M’s rotation in good hands

 The baseball world has been drooling over the bevy of talented young arms the St. Louis Cardinals have boasted throughout their playoff run. Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly were integral pieces to the Cardinals’ October success thus far, and Shelby Miller made an impact during the season to help get them there.

The Seattle Mariners have quietly stockpiled their own stash of young arms over the last five years, but the attention has been minimal outside of the Pacific Northwest due to the M’s being out of contention for the umpteenth year in a row. This past season proved to be an interesting year for the Seattle rotation, featuring the debuts of a couple young studs, a couple disaster acquisitions, and a pleasant surprise all surrounding the calm that is staff ace Felix Hernandez.

Let’s take a look at everyone who started for the club this year, and how that shapes the future as the organization aims for better things in 2014.

Felix Hernandez: 31 GS, 204 1/3 IP, 121 ERA+, 1.131 WHIP, 9.5 SO/9, 5.2 WAR
Hisashi Iwakuma: 33 GS, 219 2/3 IP, 138 ERA+, 1.006 WHIP, 7.6 SO/9, 7.0 WAR
Joe Saunders: 32 GS, 183 IP, 70 ERA+, 1.601 WHIP, 5.3 SO/9, -0.3 WAR
Aaron Harang: 22 GS, 120 1/3 IP, 64 ERA+, 1.338 WHIP, 6.5 SO/9, 0.2 WAR
*Brandon Maurer: 14 GS, 90 IP, 59 ERA+, 1.567 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, -1.1 WAR
*Erasmo Ramirez: 13 GS, 72 1/3 IP, 74 ERA+, 1.452 WHIP, 7.1 SO/9, 0.1 WAR
*Blake Beavan: 2 GS, 39 2/3 IP, 61 ERA+, 1.361 WHIP, 6.1 SO/9, -0.5 WAR
Jeremy Bonderman: 7 GS, 38 1/3 IP, 75 ERA+, 1.487 WHIP, 3.8 SO/9, 0.0 WAR
*Hector Noesi: 1 GS, 27 1/3 IP, 57 ERA+, 1.976 WHIP, 6.9 SO/9, -0.3 WAR
James Paxton: 4 GS, 24 IP, 249 ERA+, 0.917 WHIP, 7.9 SO/9, 1.1 WAR
Taijuan Walker: 3 GS, 15 IP, 105 ERA+, 1.000 WHIP, 7.2 SO/9, 0.1 WAR

(*Indicates stats from relief appearances are also included)
Wins Above Replacement totals by Baseball-Reference.com

Hernandez had a slightly down year by his standards, but even so he still proved his value at the top of the rotation. Iwakuma proved to be a pleasant surprise while very quietly putting his name in the discussion for the AL Cy Young Award. The 32 year-old had a decent 2012, splitting his appearances between the bullpen and rotation, but managed to put it altogether in 2013. While it’s hard to tell if Iwakuma can keep up this level of performance, he should be standing next to King Felix atop the rotation for at least another year, maybe two.

The only good thing I’m going to say about Saunders is that he was healthy the whole year; his line is pretty ugly otherwise, and his $6M salary will be spent elsewhere in 2014. Believe it or not, Harang was slightly better than Saunders, but was still replacement level before being released in September. Bonderman’s sample size is small as he was released after a little more than a month in the majors and provided average value during that time.

The contributions from the younger arms make this picture a lot more interesting. Maurer, 23, will likely get another look from the club in Spring Training, but it’s worth noting he’s only thrown 46 2/3 Triple-A innings thus far, so perhaps he starts the year in Tacoma to get some more seasoning, but the club sent him to Arizona this fall to get some more work.

Ramirez, also 23, has pitched well in the minors the past two seasons, but has not quite established himself as a big league arm yet. He saw his hit, walk and home run rates increase in his 72 big-league innings this year in comparison to his 59 from 2012. Cause for concern? I wouldn’t read much into it. I’d like to see what he could offer over the course of a full season in the bigs. If I had to choose between the two for a rotation spot today, I’d give Ramirez the edge.

Beavan, a former first-round pick, put together a nice 2012 campaign for the M’s, starting 26 games and providing 1.2 WAR, but spent much of 2013 in Tacoma trying to find that success. The 24 year-old still holds some potential, and will likely see future opportunities. Mariners’ brass likely will weigh the benefits of Beavan pitching out of the bullpen for the big club, or starting the season in Tacoma’s rotation.

Noesi is in a similar situation as Beavan with respect to his 2013 struggles in the minors. At 26 Noesi may still be worth keeping around, but his high walk rate and low strikeout rate hurt his bullpen value, so it’s difficult to imagine he has any chance to open next season in the starting five.

