ST PETERSBURG FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Ichiro Suzuki #51 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates a 6-2 win with teammates against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 26 2010 in St. Petersburg Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
Beginning a week-long series about 2010's worst teams, Rob Neyer says that things could hardly get worse for the Seattle Mariners in 2011.
The gold standard for losing is 100 losses. We enjoy round numbers, and 100 might be the roundest.
But I want to write about terrible teams this week, and only two teams managed to lose 100 (more, actually) games last season: Seattle and Arizona. So after writing about the Mariners today and the Pirates tomorrow, I’ll look at the three other teams that lost at least 95 games in 2010.
The Mariners’ problem last season? An offense that was historically inept. Here’s Geoff Baker with some of the grisly details, and what management’s done (or hasn’t done about it) ...
So judging a rebuilding Mariners squad that sees pitchers and catchers report for spring-training physicals Sunday will have to involve something more sophisticated. And there will be no better place to start than with an offense that scored only 513 runs last season, the lowest total by any club in the designated-hitter era.
"We didn't have a lot of flexibility going in," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik recently said, in reference to the team's payroll limit of about $93.5 million. "And we did some things in some areas where I thought we had some need."
The offense is where the team needed it most.
On the systematic front, the Mariners appear to be banking on the theory that a lot of what happened to their offense in 2010 was a result of random bad luck. Seattle made few impact changes on offense this past winter, swapping out Russell Branyan for a more injury-free Jack Cust, while adding Miguel Olivo at catcher.
Other than that, little has changed offensively from the 2010 blueprint that relied on on-base oriented hitters with few proven power guys. The Mariners will hope to generate some added power from first baseman Justin Smoak, left fielder Michael Saunders and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez. But if any two of those bats continue to disappoint, the team risks struggling to push runners around the bases.
Not including pitchers, 25 Seattle Mariners batted in 2010.
Ichiro Suzuki played in 162 games, and posted a 113 OPS+, slightly lower than his career mark (117).
Russell Branyan played in 57 games and posted a 123 OPS+.
Mike Sweeney played in 30 games and posted a 123 OPS+.
The Mariners’ other 22 hitters failed to post an average (100) OPS+ or better.
That actually understates the disaster. Justin Smoak (93 OPS+ in 30 games) and Guillermo Quiroz (98 in two games) were the only other Mariners to reach even 90.
The Mariners entered 2010 with a lousy offense. No question about that. The 2009 squad finished last in the American in scoring, and their big moves after that season were the additions of Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley. Figgins was a bust, Bradley worse. They brought back Ken Griffey, but not Russell Branyan. Of course, it’s not so terribly strange that Figgins and Bradley didn’t hit. What’s strange is that essentially nobody else did, either.
Is there reason for hope? Absolutely. Left fielder Michael Saunders and first baseman Justin Smoak, both of whom have been terrible disappointments, are probably going to show some of the talent that made them top prospects. Newcomer Jack Cust and malcontent Milton Bradley should give the M’s decent production from the DH slot.
Elsewhere – and I really can’t stress this strongly enough – most of the Mariners’ hitters will hit better in 2011 than 2010 simply because 1) they’re very unlikely to hit exactly the same, and 2) it would be very difficult for them to hit worse.
Does all this mean the Mariners aren’t going to lose 101 games again? Yeah, it probably does.
Does it mean the Mariners will shock the world with a respectable season? Not necessarily.
The M’s actually sported the run differential of a 103-loss team last season, so the hill they must climb is even steeper than it might seem. As great as Felix Hernandez is, he probably won’t match last season’s 2.27 ERA. Cliff Lee pitched brilliantly in his 13 starts with the M’s, and those starts are gone.
Essentially, the Mariners’ route to respectability in 2011 includes not just average luck, but good luck. Along with a strong comeback season from Erik Bedard. And if Grade A prospect Dustin Ackley makes the Opening Day roster and avoids the typical rookie struggles, the M’s might at least be interesting.