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Fly, Fly Away

Things on the internet don't really die; they just sort of stop moving forward. Add this blog as another little nook in the great world wide web that will cease to update.

I know there are some of you out there who have faithfully read this blog and enjoyed its updates over the years. You undoubtedly have noticed the blog's pace slowed down over the past few years. A quick glance at the post count each year tells the story thoroughly enough. This blog peaked in 2010 with 142 posts and has generally sunk since then with a current 2016 pace of just 46 posts - with approximately half of those being the weekly projected standings updates.

The post numbers are no surprise to me. 2010 just so happened to be my first year after graduating from Pacific Lutheran University. It was a transition year where I had a few part-time jobs. Time sprang eternal for this baseball habit. Curiously enough, 2013 is when I got the full time teaching job I enjoy now, and that coincides remarkably well with a noticeable drop-off in this blog's activity.

A good statistician would remark on the small sample size and also that correlation does not equal causation. However, this is my life and I know a thing or two about it. Anonymous sources close to the situation tell me that the correlation is a result of causation in this instance.

I started blogging in the fall of 2005 when I started at PLU. I began blogging because I wanted a mind dump and an excuse to learn some HTML/CSS. It was a diversion more than anything else. I (not so) jokingly claimed many times that it was my outlet to talk baseball so that all the new people I met at PLU would hear me talk about something besides America's pastime when they met me face to face.

Seattle Mariners Musings never moved beyond a diversion in my life although it ballooned into something bigger and more lasting than I ever imagined. Don't get me wrong, I understand how minuscule this blog is in the grand cyber universe. The Musings never got much traffic, lthough I know there is a strong cohort of you who check every post. Thanks to all of you who found this worth checking regularly over the years. That I consider this blog so much more than I ever envisioned says more about my own expectations than anything that happened. I never entertained visions of writing professionally or growing my audience.

This is a blog that had the world change around it. Consider that since this blog began:
  • Facebook added features like photo albums and games. It would eventually open up to people without college e-mail addresses too.
  • Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat were invented.
  • Social media in general became a thing.
  • The iPhone went from the future to the present, ushering in the smart phone era.
  • The iPad was invented and spawned a whole new category of computers (tablets).
  • I bought my first car.
  • I earned a bachelor's degree.
  • I earned a master's degree.
  • I morphed from college student to stipended AmeriCorps volunteer to high school math teacher.
When I step back and survey the last 11 years I am amazed that the Musings remained constant. I did not start it with any clear picture how long I would keep it up, but I did not expect it to survive the gauntlet of changes it has.

Still, everything expires at some point. I always wanted to walk away from the Musings before it got too stale to munch on. I wondered back in 2013 if teaching would necessitate me finishing off this blog. I found myself at times exasperated and wondering why I kept this diversion going, but then over breaks (especially summer break) I would subconsciously form a list of things I wanted to do on the blog. It seemed to me that I had slowed down but there was still an interest.

However, a feeling that this blog's expiration date approached kept getting stronger. I very nearly wrote this post last December. It was the first prolonged break from school where I had little interest in the Musings, which I found especially peculiar in the midst of all of Jerry Dipoto's wheeling and dealing. He rejuvenated my interest in the Mariners, yet my desire to write about the team waned.

The 2016 Mariners have helped me see for certain that this is the right time for me to hang up my...keyboard, I guess? I don't write my posts while wearing cleats. Sorry if this disappoints you. I follow this M's team closer than in several years. They are fun, albeit flawed, but I am excited about the direction Dipoto seems to be steering the good ship Mariner. His interest in capable AAA players has made my hometown team, the Tacoma Rainiers, a much more polished product than they really ever were under Jack Zduriencik. I am thankful for that.

Growing up I frequented Dodger Blues. It made me laugh endlessly and captured wounded fandom at its finest. I was disappointed when they stopped updating. It sits frozen in time though for anyone who runs into it, and that's what will happen here too.

I still have a Twitter account too (@msonmnd24) and might actually tweet from it again (?!) since I won't be writing on the Musings. I will probably dabble in some statistical projects sporadically and the odds of those getting shared on Twitter are pretty good.

Technology changed, I changed, the Mariners changed, but through it all the Musings did not change. Now it will never change. It amused me and hopefully amused you too along the way.

MLB Projected Standings, Week 13

Happy Independence Day! What's more American than watching baseball? Watching baseball with HOT TAKES about contenders and pretenders! Who reigns supreme this week in the projected standings?

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 13:

AL WestAL CentralAL East
Rangers, 90-72 (0) 0 GBIndians, 95-67 (+3), 0 GBOrioles, 88-74 (+1), 0 GB
Astros, 87-75 (+1) 3 GBTigers, 85-77 (+2), 10 GB     Blue Jays, 87-75 (+1), 1 GB
Mariners, 83-79 (+2), 7 GBRoyals, 82-80 (+1), 13 GBRed Sox, 87-75 (-2), 1 GB
Athletics, 72-90 (0), 18 GBWhite Sox, 78-84 (-2), 17 GBYankees, 82-80 (0), 6 GB
Angels, 72-90 (-2), 18 GB     Twins, 64-98 (0), 31 GBRays, 71-91 (-4), 17 GB
NL WestNL CentralNL East
Giants, 95-67 (-1), 0 GBCubs, 100-62 (-3), 0 GBNationals, 97-65 (+2), 0 GB
Dodgers, 94-68 (0), 1 GBCardinals, 87-75 (-1), 13 GBMets, 90-72 (-1), 7 GB
Rockies, 74-88 (-1), 21 GB     Pirates, 82-80 (+2), 18 GBMarlins, 84-78 (0), 13 GB
Diamondbacks, 73-89 (-2), 22 GB    Brewers, 71-91 (-1), 29 GBPhillies, 69-93 (+3), 28 GB
Padres, 70-92 (0), 25 GBReds, 63-99 (-3), 37 GBBraves, 59-103 (-1), 38 GB

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

Some musings:
  • The Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Astros are separated by .3 wins. The wild card is a true wild card at the moment.
  • Cleveland's 14 game winning streak sure helped them out in the projected standings. Shocking. However it's also worth noting they were the projected champion of the AL Central and projected to be one of the best teams in the AL. Still, is Cleveland all of a sudden title town?
  • The Orioles still hold on to first place in the AL East and rise in the standings even with their four game sweep in Seattle included.
  • The Cubs have some competition at the top of the NL for the first time this year. Chicago has sunk while the Washington Nationals have risen. This could very well be a fluky weak where one team's low and another team's high intersect, or it could be something more. It doesn't matter all that much anyway. These are both teams well on their way to the postseason.
  • The handful of teams I would say have tough choices between buying or selling at the trade deadline: Mariners, Royals, Yankees, Cardinals, and Marlins. Everyone else is fairly securely in the playoff hunt or out of it. I would guess that the Royals and Cardinals will buy, given their recent playoff history. The Yankees seem to be wavering according to press reports. The Mariners and Marlins will be interesting given their playoff droughts.

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.

MLB Projected Standings, Week 11

The trade market should start heating up soon. Who should buy? Who should sell? Who has a tough call to make?