Paxton and Walker will garner most of the attention here, and that is well earned. Paxton, a British Columbia product, exploded onto the scene when he was called up in September. Paxton threw 145 2/3 innings of 4.45 ERA ball in Tacoma before giving up just four runs across 24 innings in his four big-league starts. It’s a small sample size for sure, but there’s no reason to shun excitement when looking toward Paxton’s future.

Walker didn’t make as much noise in his first three major league starts, but he definitely gave a glimpse of what he’s capable of at the MLB level after he capped off an impressive minor league campaign split between Double-A and Triple-A. While I find it doubtful that the pair will both start 2014 in the Mariners’ rotation, I would expect both to play a role at some point during the season.

It’s worth mentioning that left-hander Danny Hultzen should be mentioned in this post, but shoulder surgery will cause him to miss most or all of the 2014 campaign.

Obviously the M’s are going to be in the free agent and trade market this winter looking to add starting pitching. Their internal candidates, however, should provide lots to discuss as the Hot Stove League heats up this month.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

29 Comments

  1. “Plenty of old biases remain alive and well. Prince Fielder can fetch $214 million because there will always be someone willing to (over)pay for home runs and RBIs. Meanwhile, defense remains underrated, batting average overrated — to name just two misguided stances. We haven’t had time to go through this year’s free-agent crop yet. But if you want to find the bargains of 2014, look for under-30 players who play good defense, are coming off ugly seasons by traditional metrics, and have some history of strong performance two or three years ago.” —Jonah Keri at Grantland

  2. On a related note, the other aspect of the performance of the starting pitching was the defense. I’m actually a bit surprised that we didn’t see more guys far underperform due to how terrible the outfield defense was. When we were running out an OF of Ibanez, Saunders, and Morse, that was the worst outfield defense I’ve ever seen. I’m still amazed that Iwakuma and Felix put up the numbers they did. I’m sure it hurt Maurer, Saunders, and Harang.

    One of the easiest ways the M’s can improve is by improving the outfield defense. If they can add a legit CFer, and avoid playing disasters like Ibanez and Morse, it will help the run prevention. Its a simple, cheap, and quick way to radically improve the club.

    The M’s were playing two DH’s in the outfield in 2013. They don’t need to make huge free agent additions to radically improve that area next year.

  3. Expecting Paxton and Walker to both fill spots in the rotation is incredibly risky and just plain irresponsible. Walker is still young, and Paxton has been INCREDIBLY inconsistent throughout his career. Both looked great at the end of the season, but you shouldn’t make major decisions based on small Sept samples.

    Relying in those guys will very likely result in continued terrible performances from the back of the rotation.

    Again, the best plan is one that gives the M’s the option to promote those guys, but the depth to still have solid MLB starters if they struggle, get injured, or just plain bust.

  4. Paxton and Walker should have roter spots next. Year leaving 1 pitching spot open in the starting rotation. None of the mentioned players are what I would want. Vargas will go to a winner. Garza will go to a winner. Nolasco will cost to much and I don’t like bringing pitchers over from the NL when they are established. Kazmir, Feldman, Hughes, and Messanger are not #3’s. Trade maybe the only option for a #3 if the M’s are to add any Starting Pitcher. Otherwise go with what is in house. M’s have a couple other guys at Dble-A that could make a jump as well. Not at home can’t look them up right now to name them.

  5. The team currently has two starting pitchers for next season. If you count on both Walker and Paxton sticking in the rotation remember what happened with Maurer this season. Then one of Maurer, Ramirez, Noesi or Beavan will have to start too. There is no depth to back up this gang of longshots when one of them gets an ouchy or can’t find home plate. That’s why they need two serviceable arms added this off-season, so we don’t just re-do this past season all over again. It sucked the first time.

  6. 3/$41 is what I offer. But this market will proably get 4/52 maybe higher, who knows. I don’t know if I commit to 4 years, depends upon availablity of other arms. At some point, going to have to lay down some money, or just do the same thing as the last 5 years. But I do nab a #3 at market value, but it’s not going to be a Carlos Silva pitch to contact type, it’s going to be someone with swing and miss. Paxon/Walker coming down the pipe is just not enough.

  7. Absolutely agree that Capuano isn’t a 3. And I would love if we could get one.
    But my opinion is that the cost of finding out whether Jimenez could be isn’t worth it–to me, he has all the earmarks of the pitching version of Figgins.
    But my question is still out there: how many years and how much money would you be willing to bet if you were Jack?

