The 2015 Mariners entered the year with loads of promise, and lofty expectations. Heck, they made the cover of Sports Illustrated’s season preview. Sort of. One of four regional covers. The headline on the Mariners’ cover: “Time to Believe.” Well… then the season actually started, and the times were a-changin’ awful fast.

 

At slightly past the midway point of the season, the M’s find themselves with a 41-47 record, seven games out of first place. While this is by no means an insurmountable deficit, the odds of the Mariners righting the ship are rapidly diminishing, in fact, their odds of making the playoffs, per Fangraphs, are just 18.3%.   At the beginning of the year, PECOTA projected them to win 87 games. I predicted they’d win 91. They’re on pace to win about 80. This makes Lloyd McClendon look like this:

 

mcclendon

The 2015 Mariners have significantly underperformed their projections thus far, and here are some reasons why:

cano
The Offense:

This is a tough one to evaluate with a cursory glance, because some guys have outperformed expectations, and some guys have underperformed. Nelson Cruz has been a revelation, pulverizing baseballs to the tune of a .311/.376/.551 slash line, with 21 homers. His career numbers would suggest he can’t keep that up, but he might have already moved the needle on his preseason projections, which had him hitting just hit .250/.309/.458 over a full season with 29 home runs. ZiPS has him hitting just .267/.329/.484 the rest of the way, but with 14 more homers, which would give him 35 when it’s all said and done. Brad Miller has been better than expected, too, hitting .243/.319/.412 so far, which are fine numbers for a shortstop, even though he’s played all over the field this season. Kyle Seager’s been almost exactly what we expected.

But then there’s the downside. Mike Zunino has been a giant black hole of offensive production, hitting a measly .163/.227/.297 with 9 HR, but also 98 strikeouts against just 17 walks. This is worse than his already dismal (ZiPS) projection of .217/.279/.383, and if he keeps this up, he could see a trip to Tacoma to try to figure things out. Then there’s the strange season put together thus far by Robinson Cano. A career .306/.354/.492 hitter, he’s put up a paltry .251/.290/.371 so far this year, with just six homers. He was a key component of last year’s surprising team, and his production has been sorely missed this year. He hasn’t made any excuses, but news did surface that he’s been battling stomach problems, and suffers from severe acid reflux, limiting him to just one meal a day at times. With the exception of Cruz, Miller, and Seth Smith, the rest of the lineup hasn’t been picking up the slack, leaving the Mariners with the league’s fourth worst OPS+ (93) and next to last with 3.51 runs per game. But as easy as it would be to blame an anemic offense for the team’s struggles, the Mariners’ skipper has a different scapegoat: the bullpen.

rodney

Pitching:
Overall, the Mariners pitching staff comes in around the middle of the pack in the AL, with a 3.82 ERA. The starters have actually been pretty good, behind another solid year by King Felix (2.84 ERA/3.27 FIP) and the surprisingly effective J.A. Happ (4.14/3.54). Former prospect Mike Montgomery has been a revelation, albeit in a small sample, putting together a nifty 2.29 ERA in 55 innings (3.65 FIP). But the bullpen, the league’s best relief corps last year, has struggled mightily. It’s largely the same group of guys who pitched to a 2.60 ERA and 3.24 FIP last year, but those same guys have a large 3.81 ERA AND a 3.81 FIP this year. Fernando Rodney (5.40 ERA/5.33 FIP) has been horrendous. Danny Farquhar, one of the team’s most reliable relievers last year, has been optioned to AAA after putting up a 6.59 ERA and 5.48 FIP. Carson Smith (1.78 ERA/2.02 FIP) has answered the bell, and seems ready to inherit the top reliever position (whether that be closer or fireman), and Mark Lowe, Joe Beimel, and Charlie Furbush have been great, decent, and great, respectively, but it hasn’t been enough to counter the late inning blow-ups orchestrated by Messrs. Rodney and Farquhar.

Outlook:
The projection systems over at Fangraphs actually have the Mariners turning it around a little bit in the second half, going 39-34. That leaves them at 80-82 overall, and decently shy of a playoff berth. By the looks of things, they could be about three wins shy of making the playoffs, which begs the question: Could those wins be obtained via trade? In Alex Jackson, they have a top prospect (#20 by BA after the 2014 season), and with the current regime’s track record developing prospects (no track record), maybe Trader Jack considers moving his top chip for some combination of offense and bullpen help, though it seems like the bullpen’s performance could be improved considerably just by not allowing Fernando Rodney and Danny Farquhar to pitch. Seattle has been linked to recent cast-off Jason Frasor, who has a track record of success, even without a lot of strikeouts. Jonathan Papelbon is and has been available, but Ruben Amaro might conceivably ask for Paxton, Walker, AND Alex Jackson, so there’s that. First base is a bit of a void, with Logan Morrison “holding down” the fort. I wonder if Boston could be convinced to deal Mike Napoli for a lesser package of prospects. The way things are going for the A’s, it’s possible Billy Beane would be willing to part with the likes of Josh Reddick or Ben Zobrist, maybe for something like D.J. Peterson, Dustin Ackley, and a lesser prospect. Ackley is an interesting chip himself, because he has the profile and tools similar to Zobrist, who was a late bloomer like Ackley. Ackley is also the leading change-of-scenery candidate on the roster.

To wrap up, it seems there are moves that could be made to improve the team. I personally doubt the front office would want to move a prospect of Alex Jackson’s caliber, but would probably part with anyone below him on the prospect list. (I do wonder, though, if Jackson could bring back someone like a Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, or Troy Tulowitzki.) A guy like Reddick, Zobrist, or even a Brandon Moss could add to an offense that seems poised to rebound a bit, with guys like Cano, Seager, and Austin Jackson likely to step it up at least to some degree. It seems like one of those targets could be acquired for a less-than-premium package of players, and could do some good. The rotation seems like it should stay solid to above-average, with guys like Walker, a (theoretically) healthy Paxton, and Hisashi Iwakuma all projected to be productive players over the remainder of the season. A trade or two could put the Mariners in a better position to compete, and might just help them beat their ROS projection and sneak into the playoffs. It could happen. It could. I certainly wouldn’t bank on it, though.

Amended Prediction:
83-79, just shy of the playoffs.

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