Many Hands Make Light Work
It’s a common refrain to hear people say that the M’s need another bat or two to be a real contender. The offense is bad, there’s no doubt about that. Their .313 team wOBA is 6th worst in baseball. However, I’d like to suggest that the M’s don’t need to get one big bat – they just need a couple smaller ones.
Let’s compare our offense to the Rangers offense, for instance. They have a .335 wOBA that ranks 10th in baseball. When you adjust for their home park, they come out just a bit above average. If the M’s had the Rangers offense, they’d be right in the thick of things, and we’d be talking about chasing down the Angels over the last two months.
Texas’ offense is led by Nelson Cruz (.380 wOBA), Michael Young (.371 wOBA), and Ian Kinsler (.357 wOBA). Those three have combined to be +34 runs above average on the season. The Mariners offense is led by Russ Branyan (.390 wOBA), Ichiro (.374 wOBA), and Franklin Gutierrez (.350 wOBA). Those three have combined to be +46 runs above average so far this year.
The M’s big three bats have been better than Texas’ big three by a fairly decent margin. The difference between the two isn’t in the quality of the good hitters, but instead in the quality of the bad hitters.
The Rangers have five players who have gotten significant playing time and been below average hitters. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chris Davis, Taylor Teagardan, Elvis Andrus, and Josh Hamilton have racked up -37.5 runs between them, basically canceling out the work of the top three and giving the Rangers an average offense overall.
The Mariners, on the other hand… the guys who have held down shortstop (Cedeno + Betancourt), catcher (Johnson, Johjima, and Burke), DH (Griffey and Sweeney), third base (Beltre, Woodward, and Hannahan), and left field (Chavez, Balentien, and Langerhans) have almost all been below average. Their combined total: -68.7 runs.
The M’s are 29th in wOBA from shortstop, 29th in wOBA from catcher, 13th (of 14) in wOBA from designated hitter, 30th in wOBA at left field, and 27th in wOBA at third base. The good work done by Ichiro, Gutierrez, and Branyan is wiped out by the lack of offense the team has gotten from these other five spots.
The difference between Texas’ offense and Seattle’s offense isn’t that they have more big bats, but instead that they have little bats that are okay instead of terrible. Omar Vizquel, Hank Blalock, David Murphy, Marlon Byrd – role players who can hit a little bit and won’t sink the offense when they’re on the field. This is what the Mariners are lacking.
The team needed more Ryan Langerhans and less Ronny Cedeno. You can win with average bats playing great defense behind a decent pitching staff. You can’t with with lousy bats playing great defense behind a decent pitching staff. The Mariners simply have too many lousy bats.
The problem spots are catcher, shortstop, and designated hitter. The M’s got good enough value from the gloves at 3B/LF to justify the offensive levels that they got from those positions. The same can’t be said at the other spots. Rob Johnson, for all the talk about how much pitchers love him, doesn’t have enough offense to be the #1 catcher for a playoff team. Ronny Cedeno has done a nice job defending at short, but he’s miscast as anything other than a utility infielder. Ken Griffey Jr and Mike Sweeney may have been great for the clubhouse, but they didn’t live up to their end of the bargain on the field.
These are the positions the M’s have to address going forward.
Adam Moore may push his way into the catcher conversation next year, but if the team isn’t ready to give the catching job to two youngsters, they’ll need to go get an offensive minded backstop that Wak can live with behind the plate for 2010.
Shortstop, the answer has to come from outside the system. There aren’t any internal options. You know the names by now – JJ Hardy, Reid Brignac, Jack Wilson if they want a stop-gap who will have to settle for a one year deal… the M’s will have to get someone in here over the winter who can play the position and hit enough to justify his paycheck.
DH should be fairly easy, honestly. Russ Branyan isn’t the only under-appreciated hitter who hasn’t been able to land a full-time job and is just waiting for his shot. Jeff Clement probably deserves another look, and Mike Carp may be able to give him a run at the internal candidate position as well. Eric Hinske could serve as a short-term fill-in, or you could try to get Jake Fox from the Cubs as a more long term solution. Finding a DH who can hit just isn’t that hard.
As the M’s begin to shift their focus towards 2010, they should not be seduced into looking for “a big bat”. They don’t need another all-star caliber hitter. They just need a few more guys who don’t totally suck at the plate.