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Jerry Dipoto Lengthened the Mariners’ Roster and Opened the Window of Contention

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By avoiding a few awful players, Jerry may have steered us clear of the iceberg.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Colorado Rockies Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

The top of the Mariners’ roster is as good as it’s been in years. This is hardly surprising; not having been especially close to a playoff spot in 14 years tends to mean your players aren’t very good. This sort of analysis is why I am paid the big bucks. While the performance of the stars has pushed the Mariners into a wild card lead and within spitting distance of the Astros, Jerry Dipoto’s work on the back of the roster is what will—if he can keep it up—hold the Mariners’ window open long enough for the farm system to rejuvenate (before you scroll to the comments, yes, there are several unspoken premises there you may disagree with; I understand.)

I’m going to use fWAR, the blunderbuss of analytical tools here, but I’ll include at least a few finer-tuned pieces of information in the tables to come so that you can see under the hood. For any successful team, you need the star production that we have this year; Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, Marco Gonzales, and James Paxton have been that core of stars for the Mariners even before you get to Nelson Cruz or Kyle Seager or Robinson Canó. Thankfully for us, those first four have a combined sixteen years of club control—and they’re all still (for now) on the right side of thirty. It’s the unsexy back end players, though, that have really kept this year’s Mariners squad afloat. Those back end players are what did the previous regime in, and they—combined with the club control on our talented players—are what can keep the Mariners alive for seasons to come.

2018 Hitters

Name G PA wRC+ Off Def WAR
Name G PA wRC+ Off Def WAR
Jean Segura 93 411 124 11.7 3.1 2.9
Mitch Haniger 97 411 136 17 -4 2.7
Kyle Seager 99 412 94 -2.3 8.4 2
Nelson Cruz 84 345 143 13.6 -8.9 1.7
Robinson Cano 39 169 132 6.4 2.7 1.5
Dee Gordon 90 394 85 -3.1 -1.7 0.8
Mike Zunino 61 223 76 -8.1 6.2 0.6
Ben Gamel 67 208 108 1.6 -3.7 0.5
Denard Span 41 148 122 3.6 -5.1 0.3
Chris Herrmann 15 44 112 1 0.8 0.3
Taylor Motter 8 17 131 0.6 -0.5 0.1
Dan Vogelbach 24 78 93 -1.8 -0.6 0
David Freitas 29 90 56 -5.1 1.1 -0.1
Ryon Healy 82 325 102 -2.9 -9.6 -0.2
Guillermo Heredia 84 250 79 -7.2 -2.4 -0.2
Gordon Beckham 13 40 41 -2.9 0.1 -0.2
Andrew Romine 47 88 32 -5.9 1 -0.2
Mike Marjama 10 29 7 -4.1 0.6 -0.3
Ichiro Suzuki 15 47 32 -3.4 -1.7 -0.4

2018 Pitchers

Name G GS IP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Name G GS IP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
James Paxton 20 20 119.1 3.7 3.16 3.04 2.8
Marco Gonzales 20 20 119.2 3.38 3.32 3.43 2.5
Edwin Diaz 49 0 49 2.2 1.52 1.96 2.4
Wade LeBlanc 20 15 96.2 3.44 4.12 4.33 1
Juan Nicasio 40 0 37.1 6.03 2.51 3.22 1
Mike Leake 20 20 121.2 4.22 4.42 4.32 0.9
James Pazos 39 0 33.1 2.43 2.56 3.54 0.8
Felix Hernandez 20 20 110.1 5.14 4.64 4.43 0.7
Nick Vincent 34 0 29.1 3.99 3.98 4.76 0.3
Erik Goeddel 5 0 7.1 1.23 2.75 4.08 0.2
Roenis Elias 11 0 20.1 2.66 3.16 5.4 0.2
Ariel Miranda 1 1 5 1.8 3.56 4.86 0.1
Mike Morin 3 0 4 6.75 0.91 2.13 0.1
Casey Lawrence 6 0 10 8.1 3.46 5.41 0.1
Rob Whalen 1 0 4 0 3.91 5.54 0
Matthew Festa 1 0 0.2 0 3.16 5.6 0
Christian Bergman 2 2 11.1 3.97 5.1 4.96 0
Andrew Romine 1 0 1 18 6.16 7.79 0
Dan Altavilla 22 0 20.2 2.61 4.66 5.06 -0.1
Chasen Bradford 32 0 37.1 2.65 4.63 4.42 -0.1
Alex Colome 21 0 19.1 3.72 4.45 4.04 -0.1
Taylor Motter 1 0 1 9 20.16 10.42 -0.1
Ryan Cook 11 0 9.1 6.75 6.59 3.63 -0.3
Marc Rzepczynski 18 0 7.2 9.39 7.46 5.13 -0.3
Nick Rumbelow 8 0 10.1 7.84 8.77 5.64 -0.4
Erasmo Ramirez 2 2 9.2 10.24 11.95 5.4 -0.6

