The Rotation

Hello everyone, I’m Graham. Brent’s invited me to post on his new blog, so I hope I can live up to his posting standards. I almost certainly won’t post as often as he does due to my chaotic schedule, but I’ll be sure to do my best.  I also plan on spelling words in true English, so if the use of ‘centrefielder’ and whatnot annoys you, skip my posts. Now that we’re done with the online version of a firm handshake, let’s get on to more interesting things…

There are currently 3 starting pitchers under contract (OK, we have club control over Horacio Ramirez too. But hahahahaha no.) to the Mariners for 2008 – Felix Hernandez, the best young arm in the game, and supporting acts Miguel Batista and Jarrod Washburn. I won’t go into any sort of depth about Felix since every Mariner fan on the planet knows plenty about him (if you want to read even more, I suggest reading this article by Jason Churchill).

Washburn and Batista have had less words devoted to them over the course of their Mariner careers, and that’s probably because they’re fairly boring pitchers. Both sit right at league average, taking different routes to get there. Batista (although he has a reputation as a groundballer) tends towards average in his gb/fb distribution, and gives up too many free passes while maintaining an average K rate, but he kept the ball in the yard and limited line drives.

Washburn is your prototypical flyball pitcher, relying on outfield defence. Jarrod prevents home runs a little better than one might expect – this is probably due to most HR regression ignoring the difference between LF at Safeco and RF. Since Washburn is a leftie, he’s going to have less trouble dealing with the left handed batters and the corresponding short porch in right.

So, those are our guys. A #1, and then two average pitchers, who would assumedly then slot in at #3 and #4. Two slots to fill. The following suggestions have filtered in from the various corners of the blogosphere:

1) Trade for Johan Santana (MIN)
2) Sign Curt Schilling (BOS)
3) Convert one of Ryan-Rowland Smith or Brandon Morrow to become starters
4) Use Cha-Seung Baek
5) Make a trade with the Devil Rays for one of their extras
6) Trade for Noah Lowry (SF)
7) Trade for Scott Olson (FLA)

I think those are the major ones, anyway. Let’s go through their respective merits in order.

1) There is absolutely no doubt that Johan Santana is one of the best pitchers in the game. However, everyone knows this, and as a result the Mariners are not going to be able to match some of the offers that the Twins will receive. Rumour has it that the Dodgers have already offered Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp for him – to give you an idea of what sort of package that is, Kershaw is amongst the top pitching prospects in the game, and Kemp is only a little worse than Adam Jones. Can we match that without destroying the farm system? No. Pass. Oh, and the Twinkies apparently didn’t bite on that, which means they want even more. Scary.

Pros: Awesome pitcher, true #1, potentially devastating 1-2 punch with Felix.
Cons: Not going to happen.

2) Schilling’s a decent pitcher. He strikes out his fair share of batters, and although he’s an extreme flyballer, he doesn’t let anyone on base cheaply. No walks, no HBP – he’s got great control, and would slip in fine behind Felix as our #2 for a couple years. However, he’s old and a massive injury risk in recent years (IP totals of 93, 204, and 151 in the past 3 years), and there’s almost no way he comes on the cheap. We’d probably be looking at a 2+ year deal for lots of money, and that’s a pretty massive gamble. If Schilling were to go down at any point, we’d be using Tacoma’s rotation, and paying $9M or so for the privilege. And he’s likely to keep declining, too. Anyone feel like rolling that dice? I don’t.

Pros: Flyball pitcher with excellent control should be helped by Safeco, possible #2.
Cons: Age-related decline, injury risk, $$$.

3) This one’s a bit interesting. How easy is it to convert relievers to starters? What sort of pitcher is best at making the transition? While that sounds like it would make a fascinating research project, I don’t have time to take a look and see how conversion projects have turned out. What I will say, though, is that relying on having one of RRS and Brandon Morrow turn into a starting pitcher by Spring Training is crazy, because there’s a decent chance you then have 0 starters and no backup plan. It’s a cool project (and I’d bet on RRS making a better starter than Morrow in the short term) and I hope it yields results, but again, it’s a gamble. Starting is a different beast entirely to what they’re used to, and they’ll need to increase their stamina, control, and secondary pitches. If they don’t, things will get ugly.

