Mariners Pitching, 2008 vs. 2007

Brandon MorrowWhile the offense has been exceptionally bad, the pitching has left much to be desired at times too. The Mariners spent quite a bit of money, and traded a number of prospects, to bolster the starting rotation. The bullpen was expected to take a hit, but still be pretty solid. How have the moves panned out to this point? Taking a look with my pitcher rating formula, the results are mixed:

STARTING ROTATION

2007 #1: Felix Hernandez - 76
2008 #1: Erik Bedard - 79
Bedard may not be the friendliest person, and he may not be everything the front office had hoped for, but he still has improved the starting rotation. His ERA does not show it, but it should come down. He is the victim of a little bad luck.

2007 #2: Jarrod Washburn - 76
2008 #2: Felix Hernandez - 82
Most would say the ace is Felix at this point, but I will stick with the rotation order the team started with. Regardless, the front end of the 2008 M's rotation is significantly better than last year's thanks to the acquisition of Bedard and continued development of Felix. It is unfortunate the King only has .500 record, because he is having a great season.

2007 #3: Miguel Batista - 74
2008 #3: Jarrod Washburn - 66
There was no reason to expect Washburn to fall off as badly as he has this year. He claims he is a victim of Kenji Johjima, but that is a pathetic excuse. Jarrod has been effective the last two years with Kenji behind the plate. If Jarrod really wants to point fingers, he should direct them towards the outfield, which is among the worst defensive units in baseball. However, he really should just point at himself and get to pitching better.

2007 #4: Ramirez/Baek/Feierabend - 60/75/52
2008 #4: Carlos Silva - 69
To Silva's credit, he has been somewhat vocal and is doing what he can in the clubhouse as newcomer. On the field, his performance has left some to be desired. Improved defense would really help Carlos out, but the M's should have known they were only getting a solid starter. He has not been as good as anyone expected (including myself), yet he is still an improvement over the Ho-Ram disaster.

2007 #5: Jeff Weaver - 66
2008 #5: Miguel Batista - 62
Unbelievably, Miguel Batista is worse than Jeff Weaver ended up being last year. Even though Batista is older, he should not be this bad, or even close to this bad. He still has some good zip on his fastball, and it would serve him well to go after hitters, even when there are runners aboard. He struggles to hold runners on whether he noodles around and takes forever on the mound or not, so he might as well focus on the hitter. Or, better yet, the Mariners could take him out of the starting rotation.

BULLPEN

2007 Long Relief: Sean White/Jason Davis - 76/64
2008 Long Relief: Cha Seung Baek/R.A. Dickey - 71/84
Middle relief is probably the least important spot on a pitching staff, but the 2008 M's have filled the role with pitchers that are definitely better than a couple of their starters. Dickey gets the start tomorrow, and he should stick in the rotation (though he is not as good as he has shown so far).

2007 Middle Relief: Chris Reitsma/Ryan Rowland-Smith - 54/75
2008 Middle Relief: Ryan Rowland-Smith - 85
There is not much to complain with here. Middle relievers see even less game action than long relievers, but RRS should get more time than he does. He has been really good when given the chance.

2007 Late-Inning Righties: Sean Green - 73
2008 Late-Inning Righties: Mark Lowe/Sean Green - 64/79
Lowe has been a victim of his own lack of control more than anything, but he shows glimpses of getting it back here and there. Still, this bullpen position is in good shape thanks to Sean Green.

2007 Late-Inning Lefties: Eric O'Flaherty/George Sherrill - 86/91
2008 Late-Inning Lefties: Arthur Rhodes - 70
While I am impressed with Arthur's comeback, and he is solid in this role, he is nothing compared to what the Mariners had in this place last year. O'Flaherty's stunning drop-off has really hurt the bullpen, though it would not be as noticeable if Rowland-Smith were given more important innings in this role.

2007 Set-up Man: Brandon Morrow - 76
2008 Set-up Man: Brandon Morrow - 86
Morrow's triple-digit heat is fun to watch every time he gets on the mound. It is hard to call him a surprise, but at the same time his progress is remarkable.

2007 Closer: J.J. Putz - 98
2008 Closer: J.J. Putz - 64
It is easy to see that Putz has fallen off from the elite level he was at the last two years, but it is hard to understand just how much he has fallen. It was probably unfair to expect him to continue to pitch at such an insanely high level, but to go from the best in baseball to a good AAA option is something nobody can anticipate. Putz's strikeout numbers are still good, and his stuff is still good, so there are plenty of reasons to believe he will bounce back. However, to this point, he is the biggest disappointment on the entire team.

The problems with the pitching staff are more complex than the shortcomings on offense. Felix, RRS, Sean Green, and Brandon Morrow have all progressed nicely. Additionally, R.A. Dickey has pitched well in limited opportunities, and Arthur Rhodes has made a remarkable comeback too. On the flip side, Washburn, Batista, and Putz have all failed miserably, and though Bedard has improved the rotation, he has not been the pitcher the Mariners had hoped they were getting.

Fortunately, there are some things that John McLaren can do to improve the pitching if he simply re-shuffles a few roles. I would give R.A. Dickey a chance as a starter, and put Batista in the bullpen as a long-reliever. Also, I would take RRS and make him the set-up man, and start to stretch out Brandon Morrow. I would go to Washburn and tell him that Morrow will replace him in the rotation unless he starts to pitch better, and see if that would stop his whining. If both Dickey and Washburn falter, I would give strong consideration to bringing up Ryan Feierabend.

The front office can help out as well. This season is a lost cause, but Arthur Rhodes would have value to a contending team. However, I would only trade Arthur if he wants to go to a contender. Rhodes did a lot for the Mariners at the turn of the millennium, and now the M's gave him a chance to resurrect his career. The mutual relationship between Rhodes and the Mariners at this point is something that I would deeply respect. The front office could also actively shop Miguel Batista, especially if he is effective out of the bullpen. A contender could see him as insurance in the bullpen and the rotation. The M's would not get much in return, and they also would likely have to pay some of his remaining salary, but clearing his roster spot for a AAA arm has value at this point.

All in all, as bad as the pitching has looked at points during the year, it is not in too bad of shape. Unlike with the offense, Bavasi is right to say that the main problem is a performance that does not match the talent. However, if he is going to dole out blame like that, he also has to acknowledge the number of younger players that are stepping up and continuing to flourish. Also, given the youths' development, McLaren and Mel Stottlemyre should juggle the roles on the staff accordingly. It may take a few years to fix the offense, but the pitching could improve and carry the team more frequently, as it did in Toronto.