Baseball season has arrived.
The 2018 Major League Baseball season begins Thursday, with all 30 teams firing off their first pitches that day. The Seattle Mariners get things started by hosting the Cleveland Indians at 7:10 p.m. at Safeco Field.
To celebrate the opening of the Mariners’ season, we decided to have a little fun. Over the past two weeks the Herald conducted its Best of the Mariners poll series, in which readers were asked to vote on the best season ever by a Seattle player at 11 different positions — four different choices were provided for each position, along with an “other” option. Now I’m going to compare my choices with the popular vote.
Being something of a stat nerd, I decided to let the numbers make my selections for me. One measure of a player’s value that’s gained credence in recent years is Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is designed to calculate how many more wins a player was worth than a major-league fringe player. What I like about WAR is that it takes into account a lot of different factors, including the player’s offensive and defensive contributions, the player’s home ballpark, and the run environment of the time.
However, there is no single definitive calculation for WAR. I decided to look at two different calculations, that by Fangraphs.com and by Baseball-Reference.com. The numbers are similar, but don’t align exactly, so where the two calculations differed I was required to exercise some judgment.
But anyway, here’s the best season ever by a Mariners player at each position, as determined by WAR and the poll vote:
My choice: Randy Johnson, 1995 (18-2, 2.48 ERA, 214.1 IP, 159 H, 65 BB, 294 SO, 1.045 WHIP).
The voters’ choice: Johnson, 1997 (20-4, 2.28 ERA, 213.0 IP, 147 H, 77 BB, 291 SO, 1.052 WHIP).
Johnson’s 1995 season was the top season by both WAR calculations, and that’s the year he was the runaway winner of the AL Cy Young Award, whereas he finished a distant second to Roger Clemens in 1997. The poll vote was real close between the two seasons, with 1997 receiving 41.5 percent of the vote while 1995 received 39.2 percent.
My choice: Bill Caudill, 1982 (12-9, 2.35 ERA, 26 Sv, 95.2 IP, 65 H, 35 BB, 111 SO, 1.045 WHIP).
The voters’ choice: Kazuhiro Sasaki, 2001 (0-4, 3.24 ERA, 45 Sv, 66.2 IP, 48 H, 11 BB, 62 SO, 0.885 WHIP).
The WAR calculations are split, with Fangraphs preferring J.J. Putz’s 2006 season and Baseball-Reference going with Caudill. Both had those as their top two seasons, so I added the two together, which put Caudill slightly ahead. Caudill gets a boost because top relievers pitched more innings in the 80s, and WAR gives significant weight to innings pitched. By WAR Sasaki’s 2001, which received 45.2 percent of the poll vote, is nowhere near the top 10 in franchise history. But I wanted to include the season with the franchise saves record in the poll, and I couldn’t bring myself to list Fernando Rodney’s 2014, so I settled Sasaki’s 2001, which is the second-highest number.
My choice: Dan Wilson, 1996 (.285 BA, 51 R, 18 HR, 83 RBI, 1 SB, .774 OPS).
The voters’ choice: Wilson, 1996.
There’s agreement here, even though this season doesn’t land at the top of the WAR calculation by either Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference. However, the WAR calculations are super bunched up, and when cumulative totals are taken Wilson lands on top. Wilson’s season was the clear winner in the poll vote, getting 81.4 percent, which was the highest total for any player at any position.
My choice: Alvin Davis, 1984 (.284 BA, 80 R, 27 HR, 116 RBI, 5 SB, .888 OPS).
The voters’ choice: John Olerud, 2001 (.302 BA, 91 R, 21 HR, 95 RBI, 3 SB, .873 OPS).
Both WAR evaluations prefer Davis by a fairly comfortable margin, despite all the choices in this poll having relatively similar numbers. The voters preferred both Olerud (42.0 percent) and Tino Martinez’s 1995 (35.3 percent) over Davis (16.8 percent). But Davis did his work during an era when runs were harder to come by.