Pros: Cheap young #5s with upside. Hurray!
Cons: May be just as bad as Horacio Ramirez while they’re learning how to start. May not be able to start at MLB level at all.

4) We know what we’re getting with Baek. He’s got below average stuff but great control, and he lets batters put the ball in the air a lot. He’s also essentially free, and the Mariners don’t have to do anything in particular to use him. I believe he’s best left stashed in Tacoma as a backup plan, but should the reliever-starter experiments go well, the team will have enough depth to cover it.

Pros: Decent #5, cheap, straightforward move.
Cons: He’s not great and we lose some depth.

5) The Devil Rays have something like young 6 pitchers they could happily insert into their rotation next year. Kazmir and Shields are obviously untouchable, but the rest of them might be had for the right price. They’re very likely undervalued as well – folks will look at those high RA numbers and get scared off. As many of you will know, Tampa Bay’s defence could be very generously described as ‘terrible’ last year. My numbers have their D costing them slightly less than one run a game, and THT and co. are in the same ballpark. Spare, young, potentially undervalued pitchers? Sign me up. The problem here is that TB’s front office are doubtless fully aware of this, whereas ours? Not so much.

Pros: Cheap, young, undervalued pitching
Cons: Bavasi is probably one of the ones undervaluing them.

6) Noah Lowry is one of the Giant’s youngsters, and he had a great ERA last year. What could entice General Manager and card-carrying moron Brian Sabean to give up such a pitcher? Perhaps towering first baseman Richie Sexson, along with a prospect or two? Awesome. The problem here is that Noah Lowry actually sucks, and that shiny ERA is a mask for some terrifying peripherals. As a result, Sabes will drastically overrate him and demand more in a trade, and Bavasi might actually give it to him. And then Lowry will pitch like a #5.

Pros: Trade might actually work out.
Cons: Noah Lowry sucks.

7) Scott Olsen needs out of Miami. He’s a bit of a headcase, which will scare some teams off, but he’s young, left-handed, and has talent. The incidents he’s been involved with are a black mark against his name, to be sure, but beggar’s can’t really be chosers. If a deal can be worked out with the Marlins (who must be over that Ichiro thing by now, surely), and the M’s talk to Olsen and decide that he’ll be better behaved, then why not go for it?

Pros: Good young leftie with upside
Cons: A bit mental, no track record, unknown trade demands.

I’ve devoted a lot of words to possible pitcher replacements, but in many ways it doesn’t really matter. I mentioned Tampa Bay’s defense being terrible last year – ours wasn’t anything to write home about either. In fact, improving the defense (which cost our starting pitchers 41 runs last year) to even league average would make a huge difference in our ability to stay competetive. After all, pitching is only part of the run prevention equation. The M’s weren’t Devil Ray bad, but we had some awful fielders going for us. Ibanez and Sexson were the most notable offenders, with Guillen and Betancourt contributing as well.

So the Mariners have a job to do – find two extra pitchers and improve our woeful defense. The free agent market is dicey at best; from what I can see Carlos Silva(?!) is considered the cream of the crop this time through. It might be more advisable for Bavasi to go the trade route, or even down the more novel reliever-conversion path. Interesting times, for sure.

I don’t envy Bill his job right now, because it’s going to be tough. Hopefully he doesn’t blow anything up while trying to patch up our pitching staff.

Good grief, that was a long post. I’m sorry I didn’t go more in depth with stats (believe me, I have a lot when I comes to pitchers, but I was trying to keep it under 1000 words. And I failed utterly). As always, comments, critiques, and questions are welcome.

-Graham

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5 Responses to The Rotation

  1. brentschwartz says:

    Great post Graham.

    #1 Johan might be my favorite pitcher, and if the Mariners could assemble a package to get him I wouldn’t mind gutting the farm system to get him. Lock Johan into a long term contract? Yes please.

    #2 I’m not sure what I think about Schilling. It would depend on the contract, but I’m willing to take a risk on him.

    #3 I would be suprised if RRS doesn’t become a decent (decent defined as a #4) starting pitcher in the near future. I think he has the stuff, durability is the issue with him. Morrow is a work in progress, but he does possess a very good fastball. The command and lack of decent secondary pitches concern many of us. That said I like Morrow a lot better than Feierabend.

