Sunday, February 21, 2016

2015 vs. 2016 Seattle Mariners - Pitching

In 2015, it was the pitching staff that was supposed to be the bread and butter of this team. A starting rotation that was one of the best in the league on paper and in 2014, the best bullen in either league. If that would have panned out in 2015, the Mariners would have been playing baseball in October.

Starting with the struggles of Fernando Rodney that cost him his closing job, it all went downhill from there. Our setup man became our closer and we had guys taking on roles that they were not prepared for. Starters were pitching farther into games than they needed to and all around, the pitching staff was tired. In 2016 we'll see changes as the entire bullpen has changed hands other than Charlie Furbush. The starters may see a couple of changes with names like Wade Miley and Nathan Karns, but the final two spots in the rotation still seem to be up in the air.

It's safe to say that we can start by getting the staples out of the way. Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma were the top three in starts last season and look to be locks for rotation spots. We don't yet know the exact order in which they will land in the rotation, other than Felix being number one. Despite where they land, their spots in the rotation will be the same for the sake of WAR numbers.

All three starters had their struggles last season at times, but one would have to assume that each game was heavily dependent upon them for a win. Not just to throw well, but to be near perfect. This has been a running theme on the mound at Safeco Field because of a lack of run support. Although the Mariners scored more runs this past year, the bullpen had a hard time holding leads. This year could very well be much of the same, but we'll get into that.

Felix's WAR was at a +4.4 where in 2014 it was at an all time high of +6.8. If Felix can reclaim the glory of the 2014 season, that would be amazing. Obviously a more positive record could go a long way in making that happen.

Iwakuma finished 2015 with a +2.4 WAR and his high was in 2013 at +7.0. Last year Iwakuma started the season with an injury again and basically had his Spring Training on the mound in regular season games. A healthy 2016 could lead Iwakuma back to a higher WAR like his 2013 season.

Walker was still figuring things out last year as he ran into some struggles and took some time to adjust after hitters adjusted to him. He finished 2015 with a +1.1 WAR which was up from the +0.9 in 2014, but we can assume that he will only get better. Then again, we all know what happens when one assumes.

After the three guaranteed starters, we run into guys like Wade Miley, Nathan Karns, Mike Montgomery and James Paxton. Last year the final two spots were filled by J.A. Happ and Mike Montgomery for the majority of the starts. This year, we can assume that they will be taken by Miley and Karns unless someone takes everyone by surprise.

J.A. Happ was a serviceable pitcher at best with the Mariners. He had some good starts, but for most of the season was a real non-factor for the Mariners and wound up being traded before the season end. Happ held a +0.6 WAR while with the Mariners and then, after being traded to the Pirates, he went to a +2.4 WAR.

Wade Miley, who most would think of as a serviceable pitcher as well, actually put up a WAR of +2.5 last season. Yes, surprising, right? Coming from Beantown, that number could very well get even better in Safeco Field. Miley has put up a 4+ ERA his last two seasons after two seasons in Arizona putting up a 3+ ERA. Both of those parks are hitters parks which means, well, basically nothing. Fans could only hope that being at Safeco makes Wade Miley an All-Star caliber pitcher as he is projected as the number three in the rotation.

Mike Montgomery started out on an absolute tear last year and it looked as though the Mariners found a diamond in the rough. That is, until he pitched enough to get a book out on him. Scouting reports would eventually show exactly who he was and he went from untouchable to unpitchable and was sent back to the minor leagues to figure himself out. He sits here at the number five in the rotation because he pitched the fifth most amount of starts last year. This season he looks to be replaced by Nate Karns.

Karns, who was with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015 had a WAR of +2.2 while Montgomery had a lowly +0.5, but at least it was a positive number. Karns is a definite proven upgrade, but he may not be the man to take the last spot. There are still pitchers fighting for that spot. Names like James Paxton and Vidal Nuno. It was rumored earlier in the off-season that Paxton may be moved to the bullpen, but that has yet to be more than a rumor.

Then comes the bullpen. We're just going to focus on the closer and the setup man. The others, well, we'll just have to assume that they will be at least as good as the names we had in there last year, for now. Let's take a look at the closer role first. Good ol' Fernando Rodney vs. newly acquired closer Steve Cishek.

Rodney had an abysmal year last year and as fans we had to keep watching it, and watching it, and watching it. He finally lost his closer job and then we had to continue to watch him in other roles as teams looked like they were stepping in line for the merry-go-round other than to the plate to hit.

With Cishek presumably taking his place, it's safe to say that we will be in better hands this year. Hopefully a place where we will have a little more confidence going into the ninth inning. Cishek held a +0.4 WAR last year, which doesn't seem like a lot until you compare him to Rodney. Rodney finished the season with a negative, yes, -0.8 for the Mariners.

Cishek, in 2014 had a +0.9 and in 2013 had a +2.1 WAR. So, capable of being great, but as closers go, it's possible that we also see Joaquin Benoit in that role as well.

Carson Smith was probably the toughest loss of the off-season and the Mariners will probably kick themselves for it for a while, but as Dipoto says, sometimes we have to give up good pieces to get better. It may be right, but it doesn't make the pill easier to swallow. Smith worked himself to a hefty +2.3 WAR and was a very dominant pitcher that found himself in the closer role for part of the season. If it weren't for a brief struggle in that role, Smith would probably have still been the closer for the Mariners. Now, in 2016 we are looking to an older, Joaquin Benoit, acquired from the San Diego Padres to fill the setup role. Benoit has had a decent career and in 2015 he held a +1.8 WAR. Yes, it's less than Smith's, but with other depth in the pen, it should hopefully all balance out.

As for the positions that we have gone through, we are looking at a 2015 Seattle Mariners team that finished the season with a +10.5 WAR and the 2016 staff finished with a WAR of +14.8. That is only a +4.3 point difference, but it is better. There are a few other things that we have to consider.

First, there are a number of pitchers that underperformed last year compared to their career numbers. Second, there are pitchers that are entering into a pitchers park from a hitters park and third, there are many pitchers that are not mentioned that cannot have a worse year than some had in our bullpen last year.

Once again, our team looks better on paper and it should be better, but only time will tell. With the +6.5 WAR we tallied yesterday with the 8 position players and the +4.3 WAR with our starting rotation, setup man and closer, the Mariners are looking at an extra +10.8 wins this year over last year. That brings the Mariners up to 87 wins compared to last years 76. It doesn't sound like a lot, but the first place Rangers finished with a record of 88-74.

Obviously these numbers don't guarantee a thing, but it sure does look nice when you put it all on paper. All this work by Dipoto in one off-season that could have made any fan go crazy, now is making a lot of sense. The only question that remains is; "Are you buying in?"

I am buying!