It’s December, which means it’s time for FanGraphs’ annual ZiPS projection for the Mariners for the upcoming season. Once again, Santa has opened his bag and revealed not the hottest toy of the season (that’s going to Dodgers fans), but an 85-90 win team that projects to be good but not good enough to win the AL West. You can read the article here, but here’s one sentence that really stuck out:
When your projected win total is in the 80s, efficiency has to go on the back burner; it’s not the time to pinch pennies.
And yet pinching pennies has been exactly what this off-season has been about, so far. More moves are certainly to come which might alter this outlook, but this is the bulk of what we’re working with. Is there any hope for more? As we do every year, the LL staff faced off against the computer model to dig through where Mariners fans have cause to be more optimistic than this collection of nuts and bolts, and where the computer might actually be overestimating the performance of some players. Check back mid-season to see how our predictions are faring, and make your own in the comments.
Luis Castillo (4.5):
Kate: I am really hoping to be wrong on this one, but I think well under. I’m concerned about the fading effectiveness of the once-brilliant changeup and what that does to the rest of his arsenal.
Evan: Under. No complaints about Luis from me at all, but he was worth 3.4 WAR by FanGraphs last season, I see more of the same from him.
Zach: Under. Last year was a down year for Castillo, and at age 31 there’s reason to be worried that it wasn’t a fluke. He lost a tick on his fastball and gave up more fly balls (and subsequently home runs) than he ever had before. I’m not projecting a total collapse, but somewhere in the mid 3’s feels about right for him.
Nick: Under, but just barely. I’m feeling an up year, but for me, that means 4.2, given his age and home run tendencies.
George Kirby (3.9):
Evan: Over. How dare you doubt my boy.
Kate: Easily over. ZiPS doesn’t like Kirby’s dip in strikeouts this year and some of the underpinnings (slightly increased HR rate) but also ZiPS has literally never seen George Kirby pitch, because unlike the hills, ZiPS does not have eyes.
Nick: Over. I think Kirby gets some top-5 Cy Young votes next season.
Eric: Over. Wins Cy Young with a .500 W-L record.
Nick T: Way over.
John: Over. The man gobbles innings efficiently and impressively.
Logan Gilbert (3.8):
Bee: Over. LoGi bear is a tinkerer, but not a whimsical one, and I think there is a real chance that he puts the experience from his first few years to great use and sees consistent, dare I say improved, results. This year, Walter will be the one who knocks on the door to the house of Cy.
Kate: Push. I am pleased ZiPS recognizes and respects Gilbert’s slow-and-steady approach to improvement while rewarding him for a slight uptick in strikeouts, and I think 3.8 feels just about right.
Evan: Push. This feels exactly right to me and even represents a modest but measurable step above last season’s already front line performance.
Bryce Miller (2.3):
Kate: Push. I really believe in Bryce Miller and think he can continue to innovate and improve, but I don’t think he’ll really hit his stride quite yet in his sophomore campaign. But I also just saw an Instagram of him throwing what looks like a splitter so never mind, I’m taking the over.
Evan: Push. Again, this just feels right. If you wanna do shots and get crazy like Gail the Snail you can guess at one of Miller or Woo breaking 3 wins, that would be delightful. My money is they both wind up between 2 and 2.5, with a slight edge to B-ryce.
Zach: Over. He nearly hit 2.0 fWAR in 131.1 innings last year, and there’s no reason he couldn’t pitch 160 innings this year. At the same fWAR/inning rate as last year, that already puts him at 2.3 fWAR this next year – and he should improve.
Nick: Over for sure. That fastball has real life, and he’s still learning how to pitch. Gimme 3.
Eric: Over. Cowboy Bryce will have a big year, agree with 3.
Bryan Woo (1.6):
Kate: Over. Significantly so. Like Miller, Woo’s projection relies on his ability to make adjustments and not having to be so fastball-heavy, but generally, pitching people prefer Woo’s stuff to Miller’s; these two are closer than ZiPS sees them.