    #4 Cha Baek should open the year in the rotation. Maybe he can be a less durable version of Ryan Franklin, which I find valuable, especially for a team that is looking to stop the bleeding in the rotation.

    #5 The D-Rays option makes little sense to me. Trading good starting pitching, when the rest of the league finds it less valuable than it is, makes no sense (from my seat anyway). If they are looking to improve the clubs defense, how about Jose Lopez?

    #6 Just say no to Noah Lowry. Unless its a trade for Richie Sexson.

    #7 I like Scott Olsen, a lot. I think the M’s could get him on the cheap and if the M’s aren’t concerned with “character”, then he might be a good guy to get.

    A good rundown of routes that the FO could go.

  2. PositivePaul says:

    Hey now, you’ve got Graham, too?? Dang. I’m really gonna have to keep this place tabbed in FF now…

    Welcome, Graham! You may smell spell funny, but I sure enjoy the heck outta ya 😉

    Lopez for Sonnastine makes a ton of sense for both clubs. But it would never happen, since, as Graham alludes to, Bavasi probably isn’t even thinking about Tampa Bay’s pitching. Heck, even with Dave Cameron screaming at him, Bavasi still wouldn’t pay attention to Tampa’s pitching…

    I think they have to keep Baek around. He’s out of options, so it’s either 25-man or bust. Provided he’s healthy, he’d be a decent guy to have in the back of the rotation. Stash RRS back down in Tacoma in the rotation as Baek insurance. Morrow, too, of course. I’d agree that Hyphen is probably a little closer to the MLB rotation than Morrow is, at least in the short term. The only question with him would be his health. From what I gather, Hyphen was moved into the ‘pen because his back couldn’t handle the longer outings. It was more of an injury issue than a talent/skill issue.

    I’d bet that a combination of Morrow + Clement + Jones would catch the Twins’ attention for Santana. They’re going to want to move Mauer out of the catcher’s spot. I’m not saying I’d make that move, though, because I think Clement is going to eventually rake the crap out of Safeco. But Johann’s arguably the best, and he’s young enough to be a reasonably safe bet going forward. He’s certainly no Barry Zito…

  3. brentschwartz says:

    We haven’t mentioned the possiblity of going to Japan to find one of our two starters. Hopefully that would work for one of the two slots.

    The good news is that: Weaver/Horacio/Baek/Feierabend didn’t exactly set the bar high in terms of replacing them this offseason. Also Baek provided a 5.15 ERA and if he could do that for 180 innings, it would be an improvement.

    The bad news is that:
    Feierabend was worse than Horacio and Weaver, and by a lot. Also Batista,Weaver and Horacio weren’t filling huge shoes left by Moyer, Pineiro and Meche. We also have the problem that Morrow and RRS have never started in the majors. Morrow probably needs to develop a bunch and as you say Paul the “Hyphen” could have health issues. Baek also has health issues.

    I fear another season where our rotation is horrible. But with a savvy move or two, it could be a lot better.

  4. Graham says:

    Morrow + Clement + Jones will probably give you more wins over the next 6 years than Santana, though. And it’d be for free.

    I’m not too aware of what’s going on with the Japanese pitchers. Deanna’s been talking up Saitoh for years (at least, I think she has), so that’d be nice if we could grab him, but for the rest of them all I have to go on is Churchill’s report over at PI.

  5. PositivePaul says:

    Actually, I got the stories for the lefties mixed up. “Potatoes” is the one with back problems that forced him into the ‘pen. Reading Churchill this morning reminded me of that, and that “Hyphen” was moved into the ‘pen for other reasons. His health, as of now anyway, hasn’t been much of a concern. I’d still bump Baek up in the depth chart and use RRS and Morrow as insurance. That way, too, they really would only have to find 1 starter this offseason. They’d probably need another bullpen arm, too, but those are MUCH easier to find (and much cheaper) than SPs…

    Yeah, Graham — Morrow + Clement + Jones indeed would give you more wins going forward, and that’s a lot of the reason why I wouldn’t give them up even for Santana. I was just saying that we could put together an attractive package that Minnesota would at least consider. I wouldn’t make that deal, of course, but we could actually come up with a package without even killing our farm system (although, yeah, that does put a pretty significant dent in things)…

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