9/24/17

I took my son to his first Mariners game on Sunday, September 24th, 2017, the final home game of the 2017 season. He won’t remember any of it, but that’s ok. It wasn’t really for him anyway.

When he was about two hours old, sleeping under the amber glow of a heat lamp, and his mother, exhausted from the effort needed to bring him into this world, was resting, I signed him up for the Mariners Kids Club. It was, at its core, an incredibly selfish gesture. Here I was, as one of my first acts of parenthood, assigning a fandom for a team known mostly for failure to my son. It was picking a college major and choosing a favorite color all rolled up into one. Except he had no choice in the matter, and I gave him a dud.

The day started as I would imagine most first games start. We made all the requisite stops: Section 128 for his First Game Certificate. The Kids Club for his backpack, complete with three wiffle balls. We said hi to Dave and got our picture with him. We spent most of the game in our seats, watching the game. And I do mean watching the game. I was convinced my 8-month old child would be distracted by the people, noises, and smells that give Safeco Field a large part of it’s charm. But like the die-hard old couple we’ve all sat next to that attends every game and insists on living the optimistic life until the siren’s call of the Fat Lady’s voice, he spent the vast majority of the game transfixed by the action on the field.

The Mariners, playing a game hundreds of feet away from the rarefied air of our seats in the 300 level, had my son enthralled. All the players, so tiny in our eyes, loomed larger in our minds. In the 5th inning, Ben Gamel drilled a first pitch fastball just over the fence for a home run to tie the game at two. Rather than get frightened at the sudden eruption of sound from what had been, up to that point, a rather reserved crowd, my son found the festivities amusing. He insisted on standing on my legs, dancing back and forth, a smile as wide as the gap in left-center field across his face.

Later on, between innings as the giveaways continued, Tom Hutyler’s familiar voice rang out with a sound I had never heard before. My section. My seat. We had won a signed Ben Gamel baseball. I’ve been attending baseball games for 30 years, having spent a large portion of my childhood inside the magical neon confines of the Kingdome, and referring to Safeco Field as my summer home for my entire adult life. I have not so much as whiffed the scent of a baseball. My son, in his first game, completely unaware of what was even happening, became the owner of not only a baseball, but a signed baseball by a player who had hit a home run that very day.

As the game wore on, and the group of dads I was with began to disperse, I wandered down with one of them and his son to the Kids Clubhouse. My son, being too young to independently play, quickly began to fuss. I assumed, perhaps naively, that because he had been awake for hours, he was tired, and that it was time to go home. When I was young, I rarely caught the end of games. We had a ferry to catch, and if you missed that 10 o’clock ferry, you were stuck in Seattle until nearly midnight. Things would be different when I got older, I vowed at a young age. I would never leave the game early. And for years, I kept my own ridiculous promise. But a child changes things. You no longer have jurisdiction over your schedule. When a child is ready to go home, it’s time to go home, even if that means missing the 9th inning.

But as we left the Kids Clubhouse to return to the car, I had to make a pitstop behind the right field foul pole to adjust a bag. As I stopped, my son’s attention turned back to the field, and his fussing eased up. It was the top of the ninth, and Emilio Pagan had just struck out Francisco Lindor on a 3-2 count. I couldn’t take him away from the game now, could I? Could he somehow survive another half inning of baseball? The most magical of innings – the bottom of the ninth. Where hope springs eternal and the home team can stave off the clock striking midnight for as long as the crowd believes.

The M’s were down 4-2 with the bottom of the order up. Of course it was the bottom of the order. Nothing is ever easy as a Mariners fan. But if just one man could reach base, it’s back to the top of the order and Hero of the Day Ben Gamel would have an opportunity to cement his legacy as the Gomez Family’s Favorite Mariner of All-Time. Facing Cleveland’s closer Cody Allen, Mike Zunino struck out, then Guillermo Heredia grounded out to second. With two outs, Daniel Vogelbach was brought in for only his fifth at bat of September to pinch hit and promptly struck out on three straight pitches. There was to be no miracle today, at least not in baseball terms. We made our way to the car, sat in traffic, and drove home. My son slept the whole way, exhausted from a day of new experiences he won’t remember, but will be one of the first scenes that plays on the highlight reel of my life.

I don’t know if my son is going to grow up to be a baseball fan. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. You don’t get to choose your kids’ interests. Ask any parent – you don’t choose their interests, they choose yours. Of course, I hope he becomes a baseball fan. I dream of him becoming the person I talk baseball with. Criticizing the team’s latest free agent signing, bemoaning the schedule, and endlessly repeating the mantra of every lifelong Mariners fan: “maybe next year.” Maybe he won’t like baseball. That’s OK, I’ll become a fan of whatever he’s interested in. But for one perfect, sunny, fall afternoon, we had each other, we had baseball, and all was right in the world.

