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Your Clearly World Series Contending Seattle Mariners

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Run differential as of 8/15/14

1. Oakland +163
2. Seattle +94
3-30. Some other, less good teams.

And outside of the actual 3 and 4, which are the Angels and Nationals, there’s no one else even close.

My brain tells me not to take the Mariners seriously. And my heart kind of tells me that too. But the statistics do not lie. This is a team that has been one of the best in the major leagues this season and it isn’t luck. They are simply better than most other teams.

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  • Col Bat Guano

    Dammit Loomis, are you trying to ruin our August/September? We are happily trying to fly under the radar out here in southern Alaska.

  • rea
  • You seem to believe there’s a correlation between being better and success. I have a sudden urge to pat you on the head.

  • c u n d gulag

    Well, since my Yanks look like shit – AGAIN!!!* – I’ll need an AL team to root for.
    So, it might as well be the Mariners.
    GO CANO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    And, of course, the great King Felix!
    Dodgers v. Mariners?
    (I have no faith in the A’s winning the AL championship – sorry, A’s fans…)

    *I might as well get used to it.
    Our minor league teams are about as productive as a celery farm in a drought!

    • Brien Jackson

      I just put $50 on Baltimore (at 14-1 odds) to win the Series myself.

      • c u n d gulag

        Man, I’d love to see Buck win one, finally!

        If only I could get over what the late 60’s and early 70’s O’s used to do to my Yanks.
        The Robinson Brothers and the O’s rotation used to beat the Yanks like they were an adopted younger red-headed step-brother.

        • Davis

          Thanks for the kind words about Buck. I’m amazed that the Yankees have a winning record (barely) with a -40 differential. As an Orioles season ticket holder, I’m really enjoying the season.

          • tsam

            Is this Chris Davis?

          • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

            The fact that a team with Dan Duquette* as GM and Buck Showalter managing – two of the most dead-as-a-doornail “washed up” guys career-wise you could name in baseball as of 3 years ago – is winning the AL East, with the Jays chasing, while Tampa, the Yankees and Red Sox struggle for relevance does not get enough attention. It boggles my mind. Complete topsy-turvydom. It’s like Michael Cimino winning Best Director next year, with Sean Young taking Best Actress.

            * Duquette IIRC wasn’t even in an MLB job when the O’s hired him – think he was managing a baseball skills camp or something similar.

            • Scott Lemieux

              It should be noted here that Dan Duquette has an outstanding track record as a GM.

              • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

                Agreed – good piece btw. His Red Sox teams always seemed to punch above their weight. But it was an unorthodox choice by the recent standards MLB owners have set: he’s neither a seasoned pro with a ring, a Big Name, nor a whiz kid, and given how Perception Rules so often in sports, his perception as a washout earned or not is another thing that made his hiring a surprise (not his success). It makes you wonder about guys like Dan Evans, Paul DePodesta, etc

  • Brien Jackson

    The thing about Seattle is that their offense is so bad, they just don’t feel like they can be legit contenders. And that’s probably why they most likely won’t catch Anaheim for the first wild card, and could easily miss the second wild card as well.

    • c u n d gulag

      If you want to think of them in a more positive light, think of the SF Giants over the past half-decade.

      • Brien Jackson

        I don’t think any of those bad offenses were *that* bad, but I could be wrong.

        • Stan Gable

          For one reason or another, most of the west coast teams play in parks that hammer offense. Anaheim is basically neutral, not so much with the rest of them, although I think Dodger Stadium is a little more hitter friendly than it used to be.

          • Brien Jackson

            This isn’t totally true of Seattle though: Their offense just really, really, stinks.

    • Richard Hershberger

      To put this another way, perhaps run differential as a proxy for winning ability breaks down at the extremes: great pitching but terrible hitting, or great hitting but terrible pitching. The alternative is that the Mariners have been really unlucky over the past 121 games.

      Anecdatum: in a game with the Orioles a couple of weeks ago the O’s leadoff batter hit a home run. They won 1-0. The Orioles are built around very good hitting and adequate pitching. They won two out of three playing in Seattle.

      • Davis

        Orioles bullpen is outstanding, and starting pitching has been more than adequate since the All Star break. We just lost to Cleveland 2-1 in 11 innings.

    • tsam

      They could, but their offense has exploded in the last 2 weeks.
      Morales is starting to hit.
      Ackley is hitting after a miserable first half
      Seeger is reliable as usual
      Cano is hitting a steady .330 (holy shit!)
      We picked up Austin Jackson!!!

      Paxton returned last night and went 7IP, 5H, 1ER against Detroit. Offense scored a lousy 7 runs. They also smashed Toronto in their series, and Toronto isn’t a bad hitting team.

