Dave · September 28, 2004 at 5:29 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Derek mentions him briefly in the post below, and he’s been getting some love for the terrific K rate he’s posted since getting the call, so I want to talk about Scott Atchison briefly. Despite what the media will tell you, he didn’t really come out of nowhere, as he’s been hanging around the bottom of the Future Forty for the past year. He’s been moderately effective with below average stuff, prompting comparisons to Ryan Franklin. How good a comp is that?

Atchison’s minor league career:

Age	Level	ERA	IP	H	BB	SO	BB/9	K/9	WHIP
23	A	3.42	81.2	67	25	85	2.76	9.37	1.13
24	A	3.69	97.2	117	21	77	1.94	7.1	1.41
24	AAA	3.81	26	22	6	18	2.08	6.23	1.08
25	AA	4.24	136	171	28	83	1.85	5.49	1.46
26	AAA	4.63	124.1	123	31	112	2.24	8.11	1.24
27	AAA	4.31	108.2	114	37	83	3.06	6.87	1.39
28	AAA	4.15	69.1	71	26	76	3.38	9.87	1.4

Here’s Franklin’s:

Age	Level	ERA	IP	H	BB	SO	BB/9	K/9	WHIP
20	A	2.92	74	72	27	55	3.28	6.69	1.34
21	A	3.06	61.2	61	8	35	1.17	5.11	1.12
21	A	3.13	118	105	23	102	1.75	7.78	1.08
21	AAA	7.94	5.2	9	1	2	1.59	3.18	1.87
22	AA	4.32	146	153	43	102	2.65	6.29	1.34
23	AA	4.01	182	186	37	127	1.83	6.28	1.23
24	AA	3.03	59.1	45	14	49	2.12	7.43	0.99
24	AAA	4.18	90.1	97	24	59	2.39	5.88	1.34
25	AAA	4.51	127.2	148	32	90	2.26	6.34	1.41
26	AAA	4.71	135.2	142	33	94	2.19	6.24	1.29
27	AAA	3.9	164	147	35	142	1.92	7.79	1.11

Atchison has a slightly higher K/9 rate with an abnormal spike this year, but Franklin had superior control. Unfortunately, we don’t have HR rates for Franklin during his minor league career, so a comparison there isn’t possible.

Stuff wise, they are similar pitchers. However, Franklin succeeded by throwing an abudnance of strikes and letting his defense make outs. Atchison puts slightly more people on base but cleans up the mess by himself more often. Other than that, the comparison is pretty solid across the board.

Franklin rode his strike-a-thon method to solid bullpen work and slightly below average rotation performances, following the trend of most other average-stuff command types. Atchison is trying to go down a different path, however, inducing swings-and-misses with much greater frequency at the expense of less command. While we normally prefer a high strikeout rate in a pitcher, I’m not so sure this is a good tradeoff in this situation.

Very few, and I mean very few, pitchers with Atchison’s stuff post solid strikeout numbers in the majors, even with strong track records in the minors. Recent examples of this are guys like John Stephens, Kirk Saarloos, Justin Duchscherer. All posted tremendous K/9 rates in the minors with average at best stuff, then became contact machines in the big leagues. Stephens and Saarloos haven’t succeeded at the big league level, and while Duchscherer’s 3.40 ERA looks shiny, he’s getting an unbelievable amount of help from his defense. His fielding independant ERA is 5.01 thanks to mediocre walk and strikeout rates.

Guys with Atchison’s stuff just don’t miss bats in the majors very often, at least not without sacrificing other important parts of pitching, which is what I’m afraid Atchison is doing this year. It’s worked for him so far, and I’m glad he’s pitched well in his deserved debut, but we should be realistic with what we have here. Atchison and Putz are perfect examples of why you shouldn’t spend money on the back-end of your bullpen. They’re solid assets at the league minimum as the 4th or 5th guy out of the pen. However, they aren’t, and likely never will be, the vaunted “relief ace”. With Soriano shelved and Guardado questionable, the Mariners lack a true front-end-of-the-bullpen arm. Atchison isn’t one in the making, shiny K rate or not.

He should be given every chance to make the roster out of spring training next year, and his emergence should allow the M’s to ignore the lower tier relief types (hello Ron Villone) this offseason. However, he is what he is, and with his average stuff and not-so-hot command, we should be realistic in our expectations. He’s an asset while cheap, but he’s not a long term solution to a vital role on a big league pitching staff.


