Why are Mariners projected to win 80 a year after 90-win season?

Feb 7, 2022, 2:49 PM
Ty France, Kyle Lewis, J.P. Crawford and Dylan Moore celebrate after a May win over Baltimore. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners surprised the baseball world in 2021 with the franchise’s first 90-win season since 2003, then traded for an All-Star second baseman and signed the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner before the calendar turned to December.

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Sounds like a recipe for another 90-win season, right?

Well, not exactly. At least not according to the 2022 ZiPS projections from FanGraphs, which came out last Wednesday. Those projections not only don’t have the Mariners even equaling their 90-72 record from last season, but they project Seattle to finish under .500 at 80-82, which is below the projections for all but one other AL West team.

So what on earth is going on?

Monday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk Show, the originator of the ZiPS projection model, Dan Szymborski, joined to provide needed context and share why he himself is actually quite optimistic about the 2022 Mariners despite the projection.

Two key things need to be pointed out first about where the Mariners stand. First, they’re not believed to be done with significant additions to their roster; they’re just held back by the current MLB lockout, which prevents them from making any signings or trades with MLB players. Second, Seattle had 33 wins in one-run games last season, the most in the majors, and they had a minus-51 run differential – meaning they scored 51 less runs than their opponents. That last number is a big factor in the 80-win ZiPS projection.

“One of the things is that baseball history is a little cruel to teams (the season after they) overperform their run scored and runs allowed,” said Szymborski, who is a senior writer for FanGraphs and contributor for ESPN. “That tends to be a better predictor of future performance, and this is something Mariners fans have experienced directly when you go back to the 2009 Mariners that went 85-77 despite being outscored significantly – they lost 100 games the following season. The 2018 Mariners were in a similar boat. They were outscored but went 89-73, (and) they lost 94 games in 2019.”

Szymborski went on to explain that he isn’t exactly counting out the Mariners getting enough wins in 2022 to make the playoffs, though.

“That’s not to say that the Mariners are doomed or anything,” he said. “… The other thing is that this is still a very preliminary projection because once the lockout ends, there is going to be more offseason – an abbreviated one, but I do expect the Mariners to continue to be active. They signaled that earlier. I mean, they’ve been talking about players like Kris Bryant which would change that projection considerably.”

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Another player who could help the M’s surpass the 80-win projection: top prospect Julio Rodríguez, who Szymborski had exciting things to say about.

“We don’t really have, at this current juncture, Julio Rodríguez anywhere in the depth charts for 2022, and I think that there’s a really good chance he blows through the minors extremely quickly and forces his way up,” Szymborski said. “He’s one of the very few players projected by ZiPS to have a three-(WAR) season in their rookie season, and as of right now he wouldn’t even be on the roster on opening day. I think he’s one of those players who could be the Mariners’ version of one of the phenoms – you know, (Fernando) Tatís (Jr.), (Ronald) Acuña, (Juan) Soto. So that’s a huge source of upside the Mariners may be able to tap this season.”

Szymborski went on to detail how Rodríguez compares to fellow young Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic and much more in the interview, which you can hear in the podcast at this link or in the player below. The Mike Salk Show airs live from 6-10 a.m. Monday through Friday on 710 ESPN Seattle.

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Why are Mariners projected to win 80 a year after 90-win season?