By The Numbers

What's uglier than the Mariners' OBP and ERA this season? Publisher Scott Sepich dives into the sabermetrics and finds, among other things, unfortunate statistical evidence that a group of scrubs would have outperformed the M's pitching staff so far this season.

While it's easy to place the blame for the Mariners' struggle this season on abstract intangibles such as "toughness," "chemistry," and the ability to "get on the same page," it's almost always more effective to use quantitative analysis to determine exactly why a team is underperforming.

In the case of the 2008 Mariners, the team is struggling in most of the traditional statistical categories, such as batting average, on-base percentage, and ERA (and, of course, the all-important runs scored). But the M's are also underperforming in a variety of other categories, including ones that are somewhat based on luck.

Line Drive % (LD%)

In 2007, the average major leaguer hit a line drive 20.3% of the time he put the ball in play. Thus far in 2008, not a single Mariner has an LD% higher than this mark, and some have woefully low percentages, such as Richie Sexson (12.6%) and Kenji Johjima (12.9%). Because the vast majority of line drives result in hits, low line drive rates are generally accompanied by a low batting average. With no Mariners reaching even an average level in this category, hits are harder to come by.

BABIP

BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. It is essentially a player's batting average on all at bats that result in something other than a home run or a strikeout. In 2007 the average player had a .306 BABIP. BABIP can be a useful statistic because it can indicate when a player has been helped or hurt by a dose of good or bad luck. Certainly, hitters will tell you that they can somewhat influence where they hit the baseball, but in many cases the difference between a hit and an out is a matter of a couple of feet. A player can be hitting the ball on the nose repeatedly but making out after out because they're hitting it right at the defense. But another player can be hitting broken-bat bloopers all over the diamond that elude even the best defenders. An inordinately high BABIP can indicate that a hitter is on a run of great luck, while a very low BABIP can mean that a player is getting very unlucky.

Currently, only two Mariner hitters have a BABIP of over .300 --- Ichiro and Jose Lopez. Now, this is partly attributable to poor hitting overall, including a low LD% (see above), but there is some luck at play. On the flip side, Mariner pitching has been hampered by a high BABIP. Entering Tuesday night's play, Miguel Batista (.379), Jarrod Washburn (.345), Felix Hernandez (.324), and Carlos Silva (.314) are all sporting above-average numbers in this category. Washburn and Batista's high line-drive percentages play a large role in their inflated numbers, but Hernandez has been victimized by bad luck. Only a very high left-on-base percentage (LOB%, the ratio of baserunners allowed that are stranded) has allowed Felix to maintain decent overall numbers. If Felix can begin to get average luck and continue to strand runners at a high rate, he should improve as the season goes on.

EqA

Equivalent Average is a number that attempts to express the total production an offensive player provides in the scale of a batting average. The average EqA is .260, and relatively speaking a good EqA coincides with what is thought to be a good batting average, and vice versa (although EqA is calculated much differently than batting average and includes many different factors). Currently, only four regulars in the Mariner lineup have an above-average EqA. Ichiro leads the team at .285, with Adrian Beltre at .279 and Raul Ibanez at .276. Kenji Johjima, by comparison, is at a dismal .204 in this category.

VORP

One of the most popular sabermetric stats is called VORP, which stands for Value Over Replacement Player. It essentially calculates how many runs a hitter will contribute beyond what a "replacement player" would do in the same amount of playing time. A replacement player for the purposes of this statistic is actually a below-average player, because replacing someone mid-season would almost assuredly require using someone with below-average skills (the "replacement" player in this stat is generally 80% of average). For pitchers, it calculates how many runs a pitcher saves versus a replacement player.

Sadly and shockingly, the Mariners as a team have a negative pitching VORP (-8.2). That means that thus far this season, a theoretical stable of replacement pitchers would actually have allowed eight fewer runs than the actual M's staff has allowed. This is the worst in baseball and one of only two negative numbers in this category (Texas is at -4.0). By comparison, the A's have a pitcher VORP of 88.9. The M's hitter VORP of 27.0 is lowest in the AL West, but higher than several other teams, such as the Royals, who have a hitter VORP of 1.2.

Defensive Efficiency

Quite simply, this is the ratio of balls that are put in play that are converted into outs by a defense. The Mariners' .672 is the second-lowest in all of baseball in this category, just ahead of Pittsburgh's .665. Many different factors can influence Defensive Efficiency, including the relative speed and range of a team's fielders, the number of errors they make, the quality of the team's pitching, and, of course, a little bit of luck. A team with a low number will quite simply struggle to keep other teams from scoring. Nearly a third of all balls put in play against the Mariners do not result in an out.


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