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American League Two-a-Days: Seattle Mariners

LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: Seattle Mariners

2013 record: 71-91
2013 runs scored: 624
2013 runs against: 754
2013 pythag. record: 67-95

The Mariners underachieved relative expectations in 2013, and were labeled a dysfunctional organization in the process.  They did little to change that label this offseason, but did the next best thing, which is that they spent a crap ton of money on veteran players.  Quietly, the Mariners have a lot of talent in camp, but after years of underachieving, it’s on them to convince the world that this year will be different.

Who is having a good spring?

The Mariners finished second in the Cactus League last year, and are in first place on the morning of March 9th with a 7-3 record.  Standouts include OF Dustin Ackley, OF Michael Saunders, C Mike Zunino, 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Robinson Cano, 1B Jesus Montero, RHP Erasmo Ramirez, and LHP James Paxton.  Or basically, everyone the Mariners will rely on in 2014.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Mariners

This is the team that paid the $240 million to sign Robinson Cano.  But beyond that…

The team’s young pitching has arrived at the majors, and early returns last September were excellent.  The Mariners’ rotation could be excellent this year.  Very quietly last season, the Mariners lineup saw a power surge.  Although this lineup is still going to struggle to get on base consistently, it’s more than just Robinson Cano and the eight scrubs.  Smoak had a break out year last year, and Ackley and Saunders are at the ages where they’ll produce if they are capable.  Brad Miller is one of the game’s top young shortstops.  3B Kyle Seager is one of the best young players in the game at any position.  There’s not a lot of risk for inexperience-related struggles in the lineup: guys who don’t produce are going to lose playing time to cheaply acquired veterans.

The front of the rotation with Felix Hernandez and Hisachi Iwakuma is as good as any in baseball, including Detroit’s, and the prospects like Ramirez, Paxton, and Taijuan Walker at the back end are legit and can get major league hitters out today.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Mariners

For a team dominating spring training on March 9th, the Mariners are a banged up bunch.  Walker and Iwakuma are inactive right now with (relatively minor) injuries.  Starting OF Franklin Gutierrez is going to miss the entire 2014 season as will fireballing reliever Stephen Pryor.  Defensively, the Mariners better resemble the Washington Generals than the Harlem Globetrotters.  A starting projected outfield of CF Abraham Almonte, LF Ackley, and RF Saunders could look good defensively, but there is a good shot Almonte will begin in the minors in deference to Logan Morrison (Almonte is not established as a ML hitter and is struggling this spring).

The Mariners have a questionable roster construction that includes a lot of different 1B types.  They have Smoak, Morrison, Corey Hart, and Montero, all of whom either can’t play anywhere but first base, or won’t do it well.  They are only allowed one DH.  Meanwhile, reserve infielder and last year’s 2B Nick Franklin is blocked by Cano, and could be ticketed for AAA Tacoma to start the season.  The bench is going to be tough to construct, and won’t add any value to the lineup.  Robinson Cano thinks the team needs another bat or two in the lineup.

This is the team that paid $240 million for Robinson Cano.

The Projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Mariners is 35.8, 11th in the American League.  Their 19.2 Batters WAR projection is 12th in the AL. Their 16.6 Pitchers WAR projection is 5th in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 Mariners to win 84 games, a 13 win improvement over last season.  Felix Hernandez is the Mariner with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 5.7.  Robinson Cano is the position player with the best average projection at 4.7 WAR.

The Mariners vs the rest of the AL West

The AL West is a below average division, and the weakest of the AL divisions in 2014.  This despite having four above average teams and an improved Astros team.  This is the case because no teams in the AL West are a lock to win 90 games.  According to Cool Standings, the division winner is projected to win 86 games.  It’s a true four team race in 2014.

LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Seattle Mariners

The Mariners walk a very thin line between a total clown show and a legitimate playoff contender.  Based purely on talent as well as performance in the early spring, this Mariners roster should be pretty good and has the potential to improve considerably at the deadline.  However, if you underachieve four consecutive years like Seattle has, you don’t earn any benefit of the doubt.  Superficially, this is the best team Seattle has produced in years, but their organizational issues are problematic at the most fundamental level.  The LiveBall official prediction on the Mariners is optimistic: 87-75, but understands that the inverse of such a record is both very possible, and something the organization would try to spin as an improvement.

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American League Two-a-Days: Chicago White Sox

March 9, 2014 1 comment

LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: Chicago White Sox

2013 record: 63-99
2013 runs scored: 598
2013 runs against: 723
2013 pythag. record: 67-95

In 2013, the Kansas City Royals led the AL in runs against with 601.  The Chicago White Sox did not score 600 runs in what can only be considered a total offensive collapse.

Who is having a good spring?

CF Jordan Danks, the team’s reserve outfielder, and LF Alejandro De Aza, who is leading Dayan Viciedo in the battle for the team’s starting LF job.  RHP Andre Rienzo has done well in five relief innings.  LHP Charlie Leesman has done well in his 4+ innings.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 White Sox

First of all, there’s no risk of the team being contracted.  The starting pitching has a chance to be very good.  The rotation is strong at the front, with LHP Chris Sale as the team’s ace, and at the back, where RHPs Felipe Paulino and Erik Johnson replace Rienzo and LHP Hector Santiago, who was traded to the Angels in the offseason.  The outfield defense will be much improved in 2014, as the White Sox have improved their speed and athleticism across the board.  The White Sox acquired a bevy of young infielders to play this year, which should help define their direction for the future.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 White Sox

The team’s bullpen, it’s strength for the past decade, was gutted by trades last year and is very unsettled.  Closer Nate Jones is the one reliable arm in the pen, and the unit as a whole has a figure-it-out as you go feel.  The offense can’t be as bad as last season, but it really isn’t a lot better talent-wise.  It’s hard to put expectations on Cuban 1B Jose Abreu, who will need to adjust to facing major league pitching this year.  Veteran DHs Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn remind you what happens to your roster when 20% of your major league lineup walks up to Metallica.  Every offseason acquisition by the White Sox comes with the same caveat: we don’t know if they can hit at all.  No upgrade at catcher means more of the Josh Phegley/Tyler Flowers experience in 2014.  Everybody in this lineup except Dunn/Konerko is a hacker.

2B Gordon Beckham will never not be a reminder of why you need to be realistic about a team’s chances.

The projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 White Sox is 27.0, 13th in the American League.  Their 14.4 Batters WAR projection is 14th in the AL. Their 12.6 Pitchers WAR projection is 13th in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 White Sox to win 74 games, an 11 win improvement over last season.  Chris Sale is the White Sox with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 4.7.  Jose Abreu is the position player with the best average projection at 3.3 WAR.

The White Sox vs the rest of the AL Central

The AL Central is an above average division this year.  The Tigers enter the season with one of the best statistical profiles of any team.  The Royals and Indians are above average opponents with some downside potential.  The Twins should be improved, and have the consensus best farm system, which should help avoid a repeat of the end of last year when they were running a sub-MLB lineup out.  The White Sox and Twins are neck and neck for the fourth best team in the division.

LiveBall Sports projection for the 2014 White Sox Season

I am expecting the White Sox to fall a bit short of their statistical projections for the season.  There are a lot of moving parts on this roster, and the Sox are at an abnormally high risk for sub-replacement performance across the roster.  This leads me to take them to finish 70-92.