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October 16, 2001

Aim For The Head

The Mariners

by Keith Woolner

Joe Sheehan, ineffectively disguising his identity with Groucho nose and glasses, asks this week's question:

Dear AFTH Guy,

The Mariners tied the major-league record for wins. Looking past that, though, where do they rank historically if you look at things like run differential, or use VORP or like tools to compare them to other great teams.

It's only natural to want to compare the Mariners' record-setting season to the other great teams in baseball history. In the following analysis, I'll be using VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) to measure a team's performance. VORP is described in detail at http://www.stathead.com/vorp, and the 2001 VORP results are posted at /current/.

Let's start with the offense. The Mariners accumulated a team total of 423.9 VORP, led by Bret Boone's 86.7, Edgar Martinez's 68.3, and Ichiro Suzuki's 61.0. In addition the Mariners had three more players with a 30+ VORP (Mike Cameron, John Olerud, and Mark McLemore). The only players who were below average hitters for their positions (in at least 300 plate appearances) were David Bell and Al Martin. Seattle becomes the 13th team to post a total of 400+ offensive VORP:


Year Team             League     VORP

1894 Philadelphia NL 486.2 1927 New York AL 479.6 1896 Baltimore NL 466.8 1930 New York NL 465.9 1931 New York AL 463.2 1897 Baltimore NL 448.2 1894 Baltimore NL 441.6 1895 Philadelphia NL 440.3 1887 Baltimore AA 428.9 2001 Seattle AL 423.9 1936 New York AL 419.3 1891 Boston AA 413.0 2001 San Francisco NL 412.5 1892 Brooklyn NL 400.0

Of course, of the teams listed above, two were from the 19th-century American Association, and six were from the 1890s after the pitching mound was moved back to 60 feet, six inches. The only 20th-century teams to achieve a 400 VORP lineup were the Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig Yankees of 1927, 1930, and 1931, and the Lou Gehrig Joe DiMaggio/Bill Dickey Yankees of 1936.

The careful reader will note that another team from this season snuck on to the above list. The Giants had the top National League player at three positions--left field, shortstop, and second base. Of course, having a player post the highest VORP by a position player in history is a good start towards reaching 400 team VORP. Barry Bonds posted a 154 VORP, a higher total than eight teams (Angels, Orioles, Royals, Devil Rays, Blue Jays, Expos, Mets, and Pirates).

The Mariners also led the majors with a 279.5 team pitching VORP, which squeaks into the top 50 all-time team pitching performances. Combining offense and pitching, the Mariners achieved a total of 703.4 VORP, the second highest total in history:


Year Team             League     VORP

1927 New York AL 760.3 2001 Seattle AL 703.4 1936 New York AL 682.8 1939 New York AL 680.7 1896 Baltimore NL 680.1 1897 Baltimore NL 674.4 1998 New York AL 647.9 1898 Baltimore NL 635.9 1948 Cleveland AL 634.3 1891 Boston AA 629.9 1998 Houston NL 623.8 1911 New York NL 623.2 1890 Louisville AA 622.7 1894 Baltimore NL 618.8 1912 New York NL 616.9 1931 New York AL 616.1 1998 Atlanta NL 608.8 1887 Baltimore AA 608.7 1996 Cleveland AL 607.3 1895 Baltimore NL 604.6 1932 New York AL 604.5 1905 New York NL 604.2 1937 New York AL 603.8

Few will be surprised by the presence of the '27 Yankees atop the list (and nearly a full Ichiro ahead of the 2001 Mariners at that). The Baltimore Orioles of the National League in the mid-to-late 1890s are possibly the greatest unheralded team ever--they posted five straight years with winning percentages of at least .644, equivalent to 105 wins in a 162-game season. The 1906 Cubs, who won 116 games, totaled just 563 team VORP, though that was in a much lower run-scoring environment. The 111-win Indians of 1954 compiled a VORP of 519.

So where do the Mariners rank? Well, they have the second-highest team VORP ever, tied for the most wins ever, and have the fifth-highest winning percentage in the post-1893 era. They're a balanced team, leading the majors in both offensive and pitching VORP. They're definitely one of the top five teams of all time, and arguably second behind the 1927 Yankees.

One bit of bad news for the Mariners--winning a lot of games doesn't guarantee post-season success. Of the five teams who've won at least 110 games during the season, only three have won the World Series--and a .600 winning percentage is a letdown for teams of this caliber.

Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Keith's other articles. You can contact Keith by clicking here

Related Content:  New York Yankees,  Vorp

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