The Impossibly Possible Marlins Juggernaut

They say the Marlins are loaded with quality young pitching. Our own numbers disagree, at least as far as this coming season is concerned, but that’s what they say, and there are clearly some promising hard throwers slated to wear the uniform. Based on the pitching staff, you’d think the Marlins might have some kind of shot at the playoffs. The problem is almost literally everything else. You might’ve noticed a theme while scrolling through the positional power rankings so far. A lot of the Marlins’ positions look terrible. Marlins position players are projected for the lowest combined WAR in baseball, a hair behind the Twins and a wig factory behind the Dodgers. As such, the Marlins are also projected for one of the worst records in baseball, and though there’s talent in place for the future, the future ain’t 2014.

The Marlins project last at first base, third base, and shortstop. They’re tied for last at catcher, and they’re third-to-last at second base. They’re tied for first in right field — look at that! — but they’re average in left and below-average in center. With every individual projection, you can quibble. There’s less quibbling to be done when a unit looks this bad as a group.

But remember: projections are averages. Or medians. I don’t really know. So projections come with downsides, and projections come with upsides. What if we talked about the Marlins’ upside? What if we stretched the definition of “possible” to examine perhaps the greatest realistic Marlins possibility?

Here’s the idea. We have the Marlins depth chart, with author-submitted playing-time estimates. Let’s keep all the players the same, and let’s keep all the playing times the same. But instead of looking at the projections, let’s turn back to 2013. Pretty much all of these players played in the majors in 2013. They put up largely unimpressive overall performances. But what if we selected each player’s best month, and then extrapolated out? One could argue that month would represent the upside — after all, the players put up those numbers. As an example, last September, Jarrod Saltalamacchia slugged .588. What if he didn’t slug .588 only in September? That would be a good catcher to have!

A few quick notes. First, I’m talking about regular months, like the ones you see in the drop-down menus on the leaderboards. I’m not selecting from, say, April 16 – May 15. Also, there are some players who didn’t play last year. For those guys, you’ll see just their regular projections identical to the ones you see in the current depth chart. This is important for Rafael Furcal and Casey McGehee, and then there are a few other guys who are projected to play hardly at all so they don’t make much of a difference anyway.

So let’s get to the fun stuff. Meet your 2013 Miami Marlins position players, not as they’re likely to be, but as they could be, not-impossibly, since they’ve been like this in the recent past:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia 448 0.314 0.357 0.588 6.4
Marcell Ozuna 581 0.330 0.372 0.462 6.0
Christian Yelich 586 0.330 0.429 0.447 5.7
Giancarlo Stanton 546 0.250 0.422 0.511 4.2
Garrett Jones 530 0.312 0.365 0.519 3.1
Brian Bogusevic 154 0.281 0.400 0.594 1.9
Adeiny Hechavarria 560 0.324 0.349 0.373 1.6
Greg Dobbs 190 0.286 0.382 0.500 1.5
Rafael Furcal 455 0.259 0.321 0.363 1.0
Donovan Solano 301 0.260 0.322 0.365 0.8
Ed Lucas 119 0.321 0.337 0.452 0.7
Jeff Baker 86 0.379 0.455 0.759 0.7
Jeff Mathis 160 0.290 0.380 0.323 0.7
Casey McGehee 420 0.245 0.308 0.383 0.6
Jordany Valdespin 105 0.255 0.293 0.382 0.3
Brent Keys 49 0.284 0.336 0.352 0.1
Derek Dietrich 35 0.230 0.296 0.419 0.0
Rob Brantly 32 0.239 0.313 0.338 0.0
Jake Marisnick 154 0.194 0.265 0.290 0.0
Alfredo Silverio 21 0.248 0.285 0.383 0.0
Brady Shoemaker 14 0.246 0.314 0.370 0.0
Kyle Jensen 35 0.218 0.287 0.379 0.0
Justin Bour 49 0.227 0.287 0.351 -0.1
Ty Wigginton 210 0.150 0.227 0.150 -1.9

Broken down by position:

Position WAR Rank
C 7.1 1
1B 4.6 3
2B 1.7 15
SS 2.1 18
3B -1.0 30
LF 6.4 1
CF 5.5 3
RF 5.3 1
DH/PH 1.7 1 (NL)
Total 33.3 1

