Ryan Rowland-Smith, Starter

Dave · August 8, 2008 at 6:54 am · Filed Under Mariners 

While it hasn’t been officially announced yet, everyone expects Ryan-Rowland Smith to get the call as the replacement for Miguel Batista in the rotation tomorrow. While we’ve endorsed the move, we haven’t laid out what we expect from Rowland-Smith and where we see his future value as a starter.

RR-S has several distinct characteristics – the most obvious of those is his extreme flyball tendencies. He primilary throws a four seam fastball, and he locates it up in the zone more often than not, which leads to a lot of fly balls to the outfield. In fact, his 31% career GB% as a major league reliever is one of the lowest totals you’ll find in baseball. Generally, we prefer groundball pitchers, because all things equal, you’d rather have a pitcher keep the ball on the ground than risk letting a batter turn on one of those misplaced high fastballs and launch a home run. However, that doesn’t mean that flyball pitchers are inherently bad – Johan Santana is a flyball pitcher, for instance.

Most good flyball pitchers succeed by racking up the strikeouts. Balls up in the zone are harder to make contact with, and the four seam fastball is thrown a bit harder than its two seam cousin, so there’s a pretty decent correlation between flyball rates and strikeout rates. That’s been true of Rowland-Smith as well, as he’s whiffed 84 batters in 94 innings since joining the M’s last year. His ability to miss bats has offset his ball in play tendencies and mediocre command.

So, what will a move to the rotation do? Like we mentioned in the Morrow thread, there’s a pretty big difference between starting and relieving, and some pitchers aren’t well suited to making the transition. Rowland-Smith, however, shouldn’t have to make as many adjustments as Morrow will, because even while being used as a reliever, he used a starting pitcher’s approach.

He mixes four pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change) and has specific attacks for LH and RH hitters. He uses his change-up primarily versus right-handed batters, and it’s the pitch that allows him to avoid the lefty specialist role. In fact, he’s been better against right-handed hitters than lefties during his time in Seattle, thanks in large part to how effective his change-up already is.

Against lefties, he uses the slider as his second pitch, going away from the even breaking ball distribution he has against opposite handed hitters. The slider is a true strikeout pitch against LH hitters because he’s able to keep it running down while staying on the inside part of the plate. Because he throws about 37% breaking balls to lefties, and his curve is inconsistent, he can occasionally hang one that gets whacked, but this will actually be minimized as a starter since most managers will instinctively load their line-up with RH hitters on days he’s starting.

So, we shouldn’t see RR-S have to pitch that much differently than he was as a reliever, and since he was already having to pace himself to get through multiple innings, he’ll see less of a drop in velocity than Morrow will. He’s going to have to cut down on the walks if he’s going to be able to go more than 5-6 innings, though, and he knows this, so we’ll probably see him give in more often and throw strikes in situations where he was willing to walk a hitter as a reliever.

Overall, I think we should expect something like a 10% BB% (a little higher than average), an 18% K% (a bit above average), and a 30% GB%, which will lead to him giving up between 1.0 and 1.2 HR/9. Basically, Jarrod Washburn with a few more walks, a few more strikeouts, and a few more flyballs. He profiles as a #5 starter who probably won’t be efficient enough to work deep into games, and honestly, there’s not a lot of upside for much beyond that. Safeco will help him quite a bit, as those right-handed hitters putting the ball in the air will get a lot of long flyouts to left center, but on the road, it could get a bit dicey.

So, why are we endorsing the move to the rotation? Because the Mariners, more than anything else they’ve done wrong in building their roster, have to realize that it’s foolish to keep throwing long term, big money contracts at back-end starting pitchers. The Washburn/Silva/Batista contracts, as well as trading for Horacio Ramirez, have crippled this franchise the last two years. If Rowland-Smith can post a 5.00 FIP and give the team 140-170 innings at the back end of the rotation for the league minimum, then the M’s can hopefully learn that #5 starters are just really easy to find, and there’s no reason to expend valuable resources on mediocre veterans when their performance can be replicated by a lot of guys stuck in Triple-A.

