Cactus League Game 4: Mariners at Indians
Randy Wolf vs. Aaron Harang, 12:05
Randy Wolf’s best season, by WAR, came back when the M’s were still perennial contenders and led the league in attendance – the heady days of 2002. Wolf’s been ravaged by time and injuries since then, and the M’s have dedicated themselves to self-ravaging. Wolf hasn’t been terrible since that great 2002 season – he’s been worth over 11 bWAR pr 13.8 fWAR since then, and he’s had a couple of 2 win seasons. Importantly, he’s hit the 200 IP mark each year from 2009-2011, allowing him to claim the mantle of “workhorse” for a while before his arm gave out on him again. Still, he hasn’t quite been the same since everyone was listening to Interpol’s first album.
Aaron Harang was around in 2002 (he faced the M’s that year three times), but peaked with Cincinnati in 2007 when he finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. He hit 6bWAR and 5 fWAR that season, capping an incredibly consistent 3-year run with at least 4 WAR and 200IP. Unfortunately, after an injury in 2008, Harang’s never been the same. He never again posted 200 innings, and he’s posted less than 4 bWAR/8fWAR in 952 innings since. His season with the M’s last year earned him a DFA, but he’s in a decent situation to make a big league rotation with Cleveland.
The M’s and Indians both have visions of competing for a wild card spot (or a divisional crown, if things break right). Both have exciting young pitchers, but some question marks in the back of the rotation. The M’s pitching depth will be tested early in 2014 thanks to a string of injuries to Iwakuma, Walker, Maurer and, going back to last season, to Danny Hultzen (read Ryan Divish’s story on Hultzen and his rehab here – it’s great). The Indians somewhat unexpectedly had a top-10 rotation in 2013 thanks to big bounce-back seasons from Ubaldo Jimenez (!) and Scott Kazmir (!!!!), as well as eye-opening performances by youngsters Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber. Unlike the M’s situation, the Indians are probably healthier this season than last (as Josh Tomlin makes his return from TJ surgery), but they let Jimenez and Kazmir sign free agent deals elsewhere, and stayed out of the bidding on free agents like Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Masahiro Tanaka. Thus, the odds of both of today’s starters making the opening day roster are a bit higher than when they signed, and thus today’s game may get more attention than I ever would’ve thought a ST match-up between Wolf and Harang, post 2008, would deserve.
You could make the argument that the more important outing today is that of Cleveland’s 2nd pitcher, Trevor Bauer. The one-time #3 overall prospect and the Indians haul in the three-team Didi Gregorious/Shin-soo Choo deal, looked to be just about MLB ready in 2013. The brainy, undersized righty had an underwhelming call-up in 2012 with Arizona, and then fell apart mechanically with Cleveland, giving up 17 free passes in 17 innings. Things were better in AAA Columbus, but not by much – 73 walks in 121 1/3 IP underscored the fact that his command lapses pushed him out of contention for the Indians rotation. After a lost season, Bauer’s in camp with far fewer expectations and seems likely to head to Columbus again to start 2014. He’s overhauled his complicated delivery, with at least some help from local pitching mechanics/training guru Kyle Boddy. I know, I know: we hear about mechanical “fixes” that are going to change everything dozens of times each spring, but the Indians and Bauer himself seem convinced that his command’s going to be a lot better thanks to his offseason work.
I’m not an Indians fan, and it doesn’t matter much to me, but the difference between a moderately effective Bauer and the Aaron Harang experience seems like it’s at least a win or two. The Indians won a WC spot by 1 game last year, and the race is every bit as wide open in 2014. The M’s believe they’ll be a part of it too, so I’d imagine M’s scouts will be following Bauer fairly closely today.
This would’ve been a great game for Brandon Maurer to pitch in to make the parallels even more explicit – two aging starters looking for one last run in the rotation, followed by two talented youngsters coming off of disastrous 2013 campaigns. Back stiffness took care of that, but Maurer is throwing live batting practice today, which is what passes for “good news” regarding M’s pitcher health these days.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Franklin, SS
3: CANO, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Saunders, RF
6: Ackley, LF
7: Tenbrink, 1B
8: Buck, C
9: Bloomquist, 3B
SP: Randy Wolf
Both teams are going with quite a few legitimate starters today. The M’s have a split-squad day tomorrow, so many of these guys are going to need to get used to playing 2-3-4 days in a row. Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez get the starts tomorrow, and then King Felix starts vs. the Dodgers on Tuesday.