Seattle’s Future for the Starting Rotation

The future of the starting rotation in Seattle looks pretty bright between the dominance of King Felix and the future of the big three, but there are still many conversations to be had on the subject.

First of all, Felix Hernandez should not be traded. The Mariners have a 26 year old Cy Young winner in their grasp, why would they trade him? With the possible exceptions of Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton, there is not a better player to build a team around than King Felix, in my opinion. If Seattle is trying to build a winning team, there isn’t a better guy to start with than Hernandez.

Jason Vargas is an interesting case because he is a pitcher who has really benefited from playing in Safeco Field. Take a look at these splits from last year.

Vargas at Home

Vargas on the Road

ERA

2.74

4.78

FIP

3.61

5.59

WHIP

1.02

1.31

K/BB

3.14

2.18

HR/9

.82

1.97

wOBP

.260

.347

SLG

.327

.495

Vargas leaving the mound after a poor road start. Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

As you can see, Vargas is not a great pitcher when he isn’t in the friendly confines of Safeco Field. With the fences moving in this year, Vargas’ value has diminished even more than before. The deep dimensions of left field and left center have had a direct correlation to Vargas’ success.

Outside of Seattle, he is probably a decent bottom of the rotation starter, but he has become a number two starter with the Mariners because of the stadium. Once the fences are brought in, we may see an instantaneous dip in the lefty’s numbers in the upcoming year, and for this reason, I am hesitant to pencil in Vargas as a starter of the future. He certainly won’t be a top of the rotation guy like he is right now.

Hisashi Iwakuma is another interesting pitcher in Seattle right now. He was brought here last offseason on a one year contract. After spring training, he was put in the bullpen before being promoted to the rotation mid-season where he shined. However, he too had more success in Safeco Field than in other ballparks, although the correlation was not as dramatic as in Vargas’ case. Now that he has a more substantial two-year contract, it appears that the 31 year old will be here for a bit longer. He could be a good middle of the rotation man down the road if he continues to post solid numbers as long as he remains affordable.

Last season, we had two young arms at the bottom of the rotation who struggled in Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi. These two guys had an xFIP of 5.01 and 5.08 respectively. They also posted a .288 and .266 BABIP respectively, so essentially, these guys posted horrible stats even when luck was on their side. What is going to happen when they aren’t getting lucky? Unless extreme strides are made in the coming seasons, I don’t see either of these pitchers being anything more than place holders in the bottom of the rotation until guys from the farm system are developed.

One of the young arms that is commonly overlooked is Erasmo Ramirez. The 22 year old rookie got limited time last year, but he put up better numbers than anyone realizes. As a starter, his 7.85 K/9 was better than any Mariner starter besides Felix. His 1.53 BB/9 was better than any starter besides Beavan, and Ramirez’ FIP and xFIP were both second among Seattle starters behind just King Felix. Let me reiterate that these numbers excluded Ramirez’ relief appearances, so they were only his stats as a starter. I think that Ramirez has earned a spot in the starting rotation next season, and I would much rather see him as the fourth starter over Beavan or Noesi.

There may be a few other starting pitching options currently at the major league level as well. Charlie Furbush has started games during his minor and major league careers and is capable of switching back to the rotation after spending 2012 in the bullpen. Historically, he hasn’t had much success starting games, but don’t rule him out as a possibility in the starting rotation next year.

Although improbable, Tom Wilhelmsen is another name that you may see penciled into the rotation. Many people forget that he was a starter in the minor leagues before moving to the Seattle bullpen. His power style of pitching fits better in the bullpen, but thanks to the diabolical curveball that he developed and the changeup that he refined into a reliable pitch last year, his stuff is beginning to look quite suitable for the rotation. There are a lot of good young arms in the bullpen such as Pryor, Capps, and Luetge, so the organization may feel comfortable enough with the pen to try to reestablish Wilhelmsen as a starting pitcher. I wouldn’t bet on this move, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

The big 3, Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton, are all exciting prospects in the Mariner organization and are currently the number 4, 8, and 74 prospects in all of baseball respectively according to MLB.com. I won’t call Danny Hultzen a “sure thing,” but it seems that Hultzen has already been penciled into the starting rotation of the future. The question becomes just how good the second overall pick will be. He has a very high floor as a prospect, so he should be at least a four or five starter down the road. Hopefully, he will become a top of the rotation arm, and he appears to have the stuff to fit there.

Taijuan Walker is a very different prospect from Hultzen. He is a high risk high reward player. His potential is incredible, but he not nearly as certain to realize his potential as his counterpart. I might compare Walker to Blue Jay starter, Ricky Romero. Like Romero, there is no doubt that Walker has the raw stuff to be a dominant major league pitcher, but it becomes a matter of putting all the pieces together and being successful.

There is a pretty good chance that one of these three guys will be traded at some point for a good bat. If the Mariners are successful in trading for Billy Butler this offseason, it seems almost certainly that one of these prospects will be moved.

Apart from the big 3, there are a few other good pitching prospects in Seattle’s organization. Among these are Brandon Maurer, Jordan Shipers, Tyler Pike, Andrew Carraway, Mauricio Robles, and 17 year old Victor Sanchez.

Considering Seattle has one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball and one of the deepest minor league pitching staffs in baseball, it appears that the Mariners will have a very strong starting rotation in the future.

Topics: Danny Hultzen, Erasmo Ramirez, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners, Taijuan Walker

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  • kellen

    i got another idea for the m’s…if they do pick up billy butler like i hope by parting with paxton or mauer, brad miller, and jason vargas. then you’d have a problem with montero cause butler is now your DH. i would like to see them try and build a package around montero and mauer or paxton (whoever wasnt sent to KC) for ben zobrist. hes one of the best defensive players in baseball and last year he hit .270 with 20 HR and 74 RBI’s or justin upton

    • JJ Allen Keller

      If we trade for Butler, then they think one of them can play first. Trust me, they think about those things.

      And Montero and Maurer for Zobrist would be awful. He is getting older, and while he is a good hitter,he isnt good enough to trade someone like Montero for. Id do Franklin and Maurer probably, but thats about it.

  • maqman

    I’m not a Butler fan, we already have a DH and he can catch in a pinch, why would we want another DH, especially one with a lead glove? Erasmo is a keeper, Bill James is predicting a 3.55 FIP in 149 innings for him next season. I can live with Beavan until we promote somebody. I also like the idea of picking up a cheap bottom of the rotation arm who should do as well as Vargas in Safeco. Joe Blanton, Chris Young and Scott Feldman would all fit that bill. They are all better than generally perceived. They would be placeholders and flipable at the trade deadline. Just say no to Noesi.

    • JCondreay

      I like Feldman, and I think that he could be a solid bottom of the rotation guy outside of Arlington. If paying him meant not seeing Noesi, I’d be happy.

    • JJ Allen Keller

      How can you not be a fan of a .880 OPS? Dont worry about defense at the least important position on the best defensive and worst offensive team in the league.

  • raffish

    Felix, Iwakuma, Vargas, Ramirez… the missing pitcher is the #2 between Felix and Iwakuma. 2/20 with an option year should buy us a good pitcher to round out the rotation, like McCarthy, Dempster, Marcum, EJax, etc.. When either Hultzen or Paxton are ready we trade Vargas. When the other one is ready we trade somebody else– not Felix– or enjoy the depth. Walker and Maurer are allowed to spend another year or two in the minor leagues and we are set at the MLB level for 2014 and beyond.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      I’m partial to Haren, myself.

  • mat

    So how do Vargas’s splits from above compare to 2011&2010?? I bet a dollar he performs closer to his 10&11 #’s, AND have less than 25 HR allowed. He’ll do 200 innings and get to 14 wins. Oh-he did that this past season. Beavan got kinda hot the 2nd half to get to 11-11. He can produce some good quality starts , and he’s only 23. I’d take him over Blanton.
    -When your doing your dream team and placing Montero at his position, just remember his splits at ‘C’ and “DH”. If they repeat this coming year, he is going to need his AB @ ‘C’.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      I would hope we’re past mentioning wins when it comes to pitchers. It’s a silly stat when so many more are available. Vargas has obviously been aided by his home park, and his underlying skills represent those of a league average pitcher. Mind you, league average is not a bad thing. I just don’t think a winning team should count on Vargas at #2 and Beavan at # anything.

