Rounding Out The Numbers: Contenders
Off-day reflections from the Consigliere.
After completing a highly successful 8-2 road trip, the Mariners are just a game-and-a-half behind first-place Texas in the AL West. Seattle is also tied with Houston for second place in the division and the second wild card spot. Pretty exciting stuff with about 35 games remaining in the regular season.
With this recent run of success in mind, I compiled a few nuggets for your review. Something to hold you over until the Mariners take the field again. Let’s start with a reverse comparison of sorts.
Level playing field on the road
It’s not exactly a secret that the bats of the Mariners and A’s have a home field disadvantage compared to their division rivals. Having said that, the road stats of AL West teams not based in Oakland are relatively similar with one glaring exception.
At least it’s glaring to me.
The following illustrates the road production numbers of AL West teams through Wednesday, August 23. It’s sorted by wOBA, although the order would be the same if SLG or OPS were selected instead.
The three contending clubs - Mariners, Rangers, and Astros - are basically tied in multiple categories. Perhaps this will provide Seattle fans with a different perspective regarding how the team’s lineup stacks up to the offenses of the two clubs it’s trying to chase down in the division.
Back to that glaring exception.
There’s one number from the preceding table that stands out to me more than any other - the 2.6% home run percentage of the Rangers. Not only is it the worst in the division and noticeably below the MLB average (3.1%), it’s bottom-five in baseball.
But there’s more.
At Globe Life Field, Texas hitters are hitting homers at a 4.5% clip, which is tops in the majors. But there’s almost a 2% gap compared to its home run rate on the road, which is the largest delta in MLB.
Largest Delta Between Home/Road HR Percentages
TEX - 1.9%
NYY - 1.5%
CIN - 1.0%
MIL - 1.0%
LAA - 0.8%
NYM - 0.8%
Perhaps the distinct difference between the Rangers’ home and away home run proficiency factors into the AL West race. Particularly with Texas having 21 road games remaining with stops at pitcher-friendly Progressive Field and Citi Field along the way.
Oh, and don’t forget. Texas finishes the regular season against the Mariners in Seattle.
For most of the season, the Mariners’ strikeout rate ranked 28th or worse in MLB. Although the team has continued to whiff often in August (24.5%), it ranks nineteenth, which is a relative improvement.
As of today, Suárez has produced a 129 wRC+ despite having a 37.1% strikeout rate. Similarly, Raleigh has a 34.9% strikeout rate and a 122 wRC+.
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares to the league-average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.
Is the sky falling? No. We’re talking about a small sample. Then again, it’s reasonable to believe both Suárez and Raleigh could take a step back production-wise unless their strikeout rates revert to more normal (for them) levels.
The bat of Julio Rodríguez has certainly delivered at a historically good level this month. The “why” behind the two-time All-Star’s recent success isn’t something I’m qualified to explain. There have been reports he tweaked his swing with the help of the hitting coaches so many fans wanted the Mariners to fire just a few months ago. That said, this nerd did notice an interesting pair of numbers.
Rodríguez’s 58.8% swing rate this month is well above the league-average (47.9%) and eleventh-highest among hitters seeing 250-plus pitches in August. But what I find most intriguing is the 22-year-old’s chase rate is at a season-high during his hottest month.
Julio’s Monthly Chase Rate
Mar/Apr - 37.5%
May - 34.6%
Jun - 36%
Jul - 28.1%
Aug - 43.6%
MLB average chase rate = 28.5%
For those wondering, Rodríguez is hitting just .121 this month on pitches outside the strike zone. Again, I’m not suggesting the end of Julio’s stellar productivity is near. But it’ll be interesting to see how the final weeks of the regular season play out for the 2022 AL Rookie of the Year and Seattle’s lineup.
Okay, a it’s time for a little Dylan Moore love. Did you know Moore’s offensive productivity in August rivals Rodríguez’s. Let that sink in for a moment.
Granted, the right-hand hitting Moore has done much more damage against southpaws this season (194 wRC+ in 45 plate appearances). That said, his 108 wRC+ in 57 confrontations with righties is respectable.
Sure, I just quoted small samples to you. But Moore is a utility player, not a starter. Manager Scott Servais and his staff have done an excellent job of maximizing the 31-year-old’s value at the plate and the field by using him the right way.
Realistically, every championship roster needs versatile and productive players like Dylan Moore to succeed. So far, the Californian is holding up his end of the bargain.
Appreciating Tom Murphy
The recent success of the Mariners may make it easier for some fans to forget the club is currently without catcher Tom Murphy, who is on the IL with a left thumb sprain. But we should take a moment to reflect on Murphy’s value to his team.
We recently discussed the combined offensive greatness of Raleigh and Murphy were providing when playing catcher. So, let’s focus on Murphy’s importance to Seattle’s pitching staff. To help accomplish this, I’ve compiled a pair of tables.
The first illustrates the offensive production of opponents when facing Mariners pitching based on the catcher. As you can see, the numbers when Murphy is calling games are actually better than with Raleigh behind the plate.
Now, let’s go a step further with a review of opposing hitter metrics not affected by defense like the ones on the preceding table. Specifically: home run, strikeout, and walk rates, plus “expected” stats driven by exit velocity and launch angle.
Once again, the numbers with Murphy catching are excellent and better than Raleigh’s. Am I suggesting that Murphy is better than Raleigh or should be the starting catcher? No. But it’s clear the Buffalo alum makes a positive impact on the success of Seattle’s pitching staff.
For this reason, I view Murphy’s return as paramount to the Mariners’ stretch run and postseason success.
Did the Royals fleece the Rangers?
When the Royals come to town this weekend, the Mariners will miss a starting pitcher they didn’t face in Kansas City last week - Cole Ragans.
Texas used the 30th overall pick to select Ragans in the 2016 draft. He debuted as a starter with the club last season, but didn’t enjoy much success. This year, the 25-year-old worked out of the Rangers’ bullpen until being dealt to the Royals on June 30 for closer Aroldis Chapman. That’s when things turned around for Ragans.
The Royals inserted Ragans into their starting rotation and he immediately provided promising results.
Ragan’s Starter Stats with KC
Ragan’s xwOBA as a starter is the best of any Kansas City pitcher facing more than 50 hitters this season. Coincidentally, it happens to be the same as Chapman’s as a Royal.
Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA this season = .321
From a more conventional perspective, Ragans has struck out 11 hitters in two of his six starts and eight and nine in two others. All things considered, it’s a good thing the Mariners won’t have to face the Floridan until at least 2024.
A race until the end
Finally, a baseball season is often described as a marathon. But I prefer a comparison to a race with a staggered start, like the one pictured below.
In a marathon, the top contenders begin at the same time and must endure the same challenges at the same time throughout the course. In this way, a baseball season is different.
Teams face varying levels of competition during the early months of the season. Therefore, we may not know which club is best positioned to win the race until later in the year when the track levels out.
In the Mariners’ case, they’ve been recently facing clubs living out doomed seasons and will continue to do so until Labor Day. It’s an opportunity to gain ground in the standings, which is exactly what Seattle has been doing while its competition was dealing with more formidable opponents.
Still, we shouldn’t assume the Mariners will continue to roll over teams destined to have a losing record. Don’t forget; Seattle labored to take three of four games in Kansas City just last week.
Still, if the Mariners take care of business in the short-term, they stand a decent chance of being positioned to contend for the AL West until the very end of the season. Essentially, Seattle will be able to control its own destiny.
Yep, September is going to be a fun month for baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest.
My Oh My…
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