All Kindsa GAINZ
Get up off me, Orcs. Gimme some ROOM


I/O:  Fangraphs computer projects the M's as the #1 team in AL for 2015.

CRUNCH:  And how could they not.  Even the NBA sighed in relief when the Mariners' fingertips just missed the ledge of the 2014 postseason.  Just consider yourselves lucky, SF and KC fans.  (Oh, sorry.  That was kinda trite.  Mojo is the creative thinker out of the both of us.)

Granted, it's a first-among-peers kinda prediction.  The MLB average "Wins Above Replacement" (WAR) have the average team at +33 WAR and the Mariners at +39 WAR.  

Their computer algorithms, reasonably but not by logical constraint, smooths out performances so much that the "best" team in the AL is pegged at 87 wins.  The 3rd-worst AL team, the Twins, wins 76 games.  

That's never the case, not by miles, so we are getting an awwwwfulllll lot of smoothing toward the average for the typical ballplayer.  Your own favorite player will have been smooshed into the middle of the pack, whoever he is; don't worry about the fact that Felix Hernandez' normal WAR has had 20% amputated off it.  So has every other star's.

A few areas of near-certain gainz for us gonzo Mariner addicts to admire in the mirror.


Age 26 w Experience GAINZ


Player Actual 2014 WAR Guesstimated 2015 WAR
1B LoMo 1.0 1.8
SS Miller + Taylor 2.8 3.3
LF Ackley 2.1 1.9
CF Jackson -1.1* 2.3
RF Saunders 1.9 2.5
C Zunino 1.7 2.8
Total 8.6 14.6


Center field includes the CF position for the M's ... Jackson's -0.3 with us, Almonte's +0.2, and James Jones' -1.0 there.

The big picture is:  The Mariners have 5-6 players who are BOTH young AND experienced.  If they improve by an average of 1 WAR each, well, that's 6 wins, now id'nn it.  Look'a da steam risin' off dat roster.  Yyeeaaaahhhhhhhh.



Here's the sucker punch the Orcs will never see comin'.  This being the worst players suffered by McClendon in 2014 and in the imaginary 2015:

2014 Player 2014 WAR 2015 Player 2015 WAR
Romero -1.2 Bloomquist -0.1
Hart -1.2 Jones  -0.1
Jones -1.0    
Kendrys -0.9    
A. Jackson -0.3    
Smoak -0.3    
Denorfia -0.3    
Gillepsie -0.2    
Others -0.2    
TOTAL -5.4   -0.2


Most ships, much less the Good Ship U.S.S. Mariner (not that kind of USSM!), suffer waterlog.  In the first half, they have a fair bit of ballast to chuck over the side.  (No jokes about Dr. D's preferred fate, now that Mojo and Bat are writing.)  

I'll bet that most of you would cry "POSITIVE-WAR LAND HOO-OO-OO!" from the crow's nest of November 2014.  The 2015 Mariners won't go into March taking frantic draws at the deck, trying to figure out someone who can defend himself in the #8 hole.  They've settled on players who can do the job.  (Famous last words...)

As you (and Lloyd McClendon) mighta noticed last year, some players are going to disappoint you.  That's where the "robustness" of the M's youth movement factors in -- for you and for STEAMER, which sees little issue from -1.2 WAR benchies next year.

Anyway, if three benchies are dragging anchor aft, we can always go to one benchie.  Joe Beimel can catch, I'm sure of it.



Finally, here is the 2015 hole in the Mariner squad, according to STEAMER:

  • 2014 DH = 0.4 WAR (0.1 each from Montero, Miller, Taylor, Romero)
  • 2014 DH = 4.4 WAR (if your DH was Victor Martinez)

Amusingly, John Buck is the #6 projected free agent batter (that's ALL batters) at +2.0 WAR.


Baby Face GAINZ

Didn't even get into no Taijuan-age.  K-Pax either.  Nothing about any Brad Miller pulling a Fred Lynn on people, or D.J. Peterson doing a Jim Rice, or Dustin Ackley hitting .323 with 41 doubles, or nothing like that.  But it would be about time.

Just for fun, now.  Don't freak out.  But I could visualize 5-WAR seasons next year for any of the following players.  In order of preference:

  • Felix, natch
  • Cano, natch
  • Seager, natch
  • :: takes deep breath ::
  • James Paxton (well, +50 "raw" runs saved, if not WAR)
  • Michael Saunders
  • Brad Miller
  • Taijuan Walker (he is a tweak away)
  • Dustin Ackley 

If the Mariners have 5 candidates for 5-WAR bustout seasons, they could get one.  Imagine if they had two!

