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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Mitch Garver
Mitch Garver squares up in the box / John Fisher/GettyImages

Mitch Garver

Slashline: .156/.250/.222 (.472 OPS). 45 wrc+, 41 ops+, -0.4 bWAR, -0.3 fWAR

The Mariners' big free agent signing of the offseason Mitch Garver has looked miserable at the plate so far this year, but the underlying numbers don’t look as bad. Let’s dive into it. 

Garver’s xBA of .151 and xSLG of .247 are awful, and both rank in the bottom tenth of the league. However, there are some good signs underneath those numbers. His average exit velocity sits at 89.5 MPH, which is above league average. Also above league average, in the 62nd percentile, is his 36.7% sweet-spot rate. His hard-hit rate of 36.7% is 43rd percentile, so also right about league average, while his barrel rate is currently just 3.3%, the lowest since his rookie season. His low barrel rate is worrisome, but the rest of those numbers are fine. Garver isn’t showing other-worldly power, but he is making good, solid contact for the most part. 

His strikeout rate of 30.8% has not been impressive, however, and his BB% of 9.6 is the second worst of his career. What is interesting is that while Garver’s overall numbers might look worse, he is striking out less than Rodriguez, Polanco, and Raleigh, while walking more than both Rodriguez and Raleigh, so perhaps Garver is also falling victim to some bad luck here. Still, a 34.5% whiff rate is not good, and he is below league average with his 28.1% chase rate as well. 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Garver is seeing a career-high 40% breaking balls this year. He is hitting .063 against such pitches, and whiffing 47.4% of the time. Those numbers are consistent with his career totals against breaking balls. He has only hit above .200 twice in his career against breaking balls (although 2023 was one of those years, so maybe we thought he had turned a corner). Garver is also only hitting .167 against fastballs, despite only whiffing 20% of the time, which is concerning.

He is making contact against fastballs, but he isn’t getting nearly enough hits. And that’s despite a 94.7 average exit velocity against fastballs, which is the best of his career! Part of the problem there is that Garver is hitting a lot of ground balls (36.7%) and a career-low in fly balls (20%). For a guy who is really known for being a power hitter, he is going to have to hit more fly balls if he wants to hit more home runs. Perhaps more than any other Mariner, Garver has suffered from making a lot of hard-contact ground ball outs. Hopefully, that’s just an early trend that will reverse itself.