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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.