The Mariners Will Probably Win Between 65 And 100 Games

Jeff Sullivan · February 27, 2015 at 6:40 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


20 Responses to “The Mariners Will Probably Win Between 65 And 100 Games”

  1. Dennisss on February 27th, 2015 9:28 pm

    What concerns me a bit is that the Mariners are heavily reliant on a couple of stars. You hate to even think about it, but if either Felix or Cano gets injured, our championship season could come crashing down around us in a hurry. Seager would only be a little less disastrous.

    On the other hand, people thought the 2001 Mariners were only good for about 83 wins or so, so maybe 120 is the upper limit this year. Here’s to your good health, Mariners!

  2. MrZDevotee on February 27th, 2015 11:12 pm

    My only concern is for the most part people are overlooking the incredible luck Chris Young had last year. I think it will be difficult to replicate that sort of luck, along with the strong start Roenis Elias had. It’ll be work to get back where we ended up last year.

    We’re probably close to the projections (fingers crossed) but it sure seems like a lot of people are viewing last season’s record as our baseline/worst case scenario. I think we’re every bit as likely to win 80 as win 90. So let’s pray for a positive margin of error.

  3. LongDistance on February 28th, 2015 12:31 am

    Like most people, and I suppose most Mariners fans who have any history of watching the club, I’m leery of high expectations. Or even, looking back on a few dismal occasions, even mediocre expectations. But there’s no doubt that it’s nice to have hold-onto-your-hat higher expectations, than take-it-to-the-bank low expectations.

    Thanks, Jeff, for this look at expectations. I liked looking back over all that and, especially, how it made me reflect on when things went awry. The 2009 Indians, stone-faced Eric Wedge at the helm, and even with Cliff Lee and a (in hindsight, thin) smattering of quality like Shin-soo Choo, slammed face-first into the wall right out of the starting block. So much for expectations. That season tanked so fast and they ended up struggling so hard it’s a wonder, bad as it was eventually, even more guys didn’t eventually end up on the DL.

    MrZ … I get the feeling, as well, that the average fan’s M’s expectations are tending to baseline-in for 2015, performances from last year which were … statistically and otherwise, beyond expectations. IF, that is, news articles about expectations are a reflection of what beat writers think the average fan needs, wants and – expects — to hear (I know that sounds cynical, but being a former news guy, I know how the press room works). It’s good to keep things in perspective.

    And for that, or despite that, I’m looking forward to this season. And while I’m hoping the chatter will fill a lot of seats at Safeco (and continue to convince management it’s OK to let Jack Z do his crazy stuff) … because I’m a believer that atmosphere helps … I’m otherwise ignoring it.

  4. PackBob on February 28th, 2015 1:52 am

    While expectations for an individual team can differ from results by quite a bit, on average the projections for all teams are pretty good. So it’s meaningful that the M’s are projected at least 4 games better than any year since 2005, and it’s meaningful that they are projected better than most other teams this year. Based just on that, M’s fans should have a little higher expectation for this team.

    I’ve always been an optimistic fan without confusing that for expectation and think it’s entirely possible that Kyle will not regress, Cano will be as good with more power, Jackson will start hot and get plenty of rest so as not to fade down the stretch, Felix will win his second Cy Young, and so on with every player. That’s not my expectation but it’s fun to think of the results if it happened.

    The M’s are projected as a good team, from what I can tell they should be a good team, and maybe, just maybe, when the season plays out they will be a good team.

    What more can a fan ask for?

  5. maqman on February 28th, 2015 3:29 am

    “What more can a fan ask for?” Luck.
    This team has been good luck-deprived for far too many years. Don’t give me the heads and tails odds and probabilities crap, this isn’t Vegas or a Science of Probabilities class. What goes around comes around and we have been living in the bad luck zone so long that time alone will see us over the hump of hard times. The baseball gods owe us big time for the mega-tons of bad karma released into the Mariners fan’s lives for so many years. We don’t need a record setting level of good luck, anything close to league average will do the job with the talent we have.

  6. eponymous coward on February 28th, 2015 8:11 am

    My only concern is for the most part people are overlooking the incredible luck Chris Young had last year. I think it will be difficult to replicate that sort of luck, along with the strong start Roenis Elias had. It’ll be work to get back where we ended up last year.

    Young, sure, a bit fluky.

    But Elias… well, he MIGHT be the 5th starter. He isn’t a lock for a rotation spot with King Felix, Paxton, Happ, Kuma ahead of him. He’s fighting with Walker or anyone else with a hot spring training for the 5th spot.

    When a lefty with decent peripherals and decent stuff, who pitched 160+ innings and K’ed almost 8 per 9 innings as a rookie is going to have to fight his way into a rotation spot… I’m having a hard time being concerned about the rotation’s depth. I mean, really, were you here when Jarrod Freakin’ Washburn was a top of rotation guy for us?

