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FanGraphs releases 2020 ZiPS projections for the Mariners

You might want to invest in MiLB TV.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

With most of free agency wrapped up, baseball’s orbit has stretched closest to absolute zero, with little movement left outside of a few trade rumors. The big moves could still come, but they’re unlikely to impact the Mariners in the short term, meaning Seattle is more fixated on what else comes in these ill-lit months: prospect lists and projections. After a rush of the former in the past week, we get the latter today in the form of ZiPS, from Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs. The projection system is veteran at this point, factoring in the past 3-4 seasons of performance, velocity data, injuries, park factors, and other variables based on player age to project the next year’s production by both WAR (FanGraphs/fWAR specifically) and broken down into particular traditional and advanced stats.

Whether you’re familiar with ZiPS and other projection systems or not, you can probably augur what it expects from the 2020 Mariners - not much.

ZiPS works its playing time out via FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections, which are a combination of human knowledge and projection, so some of it (e.g. Ljay Newsome being included over, say, Logan Gilbert as a likelier imminent callup) is suspect. That’s 20.8 fWAR on the nifty chart above there in total, however, and if we round up to 21.0 even to include the bench, that can give us a decent sense of what ZiPS sees Seattle as in terms of true talent. FanGraphs’ “replacement level” posits that a team of exclusively replacement level players would win ~29.7% of its games, between 47-48 games in a season, so in a vacuum ZiPS sees a 67-69 win club. That would put them ahead of most Vegas projections, but also doesn’t account for the quality of their division, which figures to be led by at least three above-average clubs.

Breaking down the projections more finely, a few positions seem particularly ripe for over/under debates. Starting in the cellar, ZiPS is thoroughly unconvinced Evan White is ready, and is similarly skeptical of Austin Nola’s whole scene. Earlier this winter I went into detail on why FanGraphs’ league-averaged metrics may under-credit Mariners prospects at the High-A Modesto and Double-A Arkansas levels, but that doesn’t mean White is assured to outdo these expectations. Still, if White Claw puts up a .227/.275/.376 season and a 77 OPS+, I won’t eat my hat, but I’ll at least sprinkle some salt and Fox Point seasoning on it.

Similarly, Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley are not expected to make much hay, with .227/.280/.369 and a 77 OPS+ projected for Lewis and .231/.285/.397 with an 85 OPS+ expected for Fraley. Both players have clear bugaboos - Lewis has been strikeout prone, Fraley hasn’t convinced evaluators he has big league game power, and both players have hardly been beacons of health. One has never played in AAA while the other had sporadic, injury-interrupted reps there. Both will be forced into action by Mitch Haniger’s initial absence, and while there’s plenty of cause for optimism, the red flags are there for struggles out the gate.

Little love is spared for Shed Long Jr. and Dee Gordon either, who are placed in a quasi-time share that, at least per Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais’ statements, is not how the position will manifest in actuality. Long is expected to take second base on full-time, with Gordon playing a utility role. I am optimistic that Long outdoes his lowly 85 OPS+ and 0.2 WAR projection, as every facet of his offensive game looked capable in his debut, but better quarter-seasons have led to naught. Tom Murphy is also pegged for a drop in production, though that tracks considering Murphy’s lack of track record was what made his 2019 breakout a pleasant surprise.

On the cheerier end of things, Kyle Seager is expected to continue his capable play following a stabilizing bounce-back 2019. Mitch Haniger’s injury hurts his overall projection, but he’s still expected to play like a low-level All-Star upon his return. Daniel Vogelbach is also expected to continue to be an above-average hitter, making him an average DH. Mallex Smith gets some love as a bounce-back candidate, while J.P. Crawford is expected to be around an average player. The infield should be one of the league’s most improved defensively, greatly aiding a bullpen and rotation stocked with several groundball inducers. While Justus Sheffield doesn’t track to be a stud yet, a passable age-24 season puts him on track in ZiPS’ eyes to grow into a mid-rotation option still in the next few years.

Speaking of the next few years, that is likely where folks will want to look on these projections. Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert both look sharp by this lens, with Kelenic trending towards an All-Star caliber player in the next few years and Gilbert already projecting as the club’s second or third-best starter by rate numbers. That’s damning with faint praise to some degree, but looking like a 0.9 win pitcher in 120 MLB innings as a rookie in just his second full pro season is promising. As Szymborski notes in his article, there’s a case to be made the projected Tacoma bullpen is superior to the Seattle one, in a way more complimentary to Tacoma than insulting to Seattle.

Read the full article here, and let us know who you think will over, under, or appropriately achieve. As Dan notes in the piece, he does projections for all players who last played for the team and have yet to sign with another club, stretching back one extra season, even for retirees (e.g. Ichiro).