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.

Comments

83 Responses to “What A Playoff Team Looks Like”

  1. Adam S on October 25th, 2011 11:37 pm

    Is there any way that the Pujols and Fielder contracts don’t wind up being disasters 4 years down the road, if not right away? And if you know that and I know that, who signs them?

    Given the M’s need to add 20 WAR for $25-30M, is 2012 hopeless unless Ichiro, Gutierrez, and one other player make huge leaps? You might get lucky with a 3 WAR year out of Moyer for $2M, but you won’t get that lucky three times.

    Despite the GM connection, I don’t think Fielder is coming here. But I wonder if from a marketing perspective this team needs to make a splash. One thing holding the Mariners back is they’ve dropped the payroll $20-30M (it seems) because of the lack of revenue caused by the lack of wins (attendance).

  2. rsrobinson on October 25th, 2011 11:49 pm

    I don’t see where those 3-4 good players are going to come from. Best case scenario for next year looks like .500. Depressing.

  3. Valenica on October 26th, 2011 12:15 am

    Felix, Ackley, Smoak, Ichiro, Guti, Pineda = +20-25 WAR

    Wells, Carp, Seager/Liddi, Ryan, Olivo/FA, Furbush/Hultzen, Beavan/Paxton, Vargas = +16 WAR at 2 WAR/each

    Bullpen with Wilhelmsen, Kelley, Ruffin = 2-3 WAR

    So…+38~44 WAR; a .500 team similar to this year’s Angels. That’s not so bad, considering none of our young guys are in their prime and we’ll have Ichiro/Bradley money to spend this year/after next year.

    Of course, the biggest snag is whether you believe Wells and co. could all average 2 WAR each. It’s not impossible, Vargas was 2.4 WAR before his mechanic change, Beavan looks to be 1.5 WAR~ over a season at last year’s numbers, Furbush had a better xFIP than Beavan so 2 WAR~, plus Paxton/Hultzen might come up and impress. Then for hitters, and if you play them over 150 games (for simplicity) with 2011 numbers, Wells at 3 WAR, Carp at 1 WAR (yikes), Seager at 1.5 WAR, Liddi at 3 WAR, Ryan near 3 WAR, Olivo/FA should bounce back to around 1.5 WAR. Basically averages out at 2 WAR/each, assuming 2011 numbers (tons of SSS issues but still).

    As long as Ackley and co can manage 4-5 WAR each, a few in the Wells and co group can hit 3-4 WAR (Paxton, Hultzen in 2013 are the best candidates), and we spend Bradley/Ichiro’s money on 3-5 WAR upgrades (probably C, DH, RF, or SP if we trade Vargas), we could contend by 2013. Assuming the Rangers start showing age, because I don’t know if we can catch up to them and/or the Red Sox with just +50 WAR.

  4. nwade on October 26th, 2011 1:49 am

    As long as Ackley and co can manage 4-5 WAR

    So based on the list of names you tossed out, you’re saying you think this could/will happen in 2012:
    Felix +5 WAR
    Ackley +5 WAR
    Smoak +4 WAR
    Ichiro +4 WAR
    Guti +4 WAR
    Pineda +4 WAR
    (or maybe 2 of these guys “only” get to +3 WAR)

    Guti’s WAR on Fangraphs make +2 look far more likely. I like Smoak but there’s no stat that points to him having a WAR higher than 2 or 3. Pineda and Ackley have far too little data on them as well; but at least look like they could keep up the ~3 WAR they earned this year. So I get only about +18-20 WAR out of those guys. The others you list are way too young/new to be making detailed predictions about, but the stats I see on Fangraphs (again, not a lot to go on) makes it look like an average of ~1.5 out of each of them. I just don’t buy that Liddi and Wells are both gonna jump in at 3 WAR. So your total for the team is 30-36. Definitely more than 1 Prince Fielder away from contending, regardless.

