The 2021 Seattle Mariners might have been the luckiest team to still miss the playoffs in baseball history.
The Mariners were 90-72 with a run differential of -51. By Pythagorean-Win Loss, they should have been a 76-86 team. They were 33-19 in one-run games, including 14-7 in extra-inning games. They were + 16 in BaseRuns (74-88), an alternate standings metric that I love to refer to when looking for positive or negative regression. They scored 4.3 runs per game and were fortunate to even do that (BaseRuns had them pegged for 4.17).
Joe Peta’s excellent book, “Trading Bases,” discusses the concept of “cluster luck.” The idea is that a team’s performance with runners in scoring position, on both offense and defense, can have a monumental impact on a team’s record. The Mariners were a prime example.
Overall, the Mariners were 27th in wOBA at .300 and slashed .226/.303/.385. With runners in scoring position, they slashed .259/.338/.450 with a .335 wOBA. With nobody on base, they slashed .211/.287/.367. Teams that get hits at the right times can hide a lot of problems, and the Mariners did precisely that last season.
They would have been a prime fade candidate entering this season if all things were created equal, but GM Jerry Dipoto had exactly the right type of environment for his wheelin’ and dealin’ style heading into 2022.
Dipoto treats his roster like he’s playing “MLB The Show.” If a day goes by without a transaction, he was probably sick or otherwise incapacitated. The expedited offseason created a perfect storm for Dipoto, an aggressive GM that will make his deals quickly and worry about them later.
He made an outstanding trade that deepened the lineup in getting Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez from the Reds in exchange for peanuts. With the Adam Frazier acquisition in November and more playing time for Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, the Mariners’ offensive profile looks much better. The park factor is still an issue and will suppress the offense to a degree, but the personnel is stronger, even without Kyle Seager, who abruptly retired.
Seager hit 35 home runs but only posted a .308 wOBA and a 99 wRC + . Those numbers seem doable for Suarez, who had four straight above-average seasons before hitting 31 empty homers with an 85 wRC + in 2021. Suarez is only 30 and didn’t react well when the Reds moved him to shortstop to start last season.
Winker was the true prize in the deal, though. He goes from an elite hitter’s park in Cincinnati to a stingier one in Seattle, but the 28-year-old has been outstanding the last two years and has had an above-average bat in all five of his MLB seasons. Last year, Winker cut down on the strikeouts and elevated the ball more before a strained side muscle ended his season. He posted a .403 wOBA in 485 plate appearances. The others to post a .400 wOBA in that kind of sample size? Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr.