This article might be seen as an excuse to put another photo of Endy Chavez in an obscure corner of the internet. By itself, that might be reason enough for creating this post. After all, who else could have made that catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS? But this post is about more than Endy Chavez.
A quick look at the batting leaderboards from Fangraphs shows that the Mariners have two players in the top 20. Only the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants can make a similar claim. Also, they have Felix Hernandez, who ranks third in fWAR, and Hisashi Iwakuma, who slots in at 25th. Overall, their pitching staff has the lowest ERA in the major leagues. Yet, they are a game behind the Kansas City Royals in the wild card race with playoff odds of just 34 percent.
What's holding this team back?
First of all, the M's have not been very efficient with the runs they've been given. Their run differential is the fifth best in baseball, but nine teams have a better record. Their hitters have just the 19th best clutch score. Those are rough measures, but the point is that the M's haven't fared overly well given their run differential.
More importantly, the Mariners have given a lot of playing time to very bad baseballers, particularly position players.
Though he's featured in this article, Endy Chavez has not been the worst of this bunch. In fact, he's been exactly replacement level, with a .279/.321/.376 batting line and a 99 wRC+ to go along with subpar outfield defense. For a 36 year-old outfielder whose last +2 win season came in 2006, that's more than the Mariners could have expected.
In sum, the Mariners have nine players who have produced negative fWAR this year. The biggest offender has been designated hitter Corey Hart with -1.3 fWAR. Returning from surgeries on both knees has proven difficult for Hart. In what little time he's spent in the outfield, Hart has been predictably immobile. At the plate he's batting an ugly .196/.267/.313 with just six home runs.
Kendrys Morales, whom the Mariners acquired to replace Hart, has been nearly as bad with a 79 wRC+ and -0.7 fWAR in 47 games. Sure, enduring an extended layoff after declining the Mariners' qualifying offer set him back, but players who have been injured and missed the first three months of the season have performed much better.
Outfielders Stefen Romero and James Jones have been overmatched in their first taste of big league action. Romero owns a 50 wRC+, and Jones isn't much better with a 68 wRC+. He's the only speed threat on the team, but his .280 on-base percentage isn't enough, even with 25 steals.
Besides those most egregious offenders, there is Justin Smoak, who now owns -0.2 fWAR in over 2200 career plate appearances. He's at -0.3 fWAR this year with a 77 wRC+. John Buck was just a shade below replacement level before being released, and Cole Gillespie found himself in the same position.
While their projections are more favorable, trade deadline acquisitions Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia have actually been just a hair below replacement level as well. Their situation differs in that they have solid track records. However, with the exception of Morales and Hart, there was no reason to believe these players would be better than replacement level.
The Mariners have high-end talent that matches up with any team in baseball, and should they bring King Felix to the table in a wild card game, their odds are quite favorable. Nevertheless, they might not get to that situation because a lack of depth has dragged them down.
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Stats courtesy of Fangraphs
Chris Moran is a former college baseball player at Wheaton College and current third-year law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Gammons Daily. He went to his first baseball game at age two. Follow him on Twitter @hangingslurves.