The Template For Success in 2009
We’ve talked a lot so far this winter about how well we think the new regime has handled the roster, rebuilding with quality young major league talents, finding low cost players with real upside, and aligning the team so that the defense complements the pitching staff. However, questions still remain about how the team is going to score runs, and ultimately, win games. Can you contend with a shortage of offense, a good defense, and mediocre pitching?
The 2003 Mariners say that you can. Six years ago, the Mariners ran out a line-up of defense-first position players and surrounded them with an average rotation and turned it into 93 wins. Seriously, take a look at some of the production the M’s got that year.
Catcher (Wilson/Davis): .235/.276/.354 in 610 PA
Third Base (Cirillo/McLemore): .243/.321/.340 in 654 PA
Left Field (Winn/McLemore): .277/.330/.401 in 687 PA
First Base (Olerud): .265/.361/.389 in 701 PA
The Mariners got a combined 42 home runs and a .372 SLG% from those four positions. They had a first baseman with no power, a left fielder with no power, and got nothing offensively from either catcher or third base. Ichiro had the third highest slugging percentage among the starting nine. Ichiro!
The offense was essentially Bret Boone (.387 wOBA), Edgar Martinez (.386 wOBA), five guys right around league average (Cameron, Ichiro, Winn, Olerud, and Guillen), and two huge holes. The team hit 139 home runs, 13th out of 14 AL teams, and only 2 HR ahead of the least powerful team, Tampa Bay.
Despite the lack of power and only two guys who could claim to have had legitimately good offensive seasons, the team scored 795 runs. Boone going nuts and Edgar’s last stand, mixed with a bunch of guys who didn’t have any power but didn’t make a lot of outs, along with two black holes in the line-up added up to an above average offense.
However, the strength of the team wasn’t at the plate, but instead, at the field. They were the best defensive team in baseball, racking up a +52 UZR. Thanks to their outstanding gloves, the team had the second best ERA in the American League despite a pretty mediocre pitching staff. The rotation just wasn’t that good – Pineiro (3.93 FIP), Moyer (4.01 FIP), Meche (4.79 FIP), Garcia (4.82 FIP), and Franklin (5.17 FIP) comprised a group of a pair of decent mid-rotation starters and three guys who were on the fringes of being bounced from the rotation entirely.
However, the M’s got a 3.92 ERA from the rotation despite their 4.54 FIP. The Winn-Cameron-Ichiro outfield made mediocre pitchers look excellent, and the team kept runs off the board as well as any in the American League. By only allowing 3.9 runs per game, the M’s won a lot of low scoring contests, making up with their gloves what they lacked with their bats.
13th in the league in home runs. A 4.54 FIP from their starting pitchers. 93 wins.
The 2009 Mariners aren’t going to score 800+ runs. They might not score 700+ if the team doesn’t land one more quality hitter. But, if they commit to running out a Chavez-Gutierrez-Ichiro outfield and the middle infield gives some better glove performances (either by improvement or by more innings for Cedeno), this defense has a chance to be very, very good. The pitching on this team is better than the pitching that was the ’03 staff. There’s run prevention talent on this roster.
If the Mariners are going to contend this year, it’s going to look a lot like 2003.