The Power Of Perception

Dave · April 11, 2011 at 9:25 am · Filed Under Mariners 

The Baltimore Orioles are 6-3, first place in the American League East, and couldn’t have asked for a better start to the year. The Seattle Mariners are 2-7, last place in the American League West, losers of seven straight, and look like the same anemic bunch of can’t-hit-scrubs that we saw last year.

The Mariners are hitting .215/.285/.312, “good” for a 72 wRC+, meaning that their offense has been 28 percent below average once you account for the parks the team has played in so far.

The Orioles are hitting .216/.282/.348, which comes out to a 73 wRC+. Their offense has been 27 percent below average, basically the same as the Mariners.

However, the two teams have gotten to those lines completely differently. The Mariners have been a league average offense with the bases empty, while the Orioles have been the worst team in baseball at starting rallies (hitting a ridiculous .183/.235/.251 with no one on). Get a man on base, however, and the Mariners fall to a wRC+ of 32, while the Orioles soar to 145. With a man in scoring position, no one has been better than Baltimore, and only two teams have been worse than the Mariners.

Essentially, the few hits that the Mariners are getting have been spread out, so they’re not leading to runs or wins. The Orioles have bunched all of their hits together, so they’ve managed to get more from their offense than you’d expect given their overall production. Basically the same level of offense, but two dramatically different results, simply due to the timing of when the hits have come.

In general, teams don’t show much of an ability to get timely hits over large samples. Good offenses hit well with men on base, bad offenses do not. You don’t see teams sustaining these kinds of crazy splits. That’s good news for the Mariners (well, relatively good news – they’re not quite as bad as they’ve looked, most likely, but they’re still pretty lousy at hitting in general) and bad news for the Orioles.

This isn’t meant to be any kind of super serious analysis. The Orioles are probably a better team than the Mariners, and I’d almost certainly take their line-up instead. But, it is interesting to note how early perspectives can be so heavily skewed by something as simple as the timing of base hits.

Comments

28 Responses to “The Power Of Perception”

  1. dsmiley on April 11th, 2011 9:40 am

    Thanks Dave, those are interesting data points.

  2. lailaihei on April 11th, 2011 9:54 am

    Maybe if Chone Figgins wasn’t batting second, we wouldn’t be hitting so poorly with runners on.

  3. greski4job on April 11th, 2011 10:01 am

    Thanks for the post. It is an interesting to see that it basically comes down to putting hits together. For some reason it seems thus far that this team, like last year, just cannot handle the pressure of hitting when someone is on base, let alone in scoring position.

    Is there a statistic that can describe this type of hitting? If so I’d be interested to see how this year thus far compared to last year.

    Although my head tells me that this cannot possibly continue on throughout the whole season, I remember last year and, well we wont go there…

  4. Westside guy on April 11th, 2011 10:16 am

    Of the full-timers, the highest on-base percentages belong to (in order) Ichiro, Smoak, Cust, and Bradley.

    So while Figgins has been asbysmal – no, you can’t pin this weird hitting pattern just on him.

  5. themedia on April 11th, 2011 10:18 am

    The Orioles surely won’t be able to keep this up, but they absolutely will hit a ton more homers than the M’s. All the people calling for Cust’s head need to realize that teams like the Orioles and Jays (who are about to teach us a lesson about home runs) have built their rosters around guys like Jack Cust. And, wouldn’t ya know it, the first game of the year the Jays hit four of ‘em. Has Cust been bad? Yes. But Dave’s post should identify that he (and others) won’t continue to be this bad.

  6. Westside guy on April 11th, 2011 10:23 am

    Speaking of unsustainable performances that happen at just the right time to catch one’s attention… I’ll also be curious – given how quickly his hitting stats started heading back down to earth – how long the “Miguel Olivo is a good hitter” meme will last.

  7. roosevelt on April 11th, 2011 10:26 am

    As usual, good job Dave. Here’s a suggestion for an upcoming post: What would you do [General Manager] Dave, to revise this team and turn it into a success–sooner than later?

  8. clandon on April 11th, 2011 10:37 am

    Has Cust been bad? Yes. But Dave’s post should identify that he (and others) won’t continue to be this bad.

    I’m sure that this is true. However, these tired “regression to the mean” arguments always fail to capture the one key issue that really matters: are we too far out of it by the time it occurs for the regression to mean anything in terms of winning a division. Bad is bad, even if it isn’t as bad as it has looked during a seven game losing streak.

  9. themedia on April 11th, 2011 10:46 am

    clandon,

    I suppose the most obvious reply would be two-fold. 1. Yes, this team is not equipped to bounce back and rattle off 7 straight wins. That probably won’t happen all year. 2. The start of the year doesn’t change that. We were never winning the division.

    I agree, though. ‘Regression to the mean’ arguments don’t seem too relevant when one is dealing with the 2011 Mariners. The Red Sox, though, are another story. So it’s not the argument that’s bad, it’s the example. The 2011 Mariners are a bad example. Actually, they’re just bad.

    My only point was that it doesn’t make sense to bury Cust and Smoak because of bad starts to the year. We should know what both players can offer: patience, power, and a low average. They’ve done that, more or less, to start the year. The average has been lower than it will be and the power has been absent, but, as Dave points out, that won’t continue.

  10. mariners2009 on April 11th, 2011 10:46 am

    Instead of everyone blaming Figgins, I think the problem is obvious. Wedge isn’t coaching guys to all get hits in a row and is allowing them to spread them out. Figgins has just been waiting for the right times. Silva was right about Ichiro, he always goes out and gets hits whenever HE wants, and he won’t wait fo other guys to hit first. Ichiro should be more like Figgy.

  11. clandon on April 11th, 2011 10:59 am

    themedia,
    I agree with your points about Cust and Smoak. In reality, they are among just a few of the reasons to expect that we might actually get entertained at some point this year.

  12. realsmack on April 11th, 2011 11:16 am

    @mariners2009 – thank you for my first good laugh of the day. :)

  13. spankystout on April 11th, 2011 11:24 am

    Wow, I never would have thought that Baltimore has sucked just as bad as the M’s. Could you repost this article on every Mariners blog so people can stop freaking out? :)

  14. joser on April 11th, 2011 11:56 am

    The thing is, the Orioles haven’t just won games despite being “as bad as the M’s” (sort of); they’ve also been more unlucky than the M’s (and still won games!) Take a look at the team leaderboards at Fangraphs, and click on the BABIP column header to sort by that stat. Look who’s hanging around at the bottom? Well, OK, the Rays obviously have been historically unlucky, but the Orioles are down there at .243, well below the Mariners’ .262 (which happens to be the same as the Rangers’) We should expect the M’s to have slightly better luck with balls finding holes going forward, but we should expect the Orioles to rebound even more. Of course, the perversity of baseball being what it is, an improvement in luck will probably not help the Orioles win more games (since they seem to be winning them through smoke and mirrors anyway).

  15. illdonk on April 11th, 2011 12:00 pm

    I don’t think anybody is freaking out; there was no good reason to believe our offense would be noticeably better (besides the fact that it almost couldn’t be worse).

    That being said, the fact that we don’t hit in general combined with the idea that we continue to not hit when we have scoring opportunities, wouldn’t make me feel much better even if I saw it on every blog.

  16. philosofool on April 11th, 2011 12:14 pm

    I don’t think anybody is freaking out; there was no good reason to believe our offense would be noticeably better (besides the fact that it almost couldn’t be worse)

    The lack of Jose Lopez (worst OPS in baseball last year) and Casey Kotchman (-.9 WAR)) are good reasons to expect improvement.

    I seriously believe that this offense is better than last year’s, and I think Dave’s post explains why we’re looking just as bad: our hits happen to be spread out. Being better than last year’s offense is not an achievement to be proud of, but we are better than we look. A little.

  17. TomC on April 11th, 2011 2:14 pm

    Of the full-timers, the highest on-base percentages belong to (in order) Ichiro, Smoak, Cust, and Bradley

    The batting order should, therefore, start in that exact order. I realize it is not baseball tradition, but perhaps Wedge should let them all know the batting order will be set by the players themselves through their OBP.

    It will never happen, however.

    Being better than last year’s offense is not an achievement to be proud of, but we are better than we look. A little.

    Are you sure? What if this is the offense we will have this year?

    Is there any guarantee that Saunders/Figgins/Bradley will hit better? that Guti will recover his health? etc. It seems to me a lot of the improvement is predicated on Smoak’s improvement and Cust performing up to expectations.

    I just don’t see enough talent on this team to overcome the inevitable injuries or bad luck.

  18. paracorto on April 11th, 2011 2:41 pm

    “Get a man on base, however, and the Mariners fall to a wRC+ of 32, while the Orioles soar to 145. With a man in scoring position, no one has been better than Baltimore, and only two teams have been worse than the Mariners.”

    Nothing new under this sun, good hitters are better hitters with runners on base and OBP alone is meaningless without a solid lineup. Is it just a matter of luck ? Branch Rickey would have said no.

  19. MrZDevotee on April 11th, 2011 3:00 pm

    Relax folks… The offense will come around… We’ve played 3 series… Won one, and lost two against two of the hottest teams in baseball at the moment.

    How many games SHOULD this season’s Mariners win when they play 6 out of 9 games against Division Leaders (with a combined 16-3 record for them at this point)? I mean even take away the 6 wins the M’s handed the Rangers and Indians, and without them, those two teams are still 10-3 combined.

