Commentary

Mariners in 2010: Swing and a miss

Originally Published: September 17, 2010
By David Schoenfield | Page 2

My friend Jim Caple forwarded me an e-mail from his buddy Scooter, a big-time, die-hard, suffering Seattle Mariners fan.

Scooter's note read:

"M's record low rbi total is in jeopardy ... Pat Putnam, 67 in '83 ...
no one close ...
You need to compile all this into a column. ... serious ...
you're witnessing history ... it needs to be told ...
the numbers by this squad are so ridiculous, they defy belief ..."

Scooter, I'm here to tell this story. Needless to say, it's a tragedy. Like you, I'm a big-time, die-hard, suffering Mariners fan. Ridiculous beyond belief? Historical in nature? Bad enough to bring up memories of Pat Putnam, the team's MVP from that sorry 1983 season? Check, check, checkmate.

Here are some of the dubious achievements the 2010 Mariners are compiling:

[+] EnlargeCasey Kotchman
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesCasey Kotchman takes a big swing ... and probably popped it up to right field.

• Entering Monday, the Mariners are averaging 3.17 runs per game. Only one major league team since 1972 -- the 1981 Blue Jays -- have scored fewer runs per game, and that came in a strike-shortened, low-offense season. (Yes, this includes National League teams that don't get the benefit of a designated hitter.)

• The Mariners have only two players with double-digit home runs (Russell Branyan with 15, Franklin Gutierrez with 11), although Casey Kotchman is knocking on the door with nine. The Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki has 14 in September.

• The RBI leader is Gutierrez with 58. Fifty-eight! Joe DiMaggio once drove in 53 in one month.

• Mariners first basemen are batting .218 with a .283 on-base percentage.

• Not to be outdone, the designated hitters are batting .189 with a .266 on-base percentage.

• Jose Lopez, the team's primary cleanup hitter, has a .232 avereage, seven home runs, 50 RBIs, a .262 on-base percentage, and 1,142 swings at sliders a foot off the plate.

• Mariners second basemen and shortstops have combined for two home runs -- or two fewer than Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Also the same total that famed non-hitter Mario Mendoza hit as Mariners shortstop in 1980.

• Ichiro Suzuki, on the verge of 200 hits once again, has scored only 67 runs. The record low runs total for a player with 200 hits is George Sisler of the 1929 Boston Braves, with 67. (Sisler, of course, hit third or fourth that year, not leadoff.) Whether Ichiro will score one more run over the team's final 13 games is the most exciting thing to watch about this offense since that time Jack Wilson hit a ball out of the infield.

• The team's future Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr., hit .184 with no home runs in 33 games before retiring, which we didn't find out about until he was spotted at a gas station in Montana.

• Justin Smoak, the prized rookie obtained in the Cliff Lee trade and known for his good strike zone judgment, had 23 strikeouts and one walk with Seattle before getting shipped back to Triple-A.

• The Mariners have scored two runs or less in 68 games.

Ugh. You get the idea. The Mariners are so bad -- worst in the league in batting average (.234), on-base percentage (.298) and slugging percentage (.338), numbers that look right out of 1968 -- they have a legitimate claim as the worst hitting team in history.

Where do the M's rank? Teams should be compared only to others within their own era (otherwise, all the "worst" teams would be from 1972 or 1968 or the dead-ball period). After looking at things like runs scored compared to the league average and OPS+ (a team's on-base + slugging percentages, adjusted for league and home park; 100 is average, a figure around 80 is historically awful), here are my picks for the 10 worst offensive teams of all time.

10. 1965 New York Mets (50-112)

Team LVP (Least Valuable Player): C Chris Cannizzaro. Hit .193 in 284 plate appearances with zero home runs and seven RBIs.

The scoop: It's sometimes difficult to imagine the epic horribleness of the expansion Mets. In 1962, they lost 120 games, finished 60 games out of first place and allowed 147 unearned runs. In 1963, they lost 111 games, hit .219 and were shut out 30 times. In 1964, they lost 109 games and finished 13 games behind the ninth-place team.

