Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Seahawk's Drafts have Regressed to a More Sustainable Level

Recently a lot of people have been criticizing the Seahawks last four drafts. They point to the failure of the team to draft any regular Pro-Bowlers or even regular starters. They hold 2010-2012 up as the standard for the team. Those years were amazing. They drafted 14 players that would significantly contribute (defined by my subjective opinion) to the team. The results set an impossible standard that we shouldn't judge them against.

The Seattle Times did a good job breaking down some of the reasons why the results of the Seahawk's drafts have gotten worse. Probably the most important reason was what The Times called regression to the mean. To summarize basically no teams are ever consistently good at drafting. They may have a few good drafts, but it is mostly luck. Teams just can't consistent determine which players will succeed and which will fail. The Seahawks got really lucky over 2010-2012. No team can consistently draft huge numbers of starters year after year. 

The Seahawk's recentdrafts (2016 excluded) aren't as terrible as people seem to say. They have picked players that contribute, just at closer to two a year instead of four or five. The team's current struggles aren't because of bad drafting as much as injuries and natural aging of their stars. The team has picked quality players, just not at the crazy rate of 2010-2012.

To highlight these impact players let's start in 2013 and work our way through all the drafts up to 2016. I am going to include 2017 because those players have only had one professional year and it is early to judge them, although I think it has a lot of promise with Naz Jones, Shaquill Griffin, Chris Carson, and Ethan Pocic.

First up is 2013, which will always be remember for the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl and not for who they drafted. This year the Seahawks picked eleven players, including four in the seventh round. The Seahawks did draft Christine Michael in the second round. The running back was shock to many when he was drafted and ended up a big disappointment during his tenure with the Seahawks. The two players that have had the biggest positive impact on the team are Jordan Hill and Luke Willson.

Jordan Hill was definitely never a star for the team, but he did play an important role. His promising rookie season was cut short because of injury. 2014 was a good season for the big defensive tackle. He recorded 5.5 sacks and played in 13 games for a team that would make it to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. Hill played one more adequate year in Seattle before moving on to Jacksonville.

Over his five year career with the Seahawks Luke Willson players in 72 of the possible 80 games. Although he was never a big threat in the passing game he did often produce when called upon. The whole time he was in Seattle Willson was stuck behind Jimmy Graham on the depth chart. Although not his fault this definitely suppressed his stats. 

The next draft to review is 2014. This year the team drafted nine players. Three of these men have had noteworthy careers with Seattle, Paul Richardson, Justin Britt, and Cassius Marsh.

Richardson show a lot of potential at wide receiver, but he struggled to stay healthy. He has blazing fast speed, that should let him get separation downfield. It took him until last year, 2017, when he gained 703 yards and caught 6 touchdowns to put it all together. Richardson won't be in the Ring of Honor, but he wasn't a busted draft pick.

Since he was drafted Justin Britt has started 63 of a possible 64 games. He was frustrating to watch his first couple of seasons, but he has since turned a corner. Last year Britt was the best offensive lineman for the Seahawks. His play at center was the only position that was even adequate until the arrival of Duane Brown.

It might be a surprise to some people that I included Cassius Marsh as an impact player. His stats certainly don't paint him to be one. However in 2015 and 2016 Marsh was a regular in the defensive line rotation and provided quality play when he was on the field. He pressured the quarterback and took up blockers allowing other players to make tackles. Marsh was by no means a super star, but he was a solid contributor for the Seahawks for two seasons before being traded to the Patriots.

2015 landed the Seahawks two impact players out of the eight they drafted. Interestingly 2015 was the third year in a row the Seahawks didn't draft in the first round. It has led to a running joke in Seattle about the Seahawks brass preferring seventh rounders over first rounders. Anyways, the two players of note from 2015 were Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett.

