their own normal results in a particular split. This stat, like much of this piece, is borne out of the Play Index on Baseball Reference. If you do not have a subscription to that service, I understand, but it simply means you’ll have to trust me about my sourced links.

First we want to look at victories, where 2014 Austin Jackson mustered just a 95 tOPS+, worst (19th) of any Mariner with at least 50 PAs. Worse, he was one of the team’s most inept bats in losses, dragging the team out of contention with a 13 tOPS+ in losses. Meanwhile Leonys Martín clobbered a healthy 130 tOPS+ in 2016’s victories, including multiple trademark wins, making his weaker performance in losses more palatable. When A-Jax turned things around in 2015 with a team-leading 107 tOPS+ in losses, it was often overlooked due to the overall negativity surrounding the collective results.

Last year the team once again had players who missed the zeitgeist due to unfortunate timing of their excellence. Most notably, Jarrod Dyson suffered from a case of “good in defeat, underwhelming in victory.” A team-best 94 tOPS+ in losses against a team-worst 106 tOPS+ in losses is no way to attach yourself to positive feedback loops among fans, and Leonys, bless his heart, went out the opposite way - living and dying with the team to the tune of a 197 tOPS+ in wins and a -19 tOPS+ in defeat. All of that could be forgiven, of course, if the team was good, and in 2018 the Mariners have a new chance to designate situational heroes.

The trouble is, it’s not so cut and dry this year.

In Losses
Play Index / Baseball Reference

In losses, the Mariners have all performed poorly. Mike Zunino has been... consistent, delivering nearly identical results in losses and in victories. He’s the closest thing to an overlooked contributor this year, but with the team’s success it’s likely not felt glaring.

The true barometer for success (and failure) is much more noticeable, and in retrospect feels appropriate to me: Dee Gordon. The sparkplug 2B/CF broke out of a major slump last night with a two-hit game, and that could perhaps have been enough to indicate the Mariners were headed for victory. Gordon has been Romine-esque at the plate in losses, but in victory he’s pushed himself up to being a well above-average hitter.

In Wins
Play Index / Baseball Reference

The Mariners, like most teams, are good when they win and bad when they lose. But if it’s felt like Dee Gordon has had an outsized role in key wins, it’s because he has. It helps that he brings along with him the personality of the friend who always knows where the best party is happening and manages to make you feel included every time, but the on-field performance has matched the off-field passion.

Here’s to many more well-timed singles in W’s and precious few forgettable pop-outs in L’s.