We've talked a lot about floors and ceilings in the last couple of months. We've wondered whether Jerry Dipoto's baseball laboratory would create a champion or a Chone Figgins esque-monster. We've hoped that we've raised the floor, while leaving plenty of October sky above a high ceiling. As we brace for Spring Training, and mull over offseason moves and team projections, some members of the Lookout Staff got to thinking: what is this team's 90th percentile outcome, and what is its 10th percentile outcome? What does it look like if everything breaks better than right, and what despair will we feel if we replicate another 2015 or worse? The answers are equal parts hope and dread, silliness and seriousness. And because some of them feature David Skiba, they also include a drinking game. Happy last Friday before baseball stretching activities!
Percentile the 90th
"That's all it takes really, pressure and time."
Sometimes being a Mariner fan makes me feel like Andy Dufresne, that poor, wrongfully convicted banker, sentenced to life in prison. The moral of Shawshank Redemption, of course, is that life can be lived anywhere, and before his escape Andy did indeed manage to carve out a life for himself in prison. So have we, as Mariner fans, learned to scratch and hew away to build something worthwhile in this dark, often miserable place.
But eventually, like Andy, we decide it's time to get busy livin', and the 2016 Mariners were our tunnel to freedom, carved stealthily behind the smiling, visage of Jerry Dipoto. Every year before the season begins, it's easy to squint and imagine the best possible outcome for a baseball team. What if every ingredient added to the stew complements the others? What if the various notes and rhythms work in perfect concert?
The 2016 Mariners will answer that question, one we'd forgotten had an answer. Felix and Cano's 2015 struggles were indeed anomalies, and Leonys Martin's emergence as an All-Star will be the breakthrough outfield performance this organization has wanted since 2009 Franklin Gutierrez.
They'll carved their way through the AL West from day one, going wire to wire, winning 94 games, and the division. Few in baseball will see it coming, but over enough time, with enough pressure, a force of nature like the 2016 Seattle Mariners can make anything possible.
Percentile the 10th
Look, after last year I don't want to get too detailed here, as that went really poorly. The short version is that Jerry Dipoto built this roster on the idea of positive regression and it fails. Aoki struggles with headaches, Martin is a disaster on the field and in the clubhouse, Cano's range diminishes and Nelson Cruz is no longer a god with the bat in this hands.
The rotation falls apart when Paxton gets.....wait for it.......injured, and Nate Karns and Taijuan Walker both underwhelm. The bullpen, built on a foundation of hopes and dreams, is exactly as stable as hopes and dreams are, and provides the team with another year of frustrating, late-inning defeats.
They could lose 90 games, Jerry's smile could finally be vanquished, the Angels could be good, and we could be stuck wondering how we got suckered for another set of empty promises.
If we accept the premise that this team's 50th percentile projection calls for somewhere in the 80-85 neighborhood, then the 90th percentile outcome must be pretty dang good. It certainly means a playoff berth, and it's probably good enough for the ALCS. Regardless of how well the Mariners do the next time they reach the postseason tournament, whether this year or some time in the future, the real joy will lie in the day-to-day enjoyment gleaned from sharing the town with a team that wins much more often than not. A warm summer night at Safeco is pretty nice in any circumstance: if we're watching Felix pitch the club to a meaningful win on top of that? Ninetieth percentile indeed.
A 10th-percentile outcome is probably worse than what happened to the Mariners in 2015, which, to review briefly, was miserable. To do worse than that: well, at least two of the stars would have to take a step back. Perhaps Felix blows out his elbow, or Cruz emulates Cano's first-half production from last season. It probably means that Gutierrez rarely sees the field, and that the rest of the outfield acquisitions face-plant as well. Ketel Marte in Tacoma. A 6+ ERA from Wade Miley. Shoulder soreness for Taijuan. The bullpen striking. A summer of cloudy, 62 degree days and an unrelenting breeze.