Whether or not you like Frank Clark as a person he has been a net positive on the football field for the Seahawks. After getting used to the NFL in 2015, Clark has recorded 19 sacks over the last two seasons. There are games when he disappears, which is frustrating, but overall Clark gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Tyler Lockett had a truly exciting rookie campaign. He gained 664 yards receiving and caught 6 touchdowns. He started to develop a real chemistry with quarterback Russell Wilson. Lockett was even better in the return game. He returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown. To recognize his achievements he made the Pro-Bowl has a returner. Unfortunately Lockett hasn't been able to repeat the feats of his rookie year. His average punt return yards shrank in each consecutive season and he has never taken his receiving to the next level. Even so, Lockett is still a good and young player.

As I mentioned above 2016 was the one exception to my argument that the Seahawks drafts haven't been that bad. 2016 was essentially a complete miss for the team. They drafted 10 players, including Germain Ifedi, their first first round selection since 2012. Despite the large number of picks and the high rounds, the Seahawks just were unable to find quality players. Alex Collins appears he might be a good NFL running back, but the Seahawks cut him and now he plays for the Ravens. The one guy that I would count as a positive impact for team is Jarran Reed. He has played a very solid defensive tackle for the Seahawks in 30 of 32 possible games. He is definitely a contributing member of the rotation and is able to record tackles and assist on others at a satisfactory rate.

Between 2010 and 2012 the Seahawks set a standard for the quality of their drafts that is impossible for them to repeat. Even the most brilliant football minds of all time would struggle to replicate the amount of talent the Seahawks snagged over those three years. The team's subsequent drafts have looked bad by comparison, but in reality they are passable. That isn't to say there haven't been mistakes (see Christine Michael), but there have also been successes. The Seahawk's Front Office isn't bad at drafting now, they are just doing it at a more sustainable level of quality.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Drafting Running Backs

On Wednesday afternoon on 950 KJR Softy Mahler was talking about all the quality college running backs that are available in the NFL draft this year. That got me thinking about the success NFL teams actually have in drafting rushers. Over the last several years the conventional wisdom has settled on the idea that only the most outstanding can't miss running backs should ever be taken first round of the draft and even those guys should probably be in the second round. The reason being the position is very dependent on the play calling of the coaches and the blocking of the offensive linemen. Very few athletes are able to be game changers without a high quality group of linemen in front of them. So teams should focus on blockers and then find someone to run behind them. Additionally running back is a position with high risk of injury so investing a lot of resources into the position doesn't have a high enough potential return. I wanted to know if this thinking is actually playing out with the players being drafted at running back. Then on Thursday the Seahawks went and took Rashaad Penny from San Diego State University with the 27th pick of the first round and I really had to know.

During the five seasons between 2013 and 2017 there were 54 instances where an individual player rushed for 1000 or more yards (see Figure 1). 34 different players recorded one of those 54 seasons. The distribution of the round the player was drafted in looked pretty conventional with the 1st round being the most common followed by the second round and so on. Figure 1 shows the distribution. Interesting there were 4 seasons where a player that recorded 1000 yards rushing was an undrafted free agent. C.J. Anderson, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Ivory, and Arian Foster are the four men that achieved this feat. This data points towards that conclusion that a player that records a 1000 yard season is more likely to have been drafted highly. However, this doesn't tell the whole story. If there are just a few highly skilled first rounders continuously racking up big yardage seasons it would skew he data. It could be that a high percentage of 1st rounders never pan out then actually perform well in the NFL.
Figure 1: Running Backs to rush for 1000 yards are more likely to have been drafted in the earlier rounds.

I looked at all the running backs drafted between 2013 and 2017. A total of 122 running backs were drafted over the course of the five drafts. On average 24 running backs were taken in the draft. The high was 2017 when 30 running backs were taken and the low was 2014 when only 21 were taken. Assuming that each player has had a chance to achieve 1000 yards equal to the number of seasons that have happened since they were drafted there have been 356 possible 1000 yard season. Realistically not every player has a chance at 1000 yards because they can't all start. So if we assume there are 32 possible 1000 yard seasons each year, one for each team, there were 160 possible chances. Of all these chances a running back drafted between 2013 and 2017 has recorded a 1000 yard season 19 times. 13 unique players achieved this feat. Additionally there were 16 Pro-Bowl appearances by 12 of those players over this time. 