Evan: Over, albeit slightly. I feel like my opinion on Woo is super high, but I remain skeptical his breakout is imminent until I see more consistent command beyond the third inning. If he puts it all together I think he has an incredible ceiling, but even if the stuff has held up over higher pitch counts, the command/control has not, and that might put him in the bullpen if he can’t sort it out in short order.
Nick: Push. He’s got tools, but this isn’t the year for his breakout. Plus, he’s gonna be sidelined for a couple months this season.
Eric: Under sadly due to injuries and/or ineffectiveness.
John: Over. On tools, this is my favorite of the three youngest M’s starters. I am deeply wary of durability, but if we don’t have dreams we have nothing.
Emerson Hancock: (0.6):
Kate: Assuming health, very comfortably over. It seems like at least one of Miller, Woo, or Hancock would be moved, though, if they want to bring in any kind of offensive help, and I’ve already put Hancock in a theoretical trade package with the Rays that I really like.
Nick: Under. He probably nabs 0.2 if he pitches for the Mariners.
Bonus: Robbie Ray (unlisted):
Bee: Over. He’s going to put up unreal second half numbers for the Reds.
Kate: Poor bullpen doesn’t even get broken out by contributor. I think it’s pretty easy to imagine Brash, Muñoz, and Topa alone combining for 3.6 wins, so I’ll take the over.
Evan: Over. This projection is wack because it would only represent the top 2 guys (Brash and Munoz) by themselves the last two seasons. Easy over and someone we’ve possibly never even heard of yet has a mini breakout (a la Topa, Speier)
Lou: Over for sure. I expect improvement as our returning guys continue to settle into leadership roles and adjust to Sewald’s absence.
Nick: Over. Bullpens are volatile, but the Mariners have real talent.
C: Cal Raleigh/Seby Zavala (2.8):
Connor: Over. Cal has put up back-to-back seasons of at least 4 fWAR, and given his track record of durability and power, I expect him to easily clear these projections. I have no real expectations for Zavala, but if he can put up even marginal numbers at the dish in a backup role he should also finish in the black thanks to his strong glovework.
Bee: I wanted to take the over on catcher, because of the points Connor made and my faith in Raleigh, but unlike Connor, I’m not convinced Zavala won’t significantly drag him down with negative value. I looked for a silver lining in his profile and found only tin.
Evan: Over. This projection is Cal Raleigh succeeding while Zavala repeatedly kicks him in the shins.
Nick: Push for a combo of the reasons listed above.
1B: Ty France/Dylan Moore (2.0):
Kate: I shall bravely take the over and predict that an off-season of conditioning and swing adjusting at Driveline, plus a new dose of Dad Strength, get Ty at least back to his 2022 form.
John: Under. A solid rate production for France will be once again curtailed by injuries and backslide to around this level or just below.
Nick: Over - Driveline can fix him!
Eric: Way under, embarrassingly so.
Nick T: Over. From the ashes of 2023 will be born unto us a phoenix, bright and beautiful and terrible to behold. All who face him will be left in despair. He shall tear the league down to the studs and remake it in his image.
2B: Josh Rojas/Ryan Bliss/José Caballero (1.3):
Bee: Over. (Just don’t ask me by how much).
Kate: As the resident Josh Rojas Believer, I’ll take the over for a Rojas/DMo platoon at second. Maybe Rojas doesn’t get back to his 2022 high of 2.7, but I think he gets to 2 easily.
Lou: Agreed. Rojas gets at least to 1.7 on his own.
Eric: Under, 2B will be our continued nightmare all season.
3B: Luis Urías/Josh Rojas/Bleh (2.4):
Bee: I say this as someone who genuinely appreciates Urías and Rojas as players, probably more than most, but: :( Sad Vibes Only :(
Evan: Push. If this cavalcade of misfit toys puts up 3 combined wins I will dance in the streets. Josh Rojas was shockingly good in the caveat small sample size last year, so I mean, MAYBE.
