Rotation implications at the start of the season

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Today Manager Don Wakamatsu revealed that the starting five will be as follows:

  1. Felix Hernandez RHP
  2. Ian Snell RHP
  3. Ryan Rowland-Smith LHP
  4. Doug Fister RHP
  5. Jason Vargas LHP

What this does is essentially make it a lefty-righty rotation, with the exception of the 1-2.  Obviously, Felix is Felix, so it doesn’t really matter who he’s facing on opening day, but while I at first I thought this was the best alignment with Lee out, I’m starting to question 2-5 a little bit. Now, the difference in how it is set up is likely negligible, but the team needs any minor edge it can get with Cliff Lee likely out until late April or early May at the earliest.

While there’s no doubt that the second most talented arm behind Felix in this rotation is Ian Snell, I find the move a bit curious, since his first start will be against Oakland’s #2 starter Dallas Braden (who ran an impressive 3.73 FIP in 2009) and his second start will be against the powerful offense of the Texas Rangers. Snell’s biggest problem is the fact that despite being a major league pitcher, no one has ever told him what a strike zone is.

Oakland has a collection of patient hitters, and Texas is looking like they may be an offensive juggernaut this year, so it seems almost as if you’re setting up Snell to fail by slotting him #2. Maybe Wak and the Mariners see something I don’t, and believe the fact that he hasn’t walked many batters in spring will carry over, but I’m skeptical. I believe the talent is there, but I need more than a good spring training to think that Snell has taken that step forward.

Ryan Rowland-Smith I have no problem with being #3 in the rotation. The biggest benefit here is we get to see him start the home opener, where before I would’ve expected it to be Snell so Lee and Rowland-Smith, both low-velocity lefties, wouldn’t be pitching back-to-back days.

Fister would normally be fine in the #4 slot, but I think simply because of Snell’s command issues and Oakland’s patience, I believe that Fister fits better in the #2 spot. Fister had a very impressive 2.21 BB/9 in 2009, and that would force Oakland to put Fister’s offerings in play. Being that there isn’t really a super impressive bat in the Oakland lineup, I’d feel comfortable with Fister throwing a bunch of strikes and letting the M’s stellar defense clean up the balls he puts in play. So, as of this point in the post, if I had my way, the rotation would start out as Felix/Fister/Rowland-Smith.

I’d put Jason Vargas in the #4 spot, because while he is also a low-velocity lefty, his style of pitching is based more off of the change-up, whereas Rowland-Smith’s best pitch is the curve ball. Vargas turned in an excellent 2.36 BB/9 in 2009, leading me to once again believe that he’d have the best success pitching to contact against the A’s. His home run problem shouldn’t come up against a team with no power bats in the cavern of Oakland, so Vargas seems like a perfect fit to get his first start of the season in Oakland.

This would leave Snell pitching against Texas anyway, but I think when facing Texas, the difference between Snell and Vargas pitching is very small. Both are likely to get lit up in that ballpark against that offense. Vargas simply gives you a better chance to win against Oakland, and with Lee out, you need to give yourself every advantage you can. That’s not to say that Snell can’t beat Oakland, but I’d give Vargas better odds. When your second ace is out and you need to come out of the gate quickly, maximizing the talent on the roster seems key.

While Wakamatsu’s rotation isn’t terrible, I think that if just slightly juggled, it would be better suited to helping the team come out of the gate strong. Wak’s rotation may only cost us a game, but at the end of the season, that might look awfully costly.

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