Opportunities for Improvement
Yesterday, we covered the win value of the entire roster, and came to the conclusion that this team is built to win about 82-83 games, if everything follows the projections. Well, we know that nothing ever follows the projections completely, and there is always room for variance in pretty much any statistical model. So, today, let’s look at a few of the potential opportunities the roster presents for improvement, and how those potential improvements might help push this team closer to the 90+ wins it needs to contend this year.
1. Felix grabs his crown
We have Felix projected for a 3.55 ERA in 190 innings. That’s good enough to make him a +4 win pitcher and an all-star, but I think we’d all agree that he has enough talent to make that look like a disappointing season. He’s flashed it many times before, including in his his first two starts before hitting the DL last spring. It is not hard to see him rolling off a Cy Young season where he establishes himself as an ace. If he tosses up a 2.84 ERA instead of the 3.55 I projected for him yesterday, that lops 15 runs off his total, and adds a win and a half to the pennant chase.
2. Jose Lopez finally fulfills his potential
It’s not always been evident the past two years, but Jose Lopez is a talented player. He has enough range to play a quality defensive second base while possessing enough power and contact ability to be an asset at the plate. His .252/.289/.355 performance from 2007 isn’t his true talent level, and at age 24, he still needs to be considered a player with significant potential.
The projections from yesterday had Lopez at a .305 wOBA, which translated to +1.26 wins above replacement. If we look at an optimistic projection for Lopez that is still within the realm of possibility given his skillset, it’d probably be something like .300/.340/.440. That’d be a modest improvement from his 2006 performance, but wouldn’t require a huge change in skills – he’d just have to translate some of his power into more more doubles and home runs.
If Lopez hits .300/.340/.440, that would give him something like a .348 wOBA, which translates to +2.8 wins for a second baseman. The .305 wOBA gave him +0.7 wins, so a breakout from Jose Lopez could be worth about two wins to the final tally.
3. Bedard and Felix both stay healthy, pitch 220 innings apiece.
The projections from yesterday had Bedard and Felix both at 190 innings, a realistic estimate given Bedard’s history of health problem’s and Felix’s age and career path so far. However, both pitchers are good enough to run up big innings totals if they stay healthy, and health is a very hard thing to predict. If each can rack up an additional 30 innings and we take those away from the replacement starters and the bullpen, the pitching staff would lop 12 runs off off their projected totals. That’s an extra win in the standings.
4. Jose Vidro becomes a bench player.
I won’t hold my breath for this one, but there’s room for improvement here, so I’ll list it anyway. Jose Vidro is currently projected for a .325 wOBA, and honestly, there’s almost no upside here. 2007 was the height of his production abilities given his total lack of power, and his overall line was propped up by a ridiculous total of infield hits. And, as a nice bonus, since Vidro’s occupying the DH spot, the Mariners are forced to send Raul Ibanez back out to left field to futilely chase down fly balls in the gaps. Having a DH who can’t hit force a guy who can’t field to play defense is just not how playoff teams are built.
However, if we move Vidro to the bench (where he’d actually make a solid pinch-hitter), opening up the DH spot for Ibanez, and pencil in even a +1 WAR left fielder into the mix (maybe that’s Wlad forcing his way onto the roster, maybe that’s the M’s making a trade, whatever), the team would be instantly upgrading their offense, defense, and bench with one move. New OF’s +1 win replaces Vidro’s +0.4 win, while Ibanez goes from being a +0.75 win left fielder to being a +1.4 win DH, as his defensive shortcomings wouldn’t be a factor anymore. And, as a bonus, Vidro’s bat replaces Norton’s on the bench, giving the team an additional +.1 upgrade.
All told, the we’re looking at about a 1.4 win upgrade by simply bringing in a below average left fielder (remember, league average is +2 wins) and moving Ibanez to DH with Vidro going to the bench. How hard would it be to find a +1 win left fielder? Call Corey Patterson. His .310 wOBA and above average defense make him exactly the kind of player we’re talking about, and he can’t get anyone to give him a job.
5. Adrian Beltre goes bananas, relives 2004.
This is the least likely of all the scenarios (and considering #4 is highly unlikely, we’ll call this a major longshot), but Adrian Beltre has a couple truckloads of talent. Just on raw physical ability, he’s in an elite class. As we’ve seen, though, his approach to hitting is akin to a high school hitters. The low and away slider is his kryptonite, and he has not learned to have enough patience to not get himself out way too often.
However, every year, we see him put it all together for stretches of time. He hit .306/.342/.577 in May and .314/.398/.598 in July. He just sandwiched a .190/.239/.302 June in between those two months. There is a great hitter hiding inside of Adrian Beltre, but because of his approach at the plate, we only get to see him in glimpses.
However, that .320/.380/.550 potential is still there, lurking in the shadows. Adrian Beltre is physically capable of being an MVP candidate if he could refine his approach at the plate. It’s not common, and it’s certainly not likely, but it happens from time to time. It’s possible – we’ll just put it that way.
So, what is it worth if Beltre hits .320/.380/.550? That translates to a .413 wOBA and makes him a +7 win player. Essentially, that kind of performance in Safeco Field, while also playing gold glove defense at third base, would win him the MVP award in most years. That’s a good season for A-Rod; like I said, this isn’t likely to happen. But if the stars align, and he adds +4 wins to his personal total… well, you never know.