Hit the red-stitched, white sphere

peter · April 22, 2005 at 8:08 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Now when you see the following batting line, what do you think of?

539 AB, 74 R, 139 H, 26 2B, 1 3B, 11 HR, 72 RBI, 43 BB, 102 SO, 10 SB, 7 CS, .258/.318/.371

I’m thinking this looks like a full season of a featherweight middle-infielder. Not much patience at the plate. No power. Liability on the base paths. Actually, it reminds me rather of the 2004 version of Eric Hinske.

In fact, this line represents the collective offense of our 2005 Seattle Mariners (thru the Thursday’s Harden shutout). Still last in the American League in home runs. Tenth in the league in walks. Tenth in the league in runs scored.

Harbinger of things to come? Do I need to get worked up about this? Probably not. Not just yet. It is just the third week of April. It’s a long season. Three weeks a baseball season does not make.

But it gets me thinking other questions…

Like, at this rate, what other teams of Mariner-past does this offense resemble? And that got me digging around with some numbers. These are the hit distributions (that is, singles, doubles, triples and home runs as a percentage of total hits) for each of the lineups in the brief and inglorious history of our M’s:

Year   1B%   2B%   3B%   HR%
2005  72.7  18.7   0.7   7.9
2004  72.0  17.9   1.3   8.8 
2003  69.4  19.2   2.2   9.2
2002  69.4  18.6   2.0   9.9
2001  68.4  18.9   2.3  10.3
2000  64.6  20.3   1.8  13.4
1999  64.8  17.5   1.4  16.3
1998  62.5  20.7   1.8  15.1
1997  62.1  19.8   1.3  16.8
1996  62.6  21.1   1.2  15.1
1995  65.3  20.0   1.5  13.2
1994  63.4  20.2   1.7  14.6
1993  68.0  19.0   1.7  11.3
1992  69.2  19.0   1.6  10.2
1991  69.8  19.1   2.1   9.0
1990  72.9  17.7   1.8   7.5
1989  71.8  16.7   2.0   9.5
1988  68.1  19.4   1.9  10.6
1987  67.2  18.8   3.2  10.7
1986  68.2  17.5   2.9  11.4
1985  65.5  19.6   2.7  12.1 
1984  71.5  17.1   2.4   9.0
1983  69.6  19.3   2.4   8.7
1982  70.5  18.1   2.3   9.1
1981  73.7  15.6   1.4   9.4
1980  74.2  15.5   2.6   7.7
1979  70.9  16.8   3.5   8.9
1978  72.6  17.3   2.8   7.3
1977  72.5  15.6   2.4   9.5

Some quick and dirty observations. As always, sample size alert on the ’05 numbers. So far, lots of singles, not a lot of home runs.

The Golden Age of Mariner offense, when they swatted at least one in every ten hits over the fence, is effectively over, and the M’s HR% has been in steady decline since ’99.

After three weeks this year’s offense resembles a bit the 1990 incarnation of the Mariners. That team was led by a 20-year-old Junior Griffey (22 HR, .300/.366/.487). They were second to last in the AL in runs scored and tenth in home runs. Only Junior (22), Alvin Davis (17), Edgar Martinez (11) and Jeffrey Leonard (10) reached double-digits in the longball. However, one thing that does distinguish the ’90 M’s from the ’05 M’s is their patience to take a walk. They walked (596) nearly as many times as they scored runs (640), which speaks volumes to their ability to scoot those runners around the bases with extra-base knocks.

Our current lineup contains more than four hitters that will hit at least 10 home runs. Cold streaks happen. Hot streaks happen. And by October 1 everything evens out. So far, Richie Sexson and Greg Dobbs are the only hitters carrying their weight with the extra base hits. That will change.

And sometimes a little historical perspective never hurt anybody. At least, not much.


28 Responses to “Hit the red-stitched, white sphere”

  1. dgarnett on April 22nd, 2005 9:15 am

    Let’s also not forget (with your 2005 sample) that 1/2 of the games so far have been played in Safeco in April. I don’t believe that it’s fair to compare power numbers from the WORST power month at the home park to power numbers spread out over an entire season. Furthermore, your comparrison fails when you start including kingdome numbers. Yes, i agree that the trend looks disturbing; I would feel better about your conclusions if you took the park and month into consideration. How about a breakdown of April home games in safeco for the past 4 years… or road games int he past 15 years? I think those would be more fair comparisions.

    My .02


  2. peterrabbit on April 22nd, 2005 9:50 am

    Have you factored in the flu?

  3. Evan on April 22nd, 2005 9:59 am

    Now if we could just turn into the 2005 version of Eric Hinske (.305/.369/.492), we’d be set.

