A Glass Three-Eighths Full: Reasons for Optimism
It’s Insider-only, so you might’ve missed it, but Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory posted a piece at ESPN yesterday on the historical ineptitude of the M’s offense.
Conclusion? It’s really bad.
Writes Szymborski: “The Mariners have scored 3.29 runs per game. The last American League team to score fewer runs per game was the 1981 Toronto Blue Jays, who averaged 3.10 at a time when an average team scored only 4.07 runs per game. That number is 4.42 this year.”
It’s very likely you know this — or at least suspected something like this. Sorry about that.
But in a shocking turn of events, Seattle’s incompetence actually turns out to be good news. “How?” you ask. Through the wonder of nerdom!
So, by how much have the team’s bats underperformed expectations? And how does this compare historically?
To answer this question, I used the historical Marcel projection database that sabermetrician Jeff Sackmann recently created. Marcel is a simple projection system originally created by Tom Tango based on a player’s most recent three seasons, age and regression to the mean. Using this database, I went through every team’s offense from the past 40 years to see how the actual offenses compared to their expectations, taking into consideration league offenses, mix of players and actual playing time received. The “performance ratio” is simply the ratio between runs expected before the season and the actual runs scored.
After this, Szymborski provides a list of the 10 most underperforming teams. The worst “performance ratio,” as he calls it, belongs to the 1978 Oakland A’s. That team scored only 71% of the runs that Marcel would’ve projected. This year’s Seattle Mariners are fourth on the list, with a performance ratio of 73%.
And here’s probably the best news for the M’s and their fans: the teams on this top-10 list averaged a 0.6 run/game improvement and a nine-win improvement a season later.
This information probably comes as some relief to Seattleites, who can now view the glass not as mostly empty, but definitely like a quarter, or even three-eighths, full.
What if we applied this new-found optimism to the rest of the season? What would that look like?
Here are five cases wherein rejoicing might be possible:
Mostly Empty: An elderly Ken Griffey Jr is given over 100 plate appearances and posts -0.8 WAR.
Three-Eighths Full: Every last Seattle-area resident — including moms and their newborns — have more productive major league season than a future Hall-of-Famer!
Mostly Empty: Manager Don Wakamatsu and second baseman Chone Figgins engage in fisticuffs after the latter appears to stop trying.
Three-Eighths Full: The encounter is dramatized, choreographed, and set to music — a la Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video*.
Mostly Empty: Brandon Morrow turns out to be pretty awesome, actually, posting season numbers comparable to Tim Lincecum‘s.
Three-Eighths Full: Most of his (i.e. Morrow’s) starts are over by 6:00pm PT, when Seattle fans are just coming home from work.
Mostly Empty: Rob Johnson plays 61 games, compiles 209 PAs, generally bites.
Three-Eighths Full: Team determines, once and for all, that Rob Johnson is not major league catcher. (Note: This isn’t all that satisfying. Sorry.)
Mostly Empty: Team gets absolutely no offense from first base, where hitters combine to slash .222/.288/.358.
Three-Eighths Full: Team acquires Russell Branyan mid-season-ish. Though the signing does little for Seattle’s playoff hope, Branyan becomes first person ever to hit baseball into space.
*Denotes things that only happened in an ideal dreamworld.