The Angels’ Next Reclamation Project

Despite a hard fastball and sharp slider, Blake Wood has never found much success in MLB. A lack of command has held Wood back, with a career BB/9 of 4.36 hampering his above-average ability to miss bats (career 8.59 k/9) and induce ground balls (career 52.3 GB%). Accumulating just 0.9 WAR in 280.2 innings – for a player quickly approaching his 33rd birthday – many would assume Wood is just another middle relief option, one of the first to be demoted should the Angels need a fresh arm. Similar things could have been said about any of Yusmeiro Petit, Blake Parker, David Hernandez, or Bud Norris last year, however. Parker was never effective in the majors, jumping from organization to organization, and the other three pitchers saw their effectiveness dwindle over the last few years. All greatly exceeded expectations in 2017, as only Norris (0.6 and 19 saves) finished under 1 WAR last year, leading to a shockingly effective and deep Angels pen. With only Parker returning this year, the Angels need to scramble for similar production out of the back of their bullpen in 2018.

Enter Blake Wood. Wood come into 2018 without huge expectations, behind the likes of Cam Bedrosian, Parker, and Keynan Middleton in the Angels bullpen pecking order. Behind a rash of homers, Wood’s 2017 campaign was shadowed by some bad luck, with his 3.67/3.54/3.62 FIP/xFIP/SIERA greatly outpacing his 5.45 ERA. The homers should go down with better luck (a 15.1% HR/FB rate is hard to sustain for even the worst of pitchers) and a move away from hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. More important, a few adjustments manifested towards the end of 2016, continuing through 2017, that helped Wood improve his BB% and K% pretty significantly.

Mostly a two-pitch pitcher for his career, possessing a hard, sinking fastball and a sharp slider, Wood began to work in his change/splitter more last season. This increase came at the expense of his fastball, a pitch that generally hasn’t been effective. Thrown nearly 80% of the time early in his career, the Reds helped Wood get his fastball usage down to around 50% over the last two years. In addition, Wood took some velocity off of both his fastball and splitter in 2017, greatly improving his first-pitch strike percentage (F-Strike%), a stat highly correlated with walks (Wood finished the year with a 57.8 F-Strike%, still slightly below-average). This new approach helps Wood get ahead of more hitters, allowing him to focus on the area he excels: getting hitters to swing at pitches (especially his slider) Setting career marks in both, he finished the year with an 11.2 SwStr% and 30.1 O-Swing% last year, both well above league-average.

FB% (Avr. Velocity)

SL% (Avr. Velocity)

CH/SPL% (Avr. Velocity)

2013 (CLE)

92.7 (97.2)

4.9 (89.0)

2.4 (89)

2014 (CLE)

81.4 (95.6)

12.7 (90.1)

5.9 (84.4)

2016 (CIN)

55.2 (96)

36.4 (89.9)

8.3 (86.6)

2017(CIN/LAA)

55.5 (96.1)

34.1 (89.7)

10.4 (84.9)

*Wood did not appear in a major league game in 2015

In addition to changing his pitch usage, Wood began increasing his vertical release point in late 2016. This trend continued last year for all of his pitches, leading to the most consistent release point in his career. After jumping around release points – ranging from just under 6 feet to just upwards of 6.5 feet – Wood settled around an average of 6.7 ft. in 2017. Coming more over-the-top and staying more consistent helps to explain some of the improvement in walk and Zone% for Wood, though he still didn’t have good control in last year. Wood doesn’t need great control to succeed, though. If he can knock a walk per nine innings off of his career average, his penchant for inducing grounders and whiffs will allow him to take to high leverage innings for the Angels.

In Wood, the Angels have picked up another cheap relief pitcher whose skills have been shadowed by bad luck. If they can continue to improve his pitch selection and keep his release point consistent, Wood might prove to be another reliable middle-relief or setup option picked up off the scrap heap. There’s always a chance last year’s improvements begin to erode as the season goes on, but don’t be surprised if, in June, the Angels are calling upon Wood to effectively bridge the gap between the rotation and former reclamation project Parker.

