You may have seen Geoff Baker’s full-throated denunciation of the M’s “passivity” with two strikes the other day. If you missed it, the M’s beat writer asked some very pointed questions of the M’s line-up, and, by extension, their manager:
“Are they going to be a team that rolls over in the face of adversity? Or are they at least going to go down with a fight?”
“When push comes to shove, do the Mariners fight back? Or do they take it lying down?”
A hitter, quoth Baker, “Has to battle. Has to fight. And this past weekend, the Mariners had no fight in them.”
That sound pretty bleak. Ok, it sounds like a bunch of cliches, but those cliches sound bleak. This being USSM, I immediately went to baseball-reference’s splits pages to quantify this pusillanimity, and see if we could find a way to take it one day at a time and learn to fight again. The M’s are between a rock and a hard place, and frankly, I hate geology. Do the M’s?
With two strikes, the M’s are putting up a lily-livered .513 OPS. They’ve struck out in 40.3% of their two-strike plate appearances. Compared to their overall OPS+, their two-strike OPS+ split (tOPS+) is a meager 59. When the going gets tough, the M’s are noticeably, clearly, worse. So how’s that compare to some other teams – teams that aren’t afraid to battle, teams that aren’t lying down when push comes to shove. The first I turned to was Boston. They’ve struck out in…hmm, 41.5% of their plate appearances with two strikes. They’ve got a .534 OPS, but their tOPS+ split is a pathetic 43. They may be leading the AL East now, but I’m not sure that a group of two-strike pacifists has what it takes to survive a battle with the AL East big boys. We’ll see.
The next team I looked at absolutely astonished me. I’m sure several of them run for cover upon hearing the word “fight.” They strike out in an astonishing 47.6% of their two-strike plate appearances. They’ve put up, no, that’s too active: they’ve timidly submitted a .490 OPS with two strikes, good for a tOPS+ of 32. Just watch them play – they’re only too happy to tip their cap to the pitcher when they strike out (and as a team, they strike out far more than the M’s!). When they’ve got two strikes, they *accept* a strikeout, and you know and I know: that dog won’t cut mustard. In one of the great ironies in sports, this group of cowards is known as the “Braves.” You can’t make this up! They’ve slinked and slithered their way to a 13-5 record, but two-strike hitting may be their achilles heel as the season progresses.
Ok, Ok, that’s enough snark. I’m glad Baker wrote that piece, because he’s obviously picking up on something that the M’s are focusing on. As he noted, Wedge has mentioned this in his post-game interviews, and it seems like some of the players are repeating the message as well. The M’s K% spiked this past week, and while Darvish/Verlander pitched against them, so did Justin Grimm. But the numbers tell us that the M’s are about as hapless with two strikes as literally every other team in baseball. The M’s problem isn’t that they’re a great hitting team that falls to pieces with two strikes – that’s the Braves. The M’s problem is that they get into so many two strike counts to begin with. I’m not going to argue that the lack of “fight” the M’s display is entirely made up. I’m not there, and I’ve always struggled at knowing when to deploy combat metaphors after watching a team solely on TV. I can only say the problem doesn’t *appear* to be related to their especially poor two strike hitting.