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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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February 5, 2008 12:45 PM

Projecting Bedard's Mariners

Posted by Geoff Baker

This might not be the best day to talk to Erik Bedard about signing a contract extension with the Mariners. Take a look outside at that cold rain. What a day for Bedard to be in town for his physical. We keep hearing that it's going down today. The physical, that is. Who knows when they'll announce this thing? June 25? That was me being funny, by the way. Ha, ha.

Anyhow, you can tell this deal is getting close judging by the amount of angst out there in blogland. Someone asked on this site whether I'd eat my "goddamn crow" when the Mariners "suck it up" this year. Well, in the spirit of such insightful debate, will any of you eat said damned bird if the M's win 85+ this season? Nah, I didn't think so. Moving right along...the U.S.S. Mariner tries to quantify this debate a little more artfully than the previous-mentioned commenter by taking the latest ZiPS projections and playing out computer simulations of what the 2008 season will look like for the Bedard-armed Mariners.

The projections didn't come out too good. The first of them had the team winning 70 games. All of them had Seattle placing anywhere from third to last in the AL West. No seasons better than 81 wins. Needless to say, I'm somewhat skeptical.

First off, what is a ZiPS projection? It's a computer-projected forecast of what player performance should look like based largely on what they did in the past. There are several projection systems out there with names like PECOTA and Chone. This particular one was created by a guy named Dan Szymborski, who actually looks like some type of grand wizard in the photo from this link. Szymborski is editor-in-chief of the Baseball Think Factory web site and a true wiz, in actual fact, having created the ZiPS system to go along with stats analyst Tom Tippett's Diamond Mind simulation game. ZiPS projections are inputed into Diamond Mind to project entire major league seasons several times over. The ZiPS name is an acronym for sZymborski Projection System.

Catch the key word in that last paragraph? It would be "game", which is why it's probably not a good idea to head to Vegas with your mortgage and a pack of Szymborski's stats. Here's an interesting discussion from last week's Hardball Times about the future of projection systems and how widespread they've become in the United States.

Hey, I have as much fun as the next guy trying to project what a season will look like. But can you really tell how a team's season is going to look? Yes, if a real season were to be played out thousands of times over the coming year, as is done in these computer sims. Trouble is, in real life, you only get one shot. Last season, most projections had the Mariners at 76 wins (77 in Diamond Mind). The Diamond Mind projection made headlines when it predicted only three 90-win teams in all the majors. There were actually twice as many once the games were played, though the suggestion that parity would become a force in baseball did show up in the NL -- where no team won more than 90.

But the Boston Red Sox were also picked to win 86 games and finish third in the AL East. Instead, they won 96 and captured the World Series.

Overall, the system is fairly accurate. As good -- even better -- as what you'd find from a lot of the pre-season picks by baseball beat writers in your average newspaper spring training supplement. But enough for fans of a team to give up on a season before it even begins? No.

My favorite comment from a reader at today's USS Mariner site, though I'm somewhat biased, was this one: "I'm sure Geoff Baker will provide data from the 2001 Toronto Blue Jays to disprove it all."

Glad to see our blog's popularity is finally spreading. But on a serious note, there's nothing to prove or disprove. The games haven't been played yet. The Mariners won 88 games last season, so it's not up to me to prove they weren't really a 78-win team. It's up to those who want to work off projected win totals that exist only in the realm of fantasy. I'm not being mean, here. In real life, the M's won 88 games. I think they overachieved somewhat, but I also believe they are a legitimate .500 team. Not a 78-win squad as their Pythagorean record suggested they were.

I believe this because I saw the M's hold their own against other AL contenders. I saw them win games (until September) every time I was about to write off their season. I've covered losing teams and this one was better than that. Their real-life record suggests it. So, it's not up to me to prove otherwise.

As for the 2001 Blue Jays, I'll take a stab at it. The Jays that year were counting heavily on starting pitcher Mike Sirotka, acquired in the David Wells trade, Esteban Loaiza and the "Young Guns" behind them in the rotation -- Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar. Sirotka turned out to be injured and never threw a pitch, Halladay was demoted all the way to Class A to rebuild his repetoire and damaged psyche, Escobar bounced back and forth between starting and relief, while Carpenter got off to a great start (prompting me to write a feature on how great he was) before looking mediocre from June onward. Loaiza also got off to a fast start, then settled in to his usual win one, lose two routine. Joey Hamilton stank, as he did throughout his three-year career as an oft-injured Toronto starter.

The team's overall ERA+ was a deceptively high 108, but there were too many problems all year with the rotation. Offense was too strikeout prone as well. Toronto had pinned its hopes on a rotation that wound up with only one 200-inning guy in Carpenter, and only one other pitcher -- the sub-par Loaiza -- making at least 23 starts.

What do I think will help the M's this year? A better rotation. Bedard gives them that. At what cost? We'll see. I've mentioned before, this is not a slam-dunk deal. There are no certainties. The arguments on both sides are worth considering, which is why I'm linking to the USS Mariner's use of ZiPS projections. It will certainly add to the concerns of the anti-trade camp while at least tempering the optimism of the pro-trade side. But a 70-win team? Maxing out at 81 wins and no higher than third place? A little tough to swallow. As they say, we'll see when they play the actual games.

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