By 1965, the team had discarded most of the over-the-hill vets from its lineup. First baseman Ed Kranepool (20 years old) and left fielder Ron Swoboda (21 years old) were regulars. Bud Harrelson and Clean Jones received some at-bats. All four players would be key members of the 1969 World Series champs. But that would be four years in the future. In 1965, Kranepool hit .253 -- good enough to lead the squad. The Mets were held to four or fewer hits 30 times and scored zero or one run in 58 games. They finished last in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walks and stolen bases. Needless to say, they scored the fewest runs in the league -- by 74.

The low point? Yogi Berra, 39, tried to make a comeback after not playing in 1964. He appeared in four games, struck out three times on May 9 against the Atlanta Braves in his final big league game, and was released on May 17.

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: The Mariners have scored fewer runs compared to the league, the Mets actually finished ahead of two teams in home runs and the Mets' team average was dragged down by 44-year-old pitcher Warren Spahn, who hit .114.

9. 1979 Oakland A's (54-108)

Team LVP: 2B Mike Edwards. Hit .233/.263/.280 for a 51 OPS+ in 122 games. Mike was the twin brother of Marshall, who played three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers as a backup outfielder. Younger brother Dave was also an outfielder and spent parts of five seasons in the majors. Not to be cruel, but none of them could hit.

The scoop: The 1979 Oakland A's were a pretty sad lot. The once-proud franchise had been torn down when Charlie Finley let all his stars leave via free agency. They lost 98 games in 1977, 93 in 1978 and hit rock bottom in 1979. The team had never drawn especially well even while winning three straight World Series (in 1974, they won their third straight title and ranked 11th in the AL in attendance). The 1979 A's hit a modern low for empty seats. They drew 306,763 fans -- less than 4,000 per game. One April game against Seattle drew 653. A September game against Texas drew 750.

Of course, you can't blame for not showing up watch this team. The A's scored 573 runs, 40 less than Toronto and 138 behind Seattle. The team featured the immortal Rob Picciolo as its primary shortstop. Picciolo was 6-foot-2, rail thin and swung at anything between Idaho and Kansas. He drew three walks in 363 plate appearances. At least his lack of discipline didn't rub off on a rookie outfielder named Rickey Henderson.

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: C'mon, the Mariners would kill to have Dave Revering and Mitchell Page in their lineup.

8. 1969 San Diego Padres (52-110)

Team LVP: CF Cito Gaston. A 25-year-old rookie plucked from the Braves in the expansion draft, Gaston hit .230/.275/.309 with two homers in 419 plate appearances.

The scoop: The Padres can at least be excused for being an expansion franchise. They had a little pop with Nate Colbert (24 home runs) and Ollie Brown (20 home runs), but Brown's .264 mark led the team and the middle infield duo of Tommy Dean and Jose Arcia (combined 19 RBIs in more than 600 plate appearances) were a train wreck. Amazingly, both players returned in 1970. And proved that 1969 was no fluke.

How bad were these Padres? The team's All-Star rep was Chris Cannizzaro (see above; you'll be shocked to discover that he didn't get into the game). The Padres were shut out 23 times and scored 114 fewer runs than fellow expansion brother, the Montreal Expos, the next-lowest scoring team.

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: The Mariners didn't select their entire from the crappy leftovers of other franchies.

7. 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119)

Team LVP: RF Bobby Higginson. Hit .235/.320/.369 and was paid $11.5 million to do it. Did you know Higginson made more than $50 million in his big league career? Yes, the early aughts were pretty awesome.

The scoop: This Tigers team may have been bad, but nobody said they weren't plucky. OK, maybe somebody did say that (how else would you describe guys such as Shane Halter, Warren Morris and Matt Walbeck), but they did win five of their final six games to avoid the '62 Mets record of 120 losses.

The 2002 Tigers were actually just as bad (3.57 runs per game), but the '03 team ranked last in average, on-base and slugging, and scored 108 fewer runs than the next-worst Orioles. In a high-scoring era, they were somehow shut out 17 times, despite the good season of Dmitri Young.

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: Detroit's OPS+ and run ratio aren't as bad; plus, the Tigers actually had four players hit 18-plus home runs.

