Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where Will the Seattle Mariners Pick Up Nine Wins?

Slowly but surely, the projections systems are cranking out their data. ZiPS, Chone, Marcel, Bill James, Baseball Prospectus (and PECOTA) are just some of the systems that crunch the numbers and spit out their expected results. Since looking at statistics are one of this writer's favorite activities (though interpreting them are still a weakness), the Fan thought he would once again look at Ichiro Suzuki's page because all those hits and little else are so much fun to look at. While there, the plight of the Seattle Mariners as a whole crossed the mind and the Fan decided to see what was out there for projections for the wayward team. One, Baseball Prospectus, projects the Mariners to win 70 games. That's not very good, but at least it's nine games better than last year when the team finished at 61-101. But the question that projection brought up was: Where are they going to pick up nine wins?

The Mariners had the benefit of Clif Lee last year for thirteen starts. He won eight of them. There won't be any Cliff Lee this year. Despite heroic efforts, Felix Hernandez only won 13 games. If he pitches with similar dominance this coming season--and there is no reason why he shouldn't--then you can figure he'll win 15 or 16 games (BP gives him 17). That increase takes up half of Lee's slack. But we're still in the negative column. Where are the other wins going to come from?

The rest of the rotation is problematic. Once again, we have a hopeful Eric Bedard. We'll put that in the, "I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it" category. There is Doug Fister, who at 27, should improve a bit. He does a great job of limiting walks and homers, but has a low strikeout rate. There is no reason he can't win ten games with a league average ERA. That's another plus four so we are still dead even with last year.

There is Jason Vargas, who will be 28 in 2011. He's another guy who limits walks (not as well as Fister) and homers, doesn't give up as many hits as Fister but doesn't strike out a whole lot more either. The best you can hope for there is another league average season with possibly ten wins. Okay, we're at plus one now.

But then you get into a whole lot of what ifs. One projection included youngster, Michael Pineda, an impressive 22 year old right-hander. The projection gave him six wins and a good strikeout to walk ratio. That's a lot of hope for a kid who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues. But okay, we'll go with that. Those six wins are five better than Ryan Rowland-Smith, who took his hyphen and ran as fast as he could to Houston. So we are plus six. We only need six more wins to stay that far ahead in the rotation. The Mariners should be able to find them from Luke French or somebody.

So let's for the sake of argument, give the starting rotation a plus 6 for wins. We still need to find three more. It won't come from the relief pitchers. There is serious concern about David Aardsma, a pitcher for the record books if only because of all major league players that ever played, his name will always be first on the list. Aardsma has had some success as a closer, but he's not a mortal lock down guy. His 4.5 walks per nine make things adventurous and  the team has no ability to overcome blown saves with its offense. Plus, Aardsma is injured and starts the season with a question mark.

The rest of the bullpen is a hodge-podge of guys like Brandon League Average. Ha! The Fan loves that. Brandon League Average. hehe. Apologies. But anyway, the Mariners have some young guys that can throw hard like Dan Cortes, but this bullpen will be a work in progress. So let's give it the benefit of the doubt that it won't be any worse or better than last year. We're still up six games.

And finally we get to the offense. Baseball Think Factory makes the point that only four teams have more underperformed their projected offense than the Mariners did last year. And of the ten all time under performing teams, they collectively rebounded by +.0.6 runs per game the following year. But just what have the Mariners done to improve their offense? Their only hope there is that some of the players who were bloody awful last year get back closer to their career norms. Can you hope for that from Milton Bradley at this point? This Fan can't.

Chone Figgins is one that should improve. But most projections have him finishing with a .675 OPS instead of the .646 stinker he put up in 2010. The Fan thinks that is pessimistic. Figgins should improve and hit better than his .263 projection. Just putting him back to third base should be enough to add a level of comfort needed to hit better. Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez are this Fan's favorites for a nice rebound. Gutierrez has this bizarre odd/even year thing going. If that keeps true to form, this should be the good year. How scientific of the Fan, eh?

But shorstop and catcher are this Fan's biggest concerns. Catchers for the Mariners did not even hit above the Mendoza Line last year. Projections give starter, Adam Moore a .243 batting average for 2011. But that sounds awful high for a guy who didn't even hit .200 last year. The Mariners have some great fielding infielders like Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan to figure out who is going to play in the middle of the diamond. The problem is that none of them are much on the offensive side. This Fan would say that Brendan Ryan has the most upside, especially away from LaRussa.

A real key to finding the four more wins from the offensive side will be guys like Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley. They are all good prospects that have to take the next step in becoming productive major league players. Neither Smoak nor Saunders have shown much at the highest level in their brief looks.

There are two things to say about the Mariners this coming season. One is that there doesn't seem to be any possible way for the offense to be as bad as it was last year. But unless certain key things happen, it bloody well could be as bad. The back end of the rotation...well, let's say the entire rotation after Hernandez is suspect. If the offense rebounds just a little, the Mariners could pick up a few games up in the win columns. But this Fan just can't seem them winning 70 games as much as the brain tries to find a way.

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