Mariners Tidbit 17: Same Old Mariners?

There are two warring factions in the world of Seattle Mariners Fandom:  those quick to criticize and those quick to criticize those who are quick to criticize.  I can see it from both sides and I’m happy to tell you all to calm the fuck down.

To the people who think they’re better and smarter than the average fan, who sit in their ivory towers, tweeting away at all the dumbards, defending the Mariners while extolling the virtues of patience, I’ll say this:  don’t act like the Mariners didn’t bring this upon themselves.  Yes, without even watching a game, I know the 2015 Mariners are much better than any team we’ve seen here in the last decade.  But, there’s a REASON why fans are so quick to kill themselves over a 2-hit shutout in early April!  We’ve seen this time and time and time an dtim e a ndt im e a n d t i m e again.  We had to endure the very worst offense in the modern era, for fuck’s sake!  So, how about cooling it and letting the fans come around on their own?  It may take longer than you’d like, but that’s why Twitter has the mute button.

And, guys, my people.  Those of us who’ve slogged through all the shit.  I know, nobody wants to sit through a 2-hit shutout where a guy who’s VERY mortal against the rest of the league looks like the second coming of Tom Glavine against us, but you know what?  Sometimes, you just run into those guys who – for whatever reason – just have your number.  Hell, the good Mariners teams from 2000 & 2001 still got mowed down on a regular basis by Pedro Martinez, and those were some of the best offensive teams we’ll probably ever see!

I will say this, though:  I’m starting to get a little sick and tired of this offense being super-inept in the month of April.  I don’t want to hear about any marine layer or chilly evening temperatures.  A bat is still a bat and a ball is still a ball, no matter what month it is.  It shouldn’t be THIS hard to get hits.  I’m not even asking for them to rope me 30 Safeco dingers this month!  Just give me some line drives into the outfield!  Give me something more than rolling over on balls at the bottom of the strike zone!  This is all in your heads and you need to buck up and get over this shit.  I eagerly await an early Lloyd McClendon meltdown to light a fire under these guys.

There isn’t much to make of this team after two games, and there especially isn’t much to make of this team after last night’s snoozer.  On first glance, the New & Improved right-handed lineup doesn’t look all that potent.  I’ll be interested to monitor this as the season goes on.  It’s hard to be quite as pathetic as we were against lefties last year, but we’ll see.

Hisashi Iwakuma Is Outstanding, Fernando Rodney Is Not

Updated, with comments about the latest episode of 24:  CRAZY TERRORIST MOM WATCHES CRAZY TERRORIST DAUGHTER HAVE SEX WITH RELUCTANT TERRORIST HUSBAND FOR, LIKE, TWO MINUTES BEFORE IT’S ALL OVER.  Boy, does 24 have zero respect for a man’s ability to delay orgasm in the throes of passion or what?  There’s nothing more entertaining than watching a sex scene start, followed by a commercial break, followed by the completion of said sex scene DURING the commercial break … unless it’s Jack Bauer having sex, in which case they’d need to call the show 48 (with a whole season’s worth of episodes being the most hardcore pornography you’ve ever seen in your life) …

Lost in all of this is that the Mariners’ offense has nearly blown the last TWO Iwakuma starts.  Both last night, and last week against Kansas City, Rodney was given 1-0 leads to close out in the ninth inning.  Yes, it’s a lead, and you expect your highly-priced free agent closer to keep those leads intact – that is his fucking JOB after all – but come on.  Iwakuma goes 8 shutout innings in both games, giving up a combined 8 hits, 0 walks, while striking out 12 … and the Mariners can only muster 1 run per game?

Is this how it’s going to be?  Is Iwakuma going to be the Hard Luck In Run Support Guy?

I don’t usually make it a point to sit down and watch – uninterrupted – a full Mariners game unless there’s about 12 beers in my immediate future, so last night was kind of a rarity.  But, when I’m confronted with a pitching matchup like Iwakuma vs. David Price, I can’t say no!