There is a pretty consistent trend of the percentage of 1000 yard seasons and 160 carry seasons achieved compared to possible chances. Players grouped by the year they were drafted hold the percentages in a narrow band (See Figure 2). For 1000 yards seasons it goes from 4-10% and gets lower the long ago that the draft took place. This makes sense considering those players drafted in 2013 have had much longer to get cut, hurt, or retire than those drafted last year. For 160 carry seasons the data sits between 12-17%. It spikes in the middle and is low in 2013 and 2017. Again this makes sense as players from 2017 have most likely not established themselves yet to earn all those carries nd players from 2013 have been cut, hurt, or retired.
Figure 2: The percentage of times a running back achieved a milestone in all the possible chances.
In both 2013 and 2014 no running backs were taken in the first round. Between 2015 and 2017 five running backs were taken in the first round. They were Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Melvin Gordon. Of these five men only McCaffrey has not yet recorded a 1000 yard rushing season.  He is also the only player to not get at least 160 rushing attempts each season. In his only season McCaffrey rushed 117 times for 435 yards.

For the five drafts I reviewed 13 running backs were selected in the second round.  They have a much more spotty record than the first rounders. Le'Veon Bell leads the group with three Pro-Bowl seasons in five chances. Bell is widely regarded as one of the most talented running backs in the NFL. There are also two very notable busts in Montee Ball and Bishop Sankey.  Neither player ever recorded 160 or more carries in a season and both topped out around 550 rushing yards gained in a season. Another interesting second rounder is Christine Michael, who was drafted by the Seahawks in 2013. At the time I was confused by the pick because Michael had a limited playing history in college. It seemed to be a real reach pick. Although Michael never had a good season in the NFL, he never rushed 160 times or gained over 600 yards rushing, he has managed to stick around. He played in four seasons and is still on the Colts roster. Somehow Michael's time in the NFL just doesn't want to end.

If for each round you sum up all the times that a player drafted reached 1000 yards rushing, carried the ball at least 160 times, or made a Pro-Bowl, it becomes obvious that players drafted in earlier rounds are more likely to reach these milestones. The first and second rounds are the highest totals for all three metrics (see Figure 3). The second round looks better by count, but that is because more players were drafted, 47 compared to 10, so they had more opportunities than first rounders. To try and account for this looked at the percentage of times a player reached these milestones compared to the available opportunities.
Figure 3: Running backs selected in the first round achieved a milestone at a much higher rate than those drafted in other rounds.

For 1000 yard rushers the first rounders reached the yardage 50% of the available time. For second rounders is was only 13%. For rounds three and below it topped out at 5%. Basically if a running back is drafted in the first round they are much more likely to rush for a 1000 yard season than someone drafted in the second round and extremely more likely than someone in the third through seventh rounds.

Another metric to consider if someone is a productive NFL running back is the number of carries they get during a season. 160 carries means they averaged 10 per game. Looking at this metric by round shows a similar picture. Rushers drafted in the first round reached 160 attempts 90% of the possible opportunities. Second rounders only achieved this 38% of the time, while later round players maxed out at 12%.

For Pro-Bowl appearances the percentages are in line with the other metrics. First rounders were selected to the Pro-Bowl 40% of opportunities compared to at most 9% for the other rounds. Le'Veon Bell and Devonte Freeman made up 5 of the 12 Pro-Bowl selection for later round players.

Admittedly the percentages for first rounders should be way higher because the number of players is much smaller, so one great player can have a larger impact. For example there were 46 running backs taken in the sixth and seventh rounds, and only Latavius Murray has made a Pro-Bowl or rushed for 1000 yards. Also players drafted in those rounds are expected to bust more frequently because teams don't evaluate them as worthy of a higher pick. The teams drafting them don't expect much by taking them so low. It can also be argued that if first round players truly did bust at a higher than normal rate we should see the percentages drop and be much closer to the other round, which we don’t see. Instead we see the opposite. Players taken in the first two rounds have much higher percentages of successful seasons as measured by 1000 yards gained rushing, 160 rushing attempts, and Pro-Bowl selections.

