The Byproduct of Aggressiveness
Over the weekend, the Mariners played four games against the Royals. The Royals pitching staff has the highest walk rate of any team in the American League. They also have the fifth lowest strikeout rate in the league, so overall, they’re just not very good.
The Mariners, in four games against that pitching staff, drew six walks and struck out 51 times. They struck out at least 11 times in each game of the series, becoming just the eighth team in AL history to accomplish that in four consecutive games. No AL team has ever done it in five straight games, so the M’s will go for that record tonight.
Jeff wrote about this yesterday over at Lookout Landing, and Mike touched on it here last week, but the M’s have now become the biggest collection of hacks in baseball. The only teams with worse BB/K ratios are in the NL, where they have to use pitchers several times a game, and even their marks aren’t that much worse than what the M’s are putting up.
It’s easy to attribute all the hacking to youth, and point out that the team is playing a bunch of guys with little to no Major League experience, and to some extent, that’s true – the team’s low walk rates and high strikeout rates are attributable to playing guys like Carlos Peguero, Greg Halman, and Michael Saunders for significant portions of the year. But the organization also targeted Miguel Olivo as the veteran catcher they wanted over the winter, and he has perhaps the worst plate approach of any regular player in Major League Baseball.
At this point, it’s essentially an organizational pandemic. There’s basically one guy – Dustin Ackley – in the whole organization who has a good plan when he goes up to the plate. Justin Smoak has the makings of giving them two guys, but he still chases a lot of pitches he should let pass. Beyond those two, there isn’t a discerning eye to be found anywhere.
Right now, the M’s run out 7 or 8 guys on a nightly basis whose sole focus at the plate is to swing the bat. Eric Wedge has wanted an aggressive team all year, and now he has the most aggressive group of hitters in baseball. The problem is that this approach doesn’t work. It doesn’t score runs. It gives pitchers free outs.
Plain and simple, the Mariners are now far too aggressive at the plate, just like they were during the Bavasi era. They present little challenge to the opposing pitcher not just because they lack talent, but because they lack a good game plan when they step into the batters box. Swing hard is not a recipe for success.
Getting better hitters would help, certainly. We can’t lay the blame at the coaching staff’s feet for not being able to make chicken soup out of chicken crap, but at the same time, Eric Wedge and his staff are here to teach these kids how to become good Major League hitters. And, unfortunately, there’s little to no evidence that any of them are getting better at the plate as the year goes on. No one is having better at-bats, getting into more hitters’ counts, or taking more free passes. If anything, we’re seeing the opposite. Previously patient hitters like Chone Figgins, Franklin Gutierrez, and Mike Carp have all stopped taking free passes this year. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
Aggressiveness is fine in the right context. Stupidity is not. Right now, the M’s approach at the plate has crossed the line into being the latter.