And believe you me, if there was any hype to this game outside of the Seattle area, this game lived up to that hypothetical hype and then some!

David Price is a stud and has been a stud for quite some time.  Hisashi Iwakuma has been a stud for considerably less time, but make no mistake, he’s a stud nonetheless.  You wouldn’t think it to look at him.  He’s not overpowering.  He doesn’t even have the crazy movement of a Yu Darvish.  But, he’s got the bottom of that strike zone on lockdown, he’s got just enough movement to induce a Darvish-esque amount of whiffs, and he’s always in command.  His pitches GO where he wants them to go and DO what he wants them to do.

Remember when Iwakuma was the slowest pitcher in the Major Leagues?  Or, at least it kinda felt that way and Dave Sims wouldn’t shut up about it?  So, even though he was effective, his games were still sort of unbearable because they took forever or just felt like they took forever because you had to listen to Sims’ whining for 3+ hours?  Well, now his games are Must See TV.  Except better, because honestly who could stand the last four or five seasons of Friends anyway?

I’ve read in a few places people referring to Iwakuma as an Ace.  It will never stop sounding odd to me.  When I think of an Ace, I think of someone like Felix Hernandez.  Someone who’s renown and lauded throughout the land.  Someone who is the constant source of hacky baseball articles asking, “When is Terrible Team X going to trade So & So?”  But, not only is Iwakuma NOT renown and lauded throughout the land, he’s not even renown OR lauded in his own (American) backyard!

You wanna talk about an underrated master of his craft, I’ll tell you what; Hisashi Iwakuma is easily a Top 10 pitcher in the bigs and is TOTALLY worthy of his being in every Cy Young conversation.  The Seattle Mariners have two amazing Ace pitchers on their staff, pretty much for the price of one.  Now, what we have to ask ourselves is:  can we afford to extend him long-term?

***

On the flipside, we have Fernando Rodney.  BOY do people not like this guy right now!

There are two sources of Mariners fans’ ire last night/this morning:  Fernando Rodney (for being a piece of shit) and Lloyd McClendon (for letting the piece of shit blow the save in the 9th, instead of letting Iwakuma attempt the complete game).  Iwakuma had only thrown 97 pitches through eight masterful innings, so unless you’re afraid of the 100-pitch bogeyman coming to steal all of our souls the instant Iwakuma threw his third pitch of the ninth inning, it’s reasonable (under normal circumstances) to expect a starting, Ace pitcher to be capable of throwing 110-120 pitches without turning into a pumpkin.

But, of course, these aren’t normal circumstances.  I know you see the calendar and you see it’s the middle of May – we’re in our seventh week of the regular season at this point.  But, Iwakuma was just wrapping up his third start of the year.  This is, like, the second week of Iwakuma’s season (and how many guys do you see throwing complete games in the first or second weeks of their seasons?).

Also, Fernando Rodney has a specific job on this team:  he’s the closer.  As defined by the parlance of our times, The Closer is The Guy who gets The Saves.  Meaning:  he comes into the ninth innings of games where your team is ahead by 1 to 3 runs, tasked with the charge of getting the final out(s) of the ballgame.  My recommendation to you:  don’t think about it too hard.  Don’t let the lack of logic dictate your emotional response.  Don’t wonder why you wouldn’t put your best reliever in the highest leverage situation, regardless of whether it counts as a “save” or not.  Hell, don’t acknowledge the fact that the “save” is inherently a non-essential statistic.  If you’re smart enough to know that saves are bullshit, and defined bullpen roles are useless and counter-intuitive, then you’re smart enough to know that THIS is the sport you’ve decided to spend your lives obsessing over:  the game isn’t going to radically change its most basic principles just because one subsect of its fanbase finds something totally and completely ridiculous.

Or, to put it in other words:  if you don’t like it, then you can GIT OUT!

America is baseball and baseball is America.  They rarely change or make concessions for their intellectual elite (of which, I should point out, I do NOT consider myself a member; I’m more “Intellectual Above Average” on my best day, but I’ll gladly welcome anyone who wants to lavish praise upon me).  Fernando Rodney is our closer, and he’s going to come into Save Situations whether we like it or not.