There’s a lot to like here at the top, as I said, but almost as much to like at the bottom. The negative value 2018 Mariners haven’t hurt the team much—Ryon Healy’s value is dragged down severely by his defensive metrics (of which I am a skeptic) and his baserunning (seriously, stop weighting GIDPs so much in fWAR, fangraphs), and of the four pitchers to be on pace for more than -0.4 fWAR (a baseline you’ll understand shortly), they are gone (Tacoma), gone (DFA), gone (Tacoma), and hurt (with no real spot on the roster upon return). This is about to get dark, so I apologize, but now let’s do the same thing for the 2015 Mariners.

2015 Hitters

Name G PA wRC+ Off Def WAR
Name G PA wRC+ Off Def WAR
Nelson Cruz 152 655 158 41.2 -15.2 5
Kyle Seager 161 686 115 9.1 4 3.8
Robinson Cano 156 674 116 4.2 -0.1 2.8
Franklin Gutierrez 59 189 167 14.7 0.7 2.3
Seth Smith 136 452 113 5.6 -3.1 1.8
Ketel Marte 57 247 112 4 4.7 1.8
Austin Jackson 107 448 96 -3.3 5.2 1.8
Brad Miller 144 497 105 3.2 -7.1 1.3
Mark Trumbo 96 361 105 1.2 -8.3 0.5
Shawn O'Malley 24 57 129 2.2 -0.2 0.4
Logan Morrison 146 511 90 -6.6 -10 0
Stefen Romero 13 24 90 -0.3 -0.9 0
Taijuan Walker 29 10 -19 -1.4 1 0
Justin Ruggiano 36 81 95 -0.5 -4 -0.2
Steven Baron 4 11 -100 -3 0.2 -0.3
Jesus Montero 38 116 81 -4.3 -3.6 -0.4
Jesus Sucre 52 142 15 -14.2 6.3 -0.4
Welington Castillo 6 28 -12 -4.1 -0.7 -0.4
John Hicks 17 34 -56 -6.8 1.6 -0.4
Mike Zunino 112 386 47 -24.1 6.9 -0.5
Chris Taylor 37 102 23 -9 1.4 -0.5
Dustin Ackley 85 207 75 -8.2 -4.3 -0.6
Rickie Weeks Jr. 37 95 50 -5.3 -3.3 -0.6
James Jones 28 31 -18 -4.2 -2.2 -0.6
Willie Bloomquist 35 72 1 -8.4 -0.5 -0.7

