This morning Fangraphs released Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the Seattle Mariners 2018 season. I highly recommend you read through the entire post but, in the meantime, for ease of reference, here’s what the projected depth chart looks like:
More detail about the exact breakdowns of each player’s zWAR, projected PAs/IPs, etc. can, again, be found in the original post. This is already a lengthy piece, so I’m not going to include images of their charts. That’s what tabs are for, friends, come on.
Over: Ryon Healy
While Healy struggled to the tune of 0.2 fWAR last season, he was dinged heavily by poor defense at third base and below-average baserunning. If he can make even modest gains in the plate discipline department and the defense improves at first base, I can easily see him outperforming his projection by at least a win.
The bullpen looks very nice on paper, but this projection feels overly optimistic. Phelps missed significant time last year, both Diaz and Pazos struggled with command at times, and Vincent, though dominant most of the year, collapsed in September, possibly due to fatigue. The talent is certainly there, and Nicasio should provide a nice boost, but there’s simply too many variables to confidently say that this is a five-win bullpen.
Over: Marco Gonzales
There are no shortage of choices, particularly where what we know about adjustments a player has made allow us to see something projections may not. Gonzales is not one of those players, however, and his projection is borne of many factors, not the least of which being his precarious hold on a rotation spot at all. Gonzales, more than any other pitcher from the pool of unprepared flotsam Seattle had to rebuild a rotation out of last year, retains an ability to get strikeouts and avoid walks. Perhaps Félix and Gonzales are destined sacrifices to the juiced ball, but I see better days from the former top-100 prospect.
Under: Tony Zych/Nick Vincent
Zych is unlisted on the chart but he is a valuable depth piece whose elbow makes me fearful. Seattle has bullpen depth, about the only place in its organization it can use that word with a straight face, but it needs that depth to be sharp from start to finish in 2018. If the bullpen is called upon often enough to clean up a shaky and fragile rotation, their depth will be tested, and I fear for the two players most limited to a single inning of work at a time.
Over: Mitch Haniger
John knew better than to do this, and we’re all proud he’s showing restraint. It’s a process, after all. However, I don’t care. Sure, he won’t light the world on fire this April quite like he did 2017, but he won’t be the offensive abyss we saw after his double injury stints either. A core injury followed by a red-laced shotgun to the face certainly took their toll on his hitting habits - his walk rate vanished like Luke pre-Force Awakens and when he wasn’t hitting infield fly balls, it was grounders to the right side. August and September seemed to bring him back to positive production levels, but the walk rate was still absent. A healthy offseason away from Jacob deGrom should help set him straight, coupled with hopefully staying in RF and the possibility of cleaning up after Cano/Cruz/Seager gives me faith he reaches 3.0+ in 2018. Also, that beard.
Under: Dee Gordon
Outfield buddies giveth, outfield buddies taketh away. Honestly, I think ~2 is pretty close to where I would have him, but I also think Dee is at risk of getting dinged so heavily by defensive metrics that it will sour his otherwise-helpful production. Maybe he surprises us all and proves to be a natural out there in his first foray into “why the hell am I defending on grass and not dirt”, but that uncertainty gives me pause. Take into account that his marvelous speed is also now at the disposal of a team more aligned with “-blunders” being the optional word to discuss baserunning tactics and his potential value becomes even more volatile. I will gladly eat my words when he proves me wrong, though. Go get ‘em, Flash Jr.
Over: Guillermo Heredia
I never gamble, make bets, or even engage in games of Yahtzee because I’m a horrendously unlucky person. That said, I’d place a sizable chunk of money on Guillermo Heredia outperforming his projected -0.1 zWAR in 462 PAs. This pick might be a bit of a cop-out, since the bench isn’t listed on the depth chart, but Dee Gordon has never played centerfield and there need to be safety measures put in place. Heredia is one such safety measure and, now that he won’t be playing with a constantly dislocated shoulder, I’d be shocked if he performed so poorly as to be a negative influence on this team.
