Thursday, January 31, 2013

2013 ZiPS Projections for Mariners: Oh, the Humanity!

Surprise!
Early Wednesday morning, the ZiPS projections were released for the 2013 Seattle Mariners.  You can find a short article here on FanGraphs if you'd like to take a look for yourself.  I'll be a little more in-depth and, hopefully, a little more pessimistic.  I can only imagine what being a Pirates or Royals fan would be like considering their respective team's prolonged mediocrity.  As a Mariners fan, it's hard to be optimistic in the first place, but then you have projection systems such as ZiPS to help give creedence to your pessimism.  For us fans, it's become a fact of life.

Rather than put everything into a lump and hope it makes sense, we'll go through the different areas of the team and break it down some.  We won't look at counting stats as much as advanced stuff, like OPS+, ERA+, etc. mostly because the counting stats such as home runs can be quite varied from season to season and the advanced stats are a better depiction of predicted value.  I'm also sticking to FanGraphs WAR since the projections are being placed on that particular site.  For ERA+, ZiPS used an average league ERA of 4.09 in the AL.

Keeping in mind, I'm mainly only going to go through the players that will likely get the most playing time with the big league club.  ZiPS also projects guys in the minors and bench players, but you'd have to convert depending on what level they land at and the playing time they'll get and since converting is more math than anybody wants to read, we'll stick to the regulars.  We also don't know how the new Safeco Field dimensions will play, so the projections are likely to be a little low for hitters and high for pitchers.  With that said, we start with the infielders after the jump.

INFIELDERS/DH

Going right down the list, Dustin Ackley is the first victim.  He's projected to have an OPS+ of 98 and a WAR of 3.4, both improvements over last season with 79/1.4 respectively.  Since he was reportedly hurt most of last season, a bump would be expected in his 2013 numbers.  The projections may still be a little low, but probably not by much.  He'll probably have a season close to what the projections indicate, which is perfectly acceptable.

Kyle Seager is projected to have another decent season, albeit slightly under his 2012 stats.  His projected numbers of a 103 OPS+ and 2.7 WAR are lower than his 2012 numbers of 110/3.6, which is fair considering he was never expected to be the player he was in 2012.  His production may fall slightly in the upcoming season, but even with a small decline, Seager would still be worth his weight in baseballs.

Brendan Ryan.  Need I say more?  Probably not, but I will anyway.  Last season, his numbers were a little subpar where offense is concerned.  He had a 61 OPS+ and a WAR of 1.7, most of that coming from his defense.  ZiPS projects him as a slightly better hitter next year, projecting an OPS+ of 71 and a WAR of 2.0.  Any way you slice it, that's still pretty horrible, but he makes up for it in defense and a slight bump in his offensive output next year will only increase his value to the team.

Jesus Montero's season last year was a slight disappointment, but he was a 22 year old catcher still learning the position and adjusting to the big leagues in his first full season.  Expecting 30-40 home runs and a 170 OPS+ would have been wildly optimistic.  Even so, he managed an OPS+ of 95 and a WAR of -0.2, most of the negative value on his WAR coming from his fielding.  Montero projects to improve on 2012's rookie campaign with an OPS+ of 103 and 2.5 WAR.  I'm not entirely sure his WAR will end up that high with his defense, but stranger things have happened.

Because he's still, for all intents and purposes, still the incumbent first baseman, Justin Smoak is next up.  In case you've forgotten his 2012 season except September, he ended the season with an OPS+ of 87 and a -0.3 WAR.  Where Montero's defense hurt his WAR, the same can't be said for Smoak.  As a first baseman, it's expected he'd be at least somewhat productive in the lineup, but has yet to prove he can.  If September was not a fluke last season, his projected 98 OPS+ and 1.0 WAR may be low-balling it.  If it was a fluke, look out.

Zunino was included in the ZiPS projections, but with him likely starting in the minors this season, I didn't want to get anybody's hopes up.  He could come up midseason and absolutely rake, but less than half a season in the minors is an indication that he's a baseball player.  Expecting the moon from a kid is like expecting the mothership to land and take you back to your home planet of Zymghausn.