2018 Season Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

104-58

102-60

101-61

770

580

The Dodgers were an amazing team in 2017. For four months, Los Angeles won games at an amazing pace, leading many to wonder if they were the best team ever. Then September happened. The Dodgers began dropping games left and right, losing 15 of 16 games at one point, highlighted by a ten-game losing streak. They rebounded, of course, making it to Game 7 of an unforgettable World Series and ultimately losing to an Astros team that jumped out early and refused to make mistakes.

As one would expect of a 104-win team, the Dodgers had no real weakness last year. Combined with an insanely deep pitching staff, the Dodgers’ liberal use of the 10-day DL allowed their pitching staff to stay healthy and effective, finishing with the third-most WAR (24.3) in baseball. The defense and offense were equally impressive, finishing top five in the league in team defense, wRC+, and BB%.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Scott Alexander, Matt Kemp?

Attempting to stay under the luxury tax and prepare for the next year’s onslaught of free agents, the Dodgers were relatively quiet this offseason. Scott Alexander was added in a bizarre, five-player, three-team trade. Alexander slots in as the Dodgers best lefty in the pen, coming off a league-best 73.8 GB%. While he walks too many, this elite groundball rate allows Alexander to escape unscathed from most innings. Kemp should warm the bench until the Dodgers manage to find a way to dump him.

Key Losses – Matt Kemp, Brandon Morrow, Yu Darvish, Tony Watson

You might notice that Matt Kemp is on both the additions and losses list, because while the Dodgers did technically gain the rights to Kemp, this is more of a loss to the organization. While they hoped to flip him – perhaps also giving up a prospect in the process – their old friend now seems to be stuck. He’ll take up space and provide horrible defense, as an old Kemp is wont to do. Morrow and Watson join him are key relief components leaving the roster, two effective options who will be sorely missed. Like Watson, Darvish was added at the trade deadline, helping the team get to the World Series before his Game Seven collapse.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

96-66

92-70

97-65

ZiPS and Pecota are in agreement on the Dodgers being one of the best teams in baseball again this year. Steamer is a bit lower on a few key players, though, being especially bearish on 1B Cody Bellinger (2.6 sWAR vs. 4.4 zWAR). All three sources see the Dodgers maintaining their dominance over the NL West in 2018.

Key Players:

When healthy, Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball. Continued back issues plagued Kershaw in 2017, “limiting” him to 175 innings and his worst FIP (3.07) since 2010, almost a run higher than the past three seasons. While Kershaw is the clear leader of the injury-riddled pitching staff, the offense contains several cornerstones. Corey Seager put up 13.1 WAR in his first two seasons at the ripe ages of 22 and 23. Seager looks the part of a complete hitter, mixing in above-average defense at SS to boot; he might miss a few weeks to start the season, but he will be in MVP contention if healthy all year. Joining Seager on the left side of the Dodger infield is Justin Turner. An early proponent of the fly-ball movement, Turner’s added power morphed him from a guy with elite bat skills and plate discipline to one of the better hitters in the league. He’s deceptively old (33 last November), but should maintain his status for another year or two before his average defense starts to drop off. This section could go on for 500 more words, as Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, and Rich Hill all possess great skill sets, giving the Dodgers an extremely high floor and enviable depth.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The Dodgers have maintained a good farm system, even with perennial trades to improve the pitching staff for playoff pushes. Walker Buehler returned from Tommy John surgery in 2017 and should make an impact in the big leagues this year with an electric mix of pitches, led by a blazing fastball and tantalizing curveball. When the Dodgers get a few of their inevitable SP injuries Buehler should be ready to step in. Likely joining Buehler at some point is OF Alex Verdugo; performing well in AAA last year, Verdugo could add more power to his profile, though some scouts are skeptical. In the low minors, the Dodgers hope to see more from Cuban Omar Estevez and Dominican Starling Heredia, as both were signed to huge bonuses in 2015 and have failed to live up to expectations thus far.

Future Outlook:

The Dodgers’ future still shines bright. 2018 should see the Dodgers playing as one of the best teams in baseball again, led by All-Stars Kershaw, Seager, and Turner. With only $95 million committed in 2019, they have even more financial flexibility moving forward after this season. Kershaw will need to be re-signed, but the team looks primed to compete for at least one of the other elite free agents this coming offseason. These expensive players are all in play thanks to the Dodgers’ young, cost-controlled core of Seager, Bellinger, etc. The farm has thinned a bit over the last few years, but looks to continue promoting interesting players like Buehler. Don’t expect any drastic changes at the top of the NL West anytime soon.

