The Power Of Perception
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.