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Are the 2015 Mariners the 2014 Royals?

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A better question might be, are the 2014 Mariners the 2013 Royals?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals have certainly made the most of their first playoff opportunity in almost three decades. They've recaptured the hearts of their home town and played very exciting baseball to earn a spot in the American League Championship Series. It must be Royals appreciation week here at Lookout Landing. First, Colin tried to come to grips with the Royals' postseason success and now I'm going to look at how they got there.

In 2013, the Royals finished third in the AL Central -- behind the Tigers and the Indians -- with a record of 86-76. They ended the year five and a half games out of the Wild Card race but were playing meaningful baseball into the middle of September (they went 17-10 in September, but the Indians went 21-6 to claim the second Wild Card berth). Heading into the offseason, there were many who thought the Royals were one or two acquisitions away from breaking their long playoff drought.

In 2014, the Mariners finished third in the AL West -- behind the Angels and the Athletics -- with a record of 87-75. They played meaningful baseball all the way up to the last day of the season and there are many who think the Mariners are just one or two acquisitions away from breaking their long playoff drought.

The similarities between the Royals and the Mariners run deeper than their lengthy absence from postseason baseball.  Both teams are led by a front office that has been criticized for the foolish and near-sighted moves they've made to try and win now. Dayton Moore has long been the laughing stock of the sabermetric community and Jack Zduriencik, once a SABR darling (#6org), has recently fallen from grace. The Royals and the Mariners are built to win through run prevention:

2013 Royals

2014 Mariners

Batting (wRC+)

89 (12th)

93 (12th in AL)

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

87.6 (1st)

5.8 (7th)

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

103 (7th)

103 (11th)

Bullpen (FIP-)

80 (1st)

88 (3rd)

This table will be familiar to those of you who followed my series previews. It breaks down a baseball team into its four component parts, batting, fielding, starting pitching, and relief pitching. As you can see, the two teams share a similar road map to success: prevent runs through strong pitching -- especially in the bullpen -- and good fielding and hope that your offense is able to score enough runs to win.

Let's dive into both teams to see, specifically, how their rosters were constructed. I've complied three tables showing the 2013 Royals and the 2014 Mariners side-by-side. I've listed the number of games played, number of plate appearances or innings pitched, and total WAR accumulated.

Position Players

2013 Royals

2014 Mariners

Name

G

PA

WAR

Name

G

PA

WAR

Salvador Perez

138

526

3.7

Kyle Seager

159

654

5.5

Alex Gordon

156

700

3.5

Robinson Cano

157

665

5.3

Eric Hosmer

159

680

3.1

Dustin Ackley

143

542

2.1

Lorenzo Cain

115

442

2.7

Michael Saunders

78

263

1.9

Jarrod Dyson

87

239

2.5

Mike Zunino

131

476

1.7

David Lough

96

335

2.4

Brad Miller

123

411

1.4

Billy Butler

162

668

1.5

Chris Taylor

47

151

1.4

Alcides Escobar

158

642

1.1

Logan Morrison

99

365

1

Mike Moustakas

136

514

1.1

Endy Chavez

80

258

-0.1

Emilio Bonifacio

42

179

1.1

Others

214

647

-0.3

George Kottaras

46

126

0.7

Justin Smoak

80

276

-0.3

Miguel Tejada

53

167

0.4

Austin Jackson

54

236

-0.3

Others

83

249

0.4

Kendrys Morales

59

239

-0.9

Chris Getz

78

237

-0.1

James Jones

108

328

-1

Elliot Johnson

79

173

-0.2

Corey Hart

68

255

-1.2

Jeff Francoeur

59

193

-0.8

Stefen Romero

72

190

-1.2

23.1

15

The Royals took a more balanced approach to roster construction while the Mariners went full on stars and scrubs. Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano account for almost 75% of the total WAR from Mariner position players. It takes six Royals to match that ratio. The young core of the Royals (Gordon, Perez, Hosmer) seems like they're farther along than the Mariners core (Seager, Ackley, Zunino) but the Mariners were dragged down by some serious dead weight (Hart & Morales).