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

MLB Projected Standings, Week 11:

AL WestAL CentralAL East
Rangers, 88-74 (+2) 0 GBIndians, 88-74 (-1), 0 GBRed Sox, 89-73 (0), 0 GB
Mariners, 83-79 (-2) 5 GBTigers, 83-79 (0), 5 GB     Blue Jays, 87-75 (+3), 2 GB
Astros, 83-79 (0), 5 GBWhite Sox, 81-81 (0), 7 GBOrioles, 86-76 (-1), 3 GB
Angels, 75-87 (+1), 13 GBRoyals, 80-82 (+2), 8 GBYankees, 82-80 (-1), 7 GB
Athletics, 71-91 (-2), 17 GB     Twins, 63-99 (-3), 25 GBRays, 79-83 (+1), 10 GB
NL WestNL CentralNL East
Giants, 94-68 (+1), 0 GBCubs, 104-58 (-1), 0 GBNationals, 98-64 (+3), 0 GB
Dodgers, 91-71 (-2), 3 GBCardinals, 88-74 (+1), 16 GBMets, 93-69 (-1), 5 GB
Rockies, 76-86 (+2), 18 GB     Pirates, 84-78 (-3), 20 GBMarlins, 82-80 (0), 16 GB
Diamondbacks, 72-90 (0), 22 GB    Brewers, 74-88 (+2), 30 GBPhillies, 68-94 (-2), 30 GB
Padres, 68-94 (-1), 26 GBReds, 65-97 (0), 39 GBBraves, 57-105 (+1), 41 GB

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

Some musings:
  • The Pirates have lost 3 games on their projected record in back to back weeks. They are on a serious slide that will knock them out of contention if they do not pull out of it very soon. They might already be out of contention with the way this week went.
  • The Mariners have also sunk in consecutive weaks, but thanks to they hyper-mediocre AL wild card race remain in the hunt. My model might be overestimating their plunge too, given that they are going through the best the AL has to offer on their longest road trip of the year. This would be a logical low point for the team.
  • The model might finally be giving up on the Dodgers to some degree. They continue to be MLB's most exorbitantly expensive kinda good team.
  • The spread between the projected AL playoff teams is a measly 3 games. The parity in the league remains remarkable, for better or worse.

Ichiro, All-Time Hits King*(?)

Ichiro, in a pose that I hope one day is preserved as a statue somewhere in Safeco Field.

Ichiro is having himself a fine season with the Miami Marlins. He finds himself up to 2,979 career MLB hits and seems nearly certain to get 3,000 this season (likely sooner rather than later). More significantly, Ichiro just passed Pete Rose for the most hits ever by a professional baseball player if his hits in Japan are included with his MLB stats.

Understandably, there are divided opinions on whether Ichiro's Japanese league hits should count or not. Shockingly (note the sarcasm) Pete Rose doesn't think they should. His argument is essentially the age-old "slippery slope" one: the Japanese leagues are not the same caliber as MLB, so where does the line stop? Should Rose's minor league hits count then? What about Negro League stats?* If Japanese stats are included, our record books live in an entirely new world.

*Editorial note: those should totally count, and it would be a worthy challenge to try to translate those to Major League equivalencies.

Rose is obviously biased, especially given that the hit record is all he has thanks to his banishment from baseball for gambling. I am obviously biased too, given that I am a Mariners fan and watched Ichiro's prime up close. Still, even I can admit that Rose has a valid point. I think he is asking the wrong question though. The Japanese leagues are strong, but not as strong as Major League Baseball. That is not the real question at the heart of this debate between Ichiro and Pete Rose.

Who is the true hit king? And how do we figure that out?

I, for one, propose a different investigation. What if Ichiro had played his whole career in Major League Baseball? How different would his hit total be?

Obviously, we can never know for certain how different Ichiro's career would have been if he played his whole career in Major League Baseball. However, we have seven full seasons of data in Japan (plus a couple cups of coffee early on) and over a decade of data in MLB to look at. This is enough to make some educated guesses on.

So, I made some educated guesses. This whole next section is about my method. You can skip it if you want to avoid the details underneath the hood and go straight to the results (look for the next bold headline) if you prefer.

Translating Ichiro's Japanese hits into MLB equivalencies

Simply translating hits would be a pretty sloppy way to make the jump from Japan to MLB. Really at the heart of the transition is the quality of pitching and how Ichiro responded to it. There is at least a belief that MLB pitchers are quite a bit better than Japanese pitchers as a cohort. Better pitchers tend to strike out more batters, issue fewer walks, and/or induce weaker contact.

So, I chose to look at five stats: plate appearances (PA), walk percentage (BB%), strikeout percentage (K%), home run percentage (HR%) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Plate appearances log how many times Ichiro steps to the plate (walks and at-bats together). BB%, K%, HR% and BABIP all describe outcomes at the plate: either Ichiro walked, struck out, hit a home run, or put the ball in play somewhere. This is as true in MLB as it is in Japan. The real trick is figuring out how these factors changed when Ichiro faced MLB pitching. We would see evidence both of better pitching and any strategic adjustments Ichiro made within these numbers. Finding the conversions, and then using those conversions to adjust his Japan numbers, would give a good idea how Ichiro's seasons would have translated in MLB.

The other reason to use these underlying numbers is that they all stabilize relatively quickly. Fangraphs sample size suggestions say that BABIP of all these numbers is the most unstable, and the only one which would not stabilize within the confines of one season. The same could not be said for many other statistics. Eliminating noise in the data by picking stats that stabilize the quickest should help with accuracy.

Lastly, I decided to consider sample size anyway. I took all seven of Ichiro's full seasons in Japan but weighted them with his age 26 season worth 1, 25 worth 1/2, 24 worth 1/3, and so on until his age 20 season was worth 1/7. I went through the same process with his first 7 seasons in MLB, though with his age 27 season worth 1, age 28 worth 1/2, age 29 worth 1/3, and so on. Essentially, my assumption is that we really want to find the conversion between his age 26 and 27 seasons and use that to gauge as best we can how the rest of his Japanese seasons would have unfolded if they had happened against MLB pitching. Ichiro no doubt developed over his time (both in Japan and the United States), but he also had some up and down seasons. Including multiple years, but weighting them in the way I did, is an attempt to have neighboring seasons inform the investigation without obscuring that the most important and helpful data is closest to when Ichiro made the transition.

With the conversions for all five stats, it is easy to reverse engineer Ichiro's estimated hit total. I took Ichiro's plate appearances and multiplied them by 1.2 to account for the MLB season, which is approximately 20% longer than the Japanese regular season. I then took Ichiro's BB%, K%, HR%, and BABIP for each Japanese season and adjusted them according to the conversions I found based on his numbers in Japan versus his numbers in MLB. Then, with these four rate stats altered, I went back to his projected plate appearances and extrapolated how many walks, home runs, at-bats, and most importantly, hits he would get.


First of all, the conversion rates I found with my method of investigating Ichiro's statistics confirmed that Japanese pitching is not as strong as MLB pitching, and that there is a noteworthy gap. I estimated that Ichiro's walk rate sunk about 37%, strikeout rate rose 18%, home run rate dipped 64%, and BABIP rate sunk 13% when he transitioned from Japan to MLB. In other words, pitchers walked Ichiro less while also striking him out more and inducing weaker contact (given that he hit way fewer home runs and less balls in play went for hits). These are strong indicators across the board that MLB pitching was a noteworthy step up for Ichiro.

