I’m not a big fan of self-help books. At worst, they can be outright dangerous, giving bad and borderline-illegal advice to people in desperate situations. At best, they seem to rely on empty platitudes and vague motivational phrases. A specific one that springs to mind: Be the best version of yourself.
What does that even mean? I think it’s trying to say that everything you need is already inside you, so just operate as best you can within the parameters of your circumstance? Sounds like something someone who has a lot of money would say. In any case, it sounds good enough to sell books.
That being said, the phrase makes more sense for a baseball team. The top ten percent of a team’s bell curve is within the realm of possibility, and if you’re a fringey contender (and the Mariners are as fringey as it gets), that’s what you have to shoot for. With years of Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, and countless other prospects that didn’t top their bell curves, it’s a concept that the Mariners are no strangers to.
What they are strangers to, however, is actually topping the bell curve.
The 2019 Mariners haven’t just shot for the top ten percent. They’ve posterized the top ten percent. They’ve made the top ten percent of projections seem downright pessimistic. And they haven’t done it unsustainably. They’ve done it by being the absolute best versions of themselves.
The Mariners ran out their fifth starter today, and it happened to be Félix Hernández. It also happened to be Félix Hernández’s 33rd birthday. For his birthday, Félix Hernández got the stomach flu. He tried to pitch through it, but he gave up two runs in the first inning, and the team thought better of it.
It doesn’t seem to matter what the starter does, though, because the top of the Mariners’ bell curve involves Daniel Vogelbach translating his massive Triple-A resume to the MLB level. So far, it’s translated.
As weird as it is to say, though, that’s not surprising. Daniel Vogelbach hitting a dinger is not surprising. It’s wonderful, and thrilling, and if I could manifest the concept of a Daniel Vogelbach dinger into a physical entity, I would want to hang out with it every single day until it got sick of me and started dodging my texts and making up vague excuses for why it was busy every Tuesday night for the rest of the year. But it’s not surprising.
What was surprising was Dylan Moore tomahawking a high fastball over the fence three batters later for the first home run of his career.
Chasen Bradford didn’t fare a whole lot better than Félix, as he gave up a bunch of hard contact that amounted to two runs in two innings. The top ten percent of the Mariners’ outcomes don’t have to involve Dylan Moore, Chasen Bradford, or Félix being good, though.
The top ten percent of the outcomes do involve Domingo Santana coming to the plate with two outs and runners on second and third, and fans being confident. They involve Domingo taking three pitches, and fouling off four. And most of all, they involve Domingo delivering as he has all season, and as he did tonight to tie the score at 4-4 in the fifth inning. The best version of Domingo Santana isn’t having an unrealistically good season. It’s living up to the potential that made him a 3.3 fWAR player two years ago, when he was just 24 years old.
Meanwhile, Roenis Elías continued to look like one of the Mariners’ best relievers. He might be the best current option for both closer and long relief, and tonight his top ten percent was going 3.0 shutout innings while striking out four.
And finally, in the sixth inning, with the score tied at 4, the Mariners didn’t just show their top ten percent. They did everything that we already knew they could do — they just actually did it.
Over the course of twenty or thirty minutes, gone were the years of praying that Michael Saunders might reach his potential. Banished were the memories of thinking maybe this is the year that Adam Moore becomes an MLB catcher. No more were the days of hoping D.J. Peterson might actually turn into something, only to see him cement himself into his bottom ten percent.
The top ten percent is Edwin Encarnación, who the Mariners tried and failed to trade, clubbing dingers and proving that he is decidedly not washed.
The top ten percent is Daniel Vogelbach working a walk, Ryon Healy clubbing a single, and Dee Gordon actually taking three pitches before singling. It’s Mitch Haniger continuing to prove he’s no fluke, and Domingo again knocking in two.
Okay, maybe Encarnación hitting his second dinger in one inning is a little better than the top ten percent.
Aside from another Bruce dinger and a Cory Gearrin blip (surprise!), the game was over at this point. The final score was 13-5. Thirteen to five.
The weirdest thing is that it’s sustainable.
Mitch Haniger is a superstar.
Edwin Encarnación, and Jay Bruce aren’t that far removed from being All-Stars.
Domingo Santana is 26 years old, and was worth over three wins as a 24 year old.
Daniel Vogelbach had a .434 on base percentage in Triple-A last year. He had three walks today. He has five dingers this year.
Tim Beckham is a former first overall pick and had a breakout 2017 before getting hurt last year.
Mallex Smith was more than a three-win player last year. He’s 25.
Dee Gordon and Ryon Healy are seeing pitches. Dee Gordon is barely three years removed from winning a batting title, lest you forget.
Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Mike Leake, and Wade LeBlanc are respectable starting pitchers. The Mariners will probably figure out the fifth spot, even if that isn’t with Félix. With this offense, they might not even have to.
Cory Gearrin and Zac Rosscup have left the bullpen wanting, but Anthony Swarzak, Elías, and Brandon Brennan have been lights-out.
The Mariners are playing to the top of their bell curve. If it looks weird, it’s because they never do this.
But there isn’t a rule saying they can’t.