2014 ZIPS Projections Are Out

Dave · December 27, 2013 at 8:53 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Among the publicly available projection systems, Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections are probably some of the most well respected. Dan’s been doing public projections for over a decade, and ZIPS has a long track record of keeping up with the best systems that have come and gone. As a baseline for the next season, it’s hard to do a lot better than ZIPS. And today, the ZIPS projections for the Mariners were released.

The highlights

ZIPS loves Brad Miller. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, since Steamer (my other favorite projection system) also loves Brad Miller, and I announced that I was “sold” on Miller back in July, but ZIPS projects Miller as roughly a +3 win player next year, making him an above average big league shortstop right now. While the focus is heavily on the young arms like Walker, Zunino, and Paxton, Brad Miller is the best young player on the Mariners.

Interestingly, ZIPS also loves Nick Franklin. It projects Franklin and Miller as very similar hitters, only giving Franklin a little bit more power, and the fact that it’s giving him only a slightly below average defensive projection at shortstop means that he’s also projected as a +3 WAR player for 2014. Personally, I think Franklin would be more of a -15 guy than a -5 guy at shortstop, but it’s worth remembering that there aren’t that many players in baseball who can even fake it at shortstop and put up a 106 wRC+, which is what Franklin is projected to do next year. For comparison, Franklin and Miller are both projected to outhit Jhonny Peralta next year, and Peralta just got $50 million for four decline years based on his ability to hit while playing reasonable defense at short.

Bottom line: Both of these guys are valuable properties. I like Miller a little bit more, and ZIPS is higher on Franklin than I am, but the Mariners absolutely should not be interested in giving either of these guys away, even with Cano taking up second base for the next decade. There’s nothing wrong with depth, and if the Mariners are forced to send Franklin back to Tacoma for a few months, this projection suggests he’d likely destroy the PCL, which could very well raise his trade value and make him a valuable asset to move in a future trade, while also providing insurance in case either Miller or Cano get injured.

The M’s are going to have a lot of opportunities to move Franklin for a short term, modest upgrade. They shouldn’t take it. If there’s a trade to be made that brings in another valuable piece under control for multiple years at a reasonable price, go for it, but swapping Franklin for a rental or a player with limited value is just not a good idea.

In other optimistic projections, ZIPS thinks both Dustin Ackley and Mike Zunino will be roughly league average hitters next year, and given their positions, average offense from them would make them roughly average players overall. Michael Saunders is also projected as roughly a league average player, and getting three decent performances from those guys would go a long way to filling the black holes the team had in 2013 at catcher and in the outfield. Personally, I don’t think it’s all that likely that the team goes into the year with both Ackley and Saunders penciled in as regular OFs, but this projection suggests that it’s not the worst idea in the world, giving decent forecasts for a couple of players that are still viewed as disappointments.

And finally, the projection for Hisashi Iwakuma is quite good, putting him nearly at Felix’s level once again next year. Given his low BABIP and high strand rates, it’s basically impossible to expect Iwakuma to repeat his 2013 performance, but ZIPS doesn’t see a lot of regression in his future, and has him as a +4 win pitcher for next year, one of the best projections it has given to any starting pitcher so far. This projection puts him in the range of guys like Adam Wainwright, for instance. ZIPS likes Iwakuma a lot.

The lowlights

Are you a big fan of the young arms, and think the Mariners should just forget a rotation upgrade and go with the kids for 2014? ZIPS would like to throw some cold water on your optimism, then. Taijuan Walker is projected as roughly a league average starter, but Paxton and Ramirez are both expected to be closer to Joe Saunders than any kind of valuable contributor. In fact, the lack of pitching depth is probably the biggest flaw on the team, based on ZIPS forecasts. Not only are the projections for Paxton and Ramirez pretty negative, but there’s absolutely no in-house alternatives in sight. The system doesn’t see any of the Brandon Maurer/Blake Beavan/Hector Noesi triumvirate as viable big league pitchers, and basically suggests that the Mariners have three decent starters, and then a black hole beyond that. There’s a case to be made that the Mariners might need to acquire two starting pitchers, not just one, if they really want to contend next season.

ZIPS doesn’t see a lot of help on the bullpen front either. It likes Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush, but the only other reliever projected to provide any real contribution is Carson Smith, who spent last year in Double-A. The projections for guys like Stephen Pryor, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Yoervis Medina are all essentially around replacement level, and as constructed, this would project out as one of the worst bullpens in baseball next year. I’m not one who thinks the Mariners need a “proven closer”, but they also shouldn’t be content with the group of relief arms hanging around at the moment. This is not a particularly good group of relievers.

