Washburn, With A Twist
As readers of the site – and listeners of Brock and Salk – well know, I’m not a huge Jarrod Washburn fan. Among people who don’t make an effort to separate pitching from defense and use metrics like ERA to judge pitchers, he’s generally overrated. His success last year in Seattle was heavily luck based (2.64 ERA is just not sustainable from a 4.50 xFIP), and it was not a big surprise to see him struggle upon being traded. In reality, he’s not that much better than the various #5 starter types already kicking around, such as Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, and Luke French.
So, when people suggest that the M’s should bring in Washburn to fill out the rotation, I’ve been generally opposed. I wanted a guy with more upside, a guy who you would actually want starting a playoff game in Yankee Stadium.
However, there’s been two slight changes to my traditional take on Washburn, as stated above. First, the team signed Bedard, who offers that upside that I’ve been wanting. And secondly, over at FanGraphs, we just rolled out splits for every player dating back to 2002, giving us lots of useful information not previously available. In the course of beta testing the splits, I decided to take a look at Washburn’s page. I knew he had different results versus lefties and righties, and I wanted to see how that looked using FanGraphs metrics like xFIP.
What I found surprised me, honestly. Here’s Washburn’s left/right splits in categories that matter since 2002:
Vs LHB: 2.22 BB/9, 7.31 K/9, 40.6% GB%, 3.93 xFIP
vs RHB: 2.77 BB/9, 4.55 K/9, 34.9% GB%, 5.15 xFIP
We knew that Washburn was more effective against left-handed hitters, but man, that difference is stunning. Nearly 3 full strikeouts per nine innings difference and a higher ground ball rate as well. His stuff works really well against same handed hitters, but he’s just trying to survive against righties. The overall package is a mediocre starting pitcher. But you know what mediocre starters with big platoon splits make? Terrific relief pitchers.
And you know what the Mariners don’t have? Anything resembling a major league left-handed reliever. The bullpen is all righties, all the time, as Wak abhors specialists who can only get a batter or two out before they need help to get out of a jam, and many LH relievers are specialists who can’t get right-handers out. Due to this philosophy, the M’s often are at a disadvantage late in games when they need to get a tough left-handed bat out.
Washburn’s repertoire would work really well out of the bullpen. He’s got good enough stuff against righties to avoid a specialist role that Wak hates, but could give the team a legitimate quality left-handed reliever to complement the Aardsma/League/Lowe/Kelley brigade of right-handers.
Now, Jarrod Washburn isn’t going to sign with anyone to be a relief pitcher, I’m sure. He’s been a starter his whole career, and I’d bet he still wants to be a starter. But with the M’s signing of Erik Bedard, who will miss at least the first 50-60 games of the season, the M’s could offer him a chance to join the team as a starter, reserving the right to move him to the bullpen if Bedard gets healthy enough to return.
In this scenario, Washburn provides potential value in two different roles. He’d begin the season as an innings-eater, allowing the team to get through the first couple of months before Bedard returns, offering that marginal upgrade over Vargas for April and May. If Bedard comes back healthy in June, and Washburn isn’t pitching like he did last year, you try to convince him to shift to the bullpen for the second half of the season, where he would give the team a quality LH reliever – something they just don’t have right now.
In that role, Washburn could actually be a pretty useful part of a potential playoff roster, if the M’s were able to win the division. Think Darren Oliver and what he’s done for the Angels in the playoffs the last few years. That multi-inning lefty who can get tough outs can be very valuable in a playoff series.
As a reliever, Washburn could really help this team in October. And, for the first few months of the season, he wouldn’t hurt to have around, holding Bedard’s spot for him and offering the team some insurance in case the rehab doesn’t go particularly well. He may be overrated by some, but the fact is, now that Bedard is in the fold, Washburn actually makes some sense for the Mariners.
He’d have to fit into the budget, and no one really knows how much the team has left to spend, but if he’s willing to take a couple million to return, I’d imagine the M’s would fit him in. And, for $2 or $3 million, as a insurance policy on Bedard’s rehab and a potential quality LH reliever in October, that’s a good investment.