My problem with Fernando Rodney is:  he tries to get too cute.  He falls in love with that change up like he’s fucking Pedro Martinez or something.  I used to be irritated with David Aardsma because all he did was pump the strike zone with fastballs; his secondary pitches were pretty much useless and so he just hardly ever threw them.  David Aardsma, though, was one of the most effective closers the Seattle Mariners have ever had (currently 4th on the all time franchise list with 69 saves, which would be depressing as fuck-all if it wasn’t hilarious … 69 …).  Why was he effective?  Because he went with what worked.  His fastball was as straight and flat as it gets, but he threw hard and he induced more weak contact than strong contact.

Fernando Rodney has a good fastball.  It beats the hell out of Aardsma’s, because it also has natural movement.  So, WHAT THE FUCK is he doing dicking around with David DeJesus to lead off the ninth inning last night?  Just pump his ass full of fastballs and let him get himself out!  Don’t hand-deliver him a change up in the middle of the zone and let him jack it out of there for the game-tying blown save!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Fernando Rodney is dumb.  He’s a big, dumb animal disguised as a pitcher.  He has two pitches – fastball & change up – that he throws in the area of the plate and lets their natural movement dictate whether they’ll induce outs or not.  Don’t ask him to hit spots!  Don’t ask him to intelligently work a hitter by changing his eye level or forcing him to over-think what’s coming next.  If it happens, it’s dumb, blind luck, because once the ball leaves his hand, Fernando Rodney has no control whatsoever as to what that ball is going to do or where it’s going to end up.

Next time you see him in a game, don’t watch Rodney, watch the catcher.  Watch where the catcher sets up his body, watch where he puts his glove before the pitch is thrown, and watch where that glove ends up once the ball is caught.  RARE is the pitch where the catcher doesn’t have to reach wildly across his body to collect the baseball thrown by Fernando Rodney.

I say all this, and yet I know in my brain that Fernando Rodney hasn’t been THAT bad.  Or, at least, the results haven’t been that bad.  He’s even had a small number of 1-2-3 innings that have been a shock to us all.  Nevertheless, this is how it’s going to be for the next season-plus.  Closers are going to blow saves from time to time.  It happens.  It’s frustrating – all the moreso when it happens after a Felix or Iwakuma start – but it happens.  They’re not perfect.  And, if they are, it’s always an anomaly.  Fernando Rodney already HAD his anomaly season, in 2012; that’s not going to happen again.  You’re not going to see the guy with the sub-1 ERA and the 2 blown saves all season.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get the Fernando Rodney from 2013 with the sub-4 ERA and the 8 blown saves.

8 blown saves isn’t the worst thing in the world.  That’s, like, a little over one per month.  It becomes a problem if, over the next week or two, he comes out and blows another 3 or 4 saves (or, as it’s known around here, The Brandon League Special).  A quick check of the calendar shows that we don’t have any games in Cleveland, Chicago, or Baltimore anytime soon, so I think we’ll be okay.

Talking About Risk With Felix Hernandez

I feel like this extension is just about universally beloved by Mariners fans.  The casual Mariners fans have nothing but elation for this thing, knowing that their favorite player (and, really, he has to be EVERY M’s fan’s favorite player, because he’s Felix!) will be around for the next 7 years.  The more hardcore Mariners fans out there, though, like to temper their excitement with real world pragmatism.

OK, let’s get pragmatic.  $175 million is a lot of money to spend on ANY player, even if he is King Felix.  People like to argue about how you can spread that $25 million per season into 2 or 3 quality guys.  Except, I don’t buy it.  You can believe that if you live in some sort of fantasy world; but in the REAL world, where there’s such a thing as Supply & Demand, know that you’re not finding any kind of quality on the free agent market for $8 million a year.  You know what you get for $8 million?  You get one of your own middling free agents on a salary arbitration deal (a la Jason Vargas), or you get a veteran near the end of his Major League career (a la Joe Saunders).  Now, you tell me:  would you rather have 1 Felix Hernandez, or would you rather have 3 Jason Vargases (Jason Vargi?)?  I think we all know the answer to that.

