I’d love to see Meche bring the A game tonight. We’ve seen him decent and good this year, and I’m dying to see him bust out another really great game, rack up some Ks. Still, with Meche as a flyball pitcher, there’s almost no better place for him to be than Seattle. Why, you say? I’m glad you asked.
Fun Mariner Stat of the Day
a Short Digression
A great way to measure outfield defense is to look at how many extra-base hits they’re giving up. A ground ball that makes it through the infield should be a single, and the doubles and triples generally come from line drives and fly balls into the gaps and corners. A good outfield defense turns those into outs and singles. You can see in BP’s Defensive Efficiency report that the Mariners are second best in turning balls put into play into outs. But what about the question at hand?
They’re the best. In fact, they’re the best by a wide margin. I looked at doubles and triples as a percentage of non-HR hits (because the outfield rarely can make a play on HR balls), and the Mariners were #1. In fact, the Mariners led MLB with a 19.4% rate — only one of five hits turned into a double or triple. Second-best was the Cubs, at 20.4%, and then LA-Montreal at 21.6, 21.7%, another gap to Oakland at 22.3%, and then it’s unremarkable until the tail end, where St. Louis sits at 28.7% and Cincinnati and Texas are at 30%.
So I took another look at: extra-base hits as a percentage of balls in play, for a couple of reasons that are too boring to get into, particularly, and it becomes even more dramatic this way. Of all the balls opposing batters put into play when hitting against the Mariners, only 4.9% — one in twenty — is a double or triple. There’s a three-way tie for second: Oakland, LA, the Cubs, at 5.6%, and dead last is Texas at 9.5%, almost one in ten (29th, Cincy, 8.8%). If you put wood to bat against the Rangers, you’re twice as likely to get a double or triple than you are against the Mariners.
And I know the difference between one and ten and one in twenty seems slim, but think of it another way: that’s almost an extra-base hit a game, all season long. The Rangers will probably wind up giving up 130-150 (or even more) more doubles than the Mariners over the course of the season, and that’s runs on the scoreboard and wins in the standings. This is a huge reason for the M’s success: not only are they shutting down opposing offenses turning balls in play into outs, the outfield is turning other teams’ doubles and triples into outs and singles.
On a philosophical bent, defense is hugely underrated in the stathead community, of which I am one. I used to think you should always punt defense, but I’ve come around entirely. When you turn a hit into an out, you not only advance your team 1/27th further to the end of the game. You erase that runner, and because of that out, you prevent an additional batter, who might get a hit — I did some sims on this when I was writing my outfield defense articles, and it’s amazing how quickly defensive improvements build on themselves to bring a team around. If I was in charge of the Rangers (and I’m not)(though I’m available, if they’re hiring, which they should be), I’d seriously consider playing defensive specialists (real ones, too, not reputed ones) in the outfield as long as we’re not playing for the future. It’d go a long way to bringing their scores down to winnable levels and help develop a pitching staff… wait, they don’t have one. Well, then I’d get a bunch of cheap dudes like Travis Driskill to fill the rotation until waaaaait… since I don’t want the Rangers to win, I’m going to stop explaining the path to competitiveness until such time as they pay me to continue.
Also, I like Ryan Franklin. He’s not a dude who goes out and blows guys away with his stuff, though he gets his Ks. He’s up letting the defense doing the work, avoiding the home run as best he can, and trying go seven innings and hand the game off to the bullpen. Franklin’s a pitcher who understands that letting the ball get hit means he’ll look good some days and bad days, but he doesn’t get rattled or freaked out if a ball or two drops around him. Franklin’s not a star, and he’s not going to be a star, but there’s a lot of value in having him around, especially with a good defensive team, knowing you’ll get 200+ innings of quality pitching in the rotation.