By Blaidd Drwg
I am writing this on a Monday and it will be posted on a Friday, so I am issuing the disclaimer that things may change in-between, but this makes my point.
The Mariners spent the first 12ish days of the season in first place. Everyone here was overly excited that they started the season 3-0 and that the team was poised to make a playoff run. Let me put that into perspective for you. Three games is roughly 1.8% of the baseball season. It would be like declaring that your team has turned it around and is making a playoff run approximately 1 quarter into the first game in the NFL season. Sample size people, sample size.
Well, since the Mariners torrid 3-0 start, they have managed to go just 3-5 to drop 1.5 games behind the A’s. Did you realize that the M’s had 4 winning streaks of at least 3 games last season, including an 8 game winning streak. No one got excited over those.
I think that the last 8 games are a better indicator of this team than the first 3, based on my predictions earlier this year, but there are a few very disturbing trends that should start sending out warnings to the management of this team. Yes, we are dealing with sample size issues here, and they shouldn’t start really being a concern until the end of the month, but they are things that an eye should be kept on.
1) The Mariners aren’t drawing any walks lately – particularly Brad Miller and Mike Zunino. Actually that is a bit of an understatement, because Zunino and Miller have combined for exactly 1 walk in 84 plate appearances. An average hitter will draw a walk in roughly 9% of his plate appearances, which means that these guys should have drawn about 8 walks by now. This is a potentially dangerous stat for the M’s because Zunino already has a reputation for chasing breaking stuff out of the zone. Things will probably change as the sample size increases, but if the walk rates for these guys stay this low, they are going to have to both hit over .300 just to be getting on base at a reasonable rate of around .320. It is a team issue too – the M’s drew 15 walks in their first 3 games and scored 26 runs (there is a significant correlation between walks and scoring runs). In their last 8 games, they have drawn 18 and only scored 19 runs, including being shut out twice. Pitchers tend to make mistakes with runners on base, so with guys not getting on, pitchers have the advantage.
2) Robinson Cano is not going to be allowed to hit with runners on base unless the bats behind him wake up. Cano has just 4 RBI and 2 extra base hits in 11 games and has been walked intentionally 3 times already this season. It may not seem like a lot, but it is in this small sample size. Justin Smoak lit up spring training and was hot the first 3 games of the season and then his bat fell asleep once pitchers made adjustments. Seager is batting .121, Corey Hart is hitting a wearing his sunglasses at night .188, Logan Morrison is batting .150. Granted those averages will regress to the mean, but how long will it be before Robby gets pissed off that this is happening.
3) The M’s need to figure out the OF situation. The entire outfield rotation of Romero/Hart/Morrison/Saunders/Almonte has looked lost at the plate and in the field this year (although Ackley is looking better than he has since his rookie season). They need to sort out who should be getting the bulk of the playing time and just stick with them and let them figure it out.
4) The pitching staff, despite some nice starts, is a mess. Iwakuma and Walker are out longer than anticipated (and I don’t think you will see Walker back before the middle of May). Paxton is on the DL and I am sure they are being cautious with him also. You never know what you are going to get from Ramirez and Elias and the back of the rotation is Chris Young, who hasn’t pitched in 2 years and Blake Bevan, who has never really shown any ability to get MLB hitters out consistently. This is why I have cautioned Mariner fans not to get overly excited about their pitching – they went from it being strength to a weakness in a hurry. Just takes a pulled muscle here and there and you lose 60% of your starters.
Let’s revisit this in a couple of weeks and see if the M’s made any real adjustments to fix the situations described above before they really become issues.