Felix bounces back from 2015 and reminds everyone why he is the King. Tai takes a big step forward, diversifying his pitches to devastating effect and laying waste to the AL West. He is rewarded with his first All-Star berth. The bullpen is middle of the road, good but not great, but that's just fine. You know one way to not worry about your closer? Score a bunch of runs. To wit: Kyle Seager makes his second All-Star appearance in three years, knocking in 32 home runs and posting a career best OPS. Cruz dips slightly, but mostly keeps on. Cano looks like himself. The lineup is solid, finishing top 10 in OBP in baseball, and generally exhibiting the assembly line fervor of the Royals' hitters without the annoyance of Kendrys Morales. Mike Zunino is called up in August and looks like a new man. He's not Mike Piazza, but he hits at a regular clip with renewed power. Justin Seager realizes he was left handed all along and develops into a notable prospect. The M's make the postseason for the first time in 14 years, but lose in the ALCS. We all cry. The Seahawks get a little nervous.
All injuries everywhere. Kyle manages to stay in the lineup, but an ankle injury diminishes his range in the field, and he's a shadow of his former self. Paxton once again goes down, damaging a bone in his foot previously unknown to modern medicine. Scott Service makes a number of tactical fumbles in key game situations, and takes to wearing a Packers jersey under his Mariners uniform. Felix is sidelined with nagging elbow pain, and eventually requires Tommy John. Mike Zunino is rushed back to majors (again) because the options in front of him crater (again). The Mariners replicate their 2015 habit of being in it just a little, but their contention is a figment of our imaginations and a weak AL field. They are formally eliminated in late August. We all cry. The Seahawks invade Safeco and turn it into the Russell Wilson Public Speaking Academy for Robots and Aliens.
The game of 90/10 is a strange one. Like drinking a nonalcoholic beer, at first it is quite fun, but there is this sort of weird taste left in your mouth afterwards and you feel dirty. I'm assuming that's what drinking a nonalcoholic beer would be like. What's the point? Well, here's the point. Maybe you enjoy a delicious, malty beverage but are cutting back the calories alcohol provides. Maybe you want to run the table at beer pong all night. Maybe you are a lifelong Mariners fan and don't really understand how to have fun with regard to baseball activities. Either way, I devised a drinking game for my contribution. You should have an alcoholic beverage to play. Every time you are happy in the following predictions, drink. Every time you are made sad, drink. The following are my 90/10's:
Felix wins the Cy Young/ Felix exits WC game with sore elbow (it's TJ)
Nelson Cruz hits 55 home runs/ The rest of the team hits 15
Robinson Cano wins MVP/ Kyle Seager breaks his ankle mid-May
Happy hour beers go back down to $5/ Happy hour beers go up to $7
Ketel Marte produces 5 wins/ Robinson Cano produces 1
Leonys Martin produces 5 wins/ Leonys Martin produces 0 wins
The Seattle Mariners win the AL West/ The Seattle Mariners miss the WC game by one game
The Seattle Mariners win the World Series/ The Seattle Mariners win 72 games
Now we can all just be drunk in love.
Tai "Don't Give Up No" Walk-er, freed from the petty tyranny of a pitch count, leaves last year's overfed ERA in his rear view as he posts something in the low 3's and embarrasses several American League batters into begging for trades to the National League. Inspired by the competition, Felix regains his pre-2015 form, and the front half of the Mariners rotation punishes the AL West while the back half also pitches in games. Cruz has a dip in productivity but still manages 30-plus home runs while Cano shakes of the ghost of 2015 to slash .295/.365/.558. The Mariners fall just short of the postseason behind a late Astros surge to take the final wildcard. September call up Boog Powell hits .438 in just three weeks, lands on Sportscenter's Top Ten twice with circus catches in the outfield, and becomes your new favorite Mariner.
The Mariners bullpen becomes the most feared in baseball as Cishek has a bounce back campaign, Mike Montgomery turns into a decent long reliever, and Danny Hultzen becomes a lights-out setup man of such intimidating ferocity that it takes us two games into the Boston series to remember we used to have that other guy. But a long playoff run is not to be. Brad Miller and Logan Morrison combine for 82 HRs and +26 WAR, and the Tampa Bay Rays win the World Series against the Florida Marlins when Miller takes Carter Capps deep to win game 7. But hey, they still make the playoffs.