Rotation Building

Dave · September 21, 2007 at 7:26 am · Filed Under Mariners 

One of the main topics of conversation this winter will be, I’m sure, how to acquire some new starting pitchers. Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez are unlikely to be back, and the Mariners will continue their annual offseason pursuit of starting pitching.

Everyone knows the normal suggestions. Throw big money at a free agent (which, in this years case is, I don’t know, Carlos Silva?). Trade for an established frontline starter, even though those guys are almost never available. I’m sure you’ll hear names like Dontrelle Willis mentioned in rumors because, after all, everyone knows who he is.

However, I’d like to offer an alternate option, and one that will could make the casual fan write me off as a blithering idiot – make a deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for one of their excess arms, because they’ve got more good starting pitchers than they have rotation slots.

Yes, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They have too many quality starting pitchers. Really. I’m not kidding.

You probably know that the Devil Rays 2007 starting rotation has the 3rd worst ERA in the American League this year, posting a 5.15 ERA that is only better than the performances by the Seattle and Texas starters. Whenever people talk about the good young talent in Tampa, they always bring up B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, and Delmon Young, so the perception is that the team can hit but not pitch.

Well, perception is not reality, especially in this case. The Devil Rays, as we’ve mentioned before, have the worst defense in baseball and one of the worst in recent history. They’re absolutely abysmal at turning balls in play into outs. They’ve used guys out of position in up-the-middle positions for significant portions of the year, and while it gave them a good chance to evaluate what guys can and can’t do, it also sabotaged their pitching staff.

But, if we evaluate their starters (bullpens not included in these numbers) by fielding independent metrics, we see that they’ve actually pitched pretty well this year.

Team	BB/9	K/9	HR/9	FIP
LAA	2.83	6.97	0.90	3.90
CLE	2.21	5.64	0.92	4.01
BOS	2.83	6.92	0.98	4.02
OAK	2.99	5.93	0.89	4.16
TBD	2.99	7.63	1.18	4.21
MIN	2.34	6.58	1.23	4.30
NYY	3.11	5.66	0.92	4.30
TOR	2.80	6.39	1.17	4.40
CHW	2.59	6.14	1.20	4.43
SEA	3.11	5.83	1.10	4.53
BAL	4.07	7.02	1.09	4.57
DET	3.27	6.33	1.21	4.64
KCR	3.16	5.28	1.13	4.71
TEX	4.33	5.68	1.16	5.06

That’s right – the Devil Rays starters have the fifth best Fielding Independent ERA in the American League, ahead of Detroit, Minnesota, New York, and Toronto, all of whom are considered to have playoff caliber starting pitching. Yes, I’d have rather used xFIP for the comparison, but I don’t have team GB/FB/LD totals, and in this case, it doesn’t matter, since xFIP would tell the same story. This is despite going through the first couple of months with Casey Fossum and Jae Seo getting regular turns in the rotation. Those guys have since been replaced by actual major league quality arms, and while it may still seem tough to believe, the Devil Rays have a very good rotation.

Everyone knows about Scott Kazmir and James Shields. But it doesn’t stop there. Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson, and J.P. Howell have thrown a combined 390 innings and posted a 4.74 FIP/4.75 xFIP. Those are solid numbers for the 3/4/5 spots in a rotation, especially considering their cost. And, of course, that gives the Devil Rays six arms for five 2008 rotation spots, and it doesn’t leave room for top pitching prospect Jeff Niemann, who is essentially major league ready after succeeding in Triple-A and staying healthy this year.

Counting Niemann, the Devil Rays will enter spring training with seven guys worthy of a rotation spot, none of them older than 26, and all of them making peanuts. And they’ll have two more top prospect arms starting the year in Double-A or Triple-A, knocking on the door to the majors, in Jake McGee and Wade Davis, along with moderately interesting Chris Mason, who could be next year’s Andy Sonnanstine.

