The Mariners and 700 Runs

Jeff Sullivan · March 14, 2015 at 5:16 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


7 Responses to “The Mariners and 700 Runs”

  1. Notfromboise on March 14th, 2015 7:04 pm

    One of the strangest phenomena of the post 2000 era is the increase in strikeouts. You can attribute some of it to better pitching, but honestly i’m at a loss of how even utility infielders are racking up strikeouts at an alarming rate.

    There’s an influx of foreign players, bringing to mind the old adage “You can’t walk off the island” to excuse low walk rates among many Cuban and Puerto Rican players.. but thats shortsighted in that there are plenty of homegrown talents with similar metrics, and that only really explains the K-BB rate, not the inflation of the overall strikeout totals.

    A more believable argument is in reliever specialization. The John Candelaria types who are lefty specialists who face one or two batters in an appearance. Bullpens built for strategic late game cat-and-mouse to get the best possible matchups (and consequently, highest possible K rates and lowest possible batting averages). This is a far cry from the deadball-1980s era where bullpens were landing spots for retreads and starters getting back into shape following injurys. The 70s alone saw the Goose Gossage archetype where relievers would go 2-3 innings routinely, essentially being mini-starters in their own right.

    So let it be said todays hitters are mainly spending the last 3-4 innings of ballgames facing essentially their worst nightmare : A fresh pitcher who can throw all the gas he wants cuz he’s tossing 20 pitches max before his replacement comes in… A pitcher brought in specifically because the opposing manager knows you can’t hit a major league curve/slider/change/screwball/etc… At BEST, a pitcher who throws from the same side you bat from.

    Far from ideal conditions. And to add insult to injury the Starters are rarely going further than the 6th inning, so they have a license to let loose on their velocity and tricks of the trade moreso than, say, a 1986 Tom Browning who’s main goal is to get through 8 innings first and foremost, and get fans to their parked cars within 2 hours and 30 minutes either way.

    Regardless, these kids sure strike out a ton these days, whether it is their fault or just the era they are playing in.

  2. Notfromboise on March 14th, 2015 7:37 pm

    As for how the Mariners can achieve 700 runs this season I see 5 main sources:

    1. ) DH – Cruz replacing the Hart/Morales monstrosity is worth some serious WAR.

    2. ) Zunino should improve this season behind the plate, and even if its only a moderate boost, his slipping further down the batting order + the possible of a resurging Slim Montero generating some runs backing up C/1B/DH projects to add some runs.

    3. ) The Outfield – Ackley still has the pedigree to build on a solid 2014. Austin Jackson can’t be much worse (sigh, but still!) and Smith/Ruggiano look to be at least healthier than Saunders/Guttierez/Chavez with the upside of more productive

    4. ) SS – Miller projects (and should definitely) better than 2014, and a sophomore slump is not uncommon. Taylor is great insurance once he gets back from injury, but the 2014 slash line we got out of SS will be and easy spot to see improved run generation.

    5. ) Protection! Seager protects Cano, Cruz Protects Seager, Morrison protects Cruz, Cano protects Ackley, Smithiano protects Morrison. et cetera. A much deeper and more versatile lineup means more hitters see better pitches, our lineups will platoon better to see better hitting against dreaded southpaws. And we’ll have a deeper bench to lessen the impact of other teams bullpens that haunted us quite a bit last year. Guys like Smith, Ruggiano, Montero, and Taylor aren’t world beaters… But they are a lot more imposing in late innings than Chavez and Jones and Bloomquist were.

    Lets score some runs!

  3. californiamariner on March 15th, 2015 9:59 am

    The most interesting thing to me about this was the differences in runs scored over such a short period of time. Like you said, we all kind of know it’s happening but when you look at the numbers it is so drastic.

    I am very skeptical of Cruz, for one, but even so he has to outhit the pitcher the team had in the DH spot last season. Improvements from Miller and Jackson and yeah, pretty soon it makes sense that this team could score 50-60ish more runs than last season.

  4. ksmith1984 on March 15th, 2015 11:38 am

    Wow, I understood that the game has changed in the last 10-12 years, but didn’t know just to what extent it has changed. This is startling. I looked at runs scored numbers a little closer, this article peaking my interest. As Jeff noted, the 2004 Mariners scored 698 runs which was dead last in the American league. That same year, a whopping 8 teams had 827 or more runs that year and 10 AL teams amassed more runs that year than the best offense in the AL in 2014. That is quite amazing to think about… In 10 years, the best offense in the American league (LAA) scored 176 less runs than the best team in 2004, and the best offense in 2014 would have only been rated the 10th best in 2004. Absolutely incredible.

  5. PackBob on March 15th, 2015 12:18 pm

    A lot of new faces plus guys still trying to prove themselves makes for a pretty volatile run projection. The Mariners looked better last year offensively until they ended up being not much different. But it’s hard to see this team not doing much better than last year’s team, even if the new guys don’t live up to the hype.

    Lloyd has a lot of options to spark some life into the offense. I’ll take the over on 700.

  6. henryv on March 15th, 2015 4:58 pm

    League average wOBA is down to .313ish. Average!

    These team strikes me as a team that could beat that mark, and probably be a .320 wOBA team.

    Above Average!

    Now, as for 700 runs, that’s gonna be close. I think Mike Zunino might be a really telling player, as it will be interesting to see how he matures. If he can go from “close your eyes and swing. REALLY. FUCKING. HARD” to “maybe look at a few pitches before doing that” he might be the guy that has a huge year, as far as advanced metrics.

    So, my guess… 699, because Mariners.

  7. eponymous coward on March 16th, 2015 10:38 am

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