    (TBH, I don’t think Happ’s really better than Elias. But whatever.)

    I see this team as a plausible division winner, if not a historically great team (but then again nobody really saw 2001 coming, or 2004 for that matter). My concerns would something like Cruz ends up getting whacked by age + Safeco and turns into Richie Sexson, Kuma and another pitcher gets injured, and McClendon doesn’t optimize what he can get out of the roster (it’s a roster where if you play the wrong guys in the wrong positions the wrong amount of time, it’ll look pretty ugly). But there are very few teams that could do well with injuries + sudden age crashes + bad luck.

    But that roster is a LOT better than one from a couple of years ago. We actually have 6 guys who are decent shots to be league average or better when they start (in a couple cases, a lot better). We have depth in the infield (save 1B/C). The OF looks better than it has in a while. Nobody in the division looks unbeatable.

    After over a decade of awful with few flashes of mediocrity… I’ll take it.

  7. Longgeorge1 on February 28th, 2015 8:34 am

    Let’s face it we sold our souls to the baseball karma God in ’01. We have been paying back ever since. Is 14 years enough? How long did the curse of the Bambino last? How about the billy goat? Maybe we could get rid of our reliance on Felix and Cano by getting rid of Felix and Cano.

    Ah yes, the first week of spring ( spring starts when p&c’s report on the George calendar).
    I guess the glass will always be 3/4 empty in my mind.

    I just can’t wait to be sitting in “sun drenched” Cheney – in early April. Let’s play two!

  8. Edward Baker on February 28th, 2015 8:57 am

    Anything can happen, and if it can there´s a chance it will. Disaster could strike (see Texas Rangers, 2014 edition). But there are two huge areas when this team looks to be much better than last season´s M´s. Area the first is DH. Last year it was the Bermuda Triangle redux, this year it´s a guy who can hit. Granted, Safeco is Safeco, it´s not Camden Yards, but this guy has the ability to adjust. Area the second is rotation depth. Again anything can happen, but there really is some depth there.
    Unca Lloyd´s right about this one. So let´s take a deep breath, park October for a while, and think April 6.

  9. Notfromboise on February 28th, 2015 4:42 pm

    I’m with Epon at looking on the brightside. Young was a total statistic anomaly, sure… But the key lies in what the Mariners will automatically improve on next year:

    – Walker and Paxton will start more games and pitch more innings by default. This is a good thing.

    – Happ helps solidify starting pitching, or perhaps long relief, win-win.

    – Miller can’t be nearly as terrible in 2015, and his upside is good production at SS with potentially some time in the outfield. Combine that with Smith and Montero (and Weeks, if an gun is to my head) and that will eliminate the need for punch-n-judy Willie taking up at-bats.

    – Zunino is a great defense catcher, pitch framer. and he’s more likely to eventually passably hit a major league curve and be a plus contact hitter than he is to become the 2nd coming of Dave Valle. Defense and dingers regardless.

    – Taylor is Miller insurance, and i hate even bringing him up because, like Young, he way outperformed his metrics. I think Miller has more potential upside, just a gut feeling more than anything.

    and the biggest two:

    – Theth Thmith and Ruggiano will be a far, far cry better (from right and left side of the plate!) than Endy Chavez and whoeverthehell Morrison’s platoon at 1b was last year. My god i’m so happy i actually am already blanking on his name. Better wrap this up before it comes back to me…

    – Yeah, you can argue he’ll regress a bit in Safeco, but Nelson Cruz is going to feel like a 20 WAR improvement over the atrocities we committed at DH last year. And with Rugg, Smith, Miller, Jones, Jackson, Ackley, etc… Lloyd will never even get the crazy idea to give him reps in the outfield!

    Honestly the only 2 things that i found sour this offseason have basically been addressed – Saunders loss (poor guy, snakebit to put it mildly)is now a net JA Happ gain till at least the all star break. . And I really did wanna see ichiro come back from an emotional standpoint, altho Smith/Ruggiano/Miller offers a ton more upside in RF. Ichiro could have helped last years Mariners immensely.

    And folks, we’re going to be a ton better than last years Mariners. Can’t wait. 🙂

  10. heyoka on February 28th, 2015 6:20 pm


    This is Justin Smoak’s year.

  11. MrZDevotee on March 1st, 2015 12:33 pm

    Yeah, I wasn’t referring specifically to Elias, but moreso just referring to the fact that what Young and Elias gave us combined for the first half of the season was delightfully unexpected. So much so, no one would have even expected them to even be on the roster 3 weeks before the season. And then, the confusing part for me is that folks seem to see that as simple to do, so that 87 wins should be easy again, and it’ll be a shame if we don’t win more than that.

    I’m happily optimistic, but I think the window extends pretty easily below 80 wins, as a possibility, while maybe as high as 95 too. This team seems to have an exceptional variance to what it can accomplish this year, based on a) can the pitching staff put up the same results, b) how much better will our DH numbers ultimately be, c) can Austin Jackson return to being Austin Jackson, d) will the outfield platoon experiments work out, e) do we actually have a playoff caliber SS on our roster, etc.