Here are Ichiro's Japanese numbers, adjusted for MLB competition based on how he transitioned to MLB:

Age| Jpn PA Jpn AVG Jpn HR Jpn Hits | MLB PA MLB AVG MLB HR MLB Hits
18| 99.253024| 119.216025
19| 67.188112| 80.168013
20| 616.38513210| 739.3456242
21| 613.34225179| 736.32111220
22| 611.35616193| 733.3237223
23| 607.34517185| 728.3167215
24| 558.35813181| 670.3236206
25| 468.34321141| 562.3249171
26| 459.38712153| 551.3525179

The results are fairly interesting, and counterintuitive at first. Clearly, Ichiro's batting suffers against MLB pitching. His projected batting average dips 20-30 points every year and his projected home run totals plummet. However, his projected hit totals increase.

This counterintuitive result is largely driven by the longer MLB season, and more directly the assumption that Ichiro would be playing every day. However, the only reason that matters is because of how all the other factors combine.

Ichiro's shrinking walk and home run rates, while harmful to his overall value as a hitter, actually helped him more than offset his increased strikeout rate. Simply put, overall, Ichiro put more balls in play in MLB than he did in Japan because he walked so much less and hit so many fewer home runs that they more than offset his elevated strikeout rate. All three of these factors take balls out of play, and the main driver of how many hits a player gets is how many balls they put in play. Moreover, while Ichiro's BABIP shrunk some, it did not shrink a ton. The net result is a relatively similar hit rate extended over a longer season. In fact, I project Ichiro would have over 200 more hits if he had played in the majors - 1,494 projected hits to his actual 1,278.

There is one last big catch though that's pretty impossible to answer: when would Ichiro have debuted in Major League Baseball? He almost certainly would not have played as an 18 or 19 year old, especially given his struggles. 20 years old is also very young for a player to debut, much less start a whole season, but Ichiro's age 20 season was arguably his best in Japan. 20 isn't so ridiculously young to think Ichiro couldn't have made the majors at that age, especially given that he is a Hall of Fame talent and that he performed at such a high level in Japan. However, there really is no way to know.

If Ichiro had debuted playing every day as a 21-year-old, I have him projected at 4,193 total hits if he played his whole career in MLB. That would be less than 100 hits short of Pete Rose. So, if Ichiro had debuted halfway through his age 20 season and performed as well as he did, then he would theoretically have the all-time hit record. It's certainly plausible that Ichiro could have done this. Is it probable that he would have though? Hard to say, maybe even impossible.

Of course, this all assumes that Ichiro doesn't get another hit in MLB, and he isn't done yet. He is likely to collect several more hits between now and the end of his career. The more he gets, the later he would have to debut to be the all-time hit king with my projection method.

So, is Ichiro the new all-time hits king? It's hard to say. If he isn't, he is darn close. He is most certainly in a realm only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have entered before him. That's ultimately the whole point in my eyes.

Ichiro's hit total tells a story; it says something about who he is and what a marvel he is when he steps into the batter's box. History suggests that there will be another hitter something like Ichiro at some point, but hitters like him are exceedingly rare, not even once in a generation. There is no guarantee we see another hitter like Ichiro in our lifetimes. That's what his Japanese numbers help us see and appreciate. That's the real story here. Long live Ichiro.

2016 Mariners Draft Recap

The MLB draft happened over the last weekend. It spanned three days and 40 rounds. This tended to be among Jack Zduriencik's better days as M's GM probably because he came from a scouting background. He tended to grab widely acclaimed talent. It was his regime's inability to develop that talent that ultimately left much to be desired.

I was curious to see how different a Dipoto draft would look from a Zduriencik draft. Dipoto seemed to respect the job that Zduriencik's scouting department did, so much so that he kept Tom McNamara as the head of scouting. McNamara through his role essentially runs the draft so there was some reason to believe that the M's picks might not look all that different.