The next knock on this deal has to do with the money per year.  $25 million.  Which, if the Mariners keep their payroll under $100 million, as is to be expected, equates to greater than 1/4 of your total salary on one guy.  Geoff Baker has a valid argument when he brings this up, just as his argument was valid when the Mariners were paying $27 million to Ichiro and Figgins.  When so much salary (percentage-wise) is tied into so few players, then the odds are pretty strong that you’re not really doing much of anything to supplement your superstar with the talent required to win consistently.  Now, where the roads start to diverge is:  Ichiro and Figgins were struggling when they represented over 1/4 of the team’s payroll.  I would expect Felix to be the same ol’ dominant ace of this staff for years to come.  Aside from injury (knock on wood), I can pretty much guarantee it.  He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher in the prime of his career; he’s got at LEAST 7 more dominant years.  If he’s anything like Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez, he’s probably got twice those years left on his arm.

The biggie, though, is his profession.  Felix is a pitcher.  People and teams are generally reluctant to give such big contracts (both in money and in total years) to pitchers because incidence of injury is so common.  Once a pitcher injures his shoulder or his elbow, forget about it.  Stick a fork in him!  I don’t think the years scare people because they think Felix will magically turn into Barry Zito.  I think they scare people because they worry he’ll turn into Erik Bedard or Mark Prior or some damn thing.

Which, okay, I’ll buy that.  I’ll buy that to a point.  But, it swings both ways, my friends.  The Mariners were CONVINCED that Randy Johnson’s back problems would linger for the rest of his career and make him a prohibitively worse pitcher going forward.  Mind you, this was back in 1998, a couple years after he was lost for most of 1996.  Felix … has NEVER been injured.  He’s spent time on the DL, but not to a significant degree.  No surgery, nothing that kept him out for more than a month.  So, there’s no track record to worry about with Felix.  But, even if there was, remember the Mariners traded The Big Unit in 1998.  He would go on to play 11 more seasons!  He would go on to win FOUR Cy Young Awards with the Diamondbacks!  Was there risk in signing Randy to a long-term extension?  Absolutely.  Who was rewarded for assuming that risk?  Not the Seattle Fucking Mariners, that’s who.

I can’t see into the future.  I make predictions all the time and I’m frequently wrong.  Saying what I’m about to say might be the biggest whammy of them all, but I don’t give a damn:  I think Felix is one of those guys who is worth the risk.  I think he will remain as healthy as he’s ever been, and I think he will only continue to refine his craft and get better as a pitcher.  I think he will go on to win multiple Cy Young awards and I think he will eventually lead this team to the playoffs.

If this front office does the right thing and puts the right players around him, that is.

An investment like Felix doesn’t come without risk.  Of course, ANY investment where you’re building around a $25 million-a-year guy is going to come with risk.  You can mitigate that risk considerably by filling in the team around him with quality guys.  Whether that’s via free agency, trade, or having your own young guys take the next step to superstardom.

One thing is for certain:  the pressure is off of this team just a little bit.  It’s no longer 2014-or-bust.  We now have Felix thru 2019.  Now, that doesn’t mean we can push things back and call it 2019-or-bust!  If we go another seven years consistently bottom-feeding in the American League, we might not even get those seven years.  I finally believe that Felix loves this city and loves being a Seattle Mariner, but everyone has a breaking point.  There’s nothing to say that he won’t one day demand to be traded out of this win-never dump.

So, let’s get our shit together, huh Mariners?  I’m counting on you!

Seattle Mariners 2012 Postmortem, Part 2 (Pitchers)

See Part 1 HERE.

Some interesting similarities between 2011’s starters and 2012’s.  Obviously, the two constants were Felix and Vargas.  For no discernible reason whatsoever, both were remarkably better in 2012.  Felix’s ERA dropped from 3.47 to 3.06; Vargas’ ERA dropped from 4.25 to 3.85.  This is reflected in their records, as they combined for 3 more wins and 7 fewer losses.

