The Weirdness Has Already Happened
On a podcast earlier this season, Matthew briefly lamented the fact that the Mariners seldom blow other teams out. It’s not much of a complaint, and it’s true because the Mariners haven’t been a great team*, but there is nothing quite like an easy, comfortable win. On consecutive nights now, the Mariners have dismantled the Red Sox. They’ve outscored the defending champions 20-5. The first of two starting lineups had Endy Chavez leading off, and Willie Bloomquist at DH. The second had Endy Chavez leading off, John Buck at DH, and Erasmo Ramirez on the mound. If you don’t understand, don’t worry, because nobody does.
* great teams blow other teams out
Go ahead and pick your favorite WTF statistic. There are a few to choose from. A selection:
- The Mariners are 5-1 when Willie Bloomquist starts at first base or DH.
- The Mariners are 12-5 when Endy Chavez starts.
- The Mariners are 14-7 when Cole Gillespie starts.
- Chris Young has allowed fewer runs per nine innings than Max Scherzer, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Jon Lester, among so many others.
What’s not a total shock is that the Mariners are in third place. What’s more of a shock is that they’re sitting on six more wins than losses, and they have a game lead on the Orioles for the second wild-card slot. They have baseball’s second-highest run differential, which seems absolutely insane, and according to the FanGraphs playoff odds, the Mariners are securely in fifth in the AL, where five teams get to play extra. The Mariners project to finish a little above average, and that’s all you need to be these days to live at least another nine innings.
A decade ago, that run-differential statistic would’ve been more exciting. These days, we know better; run differential matters, but it matters less than other things you can do. The Mariners haven’t actually played like baseball’s second-best team, and to get a little more advanced, you can look instead at wOBA differential, which is simply wOBA produced less wOBA allowed. By that metric, the Mariners come out fifth in the AL at present, behind the A’s, Angels, Tigers, and Blue Jays. That’s not unexpected. They’re still ahead of the Orioles, and Indians, and Royals, and Yankees. Actually, right behind the Mariners are the Rays, who have baseball’s very worst record. That’s the Rays’ misfortune, but the Rays’ misfortune isn’t our problem.
An important point to recognize: the Mariners’ record probably isn’t an accurate reflection of the Mariners’ performance. On paper, they should be a few games worse, which I don’t think many would disagree with.
An important point to recognize: that’s all in the books, though. The weirdness that’s taken place never has to be given back. The Mariners will forever have gone 12-5 in Endy Chavez’s first 17 starts. A lot of people are growing increasingly familiar with the concept of regression to the mean, but that doesn’t get to apply retroactively, so it’s not like you should go around expecting a team-wide slump to even everything out. That’s not reality, that’s the gambler’s fallacy, and so what matters most now is taking advantage of the win/loss foundation the team has already set.
This isn’t rocking any boats. This is all simple, obvious stuff, but while you’re free to await the other shoe dropping, understand what that would look like. There’s no reason to expect that to be a massive collapse. It would look a lot more like .500 baseball, and if the Mariners finish .500, they’ll finish 84-78. That’s close enough to be interesting into September, and now you look around and see reasons to think the team could play more sustainably well.
I mean, Brad Miller is showing signs, right? Erasmo Ramirez is a disaster either waiting to happen or in the process of happening, but Taijuan Walker just spun a shutout in triple-A. Michael Saunders is almost back to replace Endy Chavez, and Saunders doesn’t look like he’s missed a step. Logan Morrison has reduced the importance of getting back a normal Justin Smoak, and I don’t think Corey Hart is as bad as his early-season statistics. It’s possible to be both cynical about the organization and excited by the rest-of-season outlook. Apparently the Mariners are looking at making deadline additions. Even if 2014 is a save-the-job season for the front office, it’s not like we’re in position to choose the circumstances under which we get a decent Mariners team. What we all want is competitive baseball, and while we’d prefer competitive baseball under the sort of leadership we thought we had in 2009, the present situation is better than other, recent situations. The position the Mariners are in now is a position where they’re probably going to be some kind of compelling for at least most of the regular season.
The Mariners’ disadvantage is that they share a division with maybe the two best teams in the league. So they’re looking almost strictly wild card, and that means a potential one-and-done, and that feels less than totally satisfying. But a potential one-and-done, half the time, is also a one-and-on, and while you can say what you will about the true intentions behind wild-card expansion, again, it’s not like we don’t get to benefit. If the idea is to increase interest and drum up profits, they can drum up profits because they’re successfully increasing interest. It’s fun to give a shit, and right now we get to give all the shit we like.
It’s kind of weird that the Mariners have this many wins. They’re guaranteed to finish with at least that many wins. What’s done is done, and the future could have a lot less Bloomquist, Chavez, and Gillespie. The future’s only 84 games. You don’t have to understand why what’s happened has happened. Just recognize that it could be a hell of a lot worse.