Beyond that, my fave roto feebs for "breakout" seasons next year, like maybe up to 3-4 WAR, in order:

  • Roenis Elias
  • Logan Morrison
  • Mike Zunino
  • Chris Taylor
  • Tom Wilhelmsen (if McClendon relents)

This last section sounds kinda like the 1995 AOL STATS board.  So sue me.  But the M's have young players, and those young players are not exactly Greg Dobbs.


If the M's seem well-positioned to pick up zum heaffy zings and put zem back down, well ... they've only been in "rebuilding mode" for about as long as Egypt.  'bout time they be showin' some gains. 

The "serious analysis," earlier, talked about the scenario in which the M's (1) boast moderate 1-2 WAR gains from (say) 5 different young players at once in 2015.  If they did, they would menace a juggernaut.  As a completely separate issue, it says here that they should  (2) have a huge step forward from their "lousiest" players.  As a completely separate issue, they're (3) into the free agent market.

I got your Pollyanna right here, pal.


Dr D





That's pretty clear headed analysis, Doc. The Good Ship Mariner is in fine condition. I wish we were a little further along with the outfield bench: folks like Morban, Choi, Blash, Romero, got stalled out, so we have little backup in the OF should Jackson be broken and Saunders indeed is fragile. But the infield is solid as a rock, catcher looks good to very the rotation has strength and great upside, and we have $$ to spend.


You don't have to be bullish on Mike Zunino to find it a little unbelievable that he'll drop below .180. But I am very curious as to why you say that. Mike hit .286 in the minor leagues. Sure, projecting .220 as Steamer does, seems a little optimistic. But


The all-time MLB average wit a K/BB as bad as Zunino's in 2014 is .195. And that was before defensive shifting and in a neutral park. Zunino's K/BB really is THAT bad. Unless he does something about his ginormous problem with sucker pitches...the best he'll do is tread water in 2015. Don't know if I'd actually BET that he hits .180...but I might bet the under on his 2014 BA for 2015.


I want to believe in Zunino's upside but I fear Matt's downside. It's a real concern.

GLS's picture

I don't think there's any way to really know with Zunino, but the hope is that with an offseason to rest and hopefully not so many innings behind the plate next year, that somehow there will be an improvement in pitch recognition such that a .199 hitter can rise to the level of a .230 hitter. I don't think that's asking too much.


Through the end of July, Mike had a .212 average with a .257 babip (.700 OPS). From Aug. 1 to the end, it was .167 and .227 (.562 OPS). Fatigue most likely played a factor in the end, although I agree that his eye was certainly no better - it was pretty abysmal all season.
Interestingly, he was a pretty decent hitter through June: .225/.282/.441 for a .723 OPS from a .291 Babip. There may have been some adjustments made by the pitchers going forward, but I sure didn't see it. Looked and smelled like fatigue to me.
I think Steamer has it about right, splitting the difference between GLS and Matt. But the upside for much more is still there, with all that power and there were some hard rbis throughout, and I like that.


In judging Zunino's horribad 2014 eye ratio, consider that he had 33.4 percent strikeout rate, and a 3.4 percent walk rate.  The strikeout rate is bad but it isn't terrible for a slugger with Zunino's power.  Mark Reynolds ran a similar strikeout rate.  All of the eye ratio is tied to the horrible walk rate.  He hasn't had that problem in other leagues.  In college, Zunino was a complete hitter who hit for average, on base percentage, and Ruthian power.  He hit .371 one year!  He also has plus makeup and finds a way to win and solve his problems.
His minor league history consists of 96 games.  Zunino's problem:


Chart 1 is Zunino's Zone whiff rate for all pitches.  Chart 2 is the zone whiff rate for curve balls and sliders.  These two charts sum up the book on Zunino: He has an extreme vulnerability to hard sliders from a right handed pitchers that break off the plate low and away, and he is also vulnerable to spiked curve balls.  If either of those pitches hangs, it is going for extra bases.   
As all y'all know, it takes a year for MLB to book a rookie, and their holes are exploited without mercy during the sophomore season.  As all y'all know, the hard breaking pitch is the primary difference between a major league pitcher, and your average college flamethrower.  Zunino may have ran into breaking pitches in college, but surely he didn't run into consistently excellent breaking pitches.  Since he never went to the minors, he never had a chance to practice laying off of them and what you are seeing is someone learning one of the world's hardest tasks on the fly.  
I'm optimistic that Zunino will work on his hole because of his plus makeup, and because most hitters have problems with hard breaking pitches.  Dodging them is a learned skill. Also, Zunino has  bottomed out on the pitch.  Not every MLB pitcher has a filthy off speed arsenal, and the ones that do have trashed him about as hard as a hitter can be trashed.  


