Rounding Out the Numbers: Crunch Time
Off-day reflections from the Consigliere.
Folks, it’s crunch time.
Seventeen days remain in the regular season. Just one-and-a-half game separates the Mariners, Astros, and Rangers at the top of the AL West standings. Not only that, the two clubs destined to fall short in the AL West race will have to outpace the Blue Jays to earn a postseason berth.
It’s certainly a great time to be a baseball fan in the Pacific Northwest. But alas, the Mariners are enjoying a well-deserved day off before a weekend series against the Dodgers. Perhaps I can help satisfy your daily Mariners fix with a few nerd nuggets bouncing around inside my basketball-sized empty head.
Newcomer Josh Rojas isn’t the only reason the Mariners have recently received improved run production from the second base position. But Rojas joining the team on August 1 undoubtedly played a crucial role in the burst of offense delivered by Seattle’s second basemen.
Mariners Second Base OPS
Mar-Jul - .553 OPS (30th in MLB)
Aug-Sep - .734 (15th)
In 96 plate appearances as a Mariner, the left-hand hitting Rojas has a .284 AVG/.344 OBP/.420 SLG slash-line with three home runs and five stolen bases. Furthermore, the Arizona native’s 116 wRC+ suggests he’s been 16-percent better than the average hitter since coming to the Emerald City.
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with 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. Conversely, an 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.
Clearly, Rojas replacing Kolten Wong (.468 OPS with Seattle) was a major upgrade at second base from the left side of the plate. But we shouldn’t overlook the contributions of the right-handed hitting Dylan Moore. In 61 plate appearances at second base in August-September, the 31-year-old is slashing .250/.419/.667 with two home runs, two doubles, and a triple.
Thanks to the platoon production of Rojas and Moore, second base is no longer the weakest link in Seattle’s lineup at the most important part of the season.
Bases loaded, so what?
Sometimes, perception overwhelms reality. This appears to be the case for a segment of Mariners fans refusing to accept the fact that the lineup has been productive with the bases loaded this season. It turns out Seattle is top-five in multiple categories.
M’s Bases Loaded Stats (and MLB rankings)
53 hits (1st in MLB)
13 doubles (2nd)
3 triples (T-1st)
4 home runs (10th)
144 runs (3rd)
4 GIDP (T-3rd fewest)
.331 AVG (3rd)
.364 OBP (2nd)
.525 SLG (9th)
.889 OPS (7th)
.369 wOBA (5th)
140 wRC+ (4th)
Despite overwhelming statistical proof demonstrating positive outcomes, the skepticism lingers for some. A recurring rebuttal to these numbers is the suggestion that the Mariners aren’t productive with the bases loaded and no outs.
Along the same line, another counter-argument has recently come to my attention. The Mariners don’t deliver with the bases loaded during “high-leverage” situations.
To a nerd like me, these are silly premises. The notion of dividing an already small sample into a smaller sample and then taking it seriously is nonsensical. That said, I decided to consider these two doubt-fueled allegations and see where the numbers took me.
Let’s start with the high-leverage assertion.
For this exercise, I utilized the FanGraphs splits tool, which permits the selection of a “high-leverage” option. It’s worth noting 63.8% of Seattle’s 185 bases-loaded plate appearances this season occurred during high-leverage situations. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any reasonable person that Seattle’s bases loaded/high-leverage numbers aren’t drastically different from the team’s season totals.
Okay, back to the bases loaded and no out chatter. As you can see from the preceding table, the numbers aren’t as spectacular as the other scenarios presented. Still, it’s important to note we’re talking about just 32 plate appearances during 29 games spread over a five-month period. Do you see how ridiculous this sounds?
The following is a breakdown of the results delivered by the Mariners’ lineup during those 32 instances of bases loaded, no out:
Mariners’ Bases Loaded/No Out Outcomes
+ 5 Singles
+ 2 Doubles
+ 1 Triple
+ 1 HBP
+ 3 Sacrifice flies
+ 11 Strikeouts
+ 6 Fly outs/pop-ups
+ 2 Force outs
+ 1 Double play
The preceding results tells us Seattle hitters either struck out or produced a batted ball event that left all three bases occupied in 19 of the 32 instances. This means the team had a chance to deliver positive results with one out. And as you can see from the previous table, the Mariners were pretty, pretty good with bags full and one out.
And the other 13 situations?
A Mariner hit into a double play once. The other twelve times he drove in at least one run. All told, 21 runs were scored.
Where’s the problem?
There isn’t one.
I’m sure there will be naysayers who’ll find fault with my process. Perhaps they’ll suggest using a definition of “high-leverage” other than the one used by the highly-respected FanGraphs website. I won’t be engaging in such silliness.
Having said all that, there’s probably a conversation to be had over the winter regarding the Mariners leading MLB in bases-loaded plate appearances. I suspect speed on the base paths is one of several potential causal factors.
Trouble with southpaws?
In August, Seattle hitters had the third-best OPS in MLB against left-handed pitching. But since the calendar turned to September, the lineup has been less productive when facing lefties.
M’s OPS vs LHP
Mar/Apr - .615
May - .711
Jun - .766
Jul - .677
Aug - .937
Sep - .648
MLB OPS vs LHP = .741
Obviously, this month and its stats are still evolving. Furthermore, the Mariners have a league-average .740 OPS season against lefty pitching this season. Then again, Seattle will likely to face several southpaw starters over the final two weeks of the regular season - Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers; Oakland’s JP Sears, Ken Waldichuk, and Kyle Muller; Houston’s Framber Valdez; Andrew Heaney and Jordan Montgomery of the Rangers.
To be clear, the Mariners must perform well against all pitching regardless of handedness. But the lineup does have a .754 OPS against right-handed pitching this month, considerably better than what it’s delivered when facing left-handers in September.
Covering for Kelenic
Prior to breaking his foot in a moment of frustration on July 19, Jarred Kelenic produced an .805 OPS while playing left field. Fortunately, several replacements did an admirable job of filling-in for the sixth overall pick of the 2018 draft during his extended absence.
Thanks to the contributions of many - most notably Moore, Cade Marlowe, and Dominic Canzone - losing Kelenic for over a month didn’t create a vacuum in left field or in the lineup. This “next man up” approach undoubtedly played an important role in propelling the Mariners to a franchise-record 21 wins in August.
Still, let’s be clear about one thing before moving on to the next topic. The Mariners are a better team with a healthy Jarred Kelenic on the roster.
We’ll see you again, Cade
Kelenic’s return from the IL prompted the team to send Marlowe back to Class-AAA Tacoma, which is a bit of a bummer. That said, the Georgia native’s performance during 34 big-league games had to leave a positive impression with management. It certainly did with this dumb blogger.
Marlowe’s MLB Stats
3 home runs
4 stolen bases
28.9 ft/sec sprint speed
Yes, Marlowe’s strikeout rate did climb as his time with Seattle progressed. But his overall plate production was above-average. So was his outfield defense and sprint speed.
Considering Marlowe’s well-rounded body of work, methodical approach at the plate, and even-keeled demeanor, I suspect the 26-year-old will be the Mariners’ top choice in their hour of need.
The future looks bright for Cade Marlowe.
At least, that’s how I see it.
My Oh My…
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