Mad Libs: The 2014 Mariners Starting Rotation Edition

By Blaidd Drwg

Let’s play a game of Mad Libs:

The Mariners 2014 rotation to start the season will be Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton, (Insert name of failed M’s prospect) and (Insert name of another M’s failed prospect).

Remember, Iwakuma and Walker are out for at least the first 2 weeks of the season. The Mariners released their scrap heap recalmation candidates, Scott Baker and Randy Wolf on Tuesday and they were the 2 most likely guys to start for the Mariners coming out of spring training. I am guessing that the other 2 spots are going to go to Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan, and yes, I am serious about that. They would only have to make 3 spots assuming that Iwakuma and Walker are back when they are supposed to be back (the M’s schedule in the 2nd week of the season has enough off days that they don’t need a 5th starter), but there is a huge risk to this team gaining any real traction if they have to slog through 3 potentially disastrous starts. Other than 3 games in Miami and 2 in NY, all of the rest of the games in the first month of the season are against AL West opponents, and only 3 of the 22 games are against the Astros.

If the M’s don’t get back Iwakuma and Walker when expected and/or Ramirez and Paxton are not as good as advertised, this is going to be a long season yet again – the M’s have absolutely no depth in their starting rotation right now. I bet the backup plan is to trade Nick Franklin for a middle of the road starter if someone flames out.

“Shall we play a game?”

By Blaidd Drwg

“How about global therm0nuclear war?”

No, well how about this?

Let’s say the season ended on September 3rd and we were going to vote on the Cy Young Award. Here are the AL WAR leaders according to Baseball-reference. Com:

1.

Sale (CHW)

6.2

2.

Scherzer (DET)

6.0

3.

Iwakuma (SEA)

5.5

4.

Hernandez (SEA)

5.2

5.

Sanchez (DET)

5.0

6.

Darvish (TEX)

5.0

7.

Quintana (CHW)

4.1

8.

Kuroda (NYY)

4.0

9.

Holland (TEX)

3.9

10.

Buchholz (BOS)

3.9

Let’s assume that is all of the contenders for the award. It is a pretty big spread between 6.2 WAR and 3.9 WAR, so let’s eliminate anyone with a WAR below 5.0. That leaves us with this:

1.

Sale (CHW)

6.2

2.

Scherzer (DET)

6.0

3.

Iwakuma (SEA)

5.5

4.

Hernandez (SEA)

5.2

5.

Sanchez (DET)

5.0

6.

Darvish (TEX)

5.0

While Iwakuma’s total numbers are good, he really has been pretty pedestrian since about mid-June, so let’s take him off the list. Besides, Felix is really the guy you would rather have on the mound for the Mariners anyway. I am going to eliminate Sanchez for a similar reason – he isn’t the best pitcher on his team. That leaves us with Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and Yu Darvish.

Here is how they stack up:

W-L ERA SO WHIP ERA+
Chris Sale 10-12 2.97 199 1.055 144
Max Scherzer 19-2 2.88 209 0.940 146
Felix Hernandez 12-9 3.01 200 1.132 122
Yu Darvish 12-6 2.73 236 1.025 151

While Felix is having a good season, he hasn’t been dominating, so he probably finishes #3 or #4 in the voting with Chris Sale occupying the other spot. Sale has been outstanding, but voters will be turned off by his 10-12 record. That leaves it as a battle between Scherzer and Darvish. Both pitch for teams that are heading to the playoffs. Scherzer has benefited from outstanding run support, but he has also been pretty dominating in his own right – his WHIP leads the AL (Darvish is 3rd), he is giving up just under 6.3 hits per 9 innings (Darvish leads the AL with 6.1 per 9), he has a 4.5 to 1 strikeout to walk ration (good for 5th in the AL, Darvish is 8th at 3.9) and has the highest WPA of any starting pitcher in the AL. With how close the stats are between Darvish and Scherzer, it is going to come down to wins for the voters and that 19-2 record looks awfully nice, so Scherzer would win the award.

Given that, I have no idea what Jim Leyland is complaining about.

Maybe a nice game of chess is in order.

A Tale of Two Pitchers

By Blaidd Drwg

I am convinced that there is something wrong (an injury perhaps) with both Felix Hernandez and Tom Wilhelmsen. One of the benefits of having seats behind home plate is that you get a good look at a pitcher’s delivery, and in both cases, the delivery looks off.

Felix Hernandez – He got pounded by the Angels again on the 20th and has not looked all that dominating his last few starts. Felix started off the season yielding just 11 earned runs in his first 64.2 innings (ERA of 1.53) with 64 strike outs and 10 walks. Then came the game in New York on May 14th where Felix tweaked his back (that was the last game in the 64.2 inning stretch). Since then, Felix has posted a mortal 24 ER in 45 innings (a 4.80 ERA) with 10 walks and 48 strikeouts. His strike out rate is up, but he has been getting hit with much more frequency.

I looked at fangraphs.com to see what kind of pitches Felix has been throwing and it seems he is throwing more fastballs, which indicates to me that something is not right – in the 9 games before the injury, he threw the fastball roughly 53% of the time and only exceeded that rate twice in a game – against the Angels on 4/27 and the White Sox on 4/6. Since that time he is throwing it about 57% of the time, but has thrown it over 60% of the time in the last 3 games. When your back hurts, you don’t have the flexibility to throw a breaking pitch as easily or as effectively and that means you rely on your fastball more. When hitters realize this they sit on your fastball. No matter how good the pitcher, hitters have an advantage when they know the fastball is coming and it doesn’t move like Mariano Rivera’s pitches. My observations on Felix have been the same – he is not getting the breaking stuff over the plate like he used to and it is exposing the declining velocity on his fastball.