Now this is a hell of a baseball team. At least, it’s a hell of a group of position players, to go along with the talented group of pitchers that a lot of people seem to like. The Marlins would project to have the best catchers in the league. They’d project to have the best corner outfielders, and they’d project to have the best bench in the National League. Currently, the Dodgers lead the way with 26.4 projected WAR from position players. These Marlins would blow those Dodgers out of the water, perhaps because Marlins are most comfortable in water. These Marlins wouldn’t be without their weaknesses, but with that amount of strengths, who could even care?

Looking at this, you’d have to wonder about some of the playing-time allocations. In Ty Wigginton’s best month last year, he was worth negative WAR. Over 210 plate appearances, he’d be an extrapolated disaster. Why not use more of, say, Ed Lucas or Donovan Solano? Mike Redmond would probably take some heat for that. There’s also Brian Bogusevic with a near-four-digit OPS and just 154 trips to the plate. Granted, it’s not like Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna would leave him many opportunities to pick up extended playing time. The Marlins would be faced with what people refer to as “a good problem to have.” That’s not unlike the current real Marlins, except with the word “good” in it.

I think maybe the funniest part: the projection above puts Stanton at 4.2 WAR. Our actual 2014 projections put Stanton at 4.4 WAR. Stanton projects to be better this coming season than he was even in his best month last season. And, yeah, there’s that situation at third. That’s also a funny part, but see how extra-realistic things look? Even the impossibly-possible-upside Marlins have some issues and splashes of reality.

In this hypothetical, Jarrod Saltalamacchia would make for a reasonable NL MVP candidate. The same could be said of Ozuna and Yelich, although they might end up splitting votes on account of sharing a roster. The Marlins, overall, would project for the highest WAR in the National League, but they’d still be just below the Red Sox and Tigers, so they wouldn’t be shoo-in World Series favorites. That’s one of the reasons you’d think they’d do something to deal with the Wigginton problem. With this projection, Wigginton would end up at -4.7 WAR since the start of 2009.

The season before that started, Wigginton slugged .526 and was worth almost three wins to the Astros in two-thirds of a year. Wigginton, overall, has 3.2 WAR in 4949 plate appearances. He collected 88% of that WAR in 8.7% of the action. You never know when one player might just erupt.

And if one player can do it, one or two dozen players can do it. The Marlins, mathematically, can do it. And if just about all of them do it, the 2014 Marlins will be a playoff contender. Stay tuned!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

71 Responses to “The Impossibly Possible Marlins Juggernaut”

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  1. DoucheX says:

    i blame aa

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  2. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Thread hijack:

    Just want to tell the FanGraphs readership what an excellent time I had on holiday in Guatemala. Those of you who speak any Spanish should put it on your getaway list.

    With the advice and counsel of FanGraphs’ resident volcano aficionado, a friend and I climbed Pacaya on 14 March, after it erupted from 1-10 March. Various patches of rock around the cone and lava flow were still smoking, and the side of the mountain was carved and raw like a wound. Between pumice rocks we found a furnace and toasted marshmallows (mine caught fire).

    There’s a gift shop on the lava field at Pacaya. It’s an array of jewelry and trinkets carefully arranged on a rock. The proprietor told us that he was there when the volcano erupted. He dodged questions about whether he was afraid or worried or ran, but said that he took video of the eruption on his phone. Apparently, as our bus pulled up at the bottom of the climb, he had felt another earthquake.

    The nearby volcano Fuego was erupting during our visit. I’m more inclined to Gorgeous Hikes than volcanoes, but Pacaya was both, and challenging, and the city of Antigua was a joy. I could go back for a few weeks and not tire of the tamales, Kahlua ice cream, rellenitos, endlessly friendly strangers, and Gallo Red lager.

    Strongly recommended to you all. And if you do decide to go, feel free to ask me questions.

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    • Ralph Libinski says:

      Nice! I did a quick side trip to Tikal and the town of Las Flores while in Belize. Beautiful place.

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        Would love to spend a few days in that area too. The only thing missing from the south is Mayan ruins (Iximche is rather dinky).

