What A Playoff Team Looks Like

Dave · October 25, 2011 at 11:07 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

A few weeks ago, David Appelman quietly updated the leaderboards over at FanGraphs, and one of the improvements was to integrate the team and league pages into the same format, making it far easier to view various teams and units over the years. While playing around with some of the data tonight, I realized that I could give a pretty decent overview of what the organization needs to pull off this winter if they’re serious about making the 2012 team a contender.

Here’s the top 10 teams in 2011, sorted by total team WAR:

1. Texas, +60.6
2. New York, +59.9
3. Boston, +59.5
4. Philadelphia, +51.6
5. Milwaukee, +51.0
6. St. Louis, +48.6
7. Detroit, +48.0
8. Arizona, +47.4
9. Tampa Bay, +46.1
10. Anaheim, +43.8

First off, you should notice right away that WAR works pretty darn well – the eight playoff teams all rank in the top nine in baseball, and the Red Sox collapse was the only reason that it wasn’t eight for eight. Next time you think we’re just dabbling in nerd stats that don’t reflect the game on the field, just remember that the correlation between team WAR and team Win% is very high.

The other thing you’ll notice is that all of the playoff teams had at least +45 WAR, and to win a division, you generally had to be around +50 WAR. Because the system assumes that a replacement level team would win about 43 games in a season, +38 WAR is basically a .500 club – you need to get into the upper-40s to be a legitimate contender.

The 2011 Mariners posted +22.6 WAR, or basically about half of the total they would need to make any kind of serious run at a playoff spot. A large part of the team’s low overall total is due to some horrible production from players who aren’t in the organization anymore, but even dead cat bounces fro the struggling veterans and full seasons from guys like Dustin Ackley isn’t going to push this team much past +30 WAR or so. Even if you assume the best case scenarios from guys like Felix, Pineda, Ackley, Smoak, Gutierrez, and Ichiro, you’re looking at about +20 to +25 WAR from that group, and most of the rest of the current roster are fill-ins.

This is essentially the heart of the reason I’m against signing Prince Fielder. He’s coming off the best season of his career and he was worth a total of +5.5 WAR – for his career, he’s averaged just about +3.5 WAR per season. Even if you think he’s in his prime and is going to be closer to his 2011 performance for the next few years, you’re looking at a +5 win guy at best, and he’ll be taking the spot of either Mike Carp or Justin Smoak, either of whom could be expected to give you +1 to +2 WAR for the league minimum next year.

In reality, replacing Carp with Fielder nets you maybe three or four WAR, and unfortunately, this roster is not three or four wins away from being a legitimate contender. The M’s need to add something like +10 to +15 WAR this winter – a very tall order, and one that’s basically impossible if you throw your entire budget at one player. Despite all the calls for a “big bat” or a “star hitter”, this is an organization that needs to upgrade a bunch of places all at once, and that means they need to look for value. They have to get a huge return on several low cost investments, and they can’t do that if they tie up all of their resources to acquire one player.

Now, maybe you look at the gap in where the roster is and where it needs to be, and you determine that it’s too much work for one winter. I can understand that perspective, but even if you take that view, you still can’t really justify throwing something like $25 million per year at Fielder. The wins he’d add in 2012 wouldn’t be enough to make a huge difference, and you’d essentially be betting that Fielder would remain productive enough to justify his salary by the time you got around to making his teammates good enough to contend.

The Mariners aren’t one player away, even if that one player is Albert Pujols. The Mariners are 3-4 good players away from contention, and because of that reality, their offseason plan needs to consist of something besides “spend a lot of money on one premium guy.” That won’t be enough. They have to do more than just bring in one high paid star player, or else we’ll just be looking at another season as an also ran.


83 Responses to “What A Playoff Team Looks Like”

  1. Chris_From_Bothell on October 27th, 2011 4:56 pm

    How could you read what I’ve been writing for the last month and think that’s the point?

    What you’ve been writing about for the last month is a roster that has gaping holes at 3b, C and LF/DH, how to get one significant, sensible investment (e.g. Votto), realistic complementary pieces to some of the youth, and then this very post about being 10 -15 WAR from the range of say even the Diamondbacks.

    If Votto, Volstead, McGehee, Snyder, etc., minus Pineda, all close that gap and then sync with Smoak, Carp, Ackley hitting their stride, is that really a contender? How does a team like that match up with next year’s Rangers or Angels?

    Everyone in the comments, in this post and many posts from the last month, are writing off next season as more rebuilding, and expecting everything clicks in 2013. I don’t see how you can write about so many holes that this team has and think otherwise.

