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2016 Mariners ZiPS projections: Playing some over/under

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

There's going to quite a bit of skepticism around projections this year. And that's fair. The 2015 Kansas City Royals won the World Series, and the 2015 Seattle Mariners were at no point after March the team they were projected to be. Oh and Boston, just like this year, is projected to be very good.

People will scoff at the projections, and rightfully so. They give you a rough estimate on where teams stand, but it does feel as though they're wrong more than they're right. Still, in the middle of winter—stuck between the frenzy of roster construction and the excitement of (no really) of the players playing catch and meaning less games—they serve their purpose.

And as of yesterday, the latest batch is here, courtesy of Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS numbers. You should check out the full piece over on Fangraphs, because there's going to be more analysis there, but right here let's play a bit of a game. It's something Con and I did on the podcast, something that will surely result in me looking dumb but I figured I would here as well, and people can hash it out in the comments. Time for some over/under.

The rotation

Felix Hernandez, 4.8 WAR

Honestly, this was one of the easier ones, and I hate it—but I'm taking the under. This isn't far off from where I'd have Felix, as it's realistic to have him not get all the way back to five wins, but the 4.5 range seems pretty reasonable here. For comparison's sake, the 4.5 range would put him between Carlos Carrasco and Jon Lester on the high end and Cole Hamels and Matt Harvey lower.

Hisashi Iwakuma, 2.3 WAR

This one's close to a push, and you're going to see I'm an optimist, but I'd take the over. Steamer has him up at 2.9, when it had him all the way up at 3.6 when he was headed to the Dodgers. For some reason, Steamer always seems to be the optimist. Iwakuma could be done. That's realistically in play here, a level of continued decline, but I think there's at least one more good year in there.

Wade Miley, 1.3 WAR

ZiPS just doesn't like this rotation, and this is where this game starts to feel easier and more difficult at the same time because you want to be the over on everyone below, as I would here. Some of it's just playing time, as ZiPS has Miley throwing just 179 innings after clearing 190 each of the past four season. A 1.3-win campaign would mark the worst full season of his career and at age 29, moving to a friendly environment, I just don't see it.

James Paxton, 1.0 WAR

It's either going to be easily above or easily below. Maybe I'm being a homer, but I take the over. Paxton has to stay healthy, and he's had trouble with that, but it isn't as if it's been shoulders and elbows in recent years. Part of the low projection is him throwing just 102 innings, so part of him clearing it is just pitching. I think he does enough in 2016.

Taijuan Walker, 0.9 WAR

This might be the easiest over. And I realize these are piling up here, with at least one resulting in a miss on my end, but that's based purely on gambler's fallacy. When evaluating them in isolation, there's a lot of rational overs here, and again, Walker is the easiest. He put up about a 2-win season that started with him just 22-years-old and finished with a 118/16 strikeout-to-walk total over his final 20 starts. Again, some of this is a lowish projected innings total (145 IP), but this is a bar Walker should easily clear.

Nate Karns 0.7 WAR

Checking in at just 139 innings, playing time again is reason for a low projection, but I'd still take the over—even with Karns possibly being the sixth starter. The 1.5 fWAR he put up last year wasn't a lot necessarily, but it's still two times as good as this projection. I don't know Karns well. Maybe the forearm tenderness flares up again, this time as something a lot more.

The lineup

Kyle Seager, 4.2 WAR

This is a copout, and this won't be the last, but I'd give this a push. While the 5.5 fWAR season he put up in 2014 would be nice, those are some lofty heights, and 4.2 seems like a reasonable step forward from last year's 3.9 fWAR campaign. Then again, even at 28, I feel like Kyle Seager's career year is still in front of him. This might not be it, but I think his biggest year is still out there.

Robinson Cano, 3.9 WAR

I'll take the under here. Cano has started slow in each of the past two seasons, and sports hernia surgery—surgery going in to fix injuries to both his right and left side—could have some lingering effects. I think he stays well clear of the 2.1 fWAR he put up last year, but a touch below the nearly 4-win campaign ZiPS projects him to have.

Nelson Cruz, 2.9 WAR

I'm sorry, that's another push. That total feels about right and, ideally, what we're looking for is basically David Ortiz's 2015—a ton of DH time, a 140ish wRC+ and then close to 3 fWAR. It sounds like Nelson Cruz is going to play more time in the field than people would like, and that may skew the value a bit, but this projection looks close to where I'd expect him to end up.

Leonys Martin, 2.5 WAR

It would be great to get two and a half wins out of Martin, and that seems more than possible considering he was at 2.9 and 3.5 in his other two full seasons. Still, I'm pulled more towards the under and could see him end up closer to the 2-win range. The defense will be there, but after a .264 OBP last year, the bat has to bounce back quite a bit.

Ketel Marte, 2.3 WAR

While, like with Martin in center, this looks like the spot where things could possibly go full Zunino, I'd give this a push. Even though it's his first full season, and he's bound for some regression off of last year, something in the neighborhood of two and a half wins seems reasonable. For reference, last year he was on more than a four-win pace.

Seth Smith, 1.5 WAR

Over, as he gets back to two wins again. Maybe the decline's coming, and this 1.5 number would be reasonable, but even at 33 he should be able to hold off serious issues for at least another season.

Chris Iannetta, 1.4 WAR

Over. Last year was atrocious, but 2016 Chris Iannetta can be at least as valuable as 2014 Mike Zunino, who came in at 1.8 fWAR. So, he won't be over by much—certainly not all the way back to his three-win campaign of 2014—but he's capable of clearing this by a slim margin.

Nori Aoki, 1.2 WAR

If it weren't for how last year ended, I'd go over, but as it is it's a push. Aoki has been a lock for at least a win and a half as a major leaguer, and putting two-plus in half his seasons, but concussions are serious and the effects can linger. It's going to be something to watch early on.

Adam Lind, 1.1 WAR

I'd take the over. He's had some seasons down at this range and below, but in each of the bast three years he's cleared 1.5 wins—with a full 2.2 last year. ZiPS has him down for a 110 OPS+, which would be his lowest by 10+ points in three seasons. There is some decline, but I don't think it will be to this degree.

The bench

Chris Taylor, 2.1 WAR

Under. Even though I expect Taylor to nab that utility role in the spring, I don't think he's getting the 500+ PAs projected for him. I hope he's not getting those, even though I am optimistic this regime change has a serious impact on his fortunes.

Franklin Gutierrez, 1.0 WAR

Maybe it's blind optimisim, but I'm taking the over. It all comes down to health, but if Guti has gotten his to a manageable level, the role he's in serves him perfectly and he can clear this projection, which includes just a 101 OPS+.

Steve Clevenger, 0.6 WAR

Push? It's hard to say, really. I certainly wouldn't expect much more than this.

Jesus Montero, 0.2 WAR

Again, it's probably just optimism, but I'm taking the over. Maybe they find a veteran bat who's willing to fill this role, but I'm interesting to see him get a crack at it as I think he can clear the 102 OPS+ projected for him.

The bullpen

All of it, ~2 WAR

It really isn't worth going through this one by one, but the total here looks like it'd be down in the bottom third of the league based on the totals from 2015. I'd take the over on that. While I don't expect them to be great, I think they can be at least average.


So that's your ball club. Honestly, after last year's debacle, there's some level of comfort in going back to projections that say "the Mariners aren't bad, and with some luck they could be pretty decent" as opposed to being one of the best teams in the league. This looks more like 2014, when they projected to be a touch above .500 with potential to find some extra wins scattered around the roster. That was a pretty fun year, and this one has the potential to be too.