Looking at all these stats doesn't disprove the conventional wisdom that NFL teams shouldn't draft running backs in the first round unless they are a generational talent, but it does make me question it more. Of the ten players taken in the first round only one hasn't reached the 1000 mark in a season yet, and he has only played one season. It is possible that all ten first round backs were exceptional generational talents, but it seems unlikely ten of these players would have shown up in five years. Those taken in the second round of the NFL are also generally very productive. So if a team is confident that a player is capable of making it in the NFL they should spend the pick. They have a good track record of evaluating college rushers and drafting accordingly.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Someone is Going to Score Eventually

With the Sounders current scoring drought, they have failed to score a goal in all three 2018 MLS matches, I decided to looked back at the team's leading scorer each of their nine seasons. The table is an interesting one. All of the names on it are iconic members of the Sounders short but highlight filled history. Two main things stood out to me, the 2013 scoring leader was very low and Obafemi Martins was very good.

The Leading Scorer for the Seattle Sounders for Each Year of Their Existence

It wasn't that the Sounders struggled to score goals in 2013. They scored 42 goals in 34 regular season games, amounting to 1.24 goals per game. That is a bit low, but not terrible. For comparison's sake last year's squad scored 52 goals and the 2016 team scored 44 goals. In 2017 Sporting KC scored 42 goals, ranking them 7th of 10 in that category. The thing about 2013 was no one player really pulled away and did anything special.

Eddie Johnson scored 9 goals in 21 games, which is equivalent to 14.5 over a 3 game season. That is a solid number for a complete season. Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle both scored 8 goals. All told the Sounders had 11 players score at least one goal in 2013. Really what prevented anyone from scoring double digit goals was the lack of consistency on the pitch. The Sounders only had three players appear in 30 (90%) of their MLS matches. 2013 just didn't produce any kind of special memorable goal scorers.

When it comes to goal scoring players 2014 and 2015 were completely unlike 2013. Obafemi Martins dominated the league. In 2015 he scored a ridiculous 15 goals in only 21 games played. That is a rate of .71 goals per game or equivalent to scoring 24 goals over a 34 game season. That is how many goals league leader Nemanja Nikolic scored for Chicago last season (and he played in all 34 games coincidently).

Another way to look at Martins' scoring prowess is his scoring percentage (the number of goals scored over all the shots taken). In 2015 Martins took only 42 shots to score his 15 goals, which is an even crazier 35% success rate. For comparison last year Nikolic took 118 shots to score his 24 goals, meaning he scored only 20% of the time he shot.

Martins 2014 season was also incredible. He scored 17 goals and also notched up another 13 assists. He was talked about for league MVP, although didn't end up winning the award. On the field Martins partnered beautifully with forward Clint Dempsey, who scored 15 goals and assisted on another 10. The Sounders used this powerful attack to capture the Supporters Shield, given to the team with the best regular season point total.

Looking at the Sounders top goal scorer in each of their MLS seasons reminds us that they will score a goal this year. They might not (probably won't) have a prolific scorer such as 2014 or 2015 Obafemi Martins when the year finishes, but someone will score goals. Even in 2013 when no one player dominated the goal scoring table the team managed to score 42 goals over their 34 games.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

2014: Close but No Cigar for Robinson Cano

Coming off the dismal four season stretch of 2010-2013 the Mariners decided to just go huge during the 2014 offseason and sign Robinson Cano to a 10 year $240 million contract. The final verdict of this contract has still not been decided and won't be until 2023. One thing was for sure though, the Mariners weren't messing around in 2014. They were willing to spend money to bring the best players to Seattle and try to make the playoffs for the first time in twelve years.

Cano's 2014 season was a success. He hit .314/.382/.454. That made him the first Mariner to bat over .300 since Ichiro in 2010. He tied with Jose Altuve for the highest wRC+among major league second basemen at 137 (17th best among all players).  His 14 home runs were a disappointing low for the second baseman's career (tied for his career worst), but were still the third most by any Mariner in 2014. All and all it was a very good year for the Mariners $240 million man.

Robbie wasn't the only Mariner to have a good 2014. Overall the team's pitching staff had an amazing 3.17 ERA. The starting pitchers did especially well, with Felix Hernandez standing out the most.

