In a season with not many expectations for the Seattle Mariners, they shocked the world and made a major push for their first postseason trip in 20 years. They ultimately fell short after losing on the final day of the regular season, but it was still a great story for the entirety of Major League Baseball to follow. Seattle finished with a 90-72 record and just five games behind the American League West Division champions. Leading the way to the Mariners to their overachieving season was Scott Servais in his sixth year under the helm.
A mix of veterans and youngsters was key to the terrific season, as their average age was 28. Their oldest player was 37-year-old reliever Joe Smith and their youngest was 21-year-old Jared Kelenic, who had a disappointing season. In the final year of his seven-year $100 million contract, 33-year-old Kyle Seager had a solid season, despite not hitting for a high average. In 159 games, the third baseman slashed just .212/.285/.438, but he did mash 35 bombs and drive in 101 runs along with a 100 OPS+. His future with the team is still in question, but they would be smart to bring him back as a veteran leader. Seager does have a 2022 club option worth $20 million.
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Manager: Scott Servais
Position: Second in the AL West
Postseason: Missed playoffs
Despite their performance, the Mariners were more towards the middle of the pack in most statistical categories. But it was their breakout seasons from a couple of players and just being a fun team that helped them get there. Statistically speaking, it’s hard to figure out exactly how in the world this team won 90 games. Firstly, they had a minus-51 run differential and would have been just the 10th playoff team ever to have a negative run differential. Next, they were not a good defensive team, as they ranked negatively in outs above average (-5), defensive runs saved (-25), and ultimate zone rating (-38).
But the Mariners had something else that was more important to them, and that was their fun differential. You might say ‘well what the heck is that, that’s not a real stat’. But Baseball-Reference says otherwise, as they have it on the Mariners 2021 season page, saying the team had a plus-90 fun differential.
Servais mentioned they had a -9 run differential on the road trip and a plus 90 fun differential
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) August 24, 2021
While that is not a quantifiable stat, their ability to perform in high-leverage situations is. They were one of the best teams in those situations at the plate and on the mound. This statistic can be quantified as a “clutch” stat, and they came up in those spots more often than not whenever they needed a big hit. On offense, they ranked first in the majors with a .362 wOBA in those situations, while ranking sixth in the majors with a .284 wOBA when pitching.
Seattle played more 25-and-under players among AL teams, which means they will only improve overall. They had teams in the past that had a good record despite having a negative run differential. Most notably, the 89-win 2018 team had a minus-34 run differential. But that team had one of the oldest offenses and had a considerably bad farm system. They wound up losing 94 games in 2019. But now they have a very bright future with one of the youngest offenses.
Despite not being in sell mode, the Mariners traded away their best reliever at that time, Kendall Graveman to division rival Astros. Graveman had a 0.82 ERA, 2.90 FIP, and 10 saves in 30 games before the trade. But it worked out, as the player they got in return, Abraham Toro, mashed with them. The 24-year-old hit homers in back-to-back games against his former team after the trade, and he wound up with a 99 wRC+ and a .328 on-base percentage in 60 games with the Mariners.
Most Valuable Player: Ty France
After being dealt to the Mariners at last year’s August trade deadline from the San Diego Padres in a seven-player deal, France enjoyed a big breakout season. The infielder led the team in batting average (.291), on-base percentage (.368), OPS (.813), wOBA (.353), wRC+ (129), and fWAR (3.5). He also had five DRS and a 3.0 UZR as a first baseman, where he played a majority of the season.
Starting Pitcher of the Year: Chris Flexen
The ace of the Seattle staff, Flexen led all of their starters who logged at least 70 innings pitched in wins (14), starts (31), innings (179.2), HR/9 (0.95), ERA (3.61), and fWAR (3.0). The 27-year-old also had a 25.4 percent strikeout rate, a 5.6 percent walk rate, and a 3.87 SIERA.
Relief Pitcher of the Year: Paul Sewald
Sewald was dominant out of the bullpen. He led all Seattle relievers with a 14.47 strikeout per nine and a 1.4 fWAR. The right-hander closed several games for the Mariners and he converted 11 saves. He also had a 10-3 record, 1.02 WHIP, 3.06 ERA, 3.08 FIP, and 2.48 SIERA.
Best Hitter of the Year: Mitch Haniger
Haniger was the power bat in the lineup, as he led the team with 39 long balls. He also had 100 RBI, 110 runs scored, a 120 wRC+, and a 2.8 WAR.
Best Fielder of the Year: Dylan Moore
Moore played a number of positions this season. He had positive DRS at every position but shortstop (-1), where he only played 18 innings. The DRS at all positions equaled out to a total of 10. The most at one position were his 4 DRS at second, where he played the majority of the time.
Comeback Player of the Year: Chris Flexen
Flexen was playing in the KBO last year after really struggling in the majors from 2017-19 with the Mets. The Mariners signed him to a two-year, $4.75 million contract after he pitched to a 3.01 ERA and struck out 132 in 116 innings with the Doosan Bears in 2020. To be able to make the right adjustments and work his way back to the majors was incredible in itself. But then he also put up the best numbers of his career and was an ace.
The Mariners have a big question mark with Seager, as we discussed earlier. If they don’t bring him back, they will need to look elsewhere for third base. Their youngsters in Kelenic and Kyle Lewis will be interesting to watch out for next season. Questions surround Lewis, though, as his status is uncertain after he tore his right meniscus in May. They could also be joined by top prospect Julio Rodriguez to make up an outfield trio. Seattle has some young pitching prospects on the way as well, who could make a mark next year.
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