As I talked about in the introduction for the 2021 MLB Betting Guide, I spent a lot of time wondering how much I wanted to factor in the shortened 2020 season. In a lot of ways, it would be hard to take anything away from it, seeing as how the teams only played within the division and only played against nine different opponents.
I do believe that there are some teams that overachieved in the 60-game season that may be improperly rated a little bit because their surface-level performance was more impressive in 60 games than it would have been over 162. One of those teams is the Seattle Mariners. On the surface, a 27-33 record seems just fine, especially when you consider that was two games off of the final playoff spot claimed by the Houston Astros.
Looking below the surface is important. This is a Mariners team that was 27-33 with a -49 run differential, so that looks more like 25-35 by Pythagorean Win-Loss. The Mariners were a 24-36 team by BaseRuns and 3rd Order Win%. Ironically, their actual record of 68-94 in 2019 was worse than the Pyth W-L and BaseRuns records, despite a 13-2 start over the first 15 games, so maybe everything just evened out.
While I can poke holes in the results, what I cannot poke holes in is that it was a valuable year for the Mariners. It was a transitional year. This wasn’t going to be a playoff team and everybody knew it. At least this time around, unlike 2019, the Mariners planned for the future by playing young players in the present.
Back in 2019, the Mariners used 67 different players over the course of the season and only eight of them were under 25 as of June 30. The Mariners used 49 players in the shortened season and 16 of them were 25 or younger as of June 30. Players like Kyle Lewis, Shed Long, and Evan White got extensive reps to go through the ebbs and flows of development. All 60 starts were made by pitchers under 30, including 27 from 24-year-olds Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, and Nick Margevicius.
This is what bad teams are supposed to do. Every rep is important for a young player and the Mariners got a lot of them for their young players last season. While it would be fair to say that they got worse on both the pitching and the hitting sides of the coin, they didn’t toil away playing has-beens and roster fodder. They made a commitment to the future.
Unfortunately, the future is not particularly bright just yet. Promising players litter the roster, but most of the rough edges remain and the Mariners spent virtually no money in free agency. This is a team that will go through another set of growing pains and it will hurt a lot more than it did last season with more parks, more opponents, and trades of Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager are very real possibilities.
On the plus side, the Mariners are young and these are players that aren’t playing out contracts or looking to get out of town. Teams with nothing to lose can sometimes be the most dangerous to face. Is there hope for Seattle to exceed expectations this season?
2021 Over/Under Season Win Total Odds
Odds To Win AL West
|Team||Odds To Win|
|Los Angeles Angels||+375|
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-57 (4.02/4.96)||-88 (4.73/5.28)|
|3rd Order Win%||24.2-35.8||72-90|
|Record in One-Run Games||7-8||23-26|
Additions: Ken Giles, James Paxton, JT Chargois, Taylor Guerreri, Jack Reinheim, Jaime Schultz, Dillon Thomas, Jantzen Witte, Roenis Elias, Paul Sewald, Keynan Middleton, Chris Flexen, Sam Travis, Jose Godoy, Josh Morgan, Drew Steckenrider, Moises Gomez, Vinny Nittoli, Rafael Montero, Will Vest, Robert Dugger, Domingo Tapia
Losses: Carl Edwards Jr., Nestor Cortes, Joseph Odom, Seth Frankoff, Yoshihisa Hirano, Dee Strange-Gordon, Jose Corniell, Phillip Ervin, Tim Lopes, Ian Hamilton, Walker Lockett, Taylor Guilbeau, Art Warren, Joe Hudson
Jerry Dipoto just can’t help himself. The more transactions the better. He treats his 40-man roster like an addict treats a crack pipe. The 52-year-old has racked up two or three lifetimes worth of transactions in just over a decade as a General Manager.
The funny thing about most of these moves is that they won’t have too much of an impact. The one-year deal for James Paxton as the Big Maple looks to rehab his image and his profile to get a big free agent deal is a nice opportunity for him in a quality pitcher’s park. Hopefully he’ll be healthy enough to compete regularly.
