Recapping 2018: Seattle Mariners Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Seattle Mariners Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA

Somebody has to be the team with the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball and the current torchbearer is the Seattle Mariners. While it’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely lonely time it’s not like they haven’t had good teams, and it is very difficult to make the case that they don’t spend. The 2011 season stands out as it would for any club, and the team stayed strong a couple more years. Since then it has failed to win 90 games, but has spent like the dickens of late to try to prop up a good team that could not seem to clear the last hurdles. With all payroll pegged to 2018 dollars you can see a bit of a lull in the twenty-teens that has been more than built upon these past four years. With 2019 looking like a clear stepback year, and plenty of money already moved, the team will look to stockpile ammunition for the next time run with hopes it will go better than the tease of this past one.

Despite falling short yet again this past season showed a lot more fight than in the past, and it would be hard to hang that on an offense that mostly looked like an above average outfit for most of the season. It is true that those first two thousand plate appearances look a whole lot better than what came after when they played more to the middle prior to a decent close to the season. The bigger issue is the gaps you can see that are prevalent throughout where the team’s actual production did not catch up the strong expected figures. Many felt the hot start was built on a house of cards, but if anything they should have been flexing even more offensive production. Cold weather early on might bear the brunt of the blame, but with this much underperformance there were likely a confluence of variables at root here so let’s dig in and find out what went wrong.

Long one of the very best hitters in the game, and without any of the injury concerns that plagued his career in Texas, Nelson Cruz could anchor the middle of any lineup. You can see an incredible spike in his production during the second quintile, but even when Beast Mode was turned off to save gas he was still a well above average performer. We can see quite clearly, however, that his extremely strong expected production almost always fell short in reality. This makes sense for an older player that has seen much of his athleticism sapped with actual results showing singles where other guys get doubles and often outs where others get singles. Much of this production is driven by elite exit velocity that trended down over the second half, but coming from such a high starting point looks fine. It’s no mystery, though, that his best production came when he was getting the ball off the ground more. That later run showed a guy that was topping the ball an awful lot, and may be cause for concern to a team looking to buy the last ride. When not putting the ball in play he consistently showed a strikeout rate a little better than the average, but in addition to the falling production on contact you could add in a giveback on the walks, too. It looks like a dynamite offense was let down a little bit by their most important figure.

Nelson Cruz

While the sun sets on Nelson Cruz’s fantastic career, it is still reaching it’s zenith for Mitch Haniger. The right-fielder showed wonderful performance over the course of the year that was driven by hard contact and a strong walk rate. He’ll strike out a bit, too, but it doesn’t seem to cut into the goodness he provides. After breaking out in 2017 and then getting hurt it was nice to see him maintain this high level for the entirety of the season and with a bunch of team control remaining it is easy to see the team making him the cornerstone of their rebuild.

Mitch Haniger

One deflator to the aggregate offense was missing half of the season from the still quite good Robinson Cano. While the team found guys to play the position almost no team has someone that can replace the production without taking a step back elsewhere. Cano, like Cruz, was another driver for the expected greater than actual performance displayed with a solid gap throughout the year that you could drive a Mack truck through early on. While he struggled to get the ball off the ground upon his return the missed time did little to mess with his strikeouts or walks which come in well better than average and around that mark, respectively. The team has since moved him to the New York Mets where he looks to stay productive for a couple more years before the trap door opens as it does for all eventually.

Robinson Cano

The next group shows a cluster of guys that were average or better hitters, but for one reason or another they didn’t really pop as significant contributors this year. Ryon Healy proved to be the most productive of this bunch, but you can see both exit velocity and launch angle trending the wrong way over the second half likely indicating he was playing through a hampering issue. It manifested as lesser production as the year went along with actual often showing up well below the average. He doesn’t walk much and that hasn’t helped him avoid the strikeout all that much, either.

When the team added Denard Span they early on they had hoped his stick could help make up for some of what they lost in Cano’s suspension, and he gave them consistently above average production for their investment. It just wasn’t much more than that at any time showing Span as more of a steady contributor than a star to affix the wagon to. A miserable season for Kyle Seager saw him lose the strikezone at times, but his ball in play looks rather stout. During some of his best runs of expected production he fell well short, however, so pedestrian expectations showed up as rough patches in reality. The team is married to him for better or worse thanks to a poison pill in his contract, but fans should keep the faith as it looks like he was better than folks are likely to remember.

Ryon Healy

Denard Span

Kyle Seager

On this episode of Flip This House Jerry Dipoto has already cashed in on several of the players mentioned, but another worth merit is catcher Mike Zunino. While his defensive reputation likely looms larger than life he’s also a better hitter than those that look simply at batting average will ever admit. The strikeout rate was an abomination, and his averagey walk rate doesn’t make up for that, but he does crush the ball quite often. The spray shows some of the best hit balls in the game, but he looks like a mistake hitter more than anything. If a team that is otherwise favoring contact and speed wants to diversify with a swing-and-miss masher then catcher is probably the best place to do that. Here’s hoping Zunino can get back to being an average or better hitter with his new club.

Mike Zunino

Yet another player that won’t be back next year is Jean Segura. The competent shortstop showed one very strong run of actual performance that was well above expected and everything else was around the middle or worse including a relatively miserable finish that looks like a byproduct of falling exit velocity. He puts the ball in play a ton to leverage his speed, which can lead to hits, but rarely for extra bases. You don’t expect much offense out of your shortstop so he looks a little better there, but the team looks wise to have sold a bit high on a player the model likes less than the boxscores would indicate.

