Dave · June 23, 2009 at 9:09 am · Filed Under Mariners 

My noon post over at FanGraphs is about David Aardsma. If you don’t want to follow the link, I made the same argument over there that I did when we acquired him – that we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s pitching well, since he was a pretty good reliever before he got hurt last year.

However, I wanted to expand on Aardsma a bit here. He was a pretty decent reliever for the M’s in April and May, limiting the long ball and getting enough strikeouts to minimize the walk problem. But man, he’s been something else in June.

8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 15 K.

He’s faced 28 batters this month and struck out more than half of them. He’s just blowing people away lately. This hasn’t been his high-wire act, where he throws a bunch of pitches out of the zone and tries to get hitters to chase them. He’s just throwing fastballs in the strike zone and hitters can’t catch up to it. For the last couple of weeks, he’s been a true relief ace.

Will he keep pitching this well? Probably not. His command is still poor, and it’s almost impossible to get by on one pitch for too long. He’s not a Joe Nathan/Mariano Rivera/Jonathan Broxton shut down reliever where we can expect him to keep doing this all year. But, he’s got the ability to be that kind of shut down guy in stretches. He doesn’t have the command to do it consistently, but when David Aardsma is throwing strikes, he’s lights out.

For all the talk about how great of a pickup Russ Branyan was (and it’s all true), Jack deserves a bunch of credit for picking up Aardsma and being willing to go into the season with a bullpen that the media was convinced was going to be terrible. Once again, more evidence that bullpens can be developed for nothing, and good teams don’t spend assets to acquire veteran relievers. Talent > Experience. The Mariners have spent the smallest percentage of their payroll on the bullpen of any team in baseball, and being able to get quality work out of guys like Aardsma is why that works.


33 Responses to “Aardsma”

  1. Eastside Crank on June 23rd, 2009 9:34 am

    I do not think it is a coincidence that the hot streak came against the National League West. It is great that Aardsma is pitching so well but let’s see how he does when teams have had a chance to face him a few times.

  2. Dave on June 23rd, 2009 9:38 am

    Five of his eight games pitched in during June were against Baltimore and Minnesota.

  3. turkeycave on June 23rd, 2009 9:38 am

    Is there any chance that Aardsma (or any Aardsma-type reliever) can be taught a secondary pitch to perhaps extend his effective period? Or are most pitchers’ skill sets fixed by the time they get to this level? I know Putz developed the splitter, but is that repeatable?

  4. Axtell on June 23rd, 2009 10:01 am

    Relievers have such typical short shelf lives that spending any amount of money on them long term seems to be futile. One just needs to look at the money the Mets threw at their bullpen which doesn’t seem any better than last year’s disaster.

  5. AssumedName on June 23rd, 2009 10:02 am

    DA breaks out the splitter now and again, and it looks like a pretty decent pitch. If he’s ahead in the count, of course, and that’s generally been the issue.

  6. joealb1 on June 23rd, 2009 10:10 am

    Let’s hope he keeps this up and Jack can sell high.

  7. cdowley on June 23rd, 2009 10:14 am

    Doesn’t Batista make more than the rest of the ‘pen combined? “Fun” fact if that’s true I suppose…

  8. wabbles on June 23rd, 2009 10:32 am

    This goes back to that post detailing the five things a pitcher has to do for success (change speeds, hit spots, I can’t remember them all). If he does all five, he’s first ballot Hall of Fame, four is a stud starter, three is middle rotation, two is back of rotation or bullpen and one is bullpen. It was something like that. So anyway, given that it’s not surprising how easy it is assemble a cheap bullpen. You don’t need pitchers who have put it all together. You just need the right mix of pitchers who have one or two things or pitches figured out.

  9. currcoug on June 23rd, 2009 10:34 am

    Zduriencik deserves the praise. He traded a 22nd Round pick (2006) to Boston, for the 22nd player taken overall in the 2003 draft. Williamson is having a fine season at AA for Boston, however.

  10. brian_sun on June 23rd, 2009 10:35 am

    “The Mariners have spent the smallest percentage of their payroll on the bullpen of any team in baseball”

    Miguel Batista says “hello, I am making 9.5M this year.”

