Last week, pitchers and catchers reported to their respective camps to begin Spring Training. The Seattle Mariners enter Spring Training with a roster that is full of both interesting pieces and questions marks. Last week, two separate sports writers chose the Mariners as their surprise 2013 team, echoing the seasons Oakland and Baltimore had in 2012. I’m not ready to claim we’re on the verge of contending but we do have a very young team, and a very different team than the last few years. To prepare for the coming season, I’ll be examining each positional group throughout Spring Training to give us a better idea how the roster might shape up come April. I’ll begin with the starting rotation because that unit had more changes during the offseason than any other unit.
Felix was recently signed to a seven-year contract keeping him in Seattle for the long-term future. The Mariners also recently signed Joe Saunders and Jon Garland to one-year contracts. Let’s take a look at each of the candidates for the rotation. I’ll provide stats and projections as needed. I’ve ordered them by the likelihood they begin the season in the starting rotation.
Felix is the undisputed King of the rotation. He is legitimately one of the five best pitchers in the league right now. No major variations in his projections so we can just bask in the glory of his dominance and consistency. If Felix gets injured, this team is hosed.
We only have one year of historical data to work with for Iwakuma and half of that year was spent as a sparingly used reliever. The rough projection calls for an improvement in walk rate and home run rate. His 2012 Home Run rate was inflated from his time as a reliever, a whopping 1.78 HR/9 compared to 1.04 HR/9 as a starter. I would expect his home run rate to fall even farther than projected, right around 1.00 HR/9 bringing his overall FIP lower too. I would also expect his innings pitched to be much higher than their projected total, somewhere around 175 IP. Not a terrible option for our #2, we could certainly do better though.
Joe Saunders couldn’t be more similar to the man he replaced, Jason Vargas. Both lefty control artists who rely on limiting walks and hits rather than strikeouts. The projection I have for Saunders assumes he will be playing in Baltimore (I haven’t updated his projection data for Safeco yet) so I expect his home run rate regress towards league average (~1.00 HR/9) bringing his overall FIP lower. Safeco also historically suppresses walk rates so we might be able to knock off a few points from his walk rate too.
Erasmo Ramirez also spent some of 2012 as a reliever so his historical data is also a bit skewed. Interestingly, his strikeout rate was higher as a starter than as a reliever which is opposite of what we normally see. In the minors, Ramirez’s strikeout rate sat around 6.75 K/9 so his projection might actually be more accurate than what his 2012 data shows. If he’s able to continue to develop, we have a very interesting piece that could peak as a #3 in our rotation.
By this point, we know exactly what we’re getting from Blake Beavan. Low strikeout rate, low walk rate, and a problem keeping the ball in the yard. Most of the variance in his projected FIP can be attributed to his lower projected home run rate but since home runs are so volatile, I’m not sure we can count on that low of a projected rate in 2013. It would be a nice surprise if Beavan was able to fill our #5 spot capably but he’ll more likely be rotation depth in the bullpen as the long arm.
I actually expect our #5 rotation spot to be filled by one of these two veterans. They seem to be playing the part Kevin Millwood played last year. They’re both returning from pretty serious injuries but are signed to minor-league deals so if they do bust, no harm done. Garland has a lower FIP but that’s mostly due to a lower home run rate. These two pitchers are actually fairly similar statistically, it will probably end up coming down to who is more healthy.
Well, at least Hector Noesi’s 2013 projection is an improvement over his disaster of a season last year. His projection calls for an improvement in his strikeout rate and home run rate. Barring a miracle, I fully expect Noesi to begin the season in AAA to continue to work on developing his control and provide rotation depth if someone were to get injured.
|2012 (AA, AAA)||124||9.87||5.44||0.29||3.14|
|2012 (AA)||126 2/3||8.38||3.55||0.85||4.04|
At last we come to our prized prospects. Before you react to their projections, I don’t have the means to translate their historical minor league stats into something useful for my own projection model. Their 2013 projections are courtesy of Dan Szymborski and his ZiPS projection model. The projections ZiPS spits out are major league equivalencies, in other words, if they did play in the majors this year, their projected performances are shown in the numbers above. That being said, I think the stats show that none of these three are ready to begin the season in the major leagues. Hultzen and Paxton are the closest to the majors but will probably start the season in AAA with the potential to be called up mid-season or in September. Walker will probably repeat AA and be called up to AAA mid-season if he continues to develop.
Overall, our starting rotation is decent, but certainly not the strength of the team. There are a lot of pieces that are holding spots until Hultzen, Paxton, or Walker show their ready for the majors. Saunders, Garland, and Bonderman are all signed to one year deals. Come 2014, this rotation will look just as different as it does this year.