  8. First of all, my point is Jimenez is a #3. Capuano isn’t. I’m not pushing Jimenez but someone of his ability, like 9.56 K/9, in 2013, whatever his speed is. I believe the King has lost a few MPH in his career. Capuano 6.9 K/9. Can play the stat game forever. Bottom line is Capuano isn’t a #3. So how much do you pay a #6 to pitch #3? I have no interest as a fan in seeing another half-ass pitching staff and you shouldn’t either. As fans we should demand quality not mediocrity. The owners have and will continue to make more money that we can fathom. Don’t even believe the M’s don’t have money. If they feel it useless to spend money at this time because it won’t improve quality is one thing, but we are not a poor team. Mismanaged yes, broke no. The Red Sox went from 90 lost to WS Champs because they refuse to be losers. That’s the attitude I want the M’s to have. The team can be improved with free agents, and I want quality free agents and I want a winner. It’s BS that we keep doing things like making Millwood or Harang or Saunders, etc a key rotation piece. Total BS. No wonder no one wants to play in Seattle.

  9. I am a big Pro sign Tanaka guy. But, the M’s could wait 1 more year and go after Kenta Maeda who should be posted next year and is on par if not a step above Tanaka. However the bidding will be just as big for him(Maede) as Tanaka.

    @mgvernon non of those guys really interest me. Stay in house if those are the options.

  10. Why does everyone keep arguing that Tanaka has to be Darvish to be useful? They aren’t similar at all.

    Besides, it’s not like Darvish is the only pitcher from Japan to have success over here. Last time I checked, there are other Japanese pitchers who have done well in the US.

    IMHO, the M’s should throw a shit load of cash at Tanaka, then sign Dan Haren. Phil Hughes makes sense too. The M’s pitching was terrible last year. Having depth is a plus. That leaves one spot in the rotation for whoever grabs it among Walker, Paxton, Ramirez, and Maurer. If those guys are just too good to keep out of the rotation, then they make a trade from an area of strength.

  11. “Remember when many were drooling over LA’s excess of pitching, and promoted the idea of going after Harrang? No? The same comments you have for Capuano were said about Harrang.”

    Really? People were drooling over the idea of Harang? Nobody said that. Harang was a freely available warm body.

    Harang and Capuano have nothing in common.

    And, again, it’s not like signing Capuano would keep the M’s from adding a legit free agent starter.

  12. The only thing Capuano and Saunders have in common is that they both throw a baseball with their left hands. He is much better than Saunders.

    And nobody is saying that Capuano should be THE offseason addition to the rotation. The M’s could easily sign he and Tanaka. He’s great as depth. He’s the type of pitcher who is nice to have on the team so you DON’T have to watch Beavan, Harang, Noesi, or other scrubs pitch.

  13. Edman,

    If I was running a team or anyone competent you would call Darvish’s bluff and make a huge bid. It’s a win win, you either A. sign him because he has no other options, if you sign him you just netted one of the top 3 pitchers in all of baseball or B. keep him from signing with any other team in the league, especially the front runner of your division and get your posting fee back.

    It seems to me Jack needs better analysts in his department, people who calculate risk assessment for a living, people who can calculate derivatives, because a Darvish posting fee as a derivative was a no lose scenario. And it makes sense that one of the top 3 front offices in the game grabbed him.

  14. Mistake, because you think the M’s should have known how much to bid, even though it was sealed? As Jason has mentioned, the Mariners were told that if they won the bid, he would not sign with the Mariners. If so, then the outcome would be the same for the Mariners, except he’d be pitching in Japan.

  15. Please, if you want to talk about career stats…then admit the obvious.
    Jimenez a totally different guy than he was at the start. Then, FB velocity was nearly 97, and he threw that 68% of the time.
    Now, he’s down to 92, and only throws it 33% of the time.
    Slider is up from 14% to 23%.
    Changeup is up from 7% to 19%.

    If it were just the fact that he’s becoming smarter, that would be great. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is that his BB/9 is still 4. Fourth worst in baseball last year.

    So, how many years and how much money are you willing to commit to him?

  16. I agree with Darvish comments for what it’s worth. But Feldman is not a #3. He’s a #5. See Capuano comments. We need a #3 for the #3 spot. If Paxton/Walker earn a spot in the rotation at the #3, then all the more power to them and all the better our rotation is.

  17. If there was a mistake that was made regarding Japanese pitchers it was not going after Darvish, when everyone and their mom knew how good he was going to be. He will probably win a CY in the next year or two.

    That is the big Japanese pitcher we should have went after. If Tanaka truly is going to cost more then Darvish, then I would have pause, Darvish is the best Japanese pitcher to ever live, as of now.

    The guy I would go after is Scott Feldman. He pitched better then what his numbers say. I think he could be a very reliable pitcher that can be had for a reasonable contract. He could come in and take over the #3 spot next year until one of Paxton/Walker or both are ready to step over him the following year.

  18. The only thing is the Darvish contract is going to be a super bargain in a year or two. I think Tanaka is going to be expensive, but can’t win if you don’t play. I like Colon if your looking for a year maybe two. Of the list above I like Kazmir because he has geniune swing and miss stuff. Garza is going to be expensive, but he would look real nice in the rotation. I think any decent pitcher is going to be an overpay, not just for the Mariners but all of MLB. Haren may be a decent price if your willing to gamble. Happy Hot Stove.