Ultimately, there is some evidence that the Dipoto Mariners take a bit different style of ballplayer. However, some players picked - especially early on - look a whole bunch like the players that the Mariners have picked in years past. Without further ado, pick-by-pick takes on the Mariners draft, complete with a grade of each pick:
  1. Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer - No-brainer pick, courtesy a few teams above the Mariners reaching for players less talented. Lewis is the first player ever drafted from Mercer in the first round of any pro sports draft (not just baseball), so to say he is a small school prospect is an understatement. However, Lewis annihilated Southern Conference pitching for two years, earning conference player of the year honors two years in a row. This year he also was selected as the NCAA baseball player of the year too. Furthermore, Lewis performed admirably the last two summers in the Cape Cod League, which features a high level of competition and wooden bats. Lewis's power in particular translated fine in the Cape, which is noteworthy. Lewis was athletic enough to play center field at Mercer but I think he ultimately will find a home in left or right field. His height and swing path both suggest some issues making contact in the future, but at 6'4" he never projected to hit for average. What Lewis brings is legitimately good power with the potential for good defense. His ability to work counts will determine just how good of a hitter he becomes. I doubt Lewis becomes a star, but it's easy to see how he could become an above average starter in the middle of a lineup. Grade: A
  2. Joe Rizzo, 3B, Oaktown HS (VA) - Rizzo is a pretty interesting pick, and perhaps says something about the Dipoto regime's values. Rizzo has some things traditional scouts love, namely a beautiful swing and good arm. However, Rizzo is undersized and because of that lacks the kind of projection that scouts tend to love. He also is unlikely to play up the middle defensively, further hampering his upside. With all that said, maybe this pick doesn't say much about Dipoto. Rizzo's best-case comp might be none other than Kyle Seager, and the Mariners have a history of picking these types of fringy hitters under Tom McNamara. Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, though both shortstops, also like Kyle Seager were "reaches" without some of the prototypical tools (though as college prospects). Rizzo has a commitment to South Carolina, which has a reputation as a harder school to sign players away from. Still, Rizzo is unlikely to see his stock go much higher as a prospect. He needs to decide how much he wants a college experience over starting professional baseball. My guess is that he signs and could be a candidate to rise through the early levels of the minor leagues relatively quickly, never garnering much attention as a prospect but hitting too much to not get a shot. Grade: C
  3. Bryson Brigman, SS, San Diego - Brigman sprayed the ball around as a hitter with limited power in college. With that said, Brigman generally played in parks that favored pitchers and in a few Cape Cod league at-bats his gap power showed up. Brigman will never hit for much power, but he very much fits the Chris Taylor/Drew Jackson mold, which seems to be one that McNamara favors and that the Mariners do pretty well with. Grade: C
  4. Thomas Burrows, LHP, Alabama - Burrows closed for the Crimson Tide and figures to stay a reliever as a pro. He could progress quickly through the minors, especially given the M's lack of bullpen depth. I would say he is the odds-on favorite to be the first player from this draft class to appear in Safeco Field. Grade: A
  5. Donnie Walton, SS, Oklahoma State - Walton is an undersized middle infielder that hit well enough at Oklahoma State. He is a senior so should have an easy time signing. Picking him seems at least partially tied to Joe Rizzo as it seems like Walton could sign for under slot value and give the M's some breathing room in negotiation with Rizzo. I think the Mariners could have found more upside with this pick and still saved money, though Walton has a chance to provide organizational depth up the middle. Grade: D
  6. Brandon Miller, RHP, Millersville - Miller comes from a division II school, so small with a relatively low level of competition. However, Millersville was very good this past year and Miller was clearly the staff ace. He dominated, allowing just 63 hits in over 100 innings while striking out over a batter an inning. Moreover, he had a strong showing in the Cape Cod league, which features lots of the best Division I players in the country. Miller also looks the part of a pro pitcher, standing at 6'4" with a durable pitching frame. Nice pick at this stage in the draft. Grade: A
  7. Matt Festa, RHP, East Stroudsburg - Festa is a redshirt senior from a small university so he seems like another player likely to sign and maybe for a discount. Festa anchored his pitching staff and blew away hitters all year, though against substandard competition at a relatively advanced age. He is also undersized. Grade: D
  8. Nick Zammarelli, 3B, Elon - Zammarelli's best tool is power. However, it comes with plenty of strikeouts. He struck out in about a third of his at-bats in the Cape Cod League over the summer, which is alarming to say the least. However, he also clearly improved throughout his college career. Zammarelli could be fun to watch as a good test case over how well the Mariners teach players to "control the zone." He needs to refine his swing and approach to let his power show through in games. Grade: C
  9. Jason Goldstein, C, Illinois - Goldstein is a senior backstop who started all four years at Illinois in the underrated Big Ten conference. He was productive though did not develop all that much in college. That suggests he might be what he's going to be. Goldstein might fly through the lower levels of the minors but I do not see enough of a bat to ever be a contributor in the majors. However, it does not take much of a bat to be a serviceable catcher, even as a backup. Grade: D
  10. David Greer, 3B, Arizona State - The Mariners might have to go above slot to sign Greer, and also might have the resources to pull that off with some of the seniors taken in earlier rounds. Greer is a bit of a three true outcome type - lots of walks, lots of strikeouts, and developing power. He still has mostly gap power, but the number of extra base hits has gone up exponentially over his college career. Greer's holes combined with his significant development the past few years suggest a player who could blossom as a professional. Grade: B
  11. Michael Koval, RHP, Cal Poly Pomona - Another small school pitcher, Koval was the ace for another great Division II team. Koval's ERA and hits allowed were sparkling but he struck out fewer batters than would be expected for a legitimate pro prospect from a small school. He reminds me a bit of Edwin Diaz and Steve Cishak with a bit of cross-fire, side-arm action in his delivery. I wonder if that means the Mariners will convert him into a reliever and see if his stuff plays up. A bit of a reach for my taste at this spot in the draft. Grade: D
  12. Tim Viehoff, LHP, Southern New Hampshire - Viehoff is a senior from a small school but he absolutely crushed his competition. Flawless production, albeit the age and level of competition must be noted. However, this is a stage in the draft where a player with this kind of track record makes all the sense in the world. Also, Viehoff uncorked 10 wild pitched in just 14 starts, which actually might be a good thing. Pro catchers are much better at blocking pitches, and wild pitches tend to be partly caused by pitches the move around and are tough to handle. Grade: A
  13. Reggie McClain, RHP, Missouri - Another senior, but this time from the vaunted SEC. He performed admirable, though did not dominate. McClain might have pitched to too much contact, actually, as he walked only 9 batters in 101 innings as a senior. He certainly knows how to control the zone, which at least means he will set a good example of the style the Mariners want to cultivate. He is rather old by prospect standards as he is already 23. Grade: B
  14. Kyle Davis, RHP, USC - Yet another senior pitcher, Davis flew under the radar at USC. He worked his way into the starting rotation, though never did much to look all that good or bad. Interestingly he worked as a reliever in the Cape Cod league a few summers ago and also found his most success out of the Trojans bullpen as a sophomore. He was drafted last year by the Blue Jays but opted not to sign, and got drafted several rounds earlier this year. He could have a future as a reliever. Grade: B
  15. Danny Garcia, LHP, Miami (FL) - Some scout in the M's organization must see something they can do to fix Garcia. He took a noticeable step backwards this year after looking like he was on track to become a relatively high draft pick. He became more hittable this year with both a reduced strikeout rate and elevated home run rate. With that said, sometimes if a pitcher gains velocity they will give up more home runs and lose command. I don't know exactly what happened with Garcia, but it is the kind of trend that suppresses value yet there could also be plausible reasons to see the problems as a step back before a few steps forward. Grade: D
  16. Lyle Lin, C, Junipero Serra HS (CA) - The school buries the story here. Lin is the first Taiwanese player every drafted. For those of you saying "wait, I remember Chien-Ming Wang and he's from Taiwan!" you are correct. He signed as a free agent though. I don't have much on Lin, though looking at his YouTube highlights he appears to have simple stroke that seems rather mechanical for better and worse. It's at least fun to make history. Grade: C
  17. Dimas Ojeda, LF, McClennan CC - Ojeda is listed as a first baseman so left field is presumably a projected position switch the Mariners will try. Moreover, Ojeda's statline suggests more gap power which is not ideal for first base offense, and his build suggest a lithe body capable of covering some ground. Lots of players have gaudy offensive statlines at McClennan; frankly, Ojeda does not stand out among his teammates. Maybe the roster is loaded with future professionals. It would have to be for this pick to make sense. Grade: F
  18. Robert Dugger, RHP, Texas Tech - Dugger notched just one year at the D-I level and it was out of the bullpen. So, very small sample size to work with statistically, but what he did was solid. Not the worst value at this point. Grade: C
  19. DeAires Moses, CF, Volunteer State (TN) - Moses is listed at just 5'9" and 170 pounds. He also did not hit a home run this past season. He has some gap power and I am guessing projects as an above average defender in center field to get drafted this high. Grade: D
  20. Eric Filia, RF, UCLA - Filia is a 5th year senior, so older at 23 years old. He also missed the past two seasons before playing a full slate of games in 2016. Filia got drafted because he has an incredible eye. He somehow walked 41 times despite limited contact and power ability. He controls the zone and is more likely to set a good example of the M's philosophy than make a dent in the majors. Still, he seems like a helpful player to have in the organization. Grade: B
  21. Austin Grebeck, CF, Oregon - Grebeck is a pest, plain and simple. He has limited contact and virtually no power, yet still walks a fair amount. He plays a bit like his father, Craig Grebeck, a scrappy outfielder who played for handful of teams around the turn of the millenium. I don't know if Dipoto is good friends with Craig Grebeck, but they probably ran into each other during their MLB careers. This could be partly a pick for him and partly another "Control the Zone" exemplar for other prospects to watch. Grade: C
  22. Jansiel Rivera, CF, Methuen HS (MA) - I can't find much on Rivera the player, but he has to have one of the most intriguing stories in the draft. Apparently Rivera moved to the Dominican Republic to play there for a few years before moving back to the states on May 6. He told his high school coach he would get drafted when he moved back, though the coach had no idea what to make of such a bold statement after a few years away. So, the Mariners likely gave Rivera some sort of guarantee and almost certainly ran into him while scouting in the Dominican. He seems like a true sleeper prospect they stumbled upon to some degree. The story alone makes him worth the pick at this point. Grade: B
  23. Jack Anderson, RHP, Penn State - A reliever his whole career in college with some success one summer in the Cape Cod league. Also a senior so easy to sign. Good pick at this stage in the draft. Grade: B
  24. Trey Griffey, CF, Arizona - I don't know when the Mariners stopped thinking they were drafting real prospects, but they most certainly thought they were through at this point. Trey is Ken Griffey Jr.'s son, and he is a wide receiver for the Wildcats football team. He hasn't played an inning of baseball at Arizona. What a coincidence that he was listed as a center fielder and drafted in round 24...quite the coincidence indeed. The Year of Griffey Worship continues. Grade: A
  25. Ryan Fucci, CF, Wright State - Fucci is strikeout prone, and probably too strikeout prone to make it far as a professional. However, he also has some speed and gap power. He will sign since he is a senior. Grade: B
  26. Elliot Surrey, LHP, UC Irvine - The Mariners loaded up on college seniors, perhaps suggesting that Jerry Dipoto prefers some experience even in the lowest levels of the minors. Surrey had a solid career at UC Irvine and now gets a chance to pitch as far as he can go in the pros. Grade: A
  27. Paul Covelle, RHP, Franklin Pierce - Yet another senior, Covelle had a strong senior season and garnered some attention from the Cape Cod summer league. Worth taking a chance on at this stage. Grade: B
  28. Nathan Bannister, RHP, Arizona - The senior right-hander was a steady performer throughout his college career and even held his own in the Cape Cod league in 2014. He probably won't miss enough bats to make it to the majors but he is more than worth taking a chance on at this stage in the draft. Grade: A
  29. Steven Ridlings, RHP, Messiah - It's always a good sign when Google tries to autocorrect your spelling to the person they think you meant, but of course Google was wrong! Ridlings is very much a small school prospect, but he was a highly productive senior that improved over time. It was fun tracking down some info on him and finding a hidden gem of a season. Grade: A
  30. Tyler Duncan, CF, Edward Milne SS (BC) - Duncan is a Canadian prep star whom has at least one friend that really believes in him, judging from the yelling in the background of the camera phone video I could find to "scout" him. Duncan sets up wide in his batting stance and has rather quiet mechanics. His slight uppercut produces loft and from the looks of it some power potential, though his approach might leave him susceptible to high velocity, particularly up in the strike zone. In the end, this is probably a pick that's a favor to some area scout in the M's draft room that wasn't getting much action. Grade: C
  31. Lincoln Henzman, RHP, Louisville - Henzman is the rare draft-eligible sophomore and he might have slipped through the cracks. He struggled somewhat out of the Louisville bullpen this season, at least by traditional metrics. However, his strikeout rate and relatively weak contact against him suggest he might have been the victim of bad luck. The Mariners have a bit of a steal if they can get him to sign but if I were him I would return to school and take my chances at improving my draft stock. Grade: C
  32. Kenyan Yovan, RHP, Westview HS (OR) - Yovan is committed to the University of Oregon and would likely take a signing bonus to get in the fold. I doubt he signs, but maybe he grew up loving the Mariners and that changes his mind. Grade: C
  33. Morgan McCullough, SS, West Seattle HS (WA) - Local kid, and maybe he signs if he really wants a taste of pro baseball. McCullough is undersized but his raw skills suggest a capable defender up the middle with a bat that might generate some gap power. McCullough is also a University of Oregon recruit but I can't find as firm of information on how likely he is to stick with that commitment. My gut says he has a better chance to sing than Yovan, for whatever that is worth. Grade: B
  34. David Ellingson, RHP, Georgetown - Solid reliever with a year of eligibility left. No real reason for him to sign this year. Grade: D
  35. Will Ethridge, RHP, Parkview HS (GA) - Ethridge comes from one of the better prep baseball programs in the nation at the moment and is committed to Mississippi. There is no reason to expect that he will sign. In fact, he has already stated he will go to Ole Miss since being drafted. He is all about his projectable frame at the moment. Grade: D
  36. Joe Venturino, 2B, Rampano College - Rampano is a DIII school, and I suppose the draft would have been incomplete without such a small school popping up somewhere. The Mariners definitely did not shy away from small schools in this draft. Venturino has virtually no power but good plate discipline and speed. He controls the zone, and as a DIII alumnus myself I enjoy seeing players at this level selected. Grade: A
  37. Eli Wilson, C, Garfield HS (WA) - Eli is Dan Wilson's son, and if he can block pitches anything like Dan then he has a future in baseball. Eli is definitely to some degree a legacy pick, but unlike Trey Griffey much earlier, Eli actually plays baseball. Moreover, he signed a letter of intent with Minnesota in March which is conveniently where his father played baseball in college. Nice sentimental pick here, and this might not be the last we hear about Eli in baseball as well. Grade: A
  38. James Reilly, RHP, Albertus Magnus HS - I can't find anything on Reilly. Some scout saw him and liked him. He is the rare pitcher that bats left-handed but throws right-handed, which might suggest some substantial batting in his background. Grade: D
  39. Camryn Williams, SS, Gaither HS (FL) - Williams enjoyed a solid senior season. I don't know where he is committed to playing but I doubt he signs. Grade: C
  40. Adley Rutschman, C, Sherwood HS (OR) - Rutschman is committed to Oregon State and the overwhelming odds are that he sticks to that. Still, nice shout out to a relatively local kid. It is interesting that the Mariners listed him as a catcher but he might pitch for the Beavers. Grade: B
Overall draft trends:
  • Weighted* GPA of draft grades: 3.06 (B)
  • Players by education level: 11 high school, 2 community/junior college, 12 college underclassmen, 15 college seniors
  • 19 pitchers drafted, 21 position players
  • 15 right-handed pitchers, 4 left-handed pitchers
  • Positions drafted, most to least: 6 CF, 4 C, 4 SS, 3 3B, 1 2B, 1 LF, 1 RF, 1 OF
*Weighted so that earlier picks are more valuable. This is done by taking the reciprocal of the overall pick and then averaging the sums. So, pick 60 is worth 1/60, while pick 70 is 1/70. So pick 70 is weighted less than pick 60, but differences become smaller and smaller as the draft wears on.

