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2006 Team Previews: Seattle Mariners, Positional Players

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To be blunt, the 2005 Mariners made me look midly intelligent and dumb at the same time. Luckily, no one had any clue who I was (not like that changed much in the past year, but still) and were not reading my website, so I could say some pretty crazy stuff and get away with it. Let's start with the dumb:

Richie Sexson is a guy who already hit his peak, is coming off labrum surgery, and is coming to a pitcher's park. I think his numbers will suffer just a tad. His was probably the worst signing of the offseason, considering the amount of money thrown at him for an unsure thing (4 years, $50 million). Do you really expect Carlos Delgado (4 years, $52 million) to be outperformed or even matched by Richie Sexson the next few seasons?

I'm most likely right about the Delgado/Sexson comparison, but I didn't really expect much out of Sexson in 2005 either. PECOTA loves him for 2006; loves him in 157 games worth of playing time even. Point: Mariners.

As for Adrian Beltre, I don't think I was harsh enough, and reading it back, I've noticed that I omitted the fact that Dodger Stadium increases homeruns and decreases other hits.

Adrian Beltre, 3B: Sure it helps the lineup a lot. But Beltre may never see his astonishing 2004 numbers again. His numbers probably won't take a hit from pitcher friendly Safeco since he played with Los Angeles, but they may suffer some from the NL to AL switch. Not to mention none of the good pitchers are on his team, so he's going to have to face them.

I think the last line makes up for it though.

Bret Boone will show us whether he is entering the real decline phase of his career or just hit a bump in the road.

Finally, point Marc. That was an easy one though.

Moyer is finally showing his age, but Piniero isn't as bad as he showed last year. Ryan Franklin is alright enough, and Madritsch did well in his 11 starts. Gil Meche is a #5 starter at best. Basically, this rotation can be decent enough, but not good. And they need more than good to contend in a division where on paper they are the fourth most talented team out of four. Sadly for Seattle, I think a lot of overhyped hearts are going to be broken this summer.

I was correct in how I felt their season was going to go, but it isn't like I was alone in my assessment. So basically, the Mariners just made me look dumb in 2005. I probably deserved it. This year I expect them to make me look mildly intelligent, but for different reasons. At least on the offensive side of the ball; besides King Felix, I don't know how I feel about that pitching staff...but that's an article for another day.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

Catcher
2005: Miguel Olivo .151/.172/.276; -34.55 pNRAA; -18.66 pNRAA/GP
2005: Yorvit Torrealba .241/.293/.333; -2.00 pNRAA; -0.84 pNRAA/GP
2005: Pat Borders .197/.228/.265; -35.40 pNRAA; -13.81 pNRAA/GP

2006: Kenji Johjima .292/.354/.434; +20.38 pNRAA; +19.97 pNRAA/GP

The catching situation was not exactly ideal for the 2005 squad, but the Mariners made sure to fix that. Besides prospect Jeff Clement, they signed Kenji Johjima away from his home country of Japan.

Besides the fact that PECOTA doesn't expect Johjima to play in more than 97 games, his projection is stellar. I'll be honest, I don't know what to expect from him. I know Jeff Sullivan likes him, so between PECOTA and Jeff, I feel pretty confident in saying he can match this projection. Forgetting about Kaz Matsui for a moment, PECOTA has done well with the Japanese imports. One other thing; PECOTA doesn't give Johjima much credit defensively; if it turns out he is a defensive wiz of a catcher, he will most likely be the best positional player on the team. Sorry Ichiro...! On Edit: I actually became enamored enough with Johjima last night that I drafted him as my starting catcher in the BtB fantasy baseball league. I drafted a catcher before the 17th round...that is an endorsement, if anyone has ever drafted with me before.

First Base
2005: Richie Sexson .263/.369/.541; +7.16 pNRAA; +11.17 pNRAA/GP

2006: Richie Sexson .268/.375/.528; +17.92 pNRAA; +28.14 pNRAA/GP

I was wrong about Richie Sexson in 2005. I was mostly complaining about the later years of the contract, so there is still time for things to correct themselves, although I don't wish that on the M's at all. In fact, I'd enjoy seeing Sexson match his 2006 projection; the boost in pNRAA comes from a potentially significant improvement on defense.

