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The Mariners Woeful "Supporting" Cast

What started as a little investigation I found tweet-worthy has ballooned into a full post. I take glances at the Fangraphs WAR leaderboards from time to time, and noticed a pair of Mariners ranking highly, Franklin Gutierrez and Cliff Lee. In case the acronym WAR doesn't mean much to you, it stands for wins above replacement. In theory, it is a measure of a player's overall value. The player with the highest WAR is arguably the most valuable player in all of baseball.

Then I got to thinking: It has to be hard to be as bad as the Mariners with a couple elite talents, doesn't it?

That's where the tweet barrage comes in. Here are some fun little factoids I threw out there this morning:
  • As of today, only four teams have a top-10 WAR position player and pitcher - the Phillies, Red Sox, Twins, and Mariners
  • As of today, seven teams have two top-10 WAR position players or pitchers - the four aforementioned teams, plus the Blue Jays (two top 10 pitchers), Rays, and Tigers (for Tampa and Detroit, two top 10 hitters)
  • Two more teams, aside from the ones already mentioned, have at least two players who have posted a 2.0 WAR or better this year, the Cardinals and Nationals
I mentioned a total of nine teams in the three bullet points above. Seven of them have winning records. Of the two with losing records, the Nationals are 25-26, and the Mariners are 19-30. Moral of the story: a baseball team is 25 guys, but if you have a couple of great players, it is hard to be bad.

Yet the Mariners have found a way to be bad with a couple great players, and watching the team, it doesn't seem like an anomaly. Shockingly, the Mariners have had 11 players play for the team so far this year that have posted a negative WAR so far this year. Here are the numbers (for position players and pitchers).

Negative WARs are really, really bad. A 0 WAR player is in theory the kind of guy that is a dime a dozen in AAA; far from an average MLB player, and not even a real valuable bench player. In other words, according to WAR, the numbers suggest that the Mariners have had 11 players play that would not even round out a AAA roster all that nicely.

If all the negative WAR performances were replaced with 0 WAR players, the 2010 Mariners would be 3.6 wins better, in theory. That puts the team at 22-27, or 23-26, and only 3 or 4 games back in the AL West.

For me, everything that is so frustrating about this team is illustrated by the WAR numbers. The Mariners have a legitimate core group that a successful team can be built around. However, the supporting cast has been so laughably bad. It takes a catastrophically horrible group of players to drag down this team's core, and that's what the Mariners have.

The 2010 Mariners should not be this bad, but they are. It is hard for so many players to be so horrible, especially when most of them have given positive contributions with their gloves. It is inevitable that, one way or another, the team's negative contributions will eventually get at least to zero. When they reach that point, this will be about a .500 team. The Mariners will get better, but not better enough, and certainly not soon enough.

Moving forward though, there is a silver lining. The core of this team is producing, and aside from Lee, it is locked in place for several more years. On top of that, guys like Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley are not too far away in the minors. The Mariners do not need a full-blown overhaul to be respectable by as early as the end of this year, and the future is still bright.