The Mariners Will Probably Win Between 65 And 100 Games

February 27, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

I played in a death metal band. People either loved us or they hated us, or they thought we were okay.

So much talk right now about expectations. It’s mostly because, hey, expectations. I mean, there are always expectations surrounding the Mariners in spring training, but this is the first time in a while said expectations have been strongly optimistic. I’ve seen multiple articles to the effect of, “despite expectations, McClendon believes team still needs to perform.” I very literally can’t think of a stupider premise, but at least that does tell you one thing — people expect the Mariners to be good. Like, possibly division-winning good.

It feels unfamiliar, and that isn’t just recency bias. This really is something new. And mostly coincidentally, I’ve spent the last couple days sifting through team projections from the past decade. It took some work to get all the numbers together, and there are a few issues with relying on various projections going back further and further into history, but the projections have never been nonsense. Even in 2005, they conveyed an idea of how teams were supposed to perform, and you know what they say about history? Well they say a lot of things about history. One is that we can learn from it.

Let’s learn from it. As of right now, Baseball Prospectus has the Mariners projected to win 87 games, based on PECOTA. FanGraphs has the Mariners projected to win 89 games, based on Steamer, and while we’re still waiting on ZiPS stuff to be uploaded, ZiPS is pretty much in agreement. Clay Davenport has the Mariners projected to win 86 games. The last I saw from Vegas, the Mariners’ over/under line has been set at 86.5 wins. The numbers have rolled in, and there are no remaining surprises. The Mariners project really well. People are excited! This is a potential champion that’s just gotten things started in Peoria.

Time to dive into history. On my spreadsheet, I can find 60 teams that have been projected for between 86 – 90 wins, since 2005. The average of their projections: 88 wins. Their actual, average performance: 88 wins. Look at that! It’s a dead match. That’s why people are excited — teams that look good tend to be good. More often than not, you can see the good teams coming, at least to a certain extent.

Yet all I’ve shown you are averages. Let’s look at those 60 teams again. By record, the best team wound up being the 2008 Angels, who won 100 games. And, by record, the worst team wound up being the 2009 Indians, who won 65 games. Those Indians were projected for 86 wins. Those Angels were projected for 88. In terms of the difference between actual wins and projected wins, one standard deviation for this pool of 60 teams is 8.2. Which is to say, the team projection is meaningful, and if the team actually wins a very different number of games, yeah, that happens sometimes. We think we know a lot. We do know a lot. We know a lot of what is knowable. By definition we can never know the unknowable, and it turns out performance = knowable + unknowable, in more or less equal parts.

To go back to an earlier point, it’s definitely a change to see the Mariners projected so well. Here are their projected win totals, since 2005:

  • 2005: 82
  • 2006: 81
  • 2007: 76
  • 2008: 77
  • 2009: 78
  • 2010: 81
  • 2011: 74
  • 2012: 75
  • 2013: 73
  • 2014: 82
  • (2015: 86 – 90?)

This is the first time in a while the Mariners have been projected for more than 82 wins, which feels about right. The team has so much confidence it can almost be mistaken for having swagger. Maybe it does have swagger, I don’t know. I’m not an expert on swagger identification. But in 2005, the Mariners fell short of their projected win total by 13. In 2008, they fell short of their projected win total by 16. In 2010, they fell short of their projected win total by 20. 2005 was the year they newly had Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. 2008 was the year they newly had Erik Bedard. 2010 was the year they newly had Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins. The level of expectations is new, but we’ve had our hopes up before. The Mariners didn’t just shatter them; they shattered them and fed them to us, shattered bit by shattered bit. “Eat this. Eat this shattered bit of optimism.”

What we know is the team looks pretty good. It’s not just in our heads — it’s backed up by the numbers. What that means is the team will definitely be good, bad, or okay. It’s always easy to see the upside. It’s always easy to imagine good health and a breakthrough or two. It’s never so easy to recognize the downside. You don’t envision Chone Figgins losing 140 points of OPS. You don’t envision ankylosing spondylitis. Successful teams are all alike. Every lousy team is lousy in its own way.

I don’t mean to try to make you unhappy. I don’t mean to try to reduce your level of enthusiasm. The thing about spring is there’s enthusiasm everywhere, because you need to clear only a very low threshold in order to dream. If your team is projected to win 90 games, you’re thinking World Series. If your team is projected to win 80 games, you’re thinking World Series, if a thing or two go right. If your team is projected to win 70 games, you’re thinking playoffs, if a thing or two go right, and then what are the playoffs but four weeks of randomness? Everybody gets to dream in February. Just as there’s downside, there’s upside, and the Mariners could be even better than we think.