And then there’s the 1B/DH experiments. Justin Smoak is expected to still be Justin Smoak, projected for a .321 wOBA, which at first base is barely above replacement level and is more of a bench player than a regular on a team trying to win. But that’s a better forecast than what ZIPS sees for either Corey Hart or Logan Morrison, both of whom are projected for a .315 wOBA and negative defensive value in the outfield. ZIPS thinks that both Hart and Morrison were actually downgrades from Abraham Almonte overall, and that the team shouldn’t expect to get much value from the 1B/DH/OF rotation they’ve set up.

And again, there’s not much in the way of depth here. There aren’t any hitters in the minors projected to be real improvements any time soon. The system thinks Stefen Romero and Ji-Man Choi are basically scrubs, so don’t get too excited about either one providing a better alternative at mid-season. Almonte and Franklin are basically the two guys not currently penciled into the line-up who ZIPS thinks could provide some value, so the team is nearly as thin on the position player side as they are on the pitching side.


ZIPS sees enough things to like to project this as a .500ish team, with Dan tweeting out this image as a preview of the forecasts the other day:

I’m guessing 77 wins would be considered a pretty big failure by the organization, so if they’re planning on proving to everyone that this was the time to win now, they better keep working to make some substantial upgrades. Certainly, any team with Cano, Seager, Miller, Felix, and Iwakuma isn’t going to be totally awful, and ZIPS sees some of the role players providing decent contributions, but there are still way too many holes to see this team as a real contender for 2014. The team needs at least one more starting pitcher, maybe two, some better bullpen arms, another big league catcher, and then will have to figure out how to get some production from 1B/DH/LF next year if the guys penciled in to those roles don’t end up cutting it.

So, yeah, there’s bright spots, and there’s not so bright spots, and the sum of the parts adds up to a slightly below average roster. You don’t have to agree with every forecast, but on the whole, this is a reasonable starting spot for what you should expect in 2014, given the roster the team currently has put together.


40 Responses to “2014 ZIPS Projections Are Out”

  1. Carson on December 27th, 2013 9:01 am

    Dan even bought that shirsey, the troll!

    Kidding. Love his work, and he’s a super fun follow on the twitter. Thanks for this post, Dave.

  2. maqman on December 27th, 2013 9:17 am

    Makes sense to me. However the team isn’t finished with its off-season improvements. Those and the increased development of the “kids” will hopefully bring them up to a reasonable .500 team in 2014, on the threshold of relevancy going forward from there. But, baseball, you never know.
    Hey the new manager should be worth a couple of wins.

  3. Longgeorge1 on December 27th, 2013 9:21 am

    As we stand now, the bullpen will kill us! That is assuming we have a chance after 6 innings.

  4. ripperlv on December 27th, 2013 9:22 am

    I have to agree with you. The M’s have the tools to improve, no further upgrades this off season would be disaster.

  5. ChrisFB on December 27th, 2013 9:32 am

    Not a fan of projection systems at all, but it’s conclusions seem to line up with what folks have been saying for a while.

    Even with Tanaka or a similar solid starting pitcher, to be relevant and watchable this team still needs catching help and someone everyday in at least 2 other position player spots rather than the FrankenRoster they have as of 12/27.

    I also see, here and on other blogs, we’re right on cue for the annual “well, it’s still early in the winter… the M’s offseason can’t be done now… right?”.

  6. Pete on December 27th, 2013 9:56 am


    What do you think of trading Seager and moving Franklin to third? Seager, by reputation, probably has more present value on the trade market. Is Franklin capable of playing third? If you could turn Seager into an outfielder of similar value and not lose much at third with Franklin, seems like a thing to do.

    Or package him with one of the young arms for someone really great…

    All depends on whether they are comfortable trying Franklin there.

  7. LongDistance on December 27th, 2013 10:03 am

    Well summed up.

    Let’s see. At this point, for the team to be a winner, they still need to get another 5-6 WAR (i.e. another Cano, in whatever configuration that would take). Yours is the surest one:

    1. Another (real) starting pitcher (read: two);
    2. Better bullpen arms (read: OMG);
    3. A big league catcher;
    4. Productive 1B;
    5. Productive DH;
    6: Productive LF.

    But… that’s obviously quite a wish list, Dave.

    And considering that some writers are now suggesting the Mariners are willing to now sit back and see how things shake out… I have a feeling the Cano Rebuild is going to take a minimum of 2 years.

    Please let me be wrong. But I’m at least prepared to witness another difficult season… this time with some hopeful signs re-attached.

  8. TumwaterMike on December 27th, 2013 10:26 am

    What do you think of trading Seager and moving Franklin to third? Seager, by reputation, probably has more present value on the trade market. Is Franklin capable of playing third? If you could turn Seager into an outfielder of similar value and not lose much at third with Franklin, seems like a thing to do.

    I think Franklin has more trade value at this time due to the length of time the team would have control over him. Besides, other then Adrian Beltre, 3B, like LF, has been a hole for the M’s. Seager has solidified that position for awhile. I wouldn’t trade him.

  9. Westside guy on December 27th, 2013 11:48 am

    77 sounds about right for this roster as currently constructed. And I don’t think the rumored Cruz acquisition would change that at all (and would hurt the team long term).

    I would love to be wrong. It’ll definitely be fun watching Cano play, but Jack better have at least one more significant big position player move up his sleeve, in addition to bringing in a good pitcher, if the Cano move is going to end up having made sense for this team.

  10. bookbook on December 27th, 2013 12:43 pm

    I’m more optimistic on Hart, less on Iwakuma and Ackley than Zips. (For no good, rational reason)

    If feels to me that if Hart is healthy, he’ll hit. And if he’s healthy, I don’t believe he’ll give it all back on defense (the man’s not Morse or Ibanez, after all).

    Zips notwithstanding, #1 and #1A on my wish list is still a center fielder, hopefully one with a high OBP. If Ackley and Saunders are that good, Hart can play 1b/DH where he’s most likely to thrive. (A good CF may also do more to help the pitching results than any one pitcher added to the staff could accomplish!)

  11. matthew on December 27th, 2013 1:05 pm

    Will Dan update the prediction after we sign Tanaka?

  12. Eastside Suds on December 27th, 2013 1:32 pm

    Sorry to double post, but a good read over at LL, where Matt quotes Bavasi in recounting the horrible trades he made (Cabrera, Choo are just a few). At least he “admits” he was “stupid”. If my feelings about Bill Bavasi where computed into WAR, he just moved from -200.0 to -199.90. Its good that he realizes his errors, but I harken back to that great line in Gladiator….”What you do in life, echoes for an eternity”. Boy, does that fit us.

    Choo RF (4+ Avg. WAR over last 6 seasons)
    A. Cabrera SS (3 Avg. WAR over last 6 seasons)
    A. Jones CF (3+ Avg. WAR over last 6 seasons)

    With these three, it would give us solid defense in center and offense not to mention a few All-Stars and a fuller stadium. Then add the jewels we already have…..

    R. Cano 2B (7+ Avg. WAR over last 5 seasons)
    K. Seager 3B (3.5 Avg. WAR over last 2 seasons)
    King Felix SP (5.5 Avg. WAR over last 5 seasons
    Kuma SP (4.5 Avg. WAR over last 2 seasons)

    As long as we are in the 2014 projection conversation…(80 wins with these guys alone albeit without the projections of the support crew). I could easily hear our manager, whoever it might be …. say, “On my mark, unleash hell”.

    What could have been!!!

  13. Mekias on December 27th, 2013 5:30 pm

    Baseball is a funny old game. While currently the Mariners don’t appear to be a winning team, sometimes it doesn’t really matter what a team looks like on paper. The potential performance variances for each player is fairly large and, when all of those variables combine, it feels like almost anything is possible. I’m still stunned that last year the Cardinals hit .330 as a team with runners in scoring position. That’s a completely ridiculous number.

    I guess that’s why on Opening Day so many baseball fans are filled with hope.

  14. kill55 on December 27th, 2013 6:00 pm

    Given each team’s respective needs, what about a trade of six years of switch-hitting Seattle infielder Nick Franklin for six years of switch-hitting Minnesota outfielder Aaron Hicks?

    Oliver projects a five-year WAR of 14.7 for Franklin and 14.8 for Hicks.

    Franklin and Hicks, who have nearly identical number of days of MLB service, have had uncannily similar Baseball America prospect rankings.

  15. Westside guy on December 27th, 2013 6:33 pm

    The Twins would probably take one look at Franklin’s arm and immediately convert him to a pitch-to-contact RHP. 😉

  16. kill55 on December 27th, 2013 6:49 pm

    ZIPS projects a 2014 zWAR of 3.2 for Nick Franklin and 0.7 for Aaron Hicks. Franklin’s -4 defensive rating is matched by Miguel Sano’s -4, better than Trevor Plouffe’s -8 but worse than Hicks’ +1.

