There’s No Room For Soft Tossers In Major League Baseball Anymore

Just so you know, I have zero data to back this up whatsoever. I barely watch the Mariners, so it’s not like I’m scouting every single Major League team. This is just one man’s half-assed observation.

This notion had occurred to me when I was thinking about those very Mariners. What a rotation! Maybe the best in Major League Baseball! Everyone throws in the mid-to-high 90’s, everyone has lots of movement, gets lots of strikeouts, is efficient yet still gets deep into games. It’s quite remarkable. It’s especially remarkable when you consider the fact that there’s no real variety.

Usually, there’s at least one lefty starter in a rotation. I don’t know if I can remember a time when the Mariners didn’t have a single lefty start a baseball game for them, but that very well might happen this year. Also, usually you’re in for at least one soft-tosser in the bunch. Some guy who “eats innings”, tries to induce the other team to put the ball weakly into play, and will give up his share of runs, but otherwise usually keeps you in ballgames.

Which, of course, got me to thinking about Marco Gonzales, and wondering how he’s doing in Pittsburgh. Not great! He actually had three pretty good starts for the Pirates – 17 innings in total, 5 runs given up – but then succumbed to another arm injury, that’s shutting him down for the majority of the season.

While his numbers look good, though, it would’ve been only a matter of time before he threw some clunkers. The National League has the DH now, so it’s not like you can still go there and extend your career if you’re a mediocre pitcher.

It makes me wonder: injuries aside, is Marco Gonzales trending in the wrong direction because he’s getting older? Or because players are better-able to handle his stuff?

Think about it: the average MLB fastball has been creeping up pretty steadily over recent years. Therefore, players have had to adjust to trying to hit pitches that are sometimes over 100 miles per hour. At that point, fastballs in the high 80’s or low 90’s are going to look like they’re set up there on a tee! Oh sure, you can argue that the change of pace might induce more swings and misses. And these pitchers still might be effective against lineups like the Mariners, who are just inept as all get-out. But, over the long haul, soft-tossers seem like more of a liability than an asset.

Teams don’t need “innings eaters” anymore. Guys are consistently getting pulled after 5 or 6 innings regardless of where their pitch counts are. Stats tell you the third time through the lineup is usually where most of the damage comes. Also, bullpens are consistently better than they were 30 years ago, so teams are more willing to let their fresh fireballers eat up those final 3-4 innings every game.

I legitimately wonder about guys like Greg Maddux, or latter-day Pedro Martinez. I mean, they probably would’ve been fine in this environment; they’re hall of famers, after all. But, like, would Jamie Moyer sustain in today’s game? Seems unrealistic, right? Can you imagine a Tim Wakefield making it nowadays?

I don’t know how you fix this problem, either. Pitchers are only going to keep throwing harder. Any change to the mound is only going to help the hitters. Theoretically, you could expand the fields – push out the fences, to make homers a little tougher, giving defenders more field to run down fly balls – but that’s never going to happen. That would require taking out seats and lowering offensive output, which is a non-starter for a variety of reasons.

The only way I could even conceive of it is if this barrage of pitcher injuries gets to a breaking point, where people intentionally start limiting how hard they throw their pitches. But, as you can see, even guys like Marco Gonzales get hurt. So, it’s not like anyone’s safe, unless they start throwing underhand or something.

It’s kind of a bummer. Maybe they’ll make a resurgence one day. Maybe they’ll figure out how to get their pitches to move all crazy-like. I feel like that’s the ticket. Make it look like a wiffle ball out there, and you’ll start getting away with throwing in the 80’s again.

Mariners 2011 Season Overview: Doug Fister

I’ve been meaning to do one of these posts on Doug Fister since I started a couple weeks ago.  In an attempt to be topical, I figured I’d get it out of the way today, since he’s still in the playoffs and all.

First, a quick rundown of this year’s stats (with the Mariners):

21 starts, 3-12 record, 146 innings pitched (averaging a shade under 7 innings per start), 32 walks, 89 strikeouts, 1.17 WHIP, 3.33 ERA.

I’ve pretty much been on Fister’s jock since the beginning of the 2010 season, when I compared him to Greg Maddux.  That may have been a reach at the time, but now that gap has CERTAINLY gotten a lot shorter.