2018 Season Preview: Miami Marlins

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

77-85

77-85

79-83

777

821

Coming off the tragic loss of ace Jose Fernandez, the Marlins didn’t have high hopes of competing for the division in 2017. Behind the best OF in baseball, however, the Marlins hung in the wild-card race until the last six weeks of the season. Big steps forward from core players like Yelich, Ozuna, and 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton provided the team with the keys to the next great Marlins squad. The team’s sale by notoriously stingy owner Jeff Loria should have positioned them to add pitching to a team severely lacking it, putting Miami in a prime position to compete immediately. Oh, no.

Offseason in Review

Key Additions – Cap Room, Cameron Maybin, Isan Diaz, Sandy Alcantara, Jorge Guzman

Lookout! Fire sale.

Goodbye, says Mr. Jeter.

No player remains.

Key Losses – Remainder of fanbase, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna

Jeff Loria was very cheap.

Many losses the Marlins did reap.

Sold the team to great gain.

No all-stars remain.

For thrifting ways, Jeter did keep.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

68-94

65-97

66-96

When will winning days return?

Fans continue to yearn.

The few that remain.

Must try to stay sane.

Will there ever be an end to this constant churn?

2018 Season Preview: Boston Red Sox

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

93-69

93-69

87-75

785

668

Dave Dombrowski continued to do what Dave Dombrowski does best: trade any prospect of value for an immediate big league gain. The Red Sox, after acquiring ace Chris Sale, came into the 2017 season with expectations of blowing away the division. They were able to do so, but unfortunately for the Red Sox, this gave them the privilege of facing off against an elite Houston Astros offense and quick elimination from the playoffs.

Missing David Ortiz, the Red Sox’ offense disappointed across the board in 2017. Without their pudgy team icon the Sox finished with a cumulative wRC+ of 92, finishing 22nd in baseball. Things were much better on the other side of the diamond, with the Red Sox finishing with the 3rd best team FIP behind elite seasons from Sale and Craig Kimbrel.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Nunez

In an ode to former GM Jack Zduriencik, the Red Sox’ major free agent acquisition was a player without a real position given the current roster construction. The one thing Martinez should do is hit. Over the last four seasons, he has the 5th best wRC+ (148) in baseball, trailing only Trout, Votto, Stanton, and Harper. An early adopter of the fly-ball craze, Martinez should thrive in Boston, lifting balls over the Green Monster and poking them to right with ease. However new manager Alex Cora manages to get him in the lineup, Martinez should provide the Ortisian slugger that was missing last year. Nunez was brought in as a utility player capable of filling in at a number of positions. Slated to start at 2B for an injured Dustin Pedroia to begin the year, Nunez should bring average defense, good speed, and slightly above-average offense to the team in 2018.

Key Losses – Addison Reed, Doug Fister

With a quiet offseason, the Red Sox return most of 2017’s roster. Deadline pickup Addison Reed left in free agency, a hole that should be filled with healthy returns by Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg in the pen. With a great finish to the season last year, Fister will be missed rotation depth for an injury-riddled Boston staff. Still, neither of these losses should hamper the Red Sox in 2018.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

95-67

92-70

89-73

All three projection systems are in agreement that the Red Sox will remain among the elite teams in 2018. Where they finish in the division, however, depends on each set of projections; while Pecota sees the Yankees taking the East by a few games. ZiPS is particularly optimistic about Martinez, forseeing the best finish for the Sox this year at 95 wins.

