David Aardsma’s Worst

The book on David Aardsma was always the same: power arm with a blessed fastball, but wild command and an affinity for fly balls – and by extension, home runs. He was essentially a major league journeyman. The former first round pick out of Rice had spent the first few seasons of his career within the Giants organization but only appeared in big league games for the club in 2004. His next major league appearance would come for the Cubs in 2006. In 2007 he’d stay in Chicago, but move to the Southside. In 2008 he’d remain a Stocking, but change hues from Black to Red.

Think about that. Aardsma pitched in every season from 2006 to 2009 and never spent time with any one team in consecutive seasons despite a live arm. That all changed in 2010 as Seattle became his home. His first real major league home. Consistency in role and location is supposed to make players better, right? Aardsma probably has a real comfort level with how the Safeco bullpen mound translates to the playing field mound. And how Safeco’s dimensions play on humid days and cool days alike. He mostly knows the divisional foes and how potent or weak their lineups are. That should make a player a little more aware, a little better.

Except it hasn’t; at all. It would be ridiculously unfair to expect Aardsma to fully replicate his 2009 season. He posted a 3.01 FIP, a 4.12 xFIP, and a 2.53 ERA. Those are pretty good numbers from anyone, but he always posted a 4.2% HR/FB and a career low groundball rate (25.3%) which, well, nobody needs to have what regression means spelled out to them. Moving forward, it was simply unrealistic to expect Aardsma to have that kind of luck continue. This season, his HR/FB is up to 12.1%; nearly a career high and well above his average. He’s gotten a few more groundballs than last, but his ERA is over a 5, his FIP is over 4.5, and his xFIP is 4.32.

Not much has gone right for the Mariners this season, and Aardsma is another example. While none of the projection systems figured he’d post an ERA less than 3.5 or a FIP less than 3.97; they also didn’t have him as one of the worst relievers in a bullpen that’s failed to impress. Nobody should’ve seen 2009 Aardsma walking through that door again, but nobody should expect to see 2010 Aardsma to continue at this pace either.

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19 Responses to “David Aardsma’s Worst”

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  1. John says:

    He’s striking out 8.54 per nine, a notable drop from his 10.09 per nine last year. However, he’s also walking fewer batters (3.76 per nine as opposed to 4.29 per nine), so his K/BB is nearly the same (2.35 last year, 2.27 this).

    Aardsma is basically the same pitcher as he was last year. There really isn’t a lot of difference between a 4.12 xFIP and a 4.32 xFIP, especially considering the fact that we’re dealing from a smaller-than-usual sample of work from a guy who by his nature always posts small samples.

    This article could have been three sentences long. “Last year, David Aardsma was a pretty good relief pitcher who got lucky on fly balls. This year, he’s still pretty good, but he’s not as lucky on the flies. Sucks for Seattle.”

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  2. Jordan says:

    poorly written, poor argument, classic RJ…

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  3. Jim says:

    “Think about that. Aardsma pitched in every season from 2006 to 2009 and never spent time with any one team in consecutive seasons despite a live arm. That all changed in 2010 as Seattle became his home.”

    Erm, the first sentence *should* read:

    “in every season from 2005 to 2008”.
    (he was actually traded 3 times in that span: For the first time after being drafted during the 2005 season, during the 2006-07 offseason, and during the 2007-08 offseason, but eh…technicalities).

    The second sentence *should* then read:

    “That all changed in 2009 as Seattle became his home”.

    (Recall that the trade with the Red Sox that brought him to Seattle occured between the 2008 and 2009 seasons. 2010 is his second full season with the M’s.)

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    • mattlock says:

      Meaning his tradition of never spending more than one year with the same team changed in 2010, as he started a second season with the same team. It didn’t change in 2009, because that was his first year with the Mariners, not his second.

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    • Steve says:

      When Theo Epstein and Jack Z make a trade with each other, does the universe collapse upon itself? Surely a trade between two infallible pillars of breathtaking genius can’t result in a winner/loser.

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  4. MCEchan36 says:

    I think you’re also overlooking a human element, RJ, though you shouldn’t be faulted for it. Dave and his wife recently had their first child, so he understandably has been under a little more pressure than your average ballplayer. I haven’t had the blessing of becoming a father yet, but I can only imagine that it would put a bit of a strain on the mind and sap some of your concentration, no matter what your profession.

    The baby was born last Saturday (June 26, same day as Derek Jeter and Abner Doubleday. Coincidence…? Yeah, probably), and both mother & child are in good health, but you can imagine the father being a little gassed, himself. Not surprised David gave up that two-run homer to Alex Rodriguez in the final game of the three-game set against the Yankees, since he flew from Milwaukee to Seattle early Saturday morning, got to the hospital in time for the birth, flew from Seattle straight to NYC on Monday afternoon and then had to prepare to face one of the toughest lineups in baseball. Pretty tall order there. Almost as tall as a corned beef sandwich from the Carnegie Deli.

