Why the Ms Might Have a Chance

So you’re saying there’s a chance!? In my last report on the Mariners, I mentioned that their pitching is likely to regress a little bit as BABIP comes back around its traditional average. However, there is one key factor that may help keep runs allowed down, and team run differential in the positives: the Mariners’ vastly improved defense.

Last season the Ms ranked 26th in defensive efficiency, a measure of how often a defense turns balls into outs. This season with improvements in the field, the Mariners find themselves 4th in the league in that stat, converting 2.5% more balls hit into outs than last season.  One argument may be that, by luck, line drives are simply finding gloves. While luck will definitely have some effect on pitchers’ BABIPS, there is reason to believe that skill has played a huge part, as well.

A UZR rating estimates a fielder’s run value to his team in terms of how many runs he saves defensively. It is calculated by assessing the value of a player’s throwing arm, range, error reduction, and ability to turn double plays. In 2008, the Mariners’ team UZR for everyday players was about -0.5 a player, indicating a less-than-average defensive proficiency. In 2009, that figure has exploded to +6.9. This estimates that over the course of a season, the M’s defense is saving almost 52 total runs over the average MLB team, and about 56 runs over last season.

So who do we have to thank? Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez have turned in stellar UZRs of 19.4 and 20.6, respectively. The Mariners’ 2008 committee of center fielders, comboed with Raul Ibañez in left, posted a -6 UZR. Even with Chavez out, Balentien has recorded an above-average 2.9, and the Mariners defense should continue to save its pitchers some runs, about 0.35 per game over last year’s squad.

While the Ms still need another big bat in that lineup to make a legitimate run at the playoffs, with an excellent defense and the return of Brandon Morrow to the starting lineup Seattle can still make things interesting in the West.

Thanks to FanGraph for the UZR stats!

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