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Comparing Mariners to Contenders

It is that magical time of year where it is hard to think up meaningful posts. The Mariners season is essentially over. They have assured themselves a better record than last year (woohoo) and would have to really fall flat on their face in the last week and a half to stumble past 90 losses. The Mariners, in all likelihood, will have a losing record that is not catastrophically memorable. The tale of their season has been written.

The Mariners just finished up playing the Orioles, a team in playoff contention. Baltimore had gone over a decade since being relevant. A winning record would have been an accomplishment for them, but they have come out of nowhere to legitimately challenge the beasts of the AL East. Could the Mariners pull a similar trick against Texas and Los Angeles of Anaheim (and dare I say Oakland?)

It is clear enough that the Mariners are not good enough to contend as is. How far away are they though? I decided to investigate this question by adding up WAR totals. I looked at American League teams with a better than 50 percent chance of reaching the playoffs and compared their starters to the Mariners. All numbers in the table below are WAR totals. For the Mariners, these are simple sums. For the contenders I calculated WAR totals for each team and then averaged them. All players are sorted by season WAR totals. Below are the results:

Category
  2012  
  Contenders   
2012
  Mariners  
2011 
  Mariners  
Top 3 Position Players:
11.3
8.8
6.8
Position Players 4-6:
6.5
5.3
1.8
Position Players 7-9:
4.0
0.9
1.3
Rest of Position Players:
-0.1
-1.8
-4.0
Top 3 Starting Pitchers:
9.1
8.2
11.4
Starting Pitchers 4 and 5:
2.8
0.4
3.5
Top 3 Relief Pitchers:
3.5
3.4
2.0
Rest of Pitchers:
2.4
0.1
-1.4

The Mariners, across the board, are not as talented as contending teams. Shocking, I know. The table makes them look like they are a long ways away, and to a degree that is true, but there is a cascading effect. For example, if the Mariners were to add Miguel Cabrera (which won't happen, but he will prove my point), his 6.8 WAR would increase the top 3 position player total. However, his presence would also boot Michael Saunders to the 4-6 group, and Brendan Ryan to the 7-9 group. Every total increases. In the end, with Cabrera, the position player WAR totals would go from 8.8, 5.3, and 0.9 to 13.3, 6.2, and 2.1, respectively. Cabrera alone makes the M's starting lineup compare more favorably to this year's contenders.

I provide the data table so you can draw your own conclusions, but oddly enough I think the pitching staff needs to develop more than the offense. The Mariners are one great position player away from a lineup they can contend with. That player might not be easy to find, but we are still only talking about one player. The pitching staff needs more than one player. With that said, the Mariners farm system has many more intriguing pitching prospects than position ones. There could (or maybe even should) be answers from within.

It is also important to keep some perspective, which is why I included the 2011 team in the table. Those WAR totals are for 162 games, so some of the larger totals are thanks in some part to some additional games. However, the growth on offense is very apparent. The Mariners, in some regards, just have to keep growing like they have this season.

The Mariners are not going to the playoffs this season, so since wins and losses don't seem to matter, something must. The goal should be about envisioning how the Mariners roster looks something like a playoff roster. There are plenty of ways to get there, and if nothing else the last week and a half of the season can provide a few more ideas about what holes the current M's could fill next year, or conversely, which ones look like they need to be filled from outside the organization.