      • mat

        Evertone wants to be critical of his 2012 stats, splits, HR allowed amd syber matrix stats. BUT wont consider the previous 2 years with seattle and how these 3 years show a patteren of what to expect from him. No one is going to perform(stat wise) the same every year. They are looking ar his HR allowed and road splits a suggest this is what you get. Jack Morris and Blylevyn HOF #’s were average in alot of catagories-but they were on alot of losing teams. Yet they were respected by their peers because they were ‘gamers’. They would grind every season, take the ball when it was their turn, not complain about erros or lack of offense. “TO Me”-I see Vargas as a grinder. I like those type of players.
        “Past mentioning wins”-yep- poor cliff lee sucked this year if we went by his W-L’s. But to some degree the ‘W’ does matter. I think the team W-L in a pitchers starts would have more weight as to the supporting cast and their contributions. All the stats in the world don’t matter if ya don’t get the ‘W’!

        • Matthias_Kullowatz

          If you focus on what happened, then yes, the “W” matters. If you are focused on what will happen, then W’s are meaningless. Year-to-year correlation of pitcher wins is not good, even when they remain on the same team in the same park. More importantly, year-to-year correlation of other things (like HR rates, K rate and BB rates) is more telling of the future.

          So yes, I agree that the W is what was important last night, but not this off-season.

          • mat

            Not sure why you think: “focused on what will happen, then W’s are meaningless”. Cuz if offensive holes are not upgraded(what will happen), then it will be the same old thing. Sound like your statements are logically backwards? That the lack of offensive performance puts a burden on other parts of the game? And if the hitters would have(over all) produced just an average amount of runs-the affects would be like nite and day(in the teams W column?
            -Vargas league average? Maybe to some degree, depending on how one looks at his performance. But his 33 starts and 210+IP are a great base line in any year. Aided by his home park-yep. Alot of pitchers are-and some are not. Splits? NO split stat is an indicator of a guarantee of future performance: vs certain teams or even certain hitters.
            -what is important(everyone knows) is making the weakest part ‘Better”, and its name is offense.
            -going into next season with: felix, vargas, iwukuma, erasmo r. is better than some teams. Tex and LAA are now having to plug SP holes, we’ll see how that goes.

          • Matthias_Kullowatz

            Logically backward? I’m simply arguing that we should NOT project pitchers into the future using past wins. A players 2012 wins are just not a great indication of his 2013 wins.

            “Aided by his home park-yep. Alot of pitchers are-and some are not.” Okay, so we should just ignore that fact? I’m not sure where you’re going here.

            “NO split stat is an indicator of a guarantee of future performance: vs certain teams or even certain hitters.”

            With projections, of course, there is no such thing as “guarantees.” But just like any other stat, with appropriate sample sizes splits can be very helpful.

            “what is important(everyone knows) is making the weakest part ‘Better”, and its name is offense.”

            I would never argue that offensive holes shouldn’t be plugged. But a run scored is the same as a run saved on the scoreboard. There a multiple studies that support this fact. The M’s have room to get better both in pitching and offensively. They should strive to improve both..

          • mat

            Paragraph 1 -agree
            P2-he benefited from safeco. Alot of the top pitcher do very well at home. They need to take advantage of his pitching at home. P3&4(re:projection isn’t a guarantee-agreed)look at Lincecum-will he return to form next year? Would be nice. Will felix get roughed up by the LA-A in 2013? Doubt it. Year to year performance vs a team or certain players change. P6-I know you weren’t saying offensive hole shouldn’t be plugged. Run saved is a run earned-i agree. But more offense needs to show up IF Ryan is going to hit no better than he has the last 2 years. I’d say keep him(ryan) if we can get more production at other positions. Auckley was gold glove nominee-he’ll hit better. Jack will not pass up a good pitcher if it works in his budget/plan.
            Agree or disagree on player analysis-I think we really agree on the big picture. Matt

          • JJ Allen Keller

            Wins are a worthless stat when comparing or judging players. Period.