Overall draft thoughts:

I like this draft class quite a bit more than last year's, which using the same methodology ended up with a cumulative 2.29 GPA. However, I should note that I did not like Andrew Moore much and absolutely hated Drew Jackson. Both of them have turned out to be much better than I thought. Time will tell how good the class of 2016 turns out to be.

A couple trends say something about the Mariners as an organization though. They clearly showed an agenda with the positions they had draft picks announced as. I doubt it is a mistake that the Mariners had more players listed as catchers, shortstops, and centerfielders than anywhere else on the diamond, especially given that the only position they drafted nobody at was first base. It is pretty obvious that Jerry Dipoto's philosophy is to allow players to start their careers at the most premium defensive position possible and play it as long as possible.

Furthermore, given this stance, it seems telling that Joe Rizzo was announced as a third baseman. If the Mariners saw any potential for him to stick at shortstop they probably would have announced him as playing that position (he played it a fair amount in high school). Additionally, Kyle Lewis is the only prospect the Mariners listed simply as "outfielder" without a specification of which outfield position. I did not think much of this distinction on day one, but after seeing the rest of the draft unfold that seems like a pretty solid hint that the Mariners are honestly uncertain if Lewis can play center field as he has in college.

Dipoto and co. skewed rather old this year too with a large percentage of college players and college seniors in particular. This largely happened in the middle to later rounds and that probably is not a fluke. We have already seen that Dipoto likes minor league teams with a mix of polished talent around prospects. It's why the M's farm teams are winning much more across the board than in recent history.