My guess – Felix makes one or two more starts before ending up on the DL and effectively sinking the rest of the season for the Mariners.

Tom Wilhelmsen – He has been terrible for the month of June (11 ER in 7 innings) after being borderline unhittable in April and May (2 ER in 24 innings). It to judge what is going on with a relief pitcher based on pitch breakdown because the sample size is smaller and subject to randomness, but my observation has been that Wilhelmsen hasn’t been getting the breaking ball over the plate and once again, teams are sitting on his fastball. This has led to more fly balls and more walks. I can’t think of a specific point where he seems to have gotten hurt, so it might just be that his mechanics are messed up and it is all in his head, but whatever it is, he needs to get it squared away soon – the M’s bullpen does not have many effective weapons in their arsenal these days.

The US Provisional Roster for the WBC

By Blaidd Drwg

I like the idea of the World Baseball Classic, but I really can’t get into it. Because it is held during spring training and there are limits on the pitchers, it seems like it is watching either a spring training game or an all-star game.

Historically, the US team has really not taken the tournament seriously, and has sported a less than stellar 7-7 record in the previous two events. This is partially because the managers have treated this like an all-star game and felt the need to get everyone in the game rather than trying to win. The rosters were announced recently and a good number of big names, especially on the US side (Trout, Posey and Verlander, just to name a few), have opted not to participate.
Right now, this is the projected US lineup:

RF Ben Zobrist
C Joe Mauer
LF Ryan Braun
DH Giancarlo Stanton
3B David Wright
1B Mark Teixeira
CF Adam Jones
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Brandon Phillips

That is pretty good, but not as good as it could be. The pitching staff is a little suspect though:

Starter: RA Dickey, Kris Medlen, Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland.
Bullpen: Jeremy Affeldt, Mitchell Boggs, Steve Cishek, Tim Collins, Luke Gregerson, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Perez, Glen Perkins and Vinnie Pestano.

The bench however is soft:
Jonathan Lucroy, J.P. Arencibia, Shane Victorino and Willie Bloomquist.

The US is having such a hard time convincing players to participate that they didn’t fill one spot on the roster AND needed to get Willie Bloomquist to fill the super-utility role. That is never a good sign.

The Mariners are sending 9 players to the tournament – mostly minor leaguers. There are 3 of concern – Felix Hernandez (for injury concerns), Michael Saunders and Alex Liddi. To me, the move does not make sense for Saunders and Liddi – the Mariners have an extremely crowded roster since they have more players than positions in the OF, 1B and DH slots. Liddi is 24 and should have a legitimate shot at making the big club and I fully believe that this is the put-up or shut-up season for Saunders after his up and down season last year. By neither of these guys being in camp with the Mariners, it just means that there is an opportunity for someone else to step up and take a roster spot away from them. I understand all of the country pride and everything, but since neither of these guys is guaranteed a job with the big club this year, it might be in their best interest to skip the tournament and play with the team in AZ.

The Mariners and Royals

By Blaidd Drwg

Before you get too excited about the Mariners taking 3 out of 4 against the Royals and putting up 31 runs in the process, the Royals probably have the worst starting rotation in the majors. Let’s take a look at the guys who the Mariners faced in the 4 game series:

Game 1: Jonathan Sanchez (current ERA – 7.76) Pitching line – 1.1 IP, 7 H, 7 ER
Sanchez, once a rising star in the Giants organization, fell completely off a cliff this season, walking 44 guys in 53 innings and sporting a stellar 2.04 WHIP. Things got so bad with Sanchez that the Royals designated him for assignment after this disastrous start against the Mariners (Yet somehow the Rockies had enough interest in him to trade a somewhat useful player for him on Friday).

Game 2: Ryan Verdugo (current ERA – 32.40) Pitching line – 1.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ER
Verdugo was making his MLB Debut in this game. He was the “other guy” the Royals got with Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera. Verdugo is 25 and had not pitched particularly well in the minors in his career and never above AAA before this season; was his debut line much of a surprise?

Game 3: Bruce Chen (current ERA – 5.57) Pitching line – 5.1 IP, 7 H, 4 ER
The “ACE” of the Royals staff. He pitched somewhat decently; I will put heavy emphasis on somewhat, because frankly, that is not a good pitching line. But heck, it can’t be that bad, the Royals actually won that game

Game 4: Will Smith (current ERA – 7.97) Pitching line – 6.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER
Smith wasn’t terrible, but he was going against Felix, so he wasn’t winning that game no matter how well he pitched. At least in Smith’s defense, he is only 22 and seems to have some upside potential. Then again, he does pitch for the Royals, so maybe not.

Speaking of Felix, he dispatched the Royals, needing just 89 pitches over 8 innings before giving way to Lucas Luetge in the 9th. Felix is in the zone right now – he is dominant and he is being economical with his pitches. He has given up only 2 ER in his last 24.2 innings. It might have something to do with the 21 strikeouts and his amazing Ground Ball to Fly Ball Ratio – 36 GB to 23 FB. I am not sure what adjustment he made, but he is back to getting guys out on the ground. Over his career his ration has been 1.24 to 1 GB to FB, this year is has been .9 to 1 GB to FB. Welcome back, Felix.