The possibility of it being real starts when the actual numbers start aligning the analytical projections with the feelings of optimism permeating from the Mariners clubhouse.
There will be a cold stretch because it happens in baseball, usually coinciding with the talent of the opponent’s starting pitching.
But for now, it’s OK to bask in this unfamiliar concept – the Mariners have one of the best offenses in Major League Baseball.
Yes, it’s only 16 games into the 2022 season. But the revamped lineup with a focus on improved plate discipline and better bat-to-ball skills has offered glimpses of its potential.
After Sunday’s homestand finale against the Royals, the Mariners offense leads all of Major League Baseball in FanGraphs’ weighted runs created-plus (WRC+) at 127. It’s wins above replacement (WAR) of 3.7 ranks second-best behind the New York Mets (4.1).
Weighted runs, what?
The metric, which is used heavily by MLB front offices, was created to measure a player or team’s total offensive value and the ability to create runs in relation to the league average. WRC+ is a version of sabermetric legend Bill James’ “runs created” metric. The league average is 100 and every point above that number means 1% above it.
Instead of using one metric, like batting average, which is now viewed by most teams as a less than comprehensive measure of offensive contribution, WRC+ is designed to provide a more encompassing number. Manager Scott Servais often refuses to discuss or shrugs off batting average when evaluating a player or a team’s offensive success.
But if you are looking for other more traditional numbers, here’s a look at where the Mariners rank in MLB coming after Sunday’s game:
• Runs per game: 4.81 (6th)
• Batting average: .240 (12th)
• On-base %: .340 (3rd)
• Slugging %: .403 (9th)
• Home runs: 18 (4th)
• Walk rate: 12.2% (1st)
• Strikeout rate: 20.8% (25th)
• Run differential: +18
These numbers have been achieved with Jesse Winker still not finding much in the way of hits, Mitch Haniger being out four games on the COVID injury list and Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic being hot-and-cold in production. But with the additions of Winker, Adam Frazier and Eugenio Suarez, the lineup has lengthened to where the bottom of the order doesn’t feel like three automatic outs.
A year ago, the Mariners were not close to this productive. They were reliant on Haniger, Ty France and Kyle Seager for most of their offense. Here is where the Mariners ranked in 2021 in the first 15 games:
• WRC+: 93 (15th)
• WAR: 1.1 (18th)
• Runs per game: 3.9 (18th)
• Batting average: .230 (17th)
• On-base %: .305 (20th)
• Slugging %: .351 (19th)
• Home runs: 16 (17th)
• Walk rate: 8.8% (18th)
• Strikeout rate: 25.7% (10th)
• Run differential: -5
And those numbers would get worse over the next few weeks, hitting rock bottom in mid-May.
The Mariners believe the additions to the lineup, who all have the same “control the zone” mentality, will bring more consistency 1 through 9.
“If you look at the best teams, they’re high up there in their day-to-day plate discipline,” France said. “Guys are OK with taking their walks. I’m very impressed with what Jesse’s doing. He’s hitting the ball well, but it’s just right at people, but he’s also got 14 to 15 walks. The good teams control the strike zone. And the deeper you go into the season and the more consistent you are with that, the more respect you get from umpires and calls start going your way. That’s what good teams do.”
With the willingness to see pitches, hit with two strikes and work walks, the Mariners grind on pitchers in each count and with a steady stream of base runners.
“I don’t think there’s an easy way out of this lineup when you’re pitching against us right now and that’s a good spot to be in top to bottom,” Winker said.