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Bill James Is Optimistic

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At least as far as his annual handbook is concerned, I guess. James technically doesn't have anything to do with this. At the back of this year's volume is a group of player performance projections for 2006, and the computer that spit out these numbers seems like a pretty big Mariner fan.

I don't want to post the projections straight onto the website, since I gave away enough information from the book a few days ago, and it's really one of those things you'd be better off buying for yourself, but I will mention two things:

  • If you take our community Johjima projection and neglect to translate Carl Everett's numbers to Safeco, the nine members of the Opening Day lineup average out to a .279/.339/.443 batting line. Even if you allow for a mediocre bench and an injury or two, that's still a pretty good offense when you consider the environment.

  • The book loves Mariner pitchers, as the group averages out to a 3.86 ERA (Raffy Soriano not included, since he didn't throw enough innings last year to make it into the projection section of the book). Again, as with Everett, this doesn't account for Washburn's moving from Anaheim to Seattle.
The system is very friendly to Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro, Chris Snelling, and Jeremy Reed, along with a few others to a lesser extent. On the other hand, it doesn't expect much out of Jose Lopez or Gil Meche, and it calls for a fairly significant decline by Richie Sexson.

Of course, in the end, this is just one of a gazillion attempts at predicting future performance, much like PECOTA, Diamond Mind, ZiPS, and a whole host of others. If anything, the "James" system is considerably less credible than the others, since this is its first (published) year working with pitcher projections. Just looking at Mariner hitters, it was way off base with Beltre, Reed, Ichiro, Olivo (obviously), and Boone a year ago, and only really hit the mark on Raul Ibanez, who's extremely easy to predict (PECOTA similarity score of 62). So there are your caveats.

Nevertheless, just glancing at the projections drives home a point that I've been going back to time and time again since the end of the season - 2006 is going to be a hell of a lot better than 2005. Last year, we had too much Aaron Sele and not enough Felix Hernandez. Last year, the team gave a third of its at bats to guys with sub-.300 OBP's. That's not going to happen again, not unless something totally catastrophic takes place.

This is a good division, and the Mariners didn't do nearly enough this offseason to put themselves in position to fend off the other three teams. One major injury and they're staring a 73-89 season in the face. That said, the starting roster should be good enough to win 84 or 85 games given a relatively healthy year, and if you believe Nate Silver, that kind of ability gives Seattle roughly a 25-30% chance of making the playoffs. And hey, the odds are even greater that we'll actually have meaningful baseball to watch in late July. After what we've suffered through in each of the last two years, knowing that delights me to no end. So thank you, Bill James Handbook 2006, for you have reaffirmed my belief that we really do have something to look forward to after all.