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The 2021 Mariners are the most clutch team in MLB - and franchise history

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Yeah, they really are this fun

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Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

As I was leaping and gamboling my way back home from T-Mobile last night, this churlish carousel of thoughts kept circling round in my head.

That was one of the best Mariners games ever.

No, come on.

Okay, it was one of the best Mariners games I’ve ever seen.

Nah, you’ve watched a lot of games.

Okay... it was one of the best Mariners games I’ve ever seen in-person?

Ehhhh

We often discount or discourage recency bias as it pertains to being overly effusive of the present, at the expense of the past. But the flipside of that is that in our fervor to be logical, to be measured, to be taken seriously, it’s easy to get in the habit of dismissing goodness directly in front of us, purely because it’s recent.

“Best game” encapsulates so much it’s nearly impossible to quantify, but this team is playing with a chaotic zeal unlike anything I’ve seen. Or so it’s felt...

And so it’s been!

Hilariously, if you note the time stamp on Alex’s tweet there, this was their number before last night’s epic comeback. This morning, the leaderboard looks a little something like this:

They’re nearly twice as clutch as the Phillies, the next best team.

For some basic context, FanGraphs calculates clutch as (WPA/pLI) - WPA/LI, and David Appelman defined it as a measurement of “how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.”

(Added context, just in case: WPA = Win Probability Added; LI = Leverage Index; pLI = A player’s average Leverage Index for all batting events.)

Here are the current top 10 clutch individual, minimum 200 plate appearances.

Some familiar names here.

As for team clutch, Dave Cameron put it quite succinctly: It measures “the portion of their WPA that came from their performance in high leverage situations. Essentially, this is how team’s performed when it mattered.”

This year the team’s high leverage performance is at a franchise peak.

And top 5 within MLB history.

Note: Clutch metrics on FanGraphs date back to 1974.

Obviously all of this is more or less an enormous shrug emoji, at least as it pertains to assessing the explicit quality of these Mariners. Just because clutch is an “official” metric doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a valid measurement of success. To cite a Wise Man writing about the also-very-clutch 2018 Mariners, “There’s no historical reason to believe it’s a trait. It’s all just a collection of things that have happened. Things at important times that have wound up deciding ballgames.”

In a few days, the far more analytically talented Jake Mailhot will be blessing us all with a dive into the team’s cluster luck and run differential, and we can scrabble more about the inherent fallacies of trying to quantify these types of performances. But in the meantime, we have the data from these 101 games. Those numbers may mean nothing, in terms of predicting future clutch success, but they carry weight as a validation for this sneaking feeling of magic that’s steadily permeating the fanbase.

Maybe it was missing a full season of in-person baseball. Maybe it’s that being in the stands of a baseball game fuels a sense of collective community that’s been gone from our lives the last year and a half. Or maybe the Mariners really just are that exciting to watch. Whatever the reason, T-Mobile has been rocking this year in a way that I can scarcely remember experiencing, and even just hearing the roars of the crowds on the radio or via the television broadcast has slowly but surely chipped away at my own disconnection towards the team.

As an analytics-driven community, we’re pretty dismissive of the so-called “eye test;” that measure of player assessment based largely on how an individual sees a player perform. The sort of fanbase equivalent of that is, for lack of a better phrase, the “feels test:” That simmering sentiment of emotions we derive from our own experiences watching. Some seasons we know the joy to be a mirage (ex. 2018), other years the momentum carries further than we might have believed (ex. 2014).

And the clutch metric, for all its flaws, does indeed validate our collective 2021 “feels test.” It’s not your imagination: This team is exceptionally fun to watch. They’re playing like a team that’s fully bought-in, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Scott Servais is managing them as though each game might be his last. We have until July 30th to see if Jerry Dipoto and ownership are similarly onboard, and a little over two months to see if all this fun will matter come October.

The Mariners weren’t supposed to be very good this year. It was supposed to be a win of a season if we saw prospect growth and individual successes; we were meant to grasp at slivered silver linings, and murmur about future windows. Instead we got nine games above .500 at the end of July, one game back from the second Wild Card spot, a 10-1 record in extra innings and grand slams out the wazoo. It’s been full-tilt Chaos Ball in the best way possible.