No, the Mariners offense wasn't better in 2023
Don't let advanced metrics obscure the obvious. Seattle's run production machine needs an upgrade this offseason.
A recent Twitter exchange with a Mariners supporter revealed a segment of the fan base I didn’t realize existed. An upbeat group that believes the team’s offense was better this year than it was in 2022.
I respectfully disagree.
On the surface, it does appear the Mariners put up improved numbers. But as crazy as it may sound, that doesn’t necessarily mean the offense was better than a season ago.
Mariners’ Offensive Stats
When we review annual stats, there's an important factor to consider. How did a team or player compare to the rest of the league in the seasons being compared?
In the case of the Mariners, the team’s ranking in most of the categories listed below was similar to what it was in 2022. In several instances, Seattle was markedly worse.
Over the past two years, the Mariners’ OBP and SLG have closely resembled the MLB average. This explains how the lineup seemingly took a step forward in the eyes of the hopeful, but really didn’t.
An optimist might push back against my assessment for one simple reason. Seattle made progress in the most important statistical category of all - runs scored. What other evidence is needed?
True, the Mariners did score more in 2023. But the offense plated three-or-fewer runs in games nearly as often as it did the year prior. Suboptimal for a contending ballclub.
In fact, all 13 clubs that scored under four runs-per-game more often than Seattle didn’t reach the postseason this year - just like the Mariners.
Mariners Games with Three-Or-Fewer Runs Scored
2022 - 74
2023 - 69
Something else to consider about those 69 low-scoring affairs this year. The Mariners scored three-or-fewer runs in eight of 13 confrontations with the World Series champion Rangers with Seattle going 2-6 in those contests. For a club barely missing the postseason, this fact would seem to matter.
For me, wRC+ and OPS+ are better suited for assessing individuals. These park-adjusted versions of other stats help us compare a hitter’s productivity to his peers without the influence of park factors.
For example, Julio Rodríguez had a higher OPS+ in 2023 than two other talented right-handed hitting outfielders - Adolis García and Rafael Devers. Yet, both García and Devers had a noticeably higher OPS than Rodríguez.
This OPS vs OPS+ disparity speaks to the usefulness of park-adjusted stats. Rodríguez plays his home games in T-Mobile Park, a venue with a reputation for suppressing offense. Conversely, the home fields of García (Globe Life Field) and Devers (Fenway Park) are significantly more inviting to right-handed bats.
Adjusted stats can also help us compare players from different eras. Doing so made the Hall of Fame case of Edgar Martinez even more compelling than it already was.
HOF’ers with a Similar OPS+ to Edgar’s
Perhaps other nerds will dismiss this take, which is fine. But look no further than the 2023 Mariners for proof. Both metrics suggested Seattle’s average-ish and inconsistent offense was better than it actually was this year.
Mariners Park Adjusted Metrics
2022 - 106 (t-9th in MLB)
2023 - 107 (t-7th)
2022 - 106 (9th)
2023 - 106 (t-8th)
Let’s face it. What matters most are actual results delivered when discussing teams. Not advanced metrics developed to facilitate comparisons. If the Mariners had a top-10 offense as wRC+ and OPS+ signaled, the team could have *gasp* won the AL West division title this year.
To this point, the 2023 Mariners didn’t have enough good hitters. The basis for this assessment wasn’t a seam-head measurement. Instead, a pair of previously mentioned conventional stats provided the reality check - OBP and SLG.
Only three Mariners listed below boasted an above-average OBP *and* SLG - Rodríguez, J.P. Crawford, and Jarred Kelenic. The Astros, Rangers, and Orioles had five such hitters with at least 400 plate appearances on their rosters. Tampa Bay and Atlanta had a whopping eight.
Mariners with an Above-Average OBP and/or SLG
MLB average OBP = .320
MLB average SLG = .414
Compounding matters for Seattle next year, Kelenic is no longer a Mariner. Same with Eugenio Suárez and Teoscar Hernández. A suboptimal situation for a team that was tantalizingly close to reaching the postseason for a second consecutive year.
To be clear, Seattle’s run production effort wasn’t the abject disaster the pessimistic wing of Mariners Twitter suggests. Realistically, the team would’ve been primed for a deep postseason run this year with an offense ranking somewhere near to tenth in MLB rather than the middle-of-the-pack version we witnessed.
That’s not an abject failure.
Still, none of this rearview mirror stuff matters. What does matter moving forward will be the winter additions Seattle’s front office can make to its offensive roster.
Considering the current public relations turmoil the Mariners are embroiled in, it’s tough to gauge how the rest of the offseason plays out for the organization. But one thing appears certain. It’s unlikely next year’s lineup can be better than the 2023 edition without an influx of impact.
All things considered, that’s a gloomy proposition for an offense that wasn’t good enough this year. Even worse, it may turn out to be a bridge too far for even the most optimistic Mariners fan.
My Oh My…
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