Fronting the Rotation: Seattle Mariners

I might be unlucky. Yesterday it was Gil Meche that I cursed with my plans to talk about Kansas City’s top two starting pitchers and today it was Erik Bedard to a milder extent. Oh well. Tonight it’s a look at the surprising Seattle Mariners, led by Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard.

The pair ranked 5th and 9th in the league in FIP coming into play today. We have seen flashes before from both of these pitchers that indicate that each has the raw talent to be among the best, if not the best, pitchers in baseball. Bedard was sidelined with injury issues again in 2008 while Felix lost some of the luster off his extreme ground ball tendencies and started relying far too much on predictable fastballs, as I have made mention of here several times.

But so far in 2009, both have been aces. Felix Hernandez has both raised his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate, always a good combination for an improved season. His ground ball has taken another step back this year which is troubling, but is mainly the result of one particularly fly ball happy start. In his past two outing, Felix’s ground ball rate has been above 60%. Also of note, Felix’s changeup speed continues to rise, and is now sitting at an average of 89.1 miles per hour. That is his changeup. While that seems good on its own, the fact that the gap between his fastball and changeup speeds continues to shrink is probably not great.

Before suffering his worst outing of the season today, Erik Bedard sure looked like the Erik Bedard of 2007. In fact, he looked even better because even in 2007, Bedard started slowly. Not this year, storming out of the gate Bedard’s strikeout rate returned to 2007 levels and he flat out eliminated the walks. That resulted in Bedard ringing up almost ten hitters for each one he walked. For good measure, he’s also increased his ground ball rate.

Bedard got hit around a bit today, but that was mostly due to some poor command on his fastball, leading to three walks and a pair of hit batters. Even when scuffling badly and essentially reduced to throwing only his curveball for strikes, Bedard still managed a decent enough outing. Felix is still relying heavily on his fastball, but he’s actually commanding its location so far this season. If he keeps up his feel for that pitch and Bedard keeps up his health, watch out, we may have another worst to first this season.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.