But, did you know they play baseball games, after all the projections are filed? I know. I’m scared, too. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and we’ve all fallen enough that we’re covered in painful, unsightly bruises. I don’t want to fall again. I don’t want to fall, again. I feel like last year we just took a good step. The next step’s sure precarious.

Podcast: Everybody Suffers

February 25, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

All the AL West teams suffered, or continue to suffer, from bad stuff this past week. And Oakland and Houston are still located in Oakland and Houston. Come to think about it, Arlington and Anaheim kinda (or mostly) suck too. Man, Seattle is great.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

Jesus Montero Isn’t Just A Best-Shape Story

February 22, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

I’m not entirely sure where we stand on these at the moment. In the familiar history, players would show up at spring training and declare that they were fitter than ever. This happened often enough that people who cover players started to make fun of them for it, sometimes gently and sometimes not so much, with the message always being that, great, glad you look a little sexier, but nobody cares. What’s the current state, though? Especially with so many players reading material online. Are they sufficiently self-aware to avoid saying they’re in the best shape of their lives? Do they look for different ways to say it? Do we look for different ways to respond to it? These things are always evolving. Anything to squeeze something fresh from a hopelessly trite bowl of oranges.

Someone, somewhere, is still going to compile a list this spring training of players who say they’re in particularly great shape. The point will be to laugh about it. Jesus Montero is going to be on the list. Jesus Montero is in the best shape of his life. I don’t think that applies to any player more than it applies to Montero. So in a sense Montero is the new face of an annual cliche, but I don’t think we should be so cynical. There’s safety in cynicism — there’s comfort in remaining closed-minded — but I don’t think Jesus Montero’s is just another empty and purposeless spin of the best-shape carnival wheel.

And, this is really easy. David Freese might be in the best shape of his life. If that’s perhaps an exaggeration, Freese is at least supposed to be in better-than-usual shape. It’s an easy thing to shrug off, though. Why? Freese has never been in bad shape. Freese has always been a classically-built ballplayer, with strength for days, and no one’s ever looked at him and thought, “you could stand to do something with your body.” When Freese’s body has held him back, it’s been because of injuries. Some fractures, some consequences of hit-by-pitches, a busted ankle tendon. Being more fit won’t stop those things. You won’t look at Freese this year and think he’s a different player.

And maybe Jesus Montero won’t be a different player, but he’ll at least profile differently. His transformation is something sensational, because in the past, he hasn’t looked like a classically-built ballplayer. And he still doesn’t look like Yasiel Puig, but glance at a picture of Montero from this week and you’ll swear you see a damned athlete. The reason this matters is because Montero’s fitness was a legitimate problem. It was holding him back in virtually every way — it was bad for his running, it was bad for his fielding, it was bad for his swing, and it was bad for his confidence. We used to joke about Jose Lopez being out of shape. Jesus Montero was, totally honestly, badly out of shape. That was broadly evident a year ago, but it was a factor, too, the year before that. Montero says he’s back to 2011 weight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s moved beyond 2011 athleticism. The work he’s put in, he’s never put in before.

That’s the other part of this. One thing holding Montero back was his level of fitness. That reflected a pretty unprofessional lack of discipline. So not only could he not do certain things like he wanted to; he didn’t demonstrate much drive to get better. What’s the expression? Talent gets you to the majors, and heart keeps you there, or something like that? Talent got Jesus Montero to the majors. He didn’t put in the effort to stick.

Extended major-league careers are selective for those players who try hard enough. There’s some minimum determination threshold, and while it isn’t the same for every player, since some players are just naturally superior to others, literally everybody has to bust his ass to get to arbitration salaries or free agency. Montero never showed enough initiative. Now he’s coming off an offseason of working out I think literally every day, even on holidays, even on the big ones. Montero didn’t go home. He worked out. He didn’t stop working out. He conveyed that something clicked, or that something was at least in the process of clicking. I don’t want to go too far, but based on indications, I think now Jesus Montero might get it.