Except for his short, injury-riddled stint in Arizona, Sexson has been consistently excellent with the bat, and very underrated up until the time of his free agent signing. He was mostly forgotten about during the season for some reason though, even while exceeding many people's expectations of him. Someone to watch in 2006, certainly.

Second Base
2005: Bret Boone .231/.299/.385; -14.09 pNRAA; -10.43 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jose Lopez .247/.282/.379; -7.16 pNRAA; -3.87 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jose Lopez .270/.306/.429; -1.99 pNRAA; -2.17 pNRAA/GP

Something that might occur on occasion while reading these previews is forgetting that being close to a pNRAA of zero is a good thing. In 2005 Jose Lopez was not close to zero, certainly not close enough for me to say kind things about his performance, besides stating that it was his age 21 season. And Bret Boone...I think "ugh" describes his output perfectly. As for 2006 though, Lopez looks to perform much closer to a league average second basemen; if not for his defense, which is considered below average by a few runs, he would be above that threshold. Lopez did not play enough innnings in the field for me to get ratings from David Gassko's system, but David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range has him with positive range value (10th overall), but with -0.235 Runs Saved per 27 outs defensively. So BP's assessment lands somewhere in between accurate and a smidge off. Be happy Seattle; league average second basemen are a blessing, especially after trying to watch Boone the past two years. Also, Lopez is only 22 years old; it is entirely possible he has a growth spurt this year and ends with a line resembling his 75th percentile projection of .284/.320/.466...I wouldn't put it past him, that is why it is in the range of outcomes.

Third Base
2005: Adrian Beltre .255/.303/.413; -2.58 pNRAA; -4.03 pNRAA/GP

2006: Adrian Beltre .275/.324/.474; +12.97 pNRAA; +18.81 pNRAA/GP

Beltre is one of those players that I can go both ways on. I knew he was going to do worse than he did in 2004; did I expect him to revert to a level that was roughly where he stood in 2003? Of course not. I expected something in between 2004 and 2003, which is exactly what his 2006-2010 projections look like. PECOTA has him with projected EqA's between .282 and .286 for the next five seasons; considering he is a third basemen who also fields very well for his position, (that is the reason he was as close to league average pNRAA as he was) the M's have themselves a valuable player. Is he worth the $11-12 million they are paying him per year over the rest of the contract? Most likely not. Is he much more valuable than he showed himself to be last year? I would like to think so. The Mariners problem last year was not handing out large contracts to Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre; teams need to take risks, and some of them pay off. Sexson is a great example of this, and Beltre could prove to be another good one. The problem was not signing any real pitching help, and not having any real backup plans lying around. If the farm system and front office can help to reload the team built around a core of Ichiro, Sexson, Johjima, Beltre and Reed offensively and defensively by picking up some pitching, then the Mariners will be much closer to contention than some may think they are. Will it happen this year? I'm not so sure about that, and I don't think Jarrod Washburn is the answer either.

One final note on Beltre; David Gassko's system claims he was below average defensively in 2005. Anyone else care to throw out a thought for confirmation? Probabilistic Model of Range has him at 2.002 Runs Saved per 27 Outs, so I'm not really sure what to think. 2/3 systems say above average, and I usually go with that, regardless of system.

Shortstop
2005: Yuniesky Betancourt .256/.296/.370; -15.27 pNRAA; -9.16 pNRAA/GP
2005: Wilson Valdez .198/.235/.254; -35.57 pNRAA; -14.94 pNRAA/GP
2005: Mike Morse .278/.349/.370; -14.46 pNRAA; -10.41 pNRAA/GP

2006: Yuniesky Betancourt .258/.292/.382; -1.79 pNRAA; -2.21 pNRAA/GP

Betancourt is in his age 24 season, and he looked like a better hitter in the minor leagues. PECOTA doesn't seem optimistic with him, although his upper level projections are much closer to the average shortstop offensively. Luckily for Betancourt and the Mariners, he is an above average shortstop defensively. This will be important for a team that seems to have a handle on their offense to some degree, but still needs pitching help. Betancourt hits well against lefties, but seemed overmatched against righties looking at his splits. The M's don't really have a platoon partner in the majors for him, although Mike Morse hits righties better than Betancourt. A righty/righty platoon, with Betancourt facing southpaws? I've come up with worse ideas.

