The 2010 Mariners Rotation

Dave · November 3, 2008 at 11:51 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Continuing on in the series, looking at the internal candidates to fill the Mariners’ roster in two years, working off the assumption that 2010 is the next time the M’s will try to compete for the division title. If you missed the look at the infield or outfield last week, follow the links. Today, the rotation.

Number One Starter Felix Hernandez

Before I talk about Felix, let’s get this out of the way – the idea that a team has to have an established ace to contend is a load of crap. Most people would agree that the current crop of “aces” would include Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, John Lackey, and maybe a few people would argue for Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, or Carlos Zambrano. Regardless of the specifics, that’s basically your pool of guys who would be in the discussion.

Of those 12 guys, Beckett and Lackey are the only ones with World Series titles. Those guys have combined for something like 100 pitcher seasons, and 97% of the time, it has ended without a parade. The people who still believe that you build a baseball team by collecting a couple of top flight starting pitchers and ride them to victory are demonstrably wrong, so when people start crowing over the need for a #1 starter or an ace, just tune them out.

All that said, it would still be a pretty big upset if Felix wasn’t considered a legitimate ace, and quite possibly the best pitcher alive, in 2010. I know, there are a ton of people who are disappointed in his performance to date, but Felix is still way ahead of the curve – almost every pitcher in the Hall of Fame has had a worse start to their career than Felix has. His stuff is still top shelf, and if Zduriencik figures out how to put a decent defense behind him, the results will catch up. He’s literally the last thing on the roster we should be worried about.

Number Two to Number Four Starters: Brandon Morrow, Carlos Silva

For those of you who noticed there are only two names on the list, congratulations, you’ve identified a pretty significant issue that the M’s will have to address at some point in the next year. While there is a pretty significant crop of talented position player prospects in the upper levels of the farm system, the pitching depth at the Double-A and Triple-A levels suck. There’s just nothing there, which is why there are only two arms listed for three rotation slots.

For all his talent, Morrow is still something of a wild card. His command still needs quite a bit of work, because when 40% of your pitches miss the strike zone, you simply aren’t going to be able to work deep enough into games to be a big asset. His secondary stuff also needs to take a step forward to give him a weapon against left-handed hitters. And he’ll need to significantly increase his innings total in order to get through 30 starts in a season. But the raw ability is certainly there, and his upside means that the organization should do whatever possible to make his development as likely as possible. They’ll need him to turn into a middle of the rotation workhorse if they’re going to win in 2010, and an emphasis on outfield defense would go a long way to helping him have the confidence to pound the strike zone, which will be the key to his success.

As for Silva, he’s not going anywhere with that contract, so the team will have to hope they can as much from him as possible. And while he was pretty abysmal to watch in 2008, we also have to recognize that performance as an outlier – the results simply don’t match the underlying abilities, and it’s extremely likely that he’ll regress back towards being a marginally useful pitch-to-contact innings eater. Like with Morrow, however, he’ll need an improved defense behind him, and while he has next to no upside, he throws enough strikes to be an innings sponge with the right teammates around him. When you separate your view of Silva from his paycheck, and realize that his poor ’08 performance was based mostly on things that aren’t consistent from year to year, it’s easier to see him as a potentially useful part of the 2010 roster. That doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t dump him if they have the chance, but considering the likelihood of that is pretty slim, we should probably prepare for a few more years.

Even if he does return to form and Morrow improves, however, this team still needs another solid middle of the rotation starter. They don’t need any more established veterans, though – find a good arm who hasn’t broken through yet and attempt to buy low, preferably in trade. There aren’t enough good arms with upside in the organization right now, and adding several should be a priority.

Number Five Starter: Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ryan Feierabend, R.A. Dickey

RRS is a fun pitcher to root for, and a walking example of how easy it is to find back of the rotation starters who can get a lot of flyball outs and give you 150 to 180 decent innings for nothing. But we need to be honest with our expectations – his upside isn’t that much greater than Silva’s, and even though he’s young, there’s not much room for growth here. The only real path to stardom for a guy with his repertoire is to have exceptional command, but RRS just doesn’t – he misses the zone too much for a guy who doesn’t have knockout stuff. His extreme flyball nature will work well in Safeco, but not so well on the road. He profiles almost perfectly as a #5 starter for the M’s, though, and as long as he stays healthy, he should be a nice fit at the back of the rotation.

Feierabend and Dickey provide depth, though neither have shown enough in order to demand a real long look. Feierabend’s change-up is his only major league pitch, and Dickey’s still trying to perfect a knuckler that doesn’t knuckle often enough. Both have batting practice fastballs, and unless they take a big step forward, don’t expect either one to be a real contributor to the 2010 team.

Realistically, we’ve likely excluded two of the six names we’ve covered, and we’d love to be able to dump one of the remaining four if we could find someone who would pay a decent chunk of his contract. That leaves three starting pitcher in the organization that we actually want to be here, which is obviously not enough. Because of the presence of the overpaid veterans, the team shouldn’t have a problem finding enough arms for 2009, but for 2010, it becomes a real problem. The pursuit of a couple of decent long term starting pitching options should begin immediately – it’s much better to be proactive in finding good value arms than trying to react and patch a hole to fill out the roster a year from now.


23 Responses to “The 2010 Mariners Rotation”

  1. lokiforever on November 3rd, 2008 12:17 pm

    Nice article: Wish we would have unloaded the Bus when we had a chance.

    Do you consider Cole Hamels and Ace? While I agree with the premise that pursing an Ace at all costs or as the primary piece in order to contend is often fool-hardy, the argument seems flawed. Listing all the Aces who have no world season ring, is not the same as Listing World Season winners with no ace on the staff. Very different suppositions.

    2008 – Hamels
    2007 – Beckett
    2006 – Carpenter
    2005 – Beuhrle / Contreras
    2004 – Martinez / Schilling
    2003 – Beckett / Willlis

  2. DarkKnight1680 on November 3rd, 2008 12:24 pm

    So there’s no chance Aumont will be ready by 2010? He’d be 21, which I guess is a little young but not outrageous. I think, Dave, you said 3-4 years from 2007…any chance at all?

  3. Pete Livengood on November 3rd, 2008 12:34 pm

    I don’t consider Hamels and ace, but maybe that’s just semantics. There are guys who adequately fill the #1 slot (like Hamels, Carpenter, or Buerhle), and then are aces (like Pedro in his heyday, or Schilling or RJ in his, or even Beckett for a bit before the injury bug got him).

    I agree with Dave’s premise (you don’t have to have an “estabished ace” to win – the list lokiforever posted is proof of that, IMO), but I have a problem with the argument that, because 97% of “ace” pitcher seasons end without a title, that is somehow proof of the premise. There are too many other variables (like offense and non-pitcher defense) that need to also be addressed on a winning ballclub, and too many ways to win *besides* winning with an “established ace” that I don’t think you can draw many conclusions about whether having an ace is, *alone*, the key. Minor quibble about argument form; I agree with Dave that getting a true ace isn’t the only way to skin the cat, though, which is really the point.

    One question for Dave: I haven’t paid attention since early October, but at that point I thought the news on Bedard was “as good as it could be” and that there was a chance he could be ready by Opening Day or shortly thereafter. If this were true and that the M’s made an arb offer based on that, where would you see him in this? I’m assuming he is a better #2 candidate than Silva, even if only at 90% health. Or, is this just wishful thinking on my part, hoping the M’s can get *something* out of this disaster of a trade?

  4. Pete Livengood on November 3rd, 2008 12:35 pm

    Arrrgh – I forgot, this is about 2010, not 2009. But, I guess the questions still apply. Do you see no chance whatsoever that Bedard returns next year, and performs well enough that he might be a part of the 2010 equation, with a new contract?

  5. terry on November 3rd, 2008 12:55 pm

    2010 gets ugly in a hurry.

  6. Mike Snow on November 3rd, 2008 12:56 pm

    it’s much better to be proactive in finding good value arms than trying to react and patch a hole to fill out the roster

    You mean like with Erik Bedard?

  7. BBOneFive on November 3rd, 2008 12:59 pm

    I think the article is just based off of what we *know* will be here. No speculation on whether or not Bedard returns beyond 2009, even though it’s completely possible.

  8. FauxLife on November 3rd, 2008 1:24 pm

    I am cautiously optimistic the M’s will draft one good pitcher this season that will be able to start in 2010. We should have at least 2 number 1 picks (Ibanez type A pick), and maybe 3 if the M’s recoup the #1 pick they basically threw away last season.

    Of course it’s impossible to predict the draft, but with the turn around in the front office it’s easier to look on the bright side of things.

  9. TomG on November 3rd, 2008 1:38 pm

    I guess if there ever was a reason to dip into this offseason’s FA market for a starter, this post outlines it sufficiently.

    That’s a very depressing list, even more so if you have serious reservations about Morrow being a capable starter.

  10. joser on November 3rd, 2008 1:56 pm

    Even with several first round picks, it’s highly optimistic to think the M’s can draft a guy this coming summer who will be a productive part of the rotation the next year. There are a couple of guys like that coming out of college each year (Price, Lincecum, etc), but there’s no guarantee you’ll get one of them, even with a high pick. Where’s Daniel Moskos or Gregory Reynolds? Ricardo Romero or Wade Townsend?

  11. coasty141 on November 3rd, 2008 2:00 pm

    Dave you’ve always been good at pointing out some useful (low risk-decent reward) pitchers the mariners should be looking at. TB’s Howell and Jackson, Colon…
    Anyone with decent G/B rates or K rates from this last year the M’s should pay attention to?