The Mariners are looking to find some bullpen arms with Taylor Guerreri, Roenis Elias, Paul Sewald, Keynan Middleton, and Drew Steckenrider. It looks as though former KBO pitcher Chris Flexen is back stateside to pitch in a Major League rotation and this is probably the right type of team to try that type of thing with him.
None of the losses are overly significant. Bullpen arms come in. Bullpen arms go out. The revolving door of relievers never stops spinning for a lot of teams, especially those with Dipoto as GM.
|Batting Average (BA)||.226 (24th)||.237 (29th)|
|On-Base Percentage (OBP)||.309 (26th)||.316 (21st)|
|Slugging Percentage (SLG)||.370 (28th)||.424 (19th)|
|Weighted On-Base Avg (wOBA)||.298 (28th)||.314 (20th)|
|Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)||91 (23rd)||98 (13th)|
|Batting Avg on Balls In Play (BABIP)||.281 (20th)||.287 (27th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||25.0% (23rd)||25.5% (27th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||9.5% (13th)||9.5% (5th)|
Mitch Haniger is not listed as an addition, though he very well could have been. Additions and losses are reserved for guys that were not in the organization at the end of last season. Haniger was, but he didn’t play at all last year due to injury and then subsequent setbacks. Haniger probably won’t be a Mariner for long, as his contract situation is such that a productive first half will create some trade value.
If Haniger is able to return to his 129 wRC+ from 2017 or his 137 wRC+ from 2018, he should be the most potent hitter on the roster. He’s a quality player all around, especially if he can play right field instead of center field.
Another big development from last season for the Mariners was veteran Kyle Seager. Seager shook off a bad 2018 to become an above average hitter again in 2019 and then finished the 60-game sprint with a 118 wRC+. A decrease in power seemed to be a common thing in the AL West because of the park factors in the realigned schedule, but Seager posted a career-high walk rate and a career-low K% to have his highest OBP since 2016.
Like Haniger, though, Seager will be an attractive commodity to a team in the hunt. We should go on the assumption that neither player will finish the season with the Mariners. If Dipoto gets a reasonable offer, he is unlikely to hesitate.
That’s fine because the ceiling for the Mariners offense will be defined by the youngsters. Kyle Lewis’s first elongated sample size was a good one with a .349 wOBA and a 126 wRC+. His K% problems from the minors followed him, but he also walked a lot more than anticipated. I would expect the BB% to regress, but he could improve on the K% and should improve on the power production as he gets more reps and more familiarity at this level.
I’m not really sure about the projections for guys like Dylan Moore or Shed Long. Moore looked a lot better in his 159 PA in 2020 than he did in his 282 trips to the plate in 2019. Some projection systems put him somewhere around a league average bat. Some have him nowhere close. Long Jr. had a nice run in 2019 over 42 games, but he looked overmatched in his 34 games in 2020. Evan White also looked overmatched in his 202 plate appearances, but it was good for him to have those learning experiences in a lost season.
That’s just it, though. The Mariners lineup has minimal upside. JP Crawford is only 26 and already has 853 plate appearances to his name, but he hasn’t really shown much that would suggest he’s an everyday player at the plate. He’s been a good fielder anyway, so he provides some value that way and you can live with a 94 wRC+ as a plus fielder. It’s just a stretch to see a 94 wRC+. He was only there because of a .303 BABIP last season.
Help is coming, but it isn’t there yet. Taylor Trammell is probably the closest, but Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are non-roster invites to Spring Training. It would be nice to see the Mariners embrace their fate and let those two guys just take their lumps at the MLB level. Rodriguez is only 20 and Kelenic is only 21, though, so I can’t see it happening. Mariners fans just need to know that better days are ahead. You know, once the service time manipulation ends.