  4. pensive on April 22nd, 2005 10:09 am

    What suprizes me most (besides base running) is the lack of patience at the plate. One would think it frightening to face Don Baylor after a batting blunder.

  5. Ralph Malph on April 22nd, 2005 10:10 am

    I agree with #1. There are two parts of these numbers that worry me the most (subject to a caveat about small sample size):

    43 BB, 102 K
    10 SB, 7 CS

    As far as the BB/K numbers, however, a few players account for a lot of this:

    Catchers 1/17
    Valdez 1/8
    Sexson 5/18

    I’m not worried about Sexson. We didn’t expect any offense from Valdez. Olivo is the one that concerns me. He has been horrible since last August:

    This year’s line: 154/175/179
    Last Sept. and Oct.: 120/170/200

    That’s a total of 93 plate appearances, during which he has 1 BB and 36 K’s.

    His head is messed up. I think they should send him down for a few weeks and let him focus on his hitting. Have him DH in Tacoma even.

    As far as SB’s are concerned, Ichiro! is 7 for 8 stealing. The rest of the team is 3 for 9.

  6. eponymous coward on April 22nd, 2005 10:11 am

    Uh, comparing any post-second lively ball era team (like the 2005 Mariners) to a team that pre-dates that era (1990 Mariners) is dangerous.

    For instance, the 1990 Mets led the major leagues in runs scored in 1990 with 775 runs.

    775 runs in 2004 would put you in the bottom half of the league- 10 teams in the AL scored more than that, 7 in the NL. The craptastic 2004 M’s are only 77 runs behind THAT- at a figure that would have been around league average for 1990.

    Granted, we do play in a pitcher-friendly ballpark (Safeco) as opposed to a nuetral/slightly hitter-friendly one (the Kingdome)… I’m just sayin’.

  7. petec on April 22nd, 2005 10:14 am

    The M’s aren’t the only team that has played games in cold weather. Bottom line, they were 25th last year in team OPS and they’re 25th this year. They’re not the only team struggling at the plate. The Cardinals are only at .716 OPS.

    I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, but this group is 38 points of OPS worse than last year’s anemic group. Bucky should help a bit.

    Olivo is simply a disaster. OBP and slugging each under .200. One pines for the Dave Valle years.

  8. eponymous coward on April 22nd, 2005 10:21 am

    The M’s aren’t the only team that has played games in cold weather.

    They are, however, in the northernmost ballpark in the majors (+4 degrees of latitude north on Milwaukee), in what is arguably the best pitcher’s park in all of baseball (especially since Dodger Stadium lost a bunch of foul territory in their remodel). Oh yeah, they are at sea level (which ALSO hurts ball liveliness).

    Trust me: I have season tickets on the 300 level, and I feel like complaining about how it’s frickin’ FREEZING in here during an April night game, like Dr. Evil.

  9. urchman on April 22nd, 2005 10:44 am

    Another interesting to think to look at would be the M’s collective offense vs. that of their opponents, since that should adjust for park effects. So far, for 2005, we have (thanks to ESPN for stats):

    Mariners 16 539 74 139 26 1 11 200 72 43 102 10 7 .258 .318 .371 .689
    Opponents 16 544 68 137 18 3 16 209 67 43 80 8 3 .252 .309 .384 .693

    Quick and dirty, but it shows that the M’s aren’t really doing any worse than their opponents.

  10. petec on April 22nd, 2005 10:51 am

    Last year M’s opponents had an OPS of .749 at Safeco, not real far off of the league average. I’m not disputing that Safeco is a pitchers’ park, but how much of the slow start can be attributed to park effects, cold weather, and the inexplicable inability of any M coming from the NL to the AL and retaining his ability to hit?

  11. peter on April 22nd, 2005 11:05 am

    When you don’t play any worse or better than your opponents, you play .500 ball. And what do you know, that’s right where they’re at.

    I confess to juggling both both apples and oranges together. Apologize that that’s muddled a bit. Comparing amounts of runs scored and home runs hit across eras is of course unfair. Comparing percentages of XBH’s against hits, or comparing against the context of the rest of the league that same year should be fair.

    Even if we isolate the Safeco years, the HR% is a little less than the year before it. I’d love to see what someone with more resources than I could explore and find. A very valid .02, Dave.

    It matters less that the ’90 M’s got on base at a .332 clip, but rather that they were 4th best in the league at doing it. It matters less to me that the ’05 M’s have hit 11 home runs, but instead that they’ve hit less than anyone else this year.

  12. eponymous coward on April 22nd, 2005 11:06 am
  13. Ralph Malph on April 22nd, 2005 11:07 am

    The “NL to AL” theory is a bunch of hooey.

