1st place, 95 wins—Sports Illustrated
1st place, 88 wins—Fangraphs
2nd place, 87 wins—PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus)
2nd place, 88 wins—Sporting News
With 53 games in the books, the Mariners are 24-29 and 9 games behind the division-leading Houston Astros, who were projected by those same four experts to win 75 games this year. The Mariners are on pace to win 73 games, while the Astros are currently on pace to win 101 games.
So what has been the biggest problem for the Mariners so far? This may surprise you but, according to advanced metrics, the Mariners are 16th in MLB in hitting. The metric I’m using is from Fangraphs and is known as weighted Runs Created with adjustments for league and ballpark (wRC+). This strips out the bias of a hitter’s park like Coors Field or a pitcher’s park like Safeco Field. Based on wRC+, the Mariners are 16th in baseball in hitting (96 wRC+).
If you want to include base running, the Mariners drop to 18th in baseball. This metric, also from Fangraphs, is simply Off (for offense). The Mariners are -13.8 runs below average, which ranks them 18th out of 30 teams.
.238 batting average (AVG)—28th
.298 on-base percentage (OBP)—27th
.395 slugging percentage (SLG)—16th
The problem with looking at the raw AVG/OBP/SLG numbers is Safeco Field and its effect on offense. Safeco Field is a pitcher’s park. It has been since it opened and continues to be. The hitting statistics for the Mariners will suffer due to the ballpark.
As an example, compare the Mariners with the Rockies, who play in the best hitter’s park in baseball (Coors Field):
191 runs scored, .238/.298/.395—Mariners
225 runs scored, .270/.317/.432—Rockies
Just looking at the raw numbers would suggest the Rockies are a better hitting team than the Mariners. Once you take the ballpark into account, though, the Mariners come out on top, ranking 16th to the Rockies rank of 25 (89 wRC+).
The conclusion is that the Mariners offense hasn’t been that bad. They’ve basically been a middle-of-the-pack offense that looks worse because they play in a park that’s very friendly to pitchers.
Similarly, the Mariners’ pitching has been fairly close to league average. They rank 17th in ERA- (ERA adjusted for league and park) and 19th in pitching Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
So the Mariners are slightly below average in offense and slightly below average in pitching. How about defense?
It’s not good. Based on the Fangraphs metric for defense (Def), the Mariners are 27th out of 30 teams in fielding. Only the Indians, Athletics, and Padres have been worse. The Indians defense was known to be a problem before the season started. The Athletics have a shortstop who has already made 19 errors in just one-third of a season. And the Padres filled their outfield with statues known as Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers to start the season (Myers is now on the DL).
Let’s compare 2014 and 2015. This is how the Mariners ranked in offense, pitching, and defense in 2014:
17th in offense (Off)
13th in pitching (WAR)
22nd in defense (Def)
18th in offense (Off)—down 1 spot
19th in pitching (WAR)—down 6 spots
28th in defense (Def)—down 6 spots
The Mariners have dropped off just a little in offense but have seen bigger drops in pitching and defense.
So, looking to improve the team, the Mariners went out and traded for Mark Trumbo. Who is Mark Trumbo?
From 2011 to 2013, Mark Trumbo averaged 32 homers and 94 RBI per year but hit .251/.300/.473 while doing so. That .300 OBP is not good. In 2014, Trumbo was limited to 88 games and had 14 HR and 61 RBI with a .293 OBP and .415 SLG. He has power, he doesn’t get on base very well, and he strikes out quite often. Oh, and he’s not good on defense. Trumbo has played the outfield and first base. He’s generally been okay at first base, which is the easiest position in baseball to play. He’s been very bad in the outfield.
During his career, Trumbo has played first base, left field, and right field. Logan Morrison has played most of the Mariners’ innings at first base this year and has been below average in the field. Trumbo might be about the same, possibly a little better. Nelson Cruz has played the bulk of the innings in right field and he’s as bad or worse than Trumbo. Dustin Ackley has been the primary left fielder and he’s slightly below average at the position. Trumbo would likely be worse in the field.
This move does nothing to help the Mariners’ terrible defense, so it must help them offensively, right?
Here are the statistics for Trumbo, Cruz, Morrison, and Ackley so far this season:
184 PA, 23 R, 9 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB, .259/.299/.506—Trumbo (2.2 Off)
222 PA, 32 R, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 1 SB, .330/.387/.640—Cruz (21.6 Off)
205 PA, 18 R, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 2 SB, .245/.322/.386—Morrison (0.9 Off)
130 PA, 12 R, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB, .185/.227/.319—Ackley (-7.0 Off)
Cruz has been hitting out of his mind so far this year, better than anyone could have ever expected. Trumbo would be a slight improvement over Morrison and a significant improvement over Ackley, who has been terrible with the bat.
Of course, that’s based on what’s happened so far. What we really want to know is how things will play out going forward. Here are the projections for these four players based on a combination of two projection systems (Steamer and ZiPS) that use previous year’s statistics, age, and regression (among other things) to project what a player will do in the future:
401 PA, 49 R, 20 HR, 61 RBI, 2 SB, .255/.307/.483—Trumbo (3.9 Off)
418 PA, 51 R, 22 HR, 62 RBI, 3 SB, .262/.322/.488—Cruz (11.4 Off)
404 PA, 44 R, 13 HR, 45 RBI, 3 SB, .248/.320/.412—Morrison (3.2 Off)
290 PA, 34 R, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 4 SB, .243/.303/.375—Ackley (-1.8 Off)
Based on projections, Trumbo is a very slight upgrade on Morrison offensively, and a bigger upgrade compared to Ackley. When you include Trumbo’s well below average outfield defense, the gap narrows.
Ultimately, this move doesn’t really do much for the Mariners. Their biggest weakness was defense and Trumbo is not good in the field. He shouldn’t be used in the outfield, which leaves only first base and DH, but he’s not necessarily a better option at first base or DH than Logan Morrison or Nelson Cruz, respectively. If Trumbo is put in the DH spot, then Cruz has to play the field and he’s no good out there either. Ackley is the worst hitter of the three potential outfielders, but he can at least field somewhat respectably.
On the offensive side, the Mariners biggest problem is getting on base. Trumbo has a .299 OBP so far this year and a .298 career OBP. He will not help their on base problem. They added a guy with good slugging abilities to a team that had middle-of-the-pack slugging abilities. They may have marginally improved in the area in which they weren’t that bad while doing nothing for the two main things they have been really bad at—getting on base and fielding.
The Mariners didn’t give up much to get Trumbo but it’s basically a move that is unlikely to do much to help the team.