Again, it’s easy to snark. Montero’s the same guy who once said he spent the whole offseason eating, and lest you forget, that was only a year ago, and people grow only so much in a year. You can analyze the hell out of this, though. Montero’s around those ages when people start to learn something about real-world responsibilities. Montero’s coming off some of the most embarrassing seasons in recent Mariners history, and his own bosses ripped him in the media. And Montero recently had a child. His very own human child! There have been a lot of significant changes in Jesus Montero’s life. So it makes sense they could’ve driven him to make another. Do you know what it feels like to bottom out of 24? Actually, maybe you do, but I bet people never believed in you as much as they believed in Jesus Montero. I bet you’ve never let that many people down. Let that many people down, and a man has decisions to make.

Montero, the last few months, has made good decisions. To some extent the initial decision might’ve been made for him, by the organization, but Montero has elected to stick with the plan and show some real, actual discipline. Now he looks like a baseball player. Maybe he still won’t look much like a baseball player during organized, competitive baseball games, but if talent comes naturally, then Montero has cleared the path for the talent to show itself again. Unless things turn, his body won’t hold him back nearly as much. Unless things turn, his effort won’t hold him back nearly as much. All we’ve wanted to know is whether Jesus Montero is good enough to play for a while in the major leagues. Montero has taken steps toward letting us finally find out. As long as this keeps up, then if Jesus Montero fails, he’ll fail on account of his skills. Of the many ways to fail, that’s gotta be the best.

Podcast: We Ran Out of Topics at the End, Sorry!

February 18, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Rickie Weeks, the rotation, some MLB win total over/unders and a whole lot of rambling got into this episode. Prepare, even moreso than usual, for off topic-ness.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

Let’s Now Give A Shit About Rickie Weeks

February 12, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 32 Comments 

You’ll never believe this, but the Mariners just signed a former Brewer. The specific former Brewer in this case is Rickie Weeks, and his contract is worth money that doesn’t matter over the minimum number of years. In the worst-case scenario, Weeks is bad, and his salary gets in the way of the Mariners’ midseason flexibility. In the best-case scenario, Weeks performs and hits all his incentives, but then Weeks might only hit all his incentives if he plays a bunch, and if he plays a bunch it’s because something happened to Robinson Cano, so in at least this one way the Rickie Weeks best-case scenario is also among the Mariners’ worst-case scenarios. This is off to a good start.

Despite Weeks’ career Milwaukee-ness, this is a surprising move. You would’ve thought Weeks would go to one of those places that has a hole at second base. Instead he joined the team with literally the best second baseman, but then, to be honest, Weeks at this point isn’t really a second baseman anymore anyway. Now, just one year ago, Weeks refused to move off second to play another position, so that bodes poorly, but that’s also in the past, and I can’t imagine Weeks just signed with the Mariners voluntarily in the belief that he’ll stick to his spot. Maybe he really is that stupid, or maybe his agent really does have that little knowledge of the greater baseball landscape, but the probability points to Weeks now being a little more open-minded. People tend to be less stubborn when they’re increasingly desperate to put off irrelevance.

Because it’s a surprising move, it’s an interesting move. This one wasn’t telegraphed, this one wasn’t predictable, and this one wasn’t some minor-league contract with an invite to Peoria. In theory, Weeks can fit on this team. In theory, it’s simple. Many of us assumed the Mariners were finished changing things up, but — and you might want to sit down — they couldn’t pass up a chance to acquire a right-handed proven slugger with a history of bad defense and strikeouts.

Weeks was the second overall pick in 2003, and because of that he’s thought by many to be a career under-achiever. Just for the record, these were the picks around him:

  • 1st: Delmon Young
  • 3rd: Kyle Sleeth
  • 4th: Tim Stauffer
  • 5th: Chris Lubanski
  • 6th: Ryan Harvey

Everything’s relative, and Weeks has had his moments and seasons in the sun. He started to hit in 2006, and through 2011, he was a fine all-around regular second baseman. He was a hell of a hitter through his peak; between 2009 – 2011, Weeks posted the same wRC+ as Victor Martinez and Andrew McCutchen. But then, in 2011, the Phillies were the best team in baseball. Things have changed. Weeks got worse, as players do. He started to get booed from time to time. Though his hitting numbers picked up last year, he was also heavily platooned, swinging the odds in his favor, and he lost his regular job to a fellow named Scooter. In addition to this, defensive metrics hate Weeks at second like they hate few other players.

