With the Figgins signing basically done, the M’s have made their direction pretty clear, I think. Despite calls for a big power bat from sections of the fan base, the Mariners have gone the other way entirely, signing a guy who has hit nine home runs in the last three years combined. This continues the trend from a year ago, when they replaced Raul Ibanez with Endy Chavez, despite cries that left field was a position where you had to have a power hitter.
The Mariners clearly do not subscribe to the traditional model of needing power at the corners. They have a different template for building a team – the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals. That team is the model for what the organization hopes the 2010 Mariners can become.
They hit 87 home runs, fewer than every other National League team besides the Pirates. Their left fielder hit one home run. Their third baseman hit five (and had a .591 OPS). Jack Clark led the team with 22 home runs, Andy Van Slyke was second with 13, and two other players hit 10. Everyone else was in the single digits. In terms of home run power, they didn’t really have much. Or any.
But they led the league in singles, triples, walks, and stolen bases, all while hitting into the fewest amount of double plays. They were great at all the things that didn’t involve hitting for power, and they ended up leading the league in wOBA. Which, naturally, led to them leading the league in runs scored.
That speed paid off in the field as well, providing the best defensive team in the league. They held opponents to just a .272 batting average on balls in play, allowing a decent but unspectacular pitching staff to allow fewer runs than every other team in the NL besides the Dodgers (who bested them by a grand total of four runs). Having a bunch of elite defenders made life easy for John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar, who finished second and fourth in the league in innings pitched respectively. Danny Cox, the #3 starter, finished 9th.
Minimal power, a ton of speed, patient hitters who get on base, an elite defense, and a few starting pitchers who carry the load for the pitching staff. That formula added up to 101 wins and a trip to the World Series.
You do not have to hit for power to win baseball games. It helps, certainly, but good players are good players. Chone Figgins is a good player. Do not get wrapped up in worrying if the M’s have the type of team you’ve been told is the right kind. You can win with a whole bunch of slap hitters who get on base and run like the wind. The 1985 Cardinals did.