Last year’s Seattle Mariners were one of the more fascinating teams in baseball.
After a few weeks, they were good when they had no reason to be. Then a few months later, they were still good, when they still had no reason to be. And then a few months after that, the story still hadn’t changed.
The 2018 Mariners finished with 16 more wins than losses, despite allowing 34 more runs than they scored.
Sure, they missed the playoffs - a casualty of the two American League wild card teams remarkably combining for 197 wins, but they made noise with their 87-73 record. When August rolled around, the Mariners were, inexplicably, playing meaningful baseball games.
It all made predicting this year’s Mariners squad - Seattle Version 2.0.19 - a touch complicated.
There was no reason to think the Mariners would be good at winning games this year, minus that one tiny data point of them being really good at it the last time we saw them. That feels like an important data point, even if we logically know that what is descriptive is often not predictive.
I didn’t feel particularly comfortable predicting the Mariners to win the 77 games that their differential said they should have had a year ago, no matter what the metrics portrayed. Because ultimately, the point of a baseball game is to score more runs than you allow over nine innings, and the Mariners were remarkably good at that a year ago.
The 2018 Mariners were kind of like chicken liver pâté. Sure, it looks ugly as all hell. And yeah, when you think about the composition, it’s a bit gnarly. But damned if it doesn’t work.
Which made the start to 2019 all the more fascinating.
The Mariners jumped out of the gates so quickly that they had two wins before most teams had even woken up.
Okay, so that was because of their two-game series played a week before the real season, but whatever. Seattle raced out to a 13-2 start, smirking in the general direction of those of us who said, “But their Pythagorean record last year!”
They had a relatively flawless equation: hit better than the other team. Daniel Vogelbach, Tim Beckham, and Match Haniger jostled for position between Mike Trout and Alex Bregman in the AL West hierarchy. The pitching wasn’t great, but it was plenty good enough.
They outscored their opponents by 41 points in those first 15 games.
And, for a moment, it looked like the Mariners knowing how to win games was the important data point, not the 162-game differential, aged in Seattle’s finest wine cellars for six months.
But here we are. Since that time, the Mariners have gone 5-14. Their once robust run differential has been squeezed within an inch of its life, and sits at +1.
Their team FIP has fallen 11th in the AL at 4.69 - roughly the equivalent of having Dereck Rodríguez pitch every single inning. Their bats have stayed hot, but in the absence of Vogelbach, Haniger, and Beckham being historically great players, it hasn’t been hot enough to overcome the pitching.
Fare thee well, illogically good Mariners. It was fun knowing you. The predictably bad Mariners just won’t be as fun.