We've made large-scale moves thus winter and seen some big names depart Seattle and a huge remodeling of our defense. And with the discussion surrounding the Angels losing out on Teixeira and their inking of Juan Rivera and what that might mean for them in 2009, I figure it is worth a look at what kind of team we have at the moment, especially since Jeff usurped my shocking conclusion already. But hey, you all like math right? Sweet.
Naturally, there is much left to be done. There's talk about a change in the middle infield. Beltre might still be dealt. We have a plurality of starters still. This post might or might not get comprehensively updated as the transactions continue and/or we get more solid projections. I am pretty busy and lazy. Beer doesn't drink itself you know.
Starting off, we should first orient ourselves with the true talent of our team talent from 2008. BaseRuns tells us the 2008 Mariners should have scored 680 runs, but that's in SafeCo. We want to try and separate out SafeCo, so using park factors, we arrive at about 697 runs scored.
tRA hated our pitching staff more than I hate Anchor Small, which is a lot. 851 runs is what tRA says we should have allowed, 569 from the rotation and 282 from the bullpen. We actually yielded 811, 40 fewer runs. Does that mean that our defense was actually superb? Well, no. SafeCo Field has a park factor of about .95 on overall run scoring, which on 851 expected runs yielded 829 park-adjusted runs. This implies that our defense did save about 18 runs over the course of 2008. I'm not entirely comfortable with that in the least, but hey, there it is.
697 runs scored and 833 runs allowed (851 park-neutral minus the 18 from the defense) put into the basic pythag formula comes out to 67 wins. There was some bad luck last year, but we were mostly just really really bad. (It's 65 wins if you want to set the defense to average FWIW).
Now it's time to move on to 2009. I'm going to start with the defense and again, this is going to be rudimentary. I'm going to assume that the Johjima/Clement duo, Lopez, Yuni and Beltre collectively perform the same as they did in 2008. If anything, I think that might be conservative since I am balancing the expected negative regression of Beltre against the expected positive regression of Clement, Lopez and Yuni (it's hard to imagine them being that bad again given their age and prior performances) and just calling it even.
The Branyan/Shelton combo at first base is probably 0 to 5 runs better than the various players we saw at first base last year. Remember, Sexson, while atrocious, was replaced by some decent first basemen after his release. A full season of Ichiro in right field over the experiments with Wilkerson and Balentien might be worth 0 to 5 runs as well, so let's just call that five runs total there.
That leaves us with left and center field. For the purposes of this, I'm assuming Wlad is our DH with Chavez and Gutierrez as our full time fielders. Chavez over Raul might be a 30 run difference. No joke. But for purposes of projection, we need to build in some conservatism, so call it 20 for now. Gutierrez is a 0 to 5 run defender in center it looks like, which is somewhere in the vicinity of 10 runs worth of improvement. All together, I am pretty comfortable with calling the alignment I set out as saving an additional 35 runs over the 2008 squad, whatever you think their effort was worth.
How well would that lineup hit? I'll spare you all the back-of-the-envelope math done, but in a nutshell what I did was take our positional lines from 2008 compared against the Marcels for 2009 for the lineup noted above and said that 20% of PAs would go to replacement level bats (a.k.a. our future bench). Surprisingly enough, this results in a decent lineup (comparatively). Obviously there's a big downgrade in left field, but there's similarly huge upgrades at first base and DH and sizable upgrades at catcher, short and right and center fields. In the end, I come up with a lineup that looks about 20 to 25 OPS points better. Plugging the numbers (.707 team OPS in 2008, projected .730 in 2009) in to the equation here, yields an expected 707 runs scored in SafeCo, 725 in a neutral park.
Projecting pitchers is tougher. For this, I'm just going to use tRA*. For the rotation, here's the breakdown of projected inning totals:
Felix - 200IP @ 4.45 tRA* -- 99 runs allowed
Bedard - 100IP @ 4.95 -- 55 RA
Washburn - 170IP @ 5.51 -- 104 RA
Silva - 170IP @ 5.43 -- 103 RA
Morrow - 125IP @ 4.91 -- 68 RA
Heilman - 65IP @ 4.80 -- 35 RA
RRS - 65IP @ 5.17 -- 37 RA
I choose the IP totals specifically to match up with last years totals from the rotation at large. Adding the runs allowed comes to 501, 68 better than the 2008 rotation allowed by tRA. Now, what about the high inning totals for Silva/Wash/Felix? What about building in more injury projection? The thought crossed my mind, but something you'll notice is that Wash Silva are our two worst pitchers in this group, and they're already at replacement level so reducing their inning totals and adding them to a mythical replacement-level SP isn't going to change much (in fact, it might make the team better).
Turning to the bullpen it becomes even dirtier since there's many more pitchers involved, the sample sizes get smaller and a host of other issues crop up. Here's the deal, the 2008 bullpen was 22 runs below average according to tRA. J.J. and Green combined to be worth three runs over average. The pen is likely adding one of Heilman/Morrow and the various tRA*s of the members last year would suggest a ten-run improvement. Are we okay with calling the bullpen a wash for now? If not, go ahead and add another 10 runs allowed to the final product below.
If so, here's what this all ads up to. 725 runs scored (park neutral), 783 runs allowed (park and defense neutral), and a defense that is 35 runs improved over a +18 run squad from 2008. I still have trouble with this, but I'm going to swallow the huge grain of salt for now and stick with them. That leaves us with 730 runs allowed.
It's an 80-win team. Improved defense and simple regression from the horrible rotation and black holes in our lineup comes out to a 13-win improvement. If you think that our improved defense this season only gets us to league average, we project out to a 75-win team. There you go, that's where 75-80 comes from.