  11. Mike Snow on June 23rd, 2009 10:45 am

    Maybe he meant that when the money was spent on Batista, it wasn’t being spent on the bullpen.

  12. joser on June 23rd, 2009 10:50 am

    Yeah, Zduriencik gets full credit for this (as Dave astutely noted at the time). And coming in to start innings gives Aardsma the best chance to succeed, since he doesn’t already have guys on base to compound his walkarific tendencies. But anybody with a 5+ BB/9 rate is going to have streaky results, and that also limits his ability to employ a splitter as a secondary pitch (this is not ex-goaltender Wilson backstopping Sasaki we’re talking about: watching the winning/tying run advance while the catcher is chasing down a ball that went under his glove makes… life interesting). And I don’t know about the odds of him developing some other pitch at this point. He is what he is, and that’s a high wire act. So as we enjoy this streak of dominance we’ll have to save the memory for later months when undoubtedly he’ll have a run of appearances where he can’t find the strike zone and we all chew through Costco bulk packs of antacids.

    The question I thought about asking at the Seattle Library thingy — and now really wished I’d asked — is whether the Z-team considers closers to be overvalued. The Putz trade certainly suggests that (especially when they can target a team that might be the most desperate to upgrade their bullpen in all baseball) but it would be interesting to know exactly what they think (or as much as they would’ve been willing to admit publicly in the offseason, anyway). It would be cool if the M’s could keep the “Closer U” rebuild-and-flip conveyor going, though. Sherrill, Franklin, Soriano, Putz (before he got hurt) — there sure are a lot of ex-M’s doing 8th and 9th inning duty around the majors.

  13. msb on June 23rd, 2009 10:54 am

    The question I thought about asking at the Seattle Library thingy — and now really wished I’d asked

    Maybe you’ll have the chance in August…

  14. Eastside Crank on June 23rd, 2009 11:12 am

    Going back to the competition, the two games against Minnesota are the only two against a quality opponent. Arizona, San Diego, and Baltimore are teams that should give the relievers a chance to shine. Wake me up when interleague is over. As an aside, didn’t Washburn start looking pretty good this time of year last season?

  15. marc w on June 23rd, 2009 11:18 am

    Wow. As the guy who was most bearish on Aardsma… uh, boy I wish I could have that argument back.

    To be fair, a great deal of this *still* looks lucky to me. He’s had a career HR/FB in the 10% range, or a HR/BIA in the 6/7% range, and in both metrics his 2009 season rate runs about one quarter of his career average. 1/4! His strand rate is also remarkably high. His BABIP is .240 despite a LD% of 24%. Put the three together, and his xFIP is over 4.1, while his ERA is around 1.9. I’m not complaining, mind you, I just think the odds of Aardsma putting up a year like this one were 1:10,000 or so. But yay M’s!

    And to be fair to Aardsma/Jack Z/Dave, he really has improved. His tRA is very good at 3.55, despite the LD% thanks to his K rate going up and his BB rate going down. So yes, it’s not ALL luck.

    The most striking thing about his pitch mix is just how un-mixed it is. In his career, he’s been around a 70% FB guy; he’s used quite a few sliders and the occasional change. His FB, while fast, was never terribly effective.
    This year, he’s up to *89%* FBs, and all of the sudden it’s effective. I don’t know what to make of this. There’s something to be said for keeping it simple, but again, his FB was never all that much to write home about, and he’s turned it into a weapon simply by making it more predictable. I don’t get it.

  16. TranquilPsychosis on June 23rd, 2009 11:27 am

    As an aside, didn’t Washburn start looking pretty good this time of year last season?

    Hasn’t he been “looking pretty good” pretty much all of this season? (Thanking the outfield D for that)

  17. Breadbaker on June 23rd, 2009 11:38 am

    As far as I know, Aardsma isn’t allowed to face competition other than the teams on the actual schedule each day. Dave had all the appropriate qualifiers in there: he’s done well and it may not be sustainable. But he’s done well. Last year, the Mariners were the competition making other teams’ closers look like Mariano Rivera in his prime.