As chance would have it, both will likely return for 2013.  Can we expect continued improvement?  Will there be regression?

Obviously, Felix is smack dab in the middle of his prime, so I would expect any worsening of his ERA to be completely random (or due to injury, knock on wood).  As for Vargas, I think he’s going to be a crapshoot for the rest of his career.  A dependable crapshoot, but a crapshoot nonetheless.  I do wonder, though, what he’ll look like without the security blanket of Safeco.

Vargas Home/Road splits in 2012:

  • Home:  98.2 IP, 2.74 ERA, .592 OPS against, 9 home runs allowed in 14 games
  • Road:  118.2 IP, 4.78 ERA, .809 OPS against, 26 home runs allowed in 19 games

Look, not for nothing, but if you were planning out your pitching rotation, and you had a guy like Vargas – with such EXTREME home/road splits – wouldn’t you try to do the math and figure out a way to maximize his home starts?  Just something to consider.

I’m told by people smarter than myself that giving up a shit-ton of home runs is kind of random, so that’s likely to improve next season.  Nevertheless, you’re talking about a flyball pitcher who is considerably worse on the road.  He gets knocked around!  He’s likely going to leave Seattle after next season and he’s likely going to struggle for the rest of his career (except for the few times he comes to Safeco to pitch against the Mariners, that is).

It’s pointless to complain about Vargas (besides, I’m not complaining anyway); just know that we’re stuck with him.  Of course, there’s talk of trying to extend him on a 2-3 year deal for a reasonable amount of money.  I wouldn’t be against it.  Granted, he’s not the sexiest thing in baseball cleats, but about half the time he gets the job done, and he eats up a lot of innings.  You know EXACTLY what you’re going to get from Vargas, so in that sense, it’s nice to have something you can rely on.

Plus, you know, it’s not like we’re asking Vargas to be anything more than he is.  After all, we DO have a number 1 pitcher.  And he just so happens to be the best, most fearsome pitcher in all of baseball.

It’s funny, because I can clearly remember when Randy Johnson was a player on the Seattle Mariners.  I can close my eyes and picture him with the hat and the jersey and the mullet, staring down the batter from behind his glove, going into his wind up, burying a slider in the dirt on a right-handed batter for another strikeout.  It’s all there in my memory bank.

What’s not there is the feeling I had watching him as an M’s fan.  That confidence, that swagger, knowing that we’d be in for an amazing show every time he took the mound.  Knowing that other teams feared facing him above all others.  Knowing the best left-handed batters in the game would actively boycott his starts.  It’s hard.  Even though I knew Randy was one of the best in the game, it’s hard to be over-confident when your team has never really won anything ever.

I do know the fear, though.  Of opposing pitchers.  Coming in here and absolutely DESTROYING the Mariners.  If I had to pick a pitcher in his prime who I feared above all others, it’s hands down Pedro Martinez when he was with Boston.  Good LORD!  Remember, we had some out-of-this-world offenses back in the day.  And he would come here and we’d be lucky to get AH run, let alone many runs required to beat a Pedro-backed Red Sox team.  In fact, every time he started against us, I’d wonder, “Is this the time he no-hits us?”

The numbers bear this out, by the way.  In 14 career games (seriously, it felt like 144), the M’s only hit .177 against him.  That’s the second-best batting average against of any team he ever faced.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about Pedro, but I just want you to keep him in mind.  Because every time Felix faces, oh I dunno, the Rays or the Twins (who have batted .188 and .191 respectively against Felix in his career), they look at Felix the way I looked at Pedro.  With fear and awe and frustration and sometimes murderous rage.

