The Mariners Will Probably Win Between 65 And 100 Games
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.