  5. Valenica on October 26th, 2011 2:14 am

    My bad I counted Guti/Ichiro as one player. I was thinking more like:

    Felix 5 WAR
    Ackley 4 WAR
    Pineda 4 WAR
    Smoak 3 WAR
    Guti 3 WAR
    Ichiro 2 WAR

    That’s +21 WAR.

    As for the others, Vargas (3 WAR) can offset Furbush/Beavan (1.5/1.5). Ryan (3 WAR) offsets Carp (1 WAR), Wells (2.5 WAR) offsets Olivo (1.5 WAR), and Seager or Liddi can at least put up 1.5 WAR. That’s +15.5.

    Then the bullpen, and it’s around +38 WAR which was my conservative estimate.

    Guti was 1.1 in 92 games with 52 wRC+ so if his bat gets back to 85 wRC+ and 150 games I could see 3-4 WAR. Smoak looked to be 2-3 WAR, but I gave him the 3 to be generous, Pineda should do 4 with more IP, Ackley should do 4+ if he doesn’t regress. Ichiro is a 0-5 take your guess, as for the average guys just Vargas and Ryan need 3 WAR, Wells needs 2.5 WAR. Is this optimistic? Maybe in terms of playing time but I think performance wise it’s pretty moderate projection wise.

    And yes +38 is more than a Field(er) away. I was more trying to be optimistic for 2013, and just showing how close we are talent wise if everything plays out. As well as even if we get Fielder and Ichiro/Guti both go 5 WAR on us, the AL is so top heavy it’s probably not good enough anyway.

    Also a lot of young players break out their 3rd or so season in the MLB. Ackley, Smoak, Wells, Carp, Pineda; we have a lot of young players who might make an extra jump sometime between 2012-2014.

  6. maqman on October 26th, 2011 2:42 am

    I don’t think it is realistic to expect the team to contend next year, as Dave indicated there are just to many holes to fill in for that to happen. Playing .500 is an obtainable objective for the season IMO. The 2013 season might see us contend if things break right but it would take some luck to make it to the playoffs.

  7. Jar on October 26th, 2011 5:49 am

    Explained so well Dave. I wish everyone would read this.

  8. Dennisss on October 26th, 2011 6:17 am

    Dave, I think you have put your finger on the cold hard reality that is difficult to accept. The Mariners need 3-4 good players, but realistically they need to spend most of their resources just trying to fill holes, trying to get average players to replace below-average players.

    That means that if they are going to get the 3-4 good players they need, they will need some luck. Players like Smoak and Gutierrez will have to step up and and produce 5 WAR apiece or so — an unlikely scenario — or else we are looking at another year hoping to be around 80 wins.

  9. bat guano on October 26th, 2011 7:06 am

    Great overview Dave. It would be nice if the M’s top brass had time to review and absorb what this means, but they’re probably too busy working out an extension for Ichiro…….

  10. Chris_From_Bothell on October 26th, 2011 7:48 am

    It’s hard to get excited about 2012 when everything is (correctly) laid out this way.

  11. The Ancient Mariner on October 26th, 2011 8:08 am

    If Prince Fielder hit like that while playing well at 3B or C, I could see it. But then, if that were the case, he’d be about twice as expensive . . .

  12. qwerty on October 26th, 2011 9:11 am

    aaaahh….Dave’s Just WAR Theory.

  13. Westside guy on October 26th, 2011 9:16 am

    Wells, Carp, Seager/Liddi, Ryan, Olivo/FA, Furbush/Hultzen, Beavan/Paxton, Vargas = +16 WAR at 2 WAR/each

    Of the positions players here, Wells and Ryan are the only ones I’d think are likely to approximate this number (Ryan above it, Wells below it). If they find a decent job-share for Olivo, then maybe at catcher too. Carp… even if he manages to perform at the level he showed last year, he’s still a sub-.800 OPS designated hitter – and God help us if they put him in left with any regularity.

    I want to see Seager with the big club, but he’s an unknown – and I just don’t get people’s fascination with Liddi (other than his being a great story).

