Are the Seattle Mariners For Real?
The Seattle Mariners haven't been talked about much this year on a national level. But that should start to change soon.
After their 13-2 win over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night, the Mariners have the second-best run differential in all of baseball at +67, trailing only the Oakland A's and their insane +131 score. Their 46-38 record has them in third place in the extremely tough AL West, 5.5 games behind Oakland and just a pair of games behind the L.A. Angels. However, they currently own the second wild card spot, 1.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.
Right now, the Mariners are obviously a playoff contender, and could make their first playoff appearance since 2001 and have their first winning season since 2009. Our power rankings put them at eighth overall, with a 42.3% chance of making the playoffs.
The ghosts of Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr. are all smiling widely this day. But how sustainable is their success for the rest of the season? If you look at the numbers, there's reason for some skepticism (AL rank in parentheses).
|2014||.305 (T-13)||.314 (14)||.262 (3)||.112 (15)||73 (8)||343 (10)|
Offensively, the Mariners are at the bottom of the heap in the American League in most of the offensive categories listed above, except home runs. Robinson Cano has been excellent this season (.323/.379/.445) with a .357 wOBA, a nERD of 1.43 (meaning a lineup full of Canos would score 1.43 runs per game more than a lineup full of "average" players) and an fWAR of 2.3, tied for fourth-best among AL second basemen.
Third baseman Kyle Seager has been among the best at the position in either league, and right fielder Michael Saunders' .271/.321/.440 slash is decent as well. However, the rest of the lineup has been mostly mediocre, especially the currently-DL'd Justin Smoak and Corey Hart, as well as left fielder Dustin Ackley.
|2014||3.76 (5)||4.08 (10)||43.0 (9)||6.51 (14)||2.43 (2)||10.0 (8)|
Felix Hernandez is lapping all starters with a nERD of 2.64 and an fWAR of 4.8, nearly 1.5 fWAR higher than the next closest pitcher, Boston's Jon Lester. He has a 2.10 ERA, is striking out 9.61 batters per nine innings and walking just 1.54 per nine. Control pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is a solid number two starter, while Roenis Elias and Chris Young have also been good (though Young's 3.15 ERA belies his 5.55 xFIP, 4.63 K/9 and 3.45 BB/9). He's aided by a .212 opponent's batting average on balls in play, which shows a regression could be imminent. The rotation should be bolstered by the call-up of their top prospect, 21-year-old Taijuan Walker, who came into the season as Baseball America's number 11 prospect overall. He made his season debut on Monday.
|2014||3.60 (6)||3.74 (6)||42.7 (8)||8.86 (5)||3.64 (10)||6.9 (2)|
Like the rotation, the bullpen has been solid as well, led by closer Fernando Rodney and his 10.30 K/9, 2.23 ERA and 2.81 xFIP in 32.1 innings. Dominic Leone, Danny Farquhar, Joe Beimel, Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen all have done well anchoring a 'pen that is doing an effective job keeping fly balls from leaving the ballpark, as evidenced by their HR/FB rate. That is admittedly easier when you play in a spacious stadium like Safeco Field, of course.
Seattle has also been very strong defensively.
|2014||21.2 (4)||20.2 (4)||18.6 (4)||6.2 (3)||-8 (6)|
According to all the advanced metrics, Seattle's defense is among the best in the American League.
First, a primer on the metrics. The DEF number is an overall metric created by FanGraphs that seeks to answer who the best defenders are by weighting the difficulty of each position. For example, a less-than-average shortstop is still seen as a superior defender than a slightly above average first baseman. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is the number of runs a player saves his team above or below what a league average fielder would along all the defensive metrics available. Range Runs (RngR) determines the range a fielder has compared to a league average player at that position, Error Runs (ErrR) determines the number of errors a fielder makes compared to an average fielder at that position, given the same number of balls in play, and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) calculates the number of runs defensive players have saved their team.
Cross-eyed yet? Please note that many of these defensive metrics have their warts and quantifying something as nebulous as defense is not a slam dunk. With that said, Seattle's team defense being near the top of so many of these metrics would indicate they do in fact have one of the best defenses in the AL.
Being one of the best defensive teams in the American League is a great thing and shouldn't be underestimated, but is it enough to overcome the deficiencies of the offense? Their inability to hit home runs is worrisome, and Seattle should be active around the trade deadline for an offensive power bat.
The peripherals of Chris Young and the lack of another big-name starter to go with King Felix should also probably have GM Lloyd McClendon looking to add another arm to the rotation as well, although Walker's call-up should help. And Seattle also plays in a brutally tough division in which they will face two powerful division rivals in Oakland and Los Angeles repeatedly in the second half, which will make it a challenge to pile up the wins.
The good news for the Mariners is that some of the other wild card contenders are from a weakened American League East - namely Baltimore, New York and Boston - as well as two AL Central teams in the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. Given that, the Mariners have as good a shot as anyone to nab one of the two American League wild cards and secure their first playoff birth in 13 years.