I'm putting Kendrys Morales in this section because it would be pointless to do a Designated Hitter section.  All signs point to Morales being the main DH for the season and he can also play first base, so in this section he shall go.  Last season, in his first full season coming off a major injury, Morales hit to the tune of a 121 OPS + and 1.8 WAR.  Most of the WAR came from offense, since he was mainly a DH with the Angels last year.  He projects to have a 115 OPS+ and 1.3 WAR next year, which may be an effect of what the ballpark is expected to do to his numbers.  He may end up exceeding expectations and I'd bet the $2 I have in my pocket that he will.

OUTFIELDERS

And now we start the outfield.  First up is the oft injured Franklin Gutierrez.  Granted, his playing time is questionable with his injury history, but hey, who knows?  Guti's projection for next season is on par with his 2010 season, when he had an 87 OPS+ and 2.1 WAR.  He's projected for an 86 OPS+ and 1.7 WAR.  Since he's been hurt the last two seasons, I combined them to see what he's done.  That's not exactly fair, but it was either that or go back three years and toss a nickel into the wishing well.  In '11-'12, Guti had an OPS+ of 71 and a WAR of around 1.  If he can stay healthy throughout the season, we may get to see Guti as he once was before he's either traded or becomes a free agent.

Last season, Michael Saunders fell one home run shy of a 20/20 season.  He had a season closer to what we've been waiting for and ended 2012 with a 110 OPS+ and 2.3 WAR.  For next season, ZiPS has him with a 94 OPS+ and 1.4 WAR.  Its entirely possible he could regress, since one season of gooey offensive goodness is proof he can have one season of gooey offensive goodness.  If he can replicate 2012 and prove last season wasn't just a blip on the radar, surpassing his projections, I think we may have a pretty decent outfielder for a little while.  He took major steps in improving his offense last season and if it holds, it wouldn't surprise me at all if we look back at 2013 and find he laughed in the face of ZiPS.

Casper Wells may end up a platoon guy again this season since the Mariners have 57 outfielders on the roster, but even so, he was a producer with the 2012 Mariners.  In limited time, he had an OPS+ of 99 and a WAR of 1.2.  That's not exactly mind-boggling, but keep in mind he played mainly against left handers last season.  If he plays full time (unlikely, but maybe) he could add a little more pop in a lineup that needs it.  ZiPS says an OPS + of 95 and a WAR of 1.1 next season.  Given that he's in his prime and the lowest OPS+ of his career is 99, I'd take the over on those numbers.

Mike Morse is a newcomer and will have to readjust to the American League style of pitching.  He'll provide some much needed power in the middle of the lineup, indicated by his 112 OPS+ in an injury shortened season.  That's going to be the big thing with Morse, staying healthy.  If he can do that, he may very well exceed his projected 103 OPS+ and 0.9 WAR.  Morse had a 0.3 WAR in 2012, but in his case, WAR doesn't mean a lot offensively since his defense kills it.  Here's hoping he can stay healthy and laugh right alongside Saunders.

Eric Thames is the other side of the Wells platoon and can mash.  Unfortunately, doing it on a regular basis hasn't happened yet.  Then again, he's a 26 year old who hasn't played a full season of major league ball.  Not due to injury, but because he hasn't gotten the chance yet.  He got his OPS+ to 87 last season and a WAR of -0.5 between Seattle and Toronto.  Thames is projected to have an 89 OPS+ and 0.0 WAR next season, which is probably about where it'll end up being.  He could end up hitting the ground running and show he's an every day type of hitter and fielder, but right now, his projections would seem to be about right for his expected playing time.

It's doubtful any of the other outfielders will get regular or platoon playing time and I'm not including them in this.  Bay may end up in the minors or cut, Ibanez isn't supposed to be a regular and Carp has basically been replaced by Thames in the outfield.  He could play first, but so could a few other guys that are, quite simply, better than he is. 