You’re not looking for miracles with a team projected to be around 70 wins. You’re looking for players that can exceed expectations. Unfortunately, I don’t really see any. Kelenic as a midseason replacement for Haniger wouldn’t be a big surprise if the veteran slugger is traded. Aside from that, what you see is what you get with this offense and that means a lot of guys that are overmatched, a lot of bad contact quality, and probably fewer walks as the league walk rate as a whole regresses back towards the mean.
There is just nothing to get excited about here. Not like I am about a team like the Royals, who are lined in a similar place from a win total standpoint.
|Earned Run Average (ERA)||5.03 (24th)||5.00 (23rd)|
|Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)||4.91 (24th)||5.00 (27th)|
|Adj. Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)||5.11 (29th)||4.85 (26th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||20.9% (27th)||19.8% (27th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||10.2% (24th)||8.1% (9th)|
|Left On Base Percentage (LOB%)||69.9% (22nd)||68.4% (30th)|
The 2020 numbers for the pitching staff are more damning to me than those for the offense. You can make a case for being a bad offensive team when forced to play the entire schedule except for games in Colorado in parks that grade poorly for offense. That is more than just an excuse.
There are no excuses for this pitching staff. The Mariners have yet to realize that strikeouts are good. They haven’t developed a whole lot of strikeout artists and don’t even have any exciting homegrown bullpen arms. Significant developmental failures have plagued this pitching staff. Of the projected starting pitchers, not one is homegrown, with the exception of Paxton, who took a circuitous route back home through the Bronx. Of the projected roster relievers, not one is homegrown.
Ljay Newsome made a cameo appearance last season. He was drafted in the 26th round of the 2015 MLB Draft. Joey Gerber pitched 17 games in relief with a 4.02 ERA as an eighth-round pick in 2018. Logan Gilbert from Stetson University is the team’s top pitching prospect. Ryan Yarbrough is the Mariners draft pick with the most success at the MLB level since 2014 and none of it has been with the M’s. Seattle has also drafted guys like Dominic Leone and Edwin Diaz.
The last legitimate starting pitchers drafted to have success for the Mariners came in 2010 with Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Maybe 11 years doesn’t seem that long ago, but in baseball terms, from a drafting and developing standpoint, it is an eternity.
Paxton is now back, but my hopes for him are not particularly high. The Mariners spent $8.5 million hoping that he is good enough to trade to a contender in July. Injuries always get in the way and he is a guy that allows a good amount of hard contact for somebody with his strikeout process and decent career home run numbers. I guess T-Mobile Park could be good for him, but the Mariners might get 15 starts out of him before he’s trading or between injured list stints.
I guess an argument could be made that Marco Gonzales has blossomed on Seattle’s watch. After all, 74 of his 88 career starts have come with Seattle. Gonzales posted a 3.10 ERA with a 3.32 FIP last season and a brilliant command profile. He limited hard contact and kept the ball in the park at a high rate. I’ve even seen some Cy Young odds listed in the 25/1 range for him, which is laughable because his team is awful and this won’t be a Felix Hernandez situation, but credit to Gonzales for pitching himself into the discussion.
Beyond Gonzales, the Mariners have some pieces to work with. Justus Sheffield was good in his 10 starts covering 55.1 innings. His 3.17 FIP was the best on the team among full-time pitchers. Coming off of a rough 2019, it was good to see some changes. Most notably, Sheffield shelved the fastball for a sinker and kept the ball on the ground after allowing a .507 SLG on 62 fastballs put in play last season. He did get a bit lucky on batted balls and only allowed two home runs. I see growing pains coming with more teams and more parks, but he should be league average or better.
The Mariners have done a similar thing with Yusei Kikuchi, who learned a cutter last season that became a huge ground ball pitch. Kikuchi was blasted by AL West teams in 2019 and the total package was a 5.46 ERA with a 5.71 FIP. Last season, his ERA wasn’t any better at 5.17, but his FIP was 3.30. He cut his HR/FB% in half and the cutter helped fashion a 52% GB%. His 59.9% LOB% was the reason for the high ERA. He’ll probably be better.
