When you end up with a season like the Mariners just finished, you blame it on one thing: lack of a plan.
Tell me, where was the plan? The team swapped Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, the team swapped John Jaso for Mike Morse, and the team filled in the empty spaces with a lot of filler bullshit. You could argue that the team at least tried something different with the hitting. It opted to trade defense for home runs, but at least they did SOMETHING. You can yell and scream until you’re blue in the face about how that’s a pretty crappy idea, but think about it this way: if the team didn’t try to make it all about the dingers – if they went super defensive and super OBP on us – would it have made any difference whatsoever?
I argue it would not have made one bit of difference. Because this team totally crapped the bed when it came to pitching.
Remember when Jon Garland was almost our 4th/5th starter? That was a thing that almost happened. In Spring Training, we were banking on him to make this big comeback from injury to carry the load at the back-end of our rotation. We weren’t totally sold on him, and he had an opt-out clause, so when push came to shove Garland moved on and started 12 games for the Rockies before being released. But HE was almost in our rotation. Think about that! We could have had Saunders, Garland, Harang, and Bonderman all starting games for us this year!
As it stands, just having Saunders, Harang, and Bonderman was bad enough, but what were you going to do? As I said before, the Mariners decided to totally and completely neglect the pitching side of things.
Yes, you can count on Felix to be your Ace. Yes, you could see good things coming from Iwakuma. Maybe not as good as he actually turned out to be, but I was never worried that he was going to take a huge step back either. After that? We all figured Joe Saunders would be Vargas-lite, but he was so much WORSE. I don’t care why he was worse, I just know that he only had 13 quality starts out of 32. That’s terrible. You want your #3 starter to be better than 50% with their quality starts (I’d say at least 20 of 32) and he was nowhere near that. More often than not, Joe Saunders gave this team NO CHANCE to win in his starts. That’s a guy who started for us all year.
After that, we had hopes that our younger guys would step up. But, of course, Erasmo Ramirez came out of the gates injured and didn’t make it back until around the All Star Break (and even when he returned, he was pretty mediocre). We were hopeful that Danny Hultzen could crack the bigs somewhere around mid-season, but he pitched in all of 6 games in Triple-A before being shut down with shoulder problems. Brandon Maurer did make the team after an otherworldly Spring Training (making the jump straight from Double-A), but he proved to be totally ineffective in getting left-handed bats out and had to go down to Tacoma for further seasoning. Taijuan Walker wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors until September. Ditto James Paxton. And Beavan and Noesi further proved they are never going to be Major League starters.
As you can plainly see, the kids were not up to the task for one reason or another. So, we had to bring up Bonderman when Maurer finally pitched his way to the minors. We had to panic-trade for Harang when Beavan did the same. Neither of these veterans lasted to September, because neither of these veterans had any fucking business being in the Major Leagues at this point in their careers.
In short, our starting rotation was a total joke. Yeah, our top two guys were as good as any other team’s top two guys; but our bottom three were arguably the worst in all of baseball. Regardless of who was plugged in there (9 other guys started games for the Mariners aside from Felix & Kuma), they were all the fucking worst!
And, when you combine a trainwreck of a starting rotation with the most volatile bullpen in the game, it’s pretty easy to see why the Mariners lost another 91 games.
The team had a 65% save percentage. 23 of 66 total save opportunities were blown. Oddly enough, the team was NOT led in blown saves by erstwhile closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was 24 of 29 in save opportunities. He blew his fifth game by mid-June, was given a couple weeks off of closing duties, pitching in middle relief, then picked right back up again with a fairly solid July before absolutely going to shit in August. The team sent him to Tacoma to work on some things, and after he returned he lost his job for good.
The team turned to Danny Farquhar, who had an excellent strike out percentage, but he wasn’t without his faults. He ended up finishing the season as our closer, and saved 16 of 20 games. Still, you have to wonder if you can count on him at all going forward.
The rest of the bullpen was full of hit-or-miss guys. Oliver Perez and Yoervis Medina, for the most parts, were solid. Furbush was okay at times and the plague at other times. Stephen Pryor pitched in seven games before he was lost for the year. Carter Capps – my predicted pick as best bullpen guy going into the season – also couldn’t get lefties out, in spite of his rocket fastball. The rest of the Triple-A garbage the team brought up and plugged in throughout the year isn’t even worth mentioning.
The bullpen led baseball in strikeouts, and that’s about it. They were either lockdown, or they were walking the world and giving away games. There was very little in-between, and as mentioned above, it was about 65/35 as to whether you’d see Angel Bullpen or Devil Bullpen.
I’ll get into the future prospects of the pitching staff in Friday’s post, so I’ll save my opinions on what they should do (who they should keep, who they should get rid of, etc.). My overall impression of this team is that it failed, horribly. That’s nothing new. But, as opposed to years past – where the pitching was often a strength – this year, the Mariners failed in a 50/50 split. 50% of why the Mariners were bad was because of the pitching, and 50% of why they were bad was because of everything else. You’re not going to make the playoffs with two good starters and a bullpen that saves games 65% of the time. Not unless you hit a ton like the 1997 Mariners. But, as I’ll get to tomorrow, this team was FAR from the ’97 Mariners, in spite of the fact that they tried to hit homers like ’em.