Under: The bullpen (especially Nick Vincent/James Pazos)
When it comes to relievers I prefer to abide by the use ‘em and lose ‘em strategy. If you’re able to squeeze an exceptional year out of a guy, and he still has time left on his contract, flip ‘em. Assembling a good bullpen always feels a little like seeing which GM can catch the most lightning in a bottle at once. Nick Vincent was really, really great last year, and I’ve been pushing for the team to use him as a trade piece all offseason; partially because he was one of the few players of value that they could offer, and partially because I’m skeptical that he’ll be able to recreate, not just his crazy 2017 success, but even his middling 2016 success. As for Pazos, he’s fun when he’s good, but I trust him/his accuracy about as far as I could throw him. The bullpen is going to be integral to this “wolfpack” strategy that Dipoto has been espousing, so I really hope I’m wrong. It’s been known to happen.
Over: Mike Zunino/Mike Marjama
Assuming this is the catching tandem the team goes with, and I really hope they do, I somehow feel GREAT about the Mikes behind the plate in 2018. A) Zunino is fixed, you guys. Duh. Remember the walk-off? Remember the grand slam? I don’t blame you if you don’t. I’ll wait. It was a rough season for all of us. But those two moments were AWESOME. And he hit the train tracks with a dinger in Houston. Maybe next time it will set off a chain of events that will demolish the stadium. Anyways, I’m not worried about Zunino for the first time ever and it feels fucking great. Try it, guys. And Marjama played winter ball in the DR and hit at least one home run (you simply must listen to that call) so therefore, he will be a solid fellow who plays once or twice a week. If he has the same or more playing time as Chooch did last year, I predict he will contribute 0.5 WAR more war than Chooch did. This is the hill I am willing to die on, Mariners catcher WAR.
Under: Kyle Seager
(Ducks as rotten fruit and beer bottles are rained down upon me) Okay, listen, just hear me out. We all saw the article. We know the stats. Kyle Seager has given us years of consistent, quality offensive output while playing a good to great third base. All I’m saying is 4 is a little high and I think the 3.5 WAR he produced last season is closer to Seager’s new normal. So, not a huge underperformance here but 4 WAR just feels a little too optimistic to me in my post-2017, current-2018-pseudo-fugue-state.
Over: Felix Hernandez
Generally, ZiPS underpredicts pitcher playing time because they’re the most injury prone position group in baseball. A large dose of skepticism is healthy when dealing with pitcher health. So believing that ZiPS is underprojecting Felix is simultaneously a foolhardy endeavor and a belief that he will actually stay on the mound for more than 125 innings. It’s also based on the belief that there’s no way he can continue to allow home runs at a similar rate as last year. Dropping his HR/FB rate back towards league average would go a long way toward revitalizing Felix’s contribution to the Mariners. And even if his home run rate remains a little elevated, like ZiPS projects, his projected strikeout and walk rates should more than make up for that weakness. All he has to do is stay on the mound. Easy.
Under: Taylor Motter
This one was pretty tricky since ZiPS is an inherently conservative projection. That means that it’s hard to underperform a projection unless something catastrophic happens (injury, massive decline in talent, etc.). Even though he doesn’t appear on the depth chart anywhere, Taylor Motter’s projection of 1.2 zWAR is surprisingly high. Last year, he was worth -0.6 fWAR across 92 games so this projection would be a massive improvement. It certainly helps that he’s projected as a shortstop, gaining a ton positional value right off the bat. But he’s also projected to produce an 89 wRC+, a 32 point improvement over what he did in 2017. I don’t think his final stats from last season represent his true talent—he was incredibly unlucky as John so elegantly pointed out recently—but I would be so surprised if Motter broke the 1.0 WAR threshold next year.
