Last Updated: 2019-03-04
You may have spent the first part of the offseason wondering how a team that went 89-73 could go into full-fledged rebuild mode. Well, the Seattle Mariners didn’t have the true performance of an 89-73 team. In fact, they were far from it. Seattle posted a 77-85 Pythagorean Win-Loss record and managed to be 16 games over .500 while being outscored on the season by 34 runs.
Amazingly, that isn’t even the biggest smoke and mirrors performance in recent memory. The Texas Rangers had a 13-game difference between their actual win-loss record and their Pythagorean Win-Loss record in 2016. They were a 95-67 team that actually won the American League West AND had the best record in the AL. They were swept out of the playoffs by the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rangers were 78-84 the following season.
Right or wrong, GM Jerry Dipoto, who has basically traded two-thirds of the 40-man roster since arriving in Seattle after some “disagreements” with ownership and Mike Scioscia in Anaheim, has taken this roster down quite a few pegs going into 2019. In fairness, it makes sense, as the Astros are the clear-cut favorites in the division this season and probably next season before some serious financial decisions have the chance to impede progress.
The A’s are in a pretty good spot right now and the Angels still have the best player on the planet. It isn’t a bad time to rebuild, but the returns from Dipoto’s trades haven’t exactly drawn rave reviews in the scouting community or in baseball circles.
This wasn’t a great roster. There were a lot of high-priced veteran players in their mid-to-late 30s sucking up financial resources. The farm system wasn’t particularly strong. It was a team headed for a downfall anyway, so the plan from Dipoto’s point of view was to create some more financial flexibility and gradually get younger.
Whether or not he did a good job remains to be seen, but this is going to be a team that wins 70-something games with an Opening Day payroll exceeding $140 million. It is going to likely be a long and excruciating year at Safeco Field. Felix Hernandez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Anthony Swarzak are all expensive guys that will be gone next season, but the Mariners already have almost $90 million in committed money on the books for 2020. Woof.
To make matters worse, this was already a team in line for significant regression. Along with the huge record gap from the alternate standings metrics, the Mariners got at least 27 starts from their five primary starting pitchers and the three most effective relievers all worked at least 60 games. Teams usually aren’t that healthy the next year.
It’s going to be bad. Just how bad? Well, we may not know for sure because more trades could very well be coming during the season, but we can at least see how the Mariners stack up right now.
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 89-73
Run Differential: -34
Pythagorean W/L: 77-85
BaseRuns Record: 81-81
BaseRuns Run Differential: -4 (4.31/4.33)
3rd Order Win% Record: 82.0-80.0
Record in One-Run Games: 36-21
Additions: Mallex Smith, Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnacion, Domingo Santana, Omar Narvaez, Tim Beckham, Yusei Kikuchi, Hunter Strickland, Anthony Swarzak, Cory Gearrin, Zac Rosscup, Brandon Brennan, Jose Lobaton, Austin Nola, Dustin Ackley, Shed Long, Tim Lopes, Dylan Moore, JP Crawford, Orlando Calixte, Dom Thompson-Williams, Tito Polo, Jarred Kelenic, Jake Fraley, Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, Tommy Milone, Nabil Crismatt, Richardo Sanchez, Justin Dunn, Gerson Bautista, Ruben Alaniz, Tyler Danish, Tayler Scott, Robinson Leyer, Jorgan Cavanerio, Ichiro Suzuki
Losses: Gordon Beckham, Andrew Romine, Nelson Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Denard Span, Zach Duke, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Hisashi Iwakuma, Michael Plassmeyer, Guillermo Heredia, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Alex Colome, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, Jean Segura, Noah Zavolas, Ben Gamel, Josh Stowers
Jerry Dealin’ Dipoto was on brand this winter. There are a lot of names there. To be completely honest with you, there are a lot of players on the additions list that intrigue me. Guys like Mallex Smith, Domingo Santana, Yusei Kikuchi, Hunter Strickland, Anthony Swarzak, Dom Thompson-Williams, and Justus Sheffield are all worth watching this season.
