Trouble with the Curve…and Slider…and Change

A month into the young 2013 season, the Seattle Mariners are hitting the fastball better than they have managed to in years. But, oh, those offspeed pitches. We take a look at the numbers and run values against fastballs and offspeed pitches for the current roster.

The offense for the Seattle Mariners has been bad against all types of pitches over the past several seasons. They've annually had among the worst overall offenses in the American League since the start of 2009, ranking last in the majors in runs scored, OPS and wOBA over that four year stretch and struggling mightily to score runs, so it stands to reason that they would be ranked in the bottom of run values against all types of pitches, and that has been the case. The club often has seen itself challenged with even mediocre fastballs and beaten by those pitches, either out of inexperience or just plain inability to hit the pitch. They're run value against fastballs from 2009 to 2012? An MLB-worst negative 254.6 runs -- a number that is actually more than twice as bad as the second worst club, the Padres (-120.7). Pitchers have been pumping fastballs and the Mariners haven't been doing anything with them; because, let's face it, the clubs have been very young and they haven't exactly been overflowing with top talent.

This offseason the club went out and added a few power bats to try and correct that in Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, both big bats who have proven that they can hit the fastball over the years. Morse (15th) and Morales (18th) were each near the top of the rankings in standardized run values vs. the fastball (wFB/C) of all qualified hitters during 2011 and 2012 according to FanGraphs. Those results are playing out again in 2013 with the fastball, and as a team the Mariners are ranked 11th against the pitch after the first month of play, with Morse and Morales performing among the best on the team against the pitch.

But although that area has certainly improved, a nasty side effect is taking place. This 2013 Seattle team is performing even worse against offspeed pitches than those old bad all-around hitting clubs circa 2009 - 2012 did. Take a look below with the values for curve, slider and change combined to get the offspeed value:

You would expect to see Brendan Ryan -- who has hit just .188/.271/.259 since the start of 2012 and just .149/.237/.149 this season -- to be leading the pack that struggles with breaking balls. But as you can see, the best fastball hitters on the team -- Morse, Morales, Kyle Seager and Jason Bay -- all have negative run values against offspeed pitches in 2013. Those four are among the most productive hitters on the Seattle roster this season, but they all are showing a common weakness; trouble with offspeed pitches.

As was the issue when Seattle had a lot of poor fastball hitters, this leaves the club open to a fairly straightforward attack plan from the opposing pitcher: get ahead, throw offspeed pitches. And the Mariners currently find themselves at 26th in MLB with a 77.3% contact percentage with the 11th highest swinging strike rate in baseball at 9.5%.

The offense was improved, the lineup was lengthened and the power from top to bottom took a big leap forward with the moves made this past offseason for Seattle. But the early trend could point to a problem if it continues as the season goes on and clubs begin to attack more with their curves, sliders and changeups.

Looking for more Mariners player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse site Editor Rick Randall at @randallball.


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