  14. CCW on October 26th, 2011 9:38 am

    The way we get there is for 2 or 3 as-yet unidentified lottery tickets to put up 3-4 WAR apiece, and the rest of the team to meet or exceed expectations. Some examples: the M’s might land Grady Sizemore. One of the young starting pitchers might bust out. Guti might be healthy and strong and put up an .800 OPS with awesome defense. Carp might put the power he displayed last year together with the plate discipline he showed in the minors and really turn into something. Etc.

  15. HighBrie on October 26th, 2011 9:39 am

    As bad as the 2011 Mariners were, I think it’s interesting to take a look at some of the rosters of teams with 40-50WAR. Mostly, I mean have a look at Arizona and Anaheim. Even though Upton (and Kendrick)are stars, I think these rosters exceeded expectation, and I find that cause for optimism. There’s some noise in the system that, when it breaks right, can turn a .500 club in a division winner/contender. It also underscores Dave’s assertion that we’re going to need to shine up some Callaspos, Parras, and Ryan Robertses to make it click. Murton!

  16. terry on October 26th, 2011 10:16 am

    Can someone please post something completely over the top and trollishly offensive?

    I’m really missing the old school moderation with snarky explanatory comment in brackets….

  17. JC Intellectual on October 26th, 2011 10:30 am

    Brilliant Post. Is this past season typical in the high correlations between playoffs and team WAR? The truth is sobering, but better than pursuing fantasy alternatives. (I recall Dave’s prescient WAR-based argument before the 2008 Bedard trade). Unless you have really deep pockets, it’s difficult to quickly upgrade team WAR. Too bad it isn’t 10 years ago when this analysis wasn’t so widely accepted.

  18. stevemotivateir on October 26th, 2011 10:37 am

    I want to see Seager with the big club, but he’s an unknown – and I just don’t get people’s fascination with Liddi (other than his being a great story).

    I don’t get the fascination with Liddi either. He doesn’t appear to be major league ready. Seager at 3rd is less worrisome than Wells in left, or an Olivo/Moore split at catcher, but he still has lots of room for improvement. Having said that, as things are, I don’t think there’s any question, that he’s the best option at 3rd right now. And he would still be a solid utility infielder, if a stronger option at 3rd were to appear.

    Real curious to see Jack’s moves in the coming weeks. I think Carp showed enough for the Mariners to give him the DH position, filling in at 1st occasionally. Wouldn’t cost much and he’s certainly better than what we started last season with! Catcher and left are the areas that peak my curiosity the most.

  19. roosevelt on October 26th, 2011 11:14 am

    One of your best articles. Albeit demoralizing.

  20. ripperlv on October 26th, 2011 11:20 am

    I wanted to argue, but I couldn’t find anything to stand on. Our pitching staff needs to improve by 4 or 5 WAR to be near the top and the hitting needs to improve by 30 to be near the DiamondBacks and Rays. 35 to equal the Red Sox. Matter of fact, the M’s don’t even have an offensive player worth mentioning other than to talk about future potential or comeback potential. The Rangers have 6 hitters with a WAR higher than any M and Nelson Cruz was only 1.6 – as was Ryan Howard which I found interesting. So we need a bunch of 2′s (Ryan, Ackley and no others) and a few 5 – 7/s. So somehow, a bunch of the 2′s have to come from the farm or cheap acquisition, then we can go after a few of the big guys if we can’t produce them. Nice blog Dave.

  21. Beniitec on October 26th, 2011 12:50 pm

    Very well stated Dave. So, what would you propose the brass do? Do you trade guys like Piñeda/League/PTBN-from minors…for some players about to peak? How do you increase your WAR? I’d be interested to hear that. Thanks.

  22. seagood3 on October 26th, 2011 1:13 pm

    I say this with the utmost respect, but isn’t it obvious that playoff teams would have the highest WAR? By nature, these teams out performed the rest of the league, therefore their players naturally would have a higher WAR.

    These numbers are obviously a good comparative measure, but what would be very interesting would be to see the projected WAR from these teams at the beginning of the season since we are comparing it to the projected WAR for next years Mariners.

    Every year we look at PECOTA and Pythagorean projections as well but never really examine the margin for error. I would love to see the records at the end of the year compared to the projections from the beginning of the year.

    Looking at projections based on actuals just gives a better frame of reference when dealing with the projections for next year.

    Just a thought.

  23. eponymous coward on October 26th, 2011 1:24 pm

    Here’s the interesting thing. Remember Dave’s post about the D-Backs last year?

    So, let’s compare the 2010 D-Backs with the 2011 Mariners:

    D-Back 2010 playerWAR/pitcherWAR: 28.1/7.6
    Mariner 2011 playerWAR/pitcherWAR: 5.1/17.5

    (Oh, and the D-Back 2011 breakdown, as above: 31.5/15.9.)

    So, it would seem that the 2010 D-Backs weren’t all that far from being a contender. We, on the other hand… are considerably farther away.

  24. Mathball on October 26th, 2011 2:00 pm

    What is the plus minus for wins of a zero WAR team? I know 43 is the average but how much does it tend to vary?

  25. Valenica on October 26th, 2011 3:15 pm

    So…we were +22.6 this season.

    We had -7.8 WAR this season, and AK put up 0.1 WAR in 449 PAs.

    Our 2 best hitters (Ackley, Carp) played 90 and 80 games, and our franchise player posted a career low.

    We had 3 freak injuries (Wells, Smoak, Guti). And they all thought they should play through it. Their numbers are worse than expected.

    We have a 3B (Liddi) with as much power as Peguero, but strikes out 5% less and walks 3.5% more, and is 6 months younger.

    We still have $15 million.

    D-Backs went from +35.7 to +47.4 thanks to an upgraded pitching staff. I don’t think it’s crazy to think we can go from +22.6 to +35.7, then +47.4 in 2013 with our pitchers all up.

  26. Dave on October 26th, 2011 4:26 pm

    Yeah, when you’re baseline is “strikes out less than Peguero”, you’re reaching.

  27. MrZDevotee on October 26th, 2011 5:05 pm

    In the words of Albert Einstein-

    “You can not simultaneously prepare for and prevent WAR”… (Just popped into my head, made me laugh– sorry).

    All I know is that while watching the playoffs in baseball this year, there are so obviously a LOT of guys that look NOTHING like anything we have on the M’s roster. Mean, big, fast baseball Jocks. (Okay, maybe not “mean”, but compared to our kids… They look that way.)

    They look like the kinda guys that you don’t want to face in a game when it matters. We don’t have a SINGLE guy like that. And I’m not talking Pujols types, as much as Napoli, Holliday, Beltre, etc. Solid, big league players. Olivo? (Spit take) Smoak? (Maybe someday)… Carp? (Not really).

    Our “middle of the order” guys are the 6-8 guys on any real contending team.

    I hadn’t felt this way until really watching some winning baseball teams, night after night, these past weeks– after mostly ONLY watching Mariner games all season. I had convinced myself we were a player or two away. We just needed a few breaks to go our way…

    I was wrong. What Dave wrote here confirmed my fears.

    My own admission isn’t a call for any sort of action, as much as simply a reassessment of my own belief that we weren’t that far away…

    We actually are pretty damned far away, I fear. The 4 most important guys on this team– as position players– probably AREN’T in this organization currently. We don’t really need megastars, per se, but we DEFINITELY need a speed/OBP/leadoff guy (what Ichiro USED to be), a high average gap-guy (another one to go with Ackley), a .275+ guy with realistic 25-30 HR power, and a legitimate bench player/pinch hitter (one or more of our current guys might be able to become this type– Carp? Seager?)…

    Not saying “get these guys” but this is my idea of a realistic roster if we want to become a contender:

    (BJ Upton) LF
    Ackley 2B
    Smoak 1B
    ( ?? ) DH
    (Michael Young) 3B
    Ichiro RF
    Guty CF
    Olivo C
    Ryan SS

    We’ve got some work to do, but I believe in Z and the ability to assess and find some valuable pieces to make SOMETHING positive happen. (I think).