Starting Pitchers

2013 Royals

2014 Mariners

Name

G

IP

WAR

Name

G

IP

WAR

James Shields

34

228.2

4.4

Felix Hernandez

34

236

6.2

Ervin Santana

32

211

2.9

Hisashi Iwakuma

28

179

3.2

Wade Davis

31

135.1

1.7

Roenis Elias

29

163.2

1.4

Bruce Chen

34

121

1.4

James Paxton

13

74

1.3

Jeremy Guthrie

33

211.2

1

Taijuan Walker

8

38

0.4

Danny Duffy

5

24.1

0.6

Chris Young

30

165

0.2

Yordano Ventura

3

15.1

0

Erasmo Ramirez

17

75.1

-0.5

12

12.2

Both teams share an almost identical contribution from their starting pitchers, although the Mariners' stars and scrubs approach follows here too. Felix's amazing season accounted for half of the total WAR accumulated by Mariner starters. The rest of the rotation looks pretty similar to the Royals however: a clear #2 (Santana/Iwakuma) followed by mid-rotation starters (Davis, Chen, & Guthrie/Elias, Ramirez, & Young) and a few young prospects (Duffy & Ventura/Paxton & Walker).

Relief Pitchers

2013 Royals

2014 Mariners

Name

G

IP

WAR

Name

G

IP

WAR

Greg Holland

68

67

3.1

Fernando Rodney

69

66.1

1.2

Luke Hochevar

58

70.1

1.2

Danny Farquhar

66

71

0.9

Tim Collins

66

53.1

0.7

Brandon Maurer

38

69.2

0.7

Louis Coleman

27

29.2

0.7

Dominic Leone

57

66.1

0.7

Kelvin Herrera

59

58.1

0.6

Charlie Furbush

67

42.1

0.7

Will Smith

19

33.1

0.5

Yoervis Medina

66

57

0.3

Luis Mendoza

22

94

0.3

Tom Wilhelmsen

57

79.1

0.2

Francisley Bueno

7

8.1

0.2

Carson Smith

9

8.1

0.2

Juan Gutierrez

25

29.1

0.1

Stephen Pryor

0

1.2

0

Donnie Joseph

6

5.2

0.1

Joe Beimel

55

45

-0.2

Aaron Crow

57

48

-0.1

Lucas Luetge

12

9

-0.3

7.4

4.4

Both bullpens rely on flamethrowing relievers who are able to rack up strikeouts. Greg Holland, a true relief ace, anchors the Royals bullpen and the rest of the relievers fall into pretty rigid roles. Fernando Rodney seemed like he was the only reliever who had a rigid role on the Mariners. The rest of the Mariners' bullpen seemed to be a bit more flexible depending on who had the hot hand.

So, if the 2013 Royals built the foundation for their playoff run this year, what did they do to realize that potential?

There were three major acquisitions in the offseason for the Royals: right fielder Nori Aoki, second baseman Omar Infante, and lefty Jason Vargas. These three players contributed a total of 4.2 WAR in 2014. Those additions alone probably didn't push the Royals over the edge. What about some of their young prospects stepping into major roles? Yep, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, and Lorenzo Cain contributed 9.9 WAR in 2014. A few key role players (Escobar & Dyson; 6.6 WAR) increased their contributions to offset the poor contributions from Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler (-0.1 WAR between the two of them).

The Mariners have a number of holes that will need to be filled through outside acquisitions. A designated hitter/first baseman is the primary target but a starting outfielder will probably be on the docket too. There are also a number of young, talented players who are ready to take on an increased role next year -- James Paxton and Taijuan Walker will probably be rotation members for the entirety of the year, and whoever wins the starting shortstop role -- Brad Miller or Chris Taylor -- stands to improve upon their decent contributions this year.

2015 isn't a make-or-break year for the Mariners. Felix, Cano, and Seager form an amazing core to build around. It does seem like the window to contend may close quicker than we think. The Mariners were so close to the playoffs this year and the front office has indicated that they're willing to spend to put the team over the edge. But it'll take more than just a few new acquisitions to make this team a contender. There are so many moving pieces to a major league roster. There is no magic bullet, no secret formula to roster construction. That's what makes the offseason so exciting. Yet, there is no smoking gun for the Royals. There isn't one thing we can point to and say, "This is what pushed the Royals into the playoffs." They had a good year in 2013 and that same core was able to manage consistent production in 2014 and they found themselves in the playoffs.