|Sportsbook||Win AL West||Win AL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 67.5 (BetOnline)|
Surely you’ve heard the expression “15 minutes of fame”. Well, the Seattle Mariners had 15 games of fame. Thought to be an absolute doormat, particularly after the trades of James Paxton and Edwin Diaz, the Mariners started the 2019 season with a 13-2 record after 15 games. They promptly lost six straight and wound up with a 26-39 record over their first 65 games.
That’s right, sports fans. The Mariners went from 13-2 in their first 15 to 13-37 in the next 50. When all was said and done for the season, the Mariners finished 68-94, so they went 55-92 over their last 147 games. It wasn’t even a great season for individual development. Mitch Haniger isn’t young at 28, but he was looking to build off of a mammoth 2018 and only played 63 games. New starting shortstop JP Crawford was limited to 93 games in his age-24 season.
Even on the pitching side, the Mariners didn’t see much from young guys. Marco Gonzales showed some promise in his age-27 season, but the team got 32 poor starts from Yusei Kikuchi and would up getting a lot of starts from has-beens and journeymen like Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, and Tommy Milone. Justus Sheffield threw 36 innings to start his MLB career and Erik Swanson looked badly overmatched in his 58 innings. I’m not sure there were many silver linings for the Mariners coming off of such a lost season.
In all, the team used 67(!!) different players. Only eight of them were under 25 as of June 30th, which is how Baseball-Reference defines player age for that season. That isn’t the way you want to draw it up as a rebuilding team.
On the plus side, Seattle competed well against three of its division rivals. The Astros were the exception, as they won 18 of 19 games against the Mariners. The Mariners were 9-10 against both the Angels and A’s and 8-11 against the Rangers. So, at least there’s that. I guess that would be a shred of something to build off of going into 2020. In fact, the Mariners were actually 46-35 against teams with losing records. They just happened to be 22-59 against teams .500 or better. Only the Detroit Tigers had fewer wins with 19.
These are usually my least favorite teams to handicap from a win total standpoint. There isn’t much to latch on to from the previous season, so they are going to be bad again. Generally speaking, making a bet on exactly how bad (or how good) a team will be with a low win total (or a high win total) is a challenge. It’s what I like to call the Degree of Awful. Awful comes in a lot of forms. The Degree of Awful for a team might be 90 losses. It might be a team with a hideous Pythagorean Win-Loss record that gets blown out a ton, but manages to win close games. It might be 114 losses in a complete dumpster fire of a season like what the Tigers just endured.
The starting point for my win total capping is to figure out the floor and the ceiling. When the floor and ceiling are pretty close, as they seem to be in the case of the Mariners, it can be a real tough task to pick a side, which I do on every team in this guide.
Let’s evaluate the roster and see if we can find areas of improvement or if the song will remain the same. Just imagine where the Mariners would have been last season without the 13-2 start!
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-88 (4.73/5.28)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||72.0-90.0|
|Record in One-Run Games||23-26|
|Additions: Collin Cowgill, Cody Anderson, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Yoshihisa Hirano, Alen Hanson, Carl Edwards Jr., Patrick Wisdom, Dustin Garneau, Kendall Graveman, Adam Hill, Nestor Cortes Jr., Jose Siri, Nick Margevicius, Sam Haggerty, Yohan Ramirez, Phillips Valdez|
|Losses: Domingo Santana, Tim Beckham, Arodys Vizcaino, Felix Hernandez, Tommy Milone, Keon Broxton, Chasen Bradford, Connor Sadzeck, Ryon Healy, Wade LeBlanc, Omar Narvaez, Ricardo Sanchez, Reggie McClain, Anthony Bass, Matt Wisler|
Some people are addicted to meth. Some people are addicted to heroin. Some people are addicted to sex. Or gambling. Or alcohol. Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto is addicted to trading. DiPoto became the Mariners GM on September 28, 2015. He completed his 100th trade on August 10, 2019. The fine folks over @CespedesBBQ listed all 100 at the time of that benchmark deal. At the time, he had completed trades with 25 of the league’s 30 teams.
DiPoto sure is active. I like some of the moves this season. Wei-Yin Chen is the new Wade LeBlanc and he could do well in an environment like T-Mobile Park. Yoshihisa Hirano could very well be the closer, though that says something about the state of the bullpen. Carl Edwards Jr. and Taijuan Walker are actually my favorite grabs of the bunch, but there are some interesting players on the additions list, including Nestor Cortes Jr.
The players on the subtraction list aren’t that of a big deal. A lot of those guys played key roles on a bad team last season. Anthony Bass was terrific in the second half, so he could be a loss to the bullpen, but Domingo Santana and Omar Narvaez are the only others that move the needle at all for me.