FoulPole

The Mariners are likely to make history

With the All-Star Game in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to the second half of the season. The Mariners are currently three games ahead of the Oakland Athletics for the second Wild Card in the American League. With sixty-five games to go, this team has a chance to be the first Mariners team since 2001 to go to the playoffs. They could also collapse and stretch their streak of seasons without appearing in the playoffs to 17 seasons. Either way, odds are good that the Mariners will make some history for teams in the Second Wild Card (WC2) Era.

Despite their relatively brief history, the Mariners are no strangers to odd, and occasionally ominous records. It took until their 15th season (1991) to have a winning record in a single season, the longest such streak to begin a franchise of any team currently in MLB. On the other side of the coin, they set the modern record for most wins in a season, with 116 wins in 2001. Back on the first side of the coin, they were also the first team in MLB history to lose 100 games with a payroll of at least $100 million in the nightmare season of 2008. Let’s find out how the M’s can make history again this year.

The good kind of history

This section allows me to be the 2,947th person this season to talk about everyone’s favorite topic, RUN DIFFERENTIAL! If you are reading this, I’m assuming you’re familiar with Run Differential, as well as Pythag Record. If you aren’t familiar, I urge you to read this Baseball-Reference article on the topic. The article gives an in-depth explanation of the topic, as well as formulas for determining Pythag Record, but the short version is that Pythag Record looks at a team’s run differential and calculates an expected record based on those results. It’s rudimentary, but is typically thought to be a better predictor of future record than a team’s current actual record. The charts and stats referenced in the rest of this article use baseball-reference.com’s Pythag Record.

As you well know, the Mariners entered the All-Star Break at 58-39 (.598 Win %), despite a run differential of -2, good for a .498 Pythag Win %. While that is not the worst run differential by a team at the All-Star Break to make the playoffs (that “honor” belongs to the 2017 Minnesota Twins who had a breathtakingly bad run differential of -60 at the break last year), it’s not great. However, it does represent the largest numerical increase from a team’s Pythag Record to their Actual Record. Below is a chart that shows the 10 teams, during the WC2 era, that outplayed their Pythag Record by the greatest margin at the All-Star Break. The Numerical Difference is simply the Actual Winning Pct minus the Pythag Pct. The Pct Difference is how much better the Actual Winning Pct is than the Pythag Pct, by percentage. For example, 10 is 100% better than 5, but 20 is only 50% better than 10. 

Year Team ASB Actual Winning Pct ASB Pythag Pct Numerical Difference Pct Difference
2018 SEA 0.598 0.498 0.1000 16.72%
2017 SDP 0.432 0.348 0.0840 19.44%
2016 TEX* 0.600 0.517 0.0830 13.83%
2015 CHW 0.477 0.399 0.0780 16.35%
2012 BAL* 0.529 0.455 0.0740 13.99%
2017 MIN* 0.511 0.437 0.0740 14.48%
2016 PHI 0.467 0.394 0.0730 15.63%
2017 BAL 0.477 0.418 0.0590 12.37%
2013 PHI 0.500 0.448 0.0520 10.40%
2012 MIA 0.482 0.430 0.0520 10.79%

Three important notes about this chart:

  1. The three teams marked with an asterisk* made the playoffs that year.
  2. Yes, the 2017 San Diego Padres had a larger difference between their Actual Record and Pythag Record by percentage, but that percentage is exaggerated by the fact that their Pythag Record was so bad. They had a run differential of -128 at the All-Star Break! Percentages get exaggerated when you have the second worst Pythag Record at the All-Star break in the WC2 Era.
  3. This chart also only shows teams that outplayed their Pythag Record. That means the poor 2015 Oakland Athletics, whose actual record was over 23% worse than their Pythag Record, don’t show up. That’s bad luck, or underplaying to expectations. What we’re interested in right now is teams that outplayed their expectations.

If the 2018 Mariners make the playoffs, they will have done so with the largest increase from their Pythag Record to their Actual Record at the All-Star Break in the WC2 era.

The bad kind of history

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about run differential. Alright then, let’s ignore run differential. After all, the wins the M’s have right now are in the bank. You can’t take them away. Let’s take a look at a chart that shows the teams with the best Actual Winning Pct at the All-Star Break, in the WC2 Era.