That is an abundance of pitching depth, almost all of it certain to be undervalued by the market, and a chance to acquire a quality young arm with a better future than a past. No, you’re not going to get Kazmir or Shields, but that’s okay – pick up one of Sonnanstine, Howell, Jackson, or Hammel (with Howell getting my vote as the primary target), and your rotation is instantly better, younger, and you’ve managed to keep your money to improve other areas of the club.


142 Responses to “Rotation Building”

  1. Grizz on September 21st, 2007 1:04 pm

    If the Mariners were to work out a deal with the Devil Rays for some of their excess pitching, they should also shore up the Mariners defense in order for those poor pitchers to differentiate between being a D-Ray and a Mariner…

    The funny part here is that the new Rays’ logo and uniforms will look very similar to the Mariners’logo and uniforms, down to the colors and using a compass rose-like star as an accent. Maury Brown has them at his website (

    For any relatively new M’s fan who missed out on the 1993 Seattle Mariners, you get another chance: the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

  2. Dave on September 21st, 2007 1:13 pm

    That said, what is Howell’s reprotoire. Thanks!

    Howell’s a pretty typical lefty. He throws a two-seamer at 84-88, a four seamer at 87-91, throws a mid-70s curve that has solid life but he struggles to command and inconsistently flashes a high-70s change-up with nasty dropoff action.

    Stuff wise, think Mark Buehrle, and you’re in the right ballpark. Definitely not going to light up the radar guns, but enough movement and command to make his average repertoire work, and the groundballs make him more attractive than the usual average-stuff lefty.

  3. awolfgang on September 21st, 2007 1:36 pm

    Is there any possibility that the M’s can offload Washburn. We know the M’s are all into results based analysis, so that being said they can’t be too happy with a W-L 17-29 and a 4.60 ERA (in Safeco no less), over the past 2 years. How come Washburn continues to get a pass from just about everyone? Is it because he has sucked less than other lefties, or because since he is a hit-to-contact pitcher, the casual fan/reporter, can just claim he got unlucky, you know “if just a couple pitches went our way, or if the ball was a couples inches here or there…” Seriously how long to we have to be fed those lame-ass excuses?

  4. Ebenezer on September 21st, 2007 1:39 pm

    We should be trying to trade Ibanez while he still has value, and to open up a spot for Jones (or Balentien, if the M’s don’t resign Guillen and are allowed to have two rookies at once starting in the outfield). If Tampa Bay doesn’t need Raul, who would and what could we get for him (or by packaging him with some other players)?

  5. gwangung on September 21st, 2007 1:43 pm

    We should be trying to trade Ibanez while he still has value,

    I’m not sure that’s EVER a consideration with this front office.

    Too much veteran experience for them to consider getting rid of.

  6. awolfgang on September 21st, 2007 1:47 pm

    I think it is a given that Ibanez ain’t going anywhere. Even a new GM probably won’t want to piss off average-joe/jane fan. Case in point: My Mom and grandparents think Raul is awesome and can do no wrong, obviously they don’t ever use a computer, but when Blowers, Sims, and the rest of the crew say something, no matter how stupid, there are plenty of lemmings that will believe, including most of my family.

  7. Chris Miller on September 21st, 2007 1:54 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if someone would be willing to take Washburn off of our hands, given the way the pitching market looks like it’s going to shape up this winter. The M’s probably wouldn’t do it, even if someone wanted to take him off our hands. God forbid his HR prevention “skill” regress/comeback to earth/whatever.

  8. msb on September 21st, 2007 1:56 pm

    since he is a hit-to-contact pitcher, the casual fan/reporter, can just claim he got unlucky, you know “if just a couple pitches went our way, or if the ball was a couples inches here or there…” Seriously how long to we have to be fed those lame-ass excuses?

    since the dawn of low-velocity pitch-to-contact pitchers?

  9. awolfgang on September 21st, 2007 1:57 pm

    Since BB include IBB, do they subtract out the IBB when determining BB%, and BB/9? Or is it too small usually to make a difference, or do they feel that a pitcher probably got himself into the mess? I only ask, cause it seems with the horrible in-game management by M’s managers, we shouldn’t be faulting the pitchers for the IBB, which is always a call from the bench.

