With the Mariners improving each of the past two seasons, can 2013 be the year break .500 and reach the playoffs?
[Editor's Note: Every weekday, from now until the start of the season, you'll be able to drop in and see a saber-slanted preview of each team in the bigs, written by one of our staff members. Today, we'll be focusing on the Seattle Mariners.]
.291: Seattle's team wOBA in 2012. The bad news is that this was the fourth lowest team wOBA of the past 20 years. The worse news is that it was actually and improvement over the past two seasons. The 2010 and 2011 seasons were the two worst wOBA seasons of the last 20 years. While we're at it their 2012 batting average of .234 was the 2nd worst of the past 20 years (Surrounded by the 2010 and 2011 Mariners), and their .276 BABIP was the worst of the last 10 years. The capacious confines of Safeco field probably didn't help things any, but hitting obviously hasn't been Seattle's strong suit recently. So what did the Mariners do? Move the fences in and trade for a little more pop in the lineup. It just remains to be seen if either move will help any.
0.54: Felix Hernandez's HR/9 in 2012, second-best among qualified starters. Hernandez has always been good at keeping the ball in the park, with 0.68 HR/9 over the last six years. However, there has been a documented decrease in King Felix's velocity over the past few years. In addition, his BABIP has risen each of the past two years. If his velocity continues to drop, hitters may be able to get a few more long shots off him, especially with the shorter fences.
2012 Season In Review: The Mariners got out to a slow start, and continued to stay at that speed, finishing with a record of 75-87. Even though they finished in last for a third consecutive year, the development of their young talent allowed them to improve their win total in back-to-back years (61 wins in 2010, 67 in 2011).
Key Offseason Moves
Signed Felix Hernandez to a 7-year, $175M contract: The deal replaces the final two years and is the largest contract for a pitcher in Major League history. Hernandez has been worth the deal, being a top-5 pitcher by WAR since he debuted in 2005. Throw in the fact that he is turns 27 this year and this deal seems like a no-brainer. However, he has logged a lot of innings in his career, and there is the velocity decrease to worry about. Still, the Mariners got this extension right for the face of their franchise.
Traded Jason Vargas to Los Angeles (A) for Kendry Morales: In a deal that filled needs for both teams, Seattle got a major upgrade over Justin Smoak at the 1B/DH spot. Seattle is hoping that Morales can continue to regain his 2009 form that saw him finish in the top 5 of the MVP voting.
Traded John Jaso to Oakland, Received Michael Morse from Washington: Seattle then added Morse to their crowded 1B/DH situation, reacquiring him three years after trading him away for Ryan Langerhans. While Morse had a good season in 2011, his 2012 season was rough. Reaction to the trade have been a bit on the negative side.
Signed Joe Saunders to a 1-year, $6.5M contract: Saunders had a good two months in Baltimore after a mediocre first half in Arizona, even getting the win over Texas in the wild card game. Seattle then outbid Baltimore for Saunders to be their second starter, at least until Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen are promoted.
Depth Chart: The Mariners had the third-youngest group of batters in the majors in 2012, and youth is definitely served on this year's team. The rotation stands to get younger with the potential additions of Walker and Hultzen, who are No. 18 and No. 29 in Baseball America's Prospect Rankings. In addition to the moves mentioned above, they put together a low-priced bench of Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Robert Andino, and Kelly Shoppach.
2013 Outlook: Well, it's a reasonable bet that the Mariners won't finish last in 2012. Granted, it took the Astros moving into their division, but still ...
Development is the key word for the Mariners. This team has a lot of youth on it, with some extra promise on the way in the form of five top 100 prospets (Three in the top 30). If their young players can continue their development, they might be able to make a rise in the division, even if it's in the now-tougher AL West. However, 2016 is more likely to be Seattle's year than 2013, just look at Baseball Prospectus's 2013 Playoff Odds.
Bold Prediction: Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager combine to contribute 7.5 fWAR. ZiPS projects them at a combined 5.0 fWAR, so beating that prediction by 50% could be a bit tough. However, it is possible. Their combined career highs gets them to 6.4, so it's "only" one extra win to gain. It is also relevant to note that Bill James and ZiPS differ greatly in their projections about Seager. While James predicts .337 wOBA for Seager, ZiPS is at .313. Either way, the development of these two will be a major key to any potential Mariner rise in 2013.