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Hyphen Out, Question Mark In

Ian Snell was not a fan of Pittsburgh. He even went as far to ask for a demotion just to escape the wickedness. The Pirates would oblige and would trade Snell after he conquered a few hapless Triple-A lineups. With Snell happy – or at least happier – in the Emerald City, it would seem like his pitching would improve. And hey, his ERA did improve, but his peripheral statistics actually worsened. See:

2009 with Pirates: 80.2 IP, 5.36 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 5.16 xFIP
2009 with Mariners: 64.1 IP, 4.20 ERA, 5.23 FIP, 5.66 xFIP

Seattle pitching coach Rick Adair worked with Snell on his mechanics extensively upon Snell’s arrival with the focus being on his plant foot. The intended change was for Snell’s foot to land with toes pointed towards home plate, a shift from his general landing position which saw his foot pointed towards third base. The alteration would presumably result in better command, potentially more velocity, and more comfort. Whatever Snell was doing in the rotation for his four starts, it wasn’t working.

Cliff Lee then returned. With Jason Vargas and Doug Fister cruising along, and both Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith out of options, the Mariners chose to shift Snell to the bullpen. Snell will now move back to the rotation, replacing Rowland-Smith, who slides into the bullpen. It’s not an ideal situation for the Mariners, but at this point, exposing either to waivers so one of their Triple-A arms, like Luke French or Garret Olson, can join the major league rotation probably isn’t worth it.

Snell pitched better out of the pen in a long-relief role, totaling nine innings, six strikeouts, two walks, and a homer. The walks and the home run actually all came in his first outing against the Rays, so Snell managed to escape nearly six innings worth of action against the Orioles and Athletics without a free pass or jogger. That stat line adds up to something like a 4 FIP. Pitchers generally gain a full run per nine moving from the bullpen to the rotation, meaning that performance would be expected to translate to a 5 FIP, but it’s a null point since the sample size is ridiculously small.

Then again, a 5 FIP would be an upgrade over Rowland-Smith. In 39 innings this season, Smith has unintentionally walked 17 batters and struck out 16 while allowing 10 home runs. That’s brutal and results in a FIP of 7.14. Smith’s fastball isn’t fooling anyone this season and our run values have it worth -2.79 per 100 thrown. Last year, Smith’s worst pitch per 100 thrown was his change-up at -0.19, yet this year he has two pitches in the red.

The diagnosis on Rowland-Smith seems murky, but for now he gives the Mariners the first southpaw they’ve had in the bullpen all season.