BY Steve Rudman 10:33AM 08/21/2014

Mariners toughest in DH era (1973) to hit against

With the quality of pitching that the Mariners are receiving this season, they should be a postseason shoo-in. But they obviously are not.

Hisashi Iwakuma has helped the Mariners become one of the toughest teams to bat against in the past 50 years. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Despite last winter’s $240 million acquisition of free agent Robinson Cano, Lloyd McClendon’s Mariners are the worst team in the American League at getting on base — despite sitting 10 games above .500 (68-58). With a .303 OBP, the Mariners whack the ball more like a deadball era team  — the 1906 White Sox, aka “The Hitless Wonders,” had a .301 OBP — than one from the era of the designated hitter.

But as generally feeble as the Mariners are at poking out base hits (14th in the AL) and scoring runs (12th), they are resourceful in making up for those shortcomings. This is especially true of their pitching, which is not only excellent, but historically spectacular.

Whether ranked by opponent batting average, ERA, WHIP of any other measurement, the Mariners are among the toughest teams to bat against in the past 50 years. Start with their .225 opponent batting average.

The 1966 Dodgers sported three future Hall of Famers (Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton) and yielded a .236 opponent average — without having to face designated hitters. The 1971 Baltimore Orioles, the last club with four 20-game winners (Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Dave McNally), allowed a .239 average. Again, no DHs.

The 1973 Oakland A’s trotted out two Cy Young winners, Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue, and a Hall of Fame reliever, Rollie Fingers. Opponents batted .241. The 2003 Yankees featured Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera, all in their prime. Foes hit .265.

Seattle’s .225 OBA is equal to the .225 averages posted by the 1975 Los Angeles Dodgers and 1986 Houston Astros. Sticking to the AL because it has the DH, these are the teams with the lowest opponent batting averages since the league adopted the DH 42 years ago.

Year Team Manager Top Pitchers Opp. BA
2014 Mariners Lloyd McClendon Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma .225
2012 Rays Joe Maddon David Price, James Shields .228
2011 Rays Joe Maddon James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson .234
2014 Athletics Bob Melvin Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray .234
1981 Yankees Gene Michael Ron Guidry, Tommy John .235
2014 Angels Mike Scioscia Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver .235
1975 Athletics Alvin Dark Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman .236
1981 Tigers Sparky Anderson Jack Morris, Milt Wilcox .236
2001 Mariners Lou Piniella Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia .236

Seattle’s top three starters (Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Young) have combined for a 37-16 record and 2.50 ERA, the lowest by a starting trio in the American League. As a consequence, the Mariners have a 2.93 team ERA, placing the club on track to break the franchise record of 3.54, set in the 116-win season of 2001. But that’s not the interesting part.

The last AL team to finish with a sub-3.00 ERA was the 1974 Oakland Athletics, that year’s winner of the World Series. Those Athletics, again featuring Hunter and Blue, posted a 2.96 ERA – to Seattle’s current 2.93. That’s the lowest by an American League team in the designated hitter era.

On Base + Slugging? Since 1973, Seattle’s .634 leads the 1981 Yankees (.636) for the best in the DH era. WHIP? The Mariners sit at 1.131. The closest: 1.166 by this year’s Athletics.

Iwakuma’s latest

Iwakuma recorded a single-season high in strikeouts Tuesday with 11 in a 5-2 win at Philadelphia. He didn’t walk a batter, the 12th time this season sans a BB. With that, Iwakuma became the seventh pitcher in Mariners history to produce a game with 11 or more K’s and zero walks.

Since his major league debut in 2005, Hernandez has thrown seven such games (one this season April 11), topped by a 13-strikeout, no-walk game against San Diego May 22, 2011. Randy Johnson (1989-98) had six such games, including a 19-strikeout, zero-walk complete-game effort that he lost to the Oakland Athletics 4-1 June 24, 1997 at the Kingdome. Mariners pitchers with the most games of 11 or more K’s and no walks:

Pitcher No. Skinny
Felix Hernandez 7 13 K’s, 0 walks May 22, 2011 in 6-1 win over Padres
Randy Johnson 6 19 K’s, 0 walks June 24, 1997 in 4-1 loss to Athletics
Mike Moore 3 13 K’s, 0 walks Aug. 24, 1988 vs. Orioles; no decision
Mark Langston 1 16 K’s, no walks May 10, 1988 in CG vs. Toronto
Erik Hanson 1 11 K’s 0 walks Aug. 1, 1990; lost 1-0 to Athletics
Jamie Moyer 1 11 K’s, 0 walks June 21, 2002 in 7 innings vs. Astros
Hisashi Iwakuma 1 11 K’s, 0 walks Aug. 19, 2014 in 8 innings vs. Phillies

Paxton meets Hibbard

In the fourth inning of Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Phillies, the Mariners essentially gave the game away with an error, a wild pitch and a passed ball that led to three Philadelphia runs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was only the sixth time in Mariners history — last time Sept. 1, 2012 vs. the Angels — that they had an error, a wild pitch and a passed ball in the same inning.

Seattle starter James Paxton threw the wild pitch and committed the error Wednesday. In only one of the other five games with an error, wild pitch and passed ball in one inning was the pitcher responsible for both the error and wild pitch. Greg Hibbard made both gaffes May 19, 1994 in the third inning of a 5-4 win over Texas in the Kingdome.

Hibbard is also infamous in Mariners lore by allowing a franchise-record 15 hits (and 10 runs) to the Oakland A’s May 24, 1994 — his next start after that horrendous third inning against the Rangers. No wonder Lou Pinella didn’t want him back.


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  • jafabian

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Young’s performance this season. Still wondreing if he’ll run out of gas at the end of the season. Elias has also been a big reason why the M’s are having the success they’ve had this year. A bit surprised that the M’s haven’t shut him down at this point. I doubt they’re investing in him as much as they are with Walker and Paxton and have Danny Hultzen waiting in the wings. Maybe Elias will be traded to the Yankees for a prospect????

    Interesting how Kuma became a Mariner and not a Yankee, Dodger or Red Sox. Love it when that happens.