In 2016, the Mariners had the 10th best run differential in the MLB and missed the playoffs. Similarly, the Mariners finished 10th in Pythagorean Win-Loss record (i.e, expected win-loss record). So in theory, the Mariners performed as the 10th best team in the MLB. Expected to be 87-75, the Mariners were 86-76. A ten win improvement from 2015, the Mariners should have been happy, but the Mariners were sad. 2016 marked the 15th straight year that the Mariners were sad. The reason the Mariners have been sad, is because not making the playoffs is sad. How sad?
The Mariners owned a record neither better than the Orioles nor the Blue Jays, who both happened to be the AL Wild Card teams. And that is how you miss the playoffs! Losing to a terrible Athletics team in a massively important game is also a really good way to miss the playoffs.
This year, the Mariners have a completely new look, and so they will win in very different ways.
The 2016 Mariners blew AL West teams out of the water in run differential (a good predictor of win percentage), but still finished nine games behind the Astros. This year, their offense is projected to score less runs than the Astros and Rangers, and their pitching is projected to be slightly worse than the Astros and Angels. The Astros, clearly, are going to be extremely good because of their potent offense, likely the best in the AL, and underrated pitching.
After much roster turnover since the Jack Zduriencik days, the Mariners finally have something close to the philosophy that Jerry Dipoto has envisioned. Get on base, play good defense, pitch well, and control the zone (on offense and pitching). The biggest difference with our new Mariners is the ability to play stellar outfield defense, and Segura should be an upgrade for Ketel Marte. Mostly on offense, but also defense as well.
The offense is less potent, yet still potent. That’s the trade-off you take when increasing a team’s defense. Hopefully that defense will help stave a very volatile, uninspiring starting rotation that could be pretty bad. Before Drew Smyly was put on the DL, things didn’t feel great. Now that Drew Smyly is on the DL, things especially don’t feel great. While the depth of pitchers overall is good, the dropoff is pretty significant from Paxton and Smyly to Felix and Kuma, and even further to Yovani Gallardo. Dipoto purely wants volume of innings from Gallardo, which is understandable. Every pitcher in the rotation has dealt with injuries in the past, and no one seems like a sure thing to stay healthy. That is where the value of 180-200 innings from Gallardo comes in. He’s a Kevin Millwood-esque #5 who is surely not sexy but valuable in his own mediocre way. I personally prefer Chris Heston to both Ariel Miranda and Gallardo but that’s just me.
Theoretically the lineup has no black holes, but Zunino and Martin have the potential to be worse than mediocre. I don’t think it’s likely, but lucky for them they both are premier defenders at their respective positions if they do wet the bed.
Projection system overperformers
Projection systems are not perfect. In fact, they’re very imperfect. What’s great is they objectively take statistics, and they make estimates based on previous performances and the natural aging curve. Players generally get better as they age, and after age 30 they get worse. It’s pretty simple.
On a yearly basis, players overperform and underperform projections. In this way, projections even out. Players like Nelson Cruz hit until they’re 40, and players like Rich Hill become studs seemingly out of nowhere. On the flip side, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper-types become superstars not long after they are 20 years old.
As such, the Mariners have a couple players who are hopeful candidates for stronger performances than projection systems like ZiPS and Steamer account for.
Over the offseason, Jerry Dipoto unloaded an underwhelming Tajuan Walker for a rejuvenated Jean Segura. It was a sell-low, buy-high situation, but it is a trade that I fully co-sign.
Last season, Segura was one of the best shortstops in the league. He played solid enough defense, and showcased a .319/.368/.499 triple slash (.371 wOBA, 126 wRC+) with 33 stolen bases and 20 dingers. It was a far better season than his 2014 and 2015 seasons, and an improvement from 2013. There are reasons to think that 2016 was an unsustainable year for Segura.
Case 1: Segura’s BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play) was .353. What that means is for every ball that Segura put into play (strikeouts, walks, sacrifices, and home runs do not count), his batting average was .353. BABIPs can fluctuate due to bad luck, or consistently hard or weakly hit balls. Generally, the average player’s BABIP will hover around .300. However, speedier players often have higher BABIPs because they can beat out batted balls in the infield. Segura is a speedy player.
Segura’s career BABIP is .314, which seems normal. That said, his future BABIP is likely to fall somewhere in between his .314 career BABIP and 2016 .353 BABIP.
Segura was solid in 2013. Segura was one of the league’s worst hitters in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, he was a very good hitter. What the projections have decided is that if Segura has been extremely bad and extremely good, he’s probably somewhere in between. This is reasonable enough logic.
Case 2: In 2014, Jean Segura’s nine-month old son passed away due to illness. 2014 was also the year that Jean Segura’s performance on the baseball field took a nosedive. If you can imagine, one of the worst things that can happen to a person is losing a child. An even worse thing is losing a child that has yet to reach the age of one.
Projections don’t have feelings. Jean Segura has feelings! ZiPS and Steamer unfortunately don’t know that Jean Segura lost his son, but we do. This is one way that we can try and beat projections at their own game.
There’s a hole in this logic. That hole is that leading up to Segura losing his son, he owned a .232/.266/.315 triple slash in 316 plate appearances. Upon returning, he actually improved his line to .271/.328/.348.
For the Mariners, the hope is that Segura plays more like 2016 than 2014 and 2015.
What Steamer says: .273/.316/.395, 12 HRs, 24 SBs
What ZiPS says: .269/.308/.393, 13 HRs, 30 SBs
What I say: .285/.345/.440, 16 HRs, 28 SBs
Haniger has 34 major league games to pull from, and he wasn’t good. In spite of this, the sample was extremely small, he ran into bad luck (.256 BABIP), and a year ago he overhauled his swing. His triple-A performance was nothing short of dominant and some actually view Haniger as the headliner to the Segura-Walker trade.
Because of the small sample of 2016 appearances and his minor league pedigree, I’ll take the over on his 2017 projections.
What Steamer says: .249/.309/.412, 18 HRs, 7 SBs
What ZiPS says: .237/.302/.409, 18 HRs, 7 SBs
What I say: .260/.325/.440, 20 HRs, 8 SBs
Zunino was one of the worst hitters ever in 2015. In 2016 he mashed in Triple-A, and he looked improved against major league competition. He’s always going to strikeout around 25-30%, but it looks like he’s going to walk more and continue to play great defense.
His 2016 performance is probably something like his 2017.
What Steamer says: .220/.289/.412, 16 HRs, 1 SB
What ZiPS says: .216/.288/.418, 22 HRs, 0 SB
What I say: .225/.315/.430, 20 HRs, 0 SB
Our poor Leonys spent much of 2016 dealing with a bum hamstring. Not only was he battling his hamstring issue, but because of his integral role in the outfield’s defense, he wasn’t able to play as hard as his hamstrings would allow. Working with Edgar Martinez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz has helped his swing, and it’s of my opinion that his hamstring hampered his offense, defense, and baserunning.
Martin is probably the one I think beats his projections the most (save for maybe Jean Segura).
What Steamer says: .242/.298/.363, 10 HRs, 17 SBs
What ZiPS says: .246/.298/.371, 11 HRs. 22 SBs
What I say: .245/.315/.410, 19 HRs, 30 SBs
As for pitching, I don’t have as strong of opinions about those projections. Felix will likely be a tad better than 2016, but surely not someone deserving of being a #1 pitcher in a rotation. Gallardo might suck less. Zych, Cishek, Diaz, Scribner, and Vincent are going to ballers in the bullpen.
Happy Almost Mariners Baseball Day!