Felix Hernandez's 2014 season is his best season to date. He completely dominate the AL. In 34 starts he pitched 236 innings and gave up only 56 earned runs, equal to a 2.14 ERA. He struck out 248 batter and walked only 46 for a crazy good 5.39 strikeout to walk ratio. Felix's changeup was essentially unhittable in 2014. Opposing batter's hit a dismal .197 against Felix. It felt like he was trying to single handedly drag the Mariners into the playoffs. Yet somehow despite all this Felix lost out on the Cy Young award to Corey Kluber, who had more wins, more strikeouts, and fewer wild pitches than Felix.

Starting pitchers Hasashi Iwakuma, Roenis Elias, James Paxton and Chris Young also had good years for the M's. All of their ERAs were under 4.00 and only Elias had a losing record. Young had an interesting stat line because his ERA was a respectable 3.65, but his FIP was a high 5.02, implying he recorded better results than were to be expected. However, upon further examination this appears to just have been Chris Young's style. Every year of his 13 year career except 2005 and 2017 he managed to pull off this feat.

In addition to the starters, the pitching at the end of games was clutch for the Mariners. 37 year old veteran reliever Fernando Rodney signed with the team in the offseason and did an excellent job in the closer role. He saved 48 games in 51 chances, he struck out 76 batters in 66.33 innings, his hat was greatly misaligned and for all this he was awarded with an All-star appearance and much love from the Safeco field fans. Rodney's arrow celebration was a big hit and something to look forward to as the team closed out another win.

In his sixth and final season with the team outfielder Michael Saunders looked like he was finally putting it all together at the plate, batting .273 with a .341 OBP in 231 AB. Unfortunately for Saunders it was injury plagued once again. This inability to stay healthy and on the field was a constant during Saunders tenure with the club. During the offseason the Mariners front office grew tired of the nagging injuries holding Saunders back and flipped him to Toronto.

The Mariners finished the season 87-75, their best finish since 2007. Even more frustrating for fans they finished in 6th place in the AL, just one game behind the Oakland Athletics for the final wild card spot. Although it wasn't the only reason the M's missed the playoffs, a five game losing streak between September 20th-24th really hurt them (as did the other 70 losses).  They gave up 43 runs over those five games and only scored 10. They didn't end the season with a four game winning streak, but it wasn't enough to overcome the damage done to the standing with the previous skid. The addition of Cano and the stellar pitching by Hernandez and company still wasn't quite enough to get them into the playoffs and the drought continued.

Friday, March 23, 2018

2012-2013: Two more Years of Bad Offense and Great Felix

Another two years and another two terrible offenses. In both 2012 and 2013 the Mariners failed to have a player hit better than .280, making it four straight years. This is quite an impressively bad achievement. This utterly bad offense resulted in two more losing seasons. In 2012 the team went 75-87. They followed that up in 2013 with a 71-91 record.

One interesting anomaly of a stat in 2013 was the Mariners ability to hit homeruns. They were second in the AL with 188, despite being second to last in total hits. This quirk resulted in the Mariners still failing to score runs because nobody was ever on base when the ball left the yard.

2012 saw some very large and important roster moves. The biggest being the trade of Ichiro to the New York Yankees on July 23rd 2012. It looked like the end of the road for Ichiro, who was having another sub-par season. His triple slash for the Mariners was only .261/.288/.353. Yet somehow Ichiro has managed to bounce around the league for another four seasons and is now back with the Mariners (and may start on opening day if people don't get healthy). Ichiro was a truly great players for the Mariners for twelve years. He made ten straight All-star teams to start his career. It was sad to see the end come (for the first time), but it was the right move for the Mariners.

Another big move was the trade of Michael Pineda to the Yankees for Jesus Montero. This trade happened during the offseason and appeared that it was filling a weak spot for both teams. The Yankees got up and coming pitcher Michael Pineda. After a strong rookie season, the young man looked set to be future star. Unfortunately he got hurt and didn't pitch in the big leagues again until 2014. The Mariners got Jesus Montero, who was billed as a sure-thing hitter. He was a slow as mud catcher, but everyone was so sure about his bat that they assumed he would slide into DH. Montero was a failure for the Mariners. Looking back this trade turned out to be a huge disappointment for both teams.

