It may seem a bit odd to start talking about expectations and projections for the coming season in the third week of December, but this Mariners offseason hasn’t been typical. Jerry Dipoto did his shopping early, and all of his recent public comments suggest the team is as good as done, apart from minor league deals, invites to Spring Training and the like. Yes, he said the same thing before dropping the Iwakuma Bomb on us, but those were very particular circumstances that warranted special consideration. (Side note: we should commend Jerry for working so quickly and adapting to the new information in order to make the team better).
So, in light if the fact that this team seems to be good to go, barring any more surprises, I wanted to write up my expectations and projections for the season. When coming up with these projections, I took into consideration the players prior performance, as well as projection systems like Steamer and Fangraphs Depth Chart, but understand that these include a level of subjectivity. I took objective projections and made tweaks based on my own thoughts.
I am generally one who tries to stick with what is objective, but objective doesn’t mean perfect, and we know projections are far from it. They are handy and necessary, but there are times we can look at them and reasonably disagree with what they tell us. I don’t say this to insinuate my estimates are perfect, or even better. They could be better, but they could also be worse. Ultimately I feel they more accurately represent what we should expect, but that’s just my bias.
All that said, here they are:
|Position||Player||Steamer||Proj. WAR||Position||Player||Steamer||Proj. WAR|
|C||Chris Iannetta||1.7||1.5||SP||Felix Hernandez||4.7||4.5|
|1B||Adam Lind||1.5||1.5||SP||Hisashi Iwakuma||2.9||2.5|
|2B||Robinson Cano||3.5||3.5||SP||Wade Miley||1.9||2.5|
|3B||Kyle Seager||3.7||4.0||SP||Taijuan Walker||2.4||2.0|
|SS||Ketel Marte||1.7||2.5||SP||Nate Karns||1.3||2.0|
|LF||Nori Aoki||0.9||1.5||SP||James Paxton||0.8||1.0|
|CF||Leonys Martin||1.2||2.0||Rotation Total||14.0||14.5|
|DH||Nelson Cruz||1.6||2.5||RP||Vidal Nuno||0.3||0.5|
|BENCH||Franklin Gutierrez||0.6||1.0||RP||Anthony Bass||0.1||0.0|
|BENCH||Steve Clevenger||0.4||0.0||RP||Evan Scribner||0.4||0.0|
|BENCH||Jesus Montero||0.3||0.0||RP||Justin de Fratus||-0.1||0.0|
|BENCH||Shawn O’Malley||0.0||0.0||RP||Charlie Furbush||0.4||0.5|
|Lineup total||18.3||21.5||RP||Joaquin Benoit||0.3||0.5|
First, notice that I have six starting pitchers listed, and thus 26 players total. That’s because whoever the 6th starter is — likely James Paxton at this point — will still figure to get plenty of innings, due not only to Iwakuma’s health concerns in particular, but just the nature of pitchers in general. Every team will use at least 8 different starters throughout a season, and at least 6 or 7 of those figure to get significant work.
Before we dig into any of the specifics, let’s talk about the overall. As you can see, my projections lead to essentially an 86 win team. For comparison, Fangraphs’ Depth Charts currently project about 84 wins. Neither figure to guarantee the playoffs, but these kinds of projections are designed to be the median outcome, meaning there is room either way. Beyond that, as solid as WAR numbers are, they can’t account for everything, luck and sequencing in particular, meaning, for example, a team that played like and 85 game winner could luck out and win 90, or get some tough breaks and only win 80. That’s about where the Mariners are, and I am personally fine with that.
My projections differ first of all in that I prefer to just round to a half or whole wins. Not only does it just make it easier to project, but there is enough of a margin of error that we can’t be all that confident in tenths of wins anyway (ie a 3.2 WAR player can’t be said to be better than a 3 WAR player just because of those 2/10 of a win). Of course, this also leads to me often rounding up in optimism when rounding down is just as valid.
Beyond that, the asterisk next to the Steamer projected wins is there because it includes all of the players they expect to play next year, rather than just the 26 I have listed.
More specifically, I am significantly higher on Nelson Cruz, Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin — essentially the outfield as a whole, as well as Ketel Marte, while being a touch lower on Hisashi Iwakuma, and electing to just give Montero and Clevenger WARs of zero.
