That's not even how you're supposed to hold a bat, Brendan! - Otto Greule Jr
What did the Seattle Mariners do last year? What were we expecting them to do?
The Seattle Mariners are …
/takes sip of coffee, clears throat
Here's a funny thing about the Seattle Mariners …
/squints at computer screen, furrows brow
Well, say, the Seattle Mariners are …
/looks at Chone Figgins' stats, makes sign of the cross
My … god …
Overall tone of preview
My angle for the Seattle Mariners preview was that they were boring in 2011, but had a good shot of being less boring in 2012. And if you want to look through moose-colored glasses, that's kinda sorta what happened last season. The 2011 Mariners lost 95 games. The 2012 Mariners lost 87 games. The 2011 Mariners had an 84 OPS+. The 2012 Mariners had a 90 OPS+. There were more good things happening with the 2012 Mariners than with their previous incarnation.
What actually happened
Goodness, were they ever boring.
In 1.2 percent of their games, the Mariners threw a no-hitter or perfect game. In 20 percent of their games, Felix Hernandez started. Those were the good times, the salad days, when baseball seemed like something that people watched on purpose. For the rest of the time, they were like the TV static playing when real baseball went off the air. You'd wake up, disheveled and confused, wondering what that noise in your living room was. It was usually Mike Carp popping out to shallow right.
There were three players on the Mariners who hit better than .276. All three of them were pitchers (Hector Noesi, Jason Vargas, and Hernandez) who combined for 13 plate appearances. After that, John Jaso -- the offensive juggernaut of the team, and it isn't really close -- was next with a .276 average. But of all the players to take an at-bat for the Mariners, excluding the pitchers, there were almost three times as many to hit under .250 (14 total) than over .250 (five).
Again, batting average isn't the best stat, but it represents an easily identifiable positive outcome. Player goes up, player gets a hit, the crowd cheers. It's like a quick-and-dirty excitement quotient for a team. Let's look at every Mariners player to get more than 100 at-bats:
That's a list worth staring at for a while. Go to the hitters in the .220s. Look below them. Look above them. Back below. Look up. It's amazing. And if you think I'm selling them short by favoring average over on-base percentage, the opposite is true.
Of course, of course, of course a lot of this has to do with Safeco Field. With the league scoring fewer runs and Safeco being an extreme pitchers' park, the Mariners were basically playing in 1968. And that makes sense because the soundtrack to their season was a 486-hour Iron Butterfly drum solo played without sticks.
What changed between the preview and the end of the season?
Scoring went down across the league, for one, so even though the Mariners made modest improvements to their offense when compared to 2011, it didn't show up in the raw numbers.
But most importantly, the players who were supposed to take a step forward didn't. Dustin Ackley was supposed to break out, almost like Seattle's version of Chase Headley. Instead, Ackley was miserable, hitting .226/.294/.328 with a shrinking walk rate and fewer extra-base hits. The promise Justin Smoak showed in the first half of 2011 was completely frittered away by the end of last year. Jesus Montero got sucked into the Safeco vortex.
Ichiro left, too. I never thought I'd see that happen.
John Jaso was spectacular in 294 at-bats. Kyle Seager showed encouraging power, as did Michael Saunders. That's the good news. Oh, and there were pitchers, too. Felix Hernandez is still just about the best thing going, and the Mariners have a gaggle of young super-prospect pitchers coming up soon. So there's a little hope.
Player(s) I ignored for whatever reason
Well, the focus was on Ackley, Montero, and Smoak for good reason. I didn't mention Kyle Seager once, but I suppose I should have. He moved really, really quickly through the minors, getting just over 1,000 at-bats, and he has a 107 career OPS+, which is pretty swanky on the Mariners.
Obscenely stupid quote
More importantly for 2012, they shouldn't be dreadfully boring. They should be a flawed, watchable team that will allow their fans to dream about a well-constructed, contending team.
Yeah, not to beat a dead moose, but ... nope. They were a flawed, mostly unwatchable team, though considering the young pitching on the way, the fans can still dream, at least.
Tone of next preview
Hahaha, I'm not doing a preview of this team next year. I'll quit.
Actually, I'm really interested in how the fences moving in will change things. Because that hitting environment, for whatever reason, was way, way too suffocating. I don't know if it's the fences, the sea air, the hitter's eye ... something has to change for that park to host normal baseball again. The Mariners were a normal team on the road, after all. Maybe the change in the park dimensions will be a good thing -- not necessarily because of wins and losses, but because it will be more interesting to watch.
And who put the San Diego Padres so close to the Seattle Mariners alphabetically, anyway? Jeez.