As of right now, the morning of June 11 in the year of our lord 2018, the Seattle Mariners are kind of leading the AL West. I mean, they’re tied with Houston in the standings but because they’ve played two fewer games so they’re actually .004 percentage points ahead of the reigning World Series champions. This after a non-insignificant portion of the way into the baseball season has already gone down.
Seriously, look at this screenshot I took from ESPN’s website:
First place. Sexy.
And it’s not like the season is going perfectly thus far. Robinson Cano has been criminalized, Nelson Cruz has been hurt on-and-off, Kyle Seager has been shmedium, Felix Hernandez has been sub-shmedium.
So how on Earth is this happening?
One reason is adequate starting pitching. This Mariners team was supposed to be a pitcher away from contention. Now looking at their rotation you can’t help but feel… almost good. James Paxton has been a dominant ace, worthy of All-Star consideration, and remarkably healthy. Marco Gonzalez, Wade LeBlanc and Mike Leake have all stepped up, performed adequately, and stayed healthy. Even Felix Hernandez has managed to stay healthy and is pitching better than his 5.70 ERA would suggest. I mean he’s still not Felix, but he’s Felix if that makes sense. And after last season’s starting pitcher injury jamboree, it’s just refreshing to watch a Mariners team that has essentially rolled out its best rotation to this point in the year.
Also, the Mariners really pulled an anti-Mariners trade last year, flipping young pitcher Taijuan Walker for Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura. Now Walker is injured and Segura and Haniger are both borderline All-Stars. After decades of the Mariners being on the opposite side of this very trade, it feels like genuine magic that this one is working out.
But adequate starting pitching and two solid young players is not enough of an explanation for the goddamn Mariners to be out in front of a really good Houston Astros team.
And sure you could say the team has gotten lucky. You might say that because the team is 21-9 in one-run games. You might say that because the team’s Pythagorean record is 13 games behind the Astros.
Hold on, because this is The Stranger, I’ll quickly explain Pythagorean record. It’s a tool developed by sabermetrician Bill James to roughly figure out how good a baseball team really is. It uses the team’s run differential to say how many games a team should have won. The formula is:
It’s basically like the Pythagorean theorem, but it uses runs scored and runs allowed in place of the legs of a right triangle. A team that wins a lot of close games like the Mariners is said to be lucky because they’re outperforming their expected record. And a team like the Astros is said to be unlucky because they’re way behind their expected record (which is insane, because they’re still killing it).
But here’s the thing: Pythagoras is dead. Greece fell. Democracy is a sham. Your high school math teacher was a nerd. The truth? Wins are all that matter. And the Mariners are winning close games. In the words of They Might Be Giants: Triangle Man? He hates Mariner man. But they fought, and Mariner Man won. Mariner Man.
So rather than concern ourselves with the Mariners likely regression, let’s instead look at these beautiful standings one more time: