Sunday, February 21, 2016

2015 vs. 2016 Seattle Mariners - Pitching

In 2015, it was the pitching staff that was supposed to be the bread and butter of this team. A starting rotation that was one of the best in the league on paper and in 2014, the best bullen in either league. If that would have panned out in 2015, the Mariners would have been playing baseball in October.

Starting with the struggles of Fernando Rodney that cost him his closing job, it all went downhill from there. Our setup man became our closer and we had guys taking on roles that they were not prepared for. Starters were pitching farther into games than they needed to and all around, the pitching staff was tired. In 2016 we'll see changes as the entire bullpen has changed hands other than Charlie Furbush. The starters may see a couple of changes with names like Wade Miley and Nathan Karns, but the final two spots in the rotation still seem to be up in the air.

It's safe to say that we can start by getting the staples out of the way. Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma were the top three in starts last season and look to be locks for rotation spots. We don't yet know the exact order in which they will land in the rotation, other than Felix being number one. Despite where they land, their spots in the rotation will be the same for the sake of WAR numbers.

All three starters had their struggles last season at times, but one would have to assume that each game was heavily dependent upon them for a win. Not just to throw well, but to be near perfect. This has been a running theme on the mound at Safeco Field because of a lack of run support. Although the Mariners scored more runs this past year, the bullpen had a hard time holding leads. This year could very well be much of the same, but we'll get into that.

Felix's WAR was at a +4.4 where in 2014 it was at an all time high of +6.8. If Felix can reclaim the glory of the 2014 season, that would be amazing. Obviously a more positive record could go a long way in making that happen.

Iwakuma finished 2015 with a +2.4 WAR and his high was in 2013 at +7.0. Last year Iwakuma started the season with an injury again and basically had his Spring Training on the mound in regular season games. A healthy 2016 could lead Iwakuma back to a higher WAR like his 2013 season.

Walker was still figuring things out last year as he ran into some struggles and took some time to adjust after hitters adjusted to him. He finished 2015 with a +1.1 WAR which was up from the +0.9 in 2014, but we can assume that he will only get better. Then again, we all know what happens when one assumes.

After the three guaranteed starters, we run into guys like Wade Miley, Nathan Karns, Mike Montgomery and James Paxton. Last year the final two spots were filled by J.A. Happ and Mike Montgomery for the majority of the starts. This year, we can assume that they will be taken by Miley and Karns unless someone takes everyone by surprise.

J.A. Happ was a serviceable pitcher at best with the Mariners. He had some good starts, but for most of the season was a real non-factor for the Mariners and wound up being traded before the season end. Happ held a +0.6 WAR while with the Mariners and then, after being traded to the Pirates, he went to a +2.4 WAR.

Wade Miley, who most would think of as a serviceable pitcher as well, actually put up a WAR of +2.5 last season. Yes, surprising, right? Coming from Beantown, that number could very well get even better in Safeco Field. Miley has put up a 4+ ERA his last two seasons after two seasons in Arizona putting up a 3+ ERA. Both of those parks are hitters parks which means, well, basically nothing. Fans could only hope that being at Safeco makes Wade Miley an All-Star caliber pitcher as he is projected as the number three in the rotation.

Mike Montgomery started out on an absolute tear last year and it looked as though the Mariners found a diamond in the rough. That is, until he pitched enough to get a book out on him. Scouting reports would eventually show exactly who he was and he went from untouchable to unpitchable and was sent back to the minor leagues to figure himself out. He sits here at the number five in the rotation because he pitched the fifth most amount of starts last year. This season he looks to be replaced by Nate Karns.

Karns, who was with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015 had a WAR of +2.2 while Montgomery had a lowly +0.5, but at least it was a positive number. Karns is a definite proven upgrade, but he may not be the man to take the last spot. There are still pitchers fighting for that spot. Names like James Paxton and Vidal Nuno. It was rumored earlier in the off-season that Paxton may be moved to the bullpen, but that has yet to be more than a rumor.

Then comes the bullpen. We're just going to focus on the closer and the setup man. The others, well, we'll just have to assume that they will be at least as good as the names we had in there last year, for now. Let's take a look at the closer role first. Good ol' Fernando Rodney vs. newly acquired closer Steve Cishek.

Rodney had an abysmal year last year and as fans we had to keep watching it, and watching it, and watching it. He finally lost his closer job and then we had to continue to watch him in other roles as teams looked like they were stepping in line for the merry-go-round other than to the plate to hit.

With Cishek presumably taking his place, it's safe to say that we will be in better hands this year. Hopefully a place where we will have a little more confidence going into the ninth inning. Cishek held a +0.4 WAR last year, which doesn't seem like a lot until you compare him to Rodney. Rodney finished the season with a negative, yes, -0.8 for the Mariners.

Cishek, in 2014 had a +0.9 and in 2013 had a +2.1 WAR. So, capable of being great, but as closers go, it's possible that we also see Joaquin Benoit in that role as well.

Carson Smith was probably the toughest loss of the off-season and the Mariners will probably kick themselves for it for a while, but as Dipoto says, sometimes we have to give up good pieces to get better. It may be right, but it doesn't make the pill easier to swallow. Smith worked himself to a hefty +2.3 WAR and was a very dominant pitcher that found himself in the closer role for part of the season. If it weren't for a brief struggle in that role, Smith would probably have still been the closer for the Mariners. Now, in 2016 we are looking to an older, Joaquin Benoit, acquired from the San Diego Padres to fill the setup role. Benoit has had a decent career and in 2015 he held a +1.8 WAR. Yes, it's less than Smith's, but with other depth in the pen, it should hopefully all balance out.

As for the positions that we have gone through, we are looking at a 2015 Seattle Mariners team that finished the season with a +10.5 WAR and the 2016 staff finished with a WAR of +14.8. That is only a +4.3 point difference, but it is better. There are a few other things that we have to consider.

First, there are a number of pitchers that underperformed last year compared to their career numbers. Second, there are pitchers that are entering into a pitchers park from a hitters park and third, there are many pitchers that are not mentioned that cannot have a worse year than some had in our bullpen last year.

Once again, our team looks better on paper and it should be better, but only time will tell. With the +6.5 WAR we tallied yesterday with the 8 position players and the +4.3 WAR with our starting rotation, setup man and closer, the Mariners are looking at an extra +10.8 wins this year over last year. That brings the Mariners up to 87 wins compared to last years 76. It doesn't sound like a lot, but the first place Rangers finished with a record of 88-74.

Obviously these numbers don't guarantee a thing, but it sure does look nice when you put it all on paper. All this work by Dipoto in one off-season that could have made any fan go crazy, now is making a lot of sense. The only question that remains is; "Are you buying in?"

I am buying!

2016 vs. 2015 Mariners Comparisons

The 2016 Seattle Mariners assembled by new General Manager, Jerry Dipoto. A team that was designed with the intentions of making the team stronger at every position and provide depth in the organization. Not only at the major league level, but at every level. In the barrage of trades that happened this past off-season, we need to take a look at every position to see what Dipoto actually accomplished.

This was done by looking at the overall WAR stat. In case you have not figured out what that means yet, it takes the number of wins a player is worth over an everyday replacement level player. Therefore, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement.

We'll take a look at positions 2 - 9 today and then look at the core of the pitching staff next.


In 2015 the Mariners started with Mike Zunino. Touted for his incredible defense, Zunino had held the starting job for the last couple of years in hopes that his bat would come around, but that never happened. Zunino was finally sent down at the end of 2015 and that led Dipoto looking for his replacement. The Mariners signed a couple of catchers this off-season, but the leading candidate for the starting job proves to be Chris Iannetta.

Zunino had the majority of plate appearances for the Mariners at the catcher position and held a -0.7 WAR. Even with exceedingly great defense, his overall WAR was still a negative because he could not getting his bat going at any point of the season and was becoming the new Mario Mendoza.

Iannetta brings a little bit of a resume with him. Although he had a down year last year with a .188 average, he still held a .293 on base percentage and has a .351 OBP in his career. That kind of plate discipline is what Dipoto is asking for and it helped Iannetta get to a +0.7 WAR. It's not great, but at least it's better than the negative WAR that we were faced with last year.


Logan Morrison was a fan favorite in Seattle and there were a ton of fans and Mariner executives that hoped he would have a breakout season. Although he showed glimpses of promise, he never became a consistent producer at the plate. Morrison also ended the season in 2015 with a negative WAR at -0.1. That means he was slightly worse than your average replacement player.

Dipoto went to work at first base as well and added Adam Lind. Lind was with Milwaukee last year after a number of years in Toronto. Last year he put up his overall best WAR number at +3.1. He hit .277 with an OBP of .360 on the year. Lind adds a major boost to the first base position and looks to possibly platoon with either Jesus Montero or Korean star Dae Ho Lee. Honestly, I don't think that anyone can quantify anything from the two of them at this point.


