Preseason Picks Revisited

Before Opening Day, I decided to take a shot at making preseason predictions for the 2016 season. I had never done so before. But, I thought it’d be fun to give it a try. What would be the harm? After all, by the time October rolls around, who actually remembers what anyone’s preseason picks anyway?

Having said that, I wanted to be different. So, I promised myself that I’d review how I did at the end of the season and share the results with Prospect Insider readers. There was a chance I’d be right on some choices, but the odds were better that I’d be lampooned for my bad picks.

At the risk of ridicule, let’s see how I did.

The King will reign on Opening Day (Wrong)
Nothing like stumbling right out of the gate. Felix Hernandez didn’t rule the day when the Mariners opened the season against the Texas Rangers, but he wasn’t terrible either. Unfortunately, for the King and the team, he struggled with his command walking five in six innings and the defense behind him made several costly miscues.

Felix’s performance that day was a preview of what awaited him. He occasionally flashed his greatness. But, he struggled with his command throughout the season and recorded career highs in home runs and walks allowed per-nine-innings. Moreover, he missed nearly two months with a calf injury.

Is the King’s reign coming to an end in Seattle?

It’d be premature to jump to such a conclusion. But, Hernandez’s difficulties this past season are troubling and could mark the beginning of an inevitable decline. On the other hand, the 30-year-old appears to be healthy and acknowledges he needs to improve his fitness in the offseason, particularly in his lower body.

Perhaps, a new offseason training regimen is all that Felix needs. After all, it takes a player on the wrong side of 30 to remain an elite performer. With that in mind, it’d be prudent for fans and observers to take a wait and see approach before decreeing that the King is dead.

The Mariners will use at least ten starting pitchers (Right)
As I said back in April, this wasn’t a bold prediction. The last club to need just five starters in a season were the 2003 Mariners. In the end, Seattle needed 13 different starters in 2016 — tied for fourth highest in the majors with the Miami Marlins.

The fewest starters used this season were seven by the Toronto Blue Jays. Most of the clubs in front of the Mariners didn’t reach the postseason with the exception of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who used 15 and won their division.

Through the end of May, Seattle needed just five starters and had James Paxton in reserve at Class-AAA Tacoma. It’s no coincidence that the club also had the third best record in the American League on May 31. Unfortunately, for the Mariners, the rotation took a nosedive in June and so did their win-loss record.

The first casualty was Felix, who was lost for two months with a calf injury. Shortly thereafter, Wade Miley went to the disabled list (DL) with a shoulder impingement and his replacement — Adrian Sampson — was lost to injury after just one start.

By the end of the month, the team had traded for Wade LeBlanc as a stopgap measure and used eight starters in June, including Vidal Nuno — summoned into action when Sampson succumbed to injury during pregame warmups. To the chagrin of some, Hisashi Iwakuma was the only starter from the Opening Day roster to make every start.

I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb if I predict that Seattle — and most major league clubs — will need at least 10 starters in 2017.

Boomstick will lose some boom / Fans will blame his decline on playing DH (Wrong x 2)
Nelson Cruz did see his batting average drop 15 points. However, he ranked second in majors in home runs and third in slugging percentage — just as he did in 2015.

And those designated hitter worries?

Boomstick played just 31-percent of his games in the field — down 22 points from 2015 — and didn’t miss a step. He even played in three extra games (155) this past season.

Yep, a big swing and miss by me. There was still plenty of boom left in Cruz’s stick.

The Yankees will have a winning record (Right)
The Bronx Bombers didn’t exactly set the world on fire during a season that saw them become a trading deadline seller for the first time in this millennium. On top of that, they released Alex Rodriguez after an odd farewell game and Mark Teixeira announced he was retiring at the end of the season.

Despite these distractions and sub-par performances by several veterans, the team remained in the wild card hunt until the last week of the season thanks to a strong season by ace Masahiro Tanaka, a bounce back from former ace CC Sabathia and solid production by the “Baby Bombers” — including late-emerging American League Rookie of the Year candidate Gary Sanchez.

Based on the shrewd deadline moves made by GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ new influx of young talent, I’ll probably predict that the club that hasn’t had a losing season since 1992 will have another winning campaign in 2017.

The Mets will have a better record than the Yankees (Right)
No other prediction matters as much as this one, at least to me. I grew up a Mets fan and having any dominance over the crosstown rivals brings joy to my heart and ammunition to pepper my Big Apple buddies with.

When I made this prediction, I assumed the superior starting staff of the Mets would propel the club back to the postseason and help them easily outdistance the Bombers. But, the injury losses of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz proved once again that you can never have enough pitching — the Mets used just one fewer starter (12) than the Mariners.

Whether I’ll be brave enough to make this prediction next season will depend upon the offseason moves made by Cashman and his counterpart in Queens — Sandy Alderson — and the health of those injured Mets starters. For now, I’ll savor the moment.

Minnesota stalls (Right)
Although I expected the Twins to sputter this season, but never expected them to fall off a cliff. My rational for my original prediction was that Minnesota overachieved last season and that their 83-79 record was partially due to luck. They excelled in my least favorite category — batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP) — and no other offensive statistic.

Still, it’s hard to believe that a club with so much young talent would regress to a 103-loss season and the worst record in major league baseball.  With a front office shakeup underway and that bevvy of young talent still at their disposal, the Twins are a club with the potential to quickly turn around their situation.