  17. nathaniel dawson on December 27th, 2013 7:34 pm

    “a good read over at LL, where Matt quotes Bavasi in recounting the horrible trades he made”

    That wasn’t Matt, whoever “Matt” is. That was Rob Neyer at SBNation

  18. Eastside Suds on December 27th, 2013 7:52 pm

    My apologies. I glanced at the author and thought wrongly it was Matt Caruth, indeed it was Rob Neyer. Interesting article nonetheless.

  19. Westside guy on December 28th, 2013 1:10 am

    Nowadays on those occasions he writes or podcasts, Matthew Carruth does it here on USSM. 🙂

  20. ndevale on December 28th, 2013 8:49 am

    Just proofreading, sorry, but Zunino is not I think a “young arm”.
    “While the focus is heavily on the young arms like Walker, Zunino, and Paxton, Brad Miller is the best young player on the Mariners.”

  21. Eastside Suds on December 28th, 2013 3:14 pm

    Westy…I am going to blame the Southern Comfort and eggnog on my faux pas.

  22. Sowulo on December 28th, 2013 4:54 pm

    Wait, your mistakes forced you to drink?

  23. Westside guy on December 28th, 2013 5:45 pm

    Poor Eastside – we’re just gonna keep egg(-nog?)ing him on.

  24. Eastside Suds on December 28th, 2013 6:23 pm

    No, only the Mariners make me want to drink. Thus, my decade long drinking problem. LOL. (not really). By the way…the Tanaka silence is deafening!

  25. PackBob on December 28th, 2013 10:20 pm

    Even if the Mariners were able to perform above their projections and win on the sunny side of 81 games, the same could be said of all the other teams as well. It seems to me that the value of the projections is not to establish a win/loss target but rather to try and establish a comparative true talent level for all teams. Each team then progresses along the positive or negative error bars to arrive at their W/L record.

    Of all the Mariners holes still evident, if they could shore up their bullpen that may have the most positive effect. A better offense combined with a bullpen that could hold leads could push the team up the positive side of the talent level estimation. Pitcher W/L record is meaningless in assessing an individual pitcher’s effectiveness, but a 20-win Felix to me would mean the team has improved around him. A decent bullpen would go a long ways toward this result.

    But bullpen arms are so volatile and unpredictable from year to year that even staying with what they have might turn out okay, or adding a “sure” arm might turn out being a waste. I’d rather see them add several relievers with a good track record than one “closer” to spread the risk around a bit.

  26. stevemotivateir on December 29th, 2013 11:31 am

    It really amazes me that we haven’t heard much about catching. Sucre’s the only other catcher on the 40 (well, other than Montero–if you really wanna count him). The M’s really need to add someone and we’ve watched nearly all the feasible free agent options disappear.

    Does anyone else think we could see a trade for a backstop capable of starting in place of Zunino?

  27. Mariner.lovechild on December 29th, 2013 12:14 pm

    what’s the point of Bloomquist if we keep Franklin too? I’d like to see him used to obtain a pitcher, but for who… maybe upping his value in the minors isn’t such a bad notion for now…

  28. Gibbo on December 29th, 2013 7:01 pm

    Bloomquist is right handed and is already capable (just) of playing outfield and 3B. So at the time he wasn’t a bad signing and gives flexibility. If they can’t trade him for value then Franklin to the minors is fine by me. Build value and or positional flexibility.

    @Stevmotivator I hope they trade for a catcher. II like Jose Lobaton from the Rays. Like Jaso he is pretty under rated by that organisation. So if he can be cheap he would be almost perfect to work with Zunino.

  29. TomC on December 29th, 2013 8:02 pm

    “And again, there’s not much in the way of depth here. There aren’t any hitters in the minors projected to be real improvements any time soon”

    I continue to be appalled and baffled at the Mariner’s failure to develop positional talent. It seems that until they fix this problem they will be doomed to oscillate between awful and so-so.

  30. Gibbo on December 29th, 2013 8:51 pm

    Hmm tough call Tom, I think there are some they either haven’t been given opportunity or we gave up to soon on them. Cabrera, Choo, Carp, Dobbs, Morse, Jones, even Ibanez was sent away to the Royals I think only to be signed back.

    Had we kept Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Morse and Jones while we had Beltre and Ibanez and Ichiro how much better would the last 6 years have been?

    Choo, Cabrera and Jones could of been playing for us last year with Seager too. Now looks like we have developed Miller as a keeper too. So they have been developed just not valued appropriately.