Year Team ASB Wins ASB Losses ASB Winning Pct
2017 LAD 61 29 0.678
2017 HOU 60 29 0.674
2016 SFG 57 33 0.633
2015 STL 56 33 0.629
2014 OAK 59 36 0.621
2013 STL 57 36 0.613
2012 NYY 52 33 0.612
2014 LAA 57 37 0.606
2015 KCR 52 34 0.605
2012 TEX 52 34 0.605
2013 PIT 56 37 0.602
2015 PIT 53 35 0.602
2016 CHC 53 35 0.602
2016 TEX 54 36 0.600
2016 WSN 54 36 0.600
2018 SEA 58 39 0.598
2013 BOS 58 39 0.598
2017 ARI 53 36 0.596
2016 CLE 52 36 0.591
2017 WSN 52 36 0.591
2012 WSN 49 34 0.590
2013 OAK 56 39 0.589
2016 BAL 51 36 0.586
2014 DET 53 38 0.582
2013 TBR 55 41 0.573
2017 COL 52 39 0.571
2013 TEX 54 41 0.568

The 2018 Mariners have the 16th best record at the All-Star break in the WC2 Era. The 15 teams above them on this chart? All made the playoffs. The next 10 teams on the chart? All made the playoffs. In other words, up to this point, the team with the greatest record at the All-Star Break in the WC2 Era that didn’t make the playoffs is the 2013 Texas Rangers, who had a 54-41 record at the break, finished 91-72, and missed the playoffs by one game in a stacked American League.

If the 2018 Mariners miss the playoffs, they will be the team with the highest Actual Winning Pct at the All-Star Break to miss the playoffs in the WC2 Era.

Now, should you put a lot of weight into all this numerical wizardry and gobbledygook ? Certainly not. The examination of historical stats can have merit when attempting to look forward, but this article is designed, as most of my writing is, to serve as a fun examination of where the Mariners stand in the larger scope of the game. If the Mariners make the playoffs no one will care what their run differential is, and we’ll spend the next twenty-five years watching and re-watching whatever highlight reel the marketing team throws together for them (1,000 bonus points you can find 14-year-old me in that video, because I am definitely in it).

If they don’t make the playoffs, well, at least we’ve seen history. Still, make the playoffs please.

Go M’s

The Mariners need a sweep

The Mariners lost yesterday, 4-3. It was a disappointing loss in a few ways. First, losses are always disappointing. Second, watching Felix continue to fight Father Time and his historical first inning struggles is not exactly my idea of a great time. Third, and I don’t have the stats in front of me to back up this claim, but losing to a team on their bullpen day probably isn’t the expected result.

But there’s one more reason to be disappointed, and that’s the lack of a series sweep. Despite the myriad of injuries, lack of pitching depth, and the loss of their best position player for 80 games, the Mariners at this point are, from all indications, still focused on making the playoffs this year. And they’re running up against a hidden deadline.

Since the introduction of the second wildcard in 2012, 60 teams have made the playoffs (for the purposes of this article, we are considering the second wild card a playoff spot, despite it being closer to the March Madness First Four than what I’d consider a real playoff spot, but that’s another article for another day). Of those 60 teams, 44 of them, or 73%, had completed a three or four game sweep by the end of April. Another 12 had done so by the end of May (which puts us at 93%), leaving only four teams. Let’s examine those four.

2016 Blue Jays – First 3-game sweep completed: June 1. OK, technically not May, but close enough.

2012 Giants – First 3-game sweep completed: June 4. Also pretty damn close to May, plus this could easily be a side effect of those strange odd year/even year spells and incantations they were performing during the early part of this decade.

2012 Athletics – First 3-game sweep completed: June 14. This version of the A’s caught fire in the second half, playing .671 baseball in their last 76 games. This is your outlier.

2014 Pirates – First 3-game sweep completed: July 6. Do you remember this team? Cause I don’t. Plus they got blasted in the play-in game getting 4-hit by Madison Bumgarner and losing 8-0. Yikes. I don’t think this is the team we want the M’s to emulate.

I’m not the first person to point out that June has the potential to be a brutal month for the M’s (let’s not talk about August yet, either). After feasting on the soft underbelly of the AL Central, June sees the M’s get seven games against a frisky Rays team, and ten games against the Yankees and Red Sox, the teams with the two best records in baseball. Not to mention two games in Houston, and three against the team that looks to be the M’s main competition for the second Wild Card, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County of the great state of California, USA. If the M’s are going to sweep a team, they need to do it now, at home against a Twins team missing a few key pieces of their own (Mauer, Castro, Polanco, and Santana).

Most preseason predictions had the Mariners missing the playoffs. Despite a strong first two months, those projections still have the team on the outside looking in. If they want to finish the Cinderella story they’ve begun writing these first two months, they’ll need to start the same way Cinderella did.

Get to sweeping, M’s.