Felix is great.  He’s AMAZING!  I don’t care what anyone else says, he’s hands down the best pitcher in baseball.  If I’m lucky enough to see Felix stick with the Mariners through his entire career, I will die a happy man.  And in 2012, Felix got his first Perfect Game.  Remember that?  Remember all the warm fuzzies on that Wednesday afternoon back in August?  That event single-handedly made my 2012.  Considering we’re talking about a team that was going nowhere, at least I got SOMETHING to enjoy.  Something to look back on with extreme fondness.

Anyway, that’s Felix and Vargas.  That’s 40% of your 2012 starting rotation and 40% of your 2013 starting rotation.

You thought you were finished with Blake Beavan after 2011?  You thought, “Oh, he’s a long relief bullpen guy at best!  No way he cracks the rotation AGAIN!”

Well, you thought wrong, my friends.  Because not only was he back in the 2012 rotation, he made 11 more starts than in 2011!  And he gave us EXACTLY the same type of production.

Blake Beavan is who he is and that’s all he’s going to be, it appears.  A guy with an ERA in the 4.50-range.  A guy who strikes out approximately 4 batters per 9 innings pitched.  A guy who is always in or near the strike zone.  A guy who pitches to contact.  And a guy who doesn’t get enough groundball outs to be an effective pitcher in the American League.

You want the typical Beavan start?  Here it is:  6 IP, 3 ER, 7 hits, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 1 HR, 101 pitches.  You want to see that 26 times in a season?  Be my guest.

Most M’s fans hope we’ve seen the last of Beavan in the rotation.  As it stands, three of the five spots are currently locked up in Felix, Vargas, and Iwakuma.  Many believe Erasmo is one solid & steady Spring Training away from locking down that 4th starter job.  Which just leaves ol’ number 5.  Without question, the Mariners are going to bring in a free agent or two to compete for that 5th spot.  Likewise, guys like Hultzen will get a crack (and even if he doesn’t win it outright, he’ll be heavily considered for a May or June call-up, if he dominates AAA as he should).

Have we seen the last of Beavan?  I’m going to say yes, because I’m tired of straddling this fence all the time.

Speaking of Iwakuma (was I?  speaking of him?), he’s back!  On a 2 or 3 year deal, depending on how well he does in those first two seasons.  This is most-excellent.  Iwakuma was a definite gem when he was allowed to start last season.  As a starter, over 16 games, he had an 8-4 record with a 2.65 ERA.  In 14 relief appearances to start the season, he had a 1-1 record with a 4.75 ERA.

First, it should be mentioned that Iwakuma had all of five appearances in the months of April and May.  For reasons that haven’t been fully explained, Iwakuma was buried in the bullpen and only allowed to pitch in the most controlled (or emergency) circumstances.  Either he wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors, or the team didn’t believe in his stuff.  Either way, when thrust into a starter’s role, Iwakuma rewarded the team with a bevy of dominant performances.

Second, it should be mentioned that the primary reason Iwakuma got to start at all was because Hector Noesi is a thing.

There have been some extremely shitty starting pitchers for the Mariners over the years.  Scott Sanders comes immediately to mind; don’t ask me why.  Sterling Hitchcock was a real sore thumb.  I recall Paul Spoljaric getting some starts early on.  Ken Cloude, of course.  Good ol’ Mac Suzuki …

Anyway, without hyperbole, Hector Noesi completely out-shits them all!

The only reason he didn’t have the highest ERA on the team is because George Sherrill had a 27 ERA after two appearances before being lost for the season to injury.  Noesi was a complete and total waste, in every sense of the word.  And the frustrating thing?  Unlike those other stiffs I listed above, Noesi actually has STUFF!  He’s got a live fastball with lots of movement, he’s got some sick breaking stuff … I mean, if he could harness his own power, he could be a Top 20 pitcher in this league.

But, it’s absolutely a fact that he doesn’t have the mental capacity to succeed.  I mean, just look at his numbers in various counts.

I’m going to split this up.  I’ll give you Noesi’s numbers, and I’ll give you Felix’s numbers.  The guy Noesi was in 2012 vs. the guy Noesi should aspire to be.