      No, they won’t catch LAA or Oakland. But grabbing a wild card spot in a division where you’re looking up at the two best teams in baseball (by record) would be pretty huge.

      I think Lloyd McClendon is just what we needed.

      Felix has got to be an automatic Cy Young this year.

      I’m saying NOTHING about playoffs or World Series because that would be stupid at this point, but there is hope!

      If they won the Series this year, following the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win…there will be no living with your boy tsam. I’ll NEVER shut up about it.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Well, their offense *was* so bad: they gave a ton of at bats to Almonte, Hart, Smoak, James Jones, and Brad Miller, all of whom have been terrible for pretty much the whole season. But they’ve slowly replaced those guys with ones who’ve hit better: Morrison, Jackson, Taylor, Morales. Ackley’s on another of his Zelig-like tears. And now the offense is starting to come, and they’re 9-1 (?) their last 10 games. The last weak link is Endy Chavez, who really has no business starting on any decent team, and should ideally be replaced by Michael Saunders (.542 OBP in AAA) hopefully this week.

      • howard

        i’ve been wondering for years what the impact of safeco on a good hitter is, so cano gave me an excellent test case.

        and here’s 2 amazing things: a.) cano’s career isolated power as a yankee was .195; for most of the early part of this season, he was around .100, but he’s up to .146 as of this morning; b.) nonetheless, his ops+ (as of this morning) is 150, a career high.

        so yes, i think we can say that even the very best hitters in baseball have a tougher time at safeco than in the median park, an observation affirmed by baseball-reference, which shows safeco as a 96 (under 100 favors pitchers) ballpark.

        • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

          Cano’s totally changed his approach this year – I believe Lookout Landing published an analysis this week, if you haven’t seen it already it’s well worth looking up. He’s lifting fewer balls for in the air for home runs, but driving more hard hits through the infield, and his walk and strikeout rates are near career bests – just about what you’d want someone transitioning from the Bronx to Safeco to do. His production is about the same as it’s ever been, just in a different form.

      • Scott Lemieux

        And even so, their park-adjusted offense is 21st in baseball; below average but not historically terrible or anything.

        The fact that the Yankees have a similarly bad offense is also inconsistent with the idea that teams will underachieve their Pythagorean if they have a shitty offense but excellent pitching. Their underachievement in terms of wins and losses is almost certainly just bad luck.

        • howard

          I’m busy on something else but I’ve been doing some homework on pythagorean outcomes and what my casual look suggests that +/- 5 to projected outcome isn’t especially noteworthy.

          More on this in future.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Yes, it’s not unusual at all.

  • Joe_JP

    I think their offense is going to be key.

  • Kurzleg

    Why is Oakland underperforming by 7 games? They’re 17-15 in one-run games and 11-6 in extra innings. Doesn’t seem like they’re unlucky.

    • howard

      I’ve been spending some time looking at run differentials, predicted outcomes, and actual outcomes and while 7 games is a bit extreme, +/- 5 is quite normal.

      In short, run differential is our best guide but it’s not a precise predictor.

  • cpinva

    the “actual” 3 & 4 are the Nationals and the Angels, with a run differential of 94 & 89 respectively. and then a whole bunch of other teams not anywhere close.

    ordinarily, I would think run differential in baseball, and points/time of possession differentials in football should, without any other information, give you a solid clue on who the good teams are and aren’t. apparently, in baseball, that isn’t quite a good correlation/causation. go figure.

    • Ann Outhouse

      If every team played every other team in its league the same number of times, an equal number of times the home/away parks, and against essentially the same lineups and pitchers, it might be a stronger correlation, but the the luck of the schedule has too much impact.

      OAK and SEA are in the AL West with the hapless Strohs and Rangers — who wouldn’t want to be? Tampa outscored the Rangers 25-7 in their recent 4-game series @Rangers.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Mariners’ strength of schedule is still in the top 10-15 I believe, because aside from the Texas teams they also have the 2 best teams in their division, plus the NL East (#4 team) in interleague.

    • Scott Lemieux

      that isn’t quite a good correlation/causation.

      No, in baseball there is a very good correlation. Exceptions don’t disprove the general rule. (Plus, all four of those teams would make the playoffs if the season ended today, and three of them are mortal locks.)

      • cpinva

        fair enough. although, it also occurs to me that a lot of teams are one or two injuries away from catastrophe on any given day. take fister, harper and span out of the lineup for a couple of weeks, and the nats are a much weaker team. that said, it seems to me run differential, over a high enough number of games, should be an indication of long-term consistency, either good or bad.

  • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

    I still say it’s a coin flip between Hernandez and Sale for the AL Cy Young. They have essentially identical rate numbers, but one has done it in Safeco, and the other in US Cellular. (Yes, Hernandez has a lot more innings pitched, but that difference gets smaller and smaller as the season wears on.)

    And Erik, apropos of something we discussed a month or so ago — when did Randy Johnson ever have a season like the one Sale is putting up?

    • Scott Lemieux

      It’s not even close. Felix has pitched similarly well in 50 more innings. He’s been at least a win and a half more valuable.

      • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

        According to BR’s WAR numbers, Hernandez has only been 0.7 wins better. In about 50 more innings. (Yes, yes, FIP vs. ERA, I’m still not convinced that ERA isn’t better when you’re talking descriptive and not predictive metrics).

        And that doesn’t address my point that Sale has done it in one of the more hitter-friendly parks in baseball, especially for fly ball pitchers (and he’s slightly a fly ball pitcher). Hernandez, not so much.

        • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

          Also keep in mind that Sale is doing this almost exclusively against right handed hitters. What would Hernandez’s numbers look like if he was facing 95% lefties?

        • djw

          I don’t understand this at all. Giving pitchers credit or blame for defense doesn’t make any more sense as a description of past value than it does for forecasting. Why would it?

          • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

            Lack of control over balls put in play and credit for the defense aren’t the same thing. Plus, again, FIP overweights HR/9 when comparing elite pitchers and DOESN’T weight XBH, both of which artificially favor Hernandez. And then there’s park effects.

            Out of curiosity, assume Game 6 of the ALCS. Neutral park. Two lefties in the lineup, one of whom is an elite hitter. Would you rather have 2014 Sale or Hernandez?

            • Scott Lemieux

              There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them. But to be relevant to the Cy Young debate, the question is “would you rather have 8 innings of Felix Hernandez, or 6 innings of Chris Sale and 2 innings of Andre Rienzo?” The answer to that is pretty obvious.

        • Scott Lemieux

          And that doesn’t address my point that Sale has done it in one of the more hitter-friendly parks in baseball, especially for fly ball pitchers (and he’s slightly a fly ball pitcher). Hernandez, not so much.

          Park adjusted, Felix’s performance has been of comparable value, making this a very easy question. Felix has been substantially more valuable.

          • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

            If by “comparable,” you mean “a bit worse,” then yes.

            • Scott Lemieux

              No, I mean comparable. Felix’s xFIP is substantially better — it’s far from obvious he’s been less effective even inning-for-inning.

          • Stan Gable

            You should also note that Safeco is actually about neutral except for pull RHB who get absolutely murdered. Felix benefits from Safeco but far less than anyone else on the staff.

        • brad

          ?
          You love Sale, he’s an ace, but this hyperbole is just ridiculous. The fangraphs WAR difference, btw, is twice as big. That’s the one based on FIP, fyi.
          ERA is the batting average of pitching stats. Earned vs unearned is a crap distinction in this era. It doesn’t change much between the two, Felix has 0 unearned this year vs Sale’s whopping 2 runs, but the FIP difference is a quarter run. The only point in your favor I can find is Sale has a tiny lead in ERA+, which takes your ballpark effects into account, but it’s small enough that the 2 unearned runs balance it out. The FIP difference is based on Felix having a 13 point advantage in groundball rate and Sale having a likely mostly random noise 6 point lead in LOB% which gets washed out.
          There’s an argument to be made that on an inning by inning basis Sale has been Felix’s equal. But 50 innings is 50 innings.

          And comparing to the Big Unit? Are you insane? Sale’s projected fWAR this year totals around 6.5. RJ had 9 seasons that top that, each by a min of half a win, with 5 being 9.5 or higher. Sale is good, but he’s only going to pitch maybe 180 innings. Be realistic.

          • brad

            Just to drive the point home, using the most favorable number available to Sale, RJ had a season like Sale’s in 2002. Same ERA+, in quite literally double the innings.
            And by fWAR that was only RJ’s 6th most valuable season of his career.

            • Lord Jesus Perm

              As someone who’s only casually aware of sabermetrics, what’s the difference between fWAR and WAR? Going by WAR, 2002 is Johnson’s best year (a ridiculous 10.9).

              • brad

                fWAR is just fangraph’s system of calculating WAR, which uses slightly different inputs than B-R’s, which is, when being distinguished, referred to as bWAR. For position players the main difference is the defensive inputs, for pitchers I believe, but might be wrong, that the main difference is ERA+ vs FIP.

          • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

            Re: FIP

            They walk the same number, Sale strikes out almost one more per nine, and while Hernandez has a much better HR/9, it’s the difference of like 2 HR over 150 innings. Furthermore, FIP doesn’t take into account XBH, which significantly favors Sale. With respect to Sale’s GB rate, I just don’t buy it. His pitches all break in to RH, which induces a ton of weak pop ups. Those don’t count towards his GB/FB ratio.

            And yes, RJ was hyperbole. Though how old was RJ before he was putting up Sale’s numbers? 30?

            • brad

              He does have a few points lead in iffb. He’s been about Felix’s equal, inning for inning.
              But those 50 innings count, and there’s two ways to consider them. First is the simple value of those roughly 7 extra starts. And second, that means Sale would continue to have to produce like this for another 50 innings to truly be Felix’s equal. Elite level performance is hard to continue, the odds, and projections, say Sale will fall off in his remaining starts. Yes, as will Felix, but the additional innings and lack of likely random noise bit of help from LOB% weight such that the projections plain like Felix better the rest of the way. They’re hardly flawless, but they still know more than either of us.
              Point being, Sale can only max at the innings total Felix has now, and he’d have to continue to be the best he’s ever been to match simply what Felix has already done.

              • Stan Gable

                “Counting stats matter too” is another way to put it.

              • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

                Do keep in mind that Hernandez is 28 and Sale is 25.

                • brad

                  So?
                  Felix has a track record of rarely missing starts. Sale has already missed a big chunk of this year, and his delivery will likely always keep him at risk.

                • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

                  Sale is probably a couple of years from his peak. Hernandez is at or past it. Is his velocity still down a couple of mph, btw? The last few starts Sale has been touching 98, so he doesn’t appear to be suffering from the workload.

                • brad

                  Felix has the best ERA, FIP, and xFIP of his career this season and he’s in decline? Yes, he’s lost something off his fastball, but that’s hardly holding him back in terms of results the last few years.
                  Sale has already missed half as many starts this year as Felix has in his entire career, assuming that he had the chance to make 34 per, which might not be true. Not to mention Sale’s having topped out at 30 starts in any season. And his violent delivery has always made people worry about the risk involved. Being healthy this moment doesn’t change history or probabilities.
                  If anything, since you seem to be shifting the debate to long term value, I’d prefer Felix based on track record and the ability to perform at an ace level without elite heat.

                • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

                  Tongue was planted firmly in cheek.

                  Though I have been impressed by Sale’s velocity the last month or so. He’s been sitting 95-96 and touching 98, which is harder than he was throwing in April.

            • djw

              Again, look at hr/fb, not hr/9. They’re very similar. Being a GB pitcher is an asset.

    • MikeJake

      I don’t see how you can just slot Sale in there without even mentioning Kluber.

      • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

        A 154 ERA+ vs. a 197 ERA+?

        • MikeJake

          I piss on your park factors.

          • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

            You joke, but this is kind of the point. Sale has probably been the best pitcher in baseball on a per inning basis, and he’s done so in arguably* the most hitter friendly park in the AL facing almost exclusively opposite-handed hitters.

            What would Kluber or Hernandez have put up in Coors Field facing eight lefties per game?

            * Arguably because it doesn’t play hitter-friendly when the weather’s cold. But Sale was out most of May and early June.

            • brad

              FIP: Sale 2.26, Kluber 2.38. In xFIP, which mostly differentiates in normalizing a few inputs which tend to vary based on random noise, it’s Kluber ahead 2.69 to 2.74.

              FIP-, which is FIP adjusted for park effects, btw, is for all purposes identical between Sale and Felix. Scored where 100 is league average and lower is better, Felix leads by a whopping point, 56 to 57. By xFIP-, getting deep into the woods, Felix leads by 10 points (62-72), which is a substantial difference. Kluber, for reference, has a 64 FIP- and 70 xFIP-. He’s in the conversation.

              • brad

                And Kluber is a great example of why FIP is generally better than ERA based metrics, overall.
                Cleveland has a historically bad defense, all around. Fangraphs just wrote about it.

    • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

      JINX!

  • Manny Kant

    Whether your brain or heart or gut or whatever is right to “take the Mariners seriously” is likely going to depend almost entirely on the result of a single play-off game in which the Mariners might face a completely lop-sided pitching match-up.

    Also, how much of the fact that three of the four top teams in run differential are in the same division has to do with the fact that the two teams with by far the worst run differential are in the same division? The fact that the Angels, A’s, and Mariners are playing a lot of their games beating up on the two terrible Texas teams is surely responsible for a significant portion of this, isn’t it?