  28. Valenica on October 26th, 2011 6:14 pm

    So BJ Upton over Casper Wells and Michael Young over Liddi makes us a contender? At best that’s +8 WAR, more like +4-5, and it’ll cost at least $24 million.

    We don’t need to FIND guys. We need to DEVELOP them. Buying players requires money, and buying them in their prime/out of their prime. It only makes sense if you can compete with the acquisition, and it fills a hole. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to tie up money for a FA’s prime while we’re still rebuilding, then when our core is at their prime have those same FAs on their decline.

    Liddi’s pretty bad, but it’s not unthinkable to think he can make it. His AA/AAA BB/K ratio was 0.34 and 0.36. It’s not great, but there are players out there who make that ratio work – Chris Johnson, Matt Kemp, Howie Kendrick, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, J.P. Arenciba, Ryan Howard. Guys with tons of power, which Liddi has. I think there’s a decent chance he could be league-average going forward with some potential to be even more.

  29. Dave in Palo Alto on October 26th, 2011 6:36 pm

    Thanks for the clear analysis Dave. Really helps crystalize what the M’s bring to the table, and how far away they are from sitting at the head of the table.

  30. Dave on October 26th, 2011 6:53 pm

    Chris Johnson sucks. J.P. Arencibia is a catcher, Robinson Cano and Howie Kendrick are second baseman, Matt Kemp and Curtis Granderson are center fielders, and comparing Alex Liddi’s power to Ryan Howard’s is a joke.

  31. SODOMOJO360 on October 26th, 2011 7:03 pm

    Interesting how 7 of those 10 teams are in the top 13 of team payroll in MLB with NY, PHI, BOS, LAA going 1, 2, 3, 4. MIL, ARI, TB spent their money wisely as they came in at 17, 25 and 29 in payroll but it shows it’s much harder to win without money. Unless you lose for a few years and rack up a bunch of top draft picks like TB did.

    The M’s came in at 16 this year in payroll but a few bad contracts are coming off for next year. Good luck Jack Z. Hopefully you don’t make another Figgins type mistake this winter because being in the middle of the pack for team payrolls, you can’t afford to make mistakes like that.

  32. stevemotivateir on October 26th, 2011 9:02 pm

    If only we could see into Jack’s mind right now!

  33. TomC on October 26th, 2011 10:04 pm

    The Mariners team pitching WAR for 2011 was 17.5. The major league best (the Phillies) was 27.5. I find it hard to imagine we can or will significantly upgrade our pitching to the Phillies level.

    However, even assuming our pitching WAR improves to 20, we will need to improve our hitting WAR 20 points (it was 5.1) to be at the edge of playoff possibility.

    That means every single regular in the lineup will have to take a quantum jump in their hitting abilities. I just don’t see that we have that kind of talent.

  34. Chris_From_Bothell on October 26th, 2011 10:16 pm

    It would almost be entertaining to illustrate how far away the M’s are by just plugging in every significant available name there is, no matter how ludicrous the resulting roster and payroll sounded.

    E.g., even if the Mariners got Fielder, Pujols, Sizemore, C.J. Wilson and Darvish, they’d still be several WAR away from being a contending team.

  35. jjracoon on October 27th, 2011 4:25 am

    Yeah but wouldnt it be more fun to watch

    Reyes SS
    Ichiro CF
    Ackley 2nd
    Ramirez, Aramis 3rd
    Smoak 1st
    Quentin CF
    Carp DH
    Olivo C
    Chiang LF

    At least that looks like a lineup that would have considered capable of scoring a few runs.

