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MLB Projected Standings, Week 12

Teams will start hitting 81 games played around this time next week, meaning the actual halfway point of the season is almost here. Pretty soon this model will be more about what has happened than what is about to unfold.

You can read about the model here, or keep on reading for the updated standings (change in win total from last week in parentheses, playoff teams underlined).

MLB Projected Standings, Week 12:

AL WestAL CentralAL East
Rangers, 90-72 (+2) 0 GBIndians, 92-70 (+4), 0 GBRed Sox, 89-73 (0), 0 GB
Astros, 86-76 (+3) 4 GBTigers, 83-79 (0), 9 GB     Orioles, 87-75 (+1), 2 GB
Mariners, 81-81 (-2), 9 GBRoyals, 81-81 (+1), 11 GBBlue Jays, 86-76 (-1), 3 GB
Angels, 74-88 (-1), 16 GBWhite Sox, 80-82 (-1), 12 GBYankees, 82-80 (0), 7 GB
Athletics, 72-90 (+1), 18 GB     Twins, 64-98 (+1), 28 GBRays, 75-87 (-4), 14 GB
NL WestNL CentralNL East
Giants, 96-66 (+2), 0 GBCubs, 103-59 (-1), 0 GBNationals, 95-67 (-3), 0 GB
Dodgers, 94-68 (+3), 2 GBCardinals, 88-74 (0), 15 GBMets, 91-71 (-2), 4 GB
Rockies, 75-87 (-1), 21 GB     Pirates, 80-82 (-4), 23 GBMarlins, 84-78 (+2), 11 GB
Diamondbacks, 75-87 (+3), 21 GB    Brewers, 72-90 (-2), 31 GBPhillies, 66-96 (-2), 29 GB
Padres, 70-92 (+2), 26 GBReds, 66-96 (+1), 37 GBBraves, 60-102 (+3), 35 GB

Wild card play-in games: Blue Jays at Orioles, Mets at Dodgers
ALDS match-ups: play-in vs. Indians, Red Sox vs. Rangers
NLDS match-ups: play-in vs. Cubs, Nationals vs. Giants

Some musings:
  • The Astros have 85.5 projected wins and the Blue Jays 86.4, so the Blue Jays hold on to the final AL Wild Card spot for the time being.
  • With that said, nobody is talking about the Astros and everyone should be. They were the favorites in the AL West to start the year, got off to a horrible start, but have turned their season around.
  • The Mariners current scuffle certainly sucks, but the bigger problems they face are the simultaneous rises of both the Rangers and Astros simultaneously. The Mariners are back to being a projected .500 team and honestly haven't strayed much beyond that all season. Meanwhile, the Astros are back to their preseason projection and the Rangers are well beyond what was expected.
  • Misery likes company. For you Mariners fans feeling bad out there, take a look at the Pirates swoon and feel better.

Mariners Order Another Round, Pitch in a Lefty Too

Tom Wilhelmsen, the Bartender
The Mariners added two new arms after another frustrating loss last night - though one of the arms is a very familiar face. They signed RHP Tom Wilhelmsen off the free agent market, and acquired LHP Wade LeBlanc from the Blue Jays for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Wilhelmsen will be in Detroit, but that's probably about it. Bob Dutton has all the gory roster rule details, but long story short Wilhelmsen must go through waivers to get sent down to Tacoma. He is a safe bet to pass through waivers, and once he does he will go down and open up a spot for a new pitcher on Friday, conveniently when the M's need a starter to cover for Taijuan Walker's bum heel. That starter seems likely to be LeBlanc.

Let's start with The Bartender. He was last seen in Safeco wielding a lethal power fastball, knee-buckling curve ball combination. Sometimes he struggled to throw the combination for strikes, but he had enough command to be a solid reliever overall with spectacular hot stretches. Wilhelmsen would easily be a bullpen upgrade if he was the pitcher last seen in Mariners blue.

The problem is that Wilhelmsen imploded in Texas. He gave up dingers on a quarter of his fly balls. He simply got annihilated every time he toed the rubber. Wilhelmsen's fastball velocity has not dropped much but it might be below whatever threshold allows him to be effective. There is a reason the Rangers cut him loose and that he is likely to pass through waivers. Still, Wilhelmsen has a good arm and a track record of success in Seattle. He's had a couple horrific months after six solid years. There are reasons to think this move could work out, and it comes at virtually no risk anyway.