Key Players:

Mookie Betts is still the nucleus of this Boston offense, with the only thing changing in between his 2016 and 2017 seasons was the addition of some bad luck last year. After finishing 2017 with a BABIP of only .268, look for a nice bounceback season for Betts. 2016’s 7.9 WAR might have been a career season, but if last year’s improvements in plate discipline remain, Betts could put up another MVP-caliber season. Unsurprisingly, Chris Sale thrived after leaving a team telling him to pitch to contact, with the new Red Sox seeing his career-best strikeout rate last year. Faltering a bit in September, Sale remained in the MVP conversation for much of 2017, finishing with a 2.45 FIP. At just 29 years old, Sale should continue as the trustworthy ace in 2018, anchoring a strong rotation. Xander Bogaerts took a step back in his age-24 season, showing a few worrying trends after solidifying himself as one of the better shortstops in the league in the years prior. At the very least, he should maintain solid defense and good speed, but a return in power would go a long way towards improving Boston’s offense.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The Red Sox’ farm has dropped precipitously over the last few years, from both trades and graduations of players like Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. Jay Groome, the Sox’ 2016 first-round pick, leads the pitching prospects. Injuries have hampered the 19-year-old’s early development, though he still has a mid-90s fastball and good curveball. Michael Chavis began tapping into his raw power in 2017, reaching AA at the young age of 21. Though Chavis will probably spend another year in the minors, Sam Travis looks ready to step-in this year should Mitch Moreland get hurt. Never quite doing as much as you’d like from a 1B prospect, Travis still possesses a good hit tool and above-average plate discipline.

Future Outlook:

The Red Sox continue to look like one of the best teams in baseball. There is some risk on the pitching side this year – both David Price and Drew Pomeranz have had elbow/forearm concerns in the last calendar year – but the Chris Sale-led staff will remain top-notch given good health. The caveat to this, of course, is that Dombrowski has traded away tons of key prospects over his short stint in Boston. Betts, Benintendi, and Devers are young enough to keep the team competitive for years, but, with a middling farm-system, the highs might not elevate to the mid-90 win seasons experienced from 2016 to 2018. The Red Sox should certainly be able to afford pitchers to augment this core, preventing a full rebuild or down period. If they quit handing out huge deals to Pablo Sandoval, that is.

2018 Season Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Actual Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

76-86

72-90

72-90

693

784

Following a strong 2016, the Blue Jays expected to compete for the AL East title. A number of injuries put a wrench in that plan, however, limiting them to just 76 wins. The team actually seems to have outperformed its record as well, looking several runs worse when considering Pythagorean and BaseRuns records. Injuries to core players Josh Donaldson and Aaron Sanchez led to a big drop in projected production, as did under-performances of Jose Bautista (-0.5 WAR) and Kendrys Morales (-0.6 WAR). The Jays made only a few minor trades at the deadline, electing to take one more attempt at contention in 2018 before the impending free agency of Donaldson.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Jaime Garcia, Yangervis Solarte, Randal Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz

Looking to avoid repeating a 2017 season that included 22 players with negative WAR, the Blue Jays’ major focus this offseason was depth. Plugging holes across the board, Solarte, Grichuk, and Curtis Granderson should prevent another season where the Darwin Barneys of the world get 300 PA. Garcia was added on a cheap, one year contract in early February to complete a rotation that projects to be above-average.

Key Losses – Dominic Leone, Jose Bautista

Bautista’s storied career in Toronto looks to have reached its end in 2017, as the 37-year-old’s option was declined by the team. That’s likely a good thing for the Blue Jays, though, following an abysmal 2017 season where he accrued -0.5 WAR. Leone experienced a breakout season in 2017, eventually working his way to the back of the Blue Jays pen and accumulating 1.5 WAR. This production will be hard to replace, as Toronto doesn’t have any proven setup men outside of the recently signed Seung-hwan Oh. If Oh goes down to injury, which wouldn’t be surprising given the fact the Rangers just backed out of a deal with him, the Blue Jays will likely struggle to get to All-Star closer Roberto Osuna with a lead.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

87-74

84-78

80-82

The major projections vary on how Toronto will fare in 2018, with ZiPS projecting a wild-card berth and Pecota seeing a below-average team. While all of the systems see average contributions from most of the non-Donaldson offensive players, there is great variance seen in the pitchers. The pitching staff is home to many older players looking to bounce back from down years and younger players with significant injury risk.