The final big move of 2012 was the signing of Hisashi Iwakuma. The pitcher came to the Mariners from Japan at age 31. In the NPB he had put together a great career, but it is never a sure thing if it will translate in the MLB. Iwakuma proved any doubters wrong by pitching great in 2012 and even better in 2013. He pitched so well in 2013 that he finished third in the Cy Young voting.

2012 and 2013 also saw Kyle Seager cement himself at third base for the M's. In 2012 he hit .259 with 20 HR and 35 2B. In 2013 Seager hit .260 with 22 HR and 32 2B. His wRC+ in these years were 108 and 116 respectively. Both of these years, while not stellar, were of major league quality, something the Mariners sorely lacked in the early 2010's. The Mariners front office and marketing staff were quick to jump on this new not terrible player and started marketing him.

Felix Hernandez continued his stretch of dominating the AL and had another two great seasons. In 2012 he had a 3.06 ERA, 223 K, 56 BB in 232 innings pitched. In 2013 he had a 3.04 ERA, 216 K, 46 BB in 204.33 innings pitched. King Felix made the All-star team both years. It is still a sad fact to look back and see how amazing Felix was and how bad his teams where that wasted his talent.

Brendan Ryan pulled off an impressive feat for the Mariners in 2012. The shortstop had signed with the team in 2011 and put together an acceptable season at the plate, especially considering his amazing defense. Then in 2012 his hitting completely fell apart. He hit .194 with only a .278 slugging percentage. Yet because of his defensive prowess Ryan managed to record a positive 3.4 wins above replacement (WAR) according to Baseball Reference. This was tied for the third highest WAR on the whole team and tied for first with John Jaso for the highest position player. Think about that, Ryan's defense was so valuable to the Mariners that it overcame a .194 batting average. Unfortunately for Ryan his hitting remained terrible in 2013 and his defense dropped off. The Mariners traded him to the New York Yankees for a PTBNL.

I want to mention one more interesting thing that happened in 2012. On June 8th 2012 the Mariner's pitchers threw a combined no hitter to beat the LA Dodgers 1-0. The score was super apropos because of how terrible the Mariners offense was. The Mariners used six pitchers. Kevin Millwood started the game and went six innings. Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League, and Tom Wilhelmsen each pitched in relief. Stephen Pryor, who pitched the worst with 2 BB and only 1 out, earned the win. It was a crazy game.

2012 and 2013 were a pair of disappointing seasons because the teams still couldn't hit a lick. They were just terrible at hitting. It was even more unbearable because Seattle hadn't just suffered through 2010 and 2011, two of the worst offensive seasons since the 70's. The bad baseball drove frequent movement of players. The biggest departure was Ichiro, one of the greatest players in Mariners history. If it hadn't been for the great pitching of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma there would have been no reason to watch in 2012 and 2013.

Friday, March 16, 2018

2011: If You Thought 2010 was Bad Let Me Introduce You to 2011

2011 felt a lot like 2010. It was another terrible season for the Seattle Mariners. They lost 95 games, primarily because their offense was historically bad, yet again. Nobody on the team, with at least 20 AB, had a batting average over .280. Let that sink in. Nobody with any significant playing time hit over .280. Mike Carp had the highest batting average of those players at .276. Because no one was getting on base the team scored only 556 runs, the second straight year under 600 runs. Not only could the team not get on base they also couldn't hit for power. The team leader for HR was Miguel Olivo with only 19. 

Probably the statistic that best shows how bad the M's were in 2011 was ratio of strikeouts to walks. The team struck out 2.94 times for each walk they drew. To pull off such an embarrassing result the team led the American League in strikeouts and was last place for base on balls. The team had more strikeouts than hits. No other team in the American League managed to do this.