Over: Jean Segura
My wish/dream for this spot is Dee Gordon; I even had a full paragraph written on him before I took a second look at the projections. Wait a minute, is that Jean Segura projected for 2 WAR? The same Jean Segura who was worth 2.9 fWAR in 125 games a season ago, and who was worth a whopping five wins in 2016? Sure, there are good reasons for this. Segura struggled mightily for two full seasons in 2014-15. His breakout year in Arizona was fueled by a .353 BABIP. But that said, Segura seems like a pretty good bet to hover between 3-4 fWAR, assuming he stays healthy. You can bet that if Segura doesn’t outperform this projection, the Mariners have absolutely no shot at playing in October.
Under: Robinson Canó
This one took me a while to decide on. Most of that is my eternal optimism combined with what I think are fairly pessimistic projections (though I know this is, as they say, a feature rather than a bug). The easiest place to start with an over/under is at the top, but there aren’t too many holes to poke there. Kyle Seager has at least 3.5 fWAR in all six of his full professional campaigns. Robinson Canó, however, carries a very real age/injury risk and is only a few years removed from a two-win season thanks to a hernia. An optimist would point out that Canó’s lower body injury that bothered him in 2017 would be healed by now; a pessimist, however, would note that multiple nagging injuries in a player’s recent past and 11 straight seasons of at least 150+ games played do not make for a good combination. At the end of the day, a projection for ~3 wins seems eminently doable and entirely reasonable. But if there’s one player whose ZiPS projections stand out in a bad way, it’s Robbie Baseball.
Over: Mitch Haniger
This one should be pretty simple. Last season, Mitch exceeded his 2018 projection of 2 by 0.5 fWAR in just over half a season’s worth of games, many of which took place sandwiched between the recovery from and occurrence of separate injuries. The fact that he finished out his first full season in the majors with a September/October wRC+ of 166 and season-high 28 games played squashes any of my concerns about a sophomore slump. With the team’s ramped-up efforts to prevent injuries and keep players well rested through various courses of action including the implementation of Dr. Lorena Martin, new sleep rooms, increased comfortability in their travels, etc. (see the latest episode of The Wheelhouse) I’m pushing all my chips in on Mitch Haniger in 2018 to stay healthy, and break out as a building block of the next great Mariners offense.
Under: Marco Gonzales
The optimist in me wants to say “why all of these projections are far too conservative”, but if I have to pick one guy I could see having his season derailed, I suppose I’ll say that Marco Gonzales--who I could just as easily see getting right and becoming a two win pitcher--never finds his form and continues to be nagged by injuries while failing to reach 1.0 fWAR for the first time. We’ve consistently seen guys across the league pad their fWAR by eating a bunch of innings, and Gonzales has never exceeded 21 games in any professional season. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong though!
Over: Jean Segura
There was really never any other consideration for me, as those of you who follow me on twitter would already know. The case for this is easy: Jean’s bad seasons aligned with personal tragedy, and his production skyrocketed when he was able to process that in his personal life and then start working with Robinson Canó. Those two things are still true this year, and Jean is a beautiful stubby baseball wizard, so I’m taking the over.
Under: Ben Gamel
I went around and around on this one in my head. Gamel was worth 1.6 fWAR last year in 550 PA without a too-wildly-inflated BABIP and with defensive numbers that arguably understate his true talent there (though I recognize that’s a controversial proposition). Ultimately, though, I’m not too much of a believer in his bat as currently constituted, and I think he’s going to lose a couple hundred PA to Guillermo Heredia, one way or another. If he loses 200 PA from last year’s totals, he’s a 1 WAR player, and that combined with some BABIP regression makes me think he’s not going to hit the ZiPS benchmark this year.