My choice: Bret Boone, 2001 (.331 BA, 118 R, 37 HR, 141 RBI, 5 SB, .950 OPS).
The voters’ choice: Boone, 2001.
This one was pretty straight forward, as Boone’s 2001 is one of the best offensive seasons ever produced by a Mariners player. He took the vote comfortably, getting 62.0 percent.
My choice: Edgar Martinez, 1992 (.343 BA, 100 R, 18 HR, 73 RBI, 14 SB, .948 OPS).
The voters’ choice: Martinez, 1992.
That season was Martinez’s coming-out party, as he won the first of his two batting titles and made the first of his seven All-Star Games. Interestingly, Baseball-Reference rates Kyle Seager’s 2016 as slightly more valuable than Edgar’s 1992, but by less of a margin than Fangraphs had things the other way, thus determining my choice. Martinez received a strong 52.0 percent of the poll vote.
My choice: Alex Rodriguez, 2000 (.316 BA, 134 R, 41 HR, 132 RBI, 15 SB, 1.026 OPS).
The voters’ choice: Rodriguez, 1996 (.358 BA, 141 R, 36 HR, 123 RBI, 15 SB, 1.045 OPS).
Rodriguez won the batting title in 1996 and went 40-40 in 1998, but both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference like 2000 the best. In the poll vote, neither 2000 nor 1998 finished second. Instead Omar Vizquel’s 1992 came in second, trailing Rodriguez’s 1996 just 37.2 percent-30.7 percent. Given that both WAR calculations have Vizquel’s season worth roughly a third of Rodriguez’s, I can only surmise that the A-Rod resentment in the Pacific Northwest remains strong as ever.
My choice: Tom Paciorek, 1981 (.326 BA, 50 R, 14 HR, 66 RBI, 13 SB, .888 OPS).
The voters’ choice: Raul Ibanez, 2006 (.289 BA, 103 R, 33 HR, 123 RBI, 2 SB, .869 OPS).
Left field has always been a trouble spot for the Mariners, which made this choice particularly interesting. Both WAR calculations actually prefer Phil Bradley’s 1985 by a smidge. But 1981 was a strike year in which the Mariners played just 110 of their 162 games. Extrapolate Paciorek’s numbers to a full season and he pulls way ahead. The voters didn’t like either, stumping for Ibanez by a heavy margin (69.2 percent).
My choice: Ken Griffey Jr., 1994 (.323 BA, 94 R, 40 HR, 90 RBI, 11 SB, 1.076 OPS).
The voters’ choice: Griffey, 1997 (.304 BA, 125 R, 56 HR, 147 RBI, 15 SB, 1.028 OPS).
Here we have the same situation as left field, as 1994 was another strike year as the Mariners played just 112 games — if you remember, there was talk about Griffey threatening Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record of 62 before the season shut down. By extrapolation 1994 just edges Griffey’s 1996 to get my selection. Griffey’s 1997 received 51.6 percent of the vote.
My choice: Ichiro Suzuki, 2004 (.372 BA, 101 R, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 36 SB, .869 OPS).
The voters’ choice: Suzuki, 2001 (.350 BA, 127 R, 8 HR, 69 RBI, 56 SB, .838 OPS).
Ichiro was remarkably consistent during his time with Seattle, but both WAR calculations prefer 2004 by a significant margin. However, it’s understandable readers would vote for 2001, when Suzuki took the majors by storm on his way to the AL MVP. The voters also liked Jay Buhner’s 1996 (34.0 percent, versus 44.3 percent for Suzuki’s 2001), but what I discovered is that WAR really does not like Buhner, valuing Buhner’s best season at about half of Ichiro’s best.
My choice: Edgar Martinez, 1995 (.356 BA, 121 R, 29 HR, 113 RBI, 4 SB, 1.107 OPS).
The voters’ choice: Martinez, 1995.
This wasn’t a hard choice, as Edgar’s 1995 is the most efficient offensive season in franchise history. That season received 52 percent of the poll vote.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.