    Are we SUPPOSED to contend with the good teams this year? Really?

    And actually weren’t we all just talking about how the Rangers series was a “moral victory”, because we played them tough, and felt like we were in the series the whole way– BUT then we lose 3 games to ANOTHER really hot team and suddenly we’re abysmal and we should boycott this team, and Z should be fired, and Wedge doesn’t know what he’s doing, and Cust is a bust, and Figgins is the position player equivalent of Carlos Silva?

    Vargas and Bedard are NOT awful pitchers, and yet they both got hammered. Maybe some credit is due the teams we played? We fared better against the Rangers than the Boston Red Sox did– and I don’t suppose anybody around here would like to swap lineups with them, perhaps? Maybe?

    Can we just give it a month, please, before we start calling ourselves the Pittsburgh of the West, or the heir apparent to the Kansas City Royal’s upside down crown? Can we wait at least long enough to know how good the teams are that we’ve played to this point? Can we get a few series in against some average, middle of Division ballclubs before pulling the plug on the season?

    Seriously, are we supposed to be 6-3 right now? 5-4? Tell me you guys didn’t expect that kind of start… Please.

    I’m not trying to start any arguments, but just trying to clear the skies of all this fog and gloom… Seriously, Cleveland and Texas are two of the better teams in the league at the moment.

    We SHOULD lose to them… A bunch. And we did. Seems about right, actually. Would be nice to be 3-6, or maybe 4-5, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

    On a better note– Happy Felix Day. Looking forward to watching the King!

  20. make_dave_proud on April 11th, 2011 3:39 pm

    I don’t believe anyone is freaking out due to heightened expectations this year, but rather that we’re going to avoid the epically bad offensive production we witnessed last year. It has as much to do with trusting that 2010 was a convergence zone of bad luck, i.e. record failure years on the part of multiple players, and not what many suspect — its not luck, but rather we’re just plain terrible and improvement is possibly years and managers and GMs away from where we are right now.

    I, for one, can accept bad luck, but it’s mentally tough swallowing an entire season of abysmal performance, followed up this season by more of the same AND believing that we will *actually* improve. When it comes to the offense, the Mariners have put their fans in the position of “fool me once, shame on you….fool me twice, shame on me.”

  21. Andrew34 on April 11th, 2011 3:53 pm

    I agree completely with themedia. If you expected the M’s to be the next Miracle Mets then, well, sorry bud. I have a friend who happens to be a Boston fan and we were arguing about our teams. I then brought up who is supposed to be better. The Sox or the M’s. Many thought that the Sox were the runnaway favorite for the AL. The M’s were predicted to have 70 wins. Yet they’re tied right now. The M’s will eventually start to have hits fall there way but if you want them to compete for a division title against Texas, whose currently the best team in baseball, as I said before, sorry bud. We just don’t have enough talent on the roster. 2012 or 2013 is when you might expect something from the M’s. But don’t get your hopes up after TWO wins.

  22. illdonk on April 11th, 2011 5:02 pm

    Nobody was expecting this team to compete. Some of us were hoping, however, that we wouldn’t be swept at home, in occasionally embarrassing fashion, by a team that won 69 games last year.

  23. Bremerton guy on April 11th, 2011 5:17 pm

    Some of us were hoping, however, that we wouldn’t be swept at home, in occasionally embarrassing fashion[.]

    Let’s call a spade a spade. Sometimes the stuff these guys do you wouldn’t expect from a bad high school team. Throwing to 3rd base when it wasn’t covered? A passed ball, then throwing the ball into center field? Throwing way over the head of the cutoff man? Sheesh. More than just the losing, it’s stuff like this that has me discouraged.

  24. Bremerton guy on April 11th, 2011 5:19 pm

    Well, sorry about screwing up the block quotes. Don’t know what happened there. I guess it was a mental error. Anyway, hopefully you all get what I meant.

  25. Shanfan on April 11th, 2011 5:35 pm

    Looks like you beat me to it Bremerton guy…

    What worries me more than the offensive ineptness is the slapdick defense. We’re supposed to be built on run prevention and we’ve lost three games that I can think of where the margin was due to unearned runs. We can’t give away every third game due to defensive lapses. This offense, even if hitting as projected, can’t overcome that.

  26. dchappelle on April 11th, 2011 7:35 pm

    Hey! Aren’t they supposed to give Dave credit when they use his story on the air?

  27. Liam on April 11th, 2011 7:36 pm

    Dave Sims just did this exact same comparison with the O’s for today’s game!

  28. Mekias on April 12th, 2011 12:52 pm

    Yeah, that was funny. I had just got through reading this post yesterday, turned on the TV and they were saying the exact same thing. I used to think that the internet and blogosphere were just for us fans to talk about our team but I guess folks involved with the team are reading too.

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