A Deep Dive into the Mariners Top of the Lineup Struggles

Fifteen games into the season, the Mariner's offense has been off to a sluggish start. That’s been mostly due to the five guys who were hitting 1-5 on Opening Day. JP Crawford, Julio Rodriguez, Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, & Cal Raleigh are all hitting below the Mendoza line, and all have an OPS below .600. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: that’s bad. Today, let’s break down the advanced metrics on each player, and discover why they have each been struggling at such a high clip. 
Julio prepares for his at-bat
Julio prepares for his at-bat / Mark Blinch/GettyImages
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Jorge Polanco
A swing-and-a-miss for Jorge Polanco / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

Jorge Polanco

Slashline: .196/.318/.304 (.622 OPS) 89 wrc+, 86 ops+, -0.3 bWAR, -0.1 fWAR

Polanco, for what it’s worth, has been the best of the Mariners' “top 5” hitters this year, in terms of OPS, ops+, and wrc+. That’s because he, at least, is drawing walks. He is 83rd percentile in walks, with his 13.6% rate, well above his career average of 8.8%. So that is promising. 

The rest is not as promising. Polanco combines Julio’s high strikeout rates with Crawford’s low exit velocities, and the result has not been pretty. Polanco’s 33.3% strikeout (11th percentile) is by far the highest in his career, and that might not be as worrisome if not for the trend he’s been on the past five years. Let’s take a look. 

2020: 15.5%
2021: 18.3%
2022: 21.3%
2023: 25.7%
2024: 33.3%

Polanco’s strikeout rate has jumped in each of the past five years, which probably should have been a red flag when trading for him, but is definitely a red flag now. The silver lining is that although Polanco is striking out a lot, and whiffing a lot (29.3), his chase rate isn’t terrible. He’s only chasing 25.3% of the time, which is right at the league average, so maybe there will be some improvement in the strikeout rate going forward. 

What is probably even more worrisome for Polanco is the exit velocity of 85.5 MPH, which would be the lowest in his career. It would also be the fourth year in a row that his average exit velo has declined, although this year is a much steeper decline than last year (88 MPH). Unlike JP, Polanco has always hit the ball hard in his career, until now, so he should theoretically improve.

His hard-hit rate of 35.3% is 33rd percentile, while he does have a nice sweet-spot % of 35.3, which ranks in the 56th percentile. He still needs to barrel the ball up more (currently only 5.9%), but hopefully, when he does, the exit velo and hard-hit rates will improve as well. 

Just like the previous two guys, Polanco has been thrown more breaking balls than ever before in 2024. 34.1% breaking balls is easily the most he’s ever seen. He’s hitting .158, and whiffing 32.6% of the time against them. However, Polanco also has not been able to hit the fastball this year, which is probably more concerning. He is currently hitting just .154 against fastballs (xBA of .210), and whiffing at a 25.8% clip. 

For Polanco to see positive improvement, he will need to cut down on his strikeouts, especially against the fastball, which makes me think this could be more of a timing issue than anything else. That’s a good thing, because a timing issue can be fixed a lot easier than a long-term decline in power. However, the strikeout rates and low exit velocities are undeniably a concern, and Polanco will need to get a hold of them if he wants to get back to being a league-average pitcher.