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Comparing To The Hated Rival

At the start of the season, based purely on projections, the Mariners were tabbed for 82 wins, and the Padres for 76. Obviously, these teams have gone their separate ways. Arguably, San Diego has been the biggest surprise in baseball this year, while the M's have been arguably the biggest disappointment.

The interleague "rivals" are built quite similarly. They both play in pitcher's ballparks, and have both placed an emphasis on defense, often at the expense of offense. So, how come one of these teams has beat the odds to be great, while the other has beat the odds to be terrible? One of the more popular answers is that the Padres offense isn't that bad, while the Mariners did not care enough about offense in the first place.

Let's put that theory to the test. Below is a table, comparing the weighted on base averages (wOBA, click here for more on the stat, but in short it's the best one-number look at offense), both projected and actual, for both teams. If the Mariners did not care enough about offense, we would expect to see roughly the same projected and actual wOBA numbers. If the Padres are better than advertised, we should see some stronger wOBAs than anticipated:

Name, Pos., TeamProj. wOBA     Actual wOBA
Nick Hundley, C, SD.293.290
Rob Johnson, C, SEA.299.261
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, SD.379.382
Casey Kotchman, 1B, SEA.333.285
David Eckstein, 2B, SD.302.313
Chone Figgins, 2B, SEA.339.298
Everth Cabrera, SS, SD.300.249
Jack Wilson, SS, SEA.288.262
Chase Headley, 3B, SD.318.329
Jose Lopez, 3B, SEA.322.267
Scott Hairston, LF, SD.320.299
Milton Bradley, LF, SEA.356.289
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF, SD.297.284
Franklin Gutierrez, CF, SEA     .325.301
Will Venable, RF, SD.310.331
Ichiro, RF, SEA.353.339

The bold and italicizing are just to try to group the teams and positions a little better. There is no meaning to who got either treatment.

Obviously, both teams are a bunch more than the wOBAs of these eight players. Notably, the Padres boast an excellent defense and bullpen, whereas the Mariners have been disappointing in both of those areas as well.

Still, the offensive data in the table says a whole bunch. First of all, San Diego is not a big surprise on offense. While Eckstein, Headley, and Venable are beating their projections by meaningful margins, Cabrera, Hairston, and Gwynn have all been disappointments by meaningful margins. Intuitively, three surprises and three disappointments would seem to add up to about what was expected in the end, and for San Diego that is mostly true. It would be exactly the case if Cabrera weren't so incredibly below his projection.

Moreover, a .310 wOBA is well below average. The Padres offense isn't much, but it has been enough to contend with all their other parts.

Shockingly, all eight Mariners are off their projections by meaningful margins. Not one guy is a pleasant surprise, or even what was expected. Frankly, the theoretical worst-case scenario is not as bad as this. A comparison to the Padres wasn't needed to draw that conclusion though.

Additionally, with the acquisitions of Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada, the Padres have a better offense now than the one I used in the table. It is fair to argue that this is an acknowledgment that their offense was not enough to contend.

Still, this post is about a ray of hope for the Mariners. San Diego put themselves in a position to acquire bats with the offense they fielded for a majority of this season. In fact, it was projected to be worse than the M's offense, and even underachieved slightly from the projection. Yet the Padres still found ways to win, thanks largely to an insane defense, fantastic bullpen, and a starting rotation that at least knows how to take advantage of both of the team's strengths (and emerging ace Mat Latos doesn't hurt either).

The Padres are awfully similar to what the Mariners were supposed to be this year. They are run prevention virtuosos. The margin for error is small, but that's okay when you don't make many mistakes.

The thinking behind the M's approach this year was not flawed. The team's biggest problem is its offense, but the culprit is catastrophic underperformance, not how weak the offense was anticipated to be. I will concede that the Mariners probably never had the same caliber of defense or bullpen that San Diego has. However, .500 was a perfectly reasonable expectation for the M's, and even a reasonable worst-case scenario is significantly better than what has actually happened.