            And Vargas has always been helped by Safeco, not just last year. Thats the point. He isnt a very good pitcher. Safeco makes him a good pitcher, as seen in his below average road numbers.

          • mat

            “wins are worthless….period”. Really? They are a factor! and to toss it out is limiting. I dont disagree about FIP-it is an indicator! to be used with subjectivity; like any other stat. Why not give him credit for his home splits? Who wouldnt want a pitcher that does well at home? Now dont just look at his road #’s and then say he is a bad pitcher–cuz that would be like saying that felix shouldnt pitch against the LAA–cuz they lit him up in ’12.
            “he isn’t a very good pitcher”. 217innings, 14x went 7+innings, 15x gave up 2 runs or less, 11x gave up 1 run or less, 33 starts. And I didnt even mention wins. Just because I mention his wins, doesnt mean that is my top basis.
            I know your ideal rotation would be: felix, greinke,…and hochover at #5.
            vargas road spits=bad pitcher.
            then does….felix vs LAA in “12 = bad against LAA in future?
            -i spent 4 years working in think tanks, with a major in thought-process-annalysis.got burned out. Not the same as annalizing player #’s. You see vargas is a thnking pitcher, he takes what he has and uses it better than one with a million dollar arm-opps-it’s 15 or 20 million dollar arm in today’s market. And Jack is a talent evaluator-he knows what he is going to get from vargas. Is he a #2-not really. but right now he is their #2, even at 7mil they are getting value out of him. Going out and spending 15+ on a top #2 wont translate into twice the wins(opps) at twice the price.
            -as Matthias said- ‘they need to get better in pitching’–like in the 4 & 5 spot. consistant performance, not the hot/cold they got this past year.
            If you want to keep hounding me cuz I mention win #’s-move on.

          • JJ Allen Keller

            Yes, when comparing players, wins are completely worthless. Because Vargas had one more win than Felix, is he better? No, not even close.

            Im not saying toss out his home splits. Im saying his home splits are deceiving, and his road splits are more accurate. They give you what he did at 29 parks, not just one.

            If he pitched exactly the same, but was in a neutral park or hitters park, you would see how average/bad he really is.

            Felix struggling in one park has nothing to do with Vargas struggling everywhere but Safeco. Did you see the ARI game? He gave up 10 runs cause its 100 degrees there and plays like a launching pad.

            Vargas may be our #2, but that doesnt mean he should be. We just happen to not have anyone else better to put there. $7M a year for him is fine. But getting a true #2 for twice as much is worth it. I can almost guarantee it. Because they will be good at home and on the road, not just home.

            Wait until the season starts and see how the fences impact him. I bet you start to dislike him as time goes on and he gives up 2-3 HR a game.

          • mat

            1. Did’nt say vargas was better than felix cuz he had 1 more win. Don’t mis-lead on my points.
            2. He didn’t and hasn-t pitched in 29 parks recently. Even if he did-factor that some are going to be pitcher friendly on the road. So keeps the exaggerations reasonable.
            3.If he pitched in a nuetral park, AND had an avg amount of run support… Atleast factor avg run support for him. Can’t just consider the things that make him LOOK bad. That makes a hypothetical-wrong.
            4. Felix did’nt just sruggle vs LAA in L.A. It was at home also, you should have realized that. It’s in his game log.
            5. Get a #2 at twice the price. You should take a cost/reward analysis class-it would help understand that $7M vs a $15-20M pitcher does NOT translate into double results.
            6. How does the fences moving in translate from: 9 HR @ home for the season(19 gms)to 2-3 a game??? Unless i misunderstand your math.
            Honestly the exaggerations, little to no facts for foundation, comments that are misleading, mis-stated facts as fact, and arm chair GM’ing you’ve givin on this thread-bore me.

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