Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, July 3, 2024 -- "AL West Notes"


This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider.

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Seattle Mariners

There has been a lot of consternation in Seattle over the Mariners’ strikeout rate, which is the highest in MLB at 27.9%, nearly two points higher than the A’s in second place, and a full two points higher than last year’s mark, which was second in MLB.

The problem, though, isn’t the strikeouts, it’s everything else. Last year’s Mariners struck out 25.9% of the time, but  they still posted a 107 wRC+ -- a top-ten mark in MLB, and tied for sixth in the AL. This year’s team, striking out just a bit more, has a bottom-ten offense, a 93 wRC+, with a sub-.300 OBP. 

Strikeouts are an effect, not a cause. Batters that strike out are doing so because they’re seeing more pitches, which will often lead to walks. Batters that strike out are doing so because when they swing, they’re trying to do damage by hitting the ball hard and far. Strikeouts are positively correlated with good outcomes like walks and power, and you only have to go back to those 2023 Mariners to see that. That team was 13th in walk rate, 11th in homers, tenth in isolated power. This one is walking about as often, seventh in MLB and a bit up from last year, but is 18th in isolated power.

It’s The Contact, Stupid (on-contact stats, 2023-24 Mariners)

        AVG    SLG   wOBA    Brl%  
2024   .318   .531   .361    9.0%  
2023   .345   .587   .390    9.9%

The 2% rise in strikeout rate pales in comparison to losing 27 points of BA and 56 points of slugging on batted balls. Last year, when the Mariners hit the ball, they were ninth in MLB in weighted on-base average with a .390 mark -- good results. This year, they’re 17th, at .361. 

The Mariners’ strikeout rate is a problem, it’s just not the problem. The problem is that they’re not getting the kind of production on contact that usually comes with swinging and missing that much. Jorge Polanco has a 32% strikeout rate and an .099 ISO. Mitch Haniger has a 28% strikeout rate and a .123 ISO. Julio Rodriguez has a 27% strikeout rate and an astonishing .079 ISO. 

Until the Mariners start hitting the ball well when they do hit it, their strikeout rate just isn’t going to matter.