The problem for the Mariners is that a lot of last year’s big leaguers that were worth watching are gone. James Paxton, Alex Colome, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, and even guys like Mike Zunino and Ben Gamel, all played a huge role for last year’s team. That was a team that won 89 games, albeit with quite a bit of luck and a high win rate in close games.
Rebuilding certainly isn’t a bad idea for the Mariners, especially as the end of the Astros’ reign atop the division is on the horizon. Suffice it to say that Dipoto got a head start.
BA: .254 (8th)
OBP: .314 (18th)
SLG: .408 (15th)
wOBA: .313 (19th)
wRC+: 101 (8th)
BABIP: .295 (13th)
K%: 20.1% (4th)
BB%: 7.1% (27th)
Admittedly, it seems sort of disingenuous to list the 2018 ranks given how much roster turnover there has been with this team. The 2019 Mariners look virtually nothing like the 2018 Mariners. In fact, the only holdovers in the lineup are Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon, and bench players like David Freitas, Ryon Healy, and Kristopher Negron. Even if Tim Beckham gets beat out by JP Crawford for the starting shortstop gig, he’s a new guy as well. It’s also likely that Jose Lobaton takes over for Freitas.
I have to say that I think there has been a pretty big overreaction about the Mariners. This was a fade team to begin with, given the 12-win gap in actual record vs. Pythagorean win-loss and also with the eight-win gap in BaseRuns record. In a lot of ways, this lineup doesn’t seem to be that much worse to me. Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano are big losses, but Edwin Encarnacion is a lite version of Cruz and Cano’s production can be picked up by guys like Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana.
If there were any concerns about Mitch Haniger’s sustainability following his 2017 season with a .282/.352/.491 slash, a .360 wOBA, and a 130 wRC+, they were answered in 2018. He posted a .285/.366/.493 slash, a .367 wOBA, and a 138 wRC+. He just makes a lot of solid contact and it’s good that the Mariners managed to keep him.
Among the other holdovers, Kyle Seager is due for a bounce back effort. Seager’s K% rose five percent and he went from a .326 wOBA and a 107 wRC+ to a .288 wOBA and an 84 wRC+. His average exit velocity actually increased last season, though he barreled up fewer balls. He went from a 33.8 percent Hard Hit rate to a 39.6 percent Hard Hit rate. Seager should see gains in the BB% department and improvements in the K% department to go along with better contact quality overall. There’s some surplus value in him for 2019.
Another glass half-full guy for me is Domingo Santana. There simply weren’t enough at bats to go around in Milwaukee for Santana. He’s only one season removed from 30 HR, 15 SB, and a .372 wOBA with a 127 wRC+. He was even worth 3.3 fWAR during that 2017 season. I actually like this outfield a lot, as Mallex Smith possesses a good contact tool and a lot of speed and Haniger’s production speaks for itself.
I do worry about guys like Edwin Encarnacion, who posted the highest K% of his career and his lowest BB% since 2011. The park factor in Cleveland wasn’t nearly as good for righties as it was for lefties, but Eddie now goes to Safeco Field, which could hurt his numbers even further. We’ll see if Jay Bruce can get back on track, but I wouldn’t buy that stock with a bum knee and declining contact quality. He’ll turn 32 in the opening week of the season, but he feels a lot older.
Dee Gordon is what he is, but that isn’t overly valuable in today’s game. JP Crawford may never hit. Omar Narvaez has good walk rate and provides tremendous offensive value as a catcher, but the limited power production will go down further with his new home park. Ryon Healy doesn’t get on base enough.
This is a really high-variance offense. If the over-30 crowd can bounce back, then this is an offense that could be a lot better than expected. Unfortunately, as Eno Sarris wrote about for The Athletic ($), aging curves are happening earlier and earlier.
