Mariners rely on arms and gloves to win
Seattle decides not to trade for another big bat down the stretch
SEATTLE Do pitching and defense win championships? Considering that Seattle didn't trade for an additional hitter before the deadline, it appears the Mariners are banking on their ability to prevent runs.
'If you don't have pitching and defense, you're not going to win, period,' Mariner veteran infielder Mark McLemore says. 'If you have them, it increases your chances to win dramatically.'
'Without our defense, no way we would have been able to win 300 games the last three years,' M's pitcher Ryan Franklin says. 'I'd say half of the wins you could credit toward our defense.'
Seattle Manager Bob Melvin can't put a number on it but says, 'A lot of times the defense energizes the offense, and the consistency of the defense helps the confidence of the pitchers.
'In a 162-game season, it's very important.'
Seattle leads the American League in fielding percentage (.990 through Wednesday) and fewest errors (40). The Mariners also rank second in pitching (3.78 ERA) and fourth in hitting (.276) and lead the AL West Division by three games.
During their dream 2001 season, the Mariners led the AL in hitting, pitching and defense. But, despite 116 wins, they failed to make the World Series that year. Many say their lack of offensive punch kept them from getting past the New York Yankees, not only in 2001 but also in 2000.
Seattle General Manager Pat Gillick has set up the team to win with pitching, defense and timely hitting.
But does the emphasis on pitching and defense really work?
Portland's Rob Neyer, a baseball analyst for ESPN, says there is no empirical evidence to prove the theory.
'There's evidence to suggest that pitching and defense are slightly more important than hitting and base running offense,' says Neyer, a disciple of famed statistician and baseball historian Bill James. 'But that really only shows up in the regular season. If you look at the postseason, you'll find that hitting's just as important as pitching and defense.
'Heck, we've had a great counterexample to the 'common wisdom' and, yes, it's common over the last 13 years,' he adds: 'The Braves have entered the postseason with the best pitching nearly every year and won just one World Series.'
Indeed, Atlanta has ranked, incredibly, first in pitching in the National League 10 times in the past 12 years. The year the Braves won the World Series, 1995, they ranked second behind Los Angeles in NL pitching, albeit just barely.
The '95 Braves ranked ninth in NL scoring (4.48 runs per game), 13th in batting average (.250) and 10th in on-base percentage.
A look at World Series teams since 1995 shows the importance of pitching. Of the 16 teams that have played in the Series since 1995, only two Cleveland 1997, Yankees 2000 ranked out of the top five in their respective leagues in least runs allowed. But seven teams ranked out of the top five in runs scored.
Only two of those World Series teams led their league in runs scored Cleveland 1995, Yankees 1998 and they were the only ones to lead their league in on-base percentage.
Interestingly, the 2001 Arizona team that Melvin helped coach was the only World Series club to lead its league in fielding percentage, and 11 World Series teams since '95 ranked out of the top three in defense.
But what the stats show, overwhelmingly, is the need for teams to be balanced. Last year, for example, Anaheim ranked fourth in the AL in on-base percentage (.341), fourth in runs (5.25), second in runs allowed (3.98) and second in fielding (.986). Its World Series opponent, San Francisco, ranked second in the NL in on-base percentage (.344), third in runs (4.83), second in runs allowed (3.80) and tied for third in fielding (.985).
Seattle first baseman John Olerud played for the 1999 New York Mets, who set the major league record for fewest errors (68) and fielding percentage (.989). The Mets went to the World Series in 2000 despite ranking fifth in on-base percentage (.354), sixth in runs (5.41), sixth in runs allowed (5.06) and tied for eighth in fielding percentage (.981).
The Mariners are on a pace to break the Mets' defensive records, and Olerud says the M's have a better outfield and overall defense than New York did.
The Mariners have kept catcher Dan Wilson for his defensive skills and ability to handle pitchers. They acquired Randy Winn to complement Mike Cameron and Ichiro Suzuki in the outfield. And they stuck with light-hitting third baseman Jeff Cirillo, until lately, because of his glove.
'I've never seen a team with this kind of defense,' Melvin says. 'It's so important you don't kick around the ball, especially late in games.'