Weeks is no longer an everyday player. Last year’s performance shows a change in his batted-ball profile, away from putting the ball in the air, but the safe assumption here is that Weeks should only really bat against lefties. Against righties, he can be exploited, and it’s not like he’s going to gain some runs back with his glove. Weeks goes to the bench as experienced insurance. So: what does that mean?

Weeks has literally only played second in the majors. He’s played second, occasional DH, and occasional pinch-hitter. In the minors, he played only second base. The Mariners, though, didn’t sign Weeks to just back up Robinson Cano. The bench, as I see it:

  • Jesus Sucre, or maybe John Baker
  • Willie Bloomquist
  • Justin Ruggiano
  • Rickie Weeks

The catchers are just catchers, and I don’t know if they even own their own bats. Bloomquist can play anywhere, or at least he could play anywhere, but now he’s coming off surgery, and I’ve heard some talk that he might not be ready for the start of the year. Ruggiano is the platoon partner for Seth Smith. That leaves Weeks as the last guy. That means no space for Jesus Montero. It means no space for James Jones, or the loser of the shortstop competition. Space would require a five-man bench, and that would require a six-man bullpen. You won’t see a six-man bullpen with a manager who’s fond of an eight-man bullpen.

The Weeks news isn’t yet confirmed, so we don’t have any quotes from the team. As such, we have to guess at his usage. I see a little bit of lots of things. A few games of giving Cano a breather. Maybe even a couple games at third. I think he picks up some games against lefties as a first baseman, and he might sneak in at DH once or twice. Weeks could also get reps in an outfield corner — Dustin Ackley is both left-handed and Dustin Ackley, so he’s not a lock to do anything, and as things stand Ackley is also the roster depth behind Austin Jackson. Jackson is also supported by James Jones, Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, and maybe Brad Miller, but those guys won’t start the year with Seattle. I guess Miller might, but that would be as a shortstop.

Weeks provides the Mariners with a little flexibility and a little bit of pop. Let’s say the roster stays as it is, and let’s say…Miller wins the job at short. Against righties, the Mariners could start six left-handed hitters. Against lefties, the Mariners could start five right-handed hitters. You can move your own numbers around if you figure the right-handed Chris Taylor beats Miller out. The point is the team has some built-in protection. And nothing is set in stone. Injury or under-performance means different players show up. If Montero beats the hell out of the ball in Tacoma, he’ll rise. You’ll see Gutierrez if he doesn’t accidentally fall in front of a bus. If Bloomquist is toast, Taylor and Miller could potentially co-exist. Weeks himself has a guaranteed contract, but a guaranteed contract just means you have guaranteed money, not a guaranteed roster spot. Weeks won’t last if he pulls a 2013. And as much as 2014 was encouraging, 2013 was the opposite, and just a year earlier.

When it’s February, you get more than a thousand words about a bench acquisition that teams with holes at second base didn’t want. Weeks has been a really good player before, but then Endy Chavez has been a really good player before, and if it’s perspective you want, the Mariners got Weeks for a year and $2 million. That’s less than half their guarantee an offseason ago to Willie Bloomquist. This isn’t like getting a pitch-framer for cheap, because it’s a market inefficiency. Rickie Weeks isn’t a market inefficiency. He’s just a guy who hits lefties sometimes, and he has a history that takes a little longer to thumb through than most. It’s for the best, for him, he’s moving on from Milwaukee. That doesn’t mean it’s also for the best for Seattle, but it’s not like the system was overflowing with quality candidates for the one spot remaining. Weeks is good enough to satisfy those who confuse activity for improvement, and he could even be better than that.

The upside, per usual, is that Weeks plays the hero in an exciting and extended playoff run. Maybe he delivers the sort of hit or two that make him an area legend. Every champion includes bit parts no one ever expected much from. The downside is that Weeks sucks, and sucks often enough and conspicuously enough that he gets booed in Safeco, too. We could hate him, and he could hate us. But that’s just the way it is with anyone. You have to give a chance to people. Don’t decide they suck before you know them; if they suck, that’s a tough thing to keep hidden.

The Mariners Watched A Few Cubans

February 6, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

Why it’s news:

The Mariners had a workout for multiple Cuban players today in the Dominican Republic, including second basemen Andy Ibanez and Hector Olivera. In attendance at that workout were Mariners president Kevin Mather, general manager Jack Zduriencik and international director Tim Kissner.

Why it’s not news:

But baseball sources downplayed the presence of Mather and Zduriencik at the workouts. They were on hand for them because there were organizational meetings going on at the facility that same week. Both Zduriencik and Mather were down there for those meetings not specifically to see those two players.

