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A Little Bad Luck and Lots of Bad Offense

Josh Wilson misses
The Mariners do not look good right now. At least Milton Bradley is back, and the bullpen is back down to six men. Bradley is the best hope to jump start the offense.

It is easy to look at the numbers and say the M's aren't this bad. The hitters are bound to regress towards their career averages, which in this case means they will tend to improve. The team's one-run losses are well documented too, and it feels like the M's have lost more than their fair share of soul-crushers.

I won't regress the M's offense, partly because I'm crossing my fingers that it would be pointless. I'd like to believe that we will see different players in different spots in the lineup, making it very hard to project who gets playing time where and when.

Instead, I took a look back at the season so far, in a simple but scarcely used way. Here is a table with the frequency of times the M's have scored and allowed different run totals so far this season:

RUNS  
TIMES SCORED  
TIMES ALLOWED
0
4
1
1
4
4
2
8
8
3
6
7
4
7
3
5
5
4
6
2
6
7
0
1
8
2
4
9+
1
1
With a distribution like the above table, we can project expected winning percentages differently. We can randomly select a total of runs scored, and a total runs allowed, and count the game as a win or loss accordingly. There a few logical kinks in projecting a record this way, but I would argue that they are less than using run differentials.

Anyway, with the above run frequency distribution, the Mariners have gone 14-25. If the M's really have had more then their fair share of heart-breakers, they should project to have a better record.

I projected the M's record, based on the above table, using a couple simple methods. With both, a combo where the M's score more runs is a win, and where they score less is a loss. One method counted ties as games where the M's had a 50/50 shot of winning. The other method ignored ties altogether, having them count neither for nor against the projected percentages. The methods led to a projected 16.2 and 15.8 wins, respectively, through 39 games (like the M's have played so far). I could come up with more intricate methods to break ties, but I think it's safe to say it wouldn't change the projected wins much.

In case you are wondering, the M's projected record based on the whole season's run differential is also in the 16 win range.

Based on what we've seen so far, it is safe to say that the Mariners should be 16-23 instead of 14-25. Indeed, they have had some tough luck.

However, the Mariners haven't had that much bad luck. This is hardly a news flash, but their biggest problem is easily their offense. Not only has it averaged a meager 3.3 runs a game, but its median runs per game is 3, and the mode a paltry 2.

What's most depressing is how good this pitching and defense is. Their median and mode are also 3 and 2, respectively. In fact, the M's are theoretically more likely to win than lose once they score 4 runs. I haven't run the numbers for other teams, but I'd anticipate that many of their "break-even" points are at 5 runs.

Four runs isn't much to ask for. 26 out of 30 MLB offenses averaged more than 4 runs last year. 26 out of 30 also did in 2008. Every team averaged more than 4 runs in 2007. The distribution table above shows the possible shortcoming of averages, but the point is clear: It's not hard to score 4 runs in a game. Most below-average offenses still score four runs a bunch of the time.

Seriously, if the M's had maybe the 23rd best offense in baseball or so, they would probably be within a few games of the division lead. I don't know if that's a reason for hope, or the most depressing part of their struggles.