Over: Ben Gamel
Never would I have thought at this time last year that I would become one of Ben Gamel’s staunchest defenders, but a year of looking at his goofy mug making outstanding catches and slapping balls around the yard has won me over. Gamel probably won’t repeat his 2017 early-season run at the batting title, but there are things to like about his bat as he rounds into his second full season in the majors: most notably, his ability to make adjustments, as Connor wrote about here. There’s also an argument to be made that Gamel is the most well-rounded Mariner, as he’s a valuable defender and one of the very few Mariners to post a positive BsR score; if he can get his plate discipline back on track and continue to get reps, that’s easily a 1-2 win player, even if the offense doesn’t take a step forward. Look for 2018 to be a year of improvement for the hard-working sheepadoodle patrolling left field.
Under: Felix Hernandez
It’s hard to be under such a low projection to begin with, and disagreeing with Jake on matters of pitching is always a fool’s errand, so think of this more as a symbolic pick. I am deeply grateful to everything Felix has contributed to the Mariners organization, and yet also filled with trepidation and a doom-sense that he will have anything close to resembling a healthy season in 2018. The flippant term “Ageless Wonder” belies the incredible amount of work it takes for a professional sportsball player past the age of 30 to continue producing at a high level. Felix is not an Ageless Wonder. He is an Aging Okay to an Aged Liability and my fear for this season is he comes down further on that spectrum than we would like.
Over: Nelson Cruz
Really? Just 2 zWAR? Are you kidding me? Sure, he’s getting old, and Father Time has got to catch up at some point, but jeez. Cruz takes care of his body better than just about anybody in the Major Leagues, and has posted right around 4 fWAR each of the last 4 years. His K% has dropped each of the last 3 years, and his BB% has increased. If he loses a bit of bat speed, these trends might reverse. Will they reverse to the tune of 2 fWAR? I don’t think so. I’m calling for one more year of The Fantastic Nelson Cruz, making it that much more painful when the Mariners have to say goodbye after this year.
Under: Edwin Diaz
Diaz alone is projected for 1.6 zWAR. It’s not huge, but it’s significant for a reliever. Maybe this is just the negativity bias from last year setting in, but after the number of times we all saw Diaz struggle with command over the last year, I have a hard time believing that he’s a lock for 1.6 WAR. All it takes are a bad couple weeks, and suddenly we’re looking at Nick Vincent: closer, and Edwin’s opportunities are a little bit fewer and further between.
Over: Jean Segura
In general, I think there are about five players who deserve higher projections than they’ve been given. That said, I’d be most surprised if Segura doesn’t surpass his expectations. Half of his full seasons have been worth 3+ WAR, the others have been at about replacement level. Given that his last two have been the better ones, I the trend is a better one. Barring an injury, he should clear 2 WAR with ease.
Under: Kyle Seager
I just don’t think Seager is the best player on this team like the projections seem to think. He’ll probably be worth around 3 WAR, but not 4. I think it really depends on whether his defense returns to Gold Glove form, because the advanced metrics didn’t love him last year and that certainly hurt. A bounce-back isn’t out of the question but I wouldn’t project it.
Over: Robinson Cano
Part of this may be wishful thinking, but there’s one thing that gives me quite a bit of hope. Robinson Cano ranked 31st in Major League Baseball in average exit velocity. He posted his lowest wRC+ as a Mariner last season, despite hitting the ball harder than he ever has in a Mariners uniform. His batted ball profile in 2017 generated a .363 xwOBA, while his wOBA lagged behind at .345. His increased ground ball rate and decreased fly ball rate could explain the decrease in production that matched his increase in exit velocity. His average launch angle last season was 7.5 degrees, more than 4 degrees below league average. If he can put the ball in the air more than he did last year, he should see his offensive output rise with it.
Under: Kyle Seager
I didn’t want to choose Kyle. In fact, the only reason I chose him is because he has the highest WAR projection. That said, Kyle has only posted a season above 4.0 WAR twice. For him to reach a 4.4 projection, he will need to take his launch angle down a bit. Last year saw his highest fly ball rate of his career, but the lowest home runs per fly ball. He had the seventh highest launch angle in all of baseball last year. Lowering his launch angle may yield more bang for his buck on balls hit in the air, turning some deep fly outs into round trippers.