BY Steve Rudman 12:57PM 09/29/2014

Now Mariners must capitalize on turnaround

Under Lloyd McClendon, the Mariners improved by 16 games (over 2013). But a big improvement from one year to the next isn’t always a forecast of good things to come.

Lloyd McClendon beat back a legion of skeptics in his first season as Mariners manager. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The Mariners head into the offseason obviously disappointed that they missed the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, but feeling good about the way they closed out 2014: A three-game Safeco Field sweep of the division champion Los Angeles Angels and the fact that, as Sportspress Northwest’s Art Thiel described it, they remained in playoff contention until the fifth inning of Game 162, when Oakland completed a 4-0 win at Texas.

Hard to get much closer to a postseason berth than that, especially considering that nobody figured the Mariners would wind up a playoff contender in the first place. They were widely viewed as an 80-win team last spring, despite new manager Lloyd McClendon’s declaration that the franchise was about to enter a “golden age.”

A brutal five-game losing streak during last week’s swing through Houston and Toronto kept the Mariners from crossing the portals into McClendon’s “golden age” this season, but the club will use the near-postseason berth to promise, or at least predict, considerable improvement next year.

Given their pitching, supplemented by full seasons from James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, and with the addition of a couple of big sticks in the lineup, prospects for 2015 will appear the best in more than a decade.

History isn’t always an accurate guide, but it does tell us that the Mariners have rarely been able to capitalize on the kind of season completed Sunday.

The Mariners finished 87-75, a 16-game improvement over 2013’s 71-91. In 38 years, the Mariners have made season-to-season improvements of 11 games or more eight times. Only once (2000 to 2001) did such an improvement result in a playoff appearance the next year. Only twice did such an improvement result in a winning record the next season.

The following are the best season-to-season improvements by the Mariners ranked by a gain in wins. The far right column shows the following season’s record and the gain or loss in wins:

Year Manager From To Gain Next, + Or -
2001 Lou Piniella 91-71 (’00) 116-46 (’01) +25 2002: 93-69, -23
2009 Don Wakamatsu 61-101 (’08) 85-77 (’09) +24 2010: 93-69, -23
1993 Lou Piniella 64-98 (’92) 82-80 (’93) +18 1994:  Strike year
2014 Lloyd McClendon 71-91 (’13) 87-75 (’14) +16 TBD
1984 Chuck Cottier 60-102 (’83) 74-88 (’84) +14 1985: 74-88, 0
2000 Lou Piniella 79-83 (’99) 91-71 (’00) +12 2001: 116-46, +25
1979 Darrell Johnson 56-104 (’78) 67-95 (’79) +11 1980: 59-103, -8
1987 Dick Williams 67-95 (’86) 78-84 (’87) +11 1988: 69-93, -9

As Thiel pointed out, the Mariners gained a lot of credibility this season while providing a big dose of fun. For McClendon, it’s okay. For the rest of us, it’s too early envision a “golden age” quite yet.

Back in Cy Young Award mix

Due to a scoring change that erased four of the eight earned runs he allowed last week in Toronto, coupled with his 5.1 scoreless innings Sunday against the Angels, Felix Hernandez re-inserted himself into the mix for the American League Cy Young award. It won’t hurt his case that last week’s adjustment enabled Hernandez to capture the league’s ERA title at 2.14, ahead of Chris Sale’s 2.17.

Hernandez also led the AL in WHIP (0.915), fewest hits allowed per nine innings (6.483), adjusted pitching runs (38), adjusted pitching wins (4.2), tied for first in starts (34), finished second in innings pitched (236.0) and WAR (6.7), fourth in strikeouts (248) and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.458).

Among pitchers with at least 25 starts, Hernandez also led the AL in opponent batting average at .200, the lowest of his career. His principal competition for the Cy Young award, according to ESPN’s “Cy Young Predictor,” and their opponent batting averages: Corey Kluber, Cleveland, .233; Max Scherzer, Detroit, .238; Jered Weaver, L.A. Angels, .239.

The OPS (on base plus slugging) against each candidate: Hernandez, .546; Kluber, .624; Scherzer, .663; Weaver, .684.

Hernandez also went 7-2 against 2014 playoff teams. Scherzer went 6-1, Weaver 4-2 and Kluber 4-6.

Hernandez’s 2.14 ERA will serve as the most popular argument in his case for the Cy Young Award, and it’s important to place it in perspective. Hernandez pitched 236 innings and posted the fourth-lowest ERA for an American League pitcher in a season of 230 or more innings since the advent of the designated-hitter rule in 1973, as the following shows:

Year Pitcher Team W-L IP BA ERA
1978 Ron Guidry Yankees 25-3 273.2 .193 1.74
1997 Roger Clemens Blue Jays 21-7 264 .213 2.05
1975 Jim Palmer Orioles 23-11 323 .216 2.09
2014 Felix Hernandez Mariners 15-6 236 .200 2.14
1989 Bret Saberhagen Royals 23-6 262.1 .217 2.16
1978 Jon Matlack Rangers 15-13 270 .245 2.27
2010 Felix Hernandez Mariners 13-12 249.2 .212 2.27
1976 Mark Fidrych Tigers 19-9 250.1 .233 2.34
1976 Vida Blue Athletics 18-13 298.1 .239 2.35

Ahead of Hernandez on the list, Guidry, Clemens and Palmer all won the Cy Young. Saberhagen, immediately below Hernandez, also won the Cy Young. Among the listed pitchers, only Guidry had a lower opponent batting average.

Of course, Hernandez also won the Cy in 2010 and is the only pitcher with a season ERA at 2.30 or below twice since the designated hitter came into effect.


YourThoughts

  • JimC

    I feel a little bad about the Nats sweeping the Ms over Labor Day. As a DC area resident, and all the powers invested in me as a fan, If I could give you one of those games back, I sure would. But, yeah, the Toronto series pretty much cooked the M’s goose. Great season though…next year.

    • ksmyth

      Sorry Jim, but the Nats only took 2 out of 3 over labor day. (I was at the Sunday game the M’s won 5-3)

      Even so, you’re right. The M’s stumbled when they couldn’t afford it and missed out on the big payoff. Even so, it was a very enjoyable season, and one can only hope the M’s can bolster their lineup in the offseason with a couple of productive bats to support what should be a very good pitching staff.

      • jimc

        Oop! My mistake. Still, great watching them contend, even from afar.

  • 1coolguy

    M’s will forever remember the losses to Houston (70-92) and Toronto (83-79), two perfect teams to “get well” on. Wow, talk about opportunity missed.
    Even so, I was betting on another losing record, so Lloyd did a heckuva job with what he had to work with.