The Seattle Mariners find themselves with a losing record heading into a West Coast road trip and find themselves to continue to struggle mightily at the on the offensive side of things. I spoke to KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel about why they are having such a hard time at bat.
Kevin Kniestedt: All right, Art. So the Mariners had a pretty good series against a good Indians team, but then had a terrible series against a bad Tigers team, including their second no-hitter against them in 14 days. What's going on?
Art Thiel: Well, a lot of this is expectable when you have 13 players on the injured list, which leads, I think, Major League Baseball. And that includes a lot of pitchers like James Paxton and L.J. Newsome. They’re lost for the season. Several other guys are out for shorter duration, and they're also missing position players Evan White, Ty France and Dylan Moore. And of course, you've got the excuse of youth such as Jarred Kelenic, who, besides one great game in his second appearance with the Mariners, hasn't hit very well at all. But that's going to come. And that is sort of expectable when you're dealing with a young guy new to the major leagues. Still they’re on a pace for the worst batting average of team history. Right now at .198, they're the worst in baseball, and that would also be the worst in baseball history.
Kevin: Well, I guess to be fair, offense in Major League Baseball has been pretty bad this year across the board. So what's going on with that?
Art: Well, baseball's analytics have dictated all kinds of changes to the game. It's not just this year. It's been for 10, 15 years now. What's happened is power pitching has come to dominate because it's really hard to hit a 98 mile an hour fastball. And so teams have loaded up on these guys. They've also engaged defensive shifts, which means that players are hitting into outs more regularly. There's far fewer singles hit. And the upshot is you've got a baseball game that isn't very entertaining -- lots of strikeouts, lots of home runs, lots of walks, and it's just boring. Right now, baseball is averaging 7.8 hits a game. That's the second lowest in history behind 1908. And they're averaging nine strikeouts a game, which is the highest in baseball history. And that number has gone up every year for the last 15 years. And teams collectively are batting an average of .236, which would be the lowest of all time. So, yes, the Mariners are part of a bigger picture. They're just happy to be doing it worse than anybody else.
Kevin: At this point in the season, is there a fix specifically for the Mariners right now?
Art: Well, not really. I know Scott Servais, the manager, has talked about trying to get his hitters to use the whole field and not just to their pull side to try to hit home runs, but hit to the empty side of the defense. And, yeah, OK. But they could have done that for years. Every team can do that. And I don't see that changing much of anything right now. The fact is the Mariners wanted it this way because they could have gone out in the free agency in the offseason and gotten a free-agent catcher or second baseman or somebody who was in mid-career who could have certainly hit better than these guys. But they're in year three of throwaway seasons. They don't want to give those at-bats and that playing time to older players who aren't part of the future. They want to stick with the young guys because that is the future. They have to suffer through this as young people grow and then they hope in 2022 to have something. But that's not happening in 2021.
Sports commentator Art Thiel’s website is Sports Press Northwest at sportspressnw.com. You can subscribe to podcasts of these weekly chats at KNKX.org.