The 50-Day Offseason Plan Check-In

wouldacouldashoulda - Jonathan Daniel

This past winter, the staff of Lookout Landing took a couple shots at suggesting roster moves for your Seattle Mariners. 50 games into the season, how do our plans stack up against what the team actually did?

The thing about offseason plans is that they're fundamentally silly. (It's not winter, so I can say this now. In six months, when we're so starved for Mariners news that we'll consider penning five hundred words about Blake Beavan trade rumors, writing an offseason plan will seem like the best use of time in the world.) There's so much information that teams have and we don't - not just batted ball data and psychological analyses, but market awareness and an actual budget - that trying to reasonably dictate what a team should do, or even predict what a team will be able to do, is a nearly impossible task. Personally, I'm quite proud that our Lookout Landing Offseason Plan managed to nail the Scott Baker and Corey Hart signings. And those were pretty minor! Can you imagine how lucky we'd have to be in order to predict the entire offseason?

Still, even though the conditions under which we worked to come up with our suggestions were totally different than the conditions under which the Mariners' real front office worked to come up with the moves they actually executed... it's fun to keep score.

50 games in, how do the Seattle Mariners and the LL Mariners stack up?

Position Real Mariner WAR LL Mariner WAR Difference
C Zunino 0.9 Zunino 0.9 0
1B Smoak 0.1 Duda -0.1 -0.2
2B Cano 1.1 Ackley 0.8 -0.3
3B Seager 0.9 Seager 0.9 0
SS Miller -0.3 Miller -0.3 0
LF Ackley 0.6 Jackson 0.9 +0.3
CF Jones/Almonte 0.7 Bourjos 0.7 0
RF Saunders 0.5 Johnson 0.4 -0.1
DH Hart/Morrison -0.6 Hart/Montero -0.4 +0.2
SP1 Felix 1.3 Felix 1.3 0
SP2 Iwakuma 1 Iwakuma 1 0
SP3 Elias 0.5 Tanaka 2.4 +1.9
SP4 Young 0.8 Porcello 1 +0.2
SP5 Hodgepodge -0.5 Hodgepodge 0.4 +0.9
RP1 Rodney 0.1 Farquhar 0.4 +0.3
RP2 Farquhar 0.4 Furbush -0.2 -0.6
RP3 Leone 0.7 Leone 0.7 0
RP4 Furbush -0.2 Matusz 0.4 +0.6
RP5 Beimel 0.4 Smith 0.0 -0.4
RP6 Wilhelmsen 0.2 Perez 0.1 -0.1
RP7 Medina 0.1 Capps 0.1 0
C Buck 0.1 Sucre 0 -0.1
OF Gillespie -0.2 Almonte 0.2 +0.4
IF Bloomquist -0.1 Ryan 0 +0.1
DH Romero -0.4 Romero -0.4 0
Total 8.1 11.2 +3.1

A third of the way into the season, the undisputed champions: your Lookout Landing Mariners!

OK, caveat time. The difference between the real Mariners and the LL Mariners isn't quite as big as it appears up on that chart. For one thing, I assumed that all of the players on the LL Mariners who are currently in the minor leagues would be replacement level players in the majors, which isn't necessarily true. For another thing, the LL Mariners lucked out somewhat when planned starting catcher Geovany Soto got DL'd for knee surgery in March, which would've necessitated the promotion of the surprisingly-good-so-far Mike Zunino. For a third and most crucial thing, there's obviously no guarantee that players who've performed well in other parks would still have performed well in Seattle - that's just one of the flaws of this kind of hypothetical that we have to accept.

Still, that's one heck of an interesting chart. You may notice that the LL Mariners are only actually stronger than the real Mariners in one area: the starting rotation. The actual Seattle squad's outfield has been surprisingly not-awful so far this year, and that fact has combined with the Robinson Cano acquisition to make the real Mariners' position players actually better than the LL Mariners'. Bullpens and benches are so fungible that it's no real surprise to see the two teams come out about even. But the rotation is a point of glaring disparity. Even though I used RA9-WAR in this analysis, which gives the real Mariners a huge Chris Young boost, the LL Mariners' starting five is way, way better.

A lot of that, of course, is Tanaka. But you should observe that the second biggest difference between the two teams is in the #5 starter spot. The theoretical addition of Tanaka would've not only added an ace to the rotation, but also improved the quality of depth. The LL Mariners' opening day #5 starter would've been James Paxton, who would've been replaced by Erasmo Ramirez when he was hurt and then Roenis Elias when Ramirez sucked. That's not a bad combo. Instead, in the real world, we got Ramirez/Beavan/Maurer as the #5 hodgepodge.

