BROCK AND SALK

Mariners’ problem versus spin unlikely to go away soon

Apr 2, 2024, 4:04 PM

Seattle Mariners Cal Raleigh strikeouts...

Cal Raleigh of the Seattle Mariners reacts after his strikeout on Sept. 13, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

One of the biggest goals for the Seattle Mariners in 2024 was to cut down on strikeouts and whiffs. Through five games, it’s safe to say that mission is far from accomplished.

How worrisome is Seattle Mariners lineup’s early strikeout rate?

During a four-game split with the Boston Red Sox, the Mariners struck out 45 times while working only six walks. The M’s did work six walks in Monday’s series opener against the Cleveland Guardians, but still struck out nine times.

A big reason for those strikeout issues not just this season, but last year when the M’s struck out the second-most times in MLB, is because of the inability to hit non-fastballs, especially the breaking ball.

Per the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish, 27.9% of the pitches the Mariners saw in the first three games of the year were fastballs. Everything else? Breaking balls and off-speed pitches. They saw very few heaters in a 5-1 loss on Sunday, too. In Divish’s notebook, a scout told him that, ‘Looks like it’s still ‘spin to win’ to beat them again.”

That was a key topic of discussion when ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Tuesday.

“I saw pitching that should make them very happy, and I saw way too many strikeouts and way too few walks and the sort of offensive approach that is not going to play over the long-term,” Passan said of his early impressions of the Mariners. “So, the bats need to pick it up a little bit. But we’ve been saying that for years now, right? Like this is kind of a broken record.”

Passan was asked if MLB is shifting to where the fastball becomes the secondary in favor of the breaking ball.

“We’re there already. This is the sort of thing, the trend has been going that way for like a decade-plus at this point,” Passan said.

“It’s not to the point where any individual pitch has overtaken the fastball. Not even close, frankly,” he later said. “But the combination of sliders and curveballs and changeups and cutters and everything that isn’t a four-seamer or a two-seamer, that’s a real thing. And it’s something that has trended that way for a while now. And it should be of no surprise, honestly, because look, they’re more effective.”

Passan noted that fastball usage league-wide is down about 10% since the 2015 season.

“And at the same time, the velocity has gone up from 2015 (when it was) a 92.1 mph average to 93.9 right now. And yet despite 1 mph over a decade – which is a huge, huge leap – they still are throwing fewer fastballs because the slider has become such a thing (as it’s) up seven percentage points in that time, because the cutter has become more commonplace, because the splitter now is being used more and more,” Passan said. “Realize that the numbers don’t lie, guys. And the numbers say very clearly that hitters hit fastballs better than they do any other pitches. And now that pitchers are learning to control and command those off-speed pitches better, why wouldn’t you throw them more if they’re more effective? It’s just a natural evolution of the game by what the numbers are telling us.”

Listen to Brock and Salk’s full conversation with ESPN’s Jeff Passan at this link or in the player earlier in this story.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Mariners claim LHP Sammy Peralta off waivers from White Sox
• Seattle Mariners OF Taylor Trammell claimed by LA Dodgers
• Three big questions after Mariners split their opening series
• Andrés Muñoz already dominant for Mariners and has new weapon
• What’s the next step for Seattle Mariners’ George Kirby in 2024?

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Mariners’ problem versus spin unlikely to go away soon