M's at midseason: Stats tell a tale of mediocrity

It's a weak division, so there could be hope. But that's usually about the years ahead in baseball.

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Ichiro Suzuki

It's a weak division, so there could be hope. But that's usually about the years ahead in baseball.

Stats pose a few problems for the 2011 Seattle Mariners. The main headache is ongoing: Statistics are glaringly available and kids from five to 95 read and understand them.

The secondary challenge: Stats at the midseason point (reached Wednesday, June 29, with the team’s third straight defeat and eighth of the past 11 games) tend to predict the general direction the club is headed, which is third place in a weak, eminently winnable division.

As to the latter point, it seems unlikely that the guys who have used up most of the playing time during the 39-42 start are likely to get much better (or, in fact, worse) as they slog through the season’s last three months.

Will Ichiro hit better than .275 the rest of the way? Probably but very possibly not well enough to reach the .300 mark for an 11th straight season. Will Chone Figgins, given the chance, get his average up to something respectable? Look at it this way: Figgins could hit successfully in his next 33 at-bats and still not reach his career average of .281. Justin Smoak has 12 home runs and 40 runs batted in. But his batting average has been steadily slipping and, after a hitless Wednesday as the M’s were losing 5-3 to Atlanta, the steady first-baseman has dropped to .243.

Stat rats of the modern era tend to disparage the venerable batting average. But I still think of it as at least an entry-level statistic as it pertains to offense. The more exotic numerical configurations such as OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) don’t bode much better for the ongoing fortunes of M’s, with the lowest OPS in the majors. They obviously don’t hit for power. They also, habitually, don’t come through in the clutch.

What other club in recent baseball history boasted an 11-man pitching staff on which just one thrower had an earned-run average higher than 3.88? The team ERA is just 3.25. The average run production, alas, is just 3.4 (the Yankees’ is 5.3), which, when factored with the ERA, would seem to predict a .500-range record. The club is at .481 but, with a little luck and a clutch hit once in a while, the M’s could be leading the division).

Fans yearn for more offense but in that regard the franchise has seemed cursed. The accumulated 35-year roster is an ongoing tale of players hailed upon arrival and held in contempt for never fulfilling their promise.

The greatest second-half challenge facing manager Eric Wedge would seem to be identifying a way to win with a very limited number of capable position players. The limitation is even more acute given that Figgins, with his salary, seems bound to stay with the club and suffer fan enmity whenever he enters a game. Benching Figgins in effect means the team is playing short-handed because the suddenly error-prone (10 and counting) infielder isn’t any more valuable as a defensive sub than he is as a pinch-hitter.

Baseball, of course, has hope as its main ongoing consolation. Fans hope second-sacker Dustin Ackley continues to look like Ryne Sandberg in his prime. They hope Smoak’s production slide turns around and that Ich gradually picks up his pace at the plate. Would Adam Kennedy and Greg Halman work as permanent fixtures at third and in left respectively? Will Franklin Gutierrez ever regain the offensive talents he promised his first season here?

In the absence of a lucky trade or two, the '11 M's would seem to leave fans with more than enough to hope for, especially —when you’ve got so many stats working — glaringly, here again against you.


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