16 Responses to “Atchison”

  1. Jim Thomsen on September 28th, 2004 6:41 pm

    Excellent analysis. In the end, I return to the old Bill James axiom: Players deserve a chance to succeed until they fail. I’m glad to hear Dave advocate that Atchison get a clean shot at the 2005 pen, because while there are very good reasons to think he might fail, he hasn’t yet. If he had any trade value, I’d say deal him while he still looks good, but there are more than a hundred Atchisons kicking around AAA and the back end of big-league bullpens. One of the best comments made in the 2004 Baseball Prospectus book was that with replacement-value players, the idea is to realize how interchangeable they are, and not to get too attached to the ones you have. The Mariners have proven, however, that they don’t grasp this concept, having given Ryan Franklin, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and others money well above their market value out of the wrongheaded idea that there is something unique about them that they can’t find off the waiver wire for the league minimum. The test case for whether the Mariners have learned anything about replacement value this year? If Willie Bloomquist makes a penny over the minimum as a “reward” for his “versatility” and “solid work ethic.”

  2. Jeff Sullivan on September 28th, 2004 8:42 pm
  3. eponymous coward on September 28th, 2004 8:43 pm

    Yeah, I don’t mind the idea of Atchison getting a shot…but for the love of God, I can’t believe Derek thinks a bullpen of:

    Franklin or Madritsch (assuming a starter is signed)
    One of Williams/Thornton/Looper/etc.

    is going to be anything approaching a strength. The M’s NEED a better arm in there, maybe two (and even if Guardado comes back, I’d STILL want another “power arm” as a fallback option for closer).

    I think a few million spent in the bullpen (on a solid setup guy ala Dotel or Mota who consistently posts ERA’s in the 2’s and 3’s, not on an ace closer) could REALLY help. It worked quite nicely in 2000.

  4. Eric on September 28th, 2004 9:22 pm

    Coward you forgot Sherrill, he is fine as your lefty set-up guy. I agree they need another arm, but if Eddie comes back one RH set-up guy should do it.

  5. G-Man on September 28th, 2004 10:03 pm

    Another small, positive consequence of the Lost Season is the discovery of fungible bullpen arms. Now we have to hope that the front office recognizes this and spends the major bucks elsewhere.

    I like the idea of getting as many of these guys as possible into spring training camp on NRI’s. You might find that one of them moved his performance up a notch over the winter, and you’ve got a cheap major league arm and some reserves to stash in AAA.

  6. Evan on September 28th, 2004 10:22 pm

    Based on those numbers, it looks like Franklin’s HR rate got worse each time he moved up a level. Sure, the 23 HR in 182 AA innings in 1996 looks bad, as does the 18 HR in 127 AAA innings in 1998, but that’s nothing next to his 66 HR over 400 innings these last two years.

  7. eponymous coward on September 28th, 2004 11:04 pm

    Now we have to hope that the front office recognizes this and spends the major bucks elsewhere.

    If you mean “no more Ron Villones and Mike Myers”, sure.

    If you mean “No more Rhodes or Nelsons”, I think that’s a mistake. A pitcher who gives you 70-80 IP in the 7th/8th/9th at a consistently high level in your pen (with a high K rate, low WHIP, low ERAs and so on) is really valuable enough to justify a couple of million.

  8. chris w on September 29th, 2004 9:13 am

    EpCow: yeah, a truly good reliever is worth $2-3M, but it’s really tough to predict who’s going to be good from year to year. Nelson/Rhodes were great, but I’d say the Ms were lucky they worked out as well as they did, considering how much they paid. I can think of very few guys who have been consistently good for more than 2 or 3 years. More to the point, any suggestions for guys that are available that you think would be good, because I’m not aware of any?

  9. Evan on September 29th, 2004 9:16 am

    But who’s available that satisfies that criterion?

    The bullpen is the one area I think we can fill with low-cost goodies and declare it good enough. Given the option, sure someone like Nelson and Rhodes (circa 2001) would be great, but I don’t want to spend the offseason chasing that dream if it means we miss out on hitters.

