As we inch our way closer to the start of spring training, we are entering the time of the year where prospect lists are coming out by the bunches and everybody is in a hurry to do the impossible: project statistics for the Mariners (and every MLB team).
Perhaps the most well known of projections, Fangraphs “Steamer” projections are widely used in the baseball writers community as a baseline for where to begin to attempt to make educated guesses on a player’s upcoming success. In this series, we will look at how Steamer projects your Seattle Mariners at every position.
But before we begin, it is important to remember that while Steamer is a lot more than random guessing. It is a complicated process and deserves a lot more credit than just being called a “wild guess”.
However, it is also important to remember that at the end of the day, these projections are just that; projections. But with all that in mind, let’s kick off our series by looking at Steamers opinion of how the Mariners two catcher will fair in 2020.
Tom Murphy Steamer Projection: .217/.270/.406, 19 HRs, 116 games played,78 WRC+, 1.6 fWAR
Well, that would be quite a downturn from his 2019 season, right? Last year, Murphy was one of the most pleasant surprises in baseball and by the second half of last season, appeared to have won the starting catcher job over Omar Narvaez.
Murphy’s power and defensive ability, as well as his leadership and willingness to work with the young arms, led Seattle to choose Muprhy over Narvaez going forward. But while Steamer believes Murphy is due for major regression, it isn’t that hard to see why.
In 2019, Murphy hit .274 with a .329 OBP despite striking out 31% of the time. The reason he could for such a high average despite the strikeout issues could be attributed to his whopping .340 BABIP, about 40 points above league average.
But while Steamer doesn’t see him as a major threat with the bat, it is worth noting that they value him as one of the better defensive catchers in the game. Because of this, he earns a respectable 1.6 fWAR projection, making him a solid, everyday option. And because we know his upside potential, he could easily beat this projection.
I don’t think a .240/.310/.420 projection is outside the realm of possibility and with his defense and communication skills, it should be more than enough to keep him in the lineup every day.
Austin Nola Steamer Projections: .242/.310/.368, 10 HRs, 115 games, 84 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR
Another major surprise from the 2019 season came in the form of Austin Nola, a career minor league shortstop who had just converted to catcher the year prior to coming to Seattle. In his debut season, the 29-year-old rookie hit .269/.342/.454 with 10 homers, a 114 wRC+, and a 1.5 fWAR in just 79 games.
He also showed unique versatility in his debut season, spending time at catcher, first, second, third, left, and right field performing well defensively. Nola appeared to force himself into the plans of the Mariners, at least for another season, and if he can repeat that success, he may just force himself into their long-term plans.
Unfortunately, Steamer is not as optimistic as the Mariners may be. Like Murphy, they are projecting a major step down for Nola. The concern around Nola stems from his relatively pedestrian batted ball profile. Nola hit nearly as many groundballs as flyballs in 2019.
But Steamer clearly projects Nola to move around the diamond as he did in 2019 and actually have projected him to play more often than most backup catchers even can. A 0.5 fWAR in 479 PAs would be a disappointing step back for Nola but also would represent a solid backup role for the now 30-year-old player.
With Evan White now set to handle first base on a nearly daily basis, it will be interesting to see how the Mariners deploy Nola and to see just how desperate they are to get his bat in the lineup.
Next time, we will take a look at the Steamer projections for Mariner’s first baseman, which will basically just be about Evan White. It’ll be interesting to see how Steamer views the rookie who is quickly becoming a lot of industry folks, favorite breakout candidate.