    This organisation had a major issue with using the talent it had appropriately. It seems impossible to understand how we thought Betancourt was going to be better than Cabrera and we could go on for ages on this tack. So for me it’s not that we don’t develop them it’s just we don’t identify the keepers or just give up on them too quickly.

  31. mossi on December 30th, 2013 1:15 pm

    Any opinion on the development of Stefan Romero? Is he expected to make the team any time soon?

  32. TumwaterMike on December 30th, 2013 4:44 pm

    Bavasi put us back 10 years.

  33. bookbook on December 31st, 2013 12:19 am

    Stefan Romero may yet emerge, though his best role might turn out to be pinch-hitter/supersub for a NL team.

    I’m more optimistic that by midyear or so, Ji-Man Choi, Julio Morban, and/or Chris Taylor present internal upgrades or alternatives. The first two have fought injuries, but have shown some potential to be league average bats.

  34. msfanmike on December 31st, 2013 8:42 am

    I am not sure if this is more of a statement or a question, but if the ZIPS projections are to be believed (and they have proven to be pretty reliable), why would the Mariners consider trading Franklin? Wouldn’t it make more sense to move Cano to 1B and to have Franklin play 2B?

    It would eliminate the roster clogging Justin Smoak from the equation, and it would “mute” some of Cano’s overall WAR specific to downgrading his defensive value only, but his offensive value would still exist. Essentially, Franklin’s 3 WAR (projection) would supplant Smoak’s 0.1 WAR (my best case scenario personal projection).

    Wouldn’t a more athletic 1B who can run and who actually produces like a 1B should produce – make some sense?

  35. SeattleSlew on December 31st, 2013 12:40 pm

    Cano playing 1B could definitely be a possibility towards the 2nd half of his contract but there is no way they would move him to 1B right away.

    They gave him the third-largest contract in history in order to acquire the best 2B in the league so they need him to play at least part of what is expected.

    “Given each team’s respective needs, what about a trade of six years of switch-hitting Seattle infielder Nick Franklin for six years of switch-hitting Minnesota outfielder Aaron Hicks?”

    I wonder what it would cost to acquire Juan Lagares from the Mets? He looks really good in center but might end up as only a fourth OF at Citi Field.

  36. Westside guy on December 31st, 2013 12:54 pm

    Yeah if I were going to play both those guys, it’d be Franklin who’d move to first. Cano is a very good defensive second baseman. I know people love Franklin’s strong arm, but he’s not exactly a whiz in the field – and we still have to see if his bat is going to play at the MLB level.

  37. msfanmike on December 31st, 2013 1:06 pm

    I understand the logic and can’t find fault with it, but the Mariners aren’t really in much of a position to quibble over how they find extra “wins.” Whatever they have to do to maximize win potential is fine with me. If there isn’t an equitable trade for an OF option (via Franklin) then they should keep him … And if his ZIPS projection is accurate – they will need to find a way to KEEP him and PLAY him. On paper and based on the ZIPS projection specifically, Franklin should play while Smoak sits and/or under-produces somewhere else.

    I think I just hate Smoak enough to concoct any viable scenario that separates him from this team ASAP.

  38. Westside guy on December 31st, 2013 3:47 pm

    I wasn’t meaning to disagree with you, Mike. I was just quibbling over where Cano would be and Franklin would be. 😀

    I share your pessimism regarding Smoak. Franklin deserves a real chance to show what he’s got – Smoak’s already had his.

  39. msfanmike on December 31st, 2013 5:11 pm

    I was actually responding to the seattle slew comment, Westy. I didn’t see yours until later. I don’t disagree with the slew’s point, but I also don’t think the mariners are in a position to fixate on position when it comes to finding the best ways to produce production.

    I can’t state it more clearly than that.

  40. Lefebvre Believer on January 2nd, 2014 9:33 am

    Brad Miller… How does this guy not get more love? What, because he has shown a tendency to throw the ball away? He’s a former second round pick, who had a .925 OPS through 219 games in the minors, can steal a bag for you, and galloped his way to 6 triples last year in roughly half a season in the bigs!

    Love those triples. 🙂

    I don’t know, seems like he gets overshadowed by the other young Ms when really he should be more at the forefront.

    As for Franklin, hate to say it but they really need to move him. No, they absolutely should not give him away, but unless he finds a home in the outfield they need to swap his value to help the big league club. The clock is ticking here, and he does no good at AAA and is wasted on the bench.

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