What’s wrong with Mariners’ bats? A look at their biggest issues

Jun 5, 2023, 11:34 AM

Seattle Mariners Ty France...

Mariners 1B Ty France reacts after striking out against the Yankees on May 31, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Things went from bad to worse for the Seattle Mariners with their weekend trip to Texas, as the American League West-leading Rangers embarrassed the M’s in a three-game sweep in which they outscored Seattle a combined 30-9.

Red-hot Rangers win 12-3 to finish dominant sweep of scuffling Seattle Mariners

The Mariners now sit at 29-30 and six games out of the nearest playoff spot two months into a season where they had hopes of not just playing October baseball for the second straight season but challenging for the division title and punching the franchise’s first ticket to a World Series. At least for now, those dreams seem pretty unrealistic for Seattle.

What are the key issues? Mariners insider Shannon Drayer of Seattle Sports shared her view from their current road trip on Monday when she joined Brock and Salk.

“The biggest problem is the offense,” she told hosts Brock Huard and Mike Salk. “They have failed to get traction of any sort. You’ve had individual struggles, you’ve had hitting philosophy struggles, you have had complete lineup and hitting together as a team struggles. The acquisitions that were brought in are not helping the situation at all. You’ve got to score runs to win ballgames and the pitching has given you every opportunity to win ballgames, and it’s been the offensive side that has come up short. It’s plain and simple. You could go into a billion numbers.”

Digging into the Seattle Mariners’ struggles

Drayer brought up a tweet from Talkin’ Baseball that made the rounds Sunday, which displayed a graphic from a TV broadcast of Sunday’s game that showed the five hitters in the American League with the most strikeouts this season. Four of them are Mariners, which exemplifies perhaps Seattle’s biggest issue.

“The strikeout is a big part of it,” Drayer said when asked why the offense has been the Mariners’ key problem. “There was a graphic that went around quite a bit on Sunday about the number of strikeouts that four-ninths of your lineup has, so which is not good. You can live with the strikeouts if you also have the slugging percentage, and the problem is with Teoscar Hernández, with Eugenio Suárez, you don’t have the slug, you just have the strikeouts. (The Yankees’) Aaron Judge has one of the highest strikeout percentages in the game. (The Mariners’) Julio Rodríguez and (Angels’) Mike Trout have the same strikeout percentage, and it’s high. There is a trade off there, but the problem is you’ve got empty strikeouts in two huge parts of the lineup.”

Hernández was Seattle’s most notable offseason addition, but through 59 games he has a .408 slugging percentage and 94 OPS+ (league average is 100) while leading the league in strikeouts with 81. Suárez, meanwhile, is not replicating his big 2022 season with the M’s, as he has struck out 72 times and owns a lowly .326 slugging and 84 OPS+ in the same 59-game sample.

Is the end of ‘C the Z’ near?

The Mariners have had an offensive manta under eighth-year manager Scott Servais to “control the zone” (sometimes also referred to as “dominate the zone.”) The way they’ve operated in 2023, however, has fallen well short of living up to that. Seattle has the third-most strikeouts among all MLB teams this season with 573 and is eighth from the bottom in on-base percentage (.307).

“What you hear is that they are not following the philosophy of ‘dominate the zone.’ That doesn’t mean sit back and try and take walks, that means don’t miss the pitches you can handle and do damage with,” Drayer said. “They’re missing the pitches that they can handle and do damage with, and then they’re getting into a cycle – many of them – of swinging at pitches they have no business swinging at whatsoever. So you’ve got a problem and you’ve got guys that you know have done it before and they’re not getting it done right now. And some of the most absolutely frustrating things to see is sometimes you’ll see hitters that are so lost right now that they’re staring at pitches right down the middle. Individual struggles are having a huge impact on this team, and that of course affects what they can do as a group.”

That led to Huard asking a big question: Is the “control the zone” philosophy sustainable for the Mariners?

“I think it’s something that you probably have to look at,” Drayer responded. “I mean, I think everything is on the table right now. When you have this much of a failure across the board with the offense, you have to look at everything. Was it who you brought in? Was it the philosophy? Was it the messaging? Was it getting the messaging to the players? You have to figure out what it is.”

Drayer had one last point to make about the offense, recalling something she remembers Servais saying after a game late last month in Oakland.

“There were frustrations with what the offense was doing, and he said, ‘You know, we are far too easy to pitch to right now,’ and I don’t think they’ve taken many steps from that. I think there have been a couple of times when they’ve come out of that a little bit, but on a consistent basis, I think they’re still pretty easy to pitch to. And I think you do see (opposing starting pitchers) come in and all of a sudden you see some usages flipped a little bit. You do start seeing a little bit more sliders and breaking balls than they normally throw, and I think it’s been effective. And if the other teams know how to get you out, you need to know how to make the adjustment, and there has been frustration that you haven’t seen the adjustments.”

Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with Drayer in the podcast below.

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