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The 2011 Starting Lineup's Potency (or Lack Thereof)

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Please be good
Please be good

So far this winter I have been more focused on evaluating position players including their defense. That is ultimately how we should be looking at players, but the depressing nature of the Mariner offense last season was inescapable, boasting a Schwarzchild radius of approximately 9 gajillion miles give or take a few meters. The 2011 edition has come under attack as well by naysayers and doom predictors. And so it is of some concern how the team will perform at the plate this nearly begun season. Thus, I set out to get a general sense of the run scoring we might reasonably project to witness.

You cannot get team-wide projections without first assigning individual player projections and that is where I am really missing the CHONE system as I always felt them the best publicly available. I considered the many other systems available to me, but the nature of the Mariners lineup which features hard-to-project people like Ichiro, Smoak, Bradley, Olivo and possibly Dustin Ackley down the road gives each of them different fits. Ultimately, I decided to use the collective fans projections (home team bias-adjusted) as provided on FanGraphs.

Thanks to the last couple tune up Spring Training games, I believe that Eric Wedge's preferred lineup looks similar to this:

RF Ichiro Suzuki*
3B Chone Figgins^
LF Milton Bradley^
DH Jack Cust*
1B Justin Smoak^
CF Franklin Gutierrez
C Miguel Olivo
SS Brendan Ryan
2B Jack Wilson

Perhaps when healthy, Guti will move above Smoak just to give the lineup a potential left-handed threat lower in the order, but we will not find that out for now as Guti hits the disabled list. My best bet is that Michael Saunders simply slides into his center field job and probably shifts to seventh in the batting order. For the time being, this lineup could be a handful for those mediocre right-handers that always seem to shut us down. Still, Guti is the presumed starter for the season at large until we get a clearer picture of his ailment or prognosis. 

There are parts of the fans projections that I disagree with. Mostly I think they are too high on Smoak and a bit low on Olivo and the middle infield, but overall they likely even out. Interestingly, in some cases (Jack Wilson for one), non-Mariner fans are actually possessing a rosier outlook on the player.

With Adam Moore, Adam Kennedy, Michael Saunders and Luis Rodriguez as the primary bench bats, this lineup came out to 647 runs on the season or nearly exactly 4 runs per game, a massive upgrade from the 3.17 runs per game of last season. It is so sad that 647 runs counts as an improvement and that it would be a 134-run improvement. 

Subbing in Saunders for Gutierrez as the primary starter doesn't actually change much offensively. Guti is projected for a .323 wOBA by FanGraphs fans while Saunders is at .329 which over 600 or so plate appearances is a difference of just a couple runs.

Four runs per game is not good. 647 runs would have ranked third-worst in the American League last season, but at least it's no longer dwelling in the sub basement. As a sanity check, I re-did the whole thing using Marcel and came away with 630 runs for the season which is a reassuringly similar number.

If the Mariners repeat their run prevention figure from last season, that would come to around 74 wins via pythag. That is about the consensus of the projection systems out there that I have seen. All the usual disclaimers about projections apply and possibly then some as this strikes me as an overly difficult team to peg down. Still, this hopefully provides you with a framework for the offense to nitpick when adjusting for your internal feelings.