Left Field
2005: Randy Winn .275/.342/.391; +1.01 pNRAA; +1.03 pNRAA/GP
2005: Raul Ibanez .280/.355/.436; -1.13 pNRAA; -1.82 pNRAA/GP

2006: Raul Ibanez .275/.343/.434; +2.67 pNRAA; +3.56 pNRAA/GP

Thanks to his defense, Randy Winn comes in above average in left field. If Jeremy Reed had not disapointed, the Mariners would have had a very strong outfield in 2005, with Winn/Ibanez basically league average, Ichiro in right, and Reed in center. But alas, Reed was one of the least valuable everyday player on the team.

Raul Ibanez should be fine as the everyday left fielder. His projection seems quite accurate to me, so I won't quibble with it in this space. I like to mention platoons wherever possible though, so just know that Ibanez hits .302/.363/.470 against righties and .269/.324/.416 against lefties. Too bad Chris Snelling is also lefthanded.

One more Ibanez note; I was wrong about him a few years back when he signed with the Mariners. I wasn't even writing online back then, but I thought leaving Kauffman and playing everyday would hurt his value significantly. He's been an average player or better with hitting statistics better than the last year he was in Kansas City since moving to Seattle. Now that I've said this and expect him to perform a tad above the average, you can expect him to fall apart and make me look foolish.

Center Field
2005: Jeremy Reed .254/.322/.352; -9.89 pNRAA; -13.95 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jeremy Reed .279/.350/.406; +8.42 pNRAA; +10.53 pNRAA/GP

After an extremely rough (and unexpected) 2005 season, Jeremy Reed looks to rebound in 2006. Supposedly he was nursing an injury (or injuries) that slowed him down, but Will Carroll gave him a green light this season, so his injury risk should be minimal.

To be honest, I think the Sox might have been better off with Jeremy Reed in centerfield rather than Coco Crisp, due to his defensive prowess. Rate doesn't like him much, saying he is league average, but David Gassko's system had him at 8.8 Runs Above Average per 150 games, and David Pinto's Runs Saved per 27 Outs had him 1.576. Crisp's bat is better though, with more potential. I'm sure the deal didn't happen for legitimate reasons, so I'll reserve too much judgement.

Reed is a player to watch, and considering the defensive value that Gassko and Pinto's system have assigned to him, he was not really as much of a bust last year as originally thought. If he is as talented defensively as they say, bump his pNRAA up to around 12 or 13 per 100 games, one of the better figures on the Mariners.

Right Field
2005: Ichiro Suzuki .303/.350/.436; +10.74 pNRAA; +17.40 pNRAA/GP

2006: Ichiro Suzuki .308/.343/.406; +4.03 pNRAA; +6.20 pNRAA/GP

It amazes me that Ichiro's worst season of his career had a line of .303/.350/.436 with excellent defense in right field. That said, PECOTA sees more downward trends, with his slugging that saved his 2005 value dropping back down to established levels, without the average or on-base percentage going back up. His defense is also expected to drop by a few runs of production. Ichiro has a low similarity score in his comparitive players section, and he is only in his age 32 season, so some of this may be off a little. I sort of expect the same type of season as 2005, with Ichiro attempting to hit for power to compensate for lost speed as he ages. The defensive drop seems too large all at once, so give him a run or two extra there, putting him somewhere around 7-8 pNRAA rather than 4.03.

Interestingly enough, Gassko's RAA system had Ichiro as the best defensive right fielder in the league, with Randy Winn coming in fifth overall in left. Combine that with Reed's sixth rank in centerfield, and you have yourselves quite possibly the best defensive outfield in the game. Two-thirds of that still exist, and Ibanez, while not above average, isn't harmful, so they are certainly set defensively, at least in the outfield, if you believe Gassko's rankings. Runs Saved per 27 Outs has Ichiro at 1.201, good for 13th in the league, with Reed coming in at 16th for centerfield. New full-time left fielder Raul Ibanez fairs well, at 1.443 RS/27. So maybe the answer lies somewhere in between Gassko and Pinto, which is still very good defensively.

