Seattle’s pitching staff has a dinger problem

The Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff is one of the worse in the league through the first month of the season. As a group, starters and relievers, they’ve only been worth 1.5 wins while pitching 4.83/4.53/4.08 in 267 innings.

Seattle’s middle of the road xFIP (4.08) caught my attention because that didn’t seem super high for a team that’s giving up over seven runs per game in 2018. As it turns out, that xFIP is only the 18th highest in baseball. Which indicates that the pitchers have been struggling with giving up dingers this season, which is quickly confirmed by looking at the team’s home run to fly ball ratio — which is at 15.2%, which is the third highest in MLB…and that’s a major reason that they’re giving up that many runs.

Part of the reason Seattle has such a high HR/FB ratio in the mid-teens is because its pitchers are surrendering a hard hit rate of 35.5% on balls put in play with 39% of balls put in play being in the air. It seems that an uncomfortably high percentage of those fly balls qualify as hard hit, which leads to them turning into dingers.

The good news is that the hard hit rate seems unsustainable for this pitching staff — 2017 was at 31.5% and ’16 was at 30.8%; the bad news is that they flyball rate has typically been hovering around 39% during those same two seasons. It seems that the hard hit rate is ripe for regression which should help reduce the number of fly balls that turn into dingers.  And the best way for the M’s to do that is to find a way to induce more swinging strikes inside the zone.

Right now the M’s are inducing swings on only 10.2% of pitches inside the strike zone, which is 17th highest in the game. Unfortunately for Seattle, that swinging strike rate is right inline with what they’ve done over the last couple of seasons…which means it’s unlikely that will change with this staff. Especially since the guys who are inducing the swings are their relievers; take a look at the top five swinging strike rates on the M’s pitching staff.

  1. Edwin Diaz (RP) – 20.1%
  2. Juan Nicasio (RP) – 14.2%
  3. James Paxton (SP) – 12.9%
  4. Dan Altavilla (RP) – 12.5%
  5. Chasen Bradford (RP) – 11.5%

Even within the bullpen, the swinging strike rate greatly decreases from the hotshot closer to his eighth inning setup man. Inducing swinging strikes is not something this squad is built to do so it’s unlikely we’ll see that number improve as the season develops.

While giving up over seven runs per game is not ideal, it also appears to be an unsustainably high number for the Mariners because of their hard hit rate should regress which will lead to a decreased HR/FB%…and less runs allowed.

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