The Seattle Mariners are on pace to do something extremely rare. It is so rare (at least in the American League) that only they (themselves) have done it before. What is this extremely rare feat? In 2011, the Mariners have scored the fewest amount of runs in the American League while also leading that same league in the least amount of earned runs allowed. They fight only themselves as they pulled off the trick back in 2009.
What this author did was go through every American League year since 1968. By the time the writer went that far back, the eyes were crossing. Thus the National League wasn't even considered. But just for kicks and giggles, the San Francisco Giants of a year ago won the World Series as a fabulous pitching, lousy hitting ball club. But they weren't close to being the least effective offense in the National League last year. As those years were culled, some teams came close to matching this feat. The 1987 and 1996 Kansas City Royals came close. The 1997 Toronto Blue Jays came close as well with a last place finish in runs scored and a next to last earned runs allowed season. But that's it. Since 1968, the Mariners stand alone.
The 2009 Mariners had a surprising season if you'll remember and that gave hope in the off season for 2010. It was an ill-placed hope as the 2010 Mariners had a horrible season. Again, this 2011 version of the Mariners is a surprise in the standings and are only a couple of games back from the Rangers in the standings. But the way they are currently performing, there seems no chance that this year will be any better than their standing in 2009. They simply cannot score enough runs to help what has become an amazing pitching staff.
Erik Bedard gave up no earned runs on Wednesday night and lost. Michael Pineda pitched seven scoreless innings on Thursday night and lost. That's the story for these Mariners. It all comes down to quite a statistical trick. They are dead last in the American League in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. The team boasts an 83 accumulated OPS+.
Meanwhile, the pitching leads the league in preventing runs, in walks allowed and in complete games. According to baseball-reference.com, the pitchers as a whole have accumulated a 13.0 WAR while the batters have only mustered up a 2.7 WAR (combined). Twenty-eight of the teams 75 games have been one-run games (in which they have a .500 record). Twenty-four of their 75 games have featured an offense that scored two runs or less. That's 32 percent! The team is 3-21 in those games. When the Mariners score three or more runs, they are 23-6 including a record of 14-6 when the offense scores three to five runs in a game.
The numbers seem incredible the more you look. When the Mariners pitch, opponents have a slash line of .238/.298/.355. That's fantastic. Unfortunately, when the Mariners hit, their slash line is .229/.297/.340. For every good number the pitching staff has, the offense has a worse one to top it. Nobody on the team is on pace to drive in or score 100 runs. Neither happened in 2009 either. Here's another good one for you. Justin Smoak has hit 12 homers and 18 doubles and has been on base 104 times. He's scored only 22 runs.
And it's not like the Mariners can manufacture runs. Thirty percent of their base steal attempts have been unsuccessful. And the Mariners have a negative rating for overall base running. The team only has two batters over 100 in OPS+ (Smoak naturally and Adam Kennedy. Adam Kennedy?) but have eight pitchers over 100 in ERA+. The Mariners' worst starting pitcher has a 99 ERA+.
The Seattle Mariners are the Baltimore Ravens of baseball. But unlike the Ravens, their pitching is not enough to get them into the playoffs. They have to be able to score once in a while. Dustin Ackley has arrived and perhaps that will help. It certainly can't hurt.
It's a strange team. Historically strange.