The Trey Griffey pick, though symbolic, was also insightful. It came surprisingly early for symbolic pick, which suggests to me that most of the back half of the draft was spent looking for minor league depth that fits the organization. Hitters picked late tended to walk a ton in college, and pitchers tended to throw lots of strikes. In other words, players who control the zone.

It's easy to imagine Everett featuring a pretty strong team looking at this draft class, which could be fun. I also wonder if this college-heavy approach was partially a response to the raw, young players Jack Zduriencik picked near the end of his tenure - in particular players we haven't seen yet this year, like Nick Neidert and Gareth Morgan. It's interesting to wonder if many of the college seniors taken by the Mariners are viewed as peer mentors for the organization's core prospects. There is some evidence to suggest just that. Reggie McClain and Eric Filia will both turn 24 this year and they both posted absurd walk rates in college. They will model exactly what it means to control the zone.

Ultimately, I think this class produces three MLB players: Kyle Lewis, Thomas Burrows, and then one of Joe Rizzo, Bryson Bringham, and Brandon Miller. Some dark horses to become prospects are David Greer, Tim Viehoff, and Jansiel Rivera. I would add any of the prep players in the last 10 rounds that sign to the list as well.

This isn't a sexy class on paper, but it has the look of a solid one. The real test remains if the Mariners can develop their own talent. They have struggled with that in the past; hopefully this draft class one way or another helps them figure out how to help their own prospects blossom.

MLB Projected Standings, Week 10

I am more interested in the future at the moment with the MLB draft unfolding, but after a week hiatus it is more than time for a projected standings update. Will an extra week mean extra changes?

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

MLB Projected Standings, Week 10:

AL WestAL CentralAL East
Rangers, 86-76 (+4) 0 GBIndians, 89-73 (0), 0 GBRed Sox, 89-73 (-2), 0 GB
Mariners, 85-77 (-2) 1 GBTigers, 83-79 (+2), 6 GB     Orioles, 87-75 (+3), 2 GB
Astros, 83-79 (+2), 3 GBWhite Sox, 81-81 (-4), 8 GBBlue Jays, 84-78 (+2), 5 GB
Angels, 74-88 (-1), 12 GBRoyals, 78-84 (0), 11 GBYankees, 83-79 (+1), 6 GB
Athletics, 73-89 (+1), 13 GB     Twins, 66-96 (+1), 23 GBRays, 78-84 (-1), 11 GB
NL WestNL CentralNL East
Giants, 93-69 (0), 0 GBCubs, 105-57 (+2), 0 GBNationals, 95-67 (+1), 0 GB
Dodgers, 93-69 (-1), 0 GBCardinals, 87-75 (+2), 18 GBMets, 94-68 (-2), 1 GB
Rockies, 74-88 (0), 19 GB     Pirates, 87-75 (-3), 18 GBMarlins, 82-80 (0), 13 GB
Diamondbacks, 72-90 (-1), 21 GB    Brewers, 72-90 (+1), 33 GBPhillies, 70-92 (-3), 25 GB
Padres, 69-93 (0), 24 GBReds, 65-97 (+1), 40 GBBraves, 56-106 (-1), 39 GB

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

Some musings:
  • The American League is bunching up a bit again. Team entropy beams with pride.
  • Don't sleep on the Astros. They are starting to play like many thought they would at the start of the season and the AL West is quite mediocre.
  • When will the Dodgers play up to their potential? This projection system is staying very optimistic about them, but we are 60 games in and they are not looking like a 90-win team.
  • It feels like the National League playoff teams are already set, though some jostling between division winners and wild-card teams will take place. That's assuming the Dodgers start playing up to their talent level at some point.
  • Meanwhile, 10 of 15 American League teams project within 5 games of a playoff spot.

MLB Projected Standings, Week 8

The Dodger unveil Julio Urias to the masses tonight, one of the more hyped pitching prospects of the past decade. Los Angeles is wise to bring him up now because this is a more pivotal moment in their season than many realize.

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

MLB Projected Standings, Week 8:

AL WestAL CentralAL East
Mariners, 87-75 (+2), 0 GBIndians, 89-73 (-1), 0 GBRed Sox, 91-71 (+1), 0 GB
Rangers, 82-80 (+2), 5 GBWhite Sox, 85-77 (-1), 4 GB     Orioles, 84-78 (-2), 7 GB
Astros, 81-81 (0), 6 GBTigers, 81-81 (+2), 8 GBBlue Jays, 82-80 (0), 9 GB
Angels, 75-87 (0), 12 GBRoyals, 78-84 (-1), 11 GBYankees, 82-80 (0), 9 GB
Athletics, 72-90 (-2), 14 GB     Twins, 65-97 (-1), 24 GBRays, 79-83 (-2), 12 GB
NL WestNL CentralNL East
Dodgers, 94-68 (+1), 0 GBCubs, 103-59 (-2), 0 GBMets, 96-66 (+1), 0 GB
Giants, 93-69 (+2), 1 GBPirates, 90-72 (+2), 13 GBNationals, 94-68 (-1), 2 GB
Rockies, 74-88 (-1), 20 GB     Cardinals, 85-77 (-1), 18 GBMarlins, 82-80 (+2), 14 GB
Diamondbacks, 73-89 (-1), 21 GB    Brewers, 71-91 (+1), 32 GBPhillies, 73-89 (0), 23 GB
Padres, 69-93 (-1), 25 GBReds, 64-98 (-3), 37 GBBraves, 57-105 (-1), 39 GB

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

Some musings:
  • The Blue Jays project to 82.4 wins, the Yankees 82.37.
  • It's fun to point out the dormant Yankees offense and how the team has languished in last place much of the year. However, they are still a solid team. Part of the reason they have been in last is because the AL East has no truly bad teams. New York is only two games out of a wild card spot in this week's projected standings. There is still no reason to believe they won't act like the Yankees as the season unfolds, meaning they will buy someone and gun for a playoff spot.
  • The Phillies are currently 26-21 but still project to an awful record. Maybe my projection system is bad but I doubt the Phillies will expose it. They only score 3.3 runs a game and have racked up a -31 run differential thus far. They were expected to be bad to start the season too. There are reasons the projection system has stayed pessimistic.
  • The Giants are well ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West currently, but still look like a worse team on paper. However, we are getting awfully close to the point where that will not matter because San Francisco is pretty good and LA faces a bigger hole. Dodgers mega-prospect Julio Urias debuts tonight and he might be more important than anyone is willing to admit right now.

Mariners Bullpen, Visualized

The Mariners are having themselves a fine year, to say the least - certainly a year that exceeds my expectations, even though I predicted this team would make the playoffs. The list of things going right for the 2016 Mariners is long, and the list of things going wrong short. Simply put, the Mariners are doing well because they are doing good things all across the baseball diamond. That's a good way to win ballgames.

However, let's pause for a moment and zoom in on what I would argue is the most interesting success of the 2016 M's campaign so far - the bullpen. Consider where this bullpen was at before the season started:

  • The closer was Steve Cishek, coming off a year where he got jettisoned by the Marlins from closing.
  • The setup man was an aging Joaquin Benoit.
  • Jerry Dipoto traded away the best reliever from last year, Carson Smith.
  • The whole bullpen was going to be managed by Scott Servais, a man with no managing experience.
  • Half the bullpen hit the DL in spring training, leaving the group perilously thin going into the season.
  • Also, lest we forget the M's bullpen was pretty awful last year, so improvement was somehow needed out of this concoction of factors.
Somehow the mix has worked this year. Actually, it has more than worked; it has been flat-out good. It has been so good that it has led me to wonder more about bullpens and how to analyze them nicely.

Evaluating bullpens is trickier than other exercises in baseball because they are so context-driven. Relievers, unlike starters, come in with a relatively known game state. A ballgame has developed before they come in, meaning a manager's choices of who to pitch when actually says something about their managing acumen. I wondered if the M's bullpen was doing so well because of some wizard-like managing from Scott Servais. Was it possible that he was lining up the relievers in some crazy optimal way that made the group look better than it actually is?

I broke bullpens into the following components:
  1. Throwing hand - matchups matter, though they tend to be overstated
  2. Innings pitched - this measures who gets used the most
  3. Runs above replacement (RAR) - This measures the overall production of a pitcher. The more runs above replacement, the better they are.
  4. Cumulative leverage (pLI) - This measures the context a pitcher pitches in. A reliever pitching the 9th inning in a 10-1 rout faces virtually no leverage, whereas a reliever pitching the 9th inning a 2-1 nail-biter faces very high leverage. The leverage index (LI) measures how much the odds of winning change depending on the outcome of a play. Each play has a leverage index and pLI adds all of these plays together that the reliever is involved in. So, pitchers with higher cumulative leverages were used in more crucial situations.
The result is a scatter plot, with RAR on the x-axis, pLI on the y-axis, the size of points proportional to innings pitched, and the color of a point (really a bubble) determined by the hand a pitcher throws with. Here is what the 2015 Mariners bullpen looks like with this visualization:

Not much in the way of surprises in the 2015 bullpen. Most of the players live to the left of the black vertical line, which denotes exactly replacement level. No matter whom the M's threw at opponents in 2015 they weren't particularly good. What was Lloyd McClendon to do?

Carson Smith was far and away the best reliever on the team, and by the end of the season he was being pitched as such. McClendon stuck with Rodney too long, as evidenced by his large bubble floating above and to the left of everyone else. He was the worst possible combination - a bad reliever in high leverage situations used very often. Joe Beimel was also quietly a questionable choice by McClendon over and over again.

Still, overall, it's hard to fault Lloyd McClendon and the 2015 coaching staff for last year's bullpen woes. The overall trend of the graph is a line from bottom left to top right, which suggests better pitchers tended to pitch more crucial innings. McClendon did what he could with what he had.

I present last year mostly as a contrast to this season though. Behold, the 2016 Mariners bullpen of awe and wonder:

If anything, the Mariners bullpen is doing well despite Scott Servais! Steve Cishek has been solid in the closer's role, but he is only the M's fourth-best reliever. Vidal Nuno and Mike Montgomery are better than typical bullpen lefties and would benefit from expanded roles. Joel Peralta should be in middle relief at this point in his career. There is no linear trend at all in this data like we see with McClendon and the 2015 Mariners 'pen.

It will be interesting to see how the bullpen evolves during the year. It will get healthier, and Scott Servais is likely to rearrange roles to maximize the best performers in the most crucial spots. Maybe some regression happens, but it could be offset by better players coming off the DL and a bit savvier managing. There is no reason to expect this Mariners bullpen to suddenly implode. In fact, there are good reasons to think it could do even better as the year goes on.

MLB Projected Standings, Week 7

One team shifted a total of five games in the projected standings this week. A couple others shifted four. How much did this shake up the projected playoff picture?

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

MLB Projected Standings, Week 7:

AL WestAL CentralAL East
Mariners, 85-77 (0), 0 GBIndians, 90-72 (+2), 0 GBRed Sox, 90-72 (-1), 0 GB
Astros, 81-81 (-1), 4 GBWhite Sox, 86-76 (-2), 4 GB     Orioles, 86-76 (+1), 4 GB
Rangers, 80-82 (-1), 5 GBTigers, 79-83 (+1), 11 GBBlue Jays, 82-80 (-1), 8 GB
Angels, 75-87 (+1), 10 GBRoyals, 79-83 (+2), 11 GBYankees, 82-80 (+1), 8 GB
Athletics, 74-88 (-3), 11 GB     Twins, 66-96 (-2), 24 GBRays, 81-81 (+2), 9 GB
NL WestNL CentralNL East
Dodgers, 93-69 (-1), 0 GBCubs, 105-57 (+1), 0 GBMets, 95-67 (-3), 0 GB
Giants, 91-71 (+3), 2 GBPirates, 88-74 (+1), 17 GBNationals, 95-67 (+1), 0 GB
Rockies, 75-87 (+1), 18 GB     Cardinals, 86-76 (-1), 19 GBMarlins, 80-82 (-2), 15 GB
Diamondbacks, 74-88 (0), 19 GB    Brewers, 70-92 (+1), 35 GBPhillies, 73-89 (+2), 22 GB
Padres, 70-92 (-1), 23 GBReds, 67-95 (-3), 38 GBBraves, 58-104 (+2), 37 GB

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

Some musings:
  • The Mets project to 95.3 wins this week, the Nationals 94.6.
  • The Tigers project to 78.79 wins this week, the Royals 79.78. This is the closest projected gap yet in the standing this year (fun fact!)
  • The Braves are this week's biggest movers in the standings, gaining five games on the first place Mets. It seems trivial though, to say the least.
  • The model includes a rest of season win percentage that is then adjusted for the competition level a team faces. Comparing the "raw" rest of season win percentages gives some feel for how strong divisions are relative to each other. The two worst divisions are the AL West and NL East, though for totally different reasons. The AL West has no great teams while the NL East has two great teams and two awful teams. It just so happens that one of those awful teams in particular is atrocious.
  • The strongest division by far is the AL East. This should not be too surprising - the MLB season over a quarter of the way done and there are no teams projected to have losing records in the AL East.

MLB Projected Standings, Week 6

This seemed to be the week where the projected standings largely reconciled with the actual standings. Is this is a trend that will hold moving forward? Time will tell.

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

MLB Projected Standings, Week 6:

AL WestAL CentralAL East
Mariners, 85-77 (+2), 0 GBWhite Sox, 88-74 (+1), 0 GBRed Sox, 91-71 (+3), 0 GB
Astros, 82-80 (0), 3 GBIndians, 88-74 (-1), 0 GB     Orioles, 85-77 (+3), 6 GB
Rangers, 81-81 (+4), 4 GBTigers, 78-84 (-2), 10 GBBlue Jays, 83-79 (-1), 8 GB
Angels, 74-88 (-4), 11 GBRoyals, 77-85 (-1), 11 GBYankees, 81-81 (+1), 10 GB
Athletics, 73-89 (-3), 12 GB     Twins, 68-94 (-3), 20 GBRays, 79-83 (-1), 12 GB
NL WestNL CentralNL East
Dodgers, 94-68 (0), 0 GBCubs, 104-58 (0), 0 GBMets, 98-64 (+1), 0 GB
Giants, 88-74 (-1), 6 GBPirates, 87-75 (-1), 17 GBNationals, 94-68 (-1), 4 GB
Diamondbacks, 74-88 (+1), 20 GB     Cardinals, 87-75 (+2), 17 GBMarlins, 82-80 (0), 16 GB
Rockies, 74-88 (0), 20 GB    Reds, 70-92 (0), 34 GBPhillies, 71-91 (+2), 27 GB
Padres, 71-91 (0), 23 GBBrewers, 69-93 (+1), 35 GBBraves, 56-106 (-2), 42 GB

