BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 03/01/2013

Mariners: Nice start, but it doesn’t mean anything

The Mariners (6-1) are off to a fabulous start in spring training in Peoria, AZ., but it will be the team’s April record that will tell the tale of the 2013 team.

The Seattle Mariners have raced out to a 6-1 Cactus League record, the longest spring training winning streak since 2004. But it means nothing. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Although the Seattle Mariners have burst out to a 6-1 Cactus League start after defeating the San Francisco Giants 4-3 Thursday, it’s way too early for the sort of gaga reaction encouraged by sports talk radio. Spring training games are, as baseball author Art Hill once observed, exercises written in the sand and have little bearing on what a season holds – as Mariners history emphatically informs us.

In their 36 years of largely feeble existence, the Mariners had a winning record during spring training 10 times, first time in 1984 (14-13), last time in 2012 (16-9-1). In all but two of those seasons – 1991 (17-13) and 1993 (16-14) – the Mariners finished with a losing record.

Even the winning records in 1991 and 1993 came with regular-season letdowns: The 1991 team went 83-79 but finished fifth in the division, while the 1993 club went 82-80 and languished in fourth place.

In none of the 10 seasons that began with a winning record in spring training did the Mariners finish higher than third in their division. The last three times the Mariners had a winning spring record – 2004 (18-10), 2011 (16-13) and 2012 (16-9-1), they finished fourth and last each time, a combined 87 games out of first place.

Foraging further into the weeds, Seattle’s six-game spring winning streak is the club’s longest since 2004, which fueled premature pennant talk. That team, the last for which Edgar Martinez played, lost 99 games despite 262 hits by Ichiro.

Then consider this: The Mariners have appeared in the postseason four times – 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001, when the team won a franchise-record 116 games. In none of those years did the Mariners begin the season with a winning record in spring training.

The 1995 club went 5-8 in the strike-shortened spring and won the division with a record of 79-66. The 1997 team went 16-16 in the spring and finished the regular season 90-72 (quickly eliminated by Mike Mussina and the Orioles in the playoffs). The 2000 club, a wild card entry into the postseason, went 13-16 in the spring and 91-71 in the regular season. The amazing 2001 club finished 13-19 in Arizona as a prelude to 116 victories.

10 Winning Springs, 8 Losing Records

Year Manager Spring Rec. Reg. Season Finish
1984 Del Crandall 14-13 74-88 5th
1989 Jim Lefebvre 16-15 73-89 6th
1991 Jim Lefebvre 17-13 83-79 5th
1993 Lou Piniella 16-14 82-80 4th
1994 Lou Piniella 21-9 49-63 3rd
1998 Lou Piniella 18-14 76-85 3rd
1999 Lou Piniella 20-12 79-83 3rd
2004 Bob Melvin 18-10 63-99 4th
2011 Eric Wedge 16-13 67-95 4th
2012 Eric Wedge 16-9-1 75-87 4th

While spring training is an omen of nothing, April provides the surest sign of how the season will play out. Since 1996, the Mariners have had a winning April seven times, most recently in 2009 (13-9). Seattle finished with a winning record in each of those seasons.

Over the same 16-year span (since 1996), the Mariners have had 10 Aprils at or below .500. In nine of those seasons, the Mariners finished with a losing record (the 2007 Mariners went 10-10 in April and finished 88-74).

A 6-1 Cactus League start is obviously better than the reverse, but it is indicative of nothing — unless you have three hours to fill on a talk show.


YourThoughts

  • maqman

    Wow! Negative Nancy has got a boyfriend. Granted that spring training records guarantee nothing during the regular season, however what the M’s players have shown so far is not without value or encouragement. The Arizona light air does indeed skew the indicative regular season probability of averaging two home runs a game in the dour spring environment of Seattle. Given that all of the Arizona teams use the same air space though they must have less to look forward to in the regular season than the M’s one could reason. The fact that Smoak and Guti have yet to tank or get injured is good news. Given that Noesi is the only starting pitcher candidate possibly looking like a minor league part so far leaves some decent looking arms competing for relatively few open spots. The only negative so far, other than Noesi, is that it looks like some capable players are going to be squeezed out of a 25-man roster spot because to now the candidates are pretty much all looking like realistic possibilities. The M’s cup is more than half full.

    • Effzee

      Wow! Radioguy has got a boyfriend. Spring training records guarantee nothing during the regular season.

      That is all.

    • Trygvesture

      How is it possible to be a reasonable sentient being and dispute facts– unless one has foregone reason to dance for the front office? Fact is, spring training numbers don’t mean anything. Yeah, they do show when pitchers are hurt, or position players are out of shape or broken down, but it doesn’t predict anything. It’s not as if the opposing teams play their world series lineup against the Ms– they likely feel they can play the Ms as if it was their own B squad. Not really even playing for pride when you play an historically cellar rat team.
      It’s just facts. Spring training wins and losses mean nothing. In the case of the Ms, the “winning” spring seasons have provided the only winning they’ve had in those years. Not my invention, nor Rudman’s– just numbers.

  • jafabian

    Don’t take hitting too seriously in spring training but pitching is another matter altogether. You can tell when its time to be concerned about a player when a pitcher is concerned.

  • Rauuuuuul

    Wait, Spring Training games don’t count in the regular season? That might be the first time I’ve ever heard that. Thanks for that gem of a fact. Now go back and write something worthwhile, like how pitchers are supposed to be ahead of batters in spring training but someone forgot to tell the Mariners. Or how the young talent has a full year under their belt now and are primed for a breakout season. Maybe something on Smoak’s hot start. Or how the new offensive additions have been doing. Your article was pointless, just like spring training games.

  • Big

    Spring training wins are better than the alternative. Oh, it’s not spring. Gee Rudman rain on the parade. Can’t we just live in the moment?