6. 1981 Toronto Blue Jays (37-69)

Team LVP: 3B Danny Ainge. Hit .187/.258/.228 in 275 plate appearances. Let's just say he eventually made the correct career choice.

The scoop: This team was kept inept throughout its lineup, but a few words need to be taken here to examine Alfredo Griffin's career, one of the most amazing in major league history. He was co-Rookie of the Year in 1979 when he hit .287, swiped a few bases and drew 40 walks (this would prove to be a career high). But by 1981, he was down to .209, hit no homers, got caught stealing 12 times in 20 attempts and made 31 errors (remember, this was a strike-shortened season). Griffin would then play 12 more seasons. He would hit anywhere from .240 to .285 (usually closer to .240) and had as much patience at a plate as Rex Ryan.

He achieved one of the most remarkable feats in baseball history in 1984, when he drew four walks in 441 plate appearances. Four walks! Why four? Why didn't he just go for zero? (By the way, two of those walks were issued by knuckleballer Charlie Hough, one by Bill Krueger and the other had to be the most unlikeliest walk in major leauge history; LaMarr Hoyt, who had the lowest walk rate in the league three straight years, walked Griffin on May 29.)

Anyway, our man Alfredo never learned to walk or cut down on his errors. He led his league five times in errors at shortstop and was second three other seasons. The Jays finally tired of him after that '84 disaster and traded him to Oakland. He eventually landed with the Dodgers in 1988 -- andhit .199. The Dodgers won the World Series anyway. In 1990, he hit .210, had an OPS+ of 43 and committed 26 errors. It had to be one of the worst seasons of the past 30 years. The Dodgers finished five games behind the Reds. You won't believe this -- they brought Griffin back for 1991. He posted a 59 OPS+ and they finished one game behind the Braves. Griffin finished his career as the utility infielder on Toronto's back-to-back World Series champs.

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: The Blue Jays scored fewer runs per game but played in a lower-scoring run environment. Plus, the Jays at least played three 21-year-old outfielders who would help turn the franchise around: Lloyd Moseby, George Bell and Jesse Barfield.

5. 2003 Los Angeles Dodgers (85-77)

Team LVP: 2B Alex Cora hit .249/.287/.338, with four homers and 16 walks in 148 games.

The scoop: A fun team to include because the Dodgers are the one on our list with a winning record. They allowed the fewest runs in the league but still missed the playoffs. (Apparently pitching is not 80 percent of baseball.) The Dodgers finished last in the NL in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and tied for last in home runs. They scored 68 fewer runs than the No. 15 team. They were shut out 13 times. And don't blame Dodger Stadium; the Dodgers hit .248 on the road and actually had a higher slugging percentage at home. The culprits? Mostly a bunch of past-their-prime vets like Fred McGriff, Jeromy Burnitz, Ron Commer, Robin Ventura, Rickey Henderson, Todd Hundley and Dave Roberts. Oh ... all this for the princely payroll of $106 million. (And you wonder why "Moneyball" became a best-seller?)

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: Fred McGriff would still hit cleanup on the 2010 Mariners. And I mean 2010 Fred McGriff, not 2003 Fred McGriff.

4. 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks (51-111)

Team LVP: RF Danny Bautista hit .286 in 141 games, but his OPS+ was 85. He never again played in the majors.

The scoop: This team was so horrible it had two of the best pitchers in the National League in Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb and still finished 42 games out of first place. Its runs scored total was boosted by playing in a good hitter's park; on the road, this sad collection of vets (Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Carlos Baerga), youngsters (Alex Cintron, Scott Hairston, Chad Tracy) and players you've never heard of unless you played in a 16-team NL fantasy league with 40-man rosters and a Triple-A franchise (Andy Green, Tim Olson, Doug DeVore) hit .240/.298/.363.

The D-Backs were shut out just nine times but held to two runs or less 64 times. They went 3-16 against the first-place Dodgers, hitting just .233 against them.

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: Arizona actually had three regulars with an OPS+ above league average (Gonzalez, Finley, Shea Hillenbrand). The Mariners have one. And that one has six home runs.

