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FanPost Friday: Robbie Ray, the Seattle Mariners, and the pain of heightened expectations

Can we have two good seasons in a row? As a treat?

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners
green fields of the robbie
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Hello and welcome back to FanPost Friday. Today we’re going to talk about expectations. I consider expectations to be different yet similar to hope or faith when it comes to sports. The entire industry of stats-based sports projections is what feeds expectations. Hope and faith have to do with you feel about a team regardless of expectations. In the end, they are all connected and feed off of and inform each other in ways that are difficult to quantify.

Expectations in baseball are certainly quantifiable. When your favorite team signs a free agent pitcher after their Cy Young Award winning season, you expect a certain level of success from that pitcher. When your favorite team plays well one season and goes into the next season with a similar core of players, you expect a certain level of success. Robbie Ray and the 2022 Mariners are both falling woefully short of expectations as of right now in June 2022.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Ray’d on your parade

It’s not totally uncommon for Cy Young winners to have a dud follow-up season. Call it a Cy-Hangover. The worst recent example is Rick Porcello’s 2017 season following his 2016 Cy Young award. He went from 4.7 bWAR in 2016 to -0.4 in 2017. Porcello did bounce back and have solid seasons in 2018 and 2019. So, even if Ray continues on his current trajectory, it doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of his time with the Mariners will go as poorly. Ray is under contract until 2026, but can opt out after 2024 season.

However, it is frustrating to glance longingly at the 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes and his 2.4 bWAR as we deal with Ray’s inability to beat the lowly Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics, having lost 5 of his last 7 appearances. Ray currently sits at -0.2 bWAR. The majority of Cy Young winners do not have a follow-up season where they post negative bWAR.

Expectations! We expect a certain level of quality from a Cy Young. Félix Hernández delivered 3.6 bWAR for the absolute dogshit 2011 Mariners following his 2010 Cy Young season. The 2022 Mariners have the potential to be a very competitive team and having the one (1) big money free agent the team signed be someone who can be relied on for 6-7 innings of 1 or 2 run ball every appearance would certainly go a long ways in improving the team’s chances.

So!

Poll

Has Robbie Ray exceeded, met, or fallen short of your expectations so far?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Exceeded them
    (11 votes)
  • 1%
    Met them
    (12 votes)
  • 67%
    Fallen short
    (426 votes)
  • 28%
    Need a bigger sample size, but it’s not looking good
    (181 votes)
630 votes total Vote Now
MLB: MAY 31 Mariners at Orioles Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The eternal sophomore slump

The topic of most frustrating recent Mariners seasons was discussed on this week’s LL podcast and it reminded me of one of my least favorite, yet painfully relevant trends that the Mariners have given us in the last 15 years or so. Every season where the Mariners have played well above expectations and nearly fought their way into the playoffs, the following season is more or less a disaster. And I fully realize this is this purely an anecdotal, false narrative to push because this spans two different front offices and there are different players involved in each season, and yet...it compels me, though. It’s wild to me how many times this has happened since 2009.

  • 2009: Played above expectations (although not nearly a playoff berth) and they carried Griffey and Ichiro around the field at the last game of the year.
  • 2010: We don’t talk about 2010 (no no no noooo).
  • 2014: Robinson Canó comes to town, they manage to stay in the playoff hunt way longer than they had any business doing so, and our first whiff of the postseason in many years was intoxicating.
  • 2015: Trainwreck. Jack Z gets the boot.
  • 2016: Played way above expectations, tons of fun walk-off wins (Dae-Ho!), Nelson Cruz in game 161, etc. Very fun season even though they fell short.
  • 2017: Drew Smyly caught the sog and it was all downhill from there.
  • 2021: Played wayyyy above expectations, had an absurd stretch run to stay in the race until the final weekend, but fell short again. Another fun season overall even after a rough first couple months.
  • 2022: Déjà vu all over again? Rapidly running out of runway, but another flaming hot stretch run is still possible!

Poll

Are the Mariners doing it again or are they going to pull a 2021 part II?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    The trend is real
    (168 votes)
  • 2%
    The trend is false
    (11 votes)
  • 26%
    The trend is coincidental and/or bad luck
    (131 votes)
  • 36%
    The Mariners will turn this season around, dangit!
    (181 votes)
491 votes total Vote Now

As Zach Mason put it in one of my favorite recaps ever:

Hope requires letting yourself be vulnerable. You can’t help but worry that you’ll end up with your ass covered in dirt, grumbling “Good grief.” But the alternative, I submit, is worse. Indeed cynicism is the coward’s take. The cynic is not subject to his own smug superiority, insisting that he’s just being realistic. But it’s poison. Simon and Garfunkel warn us of refusing to disturb the slumber of the feelings that have died, ironically singing, “If I never loved, I never would have cried.”

As much as the disappointment that accompanies heightened expectations stings, I agree that the alternative is worse. What’s the point of investing your time and mental energy into a team if you’re not willing to marry yourself to expectations, however reasonable or unreasonable you deem them to be?

Go Mariners.