  12. big hawna on November 3rd, 2008 2:03 pm

    [“begging the question”]

  13. coasty141 on November 3rd, 2008 2:17 pm

    Boof Bonser? In 2008 he posted a .342 BABIP and 57% LOB percentage. Decent K rate 7.38 per 9in.

  14. TrevorB on November 3rd, 2008 2:46 pm

    The decent news about Silva, courtesy of fangraphs:

    Silva ’08 LOB % 61.1 %. Silva career LOB % 70.2 %.

    Silva ’08 BABIP an astronomical .347. Silva career BABIP .313.

    Silva ’08 WPA -3.73, Silva ’08 WPA/LI -2.13. Meaning Silva’s Clutch is -1.60, good for the 2nd worst in baseball, just behind Andy Pettitte.

    Silva ’08 in a nutshell, a ton of batted balls went for hits and he pitched like crap in high leverage situations.

  15. Evan on November 3rd, 2008 3:01 pm

    Maybe we can trade Washburn for him…

  16. SonOfZavaras on November 3rd, 2008 3:03 pm

    been reading your articles, must give kudos for the consistent excellence. Regarding current one, in the 2010 scenario…the Mariners drafted about 239 6’3″+ college right-handers in the ’07 draft, many with admittedly-marginal upside on paper…but some may have decent ceilings, and reach them quickly. And with such an emphasis in one draft on one commodity, doesn’t law of averages say your chances are decent for one to break on through and be a contributor by 2010, a piece of the future by 2011?

    Myself, I watch Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic closely….

  17. niterunner on November 3rd, 2008 5:13 pm

    I’m not to keen on seeing Silva over Ryan Rowland-Smith. What are the odds that Ryan learns another pitch?

  18. Chris Miller on November 3rd, 2008 6:22 pm

    Dave, in this Fangraphs post you call Randy Johnson a free agent bargain.

    I think it would be smart to offer such a $10-15 mil contract to solidify the middle of the rotation and because he would get more butts in the seat just for being RJ. Not sure he’d take it, but it makes sense.

    Actually, several people on your All Free Agent Bargain team would be a huge step toward potentially being in contention without sacrificing the future.

  19. rlharr on November 3rd, 2008 11:22 pm

    If the defense is significantly upgraded (we hope), is there any hope of trading one of out PV ™ (Proven Veterans) at mid-season? Washburn, in particular, seems as if he could be made to look better.

    This is to say, it might not be a bad thing to go with the PVs for a while and hope someone bites. This also might allow the team to keep down the innings/pitches for some of the younger pitchers. Still, by mid-season, one hopes the pitchers of the future are out there regularly.

  20. wabbles on November 3rd, 2008 11:49 pm

    OK, so Dickey and Morrow and RRS have more or less moved to the rotation. Are there any other potential rotation candidates in either the Mariners or Rainiers bullpen? Mark Lowe?

  21. don52656 on November 4th, 2008 8:03 am

    The consistent theme in Dave’s post is that we need to upgrade the defense. A good defense can make a Carlos Silva look like a good pitcher. A great defense, a la 2001 Mariners, can make pitchers like Paul Abbott, Joel Pineiro, etc, look above average.

    I’m hoping that Jack upgrades the pitching staff by first upgrading the defense. It would be a wiser short-term allocation of resources and probably would have the quickest impact on improving the team’s 2009 record. Just look how much improving the Rays defense from 2007 to 2008 made their pitchers “improve”.

  22. MKT on November 4th, 2008 8:26 am

    I agree with Dave’s premise (you don’t have to have an “estabished ace” to win – the list lokiforever posted is proof of that, IMO), but I have a problem with the argument that, because 97% of “ace” pitcher seasons end without a title, that is somehow proof of the premise.

    Yup, LokiForever’s approach is the correct way to prove or disprove Dave’s hypothesis. Finding a bunch of ring-less aces, as Dave did, only proves that having an ace is not a *sufficient* condition for a World Series title. But the relevant question is whether an ace is *necessary* (not sufficient) for a title.

    But in the third paragraph, Dave widens the argument by adding “#1 starter” to the list of potentially necessary conditions. I’d say that having a good #1 starter comes pretty close to being a necessary condition for winning a World Series. An ace, probably not; a #1 starter, probably so. Or if you don’t have a good #1 starter, you better at least have a #1 starter who’s having a good (or lucky) season.

  23. philosofool on November 4th, 2008 10:36 am

    I would say that LokiForever’s list proves Dave’s point. We have Felix. In terms of actual MLB performance during the years that those series were won (not ceiling and upside, not performance in other years) only Pedro, Schilling, Beckett 2007, and Hamels 2008 can really be said to rival Felix now. All those other guys were worse in the years they had those rings than Felix was this season. Do teams that win world series have some really good pitchers? Yes. Do we? Yes.

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