  10. Chris Miller on September 21st, 2007 1:59 pm

    If Raul was for some (very) odd reason an Athletic, he’d been traded last winter. Career year, a power surge that is not likely to recur. Doh, missed opportunities!

  11. Chris Miller on September 21st, 2007 2:00 pm

    I personally throw aways IBB’s when looking at pitchers (although I forgot to when looking at Howell), although a bad pitcher would probably have more of them than a good pitcher.

  12. scott19 on September 21st, 2007 2:04 pm

    I know ERA on its own isn’t always the greatest determining factor, but I’m still surprised that TB’s team starting earny is that high DESPITE the presence of Kazmir and Shields.

  13. Colm on September 21st, 2007 2:05 pm

    No matter what analysis anyone uses on Jarrod Washburn, he’s not going to look like a good idea. Not with the counting stats, not with the fancy-schmancy SABRmetrics, and certainly not when you consider his albatross contract. He’d be almost as hard to shift as Richie Sexson.

    Now consider the fact that the Mariners already have 2 starting pitchers who are a lot worse than Washburn and tell me again why we dumping him should be a priority.

    He’s mediocre, he’s massively overpaid, but if he’s our fifth best starter next year, we’ll be in much better shape.

  14. Teej on September 21st, 2007 2:07 pm

    Washburn obviously wasn’t a great signing, but the Mariners are trying to shore up the rotation from the bottom up, and Washburn is far from the biggest problem. I think the team will have to worry about finding better options to replace Weaver and Ramirez before even thinking about replacing the No. 2 or No. 3 guy in the rotation. The M’s are trying to aquire starters, not deal them away. Now if they can find better options than all three guys, that’s awesome, but call me skeptical.

  15. Teej on September 21st, 2007 2:07 pm

    Colm, you beat me.

  16. scott19 on September 21st, 2007 2:11 pm

    73: Tom Gorzelanny, in particular…who reminds me a bit of a young Tom Glavine.

    101: Mariners South? I agree…some of the similarities between today’s D-Rays and the M’s of fifteen years ago are uncanny.

  17. Librocrat on September 21st, 2007 2:14 pm

    Honest question: Do we really think Jeff Weaver is not coming back? Isn’t it Bavasi’s mantra that short term success will equate to long term success if you give it enough time?

    I mean that question honestly, because I assumed he’d be resigned next year despite his abysmal season, but you and LL have all been saying he’ll be gone.

  18. awolfgang on September 21st, 2007 2:15 pm

    My point wasn’t that Washburn was our biggest problem or first priority. But if we can have RRS, or Feierbend, or any other AAAA LHP do the same job that HoRam did, then I’d say, why stop at HoRam, cause Washburn hasn’t done anything worth while, no matter what STATs you look at, hell even result-based analysis would say HoRam had a positive winning percentage.

    I just think that Washburn is replaceable with any other LHP pitch-to-contact guy, and was wondering why everyone gives him a pass. But I guess Teej and Colm answered that, obviously because he sucked less.

  19. Joe on September 21st, 2007 2:19 pm

    That’s not a compass rose on the Rays’ new logo. It’s irregular, like some kind of starburst. If you look at the version that has the schematic diamond in the background, it appears their 3rd baseman exploded.

  20. Chris Miller on September 21st, 2007 2:24 pm

    Washburn isn’t going anywhere.

  21. Teej on September 21st, 2007 2:24 pm


    I think the difference is that Weaver’s contract is up and Ramirez can be non-tendered (I believe; I’m not good on contract stuff), whereas the M’s still owe Washburn a good deal of money over the next two seasons and kinda have to stick with him because of that contract. He’s essentially untradeable.

    The logial idea, it seems, is to try to move hitters (perhaps Clement and/or Wlad) for pitching from a team that needs hitting more than it needs pitching. Trading SP’s for SP’s is a difficult task, especially when you’re dealing with a contract like Washburn’s.

