2014 ZIPS Projections Are Out
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.
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.
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:
Next ZiPS team over at FanGraphs is the Mariners. pic.twitter.com/tMyE2zKInr
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) December 25, 2013
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.