Additionally the Mariners had the fourth oldest team in the American League with an average age of 29.4 years old. So, it wasn't like this was a bunch of young pups just breaking into the big leagues. They were a team of has-beens on their last legs. There were very few hopes for the future, only 8 of 26 position players to appear in a game were 25 or younger. It was a truly pitiful team of hitters.

Mariners star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki had a remarkable season, but for bad reasons. It was his age 34 season and he looked it. It was the first time he ever got less than 200 hits in a major league season and he wasn't injured. He played 161 games. The former star batted only .272 and had a low .310 OBP. With his mediocre stats it was the first time in his career he missed the All-Star game.

After a bad first season with the Mariners Chone Figgins started off his second year strong. He hit a homerun in the very first game. Sadly that was the end of the good times for Figgins. He didn't hit another homer all year and only hit an abysmal .188 in 81 games. Figgins was so terrible that they put him on the DL in early August and left him there for the rest of the season.

Surprisingly 2011 did have some notable moments for position players that could be construed as positive. Two players of significance made their rookie debuts for the Mariners, former 2nd overall pick Dustin Ackley and future All-star third baseman Kyle Seager. Ackley led the team in batting average for qualified players with a .273 average. He also led the team in OBP with a .348. Unfortunately both were career high for the former second overall pick. Although much less touted than Ackley at the time, Big Booty Seags managed to hit .258 in 53 games. Of the two players Seager would go on to have a much better career (yep I am calling it now even though neither is technically retired). The two infielders were about the only bright spot the whole year.

On the pitching side of things 2011 was another successful year, as long as you don't look at wins and losses.

Rookie phenom Michael Pineda started 28 games and was stellar. He looked like he was going to be a major part of the Mariners future (note: he wasn't. Read the 2012 post to learn about his fate). Pineda ERA was 3.74 and he struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings pitched, a very good rate. The young gun was fun to watch pitch and a definite reason to tune into the games.

Another pitcher that did well for the Mariners was Doug Fister. Many fans never believed in Doug. He didn't ever flash dominate stuff and he didn't have the look of an ace. Old school fans saw his 3-12 record and pointed to it as proof he wasn't anything special. But Fister's ERA didn't lie. In 21 starts he  recorded a 3.33 ERA with an even lower FIP at 3.27. Fister just knew how to get batters out.

Mid season, in an attempt to find hitters for the future, the Mariners decided to traded Fister to the Tigers. At the time I thought it was a bad trade and looking back it proved to be one. However one of the players the Mariners got in return, and the one that made the biggest impact with the team, was Charlie Furbush. So in case you had forgotten, in 2011 the Mariners traded Fister for Furbush. It is an awesome sounding trade to be sure.

The final thing worth mentioning about 2011 is King Felix's season. Coming off a Cy Young winning performance the Mariners decided to celebrate their star by creating the King's Court.  The promotional event became an immediate fan favorite and lives on to this day. It has even gained national acclaim. 

Felix's season didn't disappoint his loyal subjects in the court. He pitched 233.66 innings and struck out 222 batters. His K to BB ratio was especially impressive at 3.31. Finally his early sat at a very respectable 3.47. His best single game came on May 22nd against the San Diego Padres. Hernandez struck out 13 batters and walked none in 8 innings and only conceded 1 earned run. All this earned King Felix his second trip to the All-Star game. Overall a very good season.

Much like the season directly before it 2011 was one filled with terrible offense and good pitching. The Mariner's two year stretch of hitting over 2010-2011 may go down as one of the worst in MLB history. They scored under 600 runs in both seasons. 2011 was even more difficult to watch because former star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was finally caught by age and struggled for the first time in his career. The season was basically a waste because most of the team was old and of the few young players that got opportunities only Kyle Seager ever amounted to anything. The pitching was good, with a team ERA of 3.90, but it wasn't good enough to overcome such a terrible offense.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2010: One of the Worst Seasons of All Time

Coming off an exciting and unexpectedly mediocre 2009 season the Mariners looked to push into the playoffs in 2010. They made a big splash in the offseason acquiring starting pitcher Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies. The Mariners traded away Tyson Gillies, draft bust Phillippe Aumont, and J.C. Ramirez. Teaming up Lee with Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister, and Jason Vargas the team's top four starters were some of the best in the league. Unfortunately the team failed to improve their offense at all. Their only significant addition was Chone Figgins, who had a disastrous start to the season. The abysmal offense sunk the Mariners season and resulted in a 61-101 record, their second 100 loss season in three years.

The Mariners was amazingly bad. They scored only 513 runs the whole season, which was easily the worst in the AL. They were 100 runs worse than Baltimore Orioles who scored the second least. It was the least runs scored by an American League team since the strike shortened 1981 season. For a full season of games the Mariners 513 runs scored in 2010 was the least scored since 1971 when the California Angels scored 511 runs. Like I said 2010 was an epically bad baseball offense.

Here are some more stats to prove my point and make you hate 2010.
  • The Mariners had the least hits in the AL with only 1274. 
  • They had the least HR in the AL with only 101. 
  • The had the least doubles in the AL with only 227. 
  • They had the second most strikeouts in the AL with 1184. 
  • Only one player with at least 100 AB batted over .270. 
  • The team leader in HR, Russell Branyan, had only 15 dingers.

Part of the problem with the team's offense was their DH. The Mariners brought back Ken Griffey Jr for one more year. Unfortunately the mind was willing but the body was not. The Kid hit .184 with no homers and 2 doubles in 33 games played. The season was such a complete failure that Griffey walked away from the game in the middle of the season. There was no warning about his retirement and just a written statement provided to the media via the team. The playing career of greatest player to ever wear a Mariners uniform came to an abrupt end in 2010. It was a fitting thing to happen in a season that was a complete failure in all things hitting.

As previously mentioned the Mariners only significant addition on offense was Chone Figgins. The former Angel was coming off an All-Star season where he hit .298/.395/.393 with 42 stolen bases. Preseason the commentators talked about the potential for two All-Star caliber men at the top of the order setting the table early and allowing the Mariners to jump out to big leads. Sadly this didn't happen.

Chone Figgins had one of the worst starts to a season of any Mariner ever. In March, April, an May he hit .211 (38/180) with 47 strikeouts and only 10 extra base hits (XHB) (9 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR). His slow start cemented his Mariners legacy as a failure. I can't think of a more hyped free agent signing with the Mariners that had such a miserable start. By the end of the 2010 season Figgins had managed to raise his average up to .259, but with a meager .306 slugging percentage it was still a disappointment. He achieved his impressively low SLG by only recording 24 XBH in over 600 AB.

If you recall from before the other big acquisition coming into the 2010 season was the trade for Cliff Lee. The starting pitcher performed as expected. As a Mariner Lee pitched in 13 games and 103.66 innings. His ERA was a low 2.34 and his FIP was even better at 2.16. All this success allowed the Mariners to trade Lee to the Rangers in July and bring Josh Lueke, Blake Beaven and Justin Smoak. It was the third time Cliff Lee was traded in a calendar year. For being such a stellar pitching talent it was pretty amazing turn of events.

The biggest and most heralded players the Mariners received for Lee was first baseman Justin Smoak. That is right, the 2010 saw the arrival of the Smoakamotive at Safeco field. In his first season with the team he played in 30 games and hit 5 HR. His overall performance wasn't impressive, but Mariners fans were hoping for big things from the South Carolinian and figured him to be an important part of the future. Everyone wanted to get on the train.

The most important and positive thing to happen in 2010 was Felix Hernandez. Despite going 13-12 on the season, not making the All-star team, and his team losing 101 games the Baseball Writers awarded King Felix with the 2010 Cy Young. It was well deserved. Hernandez struck out 232 batters. He posted a 2.27 ERA. He completed 6 of his 34 starts. Depending on how you grade it this was either the best or second best season of Hernandez's career (many would argue 2014 was even better). Felix was the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal season.

2010 is a season best forgotten to the sand of time. It was the fifth time in the franchise's history that the team lost over 100 games. It saw one of the worst offenses in baseball history take the diamond. There was a massive free agent bust and the ungraceful end of a legends career. There was only one bright spot during the whole season and that was the 34 times that Felix Hernandez was in the game.