Fun With Projected Standings

marc w · March 19, 2014 at 10:11 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Several sites have published 2014 projected standings, and Vegas has its over/under lines – can they tell us anything new about the M’s or the division chase? Ok, no, not really, but let’s just go with this anyway. Below is a table of the projected AL West win totals from BP’s PECOTA depth charts, Fangraphs’ Projected Standings, Clay Davenport’s version of same, and the Vegas line from*

2014 Projected Wins        
  PECOTA Fangraphs Davenport Vegas
Angels 88 85 86 86
A’s 84 85 90 86.5
Rangers 85 84 85 87
M’s 82 83 79 81.5
Astros 66 67 68 62.5

A few observations here:
1: Fangraphs has the division incredibly tight, with two games separating first from fourth. The M’s of course are one of the most improved teams in the league, but the real story is how much the top teams in the league come back to the pack. The Rangers’ runs allowed takes a big step back, thanks in part to injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. The A’s pitching depth helps them work around Jarrod Parker’s TJ surgery, but their offense falls back to earth (losing a half a run *per game*) in the Fangraphs projections. PECOTA is slightly more bullish on the A’s offense, while Davenport projects the A’s to be quite similar to the team they were last year. The Rangers’ projections are remarkably similar – either 84-85 in the projection systems, and slightly higher in the Vegas lines for bettors who might overweight recent win totals. The A’s and Angels – two teams who’ve posted such large variance between actual and projected win totals the past few years – have a bit more variation.

2: It’s great that the division’s so tight, but the M’s remain 4th in every iteration. The relatively small gap supports those who’ve argued that the M’s needed to make at least one more “big” free agent signing, especially after it became clear that the A’s and Rangers were falling back to earth. But the jumble of teams clustered around 81 wins (there are TWELVE teams on Fangraphs’ standings page between 80-84 wins. Stretch that to 80-85, and over HALF of MLB teams show up) shows that it’s not exactly a vote of confidence. Still: that there’s no yawning gap in talent is wonderful, and it’s something M’s fans have been hoping to see since getting blown off the field by Texas or Oakland repeatedly since 2010.

3: I’m struck by how *similar* the projections are on the M’s offense. About one run *per month* separates the pessimistic from the optimistic forecast. Thus, the action’s really on the runs allowed side, which makes sense given how young/unproven so much of the M’s pitching staff is. For the optimists, you see the M’s starters as the team’s secret weapon, and laugh at the projection systems’ misunderstanding of Paxton/Ramirez/Walker. If you’re a pessimist, this is exactly where an Ervin Santana could be really, really helpful. I should point out that nobody’s exactly pessimistic about the M’s pitching staff – the total runs allowed is expected to improve significantly in all projections. But while PECOTA and Fangraphs have it improving by about a half run per game, Davenport’s a bit less enthused. Again, the optimists will say that a half run per game spread over plenty of not-Maurer starts, and not-Carter Capps meltdowns is an eminently achievable goal. Pessimists will point out that the “up” forecast relies on a massive improvement in the M’s staff AND a simultaneous massive regression from the A’s offense. Optimists will argue that the gap isn’t that big a deal, because the M’s true talent was likely better than their actual RA would indicate; they weren’t great, but they were also unlucky – in part due to atrocious defense. Pessimists would say that the OF defense isn’t much better, with minor league corner OF Almonte now looking like the starting CF, with Corey Hart’s duct-taped knees replacing Mike Morse, and a full season of Brad Miller replacing half-Miller/half-Brendan Ryan at SS. All of that debating at least hones in on the importance of OF defense to the M’s runs allowed. The M’s were a terrible, terrible defensive team last year. They haven’t exactly addressed that need, but some regression plus some positioning help, and the RA gap feels a bit more doable.

4: The offensive projections are pretty similar, especially comparing slash lines. The sites just shuffle those same lines around the diamond – some crediting Logan Morrison more, as they see him getting time in RF. Others docking Abe Almonte for playing in a corner. Ultimately though, they end up in the same place. If the M’s are going to surprise, they probably need to score more than 700 runs (the projection systems have them around 690). To that end, the M’s look like a very different team if Mike Zunino hits this year. Not, “hits well enough for a catcher, I guess” and not, “well, he’s still young – give him a few years” or, “he’s better than Miguel Olivo – you gotta give him that,” but hits well in the context of big league hitters. The other key is Brad Miller. Dave and others have pointed out that the projection systems “love” Miller – as Fangraphs, ZiPS, and Davenport have him as a 3 win player. Pretty much every system has a near-identical batting line (his SLG% varies wildly between .401 and .405 in each), but I keep looking at the line and wanting to bet the over. Miller is credited as a well above average player because he can play SS without embarrassing himself, and because he’s capable of a non-Nick Punto/Brendan Ryan batting line. But, I mean, have you SEEN Miller recently? No one’s saying you need to take a 1.000 slugging percentage in Peoria at face value, but…I like his chances of beating that projected batting line.

* I have no idea what this is – it was linked in Grantland’s over/under piece, and I’ve shamelessly stolen it. If you have a go-to site for O/U lines, by all means, post it. I’m curious at how much spread there is. Vegas abhors a big book-to-book spread, and this year, none of the projection systems have much of one either.


13 Responses to “Fun With Projected Standings”

  1. californiamariner on March 19th, 2014 10:24 pm

    I would be thrilled if those Fangraphs projections are right. Hell, I’d be happy to be within 5-7 games of 1st.

