THE MARINERS AND THE OMINOUS MYTH OF UNDERACHIEVEMENT

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   TACOMA, WA. — It is undeniable, as the Mariners head into the offseason, that it’s been another disappointing summer in the Pacific Northwest.

   This makes 17 years, and counting, since the Mariners reached postseason. It is a remarkable stretch of incompetence that, as their fans well know, ranks as the longest current drought in major North American professional team sports.

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   Not so well-known elsewhere. I recently mentioned this fact to a friend who lives back East, and he expressed surprise by asking: “Even longer than the (Cleveland) Browns?”

   Oh, yes. 

   The Browns reached the NFL playoffs in 2002, one year after the Mariners’ last postseason appearance. So, yes — sigh — even worse than the Browns.

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   This 17-year skid is indefensible. The Mariners aren’t a low-revenue franchise. They have money, and they’ve spent money. (Could they have spent more? Sure, but fans everywhere believe that about their club.)

   The problem is they often haven’t spent it wisely.

   They’ve had some bad luck — hey, Danny Hultzen could have been an ace! — but, generally, this is an organization that, for a generation, beached itself through a subpar draft-and-development record and suspect free-agent signings.

   For what it’s worth, I think the Mariners are better now than when general manager Jerry Dipoto arrived three years ago. I think the big-league roster is deeper and more athletic, and the farm system is only marginally thinner. I also think manager Scott Servais has done a fine job.

   You might disagree on all counts but, either way, the standings prove they’re not good enough. And while it’s one thing to label these Mariners as a disappointment, it’s quite another, and dangerously misguided, to say they’ve underachieved.

   The Mariners finished 89-73 after winning their final three games, which easily beat the consensus sports book odds prior to the season.

   The online gaming service, www.bovida.lv, was typical in pegging the Mariners at 81 1/2 victories prior to the season. Any betting line is the result of expectations and, by that measure, the Mariners exceeded them.

   Further, the Mariners were outscored this season by 34 runs which, according to the Pythagorean index, suggests their final record should be 77-85. Other metrics tell a similar story. So the analytics, too, say they’ve overachieved.

   Much is also made — and it’s a valid point — about how Mariners once held an 11-game lead over Oakland in the race for the American League’s second wild-card bid. 

   That was June 16 and, at that point, the Mariners were wildly outperforming their analytical expectations at 46-25. And while they had an 11-game lead over Oakland, their actual wild-card lead was eight games over the Los Angeles Angels.

   It might seem a small point, but it underscores how the Athletics blew past multiple clubs in their 62-29 sprint over the intervening weeks. The Mariners would have needed to go 51-40 just stay even. No small feat.

   Even so, the Mariners’ record, despite their second-half regression to the mean, would be good enough in many years to reach postseason. (And, no, that shouldn’t be much comfort to their fans.)

   Nor is this:

   If the Mariners overachieved, they’re actually further away from postseason than the standings suggest. Maybe a lot further away. And if so, that means this roster requires more than just a few tweaks to close the distance.

   Ignore that reality, and this drought might last a lot longer.