The Seattle Mariners have been one of the worst franchises in baseball for a long time. They have had some exciting moments and seasons, specifically in the late ’90s and early 2000s. They literally played to stay in Seattle in 1995, and their 116-win season was legendary in 2001. However, in their 43-year history, they have only made the playoffs four times. They have also never made a world-series in their history, let alone won it all. Their 2021 is off to an encouraging start, as they sit at a record of 40-37. (At time of writing, June 27) However, their record is a bit misleading. The Mariners have a negative run differential, with a –0.5, yet are still sitting above .500. This stat pretty much describes them. They are below average in almost all their stats but are still firmly in the hunt for a wildcard spot.
It is difficult to win games when you are below league average in both hitting and pitching, but the Mariners have done just that. Their team OPS+ is 90 and ERA+ is 93, both below the league average of 100. Although stats don’t tell the full story, the Mariners also have a negative WAR. This stat shows us that as a team they are worse than just replacement level guys. The only teams worse? The bottom three teams in baseball: Pirates, Orioles, Diamondbacks, and the struggling Twins. So that brings up the real question, why are the Mariners succeeding in 2021?
The Most Clutch Team in Baseball
The Seattle Mariners have the worst average in the American League, and almost the worst in baseball. However, once there are runners in scoring positions, their average jumps up to the fifth-best in baseball. Their average with RISP is .52 points better than their normal average, which is the best in baseball. Seattle is able to manufacture runs better than most teams in baseball. They don’t have the star power to produce runs easily like the Dodgers or Astros, but their ability to get runs across when needed is second to none. They rarely lose out on scoring opportunities, as they leave the second-fewest runners on base in the MLB. Although they don’t get on base more than other teams, their baserunners score 39% of the time, which is well above average. Seattle is phenomenal is when they need to be, especially in close games.
There is no team that excels in big moments as Seattle does. This is evident by the Mariners’ success in one-run games. They are 17-6 in one-run games, for a league-leading 74%-win percentage. These games could easily have gone either way and yet the Mariners are able to pull these games out again and again. The third-place team in the AL West has the highest clutch rate of any team in baseball according to FanGraphs. Despite their lack of ability to get people on base, they have an ability to score runs in late-game scenarios. If the Mariners continue their dominance in one-run games, they are on pace for the fourth-best season of all-time in such games. However, it is unlikely the Mariners can keep this up, yet if they do, it could be extremely beneficial to them in the long run.
The Mariners success with RISP and in one-run games will end up leading to two different outcomes. If Seattle is able to sneak into the playoffs in the tough West, they will be set up for a shot at a playoff run. The Seattle Mariners clearly excel in high-pressure, late-game situations, which is what the playoffs are full of. Despite their lack of playoff experience, Seattle would be able to thrive because they are so comfortable in big at-bats and the late innings. I think that if the Mariners are able to slide into a wild card spot, they will advance at least one round. However, the lack of star power the franchise has will keep them from getting past the divisional round. This lack of star power brings up the more realistic outcome, which is a second-half decline.
The Seattle Mariners are very good in very specific scenarios. These include extra innings (8-1) and one-run games (17-6). But if the Mariners are not in those scenarios, they struggle. In fact, they have a losing record in 9-inning games (31-35). It will be almost impossible for Seattle to keep up their first-half success over a full-season span. When you are giving up a half-run more than you are scoring on average, there is no way that Seattle will be able to make the playoffs. Looking at both advanced statistics and basic ones, Seattle is clearly a lucky team, even based on the actual “luck” stat from Baseball Reference Seattle sucks, and their 2021 first half is one of the most unexplainable things in baseball.
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