The oft-anemic offense of the Seattle Mariners had a bit of a coming out party over the weekend, with a tremendous come-from-behind win on Friday as the M’s scored 5 runs with 2 out in the 9th, a 7-run 4th inning on Saturday, and an 8-run showing on Sunday, all resulting in wins in Boston. It’s hard to say anything definitive based on two games — really two innings — but it has gone beyond that lately.
Since the trade deadline when the M’s picked up outfielders Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia, the team has gone 14-6. Now, much of that should be credited to the pitching staff, that has remained stout over the month, with a league-leading 2.10 team ERA in August.
But give the offense its due as well. They have posted a team wRC+ of 105 in the month, good for 7th in the league over that time. Overall on the season, they have sat at a 91 wRC+, 21st in the league. It’s a small sample, and we probably shouldn’t expect them to remain a top-10 offense forever. But they should be better, and better just may be enough.
I’ve said in the past that I don’t have as much confidence in the starting rotation as others. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are as good as they come, and I like the potential of James Paxton. I have cited concern over Chris Young‘s peripherals, but we are 5/6 of the way through the year, and he hasn’t fallen off. Pretty soon, even the most critical of us will just take the results for what they are. I am almost at that point, and my confidence in this rotation remaining good, or even great, is higher than it was.
And it’s for that reason that I make the statement that “better just may be enough.” If this pitching staff continues to shut offenses down, this offense doesn’t need to be great.
The Mariners name was connected to just about everyone on the rumor mill pre-deadline. Fans have been clamoring for a Giancarlo Stanton or Troy Tulowitzki-type bat in the cleanup spot for a long time, and that was the case at the deadline as well. People thought the M’s needed some kind of true, right-handed power bat behind Cano.
Would a player like that have been nice? Of course, for a reasonable price. What team wouldn’t benefit from adding an MVP caliber bat to the lineup? But just because it would be nice, or the team would benefit, doesn’t mean it is necessary, nor is it always the best way to go.
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The M’s took a cheaper route, whether it be by design, or because those types of impact players weren’t available, and added an average-ish, everyday center fielder, and another platoon outfielder rather than going all in on a star. So far, as stated earlier, it has worked.
Now, Jackson and Denorfia haven’t exactly set the world on fire for Seattle. Jackson has a 58 wRC+ as a Mariner (.558 OPS). His WAR has dropped since he joined the M’s. And Denorfia, apart from some key hits lately, has also struggled as an M, with a 77 wRC+.
But you have to look at the guys they have replaced. Stefen Romero was a joke of a hitter, and now he is in AAA where he belongs. Endy Chavez only plays against righties, rather than everyday. James Jones is no longer here to strike out, and then misplay a ball in center field. And let’s not forget that the M’s also brought back Kendrys Morales, who has been better as of late as well.
It does wonders for a team to replace 2-3 replacement level players (or worse) with even some slightly below average to average players like Morales, Denorfia and Jackson. Even though Jackson has been worth exactly 0 fWAR as a Mariner (replacement level) you have to figure he will get back on his feet at some point. Morales is better than Corey Hart. Denorfia is better than Romero.
On top of that, you have the sudden, dream-actualitizing breakout of Dustin Ackley, who has a 143 wRC+ in the second half (.856 OPS), that has played a big role in the offense’s improvement.
All of these factors — the acquisitions, the addition by subtraction, and the breakouts — are precisely why this team figures to be just fine going forward. The offense still isn’t great, but it doesn’t even have to be. With this pitching staff, they simply had to eliminate the AAA players from the lineup, and hope a guy or two starts hitting better than they have.
Once Michael Saunders is back, if he can stay healthy, this team has at most one below average player in the lineup every day. That being Logan Morrison, but even he has hit well as of late, and can even be platooned with Denorifia if need be.
Chris Taylor will regress, but as a shortstop, he doesn’t need to be a world beater to add some value. Jackson will not be replacement level much longer. Denorfia is a perfect 4th outfielder.
They have their true middle of the order guys. Robinson Cano is simply one of the best in the game (4th in fWAR, 15th in wRC+ in MLB), and Kyle Seager is too (6th in fWAR, 30th in wRC+ in the league), even if he doesn’t quite get that kind of attention.
They can be a league average offense (~4.10 runs per game), and if they continue only giving up 3 runs per game, Pythagorean Wins (runs scored^2 / runs scored ^2 + runs allowed ^2) would project them as a 105-win team over a full season, or 21-12 over the remaining 33 games. Obviously, this isn’t a 105-win team. But 21-12 the rest of the way is very possible, and it is encouraging that a well-respected projection method thinks so highly of this team’s potential.