  19. Posted on MLB Rumors, an article stating that Tanaka may end up costing more than Darvish. No thank you. He’s a questionable #1, more likey #2 starter. Darvish was as close to a guaranteed #1 starter as you can get. I’d rather put money toward Colon or Garza..

  20. I disagree, we need one, with Walker and Paxton in the 4th and 5th spots. Last thing we need are two 3+ year contracts, with pitching talent looming.

  21. Considering the that we don’t need a long term fix, I’d take a chance on a Colon contract for two years, and an option for a third year…..if you could convince him to come to Seattle.

  22. Ricky Nolasco (RHP Dodgers – Age 31): 2013 stats: 13-11, 3.70 ERA, 165/46 K/BB in 199 1/3 IP
    Jason Vargas (LHP Angels – Age 31): 2013 stats: 9-8, 4.02 ERA, 109/46 K/BB in 150 IP
    Scott Kazmir (LHP Indians – Age 30): 2013 stats: 10-9, 4.04 ERA, 162/47 K/BB in 158 IP
    Phil Hughes (RHP Yankees – Age 27):2013 starts: 4-14, 5.19 ERA, 121/42 K/BB in 145 2/3 IP
    Scott Feldman (RHP Orioles – Age 31): 2013 stats: 12-12, 3.86 ERA, 132/56 K/BB in 181 2/3 IP
    Bartolo Colon (RHP Athletics – Age 40): 2013 stats: 18-6, 2.65 ERA, 117/29 K/BB in 190 1/3 IP
    Randy Messenger (RHP Japan – Age 32): 2013 stats: 12-8, 2.89 ERA, 183/56 K/BB in 196 1/3 IP
    Without Tanaka we need two of these.

  23. Please, if you are going to throw stats around, don’t give small sample sizes to try and look good.
    Career FIP – Jimenez 3.78, Harang 4.19, Capuano 4.25. Lets face it, Capuano had a good year or two with the Brewers and he’s OK with the Dodgers noting Edman’s remarks. He couldn’t make the rotation out of spring training. Is he cheaper? Yes. And there’s a reason for that. He’s one of those guys you get when everyone else is taken and you have holes in your rotation, and you don’t want to spend a lot of money ($ 5 million this year). But he’s not even a #5 in a good rotation. Could you see him in the rotation for St. Louis, Boston, Detroit, Dodgers, Rangers? Only as an injury replacement. I just don’t see any reason to get a mediocre pitcher except as an injury replacement.

  24. I never wanted Saunders. His xFIP has never been below 4. Never.
    I don’t remember any thirst for Harang, but it could have happened. But people long for bad players all the time.
    All I’m saying is trying to pretend Capuano is the same as those guys is just plain wrong.
    Would I rather have Garza? Yes.
    Would I rather have Jimenez (at what he’s going to cost)? Not in a million years.

    Can we agree that just because a pitcher costs more doesn’t mean he’s better?

  25. Which do you like more, adding a valuable arm to the rotatation, or adding a question mark for lesser money?

    Before you get all excited about Capuano, I suggest you go back a year. Remember when many were drooling over LA’s excess of pitching, and promoted the idea of going after Harrang? No? The same comments you have for Capuano were said about Harrang.

    I don’t like the idea of bringing in an arm from the NL, who comes from spacious confines in LA. I’d rather have a more expensive pitcher with success in the AL, than take another “bargin” pitcher.

  26. You don’t like Saunders and his 4.23 xFIP. Totally agree.

    You like Garza (3.73) and Jimenez (3.62, although coming off a previous year 4.98).

    But you can’t stand the idea of Capuano, with his 3.55. Hmmm. Who does he resemble more–Saunders or the (much more expensive) guys you like?

  27. NO.

    I can’t stand picking up these one year useless wonders. Go out, spend a few dollars and get a real pitcher. You can’t bank on the kids filling the rotation. We might never see Hultzen again. Go all out for Tanaka. Or get someone decent like Jimenez, or Garza, or trade for a decent arm. But please, please, please no more putting #5 pitchers (or worse) in the #3 spot. I’d rather watch Ramirez fumble his way than sign another Joe Blow. Joe Blow = Saunders, Harang, Bonderman, Capuano, Millwood, Snell, Beavan, etc. Let Walker/Paxson work there way into the rotation much like the Cardinals worked there six rookies into their pitching staff last year. And the Cardinals had a solid rotation with one rookie to start the year.

  28. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. He’d be a good #4 starter, and a better version of Saunders. Jason Vargas is another option in the same price bracket.

  29. The promise is there–but we need to add an arm from the outside this winter to give the youngsters some breathing room.
    Capuano is now available–he should be the first move of the winter. One year guaranteed plus a team option.
    Please?

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