Mariners Making Good on Their Plan to Control the Zone

Seattle Mariners' Robinson Cano, right, celebrates with Adam Lind (26) after hitting a home run off Oakland Athletics' Sonny Gray in the fourth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By Gary Hill

The Seattle Mariners bashed their way to victory over the Oakland A’s yesterday afternoon to complete an impressive road sweep over their AL West foe. The M’s plated 9 runs while pounding out 16 hits in the thrilling come from behind win. The game continued the trend of the Mariners flexing their substantial offensive muscle.

Entering play on Thursday the Mariners have scored the second most runs in the American League this season.

Red Sox 140
Mariners 122
Tigers 118
Rangers 118
Astros 116

It is very interesting to examine how the M’s have propelled themselves into the elite class of AL run scorers. The long ball is one of the obvious factors. The Mariners have belted more homers than any other team in the American League.

Mariners 38
Astros 37
Orioles 36
Blue Jays 34
Rays 34

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The other aspects of the Mariners success may not be as obvious. For example, the Mariners are hitting .244 as a team which is 8th in the AL. To a certain extent they have been victim of an unlucky .274 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is 26th in Major League Baseball. League average is generally around .300.

As it turns out the Mariners have made significant strides in “Controlling the Zone.” General Manager Jerry Dipoto and Manager Scott Servais have spoken of their strategy often since joining the organization. This is an excerpt of Servais speaking at the Winter Meetings.

You have to control the strike zone, whether you’re on the mound or in the batter’s box. Controlling the strike zone, swinging at good pitches, getting deep in counts, walking maybe a little bit more.

Examining several numbers offered by fangraphs.com illustrates the improvement. First of all, the Mariners are swinging at lower percentage of pitches outside the zone this year. Their O-Swing% sat at 30% last season which was 9th in the AL. They have improved to 27.2% this season which has bumped them to 7th.

They are also swinging and missing less this season 10% (swinging strikes divided by total pitches) which is 7th in the AL. Last season they were 12th in the AL at 10.7%.

Their contact rate has also improved.  The M’s have jumped from 77% (13th in AL) last season to 78.2% (7th in AL this year).

The results have led to a significant cut in their strikeout rate:

Last Season: 21.8% (13th AL)
This Season: 20.4% (8th AL)

In terms of raw numbers the Mariners have fanned 211 times which is 8th least in the American League compared to the 2nd most in the AL last season (1336).

These improvements have also helped fuel a powerful improvement in walk percentage.

Last Season: 7.8% (11th AL)
This Season: 8.9% (3rd AL)

They have drawn the third most walks in the American League this season:

Astros 109
Blue Jays 107
Mariners 92
Twins 91

On-base percentage last year: .311 (11th AL)
On-base percentage this year: .321 (4th AL)

SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 09:  Chris Iannetta #33 of the Seattle Mariners is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field on April 9, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

It is probably not a coincidence that the Mariners are doing more damage this year when hitting home runs compared to last season. Fifty-nine percent of the homers hit by the Mariners last year were solo (117 of 198). This year fifty percent have been solo blasts (19 of 38).

Interestingly, they are not seeing any more pitches this season as a team compared to last year:

Last Season: 3.88 pitches per plate appearance (4th in AL)
This season: 3.87 pitches per plate appearance (10th AL)

The data would suggest they have upgraded quality and not quantity. They have traded in some strikes for balls and more contact. They are reaching base more despite some bad luck with batting average, thus damage has been more significant.

The results have been impressive and the Mariners will look to continue their surge in Houston.

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