Position Analysis: Starting Rotation


The starting rotation was considered a strength of the 2010 Mariners, and with good reason. With Felix, Cliff Lee, Fister and Vargas all pitching very well in the first half of the season, the M’s should have been unbeatable. Clearly that wasn’t the case. Now with Lee gone, and Fister and Vargas looking more normal in the second half and less like their first half selves, is there any hope for 2011?

Felix Hernandez: No reason to say much about Felix here. He’s the staff ace an the likely 2010 Cy Young award winner. He’s a guarantee when it comes to the 2011 rotation.

Jason Vargas: Vargas surprised most of us with a strong 2010. Vargas had tremendous success early in the year and then faded as the season wore on. The reason for this fade is up for debate and depending on which side you believe will decide what you think his 2011 prospects are. Was it just too many inning and a tired arm, or simply regression to the mean after a hot stretch? We’ll see. Unless he’s included in a trade for a bat, I can’t imagine a scenario where Vargas isn’t in the 2011 rotation coming out of spring training.

Doug Fister: Fister’s 2010 mirrored Jason Vargas’s season, but was more extreme. He lead the league in ERA for 2 months before a tired shoulder landed him on the DL. After returning from the injury, he never recaptured the magic he’d had. Fister doesn’t overpower anyone, and instead relies on pinpoint control. It seemed like he simply never found his release point after returning from the DL, and thus his results suffered. I expect Fister to be given a chance to show that the start of his 2010 season wasn’t a fluke.

Ryan Rowland-Smith: 2010 had to be torture for RRS. In 2008 he showed great promise in the bullpen and then got a chance to start and did quite well. In 2009, he was slated to start the year in the rotation, but was injured in spring training, started the year on the DL, and then waited in Tacoma until June before getting his chance. After that, he was perhaps the most consistent starter on the team in 2009 that wasn’t named Felix. 2010 was supposed to be RRS’s time to finally spend an entire year in the rotation and get him a chance at the big bucks. It didn’t happen the way he’d planned. Instead he got shelled over and over until eventually losing his rotation spot and getting sent to the bullpen. His WAR of -1.6 and FIP of 6.65 aren’t going to win him any more chances. Rowland-Smith’s prospects for 2011 are probably the most difficult to figure out.

David Pauley: Taylor discussed Pauley in great deal in this post. I won’t go into detail here. He’s a replacement level player and should not be in the M’s long terms plans.

Luke French: French is a difficult pitcher to figure out, and I don’t mean that from the perspective of opposing hitters. I’m referring to me trying to decide if he’s actually a big league caliber starter. He’s only 25, so he could still improve. In 17 starts for the Rainiers he led the team in innings per start and had a respectable 3.63 FIP, but the M’s looked to David Pauley first when a rotation spot needed filling. Once French got called up and got the chance to join the M’s rotation, he could only manage a 5.29 FIP and his -.2 WAR, meaning he wasn’t even replacement level. In those starts, he had a few impressive starts, and balanced those with some really poor starts. What 2011 holds for French is anyone’s guess.

Ryan Feierabend: Remember him? You know, that soft throwing lefty starter who made his Mariners debut at age 21? If the answer is “no”, I don’t blame you. He’s now 25 and still hasn’t recovered from his 2009 elbow surgery. While his promise as a MLB pitcher was debated, he did look like he’d develop into a MLB starter before the injury. I expect him to be given every opportunity to show he can come back. That said, He still looks bound for Tacoma for much, if not all, of 2011.

Micheal Pineda: Started 2010 in AA and dominated his way to a AAA promotion. In 12 starts for Tacoma his ERA and inning totals weren’t all that impressive, but his 76 SO to just 17 walks is a sign that he is bound for great things. The M’s have said that he will get a shot at the 2011 rotation in spring training, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll be given a few starts in Tacoma before making a late may/early June debut.

Mauricio Robles: Got the call up to AAA at roughly the same time an Pineda, and while his innings per start and ERA ended up better than Pineda’s, his 34 SO to 20 walks shows that he has much further to go. If I had to guess, I’d say that Robles looks more like he’ll a eventually be a relief pitcher. (but what do i know, I thought Fister would never be a legitimate starter either) He likely won’t come up to the M’s before September as a starter, though if the team moves him to the bullpen it could be much sooner.

Blake Beavan: This isn’t a name that many M’s fan are familiar with yet, but they will be soon. Beavan came over in the Cliff Lee deal, an since his name wasn’t Lueke or Smoak, he got overlooked. The 6’7″ 21 year old shows great promise, but is still a year away. I’m a little concerned by his SO/9innings totals that he’s shown to this point, but his young age means there’s hope.

Garrett Olson: Although he did get 6 starts in Tacoma in 2010, Olson spent a good part of 2010 in Mariner’s bullpen, and given the fact that there are many more talented players to choose from when picking the 5th member of the rotation, I’d expect him to stay there.

Andrew Baldwin/Chris Seddon: I had to look to find out why these 2, who both looked strong in Tacoma this season are never talked about as prospects. It didn’t take long to figure out. They are 28 and 27 respectively. Both are old enough that you can’t expect them to develop further. They simply are what they are, replacement level players. If we see either in Seattle in 2011, it’ll be because of injuries, either that or I’ll be very very shocked.

Overall Analysis: The M’s have just 3 legitimate MLB starters right now in Felix, Fister and Vargas, and the latter two are likely back of the rotation type guys. There are also 3 very good looking prospects in Pineda, Robles, Beavan who should all make an impact on the MLB team by mid season 2012. There’s also interesting story lines in RRS, French and Feierabend, though none of those 3 are likely to make a lasting impact on the M’s rotation.

*Prediction Guaranteed to be Wrong: Reports state that the Mariners are in the market for a starting pitcher this winter, and while that might be true based on the talent on the roster, I’m going to ignore those reports and hope that the M’s spend every last penny available to upgrade their historically bad 2010 offense. With that assumption in place, and the fact that Felix, Vargas and Fister seem like locks for the rotation, that leaves 2 spots that need filled. Since there isn’t a better option, I’ll throw in Pineda even though above I said June was more likely. For the 5th spot it would appear to be Rowland-Smith or Luke French, though you never know, Pauley might be given a chance as well (and this all might be just temporary while the team waits for Robles or Feierabend).

To pick between the 3 of them, I decided to let my cat choose. I put out 3 cat treats, one for each player and waited to see which she found and ate first. Apparently my cat thinks Luke French will start the year in the rotation, and who am I to argue. It should be noted that the silly feline still hasn’t bothered to eat the one dedicated to Rowland-Smith. I’m not sure what that means about his future with the Mariners, but it can’t be good, right?

* I wanted to make it clear that any predictions I make are made with a simple “tongue in cheek” level of seriousness. This is not an attempt to look into my crystal ball (which i don’t have) and use my psychic powers (which i also don’t have) and make any sort of real prediction. The fact that I routinely use a coin flip, or as was the case today when I simply let my cat decide, you should know not to take them seriously.