After spending a good part of the season pleading with the public for patience as a lineup of young hitters developed, the Mariners Thursday predictably made batting coach Chris Chambliss the scapegoat, firing him for presiding over the American League’s worst offense (for the third year in a row). Chambliss has to be the first batting coach ever fired one day following a 12-0 victory.
Before dumping Chambliss, manager Eric Wedge, who emphasized the youth of his club all season, said, “They’re tough and they’re getting better with each day, each week, each month. As we continue to get better, we’ll see more consistent and less streaky play, which is all part of it, too.”
Certainly the Mariners presented one of baseball’s youngest teams, the age of the 38 players and pitchers they used averaging 27.1 years. But while the Mariners asked fans to trust in their rebuilding process, they failed to explain how the Oakland Athletics won 94 games and the AL West with a 50-man roster averaging 27.3 years, just a two-month difference in average age from the Mariners.
Or how the Washington Nationals made an 18-game improvement from 80-81 (3rd, NL East) to 98-64 (1st) and reached the postseason with an average roster age of 27.1 years, same as the Mariners.
We might as well throw in the fact that the Detroit Tigers won 88 games and the AL Central with a 47-man roster that averaged 27.9 years, just seven months older than the average age of the Mariners.
Low-budget Oakland successfully rebuilt, from last year to this year and especially within this season, with a season-starting payroll of $55 million payroll compared to Seattle’s $82 million. Washington won the AL East spending spending slightly less on players than the Mariners.
Seattle used 12 rookies in 2012. The Athletics trotted out 19 (second most in the majors behind the 20 used by the Cubs), including 15 who were on the roster when the regular season ended. Twelve of the 19 were pitchers, including all five currently in the starting rotation.
A’s rookies combined for 53 wins and 55 home runs, making Oakland just the second team in major league history, following the 2006 Marlins, to have rookies combine for at least 50 wins and 50 home runs in the same season.
While the Athletics, picked to finish third in the division, were doing that, only two of Wedge’s regular position players actually progressed this season, and did so with caveats.
In his first full season in the majors, third baseman Kyle Seager led the club in hits (154) and RBIs (86), decent enough, but he hit only .259 with a below-par OBP of .316.
Outfielder Michael Saunders hit .247 in 139 games after hitting .149 in 58 games in 2011, but his on-base percentage was just .306, which doesn’t get it done.
Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp stepped backward, especially Ackley, who just .226 with a .294 on-base percentage after going .273 and .348 in 2011. Carp, the club’s Opening Day left fielder who spent a lot of the season recovering from injuries, hit .213 in 59 games after delivering a .276 average in 79 games in 2011.
Justin Smoak’s season — .217, 19 home runs, 51 RBIs — would have been deemed a disaster if he hadn’t hit .341 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in September. No telling at this point if Smoak’s September was another of his innumerable teases.
It would be illuminating to hear Wedge explain how Oakland can win the division using 19 rookies while his 12-rookie team finishes 19 games out. Or how Oakland can hit .265 with runners in scoring position to the Mariners’ .240.
When the Mariners concluded their season Wednesday with a 12-0 victory over the Angels, they did so with position players Ackley (age 24), Casper Wells (27), Seager (24), John Jaso (28), Smoak (25), Jesus Montero (22), Saunders (25), Trayvon Robinson (24) and Carlos Triunfel (22), and pitchers Blake Beavan (23) and Stephen Pryor (22).
Those 11 average 24.2 years in age, and this is what makes Seattle’s plea for patience on its rebuild with youth such a tough sell.