Out There

Foolish MARINER predictions

Posted in baseball, fun, Uncategorized by Pete on April 6, 2016

I recently published some predictions on how the standings will play out.  Now I want to talk about this year’s M’s roster.  Last year’s roster was a true “stars and scrubs” collection of players headlined by stars Robinson Cano (poor first half, strong second half), Nelson Cruz (career-best year), Kyle Seager (another strong season), and Felix Hernandez (his worst career year, about league average).  At the other end of the spectrum, roughly 30% of team plate appearances went to players who put up negative WAR in 2015 (Zunino, Ackley, Weeks, Taylor, Jones, Hicks, Ruggiano, Bloomquist, Sucre, Montero, Morrison, and more!).  The team struggled with OBP and usually out-homered the opponent but lost anyway.  Watching our catchers trying to hit was particularly painful, and they may have produced the worst hitting from the catcher position in major league history.  If you don’t want to click, here is the succinct summary:

“…they’ve potentially been the worst-hitting catchers in recorded history, spanning several decades.”

The other major failing of the 2015 Mariners was the relief pitching, where about 230 innings were pitched by guys who put up negative WAR on the season.  After being hailed as one of the best bullpens in recent baseball history, the same group of guys were one of the very worst in 2015:

“We saw a total collapse in the first half with five pitchers from last year’s bullpen either sent down, demoted or traded by mid-season. A horrific turnaround with no in-house remedies.”

Currently the team is in a tough spot where they struggle to contend, but finish too high in the standings to get the draft picks needed for the quickest rebuild.  Saddled with huge long-term contracts for Cano and Felix, and coming off of a 76-win season, Dipoto and the other GM candidates all told team president Kevin Mather in interviews that a rebuild wasn’t the way to go and that contention in the short term was possible.  It think it’s possible a lot more than it is realistic.

It was in this context that new GM Jerry Dipoto took over and got busy, as the M’s made more changes to the 40 man roster than any other team.  Only 1 holdover remains from last season’s opening day bullpen – Charlie Furbush.  The guys he targeted for the new bullpen all have something in common – a low price tag, both in terms of payroll and the cost of acquisition.  Lots of guys who struggled in 2015 that Dipoto obviously considers good bounceback candidates.  Apparently Dipoto believes in the power of regression to the mean, and that reliever performance over any single season (typically less than 70 IP) is very unpredictable.  M’s fans can attest to this as we already discussed the bullpens of 14 and 15.  Fernando Rodney personified this as he went from amazingly good to terrible.  Others may recall Shigetoshi Hasagawa’s 1.48 ERA in 73 bullpen innings in 2003.  Followed by a 5.16 ERA in 2004.  Outside of the top 5 or 6 guys, sometimes you are best served by amassing a large pile of arms that have a decent track record, or the potential for success at the major league level.  Especially since even the top guys get very expensive after several years of success and end up way overpaid (Papelbon).

So Dipoto went and got Steve Cishek, the new closer, who performed badly in 2015 and lost the closer job in Miami after several strong seasons of side-arming funkiness.  He also acquired Joaquin Benoit for the 8th inning, the 40-year old Joel Peralta, the soft-tossing but still somehow effective Nick Vincent, and Evan Scribner who never walks anyone but gave up home runs last year at a historic pace.  These guys and the aforementioned Charlie Furbush, as well as minor league callups Vidal Nuno and Tony Zych will make up the bulk of the 2016 bullpen innings pitched.  I have no idea how they will perform individually.  But I’m pretty sure they will perform better as a group than the performance the team got from their bullpen last year.  Just as I was darn sure that the 2015 bullpen would be worse than the 2014 one.  Regression.

Dipoto also added 2 starting pitchers, the solid and durable Wade Miley for the #3 spot, and Nate Karns from Tampa for the #5 spot.  They combine with Felix, who continues to lose velocity but who should be reasonably effective, Iwakuma, who is aging and injury prone but capable of stretches of brilliance when dialed in, and Taijuan Walker, who is a huge wild card.  Several observers including Jonah Keri are predicting a breakout season from Taijuan Walker this year, even suggesting he will put up a better line than King Felix will.  I see this group as being slightly better than average.  Not great.  Karns and Miley are not great, and Karns and Walker are so unpredictable at this early point in their careers, so the error bars are pretty wide on this group.  If those two both pitch at their 90% projection, all of a sudden the rotation is a monster, but if the wheels fall off for both of them, then you are pushing James Paxton and Mike Montgomery both into the rotation (and out of the bullpen) and it’s a big step back.

