Projecting Mariners' 2014 frontrunners

Duane Burleson

Which projection system gives us the clearest glimpse into the Mariners' future?

Four and a half weeks from now, we'll all be waxing poetic about the fresh turf of Peoria's back fields, the crisp February sky, and each thwack of ball on bat on glove. Until then, the best we can do is speculate.

This, of course, is just a fancy way of saying that there's no new news about the Mariners right now, no tidbit that you haven't already gleaned from MLB Trade Rumors, the Seattle Times' beat, or LL's own coverage. The Mariners are effectively in hibernation for the last few weeks of winter, starving the blogging community with sporadic offseason league activity and another ineffective (though heartfelt) campaign for Edgar Martinez's Hall of Fame induction.

Last month, Dan Szymborski released his 2014 ZiPS projections for the Mariners. Here are the top five offensive contributors by zWAR:

Robinson Cano 670 37 2 22 6 2 .284 .349 .462 .342 4 5.5
Kyle Seager 678 34 2 18 11 5 .264 .328 .414 .326 -2 3.7
Brad Miller 671 25 6 14 13 7 .262 .320 .391 .313 -2 3.4
Nick Franklin 593 27 4 15 11 2 .248 .321 .400 .318 -4 3.2
Mike Zunino 491 19 1 14 2 1 .233 .299 .376 .297 -1 2.3

With the exception of Robinson Cano, every player listed above is projected to see more playing time and a significant increase in their value. Leading the way is Brad Miller, who is expected to double his plate appearances, home runs, stolen bases, and WAR. Likewise, Mike Zunino will also see a big spike in playing time in his first full season as the Mariners' backstop, so it follows that he'll see improvement in nearly all offensive categories.

Across the board, the only category that seems to have remained the same is Defensive Runs Above Average (Def). Cano's value nearly doubles, while the other four see no discernible change in their defense.

With this in mind, let's take a look at how the Mariners fared in several other projection systems. Steamer favors veterans over younger players, and as was pointed out on FanGraphs when ZiPS was released, neither projection accounts for the fact that Corey Hart and Logan Morrison will split duties in 2014.

Robinson Cano 635 38 1 23 4 3 .292 .363 .487 .365 4.6 5.2
Brad Miller 564 24 5 13 11 7 .268 .331 .413 .327 6.6 3.2
Kyle Seager 598 30 2 17 8 5 .261 .332 .418 .331 1.8 2.9
Corey Hart 557 26 2 23 5 3 .257 .325 .456 .339 -6.7 2.2
Logan Morrison 552 26 4 17 2 1 .250 .342 .429 .337 -7.8 2.0

Here, the most notable difference can be found in the Defense column. Miller is expected to surge to the top of the list with 6.6 runs above average. On the other end of the spectrum, Hart and Morrison project at -6.7 and -7.8 runs, both significant improvements from their -13.5 and -16.3 Def in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

Similar to Steamer's projections for 2014, Oliver lends more weight to players with sharp defensive skills. As FanGraphs' Carson Cistulli noted a few years ago, a player might garner a higher rating with a major-league caliber glove.

Robinson Cano 600 31 1 19 5 2 .296 .367 .465 .359 3.1 4.5
Brad Miller 600 25 4 16 13 4 .273 .332 .422 .330 9.1 3.8
Kyle Seager 600 28 1 19 7 3 .261 .341 .426 .337 2.0 3.3
Michael Saunders 600 28 3 16 17 5 .237 .326 .393 .318 5.9 3.1
Nick Franklin 600 27 4 17 12 3 .241 .322 .403 .319 5.9 2.9

While both Steamer and Oliver have more optimistic defensive ratings than ZiPS, they don't always line up perfectly. Michael Saunders, who put up a -5.3 Def in 2013, is expected to see a monumental shift in his defensive value at 5.9 runs above average. However, he's left off the Steamer shortlist with -7.8 runs below average. It should be noted that the Oliver projection system allows each player an even 600 plate appearances, disregarding part-time roles and platoon splits.

Given a full season of play, most of Oliver's top five are expected to improve at the plate as well as on the field. Cano takes the biggest cut out of his stats, with 4.5 fWAR instead of 6.0 and a .359 wOBA instead of .389. Conversely, Miller and Saunders see the most improvement, nearly doubling their offensive production should they receive a year's worth of playing time.

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