Loud Contact Crucial To Mariners Championship Aspirations

Reaching the postseason for the first time in two decades was a milestone moment for the Seattle Mariners. Still, simply making the playoffs isn’t enough for an organization with championship aspirations. To make the ultimate goal of winning the World Series more attainable, upgrading offensive productivity must be a top priority. 

Although this year’s run production was generally better than it had been in 2021, the Mariners’ lineup was only average-ish in most categories. Seattle was among the best at drawing walks and top-10 in home runs. On the other hand, it was bottom-five in batting average and doubles. Overall, 2022 was an uneven season for a team that managed to score just two-or-fewer runs in 35% of its games.

M’s 2022 Offensive Numbers & MLB Rankings

Considering the current status of the farm system, the Mariners will need to acquire established hitters from outside the organization to become a perennial contender. Yes, I used plural form. As the roster sits today, the addition of multiple bats is needed to realize appreciable offensive improvements in 2023.

And what type of hitters might management pursue this offseason?

Mariners GM Justin Hollander recently shared his thoughts on the team’s approach towards acquiring new offensive contributors with Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish and other media members.

“I don’t think we’re going to limit ourselves to just a bat-to-ball guy or just a guy who controls the strike zone or just a guy who hits homers. There’s a lot of different ways to be a good offensive player.” – Justin Hollander

What Hollander said makes complete sense – at least it does to me. There’s no reason to take a myopic view when searching for quality hitters. Having said that, I do believe acquiring hitters proficient at making loud contact will be crucial to the Mariners’ 2023 success.

Hitting the ball hard matters

Suggesting all the Mariners need to do to succeed is hit the ball harder may sound overly simplistic to you. But as we noted in our regular season roundup, the team’s 36.7% hard-hit rate ranked 23rd. It was the fourth consecutive year Seattle was in the bottom-third of MLB.

A “hard-hit ball” has an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher. The “hard-hit rate” of a player or team represents the percentage of batted balls with a 95+mph exit velocity.  In 2022, the average hard-hit rate was 38.4%. – Statcast

Sure, you can find players who enjoyed success without making a ton of hard contact. Notable examples include Steven Kwan, Jose Altuve, Jeff McNeil, and Luis Arraez. Despite having a hard-hit rate of 30% or lower, each produced an AVG of .298 or greater with McNeil and Arraez winning batting titles. Still, these individuals were outliers – not the norm.

Realistically, hard-hit balls typically lead to the best outcomes. To see what I mean, take a look at how AVG and SLG explode once exit velocities reach and exceed the 95 mph “hard-hit” threshold.

Clearly, creating more loud contact can help jump-start the Mariners’ offense in 2023. In my mind’s eye, there are two offseason steps management can take to make this happen.

Fewer plate appearances for soft-contact hitters

This year, Mariners with a hard-hit rate under the 30% level mentioned earlier accounted for nearly one-third (30.9%) of the team’s 6,117 plate appearances. This disproportionate share of opportunities needs to be significantly curtailed next season.

Highest % of PA’s Going to Soft-Contact Hitters
CLE – 36.7%
SEA- 30.9%
WSN – 26.2%
COL – 25%
CIN – 24.8%

Six Mariners had a hard-hit rate below 30% this year. The following illustrates their AVG and SLG on batted balls. When reviewing these stats, pay close attention to the MLB-averages. Remember, we’re looking at production created when the hitter made contact. What may initially appear to be a good AVG or SLG actually isn’t when compared to the rest of the league.

Utility-man Sam Haggerty was the lone above-average Mariner. But it’s important to note the switch-hitter filled a limited role (just 49 starts). Outfielders Taylor Trammell and Steven Souza Jr. had even fewer opportunities than Haggerty. The trio’s small sample size of stats were inconsequential to the big picture.

On the other hand, J.P. Crawford and Adam Frazier were everyday players with each having 600-plus plate appearances. Additionally, Abraham Toro made 82 starts and went to the plate 352 times. All told, the trio combined for 1.557 plate appearances – 25.4% of Seattle’s total in 2022. This inefficiency is in dire need of correction prior to Opening Day.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting Crawford, Frazier, and Toro should be gone by Opening Day. But next year’s lineup can’t afford to be weighed down by multiple regulars, who are also soft-contact hitters.

Replace expected departures

The second step the front office can take to guarantee more hard contact in 2023 involves finding replacements for pending free agents. Barring unforeseen circumstances, two of Seattle’s hardest hitters – Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana – will be former Mariners shortly after the World Series concludes.

M’s Hard-Hit Rates+
Julio Rodríguez – 50.7%
Mitch Haniger* – 47.2%
Carlos Santana* – 47.2%
Luis Torrens – 46.6%
Eugenio Suárez – 43.5%
Cal Raleigh – 43.5%
MLB Hard-Hit Rate – 38.4%
Ty France – 36.7%
Dylan Moore – 36.4%
Jarred Kelenic – 35%
Jesse Winker – 34.3%
Abraham Toro – 29.7%
J.P. Crawford – 29.2%
Sam Haggerty – 24.6%
Adam Frazier* – 24.5%

*Pending free agent
+100 batted ball minimum

It’s important to note Frazier is also a pending free agent. Based on comments made by Hollander and President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto during the team’s end of season media scrum, retaining the second baseman doesn’t appear to be a priority. His departure would provide the team with the opportunity to add a more potent bat at second base or shortstop.

Help Wanted

Since Hot Stove season is upon us, I scratched together an incomplete list of free agents potentially capable of filling the loud contact void created by the expected departures of Haniger, Santana, and Frazier. The trio is included to help you make comparisons.

Hard-Hit Rates of Recognizable Free Agents
Aaron Judge – 61.8%
José Abreu – 51.8%
Mitch Haniger – 47.2%
Carlos Santana – 47.2%
Dansby Swanson – 46.3%
Carlos Correa – 44.7%
J.D. Martinez – 41.7%
Trea Turner – 41.6%
Anthony Rizzo – 41%
Brandon Nimmo – 39.8%
Xander Bogaerts – 39.5%
Andrew Benintendi – 38.7%
MLB Hard Hit Rate – 38.4%
Wil Myers – 37.6%
Kolten Wong – 35.5%
Adam Frazier – 24.5%

Some of these players may not be ideal matches for the Mariners. That said, it’s a starting point for a conversation that will be ongoing throughout the offseason. In the near future, we’ll do a more comprehensive review of potential free agent and trade candidates Seattle might pursue this offseason.

In the interim, I suggest enjoying what’s left of the World Series.

It’s shaping up to be a fun offseason in the Emerald City.

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home.

In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park.

You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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