Key Players:

Josh Donaldson is still one of the best players in the league when healthy, giving the Blue Jays their only real hopes at possessing an MVP candidate this year. While the 32-year-old no longer projects to be an elite defensive talent, he is still a complete hitter, combining elite plate discipline with above-average power and contact abilities. The Blue Jays’ playoff hopes ride on the health of Donaldson, a player who has averaged just over seven WAR over the last five seasons. An elite groundball pitcher, Marcus Stroman looks to once again shore up the pitching staff. While Stroman has a tantalizing pitch mix, including a 2-seam fastball he uses to induce grounders and a wipeout slider, he has never been to avoid the longball. He has managed to top 200 innings the last two years, averaging 3.5 WAR per season, but the former first-round pick still has plenty of room for growth in 2018. ZiPS is optimistic about his chances of doing so, predicting a career-high 4.5 WAR season for Stroman. Aaron Sanchez had a breakthrough 2016 campaign, finishing with a 3.55 FIP and 3.8 WAR as a 23-year-old. Last year was a mess, however, mixing injuries with 36 abysmal innings. A strong return from Sanchez this year would go a long way in improving the Blue Jays’ chance of securing a wild-card berth by forming a formidable 1-2 punch with Stroman.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are two of the more exciting prospects in baseball, providing the Blue Jays two pieces to build future teams around. While both are still just 19 years old, they each possess elite skillsets and raw talent, placing them in the top twenty of most prospect rankings. Sean Reid-Foley struggled at times in 2017 but sat in the mid-90s with two above-average breaking balls. Finishing last year in AA, Reid-Foley looks to prove himself in AAA and provide a potential arm down the stretch if the Blue Jays find themselves in contention.

Future Outlook:

After a disappointing 2017, the Blue Jays shored up the weaker areas of their roster, projecting to be league-average or better at most positions. The team’s current window of contention revolves around Donaldson, who can become a free agent following the 2018 season. Rebounds from Sanchez and Marco Estrada might lead to a wild-card berth, potentially convincing Donaldson to stick around in Toronto. Failure to do so, however, paints a bleaker picture, as top prospects Guerrero Jr. and Bichette are still years away from the majors.

2018 Season Preview: Minnesota Twins

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Allowed

85-77

84-78

81-81

815

788

The 2017 season was surprisingly successful for the Minnesota Twins, ending in a loss to the Yankees in the A.L. wildcard game. Entering the season with little in the way of playoff aspirations, the Twins rode a solid offense and improved defense to an 85-77 record. Some key young players took steps forward, with Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios finally living up to their prospect hype.

The position players as a whole thrived, with very few individuals putting up below-replacement performances. Avoiding these black holes in the lineup helped the team finish with a 102 wRC+, good for fifth in the league. For the most part, this offense came from steps forward from younger hitters like Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano. Brian Dozier put up another stellar season, finishing with 5.0 fWAR, proving his 2016 wasn’t a fluke. The Twins’ major weakness in 2017 was unequivocally the pitching staff, especially the starting pitching options. Small steps forward from Berrios and Kyle Gibson, as well as a luck-filled 3.28 ERA from Ervin Santana, managed to keep the team afloat. Outside of these options, however, was a mess of poor performances as the Twins gave almost 300 innings to players with 0.0 WAR or lower.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi, Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney

Content to stick with their incumbent offense, the Twins’ major moves revolved around improving their putrid pitching. Signing a back-loaded two year, $10 million deal, Michael Pineda looks to recover quickly from Tommy John surgery, potentially pitching for the team by August. Odorizzi was grabbed on the cheap in mid-February, with the Twins betting he can rebound from his 5.43 FIP/5.10 xFIP in 2017. Rodney and Reed were similarly grabbed for less than expected, with concerns over the former’s age and the latter’s August velocity dip scaring some teams off. The two look to solidify the 8th and 9th innings for the Twins, both having enough recent closers’ experience to warrant taking over the 9th inning duties.

