The Seattle Mariners & A Very Odd Playoff Run

As of September 30th, the Mariners are tied for the second AL wildcard spot, neck-and-neck with the Red Sox and Yankees. If someone had told me that the Seattle Mariners were going to potentially be playoff contenders, my initial thoughts would’ve been “Jarred Kelenic is the real deal” or “Kyle Lewis took his career to the next level.” It turns out that neither are the case. Both of these players have either done very little or made their team far worse. Lewis has produced a .246/.333/.392 line with 0.5 rWAR through only 36 games played. Kelenic has done even worse, having slashed .177/.260/.349 with an rWAR of -0.7 in 90 games played. It is truly surprising that both of these supposed stars busted.


The team has also lacked a “Wow Factor” player, but this is a similar scenario for other teams. Their best hitter this season has been Ty France who has a WRC+ of just 129, for comparison Bryce Harpers has been 170. While the hitting has not seemed like a potential playoff team, the pitching must be carrying this team. Nope! The starting rotation consists of pitchers between an ERA of 3.50 and 5.00, around average. Their All-Star was also Yusei Kikuchi, who is far from having a tremendous season. On paper, they are supposed to be below average. One might ponder… How did all this happen? Let's take a deeper look.


The underlying numbers for this team tell a completely different story than their record. The Mariners run differential this year has been -48, generally assuming a losing record. Their Pythagorean record, or the number of wins statistically justified through offensive and defensive production (further linked here), agrees. This method calculated the club to be 75-89. To put this into perspective, the Dodgers run differential this year has been +250 and the Pythagorean win-loss is 106-53. This may be considered luck in one aspect of the game for the Mariners, but the club also has 10 walk-off wins this season… they might just be clutch. Without a doubt, their weak roster has been overperforming this season based on the stats already shown, but this also occurred with the mariners in 2018. The club finished 89-73, didn’t make the playoffs, and overperformed their 77-85 Pythag Win/Loss. The 2018 team though had a much better and much more proven roster consisting of names like Nelson Cruz, Edwin Diaz, and Jean Segura. The player who had the highest rWAR on the 2018 team was Mitch Haniger, posting a solid 6.5. This year has been Ty France, only carrying 4.1.


With all of these statistics failing to justify their record, then they must be super clutch, right? Think again. They are just about average in innings 7, 8, and 9 when trailing an opponent. The club averages 0.49 runs per inning this season. This ranks 23rd in the MLB for 2021. In the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning, the clubs average about 0.47 runs per inning, worse than their totals. When behind in the last third of the game, they unsuccessfully attempted to come back 62 of 68 opportunities, tying 5 times and only coming back once. Since the Mariners are over performing and there are no stats on them proving otherwise, then maybe they are just lucky. The Mariners are also in the middle of the road with their strength of schedule this season and tie for 8th in opponent win percentage with 0.440%. But, their opponent's win percentage in close games is 0.383%, placing 3rd in the league. Pure luck? Sure. Pure Skill? Sure.


Overall, the MLB this season has been quite entertaining for the anomalies of the league like the Mariners. The team on paper is quite possibly one of the worst teams in the league, as well as in stats. Yet, they somehow have become a Wild-Card Contending team. Having the longest playoff drought in the MLB, it would be wonderful to see the team break this 19 year curse. And at the rate they’ve been playing lately, despite all logic or reason, they just might do it.


Sources:


Baseball-Reference.com

Fangraphs.com

MLB.com