In short, Ryan Rowland-Smith isn’t the savior of this rotation, and we don’t expect him to turn into anything more than a role player, but it’s the ability to get useful performances from guys like RR-S that allows good franchises to throw a lot of money at superstars and still be able to keep a reasonable payroll. RR-S isn’t great, but to this organization, his success as a starter could quite valuable.

Comments

29 Responses to “Ryan Rowland-Smith, Starter”

  1. Mr. Egaas on August 8th, 2008 8:02 am

    So I guess if everything breaks right, and we dump Wash overboard, the M’s are looking at a rotation next year of Felix, Bedard, Morrow, RR-S and Silva. That seems respectable.

    I guess Batista can write poetry out in the bullpen and be an overpaid long reliever.

  2. Joe C on August 8th, 2008 8:42 am

    Here’s what I think of those pitchers next year:

    Felix = awesome
    Bedard = pretty good
    Morrow = an erratic Gil Meche
    RR-S = Ryan Franklin
    Silva = crap

    Well… they’re not making the playoffs, but I’m holding out hope that RR-S wins the next four AL Cy Youngs.

  3. srp on August 8th, 2008 8:58 am

    Where does that leave Dickey? Dave, how would you compare the potential upside of Dickey and RR-S?

  4. JMHawkins on August 8th, 2008 8:58 am

    …an erratic Gil Meche…

    The Department of Redundancy Department. If Gil Meche wasn’t erratic, he’d be Brandon Webb instead of Gil Meche.

  5. Dave on August 8th, 2008 9:06 am

    Dickey, Morrow, and Rowland-Smith are fighting for the last two spots in the rotation. It will sort itself out – one of them will get hurt and/or struggle.

    As for potential upside between Dickey and RR-S, you have to give the nod to Dickey simply due to the knuckleball factor. If he figures out how to command it better than he does now, he could have a real weapon and develop into a mid-rotation starter. Of course, the odds of him becoming the new Tim Wakefield aren’t very good, but the upside is at least there.

    With RR-S, he’s really a what-you-see-is-what-you-get guy. He’s not going to add velocity or a new pitch. He’s not going to become a groundball guy. If he cuts his walks, it will come at the expense of his strikeout rate. There’s just not much there beyond what he is right now. That’s not a knock on him – he’s just a finished product.

  6. Joe C on August 8th, 2008 9:06 am

    Thanks for pointing that out. I completely agree – Gil Meche was always erratic, but my point was really that I think Morrow will struggle more than many expect.

    I just hope that the M’s don’t ship him off to the highest bidder after he struggles, because in a few years, he could be dominant.

  7. built2crash on August 8th, 2008 9:16 am

    I think Morrow will be fine, the days he can’t locate his fastball he will get his taint handed to him. A lot of it will all depend on how effective his change is and if Putz taught him how to throw the split.

  8. gwangung on August 8th, 2008 10:04 am

    I think Morrow will be fine, the days he can’t locate his fastball he will get his taint handed to him.

    I’d be surprised if there WEREN’T a lot of those nights next years, maybe even the majority.

  9. srp on August 8th, 2008 10:21 am

    Besides their abilities, I can’t help but like RR-S and Dickey. RR-S for calling everyone “mate” and Dickey for turning his career around. I’d be happy to see both of them in the rotation next year. Actually, I’d like to see Morrow there too, but that would mean we have to lose Silva somewhere. Fat chance of that (and yes, I’m afraid, the pun was intended).

  10. gwangung on August 8th, 2008 10:39 am

    Given the usual health of a rotation, having RR-S, Dickey and Morrow around are good things; when (not if) there’s an injury, one of them could step right up and take a start. That’s of value (and something Bavasi didn’t wrong).

  11. bigleaguechew on August 8th, 2008 10:40 am

    Why is it assumed that a cut in his walk rate with come at the expense of his strikeouts?

  12. Max Power on August 8th, 2008 10:46 am

    Dickey, Morrow, and Rowland-Smith are fighting for the last two spots in the rotation. It will sort itself out – one of them will get hurt and/or struggle.

