Friday, May 4, 2012

Seattle Mariners - Looking at the Rotation

Two divisions down, now it’s time to look at the AL West, and we’ll start with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners have been committed to mediocrity since 2004, and while they’re still not declaring that they’re rebuilding, they quite frankly need to just bite that bullet. Perhaps they’re reluctant to trade Felix Hernandez and the occasional competitive season in what has been a relatively volatile division has probably not helped that, but squandering his talent and refusing to trade him for a veritable boatload of prospects will eventually cost the M’s who just can’t get out of their own way.

Felix Hernandez has so far been exactly what we have come to expect from the 26 year old ace. He’s the brightest star in a very dark spot in the world of baseball. Hernandez’s stat line is so far very reminiscent of his 2010 Cy Young season, and while I’m not about to crown him this early in the season, who’d really be surprised if he was able to do it again? The biggest departure from any other given season so far has been that he’s getting a lot fewer ground balls this year than ever before with that he’s striking out a ton of batters (23.7% of batters faced) and hasn’t been stung by the long ball much (2HR over 44 & ⅓ innings). King Felix looks dominant, and I would be far from shocked to see the adjustments needed to keep the ball on the ground show up throughout the season.

Jason Vargas showed up in Seattle in 2009 and was quite good, even if his ERA+ shows him as only slightly above league average eating 192 & ⅔ innings in his first full year starting. Last year he was merely okay, and has come out of the gate with an ERA (3.38) and WHIP (1.045)  that make him look like a No. 2 starter to help Seattle behind Hernandez. Now, Vargas’ WHIP is probably lower than is really sustainable, largely in thanks to his .219 BABIP. Vargas doesn’t walk a lot of batters and that’s holding true this year as well (11 over 37 & ⅓ innings). Vargas is a fly ball pitcher which I’m not personally a fan of, though it tends to work in better in Seattle than many other places. While he’s given up 5 homers so far he’s also striking out more batters. Eventually his BABIP will come closer to reality and the .282 he has for his career, and if he doesn’t make the adjustments needed to keep the ball in the park, his ERA will get ugly in a hurry.

Blake Beavan looks so far to be exactly what he showed fans in Seattle last year, his stat sheet almost looks like a copy of last year’s. He doesn’t walk a lot of batters, but he doesn’t strike many out either. He’s not doing much to keep the ball on the ground, and that’s only not been his undoing because 22% of his fly balls have stayed in the infield. Beavan is an extreme flyball pitcher and that could well bite him as the season continues. Pitching both to contact, and to the air spells disaster over the long haul. I’d look for Beavan to either make a lot of adjustments, or become much less effective as the season progresses.

Kevin Millwood has had occasional flashes of brilliance, at 37 years old he’s not looking like he did in 9 starts for the Rockies last year, he’s looking a lot more like he did in Baltimore the year prior. That was not a good year for Millwood, this also is not looking to be a good year for Millwood. He’s walking an uncharacteristic number of batters (10 over 28 & ⅔ innings), and giving up a lot of hits (35), but he has only given up 2 homers. It looks as though he’s just compounding his own problems. While his BABIP is markedly higher (.347) than his career average (.301) he’s not just giving up a lot of hits, he’s giving them up all at once. So while he’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s letting opposing batters tee off for an inning at a time. If Millwood can stop having these types of innings, he could be productive for his team, but as it stands, Eric Wedge needs to be standing on the top step after every pair of back to back hits against Millwood or they’re going to continue seeing some pretty weak performances from their vet.

Hector Noesi was the 2nd part of the trade that brought Jesus Montero to Seattle and while he was a good long man last year with the Yankees he has not seen success so far in the Mariners rotation. While Noesi looked brilliant against Oakland he has not faired so well against any other opponents thus far. A great deal of the issues Noesi is seeing look to be coming from a fair increase in fly balls. Noesi isn’t striking out quite as many batters as last year, but he’s not walking many more either. While his WHIP hasn’t changed much (1.522 vs 1.509 last season), Noesi is letting too many balls get put in the air; having already surrendered 5 home runs and a total of 10 extra base hits over 23 innings. While Noesi isn’t exactly selling himself as a starter so far, he is fairly young at 25 years old, and performances like the one in Oakland show he is clearly talented. If Noesi can make the adjustments needed, he could certainly turn this season around but he so far he has frequently been overmatched.

The Mariners are rebuilding whether they say/believe it or not, which makes acquisitions like Kevin Millwood absolutely baffling, he is neither a reliably good pitcher to help their staff nor is he going to be worth anything at the trade deadline. The Mariners have a long way to go with only a few real pieces worth trading at the moment, the team will either need to start reaching out through free agency as many of their better prospects are still 2-3 years from touching the bigs, by which time King Felix will be getting ready for his first free agent payday. The Mariners aren’t looking good this year, and by all accounts, probably won’t look great next year without buying a few higher profile free agents.

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