Despite a ten-win improvement between 2015 and 2016, the Mariners missed the playoffs yet again. Here are three reasons why.
The Mariners missed the playoffs for the 15th consecutive season in 2016, but left some reasons for hope. Even though they played meaningful ball up through the 161st game, they still fell a few games short of the Orioles for that elusive second Wild Card spot.
There were many reasons why the Mariners didn’t make the playoffs. I could even point to a few pivotal games that they lost to blame. But there are three overarching reasons why the Mariners weren’t good enough for a chance at the World Series in 2016. Let’s take a look:
You could probably point at the Mariners’ pitching staff this season and single them out as the biggest reason they didn’t make the playoffs. It wasn’t a few pitchers or only the bullpen or the starting rotation that did them in this year, it was the pitching staff as a whole.
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Neither the bullpen or the rotation were consistently good this year. During the awful stretch in which Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez was on the disabled list with a calf injury, the Mariners had to turn to too many unproven and not-ready starters. Adrian Sampson, to single one poor starter out, was called up for a start from AAA only to get hurt and leave manager Scott Servais with another question in the rotation.
Servais had to run out way too many spot starters and throw too many “bullpen days” at opposing offenses this year, causing constant flux in the bullpen, compounded by injuries and ineffectiveness. And even when healthy, the rotation was inconsistent all season. Taijuan Walker was up and down this year. He dealt with foot injuries that limited his effectiveness or kept him off the mound entirely at times. James Paxton, while brilliant at times, again dealt with injuries and couldn’t keep the nails on his fingers. New acquisition Nathan Karns was relegated to the bullpen after serving up too many home runs and finished the year on the DL. Wade Miley made about two quality starts before getting traded. Even Felix Hernandez wasn’t quite his dominant self this year even when healthy.
All of this chaos and gopheritis in the Mariners’ pitching staff caused them to finish third in the American League in home runs allowed. Their team ERA (4.30) was better than the division-winning Rangers, but inconsistency kept them out of the playoffs.
2. Inconsistent Defense in Key Spots
The Mariners were actually a fairly good defensive team last year. According to BaseballReference.com, they were three runs above average in total zone fielding. In English, the Mariners, as a team, were worth three runs above the average based on the number of defensive plays made.
I haven’t gone through the numbers for the other defensive stalwarts of the American League, but the Mariners have at least three Gold Glove candidates based on defensive metrics. Leonys Martin was brought in to play good defense in center field, and he delivered all season. Robinson Cano was 15 runs above average in total zone fielding, and Kyle Seager was 15 runs above average in defensive runs saved.
But other than Mike Zunino, they were the only regular starters who made contributions with their defense. Several defensive replacements, such as Guillermo Heredia, were good when asked to play, but Seth Smith, Nori Aoki, Adam Lind, Dae-Ho Lee, and Nelson Cruz were all either strictly average or worse according to Baseball Reference’s defensive metrics.
Particularly costly for the Mariners was Ketel Marte at shortstop. Short is a difficult position to cover because it involves a long throw and requires excellent range. Marte threw too many balls past the first baseman and it cost them in games. The most recent guffaw coming in a crucial game against the A’s with the season on the line. Marte is still a young player who could improve, but his and other below-average defensive performances cost them this year.
3. No One to Trade
Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto stayed quiet at the trade deadline this year while the Texas Rangers added several key role players to their lineup and bullpen. Dipoto was smart to avoid blockbuster trades, because it would have mortgaged the future for a slim shot at that darn Wild Card playoff. Instead of trying to find another outfielder or a starter, Dipoto traded Mike Montgomery and stayed content with minor deals. While a few of them brought in useful players like Ariel Miranda and Arquimedes Caminero, the M’s just couldn’t compete with the loaded lineups of Baltimore, Toronto, and Texas down the stretch.
This will be an interesting offseason for the Mariners, who will return Dipoto for another round of (hopefully) improvements and more useful minor league prospects. On to 2017!