    Where does Feierabend fit into the mix? It looks like his peripherals have improved since last year but not at the rate that his results have. Is he potentially in the mix as well or are RRS and Dickey a cut above?

  13. Jim Thomsen on August 8th, 2008 10:54 am

    I think it’s possible that Feierabend may be on the Bobby Livingston path to Quad-A/DL oblivion.

  14. killer_ewok18 on August 8th, 2008 10:55 am

    I’m going to the game tomorrow… and, well, I’m excited. I know it’s not going to be the second coming of The King… but it’s better than the alternative…

  15. Joe C on August 8th, 2008 11:18 am

    But it is sure nice to have a couple Livingston-Baek-Campillo-Madritsch-Feierabend type guys around when you need them.

  16. marc w on August 8th, 2008 11:20 am

    Feierabend’s stuff is clearly behind the other guys (RRS/Dickey/Morrow), but I don’t think we know if he’s AAAA or not at this point.

    Ryan Feierabend is over 2 years younger than Rowland-Smith, both top out around 90mph, get tons of fly balls and project as BOR starters. I think Rowland-Smith wins in terms of quality of off-speed pitches, but if Feier’s change keeps improving, the gap is narrowed. It’s worth pointing out that all of Feier’s HRs allowed have been to righties, so the change ain’t perfect yet.

    So far, Rowland-Smith’s been better at keeping the ball in the ballpark, and while that ‘skill’ may only partially be within the control of the pitcher, it’s possible that an improved change will help Ryan lower his HR/FB. He’ll always give up home runs, but if he stays out of the 1.5+ range, he might be OK. Feier may run a BB% below league average too, which ought to help his FIP, but we’ll have to see if he can do so without a spike in HR%.

  17. Jeff Sullivan on August 8th, 2008 11:28 am

    #11 -

    Why is it assumed that a cut in his walk rate with come at the expense of his strikeouts?

    If RRS starts coming over the plate more often in an effort to get deeper into the game, he’ll be throwing more hittable pitches, thereby allowing more balls in play. The BB% and K% go hand-in-hand. His stuff is such that his strikeouts tend to come on balls out of the zone, so if he’s throwing fewer balls out of the zone…

  18. busplunger on August 8th, 2008 11:36 am

    I think Dickey’s rubber-armed knuckleball arsenal profiles perfectly as a sixth starter. You can begin the season with him in long relief, ready to go whenever you need a few innings. Frustrating your opponents by making them whiff at knuckleballs when the game is mostly decided is a pleasant bonus for everyone.

    Anyway, when somebody in the rotation needs a DL vacation, or generally stinks, he’s basically ready to make as many starts as you need, with (hopefully) minimum loss in performance.

    Best yet, as Dave says, he has enough upside that at some point he may turn into a regular weapon, at which point you have the enviable problem of finding a new sixth starter.

  19. carcinogen on August 8th, 2008 12:16 pm

    Last sentence, last phrase needs an edit. Seems like the word “be” or “prove” should go in between the words “could” and “quite.”

    Feel free to delete this comment after the fix.

  20. Evan on August 8th, 2008 12:59 pm

    Last sentence, last phrase needs an edit. Seems like the word “be” or “prove” should go in between the words “could” and “quite.”

    His typesetter took that word out to make the line fit better.

  21. Ralph_Malph on August 8th, 2008 2:05 pm

    But it is sure nice to have a couple Livingston-Baek-Campillo-Madritsch-Feierabend type guys around when you need them.

    Would that be Bobby Madritsch, signed this week by the Long Island Ducks (whose roster also includes Carl Everett, Clint Nageotte and Jose Paniagua)?

  22. Kazinski on August 8th, 2008 2:34 pm

    I think Dickey is better suited to be a starter than a reliever because it isn’t fair to bring a knuckleballer in with the bases loaded or even runners in scoring postition. Knuckleballers throw enough passed balls as it is, but it has too be even worse for the catcher when the pitcher comes in in the middle of an inning. Long and middle reliever’s inherit a lot of runners whereas starters and usually closers create their own messes.