  22. Librocrat on September 21st, 2007 2:27 pm

    118, 120, 121 –

    I think all of you are agreeing on the same thing, though – if you can replace Washburn also, then GREAT, but we already need to fill 2 SP holes, and finding a third – and getting rid of Washburn – is a task that not even the best GM is going to be able to succeed.

  23. Shizane on September 21st, 2007 2:51 pm

    Why don’t we consider moving Felix for a package of a few young pitchers?

  24. Librocrat on September 21st, 2007 2:54 pm

    That’s a dangerous question on these blogs.

  25. Shizane on September 21st, 2007 2:57 pm

    I was kidding of course….got ya.

  26. Librocrat on September 21st, 2007 3:00 pm

    I was going to say we should trade Bloomquist for Peavy. And maybe Chris Reitsma for David Ortiz. Or Ho Ram for Rafael Soriano.

    Oh, wait…

  27. awolfgang on September 21st, 2007 3:02 pm

    sorry for the many posts, but another quick question, why isn’t HBP included in the BB total? They are basically the same, lack of pitcher control allowed hitter to get a free pass, one just takes more pitches.

  28. Colm on September 21st, 2007 3:41 pm

    Maybe you have a point, but it’s not really a question for us, is it?

  29. Matthew Carruth on September 21st, 2007 3:57 pm

    it should be.

    std FIP formula is

    3.2 + ((13*HR + 3*(BB-IBB+HBP) – 2*K)/IP)

  30. Bearman on September 21st, 2007 4:07 pm

    I agree Dave the D-Rays are a good trade partner for the M’s with their # of excess SPs and making peanuts as you say.
    Tampa needs RP and a catcher I’m sure say Huber/Baek/Clement would net Howell or Hammel.

    I also advocate looking at the possible aquiring of P Scott Baker of the Twins along with looking into aquiring from the ChiSox P Jon Garland who I believe with a change of venue is more than a upgrade over Washburn.

    I can see either of these rotations as a upgrade over the present one:
    Rotation #1
    5)Roland-Smith or Morrow
    If the trades with the D-Rays fail this is the possible one I can see.However should they succeed
    along with one with either the Twins or ChiSox.
    Rotation #2
    2)Garland or Baker
    3)Howell or Hammel
    5)Roland-Smith or Morrow.

    These deals are a must and the MLB FA SP market MUST be avoided at all costs where as most of the top SP due to go FA this offseason Zambrano/Buehle etc… have signed extension contracts with their present clubs.
    The only FA worth pursuing isn’t a FA til after next season P Johan Santana of the Twins.He will be traded this offseason by the Twins who are in need of OF/INF help etc……
    However unless the club that spends the trade value to aquire him has the money available to tie up at minimum 6 yrs/100mil + in a contract for Santana alone.
    He walks after the one yr service and to aquire his services has got to pay Zito money or no deal.
    He has already made this a matter of public record via the press.

  31. Matthew Carruth on September 21st, 2007 4:34 pm

    I like how #130 offers the statement “[Johan] will be traded this offseason by the Twins” without any qualification on likelihood.

  32. Bearman on September 21st, 2007 5:39 pm

    Of course he’ll be traded (Johan Santana)because of 3 reasons:
    1)He unhappy with the Twins FO and has made it plain he wouldn’t object to a trade.
    2)He due to go FA after next season and the Twins have a # of holes his value will help to fill.
    3)Again he has made it known in the press and in other public venues he won’t sign for less than a minimum of 20 mil a yr but hopes to get upwards of 30 mil.
    These statements have been aired and reported on ESPN and in the Minnesota press.
    The Twins aren’t the M’s who just let top talent to walk in their FA yr they trade unsignable players and get as much of that player’s value as possible.

  33. scott19 on September 21st, 2007 6:38 pm

    132: I agree on Santana — who, sad to say, I totally expect to see on the mound in pinstripes come Opening Day ’09 at the (new) Yankee Stadium.

