Looking at the 2011 win projection (part 1)


Over the last week or so, I’ve been trying to figure out a reasonable data driven projection on how many games the 2011 Mariners are likely to win. And I’d like to start getting in to what the results of that endeavor meant. It should be noted that to do this I first had to take a stab at predicting the  2011 roster, which wasn’t an easy task and its something I’m quite sure isn’t going to be all that close to correct to be honest, so don’t take my results here to Vegas or anything.

You might be wondering why I bothered to examine how bad the 2010 M’s were in the middle of all this. The reason for that was that I’ve been having such a difficult time accepting that there’s 78-85 wins worth of talent on this team. I mean, weren’t the only additions Jack Cust and Miguel Olivo? Surely a couple of minor upgrades aren’t enough add 17 to 24 wins, right? The reason for looking into that was to try and get beyond the number 61. The M’s only won 61 games last season, and no matter how hard I tried, I had a difficult time not letting that number influence my thinking about the 2011 team.

There are a lot of different angles to approach the trying to understand and make some sense of the results. I figured today I’d start by addressing some of the questions raised by Chad in the comments thread. First off, the numbers in the columns are from a meta stat known as WAR, or Wins above Replacement.

Each player is evaluated by determining the number of runs they produce offensively, and save defensively. This is compared to what is expected by a replacement player so it can be determined how much better (or worse) the player is than an “average” replacement level player. To make this easy on other rest of us, the number of runs is converted to the number of wins that those runs should create.

A replacement player can be thought of as a random AAA call-up who would fill in for an injured major leaguer. And entire teams of these players should win about 48 games, plus or minus a couple do to luck and random variance. So based on the 2010 performance of all the players on the 2011 roster, the M’s should be about 28 games better than that, which is how the prediction of 76 wins is determined.

The predictions done by Bill James, or those done by the Fangraphs community if a BJ prediction wasn’t available, produced a much larger win total. A combined team WAR of over 37 means that the M’s should win around 85 wins.

Which of these is correct? To be honest, neither is. No player should be expected to perform exactly the same in 2011 as they did in 2010. Further, the 2011 predictions are simply people’s best guess, and often not based on any reliable statistical method. This is why I said not to take take the predictions to Vegas. But they still give us an idea of the talent present on the M’s.

Ultimately, the reason for the vast difference in win total between 2010 and what’s projected for 2011 is because there’s been a lot more changes than just the 2 that we think of (Cust and Olivo). Also factored in is the fact that Smoak will be the everyday first baseman instead of the complete failure that was Casey Kotchman. Jose Lopez is also out, replaced by Chone Figgins at third. Figgins represents a major upgrade both offensively and defensively. At second, Figgins was a disaster defensively, and will be replayed by Ryan early in the year (who’s got a great glove) and Dustin Ackley late in the year. Add these changes are on top of Cust and Olivo and you have 5 of 9 position players that will be different this year, with the only returning players being Ichiro, Gutierrez, and Saunders and Jack Wilson. It should also be noted that Ryan is a much better backup SS than Josh Wilson, since with the injury prone Jack Wilson as the starter, the backup will see considerable playing time.