Hooray, .500! We’ve been saying all along that all this team really needed to do was stay above water while Lee was on the shelf, and I think it’s safe to say that we’ve accomplished that. Now, the fun begins.
So yeah, the Mariners are doing alright. Ryan Rowland-Smith, on the other hand, is not. Coming into today’s game, he had the highest FIP in baseball, an ERA near 5, a K/9 under 2, and a BB/9 near 4. For now, I can get behind the decision to move Ian Snell to the bullpen, but Ryan Rowland-Smith has been much worse to this point, and it’s a little bit baffling. He’s healthy, his delivery looks the same as it did last year, and as far as we know he isn’t doing anything differently. Ordinarily when a pitcher appears to be struggling with no explanation, the first place I’d look would be at the luck numbers (i.e. BABIP and LOB%), but in this case, those just make him look even worse. His BABIP is .198(!) and his LOB% is 73.2%. No, Ryan’s problem right now isn’t bad luck, which wouldn’t account for his plummeting strikeout rate anyway, even if it was part of the issue.
So, the obvious question then would be, what is the problem? Well, you’ve gotta start with the strikeouts. He isn’t missing very many bats, with the lone exception being his slider, and he isn’t striking anyone out. The first place I looked was his fastball. Now, his fastball has never been a real big pitch for striking guys out, but it’s also worth noting that he’s using it more often than he has in the past, and that it’s down in average velocity from 89.1 MPH last year to 88.3 this year. Something to worry about? Not necessarily, as it’s still early on, but certainly something to keep an eye on.
In fact, when it comes down to it, his only pitch that really isn’t working is the fastball – it isn’t missing bats, and it’s getting hit hard. When your fastball can’t touch 90, you need either a lot of movement or excellent command, and right now Hyphen’s doesn’t have either of those things.
Interestingly, he also isn’t using his curve very often, which has historically been a good pitch for inducing swinging strikes. I don’t know if it isn’t being called or if he just doesn’t want to throw it, but his curve is a solid pitch, and he should probably be using it more than 11% of the time. He is using his changeup much more often, though (28.3% compared to 12.9% in 2009), but it’s working well against pretty much everyone, so that’s just fine.
It’s an iffy situation for RRS right now – he’s already struggling, and when you consider the obvious fact that he isn’t going to sustain a BABIP under .200, things are only going to get worse if he doesn’t make adjustments. Keep in mind, though, that none of these numbers are updated to include today’s performance, and while overall he still didn’t pitch very well today, there were a few things to be encouraged by. He struck out 4, he racked up 9 swinging strikes, and he looked pretty solid for the first 5 innings. When you completely collapse in the 6th and blow a 4 run lead against the Royals, people probably aren’t going to care much about how the rest of your day went, but that’s just how baseball goes sometimes, and it’s just one more thing he needs to work on – avoiding the huge inning.