ERA: 4.13 (17th)
FIP: 4.05 (14th)
xFIP: 4.06 (13th)
K%: 21.9% (17th)
BB%: 6.6% (1st)
LOB%: 72.5% (17th)
Once again, looking back at past performance doesn’t really help us. I’ve been using those 2018 ranks as a general overview to seek out some regression or look for areas where a team could improve or regress. With the Mariners, it’s hard to see anything other than regression in most of those metrics because the team’s two best pitchers no longer wear Seattle uniforms.
James Paxton and Edwin Diaz were shipped out in separate deals. Time will tell how the Mariners did in trading their two best assets, but what we know in 2019 is that the rotation and the bullpen have a much different feel.
Ironically, the only addition to the Seattle rotation is Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi. Kikuchi comes over after eight seasons in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, where he worked 1,035.1 innings and posted a 2.77 ERA with a 3.17 RA-9 and a 903/371 K/BB ratio. It is hard to tell how Kikuchi will adjust to the big leagues, but he did strike out 23.4 percent of the batters he faced last season. Mike Axisa of CBS Sports did a deep dive on Kikuchi and his arsenal, including a cameo from Dennis Lin of The Athletic. It’s fair to say that Kikuchi is something of an unknown this season, but he’ll get every chance to shine for the Mariners.
Marco Gonzales was one of baseball’s best stories last season. After several injury-plagued seasons with the Cardinals, Gonzales managed to stay healthy and worked 166.2 solid innings with a 4.00 ERA, a 3.43 FIP, and a 3.59 xFIP. A few bad starts in August really skewed his second half numbers, but he was great in both July and September, holding hitters to a .228 wOBA and a .211 wOBA, respectively. Outside of Kikuchi, he has the most upside in a rotation that features the corpse of Felix Hernandez, the contact-heavy approach of Mike Leake, and the hope-and-pray stylings of Wade LeBlanc.
At least Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson are coming quickly and the Mariners also have the opportunity to turn to Max Povse or Tommy “Always Seems To Find a Taker” Milone.
The bullpen is completely rebuilt. It looks like former Giant Hunter Strickland will get the first crack at saves and Anthony Swarzak will attempt to turn the clock back to 2017 as the primary setup man. This is a motley crew to say the least, with a bunch of fringy dudes like Shawn Armstrong, Zac Rosscup, and Roenis Elias that have been on the taxi squad up and down from the big leagues to Triple-A.
Positives & Negatives
The expectations for this team are non-existent. Nobody expects the Mariners to do much of anything this season, but a lot of these guys have well-defined chips on their shoulders. What the Mariners lack in consistency, they make up for in motivation. The over-30 crowd is hoping to prove that last season’s drop-offs were just a minor setback. The young guys are looking to carve out a niche. The “woe is us” sentiment is not going to be visible.
Paxton and Diaz accounted for exactly 25 percent of Seattle’s total pitching strikeouts. As you saw above, the Mariners were 17th in K%. This is a defense that is going to have to track down a ton of batted balls this season. The Mariners weren’t very good defensively last season, but Smith in center field over Gordon is a big upgrade. Still, I’m always skeptical of teams that don’t miss bats. It makes it so hard to get out of those run-scoring situations and it puts a lot more pressure on the offense to perform.
Pick: Over 71.5
I really do like this offense. It sets up as a group that has a lot of average players and trotting out seven or eight average or better position players is a luxury that a lot of teams don’t have. Of course, there are concerns, like whether or not Kyle Seager can bounce back and whether or not the tank is approaching empty for Edwin Encarnacion. My love of Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana may have me a tad too optimistic about the offense.
I can’t really get past the pitching staff. There isn’t a single top 125 pitcher in the bullpen and the starting rotation is really scary. If Kikuchi can be a front-line starter, things look a little bit better, but three of the starters are over 30 and the one that isn’t just tripled his career MLB innings output last season.
The bullpen looks like the Island of Misfit Toys and is projected to be one of the worst in baseball.
I decided to go against the grain and pick the over. It’s a no play for me, but every write-up needs a pick and this line has just gotten too low in my estimation. It was 74.5 when I started writing and went down to 71.5 by time of publishing. The Mariners have enough talent to avoid 90 losses.
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