  36. Chris_From_Bothell on October 27th, 2011 9:23 am

    Taking my ludicrous suggestion to its ludicrous conclusion:

    Assume the following players are good for the following WAR… Pujols 5, Fielder 4, Sizemore 4, Wilson 5, Darvish 3. In order, that’s start of a possible decline, moderate success, huge bounceback year, prime of career and stunning debut.

    Net WAR over the guys they’re replacing would be Pujols 3, Fielder 2, Sizemore 4, Wilson 5, Darvish 3. (I’m assuming replacement of Carp, Smoak, the LF pile, and the August/September ’11 #4 and #5 starters.)

    That’s a net improvement of +17 WAR… getting one to 39.6. Which by Dave’s estimates is a .500 club, possibly more with a couple lucky breaks, and about 4 to 6 WAR away from being legit.

    And it’s obviously leaving aside the impossibility of the M’s tacking on the close to 60 million a year that it’d take to get Pujols, Fielder, Sizemore, Wilson and Darvish… i.e doubling the payroll.

    Even if you take a completely videogame-jockey, payroll-is-infinite mentality, and grab most of the best plausibly available players, you’ve overspent and fantasy-baseball’d your way to a .500 team.

    That’s how far away the M’s are in their rebuilding. That’s how impossible it is to fix the club with stars and buckets of money.

  37. Adam B. on October 27th, 2011 9:25 am

    What about Aramis Ramirez makes people think he’s some kind of savior? He’s an inferior player to Adrian Beltre, and I don’t recall a lot of people penciling him in batting clean-up.

  38. Dave on October 27th, 2011 9:38 am

    As usual, Chris, you’re taking the most pessimistic view possible in spite of the facts. The baseline isn’t last year’s WAR, it’s their projected 2011 WAR. If you want to use last year’s number, then you’re not replacing Smoak/Carp/etc…, you’re replacing Cust/Bradley/Figgins/etc…

    In reality, the M’s are probably between +30 and +35 WAR as it stands. Obviously, giving them Pujols/Fielder/Wilson/Darvish/Sizemore would make them a contender. Putting that kind of talent on any team would make them a contender.

  39. nwade on October 27th, 2011 10:39 am

    Putting that kind of talent on any team would make them a contender.

    Even the Astros, Dave? ;-)

    I had hoped that 2012 would be a really big year for the club, win-wise. Now I’m not so sure… But there’s still enough talent in the pipeline and still enough trade possibilities (barring another unlucky Figgins-like mess) this off-season and during 2012 that I think we’ve got a good shot in 2013. The open question in my mind is whether we can make solid trades and whether the ownership group will “stay the course” through to that point.

  40. diderot on October 27th, 2011 10:40 am

    First of all, hooray for WAR. He with the best WAR wins.

    But I also think seagood raises a good point. How accurate, on a team basis (i.e., some guys overperform during a year, some underperform) is WAR as a predictive tool at the start of a season?
    How often does an entire team significantly deviate from its projected WAR, one way or the other?

  41. Chris_From_Bothell on October 27th, 2011 12:13 pm

    In reality, the M’s are probably between +30 and +35 WAR as it stands. Obviously, giving them Pujols/Fielder/Wilson/Darvish/Sizemore would make them a contender. Putting that kind of talent on any team would make them a contender.

    Even if my baseline was wrong, the main point is still there – only an impossible scenario with an impossible amount of money makes this team a contender next year. Even the slightly less impossible of getting Wilson/Darvish/Sizemore, plus good years from most everyone else, doesn’t make this team a contender.

    2012 is still rebuilding; contention is impossible until 2013 at least. Right? Isn’t that the point?

  42. JoshJones on October 27th, 2011 12:40 pm

    We’re rebuilding. However, we have a team with some money to spend and a GM/organization that really wants to put a winner on the field. By acquiring 2 good players such as Alex Gordon/ Prince Fielder via trade/FA signing as well as signing a few upside players such as Ryan Doumit/Erik Bedard, we could POTENTIALLY compete. I’m by no means advocating for it, but it’s interesting to consider.