When I said "Unless he learns not to get fooled on sucker pitches" I meant specifically his hole down and away on offspeed. his loss of batting skill in the second half of 2014 was completely and totally predictable and not likely related just to fatigue. That's the year mark, folks. The league figured out that he cannot read offspeed pitches and started beating him with offspeed pitches. As a result, his K rate went up very slightly, his walk rate went down, his O-SW% stayed the same but his Str% dropped, his ISO dropped (though he still has the power's hiding behind his total ineptitude on off-speed), and he became world-class AWEFUL at the plate. I was warning about Zunino likely hitting a wall in May. And he did. It is far...far from a given that, just because he works hard, it means he will develop the ability to tell a slider from a fastball. Right now, he doesn't have it. You can count the players that got run over on the MLB superhighway...but it'll take you all year.
Until Zunino's whiff rate on offspeed down and away declines, he will hit .190 forever.


 My own "eye" (observational) chart sure agrees: Zunino whiffed like a gate at low/away sliders.  It got worse at two strikes, I think.
Zunino saw 35.1% FB's in '13.  In '14 it was down to 28.8%.
Sliders increased from 16.0% to 19.4%.  Change-ups went from 7.0% to 9.8%.
No change in CB frequency. 
His FB's faced dropped 6.3% and his off-speed/in-the-dirt stuff went up 6.2%.  Go figure....
Until he learns to lay off that offering a bit, he'll see more of it.  I think that is something he can do.  I will add that you coould argue that only a hot start (.272 in mar/Apr w/.347 BABIP) kept his numbers at the level they were.  Following that he was below .200 in all but one month.  But he had a terrible Sept/Oct in '13, too.
 A bit more regular rest for him seems to be a fair call......while 125 starts at Catcher isn't a terribly high number it could come down.  Posey has never started more than 119, for example.   
He'll bounce back some.  Giving Hicks (or whoever) 50 starts a year could help.


You present a compelling case. He can't continue to be such an easy out. Yeah, he was more tired from August on, but he also had more experience. It should have evened out a bit for him. I wonder if the coaches didn't want him overthinking on his adjustments, and were willing to leave him doing what he had done all year: we'll take the occasional home run, just stay aggressive. Boy, he better adjust, and you'd think that if ANYBODY could recognize pitches, it would be a catcher as smart as Zunino.


The catcher point is troubling, Rick.  Zunino is in the batter's box for 20 times the pitches that other batters get to see.  You would think that pitch recognition comes easily for catchers.  


the average catcher has a worse eye than the average (all other players) historically - I think that standing in the box is a very different angle than crouching behind the dish and the spin looks different.

GLS's picture

I didn't have anywhere near this level of understanding of Zunino's tendencies so thanks for doing the homework on that. Yeah, the early call-up probably hurt and yeah, if he's gonna get better, it'll be because of his makeup and work ethic.


...he was DEFINITELY rushed. Out of club desperation, more than anything else. Which is not good. But in the low minors and in college his K rate was actually not very high, leaving his entire minor league K rate below the critical 25% failure line. It means he has more capability to learn the strikezone at a given challenge level than, say, Trayvon Robinson did. But he was rushed.
If he shows any capacity to learn and adjust...even a little...I'll step back from the ledge.


When they called him up so soon. it seemed irresponsible then and even more so now, I think it speaks pretty badly of front office that they let it happen.
However, I do buy that in addition to not being ready Zunino was catching too many games last year too. The M's really need to break camp this year with somebody who they'll feel comfortable starting waaaay more than Buck ever did in addition to having a plan for what happens if Zubibo is hitting .180 in June
But this front office has never shown itself to be particularly adept at having backup plans in place so I look forward to much gnashing of teeth and lamentations "that no one could have expected him to crater like this" when Zunino is still flailing away hopelessly next year.
He's the single projected starter that I'm most pessimistic about going into next year.


Zunino was clearly ready defensively and had the MLB "maturity" to handle a staff.
How was he "not ready" for the majors?  I don't buy in to the idea that (more) tons of MiLB AB's are best for every player and situation.  The M's finished one game out of a playoff.  they had (argueably) the best staff in baseball.  It was comprised of young guns and wiley vets and an all-world guy.  Zunino handled them all with aplomb.
He was ready and he showed it. 
Even if he plays his entire career as a 90 OPS catcher with defensive chops, he's a dang good player.


That if he's more like a 75 OPS+ guy (entirely possible given how bad he is at swinging at strikes) then it's hard to carry him as starter no matter how good his defense is.
Obviously I can't know that another half a season at AAA would have fixed him. But it's not like the M's were in the heat of a pennant race going desperate for help when they called him up.
They were a bad team going nowhere and nobody is ever going to convince me that calling him up was anything other than a fairly transparent attempt to save the GM's job.
It certainly wouldn't have hurt anything for Zunino to get a chance to actually succeed a bit at AAA before tossing him in the deep end. Doc you can quote Bill James' truisms all you'd like but I just don't see any argument at all that letting Zunino finish his full year of professional in Tacoma would have hurt his development.

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