Key Losses – Hector Santiago, Bartolo Colon

The few players leaving in free agency this offseason should improve the Twins in 2018, as Santiago, Colon, and Dillon Gee were quite terrible in 2017. The biggest potential impact to the team’s roster could come in the form of a suspension of Miguel Sano, following off-season sexual harassment claims leading the MLB to start an investigating into Sano’s past behavior. Sano recently had a discussion with the MLB, which should mean a decision on this misconduct should come soon.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 83-79

81-81

80-82

Steamer and Pecota don’t fully buy the Twins’ improvements carrying over into 2018, projecting a 2nd place finish in the AL Central, well behind the Indians. Expected regression across the offense, especially from Buxton (3.8 sWAR) and Dozier (3.8 sWAR), offset the additions made to the pitching staff, as the depth and back-end options in both the rotation and bullpen look to hold the Twins back again.

Key Players:

Averaging 4.7 WAR over the last four seasons, Brian Dozier has improved almost every aspect of his game after debuting in the big leagues as a largely unheralded prospect. Dozier epitomizes the power surge seen across the league, transforming from a light-hitting SS prospect into one of the better power hitters in the AL. Byron Buxton finally began living up to his tantalizing skill set and athleticism last year. Most scenarios that involve another playoff appearance by the Twins revolve around Buxton finding some consistency at the plate to go with his great defense and speed. Taken 30 picks later in the 2012 draft, Jose Berrios has had a similarly uneven path to the pros. Possessing three good pitches in his fastball, curveball, and slider, Berrios has the best chance of becoming a top-of-the-rotation option for the Twins in 2018. Kyle Gibson is boring in every conceivable way, making him the most Twins pitcher since Nick Blackburn hung up his cleats in 2013.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Royce Lewis, the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, looks to provide great speed and enough defense to stick at SS long-term. Nick Gordon showed improved power in 2017 and will eventually make a transition to 2B to create a formidable double-play combo with Lewis. Both players possess good speed and hope to hit enough to be above-average hitters in the majors. With the graduation of Berrios, Stephen Gonsalves becomes the best pitching prospect in the Twins system. While he doesn’t have the ceiling of Berrios, his good change-up and low 90s fastball lead many to project him as a solid mid-rotation starter.

Future Outlook:

After a surprising wild-card run in 2017, the Twins look primed for a setback in the coming season. While the pitching staff will most likely hold the team back again in 2018, the future looks bright. Buxton, Sano, and Berrios should be cornerstones for the next good Twins team, with lots of interesting role players stepping up alongside them in 2017. A second wave of prospects who are close to the majors, combined with lots of future payroll flexibility, should allow the Twins to build a team with a strong chance of competing for the AL Central in the coming years.

2018 Team Preview: Seattle Mariners

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Actual Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

78-84 79-83 80-82 750

772

Following a feverish offseason by Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners were projected to compete for a wild-card spot in 2017. Instead, in fashion all too familiar to Mariners fans, the pitching staff imploded, running through a record-setting number of pitchers in 2017. Trade acquisition Drew Smyly made one World Baseball Classic appearance before experiencing a season-ending injury. This was quickly preceded by a plethora of injuries, eventually reaching almost every pitcher on the roster. The offense continued to be one of the best in the league, finishing the year with a 102 wRC+, tied for fifth best in the MLB. The depleted pitching staff finished the year with a 4.64 xFIP, contributing to the disappointing record.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Dee Gordon, Juan Nicasio, Ryon Healy

While Dipoto exhibited his usual propensity of making five times as many moves as the rest of the league, major additions to the team were limited this offseason. Dee Gordon should be an integral part of Mariners 2018 season, as could newcomers Ryon Healy and Juan Nicasio. However, a lot of the more meaningful additions to the 2018 squad were made at last year’s trade deadline, with the Mariners picking up three-fifths of their rotation and a key RP in Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez, Marco Gonzales, and David Phelps. An abundance of minor trades and waiver moves should improve team depth, highlighted by Cam Perkins, Mike Ford (Rule 5 selection), and Nick Rumbelow.

Key Losses – Nick Neidert, Drew Smyly, Yonder Alonso, Jarrod Dyson, Emilio Pagan

Seattle lost a few key contributors this off-season via trade, free agency, and non-tender decisions. Top prospects (for the Mariners’ #30 ranked system) Nick Neidert, JP Sears, and Thyago Vieira joined the cast of prospects dealt away during the Dipoto era. The largest loss for the Mariners, however, was a player they failed to acquire. The front office courted phenom Shohei Ohtani all off-season, trading a number of players for international slot money in hopes of swaying him to Seattle. None of the players lost should hamstring the roster in 2018, though the continued exodus of interesting prospects is certainly an unsettling sight for fans.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

83-79

81-81

83-79

The projection systems see another mediocre finish for the Mariners. Steamer projects almost no contribution from starters Ryon Healy (0.1 WAR) and Ben Gamel (0.7 WAR), as well as a pessimistic outlook on key acquisition Dee Gordon (1.7 WAR). While the Mariners’ bullpen projects very well behind the likes of Edwin Diaz, Nicasio, Phelps, and Nick Vincent, the rotation is expected to be a weakness again. Dipoto has stated he thinks the team has many players that are hard for projection systems to evaluate, including Gordon’s move to CF and continued return of strength for SP Marco Gonzales following 2016 Tommy John surgery. Any shot at contention hinges on Dipoto and company being correct in this assumption, as the team has expressed no interest in adding to the roster.

Key Players:

Dee Gordon is being asked to learn a new position, yet again, moving to CF in 2018. A quick transition, combined with continued league-average offense and elite baserunning, could help the Mariners beat their projections in CF by upwards of a win. Has Mike Zunino finally put his troubled past behind him? With little insurance at catcher, the Mariners hope the answer is a resounding yes. If Zunino can continue exhibiting improved patience, his power should allow him to be one of the best catchers in the league following a 3.6 WAR campaign in 2017. Mitch Haniger, a key pickup last off-season, flashed his tremendous potential to start the 2017 season. Showing good range in the outfield, coupled with a wRC+ of 186 in April, Haniger made good on his narrative of a changed swing. An injury derailed his season, however, as his offensive performance did not stack up after his return.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The Mariners’ barren farm system is especially thin at the high levels following graduations of Gamel, Haniger, and Gonzales last year. A number of interesting depth pieces hang around AAA, including flamethrower Dan Altavilla and control artist Andrew Moore, but the Mariners don’t have any major prospects on the horizon looking to improve the 2018 team. A big return and healthy season from top prospect Kyle Lewis could provide a nice trade chip should the Mariners find themselves in contention, but the overall lack of depth in the system also hurts any potential package for an elite talent.

Future Outlook:

To the angst of many Mariners fans, Jerry Dipoto created another Mariners roster projected to win around 82 games. While he has acquired cost-controlled players like Healy, Haniger, Gordon, and Gonzales, the future of the Mariners comes down to their ability to develop these young players. With the core of Felix, Cruz, and Cano getting older and less effective, the team will have to get more than expected out of this younger contingent. If not, the Mariners will continue to hold the infamous position of having the longest playoff drought in American sports.

2018 Team Preview: Oakland Athletics

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record BaseRuns Record Runs Scored

Runs Against

75-87 72-90 79-83 739

826


An outcome becoming annoyingly frequent to A’s fans, the team underperformed middling projections, finishing last in the AL West. While on simple run differential the team looked no better, BaseRun standings indicate the team once again suffered some bad luck. Unsurprising for a team led by Jed Lowrie and a bunch of pre-arb players, the A’s embodied inconsistency in 2017. While this led to many losing streaks of four games or more, the team also had an inspiring finish to the season behind the backs of rookie Matts; Olson and Chapman.

Billed as a team without any substantial weaknesses or strengths coming into 2017, the A’s actually saw surprisingly varied results. Joining in on the MLB-wide dinger craze with 234 (4th in the MLB), the A’s finished 7th-best with a 102 wRC+, hurt by below-average base running and a league-worst -60.5 defensive runs. The pitching staff finished in the bottom third in the league in FIP and xFIP, mixing above-average performances by some of the rotation and bullpen with a putrid output from a number of younger players.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit, Stephen Piscotty, Emilio Pagan

Despite possessing a low payroll, the A’s had a quiet offseason, mainly shoring up an already interesting bullpen. The team is clearly targeting flyball-heavy RP who can pitch multiple innings, zigging while the rest of the league looks to get as many short-stint groundball/strikeout specialists as they can. The A’s hope these additions outpitch their FIPs and xFIPs, continuing to induce weak contact and pop-ups to take advantage of spacious o.Co Coliseum.