  • BA against in an 0-0 count:  Noesi – .300, Felix – .403
  • BA against in an 0-1 count:  Noesi – .244, Felix – .310
  • BA against in an 0-2 count:  Noesi – .319, Felix – .101

I could go on and on, but you probably get the idea.  If you don’t hit Felix early in the count, odds are you’re not hitting him at all.  When Felix gets ahead of you in the count, you’re fucking doomed!  When Noesi gets ahead of you in the count, just sit on something in the middle of the plate, because THAT’S where he’s going to throw it!

And it’s not like the media didn’t make a huge deal about it during the first couple months of the season.  It was a nasty little trend that never went away.  It’s also not like the coaches didn’t harp on it in public and private, ad nauseam!  Noesi just, for whatever reason, couldn’t adjust his game.  Which leads me to believe he’s not ready mentally.  Which makes me question whether he ever will be.

I don’t think we have to worry about Noesi in 2013; he’s firmly in the Tacoma Rainiers camp.  That doesn’t mean we won’t have some other huge embarrassing failure clogging up our 2013 rotation; it just means it won’t be the SAME huge embarrassing failure.

Finally, to finish off this little spiel on 2012 starters, we had Kevin Millwood.  Somehow, we got a full season out of the guy, which is a shock considering he was always coming up with some minor malady or another.

I’m not going to kick the guy as he’s being shown the door – obvs, he won’t be back for 2013 – but he wasn’t great.  He wasn’t as bad as I thought going into the season either, though, so that’s something I guess.  I’m not overly upset that we were forced to watch him nearly every fifth day.  And, he gave me probably my second-favorite memory of the 2012 season:  the 6-pitcher no-hitter.

Hell, if it weren’t for his decomposing body, he probably would’ve stayed IN that game and eventually given up a hit!

So, good on you, Millwood.  You made it through another season.  Happy trails and I wish you good fortune in your future endeavors.

***

The bullpen was a definite bright spot, especially once we cleared out all the trash.

For as shitty as the Mariners have been over the past decade, they’ve still been blessed with some solid closing performances.  Tom Wilhelmsen kept the streak alive in 2012.

I don’t have a lot to say about the guy, except that he’s great.  Atomic fastball, crazy-sick curve ball, and he’s working on a change up.  He’s either going to be a bigtime trade chip this offseason, or he’s going to be a lockdown closer for us in 2013.  Either way, I’ll take it.

Other than the Bartender’s bossness, the major bullpen storyline was Brandon League totally falling apart, losing his closer’s job, then getting traded to the Dodgers for a couple guys who will probably never see the light of day in a Mariners uniform.

Just to beat this dead horse one more time:  we drafted Brandon Morrow over Tim Lincecum (obvious step down in talent, 2012 season notwithstanding).  THEN, we traded Morrow for League and another guy.  The other guy continues to struggle for us in the minors.  THEN, we traded League for two more guys who will struggle in the minors.  In short, we passed over Tim Lincecum and drafted NOBODY in the first round that season.  Thanks Bavasi.  Thanks Jackie Z.

League went on to play in 28 games for the Dodgers.  He had an ERA of 2.30, with 6 saves and a serious uptick in K’s per 9 innings (8.9, vs. the mid-6 area for the Mariners).  League was rewarded with a fairly massive 3-year extension (with a vesting option for a 4th, if he meets a quota of appearances) that could be worth, all told, upwards of $28.5 million over said 4 years.

For the record, I don’t think there’s any way that fourth year sees the light of day.  Enjoy your inconsistent ball of aggravation, Dodgers!

The Mariners also traded Steve Delabar in 2012, which brought us Eric Thames, so I’d say that’s a win.  Thames wasn’t superb, but he had his moments.  Delabar was just another fireballer who wasn’t in the long-term plans either way.

Lucas Luetge, however, IS very much in our long-term plans!  He was a Rule 5 guy we picked up and made our lefty specialist.  And what a lefty specialist he was!  It’s not often that Rule 5 guys stick with a team for a full season; but if they do, it’s likely because they’re bullpen guys.  Luetge wasn’t just buried, though.  He was put in some tough situations and made it through pretty much unscathed.  63 appearances (though, only 40.2 IP), 3.98 ERA, with 38 strikeouts and 24 walks.  Not bad for a guy who was in the minors the year before.

