Joe Saunders should never start on the road


“I’m THAT bad, huh? Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Allow me to expand on a theory I introduced in this space roughly a week ago in my post on three ways the Mariners could immediately improve. After the Mariners fell to the Blue Jays 10-2 Sunday in Toronto, they have now lost four Joe Saunders starts on the road in 2013. How many starts has Saunders made on the road? Four, of course.

As I theorized last Monday, the Mariners would be better served not starting Saunders away from Safeco Field. His home and away splits in 2013 are, in a word, terrifying.

Home: 3 starts, 2-0, 22.1 IP, 0.81 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 9 K’s
Away: 4 starts, 0-4, 18.2 IP, 12.54 ERA, 2.51 WHIP, 5 K’s

I mean what even needs to be said about those ugly numbers? The Mariners are essentially forfeiting the game when they send Joe Saunders out to any other mound than the one in Seattle. It may have been premature to call for my solution last week, but with two more starts under his belt (one home, one away) Joe Saunders has proved his near-Cy Young quality at home and AA ball pitcher status on the road.

As a result, the Mariners need to restructure their rotation so Saunders can maximize his home starts while making as few road starts as possible. Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan, while generally atrocious starters, cannot be as bad as Saunders on the road, and would give the Mariners a shot to win at least one out of every four games.

If you need a lefty to make a start, why not make Charlie Furbush or even Oliver Perez a starter again temporarily? It legitimately cannot get any worse than Saunders.

James Paxton is 2-2 with a 5.19 ERA in Tacoma this year, so he’s probably not ready for the bigs yet. That didn’t stop Jack Z with Brandon Maurer (too soon?). Even he could post an ERA in the 7.00 range on the road, probably.

Here’s how I figure it: the Mariners want to finish .500 or slightly better in 2013 to show progress from a 75-win 2012. To do that, they have to win half of the games their rotation starts.

The Mariners went 16-17 in games that Felix Hernandez started in 2012. Felix had some rough patches in May and especially September, but throw those out, and the M’s win well over fifty percent of his starts. If Felix puts together a Cy Young-caliber year, the Mariners will likely win 60 percent of his starts (so far, 4-3).

Hisashi Iwakuma doesn’t have a full season of starts with the Mariners to reference, but looking at the starts he made last year, the Mariners went 10-6. Iwakuma has improved in 2013, and the Mariners are 5-2 when he starts. If he continues his success, the Mariners could win 60 percent of his starts as well.

Say the Mariners win 40 percent of the games started by Brandon Maurer/Aaron Harang/whoever occupies those rotation spots for the rest of the year. That means they need a third starter who can win them half of the games he pitches.

“Safeco Joe” Saunders can do that at home. He’s 8-0 in his Safeco career (12 starts). If that trend continues, he should win 70-75 percent of his home starts. Unfortunately, that only accounts for 50 percent of the third starters schedule in theory, so the Mariners need another 15% or so from Saunders on the road.

At this stage, Saunders can’t even do that. He’s probably the most “suited for Safeco” pitcher ever to play there, but he simply cannot win games on the road. The Mariners would win more games by strategically adjusting their rotation to maximize Saunders’ home starts and prevent him from pitching on the road at all costs.