Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Starting Pitching (was) A Mariner Strength

A hitters delight
I've heard many times recently that the Seattle Mariners have pitching depth. After screaming obscenities at the radio, television, relatives, or any other medium that this is coming from, I have to ask how one would define depth and who exactly occupies this chasm?

By my count, the Mariners have three starting pitchers (worth a damn) heading into 2012. Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, and Jason Vargas. One great, one good, one acceptable.

Looking at 2012, it's getting difficult to see how the Mariners are going to add much in the way of significant offense unless they make some kind of massive splash via trade and fill holes at left field and third base, which is a possibility, but unlikely. One place they could shore up some glaring deficiencies is starting pitcher, however.

First of all, let's just establish something about the candidates I've heard for #4 and #5:

Blake Beavan isn't a very good starter. Yeah, he had some flashes last season, but he doesn't strike anyone out (3.90 K/9 which is putrid), he doesn't throw particularly hard (90.6 FB average velocity), he doesn't have even average secondary pitches other than a pretty good slider. His ceiling is probably as a #5 starter on a decent team and that's just not someone I want to watch develop over the 2012 season -- and he doesn't really represent anything close to "investing in the future".

Anthony Vazquez was horrible as a major league pitcher. He strikes out nobody (3.99 K/9) and relies on pin-point accuracy, which he got away with in the minors and got torched by in the bigs, which led him to try to be so fine that his walk rate elevated to 3.07 BB/9 after being in the 1.2 range throughout the minors. He simply doesn't have the stuff to get major league hitters out right now. He needs seasoning or he needs to be abandoned.

Charlie Furbush has some promise. He has shown the ability to strike batters out, he has better stuff than the previous two mentioned arms, and he was also impacted by some bad luck last year (low strand rate, above average BABIP, 16.4% HR/FB) which is why SIERA pegs his actual performance right around 3.88 instead of his actual ERA at 6.62. I would be ok with Furbush occupying the 5th starter role if necessary.

Yes, the M's are probably inviting Hultzen and Paxton to camp, but it's not realistic to think they will make the team -- and even if they do -- make the team any better. They're great talents and yay, yay, yay for having them, but they're still kids and probably need to continue to develop in the minors.

But - there are some names that the M's should be pursuing to shore up the one or two holes in their rotation, and it could be done rather cheaply.

Chris Capuano

Capuano is the crafty veteran twin to Jason Vargas. The tall lefty doesn't throw particularly hard, but he misses bats with a K/9 of 8.13 (Felix was 8.55 for reference). You'll look at his 4.55 ERA and call me a madman, but the ERA predictors xFIP and SIERA both recognize he had some miserable luck, and peg him at 3.67 and 3.60, respectively. His strand rate was really high, his BABIP was a tad high as was his home run rate (although it's right around his average of 11.8%, so that's just his M.O.), so in many ways he outperformed his ERA and by a good sum. He's an injury risk, but he might sign a one or two year deal somewhere in the $5 to $6 million dollar range, with incentives.

Paul Maholm

The Pirates are unlikely to pick up his $10 million dollar option and while they might try to trade him to someone to get some useful body out of the deal, he may wind up being a free agent. Maholm is a chronic 2-win pitcher as he's been right around that level since 2006 (with one year at 3.2). He's another Jason Vargas clone with their K/9 virtually identical and while Maholm might give up a couple more hits than Vargas, he's also stingier with the home runs. He's also left handed, he can strike out a lefty pretty well, and controls the long ball off of lefties which would play nicely at Safeco. Signing Maholm would likely take more than Capuano as he's considerably younger, and he'd probably be fishing for something more in the 3-year deal range maybe up to $20 million or so. But if the marginal value of a win is $5 million bucks, if he delivers his 2-win season every year, you've done alright.

Jaime Moyer

Dave Cameron made the case for Moyer already over at, so I won't re-hash it, but it is a rather no-brainer to give him a minor league deal with an invite to camp and just see what he's able to accomplish. Honestly, what the hell. Bring him back.

A couple honorable mentions:

Aaron Harang pitched pretty well with San Diego last season, winning 14 games with a 3.64 ERA. The peripheral stats suggest he was probably getting a tad lucky and peg him more around 4.20 (xFIP). He's probably due for a 2-year deal from someone and it's likely that he'd get more money than he deserves because the more obvious stats are pretty shiny (wins, ERA) than the underlying ones. But if he lingered on the market and the M's were able to pick him up on a one year deal with incentives, he would probably like pitching at Safeco and there's a good chance he could be just as effective as he was with San Deigo.

Lastly there's always Hisashi Iwakuma, who was linked to the M's last off-season but the A's won the bid on him and then couldn't come to an agreement. Well, he's still looking to pitch in the Majors and he'll be looking for a suitor. It's unknown if he's likely to sign with a team in rebuilding mode, but perhaps Seattle's connection with other Japanese players will be some kind of a draw. He's 30, has a history of injuries, and his stuff isn't classified as particularly electric - he's a ground ball pitcher with great control. Some reports suggest he's going to be looking for $10 million per season over a three or four year contract, which wouldn't make any sense for the M's, but I figured I'd toss his name out there anyway.

Progress can be made on the starting pitching front while we wait for the kids to develop. I know we all want more offense, but if we can't buy run production, we might as well buy run prevention.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Ichiro Opting Out

"After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan.  I have had a wonderful experience competing at the major league level. I will always be indebted to the Mariners organization for giving me the opportunity to follow my dream.This was a very difficult decision, both professionally and personally. I feel now is the time to go home, while I still can perform at a very high level."

Remember those words? I do.

That's Kenji Johjima, right after he decided to walk away from roughly $16 million dollars included in the last two years of a (miserable) 3-year, $24 million dollar contract he signed.

It was a stunner, really. Johjima wasn't a very good hitter, and by most accounts, not a very good backstop either. His leaving freed up quite a bit of cash and it left most fans dancing in the virtual streets.

With this example in mind, how big of a surprise would it be if Ichiro walked away from his last season in order to go back to Japan? While I'd actually be rather shocked, I could certainly see a world in which it happens.

Ichiro had the worst season in his professional career in 2011, and whatever your opinion of him might be, you know he's arrogant enough to not like being embarrassed. He's lost a step, and he knows it.

He also knows that this Mariner team isn't likely to be very good in 2012, or at least not with their current payroll. Is he really all that excited about coming back to a mediocre team only to face constant criticism that he's not the player he once was? Maybe. Maybe not.

He's not going to get to 3,000 hits unless he plays four more years, and I'm not sure there's a team that will give him a three year contract headed into 2013 so he can slap-hit his way to a .260 average as a 40 year old. So what is there to play for? Ichiro must know that 2012 is his last year here, and he must know that his $18 million dollars is almost exactly what the team would need to sign a productive bat on offense.

Would he want to go back to Japan and play out his days adored by fans instead of playing out an albatross contract with a bad team and a media frequently using has-been terminology? I could see it.

If he did it, the M's brass would suddenly be legitimate players for some big name bats.