Key Losses – Ryon Healy, Jesse Hahn

While both Healy and Hahn have some flashes of brilliance and possess some interesting tools, neither of these pieces should come back to bite the A’s. Healy is young and has shown good to great power in the past, but hasn’t built on his abhorrent walk rate or defense, culminating in a pretty limited player. Hahn flashed an interesting repertoire in 2017, he just couldn’t find any consistency, while the A’s still possess a number of interesting and inconsistent SP options to bet on moving forward. Some regression is expected for key hitters Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, although Olson leads the team with a 2.7 projected WAR. Similar to 2017, the A’s should have adequate depth and options across the board but are void of star players to build a competitive team around.

2018 Projections

ZiPS Steamer

Pecota

79-84 77-85

77-85

The projections see much of the same for the A’s this season, predicting a 4th place finish in the division. Steamer doesn’t believe in the pen’s ability to continue out-pitching their peripherals, whilst also not really seeing any starting option as above-average. ZiPS is slightly more optimistic on Khris Davis, (2.5 WAR) but agrees on a below .500 finish for the team.

Key Players:

While youngsters like Franklin Barreto and Dustin Fowler could come up and make a big impact this year, any illusions of playoffs stem from big advancements from Olson, Chapman, and Sean Manaea. Matt Chapman (2.7 sWAR) looks to be a cornerstone for the next competitive A’s team, provided Billy Beane doesn’t trade him to Toronto. Whoops. At a minimum, Chapman looks to combine well above-average power with great defense. With any improvement in his contact skills, Chapman could easily transform himself into one of the better players in the league. Matt Olson checks in with a similar offensive profile, he just lacks the defensive prowess. A more limited ceiling could still help propel the A’s to one of the better offenses in baseball again. As the de facto ace, Sean Manaea (2.0 sWAR) gives the A’s their best chance at finding an above-average SP. He’s still young enough that a big step forward is still possible, though his health and performance come with a lot of risks.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

With graduations of key players over the past few seasons, the A’s have fewer prospects looking to make an impact in 2018. Franklin Barreto looks to wrangle the starting SS spot from Marcus Semien at some point (or take over at 2B), becoming a cornerstone player for the franchise. Trade acquisitions Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler should hang around the high minors and make a big league appearance provided good health in 2018. Top pitching prospect A.J. Puk looks to build off of a fantastic 2017 campaign, potentially pushing into the majors around the All-Star break.

Future Outlook:

The projections see a similar finish for the 2018 Athletics: a good offense led by dingers, but not enough pitching to get out of the AL West basement. There are tons of interesting young players in the system, however, leading to aspirations of competition in 2020 or sooner. If the A’s can get improvements from a few starters, and get healthy seasons from their upper-level prospects, the team should be in much better shape following the 2018 season.

2018 Team Preview Series

Welcome to the inaugural Below Replacement Level series: 2018 Team Previews. Over the coming month, we will post a preview for each team, covering their 2017 performance, offseason moves, key players, and 2018 projections. These posts are meant to cover each team at a high level, outlining the team and organization as a whole heading into the 2018 season.

A few notes to keep in mind while reading the individual team previews:

  • 2018 Projections were taken from the three major public projection systems: Steamer, ZiPS, and PECOTA
  • For the sake of not repeating ourselves, references to an individual player’s stats from any of these projections systems will simply be used by sWAR (Steamer 2018 WAR projection), zWAR (ZiPS player projection), and pWAR (Pecota player projection)
  • 2017 WAR figures were taken from Fangraphs unless otherwise indicated, as that is our preference in quick player evaluations
  • Pecota is the only projection system from the three used that outputs win and loss totals. For Steamer and ZiPS win totals, we had to roughly assess our own playing time projections, adding or subtracting from the ‘replacement level’ team. These are rough estimates to get a general idea of how the projection system see the team’s median performances

We plan on posting one team preview for each day leading up to the opening of the 2018 season. If we don’t, you can definitely blame RBD, it’s probably his fault. Hopefully, this series will help you catch up with where each of the 30 MLB teams is heading into the 2018 season.

Feel free to comment or contact us with any questions or suggestions.