  43. eponymous coward on October 27th, 2011 12:47 pm

    OK, so if you figure the 2011 Mariners as the season ended project out to a 30-35 WAR team, that still puts them a touch behind where the 2010 D’Backs were ending 2010 (as above).

    FWIW, a couple of teams that ended up with 30-35 WAR in 2011: the Blue Jays (33.8, 81-81), the Nationals (33.5, 80-81).

    Dave, are you saying the Mariners as they ended 2011, as we head into 2012, would project to be around a .500 team?

  44. nwade on October 27th, 2011 1:03 pm

    How accurate, on a team basis (i.e., some guys overperform during a year, some underperform) is WAR as a predictive tool at the start of a season?

    Well, if Team WAR is a simple summation of individual WAR values, then team WAR could skew by a wide margin – just as individual WAR values skew. I mean it would only be luck that would enable player “A” to overperform by the same WAR value as player “B” underperformed.

    I like WAR, but to me it doesn’t pass the “smell test” as a predictive metric (and supporters of the stat are clear about this). Most importantly, WAR counts what a player has done in the past; but it doesn’t take into account a player’s upcoming situation (age, declining health, contract status, etc). A 5-WAR player can blow out his knee in November and if you look at his stats in December he’ll still be a 5-WAR player; because that’s how he actually performed… But you KNOW he isn’t going to be worth +5 WAR in the upcoming season, going through rehab instead of being in the dugout! Secondly, look at a few players’ stat pages on Fangraphs. Many “good” players see 1-2 point swings in their annual WAR value. ON AVERAGE they have a good WAR value, but in any given season it could be higher or lower. Multiply that by 9 position players and you’re looking at a 10-20 point swing in Team WAR… That kind of window is not so useful for prediction (“Hey, we could be a +30 to +50 WAR team next year!”). Amazing players (see Felix, Ichiro stat pages) have a pretty stable WAR overall; but in my brief experience with WAR they seem to be the exception, not the norm. You can’t count on more than a couple of guys on your roster having a rock-steady WAR (if at all). And as Ichiro proved this season – past performance is never a guarantee of future success.

  45. nwade on October 27th, 2011 1:11 pm

    Ack ran out of time to edit. Just to be clear: I don’t think you throw out WAR entirely; I just think its not useful as a method for mapping your players to X number of wins in the future. I look at individual WAR (averaged over several years) as a way to get a feel for the overall talent/skill level of a player or group of players. I think it has much more value as a comparative measure than a predictive measure. For exmaple: if your division opponents have a lot of key players with higher career WAR values than your players, you’re probably in for a rough season in your division.

  46. spankystout on October 27th, 2011 2:47 pm

    Nwade I reccomend brushing up on WAR in the fangraphs library.

  47. Dave on October 27th, 2011 2:47 pm

    Even if my baseline was wrong, the main point is still there – only an impossible scenario with an impossible amount of money makes this team a contender next year.

    Incorrect. See the 2011 Diamondbacks, 2010 Padres, etc…

    2012 is still rebuilding; contention is impossible until 2013 at least. Right? Isn’t that the point?

    No. How could you read what I’ve been writing for the last month and think that’s the point?

    Dave, are you saying the Mariners as they ended 2011, as we head into 2012, would project to be around a .500 team?

    No, I’m saying they’d project as about a 75 win team. Remember, 0 WAR is ~43 wins, so 30-35 WAR is ~73-78.

    You can’t count on more than a couple of guys on your roster having a rock-steady WAR (if at all). And as Ichiro proved this season – past performance is never a guarantee of future success.

    Guess what – none of this has anything to do with WAR. Ichiro was really good in 2010 and really terrible in 2011, and it doesn’t matter what kind of metric you use to come to that conclusion. That’s just the reality of baseball – players are inconsistent.

    Of course you don’t want to just use prior season WAR to predict next season WAR. You don’t want to just use prior season anything to predict next season anything. That’s why there are projection systems like ZIPS, which use three years of data, aging curves, park effects, and the like to come up with a better barometer of what future performance will be like.

