Same Song, Second Verse

During the winter, the Mariners decided that the only thing keeping them from contending last year was the back end of their rotation. They got disastrous performances from Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez , but they still managed to win 88 games, so they decided that by improving on two of the worst starting pitchers in baseball, they’d make themselves a legitimate candidate for the A.L. pennant in 2008. They spared no expense, throwing a ridiculous amount of money at Carlos Silva and trading their entire farm system for Erik Bedard.

After those two moves, they announced that Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista were the new #4 and #5 starters, and that the improvement they’d get from those two over what they got from Ramirez and Weaver would be enough to make them the team to beat in the American League West. After getting pounded again last night, they now stand at 18-29 with the worst record in the junior circuit, and there’s this:

Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez, 2007 ERA: 6.58
Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, 2008 ERA; 6.56

The names have changed, but the performance is simply a rerun. Weaver and Ramirez combined for -5.26 WPA in 245 innings last season. Washburn and Batista have racked up a combined -1.40 WPA in 91 innings of work, which puts them on pace for -3.76 WPA over a comparable innings total, so at least the new struggles have come in situations that don’t matter quite as much, but that’s not the narrative this team was selling over the winter. The Mariners really believed they were going to have one of the best rotations in baseball with a staff or proven veterans and Mel Stottlemyre as the pitching coach, but instead, the starters ERA is 4.98 while pitching half their games in a pitchers park.

The season is already over in Seattle, and while the offense and defense have been horrible as well, the back end of the starting rotation has once again been a disaster. So much for proven veterans.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

6 Responses to “Same Song, Second Verse”

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  1. I find it hard to believe that Washburn will continue to have a 7+ ERA all season. Without 20/20 hindsight and all, Washburn would have been a very good 4th or 5th starter and it’s possible he could be decent the rest of the season.

    I’ve noticed he’s cut down on his walks considerably and I’d venture to say he’s been about as unlucky as anyone in baseball. Whether this is a defensive issue, maybe you’d be able to shed some light on that.

    Batista just isn’t pitching well.

    The batting has been pretty awful. They’re like bottom five in WPA/LI, and they have almost an extra Clutch batting win, which I guess means they could be doing even worse if not for some timely hitting.

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  2. Dave Cameron says:

    Yea, Washburn’s the same pitcher he’s always been, so he’s going to pitch better the rest of the year. I can’t agree that he’s a very good 4th or 5th starter, though – a 4.8 FIP from a left handed flyball pitcher who gets half his games in Safeco Field isn’t much better than replacement level. If he had spent his last two and a half years in a park that didn’t kill home runs by right handed batters, people would have a very different view of him.

    And while the Mariners defense is terrible, Washburn’s just getting hit hard. He’s got a 22.9% line drive rate which corresponds quite nicely with his .349 BABIP. As a pitch to contact guy with an 87 MPH fastball, he depends heavily on batters making mistakes to get themselves out. When they’re swinging well, he looks horrible. This won’t last all year, but we can’t blame the defense for hit rate. It’s just batters teeing off on his Triple-A stuff.

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  3. His walk rate is down considerably. I wonder if he’s just hanging around the strike zone too much. I agree he has been fairly horrible at home.

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  4. Eric Seidman says:

    I just started reading Fantasyland by Sam Walker, about his experience in the Tout Wars fantasy league and in one of the sections he mentions Washburn. He (Walker) hired Sig Mejdal, who I believe is now with the Cardinals, to be his analyst. They went to watch an Angels spring training game and Sig approached Washburn, asking why his Opponent’s BA was so high against just the first batter he faced in an inning. Washburn started scratching his neck and looked odd, before saying something to the effect of “Thanks, now I’m gonna’ think about that all week.”

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  5. DCFan says:

    Dave – one question on the M’s – do the fans regret that Bob Melvin was fired ? All they got for the firing was a hopeless duo of Hargrove and now McLaren.

    And Melvin is winning a LOT in Arizona.

    I know you dont believe in managers influence in W-L record a lot – but do you think Melvin would have been as atrocious as McLaren has been with his in game decisions?

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  6. Dave Cameron says:

    Melvin’s bullpen management in Seattle was unbelievably bad. He bunted all the time, and he didn’t understand how to use his bench. There was nothing in his time in Seattle that said “hey, I’m a good manager”.

    I’d argue that Melvin’s success just proves the point that pretty much anyone can win if they have a talented roster and don’t actively irritate their players.

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