    Aurilia is back in the NL and he still sucks. Same with Cirillo, his HR on opening day notwithstanding.

  14. Jon Helfgott on April 22nd, 2005 11:09 am

    Petec says:

    “but how much of the slow start can be attributed to park effects, cold weather, and the inexplicable inability of any M coming from the NL to the AL and retaining his ability to hit?”

    Um…Richie Sexson’s coming from the NL to the AL too.

    The M’s NL “hex” thing brings to mind an episode of Seinfeld:

    George: I swear, God won’t let me be successful!
    Psychiatrist: George, you don’t believe in God
    George: I do for the bad things

  15. Christopher Michael on April 22nd, 2005 11:36 am

    Its still showing a trend. Obviously we expect this team to end the season hitting better than last year and therefore breaking the trend. But you can’t look at those numbers and throw them out just because we have a small sample size for 2005. The trend is there and that was the point of this post.

    I don’t expect this years team to continue the trend but even if it does we lose a couple of dead weight guys next season who can be replaced with guys who can solidly hit the ball.

    #4 I agree. It seems that when we were at our best, 2001-2003, our hitters were making the starting pitcher throw a lot. They did an okay job at that last night. Which actually gave the team a chance to get back into the game as Harden wasn’t able to throw the complete 9 innings.

  16. paul on April 22nd, 2005 11:48 am

    I didn’t recognize the byline on this piece, until I’d stared at it a while. “Peter….White….I think I heard of him before…but I don’t know….”. Welcome back….

  17. Ed on April 22nd, 2005 11:56 am

    Move the Safeco fences in by about 30 feet…that would do the trick

  18. Ralph Malph on April 22nd, 2005 12:12 pm

    Moving in the fences would certainly improve our offensive numbers but can you imagine how many HR’s Sele, Franklin and Moyer would give up?

    We have enough arm injuries; if we move the fences in our pitchers would start getting neck injuries from turning to watch all those HR’s.

  19. Paul Marrott Weaver on April 22nd, 2005 12:36 pm

    I like the big field for aesthetic purposes.

    Opposing batters last year did about league average (as opposed to safeco average) largely because of some effects on pitching: the Freddy trade, injuries, and more minor league call ups (than normal) since the season was a bust.

    Hopefully Baylor is disciplining those players. I was watching the game where Zito gave up a slam to Booney. I was particularly upset by the fact that right after the slam (Zito was showing control problems, like 3-0 on the previous three batters) Ibanez swings at the first pitch – pop out, A’s come back (though we ultimately won the game).
    Being a baseball fan, watching players who aren’t patient is not fun – I hated watching Wilson bat, Cirillo bat, Olivo bat, etc.
    Even guys who don’t take many walks like Ichiro or Beltre have learned how to bat smart and take pitches when they want to work the pitcher.
    Edgar almost always took the first pitch, and Cameron took a lot of pitches – a lot of strikes, but we won with those guys.

    Selective hitting will probably lead to more doubles, more base clearing – that’s what we need to overcome last year’s crew.

    Though their numbers aren’t all that great right now, I’m impressed with Sexson and Beltre. They have good composure. They’ll heat up, no doubt.

  20. Christopher Michael on April 22nd, 2005 2:17 pm

    That last AB that Beltre had against Harden last night was great. Those are the kind of ABs that make me more patient with him. Knowing that he’ll work the pitcher and eventually start knocking the ball out.

  21. Tom on April 22nd, 2005 2:24 pm

    I think Olivo is the first player I’ve ever watched bat who I wasn’t sure COULd get his average above .200 at some point. He’s completely lost out there. Can Don Baylor save this situation, or is Olivo the next Cirillo/Aurilia/Speizio/Mabry/Sierra, a guy who can hit ok as long as he’s not in a mariner uniform.

  22. eponymous coward on April 22nd, 2005 3:52 pm

    Go look at Ben Davis since he left the M’s.

    Of course, he wasn’t hitting well as a Padre at the time we got him, either…

  23. wabbles on April 22nd, 2005 5:01 pm

    Ryan Franklin’s run support last night: ZERO, ZIP, ZILCH, NADA
    Ryan Franklin’s run support in his last start: ONE, UNO, LONE, SOLO
    Ryan Franklin’s average run support in his last two starts: HALF A RUN!
    How the $%$@$@#% do you score HALF a run a game? AAAHHH!!! Franklin’s the modern version of Rick Honeycutt! (Without the thumb tack taped to his wrist, of course.)