Wade LeBlanc
LeBlanc is new to the Mariners but not new to Jerry DiPoto. He acquired LeBlanc as the Angels GM and now has acquired him again. LeBlanc is hardly a prospect at 31 years old, though he only has 446.2 innings in the majors (about 2 or 3 seasons worth). LeBlanc is a "pitchability" lefty, meaning he does not throw all that hard but makes do with command and deception. In fact, pitch f/x data suggests that LeBlanc's fastball sits in the 86-87mph range, which is rather slow by modern MLB standards. However, LeBlanc has never posted disastrous strikeout rates and is enjoying a terrific season in AAA thus far with an ERA under 2.00 as a starter. Still, LeBlanc is the definition of replacement level, though Safeco might do a nice job of hiding his weaknesses.

Frankly, these are moves that only happen when a team is desperate. The Mariners have a critically crippled pitching staff at the moment, one so crippled that nobody can reasonably complain about a lack of depth. They literally have over half of their pitching staff on the DL. These moves are the MLB equivalent of bailing water out of a sinking ship which is unfortunately what the Mariners need to do in the storm they find themselves in. Still, these are the kinds of players that for whatever reason Jack Zduriencik never acquired, and we watched some positions become black holes over the years. These are the kinds of moves the give teams a chance to whether particularly crushing stretches.

Mariners Acquire Zach Lee

Zach Lee
The Mariners made a minor trade of sorts yesterday, in that it involved minor league players who are sort of prospects but sort of not. Jerry Dipoto shipped INF Chris Taylor to the Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee.

The motivation for the move is relatively obvious, at least from the Mariners perspective. The Mariners could really use some starting pitching depth, or pitching depth in general. This is more a function of an inordinate amount of injuries to the pitching staff that leave it dangerously thin than poor planning from the M's front office. Felix Hernandez and Wade Miley are on the DL from the starting rotation, and news just broke that Taijuan Walker is getting an MRI on his foot. In the bullpen Charlie Furbush, Ryan Cook, and Evan Scribner are all yet to make their season debuts. No team suffers that many arm injuries without consequences.

All in all, the Mariners have almost half a pitching staff with significant injury concerns. Furthermore, Jerry Dipoto had to work in the offseason to build pitching depth that was largely ignored and decimated by the end of the Zduriencik era. This is approaching (if not arriving) at a worst-case scenario for how the year could have unfolded for the pitching staff.

So, on some level, Zach Lee fills a need that developed with the way the season unfolded. However, Dipoto announced that Lee will report to AAA Tacoma, meaning he does not fill an immediate need on the 25-man roster.  He also does not fit the profile of a typical stop-gap player. There is a little more to this deal beneath the surface.

Zach Lee, not all that long ago, was an interesting prospect. The Dodgers drafted him in the first round straight out of high school and backed up a Brinks truck to the tune of $5.25 million to sign him away from playing quarterback at LSU. He signed, and the rest is history to some degree. Lee steadily climbed the minor league chain before stalling in AAA where has neither flourished nor floundered. Lee now profiles as a durable innings-eater. He doesn't miss a ton of AAA bats, which suggests he will pitch to even more contact in the majors. However, Lee also does not walk that many batters. One might say he controls the zone. I would sandwich Lee somewhere between Blake Beavan and Doug Fister, for those of us who enjoy comps.

Chris Taylor is sort of a known commodity. I saw him play several times in Tacoma and am sorry to see him go. He has hit too much in AAA to stay as anemic in the majors as he has. Taylor has gap power and just needs to cut down on strikeouts to stick and be a serviceable MLB infielder. He has no amazing tools but relatively few weaknesses as well. Taylor is simply a solid, fundamentally sound baseball player.

This trade is about more than immediate depth though. Zach Lee is almost exactly a year younger than Chris Taylor with about half a season less of MLB experience. Maybe more importantly, only one of his option years is used up. Lee might never become a frontline starter in the M's rotation, but he brings several years of minimal cost-controlled certainty to the team.

If the Mariners really just needed another arm they could have probably found a veteran for cheap. For instance, Mat Latos is in DFA limbo right now after the White Sox removed him from their roster. There were ways to add arms that involved holding on to a guy like Chris Taylor.

So this move isn't just about the injuries to Mariner arms. Zach Lee fits the Dipoto mold. He throws lots of strikes and comes to Seattle with lots of cheap, team-controlled years. I would hazard to guess that Lee has been on the Dipoto's radar for some time but Dipoto was holding out for a better deal that did not involve Chris Taylor. However, the M's current situation might have convinced Dipoto to pull the trigger.

In general, I would rather be the team acquiring a shortstop for a pitcher. However, Lee's extra team-controlled years and the immediate need for pitching depth over infield depth have to be considered. I think the Mariners gave up a better player than they received but they might have acquired the better asset. Lee won't just add depth this season; he adds depth for many seasons to come and he is young enough to still develop a bit.