3. 1955 Baltimore Orioles (57-97)

Team LVP: 3B Wayne Causey hit .194 in 68 games. To be fair, Causey was an 18-year-old bonus baby who had to be placed on the big league roster (1950s baseball had some really stupid ideas).

The scoop: Gus Triandos led the Orioles with 12 home runs. Nobody else hit more than six. The Orioles hit 54 as a team -- only Washington (80) had fewer than 100 that year in the AL. At least they were fast! Oh, wait, they weren't. ... Dave Pope and Chuck Diering led the team with five stolen bases. 1950s baseball, everyone!

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: While the O's had no power (they had only 15 home runs at home all season), they at least had some on-base skills. And by "some" I mean, at least they didn't have Jose Lopez batting cleanup.

2. 1932 Boston Red Sox (43-111)

Team LVP: SS Rabbit Warstler hit .211/.259/.276 in 115 games for a 39 OPS+.

The scoop: From 1925 through 1932, the Red Sox lost 90-plus games each season. This team was the worst of them, the most inept, awful team in Red Sox history. The Red Sox scored 566 runs -- 101 behind the White Sox and 436 behind the league-leading Yankees. While the AL as a whole hit .277/.346/.404 ini 1932, the Sox hit just .251 -- and this despite having the league batting champion on the team. (That was Dale Alexander, who began the season with Detroit, hit .367 and posted a 151 OPS+. Alexander apparently suffered a gangrene infection the following season and nearly lost his leg, ending his major league career.)

Why the 2010 Mariners are worse: It's hard to be worse than a team with guys named Rabbit, Urbane, Smead, Otto and Hod, but the Mariners get the nod. Besides Alexander, outfielders Smead Jolley and Roy Johnson were above-average hitters. Plus, it was 1932. The Depression was on. The Red Sox had no money. The Yankees had all the good hitters. And nobody knew about things like VORP, OPS, WAR and wOBA.

1. 2010 Seattle Mariners (55-91 through Sept. 16)

That whole pitching-and-defense plan? Yeah, that didn't work out too well.

The Mariners have scored just 3.17 runs per game compared to the American League average of 4.47. Their adjusted OPS is terrible. Safeco Field is regarded as a strong pitcher's park, but as Dave Cameron recently pointed out on the USS Mariner site, its park effect is actually a bit exagerrated due to the construct of the team's pitching staff.

The Mariners have only two positions that are hitting above .250 (second base, mostly Chone Figgins) and right field (Ichiro). Of course, those two players have also combined for just seven home runs. The only player with a slugging percentage above the league average is Branyan.

The season lowlight came back on April 30. The Mariners were 11-11, playing the 10-12 Rangers. Cliff Lee, in his first start of the season, pitched seven beautiful scoreless innings. But the Mariners couldn't score off Colby Lewis. The game went to the 10th inning. Griffey reached on an infield single. Milton Bradley doubled to put runners on second and third. But Kotchman popped up and after an intentional walk, Mike Sweeney grounded into a double play. In the bottom of the 11th, still scoreless, Ichiro led off with a single to left and Figgins reached on a bunt single. Gutierrez struck out, but Jose Lopez miraculously drew a walk to load the bases. With Eric Byrnes up, the M's tried a squeeze. Byrnes missed the bunt and Ichiro got caught stealing. Byrnes then struck out looking. Needless to say, Texas won the game with two runs in the 12th. That loss began an eight-game losing streak in which Seattle was shut out three times and scored 12 total runs.

So, Congratulations, 2010 Seattle Mariners, you are the worst offensive team in major league history. You will be the lowest scoring team in a full season since 1972 (actually, since 1972 was also strike year, you have to go back to 1971). In a time when home runs are still plentiful, fences close and statistical analysis abundant, you still managed to field a lineup with more hackers than a convention of former Microsoft employees.

Scooter would like to thank you for such a memorable season.

On the other hand, things could be worse. Thanks to decent pitching and hitting, the Mariners have been outscored by 163 runs. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been outscored by 282 runs.

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David Schoenfield | email

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