2024 Seattle Mariners Winning A Lot, Winning Ugly – Can This Be Sustainable?

Almost fifty games into the 2024 MLB season (as of writing), the Seattle Mariners find themselves atop the American League West at 25-22.  

Is it helped by the division?  Absolutely.  The Los Angeles Angels (18-29) are in a decade-long tailspin, punctuated by watching inhuman superhero Shohei Ohtani leave in the offseason.  The Oakland Athletics (19-30) are suffering under a miserly ownership group and attendance numbers not seen since the XFL.  Even the Houston Astros (21-26) are coming back to Earth, potentially into a well-placed trash can.  

That said, a team that hits like Seattle does shouldn’t be near the top of any division.  Four of their regulars are hitting below zero on the WAR chart (Mitch Haniger, Ty France, Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver).  Cal Raleigh’s 1.4 WAR is held aloft by his team-leading ten home runs and not his .228 batting average or .302 OBP.  Julio Rodriguez and Josh Rojas are doing a lot of heavy lifting in the batter’s box.

The Mariners hitting woes aren’t unique to them.  The league-wide Average of .240 is the lowest in the majors since 1968.  The on-base Percentage of .312 is the lowest since 1972.  Hitters are taking fewer walks and striking out more (if it holds, it would be the eighth straight season of teams averaging eight strikeouts a game).  Pitchers are throwing harder than ever and putting movement on those fastballs that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago.

That is how the Mariners find themselves in first.  They lead the league in both Quality Starts with 27 and in Opposing Batting Average, with teams hitting a near-Mendoza level of .212 against them.  In contrast to the hitters, only three pitchers with meaningful amounts of time on the mound have a WAR below 0.  The four-man terror crew of Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Bryce Miller all have WHIPs below 1.14 and sub-4 ERAs.  

While they are not putting up the flashy pitching numbers that someone like Chicago Cubs’ decimator Shota Imanaga is, their consistency is what drives the team.  Castillo recovered from a rough start to the year and hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a start since April 14th.  Gilbert was terrorizing the opposition until an eight-run outing versus the Minnesota Twins ballooned his ERA from 1.69 to 2.94.  Kirby has been the most inconsistent, but when you throw twelve strikeouts and allow zero runs like his April 27th start versus the Arizona Diamondbacks, you are willing to take the good with the bad.  Miller was red-hot in April and has cooled off significantly, but for his first full season, you can give him a pass.

For Mariners fans, whether the team wins with the long bomb or wins a 1-0 nailbiter, the only thing that matters is winning.  Seattle is doing enough for now.  Whether the hitting gets on track or the pitching falters first is the big question.