  24. John D. on April 22nd, 2005 6:22 pm

    Re: (# 4) SENDING OLIVO DOWN – I’m not sure that OLIVO has options (any option years) left.
    One “school” says that he has three years of options, beginning with his first year in MLB, and ending with his 3rd.
    Another “school” says that a player can use those three option years any time in his first five years.
    Well, USS MARINER?
    If he has to be put on waivers, he probably won’t clear them, because there is usually some GM who thinks, “Our manager can turn this guy around.”
    BTW, is WIKI GONZALEZ to get the call?

    BTW, re: (# 8) LATITUDE – Anyone whose lived in such cities as Boston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Seattle; can tell you that latitude is not that decisive a factor. (BTW, Minneapolis is farther north than Milwaukee.)

  25. John D. on April 22nd, 2005 6:25 pm

    “Whose” ? My bad.

  26. Bela Txadux on April 22nd, 2005 11:11 pm

    On Olivo, it’s far from clear that he can hit anywhere, but I feel reasonably clear now that he’s one of those righthanders completely negated by Safeco. And it’s VISIBILITY; I doubt he’s _seeing_ the ball at all at home, which is part of why he’s flailing so at the plate. If this is so, there’s no hope for him, here. I’d like to think differently, but I’m holding out little hope.

  27. Bela Txadux on April 22nd, 2005 11:40 pm

    On the subject of the Ms offense so far, I’m reasonably sure that theit HR totals will come up, but that’s not the key number, to me, although important and welcome as it is (or will be). I’m very disappointed in their walk totals, but not at all surprised: that’s what these guys are, as a group, and this is the kind of offense Bavasi wants to build, ‘aggressive hitters with good tools who drive the ball.’ He’s the guy who built the Anaheim style after all. Of course, this is a poor formula for Safeco, very poor. This park kills singles because of visibility issues, so to get on base enough for the HRs that get hit to really tell, you need guys who’ll work a walk. And hitters that in doing so also get the opposing starter’s pitch count up so that the offense gets a regular crack at the soft part of the visiting team’s bullpen.

    —But this team isn’t walking, much, and won’t be at the end of the year, either. Olivo, and Valdez/Reese aren’t going to get any free passes for obvious reasons; Wilson doesn’t walk, never has; no potential replacements for any of them are guys to take a walk. Boone has never been one to walk, and if Lopez ends up in his spot at the back end of the year spotty strike zone judgment/over-aggressiveness counts as his biggest offensive weakness. Ichiro refuses to take a walk. Reed has not been one to take a walk; Choo’s walk rate declined when he decided to drive the ball more; D’Oyle is at the plate to hit. I’m making no predictions on how Sexson will come out; his strike zone judgment seems good enough to take the walk, but then again he’s batting 4th and his role is to drive the ball, so he’s not going to be laying off borderline pitches, either. Winn posts a ‘decent’ +OBP, but as I’ve written before it’s hollow: he spends large stretches of the year with no patience, hacking at everything, and seems to pile up most most of his walks at the same time he piles up most of his hits, during the hot streaks. Speizio, Dobbs, et. al. . . . I’m not going to go there. Ibanez and Beltre are the only two guys on this team who genuinely qualify as patient hitters overall. Neither one has been particularly hot at the plate yet, so they’ll likely be better, and two guys are better than zero guys, but. I think Bucky will make three guys if and when he’s back, but not only is that unproven but it’s hard to see how one can get both Bucky and Ibanez in the lineup at the same time, so his presence wouldn’t reshape the offense significangly in that regard. No one else in the minors figures as an onbase kind of guy.

    Baylor talked all the right things when he was hired, and Hargrove was a famously patient hitter, but they can only work with the guys they’re given, and this set of guys doesn’t see a walk as something nearly as valuable as Safeco makes it. One of the good things that Gillick did is that he brought in guys who would take a walk, and got the coaching staff to behind the idea in a big way. Bavasi isn’t of a like mind, and the team he’s assembling isn’t and won’t be one to take to that mindset, regardless of what the hitting coach might say. There’s a mixed message here, with the loudest component being rather indifferent to walks. At best.

    Which is bad, if you follow me. The way that this team is designed does not fit well with the park, and suggests that the team will score somewhat below projections. Which is why _I_ keep thinking about a trade that would bring in a patient hitter, whether one with power or without. But I’m not expecting anything soon, or even necessarily this year, and the guys most likely to bring in a useful player in a package—Winn or Ibanez—are two of the team’s three best guys at taking a walk now. Which is to say, I expect that the Ms offense will frustrate me for some time/years to come. Boom or bust, but too often the latter.

  28. wabbles on April 23rd, 2005 7:23 am

    Okay, but that sounds a lot like the Oakland A’s formula: work the walks, get the pitch count up and then hit the homer. That formula though, is why they dominate in the regular season but never advance in the playoffs, though. Playoff pitchers don’t give up walks. It’s why they are in the playoffs.