The Inconsistent Offense
Watching the team hit this year has been pretty frustrating for most of the season. On some nights, they look tremendous, attacking mistakes over the heart of the plate and racking up runs left and right. On other nights, too frequently, they look like a collection of schoolyard hitters who get themselves out chasing pitches out of the zone. Most of the frustration has been aimed towards Richie Sexson, but he’s not the only one leading an assault on the most outs made leaderboard.
But there’s one issue that hasn’t been talked about that much, and it’s at the heart of the Mariners inconsistency – this line-up is way too right-handed. The standard Mariner line-up features three left-handed hitters: Ichiro, Vidro, and Ibanez. They now hit back-to-back-to-back in the 1/2/3 spots and are then followed by six consecutive RH batters.
Here’s the Mariners regulars and their 2007 OPS vs right-handed pitchers:
1. Ichiro, .827
2. Vidro, .714
3. Ibanez, .649
4. Sexson, .658
5. Guillen, .634
6. Beltre, .697
7. Johjima, .799
8. Betancourt, .607
9. Lopez, .695
Yikes. If you’re a right-handed pitcher that dominates RH batters but has troubles with LH hitters (like, say, Bartolo Colon and his .578 OPS vs RH batters and .888 OPS vs LH batters), the Mariner line-up is a proverbial wet dream. Yea, you have to deal with Ichiro to lead off the game, but then you’re staring at a worst-case-scenario of a single from Turbo before you face the slow bat of Raul Ibanez, which is finally followed by six straight RH batters.
How easy is it to pitch to the Mariners in late game situations? Almost every team has a RH reliever that turns even good RH hitters into likely outs, and the good teams have guys like Scot Shields (.461 OPS vs RH batters) who turn right-handed bats into kindling. The M’s are kind enough to stack their RH hitters together, making for the easiest bullpen decision on earth for opposing managers.
Not surprisingly, the M’s are hitting .257/.318/.388 against right-handed pitchers this year, but when their heavily RH line-up has the platoon advantage, they’re bludgeoning left-handed pitchers to the tune of .293/.332/.481. The problem? The M’s have only faced 8 LH starters this year, and they’re now 6-2 in games when the opponent throws a southpaw at them. But they’re 12-16 when the opponent throws a right-handed pitcher.
Of their own accord, guys like Adrian Beltre, Jose Guillen, and Jose Lopez are valuable players. But when you assemble a team, you have to pay attention to building complementary parts. The Mariners have assembled a line-up of replicas. They’re perfectly built to beat up on guys like Kei Igawa and Nate Robertson, but by refusing to build any kind of effective platoons or balance the line-up with some left-handed power, the team has punted their offense against right-handed pitchers.
And there are a lot more right-handed pitchers than southpaws floating around.
The M’s have a dilemma to face – if they’re serious about contending this year, they have to rebalance the line-up. Getting Ben Broussard in the line-up against righties more often is a start, but he’s not going to fix this problem by himself. There’s no easy answers and no obvious spots to put a newly acquired left-handed hitter, but the lack of answer doesn’t cause this from being any less of a problem.
If the M’s keep running out this line-up, they’re going to feast on left-handed pitching and struggle mightily against right-handed pitching. And that’s simply not how playoff teams are built.