When I look at the Seattle Mariners projected pitching rotation, the 1987 Chicago Bulls leap to mind. Except Felix Hernandez really doesn’t even have a Charles Oakley behind him. And I guess that makes Joe Saunders Dave Corzine. Two sentences and a digression already. The fact is, the Seattle Mariners have a bonafide star, and then they have what amount to a gaggle of #4 starters and then a handful of question marks.
I don’t need to tell you much about Felix Hernandez. I have a suspicion that this whole MRI-elbowgate thing relative to his record-setting contract might move him down a slot or two for the suspicious type. And yes, I’ll be curious about his velocity in Spring Training. But chances are, you’ll be able to comfortably hang your hat on The King to carry your staff should you be fortunate enough to procure his services. From there, it gets kind of interesting.
If I were a bettin’ man, and I kind of have to be if I’m playing fantasy baseball — I’d speculate the next three in line behind Hernandez looks like this:
In Saunders, the Mariners get their Jason Vargas back. And from a fantasy perspective, Saunders could actually be useful if you set your expectations reasonably. He should probably see near 200 innings, strike out something in the range of 110-120 batters, have an ERA that won’t really help nor hurt you in the 4.00 range, and a WHIP that you’ll probably not be thrilled about at around 1.30. His move to Safeco Field could pay dividends and drive the ERA south of 4, even with the fences moved in, but pitching for the Mariners might also make it tough to get into double digit wins.
Iwakuma very well might be the second best starter on the team, and he’s a sneaky play in fantasy formats. You look at his numbers from 2012 and his 4.35 FIP pops out at you versus that 3.16 ERA. The groundballer didn’t give up many fly balls, but when he did, a pile of them seemed to leave the yard and his strand rate was unsustainably high. But as a starter, he was a different man. When he wasn’t used in mop up duty, Iwakuma posted a 2.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and struck out 20% of opposing batters. Opposite of what you might expect, as a starter, his strikeouts went up, his walks went way down, and it’s worth pointing out that he held opposing hitters to a .229/.295/.355 slash line at home. If he can keep his walks under control and continue to produce a 50%+ ground ball rate, Iwakuma could be useful enough in ERA, WHIP, and K’s.
Ramirez is difficult to project because his sample size at the major league level is small and his minor league results are largely mixed. There’s a lot to like about Ramirez though. He’s got a plus fastball, excellent control, and a knockout change-up. As a starter in 2012, Ramirez had a 3.64 ERA with a 0.98 whip striking out 22% of opposing batters, and held opponents to a .218/.247/.362 slash line. ZiPS sees Ramirez with a 4.18 ERA and regression in both strikeouts and walks, while other projection systems seem to like him quite a bit. He’s just 22 so dynasty leaguers should be particularly interested, but count me among the more bullish on Ramirez. His stuff is good, he doesn’t hurt himself with walks, and he pitches in a friendly park.
From here, there will conceivably be some battle for the 5th spot in the rotation among these guys:
Beavan was joined by only Henderson Alvarez among qualified starting pitchers with a K/9 rate below 4.00. Beavan is quite frankly fooling almost nobody out there and as an extreme fly ball pitcher, that just screams danger. His WHIP isn’t awful in large part because he’s so stingy with the free passes, but if you get anything better than a 4.80 ERA, 8 or 9 wins, and 75 strikeouts over 180 innings you should consider yourself fortunate. There’s just no upside to play here. There is some upside in Noesi, who has shown good velocity and swing-and-miss stuff with a swinging strike rate over 9% for both of his major league seasons. But between a miserable strand rate and bad control, Noesi just never seemed to pull it together and with the addition of Saunders, he’s probably the odd man out of the rotation, even if he’s probably more talented than Beavan.
That leaves us with the reclamation projects and the kids. Jon Garland must see an opportunity to supplant Blake Beavan in the rotation after not pitching since June of 2011 due to his shoulder. While it’s unknown if he’s a “best shaper,” all the news on his shoulder appears to be positive and all the talking heads are saying all the right things about looking and feeling great, which is super. It wasn’t eons ago that Garland was a useful fantasy starter, and if it turns out he actually looks like the old Jon Garland in the Spring, well then, Blake Beavan better learn a new pitch. Oh, and yeah — they have Jeremy Bonderman now too, who is apparently seeking to reclaim that one season when he was really good.
And then you have the quartet of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Brandon Maurer –all kids 24 and under, who really represent the future of the Mariner rotation. Most see that future starting sometime in 2014, but a number of things could push that timeline up. It could be that Beavan, Noesi, and Garland are just awful in the Spring and one of the kids is lights-out. It could be an injury or injuries, since throwing a baseball appears to be a horribly unnatural thing for a human arm to do. Or it could be that the Mariners are 15 games out by the break, and it’s time to get a look at what the kids can do, which is entirely possible. It’s really anyone’s guess at the rank-order of these, but the general consensus seems to be that Walker has the most promise out of all of them, although he is also the youngest and he didn’t necessarily dazzle at AA last season. Any of them are worth a stash in dynasty leagues, but don’t expect anything out of them in 2013 on your fantasy roster.