Seattle Mariners Aren’t as Close as You Think to Contention

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: The Seattle Mariners American League All-Stars pose during Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: The Seattle Mariners American League All-Stars pose during Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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Looking at the Seattle Mariners record, you would think they were a pretty good team in 2018. They are sitting at 86-72 with four games left. All of these stats are accurate before the start of the Rangers series.

Unfortunately, they greatly outperformed their Pythagorean win expectancy. This is never a good sign, as it normally leads to a worse year the following season. Currently, the Seattle Mariners are 12 games above their expected win total. This is twice the number of the second “luckiest” team in baseball, the Colorado Rockies.

A large part of this comes from their record in extra innings. Easily the best in baseball, they are 14-1. No one else is even close in extra-inning win percentage, as Oakland is second at 13-6. Seattle also finished 5th in 1-run win percentage, adding to their large difference in expected and actual wins. It would’ve been very easy for the Mariners to find themselves on the other side of these lists.

Seattle is going to need to take a long look at the age of their players as well. They tied for oldest average age weighted by at bats. This isn’t a good sign for a team that should’ve been under .500. If the team was young, you could stand pat. The way to improve your team, in that case, would be letting the player’s age as they would be getting better. Unfortunately for Seattle, a lot of their starters are aging out of their primes.

Nelson Cruz is one of the team’s best hitters and will be 38 if he re-signs with Seattle. Robinson Cano had the third highest offensive WAR on the team in only 77 games. As long as he can keep hitting, he will be okay. The chances of him continuing to do well decrease every year, as he will be 36 next year.

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Kyle Seager had the worst year of his career since becoming a starter. He only hit .221, 28 points lower than his previous career low of .249 that happened in 2017. His defense was about league average as well, which should be very concerning to fans. Seager is going to be 31 next year, and there needs to be a real discussion on if he has already exited his prime.

Other than Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, there are no bright spots on the offense under the age of 30. Both of them had great years. Haniger was a top 20 player in the majors in WAR. Segura hit over .300, with double-digit home runs, 20 steals, and nearly 30 doubles.

Ryon Healy was thought to have a good chance to join them before the season started. He was far from it though, finishing as one of the 20 worst defensive players in all of baseball. At -1.5 WAR, Healy was a large hindrance to the team and isn’t acceptable at first base.

The only reason Mike Zunino was passable this year was for his defense and the weakness of the catcher position. He was a top 25 player in WAR on defense. His offense was better than you would think at first glance, although it was by no means good. Catching is arguably the weakest position in baseball currently. Even though Zunino hit around .200, he still hit 20+ home runs, with an on-base around .260. With catcher being so weak, Zunino was statistically fair as a catcher compared to the rest of the league.

They aren’t exactly young on the mound either, as their average age there is 10th oldest. Felix Hernandez looks to be done, having increased his career high in ERA by over a full point, at 5.55. Without Felix, the average age drops a bit. James Paxton will be 30, Marco Gonzalez will be 27, and Mike Leake will be 31. Wade LeBlanc is the lone old starter, at 34.

The Seattle Mariners hit new career highs in innings pitched from Paxton, Gonzalez, and LeBlanc. This could be good news for 2019. All of these guys ran into trouble at the end of this year. With a season in the books of higher innings, they should be ready and strong enough to pitch a full season. The issue is going to come with filling out the pitching staff.

The Mariners will need to find a new 5th starter. There doesn’t look to be anyone on the team to fill out the role. Roenis Elias isn’t nearly consistent enough, and the same can be said about Erasmo Ramirez. They are going to need to go out and spend money on a top line starter in order to make a playoff push. It’s going to be a tough sell, as they were already 10th in payroll in 2018. Not only that, they are already 3rd in payroll for 2019, with over $132 million already on the books.

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A decision is going to need to be made for the Mariners, and soon. Jerry Dipoto has shown a willingness to trade, and trade often. He will now need to decide whether to try and keep adding pieces to make a push with this aging group. Or, he will need to trade off what he has and try and get much younger for a more sustained run. Either way, the Seattle Mariners are not as close as you think to being contenders.