    The fanboy side of me wants the best record in the AL, pushing hopefully 95 wins, with a Cy Young winning King leading the M’s in a 4 game sweep of the World Series… The beaten down Mariner fan side of me is hoping for anything over 80 wins, and for Cano, Jackson and Cruz to not all slip over the cliff of decline at the same time. And for Felix to not have the first serious injury of his career (knock on an entire forest of Giant Redwoods)…

  12. Woodcutta on March 1st, 2015 12:33 pm

    I thought it was Jesus Montero’s year.

  13. davepaisley on March 1st, 2015 3:04 pm

    Sure we got some pleasant surprises last year, but we also got:

    a) 2 months of the Abe “oops” Almonte experiment
    b) way too much of the James “empty average” Jones experiment
    c) a whole bunch of Dustin Lackley
    d) a second half of Elias running out of gas and tanking
    e) numerous tightrope wire Erasmo starts
    f) Brad Miller forgetting how to hit
    g) a rookie catcher who didn’t have time to practice not swinging at crap
    h) The first base tilt-a-wheel
    i) Michael Saunders annual injury roulette game (plus bonus McClendon doghouse spell)
    j) Austin Jackson forgetting how to hit after being traded
    k) The DH black hole

    I mean, really, way more things went wrong than went right. Some of those woulds were self-inflicted (hello, Lloyd!) but less than half of those should be a problem this year.

  14. davepaisley on March 1st, 2015 3:06 pm

    Oh, and missing Walker and Paxton for most of the season, and Iwakuma for the start, all of which easily balance out the pleasant surprises of Young and first half Elias.

  15. eponymous coward on March 1st, 2015 4:41 pm

    I’m happily optimistic, but I think the window extends pretty easily below 80 wins, as a possibility, while maybe as high as 95 too. This team seems to have an exceptional variance to what it can accomplish this year, based on a) can the pitching staff put up the same results, b) how much better will our DH numbers ultimately be, c) can Austin Jackson return to being Austin Jackson, d) will the outfield platoon experiments work out, e) do we actually have a playoff caliber SS on our roster, etc.

    This isn’t 2006, where our strategy for some positions was “Jose Lopez (insert name of different prospect here) better be good because otherwise there’s f**k-all in the system behind him”. We have Miller AND Taylor, and just traded Franklin. That’s 3 SS’s coming up through the system in the space of a couple years, all of whom look at least promising.

    Could bad things happen? Sure. Look at the Rangers; they went from good team to fighting the Astros for 4th place pretty fast with injuries. But you’d have to be in active denial to not see that the M’s are finally, finally doing something right, the most important thing you can do to win; producing significant internal talent from the farm system on a year to year basis. Good teams produce pleasant surprises in the talent base like Roenis Elias; that’s what you need to do to win consistently.

  16. davepaisley on March 1st, 2015 5:41 pm

    Oh yeah, Justin Smoak…

    See, we’re also not praying that “this is the year Justin Smoak turns the corner”.

    (Well, he did, but it turns out he walked right into a mugger).

  17. MrZDevotee on March 1st, 2015 9:22 pm

    Okay, okay… I’m stepping out onto the ice of “believe”, but am I the only one who hears a cracking sound?

  18. djw on March 2nd, 2015 9:50 pm

    My only concern is for the most part people are overlooking the incredible luck Chris Young had last year. I think it will be difficult to replicate that sort of luck,

    This would make a lot more sense if we were relying on Chris Young, or a remotely similar player, in our rotation. Parts of our rotation could, obviously, get hurt or underperform–pitchers are pitchers, after all–but this is a weird way to frame that worry.

  19. MrZDevotee on March 3rd, 2015 2:19 pm

    The point being we need JA Happ to put up an ERA+ of 100 to match Chris Young (Happ’s averaged around 90 the past 3 years), and whoever is number 5 to put up a 95 ERA+.

    We had 4 starters with ERA+ above 100 last season. That’s not easy to replicate. Only Felix and Kuma were over 100 in 2013, as a comparison.

    Those are super solid numbers for a 4 & 5. That’s my entire point, people are assuming it will be easy for the starters (specifically Happ and Elias/Walker/Ramirez) to replicate the success we had last year.

    Can we? Absolutely. But I’m simply supposing that falling below that is probably as likely as having 4 guys over 100 again. And then wondering how much the offense can offset that if it happens.

  20. Mariner.lovechild on March 4th, 2015 7:15 am

    checkin’ in from China to say:

    I’m in. Every year. Let’s ‘effin roll and do this thing M’s.

    ‘bummed I won’t be back until late September, so give me good box scores to look at! It’s all Ackley this year. I can feel it… or maybe that’s just the bai jiu I just drank.

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