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        • Stanatee the Manatee says:

          I spent time in Retalhuleu a couple years in a row and loved it. I would go back to Guatemala in a heartbeat.

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    • tz says:

      Kahlua ice cream alone must be worth it.

      Those two items were just meant for one another. In fact, the Kahlua ice cream pie at On The Border is one of my favorite desserts, even though it is a pre-made chain restaurant specialty. So fresh-made Kahlua ice cream must be beyond my mere tired imagination.

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  3. Kirk says:


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  4. jacob says:

    i wonder what the yankees worst month would look like. i wonder what the best month would look like

    also, cool concept

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  5. psualum says:

    I would call this article straight up trolling.. but its a week from opening day, even Marlins fans deserve an ounce of hope (as a Mets fan, I feel like I have a solid 2.3 oz of said hope)

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  6. NatsFan73 says:

    Giancarlo Stanton could get hit by a bus. Tomorrow. And still I would doubt the veracity of any list that didn’t have him at the top of the Marlin’s WAR leaderboard :)

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  7. pudieron89 says:

    How many examples are there of a player sustaining even 80% of their production of their single best player-month of a given season, if they played enough games to qualify for a batting title? I reckon not many, and I deem this exercise poorly modeled.

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    • Jim says:

      Raysfan being a downer. Never seen that before..

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      • JKB says:

        That was funny… and I’m a Rays fan. Seriously though, if all the streets in your neighborhood were just wide enough for two golf carts to pass and every new neighbor that moved onto your street was a fan of your division rival or the team that beat you in the World Series, wouldn’t you be a little grumpy too?

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    • liamandme says:

      You must be a ton of fun at parties.

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  8. Steve says:

    What’s the point in this, really? Bautista hit a home run once, so he could slug 4.000 and the Jays could go 162-0…I’m not trying to be a downer, I usually enjoy your fun articles but this one just seems a little too far lol

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    • What’s the point of anything here?

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      • Steve says:

        Like I said, I like all your articles, this one just seems exceptionally pointless

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        • Steve says:

          It’s like saying, what if the Marlins weren’t the Marlins? If they had better players, they would be a better team. Like, you think? lol

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        • Just an exercise. It’s like looking at 80th-90th percentile PECOTA projections. All of these Marlins, individually, could do what’s in the table. So what if more than one of them did it? How close could the Marlins be? How far away are they, otherwise?

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        • Urban Shocker says:

          Is it? I have been thinking of another improbable team winning the World Series today due to the return of one Alex Gonzalez (Sea Bass) to a starting lineup. That ’03 team got career years out of everyone not named Miguel Cabrera, so why not? (Not entirely true, even Sea Bass got 3.1 WAR in 2010, etc.).

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      • The Foils says:

        Forget the haters; your readership demands more Ty Wiggington coverage. :)

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    • Dan says:

      The point is that this article is hilarious.

      “These Marlins would blow those Dodgers out of the water, perhaps because Marlins are most comfortable in water.”


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    • Bip says:

      Teams that look really awful to start the season have stunned everyone and competed for the playoffs before. The notion that the Marlins could contend this year seems ridiculous, but they wouldn’t be first team to look awful on paper and make a run for the playoffs. It is very interesting to examine the circumstances under which that can happen.

      Secondly, it’s a common practice among baseball media to look split a player’s season into individual months and read too much into it. I’m sure you’ve heard “look at player X’s September stats!” in support of player X’s MVP candidacy before, or as a reason why that player is going to be good the following season, despite being mediocre in the other 5 months. This article is also in effect showing the silliness of the practice of looking at a player’s best month as some representation of who they should be. The next time a player has a good month and people start saying that player has turned a corner, you’ll know that the fallacy that person is employing can be used to say the Marlins are far and away the best team in baseball.

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  9. Chris from Bothell says:

    Now do this with the Mariners. Or the Astros.

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  10. Bil Bo Baggins says:

    Salty, Garrett Jones, could all hit .300 maybe ok fine.

    the weirdest part of this? Adeiny HEchavaria with a positive WAR

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    • Abigail Fisher says:

      Not weird. Many scouts said Hechavaria was an easy plus defender despite his defensive metric negatives. If you project him as a +15 defender, he produces positive WAR.

