Today I've got a set of three graphs for you to look at. These are pretty simple; I've just taken the values (in fWAR) of each position (catcher, first base, etc.) for each team in the AL West and plotted them as a series of bar graphs. There's one graph showing what happened in 2014, one depicting the projected performance (based on Steamer) in 2015, and one showing the projected change in WAR between '14 and '15. My hope is that these graphs can serve as an aid to help visualize how the Mariners stacked up against their AL West opponents last year as well as how they (and all of the other teams in their division) have changed as we go into next season.
In 2014, the Mariners were a team of haves and have nots. Their pitching was a strength (particularly their bullpen) and Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager put up fantastic numbers to carry the team's offense. Unfortunately the Mariners outfield, first base, and designated hitter positions struggled mightily, combining for a WAR of -0.7. NEGATIVE POINT SEVEN. That number represents the total output from five positions. Disappointing. Looking forward to 2015...
It should be noted that Steamer is generally pretty conservative with its predictions; it doesn't anticipate many players severely imploding or suffering crazy injuries. As such, these projections are probably a bit inflated - none of the positions in the AL West are expected to have negative WAR values (although the Rangers LF and DH and the Angels bullpen come close). Mariners starting pitching is once again expected to be a dominant force in the AL West, as are Seager and Cano. (The fact that Mike Trout is projected to be more valuable than the entire Angels pitching staff is both very funny and very sad. Why can't that guy play for the Marlins or something?)
The projected gains for the Mariners at the CF and DH positions sure would be nice to see. If Nelson Cruz and Austin Jackson put up even ~85% of their career averages, the Mariners will be considerably better at these positions than they were last year. A full year of not-Justin-Smoak at first base should also help the M's (please be good, Logan Morrison). Whereas the Mariners OF, DH, and 1B positions combined for a negative value in 2014, they're projected to accumulate almost 10 WAR in 2015. Neat!
On the flip-side, the Mariners are projected to lose value from their relief corps and from the third base position.
- Although six of the Mariners eight go-to relievers from last season will be returning (everyone but Brandon Maurer and probably Joe Beimel), the M's bullpen is expected to experience some pretty heavy regression. On the one hand, this makes sense; Mariners relievers were very good at not allowing runs in 2014. However, if Dominic Leone builds upon his fairly-dominant rookie season and Carson Smith continues to progress/develop (and Rodney doesn't fall off of a cliff), they definitely still have the potential to be one of the top bullpens in the league. (I should point out that Steamer isn't generally very good at projecting aggregate bullpen scores; it attributes a fairly substantial amount of innings to players who might not even pitch for the Mariners this season.)
- As for third base, Steamer seems to think that last season was more of a career-year for Kyle Seager as opposed to the first stop on the Kyle-Seager-takes-Major-League-Baseball-by-storm career-long tour. His anticipated loss of value is mostly related to a projected reduction in his slugging percentage (from a career-high 0.454 in 2014 down to a ~career-average value of 0.433) and a lessening of his defensive prowess from "great" (Def of 12.9) to "above average" (Def of 4.4). Personally, I think that Seager's 2015 will be mighty similar to his 2014 campaign.
The following table summarizes the numbers listed above and also includes some projected win totals for 2015.
*Steamer projections. **Projected wins based on baseruns.
We can see that the Mariners are projected to be the most improved team going into this season. Add this to the fact that the Angels and the Athletics are both projected to experience a downturn in 2015, and the M's are suddenly the favorite to win the AL West. It's always important to remember that you shouldn't let your expectations be too heavily influenced by any set of projections; Steamer (and just about every projection system) has been wildly wrong in the past. However, the Mariners do appear to have put together a very solid team for 2015, and you have every reason to believe that they'll be very competitive in the AL this season. It's time to get excited. Bring on the baseball.