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

Some musings:
  • The White Sox project to 87.9 wins whereas the Indians project to 87.7 this week, hence the switch in the AL Central standings.
  • The National League remained pretty stagnant this week.
  • The American League saw quite a few changes in projected records. More importantly, some stratifying seemed to happen this week. The league does not look like a hodgepodge of .500 or so teams for the first time this year. Whether this is an overall trend or a one-week blip remains to be seen.
  • As expected, the Angels projected record plummeted this week. How much of this is due to injuries and how much is due to all the injuries (and their impact on rest of season WAR) is hard to say.
  • The Braves are embarrassingly bad, especially given their final season in Atlanta before moving off to Cobb county.
  • The Red Sox are emerging as a very good team. The AL East is deceptively strong because it runs so deep with solid teams. There are not truly bad teams in the AL East. The Cubs and maybe the Mets are the only teams better than them at the moment.

MLB Projected Standings, Week 5

The Mariners' hot streak has clearly energized Seattle to some degree. Is it enough to push them into first place in the projected standings after falling just short last week? And are there any signs of the American League separating a bit into contenders and pretenders?

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

MLB Projected Standings, Week 5:

AL WestAL CentralAL East
Mariners, 83-79 (+2), 0 GBIndians, 89-73 (+2), 0 GBRed Sox, 88-74 (+1), 0 GB
Astros, 82-80 (+1), 1 GBWhite Sox, 87-75 (+1), 2 GB     Blue Jays, 84-78 (+1), 4 GB
Angels, 77-84 (-2), 5 GBTigers, 80-82 (-2), 9 GBOrioles, 82-80 (-1), 6 GB
Rangers, 77-85 (0), 6 GBRoyals, 78-84 (-1), 11 GBYankees, 80-82 (-1), 8 GB
Athletics, 76-86 (-1), 7 GB     Twins, 71-91 (-3), 18 GBRays, 80-82 (+1), 8 GB
NL WestNL CentralNL East
Dodgers, 94-68 (-1), 0 GBCubs, 104-58 (+2), 0 GBMets, 97-65 (-2), 0 GB
Giants, 89-73 (0), 5 GBPirates, 88-74 (-2), 16 GBNationals, 95-67 (0), 2 GB
Rockies, 74-88 (+1), 20 GB     Cardinals, 85-77 (-1), 19 GBMarlins, 82-80 (+3), 15 GB
Diamondbacks, 73-89 (-2), 21 GB    Reds, 70-92 (+1), 34 GBPhillies, 69-93 (0), 28 GB
Padres, 71-91 (+2), 23 GBBrewers, 68-94 (0), 36 GBBraves, 58-104 (0), 39 GB

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

Some musings:
  • The Mariners are actually projected to make the playoffs at the moment! It helps that they play in a weak division, but it is still a playoff spot!
  • The Angels and their recent barrage of major injuries, most notably Garret Richards missing the rest of the season with Tommy John surgery, will test this project system's ability to adjust with the inclusion of WAR totals.
  • Maybe the Royals were just lucky for two straight years. They are a .500 ballclub so far this year and the projection system thinks they will be even worse here on out.
  • It would be fun to see the Marlins get hot. They could conceivably push for a wild card berth with a few breaks, especially a surprising winning streak in the next month or so.
  • No huge changes in the American League, but overall teams near the top improved and teams near the bottom got worse. So, perhaps this is the week where separation finally happened. Then again, it could just be statistical noise! Future weeks will clear up the picture, but as of now it is a trend worth noting.

New True to the Blue

Robinson Cano, presumably winning another game for the Mariners
A couple Tuesdays ago I attended the Mariners-Astros game. Robinson Cano recorded his 1,000 RBI and then celebrated later on with a crushing grand slam that turned an already good game into a laugher. Erik Kratz, Houston's backup catcher, logged an inning on the mound! The Mariners won 11-1.

I loved that game. It instantly became one of my favorite games I have ever attended. The Mariners entered that game in first place and held on to first place at the end of the night. At the time, it was the latest the Mariners had gone in a season in first place since 2009. I got to thinking, and I am quite certain that last Tuesday's game was the last time I had watched a first-place M's team in person since 2001.

2001, literally a half a lifetime ago for me. So Tuesday was kind of a big deal, in only the way a die-hard Mariners fan could find a Tuesday night dusted with patrons a big deal. If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, it still counts in the standings, thank you very much.

Tonight I listened to the Mariners take out the Astros in Houston to improve to 4-0 on their current road trip. They are in first place, 2.5 games up on the Rangers. They own the second best record in the American League at the moment to boot.

In other words, the Mariners are good - legitimately good! - at least at the moment.

It will not be just for this moment though. The Mariners are for real. There are no two ways around it. The earlier we all accept this the earlier we get to enjoy the ride this team is about to take us on.

Let's start with the preseason expectations. I had the Mariners projected as essentially a .500 team (80-82 to be more precise). The paltry record was good enough for a projected second place finish though, five games behind the Astros.

Let's assume that the preseason predictions are perfectly accurate and that the results so far are completely fluky. We would then assume that teams win and lose at projected rates the rest of the season. The Astros are already 7.5 games behind the Mariners, and they have 29 fewer games to make up that ground. Even the 80-82 preseason version of the Mariners would have to be considered favorites to win the AL West at this moment.

However, these are not the Mariners of preseason predictions. They are better. In reality, 80-82 represented an average season, but every team has a range of possibilities. The Mariners are clearly trending towards an upper end outcome.

The Mariners would be expected to run a roughly 0 run differential as a .500 team. They would be expected to give up as many runs as they score. The Mariners are already running a +33 run differential on the year, which makes sense because they are well above .500 so far. The M's wins are far from smoke and mirrors. Underlying numbers that predict wins line up with their record so far.

Not-so-fun-fact: the Mariners have only had one season since 2003 where they had a positive run differential (2014, when they went 87-75 and just missed the playoffs). That's despite three winning seasons since 2003.* A positive run differential in itself is a big deal in modern Mariners history.

*One of those winning seasons with a negative run differential convinced Bill Bavasi to trade Adam Jones for Erik Bedard, because Bavasi was convinced that the Mariners were one pitcher away from contending. Bill Bavasi probably did not pay much attention to run differential.

We have seen plenty of bad baseball since 2001, along with a few seasons that masqueraded as good despite some underlying stats that suggest the teams the M's fielded were not all that good. The 2016 Mariners certainly have their flaws, but there will be plenty of time to wring our hands over those flaws as this team chases down the M's first playoff appearance since 2001. The 2016 Mariners are a legitimately decent team playing in a spectacularly mediocre AL West. This could very well be the best team the M's have fielded in over a decade and, unlike those forgotten 2002 and 2003 squads, they don't face brutal competition.

Jump on the bandwagon. This team is not a lock to make the playoffs, but they are the most promising group in a long time. Of course baseball is most fun when a team gets hot like the Mariners are right now, but this team has staying power. At the very least we have a fun summer at the ballpark to look forward to, and it just might yield a fun fall too.