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  11. Anon says:

    But remember: projections are averages. Or medians.

    Some projections involve calculating the season thousands of times. Would someone who does projections report the best season the Marlins had in all the simulations?

    Also, what are the pros and cons of using averages? medians?

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    • Breandán says:

      “Would someone who does projections report the best season the Marlins had in all the simulations?”

      Um, they did exactly that here recently. It was quite a fun read!

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    • Bip says:

      Also, what are the pros and cons of using averages? medians?

      Averages are weighted by the outliers, and skews in the data, whereas medians are not.

      Here’s an example. Let’s say we have this top prospect, named… uh Mike Tuna. He is making his MLB debut this season, and it’s considered pretty likely he’ll manage 2 WAR. He also could really struggle for 0 WAR, but he has the raw talent to put up an insane 8 WAR.

      The median will tell you the middle outcome, which is about 2 WAR. It basically ignores the very optimistic and the very pessimistic. Averages, on the other hand, will give Tuna credit for his great ceiling. Although it’s very unlikely he’ll be worth 8 WAR, the small chance he is will be reflected in his average projection. His average projection might be 3 WAR because of this. Though it’s more likely than not he’ll be worth less than 3 WAR, his high projection reflects the fact that he has the potential to massively outperform it.

      The advantage of the median is that it gives what can be seen as the most likely outcome. It tells you what you will get without any unusual good or bad breaks. The average can be a little misleading, because if a player is projected for 3 WAR, you don’t know if that is “probably 2 WAR but maybe 8 WAR” or just “probably 3 WAR”. The advantage of the average is that you are considering all likelihoods. A player who will probably be worth 2 WAR but with an 8 WAR ceiling is more valuable than a player with no ceiling who is also likely to produce 2 WAR. The average will show the former player to be better than the latter.

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  12. Matthew says:

    Now do it with their worst months extrapolated!

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  13. utley4ever says:

    You should do the best and worst months of the Braves

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  14. jim fetterolf says:

    The piece just reminds us that anything is possible, which is why they play the games. A dominant staff, a career year and a couple of above average ones, some good health and a little luck. I still think I’ll take the “under”, but hope spring trainings eternal, or something like that.

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  15. Big Mike says:

    The idea that Salty, in his eighth season, will put up an average 41 points north of his career high and a slg 122 points north of his career high, not to mention matching his career WAR in a single season, is insane. Only six catchers have put up a 6.4 WAR season in the last 20 years – Kendall, Yadi Molina, Mauer, Piazza, Posey and Javy Lopez. This is just silly.

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  16. tyke says:

    ‘The Marlins would be faced with what people refer to as “a good problem to have.” That’s not unlike the current real Marlins, except with the word “good” in it.’


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  17. Miguel Cabrera says:

    Come on Jeff. You’re better than this… Anybody could have written this article…

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  18. Tony the Pony says:

    I just find it amusing that this team is so weak that even everyone position player at there optimum even stretching the realms or conceivable peformance to bursting point there are still 2 teams who project to be better than them.

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    • quincy0191 says:

      This is the correct conclusion to take away from the exercise. It’s an interesting idea, and well-written, but surprisingly enough there’s a kernel of relevant stats in there as well.

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  19. walt526 says:

    Fun exercise to find the probability of the Rangers going 0-162 if their players all performed at the level of their worst 2013 month.

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    • Jason B says:

      The probability of anyone going 0-162 is super duper low under any conceivable set of projections. < 0.01%.

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      • Bip says:

        We can calculate this. Let’s say a team is so bad that they have only a 10% chance of winning an individual game. No team in the modern era has been even close to being that bad, but let’s say we’re stretching the reasonable limited of how bad a team can be. So they have a 90% chance of losing an individual game. The chances of losing 162 straight games is quite easy to calculate:

        0.9^162 = 3.87 x 10^-8.

        So even a team that had only a 10% chance of winning each game has only a 0.00000387% chance of going 0-162. And that’s a percentage, so the actual chance looks even lower, at 0.0000000387 out of 1.

        Just for fun, let assume a team is so bad that they have a 50/50 chance of going 0-162. That team would have to have a 0.4% chance of winning any given game. That’s an expected win rate of 1 out of every 250 games played. I wonder if even a A-ball team has a win probably that bad against an MLB team.

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        • Kirk says:

          A-ball teams would have a much higher win probability than that. Those guys are still crazy talented.

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  20. JoshuaKevinPerry says:

    The Marlins have been shit for well over a decade. Fuck you. That is all.

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    • quincy0191 says:

      As erudite as this comment is, the Marlins were playoff contenders in 2008 and 2009, and last year was the 10-year anniversary of a World Series championship. So “well over a decade” is pretty much demonstrably false.

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      • Jason B says:

        Don’t engage the 7-year-old who hopped on mum’s computer when she was chasing down the other four rugrats. It’s no fun berating a toddler.

        It’s not overly fun berating a toddler.

        I can think of a few more enjoyable things than berating a toddler.

        OK, it’s super duper fun to berate a toddler.

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  21. Alex says:

    It’s too bad the Marlins don’t have a cost-controlled and super young third baseman who plays superb defense with an at least adequate bat. But hey, who am I kidding, Carlos Lee once played for the Fish!

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  22. James says:

    This could – and should – be applied to the Cubs. We deserve some hope if for no other reason than to use as a shield of courage to face 2014.

    Which brings me to another point: Jeff’s article may have inadvertently described from a statistical point of view what happens when the “X” phenomenon manifests in a sporting team. This is the highly desired, infrequently captured, inexplicably magical “team spirit” that carries ordinary players across the Rubicon from pedestrian performance to star-quality. Jeff’s piece shows the hypothetical number crunching that might arise if a bunch of also-rans pulled a rabbit out of the hat and surpassed everyone’s expectations (including their own).

    But this requires something special, something that is more than individual excellence, something that is contagious. Kind of the opposite to the late season 2011 Red Sox and to a lesser degree the Rangers of the last couple of years.

    If it is to occur, something extraordinary needs to transpire but, if it does, it could impact many players in a positive fashion.

    Think of it this way: everyone expects Stanton to hit about .270 and slug about 35 homeruns. So what? If he does it he will improve his (and the Marlins) positioning for trade, extension, etc. A similar sentiment for Salty with perhaps a slightly lower ceiling. But what if they both exceed their expected middle range statistical expectation. What if a third position player also does it? What if a Cy Young calibre performance emerges from the Marlins ranks?

    If, say, 3 or 4 Marlins players start playing well – I mean really well – then other players may start playing better than their long term statistical average. In other words, the replacement level players, by mere proximity to exceptional and unexpectedly high level performance of other players, may themselves have 4 or 5 months during 2014 that meet or exceed their best 2013 month.

    Well, anyway, its possible. And I remain a Cubs fan….

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  23. fjtorres says:

    Career years happen to even the worst players.
    And there is at least one example of a whole bunch of them going crazy for two months and boosting the team into the playoffs: the 1984 Tiggers.
    Other one season team spikes are relatively common (2013 Indians).

    For the Marlins a 24 game spike would only drive them to the fringes of third place but that might put them in sight of a wild card. And,at the rate pitchers are blowing out elbows, that might be enough to get them into the playoffs…If you squint a bit and don’t look to close. ;)

    The Marlins can be good. They just need to import a pitcher from the California penal league.

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    • Bip says:

      The 1984 Tigers with two extremely underrated hall-of-fame cases comprising their middle infield?

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      • fjtorres says:

        And everybody having career years.
        And they still were a .500 team in the last 122 games.
        The odds of a .500 team having a 35-5 run is pretty low, yet it happened.

        Strange things happen all the time in baseball.

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  24. Delia Surridge says:

    Is it wrong to hold on to that kind of hope?

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  25. Gyre says:

    The problem with the thinking that the cited stats are actually important is the obvious: If they were so good, then the author would be an enshrined god of Fantasy Baseball. He’s not, since they’re not. Stats tell you something about the past, and nothing more.

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  26. Ron says:

    So this is how you come up with the stuff for the “If It Goes Right” Mariners posts every year.

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  27. jnb says:

    so far so good!

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