    Is it perfect? No, there’s no crystal ball. But you can’t just throw your hands up in the air and say “ehh, it’s not perfect, so just ignore it.” It’s the best information you can have, so you use it, and just accept that there are natural variances that you can’t predict.

  48. Valenica on October 27th, 2011 2:54 pm

    Chris Johnson sucks. J.P. Arencibia is a catcher, Robinson Cano and Howie Kendrick are second baseman, Matt Kemp and Curtis Granderson are center fielders, and comparing Alex Liddi’s power to Ryan Howard’s is a joke.

    2B/3B/CF all have the same defensive adjustment, so I don’t see where you get off thinking that means anything. And I meant Kelly Johnson not Chris, 0.37 BB/K yet 2.2 WAR this season. You can be league average+ with a bad BB/K, if you have power, that’s all I’m saying. I think Liddi has a 10-15% chance of actually working out and that’s why he’s a bad prospect. My point is the chance isn’t 0%, and the guys who make it (Cano, Kendrick, Granderson, Kemp) can be pretty good, so I rather give Liddi 200 PAs for 2 months and see what he has than trot out Seager to put up his expected 1-2 WAR.

    As for WAR, it’s just a simple way of measuring runs. This team, realistically needs to add +200-250 runs (or +20-25 WAR) to have a chance at contention in the AL, and this is after accounting for the -78 runs (-7.8 WAR) we lost because of bad players. It’s not a predictive stat, but it’s a good paradigm to use for thinking about what teams need to win.

    Now how many more runs can we expect to see if Smoak, Guti, and Wells are healthy, Ackley and everyone else gets full playing time over Wilson, Kennedy, Cust and co, our TOR prospects come up, etc? They’re “projected” at 30-35 WAR healthy, but that’s the thing about young players. They break out. They figure something out and hit for way more power, they learn how to read pitches better, they pitch smarter…any of your young players could “break-out” from 1-2 WAR into 3-4 WAR, or even into 5-6 WAR, easily. Projecting Fielder to hit 5+ WAR and Felix to pitch 5+ WAR is easy. Projecting young players though, is hard, but their development is what’s going to make us contenders, not acquiring buy-low potential 2-3 WAR players who are already 27 years old.

    I think you could make the argument that Fielder would add excitement and leadership to the clubhouse, and that in itself could play a huge factor in the kids’ development. There is value in that; Fielder may not be enough to push us over the top in 2012, but the excitement he brings to the fans, the stadium experience, and our team, might pay off in the long run. That’s an argument I could buy.

  49. JoshJones on October 27th, 2011 3:09 pm

    Ichiro was terrible this year

  50. shortbus on October 27th, 2011 3:39 pm

    What this shows is that the M’s absolutely must have improvement from players already on the roster if they are going to contend. I think it’s clear that Jack Z’s plan is for his young players to develop into the core of the next contending team, then to fill out that core with free agents and trades. There just isn’t a viable path to contention building around free agents.

    I have hope, though, because I feel that odds are very good that Ichiro, Guti, Pineda, Smoak, Ackley, Wells and Carp are likely to contribute significantly more than last year…some simply by virtue of playing more. There are considerable “if’s” pertaining to a lot of those guys, though, so you know they won’t all come through. That’s why I’d like the team to focus on depth more than the “one big bat” approach.

    I think 2013 is looking pretty good assuming two of Paxton, Hultzen, Snow and Walker are ready to have a big impact by then.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

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

    [Stop it.]

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

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

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

  59. 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:

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

    Felix
    Pineda
    Vargas
    Bedard
    Forrest Snow

  60. 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.)

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

  63. 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.

  64. 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. :)

  65. 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.

  66. 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.

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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.

  70. 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.

  71. 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.

  72. 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.

  73. 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????

  74. 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.

  75. 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.

  76. 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.

  77. 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.

  78. 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.

  79. 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.

  80. 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.

  81. 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.

  82. 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.

  83. 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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