Luetge is a guy we throw in there late in games to mostly get just one guy out.  Furbush, however, is a lefty we throw in there to be dominant late in games.

Furbush was a starter we got in the Doug Fister trade.  He stunk as a starter in 2011, so he was converted into a reliever (or back into a reliever, as I believe he’s had experience in that role before).  Furbush as a reliever in 2012 was lights fucking out, so it’s nice to have him back as well in 2013.

Oliver Perez, as I wrote about a little while ago, was re-signed.  He’s our third left-hander in the bullpen.  He’s got a live fastball and produced at a high level in 2012 (2.12 ERA in 33 games).

To even things out, we’ve got fireballers in the form of Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps.  They combined for 44 games, struck out a ton of guys, and both had ERAs near 4.  2012 was their first season in the Big Leagues (not sure if they played in enough games to qualify as “rookies” or not), so we’ve got that going for us.

Rounding things out, we’ve got Shawn Kelley.  Another big fastball, another productive season.

The bullpen for 2013 looks amazing, I’m not gonna lie.  If we trade no one, here’s what it looks like in list form:

  • Tom Wilhelmsen – Closer
  • Shawn Kelley – Righty
  • Charlie Furbush – Lefty
  • Stephen Pryor – Righty
  • Oliver Perez – Lefty
  • Carter Capps – Righty
  • Lucas Luetge – Lefty Specialist

As I sit here looking at it, I’m wondering who our Long Man is going to be.  I’ve never known a team to have a bullpen of all 1-inning-or-less guys.  Seems to me someone will HAVE to be traded, or left behind in Tacoma.  We’ll see.

Obviously, Wilhelmsen is the proven talent, so he’ll probably be pretty easy to move.  Made even easier since it looks like we have two more closer types (Pryor & Capps) with longer team control.  Those two guys are probably more valuable (due to said team control), so it wouldn’t shock me to see one, or even both, of them go to help bring in a bat.  However, let’s not go crazy and trade all three, huh?  I’d like to try to get Felix over the 15-win mark at SOME point in the near future!

In short, there was a lot to like (or at least not a lot to hate) about the pitching in 2012.  With the young ‘uns in Double-A itching to get their opportunity, we’re an organization rich in pitching.  Obviously, some will be traded to bring in a bat (or bats).  Hold onto your nuts this offseason, it’s going to get mighty interesting.

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 – 64

You know why Cliff Lee’s great? You know why he’s the only guy on this team I’d let defile me in the name of “Contract Extension”? Because the man gives you hope. I mean, look at him. Physically, he’s not that impressive. According to his ESPN bio page, he’s 6-3, 190. That’s not incredibly tall, though I suppose it gives him a bit of an advantage over your regular 5-3 pitcher. Pretty much, he’s just your average guy. And he doesn’t throw all that fast; one time I saw him hit 94 on the radar gun, but most of the time he’s around 91, 92mph. And yeah, he’s got some bendy stuff he mixes in, but he’s by no means Pedro Martinez in his prime. He just locates it down, consistently. If he left his stuff up and out over the plate, he’d be getting belted out of the park like Rowland-Smith was last night. But, that’s just it, aside from a few mph on the ol’ fastball, you could say Lee and Rowland-Smith (and Vargas) are essentially the same pitcher. The only difference being: control. Lee knows what he wants to do and knows where he wants the ball … and then he goes out and he PUTS the ball where he wants it, to fantastic results. He doesn’t have these slip-ups where he’s cruising along and then lets a couple guys on base and then leaves a hanging slider, or tries to come in on a right handed hitter only to see him turn and crank it out of the park. Lee is the epitome of control. And he never lets himself lose it. Also, he’s 31. Barring injury, he could easily control his way through another 10 productive years. Cliff Lee will be a very wealthy man when all is said and done.