Robinson Cano hasn't and will not be going anywhere. We can only hope that he has a better year than he had last year. Although he finished the year with a +3.4 WAR, he can certainly be more productive at the plate and limit some of the mistakes he made last year on the bases. It's safe to assume that we can count on Cano to put up at least a +3.4 again.


Kyle Seager. Need we say more? Seager brings All-Star quality defense at third base and has a strong bat. Although he too went through a drought last season on offense, we can project him to be as consistent as he has been over the years. Seager finished the year with a +4.3 WAR, which is incredible and I don't think anyone has any problems assuming that the Mariners did the right thing by keeping him at third base.


Brad Miller started the year as the starting shortstop, but as the Mariners season went, so did Miller. Eventually moved to the outfield do to some defensive struggles, Miller was probably better suited for second base, but that position was obviously taken. Miller struggled offensively as well and we watched a merry-go-round of players at the shortstop position until landing on Ketel Marte. Miller finished 2015 with a WAR of +0.6.

Marte jumped in the roll at shortstop and added a little pizazz right away. A speedy little player that worked his way into the leadoff spot in the lineup and secured the starting job. We cannot assume a lot this year, but we can assume that he will be the starter. 2015 finished with Marte having a +2.3 WAR in his short stint and if he can do that for all of 2016, nobody would complain a bit.


Seth Smith began the year as a platoon player last season and is slated to do the same this year. With the exodus of Dustin Ackley, Smith will hold down left field this year with Franklin Gutierrez. Guti came on late last year as he worked his way up from triple A Tacoma after suffering some major health issues. Guti came on strong and was mashing the ball all over the place in the second half of the season. It's safe to assume that Guti will have a major role in left field this year as long as he remains healthy. Smith finished last year with a +1.9 WAR, while Guti completed 2015 with a +2.4.


Austin Jackson is the one player in 2015 that had a higher war at his position than the player that Dipoto snagged to fill his spot. The Mariners signed Leonys Martin from the Texas Rangers who is a proven center fielder that can cover a lot of ground. Jackson was similar, but older and he was a free agent. Jackson made $7.7 million as a Mariner and Leonys Martin will make $4.15 million.

Jackson held a WAR of +1.4 while Martin had a +1.1, however, Martin's numbers over the years prior to last year were even better at +4.6 WAR in 2014 and +3.5 in 2013. Jackson had down years in his past two seasons which may prove that he is declining. It is much more feasible that Martin can bounce back and have a better season this year.


Nelson Cruz defied all critics last year and proved to everyone that even HE can hit at Safeco Field. Not being held back, he was the mainstay in right field last year.

With Dipoto and Manager Scott Servais looking at improving defense at every position, one cannot assume that Cruz will get the majority of the playing time in right field again this year, but, how do you tell your star player to take a seat? Especially when Cruz put up far better numbers as a position player than he did as a designated hitter.

Cruz had a +5.2 WAR in 2015 while his potential replacement, Nori Aoki, had a +1.0 WAR. Aoki is projected to take Marte's place as the leadoff hitter due to his ability to get on base. With a career .287 batting average and a .353 on base percentage, Aoki needs to be in the lineup. Spring training will be decision making time for Servais and Dipoto. Do they want to risk moving Cruz out of right? Is Aoki or Cruz willing to play half the season as a DH? Only time will tell, but either way, you have to assume that both of them will be in the lineup and hope that their WAR will not change too drastically.

Our DH spot last year was led by Cruz at 72 games, followed by Mark Trumbo and a host of other trial players. They hit a cumulative .245 with an .316 OBP. Cruz hit .263 as a DH and a crazy .337 in right with a .402 OBP. Anyone looking at those numbers would believe that Cruz will be staying in right.


As a team, the Seattle Mariners position players had a cumulative WAR of 16. That does not include the island of misfit toys that were their replacements. It doesn't include the Ackley's, Sucre's, Chris Taylor's etc. that would easily bring this number down from where it is. The 2015 squad had a large portion of the season dominated by many of these players that were also upgraded in this last off-season.

2016 calculated out a total WAR of 22.5 for positions 2 - 9. That is a total of 6.5 more wins amongst a total of 8 position players. If we can add 6.5 wins per every 8 players, that would be an astonishing +20 wins added to our season in 2016. An extra 20 wins would have left the 2015 Mariners with 96 wins and a first place finish in the AL West.

Obviously this is just paper. Players can have worse years, players can have better years. However, if the team buys in like Dipoto and Servais are asking them to, this season will be an exciting one. When players are having fun going to work everyday it makes a world of difference and it's something that Mariner fans have not seen since Griffey was carried around the field on the shoulders of his teammates in 2009.

Pitchers up next, stay tuned.