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Don’t Look Now But the Mariners Could They…?

April 4, 2011

Yesterday the A’s earned their first win of the season against the 2010 cellar dweller Seattle Mariners. The M’s, chic favorites to win the AL West in 2010 only to falter to the tune of a 61-101 record, took two of three here in Oakland. They didn’t win handily they didn’t score very many runs but their pitching was impressive. Let’s ignore a somewhat weak bullpen (on Sunday two members of that bullpen made their MLB debuts), and look at what could be a relatively formidable rotation.

It all starts with Felix Hernandez. Hernandez is the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. End of story. But after King Felix, there are some hidden gems in there. First off you have Jason Vargas, who came to the M’s in a three-team trade from the Mets (the Indians were the third team for those curious). The southpaw Vargas, was worth 2.6 WAR in 2011. He put up a solid FIP of 3.95 in 2010 whereas his career mark is 4.51. It is pretty easy to see how he had a good year last year, his HR/FB fell from consistent double digits to 6.1%. His BABIP was .272 in part because he was inducing more fly ball outs, and as mentioned earlier they weren’t going too far. He relies far too heavily on just changing speeds (52.7% fastballs  and 26.4% change ups in 2010) and plays to contact. If he can get fly balls at Safeco he ought to have a decent enough year again.

Next up is Doug Fister. Doug Fister‘s 2010 was a tale of two seasons, pre-injury and post. Compare:

4/8 to 5/31 2.45 3.61 .581 .236
6/26 to 9/30 5.24 3.68 .769 .310

Also Fister’s season is very illustrative of the limitations of ERA as you can see. Fister basically suffered from a world of bad luck. The BABIP rose dramatically and unsurprisingly the ERA climbed as well. But ultimately, the FIP stays the same as he pitched quite consistently with very different results, largely attributed to poor luck, which offset the good luck of the first half. Ultimately he finished more unlucky than lucky with a 4.11/3.65 ERA/FIP. So basically, Fister is good. He is solid. Great number three type.

Number four in the M’s rotation is what makes or breaks it really. Erik Bedard. There is a reason the M’s gave up five players for Bedard in February of 2008 including Adam Jones and Chris Tillman. It is because he was scary good. In 2007 he put up his second straight 5.0+ WAR season. From 2005-2007 Bedard was 10th amongst pitchers in WAR (13.8), his 8.95 K/9 was 4th (among pitchers with 500 IP), his FIP was 8th (3.42). He was going into his age 29 season which meant he was likely in the heart of his prime. Injuries then struck and in 2008 and 2009 Bedard would only pitch a combined 164 innings before missing 2010 in its entirety. Despite that Bedard put up good numbers when he was able to pitch posting a 8.89K/9 and a 3.93 FIP, and 2.9 WAR which if it were a typical 200 inning season would likely be around 3.5 if not higher. If Bedard can stay healthy (and fairly that is a big if) the Mariners have the best fourth starter of any team with perhaps the exception of Philadelphia.

Michael Pineda, who knows what to expect out of him but he has talent and performed admirably in spring training that the M’s had no concern about jump starting his ticking arbitration clock and bringing him up to Seattle. This club won’t score runs, but with strong pitching they could mess with the West. The 2010 M’s fell far short of expectations, truly underplaying their ability just as the 2009 team overplayed theirs. The 2011 club has a decent level of talent, if they play at it they’re not looking so bad but could they win it all? No, but they just might be higher in the standings than we all thought at the beginning of the year.

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