2015 Pitchers

Name G GS IP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Name G GS IP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Felix Hernandez 31 31 201.2 3.53 3.72 3.33 2.9
Carson Smith 70 0 70 2.31 2.12 2.36 2.1
Taijuan Walker 29 29 169.2 4.56 4.07 3.82 2
Hisashi Iwakuma 20 20 129.2 3.54 3.74 3.27 1.9
J.A. Happ 21 20 108.2 4.64 4.12 4.15 1.3
Mark Lowe 34 0 36 1 1.88 2.51 1.1
Tom Wilhelmsen 53 0 62 3.19 3.33 4.22 0.8
Roenis Elias 22 20 115.1 4.14 4.52 4.39 0.7
Tony Zych 13 1 18.1 2.45 2.04 2.7 0.6
James Paxton 13 13 67 3.9 4.31 4.35 0.5
Mike Montgomery 16 16 90 4.6 4.67 4.44 0.3
Charlie Furbush 33 0 21.2 2.08 3.73 3.9 0.2
Lucas Luetge 1 0 2.1 0 3.99 4.62 0
Vidal Nuno 32 10 74.2 4.1 4.79 4.2 0
David Rollins 20 0 25 7.56 4.21 4.19 0
Rob Rasmussen 19 0 14.1 10.67 4.39 4.43 0
Yoervis Medina 12 0 12 3 4.47 5.47 -0.1
Edgar Olmos 6 2 14 4.5 5.42 6.28 -0.1
Logan Kensing 19 0 15.1 5.87 4.5 4.54 -0.1
Jose Ramirez 5 0 4.2 11.57 6.99 9.52 -0.1
Jesus Sucre 2 0 2 13.5 9.63 6.09 -0.1
Danny Farquhar 43 0 51 5.12 4.6 4.02 -0.2
Dominic Leone 10 0 11.1 6.35 5.43 5.97 -0.2
JC Ramirez 8 0 8.1 7.56 7.93 7.82 -0.3
Tyler Olson 11 0 13.1 5.4 6.36 6.07 -0.4
Mayckol Guaipe 21 0 26.2 5.4 5.72 4.61 -0.6
Joe Beimel 53 0 47.1 3.99 5.48 5.25 -0.8
Fernando Rodney 54 0 50.2 5.68 5.27 4.67 -0.8

I first came across this little factoid a week ago and I still can’t believe it. The 2015 Mariners had ten—TEN!—position players generate -0.4 fWAR or worse. (This is why I chose that benchmark.) Throw in four pitchers—combining for over 130 IP—at the same mark and it’s a lot easier, suddenly, to see how 2015 was such a disaster and Jack Zduriencik lost his job. Every team needs stars, but the back end of a roster is where you can prop your team up and keep it afloat—giving it the puncher’s chance at the playoffs, so long as you have enough talent as the engine.

I have tortured the mobile readers of this article with tables long enough, so I will avoid dropping four more tables in here, but there are two more seasons in recent years that further illustrate this. The 2017 Mariners used 40 pitchers and 22 position players. A remarkably balanced offense saw eight players from 1.7 fWAR (though none over 3.8) and seven above-league average hitters (and Ben Gamel’s 99 wRC+). At the back end, though, five players dropped below that -0.4 fWAR mark. Not as strong of an effort as 2018 (again, as with the pitching, the biggest poor performers to date are Mike Marjama and Ichiro Suzuki, who are both obviously no longer playing), but not awful.

Flip to the pitching tab for that season, though, and you see something that is maybe enough of a miracle to open Jerry Dipoto’s cause for canonization: despite using 40 pitchers in a single season, exactly one of those pitchers was worth -0.4 fWAR or worse (thank you for your service, Sam Gaviglio.) Indeed, of the 14 pitchers to generate negative value, they did so in a very reasonable way, totaling a mere -2.7 fWAR. Compare this to the 2015 squad, whose negative pitchers totaled -3.8 fWAR.

Even Jack Zduriencik’s best team doesn’t compare terribly well when you look at the back end. The pitching wasn’t bad at all, with only Erasmo Ramírez dropping under the -0.4 fWAR mark, but the hitting was a disaster on the back end, with four players at -0.6 fWAR or worse and a total from negative players of -4.5 fWAR. Indeed, ask any Mariners fan about their negative memories of that season and surely one of the first two names you hear through gritted teeth will be Austin Jackson (boy, I was excited about that trade) or Kendrys Morales.

Two and a half years and one extension into his tenure in Seattle, Dipoto’s methods are still polarizing; as with any executive, non-Luhnow/Epstein category, there is ample room for criticism. While there have been some clunkers (whither Chris Taylor?), the future looks a lot brighter in Seattle for the next 4-5 seasons that most of us thought two years ago. That’s for a variety of reasons—the Jean Segura/Mitch Haniger trade means we finally have a franchise-altering trade in a good way—but don’t discount Dipoto’s ability to assemble a competent bottom third of the 25-man roster as one of the bigger factors.

Trader Jerry jokes aside, the pace of transactions has slowed drastically since 2016, as he swapped older and expiring assets in favor of youth and control. Youth still needs to produce—we’ll see how the Healy situation resolves in August and this offseason—but by adding competent back end players and years of control, Dipoto has bought himself time to build a farm system back from ashes; the next thing for us to hope he hits on is his progressive player development strategy. If he does, things may well be sunny in Seattle for years to come.