Designated Hitter
2005: Raul Ibanez .280/.355/.436; -1.13 pNRAA; -1.82 pNRAA/GP
2005: Greg Dobbs .246/.288/.331; -15.78 pNRAA; -9.31 pNRAA/GP

2006: Carl Everett .263/.322/.426; -4.21 pNRAA; -4.09 pNRAA/GP

Everett shouldn't be a bad designated hitter, if one is to believe PECOTA and its EqA projection of .270 (league average EqA for a DH in 2005 was .278). I'm of the belief that the DH should go to someone who can hit the hell out of the ball though, and even though I understand that isn't always the case and you sometimes have to settle for Carl Everett, I don't think that the Mariners should. First off, they have Chris Snelling sitting in the minors and attempting to make the major leagues. The one thing keeping from from coming up the majors is his health. Baseball Prospectus put him on their top 50 prospects list at #46, and John Sickels ranked him with a grade of C; obviously two very different viewpoints. Sickels lists his reasoning thus:

...his body may simply not be up to the rigors of professional baseball, as his season ended early again, this time with a knee injury. If health wasn't a problem, Snelling would have been in the majors two years ago, hitting .280 or better with a high OBP.

That quote straight from Snellings' comment in The Baseball Prospect Book 2006, a book I recommend to any fans of prospects and the minor leagues.

If Snellings body can't handle the rigors of everyday professional baseball, then why not attempt to use him at DH? David Ortiz used to have multiple injury issues, and he has been able to put many of those away since sliding over to full-time DH. It is certainly worth the try, especially with Ichiro entrenched in right already. It isn't any fun losing Snelling's defensive potential in the outfield, but if he simply cannot handle a season in the field and at the plate, the least you can do is see if one or the other works. Here is his projected season as a DH:

2006: Chris Snelling .303/.376/.486; +15.64 pNRAA; +18.30 pNRAA

Using the .280 average Sickels posted in his comment, you can expect a pNRAA of +2.65; still higher than Everett, and on the lower end of his PECOTA projection even. There is really no reason to not give this a shot, besides the fact that they signed Everett.

Utility
2005: Willie Bloomquist .257/.289/.333; -19.67 pNRAA; -16.13 pNRAA/GP

2006: Willie Bloomquist .251/.296/.337; -11.44 pNRAA; -7.21 pNRAA/GP

I love utility players. What I don't love is utility players that actually hurt their team. It is nice to have positional flexibility and all, but when that filler ends up eating at bats (and playing awful defensively, according to Rate), maybe the idea needs some rethinking. I understand Mike Hargrove has an infatuation with Bloomquist that I will never understand, but its probably just me. I can't tear my eyes away from those negative numbers though, as well as the sub-.300 OBP. And I can't be as positive as Hargrove, who says "We all should have a bit of Willie Bloomquist in us." Does that quote creep anyone else out by the way?

Now for the Mariner's lineup. I'll present the projected lineup, as well as the one I'd throw out there.

  1. Projected Lineup
  2. Ichiro
  3. Johjima
  4. Ibanez
  5. Sexon
  6. Beltre
  7. Everett
  8. Reed
  9. Lopez
  10. Betancourt
This lineup is expected to score 4.9060 runs per game (or 804 for the season) using David Pinto's Lineup Analysis tool.
  1. Marc's Lineup
  2. Ichiro
  3. Snelling
  4. Beltre
  5. Sexson
  6. Johjima
  7. Ibanez
  8. Lopez
  9. Betancourt
  10. Reed
This lineup is expected to score 5.198 runs per game, or 842. That is roughly four more offensive wins; throw in the very good defense that this team should have (according to whatever combination of Pinto, Gassko and BP that you want to use anyways), and they just may field a competitive team. At that point, it all comes down to how well Jamie Moyer can do, how much effectiveness can be squeezed out of the bottom 3/5 of the rotation, and just how well young Felix Hernandez (who is 12 days younger than me, what gives) can do on his quest to stay healthy and effective. That will determine the fate of this team; offensively and defensively, this team is good to go, and can certainly compete with the rest of the American League. If they are able to acquire pitching help early on in the season, they may surprise a great deal of people.