    I think we have to give Wak credit here, too. Compared to the 2007 August meltdown (the “Rick White Era”), he hasn’t worried about “roles” or putting rookies into tough situations, or having three lefties in the pen or any of that. If he has a pattern to his bullpen use (other than Aardsma in the ninth with a lead), it’s far less obvious than any Mariner manager’s in my memory. Which may help keeping the opposition guessing.

  18. low on June 23rd, 2009 11:45 am

    While all the stat-analyzing is great, I think credit can be given to Wetteland as bullpen coach. Also, when you put a guy into a new role (Aardsma as closer) you never know what you’re going to get. He’s rising to the challenge and becoming that dominant 9th inning guy.

  19. joser on June 23rd, 2009 12:01 pm

    Miguel Batista says “hello, I am making 9.5M this year.”

    I think he’s making $9M (of course, he could make 9.5 if he earns his bonuses: $200K for a Cy Young, $100K if he’s the WS MVP, $50K each for All Star selection and GG… those are all likely, right?)

    But the M’s supposed Opening Day payroll was $98M, so taking $9M + six guys @ $400K ($11.4M), the bullpen accounts for about 8.5% of that. That’s not much. I don’t have time to do the calcs for every team in baseball, but just spot checking a couple of low-payroll NL teams (which tend to have smaller bullpens): the Pirates are spending about $7.1M of their $48.5M (14.6%) on their bullpen; the Marlins are spending $2.5M of their $36, or likewise about 14%. Going the other way: the Yankees (thanks to Rivera’s $15M) are spending almost $23M of their $201.5M payroll, which at 8.8% is still slightly more than the M’s; the Red Sox might be spending less, depending on what category you put Smoltz in (and “injured” is not an option because he still gets paid). Smoltz has a $5.5M base salary, so if that’s all he collects (plus Papelbon’s $6.25 and a million here and there to Okajima, Saito, Tazawa, and the league minimum to Delcaman, Masterson, etc) they probably sit just under 8% of their $121M salary. But Smoltz has this crazy contract where he gets $125K the first day he’s on the active roster and $35K per day thereafter, and another $500K lump if he’s still pitching in October. So if he ends up in the pen but continues to pitch (he’s scheduled to start in place of Matsuzaka on Thursday) he could easily push them over 8.5% by himself. And in a tight pennant race, if Papelbon comes up lame Theo could go out and blow a couple of million on a reliever, too.

    The Rays look to be under 8%, even with big (for them) payouts to Percival and Wheeler (and several other ~$1M/1 year deals to guys like Balfour and Nelson). The Indians, despite the crazy $10M they’re paying Kerry Wood, look to be under that line too thanks to an overall payroll that has climbed back to $81M.

    Still, I’d give Dave the benefit of the doubt here; even Batista’s millions don’t add up to as much as you might think. When all is said and done by the time the World Series is over, if the M’s don’t have the lowest percentage spent on a bullpen they’re going to be pretty darn close — probably in the bottom 3 or 4. And that’s including the Batista contract the “new day” team inherited; the evidence (such as Aardsma) suggests that kind of mistake isn’t going to be repeated and Dave’s statement is likely to get more true over time, not less.

  20. Alaskan on June 23rd, 2009 12:18 pm

    Looking at Fangraphs, I see that Aardsma’s GBs are down 24% and his FBs are up 19%. Given the decrease in HR/FB ratio that marc w mentioned, the natural conclusion would be that the increase in fastballs is inducing more flyballs. His move from Fenway to Safeco makes the flyballs less dangerous, so he feels more comfortable letting them put the ball in the air, rather than trying to induce more groundballs with the bendy stuff.

    Is there somewhere I can look at pitch types thrown and the corresponding batted ball data?

  21. Alaskan on June 23rd, 2009 12:23 pm

    Also of note, regarding Aardsma’s increase in LD%, is this article at fangraphs about the variability of line drive classification by stadium. Fenway typically calls fewer balls line drives, while Safeco has been about league-average.

  22. IdahoInvader on June 23rd, 2009 1:52 pm

    Aardsma has been especially impressive when one considers the M’s would likely be in first place if he was closing all year instead of the failed Morrow debacle.

