Overall, the M's first road trip wasn't all that great. It is hard to find silver linings in a 2-5 stretch, especially against division rivals, and especially when one of those opponents is the foe again tonight. Going beyond the box scores and results, just watching the team was deflating. Aside from Franklin Gutierrez, nobody was terribly exciting.
Which is precisely my point.
If the 2010 Mariners continue to look just like they did on their first road trip, this season is doomed. There will be no offense, dicey pitching four out of five days, and the losses will rack up at prodigious rates.
The Mariners more or less earned their 2-5 start. Four games were decided in the ninth inning or later, and the M's went 2-2 in those games, exactly what you would expect if games that close are more or less toss-ups. The other three games were decisive losses, which you would expect from a team with iffy pitching and no offense.
So, was the road trip representative of the M's true ability?
Let's take a closer look at the offense using a relatively limited tool, batting average. It's plenty good enough to illuminate my point.
Franklin Gutierrez batted .444 on the road trip. He batted .283 last year, and has a career average of .272. His batting average is going to dip. Let's say it will dip 180 points, to .264.
We can't be selective with regression to the mean though. Let's check out all the other regulars.
Ichiro is batting .286, Chone Figgins .240, and Casey Kotchman .227 (though with some decent power). Their career averages are .333, .291, and .268, respectively. That's a total of 139 batting average points below their career averages. Let's say between the three of them, they improve by 75 points.
Jack Wilson has a .261 average so far, and Griffey is hitting at a .267 clip. They both batted around .220 for the M's last year, though their career numbers suggest that they may be able to keep up their current paces. Let's be harsh and say that they both dip 50 points.
So, to recap, we have gone through six spots in the lineup and deducted 215 total batting average points from what we saw on the road trip.
Jose Lopez is hitting .179 on the year so far. His average last year was .272, and his career mark is .271. Let's say his batting average improves 80 points, to .259.
Adam Moore and Rob Johnson combined are hitting .100 on the young season. I think it's safe to say they can combine to hit .190 on the season. That's a 90-point improvement.
Finally, there is Milton Bradley. He is batting .048 so far. Last year (which by the way was considered a total bust) he hit .257, and his career mark is .276. Let's say he bats .228. That's a 180-point gain.
Add all this fast-and-loose regression up, and the M's lineup gains 135 points in batting average over what they have now. That averages out to 15 points per lineup spot, and I assumed everyone would hit worse than their career numbers indicate. The M's offense may not be great, but it was freakishly bad on the road trip. It will get noticeably better.
The pitching was frustrating to watch too, and they did much of it to themselves with all the walks they issued. However, the current BABIP for the whole pitching staff is .348, the worst in the entire American League by 15 points. Digging further into batted ball data, M's pitchers have the highest line drive percentage of any staff in the majors (25%), which isn't too surprising after watching them. They seemed to get hit hard on the road trip, and the stats back that up.
However, the highest line drive rate for a staff in all of baseball last year was 20.6% (by the Phillies). The highest BABIP in 2009 was posted by the Red Sox, and it was .320. Even if the Mariners have the worst pitching staff in the majors, there is NO way this staff is as bad as it has looked so far. In fact, in case you are wondering, the M's had a .280 BABIP last year, and a line drive rate of 19%, with guys like Miguel Batista and Garrett Olson logging significant innings.
The Mariners are better than they have shown so far. Even if everyone underperforms, and Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard don't make one pitch for this ballclub, the Mariners are still a much better ballclub than they have shown. While the road trip stunk, it's not worth panicking over.