This rotation looks a bit better with those three at the top. I’m not expecting much from Chris Flexen in his return from the KBO, where he hung a 3.01 ERA and a 2.74 FIP in 116.2 innings with a depressed run environment in the league’s best pitcher’s park. Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius aren’t guys with a lot of upside to me, though Margevicius is only 24 and had good minor league numbers with the Padres. His margin for error just seems to be thin at the MLB level.
Homegrown talents Anthony Misiewicz and Joey Gerber were the only regular Mariners relievers on the plus side of fWAR last season. Misiewicz was worth 0.5 and Gerber was worth 0.1. Kendall Graveman showed flashes. There just isn’t a lot to get excited about here. The Mariners brought in Rafael Montero off of a decent season for the Rangers, but that is really about it.
For me to take overs with bad teams, I have to have confidence that their relievers will shut the door when called upon with leads. I don’t have that confidence here.
Positives & Negatives
The Mariners started the 2019 season 13-2 and still lost 94 games. Last season’s record reads 27-33, but the Mariners were much worse than that per the alternate standings metrics. This is another transitional year for the M’s and one in which Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager probably get traded. Marco Gonzales was just inked to an extension, so he isn’t going anywhere, but the Mariners need to infuse some more talent into their minor league system.
There is a chance that the second half is better than the first half with guys like Jarred Kelenic graduating to the Major League level, but that seems like picking up a hitchhiker on a rocky road. This is a team that just isn’t on the level of the other teams around. Furthermore, the Angels should improve. The A’s are a team I’m down a little bit on, but Oakland and Houston are quality ballclubs. Those are 57 tough games, not to mention seeing other teams around the league.
President and CEO Kevin Mather was fired just as Spring Training was beginning for his ill-advised comments on a lot of things, including Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic. The Mariners went into damage control immediately, but this is an organization that has been stuck in the mud spinning its wheels for a while now. This just seemed like an extension of the dumbassery.
Seattle Mariners Pick & Prediction: Under 72.5
The Mariners just don’t have the talent to regularly complete and I have no faith in their bullpen to hold a high enough percentage of their leads. Seattle played in some of baseball’s best pitcher’s parks, including their own, and finished 29th in ERA and 30th in FIP as a relief unit. The leads passed on by a competent, but depth-shy starting rotation are going to be precarious at best.
The Mariners may walk a bit, but they will also strike out a lot and not hit for much power. Contact authority is a question mark up and down the lineup. If you can’t hit home runs, you better hit balls hard in another way. I don’t see that being the case.
Another problem for Seattle, as I mentioned, is that they have a GM who treats waiver claims like Adderall and trades like Quaaludes. The revolving door of players in and out for this team is a detriment. Like I talked about, they haven’t drafted and developed a homegrown starting pitcher in 11 years. We’re seeing some adjustments at the MLB level to help guys like Gonzales, Kikuchi, and Sheffield, but there is no cohesive messaging in this organization from this outsider’s perspective.
Teams lacking talent can improve at the margins with the proper instruction and planning. Do we want to ditch fastballs in hopes of increasing K%? Do we want to hit a lot of fly balls to hit for power? Do we want to be more aggressive on the bases and force the issue? Teams are always asking these types of questions and then put the answers into practice.
The Mariners just seem like a boat out in the water with a disabled engine. They aren’t really going anywhere except for where the wind blows them. I can’t bet on a bad team like that. Show me something. Show me a goal and steps to actively achieve it. I don’t see it with Seattle.
This one isn’t quite a bet, though. I generally shy away from really low win totals on teams. I don’t think the Mariners avoid losing 90 games, so it is on my list of considerations as the season draws nearer. It will be interesting to see if the Mariners go ahead and start with Kelenic and Rodriguez at the MLB level in light of Mather’s comments and the discussion sparked about service time manipulation and Super Two status.
I’ll wait and see how it plays out, but Seattle is not a team I have high hopes for in 2021. I’d call the under a stronger lean here that could become a bet.