Every year, after the dust has settled from the regular season, we at LL like to look back at the year that was, and what that suggests about the year that will be. In past years, we’ve divided this up by position group; this year, we’ll be trying something new: examining the contributions of each player by age. The Mariners have a rep as being one of the oldest teams in MLB, thanks to an eternally-dry farm system and several top-heavy contracts. But who produces how much value, and at what age?
A note: throughout this series, we’ll be basing our calculations off FanGraphs for both Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and the prediction system ZiPS.
We began with the youngest members of the system, ages 26 and younger, who accounted for 7 of the Mariners’ total 35 fWAR, or 20%. (Thanks, Edwin!) Next came the players in their “primes”, with 9.6 fWAR coming from those aged 26-28, or 27% of the team’s total 35.0 fWAR. Ages 29 and 30 made up the next block, accounting for 10.1 fWAR, or 28.9%. Then came ages 31-32, by far the least productive age group, accounting for just .9 fWAR, or 2.6%. Today we close up the series by looking at the most senior members of the team.
Wade LeBlanc (33 during 2018 season)
Projected fWAR: .8
Actual fWAR: 1.7
Oh, father Wade. Wade the White Wizard. Wader Tot. Wade was a delightful surprise both on and off the field this season. In a season that gave us both highs and lows, Wade was a remarkably steady contributor, taking the ball every fifth day and throwing his five or six innings, giving up his two runs, and handing things over to the bullpen. In the meantime we were also treated to Wade the Neat Teammate and watched his Instagram bromance with fellow lefties Marco Gonzales and James Paxton blossom. The highlight of Wade’s season--and probably his career--was a 7.2 inning nine-K one-hitter he spun against the best team in the AL, the Boston Red Sox, on national TV in mid-June. Cheers to another year, Wade. -Kate Preusser
Denard Span - (34)
Projected fWAR: 0.7 (for entire 2018 season, projected for him as a Tampa Bay Ray)
Actual fWAR: 0.9 (with the Mariners)
I cannot remember a single Seattle Mariner that I insta-fell in love with quite like Denard Span. When the Mariners executed the trade to land Span and Alex Colomé, I wrote that Colomé would be the more useful player and that Span would likely take his swings from the bottom of the lineup or a part-time role. While Colomé proved to be an integral piece of Seattle’s reliever corps, Span’s .272/.329/.435 slash line and 112 wRC+ in 328 Mariner plate appearances (many of which came in the 4, 5, and 6 spots in the order) made him my favorite ex-Ray to join the squad this season.
I have a friend who constantly espouses the theory that the Mariners need to acquire “pros” and “baseball players” and “guys who’ve been there” if the organization is to bury its decade-and-change of misfortune. When watching Denard Span put together quality plate appearance after quality plate appearance all summer, and in turn embody those platitudes my friend is so fond of, I found myself beginning to wish that every hitter on the Mariners could be Denard Span.
Span and the Mariners have a $12 million mutual option on the outfielder that they’ll need to address this offseason. While that is a sizable chunk of change for a 35-year-old employed by a team that already has the younger, cheaper Ben Gamel, I don’t think I would hate that option being picked up. Part of that is because when I think of Span, I think of his double against the Red Sox, his game-winning splash in Arizona, and his adorable child. These things are, perhaps stupidly, enough to make me want him on the team in 2019, and enough to ignore his advanced age and poor defense, although he could slot in nicely at DH if Nelson Cruz walks. -Matthew Roberson
Zach Duke (35)
Projected fWAR: .4
Actual fWAR: .9
Actual fWAR as a Mariner: .1
In theory, acquiring Zach Duke was a reasonable move by the Mariners. With Marc Rzepczynski out of the picture, the bullpen needed a left-handed specialist for the stretch run. The problem was, Duke suddenly forgot how to get lefties out once he joined the Mariners. His walk rate against lefties increased by six points after switching teams. He had three appearances where he faced a single batter and walked them (and a fourth where he hit the batter instead). Duke was far from the worst performer on the Mariners pitching staff in August and September, but he certainly didn’t contribute very many useful innings.
Robinson Canó (35 during 2018 season)
Projected fWAR: 2.8
Actual fWAR (348 PAs): 2.9
The fact that Robinson Cano exceeded his fWAR projection in half a year should reassure fans worried about his decline. Fitting Cano back into the lineup also allowed for the Mariners to experiment with some positional flexibility for the 35-year-old, trying him out at first base and even third. The Dodgers are showing us how important positional flexibility is in the post-season, and the more ways the Mariners have to get Cano’s bat into the lineup, the better. -KP
Nelson Cruz (38)
ZiPS fWAR: 2.0
Actual fWAR: 2.5
Hottest bat in June
Important on and off the field
! STICK ! - IM
Ichiro Suzuki (44)
ZiPS fWAR: -0.1
Actual fWAR: -0.4
44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki was an Opening Day starter in the Year 2018 for a team that won 89 games.
44-year old Ichiro Suzuki was worth more fWAR in the Year 2018 than everyday first baseman Ryon Healy.
45-year-old Ichiro Suzuki should be the everyday first baseman in the Year 2019. - MR
Total fWAR from this age group: 7.7
That’s a little bit to be expected, considering this is the group that contains some of the bigger payroll types like Canó and Cruz, but a 22% share of overall fWAR is still pretty impressive for the team’s oldest age group. It’s also a fairly sobering reminder that if the team doesn’t do something to replace Cruz’s lost fWAR in free agency, we could be looking at another lost season.