Fallen Angels (Right)
Although there were valuable young players not named Mike Trout on the 2016 roster — Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, and C.J. Cron, plus a few promising youngsters — Jett Bandy and Jefry Marte — the Angels fell on hard times, as I suspected they would.

Los Angeles was weighed down by a bloated payroll, which provided little value from its highest paid players.  Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson — who missed the entire season — combined for .7 wins above replacement (WAR) at a cost of $65 million. Moreover, the club paid $26 million to Josh Hamilton, although he was property of the Texas Rangers and didn’t play all season due to injury.

The drag of these high salaries left first-year GM Billy Eppler with very little payroll or roster flexibility when his team suffered terrible luck with injuries, especially on the pitching staff. Starters lost for all or parts of the season included Wilson, Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, and Tyler Skaggs, plus relievers Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian.

Last season was tough, but the Angels’ 2017 outlook doesn’t look any better, unless the organization undergoes a significant face-lift. Based on ownership’s approach over the last two seasons, that doesn’t appear very likely.

The Diamondbacks won’t take the next step (Right)
Before the team completed Spring Training, the Diamondbacks had already lost center fielder A.J. Pollock to a broken elbow. Things didn’t get much better once the season began.

Arizona didn’t receive much value from starting pitcher Shelby Miller after trading away former number-one overall pick Dansby Swanson and outfielder Ender Inciarte to acquire the right-hander during the offseason. To compound matters, their biggest free agent acquisition — starter Zack Greinke — struggled with consistency and finished the season with shoulder inflammation.

The team has already fired GM Dave Stewart and is exploring a new role within the organization for team president Tony LaRussa. It’ll be interesting to see which direction the new front office goes. This season’s $91 million payroll was the second largest in franchise history. Will the Diamondbacks spend more or opt to clean house and slash salaries?

Letting pitchers hit will continue to be a dumb (Decide for yourself)
I can’t prove this one with statistics and I’m sure a lot of National League fans will disagree with me. But, I’m going to stand my ground regardless. Even after Bartolo Colon hit his epic home run in San Diego earlier this past season. Letting pitcher hit is still dumb.

There’s still hope after the all-star break (Right)
If you’re a Mariners fan, you already know this to be true. After suffering their horrendous June, Seattle managed to keep their heads above water in July until they got healthier in August and caught fire. The club didn’t reach the postseason, but their strong showing in August and September proves teams can turn around their season during the second half.

On the flip side, the San Francisco Giants demonstrated that being on top entering the second half of the season doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything. After having the best win-loss record in baseball in the first half, the Giants went 30-42 and had to scratch their way into the postseason as a wild card.

Some old guy will spout off about something (Wrong)
To the best of my knowledge, no one spouted off like Goose Gossage did about Bryce Harper and seam-heads last winter. Maybe they took my advice to relax. On the other hand, there will be plenty of opportunities for the “get off my lawn” crowd to complain about something between now and Opening Day.

The Mariners bullpen will be better than last year (Right)
The 2016 bullpen was undoubtedly better than last year’s version. Yes, this year’s relief corps entered the season as the club’s weakest link and was exposed during their June collapse. But, they grew stronger as the season progressed when pitchers such as Edwin Diaz, Drew Storen, Dan Altavilla, Evan Scribner were added.

When it counted most, the bullpen proved to be a strength in September and October.

Jerry Dipoto won’t stand pat (Right)
The 48-year-old executive didn’t make any splashy moves prior to the August 1 trading deadline, but he did find ways to keep his club afloat, while improving his roster for 2017 and beyond.

Whether it was adding LeBlanc when the rotation crumbled, transitioning Diaz into a reliever and eventually his closer, or acquiring potential future contributors such as Ariel Miranda, Dan Vogelbach , Paul Blackburn, and Ben Gamel; Dipoto continuously improved his 40-man roster.

The Mariners may not be as active as they were last offseason, but it’s unlikely they’ll stand by idly either. Not as long as JeDi is at the helm.

The Mariners will have a winning record (Right)
Thanks to several factors; the Mariners were able to surpass the 81-win mark for the twelfth time in their 40-year history. Most notably, the offseason moves made by Dipoto combined with the in-season moves I just discussed gave Seattle their best 40-man roster in a decade.

Moreover, with the help of several veterans, the new coaching staff changed the culture of the team. Most importantly, they did something that wasn’t nearly as apparent during the previous regime. They coached and instructed players at the big league level.

The challenge going forward will be avoiding regression and getting over the 90-win mark, which would move the club from the fringe into serious postseason contention.

Finally…Seattle will rejoice when Junior goes to Cooperstown (Right)
Ken Griffey Jr. not only thrilled those in attendance at Safeco Field during the Griffey weekend in early August, but he also proved to be inspirational with his advice to the current group of Mariners to “Keep Fighting.”

Perhaps, in the not too distant future, there will be a Cooperstown moment and similar celebration for Edgar Martinez too. Wouldn’t that be something?

Final Tally
Looking back at my picks was fun, especially since I fared so well — 11 right, 4  wrong, and a “decide for yourself.” Although I could suffer a fate similar to the 2016 Twins and regress next year, I think I’ll take another shot at preseason picks prior to Opening Day.

Until then, I’ll be counting the days until pitchers and catchers report.

About the author

Luke is a native New Yorker, who was sent to the Pacific Northwest by the Navy and then decided to stay. He grew up as a New York Mets fan and continues to follow them from afar, although he can be frequently found at Safeco Field observing the hometown team.

You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins