Q. Of those teams that did improve by +200 runs in one winter, how did they do it?
A. By getting current players to play better.
We're speaking in general terms, of course. ... still ... Granted it's tough to find one player to contribute +200 runs. :- ) Is it any easier to bring in five players worth +40 runs apiece?
In the AL in 2011, there were only 22 players with more than 40 runs' contribution, of whom the worst were Erick Aybar, David Ortiz and Josh Hamilton. Okay, we only need to get five of those? G'luck mate.
Q. But we're not talking +40 runs players in the absolute. Just players who are +40 runs better than what the M's had in 2011.
A. Right, and the M's had replacement level players.
Liddi and Seager, at 3B, were +8 runs above RLP. Miguel Olivo was +9 runs above RLP. Center field (Guti) was +11 runs.
You can't import 200 runs. Well, you can in cricket. Finding them in the MLB free agent market, not so much. Unless of course you know an Erikkk Bedard or Prince Fielder or three ... or maybe Jack Zduriencik plans to trade an overrated closer for those four impact players. That, I could see.
Q. Is it a fool's errand to get your current players to improve by 200 runs?
A. If you had Jose Vidro, Miguel Batista, Yuniesky Betancourt and Carl Everett, it would be a fool's errand.
However, the Mariners don't currently have Jose Vidro. They have Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, and other guys that Jack Zduriencik traded an All-Star pitching staff for.
Q. Is there any evidence along this line? That you can get your players doing good at the same time?
A. As we have written a time or five, Bill James found that this was consistently the way that Cinderella teams did improve by huge margins in one year's time.
The pattern he found was for a team, in Y2, to get "leadership" from star players having bounceback years -- and then for "everybody else to get caught up in the excitement" and have good years together.
I don't know if Baseball Prospectus would refer to James' historical work as a "study," but it's evidence. There are different kinds of evidence. You can say, "I don't care for that evidence," but don't say "there's no evidence." Hey, there is evidence for George Washington laying out the city of D.C., but it's not replicable.
I could find you 100 quotes from baseball history like this: "You win the pennant when all your players have good years together." Jim Bouton had a quote like this in Ball Four: "Normally you win when all your players have good years at the same time. But the 1964 Yankees won with everybody having bad years," or somesuch.
This is one of the places where baseball men talk past sabermetricians. There are 30 GM's trying to figure out how to get their players to have good years in 2012.