The point is this: before the offseason even began, everyone knew the Mariners needed pitching depth. Regardless of whether signing Tanaka would've been possible, the Mariners failed to act sufficiently on that need, and even with the miraculous emergence of Roenis Elias. they've paid the price for their failure.

Speaking of whether or not signing Tanaka would've been possible... one of the big problems in creating offseason plans is feasibility-checking, and the LL plan contains some less than feasible elements. Tanaka went for way more money than we'd pegged him for, and in retrospect the Jackson/Porcello trade strongly favored the Mariners. Luckily, there exists the Royals Review Winter Simulation, in which armchair GMs must run their suggestions past fans of other teams. Let's see how my entry in that sim - the Mirror Mariners - compare to the real deal.

Position Real Mariner WAR Mirror Mariner WAR Diff.
C Zunino 0.9 Zunino 0.9 0
1B Smoak 0.1 Duda -0.1 -0.2
2B Cano 1.1 Ackley 0.8 -0.3
3B Seager 0.9 Seager 0.9 0
SS Miller -0.3 Miller -0.3 0
LF Ackley 0.6 Ellsbury 0.4 -0.2
CF Jones/Almonte 0.7 Bourjos 0.7 0
RF Saunders 0.5 Saunders 0.5 0
DH Hart/Morrison -0.6 Morales 0 +0.6
SP1 Felix 1.3 Felix 1.3 0
SP2 Iwakuma 1 Iwakuma 1 0
SP3 Elias 0.5 McCarthy 0 -0.5
SP4 Young 0.8 Cingrani 0.3 -0.5
SP5 Hodgepodge -0.5 Hodgepodge 0.4 +0.9
RP1 Rodney 0.1 Nathan 0.2 +0.1
RP2 Farquhar 0.4 Farquhar 0.4 0
RP3 Leone 0.7 Leone 0.7 0
RP4 Furbush -0.2 Collins -0.2 0
RP5 Beimel 0.4 Bedard 0.0 +0.4
RP6 Wilhelmsen 0.2 Perez 0.1 -0.1
RP7 Medina 0.1 Alburquerque 0.3 +0.2
C Buck 0.1 Buck 0.1 0
OF Gillespie -0.2 Almonte 0.2 +0.4
IF Bloomquist -0.1 Espinosa 0 0
DH Romero -0.4 Sanchez 0.5 +0.9
Total 8.1 9.8 +1.7

This one's a lot closer. The two teams run neck-and-neck until the bench and bullpen, where the Mirror Mariners are a couple wins better. However, despite the Mariners' front office struggles with roster management, that's much more likely due to the systematic undervaluation of bench/relief pieces in the Royals Review sim than it is due to some flaw in the real team's winter work. Clearly, working under some constraints re: trade/signing feasibility is a significant limiter of offseason plan performance.

Again, though, the comparison between the two rotations is an interesting one. McCarthy and Cingrani are two guys who've underperformed preseason expectations - McCarthy by getting screwed on HR/FB and strand rate, Cingrani by losing some velocity and struggling in the early innings of games. Their counterparts in the real Mariners' rotation are their polar opposites: Young, unlike McCarthy, has dramatically overperformed weak peripherals, while Elias has gained velocity and come out of nowhere to be solid. But even with the real Mariners' good luck and the Mirror Mariners' misfortune, the two staffs come out more or less equal thanks to the Mirror Mariners' superior depth.

In the end, I see three big conclusions to draw from this retrospective:

  • Working alone, we here at LL were able to create an offseason plan better than what the actual Mariners did, but only because we weren't constrained by a real market. When constraints on trade and signing feasibility were introduced, our ideas got worse.
  • Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to simulate a real market - our collective brains weren't quite up to the task, and even the Royals Review sim had some big flaws.
  • There are legitimate criticisms to be made of the Mariners' 2013-2014 offseason. Their failures to address the gaping holes in the outfield and rotation deserve some scorn. Luckily, the strong debuts of James Jones and Roenis Elias have mitigated the damage somewhat, but that good fortune has been predictably negated by bad fortune elsewhere (specifically at shortstop and designated hitter), and the back of the rotation is still a problem.
If, in looking at the results of our best-laid plans, you can draw any conclusions of your own, I'd love to read them in the comments. If not - well, we'll check in on the LL and Mirror Mariners again closer to the end of the season. See you then!
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