  2. stevemotivateir on October 27th, 2011 6:00 pm

    ^ It’s the AL West! If the players we have reach their potential within the coming season and the holes are filled with timely hitters, and pitchers like Hultzen, Paxton, -maybe even Walker shine, they absolutely can contend! The Diamondbacks in the NL west proved it doesn’t have to take as long as you seem to think. There is two off-seasons and a full season to fill those holes by the 2013 season. Of course it can be done! The Rangers could easily lose Wilson after the World Series. Napoli could be gone as well, then next year they have Hamilton and Cruz in the same boat, if I’m not mistaken. They could have a very different team by then.

  3. Valenica on October 27th, 2011 10:58 pm

    2009 Royals posted 5.9 WAR batting/fielding, thanks mostly to a -7.4 WAR and a terrible team (sound familiar?). 2010 Royals weren’t much better, 14 WAR, and only -1.4 WAR, so almost all of that increase was thanks to not playing awful players. 2011 Royals – 25.6 WAR, and only -0.1 WAR. Most of that was a breakout by Alex Gordon (-0.4 WAR to 6.9 WAR), and key acquisitions/break outs by Melky Cabrera (-1 WAR to 4.2 WAR), Jeff Francoeur (0.6 WAR to 2.9 WAR), and Alcides Escobar (0.9 WAR to 2.2 WAR).

    The Royals added almost 20 WAR by not playing negative WAR players, three good acquisitions/breakouts (3.3 WAR/each on average) and one 7 WAR breakout season. The rest of the team (the other 5 starters plus bench) put up 9.7 WAR total.

    The Royals had 10th best offense/defense by WAR with one 7 WAR star, three 3.3 WAR guys, and five 2 WAR guys. This is exactly how the D-Backs are built, but with much better pitching. Granted we have to beat #1/3 offense for WC or #2 offense for division, but building a top 10 offense isn’t as difficult as it seems. Royals did it with 4 positions averaging 4 WAR/each and 5 positions averaging 2 WAR/each. The point is those 4 guys – Gordon, Francouer, Cabrera, Escobar – no one saw them coming; and 3 of them did it at age 27.

    We need to believe in our kids, and believe they have what it takes to break out. That Z picked the kids for a reason, because he saw something in them. You can sign all the 29-30 year old 2 WAR players you want, but you won’t build a top 10 O/D much less a top 3 O/D that way.

  4. JoshJones on October 28th, 2011 11:03 am

    I’d love to see a post about Darvish. I think he would be a perfect fit in Seattle. I’m a big fan of re-signing Bedard but I think someone is gonna give him more than he’s worth. Signing Darvish to a 5 year deal would give us as good of a starting 3 in all the MLB..Felix 25yrs old, Pineda 22yrs old, Darvish 25yrs old. You throw either Hultzen/Paxton/Walker into that mix and it gets scary.
    Signing Darvish would also allow us to potentially trade some of our youth pitching to aquire some much needed offense.

  5. JoshJones on October 28th, 2011 2:16 pm

    [Stop it.]

  6. TumwaterMike on October 28th, 2011 10:48 pm

    Ichiro was terrible this year

    Only by Ichiro standards. He was still one of the best hitters on an anemic offense.

  7. Valenica on October 29th, 2011 2:59 am

    Only by Ichiro standards. He was still one of the best hitters on an anemic offense.

    11th best Mariner wRC+. Just because he wasn’t the worst (I can’t believe there were 13 guys worse) doesn’t mean he wasn’t terrible.

  8. ripperlv on October 29th, 2011 10:55 am

    The eternal optimist says the 1987 Twins won the world series with a WAR of 30.

  9. lalo on October 29th, 2011 7:19 pm

    My plan would be:

    David Ortiz , 2 years , 20M
    Grady Sizemore, 1 year 2.5 guaranteed, 5M with incentives.
    Eric Bedard , 1 year, 2M
    Jose Molina , 1 year, 1.2M

    #Trade 2 minor leaguers for Martin Prado

    Your lineup:

    Martin Prado (3b)
    Ortiz (DH)
    Smoak (1B)
    Sizemore/Casper Wells/Mike Carp(LF)
    Brendan Ryan

    Forrest Snow

  10. greentunic on October 30th, 2011 8:59 am

    I would love to get Bedard for 2M, but I think he will be more expensive at this point. He’s no longer an “as is” bargin bin item. I also feel like Grady would get more than 2.5M guaranteed.

    Ortiz deal looks good, and I think he could do well here. I also like the Jose Molina deal. I assume you meant to put him in the lineup instead of Olivo. We need to replace Olivo.

    Dave, I think you should carefully explain why Olivo was a bad hitter on this team. And how the home runs did not make up for his general lack of production. (even his slugging pct was not that high at .388; Ackley’s was significantly higher at .417; Meaning even with Olivo’s homers, Ackley had more POWER than the 19 HR Olivo.)

  11. HighBrie on October 31st, 2011 7:49 am

    Re: Ackley vs. Olivo and power. Olivo’s ISO (isolated power, or SLG%-BA) was .164 and Ackley’s was .144. Neither is mind-blowing, but Olivo hit for more power. The key thing is that Ackley gets on base a lot more.

  12. 9inningknowitall on October 31st, 2011 12:11 pm

    Grady Sizemore, the Seattle native, is a free agent now. He might be a nice low risk/high return player to go after.

  13. nwade on October 31st, 2011 12:27 pm

    9inningknowitall – I looked at the Fangraphs page for Grady and started to reply; then I found this article. Read the intro and “The Case Against…” section. We’ve seen pitchers come back from some serious arm surgery; but it seems to me that every major athlete who has knee problems and microfracture issues never really recovers.

  14. Madison Mariner on October 31st, 2011 12:55 pm

    Not to hijack this thread, but it’s being reported on various baseball news sites that David Aardsma was outrighted, cleared waivers, and chose free agency rather than an outright assignment to the minors.

    Given the extent of his injuries and that he wouldn’t be able to pitch until midseason of next year(if then), this isn’t surprising. I thought the M’s might wait until the non-tender deadline to non-tender him, instead, but this just gives them room on the 40-man roster a little bit earlier than expected.

    Any chance he might sign a minor league contract with the M’s, who would then supervise his rehab(similar to what they did with Bedard)? Just wondering. 🙂

  15. Chris_From_Bothell on October 31st, 2011 3:56 pm

    Grady Sizemore, the Seattle native, is a free agent now. He might be a nice low risk/high return player to go after.

    Only as part of a DH platoon.

  16. JoshJones on October 31st, 2011 5:42 pm

    Grady Sizemore, the Seattle native, is a free agent now. He might be a nice low risk/high return player to go after.

    Only as part of a DH platoon.

    He’s 29. To say he could only be used in a DH role would be jumping the gun. He’s not the typical dumpster dive off season bargain were used to. Just 2 seasons ago had a UZR rating on par with Franklin Gutierez. He’s a career .269/.357/.473/.830. He’s drawn over 100 walks in a season, hit over 30HR’s in a season, and stole 38 bags in a season. I’m not saying his speed will be back to allowing him to meet those numbers…but he’s still just 29 years old.

  17. Valenica on October 31st, 2011 5:52 pm

    And Greg Oden is 23 years old. What do they have in common? Microfracture surgery. Microfracture surgery has a history of killing NBA careers.

    He’s also swinging a lot more out of the zone, walking less, and making less contact, and I don’t know if those things will necessarily improve when he comes back. He still seems to have his power though, but Casper Wells has about the same power, and Wells can actually field really well. His declining BB/K and the history on microfacture surgery thinks we pass.

  18. JoshJones on October 31st, 2011 6:39 pm

    Casper Wells has about the same power, and Wells can actually field really well

    Thats a whole other discussion! I’d love to play casper wells everyday but everyone here is convinced we need another outfielder.

    All I’m saying is Sizemore has that potential upside and probablly the best price of anyone with that much upside on the market.

    And Greg Oden is 23 years old

    Amare Stoudamire from 2 years ago when he was 25 says Hi.

  19. Valenica on October 31st, 2011 7:03 pm

    And Sizemore’s 29. Risks, everywhere.

    He has potential upside and I wouldn’t mind acquiring him, but that entirely depends on the price. The FA market looks awful so we might make a run on him since we do have money to spend and high-risk high-reward is better in the long-run than a 3 year deal for a guy like Cuddyer, Willingham, Beltran, DeJesus, or Crisp. Yes, those are the 6 best OFs this off-season.

  20. kearly on October 31st, 2011 7:27 pm

    Dave, I really enjoy your work but you’ve especially been on a roll lately. This post about WAR totals is so obvious and straightforward and yet I found it surprisingly insightful. This logic also explains why Seattle adopted a “spreadshot” philosophy last offseason, signing guys like Jack Cust and trading for Brendan Ryan. I expect that trend to continue, despite the fact that Seattle has more money this winter than last. And after reading your post, I can see there is a lot of wisdom in it.

  21. The_Waco_Kid on October 31st, 2011 9:10 pm

    Thats a whole other discussion! I’d love to play casper wells everyday but everyone here is convinced we need another outfielder.

    Casper Wells should get a chance to play every day, AND we should get another OF. Especially if we get a versatile OF, he can backup Ichiro, Wells, and Guti. There’s no guarantee any of them will play well and there’s no guarantee Guti or Wells will be healthy. Having 3 question marks in the OF is very risky. Nothing is ever a sure thing, but our OF situation is particularly unpredictable.