That says almost enough, right there. Zduriencik and Mather watched the workout because it literally would’ve been difficult for them not to. So, this isn’t any kind of indication that the Mariners are totally serious about making an international play, but the fact of the matter is that there *was* a workout, and the Mariners *did* pay attention, and it *is* the beginning of February and the only alternative to thinking about this story is thinking about the Super Bowl and relative to that isn’t this story just the most interesting and compelling story? Let’s talk about this story. Let’s only talk about this story, for at least the next couple of weeks. Let’s talk about this story when we wake up, and let’s talk about this story until we fall asleep. Let’s talk ourselves asleep, with this story.

Of Olivera and Ibanez, Olivera is the bigger name. He’s the guy who’s said to be big-league ready, or just about. Ibanez is more of a prospect. Olivera is a prospect, too, but Ibanez is the kind of prospect who would immediately fit into the low- to mid-minors. The curious thing is that Olivera profiles as a second or third baseman, and Ibanez, too, profiles as a second baseman. The Mariners have one of those, and they have a third baseman, too, and while it’s more possible than you might realize that something disastrous could happen at literally any moment, changing things forever, there’s planning for downside and there’s planning for complete and utter catastrophe. You don’t plan for catastrophes that leave you hopelessly shattered. You just let those catastrophes ruin you.

Now, about this workout: from the looks of things, Olivera and Ibanez were present, but they were not the only players present. Those other players, presumably, have their own talents, even if they don’t quite match up to the higher-profile individuals. It’s possible the Mariners could sign one or two Cubans from the workout, and it’s possible none of the signed players would be Hector Olivera or Andy Ibanez. The hell should I know? If I knew what the Mariners were going to do, I’d tell that to the Mariners, and they’d, I don’t know, do something. Maybe they’d try to do something other than what I predicted, but, I would’ve predicted that already, and — it’s complicated. I don’t really want to get into determinism here.

It’s only natural to let your imaginations run wild. That’s the whole appeal of these rumors and links. And I’m not going to try to stop you from getting ahead of yourself; do what you want, it’s a Friday afternoon. It’s baseball. It doesn’t matter. Here’s what we know: the Mariners are aware of a couple talented future Cuban imports, and they’ve put them through a workout. If Olivera and Ibanez were available to the Mariners for a few dollars, the Mariners would sign both of them, without any question. I guess that’s an assumption, not actual knowledge, but it’s a safe assumption.

But there’s a connection, and then there’s the rest. There’s interest, and then there’s signing a guy. There’s signing a guy, and then there’s worrying about how he fits. The most important thing is the general accumulation of talent. Worry about fits when the talent is actually in-house. Remember that, earlier this offseason, the Mariners were said to have made a run at Russell Martin, even though they already have Mike Zunino. Room can be made if room needs to be made. If the Mariners actually acquired Olivera, he’d fit somewhere. It’s not like anyone on this team is a near-lock aside from Cano and Seager, and someone who can play second base can play a lot of things.

And Ibanez? If the Mariners had Ibanez, he’d just be a prospect. Nothing to worry about. Should the Mariners just ditch the prospects they have who play positions currently occupied by good players? You should just about never worry about a blocked prospect. Miraculously, teams figure out ways to proceed. No baseball team has ever been contracted because it had too much talent at the same one or two places.

The Mariners watched some players work out. They wouldn’t have done that if they had 0-percent interest, so, their interest level might be rightly described as non-0 percent. It’s pretty easy to go from there to “the Mariners badly want one or both of these Cubans!” That would be really blowing this out of proportion. And remember, there’s nothing special about the Mariners’ situation — every team in baseball knows these guys. Many of the teams want them. The odds are highly, highly against the Mariners signing Olivera, or Ibanez, or both, or really anyone decently high-profile. When it’s the Mariners against the field, you always bet the field.

So, probably, nothing comes of this. Already it doesn’t seem like anything will come of this. This story was just a thing that came up that allowed you to think about anything else besides life for a few minutes during a week. That’s either the whole point of why we’re here, or the very opposite of it. I’m still trying to work that out, but I think I’m getting close to the answer.

Podcast: Trying to Look Forward to Spring Training

February 5, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

The title sums it up. After nothing baseball-related happening in January, and a bunch of emotional other things happening, we attempt to focus on the future. It’s hard.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!