  23. Route 21 on August 8th, 2008 2:36 pm

    @ 16,

    It’s worth pointing out that all of Feier’s HRs allowed have been to righties, so the change ain’t perfect yet.

    Is this from his previous stints with the M’s, or at AAA?

    Anyone with access to stats think it plausible to move Wash and either Silva or Batista in the off season, use the salary to pick up good bats at LF/1B, and DH if Raul leaves, and contend in 2009 with Felix/contract year Bedard/Morrow/RRS/Feieradickey?

    Or would that rotation just give up too many runs given Ichi/Reed/Beltre/Yuni/JL/Clement?

  24. msb on August 8th, 2008 2:44 pm

    boy, the Ducks have an interesting roster ….

  25. Breadbaker on August 8th, 2008 4:06 pm

    I think Dickey is better suited to be a starter than a reliever because it isn’t fair to bring a knuckleballer in with the bases loaded or even runners in scoring postition. Knuckleballers throw enough passed balls as it is, but it has too be even worse for the catcher when the pitcher comes in in the middle of an inning. Long and middle reliever’s inherit a lot of runners whereas starters and usually closers create their own messes.

    I disagree. Dickey has been incredibly effective as a long reliever because the opposition hasn’t mentally prepared for facing a knuckleballer. It’s important to look at the situation not just from the Mariners’ perspective, but from the perspective of the other team. If Dickey starts, the team meeting is all about how to deal with the knuckleball. If he comes in in the third inning, whatever their preparation was, it wasn’t for that.

    But the main thing is, as a guy who can eat innings in any situation, he’s a damn valuable resource to have on your team. Plus, his name is “R.A.”, how cool is that?

  26. hoser on August 8th, 2008 4:48 pm

    So, as I understand it, he’ll be a mediocre pitcher, and relative to the other mediocre pitchers on our staff, quite a bargain.
    Assuming we don’t beef up our offense and defense adequately, he’ll kinda not get the greatest results and we’ll run him out of town.
    Kind of sad. An amazing achievement by an athlete better than I could ever imagine being, and yet, limited.
    Dave, I’ve been amazed at your predictive performance. I do remember reading that Putz surprised you. Is there no hope for RR-S to surprise you? Does he not throw fast enough to be a much better pitcher? Is it practically impossible to develop better ball movement at this stage of his career?

  27. PaulMolitorCocktail on August 8th, 2008 4:51 pm

    [off-topic]

  28. hark on August 8th, 2008 9:23 pm

    But it is sure nice to have a couple Livingston-Baek-Campillo-Madritsch-Feierabend type guys around when you need them.

    Funny, seeing as we got rid of Baek and…whatever happened to Madritsch that we dropped him? I was a fan. He wasn’t the savior or anything, but I thought he’d make a decent number or four or maybe even a number 3. In ’04, he started eleven games, appeared in 15, went 6-3, 88 innings (that’s almost 6 innings per appearance), threw one complete game in those 11 starts with a WHIP of 1.2 and a 3.27 ERA.

    Were we just not willing to let him heal after the ’05 season (when we waived him and he was picked up by Kansas City)? According to the Ducks website: “Madritsch owns a record of 40-24 and a 3.08 ERA for his minor league career, and has averaged better than a strikeout per inning over six seasons.”

    Are people just too afraid that he’ll get injured to pick up a strong middle reliever with starter potential at 32? I’m confused…

  29. Steve Nelson on August 9th, 2008 12:49 am

    Another often ignored aspect of flyball pitchers who are also reasonably able to keep batters from making solid contact is that they get a greater number of outs via foul flyball outs.

    Foul flyball outs are almost as good as strikeouts; they are essentially a free “ball in play”. If a fielder makes a play an out is recorded with almost no chance of runners advancing. If the fielder fails to make a play, no play is recorded and the AB continues. A foul flyout is almost every bit as good for a pitcher as a strikeout, and a reasonable argument can be made that foul flyouts should be included with strikeouts.

    I’ve long believed that a significant part of Moyer’s success as a pitcher is his ability to get foul flyball outs.

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