The Mariners and 700 Runs
Lloyd McClendon has set a goal for this team: score 700 runs. If you wanted, you could classify it as a sub-goal, with the primary umbrella goal being: don’t suck. McClendon figures 700 runs would be the magic threshold beyond which the Mariners are sure to make the playoffs, and while McClendon isn’t stupid enough to think there’s that much difference between 700 and 699, a number is a number, and a number can be written about. Now I just need to figure out what to write.
Last year? Last year, the Mariners scored 634 runs. Why might they do better? They spent a lot to get better at DH. They expect a full season of not being a catastrophe out of Austin Jackson. There are platoons in both the outfield corners, even if McClendon won’t label them as such, and if you think about additional improvement from some other youth, okay, 700 is well within reach. Why might they do worse? This is no time to talk about that. Lots of ways they could do worse. If they happen, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about them, and about how the season blows, during the season itself.
FanGraphs has the Mariners projected to score 667 runs. Baseball Prospectus puts them at 675. Clay Davenport somewhat brutally puts them at 633, albeit with excellent run prevention. The point here being, the Mariners aren’t projected to score 700 runs, even by the systems that expect the Mariners to be a real good team. If you prefer, there’s this: based on recent history, a 700-run offense would require about a .315 wOBA. FanGraphs projects the Mariners for a .316 wOBA. That threshold is approachable, and could be surpassed.
Probably the most interesting thing here is just how it’s a reminder of the times. I’m not about to tell you anything new, but, let’s try to drive some points home. This should more or less explain itself:
McClendon’s magic number is 700 runs. Go back 15 years, and every single team in the American League beat that mark. As recently as 2009, we saw 12 of 14 teams get past 700. Last year, six of 15, down from the previous year’s nine of 15. Last year, the AL average was 677 runs per team. Between 2004 – 2007, not a single team in the league had a single season with that few runs scored. By looking for 700, McClendon believes his team could have an above-average offense. Only a few seasons ago, it would’ve meant something different.
Think about when this all started. When the Mariners transitioned from the successful era, I mean. In both 2000 and 2001, the Mariners exceeded 900 runs. In 2004, when the franchise bottomed out, the Mariners finished at 698. The next season, 699. Even the 2008 team scored 671 runs. All this is reminding you of is that the run environment has changed, and it’s changed an awful lot in a relatively short amount of time. You were probably aware of the trend, but we’re all still slow to adjust our impressions of what numbers are normal. 700 still feels like a low amount of runs. In truth, that would be terrific, especially when you factor in the Safeco effect. We have to adjust how we think about everything. In 2000, there were 53 qualified .300+ hitters. Last year, there were 16. And this coming year, there will probably be even fewer than that, because it’s not like the run environment is about to be inflated. Not that quickly. MLB is aware of what’s going on, but it’s not going to change anything about the game overnight because it can’t afford the risk of being that hasty.
And it’s not even clear this is a bad thing. It’s fact that offense is down, relative to where it’s been before. It’s opinion that baseball is broken as a consequence. There is a minimum threshold of acceptability somewhere, but it doesn’t seem we’re there yet. Anyway, I’m straying from the point.
The point being, the Mariners want to score 700 runs, and in this day and age, 700 runs is actually a difficult mark to achieve. The offense ought to be better, but 700 is by no means a given, and this isn’t McClendon just setting a low bar — he’s actually put it higher than the projections, the same projections that think the Mariners should go to the playoffs. Let’s take the FanGraphs numbers. With their projections, you’d expect them to end up around an 87-75 record. Now bump the offense up to 700 runs. Then you’d expect them to end up at a 91-71 record. Every 91+ win team in the new wild-card era has advanced beyond a 162nd game. Turns out 700’s a good number to shoot for.