Reflections on the Mariners Part 2: Pitching

seattle_mariners_logo1Starting rotation

2008: Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, R.A. Dickey, Ryan Feierabend, Ryan-Rowland Smith

2009: Hernandez, Bedard, Silva, Washburn, Brandon Morrow, Rowland-Smith

This time last year people were talking about the M’s rotation being one of the best in baseball until everything went haywire. Felix stagnated, Bedard gave a career-low of good-not-great IP, Washburn was his below-average self and Silva’s and Batista’s ERAs should be R-rated. Bring in the replacements!

Dickey and Feierabend weren’t much better while Rowland-Smith was adequate but used in the bullpen too often. But while the names are looking very similar this year, the rotation is looking right around league average.

As for Felix, well let’s put it this way: David Price is the #1 pitching prospect in the country right now, and Price is 8 months older than Felix, who will eclipse his 700th career Major League inning this season. He’ll only be 23, people. He’s still so far past the curve he can’t even see it in the rear view mirror. Sometimes that’s taken for granted. The easiest plateau jump for him is to throw his fastball less predictably, and with him getting away from the age old establish-the-fastball mentality that was hammered into his head by pitching coach Mel Stottlemeyer and into the hands of the new coaching staff that has a reputation for not being afraid to try new things, it’s very possible that plateau jump happens in 2009.

Morrow is the other golden arm in the rotation, though he’s much more raw than Felix thanks to Bill Bavasi and Mike Hargrove’s mishandling of his future by tossing him in the bullpen in Spring Training of 2007 while they were both on the hot seat. With nearly 2 years of development time lost, Morrow enters 2009 with only 10 career professional starts since he was drafted in 2006. Though Mariners fans are angry about the past, they are very much looking  forward to the future, especially after he electrified all of Seattle in his Major League starting debut against the Yankees last year when he 1-hit them in 7.2 innings of work, along with 8 Ks and 3 BB. As is the case for most inexperienced arms, Morrow has bouts with control, although he made big improvements in that area, that could be seen both in the bullpen and in the rotation. He features a mid 90s fastball with huge tailing movement, hammer curve, plus split and a changeup that needs some work. Projection systems have him being roughly league average for 100 innings, though if that happens it’ll probably be in Oliver Perez fashion instead of Greg Maddox fashion. However, there’s lots of potential in 2009 for big steps forward, and potential for big steps backward.

Washburn has consistently been a below average pitcher every year since 2003, and there isn’t really much reason to believe he’ll be anything different going forward. I’ll just quickly point out that the Mariners had a chance to ship him off to the Twins on waivers last year, but team president Chuck Armstrong nixed the deal because there was no talent coming back Seattle’s way. So instead, the Mariners will pay Washburn $10.5 million to be very marginally better than Rowland-Smith and now Garrett Olsen, instead of spending $6 million for Bobby Abreu and $4 million on a handful of International talent this summer. Needless to say, Seattle doesn’t have many Washburn fans right now (Or Armstrong fans).

Bedard pitched through an injury he says he experienced on Opening Day last year and this year isn’t likely to pitch under 100 innings again. It’ll probably be another roller coaster year for him, but 20 solid-to-great starts from him should be expected. The rest of the innings are likely to be filled by some combination of the Washburn clones.

Carlos Silva’s 2008 couldn’t have been any worse from an ERA standpoint, and while signing him to that blockbuster was very poor roster construction, things are looking better in 2009. The raw data showed he got steadily worse across the board, but not by much. K% dropped slightly, BB% dropped slightly, GB% dropped slightly, HR/FB ballooned up 1.9% but it was still within career norms — what really jumped up was his LD%, and while a jump in BABIP naturally follows that, it still should have been about 30 points lower than a gaudy .347. Silva is not the 4.19 ERA pitcher he was with the Twins in 2007 — he’s a groundball control artist that’s steadily losing his ability to get ground balls. He’ll rebound to 4.50 ERA territory with neutral luck, but with $41 million left on the books over the next 3 years, he’s still not very welcome.


2008: JJ Putz, Sean Green, Roy Corcoran, Mark Lowe, Morrow, Arthur Rhodes, Rowland-Smith, Batista, Dickey

2009: Corcoran, Lowe, Batista, Rowland-Smith, Cesar Jimenez, Tyler Walker, David Aardsma, Luis Pena, Josh Fields

Zduriencik shipped off the two best relievers of 2008 to shore up other weaknesses, and considering that building a decent bullpen is the easiest part of roster construction, he did very well for himself. Yes, 2009’s bullpen looks weak, but Zduriencik has filled it with a handful of high risk/high reward types, just like a bullpen should be built. Everything is up for grabs in this bullpen. Everything. The only locks for a roster spot at all goes to Corcoran, Lowe and Batista, though Walker, Rowland-Smith and Pena have an inside track. 2009’s bullpen isn’t likely to be pretty, but Lowe, Aardsma, Pena and Fields all have electric arms and there’s a handful of relief options that will wait in the wings in Tacoma if (when) something doesn’t go according to plan.

With so many doom-and-gloom predictions out there, nobody in the mainstream actually went out and did the math. I don’t blame them — this is going to be a hair-pulling team to watch. But this was the best offseason the Mariners have had in years, and thanks to the easy-filling of gigantic offensive potholes, to counter the departure of the Mariners best hitter, the offense doesn’t look any worse. The defense is no longer a laughing stock with three center fielders and an actual shortstop pushing the fat, Cuban one to show some actual range. The pitching is looking similar, but there will be some regressions in the starting rotation that will help a lot; will it help enough to counter the big steps back the bullpen probably took? That’s up in the air. But in only 4 short months, the Mariners have added about 9 context-neutral wins to the present and stock piled the farm system under GM Zduriencik. While the chance of a playoff berth is very slim, the pathetic AL West is likely to be won by a race to 90 wins, and less than that may just do the trick. The Mariners are certainly long shots to accomplish that, but this isn’t the 60-win team that was 2008, and this isn’t a 101-win division.

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One Comment

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    October 28, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Blogs like this are why I use the internet. The points above are all very insightful, thanks very much.

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