Rost: Making sense of the Seattle Mariners’ strikeout problem

May 30, 2023, 9:43 AM | Updated: 10:31 am

Seattle Mariners Teoscar Hernández...

Teoscar Hernández tosses his bat after striking out on May 23, 2023. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Days away from June, saying “the Seattle Mariners have a strikeout problem” feels as simple as saying “the weather is getting warmer.”

Monday: Judge hits 2 HRs, robs another as Yankees top Mariners 10-4

The news surprises absolutely nobody, and entering the third month of the season, it’s now obvious the problem isn’t a temporary issue. But despite the simple deduction, the reasons behind Seattle’s struggles at the plate are less obvious.

There’s certainly more than one offender. Four Mariners are in the top 15 in strikeouts. Outfielder Teoscar Hernández leads MLB in strikeouts with 76, while infielder Eugenio Suárez is fourth (67) and fellow outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez are tied at 10th with 64 apiece.

As a whole, only three teams are striking out more than the Mariners: the Twins, Giants and A’s.

Part of the issue is the way the team is constructed. The Mariners want to hit home runs and control the zone (great!), but they boast power hitters who have typically carried higher strikeout rates. Hernández’s strikeout rate was no lower than 30% from 2017 to 2020, peaking at 37% in 2017. His 2021 season saw a career-high 32 home runs to a 24.9% strikeout rate, but that number has risen to 34.2% in 2023. His nine home runs this season are second-most on the team, but his weighted on-base average (.290) is the lowest of his career.

Suárez’s strikeout rate, meanwhile, is actually down overall this season, but until recently his offensive production was more uneven.

A greater issue for Seattle was the lack of overall production from players who weren’t hitting home runs. The lackluster performance of offseason addition Kolten Wong includes the second baseman’s highest strikeout rate (21.7%) and second-worst average of his career. Both Wong and outfielder AJ Pollock have seen more at-bats given to José Caballero and Taylor Trammell of late after both had a hand in a sluggish offensive start to the season.

“Yes, it sounds like an excuse, but it’s very real,” Mariners insider Shannon Drayer said during The Dugout last week when talking about Seattle’s concerning strikeout rate. “I think there is a bit of an adjustment, especially for a younger team, in facing teams that you haven’t faced before. And they faced a lot of them. They had, what, 15 in a row of National League teams in the first month of the season? That’s not normal. It takes different scouting, different preparation.”

Seattle has more strikeouts against National League pitchers than any other team in the American League.

There are a couple other things Drayer pointed to.

The weather is also real,” she added. “And everybody says, ‘Well, everybody has to play here.’ Yeah, but then they get to leave. The weather has been some of the worst that I’ve seen. Are these overriding and this is why it’s not going well? No. But they should be taken into consideration a little bit, especially with a young team. And perhaps a little bit of it is that you’ve gone out (in free agency and trades) and you’ve gotten guys — and this was a choice — who were one-year guys. So you’ve got young guys who haven’t done this a lot and guys who are playing for a contract next year. You think there’s a little bit of pressure on everybody right now? I just think there are so many things that have played into it.”

There’s plenty more work to be done to cut the number down, but strikeouts have at least trimmed in May (239) from April (261). That’s with a pair of games left to go against a stellar Yankees pitching staff, but the goal for June is as simple as can be. If the issue continues and excuses like weather and lack of familiarity slip away, getting to the root of the problem may end up being more complicated than we realize.

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