ZIPS on the 2013 Mariners: They Suck
Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projection system is one of the best publicly available forecasting tools available. No system is perfect, and of course teams can perform quite differently than their forecasts — hello, 2012 Orioles — but it’s still important to understand what a good forecasting system expects from a specific group of players. And for most of the Mariners current specific players, ZIPS does not think very favorably.
Focus mostly on the plus and minus stats, as the overall numbers will likely change due to the change in the dimensions affecting how Safeco Field plays. I’d expect most of the hitters to post better numbers, and most of the pitchers to post worse numbers, but all you really should care about is their performance adjusted for league norms and park effects.
For instance, Kendrys Morales is projected for a 115 OPS+, right around what he got last year. That’s not bad. He’d be a roughly league average player when he’s on the field if that forecast is correct, which is about what we pegged him for when the Mariners acquired him. After that, though, the idea of a rejuvenated offense kind of goes away.
Michael Morse is projected for an OPS+ of 103, the same as Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero. ZIPS doesn’t see him aging very well. Meanwhile, the team’s next best projected hitter after Morales and those three — Mike Zunino, who is likely to have a very limited role in the big leagues this year, if he gets there at all. Now, the projection for Zunino is fantastic, calling him a +3 win catcher right now, but that doesn’t do a lot of good for the 2013 Mariners. You should be excited about Zunino’s future, but you were probably already excited about Zunino’s future. That ZIPS likes him a lot as well shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
Behind Zunino, hanging out in the roughly average hitter category, are Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Mike Carp, Raul Ibanez, Casper Wells, and Michael Saunders. For Ackley, a decent defensive second baseman, this makes him a pretty solid everyday player and the best position player on the team. For the rest, it suggests that they’re marginal role players at best, as an average bat at a corner position isn’t that valuable unless it is paired with elite defense. Wells and Saunders play good enough defense to be useful, but by and large, it thinks most of these guys aren’t good enough to start on a quality MLB team.
And then there’s the pitching. Oh, the pitching.
Again, the superficial numbers might look okay because the environment is based on a park that drastically deflates run scoring, but look at the ERA- numbers, which measure performance relative to park adjusted league average.
Felix has an ERA- of 79. In other words, still an ace. #1 comp is Greg Maddux. Felix is good.
Iwakuma comes in at 100. Solid average starter. About what you should expect.
Erasmo Ramirez comes in at 109, making him an okay #5 starter. I think he’s probably a little better than this, but it’s worth noting that his pedigree has always been about performance over stuff, and even a performance-only forecast isn’t a big fan.
And then the wheels come off. Blake Beavan is forecast for a 121 ERA-, making him a replacement level pitcher. Hector Noesi is at 132, and if he pitched 130 innings, he’d rack up -1 WAR. No Major League team should be okay with either of these guys in their rotation. Right now, the Mariners have both. Noesi is going to be replaced, but Beavan likely isn’t, and the depth behind him just isn’t there. Hultzen (115 ERA-), Paxton (120 ERA-), and Walker (127 ERA-) aren’t ready, and even the more command oriented Brandon Maurer (124 ERA-) is projected as another replacement level arm for 2013. These kids might have a bright future, but it’s not here yet. Expecting them to come in and turn into quality Major League starting pitchers is simply not realistic.
To be a legitimate contender for the playoffs, a team basically needs to compile 40 WAR, and needs more like 45 to 50 to give themselves a good shot at getting in. Just based on the M’s ZIPS projections and their current depth chart, the team comes in around +26 WAR. If you replace Noesi with an average starter, that puts them at +28 WAR. Maybe you bump them up a bit because you like the young bullpen arms more than the projections, so now you’re at +30 WAR. For comparison, the 2012 Mariners posted a total of +28 WAR.
That’s still not a very good team. The offense isn’t as improved as the Mariners are hoping for, and the pitching looks like it could be a total disaster. There’s some reasons for optimism in the forecasts for Zunino, Ackley, Montero, and Brad Miller (forecast to be nearly a league average player right now, which is kind of interesting), but by and large, ZIPS is unimpressed with the imports the Mariners made this winter, and thinks this team would need a few minor miracles to have a shot at contending in 2013.
The Mariners could outperform their forecasts. These aren’t written in stone tablets, of course. But think of this like a weather forecast. Based on the available information, and what we know about historical patterns, the 2013 Mariners don’t look very good. Prepare for a pretty lousy team, just as you would prepare for rain if the weather guy told you a storm was coming. It might not happen, because there are unpredictable variables that can have a real impact on the team’s outcomes, but the most likely outcomes involve the 2013 Mariners being bad.