    I agree though on the pitching. I think the only chance this team has of making a wild card run is if Iwakuma/Walker don’t miss a lot of time and Walker/Paxton/Erasmo are good.

  2. PackBob on March 20th, 2014 3:18 am

    The Mariners to me seem to have a really large range of possible season records because of the uncertainty with their young players and the injury history of Morrison and Hart.

    Walker and Paxton could stumble as rookies but also have the stuff to shine. Miller and Zunino are still pretty inexperienced but promising. Will Ackley finally hit, Smoak, who knows, and which Saunders will play? Will Almonte cover center field adequately and will he get on base enough? Until Cano, Seager was the most sure thing position player but he has had some fairly long stretches of poor hitting. How will Morrison and Hart hold up? Will the fill-in starters be able to fill the early season gap?

    April is stacked with division rivals, and a hot or cold month could put them in a really good position or in a hole tough to dig out of. But if the young guys play well this team could hold it’s own in the division.

  3. maqman on March 20th, 2014 5:33 am

    The fact is nobody knows how things will end up working out, that’s why they play the games. Luck will be a factor, who stays healthy and who loses key pieces? The projections are all legitimate at this point. I’m pretty confident the M’s will do better than last year, how much better I don’t know. However I feel fairly comfortable that I am going to enjoy this season more than the last three. I’ll settle for that.

  4. Henry Jasen on March 20th, 2014 6:44 am

    I wonder if Almonte is really inked in in Center. Just because he’s gotten a lot of playing time doesn’t mean he has the job. It means he’s the guy management has the least ‘feel’ for. He’s getting a good look, but that doesn’t mean he’s been convincing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Saunders in center as on balance the better option.

  5. Westside guy on March 20th, 2014 8:41 am

    I suspect these ratings are a tad optimistic, because I expect the team is going to play Hart and Morrison in the outfield far too often. I expect that will result in more runs allowed than expected, along with their bats being unavailable for much of the second half due to injuries.

  6. bookbook on March 20th, 2014 9:54 am

    The roster construction was so bad last year, that you would have thought the org would make an effort to fix it this year. You’d be wrong.

  7. bookbook on March 20th, 2014 10:34 am

    Oakland, Texas, Angels: one of those teams will win 90+ games this year (projections regress to the mean, as they should, but these teams if things break right can really outperform).

    The M’s, thanks to poor roster construction and lack of true top talent beyond Felix and Cano, don’t have the same breakthrough potential. It isn’t realistic to expect the M’s to sniff the playoffs this year. (2015 may be a real chance)

  8. Eastside Crank on March 20th, 2014 10:57 am

    .500 ball for the Mariners sounds about right. The pitching is Felix and the question marks and the outfield defense (especially center field) is below average. The two go together since fly balls are not turned into the outs they should be at SafeCo. The A’s are probably undervalued except by Davenport because Beane will make the necessary changes to contend as the season progresses.

  9. Mariner.lovechild on March 20th, 2014 11:18 am

    These predictions are pretty generous. Go M’s and all that…

  10. MrZDevotee on March 20th, 2014 2:00 pm

    I think it speaks to the fact that offense still dominates the thinking, because given the starting rotation currently (Felix and nobody else set) there is no way to comfortably predict the M’s to be an above .500 baseball team. (Unless they don’t take injuries into account?) We definitely made some moves offensively, and some addition by subtraction moves too, which is the only way to explain the M’s somehow closing the gap on their AL West brethren. You could argue that they’re all assuming a regression to the mean for the awful bullpen performance last year, but you could also argue there isn’t enough data yet on those guys to even have a “mean”…

  11. stevemotivateir on March 20th, 2014 7:02 pm

    I don’t think the results will be that close for the same reasoning Westy touched on.

    We’re looking at a team that still lacks adequate outfield defense, is dependent on Smoak or Smoak 2.0 to produce at first base, a catcher who was called up prematurely to finish his development at the major league level–fast, and pitching that has various question marks and no real depth.

    I expect the same order of finish as last season. I do think the M’s are in better shape, but I have zero confidence that these players will be played to their strengths, or that Jack will make the right upgrades before the deadline.

    I’d love to be proven wrong.

  12. steve_lse on March 21st, 2014 5:16 pm

    “It’s great that the division’s so tight, but the M’s remain 4th in every iteration.”

    I think it’s worth saying here that with something like predicting wins in 162 games of baseball the margin of error is likely to be pretty high. So when Fangraphs put us two wins below the Angels/A’s, the gap is so small that it’s really not much different from saying the estimates are identical.

    A seriously optimistic error rate might be +/- 5 wins (in reality it will be nowhere near as low as that) so the difference shown in their model could just be random circumstance rather than anything that actually requires us to improve the roster over. If you can take anything from these kinds of estimates then it’s about broad conclusions like “being in contention” – when you start ranking teams by one or two wins it becomes pretty meaningless.

  13. nvn8vbryce on March 30th, 2014 7:42 pm

    Marc, I am a native Nevadan, graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno and can you guess how many times I’ve betted on baseball? Zero, just like most native Nevadans. The lines out of Vegas most of the time are for the touristas.
    Personally, I prefer the predictions of USSM more than those of the local sports book (of which I have 3 in a town of 8,000) because they’re probably more accurate than any of the local bookies. However, if there were bets on sewage flowing from the Oakland Coliseum, I would take the over.

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