Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MARINERS: The Rotation competition

When you think of the Mariners’ problems, you automatically think of their offensive woes. But, believe it or not, the M’s have other issues as well… like their pitching rotation. While other teams largely have their pitching order down at this point, the Mariners are still in a flux with guys like Eric Bedard, Luke French, and Michael Pineda vying for spots. Here’s a position by position breakdown of each spot.

Number 1 starter: NO debate. 2010 AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. If you think otherwise, therapy is on the horizon for you. The man had a ridiculous 2.27 ERA and 232 strikeouts, but also was a workhorse pitching 249 innings.

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Number 2 starter: This spot has a bit more of a debate, but not much. Jason Vargas had a solid season last year pitching 192 innings to go along with a 3.78 ERA and 116 strikeouts. There doesn’t seem to be anyone in spring training to challenge him for this spot, but you never know. The only concern with Vargas is his arm wearing out by the end of the season, because 192 major league innings in 2010 is a huge step up from 51 in 2009.

Number 3 starter: This is where it gets a bit trickier, but not by much. All implications are that Doug Fister will be the third starter. Fister had a great start to the 2010 season with an ERA in the 2’s to start the year, but burned out by the end of the year due to a huge jump in innings pitched (171 in 2010, 65 in 2009) and wound up with a 4.11 ERA. Doug isn’t a big strikeout guy, only fanning 91 batters last year, but gets the job done effectively. If he struggles in Spring training though, don’t be surprised if Luke French creeps up and takes the spot.

Number 4 & 5 starters: These spots are more unclear than Bill Bavasi’s “rebuilding” plan. The legitimate candidates for the last spots in the rotation are Michael Pineda, Eric Bedard, Luke French, and David Pauley. The 4 and 5 spots are going to be a plain dogfight, and really whoever performs the best in Spring Training will claim these spots.

Luke French and David Pauley are largely the same, just soft throwing guys that aren’t great, but not terribly bad. They both had ERA’s in the 4’s last year, and both finished with so-so strikeout ratios (French 3.80 K/ 9innings, Pauley 5.06 K/9 innings). You’re not going to get amazing stuff out of these two, but you’re not going to get Ryan Rowland-Smith bad either.

Michael Pineda is practically the complete opposite of those two. At 6-5, Pineda is an intimidating force on the mound and has a fastball in the mid 90’s. In AAA Tacoma last year, his strikeout ratio was 10.97K/ 9innings, which is extraordinary for someone who’s only 22. He is one of the top prospects in America, and is expected to be a legitimate number 2 starter in the future. For now, he’s still working on his control and has a chance to be the number 5 starter coming out of camp.

Here’s the wild card: Eric Bedard. He’s been the common joke among Mariners fans the last couple of years, being traded to Seattle for 5 prospects, only to get injured every year. Bedard had Tommy John surgery in 2010, and didn’t throw a single major league pitch. So, the Mariners signed him a non-guaranteed contract this offseason, which is virtually unknown in baseball. He’s kind of the dark horse at this point, because no one knows what to expect. If he returns to the 2006 All-star he was, he could end up the number 2 starter by the end of the season. But, he could end up slipping in the dugout and break his throwing arm. No one really knows with Bedard.

The Mariners have a big competition going on for those last two spots, and it is something to watch as spring training rolls on.

Reach Nathan Parsons at nathanparsons98@yahoo.com