On the position player side, Dipoto added Leonys Martin in CF, Chris Iannetta at C, Adam Lind in a platoon with Dae Ho Lee at 1b, and Nori Aoki in LF.  The main takeaway here is that these guys don’t have to be great to be an improvement.  Nowhere is this more true than for Iannetta who replaces the aforementioned hapless production the M’s got fro the catcher position in 2015.  He is projected to put up a .213/.325/.352 line (not very impressive) in 2015 according to the fangraphs depth chart tool, which would represent a 95 point improvement in OBP and a 52 point improvement in SLG.  The man can take a walk.  If he outperforms the projections, it’s all gravy.  Martin is another bounceback candidate as he put up a disappointing season in 2015 after stronger previous seasons.  He is also a superior defender in CF than anything the M’s had last year.  Adam Lind rakes against RHP, and always has.  The main question here is Dae Ho Lee, how he will perform against LHP (we have no idea), whether he is worth a spot on the 25-man roster, and it appears that the collective defense at 1B will take a small step back from last year.  But there is no question that offensively this will be a large improvement over Logan Morrison.  And signing Aoki allows for a Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez platoon in right field, as well as the further benefit of getting Nelson Cruz off the field defensively.

The other thing I wanted to touch on is I think it’s almost a foregone conclusion that we will see a big decrease in production from Nelson Cruz.

Cruz 2016 projection:  .258/.323/.482

Cruz 2015 actual line:  .302/.369/.566, probably his best season ever at the plate.

Career line:  .273/.335/.511

The projections think the 35-year old’s season will be worse than his career line by a pretty wide margin.  I think that is a little too pessimistic and would bet on something pretty close to his career numbers.  But there is no question that his numbers will take a BIG step backward.  Regression.

However, it also seems likely that Robinson Cano’s numbers will improve substantially.  Cano 2016 projection:  .288/.346/.441

Cano 2015 actual line:  .287/.334/.446

Career line:  .307/.355/.495

The reasons for optimism go beyond regression toward his career numbers.  Cano had surgery to fix a hernia he was struggling with last year that also limited him in the field.  He also hit well all spring and as I write this in game 3 he already has 3 home runs.  No, make that 4 as he just hit another in this game.  I believe the M’s will pick up as much production with Cano as they will give up with Cruz.

I’m also predicting a lot better defense in CF, RF, and 2B, and perhaps a slight improvement in LF and SS.  1B and maybe C will probably be slightly worse, defensively, but overall the defense has taken a big step forward, especially in the outfield.  This will help our pitching.  We will also see big leaps forward in the offense we get from C and 1B, a modest improvement at 2B, and probably a small improvement at DH, and probably a big decline in RF even though Smith/Gutierrez should be a strong platoon.  Heck this should probably be a table.  Hey you get what you pay for.

Changes from 2015 to 2016

C – Zunino et al to Iannetta/Clevenger, defense slightly worse, offense WAY better

1B – Morrison to Lind/Lee, defense slightly worse, offense a lot better

2B – Cano, both defense and offense much improved as discussed

3B –  Seager, about the same

SS – Miller/Marte to Marte, defense slightly improved with Marte all year, probably some offensive regression (.341 BABIP in 2015 will probably come down)

LF – Smith/Gutierrez to Aoki, I think this will be a wash, defensively and offensively

CF – Jackson/Jones to Martin, moderate defensive improvement, but a little bit worse offensively

RF – Cruz to Smith/Gutierrez, large defensive improvement, large step back offensively

DH – Trumbo/Weeks to Cruz, large improvement even with Cruz regression

OK, if you’re read all of this, you are in select company I assure you!  I’m just happy to have some stuff typed up because the last few years I’ve felt frustrated that I, a casual fan, seemed to have a better idea of what would happen with the team than the team’s brass did.  I have a lot more trust in the current regime, but I finally did the preseason write-up I’ve been wanting to do.  And now it will be easy to look this post up and mock my foolishness.  Hence the title of the post.  I started this before the start of today’s game 3 against Texas and am finishing during the postgame show.

Surely there’s a metaphor here…

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on September 28, 2011

A rare highlight from the horrendous Seattle Mariner’s 2011 season which comes to a merciful close tonight.

If you’ve watched baseball much, or played it at any level, you know that this is the sort of thing you don’t see beyond the t-ball level, and it’s absolutely unheard of in MLB.  I love this clip!  I can’t even explain why it pleases me so much.  : – )  Short article with a 1-minute video.  Look how when he initially gets into 3rd base he looks to home and flinches in that direction as if to run.  Almost a home run on a dribbler to the shortstop.  And at the 50 sec mark you can see him looking at the infielder placement, and way in the background the center fielder anticipates what is happening and starts sprinting in, too late.

Good (and short!) read on the role of probability/luck/randomness in baseball

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on August 31, 2011

He had me at:  “A thought that was on my mind today was the Seattle Mariners’ lack of offense, an almost unprecedented amount of futility for the second consecutive season.”  Don’t I know it brother!!  Check it out here.