M's can't get to first base
The forbidden zone?
May 25, 2021
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:
|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|
|Los Angeles Angels||47||386||70||7||60||.247||249||5.30|
|New York Yankees||47||355||52||2||58||.231||243||5.17|
|Kansas City Royals||45||341||61||10||41||.235||229||5.09|
|New York Mets||41||295||51||4||32||.224||208||5.07|
|St. Louis Cardinals||47||357||66||6||55||.232||230||4.89|
|Tampa Bay Rays||49||397||97||5||62||.235||233||4.76|
|San Francisco Giants||47||346||64||6||64||.227||212||4.51|
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.