It started out as “Control the Zone” when Mariners manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto first arrived before the 2016 season.
Two years ago, it morphed into “Dominate the Zone.”
Well, it wasn’t that their T-shirts no longer fit. It was about word choice and messaging. Why control it when you can dominate it?
Whatever the phrasing, the philosophy for Mariners hitters and pitchers hasn’t changed since that first season of the new regime.
Like all things in baseball, there have been periods of success where the philosophy seemed easy to embrace. Mariners hitters are discerning at the plate, spitting on chase pitches and staying true to their approach, or pitchers fill the strike zone early, never sniffing 2-0 and 3-1 counts, and using that count advantages to induce weak contact or swings and misses.
One of the Mariners simpler measures for finding their “Dominate the Zone” success: hitters’ walks (positive value), hitters’ strikeouts (negative value), pitchers’ walks (negative value), pitchers’ strikeouts (positive value).
Coming into Saturday, Mariners hitters have drawn 470 walks while striking out 1,330 times. Pitchers have struck out 1,141 batters and walked only 417 batters. That yields a minus 137, which is a not a good thing. Positive numbers are preferred. But the Mariners’ excessive number of strikeouts from a lineup that lacks experience at many spots is an issue.
The pitchers have been particularly strong of late. Since Aug. 1, a total of 36 games, Seattle’s pitching staff has issued the fewest walks (87) of any team in baseball and also had the lowest walks per nine innings (2.38).
For the season, the 417 walks issued by the Mariners pitchers are the sixth fewest. Mariner relievers have only walked 8% of the batters they’ve faced this season, which is the third lowest in MLB.
“It starts really with the messaging that comes from our coaching staff,” Servais said. “And it’s a daily commitment, daily messaging, and our guys are determined. Anytime we walk somebody, you can look at all the pitchers in the dugout and they are like, ‘Dammit, that can’t happen.’ And when it gets to that point, you know you’ve got everybody bought in.
And it goes back to the simplicity of winning the 0-0 and 1-0 counts.
Mariners pitchers have thrown first pitch strikes 62.6% of the time, which is fourth highest in MLB. The Giants lead the category at 63.3%. When Seattle pitchers do throw a ball on the first pitch, they come back with a strike of some sort 66.5 percent of the time. And on 1-1 counts, the Mariners have produced strikes 67.3 percent of the time. They’ve reached 0-2 counts with 28.2% of the batters they’ve faced, which is sixth best in baseball.
It’s not quite domination, but it’s better than controlling the situation.
Right-handed relievers Casey Sadler and Drew Steckenrider both tossed scoreless relief appearances in Friday night’s 5-4 win. They own the two longest active scoreless innings pitched streaks in MLB. Sadler has not allowed a run over his past 19 appearances since July 27, spanning 17 1/3 innings while Steckenrider has not allowed a run over his past 15 appearances dating back to Aug. 6, spanning 17 1/3 innings.