One thing Mariners excel at reveals what needs to improve

Jun 12, 2024, 12:57 PM

Seattle Mariners Luke Raley...

Luke Raley of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Chicago White Sox on June 10, 2024. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

A lot of Seattle Mariners wins follow a similar script, and this week has been a prime example.

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The lineup will struggle against the opposing starting pitcher, but eventually it will run up the pitch count enough to get into the bullpen, and that’s when they strike. Just look at their back-to-back comeback wins over the Chicago White Sox on Monday and Tuesday.

One statistic shows that this is part of the Mariners’ makeup. Entering Wednesday, Seattle averages 4.05 pitches per plate appearance, which leads all of baseball by a considerable margin. It’s .06 more than the No. 2 team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and No. 2 through No. 13 are all bunched up together somewhere in the 3.9s in pitches per PA.

Mariners broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith pointed at this Tuesday when he joined The Dugout, a weekly hour-long show during Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy dedicated to M’s interviews and analysis. But even though it can be seen as a positive, it also reveals something the Mariners need to improve, according to Goldsmith.

“Pretty consistently for the first two months of the season, the Mariners have been either one or two or certainly top five in baseball in terms of pitches per plate appearance,” he said, “but I think some of that has been a little bit of a false hustle number. Pitches per plate appearance is great. You would love to drive the pitch count of the opposing starter up, absolutely, but ‘A’ needs to lead to ‘B.’ ‘A’ is you drive the pitch count up, ‘B’ is that eventually leads to runs being scored, right?

“The point of the game isn’t to make the opposing team throw more pitches than your team. The point of the game is to score runs, and one way to do it is to grind down a starting pitcher, get into the bullpen, grind those guys down as well, and hopefully that leads to better at-bats, runs, so forth and so on. I think there’s been parts of this year where the first part has definitely been there, the second part clearly has not.”

‘A little too comfortable’

Despite leading the league in pitches seen, Seattle’s offense ranks low in many important categories including runs scored (22nd), OPS (23rd), batting average (28th) and strikeouts (the M’s have the most in baseball). Not producing much against the pitchers who are on the mound for the majority of each game is a big reason.

“Starting pitchers have been a little too comfortable against the Mariners, I would say,” Goldsmith said. “Too many outings of six innings, pitching into the seventh, not much damage done where you see nine in a row retired, 12 in a row retired.

“We saw it (Monday) night and that was nothing all that new against the Mariners this season. The Mariners need to not only get the starters out, but get them out with some runs on their line. For me, that’s the thing. … When you start getting into the seventh inning and you’re playing from behind, varsity bullpens – in other words, the ‘A’ side of every bullpen – are too good to be going up against more often than not to try to scratch your runs out to come from behind and win a ballgame. That being said, they’ve been able to do it, but they would rather not have to go about it as often as they have.”

The formula the Mariners have been following on offense is textbook “Chaos Ball,” which has become a big part of the team’s identity in recent years and is exemplified by an .850 team OPS in “late/close” situations that ranks third in MLB behind only Baltimore and San Diego. But if the M’s want to take the next step, Goldsmith believes they need to find more ways to put pressure on starting pitchers besides just running up the pitch count.

“You look at the slash line for the Mariners when the leverage is high – so what we saw (Monday) night primarily in the eighth and the ninth inning – legitimately they’ve been a top-five offense in baseball,” Goldsmith said. “It’s a maddening way to go about it. Maybe that’s chaos ball at its finest … But for the Mariners to get to where they want to be offensively, that in my eyes is one of the primary objectives that they are wanting to improve upon.”

The Dugout airs from 1-2 p.m. Tuesdays during Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy. Listen to this week’s edition that includes a conversation with Mariners broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Mariners make roster move; is it a good sign about Bryan Woo?
Does a Luis Robert trade make sense for Mariners? Passan explains
Can you believe in first-place Mariners? Three stats that say you can
Mariners’ Luke Raley says he got ‘perfect pitch’ for gutsy bunt
Seattle Mariners Insider: The transition for rookie Ryan Bliss to big leagues

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One thing Mariners excel at reveals what needs to improve