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Last I checked (admittedly about a month ago), OAK/ANA/SEA’s record against HOU/TEX was more balanced than you’d expect. The Mariners have had a hell of a time with Houston ever since they joined the AL.

      • Manny Kant

        Huh, interesting. It’s such a weird dichotomy. Has it ever happened before, that one division contained the three best teams and the two worst teams in baseball?

  • Scott Lemieux

    The fact that the Angels, A’s, and Mariners are playing a lot of their games beating up on the two terrible Texas teams is surely responsible for a significant portion of this, isn’t it?

    But, of course, the causal story could be told the other way. Would the Rangers look this bad if they played in the AL East?

    • In related news, the collapse of the Rangers is amazing.

      • cpinva

        yeah, I’m pretty astonished by that as well. I hadn’t really paid attention, until the other night. I happened to be looking at the standings and noticed they have dropped like a stone.

      • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

        They gave up after all of the injuries. It’s not a bad thing, really, if it gets them a top three pick.

      • Scott Lemieux

        I was very bearish on the Rangers before the year, but I still wouldn’t have predicted anything like this.

      • brad

        Their entire team is hurt. No one could survive it.
        That said, there’s some awful, awful contracts on that roster. Choo and Fielder are going to be Howard level albatrosses pretty much starting now.

        • Linnaeus

          So glad Dombrowski unloaded Fielder’s contract.

  • brad

    The M’s are predicated on some historic level team wide pitching right now. The offense is Cano and Seager and… yeah.
    They’re solidly in the mix for the road game play-in slot in Anaheim, but if the pitching cools at all they have no real way to compensate. Much as it’s exciting for M’s fans to be able to care, you can’t bank on the pitching continuing like this for another 50 games, Felix excepted.

    • Col Bat Guano

      They just got Paxton back and Walker has been pitching better at AAA. If they can get Elias some rest, the starting pitching should be fine and keep the bullpen rested. They’ve been doing it for 120 games, why would the next 50 be different?

  • Lord Jesus Perm

    As a bit of an aside, what are the chances that King Felix takes AL MVP this year? He’s been unbelievable this year (with better stats than 2011 Verlander), and IIRC, he’s third in the AL in WAR behind Trout and Josh Donaldson. This year isn’t as comparable to JV’s MVP year since in 2011, there wasn’t a clear-cut/no doubt candidate; a number of players like Granderson, Bautista, Ellsbury, Cabrera, etc. who had very good years but not indistinguishable ones. This year, the field doesn’t seem nearly as big, with Trout being the main position player, and guys like Donaldson, Sale, and Kluber well behind him (with the latter two getting dinged for not being on playoff teams, IMO)

    • brad

      It probably depends more on Trout and the respective teams than Felix. Trout is likely viewed by now as “due”, and seems to rather clearly be the best overall hitter in the AL this year, tho Abreu is closing, and the best hitter in the bigs aside from Tulo’s now over partial season.
      If the Angels somehow fall out of the playoffs, or mayyyyybe Seattle catches them dramatically in the final weeks for home field in the play-in game, then Felix might get it. Or if Trout gets injured or his production craters. The odds, tho, are that Trout’s final numbers will actually look better than they are now, just going on track record and youth, and he’ll be a shoo-in.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I was getting ready to denounce this, but it’s actually quite reasonable. Felix’s fWar is actually higher than Trout’s.

      • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

        Speaking of Abreu, you were a bit off on the White Sox, eh Scott? They are a perfectly mediocre team.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Abreu has an OPS+ of 164 — far better than anyone could have been expected — and they still have the third-worst run differential in the league. I feel fine about my analysis.

          • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

            You and I apparently have different definitions of “dreadful.”

            After Felix’s good-for-any-other-pitcher-but-meh-for-him start yesterday, his rate numbers and Sale’s are even more identical now. Hernandez’s FIP is .11 lower, Sale’s ERA+ is ten points higher, and Sale’s K/9 is 0.8 higher. Other than that, everything is like looking in a mirror.

            I’ll be interested to see how Sale fares against the Os tomorrow. They’re good, and they can throw an almost all righty lineup against him, except for Markakis. Though I’d almost be tempted to sit even him if I’m Showalter. Yeah, he’s probably their best hitter, but a .314 OPS against lefties is, well, intimidating. (Seriously. Lefties are SLUGGING .133 against Sale. They have a dozen hits against him. He’s allowed one XBH — a double — to a lefty. His WHIP against lefties is approximately 0.68, which is actually surprisingly high.)

  • Linnaeus

    OT, but was the winner of the Stanley Cup challenge ever posted? I don’t recall it.

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