  22. stevemotivateir on October 31st, 2011 10:02 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack went after Willingham. He’d probably want a 2-3 year deal, but he’d fill left field quite well. I’m not sold on Wells yet as an everyday starter.

  23. jjracoon on November 1st, 2011 3:49 am

    I like the idea of Willingham and think adding Doumit would also be of benefit.

    What would it take to pry Jesus Montero away from Yankees if they actually do sign Ortiz as their DH?? Can he be used as a part time catcher against righties and fulltime DH against Lefties?? What I mean is does he have enough defensive ability or develop enough to remain at Catcher since he is so young?? Would the Mariners have to give up Pineda plus????

  24. terry on November 1st, 2011 4:51 am

    Lowe to Cleveland might be the type of move that the Ms are looking to make. He would’ve been a good arm for Safeco and a bounce back candidate.

  25. n_jaeger on November 1st, 2011 6:28 am

    I would have liked to see a Figgins for Lowe swap. Anyways, I know I am dreaming big and this would increase payroll a lot, but I would love to see Jack Z go after Fielder, and use Smoak and other pieces to possibly get Zimmerman.

  26. Chris_From_Bothell on November 1st, 2011 6:48 am

    He’s 29. To say he could only be used in a DH role would be jumping the gun.

    If Sizemore jumped anything at all, he’d risk going on the 60-day DL.

    He’s undoubtedly talented but very fragile. Some call it taking a flyer on a high upside player due for a bounceback season. I call it more blue light special shopping.

    The M’s should do better.

  27. make_dave_proud on November 1st, 2011 8:21 am

    Whether its the bargain-bin approach of the past few years or signing a big-ticket free agent, I’m resigned to the fact the Mariners will not compete for a playoff spot next year.

    Heck, I’m trying to figure out if 2013 is a possibility for playoffs. Right now, I’m skeptical.

  28. JoshJones on November 1st, 2011 8:34 am

    If Sizemore jumped anything at all, he’d risk going on the 60-day DL

    Had the Cardinals taken that approach with Lance Berkman they wouldn’t have won the world series, let alone made the playoffs.

    If sizemore could be had for 5M$ + incentives I would consider it.

  29. Chris_From_Bothell on November 1st, 2011 9:11 am

    Had the Cardinals taken that approach with Lance Berkman they wouldn’t have won the world series, let alone made the playoffs.

    I won’t pretend to know Berkman’s injury history well, but on a cursory glance on fangraphs, comparing his risk/reward to the Cards vs. Sizemore’s risk/reward to a given team is a bit of apples and oranges.

    If sizemore could be had for 5M$ + incentives I would consider it.

    More like 2 million, with up to 5 – 7 million in incentives (esp. around playing time), in my opinion. And that’s after investing in a truly healthy and talented left fielder, and settling DH questions. Beltran or Willingham from free agency. Any number of possibilities in trade. Carp or Wells internally.

  30. JoshJones on November 1st, 2011 10:25 am

    And that’s after investing in a truly healthy and talented left fielder

    Wells, Carp, Guti, Ichiro, Robinson, Saunders, etc.
    I wouldn’t bother locking up an outfield position when we have such a surplus of outfielders we need to get more sample sizes from.

    Beltran or Willingham from free agency

    Getting beltran would be the type of move a contending team should make. Teams like the Giants, Red Sox, etc. will drive the price of Beltran and Willingham up.

  31. KaminaAyato on November 1st, 2011 11:06 am

    Willingham is a DH option only. Which either makes Carp a platoon at DH or a LF. We have to give Carp a legitimate opportunity to prove that last year’s power output wasn’t a fluke – without putting is Ibanez-like glove in the OF.

    Sorry, but any option pushing Carp out of a F/T DH spot or into a DH/LF platoon is probably an option of last-resort.

  32. JoshJones on November 1st, 2011 2:39 pm

    I’ll meet you in the middle Chris_From_Bothell. We sign Beltran then take Carp/Paxton and trade for Alex Gordon.

    Then sign prince fielder 🙂 there’s your 3 players away from contention.

  33. stevemotivateir on November 1st, 2011 8:41 pm

    Willingham is a DH option only

    No, if the Mariners signed him, it would be to play left, or at least platoon left with Wells. Would really surprise me if they went after him to just DH.

    Willingham is like Ibanez in a lot of ways. Above average bat with power, clutch hitting, and defense that get’s the job done, though it has much to be desired.

    I completely agree that Carp should have a place and I wouldn’t want to see him pushed out of the line-up either.

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