Anyway, with those stats I listed above, the Mariners received in trade:  Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin, and minor league third baseman prospect Francisco Martinez (the supposed Crown Jewel of the trade and the only guy we got whose name doesn’t start with C). 

Wells is a guy who can play all three outfield positions (though, will ultimately end up in one of the corners), whose got a little pop in his bat, and will either be a good player for us, a good player for another team (if we trade him), or a bust.  Notice I said “good”.  Not “great”.

Furbush was WILDLY hit-or-miss in our starting rotation this season.  Admittedly, I wasn’t able to watch him all that closely, but when I did see him he struck me as the kind of guy who can’t control his stuff.  Just didn’t seem to me like he knew where his ball was going to end up.  But, since he was usually somewhere within the strike zone, he’d get crushed on occasion.  There were flashes of goodness from him too, but I doubt he’ll end up as anything better than a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.  Still, his ceiling is being a GREAT left-handed specialist, so I guess it’s not all doom and gloom.

Ruffin made it into 13 games this year and struck out 15.  Too soon to tell, but again, you’re looking at another bullpen guy at best.  They say he COULD be a closer, but his low-90s fastball doesn’t really impress-a-me much.

Meaning:  if this Francisco Martinez (which, honestly, sounds like a name someone just made up when asked to quickly pick a Latino-sounding name of a baseball player) guy doesn’t pan out as the stud we’re all hoping he’ll be (at third base no less!), then we essentially got a Meh return for a guy in Doug Fister who did this with Detroit:

10 starts, 8-1 record, 70.1 innings pitched (averaging a shade over 7 innings per start), 5 walks, 57 strikeouts, 0.84 WHIP, 1.79 ERA

That’s not even taking into account Fister winning Game 5 in New York against the Yankees to move on from Round 1 of the MLB playoffs; nor is it taking into account the equally-impressive Game 3 victory vs. Texas (with Detroit already down 2-0), guaranteeing a second Verlander start (which the Tigers just won last night, to bring the series to within 3-2 as they head back to Texas, with Fister poised to start the Game 7 if it reaches that point).

Oh yeah, and Fister is also under club control for a few more years.

The man has done nothing but work hard and improve upon his craft every year he’s been in professional baseball.  I’m not gonna lie to you, it stinks that we had to let him go.  Doug Fister could’ve been the greatest Number 3 pitcher in baseball for the Mariners.  Instead, he’s a bundle of prospects that may or may not make a fuckload of difference a couple years down the road.

I’m usually one of those guys who either forgets about ex-Mariners once they’re traded (at best), or actively roots against ex-Mariners (at worst).  I rarely find myself caring – in the positive sense of the word – for guys once they’ve been swapped for prospects.  But, Fister was special.  There’s absolutely nothing to dislike about the guy.  I wish him nothing but the best for the rest of his career and I hope he wins the World Series this year.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 80

As I watch the Mariners bullpen squander yet another quality start by an unexpected diamond in the rough in David Pauley by essentially being one of the most unreliable and – dare I say it – worst bullpens in all of Major League Baseball, I reflect on the day’s events and its star attraction. I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here, but I’m also not exactly taking the sudden removal of Cliff Lee from my baseball life very well, so just meet me half way here. There are two types of elite starting pitchers in the world: both get the job done every fifth day. Of course, they go about it in very different ways. You’ve got your flashier guys – people like Randy Johnson (in his prime), Pedro Martinez (in his prime), Felix Hernandez (now) – who just have nasty, electric stuff. They’ll murder you with their offspeed stuff, then they’ll chop your head off with their heat. These guys get all the glory on Sportscenter (except when they wear a Mariners uniform), these guys get all the attention come Cy Young time, and these guys are ultimately more feared because of the hype if not the stuff alone. Then, there’s everyone else who just go out and work you over. They might not have 97 mile per hour fastballs, they might not have curve balls that will buckle your knees, but they go out there with precision and accuracy and determination and bend you to their wills. I’m talking not just about Cliff Lee, but Jamie Moyer, Greg Maddux, Roy Halladay, Mark Buehrle. No one’s calling these guys electric. For the most part, their fastballs are pretty pedestrian. And their offspeed stuff – while effective – isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. Oftentimes, a team might come away from a game believing they should’ve beaten these pitchers. But, you know what? Even while you’re watching and not believing how they’re doing it, just know that these guys prove as long as you have the utmost attention to your control – in pitch location and overall emotional composure – even guys like Jason Vargas and Doug Fister can crack a rotation and stick. You don’t need to be Felix or Beckett or Santana or Strasburg. You can be someone’s idea of a 4 or 5 starter who doesn’t make many highlight reels, but does what he’s supposed to do and keeps his team in ballgames. And if you’re dedicated enough and consistent enough and focused enough, your stock will rise until one day multiple teams are clamoring for your services and throwing handfuls of players around to get you. Part of me wishes this had all happened tomorrow with the exact same results. Because it’s not often where I’m confronted with someone who I’m able and willing to appreciate as he’s doing something great. Not to just take for granted and look beyond. Not since Felix first cracked the big leagues have I made a specific player Appointment Television. I’ve gone out of my way just about every game to make sure I was glued to Cliff Lee’s starts. We’re halfway through with 2010 and the season’s been long over as far as the Mariners contending is concerned. But, not until now has my interest and passion for this season truly felt dead. I’ll still keep one eye on the team at all times the rest of the way – after all, I have a job with a computer that gets Internet – but let’s just say the last of the hot air has been released from the balloon. That is, until Michael Pineda is called up from Tacoma … that guy’s going to be a BEAST.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 21

