I know this isn’t going to do anything for our reputation for negativity, but — consider the team’s ability to handle injuries. Think for a minute about each of the M’s players and what happens if they’re knocked out for the season in the first week.
Olerud: tough because they’re without a replacement, but only a couple games
Boone: totally screwed, 5 games lost at least as Ugeuto replaces him, maybe up to 10, unless the team spends the farm system on a replacement
Aurilia: Santiago plays, 5 games lost
Spiezio: not really screwed, Leone/Bloomquist can play, but probably won’t hit as well. 2-3 games?
Edgar: totally screwed, 5 games or more lost
Ichiro: moderately screwed depending on McCracken’s performance, but 4-8 games lost
Winn: ditto, but more like 2-3 games lost
Ibanez: no big deal
Starters: the team’s got Soriano ready to replace anyone but Moyer and do well, so no worries, and a bunch of guys that can take back-end positions in the rotation
Relievers: lefties a problem, but there’s usually one or two floating on the waiver wire, and the farm system has a ton of righties, so I’m not worried here.
While I’ve penciled the team in for 85 wins and think they’ll come in on the low side of that, a serious injury to even one of a couple key players and this team drops under .500.
No news on the Soriano trade front, which is good news — if it doesn’t happen tomorrow it’s probably dead and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
One of the things I complained about last year was that the M’s were a two-dog sled team, and when Edgar and Boone weren’t hitting well, the whole offense tended to suck. Just as Dave mentioned the cascade effect of defense, the opposite is true, and while I’m unhappy with the state of the team, I must concede that I think they are much improved offensively and unlikely to go through the kind of run-scoring dry spells (requiring, say, Randy Winn to have 3-4 games with a HR and two walks in order to get a win) that they did last year.
You know, as much as I would like to, I just can’t buy the Rob Neyer Method of Predicting Standings, which is pretty similar to what Derek posited below:
1. Look at last years standings, then look at last years Pythag
2. Adjust +/- based on how valuable offseason acquisitions were in year prior.
3. Print total.
To me, the assumption that the 2004 Mariners are a 90+ win team because the 2003 Mariners were is based on a giant, untrue assumption that these teams are anything alike. There are some familiar names, especially on the pitching staff. But, this is an entirely different team, for one main reason: the defense now stinks.
Last year, the M’s had, by most any metric, the best defensive team in baseball, and one of the best in recent history. They didn’t just not make errors, but they gobbled up fly balls at astounding rates, turned extra base hits into singles, and essentially surrounded the pitching mound with six ball-sucking vacuums and Carlos Guillen. The effect this had on the pitching staff has been greatly underestimated, in my opinion.
Last year, the M’s turned 73 % of all balls in play into outs. The league average was 71 percent. Now, 2 extra outs out of every 100 may not sound like much, but by facing ~6,000 batters per season, thats going to add up to approximately 120 outs. In reality, the number is probably higher, as those outs will extend rallies, in turn lengthening pitch counts and innings, causing overall pitcher effectiveness to decline and causing a multiplication type effect. By the end of the year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was closer to 150 outs that are now being replaced by hits, and in turn, lots of runs.
Those numbers are based on the assumption that the M’s will be a league average defensive team. And, you know what, I think that might be optimistic. They have established below average defensive players in LF, CF, 3B, and SS. They have declining mid-30’s veterans at 2B and 1B. The only player who you can reasonably count on as an above average defender is Ichiro, and his abilities are even overstated by most. As it stands now, this could be one of the worst defensive teams in the American League, and they’ll be fielding balls for one of the most defense-dependant pitching staffs around. While everyone not born in Spiro, Oklahoma is expecting Ryan Franklin to regress this year, I’m not sure anyone is prepared for the precipitous, Jose Lima-style decline he may be headed for.
In the next few days, I’ll put together some numbers to back this up, but my expectation is that the downgrades this team has taken in preventing outs is far more severe that most people expect. Plugging Win Shares, or VORP, or even WARP into last years standings and doing a little subtraction does not account for the cascading effect that placing this sieve of a defense behind the pitching staff will have on the team.
The Angels’ signing of Vlad is official. For all the raw blasting of negativity I do here, though, the M’s are probably as good as the Angels right now (and the Angels have some sorting to do between their outfield and first that may affect how this turns out). Someone emailed us today and wanted to bet $100 they’d win more than 84 games (85, maybe). I think the M’s are an 85-win team right now, but… last year they dramatically underperformed their expected record. Which is to say that given a team with x runs scored and y runs given up, you’d have expected the M’s to win z games… and they won z-6.
This is frequently used as a barometer of managerial effectiveness, though I’ve never seen a strong enough effect to hang my hat on. What you can see though is the M’s lost a lot more close games than they should have, and it’s not hard to trace that to Melvin’s early bullpen insanity (good relievers, pitch the bad innings, bad relievers, you’ll be coming in in tight games) and the problems with Rhodes/Nelson all year long.
If the team had the same players, average luck and avoided have those kind of issues this year, you’d expect to see them gain six games over the course of a year. This would inevitably be attributed to improved chemistry or the contributions of the new hitting coach or something silly.
All of that’s a long away around to saying this: despite being a significantly worse team (and a tremendously worse team than they could have been), the Mariners may finish as with as many wins or more than they did last year, and compete for the AL West pennant all year long.
And if luck breaks their way all year long, they could win it all, and have a chance at the World Series.
As much as I’d love to see that, if you gave me the choice between 90 wins this year and a first-round playoff defeat or 75 wins and a third-place AL West finish, I don’t know what I’d take, because the latter might result in the team firing Bavasi and bringing in the kind of state-of-the-art GM they should have hired this year to clean up this mess and start fielding competitive teams for years to come. And yet I can’t say that I actually want to see that happen. I’m a fan, and when I go to games I like to see good baseball and the team win.