Caught Looking

M's can't get to first base

I saw my first in-person no-hitter earlier this month, and even though it was against my team, and thus involved massive mixed feelings, it still felt like an event. First no-hitter! Woooo! Two days later, Wade Miley of the Reds no-hit the Indians. Then during my week in Minneapolis (my first vacation since the COVID pandemic began), there were two more, including another one against the Mariners. That makes six no-hitters this season against three teams: Seattle, Texas, Cleveland. The record for a single season is the seven no-hitters thrown in 1990. We seem destined to smash that mark.

Needless to say, the no-hitter I saw feels less like an event now. Oh, you saw a *2021* no-hitter. Who didn't?

Hitting, of course, is down across the Majors this season—the league average is in the .230s—but the Mariners are exceptional (or its opposite) in this regard. Our team batting average is .199, the lowest of the low. The Indians are third-lowest at .216. Texas is the surprise: They're about league average: .235. 

What's astonishing about the M's, though, is just how they're failing. They're still hitting doubles—as of today, they're tied for 9th in the Majors with 74. Homers? Tied for 15th with 54. Extra-base hits per game? 18th. Walks per game? 16th. All of which is average or slightly above. So where are they going wrong?

With the easiest hit you can get, the one so seemingly unimportant they don't even track it in the stats. The Mariners are abysmal when it comes to hitting singles. 

So far this season we've got 170, while second-worst Cleveland is at 187. Every other team is in the 200s, with the Astros on top with 293. But that doesn't even begin to capture it. Because the M's have also played more games than most teams. So if you break it down on a per-game basis, it's much, much worse:

TEAM G H 2B 3B HR AVG 1B 1B/G
Houston Astros 47 440 90 5 52 .270 293 6.23
Washington Nationals 43 374 68 3 46 .258 257 5.98
Toronto Blue Jays 46 400 68 4 68 .252 260 5.65
Chicago White Sox 46 381 74 10 45 .254 252 5.48
San Diego Padres 48 382 65 9 48 .242 260 5.42
Los Angeles Dodgers 47 395 76 10 55 .248 254 5.40
Boston Red Sox 48 432 105 3 65 .263 259 5.40
Texas Rangers 49 384 58 6 58 .235 262 5.35
Pittsburgh Pirates 46 352 71 6 30 .229 245 5.33
Cincinnati Reds 45 383 73 4 67 .249 239 5.31
Los Angeles Angels 47 386 70 7 60 .247 249 5.30
Detroit Tigers 47 354 53 10 44 .230 247 5.26
Philadelphia Phillies 48 377 70 6 49 .238 252 5.25
Miami Marlins 47 367 70 10 44 .233 243 5.17
New York Yankees 47 355 52 2 58 .231 243 5.17
Colorado Rockies 48 384 78 13 48 .242 245 5.10
Kansas City Royals 45 341 61 10 41 .235 229 5.09
New York Mets 41 295 51 4 32 .224 208 5.07
Baltimore Orioles 47 368 81 5 47 .235 235 5.00
Minnesota Twins 47 382 79 5 65 .241 233 4.96
Chicago Cubs 46 357 66 9 55 .237 227 4.93
St. Louis Cardinals 47 357 66 6 55 .232 230 4.89
Tampa Bay Rays 49 397 97 5 62 .235 233 4.76
Arizona Diamondbacks 48 370 80 12 51 .229 227 4.73
Milwaukee Brewers 47 330 61 5 52 .213 212 4.51
San Francisco Giants 47 346 64 6 64 .227 212 4.51
Atlanta Braves 47 363 72 6 78 .236 207 4.40
Oakland Athletics 49 359 74 8 69 .226 208 4.24
Cleveland Indians 45 319 70 8 54 .216 187 4.16
Seattle Mariners 48 301 74 3 54 .199 170 3.54

We're half a single per game behind even the 29th-place Indians, and a full single per game behind 24 of the 30 MLB teams. The Astros hit nearly twice as many singles as we do. That's why all of our extra-base hits (we're 18th on a per-game basis) don't add up to runs scored (27th). And that's why the .199 batting average. And that's why the two no-hitters against us. We can't get to first base. We hit them where they are.

As Tim wrote the other day:

The M's as a whole have bought into the Statcast obsession with power hitting. ... There is an unhealthy focus on “launch angles” and home runs and slugging as the basis for hitting a baseball. Contact, working counts, and getting on base are, at best, secondary considerations under this philosophy.

And they've been doing this in a year when the ball itself has been deadened to prevent excessive power hitting. 

So is the M's org trying to pivot at all? One would hope. In a way, it's almost good news. We don't suck across the board. Our offense is fairly average in most categories. We just can't get to first base.

 

This column is cross-posted at eriklundegaard.com.

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