Walking a lot is great, but it certainly helps to do something with those baserunners. The fact of the matter is that the Mariners struck out too much and didn’t make enough quality contact. In fact, two of the top three players in fWAR for the Mariners were catchers Tom Murphy and Omar Narvaez. Murphy was actually one of the better defenders, but he also slashed .273/.324/.535 with a .355 wOBA and a 126 wRC+. He struck out a ton and didn’t walk enough, but hit 18 homers in 281 PA when he made contact.
There are a lot of questions about the offense. Mitch Haniger was limited to 63 games with 283 plate appearances last season and has already had surgery that will keep him out for a good portion of the season. Haniger slashed just .220/.314/.463 last season after a monster 2018 with a .285/.366/.493 slash and a .367 wOBA. That full-season sample was enough for people to believe that what he did in 2017 in 410 PA was also legit. Then injuries happened and now he has already had a procedure this season. I don’t know how much we want to count on Haniger for and if he can’t get back to his 2017-18 levels, the Mariners offense is going to suffer the consequences.
Kyle Seager had a really nice bounce back year after a poor 2018, but I worry about him if the ball is altered a lot. His BB% did come back up to 9.9%, which was huge because his BABIP numbers have been very poor the last three seasons. Seager has been something of a launch angle disciple over the last three years, but he’s middle of the pack in exit velocity and Hard Hit%. The projection systems put Seager around league average. I’m a little bit higher on him than that, but the Mariners really need him to be better than he has been. Last season’s contributions were fine, but it would be good to see another leap if possible.
There are some young players of interest for the Mariners. Shed Long had 168 PA and posted a .333 wOBA with a 111 wRC+. That isn’t bad at all in a limited sample size. Dan Vogelbach hit 30 homers and walked a ton with a 16.5% BB%, but his contact quality is a big question mark. It seems like he rode a big spike in launch angle to the power production and I have my doubts that he can repeat it this season. First-round draft picks Kyle Lewis and Evan White will feature prominently in the lineup. White, who was a top-100 prospect going into last season, had solid numbers in Double-A, but has to make a big leap this season with a low walk rate and some strikeout concerns.
Lewis is a huge upgrade defensively in the outfield and has shown a propensity to walk throughout his minor league career. If his power projection can graduate to the Majors, he could be a really good player for this team. He’ll turn 25 in July. Braden Bishop also walked a lot in the minors. The Mariners may generate some more traffic on the bases, but they need to guys with track records and the power to cash those opportunities in and I’m not real confident in that.
One plus for the Mariners is that they should be a bit better defensively this season. Last year they were 28th in the FanGraphs all-encompassing Def metric accounting for -31.5 runs. They were -86 defensive runs saved and among the worst in baseball in UZR. With guys like Domingo Santana (-17 DRS!), Narvaez (-20 DRS!), and Beckham gone, and some better options in the outfield other than Mallex Smith in CF, the Mariners should help their pitchers out some more.
There isn’t much to be excited about with this offense. The pitching has improved in the AL West with some of the additions for the Rangers and the Angels. The Mariners actually posted a .295/.370/.565 slash during that 13-2 start to the season. They hit 36 home runs(!) in those 15 games. In the other 147 games, they batted .231/.309/.408 and hit 203 home runs.
Ask yourself which sample size is more indicative of this Mariners team.
And their pitchers will need all the help that they can get. As you can see, the Mariners were 30th in LOB% last season, which is a reason how they wound up with a 5.00 ERA while pitching at a pretty good pitcher’s park half of the time. That being said, the FIP of 5.00 also says a lot. The Mariners were way too low in strikeouts given the current offensive environment. They just don’t have upside in the rotation.
The low ceiling for the rotation is on display again this season. Marco Gonzales is the de facto ace of the staff, though that could be Justus Sheffield by season’s end. Gonzales led the Mariners in fWAR with 3.7 and a 3.99 ERA, a 4.15 FIP, and a 5.11 xFIP. Credit to Gonzales for the sub-4 ERA with a 69.2% LOB%. He was much better at home than on the road, which makes a ton of sense, but his ERA splits do not. At home, Gonzales allowed a .284 wOBA with a 3.98 ERA. On the road, he allowed a .335 wOBA and a .471(!) SLG, but a 4.00 ERA. Sixteen of his 23 homers came on the road, where his ERA was only slightly higher. Why? His LOB% at home was 64.5% and it was 73.5% on the road. It was a weird year for Gonzales. I assume he’s around a 4.15 FIP guy again, but his road numbers were really bad and he’s likely a fade there.
Yusei Kikuchi’s rookie season was fascinating and not in a good way. He made 32 starts and worked 161.2 innings with a 5.46 ERA, a 5.71 FIP, and a 5.18 xFIP. His K% was too low and he allowed way too many homers. He gave up 36 gopher balls. He was awful in his last 21 starts with an ERA over 6.50 as the league got a better feel for him.