  34. Joe on September 21st, 2007 6:54 pm

    Bearman, if you’ve been paying attention this season you’d have seen several posts that make a good case for letting top talent walk in their FA year because the compensation draft picks are often at least as good as anything you could get in a trade. Santana, being arguably the best pitcher in the game, is probably an exception (the exponential curve on talent makes anybody at the far end of the curve disproportionately valuable) but in general you can get a lot of value from allowing a free agent to walk. With the current M’s front office, that’s even more true because their drafting track record has been very good and their trading record… not so much. (In the past, the reverse might have been the case).

  35. shupurrs on September 22nd, 2007 1:59 am

    Not to change course or anything, but [deleted, changed course]

  36. Wishhiker on September 22nd, 2007 3:07 am

    I understand that the FA Pitching doesn’t look very good, at any price, the M’s need 2 more starting pitchers…

    I like the idea of getting Sonnanstine and/or Howell, but not sure who we’re talking about needing to let go of to get them.

    I don’t like the idea of trading Morrow at all, for any reason right now. He may not be ready next year, but he’s still got 6 years, right?

    I would absolutely love to see Santana here next year, but somethings telling me to get real. I don’t think I’d like to even hear the names the Twins started their asking price at…

    This brings me to someone who might have been undervalued as a FA Starting Pitcher coming out of Japan. Unfortunately a guy I’d been watching, Koji Uehara, Started his year injured and wasn’t active for a full month. That month might have pushed his Free Agency back a year (not 100% sure on those rules.) He returned from injury about May 1st and has spent the rest of the year as a closer (which is why he might have been a steal.) As long as his market doesn’t get too out of hand, I was thinking. If he signs for 4th starter/Closer money he could be a steal. Even if you couldn’t stretch him out as a starter he’d be valuable. I’d rather see him starting, but that’s the chance you’d be taking (and even that he doesn’t look so hot.) He pitched 54 Complete games in 195 Games before becoming the Closer. I can’t find 2007 Stats, but through 2006 he has 186 BB in 1397 Innings (1.19 BB/9). He has a career 1.00 WHIP. Some people think the team made him Closer to get back at him for asking to be posted since 2004/leaving now and lower his value in the MLB Market going into FA. But then I’m not sure if he’s a FA or not. There’s a blog out there for almost every team that’s been talking about him some and they all seem to think he is, but from what I’ve read he’s stuck another year.

    Most of the sources who list interested teams list the Angels (who offered him a contract in 1998 and probably had the 2nd/3rd highest bid for Dice-K) Yankees, Dodgers Red-Sox and Mets…

    Anyway, this instead brings me to a Japanese Pitcher who I’m pretty sure is eligible for FA. He had what seems to be a superficially down year, but I can’t find detailed stats on him. Career (2007) 7.68 K/9(7.88), 2.06 BB/9(1.20) look good this year, but 9.14 H/9 (9.67) 3.30 ERA (3.60)

    He’s got a very weird pattern developing in W/L

    04: 17-7
    05: 11-8
    06: 17-7
    07: 11-8

    This speaks well for 08 though, right? I’m joking!!!

    uh…What about Jason Jennings on an incentive Laden deal…Oh yeah, some idiot will offer him a Laden Deal and forget the incentives.

  37. Wishhiker on September 22nd, 2007 3:12 am

    I wasn’t supposed to forget to put that last Japanese Pitchers name in alltogether:

    Kenshin Kawakami!

    I really wish the list was longer…

  38. DC_Mariner on September 22nd, 2007 4:04 am


    The whole Blackley-has-potential-to-be-a-good-SP ship sailed a long time ago.

  39. Wishhiker on September 22nd, 2007 4:06 am


  40. mln on September 22nd, 2007 5:57 am

    I still think that the Mariners should look to grant Willie’s burning ambition to pitch. He could be a great back of the rotation filler!

  41. shupurrs on September 22nd, 2007 7:05 pm

    Re: 138, and deleted 135:

    Um, not that I’m bitter or anything, but… trading Blackley for Ellison ended up being a mistake. I’m under the impression this site disagrees with the statement judging by the deleted material in post 135?

  42. DMZ on September 22nd, 2007 7:44 pm

    Nooooooooo, hijacking threads is bad

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