STARTING PITCHERS

For pitchers, I'm going to stick with ERA+ and WAR, even though WAR isn't exactly the best way to measure a pitcher.  Last season, Felix Hernandez did what Felix Hernandez does.  He ended the season with a 122 ERA+ and 6.1 WAR.  Felix is still Felixing and that's not expected to change.  He's projected for an ERA+ of 121 and a WAR of 4.8.  I think those numbers might be a little low, but even so, I'd take that all day every day.

From there, the rotation pretty much falls off a cliff.  That's more an indication of how good Felix is rather than how bad the rest of the rotation is.  Although, after Hisashi Iwakuma, it doesn't look too good.  Iwakuma surprised everybody by actually being decent.  Part of that was the ballpark, but he's also a good mid-rotation guy.  Between starting and the bullpen, he finished the season with an ERA+ of 118 and a 0.8 WAR.  Seeing as how it was his first year in the majors and he only threw 125 1/3 innings last year, it's difficult to say whether the projected 95 ERA+ and 1.3 WAR are spot on, high or low.  I think he's a slightly better pitcher than a 95 ERA+, but we won't know for sure until October.

Erasmo Ramirez's 2012 season was held down due to injury, so the sample size isn't much to go on.  Since I've done it for everybody else though, his ERA+ last season was 112 with a WAR of 0.9.  That's in only 59 innings of work, so take it for what it's worth.  He's projected to have an 88 ERA+ and 1.0 WAR in 2013, which could be a little low.  It's hard to know for sure with the small sample size of 2012 and he ends up in the same boat as Iwakuma.  We have one year of major league experience to go on, so a guess at this point as to whether projections are right or not would be a completely baseless guess.

Blake Beavan probably has a rotation spot locked up for next season, so I'll put his in here, even though it goes against everything I stand for.  At the end of last season, Beavan's ERA+ was 84 with a WAR of 0.3.  You know what you're going to get with him when he's on the mound, and his projected 78 ERA+ and 0.2 WAR can't be too far off the mark.  It's entirely possible he ended up finding whatever fountain the Orioles were drinking from last season and stored some for himself, but I don't think its very likely.

The Mariners are still looking for a veteran starter, so Hector Noesi may end up in Triple-A this season.  There's always the possibility Hultzen takes the baseball and runs screaming from Tacoma all the way to the starting rotation, but I'm guessing Seattle signs another veteran to put into the rotation until one of the younger guys is ready, a la Kevin Millwood.  Although, that didn't work too well last season since none of the prospect guys are ready.  And if you're one of the fans saying "put Walker in the rotation for 2013", it's not going to happen.  He's too young, doesn't have the experience and he'll get slaughtered in the majors.  He'll end up being one hell of a pitcher, but not in 2013 in Seattle.

RELIEVERS

Instead of going through these guys one by one, I'm going to do a catch-all type of thing.  Tom Wilhelmsen and Charlie Furbush are the only two relievers expected to be better than league average, with ERA+'s of 122 and 118, respectively.  Shawn Kelley projects to be right at league average with an ERA+ of 100 and Josh Kinney just under with an ERA+ of 96.  All of the other bullpen guys are projected to have an ERA+ of 85 or lower.  Both Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor had an ERA+ over 95 in limited major league action in 2012, so an ERA+ of 85 or less doesn't give a person the warm fuzzies.  I don't think either of those guys will end the season that far off the league average, though a little regression is expected.  Overall, the bullpen should be solid with few flaws throughout the season.  It may have some growing pains along the way, but I think we can all live with that.  I'd certainly hope so anyway.

And with that, we have the ZiPS projections for the main group of 2013 Seattle Mariners.  It's not a pretty sight to behold, but they're our little Seattle Mariners and we still love them.  There's room for optimism with regards to the youth of some of these guys, provided they continue to improve and don't all take one giant step back at the same time.  Some of the talent is still in the minors, waiting for their chance while others are already up, trying to find the right groove in which to settle.  2013 may not be all rainbows and glitter, but it has the potential to at least be interesting.

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