I don’t expect Cruz to repeat last year’s production, but I also don’t see him dropping all the way to a 119 wRC+ from 158. I expect him somewhere in the middle, maybe a 130 wRC+ or so.
Aoki has been a model of consistency for his four-year MLB career. His OBP has never been below .349, or above .356. He has two seasons with 2.3 WAR and two with 1.5 fWAR, including last year which ended early due to some injury issues. So while he will be 34 and a decline a reasonable to expect, he hasn’t shown signs of aging normally, so essentially cutting his value in half (or more) over one year seems extreme. Something like 1.5 would figure to be a bit more realistic.
Martin is a bit of a different story. He was pretty awful last year, posting a 50 wRC+ and spending some time in AAA. He has never been much of a hitter, topping out at an 89 wRC+ in 2014, but his elite defense in CF allowed him to be worth 3.5 wins that year. He will need to at least bounce back some offensively to have much value.
Interestingly, differences between myself and Steamer isn’t really about offense. Their 79 wRC+ projection seems more than fair, but they, for some reason, only have him with a +4.6 DEF value after being at 9.5 in a partial 2015 season, and 13.3 in his full 2014 campaign. I might be hoping for a bit more offense, but even with their 79 wRC+ projection, his normal defense would bring him closer to 2 wins than 1.2.
It is interesting that I am higher on Marte, because I don’t really feel like I am that high on him. I don’t think he will repeat last year’s production in any facet. His 9.7% walk rate came out of nowhere, and his .119 ISO is the highest he has posted in his career apart from a 19 game sample in Triple-A in 2014. His bigger sample there in 2015 resulted in a .096 ISO. Marte could conceivably add power as he gets older (he is only 22) but I would expect it to come down in the immediate future.
I’d anticipate something like a .265/.315/.360 line next year, which isn’t bad for a 22 year old shortstop with average or better defense and plus speed. That kind of profile leads to a 2 to 2.5 win player, maybe even more if the defense ends up being better than average. It’s also important to note that my projection is based on Marte having a full season (or close to it) whereas Steamer has him at 122 games and 558 PA. If we prorate that out a bit more, their projection ends up at an even 2, a bit closer to mine. Similarly, if you take mine down to 122 games and 558 PA, it ends up closer to 2 than 2.5.
The rotation got a lot better with the re-addition of Kuma, allowing him to slot into the #2 role with everyone else sliding down a spot. That means James Paxton is likely your 6th option to start the year, assuming every makes it through camp healthy. That could mean he becomes a long man in the pen, or hangs out in Tacoma until he is inevitably needed.
It also creates a nice balance of consistency and and upside. Felix Hernandez is Felix Hernandez, assuming last year was an aberration, and Wade Miley is good for 200 average innings. This allows you to rely less on guys like Taijuan Walker, Nate Karns and James Paxton, hoping they take a major step forward rather than needing it for the team to succeed. Iwakuma could go either way; you know if he is healthy you have a legitimate #2/3 starter, but you can’t be sure he will stay healthy. If things go well, this is one of the best rotations in the league.
The bullpen seems to be a source of concern, and I get it. They moved Carson Smith, and they were already thin before doing so. But Benoit and Cishek were added as back end pieces, along with a couple of nice bounce back guys in Evan Scribner and Justin De Fratus and a potential long man in Anthony Bass while returning Charlie Furbush, Vidal Nuno and Tony Zych.
All of that, in addition to AAA depth in the form of non-roster invitees, waiver claims, etc., makes the bullpen seem reasonably solid, at least as far as bullpens go. They are volatile, and you never really know what you are going to get. Having good depth and 7-8 guys who don’t project to be trainwrecks seems to be a decent way to build a pen. It helps mitigate the inherent risk of bullpens.
Look, I’m excited. I like the way the floor has been raised without really taking away the upside. The team figures to get on base more, probably as much or more than the league, the outfield defense, while maybe not as tremendous as we might have expected based on Dipoto’s early comments, is much improved, and as I mentioned the pitching rotation is both talented and deep.
They may not be a playoff favorite on Opening Day, but they aren’t far out at all, and if a few things go right they can be a very good team. And the fact is, every team needs things to go right if they want to make the playoffs. This team has as good a chance as most to make their way in to October.