Here comes the shadow. Yesterday we went through three basic pathways we felt were plausible for the Mariners to overachieve their meager projections. To create these scenarios, we are using an engine of Jake’s own creation, which we encourage you to play around with yourself. Please remember to make a copy of the calculator, don’t use the original itself. If you’re particularly pleased with your work, we’d love seeing any and all scenarios put together in Fanposts.
Without further ado, after enjoying some glimmers of hope yesterday, today we look at the inverse.
1: 2017 Pitching Redux - Injuries to Paxton, Félix and co., inconsistency from Díaz and the bullpen
2017 Pitching Redux
We’ll ease into this batch of easily plausible scenarios with a simple round two of last year’s decimated pitching staff. James Paxton only manages 130 innings. Félix Hernández struggles with health too and makes just half his starts, giving up homers at an extraordinary rate. Ariel Miranda and Andrew Moore are among the many called upon to fill the gaps. David Phelps shows lingering issues from the surgery on his elbow and misses time as well, joining the oft-injured Tony Zych on the DL. The Reliever Pile fills in, with Sam Moll, Casey Lawrence, Ryan Garton, Mike Morin and others struggling to pick up the slack. The Mariners finish 78-84 for the second straight season, but likely sell some parts at the deadline and finish lower overall.
This first projection, based on ZiPS, does not alter the position players in any way. As such, if you’re pessimistic about that group in addition to believing the injuries of yesteryear will return again, this is a plausible baseline for the 2018 season. For all our sakes, I hope that’s dead wrong.
2: Father Time Wins Again: Canó declines further, Cruz and Félix get hurt
Father Time Wins Again
Seattle’s average age may have been reduced, but several of its most notable players are still on the far end of the age curve. That’s a dangerous place for Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Felix Hernandez to be.
For as ghastly as the Canó contract looks down the line, Seattle has been relatively fortunate with Robi’s production thus far, as he has been “worth” the deal on a WAR-to-dollars basis. As Canó enters his age-35 season, however, that could change in a hurry. Two hernias in 2015 and a couple lower body injuries in 2017 weren’t enough to shelve Canó significantly, but this projection sees Canó miss at least a month, with reduced power and foot speed once again holding him back. The numbers above likely understate the impact, as defensively he struggles to man a middle infield spot, and a mixture of Taylor Motter, Andrew Romine, and Zach Vincej struggle to fill the void.
Canó’s partner in crime of a certain age, Nelson Cruz, has cheated baseball mortality for his entire time as a Mariner, but tragically he too is laid low in this scenario. Between chronic back spasms and lower body pain, Nellie is held to just 200 PAs, and faces a similar decline to that of his countryman and fellow 37 year-old, Jose Bautista. Daniel Vogelbach gets extended play as a result, and Seattle likely begins to turn to the future.
As for Félix, well, the trend of injuries continues. After throwing 153.1 IP in 2016, Félix slipped to just 86.2 IP in 2017, and that number will roughly halve again, down to just 48 innings. Hisashi Iwakuma’s comeback, while not particularly impactful on the projections, fails to yield any innings, and Nick Vincent’s extensive usage over the past few years finally catches up with him, limiting him to just 20 innings. Filling the holes are the reliever pile, as Sam Moll, Mike Morin, Chase De Jong, Ariel Miranda and co. all see significant boosts in playing time.
This projection is grisly in many ways, and possibly undersells by a win or two the impact of Canó’s proposed defensive decline via injury. It was one of the more involved projections, in that a lot of IP and PAs were were shuffled around, but only Canó and Cruz had their rate projections adjusted downwards.
This worst-case scenario is kind of like the opposite of the Trader Jerry’s dream scenario from yesterday. Betting on breakout seasons (or a continued breakout) from a significant number of players on the roster can’t possibly work out alright. The Mariners are bound to miss out on a few of their bets.
In this scenario, we see three players who took major steps forward last season take a significant step back in 2018. It’s not unreasonable to expect some struggles from these three players since their track record is checkered at best. For Haniger and Gamel, since they’re the presumptive starters in right field and left field, respectively, I adjusted the outfield playing time projections to match their disappointing performances on the field. That means more at bats for Guillermo Heredia, Cam Perkins, and even Andrew Aplin.
For Gamel, I assumed that his high BABIP from 2017 would regress heavily and that some of the gap power he found towards the end of the year would disappears. A batting average of just .241 and an isolated slugging of just .109 might be the ceiling if his batted ball luck dries up. Zunino’s projection was pretty easy. Just mirror his slash line from 2014: .197/.246/.392. Haniger was a little harder to project. I ended up assuming that his swing changes would push his fly ball rate far too high (a little like Kyle Seager’s 2017 season). That would result in a pretty poor batting average despite some healthy power numbers.
In the end, the struggles of these three players hurt the Mariners a fair bit. They’re not critical to the success of the team like Paxton or Cano, but they’re important supporting pieces that can sink the team if enough of them turn into black holes. Their offense doesn’t fall to the level of the 2010 Mariners but they just can’t score enough runs to post a winning record. In this scenario, the Mariners match their record from 2017.
Not pretty, and not inspiring. Combining any or all of these scenarios gives an even more macabre appraisal, pushing into the low-70s and even the 60s. Of course, a season that poor, would likely spur a shift in direction, which has its appeals after an offseason that’s seemed designed specifically to torment Mariners’ fans. Conversely, a compilation of yesterday’s hope yields a 90+ win team with designs on a playoff run. More likely, this team is, as projected, somewhere in between those extremes.
If you’d like to give us a piece of your mind, we encourage you to make your own projections! Once again, head on over to the Win Projection Calculator—the instructions are on the first tab. Please, for everyone’s sake, make a copy of the entire Google sheet before making any changes to the original document.
Happy (or sad) hypothesizing to you all!