The 2020 season remains scheduled to begin two weeks from Thursday, and fully released schedules means teams can begin to game-plan for specific opponents and schedule chartered flights with nervous breath. It also means projection systems can offer recalibrated estimations of the season’s outcome, though what that looks like could vary wildly as health issues traditional and viral crop up, players opt out, and things otherwise fluctuate nationwide. The PECOTA projection system held the pre-quarantine Mariners in little regard, pegging them for 66-96 over 162 games, good for 2nd-worst in all of MLB, and they don’t anticipate Seattle’s fortunes improving in the 60-game, all-West-a-fiesta.
The Mariners, by the magic of rounding, are most likely to end up as the 2nd-worst team in the AL and in MLB by record in this shortened season as well, with a mean projection of 23-37. That puts them firmly in the cellar of the AL West, and the basement of the combined AL/NL hybrid division for good measure.
Because of the high floor of the rest of the division on the whole, with even the cellar-dwellers of the NL West expected to be more cromulent, as well as the divisions boasting arguably the best team in both the AL and NL, Seattle has a tougher road to sled than many clubs. Consider the humble Royals and Tigers, who easily underperformed Seattle last year and look likely to have less-skilled clubs once again. Still, by dint of facing each other, as well as a middling NL Central slate, both clubs narrowly eke ahead of the M’s in projections, with only the [is this an MLB club?] Orioles expected to be worse.
Still, it’s not all bad in the shortened slate: Seattle’s odds of winning the division and/or making the playoffs, still microscopic by PECOTA’s reckoning, did get infinitesimally better, from 0.0% of projections up to 0.1% and 0.6% respectively, and their likelihood of finishing in the middle of the pack has improved as well.
Obviously, outcomes are only part of the battle: a ~.500 season where the Mariners scrape by on some veteran resurgences and see few of their young players set themselves apart doesn’t clarify things well heading towards 2021, nor does it offer the mild consolation prize of a higher draft pick. On the other hand, while the “Collapse for Kumar” signs [ed. note: we have already discussed many better options including “FUBAR for Kumar” and “subpar for Kumar” and “fock’er for Rocker”] would need to be retired quickly, a spunky showing from the likes of Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Justus Sheffield, Shed Long, J.P. Crawford, Justin Dunn, et al would be an encouraging one for both the talent of the players in the system and a promising tiding for the player development within the organization. Let us not forget the foundational lessons of Bird In Hand v. Birds in Bush League.
FanGraphs has also had projections for standings, blending the ZiPS and Steamer systems, along with their own in-house depth chart work, for their Depth Charts projections. Dan Szymborski released his updated ZiPS projections back in late June, when MLB first implemented the season by commissioner fiat. Those projections factored in the overall divisional schedule, though not its specifics, but projected Seattle for 22-38, an even rougher record that still landed them at the penultimate win total for 2020, with the Orioles failing to crack the 20 mark. The site’s blended projections totals appear to see Seattle similarly to PECOTA: 23.5-36.5, ahead of only Baltimore, with just 1.0% playoff odds.
...pssssst. Hey, you. You who is reading this thinking, “well what’s the point of trying to win against such poor odds?” Hello friend, I am here for you.
I love my compatriot John and admire his baseball knowledge and his relentless desire for the team to do better. I appreciate and admire this spirit of can-do optimism and faith in the next line of Mariners prospects.
But my friends, I am a realist, and also a lover of the MLB draft, and therefore I would like to present you a brief slate of names with which to familiarize yourself with for the upcoming MLB draft. Hey, it’s not that much earlier than we started this last year, when exactly one year ago I wrote a profile of a hard-throwing SEC darling pitcher named Emerson Hancock as a lark, knowing he would never be available for the Mariners to select. AND YET. How much can change in a year. So, for those of you who are ready to get excited about the crew of players in next year’s MLB Draft, here are some hot names to know:
- RHP Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt) - we’ve mentioned Rocker already, and you’ll hear more about him later, but this is a kid with frontline ace stuff who we’ve been watching since he came out of high school as one of the best prep arms available in 2018. Rocker is enormous—his dad played in the NFL—and made a smart decision to head off to Vanderbilt to refine his craft and push himself into top-3 eligibility in his draft year. Barring something cataclysmic he’ll be either the first or second pick in the 2021 draft.
- RHP Jack Leiter (Vanderbilt) - Leiter, like Rocker, was a highly-regarded prep talent in the 2018 draft who was also committed to Vanderbilt. Rocker has the more eye-popping raw stuff, but Leiter is MLB royalty (dad Al had a 20-year career in the bigs). Hopefully we’ll be able to see something regarding a 2021 season where we can watch this one-two punch crush SEC hitters.
- SS Brady House (Winder-Barrow HS, GA) - The Astros shocked pundits when they took relatively unheralded shortstop Carlos Correa first overall in 2012, a move that looks pretty genius today. A similarly-sized prep shortstop with big power, House has the ability to sneak into Correa’s shadow and make some big noise next season.
- SS Jordan Lawlar (Jesuit Prep, TX) - One more prep player to round out this list. John, Kate, and Joe all love Lawlar for his five-tool ability and plus athleticism, and while it’s hard to be a Mariners fan and get attached to a prep prospect, it’s very hard where Jordan Lawlar is concerned.