  10. Matt Williams on September 29th, 2004 9:20 am

    USSM guys, what do you think about Milton Bradley for the M’s after last night’s outburst? I know I saw some support for picking him up in the offseason. It sounds like the Dodgers may be getting fed up with him, and I just read an article in their local press calling for his head.

    His stats this year make last year look midway between a breakout season and a statistical fluke (and probably closer to the latter). He seems to have a ton of raw talent, and might be had for very cheap due to the bad will, but my gut is that he’s not really a significant enough upgrade in the outfield to risk. Just wondering what you guys think.

  11. Matt Williams on September 29th, 2004 9:24 am

    Oh, didn’t mean to limit the discussion to only the USSM guys, but thought it might be an idea for a new entry, rather than cluttering up the Franklin/Atchison debate.

  12. Paul Weaver on September 29th, 2004 10:02 am

    I love hearing talk of bullpens. Relievers are such an X factor, because they are generally unpredictable – but the most successful teams have great bullpens. Shiggy was lights out last year, but who would have thought the law of averages would have made up for it so harshly this year? Going cheap on your bullpen can bite you in the butt just as much as spending too much on relievers who don’t live up to previous hype. If a good reliever who has been relatively consistent throughout his career comes along, I don’t see any reason the M’s should pass. Pay the 2,3,4 mil – consistent relievers a rarity and an asset. A good bullpen usually consists of an inning eater, a setup man, and a closer – some times a lefty specialist if there isn’t one among the 3 types I just mentioned. The rest can be filled with scrubs – the Mariners seem to have plenty.

    Milton Bradley – hmmmmm, my gut feeling is that he’d fail in Seattle. He plays center….fielding stats look ookay….he’s young…..switch hitter…..I suppose he would be an asset if he’s going to play well. He’d have to be dirt cheap though – we already have outfielders. We basically have 3 LFers (at least 1 of whom would be better suited at DH), but I don’t think Bradley would be an upgrade at CF – he was moved in favor of 39 year old Finley…

  13. Metz on September 29th, 2004 10:38 am

    Let’s take alook at how much the M’s spent on their 2002 era bullpen. Sasaki was around $6 million, Nelson was $3, Rhodes was $3, Shiggy was another $2 million. The rest of the pen was Franklin, Halama and a bunch of guys up for a cup of coffee. That’s about $15 million in payroll for the bullpen. What the M’s have to do is learn from teams like the Braves and have 1 great quality arm in the pen (although Smoltz is way overpaid) and backfill with quality cheap arms capable of getting a few outs when needed. The bullpen is a great place to break in the prospects, especially when used in long relief. Don’t sign the Ron Villone’s or Shiggy’s of the world. You build the bullpen out of guys like Mateo, Madritsch and Looper and complement them with a Foulke.

  14. G-Man on September 29th, 2004 10:45 am

    Yes, I have no trouble with a proven short reliever getting 2-3 million, though I want to be sure the hitting needs are covered, too.

    I don’t want to consider Bradley or Jose Guillen for a couple reasons. First, I don’t think they are worth the trouble, given our needs. If one of them was the perfect fit in the M’s puzzle, I might go for it, and Guillen comes close. Most of all, though, I don’t think this organization will move off its choir boy philosophy far enough to consider problems like these two, so I’m not going to bruise my brain figuring out how to build a team with them in the equation. It just isn’t going to happen while Howard Lincoln is in charge.

  15. Paul Weaver on September 29th, 2004 1:16 pm

    “Choir boys” isn’t always a bad thing. I remember David Segui had a bad attitude and it rubbed off. He and Randy Johnson got in a physical fight on RJ’s walk year over Segui’s stereo being too loud. Segui was a great defensive first baseman, and he hit pretty well, but I think he actually hurt the team that year – you could see his grating attitude on the field. It wasn’t fun to watch.
    Though I don’t mind guys that have some color and may not always say the right things, I also don’t like guys who make the locker room downright uncomfortable (like John Rocker).

    I’m now going to refer to the new reliever post for all relief talk.

  16. Bela Txadux on September 29th, 2004 9:02 pm

    Thanks for the summary on Atchison, Dave. I’m with you all the way. I don’t like him to close at all, or pre-slotted late. As a 4th or 5th guy I like him a lot, especially at the price, and I sincerely hope he gets the full shot next year at that level of expectation.