Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Unlucky M's

Weisenheimer is an admitted baseball stathead.

M's cleanup hitter José Lopez is slugging .278 and his OPS is
.527. Couple of flares drop in for him, he's right back in the
groove. Seattle Times photo by Rod Mar.
As a long-time participant in baseball simulation leagues involving the dice-based board game APBA and then, later, computers, statistical analysis of the game has been a big part of enjoyment of that hobby. I went off the deep end when Bill James was doing his Baseball Abstract in the early '80s. I've given up the sims; this is the first year since 1973 that I haven't been in some sort of baseball replay league. (I retired to devote more time to writing Weisenheimer, Seattle Astronomy Examiner, book reviews for Arches magazine, and to be be board chair at Balagan Theatre. I may be doing something else I can't remember right now.) But I still follow the M's and the Cardinals, and read blogs such as U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing. Both sites are stuffed to the brim with FIPs and wOBAs and wOBArs and BABIPs and UZRs and a bunch of other newfangled statistics that tell us more about players than batting average and ERA.

Thus I read with interest a post yesterday on LL that said, in essence, that the Mariner offense is simply snakebit. Quoting:
We say it every day, this offense isn't this bad. They're getting unlucky. They're getting really freaking unlucky.
This put me in mind of "Bobby," a character in the great film Bull Durham who gets released from A-ball because he can't hit. "Skip," he protests, "I know I'm in a goddamn slump, but I hit the ball hard today. Couple flares drop in for me, I'm right back in the groove."

Sorry. The organization wants to make a change.

I decided to do my own statistical analysis. Even after today's huge five-run outburst (in a loss) the M's have scored just 130 runs in 39 games, a measly 3.33 runs per game. Only the pathetic Houston Astros have scored fewer in all of baseball. Fifteen of the 16 teams in the National League have scored more runs, and they make the pitchers bat over there! (Our DHs hit very much like pitchers, but that's another story.) The Mariners have 21 home runs, again 29th in baseball, ahead of only Houston. And three of those are by Mike Sweeney, so they shouldn't really count. Here's why:

Weisenheimer is convinced that Sweeney is a practical joke played on the M's by the rest of the league. During spring training they said, hey, let's throw a bunch of meatballs to Sweeney, and if he hits .847 or something in March the Mariners might think he's still got it and actually keep him on the roster. IT WORKED! So, mid-May arrives and Sweeney is batting about .172 with no homers and about two RBI. The Internets are calling for his head on a platter, so the league answered with more meatballs, and Sweeney homered in three consecutive games! He can go to lunch on those meatballs for another couple of months. Sweeney is now batting .242 with three home runs and seven RBI. (I know, the Lookout Landing folks would chide me for using these counting stats, but what the heck.) To top it all off, jogging around the bases after those home runs caused Sweeney to get a sore back, and he hasn't been able to play since the big power surge.

In short, Weisenheimer contends the Mariners are not unlucky on offense. They flat out stink. If not for Ichiro and Gutierrez, this might well be the stinkiest Mariner offense of all time. And I'm old enough to have seen some really smelly lineups. I remember Scrap Iron Stinson behind the plate, Dan "Old Whitey" Meyer down at first, Lenny Randle down at third, Pee Wee Briley in left. I saw Mario Mendoza, namesake of the Mendoza Line, play shortstop for a couple of years. (Mendoza actually hit .245, with an OPS of .596, in 1980, so I guess you could say he "erupted" the same year as Mt. St. Helens.) If Mendoza were on this year's team he'd be batting fifth.

The M's are 14-25. If Joe Riggins, the manager in Bull Durham, were here, he'd shake his head, mutter "How'd we ever win 14," and stomp off in a glorious stream of expletives.

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