The Mariners Need To Stop Pushing Back Their Starters

If you’re like me, you’ve always wondered what the big fucking deal is about a baseball manager.

I already told you!  I deal with the God damn general manager so the players don't have to!  I have people skills!

I already told you! I deal with the God damn general manager so the players don’t have to! I have people skills!

He gets the players he gets from the front office, he organizes those players into a lineup and a rotation, and he determines which bullpen guys pitch and when.  Of course, he also has media responsibilities, and he has to juggle player egos, I guess.  But, it’s not like other sports where the head coach has a direct influence on game play.  Unless the manager calls for a bunt or a hit & run, it’s pretty much 99.9% on the shoulders of the players (and the general manager for giving the manager those players to work with).

So, I’m a little put-off when I see what amounts to a manager over-managing.  I don’t mind it so much when they go to the bullpen a million times a night.  I don’t even care all that much when I see a different lineup card every day (especially when you’re looking at these hitters we’ve had this year; no one necessarily deserves his spot outside of Cano and Seager).  But, when he starts fucking with the rotation, pushing guys back to give them an extra day’s rest, that’s when I get a little weirded out.

It started back in July, the week before the All Star Break.  We decided to push our three best starters – Felix, Iwakuma, and Chris Young – off to the weekend to play the A.L. West-leading Oakland A’s.  As a result, we ended up going with an All Bullpen Day on the Thursday game (July 10th).  We were riding pretty high, still fairly secure in our second wild card spot, and it seemed like a good opportunity to get our best pitchers in our most important series of the year to date.

Then, we ended up losing three of four to the hapless Twins and it all kinda backfired on us.  Granted, most of our problems in that series were hitting related – and the bullpen did an okay job in their game – but it just seemed like we all let off the gas when wins – ANY WINS – were still at a premium.

Here it is, the beginning of August, and we’re doing the same damn thing!

Here’s a quote from Greg Johns’ Mariners blog:

“It’s the same as always,” McClendon said of his thinking. “Every chance I get to give them an extra day, I’m going to do it.  I think we’ve done okay with it.  Last time I checked, we had the best pitching in the American League.  So why break something that’s not broken?  Keep doing it.  Keep resting them.  I want to protect them. … It had nothing to do with Toronto.”

Lloyd is really saying two things here.  First, he’s saying that he wants to give his pitchers extra rest down the stretch, to keep them fresh when we get into September.  That, I can understand, to a point.  We’re in the thick of this wild card race.  And, in the final month, we almost exclusively play within our division (except for four games against Toronto, one of our chief rivals for that second wild card).  It would be nice to have Felix & Co. at peak conditioning for those all-important games.

Also, as people have been talking about this week (he went 8 innings against the Braves and was only at 97 pitches; but Lloyd opted to not have him go out for the 9th inning), Felix’s numbers in August and September – over his career – are pretty bad compared to his other months.  That shows that he’s been wearing down as the seasons have gone on.  Yes, he’s still our workhorse, and yes, he’s still going to be among the leaders in innings pitched in the American League, but maybe it’s not necessary to run him out there in meaningless ninth innings just to pad his Complete Game statistics.  I honestly don’t think anyone gives a shit about CGs anymore except fans who never played the game and old-timers who have no relevance in today’s sport.  It’s not like it was in the 50s; deal with it.

However, here’s the thing:  Felix has never had anything to pitch for.  Every year, since he’s been here, our Septembers have been nothing but huge embarrassing failures.  We have always been WELL out of the playoff race, and as such, could you blame him for going on cruise control through the end of the year?  Yes, his CAREER numbers in August and September are probably pretty bad, but I want you to take a look at his August and September numbers in 2010, when he had a Cy Young Award on the line:

  • August 2010:  43.2 IP, 30 hits, 4 ER, 13 walks, 51 K’s, 0.82 ERA
  • September 2010:  38.1 IP, 20 hits, 7 ER, 11 walks, 32 K’s, 1.64 ERA

Those numbers look pretty good, right?  You’d take those numbers this year, wouldn’t you?

I don’t think it’s necessarily the workload that has gotten to Felix in the past.  I think it’s been this God-foresaken team!

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that a little extra rest is a bad thing, but let’s go back and look at the second thing Lloyd was saying back in that quote:  about how we’ve got the best pitching in the American League.  Sure, I guess you could say that.  But, unless you just woke up from a coma yesterday, then you SURELY remember how the Mariners have struggled with that fifth starter position.  Yes, both Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker are viable options to spot-start for us.  But, have you forgotten why they’ve both been sent down in the first place?  Because they were drains on this team!  They may have put up okay numbers, but they were constantly in trouble, running up early pitch counts, and exiting the games they started in the 4th and 5th innings.

We’ve finally got a decent fifth starter in James Paxton.  Assuming he’s able to come back from his injury, we should be all set.  Do we REALLY want to tempt fate by dicking around and bringing up a sixth starter who is very likely to struggle?

Also, what is this doing to the routines of the guys in the rotation?  I’m no baseball player, but it sounds to me like they’re on very set schedules, with their off-day throwing and whatnot.  When you start jerking guys around, how is it throwing them off?  In the long run, maybe it doesn’t make a difference, but as I said before, EVERY GAME MATTERS.

Finally, it’s pretty obvious to me – Lloyd can deny it all he wants – that we’re “saving” our best pitchers to have them go up against the best teams.  Is it a coincidence that his shuffling keeps Iwakuma on regular rest, but pushes everyone else back?  Hell no!  This way, Iwakuma stays on regular rest, but he also gets to come back for that final game against the Blue Jays.  Let’s be honest here:  if “resting your guys” is really the priority, who needs rest more than Iwakuma?  Didn’t he just come out of the All Star Break and have to be shut down after 77 pitches in a game because he was “tired”?  Isn’t Iwakuma the guy who has struggled the most when going over that 100-pitch mark?

No, I don’t buy it.  Lloyd is sacrificing games against lesser teams in hopes that we’ll still be able to beat them with our B-Squad.  That tends to backfire spectacularly, don’t ask me why.  Maybe it’s the baseball gods, maybe it lights a fire under those lesser teams, maybe it does as I said earlier:  tells your players, “These games don’t matter” and they end up letting off the gas a little bit, looking ahead to the next, “important” series.  Yes, they’re pros, but they’re also human, and they see what’s going on.  Maybe it’s not a conscious decision to go at half-throttle, but subconsciously, that idea is in there.

All these games are important.  It doesn’t matter WHO we play.  We just need wins.  This better be the last time we have to talk about this shit.  The Mariners get to enjoy Thursdays off the rest of this month after today.  Then, we’re into September, and it’s Go Time.  It would seem to me that you’ll want to squeeze in as many Felix and Iwakuma starts as you possibly can between now and then.

I know I do this a lot, but if the rotation holds EXACTLY as it is now, with Felix starting the game on Monday against the Blue Jays, then we get to see him against the following teams (follow along on your pocket calendar):  @Det, @Bos, vWAS, @Oak, vHOU, vOAK, @Hou, @Tor, and then in the Wild Card Game (if necessary) on regular rest.  Getting to throw him in both remaining Oakland series is pretty swell, as well as both Toronto series, and a very tough Detroit lineup.  You like our chances.  But, again, that’s IF we keep things the way they are and stop dicking around with the rotation after this weekend.

I’m counting on you, Lloyd.  Don’t let me down.  Don’t let your brain get the better of you.  Don’t over-think this shit!

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