When looking at the Mariners roster and their performance to date, there are two aspects of the team that need significant improvement; scoring runs and defense.
The Mariners are scoring 4.02 runs per game (compared to a league average of 4.4 runs per game), and even after adjusting for Safeco Field, the offense is a pretty big problem. Their .687 OPS is better only than Kansas City and Cleveland, ranking them 12th out of 14 American League clubs.
Defensively, they’re the worst team in baseball. The Hardball Times +/- metric has them at 30 plays (or about 24 runs) below average for the season so far, with only the Royals and Pirates even within shouting distance of that futility. They don’t cover much ground, regularly put two guys on the field who have no business ever wearing a glove, and even their more talented defenders have issues with misplays and errors.
The common link between the offense and the defense, of course, is that they’re the same players. The pitchers haven’t been as good as expected, but the position players… well, they suck. The Royals are the only team in baseball that have a worse starting nine than the Mariners, and they aren’t running a $117 million payroll while trying to contend for the playoffs.
We know that run scoring and run prevention are both really close to 50% of winning baseball (despite what you hear about pitching winning championships – it’s good teams that can do both that win titles). We also know that defense is about 25 to 30% of run prevention, with pitchers making up the rest of that total. So, we could say that a breakdown of win importance would look something like this:
You can fiddle with the numbers a bit if you want, but you can’t stray too far from that general guideline. And, when you look at it, you’ll notice one obvious conclusion – position players are responsible for something like sixty-five percent of winning. Position players matter almost twice as much as their pitching brethren. Pitchers simply don’t have the same impact on wins and losses, because they only impact part of the half, while the position players impact the whole of one half and part of the other. Good teams have good position players, because they matter a lot more than pitchers.
The Mariners even admit this is true in their actions, even if they won’t do it with words. Of the $117 million they are spending on payroll this year, $72.3 million of that (62%) is dedicated to the team’s position players. Think about that for a second – the position players that are responsible for third worst in AL offense and worst in baseball defense are collecting $72 million this year. That figure is higher than the total team payrolls for the Rockies, Rangers, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Royals, Twins, Nationals, Pirates, A’s, Rays, and Marlins.
If the Mariners entire pitching staff was working for free, and the team’s salary was strictly based on what they’re giving to the position players, the Mariners payroll would still rank 19th in baseball. The kicker – The Diamondbacks, Rays, and Marlins are all currently in first place, while the A’s and Twins are both playing like wild card contenders. Out of the eleven teams whose total payroll is less than that of just the Mariners position players (the ones killing this team), two to four of them will make the playoffs.
There’s been a lot of talk about accountability lately, so to the upper management of the Seattle Mariners, I ask a simple question – how on earth are the people responsible for paying $72.5 million for a group of position players rivaled only by the Kansas City Royals for ineptitude part of the solution and not part of the problem?