There was also this interesting nugget, though. Kikuchi had a 6.78 ERA against AL West teams in 15 starts. He was actually halfway decent against everybody else, allowing 47 earned runs in 94 innings for a 4.50 ERA. It wasn’t great, but Kikuchi got lit up by the teams that saw him the most. Can he change that this season? I’d be surprised and it is entirely possible he gets worse against everybody else with better advance scouting reports. He may simply be a bust.
The Mariners have a bunch of pitch-to-contact guys. Erik Swanson spent last summer impersonating a Christmas tree with how often he got lit up in his MLB debut. Kendall Graveman, Nick Margevicius, and Wei-Yin Chen are all pitch-to-contact types. Chen, who worked as a reliever last season for the Marlins, was terrible home and away, but back in 2018, he had a 1.62 ERA in 78 innings at Marlins Park with a .230 wOBA against. Maybe he can tap into that reserve at T-Mobile Park.
Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are the ceiling guys. Sheffield had a bad 2019, though. He was good in Double-A for 12 starts, but struggled badly in the hitter-friendly PCL and then posted a 5.50 ERA with a 4.71 FIP and a 4.68 xFIP in 36 MLB innings. The Mariners are in a position to allow him to have some on-the-job training at the MLB level, but it’s fair to wonder if he is ready for that challenge yet.
Dunn made four late starts and had a 2.70 ERA, but had control problems. Dunn struck out a lot of batters in Double-A last season over 131.2 innings, but he also needs some more seasoning. This rotation could look a lot different late in the year, but I just don’t know if I like the ceiling of these guys for 2020.
The bullpen also looks pretty bad. Maybe Carl Edwards Jr. bounces back and Yoshihisa Hirano can be closer to his 2018 than his 2019. A bounce back in LOB% will help Hirano and he did see a nice strikeout spike last season, but he goes from an elite defensive team to a below average one, so the strikeout spike absolutely has to stick around for him to be effective. Anthony Bass was the most consistent reliever last season and he is gone. Brandon Brennan probably has the most upside, but he had a 4.56/4.40/4.14 pitcher slash last season with command issues.
Positives & Negatives
There is no telling what this team looks like by the Trade Deadline and especially at the end of the year. Jerry DiPoto needs his trading fix. The Mariners don’t have a lot of trade fodder at the MLB level because of some high salaries and some options for 2021 and 2022. They also just don’t have a whole lot that other teams are going to want. Hirano will probably be the most sought-after asset. It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Seager traded with a guaranteed year left at $18.5M and an option for 2022.
This is a last-place team in this division. I would be beyond stunned to see any other outcome. The Rangers have a solid rotation and the Angels, A’s and Astros are just a lot better. Could that lead to more of a sell-off? This is not a particularly good minor league system and any infusion of talent would have to help.
I cannot overstate how bad the Mariners were defensively last season. They will be better this season and the pitching staff will get help by not having Narvaez and by having some more athletes in the outfield. Still, they will be a below average defensive team in all likelihood and a low K% means more balls in play.
Pick: Under 67.5
This is one of my favorite season win total under bets. The Mariners are a very bad team locked in a division with two excellent teams and potentially another very good team in the Angels if everything comes together. The Rangers are probably a .500 team in most confidence intervals, but that’s still a lot better than where the Mariners are going to end up.
This rotation is just not good. I don’t like pitch-to-contact anything in this era of power and of strikeouts. K% marks continue to get higher and higher with each passing year and teams that don’t record a lot of strikeouts are heavily penalized for not doing that. The Mariners don’t have much K upside in the bullpen either.
Their 76 division games are not likely to go well and that makes up such a big chunk of the season. There are areas in which the team could be better than last season, but not by enough of a margin to make up for all of the concerns that I have. Seattle’s 22 wins against teams .500 or better were the second-fewest last season. Only Detroit was worse. I’d expect that again. And I would also expect them to have less success against teams on their level. They were 46-35 against teams with losing records last season.
The Mariners have a lot of hopes and dreams with some of their prospects like Lewis and White, but those guys still have to conquer the biggest learning curve in pro sports. It seems like they may be committed to giving some of those younger guys every chance at learning on the job. While that helps in the future, it doesn’t help in the present.
The Mariners haven’t lost 100 games since 2008, but I really, truly feel like that is possible this season. The 89-73 record in 2018 was as fraudulent as it gets, as the Mariners were 16 games over .500 with a -34 run differential. This has been building for a while – a complete bottoming out. I think this is it. Take away that 13-2 start and this is a team that was on a 61-win pace over 147 games. That is who they are.
This one is a bet and also a pick for the guide.