Some Not So Fun Math
The Mariners are 13-21, 6 1/2 games out of first place. They have 128 games left to play.
Heading into the season, we had the team pegged as about an 83 to 85 win “true talent” team, which works out to about a .520 winning percentage. If the Mariners win 52 percent of their remaining games, they will finish with a record of 80-82. If our opinion of the team was exactly the same as it was on Opening Day, we would now expect the team to finish just below .500.
Of course, the last six weeks of baseball provide some evidence that there are reasons to think that this team might not be a true talent 83 to 85 win team. Milton Bradley didn’t stay under control. Jack Wilson didn’t stay healthy. Rob Johnson didn’t learn how to catch over the winter. Even leaving aside the slumps of guys like Chone Figgins and Jose Lopez, which have been big problems but should theoretically not continue for much longer, there are some structural issues with this roster that weren’t true in March. I’d probably argue that this is more like a 78 to 80 win true talent team right now, given how the roster has shaken out.
If I’m right, and the Mariners play like their “true” selves the rest of the year, they’d finish 75-87.
How wrong do we have to be for the Mariners to win the AL West? With 128 games to play, the team would have to play .601 baseball the rest of the year to finish at 90-72. Texas is good enough to win more than 89 games, and so I don’t think we can assume that anything less than 90 will get it done. .601 baseball is basically the level the Phillies have played for the first six weeks of the season. Right now, a .601 winning percentage would rank 6th highest in baseball. Even good teams have a hard time playing .600 baseball for four and a half months. And 90 wins is no guarantee of a playoff spot.
95 wins probably gets you in. It’s tough for me to see two AL West teams finishing with more than 95 wins, so we’ll say that’s the magic number to where you can be pretty darn sure you’ll be playing in October. The Mariners would have to play .640 baseball the rest of the year – about the level that the Yankees have played in the first six weeks of the season – to finish with 95 wins. That’s basically winning two out of every three games, all year long, starting today.
Like I said yesterday, I’m not trying to sound melodramatic, but the Mariners chances of making the playoffs now stand somewhere between five and 10 percent. They’re probably closer to five percent, honestly. It’s pretty bleak.
The point of this isn’t to be Debbie Downer, but rather, to suggest that the Mariners have probably played themselves out of a position to make the kinds of trades that people have been calling for. The numbers don’t add up to make a prospects-for-veteran swap make sense. Even if you could get Houston to trade Lance Berkman, this team has played themselves out of position to give up what it takes to get a guy like that. With trade season getting ready to open up, the Mariners can’t be “buyers” in the traditional sense. They shouldn’t make another Cliff Lee trade – there aren’t good enough odds of winning this year to justify it.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make any moves and try to salvage the season. They aren’t so far out that you can pull the plug and just call it a rebuilding year. But they have to change the type of trades they may have been looking at. Instead of moving prospects for a big thumping bat who will walk away in a year or two, the team should be looking to make moves for guys that can help in 2010 and beyond – guys who make this roster better, but can also offer some longer term value.
Just as an example, the M’s should absolutely be burning up the phone lines in Detroit trying to get Ryan Raburn from the Tigers – a 29-year-old right-handed super utility player with a pretty solid bat and a good glove in the outfield who can also fill in at 2B/3B when needed. He makes the league minimum, is arb eligible for the first time this winter, and the Tigers just optioned him to Triple-A out of frustration with his slow start. ZIPS projects him for a .344 wOBA going forward, which would make him the second or third best hitter on the team, and he’d be a perfect complement to Saunders in LF while also offering a bat who can play multiple positions and have enough thump to improve the offense.
He’s not Lance Berkman, but he’s the kind of guy the Mariners should actively be trying to acquire. He won’t save this season, but there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not able to be saved, and the team doesn’t have a strong enough farm system to waste assets on a guy who won’t be here past this season.
They have approximately six weeks to turn this thing around and get back into the race, at which time they’ll have to figure out if they’re close enough to contention to keep Cliff Lee. They can’t just sit around and wait for guys to start hitting until then, but neither has this team earned the right to have the front office trade more future for present. That’s just not a wise trade anymore.
Whether they’re better than this or not, the 13-21 start has put the season on the brink.