Nick: Boooo. No one will get enough playing time to really succeed. Under.
Eric: Under, whole concept is an affront to good taste.
Nick T: Under. I flipped a coin. Hilariously it was an Arizona quarter, which is ominous. Might have to get rid of this quarter now. It knows things.
SS: J.P. Crawford (3.0):
Evan: Over. JP is back at Driveline for another offseason of training after blowing his projections out of the water to the tune of a 4.9 WAR season in 2023. I don’t think it’s fair to pencil him in around the 5 mark, but something like 3.5-4 wins? Yea, that seems just right.
Lou: I agree with Evan— I think last year’s success demonstrated sustainable adjustments that will continue to bear fruit in 2024. Over.
Eric: Push, I think this is more or less spot on.
LF: Cade Marlowe/Taylor Trammell/Bleh (1.1):
Connor: Slightly over. Marlowe quickly showed his defense and baserunning can earn him a spot on a big league roster - I was particularly impressed by his adept handling of Minute Maid Park’s outfield nooks and crannies in his first visit to Houston back in August. Grand slam against the Angels notwithstanding, though, it became clear that his contact tool needs some work to hang at the Major League level over a full season. His glove alone in a bench role might be enough to get him to this less-than-rosy projection, but I’m not expecting him to beat it by much, if at all, unless he shows improvement at the plate. Help us, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Jorge Soler, you’re our only hopes.
Kate: I wish both ZiPS and the Mariners liked Cade Marlowe as much as I do. Also, Bleh has a name, and it’s Zach DeLoach.
Nick: I can’t even be bothered to think about this tbh.
Eric: Under, another absolute war crime against good taste and all things decent.
CF: Julio Rodríguez (5.0):
Bee: Over. Last year was supposed to be Julio’s sophomore slump and we got that August. Five wins this season might genuinely be his floor, maybe not, but it’s not usually wise to bet against Julio or his work ethic, so I won’t.
Evan: Over. MVP! MVP! On the pod long ago I made the comp to Alex Rodriguez who stumbled to a roughly 4 win sophomore season before going nuclear and having a 40/40 season in year 3. Julio is inevitable.
Nick T: Easy over. Julio’s 2024 season will call into question the validity of WAR as a stat. Future generations will study this season as the impetus for a new era of statistical talent evaluation.
John: Over. Not only is this a ringing endorsement of Julio’s continued growth, I have a mild fear that the league will be pitching around him more given the nature of this lineup without further strides.
RF: Dom Canzone/Bleh (1.0):
Kate: I am a noted Dom Canzone Disliker, but hey, thanks to Tommy Devito, Italian-American athletes are having a real moment right now. Here’s hoping we all get a chance to reuse those Sopranos memes that are floating around now next spring.
Evan: Hell is empty, and all the devils are here. In all seriousness, Dom Canzone strikes me as a pro player in need of a total makeover more than anyone I’ve seen in ages. He has power, he has contact. With a reinvention he could be something, but it feels like much to count on. I also don’t really buy him as an outfielder and think he’s more in the Greg Bird mold than anything, make of that what you will. Push at replacement level, possibly as a cumulative result of Canzone being bad at all things and Marlowe putting up sterling defensive stats in limited RF reps.
DH: Taylor Trammell/Zach DeLoach/Bleh (1.6):
Evan: Under. But to where? Hell? Will I long for Mike Ford? Will the Mariners sign one thumb Tom Murphy to DH in May after watching a month of this? I need to lay down.
Lou: I really don’t think this is our DH strategy. If these two players combine for most of the DH at-bats for a year… way, way under. But I think we’ll make a move that will push Trammell and DeLoach out of DH appearances.
Eric: Under, a Tet Offensive-level assault against those who enjoy watching productive hitters.
Bee: Under. Six feet under, where I’ll be from watching this DH battery all season long if this is really what they roll out.