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    • Garison says:

      It’s certainly possible, but not likely. In general, players are able to put personal matters aside, be themselves, and do their jobs. A few exceptions are depression and anxiety disorders, but even then they can be overcome. Remember Joey Votto last year with the situation with his father’s passing? He was a beast whenever he was in the lineup despite how his depression didn’t allow him to enjoy what he was doing.

      I’m not sure that childbirth has been shown to be a legitimate explanation for short term performance, let alone season performance. I recall Miguel Cabrera returning from the birth of his child and promptly having a 3-homer game. Of course, he’s Miguel Cabrera, but we do acknowledge that he is human despite arguments to the contrary.

      I find it funny that you call the childbirth situation a “human element”, implying (unitentionally I assume) that the normal act of pitching is somehow NOT human. Maybe you meant to say “personal element”–“personal” in the sense of non-baseball related. I think we should for the most part stick to the stats and not speculate about personal matters without good reason. Otherwise we end up making unwarranted connections between events such as a hectic day and giving up a home run to one of the greatest home run hitters of all time. Maybe he tried to challenged Alex or just made a bad pitch because pitchers do that from time to time; or maybe A-Rod is just skilled.

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      • Randall says:

        Actually wasn’t a bad pitch to ARod – he’s just a real good hitter…and Yankee Stadium is a wee little baseball field.

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    • Steve says:

      Ok, what about the rest of the season?

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  5. MCEchan36 says:


    Many good points. I guess I should have rephrased it from “human” to “emotional.” And I also would like to clarify that I did not mean that any possible fatigue was the sole reason for allowing the Rodriguez home run. Obviously, A-Rod knows how to effectively use a bat when at the plate.

    I just feel that in the current environment where it seems like we use statistics and history to explain everything, it felt like the intangible things–emotions, personal matters and so on. I was at a round table discussion with some Baseball Prospectus (thought about just writing BP, but didn’t want to confuse anyone with a certain irresponsible oil conglomerate) back in March and one of them brought up the fact that when Frank Thomas had that really strange off-year in ’98, he was also going through a tough divorce; something that wouldn’t necessarily show up on the stat charts.

    So basically, I guess I was trying to highlight another factor to consider when evaluating a player’s performance. Not advocating that EVERYTHING is tied to a player’s psyche, but it does have at least a little influence on a player’s performance. And once again Garison, the points you made were all very valid.

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    • Garison says:

      And you would be right to mention emotional/personal matters. As I tried to (at least) imply, I’m open-minded, and I’m well aware of how psychological matters have the potential to affect human performance. It was just something about your post that sounded like you were giving too much credit to the emotional/personal side of things or assuming in this specific case a very high degree of certainty that the cause of Aardsma’s performance was mental and due to life circumstances. That’s pretty difficult to know for sure without interviewing him. And even then it would be virtually impossible to quantify.

      I’ll illustrate what I mean by that last statement. Let’s hypothetically say that Aardsma has been affected by his family situation to some degree. Let’s also say that we are interested in assessing his performance and having a reasonable expectation for his future performance, possibly for making an educated decision in the world of fantasy baseball. Now we may disagree on which ERA estimator is the best predictive stat to use, but none of the formulas have an input for “emotional health” or “state of mind”. So unless the emotional component literally prevents a pitcher from taking the mound and doing his job (e.g., Greinke a few years ago when he almost quit baseball due to social anxiety disorder) I find that speculation isn’t very helpful for assessing performance.

      It’s fine if we do it though, and I think it’s great to show concern for our fellow humans in tough times and rejoice with them in good times. Just realize that considering the intangibles (e.g., team chemistry, emotional health, grittiness, and things like that) probably won’t get us very far in our analysis of a player.

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  6. Stu says:

    Truthfully, reading this was a complete waste of about three minutes of my life

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  7. tyler says:

    Aardsma is washed up. The mariners manager should have been fired a while ago but he’s japanese like the owners. Aardsma blew another save tonight giving up two runs in the ninth to the Yankees.

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  8. nate says:

    Wakamatsu was born in Oregon, bigot. Besides, even if he was first generation Japanese, you don’t think the Japanese will fire their own? Japanese love to fire their own. They fire their own by the thousands given the opportunity, just like us.

    It’s pretty obvious who has and who hasn’t had a baby in the house here–it’s manageble being a fantasy nerd, so don’t sweat it too much, but not conducive to being a professional athlete. Might make sense to demote him until he gets a grip on things, but that brings up the real question… who’s going to replace him? They got nothin’! League is their best option and just as spotty. Nobody else is ready. That’s what the article should be about.

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