All right, so I’ll go ahead and take the blame for putting the HUGE whammy on Gutierrez, thanks to my comments last Friday. After dabbling with words like “Most”, “Valuable”, and “Player”, Guti went out and posted an 0-5 with 3 strikeouts that night. Then he went 1-5 with 2 strikeouts on Saturday, and followed that up with his best game of the series by far on Sunday: 1-3 with 2 walks, the only RBI of the game for the Mariners, and only 1 strikeout. Since apparently my praise is kryptonite to these guys, I’ll refrain from mentioning Mr. Douglas Fister and the fact that he’s been far and away the best starter we’ve employed this season. I’ll REFRAIN from that, because he’s been Mr. Douglas “Hard Luck” Fister the last couple times out, with pair of 8-inning gems blown by an underachieving bullpen. I don’t expect that to last (the bullpen troubles), but I also don’t expect the other to last (Fister’s 1.29 ERA) either. It’s too bad though. He really should be 4-1 right now. It seems like pitchers go through Calendar Streaks. Every once in a while, they have a month that’s just tremendous; followed by maybe a month down the line that’s Carlos Silva-esque. Since Fister’s last start was in the month of May, I’ll assume he won’t be falling apart any time soon. Still, know that I’m rooting for the guy; I’ll just reserve any overly kind words, lest I want my Greg Maddux comparisons to appear foolish in retrospect.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 9

And “do it again next Monday against Baltimore” he did! Douglas Fister, my boy! Reminds me of a young Bob Wolcott, he does! Yesterday he had a no-hitter through 6 innings until Dave Sims did his damnedest to jinx him by talking about the no-hitter through 6 innings. Dammit Sims! The first rule of broadcasting a No-Hitter is you don’t talk about a No-Hitter! Check out the line on my boy Fister: 7IP, 3H, 1ER, 1BB, 3K; 1.42 ERA on the year. There was one point yesterday – I think it was the 3rd inning – where he threw NOTHING but strikes! I’m serious; there was 1 ball called by the umpire, but that was a discrace: it was right in the middle of the plate! I think he was just so shocked that the inning was about to end with nothing but strikes being thrown that he totally choked on that call. Anyway, Fister is no Felix, but the man has pinpoint accuracy on his side! His fastball may top out at 89 and he may throw it 80% of the time, but if he can hit his spots – inside, outside, up, down – I mean, not for nothing, but Greg Maddux wasn’t all that overpowering either. This is that kind of accuracy that I was seeing last night. Maddux Shit. Just awesome. And, on a disasterous side note: after I went to bed, Franklin Gutierrez may have pulled a groin. For those of you not following baseball, Gutierrez has pretty much been the MVP of baseball. His On-Base percentage is damn near .500! He’s probably responsible for 5 of the Mariners’ 7 wins right now. If we lose him for any kind of stretch, we are DONE. As it is, we need all the hitting we can get. I don’t think I have to tell you what having Eric Byrnes in your everyday lineup will do to my ability to NOT have a stroke every time I watch the Mariners.