Ever since our discovery of fire, humanity has been obsessed with harnessing energy for our own use. Over the centuries, our methods of harnessing energy have grown into a myriad of options. The burning of fossil fuels, use of geothermal vents, the production of hydroelectric dams, and even solar energy farms. The latter has grown in use over the past few decades due to its efficiency and its renewability. We have found a new, more efficient and more powerful way to harness the energy we use daily.
You might be wondering, what in the world does this have to with the Mariners? Well, first of all, thanks for hanging in there for my extended analogy. I think that there is something interesting to glean by looking at the Mariners offensive production in the similar way to our energy production. So, the question we begin with is, is the Mariners offense producing at an acceptable level? let's look at the numbers.
There are as many offensive metrics as you can count to consider. However, it is generally agreed upon that WRC+ is the best metric in terms of measuring offensive output. Given that, let's look at the Mariners WRC+ rankings over their competitive window so far (2021-2023). The 2021 Mariners came in 20th in WRC+ with a WRC+ of 93, the 2022 club ranked 8th with a WRC+ of 106, and the 2023 team finished 9th in MLB with a WRC+ of 107. Across the 3 year competitive window the Mariners ranked 11th with a WRC+ of 102. Now, I wouldn't blame you if you looked at those stats and thought, what's there to fix? This is a top ten offense by WRC+ the last couple of years. While this is certainly nothing to turn our noses up at, I think this is where the eye test comes in.
For those of us who have been religiously watching this team play for the last few years, we know that their offensive issues are less about their overall numbers and more about their inconsistency. The Mariners would have an excellent game where they knock around Gerrit Cole or some other ace only to turn around and be carved up by Lance Lynn or Patrick Corbin. Over a 162 game span, this will lead you to slightly above average numbers. However, this will lead you to lean too heavily on your pitching to win you close games all year long. We saw it work in 2022 but come up short in 2021 and 2023 as the pitching lost steam down the stretch (probably due to being asked to do too much early in the season) and the offense wasn't good enough to pick them up.
One of the things that the Mariners organization does best is play to their strengths. Their production against fastballs has been their biggest offensive strength. According to Fangraphs, the 2023 Mariners finished 2nd in runs above average against fastballs only trailing the Atlanta Braves. If you take numbers from both 2022 and 2023 they placed 3rd only trailing Atlanta and Houston. Their 2021 numbers skew their placement a bit but they still finish 9th in the majors over that span. Despite this production, the Mariners overall production against all pitches leaves much to be desired. They particularly struggled when it came to hitting breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Between 2021 and 2023 the Mariners ranks in runs above average were 22nd against splitters, 15th against sinkers, 26th against sliders, 24th against the curve, and 29th against the changeup.
I am not arguing that the Mariners should change their entire hitting approach to try and make their weaknesses into strengths. However, I do believe that improving their hitting against the breaking balls and off-speed pitches is their greatest opportunity to improve their overall offense. This posits the question: How do the Mariners accomplish this? Do they scapegoat their hitting coach as many fans swear online is the solution? Do they change something in their hitting philosophy? Do they instruct the players to focus exclusively on hitting these pitches over the off-season? While there are arguments to be made for most of these creating some sort of impact, I don’t believe this is the answer. We’ve seen the impact of veteran hitters on their teammates countless times in MLB. From Pujols to Cabrera to Trout, being on a team with hitting legends leads to positive results for their teammates. Even non-superstar but productive veterans can make a big impact. Remember when Cal Raleigh was struggling to get his bat off the ground at the beginning of his career and Mitch Haniger told him to simply go out there and mash the fastball? This team needs a veteran hitter who has experience hitting well against off speed pitches and breaking balls and can impart their wisdom on the entire lineup.
Enter Jorge Soler. The first argument for signing Soler is that he makes their strength even stronger. He mashed fastballs last year to the tune of 10 runs above average against the fastball. (For context, Julio had a runs above average value of 9) In 2023 he also had positive values against every pitch type except the slider. Over his career, Soler has made his living by mashing fastballs out of the park but he has also held his own against the types of pitches that the Mariners have struggled most to hit against. His presence in the clubhouse won’t magically fix the clubs’ hitting woes but I am confident it would make their deficits a little less steep in 2024.
Does Soler match up with the Mariners general and 2024 specific goals? The mariners priorities over the past few acquisition periods has been for bats who hit the ball hard and control the zone (walk often and don’t chase). Soler is in the 84th percentile in hard hit rate, 83rd percentile in walk rate, and 72nd percentile in chase rate. Seems like a pretty solid fit to me. If we look at the front office’s goals for 2024 (more contact, less strikeouts, and higher on base percentage) Soler is a decent fit for these goals as well. While Soler is not considered a contact bat per se, he has still put up a respectable career batting average of .243 including a .250 average in 2023 which is about league average. His strikeout rate, while slightly above average at 24.3% in 2023 and 26.7% for his career is a far cry from the K rates of Teoscar Hernández and Eugenio Suárez who the team moved on from recently. His OBP of .341 in 2023 and .330 for his career are above average and his XwOBA ranks in the 93rd percentile. Jerry has made it known that the organization might be willing to move away from it’s rotating DH philosophy saying "We'd love to have a full-time DH, a banger who just goes out and bangs." Jorge Soler is a DH who will go out and bang so he’s a fit there.
Not only is Soler’s bat is a fit in lineup, he is a fit in the organization. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Soler’s hitting coach from 2023 is now a Mariner. It also doesn’t hurt that Soler can bring a stabilizing veteran presence to a clubhouse that is now without Teoscar and more importantly Geno for the 2024 season.
Soler is projected to get between a 2 and 4 year deal. MLBTR pegged him to get a 3 year $45 million deal ($15 million AAV). While this might seem a bit much for a more or less DH only 31 year old player, I think a deal in that ballpark is a worthwhile investment for the Mariners to make at this stage. I would take giving Soler DH at bats for the next 3 seasons over rotating Dominic Canzone, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, etc. through the DH position as the team has been doing. I feel confident that Soler can put up better value at the DH spot than the Mariners have gotten the past few years while mashing home runs and being a solid clubhouse presence.
If the Mariners truly care about sustainability, then now is the time to invest in good players for the remainder of the core being in Seattle (the next 3 years or so). Soler would bring a stabilizing force to the lineup (projected 112 WRC+ in 2024 according to fangraphs) with floor that is around what they’ve been getting at DH already and plenty of upside. He is worth the investment of around $15 million a year and all it will cost the team is money. He can add value to the team off the field while chasing another 30+ home run season on the field.
In short, Soler is a more efficient DH option than the Mariners have had over the past few seasons who can produce in ways that are valuable to the Mariners organization. He produces value by getting on base often, hitting the ball out of the ballpark at an above average clip, and producing around league average numbers in other areas. His value is also renewable as he can offer value in multiple areas such as the lineup, the clubhouse, and hitting strategy meetings. His value projects well over the next few years and isn’t dependent on only hitting the fastball or having defensive value. When the Mariners finally make a big offensive addition this offseason (No offense intended to Luis Urías) I hope they switch their DH power to a source of green energy and opt to go Soler Powered for 2024 and beyond.