Jean Segura

Boasting almost no below average hitters outside of the utterly inept Dee Gordon helped the offense look extremely good, but the arms weren’t able to hold up their end of the bargain. They started out looking fairly poor before the rest of the season showed wild spikes around the average. This kind of volatility likely had fans wondering which club would show up that day, but that should be expected of top-heavy teams that continued to run flat out bad options all year via their rotation. It’s hard to walk away from a fan favorite that has carried the club for all of the recent term, but it must be even harder to watch that guy continue to fall on his face. An unenviable position, for sure.

A big reason for the team going a preposterous 14-1 in extra inning games, which buoyed the team’s massive overperformance when comparing actual record to something based on run differential like Pythag record was due to the ridiculous season put together by Edwin Diaz. The reliever from Puerto Rico burst to the forefront in 2016 before a step back in 2017 that only set the table for one of the all time great seasons for a relief pitcher. He started out strong and then somehow found a couple more gears yet to climb as he pushed production against down to absurd levels. The strikeout chart is a side-splitter with rates rarely below 40% and then pushing that north or 50% later in the season for a prolonged stretch. Sitting down half the batters you face is unheard of, but to do so with a sub-5% BB+HBP rate shows a gap nearly the size of the chart. When batters do manage to put the ball in play it’s often at tolerable velocities that tend to stay down. Most of his air contact goes for pop ups, though a handful of batters were able to get into the more productive launch angles. Even these were generally to the left of the danger zone. It would be impossible to expect this level of production next year, but some small giveback still leaves him elite in his field.

Edwin Diaz

Having a bullpen ace is nice, but having one to start every fifth day is even better. James Paxton has long harbored ace-type stuff and results, but always in truncated samples due to a laundry list of afflictions including getting drilled by a comebacker. We see average or better performance nearly throughout with his early gap showing incredible on-field results despite expected looking pretty much the same. Cutting his walk rate no doubt helped, and good to see it mostly stay down in that 5% range. The strikeouts meandered, but when that happens around the 30% level there should be few qualms. He’ll give up some harder contact with a lot of balls over 100 MPH. Later in the year he did a better job of keeping that down, but you can still see a thick cluster of balls in the 100-105 MPH and 20-40 degree quadrant. Those might have gone for some outs in Seattle, but his new home will be much less forgiving to the right side. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts, and if he is finally able to approach 180 innings now that he is on the wrong side of 30.

James Paxton

The team’s inordinately good record of 36-21 in one-run games shows that the two aces help, but you also need a stout rest of your bullpen. Seattle had several that were up to the charge. Lumping them all in here you can get a good idea for what separates this multi-headed hydra that seemed to show a new head every time one got in trouble. Nick Vincent took the cake with a steadily improving season backed by ok strikeout rates and tons of flyballs. Juan Nicasio was much better when it came to strikeouts and walks, but gave up hellacious contact that manifested even worse in reality with no sign of agreement coming. James Pazos was an ok option until the walk rate climbed and stayed aloft. Roenis Elias proved quite good at avoiding the worst kinds of contact, though was more serviceable than strong, while Alex Colome, who came over with Denard Span, showed a little below the average mostly due to expected contact being considerably higher than what he saw. Jacking his strikeout rate north of 30% helped these things agree more with the actual results, but he was still prone to the no doubter, at times.

Nick Vincent

Juan Nicasio

James Pazos

Roenis Elias

Alex Colome

During this ultimately disappointing season the team was able to find a couple of lefties that can help stabilize the rotation for years to come. In fact, both of these guys got extensions after the season, and with the way this park has aided averagey lefties in the past things should be pretty mutually beneficial. The model liked what Marco Gonzalez did a good deal more than what Wade LeBlanc showed, but both experienced a good deal of success for the first times in the MLB careers. Gonzalez does a good job of limiting the walk, while still getting average or better strikeouts, while giving up contact around the average. A late season spike in actual and drop in strikeouts might point to some fatigue. LeBlanc, on the other hand, was much more polarizing. His expected results were often on the wrong side of average, but not so much that a decent-sized gap in his better actuals didn’t come in better than average. Both perspectives liked him a lot more at the end of the year when he was doing a better job of deflating hard contact. Still, for a guy that perennially teased before getting hurt or losing the zone this was a good season, and the park has shown that lefties have a good chance to show overperformance.

Marco Gonzalez

Wade LeBlanc

So far we have seen a couple of stand out performances, a bullpen that ran deep with average or better arms, and a couple of mid-rotation to back-end starters that might be able to build upon their recent success. The reason this unit finished 80+ runs below average was due to the last two guys that got a ton of run despite poor results combining to be worth nearly 64 runs in the negative. It’s silly to kick dirt on the illustrious career of Felix Hernandez. Heck, I was at his perfect game against a hungover Tampa Bay Rays team that he utterly stymied. He walked too many, often enough while striking guys out at a below average rate all year. The contact was often loud, and at the kinds of angles that go for base hits even if they’re not leaving the yard. Without the punch out to make up for all those Felix had to watch innings get away with frequency. At his best, Mike Leake can be an average starter that outperforms his expectations by walking few and keeping the ball on the ground. That’s useful for most clubs, but there’s also long stretches of awful performance like we saw for much of the first half. He’s likely free to a good home and I’m sure Seattle would be happy to pay for his shots and papers, but I’d be too nervous about him piddling on the floor, personally.

Felix Hernandez

Mike Leake

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Ben Gamel

 

Guillermo Heredia

Dee Gordon

 

 

 

 

Chasen Bradford

 

Erasmo Ramirez