  23. bilbo27 on June 23rd, 2009 2:09 pm

    I am wondering how much of the success he is getting off that one pitch is because he throws it at varying speeds (91mph-97mph). Hard for hitters to time his fastball when he doesn’t throw it at a consistent speed from pitch to pitch.

  24. wabbles on June 23rd, 2009 2:11 pm

    Aardsma has been especially impressive when one considers the M’s would likely be in first place if he was closing all year instead of the failed Morrow debacle.

    That statement takes me to a sad and terrible place. Morrow as well I suspect.

  25. diderot on June 23rd, 2009 2:16 pm

    So if a half year of Bedard is worth Brignac, would we make the same deal for Aardsma?

  26. bilbo27 on June 23rd, 2009 2:19 pm

    “The question I thought about asking at the Seattle Library thingy — and now really wished I’d asked ”

    This Wednesday at noon (i think it was), JZ will be answering fan questions on mlb.com.

  27. cdowley on June 23rd, 2009 2:26 pm

    So if a half year of Bedard is worth Brignac, would we make the same deal for Aardsma?

    We’d try, but Tampa probably wouldn’t go for it. Their need for a high-end starter is much higher than for a high-end reliever, so they would be very unlikely to part with Brignac for Aardsma.

    Random side note, I called into Brock and Salk a few minutes ago to decry the Pierre trade and to suggest Blake DeWitt as a target instead. The resulting conversation and debate with Salk about Pierre’s usefulness left Brock half-convinced that I was Dave 😉 Couldn’t help but chuckle when I flipped my radio back on in time to hear him say that.

  28. joser on June 23rd, 2009 2:31 pm

    Aardsma has been especially impressive when one considers the M’s would likely be in first place if he was closing all year instead of the failed Morrow debacle.

    Mark Lowe has more blown saves (3) than Morrow (2). Or pick any two of Batista, Kelley, Corcoran, Jakubauskas, White, or (yes) Aardsma, all of whom have one. There’s a lot to dislike about the Morrow situation, but it’s hardly the only reason the M’s are two games out.

    As I noted in a comment over at Fangraphs, the M’s have a higher rate of blown saves than some other teams, but they also have more save opportunities because their anemic bats mean almost every win is a save situation. They just don’t blow out other teams, so there are a lot of no-room-for-error 9th innings. Already the Mariners have played in 31 one-run games (18-13 record) vs only 16 five-plus run games (7-9 record). Compare that to a team like the Red Sox: just 20 one-run games (11-9 record) vs 21 five-plus run games (14-7 record). The RedSox have seven more wins than the M’s but two fewer saves; their bullpen has 19 saves in 26 opportunities vs 21 in 32 for the M’s. And only two of those 11 (eleven!) blown saves belong to Morrow.

  29. diderot on June 23rd, 2009 2:44 pm

    but they also have more save opportunities because their anemic bats

    Well said, Joser. This is also the retort to many fantasy baseball ‘experts’ who advise staying away from closers on bad teams because they won’t get many save opportunities.

  30. LB on June 23rd, 2009 3:23 pm

    > the Red Sox might be spending less, depending on what category you put Smoltz in …

    I surely don’t think you can put him in the “bullpen” category: Link

    John Smoltz, who is scheduled to make his next start Thursday, either for the Red Sox or Pawtucket Red Sox, said that he offered to pitch out of the bullpen, but the Red Sox pushed back on the idea. “I threw it out there, but they said it was completely out of the question. They basically told me I’ve done everything they asked me to do, and preparing to start is something I’m comfortable with.”

  31. currcoug on June 23rd, 2009 3:35 pm

    The amazing thing about Aardsma is that the hitter knows a fastball is coming, but still can’t hit it. Overweldigend!

    I just hope the M’s don’t destroy him, which is one reason I am eagerly waiting for the return of Shawn Kelley, and/or Josh Fields to arrive.

  32. Russ on June 23rd, 2009 3:43 pm

    fantasy baseball ‘experts’

    You made a funny.

  33. wabbles on June 24th, 2009 1:12 am

    Well okay, I guess Morrow only has two of our eleven blown saves. But if Morrow had been handled better, maybe we’d have only nine blown saves and he’d have a couple of wins as a starter and I’d have a pony and…Well, you get the idea.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.